[Relevant documents: First Report of the Defence Committee, Session 2019-21, In Search of Strategy—The 2020 Integrated Review, HC 165, and the Government response, HC 910; Oral evidence taken before the Defence Committee on
Before I call Tobias Ellwood, I should say that there will be a four-minute limit on Back-Bench contributions. A number of colleagues want to get in on this debate. I do not mind interventions, but they prevent other people from speaking unless colleagues stick to four minutes. If that does not happen, I will reduce it to three minutes, so I would urge colleagues, especially those in the Chamber, to be very aware of the effect of that.
I beg to move,
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allotting this debate today. Let me begin by expressing my gratitude for what the armed forces do for our country. They do not just watch our backs and keep us safe at night; they are our back-up and who we call upon to step forward in times of need, which is no better exemplified than during the pandemic.
The origins of this integrated review date back to the Queen’s Speech in December 2019, billed as
“the most radical reassessment of our place in the world since the end of the Cold War”.
Simply put, the function of any review of this kind is, first, to assess the current and emerging threats and opportunities that we face; secondly, to define the UK’s ambitions on the international stage; and, finally, to upgrade our soft and hard power credentials so we can continue to defend our interests and support those ambitions.
The world is a more dangerous place since the last comprehensive review in 2015. The Chief of the Defence Staff recently described
“the strategic context as uncertain, complex and dynamic;
with the defining condition being one of chronic instability.”
The causes of this era of instability are, first, the West, including us, having become risk-averse, increasingly unclear what we collectively stand for, believe in or, indeed, are willing to defend.
Secondly, authoritarianism is on the rise across the world. Ever more states and non-state actors are abusing our dated international rules-based order to pursue their own agendas. Finally, advances in technologies and our growing reliance on data have altered the very character of conflict, allowing attacks on our way of life to be exacted below the threshold of traditional military response.
So how should Britain respond? We should have an integrated review so that we can clarify our long-term strategy relating to China, to Russia, to extremism that is once again on the rise. What are our intentions to help to resolve hotspots such as Yemen? What is our post-Brexit security relationship with the EU? Currently there is none. What are the latest assumptions about the security consequences of climate change and of future pandemics? Most fundamentally, what are our ambitions to repair our frail, rules-based order? Our history, connectivity, international reach, and soft and hard power strengths have traditionally allowed us to step forward when other nations hesitate. Today we hold the G7 presidency, and with the United States just last week reaffirming its resolve to lead the west in confronting global instability, we are overdue in clarifying what “global Britain” means.
The absence of a review is having consequences. Without confirming our international role, our interests and our ambitions, how can the Ministry of Defence craft a requisite defence posture? How can our defence industry plan for the future? In updating our military architecture, we must also be frank about our current capabilities. We should be honest. We perpetuate the myth that our incredible professional armed forces can meet all their taskings and that they have all the kit they need. In reality, that is not the case: our forces are overstretched; sadly, they are now underpaid; and they are often lacking the equipment or the number of platforms to do the taskings that we ask of them.
Yes, the Royal Navy has two incredible aircraft carriers, but our surface fleet is now too small to protect our post-Brexit maritime trade interests. In the Army, our main battle tank and our Warrior armoured personnel carriers are now more than 20 years old, waiting for the green light of the integrated review to know whether they will get upgraded or not. The Royal Air Force has just introduced a formidable F-35 stealth fighter. Unfortunately, we are now only purchasing 48 of 138, because the money is no longer available.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. If we reduce the order, not only does that reduce the actual number of aircraft; it also affects workshare and the work going forward. I represent an area that includes Sealand, which has a direct interest in the F-35, which is obviously a vital aircraft for this country’s defences.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman; there are knock-on consequences to delaying decisions, and to changing the promises and commitments that were made in previous reviews.
Yes, the MOD received an additional £16.5 billion in December for the rest of this Parliament, but the Office for Budget Responsibility confirms that there is a £7 billion shortfall in the 10-year equipment plan. Of course we want to seek to retain full-spectrum capability, but investment in the new cyber and space programmes has been paid for by cuts to our conventional capabilities. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is the need for resilience and flexibility. I therefore stress that it would be a grave error to reduce the size of the Army by the speculated 10,000 troops. I suspect that the Whips might have a problem if that were put to a vote in this House.
Let me step back; what Britain has traditionally brought to the table is our leadership. Our diplomatic reach, agency work and overseas aid programmes have allowed us to offer workable solutions to problems and to lead the alliances to fix them. I am genuinely concerned that Whitehall has lost the bandwidth—or, indeed, the appetite—to do this. I hope that the publication of the integrated review will prove me wrong.
Finally, I want to turn to China, our biggest geopolitical long-term threat, which warrants its own chapter in the review. For decades, the west has turned a blind eye to China’s human rights abuses and democratic deficit, hoping that it will mature into a global responsible citizen. Well, we now realise that that will not happen. China’s conduct in the pandemic, in Hong Kong, in the South China sea, along with its continued abuse of World Trade Organisation rules and the way it has saddled dozens of countries with debt confirms that it is pursuing a competing long-term geopolitical agenda, which, left unchecked, will progressively see our world splinter into two spheres of influence.
Economically, technologically and militarily, China will challenge and possibly overtake US dominance in our lifetime. Militarily, China’s navy grows by the size of our Navy every single year. It is now introducing its own fifth generation air force, and its army is now the largest in the world. It is sending more rockets into space than all the other nations combined and perfecting space-based weapons.
In my view, cold war two has already begun, but we are still in denial and too timid to call it out, because of China’s mighty economic clout. This time, it will not be a build-up of military hardware, troops and nuclear weapons either side of an iron curtain. It will be fought on two very different fronts. First, nations will be forced to take sides, and China is winning here. It is neutralising countries by ensnaring them in long-term debt, controlling states by owning their data and paralysing the international apparatus, such as the United Nations, so removing global scrutiny. Secondly, it involves so-called short of war operations, bypassing direct military engagement through the use of cyber weapons to hit societies directly, as every aspect of our lives goes online. This is the modern battlefield: interference in our critical national infrastructure, including eventually satellites; misinformation via social media; and data theft, including personal data. This is the new reality that the integrated review must address.
I hope that I have articulated to the Minister why this review of all reviews in our generation is arguably the most important for us to publish. It was a brave Churchill in 1946 who warned the west in his iron curtain speech of the advancing Soviet threat. This review offers our Prime Minister today an opportunity to do something similar, starting by expanding the G7 permanently to include Australia, India and Korea, which would represent more than half the world’s GDP, the basis on which we could reform our international trade and security standards. For China’s Achilles heel is its economy. Global trade is critical for China’s advancement. During the last war, the UK and the US got together to write the Atlantic Charter, which formed the basis for so many of the Bretton Woods organisations that built up our world order and which has served us so well for the past few decades. They now need attention. Perhaps it is time for us to look at an Atlantic Charter 2.0. Again, this is something on which the integrated view could focus.
In conclusion, it is time to up our game. The integrated review is a critical statement of intent, re-establishing our post-Brexit credentials and setting out a coherent vision of the UK’s place in the world. It is vital that the Government produce this roadmap, because it is currently missing. I hope that the Minister and the Government are listening carefully to the impressive list of parliamentary colleagues who will be speaking today, no doubt supporting this publication. I hope that there will be no further delay in the integrated review. It must be not another exercise to salami-slice capabilities, manpower, or indeed defence spending but a genuine appraisal of our defence posture and the formal confirmation of our nation elevating its global ambitions and its desire to play a more proactive role on the international stage.
The four-minute limit will now come into effect. For those participating virtually, the countdown clock will be visible on the screens. In the Chamber, it will be in the usual place on the clock.
The Chairman of the Defence Committee, with whom I am pleased to serve, mentioned the Atlantic Charter. I am very proud of the fact that that charter was brought in by the post-war Labour Government of Ernest Bevin and Clem Attlee to deal with the existential threat that this country was facing.
Looking at the current review, everyone recognises the linkages between the elements of defence, security, foreign policy and development. As US Defence Secretary Mattis said:
“If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately”.
As a member of the Defence Committee and a previous Defence Minister, I also have to be concerned that the Defence budget is not carved up to fund the other areas, because that is what we were facing in the earlier policy review. There was a glaring need to expand cyber and intelligence capability. That was obvious, but it was all within a zero budget. Something had to give, and if there had not been cross-party uproar, it would have been the Defence budget, with a catastrophic impact on equipment, troop numbers, facilities and morale. That is still a threat, and it would be a huge mistake.
Our previous ambassador to the United States, Kim Darroch, recently gave evidence to the Defence Committee. He said:
“I would be really worried about reducing further the size of the British Army. I say that in part on the basis of my experience in Washington. I would go into the Department of Defense and occasionally to see General Mattis myself or to take people in to see him and his predecessor under the Obama Administration. One of the things that both would say consistently is, ‘You are already too small—in terms of your Army. I mean, 80,000 just isn’t good enough. You need to be above 100,000. It is a big mistake to reduce to the level you are at. For goodness’ sake, do not go down any further and expect to retain your current level of credibility in Washington.’”
Ironically, one of the outcomes of the dither and delay that we have seen on the strategic review that has been to our advantage is that we can relate to the new Biden Administration and the new policies that are rapidly reshaping internal and external policy for the United States. We must certainly work with the Biden Administration to reinforce NATO after the instability of the unlamented Trump regime, but we need to have credibility in order to do that.
