Modernising Defence Programme - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:24 pm on 18th December 2018.

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Photo of Lord Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Labour 8:24 pm, 18th December 2018

My Lords, I woke this morning to the news of the transformation fund of £160 million. Clearly, that was what the MoD briefed last night from this Statement because that was what the Secretary of State wanted the media to focus on—and they have done, for most of today. So I too will focus on this in your Lordships’ House.

Since the Statement was first made, the MoD has briefed further that the fund will be used in part to look at artificial intelligence and its uses in a series of new programmes, as well as—this is the phrase that I understand was used—tackling threats to submarines. These must be new threats. The Statement itself expresses another ambition for it, saying:

“This fund will be available for new innovative military capability which allows us to stay one step ahead of our adversaries”.

This seems a heroic ambition for £160 million. I say that because, in 2014, Google paid £400 million for a University College London spin-out called DeepMind. The 2017 accounts of that business show that Google DeepMind staff costs are in excess of £200 million a year. So it does not seem that £160 million will go very far in that challenging environment.

In order that your Lordships’ House and others who will have to do so can assess what this money will be used for and whether that is a justifiable use with any significant result, can the Minister explain—either today or in writing—what series of new programmes this money will be deployed to develop? What are these new threats to our submarines that need to be tackled and are not already accounted for in the MoD budget?