Global Military Operations

– in the House of Commons at 4:31 pm on 14 June 2023.

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Photo of James Heappey James Heappey Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Minister for the Armed Forces) 4:31, 14 June 2023

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered global military operations.

It is fantastic to be able to have this debate on global military operations in Government time. Looking back in Hansard—as I have done on many occasions—I noted that there was once a time when the House had an annual debate on each of the three services. Those debates were well subscribed and Members enjoyed them. While of late we have had a number of opportunities to discuss Ukraine specifically, I think it is some time since we have had the chance to discuss the totality of military operations around the world. I look forward to hearing speeches which, I suspect, will range across geographies and issues. It will be great to hear defence matters considered so widely and prominently—

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

I am sorry to intervene so early, but my right hon. Friend has raised an important aspect of the debate: namely, the mechanics of what we are discussing. I was pleased to hear him refer to the debates that we have had in the past, when there was more of a steady drumbeat. I hope that his words—which, I am sure, will be repeated by other Members, and I look to the Chair as well—will be heard, and I hope that the message that we need more debates and a greater understanding of what is going on in the world and our role in it can be sent to the usual channels, so that that can actually happen.

Photo of James Heappey James Heappey Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Minister for the Armed Forces)

My right hon. Friend is entirely right, but he need not worry: the Ministry of Defence is a favourite of the Whips Office. Whenever the Whips come calling for us to take the opportunity to debate defence matters in the House, we are only too keen to do so, and I am delighted to have been provided with that time today.

The “Integrated Review Refresh 2023”, published in March, was clear about what we needed to do to respond to the deteriorating global security situation. It was about shaping the global strategic environment, increasing our focus on deterrence and defence, addressing the vulnerabilities that leave our nation exposed, and investing in the UK’s unique strengths. Defence is obviously at the centre of that ambition.

Ukraine has dominated defence matters over the past couple of years, so I thought I should make some mention of that, given the work that the UK has been doing in supporting the Ukrainians in their fight back against the Russian illegal invasion. Really, the update that it falls on me to provide to the House is that there is no update to give. Instead, I offer a word of caution. These are the very early stages of a necessarily complex plan, given the scale of the challenge that Ukraine faces. It will take a number of weeks until anyone can make a credible assessment of the success of the offensive. But it is under way; that much is clear. It is clear that there have been some early gains for the Ukrainians. In some parts of the Russian line, the regiments are performing credibly and holding their ground, but in many other parts of the line there is evidence of abandonment and mutiny.

But that should in no way encourage us to believe this is some war movie that ends with a wonderful, glorious, decisive victory. That might happen; it is perfectly possible, as the Ukrainians have shown time and again that they are brilliant at exceeding what normal military laws should expect. But it is also possible that a successful counter-offensive will still bring with it the requirement to go again next year. It matters enormously to our Ukrainian friends—just as it is important that Putin hears—that the international donor community is ready to rearm, retrain and go again next year, and the year after and the year after. If Putin thinks he can wait out the west, he is wrong. This counter-offensive will be successful—of that I am sure—but whether it will be decisively successful does not matter, in so much as the international community is ready to stand by Ukraine for as long as it takes.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The Minister is setting out the situation facing Ukraine very accurately. The most worrying recent intervention has been the destruction of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant, which has caused massive disruption not only to the infrastructure but to the wider area. Is he able to say anything about the UK response to that and whether there is anything further the UK can do, given its logistics experience, to support the Ukrainians to get the plant working again and help those affected by the disaster?

Photo of James Heappey James Heappey Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Minister for the Armed Forces)

The dam was in Russia’s control when it was damaged, so the opportunities to get in and assist with rebuilding in the immediate term are quite limited. It is probably too early to say for absolute certain who did it, but I think everybody in this House will probably have the same view on who did it and why. There is only one side that had any direct advantage in doing it at that point, and it is a war crime. The destruction of a dam like that with the impacts on the civilian population beneath it is a war crime. I cannot offer the hon. Lady the reassurance she seeks on the UK’s intent to rebuild—that would be premature—but we have been clear with the Russian Government that it is those sorts of actions that cause us to consider whether we should increase our support to the Ukrainian armed forces. What we saw was disgraceful, and her comments have been noted.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Chair, Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research, Chair, Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for the cautious note that he has sounded. Maybe later in his remarks he will agree with what I am about to propose. If we were to have a victory—if, for example, this offensive were to remove the Russians from Donetsk or even Crimea; who knows—that would not be the end of it. They are not going to turn around and say, “Okay, fine, never mind. Sorry about that, chaps. You’ve won.” Equally, we cannot possibly let them do anything other than remain where they are, so by far the best thing we can hope for is a very long, stretched-out stasis where neither side wins. Is that not a reasonable assessment?

Photo of James Heappey James Heappey Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Minister for the Armed Forces)

No, I actually disagree with my hon. Friend on that. If the conflict were to freeze with some sort of Russian territorial gain accepted, implicitly—

Photo of James Heappey James Heappey Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Minister for the Armed Forces)

Okay, I might have misunderstood my hon. Friend’s point, in that case.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Chair, Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research, Chair, Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research

To clarify the record, I am a great friend of Ukraine and it would be quite wrong to be misunderstood. No, absolutely not; we must of course remove Russia from Ukraine if we possibly can. It must not in any circumstances be allowed to hold the territory that it has. None the less, the hope that we can remove the Russian troops swiftly or easily, and that they will somehow just go away, is a fallacious vision and we must not slip down that track.

Photo of James Heappey James Heappey Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Minister for the Armed Forces)

I completely agree, which is why I sound caution on what success looks like this summer. It must not be assumed that there must be a decisive victory in this counter-offensive. Putin must know that the west has the patience to continue to provide Ukraine with the strategic depth it needs to win eventually; and the Ukrainians must know that they retain our support and, although they must give everything in this counter-offensive, we are also ready to support them for subsequent counter-offensives. In that knowledge, Putin will see the futility of continuing to hold the ground, because the west will not blink in its support of Ukraine.

Photo of Wayne David Wayne David Labour, Caerphilly

The Minister is surely correct in saying that we must be prepared for a long struggle, but it is vital, of course, that the Ukrainians have a continuing supply of arms to support their war effort. Is he absolutely confident that we have the manufacturing capability and the necessary supply chains to produce the weapons required by the Ukrainians?

Photo of James Heappey James Heappey Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Minister for the Armed Forces)

Not solely in the UK, no, which I do not think will surprise anyone. Collectively, around the donor community, yes. Bear in mind that the majority of the arms that have been provided to Ukraine by the donor community thus far have not been manufactured in or for the donor countries but are munitions and weapon systems that we have procured from the world beyond and then donated to the Ukrainians.

It is also true that, after 18 months of my colleagues and I travelling around the world to buy up all this stuff, global stockpiles are diminished and global manufacturing capacity is torn between the market for the donor community to support Ukraine and the many countries—the UK included—that want to spend more on restoring stockpiles, because we have seen the importance of stockpiles to the credibility of our conventional deterrence. There is a challenge, and it is a good time to get into the defence industry. UK-based defence companies are clearly responding to that demand signal, as would be expected.

Ukraine has been able to hold off the Russian advance and then push it back, primarily because of the courage and resolve of the Ukrainian armed forces, but also because the international economic response has constrained Russia’s capacity to rearm and resupply, while the donor community, galvanised by the UK, has mobilised to do that for the Ukrainians.

As I said, President Putin thinks he can wait out the west, which is the biggest mistake he can make. He believes we lack strategic patience, but he is wrong. The United Kingdom and our allies around the world will stand by Ukraine for as long as it takes. It is that strategic patience that gives Ukraine its strategic depth. That depth, in support of a nation motivated against an existential threat, will surely be successful, whether that is this autumn, next autumn or the autumn after. It will eventually bring the Russians to the negotiating table on Ukrainian terms.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank the Minister for his resolute address to the Chamber today, and we totally support his message. There is no doubt about the determination of this United Kingdom and the west to move forward. I do not know whether it is real, made up or cosmetic, but is there a difference of opinion between the leader of the Wagner Group and Putin? Does that undermine the Russians in Ukraine? If it does, perhaps other people could make it change, too.

Photo of James Heappey James Heappey Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Minister for the Armed Forces)

From the perspective of Putin, Shoigu and Gerasimov, who needs enemies when there are friends like Prigozhin? There appears to be an extraordinary internal struggle, but the House should be clear that the position of the UK Government, and certainly the focus of the Ministry of Defence, has never been and must never be about Russian domestic politics; it must be about ensuring that Russia fails in Ukraine and is seen to fail in Ukraine, and ensuring that our actions in support of Ukraine not only restore its sovereignty but draw a line that says might cannot be used anywhere in the world to achieve foreign policy aims and to violate the rules-based international order.

The main threat to our national security, as identified in the previous integrated review and defence Command Paper, has been significantly degraded without the UK armed forces firing a shot. We have built Ukrainian capacity, both through gifting and training. We have supported the Ukrainians in their planning and guarded against wider escalation through strengthening our commitment to NATO and increasing our defence spending accordingly. In that, the underpinning principle of the last Command Paper has been proven right. However, geopolitically, geo-economically and technologically, there is much more we have seen change and that we have learned from in the past few years. The Government have refreshed the integrated review accordingly, drawing out the necessity of hard power to deter adversaries, protect our interests and project our influence around the globe.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development)

I draw the House’s attention to my interest. The Minister knows of the resolute support on the Labour side of the House for Ukraine and for much of what he has set out. Russia is also seeking to sow division and destabilise elsewhere, including in the western Balkans, where we have an important and significant presence with the KFOR mission in Kosovo. My hon. Friend Luke Pollard and I visited Kosovo recently, along with the shadow Foreign Secretary. Is the Minister aware of reports in the past 24 hours of serious tensions and attacks on police officers, with the detention today of three Kosovan police officers and their removal to Serbia? What conversations will he be having with KFOR and our allies in the region to ensure that that situation is dealt with?

Photo of James Heappey James Heappey Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Minister for the Armed Forces)

I was in Pristina just 10 days or so ago, and in Sarajevo the day before that, and I am acutely aware of the tensions building in Kosovo. I met the KFOR commander during my visit and understand the difficult line he has to walk. However, the President of Kosovo also made clear to me her belief that Kosovo has a right to govern itself as it wishes, free from interference from its neighbour. Tensions are clearly high. The UK has been and remains a strong supporter of Kosovo as an independent country. Of course, I would not want to second-guess from the Dispatch Box the work of the KFOR commander, who has an extraordinarily difficult balance to strike. We also have to be clear that Kosovo is one of the UK’s great foreign policy success stories in the past 25 years. We have been patient and steadfast in our support and we must remain so.

Mr Deputy Speaker, you asked me to take about 15 minutes, and I have done that on Ukraine alone. I wish now to gallop around the world to tee up the wider debate. Within the euro-Atlantic, the joint expeditionary force, predominantly focused around a Baltic sea geography, continues to grow in prominence and is increasingly complementary to what NATO does. The UK currently has two aviation taskforces working with the JEF, alongside exercise Joint Protector. We support our Nordic allies, and over the past couple of years we have had a number of Army exercises and joint operations with Finland and Sweden, supporting their NATO accession. We look forward to continuing to work with them on that. The UK maritime, air and commando forces participated alongside JEF and NATO allies in the Swedish-led exercise Aurora. The Royal Navy ships continue to work with allies and partners in the seas north of Norway and Finland, in an important demonstration to Russia of our insistence on freedom of navigation and adherence of international law. Rivet Joint planes based at RAF Waddington continue to make regular flights into the Baltic sea area in support of NATO operations there. Typhoon jets operating from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus continue to participate in NATO air policing over southern Europe.

I will not expand any further on Ukraine and skip instead to our persistent presence in the Baltic, which continues to be with the enhanced forward presence battlegroup. That was doubled in size to respond to the immediate moment of crisis last February when the war in Ukraine began. We have subsequently increased the size of the original battlegroup but removed the second, so the total number of troops has gone up but we have gone back to having a single battlegroup. We continue to see that as the foundation on which our contribution to the NATO regional plans will be based when the supreme allied commander launches those in the next few months.

Ships and commando forces continue to contribute to NATO exercises in the Baltic. Indeed, there is a taskforce there right now, with a landing platform dock ship as well as a number of P2000s, the smaller ships in the Royal Navy fleet, which are doing a great job alongside navies that similarly operate patrol boats. From the very largest capital ships in the Royal Navy all the way down to the very smallest, it has been good to see them finding a role in underlying the interoperability of NATO.