That brings me to the second underpinning of our defence and security strategy, which must be resilience, not only in our service personnel, crucial as that is, but in their support, both from civilian employees and also in industry. Surely even the dinosaurs in the Treasury have learned from the covid pandemic that the cost of running down capacity is penny wise, pound foolish on an exponential scale. That is why the mood of the country has shifted, and the pressure will be on the Ministry of Defence to back British industry wherever possible—so I say to the Defence Department: get on with the support ship contract! We must also value the work and commitment of the support personnel and cut out the pernicious dogma that private provision is always best. It has a role, but as we can see from what is currently happening at Faslane, the bean counters are splitting the contracts into smaller competing packages, leading to a complexity of multiple providers and interfaces and a lack of a clear line of accountability. And that on our nuclear deterrent base—really?
What a joy it is to follow two such pro-defence warriors as we have just heard. As the years roll by, the contents of defence reviews get vaguer as their titles grow more convoluted. In my time in Parliament, we have moved from the 1998 strategic defence review through the 2010 strategic defence and security review, the 2015 national security strategy and strategic defence review and the 2018 national security capability review to the snappily titled integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy that we are discussing today.
Conducting such exercises in public will always be problematic. When a conflict is actually under way, it is folly to spell out our strategy, yet in between crises it is usually impossible to predict which potential conflicts will actually occur. If we want peaceful co-existence and our adversary does not, he has the choice of whether, when, where and how to attack. We, by contrast, must maintain a range of capabilities to deal with a wide spectrum of threats. Because an opponent’s intentions can change far more quickly than military capabilities, a democracy must maintain maximum flexibility to deal with the unexpected.
The spectrum of threats runs from nuclear and other mass destruction weapons through to conventional or hard military power, and then, via cyber-space and subversion, to disinformation—the latter three on an industrial scale thanks to the coming of the internet. The range of options available to democracies in the face of such threats runs from deterrence through to containment, and then to the dire last-resort alternatives of open warfare or submission to the attacker’s demands. If only deterrents could meet all potential threats, that would clearly be ideal, but while one can deter some of the most destructive methods of aggression, containment must be used to hold hostile states and aggressive ideologies in check until they evolve into something less virulent. In cyber-space, there is a role for deterrence by building resilience and ensuring that would-be attackers will face unacceptable and unavoidable penalties, while at the level of subversion, which is often commercial and financial, not just ideological, the role of good intelligence work is of paramount importance.
As I have already in the past expressed doubts about the wisdom of holding strategic reviews of this sort in public, I will spend the remaining short period of time posing a few questions about the intelligence aspects. I would like to know from the Government whether Defence Intelligence, in particular, will have the necessary agility and breadth to meet the newer threats on the spectrum. Can some detail on the operation of the National Cyber Force announced at the end of last year be provided in the context of the review? Will adequate investment be made in UK capability to operate in the so-called grey zone of disinformation and influence operations, which can be contained but are difficult to deter? Will such investments be funded by additional resources and not be at the expense of conventional capabilities needed to counter hard-power threats elsewhere on the spectrum? Finally, if the fusion doctrine set out in the national security capability review continues to move elements of national security policy into Government Departments not traditionally involved in such work, will parliamentary oversight of those national security elements be facilitated, and will my Committee be able to do its job in that respect?
When the integrated review was announced, many of us feared for the future of the UK’s contribution to international aid and development. The Prime Minister has made it clear previously that he placed little value on aid spending, remarking that the UK could not
“keep spending huge sums of British taxpayers’ money as though we were some independent Scandinavian NGO.”
Rather than recognising the UK’s moral duty to help the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people, the Prime Minister’s ambition was to use aid money to promote global Britain and advance the UK’s political, commercial and diplomatic interests. It was expected that he would at least go through the pretence of a review, but with the integrated review paused due to covid-19 and without any external consultation, the Prime Minister announced that he would abolish the world-leading Department for International Development. The Government dismissed the opinion of experts, including over 200 non-governmental organisations, who called on the Prime Minister to reverse his decision, and instead pursued his long-term desire to merge the Department into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
The Chancellor compounded this when he announced that the UK would reduce its aid commitment from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income—a shocking abrogation of responsibility and morally reprehensible, particularly in this global health crisis. The Chancellor shamefully used covid and protecting public finances as his excuse for this reckless and inhumane cut. He conveniently forgot, however, that a windfall had been delivered to the defence budget the previous week. Westminster once again put bombs before bairns. Huge sums are already being lost due to the fall in the amount of GNI, and this further cut means that the aid budget is going to be cut by up to a third. Let us be in no doubt: this is devastating. In the midst of a global pandemic, we should be stepping up, not stepping away. The UN has already warned that covid-19 will set back development gains by decades, and millions have been pushed into poverty.
The reality of these cuts is that each year 5.5 million fewer children are being immunised and 105,000 more lives are being lost, while almost 1 million fewer children are being supported to gain a decent education and 7.6 million fewer women and girls are being provided with modern methods of family planning. Crucially, until legislation is brought forward and enacted, it is the Government’s legal responsibility to ensure that 0.7% of GNI is spent on official development assistance. Anything else would be unlawful and this House must hold them to account on that. Reports suggest that the Government will delay any legislation until after the G7 summit in June. Reneging on the 0.7% target is just another example of the UK abandoning its international commitments.
The Government are embarrassing themselves on the world stage as they become increasingly isolated and insular, with the Prime Minister breaking his own manifesto commitments to imitate and appease his Brexit allies Cummings and Farage. This mindset has driven the Government’s decisions on international development in the integrated review—a mindset that has routinely advocated using the aid budget to build a new royal yacht Britannia; that believes a strategic priority of UK aid is to build the trading and investment partners of the future; and that encourages spending on spies, enhanced cyber-weapons and artificial intelligence-enabled drones rather than on alleviating extreme poverty. This is not a global Britain; it is a little Britain. No matter how many Union Jacks the UK Government wave or parade in front of our televisions, this mindset is best described as Hobbesian: being solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.
Finally, with the UK seemingly intent on breaking its commitments and abandoning the world’s most vulnerable people when they need us most, we in the Scottish National party will continue to oppose this mindset, and Scotland will soon fulfil its obligations as an independent nation, delivering aid for the world’s poorest as part of the global effort to eradicate poverty.
It is a great pleasure to follow Chris Law. I thought his Hobbesian description was somewhat negative given that Hobbes was talking about civil war and the separation of the kingdom into different parts, whereas what the Government have achieved through one of the areas that is essential to the planned integrated review—that is, of course, science —is really quite remarkable.
If we look at the achievements of Kate Bingham, we see that the Government have delivered something fundamental to the future strategic strength of our entire nation: the deployment of science and innovation alongside enterprise and—yes—finance to make the whole much greater than the sum of the parts. This is a fantastic achievement in the face of a virus that is affecting the entire world, and it will no doubt deliver an enormous amount for the entire globe, as we will see that the innovation and development we have achieved in the United Kingdom will become something of a gift to all.
That leads me to the second area that is essential for our integrated review to be successful: technology. From AI to quantum computing, the achievements of our start- up nation and our universities are going to be fundamental to ensuring our strategic strength and depth into the future. That is why so many of us have been passionate advocates for the Government’s National Security and Investment Bill and are absolutely supportive of its aims —although some of us would rather make a few tweaks. The Bill is essential to the development of the future of our green economy. Whether in hydrogen energy, about which many of us are passionate because of China’s domination of the battery industry, or other areas, there are many technologies in which we are already leading.
That brings me to the element on which I am afraid the Government really could do more. They really do need to publish the integrated review. They have the most fantastic team in No. 10—led by someone who was an adviser to the Foreign Affairs Committee, so I admit to a bias there. The Government could easily publish a fantastic report on how they see this issue going forward. Bringing together the full arms of the state—all the institutions that the British people have at their disposal—is exactly what we need if we are to be able to fight our corner in the coming decade. The world is changing, the rules are changing and the norms are changing. We set the standards by encoding into written law the norms that we grew up with over the past 200 years. Other countries are, quite understandably, encoding their own standards into the electronic code that now runs our lives. As that is becoming cheaper and cheaper, we are seeing technological decoupling and a reversal of some of the globalisation that was achieved in the late 1990s.
This is a moment of challenge for all of us, but I think Britain can succeed. Britain is not only at the heart of a networked world, with some of the best, oldest and strongest alliances around the world—we also have the people. We have the diplomats and the aid workers. We have the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. We have the businesses, the finance houses, the innovators, the farmers and so many more who can generate that kind of lead. Indeed, our scientists and our NHS are demonstrating it today. What we need now is not a new orchestra. We need the conductor to set out the tune, so that we can all play it, because Britain will succeed if we know where we are going.
I am pleased that we are having this debate and that there will be a review of foreign and defence policy that includes foreign affairs, defence and international aid. But it is a great shame—in fact, it is more than a shame; it is terrible—that on
This review needs to concentrate on the issues that face the world as a whole. The covid pandemic has shown just how dangerous this world is and just how dangerous the threat of another pandemic is, which is now seen as a tier 1 threat. The Government were advised in 2008 of the need to prioritise preparations for dealing with a global pandemic. The shortages of personal protective equipment and everything else show that they absolutely did not do that. The introduction to that report quite rightly says, on page 3, that we should look at the “drivers” of conflict. The wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and now Yemen have led to an unprecedented number of refugees around the world. Some 65 million people—fellow citizens of this planet—have no home of their own and no secure place to live. They want to contribute to the world’s future.
