Modernising Defence Programme - Statement

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Labour 8:24 pm, 18th December 2018

My Lords, I do not normally wear a uniform for a Statement on defence, but I have just been at a commemoration of the Battle of North Cape, where the very modern German battle cruiser “Scharnhorst” was sunk on Boxing Day 1943 by a British battleship, two cruisers and 10 destroyers, who hit her with numerous 14-inch shells and 6-inch shells and 19 torpedoes before she sank.

There is lots of rain coming in. If the roof comes down, I will stop talking. It is a bit like being on “Ardent” under gunfire; I rather like it.

The reality is that numbers count, but that is not my point. I feel this is rather a damp squib, to be quite honest, and so was the Statement in July. It is full of platitudes—motherhood and apple pie-type statements. There are lots of things that I would expect to be going on anyway. If they were not, somebody ought to be taken out and shot. It is really very disappointing. The good thing is that the Secretary of State for Defence managed to get £1.8 billion extra for defence, which was fantastic, and he has managed to kick into touch, or into next year, when the really interesting things will happen in the spending review decisions about defence. Not long ago, it looked as if decisions would be made to cut things that would have been quite disastrous for the nation, so he has managed to slip that sideways. To be quite honest, this Statement is not exciting. It is like a glossy brochure, as the noble Baroness said, and I find that very disappointing. The £1.8 billion figure has been talked about before. The £800 million was for Dreadnought and has been pulled forward. We were told that the £1 billion was for Dreadnought, anti-submarine warfare and cyber. It seems that some of this has been purloined for other things. I will be interested in how much of it is for anti-submarine warfare, which is what was mentioned by the Secretary of State when he said we have an extra £1 billion.

The Statement refers to an increase in the “mass” of the Navy and the military. We have certainly got heavier because we have a bloody great aircraft carrier. In terms of numbers, the only difference is that, because we kept three OPVs, we have two extra ships—that is all over the next 10 years or so, because the 31e is replacing other ships. I find that a little misleading.

The Statement says that we are a “leading voice” in European security. Europe’s disgraceful decision on Galileo does not make me think that we are a leading voice in European security—we are in NATO, but not in European security. That is worrying.

My noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe mentioned the increase in weapon stockpiles. The MoD has always been bad about that but, as soon you increase weapon stockpiles, you take money from somewhere else. We do not know where this money is coming from. Similarly with some other references to amounts of money, it is not clear where they are coming from, but what is quite clear that we cannot meet the demanding efficiency targets. One knows that from talking with everyone in the MoD. To pretend that we can is wrong; it is no good fooling and deluding ourselves. Does the Minister really believe that we will meet all the efficiency targets and save the amount of money that we said we would? Yes, we can manage to balance the books over the next two years and manage to get equipment by slipping and sliding things around—the MoD has done that for years—but we have a real problem. Let us face it: there is insufficient money in defence at the moment to run the programme that we would like. Somehow that has to be resolved. It will be fought out in next year’s spending round—the Secretary of State has been clever in sliding it to then and not taking terrible decisions now, but, my goodness, we need to look carefully. To be quite honest, this Statement is really a damp squib.