In Poland, we continue to contribute to the US forward presence battlegroup as well as deploying air defence to Poland to support the logistics nodes from which support to Ukraine is launched. Although this is not an exclusively Euro-Atlantic capability, it will not surprise the House that the principal threat against which we maintain a nuclear deterrent continues to be Russia. As these crews tend to be the forgotten few in these debates, it is probably appropriate to mention that their work is the underpinning of UK sovereignty. They do not speak of what they do. In fact, most people on those boats do not even know where exactly it is that they have been. We do not say for exactly how long they are deployed, because those are matters of national security. None the less, day in, day out, 52 weeks a year, year after year for more than 50 years, our submariners crewing our nuclear deterrent have kept this nation safe and underpinned our sovereignty. They are an extraordinary group of people and the humility with which they conduct their business is probably the most amazing thing about them.

Photo of James Sunderland James Sunderland Chair, Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill

I do not want to put the Minister on the spot in the Chamber, but can he update the House on any efforts to reward that service with a continuous at sea deterrent medal?

Photo of James Heappey James Heappey Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Minister for the Armed Forces)

I will defer to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Defence People, Veterans and Service Families for his insight on that in his summing up. What I would reflect is that the Submarine Service takes an incredible pride in its work. Whereas Army, Air Force and surface sailors have rows upon rows of medals, all that matters to these crews is the colour of their dolphins, and they take enormous pride in that. I risk not being welcome in Faslane in case they want a medal as well, so all I will say is that what my hon. Friend has said is noted, and I will leave it to my right hon. Friend to come back to him on that specific point at the very end.

The challenge extends beyond the Euro-Atlantic. In the Caribbean, we continue to have a permanent presence both in terms of Army training teams and a Royal Navy ship. The work of that ship extends from counter-narcotics all the way through to humanitarian relief during the hurricane season.

In the South Atlantic, we continue to have both a garrison and a guard ship on the Falklands, as well as regular service from the Royal Air Force. Indeed, that Royal Air Force presence services the wider overseas territory network. In Ascension, for example, the refurbishment of the runway has been completed. Last week, I think, we saw a C-17 that had been to or from the Falklands, landing in St Helena, which was the first visit from a military plane for some time.

In West Africa, the UK has a growing role in answering the security challenges of the Sahel. I stress that that is not through the participation in a UN peacekeeping force and certainly not through any direct action on our part. That, as we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan and through the French experience in Mali, is not the way to be doing business. Instead, it is through supporting regional solutions such as the Accra initiative where we can develop the capacity of the Ghanaians, the Côte d’Ivoireans, the Togolese, the Beninois and the Nigerians, and work with the Burkinabès that we can get after the security challenges that exist in that region.

Similarly, in the Lake Chad Basin, we continue to support the Economic Community of African States multinational standby force to deal with the security challenges that exist both from Boko Haram and Islamic State, and that remains a major line of effort particularly through our partnerships with Nigeria and Cameroon.

In East Africa, the British Army has a permanent presence in Kenya, which is a training base that is very well subscribed year round, and from which we train in partnership with the Kenyans. We are grateful to the Kenyan Parliament for its recent ratification of the defence co-operation agreement between our two countries. However, in east Africa our principal concern is of course the ongoing instability and insecurity in Somalia and the challenge of al-Shabaab. We remain committed to that situation, not only as penholder at the UN, but through recognising that, as ATMIS, the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia, comes to an end, a new east African solution to Somalia may well be the right answer, and the UK will have a strong role to play in supporting that regional solution.

Even further afield, we have a growing presence in the Indo-Pacific, with two Royal Navy ships, HMS Spey and HMS Tamar, permanently present in the region, one tending to operate on a loop around the south Pacific—tough work if you can get it—and one working further north in and around the Korean peninsula. They are proving incredibly successful at flying the white ensign in parts of the world where the Royal Navy had not been seen for some time.

There is a chronic challenge in that part of the world from growing Chinese influence; not all of it is malign, it is important to say, but if we want to maintain our friendships and partnerships in the south Pacific, we need to be there and be sharing the burden alongside the Australians and New Zealanders, and that is exactly what we are doing. Similarly, for our partners in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and further north in Korea and Japan, it is important that the UK is seen in that part of the world. An enormous amount of UK trade flows through the Indo-Pacific, and if we want and expect to trade freely with those countries, it is right that a country with the global reach of the UK contributes to their regional security.

Indeed, I will go further, because I think that, if we want the United States of America to remain engaged in Euro-Atlantic security, it is entirely right that the UK and other European countries with global reach contribute to Indo-Pacific security, so that we are burden sharing across both theatres and recognising that both the United States and European countries have an interest in both.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Chair, Liaison Committee (Commons), Chair, Liaison Committee (Commons), Chair, Liaison Sub-Committee on National Policy Statements, Chair, Liaison Sub-Committee on National Policy Statements

I believe the Minister is going to come back to the issue of the Balkans, and the United States is somewhat disengaged from what is developing there. Apparently—maybe he can confirm this—the USA has vetoed a reinforcement of the NATO headquarters in Kosovo. That is just encouraging the Russians to carry on fomenting instability. I would not be against the UK’s reinforcing EUFOR, or European Union Force Bosnia and Herzegovina, there. We are not against European co-operation in defence, and just because it is an EU force, we should not have some religious doctrine that prevents us from co-operating with it just as we would with a NATO force—albeit we might need to make very clear that it is a bilateral arrangement.

Photo of James Heappey James Heappey Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Minister for the Armed Forces)

It is heartening to hear that from my hon. Friend, and I agree with him. The most obvious route through which we achieve Euro-Atlantic security is NATO, but where the EU has a successful mission running, we should be perfectly willing to work with and within that mission to achieve mutual foreign policy aims. Similarly, there are plenty of parts of the world where the EU is already the framework, where the UK has no wish to be a framework in its own right but does have an interest, and again, I can see opportunity for the UK to work with and within the EU mission—take, for example, Mozambique, although I offer that as a for instance rather than any promise.

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

I am grateful for the opportunity to pursue that important point. The trade and co-operation agreement, the Brexit deal, did not primarily include security. While recognising that NATO is the cornerstone of European security, the European Union plays a role in other aspects of non-state security across Europe, so would my right hon. Friend be minded to look at an opportunity for us to endeavour to strengthen our relationship and co-operation with the EU on that front?

Photo of James Heappey James Heappey Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Minister for the Armed Forces)

Undoubtedly so; my right hon. Friend is correct. For all those countries who are on a Euro-Atlantic pathway, their aspiration tends to be NATO first, because they consider the security risks to be greatest, but for all of them that Euro-Atlantic pathway invariably means both NATO and EU membership. Whatever our views on Brexit, it is churlish to ignore that, and for countries in the western Balkans or the Caucasus who want to move away from their traditional sphere and towards the Euro-Atlantic one, we should be supportive of both their NATO and their EU aspirations.

The danger, with nearly half an hour gone, is that an awful lot of ambassadors will read Hansard tomorrow with concern about the absence of their country and region from my speech. I will sit down quickly so that the Opposition have the opportunity to respond and Members have the opportunity to contribute, but if time allowed, I would have gone on at length about the continued importance of the middle east and all our partners in that region—we value their friendship and partnership enormously. We recognise the role that we have to play in continuing to contribute to security there. We are concerned about the security challenge in the high north and continue to work with partners to address that. We recognise our responsibility to maintain a presence in the Antarctic. Quite frankly, I could probably have spoken for an hour and a half and still not covered the totality of global military operations, but 28 minutes is more than enough, so I will sit down.

Photo of John Healey John Healey Shadow Secretary of State for Defence 5:00, 14 June 2023

The Minister has indeed made a powerful case for another defence policy debate in short order, as the Chair of the Select Committee, Mr Ellwood, said at the start. This House always welcomes a debate on defence policy, and I look forward to the contributions that we are set to hear from all parts of the House.

As the Minister recognised, this is also an important opportunity for us to reaffirm UK unity in support of Ukraine, which he did. As the Ukrainians mount their counter-offensive, they arguably need UK solidarity, NATO unity and international support more now than at any time in the 473 days since Putin first launched his brutal illegal invasion of their country. Remarkably, they have already taken back more than half the territory that Putin seized in the early days of his war, but as the Minister quite rightly said, these are early days in the counter-offensive, and although there are early signs of Ukrainian gains, they now face Russian forces that have dug in defences and have superior air power and drone technology.

There is also no sign of Putin’s strategic aims having changed, and the Russian military is, despite the damage done by the Ukrainian resistance in their courageous fighting, far from a spent force. Putin is expanding his war effort and massing his troops and firepower, and his Russian industry is on 24/7 wartime production. Again, as the Minister noted, this is long term: Ukraine has now been fighting Russia for over nine years, not one year.

There may be a change in Government next year, but there will be no change in Britain’s resolve to stand with Ukraine, confront Russian aggression and pursue Putin for his war crimes. Let me pay personal tribute to the Minister for his efforts on this. I am proud of Britain’s leadership on Ukraine, and I want to feel the same in six months’ time, so what new support is the UK sending to Ukraine now that the offensive has begun? What are the Government’s aims for next week’s Ukraine recovery conference in London? How have Ministers stepped up production in the UK defence industry, and what use has been made of urgent operational requirements to speed that up?

This debate is also an opportunity, four days from the start of Armed Forces Week, to celebrate the service of our forces personnel. At home or on global military operations, our forces personnel are essential to our national defence, our national resilience and our national obligations to allies. Theirs is the ultimate public service. On behalf of the Labour party, I thank the serving men and women in our armed forces for all they do to keep us safe. I also want to recognise the unsung work and essential expertise of the non-uniformed staff in defence.

However, after the Minister’s speech, we have to ask: what is the Government’s purpose in this debate? Why is this happening now, before and not after the defence Command Paper is published? Where is the Defence Secretary? Where is his vision for UK leadership and contribution to NATO? Where is his apology for the failure to honour this nation’s pledge under the ARAP—Afghan relocations and assistance policy—scheme to those brave Afghans who put their lives at risk to work alongside our forces? Where is the action that he is taking to fix MOD procurement, which the Public Accounts Committee say is “broken” and “repeatedly wasting taxpayers’ money”? Where is the 2023 action plan for Ukraine that he first promised back in August last year? What has he been doing for the last six months? Part of the answer, of course, is leaning very heavily on his No. 2, the Minister for Armed Forces, as he is today.

Given that the Minister commands such respect across both sides of the House, we look to him to provide us with the reassurance that the new Command Paper, due this month, will be reported first to the House and not briefed beforehand to the media or to policy institutes. If he wants to intervene to give the House that reassurance, he would be very welcome to do so.

Photo of James Heappey James Heappey Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Minister for the Armed Forces)

The right hon. Gentleman knows that the Secretary of State and I have the highest regard for Mr Speaker, who has been very clear on these matters. We will ensure that both Mr Speaker’s instructions and the right hon. Gentleman’s exhortations are noted.

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

That is welcome indeed and noted on our side, not least because the new defence Command Paper will be a really important publication. No country comes out of a war in the same way as it went in. Ukraine will, and must, have a serious impact on how our future global military operations and our homeland defence is conducted.

Since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine began last year, 26 NATO nations have rebooted defence plans and budgets. Chancellor Scholz discarded decades-long German policy and boosted defence by €100 billion. President Macron has promised the same budget increase in France. Poland will spend 4% of GDP this year. Finland and Sweden have set aside decades of non-alignment to apply for NATO membership. However, there has still been strategic inertia from British Ministers over any deep rethink of international and domestic planning.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Chair, Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research, Chair, Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research

I am interested to hear the right hon. Gentleman’s vision of the future. He believes that there will be a Labour Government in a year’s time—although I personally do not agree with him—so when there is, what commitment will he make to defence spending under a Labour Government?

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

I take nothing for granted—I have been around too long for that—and we will fight hard every day to make sure that we do get a Labour Government. The hon. Gentleman will also appreciate that it is right to judge Ministers by their actions, not their words. I say to him that in the last year of the last Labour Government, in 2010, Britain was spending 2.5% of GDP on defence. That level has never been matched in any of the 13 years since under Conservative Ministers.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Chair, Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research, Chair, Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research

I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, and I am so sorry to intervene twice. The figure was indeed slightly more than 2%, if not quite 2.5%, but of course, GDP was very much smaller. The amount that the Labour Government were spending when they lost power in 2010 was significantly less—billions of pounds less—than we are spending today.