If we are to have a rational review of what we are to achieve in the future, we must surely look at the issues facing the security of the planet, which obviously means our own security at the same time. One of those issues is global inequality. The gap between the richest and the poorest was, at the best times, beginning to close, but because of the economic slowdown due to the coronavirus, it is likely to get wider and wider. More people will be short of food, and more people will be leading insecure lives, and that will be the driver of the terrorists and threats of tomorrow.
Later this year, COP26 will meet in Glasgow, where I hope we will come to an agreement that we will get to net zero by 2030. That means that the priority for all of us should be looking at the issues that face the world—refugees, global poverty, environmental disaster and, of course, trade supplies and food chains for the future; we are a trading nation, and we need to be sure that we can still trade and buy things from elsewhere. We have a very big job on our hands, and I hope the review takes all those issues on board.
The last thing I would like to say in the few seconds I have left is quite simply this. The threat of a nuclear war has now been downgraded to tier 2. The treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons—the global ban—has been supported and signed by 86 nations and ratified by 52. Opinion polls show 59% support in this country for signing it. The global network of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament shows the importance of it. When the non-proliferation treaty comes up for review, let us make a positive contribution and a real effort to bring about a world free of nuclear weapons in the future. Let us concentrate on human rights, poverty and the issues that face us, because that will ultimately make us more secure.
I want to make two principal points about the integrated review. The first is about Ministry of Defence procurement, which has frankly become a basket case. The National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee have produced numerous reports in recent years outlining the chronic failures in the MOD’s procurement function. One recent NAO report highlighted that of the 32 major projects managed by Defence Equipment and Support, only five are running to schedule, and many, as well as being late, are also running considerably over budget. The latest NAO report on the equipment plan, published on
One procurement after another is now in serious trouble. The Ajax recce vehicle, Astute submarines, the Crowsnest airborne early warning platform, the Challenger 2 upgrade, the Warrior capability sustainment programme —the list goes on and on, and yet nothing ever really changes. The procurement bureaucracy ploughs on regardless like a giant super-tanker, but one that is probably 40% over budget and five years late.
The increase of the defence budget by £4 billion a year over four years—a roughly 10% increase—is very welcome indeed. Nevertheless, unless we can seriously reform procurement, it will be the equivalent of simply handing large wodges of cash to a chronic alcoholic. About 40% of the entire defence budget is now spent on equipment, including support, yet DE&S at Abbey Wood is persistently incapable of managing its contractors properly and efficiently. If we cannot grasp that nettle once and for all in this review, the whole exercise will have been largely a complete waste of time.
Secondly, if because we cannot cut the Gordian knot of defence procurement, we look for savings elsewhere by slashing the Regular Army, that will only compound the error, as the deputy Chairman of the Committee, John Spellar, made so plain. There is really little point in Ministers promulgating the concept of global Britain and punching above our weight on the world stage if at the same time we are reducing our Regular Army to 72,000 and discarding some of the best line infantry battalions in the world as a result.
The new Biden Administration are already very worried about that, and from what I hear privately they have a perfect right to be. This is now a very live issue—75,000 versus 72,000. I understand that no final decisions have yet been taken, so I appeal to Ministers to draw back before it is too late and reject the 72,000 proposal while there is still time.
As Kipling famously reminded us:
“For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ ‘Chuck him out, the brute!’
But it’s ‘Saviour of ’is country’ when the guns begin to shoot”.
Let us not destroy some of the finest line infantry in the world simply because we lack the moral courage to fundamentally reform the way we buy their kit.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. The UK’s departure from the EU and the upcoming publication of the integrated review has prompted a great deal of thinking about the role of the British state in the world. To date, far too much of the political discourse in this House has been based on empty slogans such as “global Britain” and “Empire 2.0”. Much of that vein of British nationalism is based on the misguided concept of superiority—hence the glib use of phrases such as “world-beating” and “best in the world” by Ministers and media propagandists.
I fear that the grand illusions that drove much of the Brexit debate will drive the UK’s foreign policy in a direction that is foolishly based on the exercise of military power. For example, sending an aircraft carrier and an accompanying strike group to the South China sea to showcase carrier capability seems a bizarre strategic decision when it comes to defence and security priorities. Instead, I urge the British Government to forget their superiority complex, stop wasting billions on weapons of mass destruction and realise that, in the real world, it is through working with others that policy objectives can be best achieved.
That brings me to where I believe the British state should prioritise future investment. The essence of our defence policy must be security. I do not believe the British state faces any prospect of invasion from another state; rather, the security threat comes from terrorism and cyber-warfare. A mass-casualty event in the UK is far more likely to come via the use of a terrorist dirty bomb using nuclear, chemical or biological technology than via a state-sponsored missile strike.
I share concerns that the trade and co-operation agreement between the EU and the UK could reduce the resources available to law enforcement agencies to tackle those threats following the loss of access to Europol, Eurojust and the second Schengen information system. Access to such systems would be far more effective in identifying and neutralising sporadic terrorist threats than any nuclear bomb, warship or tank.
Misguided foreign policy adventures diminish domestic security and create long-term instability in those regions where wars are waged. The review should therefore address not only how the British state can enhance its defence capabilities in the true sense of the word, but how the UK can collaborate with countries across the world to support peace and stability.
It is that final question—how the British Government promote peace and stability—that is, for me, at the very heart of what we are debating today. This review gives the Government an opportunity to set out a vision of a globally responsible Britain using soft power to promote access to global education, support diplomatic missions to find solutions to global tensions, and combat environmental degradation.
That is critical at a time when covid-19 is reversing decades of global progress in supporting vulnerable communities across the world. UNICEF reports that 6,000 more children are at risk of dying each day due to the impact of the pandemic on health services in low and middle-income countries. By the end of 2020, there had been an estimated 14.3% increase in the number of severely malnourished children. We have not heard too much about how the review will outline how UK aid will be used to support interventions to tackle these issues, other than being a blueprint for wasting billions on flag- waving exercises designed to shore up the Conservative base.
I will finish by quoting the Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins:
“Sovereign countries change not from without but from within. Short of horrendous wars, they change when their rulers know they must… If Britain really feels the need to set the world to rights it will do so by example, and no other way.”
Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Our adversaries are changing, the characteristic of warfare is changing, and our military is modernising to combat emerging hard and soft threats, but that will take decades to evolve, and in the meantime we still need boots on the ground. A string of previous defence and procurement reviews have been throttled by lack of funding, but with the announcement of a £24 billion increase in defence spending, I want to see ambition matched by British global aspiration.
In 2018, the national security capability review identified that disease and natural hazards posed a real threat to the UK. How right it was. Therefore, this integrated review must incorporate a fresh analysis of the type of risk and geopolitical competition that that will cause and, equally, what role we want the military to play in it.
During this pandemic, civilian authorities have requested military support on 441 occasions. In Wales, the military has propped up the vaccine roll-out programme, and the number of military personnel embedded in NHS Wales doubled as of last week. The health board serving my constituency of Wrexham has just been afforded logistical planners to assist with expanding the efficiencies of the vaccination centres. That role is vital to protect the public and, by extension, national stability and security.
Let us look at the number of military personnel currently diverted to other duties: 14,500 on winter support; 4,500 on military aid to the civil authorities; three battalions on standby, and a further 5,000 personnel working behind the scenes. Without doubt, such prolonged support will impact military resilience and strike capability. I would like to see that threat addressed in the integrated review, along with a reassurance that personnel numbers will reach their target and will not be reduced.
I anticipate that the integrated review will identify opportunities in the modernisation of defence in order to create skilled jobs and drive exports. That will facilitate the Government’s agenda to level up and build back stronger. Certainly, the defence industry and supply chain is vital, and nowhere more so than in Wales. In addition to the presence of military personnel, the next generation of the Army’s Ajax armoured fighting vehicle is made in Merthyr, and components for the Boxer in Cardiff. In north-east Wales, MOD Sealand is the global F-35 maintenance hub, and the Shadow aircraft will be supported by Raytheon, in addition to the work undertaken at Qioptiq.
That all creates significant prosperity—more than 7,500 jobs—with the procurement spend in Wales increasing by 11% to £1 billion. That has been achieved because we are one United Kingdom, and the Conservatives are the party of defence. Wales’s defence footprint is vital, but our armed forces and defence industry need certainty. Certainty comes with the integrated review, which I hope will be published sooner rather than later.
It is almost a year since the Prime Minister launched his integrated review into the UK’s international policy, and how the world has changed since then. The review is supposed to map out how the levers of our diplomatic, development and defence policy work together, providing a truly integrated international strategy for the decades ahead, but despite assurances that it would be published last autumn there is still no sign of it. We have, however, seen a drip of premature announcements linked to the review about increases to defence spending, reductions to development spending, and of course the merger between DFID and the FCO last summer.
