My Lords, I am very honoured to be entrusted to introduce this debate on our Armed Forces and the United Kingdom’s defence policy, at a time when we and our allies find ourselves in a very grave, unstable and uncertain period. I declare my interest as honorary colonel of C Squadron, The Royal Yeomanry—the Kent and Sharpshooters Yeomanry. Members of the regiment are currently deployed on operations in support of the Royal Lancers, in our commitment to NATO’s enhanced forward presence in Poland, and in support of the Household Cavalry on Operation TOSCA in Cyprus. It is worthy of note that, over the past three years, the Royal Yeomanry has deployed in excess of 150 Army Reserve soldiers in support of operations and other defence tasks overseas—it is a fine record indeed.
We have witnessed the unfolding reality and cost, in both men and materiel, of the high-intensity land battle in Ukraine. That has brought home to the United Kingdom that our country needs to pay far greater attention to defence and resilience, both civilian and military—and, especially importantly, to maintaining and sustaining our capabilities. But the sad truth, as we all know, is that, given the threats and circumstances, we are not spending enough money on defence. We now have very small Armed Forces and, unless we invest at scale and capacity, we risk being left behind by the United States and other allies and, frankly, no longer able to play the kind of role that we should in the world.
We are all only too well aware of the grave dangers ahead. The war in Ukraine is certainly not the only challenge we face: there are the global ambitions of China, including as a military power, and there continues to be instability in the Middle East and serious instability in Africa. We have important interests to protect and defend. At the same time, as I am sure my noble friend Lady Helic will tell this House, we need to pay far greater attention to shoring up other areas, such as the Balkans, where Russia exhibits every day its malign intent and where, frankly, we have not acted perhaps as quickly and robustly as we should.
All these disparate risks should command our concentration with the same clarity, focus and decisiveness that we devote to Ukraine. These issues are of the first importance to our Armed Forces, our intelligence services and our Diplomatic Service, and they daily grow more serious and complex. It is an important lesson for us to hoist aboard that we cannot complain from the sidelines about the erosion of the international rules-based order if we are not willing to play a large role in defending it. Indeed, it is a great irony that, as the West becomes more risk averse, so the world becomes more unstable before our eyes.
One of the most admirable things about this House is the extraordinary depth of expertise in defence, intelligence, diplomacy and all the other vital aspects of statecraft. There are speakers following me today who have far greater knowledge and far more important things to say than I, about strategy, technology, equipment, capacity and, above all, sustainability. After all, Ukraine has crystallised what machinery, technology and munitions for war in the 21st century look like; there is no sanctuary on the modern battlefield.
For my own part, I will say a few words about the service men and women. First, I pay a warm tribute to the service families, for whom life is not always easy and whose accommodation is sometimes inadequate, but who keep the home fires burning. We should be very grateful to them. The extraordinary range of roles in the Armed Forces should remind us that none of this would be possible without the consistent and unfailing support of Armed Forces families. Across the world, whether training or on operations, our service men and women, including our Reserve Forces, often operate in hostile environments and endure real hardships and, sometimes, considerable danger. They operate and train in all sorts of environments and extremes across the world against every conceivable threat, and their success is testimony to their hard work, dedication, tenacity and resourcefulness. They are an immense credit to this country.
I also pay a very warm tribute—as I am sure the House will want to—following his departure, to our friend the Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace, who did a wholly exceptional job, not least in making the Government realise that expenditure on defence is not discretionary. I also pay a very warm tribute to his excellent colleagues James Heappey, the Member for Wells, who is an outstanding Minister for the Armed Forces, and my noble friend Lady Goldie, who commands, for very good reason, such profound respect in this House. Ben Wallace’s support for Ukraine has been nothing short of admirable—an approach which I hope will continue.
