With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the national security strategy and the strategic defence and security review.
Our national security depends on our economic security, and vice versa, so the first step in keeping our country safe is to ensure our economy is, and remains, strong. Over the last five years we have taken the difficult decisions needed to bring down our deficit and restore our economy to strength. In 2010, we were ordering equipment for which there was literally no money. The total black hole in the defence budget alone was bigger than the entire defence budget in that year. Now it is back in balance. By sticking to our long-term economic plan, Britain has become the fastest growing major advanced economy in the world for the last two years.
Our renewed economic security means that today we can show how we can afford to invest further in our national security. This is vital at a time when the threats to our country are growing. This morning I was in Paris with President Hollande discussing how we can work together to defeat the evil of ISIL. As the murders on the streets of Paris reminded us so starkly, ISIL is not some remote problem thousands of miles away. It is a direct threat to our security at home and abroad. It has already taken the lives of British hostages and carried out the worst terrorist attack against British people since 7/7 on the beaches of Tunisia, to say nothing of the seven terrorist plots right here in Britain that have been foiled by our security services over the past year.
Of course, the threats we face today go beyond that evil death cult. From the crisis in Ukraine to the risk of cyber-attacks and pandemics, the world is more dangerous and uncertain today than even five years ago. So while every Government must choose how to spend the money it has available, every penny of which is hard-earned by taxpayers, this Government have taken a clear decision to invest in our security and safeguard our prosperity. As a result, the United Kingdom is the only major country in the world today which is simultaneously going to meet the NATO target of spending 2% of our GDP on defence and the United Nations target of spending 0.7% of our gross national income on development, while also increasing investment in our security and intelligence agencies and in counter-terrorism.
In ensuring our national security, we will also protect our economic security. As a trading nation with the world’s fifth biggest economy, we depend on stability and order in the world. With 5 million British nationals living overseas, our prosperity depends on trade around the world, so engagement is not an optional extra; it is fundamental to the success of our nation. We need the sea lanes to stay open and the arteries of global commerce to remain free-flowing. So the strategy which I am presenting to the House today sets out a clear vision for a secure and prosperous United Kingdom, with global reach and global influence. At its heart is an understanding that we cannot choose between conventional defences against state-based threats, or the need to counter threats that do not recognise national borders. Today we face both types of threat and we must respond to both types of threat.
So over the course of this Parliament our priorities are to deter state-based threats, tackle terrorism, remain a world leader in cybersecurity and ensure that we have the capability to respond rapidly to crises as they emerge. To meet these priorities we will continue to harness all the tools of national power available to us, co-ordinated through the National Security Council, to deliver a full-spectrum approach. This includes support for our armed forces, counter-terrorism, international aid and diplomacy, and working with our allies to deal with the common threats that face us all. Let me take each in turn.
First, the bottom line of our national security strategy must always be the willingness and capability to use force where necessary. On Friday evening the United Nations Security Council unanimously agreed resolution 2249 calling on member states to take “all necessary measures” against ISIL in both Syria and Iraq. On Thursday I will come to this House and make a further statement responding personally to the Foreign Affairs Committee. I will make the case for Britain to join our international allies in going after ISIL at its headquarters in Syria, not just Iraq, and I will explain how such action would be one element of a comprehensive and long-term strategy to defeat ISIL, in parallel with a major international effort to bring an end to the war in Syria.
But today I want to set out how we will ensure that our armed forces have the capabilities to carry out such a task, and indeed any other tasks that might be needed in the years ahead. We will invest more than £178 billion in buying and maintaining equipment over the next decade, including doubling our investment in equipment to support our special forces. We will also increase the size of our deployable armed forces.
In 2010 we committed to an expeditionary force of 30,000. Today I can tell the House that by 2025 we are increasing that number to 50,000. As part of this, we will create two new strike brigades, forces of up to 5,000 personnel fully equipped to deploy rapidly and sustain themselves in the field. We will establish two additional Typhoon squadrons and an additional squadron of F-35 Lightning combat aircraft to operate from our new aircraft carriers.
We will maintain our ultimate insurance policy as a nation, our continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent, and replace our four ballistic missile submarines. We will buy nine new maritime patrol aircraft, to be based in Scotland at RAF Lossiemouth. They will protect our nuclear deterrent, hunt down hostile submarines and enhance our maritime search and rescue. And we will buy at least 13 new frigates and two new offshore patrol vessels. These will include eight Type 26 anti-submarine warfare frigates. We will design and build a new class of light, flexible general purpose frigates as well. These will be more affordable than the Type 26s, which will allow us to buy more of them for the Royal Navy so that by the 2030s we can further increase the total number of Royal Navy frigates and destroyers. Not one of these capabilities is an optional extra. These investments are an act of clear-eyed self-interest to ensure our future prosperity and security.
Secondly, turning to counter-terrorism, we will make a major additional investment in our world-class intelligence agencies to ensure they have the resources and information they need to detect and foil plots from wherever they emanate in the world. So as I announced last week, we will invest £2.5 billion and employ over 1,900 additional staff. We will increase our investment in counter-terrorism police and more than double our spending on aviation security around the world. And I can tell the House today that we have put in place a significant new contingency plan to deal with major terrorist attacks. Under this new operation, up to 10,000 military personnel will be available to support the police in dealing with the type of shocking terrorist attacks we have seen in Paris.
We will also make a major new investment in a new generation of surveillance drones. These British-designed unmanned aircraft will fly at the very edge of the earth’s atmosphere and allow us to observe our adversaries for weeks on end, providing critical intelligence for our forces. We will also do more to make sure the powers we give our security services keep pace with modern technology, as we will see through the draft Bill we have published to ensure that GCHQ, M15 and our counter-terrorism police continue to have the powers they need.
Thirdly, we will use our formidable development budget and our outstanding diplomatic service to tackle global poverty, promote our interests, project our influence, and address the causes of the security threats we face, not just their consequences. So alongside the strategic defence review, I am also publishing our strategy for official development assistance. At its heart is a decision to refocus half of DFID’s budget on supporting fragile and broken states and regions in every year of this Parliament. This will help to prevent conflict, and, crucially, it will help to promote the golden thread of conditions that drive prosperity all across the world: the rule of law, good governance, and the growth of democracy. The conflict, stability and security fund will grow to over £1.3 billion a year by the end of this Parliament, and we will also create a new £1.3 billion prosperity fund to drive forward our aim of promoting global prosperity and good governance.
Building on our success in tackling Ebola, we will do more to improve our resilience and our response to crises, identifying £500 million a year as a crisis reserve and investing £1.5 billion over the Parliament in a global challenges research fund for UK science to pioneer new ways of tackling global problems like anti-microbial resistance. We will also invest £1 billion in a new fund for the research and development of products to fight infectious diseases, known as the Ross fund, and £5.8 billion in climate finance to play our part in helping poorer countries switch to greener forms of energy.
Taken together, these interventions are not just right morally—they are firmly in our national interest. They mean that Britain not only meets its obligations to the poorest in the world, but can now focus our resources on preventing or dealing with the instability and conflict that impinge on our security at home, investing at scale to create the economic opportunities that lead to long-term stability across the world and responding rapidly and decisively to emerging crises overseas. Acting on all of these fronts gives us greater influence in the world.
Finally, Britain’s safety and security depends not just on our own efforts but on working hand in glove with our allies to deal with the common threats that face us all, from terrorism to climate change. When confronted by danger, we are stronger together. So we will play our full part in the alliances that underpin our security and amplify our national power, and we will work with our allies in Europe and around the world, as well as seizing opportunities to reach out to emerging powers.
History teaches us that no Government can predict the future. We have no way of knowing precisely what course events will take over the next five years; we must expect the unexpected. But we can make sure that we have the versatility and the means to respond to new risks and threats to our security as they arise. Our armed forces, police, and security and intelligence services are the pride of our country. They are the finest in the world, and this Government will ensure they stay that way. Using our renewed economic strength, we will help them to keep us safe for generations to come. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement.
As I said last week in the House, the first duty of a state is to protect its own citizens. At the moment, this country’s overwhelming focus is on the threat we face from terrorism and how we can best ensure the defeat of ISIL. Labour supports the increased expenditure to strengthen our security services that the Prime Minister has announced to protect against the threat of terrorism. However, faced with the current threat, the public will not understand or accept any cuts to front-line policing. Everyone will be very concerned about the warnings we know that he has had from security officials and the police that the cuts will reduce very significantly the ability to respond to a Paris-style attack. Cuts affecting neighbourhood policing will damage the flow of vital intelligence that helps prevent such attacks. Will the Prime Minister give an undertaking now that police budgets after the spending review will be sufficient to guarantee no reductions in police or police community support numbers and to protect areas such as helicopter cover?
Will the Prime Minister also confirm that the Government will meet in full the request from the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and his advisers for the further resources they say are required to counter attacks such as those in Paris? The public, quite rightly, expect that.
We are naturally focused on the immediate threats today, but it is disappointing that there is insufficient analysis in the national security strategy of the global threats facing our country and people around the world, including inequality, poverty, disease, human rights abuses, climate change and water and food security—[Interruption.] I have no idea why Conservative Members find food security such a funny subject. The flow of arms and illicit funds enables groups such as ISIL to sustain themselves and grow.