To make such a momentous decision as a merger before completing the review denied many external stakeholders the opportunity to contribute evidence, and pre-empted the review’s conclusions. It was a deep mistake and will have long-term consequences. By cutting UK aid spending to 0.5% of gross national income from 2021 onwards, the Government have broken their promise that the integrated review would be underpinned by an ongoing commitment to spend 0.7% of UK GNI on official development assistance. Reducing our spending at a time of increased global need while our allies in France and Germany seek to increase their development spend sends a message of a country backing away from solving problems and sharing burdens, rather than taking the lead in finding solutions.
In normal times, we would be talking about how to ensure that our aid budget is reaching the people most in need of it, whether it is delivering value for money, and whether it is sufficiently transparent. We need to get back to those conversations. I am pleased that the Government plan to publish a new development strategy, born out of the conclusions and objectives that will be set out in the integrated review. That new strategy will provide an opportunity for the UK to cement its commitment to poverty reduction and the attainment of the sustainable development goals. The International Development Committee, which I chair, is keen to contribute to that new strategy, ensuring that it draws upon the views of stakeholders from across the world.
When the Foreign Secretary spoke to my Committee last month, he told us of his vision for the UK to be an international leader in conflict and dispute resolution. To undertake that role with credibility we must first remove the contradictions that persist in our international policy. How can the UK take the global lead in tackling climate change but continue to support the use of fossil fuels through UK Export Finance? How can we share our commitment to providing quality education for girls when one of the first casualties of aid cuts was a girls’ education programme in Rwanda? How does it make sense for the UK to be rightly providing humanitarian assistance to Yemen yet continuing to sell arms to the countries that use those weapons on the Yemeni people?
The integrated review is our chance to tell the world what sort of country the UK wants to be. I want it to be one that promotes peace, equality and prosperity for all, so I have to ask: when will the integrated review be published?
Politicians have never really come to terms fully with globalisation. Perhaps it is the inevitable loss of sovereignty that provides the reticence, but it is a reality. We live in a world that is more interdependent and interconnected than at any time in history. Examples of the impact of that are all around us, from the financial crisis to the effects post 9/11 and the covid pandemic. Events in other parts of the world ricochet quickly to wherever we are, to the extent that the concept of “over there” is almost redundant, because whatever risk is over there today will be over here tomorrow, whether that risk comes from terrorism, economic issues or, as now, a public health emergency.
We need to have a proper response to the reality in which we find ourselves. I draw a distinction between globalism—the idea of global government—and globalisation, which is an economic reality. One is a pipe dream and the other is the situation that we must address today. We require multilateral co-operation in a much more concerted way than we have in the past and we have to have better institutions. Many of the institutions on which we depend today for global co-operation were designed for a very different world. The United Nations, the Security Council, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organisation and the World Health Organisation all need to be brought up to date, and Britain can play a lead in that.
We need to be at the centre, and we are well placed. We have a permanent seat on the Security Council, and we are in the G7 and the G20. We are at the heart of the Commonwealth. We are a key member of NATO and a big contributor to the World Bank and the IMF. All those have already put Britain in a key position to help.
Post Brexit, we need to remodel Whitehall to reflect the reality of the change, whereby risk is multifactorial, and defence, economic security and commodity security, including water, are all risks that need to be addressed together. I sat on the National Security Council, which was supposed to take a wider view of risk, but it is all too easy for it to become focused on short-term threats to national security rather than take a wider strategic view of longer-term threats.
Issues such as NATO are ongoing problems. The underfunding of NATO by many of its European members needs to be addressed—and they need not think that a change in the American presidency is going to give them much of a breather at a time when the patience of American taxpayers has been sorely tested for far too long. We need to take a strategic view not only of our own interests, but of the interests of those whose world view competes with ours. That is particularly true when the Chinese Communist party is trying to create a more permissive environment for totalitarianism and when we need to create one for democracy, freedom and the rule of law.
I end with a short story. When I was Defence Secretary, I asked a senior official at the Élysée Palace why during the cold war we were happy to use the word “better”—freedom was better than tyranny, capitalism better than state planning and democracy better than totalitarianism—but we were reticent during the Islamic threat to say that religious toleration was better than imposed orthodoxy, that equality for women was better than their being second-class citizens and that democracy was better than theocracy. The answer that I got was, “I think that today we can only say that we are different, not better.” If we believe that what we stand for is only different and not better than the alternatives, how can we lead? We either have to shape the world or be shaped by it. I believe that the values we hold are the key to that better future.
Just last night, we heard from ITV News that there is a new component: the defence White Paper—something that had not been raised with us on the Defence Committee and none of the witnesses at our integrated review inquiry had seriously raised. In the press reports this morning, submissions from the Australian and German Governments raised their own defence White Papers, but it seems odd that the first we are hearing about it in a UK context is a month before the White Paper is published.
The Committee’s report on the integrated review was called “In Search of Strategy”; I do not think I am the only one still looking for that strategy. It is, of course, important at this point to reiterate what I and many in Scotland will be looking for in the review. It will come as no surprise to anyone who has heard me witter on about it that our north Atlantic neighbourhood must be central to this integrated review: it is the geography and location that defines our future, just as it has our past. That would, of course, seem logical except that it played no part in the 2015 SDSR, and the UK’s neglect of its own backyard is an ongoing worry for those who see all the emphasis in this review being about an Indo- Pacific tilt.
The second plea that I would like to make is on behalf of the defence people who will undertake this strategy. It is clear from the evidence presented in the comprehensive spending review that the extra cash for defence announced in November is going to find its way principally to ensuring that the MOD can just about tread water with its equipment plan, while the day-to-day budget remains stagnant.
For those on the Government Front Bench who will talk about “efficiency savings”, let me say that anyone who has read the National Audit Office reports knows that those are illusionary; yet again, this will be fiscal restraint built on the backs of those who serve in our armed forces, and their terms and conditions, housing and wages, all after almost a decade of previous lost real-terms savings. This is unsustainable.
My country is going to be an independent member of the European Union and NATO in the coming years, and much as it will come as a surprise to those who have not been paying attention, this Scottish nationalist at least wants to see our largest neighbour and closest friend have a strategy that its people and its Parliament can understand and buy into. I do not expect anyone on the Government Benches to want to get this right for those reasons, but today I do live in hope.
I draw the House’s attention to my interests, which are set out in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
The integrated review is a most important moment and, along with my colleagues, I look forward very much to its publication. It will set out what global Britain means post Brexit, and as many have said, there are undoubtedly huge opportunities for us there. It wires together defence, diplomacy and development, and I want to say a few words about development and the importance of soft power, where, hitherto, Britain has been a global leader.
Many on the Conservative Benches, as well as across the House, are very much opposed in principle to the reduction in the 0.7% commitment, not only because it was a promise delivered when the former Defence Secretary, my right hon. Friend Dr Fox, and I were in government, but because it was a manifesto commitment made by every elected Member of this House at the last election, just a year ago. It is incredibly unwise to break that commitment, particularly in the midst of a global pandemic. We all know that covid will never be beaten here until it is beaten everywhere, and the British development budget has helped to do an enormous amount to build health structures, which have been so important. If we are vaccinating people in the northern part of Uganda, it is not just about a vaccine and a needle; it is about health structures, and having clinics, fridges, and adequately trained staff.
This will be the largest cut that has ever been made in international development spending, and we are the only country contemplating it: the United States has announced that it will increase development spending by $15 billion; France is increasing its level of developing spending above what we are now proposing; and Germany reached the 0.7% figure last year. The 0.7% has gone down so much this year—as of course it rightly does sometimes, because it reflects the state of our gross national income—that £3 billion has already been shaved off the budget. If the 0.5% proposal were to be brought in, we would be talking about another £4 billion, and so nearly half the budget of nearly £15 billion last year. It is wrong in principle to use that to wipe out 1% of the debt we have racked up in the past year. I ask the Government respectfully to think again about this.
I have a second point I wish to make. I read that the Government are worried about losing a vote on this in the House of Commons and are therefore intending to kick it into the long grass. May I suggest a more constructive approach? Brexit was supposed to bring power back to this Parliament, not to Executive fiat, and I think the Government should put this to Parliament sooner rather than later. The reason for that is, first, that development is long-term; many important development programmes run for three or five years. We see this in the example of the Prime Minister’s excellent proposal that all girls should get 12 years of education. If there is doubt over the budget, it is extremely unhelpful in planning those programmes, which will, by definition, then be much less effective. Secondly, as has been pointed out, the Government may be in breach of the law, because the provisions do not allow for missing the target on purpose. If the Government advance down that particular route, they may well get judicially reviewed. So I urge them to think again about this, perhaps getting the £4 billion they would save by this pernicious and shabby cut from a digital online services tax. Why not let Amazon pay fair tax instead of balancing the books in this way on the backs of the poorest people in the world?
Since coming to power in 2010, the Conservative party has presided over a decade of decline in the field of defence. Successive defence reviews have been used to slash spending, leaving a £13 billion black hole in the defence budget, our armed forces short of service personnel and greatly needed orders being deferred. This all raises troubling questions about the readiness of our armed forces to meet new and fast-changing threats in an ever more volatile world. The Prime Minister is right to recognise that, after so many years of reckless mismanagement, it is time to end the era of retreat. I welcomed the Chancellor’s announcement last autumn of more than £24 billion of additional funding, in cash terms, for defence over the next four years. The Minister must now confirm how much of this additional funding will be used to fill spending gaps caused by swingeing funding cuts over the past decade.