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

The point about the measure—counts in terms of GDP—is that it demonstrates the priority that the Government of the day give to a particular area of necessary spend. It was 2.5% of GDP in 2010. We have got nowhere near that in any of the 13 years after 2010 under the hon. Gentleman’s Governments.

On the question of a necessary rethink in domestic and international strategy, I say to the hon. Gentleman that there were indeed some welcome changes in the 2023 integrated review: a new commitment to reinvigorating important bilateral ties across Europe; a declaration that the UK’s Indo-Pacific tilt has been delivered; and a recommitment to NATO as our overriding priority. However, that was a rebalancing of defence plans, not a reboot. While NATO is increasing the strength of its high readiness force to 300,000, the Government are cutting the Army still further, to its smallest size since Napoleon. While Germany boosts its defence budget by over €100 billion, the Government continue with real cuts in day-to-day defence spending. While Poland is buying an extra 1,000 tanks, the Government are cutting back our UK Challengers from 227 to 148—all this in direct breach of the promise the then Prime Minister made to the British people at the 2019 election, when he said that

“We will not be cutting our armed services in any form. We will be maintaining the size of our armed services.”

All this is part of the pattern of the 13 years since 2010. There are now 45,000 fewer full-time forces personnel, one in five Navy ships has been axed, and over 200 RAF planes have been taken out of service. Satisfaction with forces life has hit a new low, and our ammunition supply has been run down to just eight days. The Defence Secretary summed it up in January when he told the House that

“I am happy to say that we have hollowed out and underfunded”—[Official Report, 30 January 2023;
Vol. 727, c. 18.]

our armed forces. While threats increase, our hollowed-out forces are working with fewer numbers and less training, and without the long-promised new kit that they need to fight and to fulfil our NATO obligations, such as Ajax.

Photo of Matt Rodda Matt Rodda Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions)

My right hon. Friend is making an excellent point about the lack of investment over many years. Does he agree that today, it is particularly worth mentioning the potential capability gap with the retirement of the Hercules fleet? Given that we have quite rightly paid tribute to our armed forces, including the RAF, perhaps my right hon. Friend wants to say something about the looming capability gap—for up to two years, as I understand it—with those wonderful aircraft having been retired recently.

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

My hon. Friend is right to pick up that point, and he is not the first on either side of the House to raise those questions. They have still not been satisfactorily answered by Ministers, particularly if the Government’s strategy is to have our forces persistently forwardly deployed. When the Minister responds to the debate, he might like to try again to reassure those who are still not satisfied that the A400 provides the capabilities in very specialist areas that the Hercules had been able to provide for so long.

I am conscious of the time and the number of people who want to speak, but I want to pick up where James Gray, who so ably chairs the armed forces parliamentary scheme—a scheme that is so highly valued on both sides of the House—set out, with the budget that defence requires. We left government in 2010 spending 2.5% of GDP. In November, the Defence Secretary told this House that

“the inflationary pressure on my budget for the next two years is about £8 billion”,

but the Chancellor announced just £5 billion in the spring Budget, earmarked only for stockpiles and nuclear. That means no new money for pressures on the core defence budget or capability gaps, or indeed to deal with inflation.

It is not just how much we spend on defence: it is how well we spend it. Since 2010, we have seen Ministers waste at least £15 billion of taxpayers’ money through MOD mismanagement in procurement, with £5 billion wasted since 2019 when the Defence Secretary took up his post. Those failures have implications for the defence Command Paper: it risks being a defence plan driven by costs, not threats, framed by the Defence Secretary’s failure to win the funding that he has said is needed.

In the face of threats that the Government confirm are growing and intensifying, I ask the Minister these questions: will the defence Command Paper put an end to the Defence Secretary’s hollowing out of our armed forces? Will it halt deeper Army cuts? Will it pick up Labour’s plans to conduct a NATO test of major defence programmes to ensure that we meet our NATO obligations? Will it pick up our plans to establish a stockpile strategy to replenish UK supplies and sustain our support for Ukraine? Will it pick up our plan to renew the nation’s moral contract with those who serve in our forces?

In the end, the country is best served when defence can be bipartisan. We want this defence Command Paper to be a sound defence plan for the country, not just the plan of current Conservative Ministers. If the Government are willing to take these steps, Ministers will have Labour support. If not, the big decisions will have to be taken after the next election, I hope by a Labour Government.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Chair, Defence Committee, Chair, Defence Committee, Chair, Defence Sub-Committee, Chair, Defence Sub-Committee 5:15, 14 June 2023

I pay tribute to the Minister for his opening remarks and join him in paying tribute to the valiant work that our armed forces do. He gave us a tour de force of where we are represented around Europe and around the world, doing more than our fair share of making sure that we can sleep well at night, that our backs are covered and that we can stand up to the growing threats we face. I do not want to diminish his speech, but he could have just stood up and said, “We are busy, and we are getting busier,” because by any measure our world is getting more dangerous and more complex.

Globalisation, by which I mean international co-operation and the interdependence of the world’s economies, cultures and populations, is slowly dying. After the end of the cold war, Britain arguably embraced that concept of globalisation more than any other nation. As nations actively retreat, pushed forward by covid, becoming more siloed and protectionist and introducing more isolationist policies to reduce exposure and increase economic resilience, Britain’s economy and security are increasingly exposed.

When global security deteriorates, our economy suffers, as has been so blatantly illustrated by Ukraine and the price of oil and gas and food. It is baffling to hear the Treasury continue to say, “Yes, we will spend 2.5% on defence when economic conditions improve,” not realising the obvious connection that our economy and international security are directly related. Half our GDP is affected by international headwinds. We need to invest now to protect our economy and to allow our economy to grow.

Such is the deteriorating threat picture that the Government had to commission an update of the defence and security policy—the “Integrated Review Refresh”, as it was called. The Prime Minister’s opening paragraph said it is

“recognised that the intensification of competition between states was sowing seeds of instability.”

Paragraph 8 of the refresh stated:

“There is a growing prospect that the international security environment will further deteriorate in the coming years, with state threats increasing and diversifying in Europe and beyond. The risk of escalation is greater than at any time in decades”.

I have never seen such strong language in a Government paper before. It gives a clear warning that we are in for a bumpy decade. I therefore pose the question: why are we still stuck with a peacetime defence budget of just 2%? That is having a consequential impact on all three services.

At the time of the Gulf war in 1990, the Royal Navy had 51 frigates and destroyers and today it has just 18; the RAF had 36 fast jet squadrons and today it has just seven; and the British Army could muster three armoured divisions in Germany alone and one here in the UK. Today, we would struggle to put together one. It is not just the size of the armed forces that has diminished; the last defence review introduced ruthless cuts to equipment. The main battle tank is now reduced to just 156 and is three decades old, and upgrades will not be completed until the next decade. The armoured fighting vehicle, the Warrior, is also decades old, and it was replaced by a wheeled vehicle without a turret. The 8-tonne recce vehicle that was brought into service in 1971 was replaced by the massive 43-tonne Ajax, which should have entered service in 2017, but a dire procurement process means it is still struggling to get sign-off.

It is a grim state of affairs when our armed forces are not shaped to meet the threats, but trimmed to meet the budget. I appreciate that I am not speaking to the right Ministers here, because they understand this. It is the Treasury that needs to appreciate this, and I think we should pay tribute to the work that I know Defence Ministers are doing behind the scenes to make the case that we need to upgrade our defence posture, because the consequence of not doing so is the cuts we have seen.

The Type 32 frigate programme has been dropped completely, the E-7 ISTAR—intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance—plane has been reduced from five to three platforms, the Hawk training aircraft has been cut completely, the Typhoon fleet has been reduced, and even the plans to introduce the promised 138 F-35s have stalled at just 78. The Hercules transport aircraft, which is absolutely imperative for special forces operations, has been cut in its entirety. However, the real kick in the teeth is the armed forces’ manpower, which has been reduced from 82,000 to 72,000, while our land warfare capabilities have been severely reduced by the reductions in tanks, armoured fighting vehicles and artillery systems.

Sadly, we are neither ready for war, nor any longer able to project a viable conventional deterrent to maintain the peace. The Navy and the RAF have to some extent regrouped with investment and upgrades in response to the changing character of conflict, but the British Army has been left behind, without a clear narrative as to what it should be training for, how it should fight and, indeed, the force structure it should adopt.

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Labour, Birmingham, Hodge Hill

I am very grateful to the right hon. and gallant Member for giving way. Today is the 41st anniversary of the liberation of the Falkland Islands, and it is an appropriate moment to celebrate the sacrifice of everybody who gave their lives in that campaign. It is a good moment, however, to reflect on how our country would go about embarking on such a military operation today. What is his assessment of our capability to launch a campaign like the campaign that liberated the Falklands?

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

I certainly pay tribute, as I think we all would, to our armed forces for their courage and what they did to liberate the islands, but I am actually articulating that very point in saying that we are behind the curve. This goes against the spirit of what Ministers are trying to do to step forward, as I have outlined, and the recognition in the defence review refresh that the world is getting more dangerous.

The NATO summit in Vilnius is approaching, and there will be four main themes. The first is maintaining NATO deterrence, which will mean moving from out-of-area operations such as Afghanistan towards a NATO territorial force. Secondly, there will be plans to transform the alliance into a more modernising rapid response force, rising from 40,000 to 300,000. Thirdly, there will be support for Ukraine. Finally, there will be a look at global challenges, including China. In every one of those cases, there will be a call for greater investment in our defence posture, and that will add to our overseas commitments.

We need to recognise what we have done in Ukraine, and I again pay tribute to Ministers for that. We have stepped forward, and more so than any other nation in Europe. We can be very proud of that—not just militarily, but with the political commitment. We have been an exemplar, with the training we have done with the Ukrainians, the next-generation light anti-tank weapons, the battle tanks and the Storm Shadows, and even in encouraging the F-16s to get there as well. We have become ever less risk averse, and ever more willing to look Putin in the eye and not be spooked. I also pay tribute to the Government for planning and putting together the Ukraine recovery conference, because it is critical to look at the next steps we will actually take.

I took a look at my last speech from when we debated Ukraine, and some of the recommendations I made then remain valid today. We still need to agree what the mission is. For me, it is actually the removal of Russian forces from mainland Ukraine. That should be clarified, but I believe it is what the Ukrainians want. Crimea is a separate and more complicated challenge. We must secure UN safe haven status for the port of Odesa to go back to getting grain out so that we can reduce food inflation, which is running at about 19% in this country. We must assist Ukraine to construct its own major armaments programme—for example, in Poland—so that it can manufacture, assemble and replenish its own weapon systems, rather than relying on western stocks. We must ensure that the Wagner militia is listed as a terrorist organisation, along with sanctioning Putin directly. I also emphasise the need to welcome Ukraine into the joint expeditionary force—I still have not had an answer as to why that is not a possibility and a stepping stone into NATO. We wish the Ukrainians the very best as they move forward. There is an emphasis on saying that they can do this, but they need that continued commitment, which I hope we will see from NATO, despite what happens in the United States over the next couple of years.

As I said at the beginning of my remarks, our world is changing fast. Russia’s behaviour in Ukraine will not be limited to that part of eastern Europe. Iran could soon join North Korea in posing a nuclear and ballistic missile threat, and there is increasing instability in the western Balkans. China is also challenging the norms of international behaviour. Great power rivalry is back, global tensions are increasing, and when we add the challenges of climate change, increasing competition over resources, population growth and the proliferation of the weaponisation of artificial intelligence, there is a strong argument to increase defence spending. There are many questions for the defence Command Paper, which I hope will be produced soon.

Finally, Armed Forces Day is rapidly approaching, which is a chance for a grateful nation to show its support to the men and women who make up our armed forces community. They are on duty around the world, at sea, on land and in the air, promoting peace, delivering aid, providing security, fighting terrorism, working with our allies and supporting our comrades in arms, such as in Ukraine. Armed Forces Day is the day when barrack spaces and garrisons are opened up across the country for local communities to visit on a family day out, and to learn more about what our military does, the equipment it uses and the vital role in plays in watching our backs. Those events are held up and down the country and are both informative and entertaining, involving celebrities and local businesses. They are a simple but much appreciated way to say thank you to our valiant armed forces community for all its hard work, dedication and efforts to keep us safe in the UK and across the globe. As the armed forces covenant reminds us, we have a duty of care to all our service personnel, not just in the training they receive and the equipment that is procured, but in ensuring good provision of accommodation as well as mental health support.