Let me join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the men and women who serve in the services. We must look after their interests in the decisions we make and pay particular attention to their welfare while serving and, just as importantly, when they have retired. Is the Prime Minister concerned that the latest Ministry of Defence survey showed that 25% of those serving plan to leave as soon as they can or have already put in their notice, and that the number dissatisfied with service life has risen to 32%? Does he think it is a coincidence that those results come at the same time as the Government have capped armed forces pay and changed pension arrangements?
Although the Prime Minister is talking tough about defence spending today, the facts are that under his Government it has fallen in real terms by 14% and we saw many soldiers with many years’ operational service putting their lives on the line being sacked days before becoming eligible for full pensions.
Does the Prime Minister not agree that changes proposed by the Chancellor to tax credits breach the spirit of the armed forces covenant? Will he confirm that the plan to cut the annual income of a corporal with two children by £2,300 a year will now be reversed and that such a family would not be made worse off by any other welfare cuts the Chancellor may be planning? What damage does the Prime Minister think will be done by the big cuts being planned to the civilian support of the armed services?
The country is united in its respect for those who serve, but there is widespread concern about how far lessons have been learned from recent military interventions. Will the Prime Minister confirm that he will update and revise the review in the light of the forthcoming findings of the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war? What is his response to this month’s United Nations report that all sides in the continuing conflict and anarchy in Libya are committing breaches of international law, including abductions, torture and the killing of civilians, and that ISIL militants have consolidated control over central Libya, carrying out summary executions, beheadings and amputations?
“Britain failed to provide meaningful backing to Libya in the wake of our air strikes there…We must learn from our mistakes.”
What lessons has the Prime Minister learned from the intervention in Libya in 2011, which, regrettably, has been followed by appalling chaos, persistent violence and the strengthening of ISIL?
Does the Prime Minister believe there is any prospect of Afghanistan maintaining its own security in the near future? How does he see Britain’s role in helping to ensure that that happens, given the huge commitment made over the past 14 years and the ultimate sacrifice paid by 456 members of the British forces? How will he apply lessons learned in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere to Britain’s role in the escalating war in Iraq and Syria, ensuring that further disastrous mistakes are avoided?
Britain does need strong military and security forces to keep us safe and to take a lead in humanitarian and peacekeeping missions, working with and strengthening the United Nations. I recognise the increased commitment to the UN in the Prime Minister’s statement. There is no contradiction between working for peace across the world and doing what is necessary to keep us safe at home—in fact, the very opposite is true.
My hon. Friend Maria Eagle will be leading a review about how we deliver that strong, modern protection for the people of Britain. Our review will seek to learn the lessons from Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, and look at our military capabilities and requirements in that light. We owe it to the members of our armed forces and to the country as a whole to engage in the kind of review which is sadly lacking today.
The review will consider carefully and fully, on the basis of evidence and with the widest consultation and expert input, whether it is right for the UK to commit so much of the defence budget to continuous at-sea nuclear patrols, and if not, what alternative investments in our security and military capabilities would be required to meet the threats we face and ensure skills and jobs in our defence industries are fully protected. It will focus on the failure of the last Government to replace the Nimrod MR4A, leaving Britain to rely on asking for French planes for its airborne maritime capability. Why have the Government now chosen a replacement with virtually no UK defence content when it is in service?
Will the Prime Minister confirm—he was just talking about this—that the reduction in the number of Type 26 frigates we are procuring from 13 to eight will not impact on the Navy’s ability to protect the carriers? Can the Prime Minister give some reassurance to the workers on the Clyde? Last year, they were told that 13 ships would be built; now it is eight. Can he confirm this is simply a first batch and the commitment of 13 frigates still stands?
Our review will question the wisdom of British arms sales to repressive regimes with links to the funding of terrorism, and be firmly founded on the importance of human rights across the world. It will recognise that security is about much more than defence, and look to fulfil the huge potential this country has to lead the way in peacekeeping, conflict resolution and peace building.
We have a highly professional and experienced diplomatic corps—some of the best diplomats in the world—as well as world-class peace and conflict research academics. Does the Prime Minister not agree that the severe cut in the Foreign Office budget is clear evidence of the Government’s determination to sacrifice our place in the world on the altar of misplaced austerity? Will he commit to a human rights adviser in every embassy?
I return to everything that is uppermost in people’s minds—
Order. I think the Leader of the Opposition is approaching his last question.
Indeed, Mr Speaker. I am saying that we must have the police and security services fully resourced and able to do what is necessary to protect the public. I ask the Prime Minister to think very hard about the remarks made to him by senior police officers and the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in this respect, and to assure the House today that those cuts in policing services will not go ahead.
I think the best that can be said about that is the longer the right hon. Gentleman went on, the less he had to say.
Most of the right hon. Gentleman’s statement was spent talking about the importance of having troops within the UN, the importance of shipbuilding on the Clyde, the importance of investing in defence, and the importance of having high morale among our armed forces. Yet only two months ago, he said:
“Why do we have to be able to have planes, transport aircraft, aircraft carriers and everything else to get anywhere in the world? Why?”
Is that the same right hon. Gentleman who is now sitting opposite us thinking of all these uses for our armed forces, when just a few months ago he thought there was none?
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the police. Let me tell him that we are safeguarding investment in our counter-terrorism policing, and indeed increasing the capabilities that they have. There will be a full statement on Wednesday on all the spending decisions that we make. He might want to have a word with his shadow Chancellor, who very recently signed up to a proposal, at a time when we face this heightened security threat, to
“Disband MI5 and special police squads” and to “disarm the police.”
The Leader of the Opposition thinks that they should not use their weapons; the shadow Chancellor thinks they should not have any at all. That is presumably what passes for a defence policy.
The right hon. Gentleman asked a series of questions. Let me answer them all. First, he asked how we set out the threats. We publish a risk assessment. The whole point of a national security strategy is to bring together all the threats we face as a nation—state-on-state threats, terrorism, pandemics, climate change and others—and set out in one place how we evaluate them and how we will respond to them. That is something that never previously happened.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about morale in our armed forces. There are no proposals here to reduce the proposals we have made on pay and increments in our armed services or to change the very generous pension arrangements. One of the best things for morale in our armed services is that those serving in our Army, Navy or Air Force and those who are planning to join our Army, Navy or Air Force can see that there will be a bigger Navy with more ships, there will be a bigger Air Force with more planes and people, and our armed services will be better equipped and supplied than they ever have been.
The right hon. Gentleman asked why we do not have human rights advisers in all our embassies. To me, advising on human rights is part of the role of an ambassador.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about learning lessons from previous conflicts. We are determined to do that. That is part of what the inquiry into the Iraq war should be about. However, we have not waited for that inquiry to learn the lessons. That is why, as I will explain on Thursday, it is so important that we bring together military strategy with diplomatic strategy, political strategy and development strategy. All those things should go together.
The right hon. Gentleman asked what lessons were learned from the Libyan conflict. Clearly we need to make sure, in such situations, that there are Governments and states that can continue, but I do not apologise for one minute for stepping in, with France, to prevent Colonel Gaddafi from murdering his own people in his own country.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the maritime patrol aircraft. It is right that we order them not only to protect the deterrent, which he, of course, wants to get rid of, but to make sure that we have greater safety, greater security and greater search and rescue functions.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the frigates. There is a real opportunity for Britain here. We are ordering at least eight Type 26 frigates, which have the full capabilities, but we will also look at developing a new multi-purpose frigate not only for ourselves, but, hopefully, to sell overseas. That opens the possibility that the number of capital ships in the Navy will go up, rather than down.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about ship workers on the Clyde. We have seen a great boost in naval shipbuilding because of the carriers. We want to keep that going, which is why two maritime patrol vessels will be built even before the frigates start being built.
The right hon. Gentleman told us a bit about his review. We look forward to that review, which will be carried out by Ken Livingstone—someone who has absolutely no idea about defence, but every idea about attacking hard-working Labour Front Benchers who try to do their jobs.
Finally, on a day when we are discussing a better equipped Army, a bigger Navy and a bigger Air Force, perhaps we ought to end with a quotation from the right hon. Gentleman who, as recently as August, said:
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every politician around the world instead of taking pride in the size of their armed forces did what” others
“have done and abolished the army and took pride in the fact that they don’t have an army”.
I know that it is depressing for Labour Members, but they might as well know about it. That is the view of the Leader of the Opposition.
Some difficult decisions were taken in the 2010 defence review so that our armed forces would be able to grow in the second half of the decade. May I welcome unequivocally the purchase of the new maritime patrol aircraft? If I may remind the Prime Minister, there was a gap because of Labour’s catastrophic management of the Nimrod programme. I also welcome the purchase of more F-35s. What impact will the decision to man the two carriers have on naval personnel numbers? What impact will the decision on the F-35s have on the future of the Tornado?