Of course, the first priority of this integrated review must be to address the needs and wellbeing of our brave service personnel, who put their lives at risk to keep us safe. That means, at long last, putting an end to the scourges of low pay, substandard housing and inadequate mental healthcare. I would also like to know what consideration the integrated review will give to the role that defence spending has to play in supporting domestic manufacturing and improving sovereign capabilities. This is a key challenge for the UK going forward. For far too long, our country’s sovereign capabilities have been undermined by the Government’s tendency to bypass British manufacturers and buy defence projects off the shelf from abroad. One of the most important lessons of the pandemic is that we simply cannot rely on international supply chains to deliver equipment and infrastructure that is vital to safeguarding our national security. It is imperative that the integrated review recognises that, and that the Government take steps to ensure that vital defence projects are designed and delivered by British manufacturers.
This issue has a special resonance in my constituency of Birkenhead, which is home to the iconic Laird shipyards. In 2019, Cammell Laird was part of a TEAM UK consortium that was successfully shortlisted for the construction of Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s new fleet solid support ships. By building these ships in British shipyards, the Ministry of Defence can guarantee at least 6,500 jobs across the UK, including hundreds at Cammell Laird alone.
I have been encouraged by what the Defence Secretary and Prime Minister have to say about the role of defence spending in promoting jobs, skills and high-quality apprenticeships at home, but I am concerned that the Government are still failing to deliver. Too many supposedly shovel-ready defence projects have been delayed, jeopardising British manufacturers and jobs. In Faslane this week, members of Unite the union are balloting for industrial action over the future maritime support programme contract process. They fear the contract will be split into smaller components and contractors, which risks undermining collective bargaining arrangements, as well as the delivery of the project. What we need now is action, and that means putting social value and the promotion of economic prosperity at the very heart of the integrated review.
I remind the House of my role as deputy chairman of the Defence Growth Partnership. I, too, look forward, as other Members have said, to the integrated review, but I also look forward to the defence and security industrial strategy. I congratulate the Secretary of State on securing a multi-year settlement outwith the one-year spending review, providing a £16 billion increase in defence spending over the next four years. As was made crystal clear in the recent National Audit Office report, the continuing material gap in the affordability of the equipment programme has to be grasped. Allocating adequate capital and then avoiding repeated delays through stop-start decisions to programmes will improve both cost and the delivery schedule.
I make four quick points on judging the integrated review. The first is whether the increased resources are sufficient to match the Government’s policy ambition to develop the required capacity and capability to maintain credible and effective force structures. The second is whether the review recognises the value of an defence industrial base with sufficient resilience, innovation and sustainable capacity to supply our armed forces with the superior capability that they need, now and in the future. That requires a careful combination of competition and collaboration with industry, providing greater visibility to contractors of potential defence capability requirements. It also requires identifying the contribution of defence and security to the UK economy, as I recommended a few years ago; I am pleased that that is now being stood up through the joint economic data hub, which will help to demonstrate how defence can contribute to prosperity and the Government’s levelling-up agenda.
Thirdly, in the post-Brexit era the integrated review provides the opportunity to show global Britain taking a leadership role in international capability programmes. Developing export potential for UK defence capabilities by establishing joint requirements with our allies is essential to ensure that our armed forces are at the forefront of innovation, but also encourages industry to co-invest in developing new capabilities. Securing international support for export programmes will require increased co-operation between Government Departments here at home and the simplifying of Government-to-Government engagement overseas.
Fourthly, I shall be looking for continued investment in innovation—something I championed when in post. All too often, the innovation budget has fallen victim to the annual salami-slice of cutting current programmes to fit departmental spending into the annual budget envelope. That is no way to build confidence with the user community in the armed forces, nor with the potential new suppliers who will come from the technology innovators of the wider commercial world beyond defence, as war-fighting moves into the digital, cyber and space domains.
I urge the Government to use the integrated review to match capability with ambition and support the UK’s defence enterprise base, to develop world-leading capability and to build on its important contribution to the prosperity of our country and the credibility of our armed forces.
I fear that the review is compromised by the assumptions on which it is founded, not just the assumptions about global affairs—new and unclear threats abound, and old friends of course change leaders—but rather, the assumptions about the very state whose interests the review seeks to safeguard and advance. An effective review must pay due attention, not only to the state of international affairs but to the political and economic environment here in the UK. More than half the population of Scotland now support independence in every poll. More than half the population of Northern Ireland say they want a referendum in the next five years on reunification. Even in Wales, disregarded as the most docile part of the kingdom, support for independence now stands at over 30%. The Prime Minister and his friends might prefer to ignore these humdrum matters in their grandiose consideration of global affairs, but for any international strategy to be worth the candle, it needs a degree of domestic consent.
Let us suppose for a moment that Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales choose to remain in the UK. The first finding of the review should be that the centralisation of international engagement in Westminster and in Whitehall will no longer do. So far, this Government have shown themselves wonderfully adept at failing to work with these diverse national interests. They subordinate the Union to the wishes of the largest number. The review should therefore enable proper participation by the four parts of the UK in international affairs, from approving trade deals to consenting to offensive operations by armed forces drawn from, and paid for by, all four parts of the state.
Plaid Cymru wants Wales to play a constructive international role, from supporting climate action to eradicating want, to striving for peace in conflicts in places like Yemen. The Prime Minister’s view is different and, I am afraid, more than a little confused. He said in this place on
“We have a chance to break free from the vicious circle whereby we ordered ever decreasing numbers of ever more expensive items of military hardware, squandering billions along the way.”—[Official Report,
That is all quite true, of course. That is what he said then, but he followed it up with support for Trident. He has, as we say in Welsh, “Pen punt a chynffon dimau”, which very loosely translates as “A pound in the head but a ha’penny in the pocket”. Change is essential.
On a local note, the MOD has acquired training aircraft that cannot normally fly over the sea and that make a very loud noise over land. They are based on Ynys Môn. Ynys Môn is, of course, an island; the clue is in the name.
The time for global pretensions, when foreign affairs were conducted by a Westminster and Whitehall elite, has had its day; and, given its multitudinous failures, quite rightly so.
It is something of an irony that the debate is about publication of the integrated review, but I am grateful to my right hon. Friend Mr Ellwood for convening it and giving us this opportunity.
At the heart of the review is the need for the UK properly to define its strategic role in the world. What is it that we want to do? In my view, policy follows strategy, so it stands to reason that our global strategy will pave the way for the next generation of integrated foreign, development and defence policy aims to 2030 and beyond. For those in any doubt at all, defence spending is a necessary evil to keep us safe. Today we face a multitude of threats in multiple domains. Some are known to us and some are not, and we are living in an era of constant competition and persistent engagement with our foes, so we need an insurance policy that lies in having some of the most potent military forces in the world—both nuclear and conventional.
Thanks to the commitment of this Government, with an additional £16.5 billion being pumped into defence over the next four years, the MOD finds itself in the position of being able to think long term with its planning. It provides certainty, security and the confidence to make longer-term decisions. I cannot even begin to scratch the surface of the review in a few minutes, but I want to focus on a number of areas.
First, we need to better align our foreign policy with our defence policy, so let us clarify that relationship. Cutting overseas aid from 0.7% to 0.5% is not popular, but charity begins at home. I support the decision, albeit with two conditions: that it reverts when we can afford it; and that it comes with a requirement for a comprehensive review of how we spend the money overseas. Let us tighten the relationship between hard and soft power; embed Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and MOD advisers within foreign Governments; and make those Governments more accountable for how they spend our money. Let us make better use of military training teams to engage in upstream capacity building, particularly in countries where existential threats continue to hinder progress.
If we are serious about being a global power, perhaps even east of Suez, our forces need to be truly expeditionary. We must therefore enhance our ability to project force anywhere in the world at unlimited liability and at readiness. Our naval platforms, ro-ro ferries and long-range aircraft, such as the C-17, will need to be augmented.
We must also never take a risk with the extensive logistic capabilities that we will need to support our combat and combat support arms. The Navy will need more warships, not least to protect our carriers, as quantity does have a quality all of its own. I would also like to see a bigger surface fleet, albeit with less capable platforms, perhaps, but to enhance our global presence. We will also need to invest in our forward operating bases, not just our traditional P jobs in Cyprus, Gibraltar and Ascension, but also further east in Diego Garcia, Bahrain, Singapore and elsewhere. Defence relationships with NATO, the UN, the Five Eyes community, the five power defence arrangements, the EU and through bilateral agreements will also need to be reinforced.
Lastly, we need a comprehensive defence industrial strategy to support our nascent manufacturing capability. I continue to find it crass that we are investing huge sums in overseas military equipment when we should be protecting jobs and livelihoods at home. We have some of the best manufacturers and integrators on our shores, so let us invest in them by building British, buying British and selling British. I hope that once it is published, the integrated review will be what it needs to be.
I would like to thank Mr Ellwood and my right hon. Friend John Spellar for securing tonight’s debate. The integrated review so far has been a matter of delay, confusion, contradiction and vague statements. It was announced in 2019, and the House was told that it would be completed early in the new year of 2020. Then it was to be January 2021, and then the Secretary of State for Defence said it would be in February, only for the Prime Minister to advise us a day later that it would not be in February. We are now told that it is expected in spring this year. The Government’s response to the Defence Committee’s report, aptly named “In search of strategy”, was incredibly poor. Their response to the International Development Committee’s report was not only poor but dismissive, and their response to the Foreign Affairs Committee did not fare much better.
