Integrated Review: Defence Command Paper - Statement

– in the House of Lords at 5:25 pm on 23rd March 2021.

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The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Monday 22 March.

“As a young officer, 30 years ago almost to the day, I was summoned to the drill square to have read aloud key decisions from the Government’s defence review at the time, Options for Change. We did not know it then, but the world was set for massive change. The fall of the Soviet Union, the rise of China, the global impact of the internet and the emergence of al-Qaeda were some way off, which meant that no one was really prepared for what happened.

I was part of an Army that, on paper, fielded three armoured divisions in Germany but, in reality, could muster much less. It was, in truth, a hollow force. While I know that some colleagues would rather play Top Trumps with our force numbers, there is no point boasting about numbers of regiments while sending them to war in Snatch Land Rovers or simply counting the number of tanks when our adversaries are developing new ways to defeat them. That is why we have put at the heart of the defence Command Paper the mission to seek out and understand future threats and to invest in the capabilities needed so that we can defeat them.

In defence, it is too tempting to use the shield of sentimentality to protect previously battle-winning but now outdated capabilities. Such sentimentality, when coupled with overambition and underresourcing, leads to even harder consequences down the line. It risks the lives of our people, who are truly our finest asset. It would, of course, similarly endanger our people if we simply wielded a sword of cuts, slicing away the battle-proven on the promise of novelty, without regard for what is left behind. Old capabilities are not necessarily redundant, just as new technologies are not always relevant.

We must employ both sword and shield, because those of us in government charged with defending the country have a duty to protect new domains, as well as continuing investment in the traditional ones, but always adapting to the threat. History shows us time and again that failing to do so risks irrelevance and defeat. As the threat changes, we must change with it, remaining clear-eyed about what capabilities we retire, why we are doing so and how they will be replaced.

The Prime Minister’s vision for the UK in 2030 sees a stronger and more secure, prosperous and resilient union, better equipped for a more competitive age, as a problem-solving and burden-sharing nation with a global perspective. To become so requires Britain’s soft and hard power to be better integrated. In this more competitive age, a global Britain has no choice but to step up, ready to take on the challenges and shape the opportunities of the years ahead alongside our allies and friends. Let us be clear: the benefits and institutions of multilateralism, to which we have all become so accustomed, are an extension of, not an alternative to, our shared leadership and our hard power. UK diplomacy should work hand in hand with the UK Armed Forces abroad, and we will invest in our defence diplomacy network in order to strengthen the influence we can bring to bear. At this point I wish to pay tribute to all our civil servants in the department, and further afield in defence, whose professionalism and dedication are every bit as vital to UK security as all the other component parts of the defence enterprise. In the past, we have been too tempted to fund equipment at the expense of our service personnel’s lived experience. That is why we will spend £1.5 billion on improving single living accommodation over the next four years, and £1.4 billion on wraparound childcare over the next decade.

The Government’s commitment to spending £188 billion on defence over the coming four years—an increase of £24 billion, or 14%—is an investment in the Prime Minister’s vision of security and prosperity in 2030. Previous reviews have been overambitious and underfunded, leaving forces that were overstretched and underequipped. This increased funding offers defence an exciting opportunity to turn our current forces into credible ones, modernising for the threats of the 2020s and beyond, and contributing to national prosperity in the process. It marks a shift from mass mobilisation to information-age speed, readiness and relevance for confronting the threats of the future. These principles will guide our doctrine and our force development.

The integrated operating concept, published last year, recognises that changes in the information and political environments now impact not just the context but the conduct of military operations. The notion of war and peace as binary states has given way to a continuum of conflict, requiring us to prepare our forces for more persistent global engagement and constant campaigning, moving seamlessly from operating to warfighting if that is required. The Armed Forces, working with the rest of Government, must think and act differently. They will no longer be held as a force of last resort but become a more present and active force around the world. Our forces will still be able to warfight as their primary function, but they will also have a role to play before and after what we traditionally consider as war, whether that is supporting humanitarian projects, conflict prevention and stabilisation, or United Nations peacekeeping.

However, technological proliferation and the use of proxies and adversaries operating below the threshold of open conflict mean that the United Kingdom must also play a role in countering such aggressive acts. As such, the steps to sustaining UK leadership in defence must start with ensuring that we are a credible and truly threat-orientated organisation, and we must do so in conjunction with our allies and friends. Today’s reforms will ensure that we continue to meet our NATO commitments on land and enhance our contributions at sea. As the second biggest spender in NATO, and a major contributor across all five domains, we have a responsibility to support the alliance’s own transformation for this more competitive age. Today, I am setting out in this defence Command Paper the threats we are facing; our operating concept for countering them; and the investments in our forces that are required to deliver the nation’s defences. Those threats demand that we make the following investments in, and adjustments to, the services.