Because we want to operate both carriers and because of the great amount of equipment coming through in the Royal Navy, this defence review will see an increase in personnel in the Royal Navy of 400 people. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about the maritime patrol aircraft. We did have to take difficult decisions in 2010 to get rid of the black hole in the defence budget. The Nimrod project was over time and over budget, and it was not clear that we would have been able to get it back on track. We have therefore had a gap in that capability, but today’s announcement shows how we will fill it.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to a contingency plan that will allow 10,000 members of the armed forces to support the police in the case of a terrorist attack. How long will it take to train those military personnel to allow for interoperability, and will he revise his plans to cut police numbers? One without the other is nonsense.
The thinking here is that just as in France it was necessary to surge the number of uniformed personnel on the streets—perhaps to provide a security cordon or keep people safe—so we should get rid of the divide that has existed for many years about the deployment of military personnel on the streets of Britain. The right hon. Lady asks when these people will be trained. The first 5,000 are already able to fulfil that function should it be necessary, and we will get to the figure of 10,000 that I announced. This is not about members of the armed forces supplanting or taking over from the police; it is about them being at the disposal of the police, perhaps to provide a security cordon or a certain amount of safety. In the past we had a rather artificial divide between those two functions, and it is time to get rid of that.
The Defence Select Committee will be assessing the SDSR against a checklist of the threats and vulnerabilities that were published in our report at the weekend, but I am sure that most Members will find at least some relief in the plugging of gaps such as naval aviation and maritime patrol aircraft, and especially in the emphasis on flexible and versatile armed forces to deal with our inability to predict crises before they are upon us. Will the Prime Minister say a little about press reports concerning the pay of armed forces, and will he indicate when the maingate contracts for the successor to the Trident submarines will be brought before the House for debate and decision?
I am sure that members of the Defence Committee have a checklist and will scrutinise that document thoroughly, and I look forward to their conclusions. We are keeping the annual pay upgrade and the increments that our armed forces have. A package has been set out for new joiners, and I am sure the Committee will consider that carefully. My right hon. Friend welcomed the maritime patrol. On the maingate decision, we will be moving ahead with the four submarines and at the appropriate moment we will hold a vote in this House.
Let me reiterate our support for measures in the SDSR that were pre-announced following recent terrorist incidents, including support for intelligence agencies, as well as other counter-terrorism capabilities such as special forces and cyber-security. The Prime Minister has announced a 2025 target for two deployable strike brigades, which is welcome in support of UN-sanctioned operations. Holding an SDSR every five years is a worthwhile exercise as it provides context and allows analysis of policy decisions. In the 2010 SDSR, there was no mention of the northern dimension, the High North or the Arctic—not a single mention when considering risks, opportunities or necessary responses, and not a single mention about our immediate northern backyard.
Five years ago, the Prime Minister made the disastrous decision to scrap and waste the entire fleet of Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft, throwing away £4 billion of taxpayer investment. That meant that—uniquely among the armed forces of our northern European neighbours— the UK has had no MPA and has had to muddle through. Among other things, the Ministry of Defence has had to urge Scottish fishing vessels to report on passing Russian forces. The previous Defence Secretary confirmed that social media was a helpful source of information about Russian naval forces and—as is currently the case —the UK has been relying on French, Canadian or American MPA assets to patrol and screen around UK waters.
Not only has there been an MPA deficit, but the MOD has not been taking the northern dimension seriously. With the Atlantic to our west, the Iceland gap to our north and the North sea to the east, one would have thought that was a basic requirement. However, the UK has never, ever provided a single fast jet for NATO northern air policing from Iceland. Similarly, in recent years the Royal Navy has not provided any assets— not one single vessel—for NATO northern maritime patrol groups. These are facts. Today we learn there is some good news and that we can rectify the capability gap. It is welcome that there will be maritime patrol aircraft and that they will be based at RAF Lossiemouth. Will the Prime Minister say more about their in-service date?
Staying with the northern dimension, the UK does not station a single ocean-going conventional patrol vessel anywhere except the south coast of England. We have been told over a number of years that in Scotland we should be delighted that 13 Type 26 frigates will be built on the Clyde. In fact, voters in Scotland were promised 13 Type 26 vessels just so long as people voted No in the independence referendum. That was a clear promise. It is just over one year since the referendum, and No voters and shipyard workers are being betrayed in this SDSR, with a 40% cut in Type 26 vessels.
Under this Prime Minister, we have seen defence decimated in Scotland. Two out of three air bases have ceased flying operations. There has been a disproportionate cut to units and manpower. Tory Ministers promised an Army super-base in West Lothian and the doubling of Army numbers in Scotland with returns from Germany. Instead, that was dropped. Army headquarters in Scotland was downgraded and service personnel numbers in Fife and Moray are down considerably. Total personnel numbers are at a record low in Scotland.
The extended lifespan for fast jets is to be welcomed, but may I raise safety issues relating to traffic collision avoidance systems, which have still not been installed? Will the Prime Minister confirm that they were first recommended in 1990 and have still not been installed in all Tornado and Typhoon aircraft?
Moving on from issues relating to necessary and sensible conventional defence spending to the elephant in the room, Trident replacement, a weapons system of mass destruction that can never be used, we learn that the cost of its replacement is ballooning and squeezing out defence alternatives. How expensive does Trident need to be for this Government to realise that it is a super-expensive vanity project that does not deter? It has not deterred terrorism, cyber-attack or conventional attacks on the UK, its allies and friends. Even at this late stage, I appeal to the Government and to the Labour party to realise that it is a huge mistake to renew Trident. I remind them both that in Scotland an overwhelming majority of our parliamentarians and civic organisations, from our national churches and faith groups to the
Scottish Trades Union Congress, are all opposed. What kind of family of nations with a respect agenda imposes something on one of its members against its will?
Listening to the right hon. Gentleman, one would not think that Scotland was getting more Typhoons, more maritime patrol aircraft and more ships. The truth is this: the United Kingdom punches above its weight in the world and Scotland punches above its weight because it is in the United Kingdom and such a proud partner in our defence.
Let me answer the right hon. Gentleman’s question about maritime patrol aircraft very clearly. The fact is that in 2010 we had to take difficult decisions. This was an aircraft that was not properly in service. We acted on advice because the costs were not clear and the capability was not clear. In any event, it was, as he would put it, guarding a deterrent that he does not want in the first place. He should welcome its replacement and he should welcome the fact that it will be based at RAF Lossiemouth.
On the in-service date, at least three of the aircraft will be in place by the end of the Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman asked about the role we play in defending northern Europe. We are looking very carefully at some of the patrolling missions, but UK Typhoons already provide Baltic air policing missions, which are hugely welcomed by those countries.
Finally, let me answer the question about naval issues and Trident. On the shipbuilding programme—we will be publishing a paper in 2016 on our shipbuilding strategy—the fact is that Scotland now has the opportunity to build more than 13 frigates because of the changes we are making. There will be eight of the Type 26 frigates and at least another five of the new type of frigate, probably more. They can be built in Scotland if the conditions are right. The only way these ships would not be built in Scotland is if Scotland was independent and did not have the national resources of the Royal Navy. That is what the right hon. Gentleman should be saying to ship workers in Scotland: the UK and our defence budget help to keep their jobs safe.
Finally, Trident is clearly not squeezing out other defence requirements, as today’s document clearly shows. Here is the rub: the SNP describes itself as the effective Opposition—yes, they are wholly opposed to Trident and therefore wholly unsuited to government.
I greatly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, particularly his comments about the extra investment in counter-terrorism and his reiteration of the money going to the intelligence and security agencies. In that context, will he help the House in identifying how the Government will carry out the necessary audit process—both for that massive expansion and for other expansion in expenditure—to ensure value for money?
My right hon. and learned Friend makes an important point. The new NSC sub-committee, which we will establish under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend Mr Letwin, will ensure that these commitments are properly delivered and, along with other governmental organisations, that there is good value for money.
I also welcome the additional resources for counter-terrorism. We have the best counter-terrorism officers in the world, and this is the right time to increase the budget. Last week, the global terrorism index showed that last year 32,600 people were killed in terrorist attacks in 67 countries. In his statement, the Prime Minister is integrating what is happening in this country with our strategy abroad. He mentioned Tunisia, for example. How will the Tunisian Government be assisted by a national security strategy in our country, bearing it in mind that what happens on the streets of Tunisia or Sana'a, in Yemen, ends up on the streets of London?
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Countries as diverse as Tunisia, Yemen, Nigeria and Somalia can take heart from our strategy, because we recognise that their security and our security are inextricably linked. We want to help with things such as aviation security, on which we are massively extending our budget, and with building their armed services, policing and counter-terrorism capabilities. In the coming years, there will be an important role for our Army to play, in terms of forming training battalions, and for our intelligence services, as they increase their capabilities and trust in partner agencies, which can play an important role in keeping us safe.
I very much welcome the statement, particularly the commitment to naval platforms and manned and unmanned airframes, but to what extent do the through-life costings for the F-35 reflect the likelihood that UAVs will render the technology therein obsolete by the end-of-service date?
My hon. Friend is a considerable expert on this. What we have, particularly with our partnership with the French, is a plan for the next generation of fighter aircraft being unmanned combat systems. The research is there, the work is being done—with the French and Americans—and choices about that will have to be made, but I think it is too early to say whether the next generation of fighter aircraft will be manned or unmanned, which is why it is right we are developing the F-35 Lightning with the Americans and that we think seriously about whether to move to fully unmanned platforms in the future. Personally, as an amateur rather than a professional, I have my doubts.