I appreciate that this is a difficult review. It is vast in scope and it comes at a time of global instability, emerging threats and increasing risks on the back of a decade of decline, the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, food insecurity, non-state actors, allies who do not always behave in the way we expect them to, and enemies we know of and those we do not know yet, but the actions of this Government to date have not increased our status and standing in the world; they have diminished them. We are isolated from Europe and out of step with the new US President when it comes to arms sales in support of the Saudi-led offensive operations in Yemen. We need to be consistent in our approach to human rights abuses. We should call them out in every single country where they happen. The fact that we do not do so is leading to questions about our values and priorities on the international stage. The merger of the Department for International Development and the Foreign Office has damaged our soft power and our reputation for international humanitarian co-operation.
In spite of the delay in the review, funding and policy decisions relevant to it have been announced, such as the increase in defence spending, which was welcomed across the House. However, this raises the question: what is the desire behind spending this money? It appears to be funding without a strategy. What has not been so welcome is the repeated reports of cuts of 10,000 soldiers. I understand that emerging cyber-technology and grey-zone operations need investment and that warfare is always changing. In this ever-changing landscape, though, the one constant in warfare throughout history has always been and always will be our brave forces personnel, and to diminish their numbers would be a grave mistake. Defence Secretaries in the previous two US Administrations warned us that our Army was too small, and just last week Lord Darroch, the former British ambassador to the US, warned that further cuts could put our transatlantic defence relations at risk.
I am always struck that, when it comes to defence and foreign affairs, vague and nebulous words and concepts are used that serve only to hinder understanding and the delivery of our aims. So I make a plea that this review should not suffer from the same problem as previous ones, such as the 2015 SDSR. In Committee, we heard that the review repeatedly used phrases such as “rules-based international system”, yet officials were completely unable to describe exactly what this meant. It does not bode well that MPs across this House continue to seek answers on this issue and get none. It does not bode well that people around the world are no longer clear what we stand for. I urge the Government to stop making vague promises, stop making contradictory statements and offer some answers very soon.
I have been a member of the Defence Committee for approaching a year now, and the integrated review is something that we have been eagerly awaiting. The importance of the review cannot be underestimated, and a date for when it is going to be released would be gratefully received by the Committee and many more. In a little over that year, we have left the EU and we are coming out of what is hopefully a once-in-a-century pandemic that will have a lasting impact on what the future holds for us. What is our country going to look like on the world stage? What thought has been given to our position—to where we see ourselves and where our allies see us?
Anyone who knows me would say I am an optimist, but I like to temper that with a sensible pragmatism. We have faced the same as the rest of the world; the speed at which we recover could define the position that we take. I understand why there has been a delay in the publication of the review, but time is now of the essence and we must release it.
As a member of the Defence Committee and a proud veteran, I want to see a strong vision for our country, especially on the world stage. The opportunities for us will be different given the impact of coronavirus and life outside the EU. However, in the same breath we must look at the threats to our country and our allies. Many continually argue that warfare has changed and we must prepare for every eventuality. Although it is fair to say that warfare has evolved, its nature remains—and always will—brutal, so it is vital that we prepare and can cover every eventuality, from traditional fighting capabilities to operating effectively in the grey zone, and anything else that we need to be able to do.
As a young soldier, I was sent on operations after debates and votes in this House. I hope it is not the case, but there could be a time in the future when we debate and vote on whether to send troops into harm’s way to defend us or our allies. I want to know that we have done everything we can to equip, prepare and set up for success our brave armed forces.
I have a son, Sam, of whom I am very proud. At 16, he has one main focus, and that is to be a soldier. To me, he is still a child, but he is the same age as I was when I walked into the Army careers centre. If he is successful in joining the Army, I want to know that he will have everything he needs to fight, however they need to fight in the coming decades.
I firmly believe that there is an acceleration in the evolution of the battle space. We need to know, clearly, how we are prepared for that and where we stand in the world. The integrated review will set all this out for our country and our allies. We need to do what the Prime Minister originally planned and release the integrated review, so I would really welcome a date.
Since the previous major review of the UK’s national security and defence in 2015, we have experienced significant change and new, emerging threats, not least the global pandemic and the UK’s departure from the EU. Last November, the Prime Minister said in a statement on the review that
“Britain must…stand alongside our allies, sharing the burden”—[Official Report,
but I am afraid those words felt hollow in the context of the loss of DFID and significant cuts to the aid budget. I am concerned that the integrated review will represent another step away from international development and overseas aid priorities and a move towards defence and cure—I suppose—rather than a focus on prevention and long-term development.
The UK’s development record has been something to be really proud of in terms of helping countries with fragile political, economic and healthcare systems and in turn making the world a safer place for us all. That is the best basis of a security and defence strategy. Recent moves towards explicitly self-interested policies will create a scenario in which the purpose of development spending becomes transactional or just for use as leverage, which is not just morally wrong but has, as we know, proven disastrous in the past. It is important to remember precisely why DFID was created. It was from the need to separate general overseas policies from aid interests and to ensure that aid was used in the best interests of the most vulnerable—which is how I believe citizens want it to be spent—and not, as was the case then, to leverage trade and arms deals.
For the first time in many years, development progress around the world is going backwards. Unfortunately, that is the context in which the Government have dropped their legal commitment—a manifesto pledge that is less than a year old and, as was said earlier in the debate, a commitment made by nearly every Member of this House—to protect the UK’s aid spending. For all the talk of global Britain and walking on the world stage, it is important not to strip back things such as generosity, far-sightedness and multilateralism. I say this as an Irish Member of the UK Parliament who is not moved by concepts like sovereignty and the armed forces, but who is deeply proud of the UK’s commitment and records on aid.
We are living in an economic contraction worse than any in living memory, but aid investment is far-sighted and is a good way to spend money to guard against longer-term problems. Well-nourished children will learn well in school and informed and empowered women will see their children thrive and survive. Draining the reservoirs of poverty stops extremism taking hold and we know that this makes for a safer and more secure world for all of us.
In December, a report estimated that covid-19 would push a further 200 million people into extreme poverty, while, at the same time, commercial interests from the global north extract resources many times greater in value than those that we invest in aid and development. Climate change resulting from our overuse of those resources will have massive impacts on developing countries and could lead to mass displacement, natural disasters, instability and the potential for conflict and a refugee crisis.
As we face the future, the UK cannot leave developing countries behind and go it alone. This review cannot see the decimation of a strong record in aid in favour of isolationism and self-interested policies. If we do not address the root of instability and insecurity around the world, we will not have a safer world for UK citizens or for anybody else. With covid and with development generally, until everyone is secure, we cannot all be secure.
With the end of the cold war, the UK failed to develop a new national or grand strategy and allowed its mechanisms for maintaining such a strategy to atrophy. This review must start by accepting that and deal with the changes in equipment, concepts, pressure of economics, accelerating technological change, and the new forms of conflict and competition. It must demand new and different operational concepts and a new strategic frame- work to meet the challenge of modern hybrid warfare.
The Chief of the Defence Staff’s announcement of a new integrated operating concept is therefore of extreme importance. The integrated review must set out a conceptual framework that incorporates all forms of new technology and must support the new relevant operational concepts. The Nagorno-Karabakh war demonstrates just how decisive technological advantage can be if one side has deployed it and the other side does not have it. The technology can be more important than force numbers, tactics or training, and that may be a paradigm shift in the nature of modern conflict.
To prevail, today’s military must have electronic warfare dominance, integrated, multi-force battle management systems enabling very short sensor-to-shooter links, 24/7 surveillance and remote targeting, ground, air and sea-launched precision warheads and survivable platforms such as armoured fighting vehicles with active defence suites. At 2% of GDP, what will we be able to buy? Not enough on its own. Not only must the MOD adapt but many other Government Departments need to acknowledge and provide for their own evolving contribution to national security. This also extends to the private sector.
Civilian technological development has become key to maintaining military pre-eminence. A crisis may still require large equipment numbers at short notice, so we must also reduce unit costs and design in commonality, ease of training, and low cost of storage and maintenance. We must also find civilian value for military technology in order to reduce costs.
Here is an example. The west relies on space for everything that we do in our daily lives, including military operations. This contrasts with Russia or China. By 2045, China may well have equivalent reliance, but its design will be resilient and defendable. The UK has no launch capability, but we do have a thriving satellite industry. Now is the time that we must fund a coherent space policy, including launch capability. If Russia’s heavy lift rockets can destroy the global network of telecommunication satellites with nuclear electromagnetic pulse space weapons and instantly it can replace its own satellites, we must show how we would replace ours just as quickly both as a response and as a deterrent. The RAF’s experimental Microset could be a classic dual use capability in such a role.
Finally, Sir Stephen Lovegrove’s welcome move to national security adviser takes defence into what has been too much of a diplomat’s fiefdom, but it is imperative that his successor as deputy permanent secretary at Defence arrives with an appreciation of all this new complexity and the role that technology must play. In this, we need experts not amateurs, however gifted they are.
I want to make three points, and the first is a short one. James Sunderland referred to some threats not being known. That takes me instantly to the cyber aspect of our defence. The revelations recently about how the organisation called Bellingcat identified the murderers in Salisbury are very instructive indeed. We have to be very serious about this, as other Members have said. That is all I want to say about that.