Service men and women see only bad news in the papers. Inevitably, the press tends to concentrate, understandably and not without good reason, on some of the catastrophic procurement disasters and other things that go wrong—they are inevitable on such a big scale and in a very big department. But what they and the world do not see is the consistently high standard of the service men and women, who, through realistic and robust training, prepare themselves for war. For the soldiers, sailors and airmen of today and tomorrow, as for their forebears, warfare will continue to represent the ultimate physical and moral challenge. They will encounter extreme danger in rapidly changing circumstances, amid conditions of chaos and uncertainty. Their skills and the quality of their leadership, weapons and equipment will be severely tested. Such operations are sustainable only by highly trained men and women motivated by the ethos of their services, by pride and loyalty to their traditions and institutions, by their unfailing and almost magical comradeship and a remarkable level of team spirit, and by the emotional, intellectual and moral qualities which lead people to put their lives on the line. That, at the end of the day, is what defence and debates on defence are all about. I remind this House of what Lord Wavell said in his famous lecture on generalship:
“in the last resort, the end of all military training, the settling of all policy, the ordering of all weaponry and all that goes into the makings of the armed forces is that the deciding factor in battle will always be this. That sooner or later, Private so-and-so will, of his own free will and in the face of great danger, uncertainty and chaos, have to advance to his front in the face of the enemy. If all that goes wrong, after all the training, the intensive preparation and the provision of equipment and expenditure, the system has failed”.
To that end, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, who I know take defence seriously, have a profound obligation to ensure that our Armed Forces are properly resourced for the hugely demanding and increasing tasks that are laid on them. With great respect, they should realise with humility how extraordinarily lucky we are to have such exceptional Armed Forces, and that none of this happens by magic and cannot just be regenerated on the spot at a whim. At every level of command in all three services and throughout all ranks, they are truly formidable in their standards, both personally and professionally, in their teamwork and in their highly developed sense of cohesion, duty and obligation. They are an institution that is a priceless asset for this great country in the pursuit of our aims and interests, both at home and abroad.
It is an enormous credit to the quality of the leadership of the services that, in a period of unprecedented upheaval, they have managed to retain exceptional flexibility, combined with great clarity of purpose and endeavour. They deserve our whole-hearted support in every way that we can give it. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Soames, for moving this debate. The world is more dangerous and unpredictable than at any time in my 58 years on the active list—a major war is actually taking place in Europe—and yet defence is not often discussed in this Chamber. I hope that will change. I must also make it clear—notwithstanding what I may say about defence shortfalls, and before the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, accuses me of being disloyal to the service I love—that our men and women in the Armed Forces are the best in the world, our Armed Forces are able to conduct almost the whole gamut of military operations and some of our equipment is the best in the world.
But, notwithstanding the siren voices of the Front Bench declaring otherwise, the defence budget is too small. In his resignation letter, Ben Wallace—who, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Soames, should be congratulated on his service to the United Kingdom and global security—stated that the Government have viewed the defence budget as “discretionary spend” and made savings “by hollowing out”. Indeed, he has made constant reference to his concerns over the hollowing out of the Armed Forces and I could list numerous examples today that affect our fighting capability because of that. In his letter, Wallace added:
“I genuinely believe that over the next decade the world will get more insecure and more unstable … now is the time to invest”.
The vast majority of military experts, many of whom are in this House, would agree and consider that defence expenditure should rise significantly, as it has in numerous other countries. The Prime Minister’s letter in response to Wallace’s letter is not that reassuring, talking of defence funding being “on a stable footing” and expressing an aspiration—not a commitment—to reach 2.5% of GDP on defence spending. I believe we urgently need an increase of about £8 million in the defence budget and an immediate commitment to the defence budget being 3% of GDP.
The cry from the Treasury and others will be that there are huge inefficiencies in MoD spending and that by resolving these no extra funding will be required. While it would be foolish to deny that there is scope for efficiency savings—because there is—this will not cover the problem. Yes, we need to speed up and rationalise our procurement system—let us face it, there have been some terrible disasters, Ajax being one currently on the go—and an agreed defence industrial strategy and focus on timely delivery of systems with realistic penalties if not met would help, but defence has suffered from continual so-called efficiency measures for years that in reality are cuts that have reduced military capability. For example, measures taken by the coalition in 2010 reduced our nation’s military capability by one-third and I do not believe that the nation realised that that was done.