The Prime Minister has said that he will come back to the House on Thursday to respond to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. Will he also ensure a full day’s debate in Government time on this issue, well before the Government table a motion on military intervention, so that we can have a full debate, not only on the day of a vote, but well in advance, and so that the House can give this proper consideration?
I will consider what the right hon. Lady says, but obviously we have a statement on Thursday, when I will be publishing our response to the Foreign Affairs Committee, and then, depending on the reaction of the House and the sense that right hon. and hon. Members have about whether we should move ahead with this, my intention would be to have a full day’s debate and a vote subsequent to that in the coming days and weeks. I think there is also a debate, I understand on Monday, in Back-Bench time for people who want to make further points about this issue, but I would put it like this. I do not think we are going to be under-spoken or under-considered before we take this step. We had the statement last week, we have had the statement today, which obviously has links to Syria, and we will have the statement on Thursday and then a debate in Government time, with plenty of time for people to air their views and then, I would hope, have a vote.
As one of the most outspoken and robust critics of the Government over the last five years for the very unfortunate defence cuts they have had to make for economic reasons, may I now be among the absolute first strongly and warmly to welcome the tone of the Prime Minister’s announcement this afternoon, in respect both of the general direction and the 2% of GDP and also quite a number of the other detailed announcements, such as the nine maritime patrol aircraft? Does he agree that, in a fast-changing world, the last SDSR was out of date more or less by the time it was printed and that this one, too, will change rapidly? Will he commit to ensure that the SDSR and the national security strategy, on which it is based, should not be set in stone and unchangeable, but should be reviewed regularly?
First, may I thank my hon. Friend for his warm support for this approach? We did have to take difficult decisions in the last Parliament. I think it was right to freeze our defence spending in cash terms, at around £35 billion, but now we can see it increase. That is a choice we are making. We do not have to make this choice; it is an active choice we are making in order to deliver greater security.
My hon. Friend is right that these documents are not set in stone: they are living and breathing documents. However, I think it is sensible every five years to hold a defence review, but then to get on and implement it. If we endlessly re-examine and re-cook it, we will find that we have lots of people doing analysis and not enough people actually delivering the strategy, which in the end is what this is about.
The very first duty of the Prime Minister of the day, and indeed the Leader of Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition, should be to ensure the protection and defence of the people of this country, here and abroad. On behalf of my party, I warmly welcome the fact that the Prime Minister at least is living up to that requirement in the House today. In that context, I welcome his decision to commit to 2% funding for defence and the extra money and resources going into the security services. On maritime surveillance, I welcome the nine new aircraft being deployed, plugging the gap that has existed for too long. Finally, will he give an unambiguous commitment that the two new carriers will both be deployed as strike carriers going forward?
Both carriers will be brought into service and both will be crewed, and that is one of the reasons why we are looking for an increase in Royal Navy personnel of 400. They will be a very big addition to British power and will be the largest ships that the Royal Navy has ever had under its command.
Will the Government strengthen controls at our borders and integrate that properly with the new intelligence—which I must welcome —that my right hon. Friend is going to get? There is a clear danger at the moment that military action in the middle east could displace terrorists, who might shift tactics and want to seek either legal or illegal entry to our country.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that having border controls only helps if we are also sharing intelligence with others about the people trying to cross those borders, and there are weaknesses in the European Union system on that, which we need to strengthen. I was discussing that with President Hollande this morning, but I would stress again—to be clear—that we have borders where we are able to stop and detain people and not let them in our country, even if they are European Union citizens, if we think they are a threat to our national security. That exists now for Britain. Some other countries in Europe are introducing borders like that on a temporary basis; ours are like that on a permanent basis.
Does the Prime Minister accept that the continued existence of the so-called caliphate is itself probably one of the most important drivers of radicalising young people here and elsewhere, in Europe and the wider world? Does he accept that before the public can be convinced of the need to take further action, particularly in Syria, a clearer case needs to be made about what the aims are and what the scale would be?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The fact that ISIL is a so-called state and is committing these appalling acts both locally in Syria and Iraq and around the globe is one of the most important dangers that we face. He is also right that we will not degrade and destroy ISIL, as we need to do for our own national security, simply through the exercise of military force. We need to combine that with the proper diplomatic and political activities of backing a proper Government in Iraq and backing, over time, a transitional Government in Syria. Both those things need to happen. The point I shall make on Thursday is that I do not think we can wait for the political process to be completed in Syria before we start taking some of the action to degrade and destroy this organisation, which poses such a threat to us today.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement, and I know it will be welcome in the Shropshire defence sector—both the private and public sectors. Going back to Africa, as the Prime Minister seeks to reform the European Union and given that some of the causes of terrorism can be the lack of prosperity and unemployment, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, what more can the EU do, working with the Economic Community of West African States, the Southern African Development Community and the east African community, to ensure that we have a pan-African continental free trade area in order to reduce migration, increase prosperity and increase security?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to focus on this issue. The fact is that we need to see more development, more growth, more jobs and employment in Africa, and Europe can have a real influence on that—not only through aid programmes, which can make a difference, but by making sure that there are fair trade arrangements in place not just between African countries and Europe but between African countries themselves. We have done a lot of work to promote intra-African trade because creating those sorts of markets, which ECOWAS is trying to do, will make a huge difference to the lives of people on that continent.
May I welcome the Prime Minister’s spending commitments on defence and overseas development, and ask him to ensure that in his statement on Thursday, he sets out how both will be used to take immediate action against ISIL and plan for the long-term reconstruction that Syria so desperately needs?
Let me pay tribute to the hon. Lady, who was arguing for increases in defence spending earlier this year. She was absolutely right about that. She is also right that we need to combine our overseas aid budget with our defence budget, because it is equally important to make sure that we build security, governance and systems through which countries can see that their countries are working for them. We will not solve the problem in Syria through missiles and bombs alone; it has to be solved by helping the Syrian people to have a Government and a country in which they can put their trust.
RAF Coningsby, from which both Typhoons and the battle of Britain memorial flights fly, is in my constituency. As we have remembered this year the 75th anniversary of the battle of Britain, can my right hon. Friend confirm that the investment in fast jets and the increased number of Typhoon squadrons will ensure that we retain world-class capability?
I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. I think that the Typhoon is proving itself, not just in Britain but elsewhere in the world, as an absolute world leader in terms of its capabilities. What this review delivers—my hon. Friend will be able to read about it more detail—is further upgrade of the Typhoon aircraft with the vital e-scan radar and the more modern weapons systems that it needs, so that it is good both as an air-to-air fighter and as a ground-to-air fighter. With that and the news about the extra Typhoons, I think Members of Parliament such as my hon. Friend can look forward to very strong defences in the years ahead.
As we know, the UK is bombing ISIL in Iraq and we know that Government want to bomb ISIL in Syria, so we have to ask the question whether the Government want to bomb ISIL less in Iraq or are they currently not bombing ISIL in Iraq to their full capability?
The point I would make to the hon. Gentleman is that the border between Iraq and Syria is not recognised by ISIL. It is literally a line in the sand, so it makes no sense, if we want to degrade and destroy ISIL, to restrict our activities—given that we have some of the most professional and dedicated pilots and some of the most efficient equipment anywhere in the world—purely to Iraq.
Several hon. Members rose—
Ah! Time for a Hampshire knight: Sir Gerald Howarth.
As the Prime Minister has already recalled, owing to the dire economic straits in which our country found itself thanks to the present Opposition, the 2010 review was a pretty bloody and painful exercise. I warmly welcome today’s announcement, which has been delivered partly by the Prime Minister and partly by the Defence Secretary, but may I ask some specific questions about the strike brigades, which I also welcome? I understand that they are additional to the three brigades that we established in the 2010 defence review. Can they be delivered within the constraint of 82,000 regular Army personnel, and why will it take 10 years to deliver them? Can the Prime Minister expedite their creation?
Let me say first, in defence of the 2010 review, in which my hon. Friend was involved, that we did have to make difficult decisions, but I would argue that the moves that we made—reducing the number of battle tanks and focusing on such elements as flexible armed forces and information, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance—resulted from our making the right judgments. Those were the things that we needed more of, and now we are able to supply even more of them.
My hon. Friend asked about the strike brigades. As he knows, we currently have the capability to deploy a brigade anywhere in the world and sustain it indefinitely. With the new armoured vehicles, such as the Ajax vehicles, and given the new way in which we are going to rotate armed forces personnel, instead of being able to deploy only one brigade we shall be able to deploy two, with greater mobility. Obviously the time that this takes will depend on how soon some of the new equipment comes on board, but my commitment to the House is to make sure that the strike brigades are ready as soon as they can be.
Before the Prime Minister makes his statement on ISIL and Syria on Thursday, may I urge him to listen carefully to Labour Members who have an open mind on this question, but want reassurances on specific issues—chiefly reassurances about humanitarian protection and the need to prevent further displacement and suffering, but also a specific commitment to long-term reconstruction and stabilisation once the conflict has ended?