The hon. Members for Bracknell and for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) and Philip Dunne made great play of guarding our British defence industry capability. I am firmly of the opinion that, as we reach next-generation weapons for all three services, it is very important that if we cannot make them at our own hand—and hopefully we can, using British expertise and British engineering—we should co-operate with other countries, and we must have a stake in making that equipment. If we do not, the fact is that we will never have all the intellectual knowledge that we would like to have.
I am sure we are all very pleased that the UK has bought F-35s from the United States—although perhaps not as many as we would like—but I cannot honestly see Lockheed Martin telling us every single thing about how every gizmo in that aircraft works. Why should it? This is a very important point. Even if it seems expensive at the time, if we do not do that, we will be making a mistake. As other Members have said, we will be depleting our future manufacturing capability, and once we lose those skills—be it in shipyards, building aircraft or building weapons for the Army—it is very hard to get them back again.
My second point is a Scottish point, and I want to make a slightly different one from the one that the Chamber hears quite a lot of. I am very clear that if the 4th Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland said to my hometown of Tain or to Wick, Thurso or wherever they have the right to do this that they would like to parade with their bayonets fixed and their colours flying, local people would be absolutely delighted. There is no doubt about it: our armed forces enjoy a very special place in people’s hearts in the highlands. I talked about the 4th Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, but if HMS Sutherland chose to visit Invergordon, which it has done in the past, that would go down extremely well with the local people. Our armed forces are seen as something that Scotland can be extremely proud of, and I believe that the armed forces in all four parts of the United Kingdom are part of the glue that sticks our country together and makes the United Kingdom united.
There have been some sensational words in the press about the fact that we are not recruiting as many people into the armed forces as we should be, and that possibly is the case. The highlands of Scotland are very fertile recruiting grounds, as are many other parts of Scotland. I wish to see much more effort made through recruiting teams coming to Highland games, fêtes and town galas, because there is a great future here, and it could really help our armed forces. It is a pleasure to join this debate, and I am grateful to Mr Ellwood for bringing it forward.
First, I pay tribute to our armed forces for all they do. Last November, the Prime Minister paid his own tribute when he said:
“For decades, British Governments have trimmed and cheese-pared our defence budget. If we go on like this, we risk waking up to discover that our armed forces—the pride of Britain—have fallen below the minimum threshold of viability, and, once lost, they can never be regained. That outcome would not only be craven;
it would jeopardise the security of the British people, amounting to a dereliction of duty for any Prime Minister.”—[Official Report,
Amen to that. My right hon. Friend went on to announce a welcome increase in defence spending of just over £24 billion over the next four years. As a former soldier and a member of the Defence Committee, I believe that this level of support and commitment to our armed forces is critical.
Paying an insurance premium is always painful, until it is called for, when its value is truly appreciated. The question now is: what do we want our armed forces to do? We need a clear aim if a relevant appreciation is to be made. We had a useful acronym in the Army: KISS—keep it simple, stupid. For too long, reviews have been overcomplicated, often resulting in a fudge. During the cold war, the aim was simple: to counter the threat from the Soviet Union. Today, there is a clear and present danger not only from a re-emergent Russia but from China, and that is not to mention terrorism. Worryingly, the rules-based order appears not to apply to any of them.
Our days of operating on our own, except perhaps for minor deployments, are over, and we will be working closely with our NATO allies. Whatever we deploy, whether on land, on sea or in the air, must be the best, with properly trained and equipped personnel. Can we afford to go on mothballing scores of main battle tanks, fooling ourselves that they can be reactivated in days, when that is simply not possible? If we are to keep that asset, surely quality is more realistic than quantity.
Of course, money and the Government’s commitment to spend it is a key factor, but with hugely expensive items on the wish list, not least in cyber and space, the question is how to prioritise? Surely that is a question not just for the UK, but for our allies, not least the most important one—the United States. At a recent public session of our Committee, I noted Lord Darroch’s comments carefully. He told us that former US Defence Secretary General Mattis said that the US would not regard our armed forces as credible if we could not field an Army of 100,000. I understand that there is an ongoing argument within the MOD about whether the Army should be cut to 75,000 or 72,000. Like the US, I believe that any cut to our dwindling conventional force is short sighted. Maintaining such an asset within NATO is key to deterring a would-be aggressor. Now, as global Britain, we need to take that responsibility very seriously indeed.
Of equal significance is soft power. Our armed forces serve and are welcomed around the world. Our troops evacuate, support, rescue, protect, build and train overseas. The white ensign flying proudly at the stern of our warships is still a powerful and reassuring emblem to many, representing freedom, democracy and the rule of law. At a time of great instability in the world, when so many people live under the cosh, never has it been more important to fly the flag.
The Prime Minister has made an encouraging start. Now we need clarification of the aim so that a through appreciation can be made and the right conclusions reached.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I appreciate the opportunity to speak.
This is a curious debate, in that the integrated review is a bit like the Loch Ness monster: it is oft talked about but seldom seen. It is curious that we are debating a paper that none of us has seen and is clearly being made up as the Government go along. That said, I wish them well. I want Scotland’s closest neighbour and friend to have a vision of where it fits in the world, to be secure in its skin and to be comfortable in how it progresses and presents itself. But from my and my party’s perspective, global Britain has voluntarily made itself smaller, meaner and poorer by leaving the European Union: smaller by leaving the European Union and limiting the opportunities we have, poorer by doing so in the way it did, and meaner by opting out of the Erasmus programme and visa arrangements for creatives when it did not need to, and by cutting the 0.7% international aid budget at a time when the world needs it more than ever.
All those advantages have been taken away and replaced with bluster and flags, and the idea that flying a flag on a ship somehow makes it more effective than any other. That is not our vision. Contrast that with the SNP’s vision of independence in Europe and the real-world advantages that we have enjoyed until recently, which we will regain with independence. We want to be independent not to be separate or apart. We know where we fit in the world: we fit in the north-west corner of the European continent, and we are very comfortable with that. We are naturally multilateral. The cornerstone of our foreign policy is EU membership. The cornerstone of our defence policy is NATO membership. The cornerstone of our trade policy is EU membership. All those advantages will make us more secure and richer.
The people of Scotland have a choice between two Unions: the Union with the UK or the Union with our European continent. Choosing between two Unions is a really comfortable place for the people of Scotland to be. I will critique global Britain on its merits, and I will critique the review honestly when it is brought forward—I look forward to doing so—but I will contrast them against the real-world advantages of European Union membership, which Scotland so firmly endorsed and will regain with independence.
I congratulate the Chair of the Defence Committee on securing the debate. In the year of COP26, and the year we hope to start to put the pandemic behind us, the debate is rather timely. However, as my hon. Friend Alyn Smith said, it seems curious that we are debating a document that has not yet been published. Of course, that is not the only curious thing about the integrated review. The other curious thing about it is that, certainly as far as the defence element goes, all of the budget has been published months in advance of the integrated review being finalised; that happened before Christmas.
The other curious element is when we will we finally see it. If the Minister answers only one question, I feel it should be that one, because when the Secretary of State for Defence gave a covid update not so long ago I asked that question of him and he told us that it would be in the first two weeks of February. Here we are, still within the first two weeks of February, and we now believe that it will be within the first two weeks of March. If the Minister clears up that and nothing else, we will at least have made some progress.
In November of last year we published a 70-point submission to the Government. I am sure that the Minister has read all of it. We put in there some of the things that the Scottish National party would like to see within the integrated review when it is published. We restated our long-standing opposition to the nuclear programme. We suggested that we see proper multi-year defence agreements dealt with on a cross-party basis, much as happens in European countries. We suggested, again, our manifesto commitment of an armed forces representative body. We suggested that the Foreign Office follow examples such as Canada or Belgium, where there is greater public involvement in foreign and diplomatic policy-making, and that we have a proper mechanism by which the devolved Administrations of the UK can engage in foreign policy-making and the use of the Department’s resources.
We suggested, of course, no deviation from the 0.7% aid spend. I think I heard James Sunderland use that dreadful phrase “charity begins at home”. Well, he is never one to miss an opportunity to miss the mood of a debate and my goodness did he when he uttered that phrase in the same speech in which he called for the Government to stick to the global Britain rhetoric. We cannot have both of those things.
We have called on the Government to formally adopt the concept of climate justice, to design a new atrocity prevention strategy, and to have greater policy coherence across all Departments when it comes to foreign policy. One example of that descending into farce was on
We have asked the Government repeatedly to implement the recommendations of the Russia report. We have asked for a commitment to NATO’s standing maritime groups to be prioritised over out-of-area operations that have dubious benefit. We have called on the Government to have resilience at the heart of defence and security policy-making. We have called on the Government to put health, human and economic security on a par with the buying of hard kit and to make it central to the review when it is published.
We have called on the Government to diversify the armed forces recruitment base, with only 11% of the armed forces made up of women. That number is embarrassingly low. We have called on the Government, along with Conservative Members, to rip Capita out of the recruitment process when it comes to the armed forces, and of course to deliver on the promise made to Scotland prior to the independence referendum on armed forces numbers in Scotland—a promise they have never met. We have also called on the Government to provide a mechanism in the review by which we can have democratic oversight of special forces, and to support a global ban on lethal autonomous weapons—something supported by the UN Secretary-General.