We have been a maritime nation for many centuries, and it is vital that we have a navy that is both global and powerful. The Royal Navy, because of our investment in the Type 26, Type 31 and Type 32, will by the start of the next decade have over 20 frigates and destroyers. We will also commission a new multi-role ocean surveillance ship, which will protect the integrity of the UK’s maritime zones and undersea critical national infrastructure. We will deploy new automated minehunting systems, which will replace the Sandown and Hunt classes as they retire through the decade. The interim surface-to-surface guided weapon will replace the Typhoon missile, and we will upgrade the air defence weapon system on our Type 45s to better protect them from new threats. We will invest further to implement the availability of our submarine fleet and start development of the next generation of subsea systems for the 2040s. The Royal Marines will be developed from being an amphibious infantry, held at readiness, to a forward-based, highly capable, maritime-for-future commando force, further enabled by the conversion of a Bay class landing ship to enable littoral strike.

Our land forces have been for too long deprived of investment. That is why, over the next four years, we will spend £23 billion on their modernisation. The British Army will reorganise in seven brigade combat teams—two heavy, one deep strike, one air manoeuvre and two light, plus a combat aviation brigade. In addition, a newly formed security force assistance brigade will provide the skills and capabilities to build the capacity of partner nations. In recognition of the growing demand for enhanced assistance and our commitment to delivering resilience to those partners, we will establish an Army special operations brigade, built around the four battalions of the new ranger regiments. This new regiment will be seeded from 1 Royal Scots, 2 Prince of Wales Royal Rifles, 2nd Battalion Duke of Lancaster and 4th Battalion The Rifles.

Our adversaries set a premium on rapid deployability, so we will enhance the existing 16 Air Assault Brigade with an additional infantry unit, supported by upgraded Apache attack helicopters. Together, they will create a global response force for both crisis response and warfighting. The third division will remain the heart of our warfighting capability, leading in NATO with two modernised heavy brigades. In order to ensure that we are more lethal and better protected, it will be built around a modern armoured nucleus of 148 upgraded Challenger 3 tanks and Ajax armoured reconnaissance vehicles, with the accelerated introduction of Boxer armoured personnel carriers.

As I have repeatedly said, recent conflicts in Libya, Syria and the Caucasus have shown the vulnerability of armour, so we will increase both manning and investments in electronic warfare regiments, air defence and uncrewed aerial surveillance systems, all complemented by offensive cybercapabilities.

The Army’s increased deployability and technological advantage will mean that greater effect can be delivered by fewer people. I have therefore taken the decision to reduce the size of the Army from today’s current strength of 76,500 trained personnel to 72,500 by 2025. The Army has not been at its established strength of 82,000 since the middle of the last decade. These changes will not require redundancies. We wish to build on the work already done on utilising our reserves to make sure the whole force is better integrated and more productive.

There will be no loss of cap badges and, as I said earlier, the new structures will require fewer units. Therefore, 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment will be amalgamated with the 1st Battalion to form a new Boxer-mounted battalion. To administer the new infantry, we will reorganise the regiments to sit in four infantry divisions. Each will comprise a more balanced number of battalions and give the men and women serving in them a wider range of choices and opportunities in pursuing their careers and specialties. To ensure a balanced allocation of recruits, we will introduce intelligent recruiting for the infantry, and each division of infantry will initially feed the four new ranger battalions. The final details of these administrative divisions, along with the wider Army restructuring, will be announced before the summer. No major unit deletions will be further required.

Today’s Royal Air Force is now deploying world-leading capabilities: P-8, Rivet Joint, A400M and the latest Typhoons. The F-35, the world’s most capable combat aircraft, is now being deployed to front-line squadrons. In recognition of its battle-winning capabilities, we will commit to growing the fleet to 48 aircraft. The E-3D Sentry, two generations behind its contemporaries, will be replaced by a more capable fleet of three E-7 Wedgetails in 2023. These will be based at RAF Lossiemouth, transforming the United Kingdom’s early warning and control capabilities, as well as contributing to NATO. As the transport fleet improves availability, we will retire the C-130J Hercules in 2023, after 24 years’ service. Twenty-two A400Ms, alongside the C-17s, will provide a more capable and flexible transport fleet.

Our counterterrorism operations are currently supported by nine Reaper drones, which will be replaced by Protectors in 2024. These new platforms will provide the enhanced strategic ISR—intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance—and strike capabilities that are so vital for all our forces.

All forces evolve, and the increasingly competitive and complex air environment means that we must set the foundations now for our sixth generation of fighter. The Typhoon has been a tremendous success for the British aerospace industry and we will seek to repeat that with £2 billion of investment in the future combat air system over the next four years, alongside further development of the LANCA unmanned combat air vehicle system. We will continue to seek further international collaboration. All services recognise the importance of unmanned aerial systems, which is why we will also develop combat drone swarm technologies. To ensure that our current platforms have the necessary protection and lethality, we will also upgrade the Typhoon radar and introduce SPEAR Cap 3 deep strike capabilities.

