Our commitment to NATO and Euro-Atlantic security is unconditional. In response to Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine, we have enhanced our force posture in Estonia and have sent warships and fighter aircraft to south-east Europe and the Mediterranean. We contribute to every NATO mission and declare the UK’s nuclear deterrent to NATO. The UK is committed to remaining NATO’s leading European ally.
A recent report by the Defence Committee raised concerns about the UK’s lack of ammunition reserves. The Committee said that the inability to restock our supplies puts at great risk our own defence, along with our commitments to supporting Ukraine. The Minister will say that the Department is announcing today that there are £2 billion-worth of stockpiles, but he cannot magic up munitions off the shelf—they can take years to be created. What assurance can he provide to me and the House that the shortage will not impact our domestic abilities and our wider commitments to NATO?
The hon. Gentleman makes a sensible point. The Select Committee’s report is being read at the moment and will be responded to as would be expected. There is an important distinction to make: only a small proportion of the equipment and stockpiles that we are providing to the Ukrainians come from the current active inventory and stockpiles of the UK military. A very large proportion of the ammunition is at or slightly beyond the date by which we would normally seek to dispose of it, and an even larger proportion of it—the majority—is sourced or manufactured from stockpiles or manufacturing capabilities overseas.
Notwithstanding the Secretary of State’s earlier unwillingness to play a numbers game, the reality is that Ministers plan to cut the size of the Army to 73,000 by 2025, at a time that NATO has agreed to increase its high readiness forces to 300,000. Will the updated integrated review halt cuts to Army numbers?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been clear all along that if the facts change, so will our approach to force structure. It is important to note that force size and readiness are not necessarily directly connected. A future force may require fewer people because of automation and artificial intelligence, or it may not. We are studying the lessons from Ukraine carefully. We came to a clear judgment in the last IR. As we work towards the publication of a refresh of the defence Command Paper, we will look at whether the assumptions of the last Command Paper are still sound.
It may do. The reality is that we are still providing a large number of frontline units to NATO, particularly in the maritime and air domains, but my hon. and gallant Friend’s principal concern will be about land forces. Even there, the UK continues to provide the most credible high readiness formations to the alliance. He made an important point that we can have as many fighting units as we wish, but without the logistics and the strategic enablers that get them to the front line, they are not worth having. The Secretary of State, Front-Bench colleagues and I have been clear for years that what urgently needs reinvestment is not a regrowth of our fighting echelon but a re-fleshing out of the logistics and the enablers, which—for good reasons—over the last 20 years have not been needed, but now so desperately are.
Absolutely. As the House might imagine, the UK is not alone in rediscovering the importance of stockpiles and strategic enablers over the last year. It is also not alone in finding out that industrial capacity cannot be turned on just like that, so working with allies around the alliance, both through the alliance itself and bilaterally, is clearly a very attractive option.
In this weekend’s newspapers, a senior British military officer raised doubts about whether the UK could still claim to be a leading NATO member, because of the hollowing out of the Army’s war-fighting capabilities. The Minister has so far evaded the question, but with today’s funding announcement limited to nuclear enterprise and stockpiles, can he confirm whether it is still his Department’s policy to cut troop numbers by 10%, to cut the reserves and to provide no additional funding to plug the gaps in Britain’s war-fighting capability?
As the representative of a naval constituency, the shadow Minister does our armed forces a huge disservice in focusing on simply the Army when looking at our contribution to NATO. The UK is the only country to commit its entire nuclear deterrent to NATO; in any given year, the UK commits a number of maritime task groups to NATO—more than almost any other NATO ally; the UK commits handsomely to air policing and other air deployments; and, through the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, the 3rd (United Kingdom) Division and the various high-readiness Army formations, the UK contributes prominently in the land domain as well.