Our armed forces who step in harm’s way for us deserve the best support we can provide. When we speak of the armed forces community, that is not just the regulars in uniform; it is the reservists, the cadets, the surrounding families, husbands and wives—it is all those directly supporting anyone who wears the uniform. I give a special mention to our veterans who may no longer be serving, but who remain very much part of the armed forces family. If hon. Members see anyone in uniform on Armed Forces Day, or a veteran proudly wearing their medals, please thank them for their service—it will make their day. Let us all support our brave military on Armed Forces Day.

Photo of Dave Doogan Dave Doogan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence) 5:28, 14 June 2023

It is a pleasure to speak on behalf of the Scottish National party in this important debate on defence, and the role that the people and professionals in defence play in keeping us safe. I listened intently to the Minister as he set out the interventions, support and donations that the United Kingdom has played a key role in delivering to the Ukrainian defence forces. Today, as they always have had, the UK Government have the full support of the SNP. I pay tribute to some of the key decisions that have been made by the United Kingdom Government, not least of which was the decision on main battle tanks. That support continues and endures.

Yesterday I was pleased to have the opportunity, together with my hon. Friend Stephen Flynn, to meet the Ukrainian ambassador to underline that support, at both a political level and on behalf of the Scottish Government and the people of Scotland. The unanimity that exists in this place over Ukraine is a welcome respite. Similarly, the United Kingdom does a lot of outstanding defence work in support of the overseas territories, which is a benign activity and welcome for those territories that benefit from it. There is not much to argue with in any of that.

However, when we go a little bit further afield, the Indo-Pacific tilt has played a key role in the Government’s defence ambitions in my four years in this place, and it is one with which I take some issue. It is easy to caricature it as slipping back into an imperial mindset of power mirroring trade, and how without power there can be no trade, but trade has been inexorably globalising for the last 50 years—even back as far as the second world war—and nothing will stop that. If we look at the evidence from other European manufacturing and large economies such as Germany, we see that there are many more Mercedes than Jaguars in China, south-east Asia and Australia, but I do not see the Kriegsmarine getting deployed in an Indo-Pacific tilt as the Royal Navy is.

It seems to me—I would be happy to be corrected—that this is a rebound from Brexit. It is about getting as far away from the European continent as possible. Obviously, I do not judge senior officers for that—they are reacting to their political masters’ ambitions. Indeed, to echo the Chair of the Defence Committee, Mr Ellwood, as Armed Forces Day approaches, it is important that we all acknowledge the sacrifice and service that people in uniform make to protect us.

In terms of protection and the Indo-Pacific tilt, I am not certain what or whom will be protected in that theatre, and I do not understand what incumbency there is on the United Kingdom to play that role, other than an ambition towards arresting a decrease in relevance. I do not see India or Australia patrolling off the coast of Scotland—that said, neither do I see the Royal Navy patrolling off the coast of Scotland very often. Of course, Canada and the United States have a Pacific coast, so they have a relevance and a role

How is this going to be done? Let us take a look at the assets. As we would expect, the United Kingdom is a very senior member of the F-35 club—it would be a scandal if it was not playing a role within that—and a significant part of every one of those aircraft is manufactured in the United Kingdom. The people working in that facility should be tremendously proud of that. The problem is, it is not the 138 F-35s that were originally vaunted but an order of 48 as yet not fully fulfilled, with a further 26 to come. Mr Deputy Speaker, if you wanted to see a strained defence procurement budget, that would be it. The F-35s are the B-variant, so they will happily operate off a carrier—unlike Typhoon, which cannot. France figured out that conundrum much more successfully. So those F-35s will not have the mass they require as an APEX theatre weapons instrument to direct fire elsewhere.

We have nuclear-powered attack submarines and ballistic missile submarines—SSN and SSBN—which are of course part of what the UK is very keen on; I will get to that later. The Queen Elizabeth carriers are both excellent Scottish-built ships, and I look forward to HMS Prince of Wales being back on active service just as soon as possible. On support ships to support carrier strike, the Type 23s are way past their sell-by date, for want of investment. If the Type 45s have not been through the power improvement project, they will not be going to the Indo-Pacific any time soon, because they cannot make it past the Mediterranean. On fleet solid support, my goodness: we have Royal Navy warships designed by the Spanish and largely built in Spain. What on earth would Sir Francis Drake make of that?

On SSN-AUKUS, I wonder whether the Royal Navy has explained to the Australians about the 14 rotting submarines in Devonport and the seven in Rosyth, and the inability to either fund or prosecute their recycling. There is the cost of that and the scandalous cost of the refit of HMS Vanguard. Government Members are very excited about the nuclear enterprise and the SSN and SSBN, but I think they are less enthusiastic about the steel for those submarines coming from France. It is literally beyond comprehension. In terms of further defence of carrier strike, they will not have Crowsnest any time soon. Mr Deputy Speaker, you will be surprised to hear that fully 10 years after it was supposed to be available, it is still not available, costs are out of control and there is no idea when it will be in a position to protect the carrier strike. So, in essence, it is a pretty patchy picture.

On the cost of nuclear, there are eye-watering costs for: the long overhaul period and refuel, as we have touched on; keeping Vanguard boats in service for want of replacing them in time; and the delays and cost overruns to Astute. Given the through-life costs of hundreds of billions of pounds, nuclear waste disposal, rising sea levels potentially affecting all seven nuclear sites in the United Kingdom, and Scotland forced to host nuclear submarines, it is quite clear that of all the peoples of the world, Scotland’s have the most to fear from the UK’s nuclear deterrent.

The cost of nuclear is an opportunity cost, as well as in cash terms. What many will not know is how stretched the United Kingdom defence enterprise is. If you want evidence of that, it is manifest in the fabric of the defence estate. I encourage anybody to go to a local defence establishment in their constituency, if they have one, and see that some of them look like they were abandoned at the end of the cold war. That is because, in terms of maintenance and repair, they were abandoned at the end of the cold war. Our accommodation offer for our service personnel is risible. We have talked about ageing platforms of Type 23 and Vanguard. Vanguard’s unplanned maintenance means it has gone beyond its 2024 retirement date, beyond 2028 and is now into the early 2030s at extraordinary extra cost. There are four Dreadnought boats at a cost of £31 billion, plus £100 billion for through-life support. That £131 billion is 6% of the defence budget for 30 years of service. It is simply eye-watering. And of course, of the paltry £5 billion extra for defence this year squeezed out of the Chancellor, £3 billion has to go on nuclear.

UK defence policy is in crisis. We can see that from the dropping of orders for F-35s and E-7 Wedgetails. We can see it in the recruitment crisis, with poor pay, poor retention and unacceptable conditions. We can see it in the damning results of the armed forces personnel attitudes surveys; the unaffordable obsession with nuclear; conventional capabilities pared to the bone; no armoured fighting vehicles; geriatric main battle tanks, combat air pilots who only do air policing; cutting corners; fitting for but not with; 10 years to train fast jet pilots; binning perfectly good C-130Js; losing fast jet pilots after two tours, at extraordinary cost to the taxpayer; and in the budget of 2.5% of GDP

“as fiscal and economic circumstances allow”,—[Official Report, 15 March 2023;
Vol. 729, c. 837.]

That is fooling nobody.

Then there is the big one: Germany. Germany’s 2% commitment, notwithstanding its extra €100 billion, means that its defence budget will outstrip the United Kingdom’s defence budget. The UK will be reduced to playing second fiddle on the defence stage within the European arena. If it is not careful, without serious investment in defence, France will overtake the United Kingdom too.

The title of the debate is “Global Military Operations.” My contention is that it is difficult to be taken seriously as a global military power when you can no longer command primacy in your own region of the world.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Deputy Speaker

In addition to the Front Benchers, there are 10 Members seeking to take part in the debate. I am putting on an immediate time limit of six minutes on speeches. If Members take too many interventions and attract injury time, that may have to come down still further.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Chair, Liaison Committee (Commons), Chair, Liaison Committee (Commons), Chair, Liaison Sub-Committee on National Policy Statements, Chair, Liaison Sub-Committee on National Policy Statements 5:38, 14 June 2023

I very much welcome this debate on defence, in Government time. That is an exceptional thing these days. Ever since the implementation of the Backbench Business Committee, that has not been the case, so the Government are taking their responsibilities very seriously. I appreciate that it is about global military operations. The debate I asked for was one devoted solely to Ukraine. I hope we will still have a debate about Ukraine.

Much of the discussion has actually been about defence policy, which ironically was the original title of the debate. Defence policy tends to be a term that either covers everything in defence, or is treated as theory which the rest of the Government confine to policy wonks and the Ministry of Defence. In today’s world, however, defence policy needs to be about delivery and delivery across the whole of Government, and that is lacking at this time. The war in Ukraine has been a wake-up call to the democratic countries of the world. We can no longer take for granted the peace and freedoms we have enjoyed since the end of the cold war. All is threatened by belligerent states, of which Russia is just one.

The UK Government’s leadership—admirably supported by the Opposition parties—in providing state-of-the-art military assistance to Ukraine has been exemplary. But this has also exposed the inability of the Government and the MOD to rebuild relevant military and industrial capability. I very much welcome a great deal that was said by the shadow Secretary of State, John Healey, but I think it has a price tag on it, and if he ever becomes Defence Secretary, I suspect he would have as much difficulty as have my right hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench in getting money out of the Treasury. Perhaps there should be an honest bipartisan discussion about that problem.

There is a very real possibility that war could spread to our NATO allies. The UK cannot wait for that to happen before implementing a different and far more dynamic defence policy. The ability to ensure our own national security and that of our allies demands a transformation of effective cross-Government collaboration. There should be a new national body for co-ordinating the use of all forms of power, underpinned by a strategic mindset, as well as a process of implementation and of constant reviewing and learning. Government and Opposition should agree to lead a national conversation about the nature and danger of war in today’s rapidly changing world. This must be supported by a robust intellectual effort to assess how to restructure our forces so that they remain the very best and most effective.

This is not about being able to put an overwhelming number of boots on the ground. War is no longer confined to military conflict. Instead, we need to strengthen our intelligence system to give us better warning of impending threats, whether armed, cyber or informational, and there must be a much greater political appetite for challenge and for hearing unwelcome truths from our intelligence services. We also need a civil service that has established defence expertise from the bottom to the very top. The idea that generalists in the civil service can run anything was tackled in the 1960s by the Fulton report, but that culture has become even more prevalent in today’s Whitehall.

We need a military that has the ability to adapt to rapid and drastic changes in warfare, and the flexibility to expand and contract rapidly, dependent on our need. Importantly, we need an acquisition system—everybody talks about defence acquisition these days—that can effectively support the military system in all its aspects, under direct state control to ensure fluid supply chains and protecting itself from espionage.

The MOD must develop armed forces that are capable of dealing with threats both immediate and in future. The MOD’s intention is to focus on the need to prepare for wartime effectiveness, but it has become imbued by a peacetime mentality and a lack of urgency, and it is preoccupied with a misplaced notion of cost control, which tends to add to project risk and to cost. The MOD ties up too much of its resource in trying to build and maintain a fixed arsenal of weaponry. It should spend perhaps substantially more on the ability to expand any capability rapidly, so that we can neutralise new threats quickly, when they arise. The MOD is too reliant on a few defence prime contractors. More of that capability should be brought back in-house, where acquisition risk can be better understood and managed. Nor should we be so dependent on offshore supply chains for crucial capability, which can be choked off at times of crisis.

This new defence policy, which I look forward to the Government bringing forward, should be co-ordinated with an effort to bring to our population a greater understanding of defence, security and international affairs. Working with our higher education institutions, we must support defence and security-related courses and educate more graduates in the disciplines essential to our collective defence.

I will reiterate the point I made in an intervention. We should be prepared to co-operate bilaterally with EU forces in order to carry on the work that we need to do in the Balkans at this particular time.

If I could add one further point, we must look after our veterans. I am joining the campaign to get certain documents released from the Ministry of Defence and the National Archives at Kew, concerning the Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram disaster during the Falklands war. It is now 40 years since that conflict. The veterans, the survivors and their families desperately need closure. Why is the issue still being hidden? What is the purpose of hiding the truth? Maybe there are truths that people will not want to hear, but—

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sorry but I have given the hon. Gentleman as much time as I can.

Photo of Wayne David Wayne David Labour, Caerphilly 5:45, 14 June 2023

I believe the United Kingdom needs to have a military presence across the globe. I am particularly thinking about the South China sea and the threat presented by China, which has been alluded to already. I am conscious of the situation in that area, which is called the East sea by the Vietnamese, and I am acutely aware of the threat to Taiwan, which is apparently escalating. I welcome the fact that the Navy has two ships permanently in the region and that the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth has recently visited the area. I recognise that things have moved on since the integrated review, which heralded the Indo-Pacific tilt, but still there needs to be concern about that important part of the world, well into the future, given the increasing influence of China and the importance of the area for Britain’s trade.

