Armed Forces Capability: Future Security Threats

Defence – in the House of Commons on 21st September 2020.

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Photo of Gagan Mohindra Gagan Mohindra Conservative, South West Hertfordshire

What steps his Department is taking to ensure that armed forces capability is adequate to tackle future security threats.

Photo of Joy Morrissey Joy Morrissey Conservative, Beaconsfield

What steps his Department is taking to ensure that armed forces capability is adequate to tackle future security threats.

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace The Secretary of State for Defence

The Ministry of Defence is examining its capability requirements through the integrated review, guided by Defence Intelligence’s understanding of the threats we face now and in the future. We are examining the evolving doctrines, structures and capabilities of our adversaries to ensure that we develop the capabilities required to deliver the operations of tomorrow.

Photo of Gagan Mohindra Gagan Mohindra Conservative, South West Hertfordshire

The defence industry employs tens of thousands of people. Long-term investment in defence will drive economic growth and support highly paid, highly skilled jobs, all of which is in our national interest. Will my right hon. Friend work with the Treasury to ensure that the defence industry is central to plans for our economic recovery and that an ambitious strategy is reflected in the integrated review?

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace The Secretary of State for Defence

I am always happy to work with the Treasury on any number of subjects. Defence’s multibillion-pound investment in the UK powers the skills, innovation and capabilities that keep this country safe, secure and competitive. As a Lancashire MP, Mr Speaker, you will recognise how important the industry is to the skills base in our constituencies. Defence is leading a review of the defence and security industrial strategy to identify steps to ensure a competitive and world-class industrial base that delivers investment, employment and prosperity across the whole United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Photo of Joy Morrissey Joy Morrissey Conservative, Beaconsfield

Following recent media reports, what more can my right hon. Friend say on the role that Defence Intelligence plays in assessing threats and our ability to counter them? Will he consider meeting me about an issue concerning a former MOD intelligence training site in Beaconsfield?

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace The Secretary of State for Defence

Defence Intelligence uses its 4,500 exceptionally talented staff to collect, analyse and exploit intelligence. By working internationally and with other Departments, it is able to judge today’s threat and tomorrow’s and ensure that that feeds into the future design under the integrated review.

Photo of John Healey John Healey Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

May I start by paying tribute to the forces men and women who are working to help the country through the covid crisis? We may soon need to turn to them again, in the face of this renewed pandemic threat.

On the integrated review, I recognise that the cycle of defence decisions does not match the cycle of political elections. Britain still benefits from the skills, technologies and capabilities at the heart of Labour’s Drayson review 15 years ago. The Opposition want the Government to get this integrated review right, but when this is the third Conservative review in just 10 years, how will the Defence Secretary avoid making the big mistakes of the last two?

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace The Secretary of State for Defence

The mistake of all the defence reviews—including the 1998 one, which was exceptionally good, and Lord Drayson’s review—was that they were not matched by funding. The Labour party had exactly the same problem at its last review, which is why in 2010 we inherited a black hole of billions of pounds, and indeed, there is a black hole now, identified by the National Audit Office. This is not unique to any political party. Selective picking of the last two reviews, when I could probably talk about the last five, makes no difference. The key is to ensure that our review is driven by threat. The threat defines what we need to do to keep us safe at home, and the ambition defines how far we wish to go. All that then needs to be matched with Treasury funding. If we are over-ambitious, underfunded or both, we will in a few years’ time end up in the position we are in today and have been in the past. It has been my determination to support the men and women of the armed forces the shadow Secretary of State talks about by making sure that we give them something we can afford and tailoring our ambition to match our pocket.

Photo of John Healey John Healey Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

Of course, the Labour Government invested in defence at a higher rate each year than that of the previous 10 years, but the Secretary of State is right about the big aims and challenges. He has previously described the 2015 review as over-ambitious and underfunded, and to over-promise and under-deliver has become something of a hallmark of this Government, but that most recent review left Britain with a £7 billion black hole for military equipment; 8,000 fewer soldiers than Ministers pledged as the minimum; and multibillion-pound contracts placed abroad when we could build in Britain. Of course, there is also a pandemic disease, which was confirmed as a tier 1 threat but no Government action was taken to prepare for it. For all the Secretary of State’s talk of the grand picture and grand strategy, does he accept that the British public and the Opposition will judge the Government by these tests?

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace The Secretary of State for Defence

I think that I misheard. I thought the shadow Secretary of State was talking about the position that we inherited in 2010, which was underfunded and over-ambitious—indeed, there was an equipment hole so big that many of the tanks could be driven through it. He could also point out that our men and women in the armed forces have been ready: they have delivered an excellent covid response and have not been found wanting in any way. That is partly because of the investment we have put into them, but also because of expert leadership through the officers and the civil servants in the Department and across the Government.

I assure the shadow Secretary of State that the best way to avoid the pitfalls of the past is to make sure that our ambition is matched by our pockets and what we put into the review. That is fundamentally the best thing we can do for all our forces. I would be delighted to hear the Labour party’s ambition on foreign policy and security; the previous Labour party leadership’s ambition for foreign policy was surrender.

Photo of Stewart McDonald Stewart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence)

I echo the comments of the shadow Secretary of State, John Healey, about the armed forces and the job they are doing in the current crisis.