The lessons of current conflict demonstrate that however capable individual forces may be, they are vulnerable without integration. UK Strategic Command will therefore invest £1.5 billion over the next decade to build and sustain a digital backbone to share and exploit vast amounts of data through the cloud and secure networks. To ensure that our workforce are able to exploit new domains and enhance productivity, the command will invest in synthetics and simulation, providing a step change in our training.

The National Cyber Force will lie at the heart of defence and GCHQ’s offensive cybercapability and will be based in the north-west of England. The need to keep ourselves informed of the threat and ahead of our rivals means that defence intelligence will be at the heart of our enterprise. We will exploit a wider network of advanced surveillance platforms, all classifications of data and enhanced analysis using artificial intelligence.

Strategic Command will partner the RAF to deliver a step change in our space capabilities. From next year, we will start delivering a UK-built intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance satellite constellation. Space is just one area in which the Ministry of Defence will prioritise more than £6.6 billion-worth of research, development and experimentation over the next four years. Those investments in our future battle-winning capabilities will be guided by the science and technology strategy of 2020 and a new defence and security industrial strategy to be published tomorrow.

Our special forces are world leading. We are committed to investing in their cutting-edge capabilities to ensure that they retain their excellence in counterterrorism, while becoming increasingly capable of also countering hostile state activity.

To conclude, if this defence Command Paper is anything, it is an honest assessment of what we can do and what we will do. We will ensure that defence is threat-focused, modernised and financially sustainable, ready to confront future challenges, seize new opportunities for global Britain and lay the foundations of a more secure and prosperous United Kingdom. We will, for the first time in decades, match genuine money to credible ambitions; we will retire platforms to make way for new systems and approaches; and we will invest in that most precious commodity of all—the people of our Armed Forces.

To serve my country as a soldier was one of the greatest privileges of my life: serving to lead, contributing to keeping this country safe, upholding our values, and defending those who could not defend themselves. Putting oneself in harm’s way in the service of our country is something that, fortunately, few of us are ever required to do, but we all have a duty to ensure that those who do so on our behalf are as well prepared and equipped as possible. Therefore, the success of this defence Command Paper should be judged not on the sophistication of its words, but on the implementation of its reforms and, ultimately, on the delivery of its capabilities into the hands of the men and women of the Armed Forces. It is they who keep us safe and will continue to do so in the years ahead. It is to them, their families and all those across defence that we owe it to make this policy into reality. The work to do so has only just begun.”

Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow Minister (Transport) 5:35 pm, 23rd March 2021

My Lords, as we mark one year since lockdown began, I start by thanking the Armed Forces for their help during the pandemic. They have been essential to our response, from building hospitals to assisting with the vaccine programme, and we owe them a great deal.

In the last defence review, the Government identified the risk posed by pandemics. That document claimed that the Government had

“detailed, robust and comprehensive plans in place”.

But, after one of the world’s worst death tolls and worst recessions, clearly the Government were not prepared. Covid shows that resilience cannot be done on the cheap. Full-spectrum society resilience will require planning, training, and exercising that must be led by the Government and involve the private sector, local agencies and the public, so the reference to,

“Building resilience at home and overseas” in the Command Paper is welcome, but it is disappointing to see how little there is on lessons learned from Covid. Can the Minister tell the House that the comprehensive national resilience strategy will be published, at the latest, before the autumn, when a further wave is a real possibility?

Turning to the rest of the integrated review and Command Paper, we want them to succeed, to keep our citizens safe and to secure Britain as a moral force for good in the world, but we cannot escape how the two previous reviews, as well as recent actions of the Government, have weakened our foundations. Some £8 billion cut from the defence budget, 45,000 personnel cut from the Armed Forces, £5 billion cut from international development, and this review is set to repeat many of the same mistakes, with more reductions in the strength of our forces and crucial military capabilities. How will the loss of 10,000 personnel affect our relationship with our key allies and NATO? In total, how many jobs in the defence industry will be lost as a result of axing Warrior vehicles and Challenger tanks? I fear that the “era of retreat”, as the PM called it, will not end but be extended.

The Secretary of State says that he wants to

“match genuine money to credible ambitions”,

but it is not clear from the paper how that will be done. Ministers like to talk about the rise in capital funding, but not the real cut in revenue funding over the next four years. Can the Minister guarantee that core programmes will be fully funded? With a black hole of £17 billion in current programmes, how much of the extra money will be swallowed by this? What new processes have been installed to allow the MoD to learn the lessons of previous overspending?