I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. My aim is to bring together the biggest possible majority on both sides of the House in favour of the action that I think is necessary. I am not saying that we will solve the problem simply by crossing a line from Iraq into Syria. We will solve the problem if we have a political strategy, a diplomatic strategy and a humanitarian strategy. Britain is leading the way in that regard, not least by organising next year’s conference with Norway, Germany and Kuwait to raise the funds that are necessary to help the Syrian people wherever they are—and the more of them we can keep in Syria, the better.
Will the Prime Minister confirm that today’s statement is good news for RAF Marham, the home of the Tornado force and the future home of Lightning II? Obviously the Tornadoes and Brimstone missiles are playing a vital role in the campaign against Daesh, but does he agree that there is now an overwhelming case for extending those strikes into Syria itself?
I can certainly reassure my hon. Friend that I believe the statement is good for RAF Marham, because it means more Lightning aircraft more quickly, and I think that that will be very good for the air base. As for what my hon. Friend said about Iraq and Syria, he knows that I agree. We must marshal all the arguments that we can on Thursday.
I welcome the strategic review, much of which is common sense, but will Ministers do more to reform defence procurement and ensure that our limited defence budget is spent in the interests of our armed forces, giving them the equipment that they need rather than enriching a cartel of defence contractors?
I will certainly do all that I can on that basis. This issue is always difficult, because on the one hand we want to procure as speedily and swiftly as possible, while on the other hand we want to have a care for Britain’s vital defence industry and the opportunity to help our allies with their capabilities; but yes, I think that, overall, ensuring that procurement was more swift and more speedy would be a good thing.
I thank my right hon. Friend for stating unequivocally that the British Army might be placed on the streets of the United Kingdom. I remind the House that it has been operating on the streets of the United Kingdom for more than 40 years. I think the public will be very sympathetic to the idea, and will take great comfort in times of peril when they see our wonderful soldiers on the streets protecting them.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. During the flooding problems and during the Olympics we saw a number of British troops on our streets. The point I am making is that up until now there have been some rather arcane and old-fashioned barriers to stop this happening, for all sorts of very good historical reasons, but I think we are rather over that now. I think that if there were a terrorist attack and we needed to surge uniformed personnel to keep us safe, people would be very happy to see the military perform that role.
In respect of the reorganisation of the Army, what consideration is being given to home-basing the Welsh regiments in Wales, all three of which are currently home-based in England?
I am very happy to look carefully at that. Obviously, what is happening in terms of basing is that we are bringing a number of people home from Germany, so there are more basing opportunities in the United Kingdom.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. With the threat to our hard-won freedoms as clear today as it has ever been, I welcome the Government’s efforts in the SDSR. Does my right hon. Friend agree that in the ever-changing security and defence environment, our most critical asset remains our men and women who serve, and that within the framework of this SDSR looking after our men and women both during and after their service will be a priority not only for him personally, although I know it is now, but for his Government?
My hon. Friend, with his considerable experience, is absolutely right to say this. We can talk about all the equipment in the world, but at the heart of it are men and women who are prepared to serve and put their lives on the line for us, and they should be looked after. I think when he looks through this SDSR, he will see we are committed to doing that. Indeed, what we have done with the military covenant—putting it on a legal footing, passing it into law, improving its terms every year—means there will be help for people for the rest of their lives.
It is obviously right that our armed forces have both the equipment and personnel needed to protect our country and our people, but hard power and soft power go together, so may I press the Prime Minister further on the decision he is shortly to bring before the House about military action in Syria? Will he ensure that this is not just a decision for the House to say yes or no to the use of hard power—although, of course, it will be that—but that it is also a decision to use every diplomatic means we have, not to negotiate with ISIS but to forge a sustainable future for Syria thereafter?
I absolutely want to give that assurance. There is obviously the diplomatic work that is being done through the Vienna process to bring about a transition and political change in Syria. There is also the humanitarian side—Britain is the second largest aid donor in the world on a bilateral basis—to help Syrian refugees, and we will continue with that work. I very much see all these things as part of an overall strategy. There is not simply a plan to extend military action; there is a plan to step up in all of these areas.
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and congratulate him on increasing resources for our armed forces. May I add one tiny cautionary note? In my day we talked about divisions, but we are now talking about brigades. Can he reassure me that in the future the Army will not be reduced below 82,000, so we can do our job effectively around the world?
I can absolutely give my hon. Friend that assurance. I found reducing the size of our Army to 82,000 the most painful part of the defence review in the last Parliament. That is why it did not go ahead to begin with; I wanted to find every way to try to and avoid it, so I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that it is not going below 82,000. One of the interesting things about this report is that, because of the way we are changing how the Army works, we would have the ability if necessary—I hope it will not be—to deploy an entire division of our armed services in one go. That is a higher number—50,000—than the 30,000 envisaged at the last SDSR.
The exit strategy is a Government in Syria who represent all its people. I would just make the point that when I first became Prime Minister we were nine years into an Afghanistan deployment, and I delivered that exit strategy by setting a time and a date by which our combat troops should leave that country and by which we should be training up the Afghans to take over. So yes, there must always be an exit strategy, and there will be a very clear one for this.
May I take this opportunity to welcome the Prime Minister’s statement? I had the privilege of visiting the two aircraft carriers, including the Queen Elizabeth, in Rosyth last week, and I welcome today’s announcement on them. Will he give me, as the Member of Parliament representing Warton, an assurance that the future of unmanned aerial combat vehicles will involve more than simply buying them off the shelf?
I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. We have set out a separate budget item for working with the French and the Americans on unmanned combat vehicles for the future. As I have said, we cannot know exactly what form they will take, but the commitment, the money and the research are all there. I want Britain to stay at the cutting edge of these technologies. That is why we invested in Typhoon and that is why it is important to have this programme too.
Like the Prime Minister, I pay tribute to the men and women who put their lives on the line every day in the name of our national security and defence. My constituent, Lance Bombardier Ben Parkinson, is the UK’s most severely wounded surviving soldier. He has been greatly helped in the past nine years by the specialist healthcare and other treatments and services that have been afforded to him, but his family are worried that this might end when he is forced to leave the armed forces. The Prime Minister has pledged his support for Ben before. Will he arrange a meeting for me with a senior Minister and Ben and his family, so that we can secure his future?
I am very happy to do that for Ben Parkinson and for the right hon. Lady. It has been an immense privilege to meet Ben. He is one of the bravest people I have ever met, and he always seems to have good humour and optimism about the future despite how much he has suffered. With the military covenant and the LIBOR fines, we have tried to put in place progressive improvement, year on year, in the services that we give to our armed forces personnel and their families. We have to recognise that, after the Iraq war and after 14 years of deployments in Afghanistan, we need to look after these young people for the rest of their lives. They do not simply want tea and sympathy; they want fulfilling lives. They want the best possible prosthetic limbs and the best healthcare. They want to go on and do great things, and it should be our ambition as a country to help them to do just that.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. It is a very welcome declaration of long-term strategic intent on behalf of our country to remain a global nuclear power with armed forces that have global reach. May I remind him, however, that our defence industries are among our largest export earners because of what Her Majesty’s Government have invested in research and technology over the years? If we are to sustain that, and the ability of our industries to help us to produce the capability we need in times of emergency, we will need not only to continue but substantially to increase the amount we invest in those industries.
I thank my hon. Friend for what he has said. He has spent a lot of time in this Parliament and the last one talking about the importance of clear strategy. To me, strategy is about setting the goals we want to achieve and then, crucially, making the choices that will make that happen. This document is all about choices. They are not choices that we have to make; they are choices that we have decided to make in order to maintain our global reach and power, for reasons not of national vanity but of hard-headed, cold-eyed national interest. We are a country that is engaged in the world and that needs to play that role.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend’s point about research and development in the British defence industry, but we have to make sure that the industry understands that the Ministry of Defence is not simply a customer to be sold ever-more expensive equipment. It should be a core customer that can be used to develop the things that will be needed not only by our armed forces but by our partners, so that we can ensure that we have export earnings from these platforms that we have created ourselves.
I hear unconfirmed reports that President Obama has already welcomed news that our MPA will be built in the USA. The lack of MPA has been a glaring and immediate gap in our capability, one felt particularly hard in Scotland. Will the Prime Minister confirm that the UK will initially borrow P-8s from the USA? Will he also confirm that there will be no capability gap between when the Rosyth-built carriers go to sea and the full deployment of F-35s on both carriers?
First, on the MPA, we have said that we will be buying the Boeing version. That is a US aircraft, but it is going to have a major British component; sometimes it is right to choose what is available rather than to start all over again from scratch. The hon. Gentleman can read all about what we are saying about the Lightning aircraft in the document. We are actually increasing the numbers that will be available for our aircraft carriers.
Today’s announcement represents a commitment to invest in the necessary capabilities to defend our country. It is undoubtedly true that the simultaneous wise deployment of aid budgets and soft power assets is desirable, but does the Prime Minister agree that effective defence relies on not only the necessary budget, but an unswerving commitment to deploy those assets when this country’s defence requires it?