Equally, it is important to say that today Europe has to be our main focus. NATO is, and will remain, the cornerstone of our defence, and we must be resolute in our support of Ukraine. It may well be a long struggle, but it will be necessary. However long it takes, we must stand four-square behind the people of Ukraine and its Government, and take note of the increasing threat. For example, we note that Russian nuclear weapons have now been moved into Belarus. It is incumbent upon us all to watch the situation very carefully.

We must also be mindful of two things. When we look across the globe, we look to the United States of America. There is the possible re-election of former President Trump. We all know what happened when he was President last time: concern was caused by his comments about NATO, and about Montenegro in particular. Who knows—dare I say, God forbid—President Trump might be in the White House again.

We also have to bear in mind the long-term desire of the United States to have a greater focus on the Pacific, and its wish for Europe to be collectively more proactive in its own defence. Therefore, the debate about how much money we and our European allies spend on defence is extremely important, and something we cannot and should not avoid.

A few weeks ago, I visited Estonia, along with my hon. Friend Catherine McKinnell and two other senior figures from the Labour movement. We had a series of wide-ranging meetings with fellow social democrats, trade unionists, the national defence committee of the Estonian Parliament and many others. The visit was extremely worth while. I was struck by the absolute unanimity among everyone we met and spoke to about the concerns they had about Russia’s activities, the war in Ukraine, and the potential and actual threat it could pose to Estonia.

In 2016, the United Kingdom’s enhanced forward presence was agreed for Estonia and since 2017 the UK has deployed an armoured infantry battalion to Estonia, with 800 to 900 personnel, which was doubled in size in 2022. Our presence in Estonia, in conjunction with that of our NATO allies, is extremely valued. That was another clear message that was given to us by a whole range of people whom we met in Estonia during our visit.

Looking to the future, we are in no doubt of the UK’s resolute support for NATO, but we should recognise that we need to be much stronger in developing foreign policy and military co-operation with our close allies in the European Union. Intergovernmental co-operation must be increased, and also at the very least there needs to be a dialogue with the European Commission so that there is coherence between our approach and that of our allies.

Again looking to the future, we ought to focus our minds on the nature of our future military equipment and how it is manufactured. Of course the US is our closest ally and will remain so, but we need to be prepared to develop our own specific sovereign capability and from time to time, if necessary, also co-operate more closely with our European allies. In this country we are developing the sixth-generation aircraft that will eventually succeed the F35, and we have, for instance, the Tempest programme, but the European Union has the Future Combat Air System initiative. There needs to be the possibility of consideration. Nothing is certain about the future—

Photo of James Sunderland James Sunderland Chair, Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill 5:51, 14 June 2023

Clausewitz famously wrote that war was a continuation of policy by other means, so it is entirely appropriate that we are debating global military operations in this place.

Over the past 30 years, the UK has had a pretty proud record of military performance overseas on a large, medium and small scale. From 1991 we had Gulf war I, Rwanda, Angola, Bosnia, Kosovo and Northern Ireland. Blair’s Chicago speech in 1999 set the case for international intervention beyond that: we had Gulf war II, East Timor, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, and other expeditionary operations. There is, of course, no truth in the supposition that the UK forces deploy only in wars that they can win, but past performance is not necessarily indicative of future success, and in this era of global instability and competition, it is essential that we maintain sufficient forces to do the job in all five domains.

The integrated review gives the framework doctrinally while the defence tasks provide the direction, and I think that three of those are relevant to this debate: the first,

“defence, security and resilience of the UK”,

the fifth, “overseas defence activity”, and the seventh, “direct defence”. Back in my day, at Northwood Permanent Joint Headquarters, defence held the joint operational estimate of capability and readiness, otherwise known as JOECR. I think that today it is called the capability readiness assessment framework, or CRAF. It is classified secret, but I suspect that I know broadly what it says.

Intuitively, RAF and Navy capabilities are probably equipped to do the job with which they are tasked. Yes, we need more of everything—quantity has a quality of its own—but our ships, submarines and aircraft are good, supportable and modern. The elephant in the room is the land domain. My instinct, therefore, is that the CRAF is probably flashing red for land capability. Indeed, when we discuss defence in the House, operational capability is ultimately what truly matters. Yes, the Army has been bent out of shape for the support and gifting of capability to Ukraine—is this “a” war or “the” war?—but we must still hold at readiness the full suite of land capability for contingent purposes, and we must be ready for what comes next. If the MOD is required, under the defence tasks, to hold an armoured division at readiness, that is what this country must still be required to do. If it has not already been done, the MOD must first carry out a detailed estimate of exactly what is required now to get the 3rd (United Kingdom) Division out of the door. If it is necessary to increase the defence budget to 2.5% or 3% of GDP, then so be it.

The strategic defence and security review and the Army 2020 programme structurally altered the Army, moving it away from large-scale divisional deployments, so if we cannot deploy a division under the current construct, we need to put it back in place. We also need to get back the strategic enablers lost during the Army 2020 programme, not to mention the need for the full suite of strategic air and sea lift to be fully deployable worldwide.

Beyond increasing available manpower, equipment and capability within the field Army, we also need to enhance the logistic tail. We therefore need contingent stocks to be at readiness, including weapons, ammunition, spares and all supply natures, and not just training stocks. Supply lines need to be kept open with our suppliers and commercial partners, even when legacy equipment stops being made. As for equipment procurement—yes, let us purchase the best available, preferably made or integrated in the UK, but it needs to be affordable and scalable to meet the requirements. Exquisite exclusivity is fine but as an operator I would much rather have enough to satisfy all structures. Modular platforms that we can build for export must also be factored in.

Lastly, a fully equipped, manned, supported and sustainable Army costs money. If Defence tasks are serious about having a deployable division at readiness, the path to get there is non-discretionary. It is also clear that both NATO and the US allies expect that of us in this place. The world remains a dangerous, unpredictable place and the primary role of any Government, as we know, is to defend their people and their allies. It would be unwise to forget that.

Photo of Samantha Dixon Samantha Dixon Labour, City of Chester 5:55, 14 June 2023

It is a great pleasure to speak in today’s debate. Keeping the nation safe and protecting our citizens are the main priorities of any Government. From deployments abroad to deployments at home, our armed forces are essential to our national defence. Next week will mark Armed Forces Week, a time when we reflect on the commitment and sacrifices of the brave service personnel in our armed forces, and I would like to express my sincere appreciation to them for their unwavering commitment and dedication to protecting our nation. It is their effort that ensures our safety and upholds the values we hold dear. They deserve our utmost respect and gratitude.

Chester, the constituency I represent, has long historic links with our armed forces. The Dale barracks are currently home to the 2nd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment, and the reserve unit C Squadron, the Queen’s Own Yeomanry, is based in the Fox barracks, next to the Dale. Long may the barracks remain as homes to our forces. HMS Albion, which has a long affiliation with the city of Chester, is currently busy in the Baltic on a three-month deployment as part of a series of joint exercises with NATO allies and international partners across northern Europe. I am honoured to represent a city with such strong military connections.

The Labour party has always understood, and always will understand, the importance of our armed forces and defence. However, despite increasing threats, the Government are still cutting day-to-day MOD spending in real terms, which means less money for troops, housing and forces families. Our armed forces deserve support and proper funding, especially in the current climate, but I worry that the threat of hollowing out our armed forces remains present. As global uncertainty continues to rise, the fundamentals of supplying our Army, Navy and Royal Air Force with the correct equipment are paramount to our defence. We have witnessed Type 45 frigates being unable to cope with warm water and Ajax light tanks harming our service personnel more than enemy action. That is despite a lack of active deployment, six years behind schedule.

Sadly, Putin’s war in Ukraine continues and there is no question but that UK military support for Ukraine has had and will continue to have Labour’s fullest backing. As this awful war continues, we must continue to stand with Ukraine and its people and support them in defending their freedom and their home. The threat posed by Russia and other hostile powers is not limited to the battlefields in Ukraine. On this I agree with Sir Bernard Jenkin. Future military operations in Europe and across the world will also be fought on the digital battlefield. A vital part of the UK defence infrastructure is that of cyber-security. When we speak of cyber-security, we think of the events of 2017, with the NotPetya cyber-attack on Ukrainian infrastructure and the Wannacry ransomware attack that highlighted the vulnerabilities of crucial organisations such as our NHS.

In 2012, former CIA director and US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta warned of a “cyber Pearl Harbor”. While the threat of that can never be underestimated, it seems that the more effective methods being deployed by hostile powers involve microscale disinformation campaigns. With the emergence of deep fakes and the threat of quantum computing seemingly round the corner, it is vital that our armed forces receive the support they need for the 21st-century battleground. The fog of war now extends to the digital realm, with conflicting reports and misinformation weakening western support for this conflict. If we are to have a truly resilient Ministry of Defence, we need to ensure that victories on the battlefield are not portrayed as losses by those who wish to undermine our solidarity with our allies.

Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Conservative, Witney 5:59, 14 June 2023

It is a great pleasure and honour to speak in this timely debate. We probably all agree that we face perhaps the most dangerous and concerning time for global security since the end of the cold war. There is a period of extreme danger coming up, with the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and the possibility of Chinese action in Taiwan, and the west’s attention is split between those two theatres.

This means that we in Europe have to take a very close look at our capabilities. The fundamental point, looking at what has changed over the last year or so, is that the big assumption under which we operated for 20 or 30 years has now gone. Peer-on-peer conflict and great power rivalry are back, and the assumption that our forces will be able to operate under an umbrella of air supremacy, without fear of substantial attack from the air, is now over.

This means we have to take a close look at how our Air Force and the air forces of our NATO allies are set up. For years we have engaged in operations in low-intensity conflicts, doing air policing or close air support operations without an air-to-air or significant surface-to-air threat. That will now change, of course, which means the Air Force will have to do a number of things, such as building up the number of spares.

Secondly, training will have to change. The training necessary for high intensity peer-on-peer conflict is much different from that required for air policing operations, and personnel can get only a limited amount from sims. Sims are useful because they can engage in scenarios they cannot do for real, but nothing can recreate the psychological and physical stresses of operating multiple aircraft in complex air scenarios.

Much as the Air Force will be thinking about these things and adjusting its training accordingly, it is relevant for us in terms of policy because, if we are looking at the need to build up spares and to fulfil a much more intense training requirement, space is needed to do that. We need to have enough aircraft and enough pilots to make sure the Air Force is not constantly stretched. If the Air Force is stretched all the time, we will not be able to build up either of those things.

That is before I even start talking about the simple factor of mass. As can be seen with the conflict in Ukraine, we can expect that any peer-on-peer conflict will need mass because of the inevitable attrition. For years we have operated in a world in which we could do more with less. Each fast jet we have now is incomparably more capable than what existed during the cold war, and they are light years ahead of anything that existed during the second world war, but we still need the number of platforms to be able to cope with attrition and the training requirement.

Fundamentally, this means either we will have to start doing less discretionary conflict and more high-end training to face the threat, or we will have to scale up the number of people and aircraft to be able to do both. I suspect that the House, the Government and the country will want to do the latter, because we will probably want to take part in the discretionary operations that are so important to the rules-based order and how we see ourselves as a country, but that has a cost.

I have mainly spoken about fast jets, and much of it also applies to air mobility, which is based at RAF Brize Norton in my constituency, so I have a particular interest, but some of the points are common. For example, the concept of main operating bases, in which all our assets are concentrated in two or three large bases, has cost savings. In peacetime, that is of course helpful, but it is a danger when we face a peer adversary. Perhaps the Minister will elaborate in due course as to what consideration is being given to the dispersal of forces, to ensure there is resilience in the event of a peer-on-peer conflict.

We have touched on the C-130 today, so I will not go into that in great detail. I know the Minister will say that the A400M Atlas can fly twice as much, twice as far and twice as fast, which is true, as it is generationally significant; it is a step change as an aircraft. However, concerns remain, first, about its reliability and whether it is where we need to be. Secondly, not all of the capabilities from the Hercules have yet been transferred and they need to be. Thirdly, and above all else, however capable an aircraft, it cannot be in two places at once. We cannot expect the limited number of crews and platforms to be able to do everything if the number of airframes available is decreasing. The important thing that the House must consider is the availability of task lines. Perhaps the Minister will address that in due course, but there is a capability gap there and we are going to have to address it. On air mobility, the other lesson from Ukraine is that no matter how important our capability, we have to get it there. So the logistics are essential and important as never before.