The review also marks a new shift in the UK approach to nuclear. Labour’s commitment to the renewal of our deterrent is non-negotiable, alongside our multilateral commitment to nuclear disarmament and greater arms control. But the reversal of 30 years of all-party non-proliferation policy for the UK is a serious decision, and this Command Paper does not clearly explain why it is necessary. What is the strategic thinking behind lifting the cap? How are we going to use our P5 status to press for new generations of arms-control treaties? As the Command Paper rightly identifies, threats are proliferating and becoming increasingly complex and continuous, so we should recognise the new domains of cyber, AI and space—but new technologies take years to come on stream. China has invested $31 billion in AI since 2016 and the US is already spending more than $10 billion a year on AI. Will the Government’s investment allow us to catch up?

It is also right that we recognise climate change as a “threat multiplier” that will

“drive instability, migration, desertification, competition for natural resources and conflict.”

Yet, despite it being launched over a year ago, we are still waiting for the MoD’s sustainability and climate change strategy. When will this be published?

There are clear inconsistencies at the heart of the review. The Command Paper says that Russia

“continues to pose the greatest nuclear, conventional, military and sub-threshold threat to European security.”

But the Government have still not fully implemented any of the Intelligence and Security Committee’s Russia report’s 21 recommendations. This has left a big gap in our defences which must be filled.

The ambition has been laid out, but it is the actions of the Government that will keep the country safe and allow Britain to be a moral force for good in the world. These actions need to be taken in response to national security threats in co-ordination with allies in order to grow national resilience and jobs back home, and in line with our international commitments. We will continue to hold government actions to these standards in the years ahead.

The Statement and Command Paper are full of fine words—defence Statements always are—but the question is whether there is substance behind the words. To answer that question, we need a full day’s debate to mobilise the wisdom and experience of our Back-Benchers. Accordingly, I have made requests through the usual channels and I hope that the Minister will be able to support me in that request.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Newnham Baroness Smith of Newnham Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence)

My Lords, from these Benches I echo many of the words of the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and there are certain questions that I will therefore not reiterate. However, one area that I would like to reinforce is our gratitude to our Armed Forces. The second point that I shall reiterate to the Minister and, in particular, to the Government Chief Whip and the usual channels is that we need a serious debate on defence, covering at least a day. At Second Reading of the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill, I believe there were 67 speakers. Many Members of your Lordships’ House have expertise and would be able to contribute very effectively to serious debate and scrutiny of the integrated review and the defence Command Paper. Two Statements, one last week on the integrated review and one today on the defence Command Paper, will only touch the surface.

The integrated review was supposed to bring together security, defence, foreign policy and development. However, for defence, we had a Statement on funding at, I think the end of the last calendar year; today, we have the Command Paper; tomorrow, an industrial policy paper is coming forward; and the Armed Forces Bill is coming, as is, according to the Command Paper, a defence accommodation strategy. All are clearly welcome, but it would be even more welcome if we had a real sense and belief that the review that came forward last week was truly integrated, truly strategic and genuinely provided a review of all our international and security challenges, capabilities and commitments.

The Statement, which the Minister has not had to repeat, raises a set of questions about the future of our defence. The Secretary of State started with his time in the Army and referred to a whole series of reviews over the past 30 years. It is clear that the increase in defence expenditure announced last year is important but, as the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, pointed out, there are questions about value for money. What work have the Government put in to ensure that defence procurement will provide value for money? Will we be able to ensure that the long-term capital expenditure is scrutinised and delivers for the country?

I want also to ask about our co-operation with partners and allies, which is touched on throughout the paper. The commitment to working within NATO is absolutely clear, but there is talk of a tilt towards the Indo-Pacific. What conversations have Her Majesty’s Government had with India? Does it have the same views as the Foreign Secretary or the Defence Secretary about the importance of co-operation, or are we trying to catch up and persuade India that it is important to work with the United Kingdom?

The threats from Russia and China are made explicit in this Command Paper, yet there also seems to be an attempt to work with China in terms of trade. Can the Minister tell us what is more important—trade or defending ourselves against China? Is there a real strategy here?

I turn finally to the nuclear deterrent. There is a suggestion on page 7 that our adversaries are breaching the terms of international agreements. What about breaches made by our allies, and indeed, what is the danger if the United Kingdom threatens to breach them? Like the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and the Labour Benches, we are committed to multilateral disarmament. While we are committed to the deterrent, we are also committed to multilateralism. Does the proposal to increase the number of warheads not fly in the face of the United Kingdom’s multi-lateral commitments? Should we not think again in that regard?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, for their welcome recognition of the contribution made by our Armed Forces to the Covid response during a worrying and disturbing time for everyone. I think we are united in admiring what our Armed Forces have been able to do to contribute to the response and I appreciate that being both acknowledged and welcomed in the Chamber.