My hon. Friend is right; our allies want to know and, when we are threatened, people want to know that we are not just prepared to invest in our defence assets, but prepared to use them. However, our defence and our overseas aid commitments go together, because they are both things that help to keep us safe.
First, my hon. Friend can be secure in the knowledge that Portsmouth will have a very strong future, not least as the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier will be based there. I have already seen where it will go, and what a magnificent site and resource it will be. Today’s announcement about commissioning a new multi-purpose frigate enables us to increase over and above from the 19 frigates and destroyers we are already committed to, because it will be a more affordable programme. Having seen all the work that our frigates do, we know that it is essential that we have that core anti-submarine task, but when we think of all the other work— drugs interdiction, helping off the coast of Libya and all the other tasks—I think we see that we would benefit from having a bigger Royal Navy fleet, with more different sorts of frigates for those tasks.
Will the Prime Minister set out how the national security strategy and strategic defence and security review will bolster the UK’s ability to participate in the international diplomatic and military coalition for Syria and ensure that the UK can play a significant role in any post-Daesh stabilisation process in Syria and Iraq?
I am happy to do that. Obviously, there are some capabilities here that we have and are building that would be useful in the prosecution of the attacks on ISIL in Iraq and on Syria, but the right hon. Gentleman makes a wider point: because we have committed to this aid spending and because we are funding our diplomacy, we are able to play a much wider part in making sure that Syria has a secure future.
I very much welcome the Prime Minister’s statement today. Does he agree that there are at least three issues that enable us to defend our country? The first, obviously, is a strong Government who are willing to show and recognise the importance of defence. The second is a strong economy able to fund that. The third is the excellent companies we have throughout the country—companies such as the Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group in my constituency—which have the experience to deliver the defence that we need?
My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right to say that crucial to our defence is a strong defence and aerospace sector that can keep us at the cutting edge of capabilities, because that is essential for our future.
We are living through a time when there are worrying gaps in our capabilities, so today’s announcements are very welcome, but may I press the Prime Minister on pay for the armed forces? Is he saying that new joiners will receive an inferior package, and, if that is the case, how will that affect morale?
We are trying to design a package for new joiners that is attractive for people in the modern workforce. We have to ask questions about how people want to be housed and what sort of flexibility they want at work during their lives. The fact that we are seeing so many more women join our armed forces will also have consequences that we need to consider. The new joiners’ package is about taking all those things into account.
To have an exit strategy is important, but, for me, the entrance strategy became compelling when we saw what happened on the streets of Paris on
I have been to see those factories, and I know the incredible technical expertise that we have. The workers can be proud of the fact that Typhoon is absolutely a first-rate aircraft, and that it has a very strong future.
The Ministry of Defence employs civil servants as nuclear scientists and nuclear engineers, and in a whole range of tasks, including logistics, training support and maintenance, as well as in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. I understand that there is a cut of 12,000 to the MOD’s civil service. How will the Prime Minister ensure that critical roles and tasks are not lost to the Ministry of Defence?
The hon. Lady makes an important point. There are civilian roles in the MOD that are hugely important, and she mentioned some of them. What we have done with this budget is say that we will meet the 2% of defence spending and that we have created this joint security fund that can be bid for by our intelligence services as well as our defence services. We said to the military, “Every penny you can save through efficiencies, you now know will go into extra capabilities.” That is why I can stand here today and talk about new squadrons, more members of the RAF and more people joining the Royal Navy, but all of that should be done without damaging any of the vital capabilities that civilians provide.
Of course Members of Parliament on both sides of the House have concerns about action in Syria. In that respect, we look forward to my right hon. Friend’s statement on Thursday. Does he agree that, every day we delay action in Syria, it not only lets down our allies and the Syrian people, but has the added effect of heaping confidence on, and boosting the morale of, ISIL fighters?
My hon. Friend is right that we do not want to let down our allies. We also should not allow dangerous terrorist organisations to build their strength by not intervening against them, but, to be clear, I do not wish to bounce the House into a decision. That is why I was very deliberate last week when I spoke about replying to the Foreign Affairs Committee, the report of which will be issued on Thursday. Members of Parliament will be able to take it away and consider it over the weekend. We can then have a full day’s debate, proper consideration and a vote. That is a proper process. I do not want anyone to feel that they are being bounced into a decision. I want this House to take the decision deliberately, but we should not take too long over it, because, as my hon. Friend says, every day that we spend is a day that we are not getting to grips with the ISIL menace.
The Prime Minister has announced £178 billion in procurement over the next 10 years. Will that lead to an increase in the procurement of equipment that can be used for the clearing up of landmines and the other detritus of war, which is so essential if development is subsequently to take place?
Obviously, the £178 billion is to be invested in defence equipment, aircraft carriers, frigates, destroyers, the new Ajax vehicles for the Army and such like. As for removing mines, that is something on which we can use our aid budget, and we do. For instance, we fund the Halo Trust and other such organisations, but I accept that there may be opportunities to do more.
May I, as others have done, warmly congratulate the Prime Minister and his Defence Ministers since 2010 on turning round the economy of the Ministry of Defence and its procurement regime, and thank him for committing to the 2% NATO expenditure target? Beyond that, I urge him to consider finding the additional two brigades not from existing troops with new insignia but by increasing the size of the Army from 82,000 to 102,000.
An ingenious idea was tucked away at the end of that question, but I think that we are capable of delivering these new strike brigades within the level of 82,000. As I said, we are seeing a small increase in the RAF and in the Navy. What is important is that we make sure we get everything out of the resources that we put in, and that is what this review is about.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. A very large number of right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, and it is doubtful that I will be able to accommodate everybody. The Prime Minister is giving very pithy answers. Perhaps colleagues could follow suit and pose pithy questions.
A regional solution involving all means at our disposal underpinned by the United Nations is essential if we are to defeat ISIS in its heartland. So too is the taking of all steps necessary in our homeland to protect the security and safety of British citizens. Will the Prime Minister think again, therefore, before proceeding with major cuts to front-line policing, because neighbourhood policing is the eyes and ears of the counter-terrorism effort?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he says about Syria. It is about bringing together the United Nations, the aid and development efforts that we can make, the political solutions that we want to pursue and diplomatic efforts, together with the military action that we want to pursue. I have said what I said about counter-terrorism policing, and the hon. Gentleman will have to wait for the statement on Wednesday to see the overall settlement, but I am in no doubt that all our police play a role in keeping us safe, and in the last Parliament we demonstrated that, with efficiencies, we can get more for less out of our excellent police force.
Perhaps Mr Bone can be as short as his name.
My door is always open to the Leader of the Opposition. He is a Privy Counsellor and is able to get Privy Council briefings on any subject he likes, and I have said from the moment that he was elected leader of the Labour party that if he wants to have a briefing by or a conversation with me, I will always make myself available.
As Mr Evans said, there is a close link between our defence and security capability and our research, innovation and manufacturing capability. Yet the Prime Minister will know of the problems in the UK steel industry which show how vulnerable we are to losing for ever large chunks of our manufacturing supply chains—chains that could be used for defence and security purposes. Will the Prime Minister outline to the House how he expects the defence growth partnership to evolve with the SDSR, and what steps he is taking to ensure we can maintain the skills, capability and competitiveness in our industrial supply chain so that we can meet our future security and defence requirements with British industry and British innovation?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that the partnerships that we formed with the defence industry and the aerospace industry are the basis of a long-term plan to work with them, and they can now see our long-term commitments on defence spending. We want to see more British steel procured for Government expenditure such as this. Almost all of the 82,000 tonnes involved in the carrier programme was sourced from British steel, and I very much hope that can be the case with these future procurements as well.
I am very grateful for my hon. Friend’s support. He is very knowledgeable about these issues, and I am glad he thinks we made the right choices.
There is much to welcome in the Prime Minister’s statement, particularly what he said about deployable forces, but like some Members on the Government Benches, I have concerns about whether 82,000 regular Army personnel are enough to meet some of the challenges, and the scale of those challenges, particularly given what we have seen happening in reserve recruitment. Can the Prime Minister see any circumstance in which he may feel a need to increase regular personnel to meet the challenges out there?
Remember that the figure of 82,000 was always on the basis that we would have the 35,000 reserves. Recent figures have shown that we are now getting ahead of the targets that we set, and I pay tribute to the hard-working ministerial team. We need to make sure that we reach that 35,000. What the report today shows—I am sure the hon. Gentleman will want to look at it in detail—is that because we are changing the way that the Army works, over time we will be able to deliver two strike brigades, rather than one, and a force of 50,000, rather than a force of 30,000, showing that we can get more for the 82,000 than we had set out.
In his review of overseas development strategy, will the Prime Minister find resources to promote British values so that the woman in a country where she has to fight for the right to work knows that we are on her side, those of a minority faith have the right to worship their God, the gay man has the right to look forward to a loving future and, most of all, people with minority ideas have the right to express those freely without repression?
My hon. Friend is right that our aid budget is not simply about spending money; it is also about trying to help build what I call the golden thread of conditions—the rule of law, rights of minorities, growing democracy—that helps to deliver inclusiveness and development. I spent some of Friday with the excellent Christian charity Open Doors, which promotes exactly that sort of work and was full of praise for what the Government are doing. It wants us to do more to protect the freedom to worship and that is something we should focus on.