We in Scotland know all about over-ambition and under-delivery when it comes to the Ministry of Defence, because six years ago we were promised a frigate factory, but that promise was broken, and we were promised 12,500 regular troops in Scotland, but the number has never even come close to hitting 10,000. Is it not time, if we are to avoid this cycle of over-promising and under-delivery, to move towards multi-year defence agreements that bring together the Secretary of State’s Department, the Treasury and parties in this House to prevent the £13 billion equipment-plan black hole from growing ever further?

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace The Secretary of State for Defence

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. Of course, he may have missed the Type 31 frigate and the Type 26 ships that are being made in Scotland. He may have missed Faslane, although I know they do not want to talk about that in the Scottish National party. He may have missed the recent basing of the P-8s in Kinloss. There will be more investment and more units placed in Scotland, because we believe that the United Kingdom is the best union in this country to deliver security for all its citizens. We do not believe in separation; we do not believe in putting borders between our two countries; and we do not believe in trying to kid-on people in Scotland that they will get something for nothing with a Scottish navy or Scottish armed forces. We are stronger when we are together—that is the United Kingdom and that is what will continue to invest in. There are plenty of troops and plenty of navy in Scotland supporting the security of us all.

Photo of Stewart McDonald Stewart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence)

The Government promised 12,500 and the Secretary of State has not once come close to delivering 10,000. He promised a frigate factory and his Department has never come close to delivering it. He must know the difference between the frigate itself and the frigate factory promised under the Conservative Government at the time.

Let us look at Denmark, a country that does use multi-year defence agreements. It does not have a £13.5 billion black hole in its equipment plan; it trebled its defence spending a little over one year ago. Why does the Secretary of State not answer the question? We can take the heat out of these exchanges if he takes our advice and moves to multi-year defence agreements. Will we see that progress, as we were repeatedly told we would, when the integrated review is published next month?

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace The Secretary of State for Defence

We are going to have a multi-year integrated review that sets the course for the next few years so that we can settle down and face tomorrow’s threat, not yesterday’s threat. Scottish National party Members always resort to “Let’s save one regiment or the other” rather than discussing what the threat could be to Scotland and how they are going to deal with it. Fundamentally, all these reviews are supposed to happen not annually but over a number of years. The hon. Member will know that the Treasury has already talked about a four-year spending settlement in the next comprehensive spending review for capital and a three-year settlement for revenue, so it is based on multiple years. Instead of arguing about the difference between a frigate factory and a systems integrator, supplier, subcontractor or supply chain supporter, it would be nice if he would recognise that in Scotstoun and Govan, and in Glenrothes and Fife alone, there are thousands of jobs linked to defence, many of which would not exist if Scotland took a separatist path and abandoned the defence industry and the security of these isles.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Chair, Defence Committee, Chair, Defence Committee, Chair, Defence Sub-Committee, Chair, Defence Sub-Committee

Could the Secretary of State say when this integrated review will actually be published? Following the briefings this morning in No. 10, arguably the biggest threat facing this nation is covid-19, with cases once again rising. We must learn lessons from the first spike. It is clear that the bandwidth—the capacity—of all Governments, including the UK’s, is being tested by this enduring emergency. I have said this before and I say it again: please will he encourage greater use of our senior armed forces to help to advance Whitehall’s strategic thinking, operational planning and delivery, as well as the clarity of the message? They are, after all, trained for crisis management and emergency planning; let us make full use of them.

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace The Secretary of State for Defence

On the timing of the review, it will hopefully report in the autumn—in October/November time. To ensure that our pockets match our ambitions, it is timed to coincide with the comprehensive spending review. Therefore, between the two, we have to make sure that we get the timing right.

On the issue of covid and Defence, we did a fantastic job in the first phase, in my view, through our men and women of the armed forces. We helped to thicken the response across government by command and control, with senior officers and middle-ranking officers going in and helping people. We strengthened the logistics supply chain in the NHS. We provided mobile testing to make sure that testing went to where people were rather than expecting them to get in cars and go up and down motorways. Our response was excellently positioned. Because we were able to make that response, we have already, backed up by people like those in Defence Intelligence, started planning for any second eventuality, either a second wave or not a wave but an alternative challenge, whether that is winter pressures, floods or Brexit. All that is ongoing. I am confident that our men and women will be able to deliver, whatever demands are put on government. I offer them to government on a regular basis. I know that the Prime Minister is incredibly supportive of taking up that offer when the needs fit.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

Operation Arbacia has exposed international terror links running from Iran to Ireland and from Hezbollah to the Real IRA. When will the Government be in a position to proscribe the framework operation of that organisation—namely, the Muslim Brotherhood—here in the United Kingdom, and when will they be able to put that organisation out of business?

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace The Secretary of State for Defence

Hezbollah is proscribed—the political wing as well as the military wing. Real, New and Continuity IRA, and all the other dissident republican groups, are also proscribed. The point that the hon. Gentleman really highlights is that the malign activity of Iran has not stopped. People who think that that does not get back to us on our streets should look at that latest operation, which showed New IRA reaching out in Lebanon or working with Hezbollah and other actors potentially aligned to Iran to potentially inflict murder and death on these streets, either here or in Northern Ireland. We should not forget that. Old habits die hard. These people are now potentially subject to judicial trial, and I cannot do anything to threaten that, but we should point to the facts that he highlights and show that our adversaries link up around the world.