The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, raised a number of issues, including the comprehensive resilience strategy and the date of its publication. I do not have with me the specific date, but I shall undertake to look into it and respond to him. The noble Lord was slightly gloomy about the prospect of this vision for our defence capability and referred to previous strategic defence reviews. I say to him that I remember starkly the review that had to take place in 2010 because, as he will recall, having been in government prior to then, at the time we were facing a £38 billion black hole in the MoD budget. I remember it clearly because in flashing red lights above it was the future location of our RAF base at Lossiemouth. I am not given to going on demos, but I was moved to go on one, with cross-party support, marching in Lossiemouth in an effort to save the base. I am very glad that I went on that demo. I shall not say that it gave me an appetite for going on others, but I am absolutely delighted that we succeeded in saving Lossiemouth. It now occupies, as your Lordships will be aware, a position of strategic importance in our response to the threats we face. I would argue to the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, that the response and vision set out in our defence White Paper is vibrant, visionary, exciting and dynamic. Importantly, it also lays out a strategy that is funded.

The noble Lord expressed concerns about the RDEL budget. I reassure him that, averaged over the years, the budget will increase and, while broadly flat when using the OBR inflation assumptions and the GDP deflator, it will still increase by 0.1% over the period. I can reassure him that, as we modernise equipment and identify estate that is no longer fit for purpose, we anticipate reducing costs. Further, as he will be aware, we now face stringent Treasury rules. We have improved our practices in procurement of equipment, so some of his speculation about the future for these issues is rather bleak and not well founded.

The noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, raised the issue of our nuclear deterrent. I welcome from both sides of the Chamber a clear commitment to our nuclear deterrent. It is vital. It is essential that it remain credible, and that is why there has been a decision to increase the number of warheads. The inescapable virtue of a deterrent is that if it is not credible, you might as well start placing it in the scrapyard tomorrow. In fact, the acid test of a deterrent is: has it stopped happening the things that it is meant to deter? We all know the answer to that, and that is why we need the deterrent at the moment, why it must be credible and why we have made the decision to increase the number of warheads. But I would, of course, emphasise that it is not a target; it is a ceiling.

The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, also raised the issue of artificial intelligence—AI—which is an extremely important area of our activity. He will be aware of the sums we are allocating to research and development and to our new stratagems in that direction, and I think that is to be encouraged. It will transform how we respond to the new generation of threats we face, and I am satisfied that that is both an intelligent and substantive response to that nature of threat.

The noble Lord also raised the question of climate change, sustainability and the strategy within the MoD. I am pleased to say that a very thorough and extensive report was completed which attracted admiration within the department. It certainly made clear to the department the decisions we will have to take and the objectives we should have. I will inquire about whether I can share some of that information with him, because it paints a very positive picture.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, along with the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, raised the question of a defence debate. No one is more enthusiastic about a defence debate than I am, and I will certainly speak to my noble friend the Chief Whip and say that, if time can be found in the schedule, it would be a very worthwhile deployment of time in this Chamber. I would be very happy and proud to represent the Government’s position on defence on that occasion.

The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, specifically mentioned R&D and what we are investing. We have committed to spend £6.6 billion on research and development in the next four years to accelerate advanced and next-generation capabilities. That reverses a decline in R&D across recent decades, once again elevating us to the status of a world-leading science nation. There was interest from both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness in what we are doing with all this investment. The answer is that we will drive innovation in game-changing technologies that offer generational leaps, so that we can outpace our adversaries and give us a decisive edge. This will deliver capabilities that are agile, interconnected and data driven.

I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, who raised the integrated review. As she is aware, the integrated review identified four overarching objectives: sustaining strategic advantage through science and technology; shaping the open international order of the future; strengthening security and defence at home and overseas; and building resilience at home and overseas. The defence White Paper is a very substantial response to these overarching objectives, and it indicates clearly how defence sees itself fitting into the pursuit of these objectives and making that essential contribution to our global reach.

The noble Lord and the noble Baroness raised the issue of value for money. As I observed earlier, we are making great strides through the reformation of our business case processes, greater transparency and greater accountability for SROs and our continuous improvement of the skills in defence to tackle these vital decisions. I also mentioned that the Treasury is ever vigilant in watching over what we get up to, and there is new and stringent guidance for all investment decisions, including major programmes.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, raised the matter of our allies and, specifically, the matter of China, and that is a very important issue. When you have allies—obviously, one of our most important alliances is NATO —the one thing that you want to reassure your partners in any alliance about is that you are serious about the commitment that you are being asked to make. I think that this White Paper will demonstrate to our allies that we are absolutely serious. As she knows, we are the second-biggest contributor to NATO and the biggest spender in Europe on defence. The White Paper simply cements and corroborates our commitment to defence—not just to talk about it but to put our money where our mouth is and deliver the things that absolutely matter to meet the new and different threats we face, which are of a character we have not previously been familiar with.

In relation to China, which the noble Baroness specifically raised, I think that she posed the question whether it should be trade or defence. I think, actually, there is room for both. It seems to me that it is necessary, as we propose to do with an enhanced forward presence and forward engagement, to make it clear that our presence is serious. We seek to influence and to avoid conflict arising, and by our influence we contribute to that end. But it is also important, if we are to understand what one of the major global powers is doing, that there has to be another relationship, both diplomatic and economic, and that relates to trade.