No. I am very keen that we should have a vote. I think the hon. Gentleman is going to have a vote on Tuesday and if I am here, I will certainly —[Interruption.] Believe me, I would like a vote on gate, main gate, after-gate, pre-gate—the hon. Gentleman can have as many votes as he likes. I know one thing—all my hon. Friends know which gate to go through.
The timely deployment of international aid and now of our armed forces can play a significant part in preventing difficult situations globally from deteriorating. With respect to the deployment of aid and our armed forces, can my right hon. Friend give a commitment that his Government will act thoughtfully but decisively?
I am sure that is the right approach to take. One should never approach these questions too hastily or without thinking through the consequences, but the question for us will be, “Will the world be safer—will we be safer—if we can act faster to degrade ISIL in Syria as well as in Iraq?” Because its headquarters are in Syria, it seems to me that the answer to that question is yes.
For those of us who will have to make the decision in the very near future about British military involvement in Syria, will the Prime Minister say something about what lessons he thinks we can draw from the recent and current action in Iraq, and what that might tell us about what we might be about to see in Syria?
There are so many lessons that we need to draw from recent conflicts that it is not possible to set them all out at the Dispatch Box now, but let me take one. One of the mistakes that was made in Iraq was the sense that the entire state and establishment had to be dismantled after the invasion of Iraq. That left a vacuum that has now been well documented. In saying that we believe that Assad cannot play a part in the long-term government of Syria, we are not saying that all the institutions of the Syrian state have to be dismantled. Indeed, quite the opposite. It will be very important to have a transitional plan so that Syria has a state and institutions. They need to be institutions that can represent all the country, but it should not be part of our plan to dismantle them in a year-zero approach. That would not work and we must learn the lesson from the past.
My right hon. Friend made some welcome comments about the deployability of a division in the imminent future.
As he looks across the Opposition Benches, will he comment on the importance of allies and friends at times like this? What France is looking for now is an ally in its time of need, and what our friends in the middle east are looking for is our commitment to our allies around the world.
My hon. Friend, who has great experience of these things, makes a very important point. Britain and France have been allies for so long, our militaries are so close, and our intelligence and security co-operation is so deep that it would be very disappointing for the French and for us if we had to say that we simply could not join them in helping them out, because helping them out is helping us out. As far as I am concerned an attack on Paris is an attack on us. It is an attack on our way of life—an attack on our values. Standing outside the Bataclan theatre this morning, you feel that with every sense of your being: this was an attack on the values we all hold dear. He is also right that the countries in the region that look to Britain for defence, support and protection will be concerned if we do not go to the aid of our closest neighbour and one of our oldest partners. That would raise questions about our reliability. That is one of the many considerations that everyone in this House should take into account when we come to this.
Along with my right hon. Friend Angus Robertson, I am delighted to hear about the MPA programme, which is a new and welcome asset to the fishing fleets of Fraserburgh who for the past five years have been doing the job with regard to the submarines from Russia.
On page 3 of his statement the Prime Minister says: “to meet these priorities we will continue to harness all the tools of national power available to us”. Does he accept that nowhere does he mention the Government’s reliance on the reservists and failure to meet reservist recruitment numbers? Does he therefore agree with the Defence Committee that the structure in Future Force 2020 is
“manifestly the wrong structure for this new environment”?
No one could accuse the hon. Gentleman of excluding from his text any consideration that he thought might at any time be in any way material, and I am sure we are all deeply grateful to him.
We are very much targeted on getting the 35,000 reserves that we need. This has been a huge programme to turn around the performance on encouraging people to stand up and join, but it is now working well, and if we keep going with it, I am confident that we will get to 35,000.
I welcome the SDSR, as I suspect it will be welcomed across Hampshire and its significant defence interests. Will the Prime Minister confirm that when it comes to our security, whether it be shoot to kill, hunting our enemies wherever they are in the world, or renewing our independent nuclear deterrent, every Member of this House, wherever they sit, can find safe haven under the leadership of this Government?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. I hope that people will look at the arguments and at the current status that we have with ISIL, put aside party considerations and other considerations, and try to answer the question internally, as it were, and then through their vote, about whether Britain will be safer, our people will be safer and the world will be safer if we take more concerted action against ISIL.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. I also thank him for the investment in security and intelligence announced last week, but restate that the frontline in intelligence and in responding to a terrorist attack is our local police forces. My local police force now regularly has only seven armed police officers on duty, and calls for help to neighbouring police forces have gone up by 43%. Can he assure the people of Brighton and Hove, who have a long history of dealing with terrorism, that should another terrorist attack happen, the local force can cope without calling on neighbouring forces?
We are looking at the number of armed response vehicles and armed officers that are available. I do not want to see the routine arming of the British police force, but it is possible to see a growth in the pool of armed experts that can be called on. As for forces sharing resources between each other and going to each other’s aid, that has always been part of the way that British policing has worked.
The extra investment announced by my right hon. Friend will be welcome in Fareham and along the south coast, particularly by firms in my constituency such as Boskalis Westminster Ltd, which is already making preparations for the arrival of the two new aircraft carriers in Portsmouth. Does he agree that the SDSR safeguards training for our Navy personnel, which is vital in the years ahead for the demanding role now expected of them?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about how important it will be to make sure that we have sufficient trained personnel to man our carriers and the new generation of destroyers and frigates. That is one of the reasons we are seeing an increase of 400 in the number of Royal Navy personnel. I think there is now a great offer that the Royal Navy can make to new recruits to encourage people to join, which is that we are going to have some of the most advanced equipment anywhere in the world, and it is going to be a great service to join.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. There are logistical issues to be addressed for two new strike brigades. What new funds are being given to the Army to generate that new capability? What will be their fitness to move and how will they be moved to the conflict area, bearing in mind that our lift capacity is limited?
The aim of the new strike brigades is to try to make them more manoeuvrable themselves so that they are less dependent on lift from the other services. Today I visited RAF Northolt and talked to some of our Army personnel about the new Ajax class of armoured vehicles, which were formerly known as
Scout, and the new generation of Warrior armoured vehicles. They have longer reach, more capabilities and faster speeds in order to increase not just the deployment but the flexibility of our Army brigades.
The security and intelligence agencies, including those in my constituency, play an absolutely vital role in identifying terrorists and keeping us safe, and the emphasis in the SDSR on strengthening our agencies is very welcome. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he will press on with legislation to ensure that, underpinned by robust judicial oversight, they have the powers as well as the resources they need to protect our country?
I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. He represents Cheltenham, and GCHQ is an amazing national resource. Many countries are extremely envious of the expertise we have built up over the years, and we should be very proud of what it does. We will invest in cyber—we will, I think, double the amount of money we put into cyber by the end of this Parliament—and establish a new cyber-command centre, which will also make a big difference.
In an increasingly uncertain world in which we cannot seem to predict the security measures needed in five years’ time, let alone 30 or 40 years’ time, does the Prime Minister agree with the Defence Committee’s report, which came out over the weekend, on the need for the SDSR to be flexible in its response to known and unknown threats? Does he also agree that that has to be underpinned by a renewed nuclear deterrent, because unilateral nuclear disarmament is not the answer?
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman’s last point. We should renew our deterrent, because in a dangerous world we want to have that ultimate insurance policy. I also agree with him that it is not possible to predict all the threats we will face over the coming period. That is why the report and my statement were so clear that we have to expect the unexpected and be flexible enough to prepare. That should not be an excuse, however, for not drawing together the threats we do know about and not making choices based on those threats. If the hon. Gentleman looks at page 87 of the document, he will see that we have set out tier 1, tier 2 and tier 3 threats. They will provoke a great debate among the experts about whether we have made the right choices, but at least we are setting out what the choices are.
I will do my very best to deliver on my hon. Friend’s request. That is what the defence growth partnership is about. Like any good customer, we are trying to say to defence companies large and small, “These are what our requirements are in the coming years. Work with us so that you can be a part of delivering their success.”
As the Member for Glasgow South West, I will work with anyone to protect jobs in the Clyde. Can the Prime Minister assure me that Ministers will keep me and my hon. Friend Carol Monaghan updated on the procurement timetable for the Type 26 frigates? I impress on him that any delays might lead to short-term job loss, which I am sure he would want to avoid.
Having visited the shipyards in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and seen the incredible technical expertise of the people working on the aircraft carriers and other projects, of course I want to see that happen. We will produce a shipbuilding strategy in 2016, so he can play a full part in looking at that. What we are doing, because of the timing, is having two offshore patrol vessels built in the coming period, to make sure that there is plenty of work to be done on useful vessels that have a real purpose. Then there are the Type 26 frigates, which are almost ready to go ahead, and then we will have the new generation of frigates, which will be more cost-effective and could lead to the opportunity for Glasgow shipbuilders to build ships for other countries as well as for the UK. We have not actually managed to sell many of our warships in recent years. That might be because we have been creating ever more expensive and ever more complex warships, rather than also thinking about slightly more flexible vessels that others, such as the Australian and New Zealand navies—old friends of ours—might want to buy.