Forgive me, Madam Deputy Speaker—the clock does not seem to be working on the screen, but perhaps I can quickly outline the five pillars by which we will assess the review when it is published. How will it strengthen multilateralism? What will it do to help to reform organisations such as the Security Council and Interpol and to ensure greater collaboration on digital data and cyber? What will it do to enable the UK to be a good global citizen, to promote human rights, to strengthen aid commitments, and to have a proper atrocity prevention strategy? How will it focus on the UK as a north Atlantic nation? Many Members have said that NATO is the cornerstone of the UK’s defence policy, as it should be, and yet seem keen to act anywhere other than in its own backyard. The UK is a north Atlantic country. We want the integrated review to bolster resilience. We want it to better enable the Government to define, identify and deter grey zone threats, and ultimately—
I thank the hon. Member for his contribution. There is not a clock because we have an agreement from the Front Benchers that they will stick to the time limits agreed.
This has been an important debate, and I am pleased that there have been so many excellent contributions. Four Chairs of Select Committees and a number of senior and well-informed Back Benchers have made a number of important and varied points. Most of them shared the view that there needs to be a strategic approach towards Britain’s engagement in the world.
Let us remind ourselves that in February of last year the Prime Minister announced that he was launching an integrated review. He said that it would define Britain’s place in the world. It would, he said, be the largest review of its kind since the end of the cold war. It would, we were told, provide a coherent framework for Britain’s foreign, defence, security and development policies. Impressive words, but what has happened since? In November of last year, the Prime Minister delivered another statement that was again full of warm and impressive words, but by then the integrated review had been pushed into 2021; and in the middle of last month the Defence Secretary told us that it would be published in the first two weeks of February. The latest is that it will be published in the spring. Perhaps the Minister could be precise in telling us when that will take place.
We have seen significant developments in two areas in particular that should have been included in the consideration of the integrated review. The first was the collapsing of DFID into the FCO, to which my hon. Friend Sarah Champion referred eloquently. This move had little strategic thought behind it and was accompanied by a cut in the UK’s aid budget—this at a time when the world is in crisis and there is more need for development aid than ever before. It not only hits the world’s poorest but diminishes the UK’s status in the world and hugely damages our ability to be an international force for good.
The second development was the statement in November on an increase in defence spending and a reorientation of defence spending priorities. This came after a decade of cuts, of course. It was a supreme example of putting the cart before the horse. It was funding without a strategy, as my hon. Friend Mrs Lewell-Buck eloquently said. Neither in that statement in November nor since has there been an explanation of how exactly that money will be used strategically to address the real and potential threats that this country faces.
To be fair, the Foreign Secretary hinted, in his evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee in October, that a rethink of priorities was taking place. We were informed that there would be an Indo-Pacific tilt in UK foreign policy, to which Jonathan Edwards referred. We were also told that other areas, such as strengthening the national resilience of technology and cyber, would be included in the integrated review. But after a year, there is nothing of substance to be seen; and please, Minister, do not put all the blame on covid. We know there are more deep-seated problems at the heart of Government that have led to this unacceptable delay.
The central question is: when will we have the integrated review? Now that Britain has left the European Union and we are clear that the disastrous period of Trump’s presidency is behind us, at long last we need to see the publication of the review. A review is needed to give coherence and direction to Britain’s role in the world, so that all the energies of all Government Departments with an international interface can contribute towards common goals. A review is needed so that Britain’s strong diplomatic tradition and its influence through so-called soft power can play a significant role in furthering our national objectives. We wait to see whether the Government’s integrated review is up to the task.
Let me first congratulate my right hon. Friend Mr Ellwood on securing this debate, as well as John Spellar. Both have extensive interests and long-standing interest in this area. I pay tribute to the members of the House of Commons Defence Committee for their work, and I also thank the Foreign Affairs and International Development Committees for their scrutiny of my Department’s work. I thank both their Chairs, my hon. Friend Tom Tugendhat and Sarah Champion, for their contributions, as I do the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, my right hon. Friend Dr Lewis.
The fact that I am joined on the Front Bench by my hon. Friend the Minister for Defence Procurement—he represents Horsham, where my wife has family, as he knows—demonstrates the integrated nature of this review, as we have both a Defence Minister and a Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office Minister here. [Laughter.] It is an in-joke, Madam Deputy Speaker; he knows what I mean. Time prevents me from addressing all the points raised in this debate, but I hope that during this speech I will be able to cover most, if not all, of them. The integrated review is an ambitious and wide-reaching review, and the purpose of this integration is to examine every aspect of our international security, development and defence policy. It is my pleasure to respond to this debate on behalf of the Government.
The Government want UK foreign policy to deliver for our people and to be rooted firmly in our national interest. That is why the commitment to deliver a review of foreign, defence, security and development policy was announced in the Queen’s Speech in December 2019. As we said then, and as has been mentioned by right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East, the review is
“the most radical reassessment of our place in the world since the end of Cold War”.
When published, the review will define the Government’s ambition for the UK’s role in the world, outline how the UK will be a problem-solving, burden-sharing country, and set a strong direction for the recovery from covid-19 at home and overseas so that collectively we can build back better.
I am pleased to be able to tell the House that the Government intend to publish the review in March. [Interruption.] This year. The Government’s original intention was to publish the review in 2020. However, the House will agree that it would have been wrong to set out the Government’s long-term international vision while we tackled the early stages of a global pandemic. Providing a full response to covid-19 was and is the Government’s No. 1 focus; that is why it was right to pause the review in the spring of last year.
Work has, however, been ongoing, adapting to the ever-shifting geopolitical and geo-economic context caused by covid-19. The review has involved detailed horizon-scanning, covering trends, opportunities, risks and threats. It has involved evidence-gathering and policy analysis, and wide consultation with experts, academics and foreign partners.
The Prime Minister, supported by the National Security Council, is personally leading the review. The Foreign Secretary chaired a cross-Whitehall ministerial small group to advise the Prime Minister. Civil servants from across Whitehall have worked to ensure that the review draws on the full range of expertise and skills available to Government. This demonstrates the integrated whole-of-Government approach to this review, going further than the strategic defence and security reviews of the past. Our future strategy and approach to the challenges of the next decade will benefit from the collective might of our national security apparatus.
The Government have also looked beyond Whitehall to incorporate the expertise of the nation, speaking to key people and organisations with an interest in our nation’s security and prosperity. By reaching out in this way we have ensured that the best minds in the UK and beyond are feeding into the review’s conclusions and challenging traditional Whitehall assumptions and thinking.
The initial findings of the review are already informing our decision making. The announcements made in November’s spending review were informed by the first phase of the integrated review and set us on the right path to deliver on our visions and priorities. The Prime Minister has already announced the first conclusion: the largest increase in defence spending since the cold war, more than £24 billion over four years. This settlement is a signal of intent and heralds an era when we bolster our global influence. It ensures that our armed forces have the necessary tools and equipment to defend the UK and its people, cement our place as a leader in NATO and underpin our foreign policy and our ability to defend free and open societies.
On international development, changes to our ODA budget were driven by the economic impact of covid and are temporary. To ensure the maximum impact from our aid budget, the Foreign Secretary has set out the core principles for us to sharpen our focus this year.
The Government have signalled our intention to deepen involvement in the Indo-Pacific and have started to take steps in that direction. Last week, we submitted the notification of intent letter to begin the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership accession process.
The creation of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office itself was an act of integration, uniting development and diplomacy into one Department, bringing together Britain’s international efforts to have an even greater positive impact and influence on the world stage.
Let me end by saying that this is the opportunity to define and strengthen our place in the world. The integrated review will send a message about what the UK stands for as an independent actor on the global stage and how we will back this up with action to secure our interests and also defend our values.
The world has not stood still, and neither have we. The UK endures as an active global leader. In the past year alone, we have led the global efforts to deliver a vaccine, raising $8.8 billion for Gavi through our hosting of the global vaccine summit; we have demonstrated global leadership in tackling climate change, including doubling our international climate finance contribution to help millions around the world; and we have pushed back on those who would attack our values through the new bespoke immigration route for British national overseas status holders. This is global Britain.
The integrated review will build on that, setting out our vision for the next decade, based on our values and grounded in the UK national interest. We will announce the full conclusions of the integrated review in March, unleashing our independent foreign policy outside the European Union as we launch our presidencies of the G7 and COP26. 2021 will be a year of leadership for global Britain as a force for good in the world.
Let me take a minute to thank all those who have participated in the debate, and the Minister for responding. He mentioned covid-19 and our contribution. I look forward to seeing HMS Argus repeat what it did with Ebola, helping other nations and making sure that we get the vaccinations out. I hope that he might be able to take that forward. I thank all those who contributed.
Three themes arose from the debate. First, there is a real desire for Britain to play a more active role on the international stage—to be one of those nations that step forward when others hesitate. Secondly, we must invest in our soft and hard power: do not cut the Army by 10,000, and do not cut our aid budget from 0.7%. Thirdly, the Government must publish the review. The Minister gave a month, but I noticed that he did not give a day or a year; I presume it is 2021. We very much look forward to that.
The US has stepped forward as a nation to say that it is going to be more invigorated, to re-establish western resolve. We need to be with it. This integrated review provides the road map for what global Britain means. We look forward to its publication.
Question put and agreed to.