I hope that I have answered all the points that the noble Lord and the noble Baroness raised. If I have overlooked anything, I undertake to write.

Photo of Baroness Henig Baroness Henig Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

We now come to 20 minutes allocated for Back-Bench questions. I ask that questions and answers be brief so that I can call the maximum number of speakers.

Photo of Lord Boyce Lord Boyce Crossbench 5:57 pm, 23rd March 2021

My Lords, we should all broadly welcome the defence Command Paper, which puts our Armed Forces in a much better position than they found themselves in after the last two defence reviews. Noble Lords will note the emphasis on a stronger global maritime strategy and persistent forward presence, which should be applauded. However, the workhorses of delivering such a strategy—our destroyers and frigates—are to be reduced from the presently inadequate 19 to 17. The Minister will no doubt attempt to reassure your Lordships about the new Type 26 and Type 31 escorts coming online, but these are years away from becoming operational. Would she agree that every effort should be made to coerce the shipbuilding industry, which the Command Paper extols, to expedite their delivery? The length of time given to build these ships is lamentable.

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I thank the noble and gallant Lord. He raises an important point. I would observe that, across the piece, the programme for shipbuilding over the next 10 to 15 years is exciting and substantial. On our immediate ambitions, as the noble and gallant Lord said we are building eight Type 26 frigates on the Clyde and currently assembling five Type 31 frigates in Rosyth. These are important shipping orders. They are doing well, as far as I am aware. They are coping well with the challenges that we have seen over the last year. We certainly anticipate delivery on time.

The noble and gallant Lord will also be aware that we will probably mothball some of the Type 23s which have not been operational. He mentioned a figure of 17, but I would far rather have 17 workable, operational frigates that we can call on than a notional figure of something else with perhaps only 14 being operational. At least we are now much clearer on what we have, and that these things will be working and can be deployed when we need them. Looking at the transition is not to get the whole picture; you have to look at the overall future. As he is aware, that means Type 26 and Type 31 frigates, and eventually Type 32s, as well as fleet solid support ships, six multi-role support ships, an LSD(A) and a multi-role ocean surveillance ship. There is a really exciting package of shipbuilding in there that I hope my friend, the noble Lord, Lord West, will also be excited about.

Photo of Lord Trefgarne Lord Trefgarne Chair, SLSC Sub-Committee A, Chair, SLSC Sub-Committee A

My Lords, it is good to ask a supplementary question on this after seeing my noble friend Lord Younger on the Front Bench, because I had the privilege of serving in the Ministry of Defence under his late father. I ask my noble friend the Minister whether the policy of continuous at-sea deterrence remains in place. There has been some press comment recently about some industrial difficulties at Faslane and Coulport, which might risk that policy. By continuous at-sea deterrence, I of course mean that, at every hour of every day of every night, somewhere in the world, one of our Trident submarines is on patrol ready to respond, should our supreme national interest so require it.

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

Without hesitation, I reassure my noble friend that such is the case; the continuous at-sea deterrent is just that. It has been doing that important job without interruption. I am aware of his concern about industrial action and understand that it is under control and will not obstruct the operation of our CASD.

Photo of The Bishop of Portsmouth The Bishop of Portsmouth Bishop

My Lords, there is much to be welcomed in the defence Command Paper and the integrated review. As the Bishop of Portsmouth, I particularly welcome the ambitious signals to British shipbuilding for the Navy. However, I worry that, noting the tilt to the Indo-Pacific and expansion of Britain’s geographical scope into Africa, the integrated review does not suggest reducing the UK Government’s commitments anywhere, yet the proposed cuts to the Armed Forces mean the smallest full-time Army for centuries. Size is not everything, but are we asking too much of the Armed Forces? Do we risk overstretch? We seem to be gaining commitments, while failing to resource the resolution of existing challenges. Can the Minister indicate how the Government intend to flesh out their order of priorities?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I reassure the right reverend Prelate that, as he is aware, we currently engage in activity in Africa, partly with the United Nations and partly with other allies. That is where we help in trying to defeat terrorism and assist with capacity building. We are satisfied that the plans we have laid out are not just capable of discharging our existing obligations but, because of the focus that we have on a reconfigured and different kind of military force, make us better placed to deal with some of the challenges that we are facing. The right reverend Prelate is aware of the exciting vision for the Army, which involves a number of changes, not least brigades with specific functions and the creation of the Ranger regiment. It is marginally smaller, because the change is not hugely significant, but this regiment is going to be fleet of foot, highly trained, with a professional focus, and the right equipment and technology, so that we can have it where we need it quickly, doing the job that it is required to do.