In the last few seconds I have, I shall talk about housing. Our armed forces do crucial work, but it is no good telling them that their work is crucial and that we will rely on them if their showers are cold and there is mould on their walls. We have to make sure that we have the homes we need if we want to be able to undertake global military operations. The sun is outside but the skies are darkening, and we need to remember that.

Photo of Catherine McKinnell Catherine McKinnell Chair, Petitions Committee, Chair, Petitions Committee 6:06, 14 June 2023

First and foremost, in the name of keeping our nation safe and protecting our citizens, which is a duty we all share, I want to pay tribute to those who serve in our armed forces, whether here in the UK or around the globe, and to the vital work they do to that end. I also want to say clearly how important it is that we stand with our allies in support of Ukraine. Unfortunately, we have in the past been too slow to see the dangers to our security and that of our allies. Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine has brought a destabilisation of peace in Europe, it has deepened the famine in east Africa and it has fuelled energy and food price rises that we are now all feeling. It is a wake-up call to us all.

I recently joined an Anglo-German fact-finding delegation to Estonia, with my hon. Friend Wayne David, who also mentioned it. It was a telling visit, because, as many Members will know, Estonia is a country painfully aware of the threat Russia poses. Estonia is a proudly independent nation, but because it has not always been independent it has suffered much in the last century. It had a narrow escape from the Russian Bolsheviks, when it was supported by the Royal Navy, but it then faced occupation under the Soviet Union and the Nazis, and decades of suppression under the Soviets after the war. The occupation stretched for 50 years, from 1940 to 1991, and the daily atrocities that the Estonians faced are well documented in Tallinn’s museum of occupations and freedom—my visit there will stay with me always. That is why Estonia’s support for Ukraine is so steadfast, but it is also why it must think about its own defence; the costs of losing freedom are understood all too well. Indeed, the Estonian Prime Minister’s grandmother was sent to Siberia as a baby during that brutal occupation.

Estonia lies between Scandinavia and Russia. It is a vital strategic position on the gulf of Finland, at NATO’s eastern edge. As my hon. Friend said, during that visit we spoke to politicians from all parties, as well as meeting the country’s defence select committee. Their analysis of today’s Russia was bleak but unanimous: they see a ruler lumbered with a lethal mindset of brutality and conquest, and an outlook that is deeply embedded in the wider leadership of the country and unlikely to change soon. We also visited the NATO centre of excellence on cyber-defence, an interdisciplinary hub set up shortly after Russia launched its damaging digital attacks against Estonia in 2007. But Estonians do not fear Russia. They stand supported by NATO allies and they have a powerful will to resist. Ukrainian flags fly everywhere in Tallinn. The two countries are intimately linked, and both need our unequivocal support.

As the NATO Secretary-General has repeated, Labour wants to see Ukraine on a path to join the alliance, but, to achieve that end, we need to support Ukraine’s fight for sovereignty now. I am proud that Labour has been unshakeable in supporting NATO members in their contributions to Ukraine.

Estonia may be small, but its determination to defend its hard-won independence is compelling, and it highlights the best of what we can achieve when we work with our partners and our allies. Today, Members have pointed out many of the shortcomings in our defence capabilities, which means, I think, that some of that partnership working is the way forward to ensure that we can meet the growing challenges that we know the world poses.

The Government must answer the growing clamour of questions surrounding the UK’s ability to meet our NATO obligations. The delays to the new defence Command Paper are frustrating, because many want to see how things will look going forward. The stakes are simply too high for any wavering in our commitment and any weakening of our capabilities.

Estonia is on NATO’s frontline, working alongside allies on training operations as part of NATO’s UK-led multinational battle group work—operations that are part of our crucial bilateral commitments with Estonia. While I was in Estonia, Exercise Spring Storm was under way, with more than 1,500 UK troops joining military personnel from 11 NATO countries in an important demonstration of our joint defensive strength. This readiness is vital both in Estonia, on NATO’s frontline, and here in the UK. I am proud of Labour’s ongoing commitment to NATO and to our obligations to our partners. The Government have my full support in standing up with our allies for the values that we all hold dear. We know that this is a long-haul struggle for freedom, peace and security in Europe and around the globe, and we must stay the course.

Photo of Richard Drax Richard Drax Conservative, South Dorset 6:11, 14 June 2023

It is a pleasure to follow Catherine McKinnell. I wish to thank our armed forces for what they do both here at home and in many countries across the world. They are a credit to our nation. Bearing in mind that the defence of our island must be any Government’s top priority, these debates are important, not least when we face a world that is as unstable as it has ever been in my lifetime.

I note that the heading of this debate is “Global Military Operations”. Those operations are set: first, by the Government’s priorities; secondly, by what we can afford; and, thirdly, by our obligations, not least to NATO. Having served in the armed forces for nine years, and been in this place for 13 years, four of which have been with the Defence Committee, I have seen Prime Ministers and some Ministers struggle to clarify the scope and structure of our armed forces and to fund them properly. I exclude the current set of Ministers who are doing an outstanding job. My criticism goes straight to the Treasury in the main. To be fair to the Government, world events have a nasty habit of changing, as yet another defence review—a “refresh” of the previous one—highlights, and this while the world stands on the edge of an abyss with another murderous war taking place in Europe and, worryingly, on NATO’s borders.

Since the end of world war two, we have not faced a top-tier opponent, but that threat is very real today with both China and Russia raising the threshold. I quite accept that conflict on this scale would be fought with allies, not least the US. But as Liam Byrne mentioned the Falklands war—let us hope we never have to go back there again. Many of my friends served when I was in in 1982—let me say that, as the Falklands is one of our main dependants, the question for this or any Government is: can we retake the islands in the event that they are invaded? If we cannot, clearly, we are failing in our duty.

While the US gears up for major conflict, I do not detect the same sense of urgency here. To deter war, one needs to prepare and train for it, with sufficient mass to sustain a lengthy conflict. On that point alone, we must reverse the decision to cut the Army by 10,000. Everywhere the Defence Committee has gone—although I can speak on my own behalf—I have heard that our armed forces are stretched to breaking point.

I said at the start of my speech that a Government’s top priority must be the defence of our island nation. That is essential, of course, but this debate is about our global reach, which requires more funding for more planes, more ships and more soldiers. It is clear from the Committee’s evidence sessions that the pitiful 2%— or just over—of GDP that is spent on defence is not enough. It clearly is not. It was more than 5% in my day, and since then the kit has become more expensive and our requirements and obligations even greater.

If we are to play our part globally, along with our allies in most cases, we must fund our armed forces to allow them to do the job that we in this place send them to do. It is our responsibility. We cannot ask them to do things without the kit, the manpower or whatever they need to do the job. If we do, we are failing in our duties.

Global reach and influence are of huge significance, as China is showing. Too few politicians, regrettably, have understood the significance of a military presence around the world and the diplomatic and economic benefits that flow from it. An effective presence costs money—money that politicians all too often divert to other priorities. I mentioned China, whose economic and military reach around the world are expanding at an alarming rate. China appreciates that the world’s resources are not limitless and that, to ensure its security, those resources need to be identified, secured and protected.

The war in Ukraine is a wake-up call, if ever there was one. I pay tribute to the Prime Minister, to his predecessor and to Members on both sides of the House who have stood together on this issue; long may that be the case. Many European countries, not least Poland, Germany and France, are increasing their defence budgets. Political leadership is what we badly need if we are to fund our armed forces sufficiently to meet the inevitable rise in our global responsibilities. To be fair, our brave men and women are already operating in many countries, as we have heard, and very effectively. That is to their great credit, but greater mass is needed for the reasons I have stated.

Looking back in history, we have a rather poor record on being prepared for major conflict. The peace dividend that followed the end of the cold war saw a major disarmament, to the extent that we now struggle to find one fighting division where it is needed, as my right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Defence Committee stated.

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Labour, Birmingham, Hodge Hill

Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Photo of Richard Drax Richard Drax Conservative, South Dorset

May I not? I have little time left and I know others on the right hon. Gentleman’s side of the House particularly want to speak.

At the start of world war two—

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Deputy Speaker

Order. Perversely, the debate is under-running slightly at the moment. Having admonished hon. Members earlier, if the hon. Gentleman does wish to give way, I think the House would understand.

Photo of Richard Drax Richard Drax Conservative, South Dorset

In that case, may I reverse my decision? I would be delighted to hear from the right hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Labour, Birmingham, Hodge Hill

I am very grateful. I wanted to underline the point the hon. Gentleman is making so eloquently to the House. The risk is even greater than he has set out, because global defence spending is now rising by between $200 billion and $700 billion a year. If we want to keep pace with that, defence spending is going to have to rise.

Photo of Richard Drax Richard Drax Conservative, South Dorset

I hear the right hon. Gentleman, and of course it is true. To be fair to our Government, it is down to the economy, how much money we have and everything else, but at the end of the day, where we spend our money is about political priorities.

History shows, as I have said already, that for many years we have underfunded the armed forces, to our detriment. At the start of the second world war, thank heavens, we had a Royal Navy with more than 1,000 warships, which played a huge part, with the RAF, in preventing the Germans from invading our country. To under-invest in our armed forces at times when we think we do not need them is short-termism of the worst kind. As history again shows, on many occasions when a war breaks out, it comes from nowhere and many countries are taken by surprise. Alternatively, MPs and others warn of conflict and nothing is done. In either case, surely we have to learn from history.

At the start of world war two, we had over 1,000 warships; I think the figure now is 17 or 18, and the RAF has been similarly emasculated. Talk of the global reach of military operations is one thing, but funding them is quite another. Will I be refreshed after the refresh? I am sure the narrative and ambition will be along the right lines, but those are easy. It is the political will, the funding and the sense of urgency that are the challenge, if we are to take our global responsibilities seriously.

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Labour, Birmingham, Hodge Hill 6:19, 14 June 2023

I will make three very quick points about focus versus spread, the need to prepare for economic warfare and the importance of expanding our soft power.

The beginning of the debate was pretty illuminating. The Minister eloquently set out the stark reduction in our capabilities since 2010. The reason why we need the defence Command Paper was well illustrated. On the one hand, the spread is getting bigger, but on the other, the capability that we have on hand is much reduced. We desperately need to bring a sense of focus to our priorities.

For me, that must start with the re-containment of Russia, which has a nasty habit of invading and invading and invading its neighbours. Down the course of history, Russia invades its neighbours over and over again. That is why we have to complete the rebuilding of NATO. Nobody has said anything today about President Erdoğan’s commentary on keeping Sweden out. That is something that this House should deprecate.

We have to strengthen our capabilities in the Arctic. China and Russia’s “no limits” partnership creates the risk of a new polar silk road through the Arctic that will halve China’s journey time for transiting goods around the world. Russia is re-equipping bases in the Kola peninsula, where, of course, it stables its second strike capability. We will need to strengthen our deployment and our weaponry in the Arctic if we are to keep the Arctic safe.

We have to bring greater attention to central Asia. We have to ensure that we do everything we can to support the multi-vector foreign policy ambitions of countries such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and others along Russia’s southern boundary.

We have to do more in Africa, not least because the Wagner Group is now raping Africa, exploiting 14 countries there. We already know that something like $250 million has been extracted from Africa to help fund Prigozhin and his dogs of war. We must bring a sense of focus and priority, and that is why we need a Command Paper.

There are also new opportunities to consider, of course. Defence spending is rising: NATO partners are committed to raise defence spending by something like $55 billion, and our allies in Japan are committed to raising theirs by something like $60 billion—that is $100 billion extra in defence spending among our allies. We should have an intelligent conversation about who should be spending what and where. I suspect that one of the conclusions would be that we should focus much more aggressively closer to home.

Secondly, we have to ensure that we are prepared for economic warfare. The alliance structure has been transformed over the last two to three years. We now have not just a rules-based order but the hardcore of a rights-based order—AUKUS, NATO, the North American free trade agreement, the EU, the Quad, us, Korea, Switzerland and Israel. Together, those countries make up two thirds of global GDP—$61 trillion—but we do not co-ordinate critical supply chains across that great arc of the globe, and we do not co-ordinate strategies for critical minerals. In fact, we co-ordinate very little.