While the Leader of the Opposition appears a very lonely figure on the other side of the House, I can say that my right hon. Friend has the full support of the Conservative Benches. I welcome his statement. I also welcome the decision to refocus our aid budget on fragile and failing states. Does he agree that that will not only prevent conflict in the future, but provide an important tool in bringing stability to the middle east and north Africa and really put our national interest in much clearer focus?
I believe our aid budget is the act not only of a moral nation, but of one that cares about its own security, because broken or conflict states tend to produce huge problems and issues for us at home as well. Not only will focusing that budget make sure that we can reduce those risks, but by having such a substantial budget, we are able to act quickly and decisively, which also gives us influence in how these problems are solved.
I believe that Britain’s membership of a reformed European Union is in our national interest. At a time when we face great dangers and great uncertainty in our world, I think it is worth looking at all the organisations of which we are members, such as the G7, the G20, NATO, the EU, and indeed the Commonwealth —there will be a major summit this week—and recognising that these friendships and partnerships help to keep us safe.
In my view, NATO is the organisation that has kept us safe since the second world war. It has been a very successful alliance. If we can secure a reform of the European Union we will not have to choose between belonging to NATO and belonging to a reformed European Union; we will be able to belong to both. I can see the advantages of that because we will increasingly see—as we are off the coast of Libya—British ships involved in trying to deal with potential threats to our country as part of European Union work that is also at the same time sanctioned by NATO.
In his statement, the Prime Minister correctly identified cyber-attacks and Daesh activities as the two biggest threats at the moment. Is it not the case that, for each of those activities, Trident is not a deterrent? With nuclear warheads travelling across Britain by road, is it not a £167 billion liability and target, not a deterrent?
Trident is not supposed to be a deterrent against cyber-attack. Trident is the ultimate insurance policy, in an unsafe and uncertain world, that we can never be subject to nuclear blackmail. That is why, if we look across the United Kingdom, we can see that people support having this ultimate insurance policy in a dangerous world.
Small firms play a very big part in keeping us safe and providing our defences. What they can see from this is a long-term commitment—we had the defence review in 2010 and another in 2015, and we have repeatedly committed to those key platforms that will keep us safe—so small businesses can work out, through the defence growth partnership, how to become part of that success.
The hon. Gentleman will have to wait for the outcome of the spending review—he only has to wait another 48 hours. The partnerships that we have put in place for the defence industry, the aerospace industry and other industries have been successful in generating growth, jobs and intellectual property.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement, particularly the reaffirmation of his personal commitment and our commitment as a country to the 0.7% spending target for aid. Will he reassure my constituents that their hard-earned cash will be spent only where it is squarely in our national interests to do so?
I certainly give that assurance. When my hon. Friend reads the overseas development document that we are publishing today, he will see the clear guidelines and aims that we are setting. Of course we want to tackle extreme poverty. That should be at the heart of everything we do. I would argue that that is in our national interest too, but broken, fragile and conflict states should be a greater focus of our aid and development effort.
Having the right balance between the appropriate equipment and sufficient available appropriately trained personnel must be a priority if the planned strike brigades are to be a successful operational reality. The Prime Minister said that the armed forces are the pride of our country. Does he understand that his plan to cut almost 30% of the civilian jobs will inevitably lead to front-line troops doing back-room jobs, which will undermine our defence capability and our commitments in the military covenant?
I obviously do not believe that that is the case. We asked our armed services and the Ministry of Defence to look carefully at what savings they could find, in order that we could put as much of the taxpayer’s hard-earned money as possible into the military capabilities that we need. In the end, the purpose of defence is to defend our nation. If we can find back-office savings and put them into the equipment we need, we should do it.
The other week, I was privileged to see the good that UK aid is doing in refugee camps in the middle east and the good that the RAF is doing in helping to defeat ISIL/Daesh in the skies over Iraq. Closer to home, will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Sussex police and crime commissioner, Katy Bourne, and her officers on the work that they are doing to tackle extremism in our communities?
I certainly join my hon. Friend in doing that. This is not something that we have discussed today, but in defeating the scourge of Islamist extremist violence, as well as doing more overseas or upstream to combat it and investing in our counter-terrorism and intelligence capabilities here, it is crucial that we fight the extremist narrative. We must take on the extremists, out-argue them and demonstrate that what they are doing bears no relation to the true religion of Islam.
I thank the Prime Minister for giving the whole House advance sight of his statement through the national press over the past two days. He says that he will increase the deployable armed forces by 20,000 personnel to 50,000 by 2025. How is that consistent with cutting the Regular Army by 20,000 by 2020?
We have moved to an Army of 82,000 and an Army Reserve of 30,000. We are trying to make sure that as much of that is deployable as possible. That must be in our national interest. When we take money off taxpayers and spend it on defence, we must spend it as effectively as possible. Clearly, we want as much of our military to be deployable as possible.
Because of these reforms, we will be able to deploy a force of 50,000 if we ever need to. I argue that that is good progress.
I welcome the announcement on the SDSR and the fact that we will once again have a carrier strike capability. However, carriers cannot be deployed on their own; they need to be part of a group. Will the Prime Minister reassure me that the Royal Navy will have the resources and the fleet to provide a carrier group?
I can certainly provide that assurance. It is important that we have the frigates, submarines, helicopters and other things that are necessary to protect our carriers.
The review has thrown up a shopping list of £178 billion over the next decade. Firms in Northern Ireland are capable of delivering anything from missiles to uniforms. What specific steps does the Prime Minister intend to take to ensure that firms have the opportunity to bid and be part of the supply chain?
The Defence Secretary will set out an SME target for procurement. I also encourage firms in Northern Ireland to take part in the defence growth partnership, which is an opportunity for us to be a good customer, as I have said. A good customer talks to their suppliers long in advance of the order being made, so that they can prepare to bid for the work that is coming.
Members of the House rise to support Government spending commitments and often ask for more money, yet when it comes to cuts in Government expenditure they are not as enthusiastic. Can the Prime Minister do more to ensure that all Members of the House understand that we can have national military security only if we have national economic security?
At the end of this long statement my hon. Friend brings us back down to earth. None of these choices is possible if we do not have a strong economy that can support them. That is crucial.
Does the Prime Minister agree that the replacement of the Trident nuclear weapon of mass destruction should be a matter of serious consultation with the people of this country, including the people of Scotland who are expected to live next door to it? Is he scared of what the result of that consultation might be?
Of course this issue must be carefully thought through, but we have been clear that the decision on Trident is necessary. It has been part of Government programmes for many decades, it supports many thousands of jobs in Scotland, and I believe that it helps to keep our country safe.
The interface between the police and the armed forces is crucial when events such as those in Paris take place. How does my right hon. Friend see that interface developing in the years ahead to ensure a rapid response anywhere in the country where it is required?
I am grateful that my hon. Friend has asked that question because it enables me to clarify a point that was raised earlier. Whatever the outcome of the spending review with the police, and however many police we have available, given the dangerous times we live in and the possibility of mass casualty attacks, it makes sense to break down barriers that were previously put in the way of the military being able to deploy rapidly on to the streets of our country. We have this plan for 5,000 trained military personnel—soon to be 10,000—on whom the police can call. That does not in any way undermine the police; it gives them an additional power to bring to bear at a time of great need.
It is good that there will be more investment in the cyber-security programme, but the industry sector says that there is a skills shortage of staff to work in applied intelligence. How will the Government attract and train more specialists to address that critical skills gap?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Hiring and maintaining people at GCHQ, and not losing them to what are now very well-paid industries, can be difficult. We must ensure that we train more people in maths and science, and that more girls study those subjects through to A-levels and degrees. That is beginning to happen in our country, and we must build on it.
I know that any talk of co-operation between our defence forces and another European country brings some of our colleagues out in hives, but does my right hon. Friend agree that France is a country that shares our world view and has good armed forces? We must build on the Lancaster House agreement, and I hope that the Prime Minister’s discussions with President Hollande went in that direction.
My hon. Friend is right. Britain and France are two European powers that have a similar place in the world, a similar belief in strong defence, and a similar understanding that that is an essential part of their global reach. That is why it makes such good sense for us to co-operate and work together. The Lancaster House agreement has us co-operating on even the most sensitive areas of nuclear technology, as well as more straightforward deployments, but I am still convinced that there is more we can do. There should be a great affinity between the British and French military. As we have seen from the successful French campaign in Mali, and from all the work we have done in countries as far afield as Afghanistan and Nigeria, there is a lot we can do by learning from each other and working together to make the world a safer place.
I can confirm that the DFID budget will go up. Of course, if one is spending 0.7% of gross national income on aid in a growing economy, one does not have to be Einstein to work out that the aid budget will go up. It is absolutely right that we use some of the aid budget for the conflict, stability and security fund, which is allowed under the overseas development aid rules. It is also right that we spend some of our aid budget on vital science and research, which, again, is allowed under the rules. We were very clear about that in our manifesto and that is exactly what we are delivering.
I thank the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and all colleagues for devoting two hours to this. I know it has been a long time, but these are very serious matters and they have been treated very seriously by the House.
I had been advised of a point of order, but Members have been afflicted by a bout of sudden reticence. It appears there is no such point of order at this time.