Photo of Lord Snape Lord Snape Labour

Can the Minister tell us whether the latest reduction of our Armed Forces will have any impact on the type of operation that the British military conducts in future? Can she confirm that the Trident replacement programme will be subject to a separate debate and possibly a vote, in the other place? I remind her that, before the last election, the Prime Minister said that he would not be

“cutting the armed services in any form”.

What does this review mean if it is not a cut?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

The review means that we have recognised the pace of change to both the intensity and the character of the threat. The noble Lord is aware that it is now in a multidimensional form with which we were not familiar 10, 15 or even five years ago. It requires us to respond with resilience and flexibility, not rigidity. That is why it is no longer appropriate to measure effectiveness by mass. We need to measure the skills and talents that we have, the swiftness of response, the professionalism of our training, the equipment and the technology. That is the sensible and intelligent way to respond to the new character of the threat.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Liberal Democrat

Can the Minister explain the logic of increasing our reliance on nuclear weapons and decreasing our conventional forces given that this increases the danger of nuclear proliferation, and can she say how a 40% increase in our nuclear capacity is compliant with Article 6 of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I have already indicated to your Lordships why we consider maintenance of a credible minimum nuclear deterrent to be absolutely essential, and it is our judgment that the increase in warheads is essential to underpin that. That is not escalating nuclear weaponry but simply ensuring that the deterrent as it currently exists is adequately supported and capable of doing the deterrent job which it is there to do. We are satisfied that we are compliant with the non-proliferation treaty; of the stated nuclear stockpile nations, we have the lowest stockpile.

Photo of Lord Craig of Radley Lord Craig of Radley Crossbench

My Lords, the innovative, offensive National Cyber Force taking shape with defence SIS and GCHQ participation will presumably involve the ministerial responsibilities of both the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary. To which Minister and which senior military or civilian officeholder will the commander of this force be primarily responsible, and indeed, has the appointment been announced?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

The noble and gallant Lord is quite correct that this is a shared departmental responsibility. I am unable to say whether the command structure has been identified but I shall inquire about that and undertake to write to him.

Photo of Lord Lang of Monkton Lord Lang of Monkton Conservative

[Inaudible]—review, which I warmly welcome. The proposals for Army numbers stand out alarmingly, and that is the cause of my plea. The Army is the enduring core of national defence, the glue that holds combined operations together, yet another reduction—this time of over 12.5%—will mean that it will have halved in size over the last 30 years. That does not seem credible to me, and credibility is vital both as a deterrent—deterrence applies not just in nuclear—to potential enemies and as a reassurance to allies, yet our Army will be smaller than those of France, Italy, Spain and Germany. Does the Minister agree that defence needs more than platforms and robots, that boots on the ground will always be needed, and that hollowed-out battalions and a hollowed-out Army are neither efficient nor inspiring of confidence? Will she carry this message to the Government? A drone can assist a soldier on the ground, but it cannot replace him.

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

We are aware that much of the conventional and traditional format of the military again has been overtaken by technology. We have seen, for example, what can happen to traditional types of metalwork armoured vehicles made possible by the interception and attack of unmanned drones. We have to recognise that, because of technology, many members of our Armed Forces are now able to do things with fewer people that they could not do in years gone by. What absolutely matters is that we have the skill, resilience, flexibility, technology and equipment to ensure that our Armed Forces are absolutely able to operate at their best, and that means that much of what we depended on before for numbers of boots on the ground has been superseded by innovation and new developments. However, our Armed Forces will be crack forces doing an important job.

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Labour

My Lords, the integrated review and this defence paper are extremely important documents. To pick up the Government’s wording, they are critical to the “sovereignty, security and prosperity”—and possibly the survival—of our nation. That is so important that to have two repeat Statements in the last dog watch, one each week, is really not very appropriate. I know that the noble Baroness agrees that there should be a debate. We need to push this harder. It is a disgrace that this Chamber, with its deep reservoir of knowledge, will not have a proper debate. This really needs to be pushed. The survival of this nation, possibly—its sovereignty, its security? It is not good enough that it is not discussed.

In the few seconds I have left, I will add that, after 56 years on the active list, I have often been told about jam tomorrow, and too often it has turned to margarine. I am very worried that the cuts we are having will not be covered by jam in the future. Jam disappears: it has a habit of doing that.

My final question is on numbers of people. Will the work being done by the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, on reserves, provide the men who will be needed for MACP, resilience, disaster relief et cetera around the UK, because the regular services will not be able to do that?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I say to the noble Lord that business in the Chamber is not my responsibility; it is the responsibility of his and my colleagues, working through the usual channels. Your Lordships will all be aware that an extraordinary amount of time in the Chamber has, rightly, been deployed on the consideration of the consequences of a pandemic, not least in relation to health issues, social support and related educational and broader welfare issues. This Chamber has been coping with a lot. I have welcomed the idea of a debate. The noble Lord referred to two Statements in quick succession. No one is more aware of that than I am: tonight will be a busy night for me, and I look forward to further engagement tomorrow.