Part of the problem is that we have still to define precisely what a critical supply chain is. I put that question to the Foreign Secretary on Monday. Frankly, he struggled to answer it. He could not tell the Committee whether our dependence on China was going up or down, despite the fact that imports from China have doubled to £73.4 billion in the last decade. We have to get a grip on that; we have to think through, strategically and forensically, where we are economically vulnerable and how we can deepen our alliances, particularly with the United States and the EU, to ensure that our critical supply chains are safe from foreign interference. Our allies in Europe and America are spending $1.5 trillion on supply chains, the transition to domestic energy and their respective Chips Acts. We are currently shut out of those dialogues. We simply cannot afford to have that vulnerability in the future.

Finally, I underline the importance of a whole-of-Government approach—as was mentioned by the Chair of the Liaison Committee, Sir Bernard Jenkin—and that includes transforming our soft power around the world. On the Foreign Affairs Committee, when we talk to ambassadors we tend to hear four or five common themes. First, we should see English as a strategic enabler, stop the cuts to the British Council and expand the provision of English teaching around the world. Secondly, we should think radically about how we expand the BBC World Service. The truth is the best stratcom we have available, so we should stop underfunding it. Thirdly, we should think about how we expand education links, whether that is through Chevening scholarships, university-to-university links or technical assistance programmes. Fourthly, we should expand the incredible work of our military attachés. Fifthly, we should get a well-functioning visa service and a Foreign Secretary who is travelling an awful lot more.

This has been a welcome debate, but it underlines the point that there is an awful lot more to do if we are to step up to the responsibilities that, across the House, we believe that we share.

Photo of Richard Foord Richard Foord Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence) 6:25, 14 June 2023

The Liberal Democrats fully support the apparent consensus in the House in relation to Ukraine and the restoration of Ukraine’s sovereignty, but that is not what I would like to focus my remarks on today. I will focus on deterrence in two domains: the maritime domain and the land domain. In relation to the land domain, I want to talk about munitions stockpiles and the size of the Army, and to suggest that the Government are mistaken in boosting the number of warheads that we have in our nuclear stockpile while simultaneously permitting our conventional munitions stockpiles to run low.

The Liberal Democrats recognise that the full-scale invasion of Ukraine has changed the security environment, so we support continuous at-sea deterrence. That is a dividing line between the Scottish National party and my party. While the strategic environment is as it is today, we need to see the maintenance of continuous at-sea deterrence, as we have for more than 50 years. However, we cannot support the increase in the stockpile of nuclear weapons that was first announced in the integrated review of 2021.

When the Liberal Democrats were in government, we achieved a commitment to reduce the nuclear stockpile by 65%, yet the 2021 integrated review announced that the cap on that stockpile would be raised and that information on the operational availability of warheads, deployed warheads and deployed missiles would no longer be made available. That is contributing to the atmosphere of secrecy, rather than transparency, in a very sensitive area. I have nothing but disdain for what Russia and Putin have done in relation to START—the strategic arms reduction treaty—but we need to set an example in this space through our transparency around nuclear.

On conventional munitions, £3 billion of the additional £5 billion of funding that was announced in March was for the nuclear enterprise, whereas less than £2 billion of the funding will go towards replenishing conventional stockpiles. That is the wrong priority, and it sends the wrong signal to industry. Industry wants a signal that there will be sustained production into the future, and it will ramp up production on that basis. The EU has already called for a million artillery rounds a year to be made available to Ukraine, and the UK could contribute to that effort.

I also want to talk about the size of the Army. This reiterates what other Members have said, but it is common in such debates for us all to pay tribute to the bravery of our armed forces personnel. Of course, that is entirely appropriate, but while the Government are cutting the size of the Army, we can be sure that British soldiers are not reciprocating those warm words. They will not be talking about the wisdom of their political representatives; they will be talking in terms that are far less complimentary.

We need only look at the online Army Rumour Service —essentially, the soldier’s answer to Hansard—to see that service personnel are not impressed by this Government’s plans to reduce the size of the Army. The Army was 103,000 strong in 2004, when I was training recruits as a platoon commander at Bassingbourn, which is now the Mission Ready training centre near Bedford. It currently stands at 76,000 full-time trained strength regulars, and we can anticipate a further cut of 3,000, making 73,000 by the end of 2024. The former Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Carter, argued that the size of the Army should be in the order of 80,000, to ensure that the UK can deploy a full division of troops as part of a combined NATO force. We have to think about not only the physical component of fighting power, but the moral component—that is, the ability to get people to fight.

To summarise, I would like to know whether the Minister or, indeed, the Government plan to take the UK’s deployable nuclear weapons stockpile back to levels that we have seen previously, or that we saw announced before the integrated review in 2021, when the strategic environment allows. I would like to see how the UK’s conventional ammunition stocks can be knitted into wider European responses to the invasion of Ukraine in the way that NATO and EU members have responded, by upping production and giving a clear signal to industry that we plan to do that over the long term, and I would like to know when the Government will stop hiding behind the false choice between a sufficiently large Army and a properly equipped one.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 6:31, 14 June 2023

May I say how pleased I am to be involved in this debate, and thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have made such pertinent and worthwhile comments and speeches?

First, I commend the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence on taking a lead among allies in supporting Ukraine. I believe we must do all we can to assist Ukraine, now and in the future, and that commitment is clearly there. In the inevitable peacebuilding and reconciliation efforts that must surely follow Ukraine succeeding in its efforts to oust Russia from the illegally held occupied territories, Northern Ireland has invaluable experience in conflict resolution and peacebuilding that should be shared with Ukraine, to help it with the challenging task of rebuilding communities deeply fractured by the conflict.

While I recognise that the use of advanced defence technology is prevalent in the conflict in Ukraine, such as new missile systems, drones and social media warfare, that conflict is still fought in a manner that we should recognise from the first and second world wars. Tanks and troops are fighting the war: taking and holding ground, digging in, digging trenches and defending. I gently remind the Minister that those are precisely the capabilities that our British Army has had over the years, and—as other Members have referred to—those capabilities have been shredded in many ways. We have an Army crippled by cuts to battle-winning manpower and battlefield warfighting kit. The old Russian military maxim that quantity has a quality of its own still holds true, so I call on the Minister and the whole of the Ministry of Defence to reverse the decline in combat arms, regrow the infantry and the armoured corps, and give Britain back the capability to deploy two warfighting divisions, a capacity that more accurately reflects the current threats we face.

Northern Ireland remains the best place in the UK to recruit men and women to join the military and fight for King and country—the data emphasises that. Northern Ireland’s contribution to the defence industry is immense. I pay tribute to the work done by the likes of Thales, whose NLAW missile system is making such a positive difference to Ukraine’s ability to defeat the Russians on the battlefield. I visited that factory last year and was very impressed, and I understand that many of the people who work there are from my constituency of Strangford. I am very pleased to see good, constructive and positive work coming from Northern Ireland. Defence shipbuilding contracts have recently been awarded to Harland and Wolff—how good it will be to see ships once again going out from Belfast to defend the nation’s interests, at home and abroad.

I cannot speak highly enough of the work being done by many other Northern Ireland-based companies and of their contribution to defence, so ably supported by Northern Ireland’s Aerospace, Defence and Security Group. We had a meeting last night where we met some of those businesses and some of the small SMEs that feed into that. It is impressive to see such capability, such skill and the workforce there to fill the gap.

The recent report from the Royal United Services Institute, “The Defence Industry in Northern Ireland: Leveraging Untapped Potential”, highlights how much more of a contribution Northern Ireland companies can make to defence. When the Secretary of State was a Minister in the Northern Ireland Office, he would have been exposed to this issue, so he should know what an asset we are. He must take note of the RUSI report’s conclusion, which stated:

“In all, NI exhibits considerable defence potential, with three prominent businesses at the top of the supply chain that can, together with the extensive range of SMEs in the region, create an opportunity to promote NI, not as part of the problem set of UK defence and security, but as a valued contributor to its management and solution. The MoD should be monitoring the situation and looking for further opportunities to support local stakeholders, as the current UK government ambition that the whole of the UK”— that is Northern Ireland as well—

“should benefit from defence activity is clearly not being met.”

We want to do more, we can do more, and we need the opportunity. This issue should be of particular concern to those in the MOD focused on prosperity and in the consciousness of all involved with defence spending in the private sector.

I will say a quick word about nuclear power, to which Richard Foord referred. I agree with those who say that we must never use nuclear armaments, but the fact is that we must have it and it must be a working deterrent. That may not be the feeling of everyone in this House, but it is certainly that of us in the DUP and I think of the majority of the House. Can the Minister send me details on capability and the future role of the nuclear programme and how that will impact on our current budgetary plans? I also invite the Minister to visit Northern Ireland and see at first hand the good work being done. Will he give Northern Ireland companies the chance to be at the Defence and Security Equipment International expo in London in September? That would be to everyone’s benefit.

I wish to conclude by thanking members of the armed forces for their service to our constituents across this great nation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Every night away from home and every missed graduation ceremony or birthday is not forgotten by us in this House. Although we cannot give the armed forces all that they deserve, we in this House give them our loyalty and sincere thanks from a grateful nation.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Defence) 6:37, 14 June 2023

This has been a serious debate, reflecting darkening times, uncertain times and the growing confidence of our adversaries. The warnings from the most senior Conservative Back Benchers were carefully worded, but behind that precision is deep worry. Mr Ellwood rightly said that the cuts to our defence have been “ruthless” and the Ajax procurement process “dire”, and he was right to say that we are in “a grim state of affairs”.

Sir Bernard Jenkin set out a mandate for transformation. It was a lot of home truths and hard thinking from him, and it is worth reflecting on his words. My friend Robert Courts spoke about the era of peer-to-peer conflict being back, and he is right. Richard Drax yet again made the case for halting the 10,000 cuts to the Army, which we on this side of the House agree with and share his view on.

I also thank my hon. Friends who contributed to this debate. My hon. Friend Samantha Dixon set out clearly Chester’s keen defence links, including with HMS Albion, a proud Devonport-based ship in my constituency. It serves Chester and Plymouth well. My hon. Friends the Members for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) and for Caerphilly (Wayne David) spoke about their trips to Estonia. Having visited last year, I know just how seriously the people of Estonia take their commitment to NATO and how much they value the United Kingdom’s support. The Minister sketched over the departure of the second battle group from Estonia, and I hope that any discomfort that may have been created with our Estonian friends has now been patched up, because we need to make sure that we have a clear presence there with no chance of Putin putting an inch between us and our allies.

The delay to the defence Command Paper, as set out by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North, is frustrating, and I hope that will be rectified shortly. I am grateful for the contribution from my right hon. Friend Liam Byrne, who spoke passionately about the importance of soft power, which is something I hope we can all reflect on further.

The continuous at-sea deterrent was mentioned a number of times by Members on both sides of the House. It is really important that we thank the people who serve on the submarines, but also the people who support the submarines, including those who refit and service the Vanguard class submarines, again in Devonport in my constituency. As a proud Plymouth MP, I am proud to represent a military city and proud to represent those people who serve supporting our armed forces. I would like to agree with Dave Doogan about the need to recycle the old nuclear submarines. There are very few Members on their phones at this point—it warms my heart that they are listening to what I am saying—but for those who want to have a look, please do zoom in on the western side of Plymouth and see the submarines lined up against each other. It is a sure sign that as a nation we are not dealing with our legacy in the way we ought to, and we must do so.

A bonus point goes to James Sunderland for mentioning the five domains. In a debate about global military operations, the inclusion of space and cyber is absolutely vital. All-domain warfare is there, and having been to and spoken at the Space-Comm expo in Farnborough last week, it is very clear to me that the UK needs to take further steps to ensure that we are fully integrating space and cyber into all our work.

This debate takes place on the eve of Armed Forces Week, and as the son of a Royal Navy submariner and as an MP who represents a proud military community, I want to say thank you to and recognise the sacrifices of our armed forces and their families in the defence of our nation. They are the best of British, and I echo the thanks that have been mentioned on both sides of the Chamber for their work and sacrifices. As many other Members have stated, I look forward to celebrating Armed Forces Day and Armed Forces Week in my own community, and I look forward to seeing the Secretary of State—or whichever Defence Minister it may be—in Falmouth for the national celebrations.

This debate is taking place under the long shadow of Ukraine, and the support that has been offered by the United Kingdom should make all of us proud. We need to ensure that we continue that support, because this is a long-term fight. On UK military support, the Government have had, and will continue to have, Labour’s continued backing. The UK should be stepping up to support Ukraine now, as the long-awaited counter-offensive has begun. That means setting out a clear plan, as was promised by the Secretary of State in August last year, as to what a 2023 action plan for Ukraine will mean, what the implications and consequences for the industry are, and how we can best prepare. The continued absence of that plan is telling.