On the “jam tomorrow” charge, I would say that it is perfectly clear from the figures disclosed by the Government that there is jam today waiting to be invested. There is an exciting programme of investment, there is a vision and a strategy set out. I think it is relevant and, at last, meeting the threat that we face: that rapidly changing, very diverse, different threat from that which many of us have previously known. It is a new world, and this is an exciting response by the Government and the Ministry of Defence to that world.

Photo of Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Defence)

My Lords, as the noble Baroness mentioned Lossiemouth, and as I had the good fortune to be the Member of Parliament for RAF Leuchars for some 28 years, let me ask her a question about the Royal Air Force. Why have the Government refused in this review to commit to purchase any more F35 Lightning aircraft? Does this mean that, as will be the case when the carrier “Queen Elizabeth” deploys to the Far East in the summer, it will always have to rely in part on American aircraft and United States Marine Corps pilots?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

As the noble Lord is aware, we have a partnership at the moment with our American friends, who provide support to the carrier. That is a matter of merit; it is about alliance, friendship and interoperability, and we should understand that. The Government’s commitment is to increase the fleet size of Lightning beyond the 48 aircraft of which we are aware. I hope that reassures the noble Lord.

Photo of Lord Dannatt Lord Dannatt Crossbench

My Lords, now that the Regular Army is once again to be reduced in size in order to provide additional funds for the defence equipment programme, can the Minister give an idea of the thinking within the Ministry of Defence about increasing the size of the Army should the Government of the day wish to take part in a large operation, such as the two Gulf wars, or an enduring operation, such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan? My concern is that the future may not look how we might wish it to look; however, history has a habit of repeating itself.

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I say to the noble Lord, whose experience in these matters I hugely respect, that we have to look at the future very much on the basis of working with partners, friends and allies. We also want to look at a future where, with a forward presence, we hope to avert the possibility of conflict; it is far better to do so than to go to war. It is also better to be a presence, perhaps assisting and facilitating a diplomatic intervention which may be critical in such avoidance. The noble Lord will be aware that the MoD always has to be cognisant of what may be around the corner, and, certainly, that is part of our longer-term strategy for keeping that resilience to be able to cope with what may be in front of us.

Photo of Lord Robathan Lord Robathan Conservative

My Lords, it is a great pity that this thoughtful and considered defence review should be so spoilt by the unwise and, I think, dangerous decision to reduce substantially the size of the Army, to the consternation of our allies, the satisfaction of potential adversaries and, I fear, to the detriment of both the Armed Forces and our defence. However, I shall not bang on about that; instead, I shall ask my noble friend the Minister, who knows about these things, about another threat to the United Kingdom entirely—namely, the threat to the union. To what extent can this new Command Paper assist in bolstering the union of the United Kingdom?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I am very grateful to my noble friend for raising something of critical importance because we in this Chamber are all aware that the MoD depends greatly upon the presences that we have throughout the United Kingdom. I mentioned Lossiemouth in Morayshire earlier, and of course we also have the submarine headquarters base at Faslane, RAF Valley in Wales and, obviously, numerous significant presences in England and, to some extent, in Northern Ireland. My noble friend is absolutely correct: we need these strategic presences within the union, but, actually, I argue that these nations need the MoD. For example, the spread of personnel in Scotland—regulars, reserves and civilians—totals just over 18,500; in Wales, that spread totals 4,940, and in Northern Ireland it is 4,620. That is before we look at jobs supported by industry expenditure: in Scotland there are 12,400, in Wales there are 5,700 and in Northern Ireland there are 500. That denotes how invaluable the devolved nations are to the MoD, as is the whole of the UK, including England—and it denotes how they benefit from that MoD investment in them.

Photo of Lord Reid of Cardowan Lord Reid of Cardowan Labour

My Lords, we have always maintained that the purpose of our nuclear weapons is nuclear deterrence, not war fighting. That is reflected initially on page 76 of the Command Paper, but it goes on to say:

“However, we reserve the right to review this assurance if the future threat of weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical and biological capabilities, or emerging technologies”—

I assume that this includes cyber—

“that could have a comparable impact, makes it necessary.”

In other words, in three sentences, we have shifted to a position where we are apparently prepared to use nuclear weapons in response to any form of aggression. Does the Minister understand that huge step away from deterrence and towards war fighting with nuclear weapons? Does she realise the Pandora’s box that that will open if the Government proceed?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

The protocols surrounding nuclear weapons have been widely understood. They exist as a deterrent and to do that job in the hope that they never have to be used. I said earlier that the test of a deterrent is just that: has it deterred what it is supposed to? The current deterrent has done that for well over 60 years. It is the deterrent aspect that is all-important, and that makes it an effective presence within our MoD capability.