The war in Ukraine has had a profound effect on how future global military operations will be conducted. Our allies in NATO and Europe—the likes of Germany, France, Poland, Estonia and Lithuania—have all rebooted their defence plans and their budgets. We also need to have a strategic rethink of the UK’s defence plans, but so far this seems to be lacking from the Government. Labour has argued for defence plans to be rebooted since March 2022. Why are we still waiting? Ministers must reboot defence plans, looking again at and halting their cuts to the Army, ensuring that our NATO obligations are met in full and renewing Britain’s contract with our forces.

As the shadow Defence Secretary, my right hon. Friend John Healey, rightly highlighted at the beginning of this debate, we are meant to be debating the new defence Command Paper about now. The delay in that paper coming forward is disappointing. I would be grateful if the Minister, when he gets to his feet, could set out when that paper will be published, and whether it will contain more Tory cuts to our armed forces. In the words of the Defence Secretary earlier this year, the Government had “hollowed out and underfunded” our armed forces. That degree of honesty was welcome at the time, but honesty should come with consequences in the adjustment of the strategy, and we all look forward to seeing whether that has taken hold in the defence Command Paper.

When we talk about global military operations, we must also talk about the morale of our forces. It is the duty of any Government to make sure that those on the frontline do not have to worry about the home front, but the reality right now for many of our service personnel is very different. Many members of our armed forces are living in, frankly, appalling service accommodation, putting up with damp and mould, broken boilers and endless waits for repair. The hon. Member for Witney was right to raise that in his remarks. Poor military accommodation has a direct impact on forces morale, and on recruitment and retention. Satisfaction with service life in the UK armed forces has fallen from 60% in 2010 to 42% this year. Four in 10 UK military personnel have stated that poor morale is increasing the likelihood of their leaving the armed forces. That is why in March this year Labour launched Homes Fit for Heroes, a campaign to highlight the poor state of our armed forces accommodation, and make it clear that when in government it will be a priority to sort that out. The truth is that Ministers could have made that a priority; this could have been sorted out over the past 13 years if they had wanted to do that, and it is important that it is fixed.

Under successive Governments since 2010 the Conservatives have wasted at least £15 billion of taxpayers’ money through MOD mismanagement and defence procurement mistakes, with £5 billion wasted since 2019 alone, while the current Defence Secretary has been in place. How much money is in the budget is as important as what we spend it on, and the certainty of what we spend that money on is important. As someone who grew into defence policy from a passion for the Royal Navy, I would be grateful if the Minister confirmed the future for Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships Wave Ruler and Wave Knight. At the weekend it looked as if they would be decommissioned by the Government because of a lack of service personnel. Will the Minister set out whether an accurate assessment has been in the media, and say what will happen to the RFA’s tanker capability without those ships being held at readiness?

In conclusion, this debate has set out clearly that the world is more uncertain than it has been for some time. It has also set out why a reboot of the UK’s military plans is necessary and required. Let us not look back on these debates in future years and see a Parliament squandering precious time. Let us back our armed forces, rearm by filling our stockpiles, and ensure that the Government look again at their plans to cut 10,000 soldiers from the Army, and look again at the year in, year out defence cuts. I hope we have more debates such as this, in which there are more difficult challenges, and hard thinking and constructive criticism. Our defence and security depends on getting this right, and on a cross-party basis it is essential that we do that.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence 6:46, 14 June 2023

I thank Luke Pollard for his remarks and for the support he has given to our current operations and the men and women of our armed forces. I am pleased he cited Albion. I have visited Albion twice in the recent past, once in Plymouth and once overseas. He was also right to support the men and women of our Submarine Service; I would expect nothing else from a Devonport MP. They are unsung heroes and do an extraordinary thing. He hinted at the NATO defence model, which is important at the moment as we consider Vilnius and what follows from that.

It is reasonable to say that the UK will remain a trenchant supporter of NATO and what it does, and its ask. It is the cornerstone of our defence, notwithstanding the remarks that were made, quite reasonably, by right hon. and hon. Members about forming alliances wherever it is expedient to do so. Indeed, I was particularly heartened in that respect by the comments made by my hon. Friend Sir Bernard Jenkin about the European Union. We have to be pragmatic about our alliances and where we form them, in order to promote our shared and common interests. The men and women of our armed forces are extraordinary. They do things that the vast majority of our fellow citizens are not called on to do. Particularly as we approach 24 June, Armed Forces Day, it is right that so many Members took the opportunity to pay tribute to them.

This has been a good debate—discursive on occasion, off the point from time to time, but in general a thoughtful contribution to Britain’s place in the world, and specifically to what part defence plays in that. A year after I was born, US Secretary of State Dean Acheson, who was no fan of the United Kingdom, quipped that Great Britain had

“lost an empire but has not yet found a role.”

If that was true then, I do not think it true now, and recent events have confirmed that.

Put simply, our role today is to safeguard and improve the lives of those whom we represent. Most hon. Members in the Chamber would agree that defence is central to that—we are among friends—but it is right that we are challenged on whether the £50 billion we now spend on it might be better deployed elsewhere. After all, the Almighty provided us with a quite adequate natural defensive position in the form of the channel, which is a bit like the Alps in respect of Switzerland. Why not shelter and cower behind that? Why not announce that the UK will henceforth simply be patrolling its Euro-Atlantic backyard and take a dividend that could be used to give public services a welcome shot in the arm? We are all facing re-election next year, and that would surely be quite appealing, would it not?

Well, first there is Ukraine. Some nations in the global south may try to convince themselves that Russia’s neo-imperialistic war of conquest is no more than a little local difficulty. Less enlightened jurisdictions may even revel in a challenge to a stable democratic and liberal world order. They are wrong. Putin’s behaviour has had global consequentials with the pain falling on ordinary people everywhere through food shortages, the energy crisis, the cost of living and opportunities forgone: their hopes, their dreams and their future. In a thoughtful contribution, Catherine McKinnell made that point well.

What has happened has real-life consequences, not just for those individuals caught up in the immediacy of that terrible conflict but for people right across the world, and those who are affected the most are the poorest. Meanwhile, China watches and waits, inscrutably. How we respond to Putin today will determine what happens in the Indo-Pacific tomorrow. Get it right in our Euro-Atlantic backyard today and we may yet avoid conflict in the South China sea.

Britain’s global contribution buys us influence that benefits all our constituents. I have seen it myself, serving in the Navy and at the MOD and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. Whether it is a carrier visiting the Indo-Pacific, our Air Force evacuating citizens from earthquake-hit Turkey or our Army working with Kenya to strengthen regional security, the signal that we send to a transactional world is that Britain is a serious player; one to be reckoned with and one that can be relied on. Tangible examples of that reliance are AUKUS and the Global Combat Air Programme. The US, Australia, Japan and Italy chose to work with us because they knew that we could deliver. Look at what those partnerships mean for our country: thousands of jobs and the creation of a long-term skills base that will give a generation of young people cutting-edge skills to succeed in the decades ahead.

There is a further reason why the UK should retain its global presence. It is about values and the sense that the UK is a force for good in the world. We have seen in recent times that whenever adversaries detect liberal democracies weakening, they move to fill the gap. The UK, as the world’s oldest democracy, a member of the UN Security Council and a nation with global reach, has a responsibility to show leadership, stand up for values that make chaos and conflict less likely and promote peace and prosperity.

In the time available, I will attempt to do some justice to the points raised. First, I turn to Jim Shannon, because the first shall be last, and the last shall be first—that is Luke 13:30. I agree with him that continuous at sea-deterrence is a necessary evil. I wish that we did not need it, but we do, and we will. In the spring statement, £3 billion was announced for the nuclear enterprise. That is a big commitment and a vote of confidence in those who undertake this vital task. I thank him for his invite to Northern Ireland and will very much take him up on that in the near future.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex is always thoughtful and, as always, I agreed with much of what he had to say. He is right to point out that, in this country, our military workforce has always expanded and contracted. That has been in the nature of how we have done defence for all time. That is perhaps by virtue of the fact that we are blessed with quite a lot of water between ourselves and those who have historically been our adversaries, but the crucial thing is that we need to be able to scale up quickly when the time demands it. He was also right to point out that we need agility—particularly in relation to equipment—and sovereign capability. That is one of the lessons of the recent past.

Of course, none of this defence is cost-free. If I may be ever so generically critical of the debate, very few of us have really bent our minds to what it costs, although I have hinted at it in suggesting somewhat rhetorically that there is an opportunity cost to it all: we could spend more on defence, but we would have to find that from somewhere else. I can assure Wayne David that there is an active dialogue with all those supporting Ukraine right now. I am very pleased to say that at all levels—politicians, officials and members of the military—the United Kingdom is taking a lead. I think the facts bear that out. He should be proud of the leadership role we are taking, and I say that to him in all sincerity.

I cannot do justice to the detailed points made by my hon. and gallant Friend James Sunderland. As a logistician, I expect him to make a number of forensic points, but he is quite right to say that we should not be matching the good against the exquisite. Never let the excellent be the enemy of the good. I think he mentioned a medal for CASD. Of course, all medallic recognition is kept under continual review. I cannot give him a commitment. I would just point out, although I know it is second best, that the deterrent patrol pin was produced in 2009, the 50th anniversary of CASD, which I know a lot of submariners wear with pride.[This section has been corrected on 15 June 2023, column 4MC — read correction]

I thank Samantha Dixon for her support in backing the UK’s efforts to support Ukraine. That is much appreciated. She spoke about digital and cyber. However, she did seem to be committing her party to more defence spending. I will come on to that in a minute.

My hon. Friend Robert Courts understandably focused on the Royal Air Force. I look forward to being in his constituency very soon indeed. He made a point about dispersal, which took me back to world war two. From my memory of a number of films from that time, dispersal is very much an RAF thing. I agree with him, but there is, again, a cost in terms of money and, probably, efficiency and delivering effect, but the point is extremely well made. He also made a point about the importance of logistics, which is not glamorous.

The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North spoke about Estonia, which was music to my ears. I have been there on a number of occasions, including very recently. I agree with her that our enhanced forward presence there is impressive. I visited Tapa Camp and the headquarters in Tallinn, and saw our RAF in action at Amari. I am particularly pleased that it is an amalgam of all three of our armed forces working together. She was also right to cite Exercise Spring Storm, which I witnessed while I was there.

My hon. Friend Richard Drax, a trenchant advocate of all things to do with the armed forces, argued for an uplift. There’s a funny old thing; I have never heard him do that before. He called the 2% pitiful. Well, okay, but—I am sure he would agree with me—as we aspire to do better than that, we must take others with us, too. That is vital. Our efforts on their own will not be sufficient in facing down some of the threats we face. I was interested in the 5% figure he cited. I think we joined up more or less at the same time. I have to say, though, that the effect we are able to project these days is way greater than what he and I would have been used to at that time. Our kit today is in a completely different league. To compare the two is like comparing chalk and cheese.

Liam Byrne mentioned, in a thoughtful speech, the central Asian republics—the Stans—where, interestingly, Russia’s influence is on the wane. It is axiomatic to say that Russia is extending its influence pretty much everywhere, but we have to understand that in some parts of the world, particularly in Russia’s backyard, that is not necessarily the case. The current war and Putin’s behaviour has turned off almost as many as it has enlisted to his particularly unpleasant cause. The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned defence engagement. I am very pleased he mentioned that, because when I was in Defence previously I had some hand in increasing the defence engagement activities we undertake. We have recently recruited six new Defence attachés.

Richard Foord made spending commitments on behalf of his party. I have noted those.

I really must come back at Dave Doogan. I mean, to say that the Royal Australian Navy does not patrol off Scotland is clearly not right. I am afraid he was not listening to the previous exchange on the Navy’s most lethal platforms and I know the Submarine Service will be upset with his comments.

My right hon. Friend Mr Ellwood worried about headcount and equipment. He is right, but I gently point out to all contributors today that we spend at 2% consistently. We have done for many years and we will continue to do so, hopefully with an uplift to 2.5%.

I am sorry that I have not left sufficient time to deal with the remarks made by John Healey. May I, however, address his point about a plan? Plans are great, but President Zelensky is not too troubled, apparently, because he said:

“If everyone in the world—or at least the vast majority—were steadfast and courageous leaders…as Britain, I am sure we would have already ended this war and restored peace throughout our liberated territory for all our people.”

That, I have to say, is the best endorsement for our armed forces that I can possibly find.

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).