Strong armed forces are a crucial deterrent and therefore prevent war. They also have utility in a number of other ways, particularly in terms of national resilience. But in the final analysis they are there to fight and win against the King’s enemies who wish to do our people and our nation harm. That is their prime aim and what they are there for. It seems that recently important social issues have distracted the senior decision-makers in the MoD, who should not forget that a single, unambiguous aim is the keystone of successful military operations and the master principle of war.
The MoD’s other affliction is what I call millennial business speak. What do noble Lords think of the following from the recently produced Maritime Operating Concept?
“Alongside the RN Strategy, it describes the Wise Pivot of the Maritime Force, from a platform-based, role-specific, and aggregated Fleet, to a distributed protean force, operating as a system of systems”.
Lord Nelson gave the following guidance:
“But, in case Signals can neither be seen or perfectly understood, no Captain can do very wrong if he places his Ship alongside that of an Enemy”.
It may lack nuance but is a little easier to understand.
I am sure other Members of the House, with their great knowledge, will identify many areas where hollowing out is affecting our capability. I did not intend doing that and noble Lords will be amazed that I have not mentioned ships—sorry, I just have. My message is that with all the other pressures on resources—and I realise they are huge—we can no longer avoid the hard decision that significantly more needs to be spent on defence if we are to ensure the security and wealth of our nation. After all, it is the prime responsibility of any Government.
My Lords, it is difficult to assess what size and structure of Armed Forces Britain needs without a coherent understanding of Britain’s place in a very rapidly changing world. The last Prime Minister but one was an enthusiast for turning away from commitment to the European region, with a tilt to the Indo-Pacific, for which we would need a larger Navy, and expeditionary forces able to operate at long range from the UK. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has brought attention back to European security and two changes of Prime Minister have lessened the underlying antagonism to co-operation with our neighbours, but no strategic foreign policy has emerged from recent Foreign Secretaries or Prime Ministers.
For as many years as I can remember, British foreign policy has been based on the foundation of British-American partnership, with the effectiveness of our defence forces judged by how seriously the Pentagon takes our contribution. We have to face the real prospect now that our partnership with the USA may be withering. The next presidential election could bring back Donald Trump, or see a Democratic President hamstrung by a Republican Congress sceptical of supporting Ukraine and content for European states, including the UK, to defend themselves, as we hear presidential candidates saying.
It has to be a foundational principle of British defence policy, therefore, to share in maintaining the security of our own region, extending as far as the Mediterranean, north Africa, the Baltic, the Arctic and the Black Sea. In practice, our forces have co-operated closely with the French, Dutch, Belgians, Norwegians and others for many years. A Conservative Secretary of State once said to me: “I don’t mind our doing that, so long as we don’t have to tell anyone”. I think he meant his own Back-Benchers and the right-wing press. It is high time that we made the best of working with our neighbours and recognised that in a context in which we can hardly afford to maintain the pretence of a full-range defence capability, our security is best protected by sharing tasks, training and equipment.
Part of the long-term problem of UK defence procurement has been that the effort to match the Americans in high-end war capability has led to rising costs, changing specifications and overcomplex weapons systems produced in small numbers and unattractive to export markets. One of the lessons of the conflict in Ukraine is that a larger number of lower-capability weapons may be worth more than a handful of sophisticated systems so expensive that commanders hesitate before committing them to action. The more sophisticated the systems are, the more likely that they will break down. Our Navy now consists mainly of a small number of highly sophisticated ships, many of which seem to break down frequently. Ukraine is teaching us that rapid adaptation of far cheaper and simpler civilian systems can make a real difference, and that larger numbers of units count in both attack and defence.
Another lesson of the Ukraine conflict is that you do not have to train military forces for long periods in order for them to be effective, particularly when commanders can draw on skills already acquired in civilian life. For centuries, British forces have been based on the assumption that we need long-term professional engagement for expeditionary service abroad, and that reserves are of doubtful use and unlikely to be ready in time for any unexpected crisis. As the size of our Armed Forces continues to shrink, there is a powerful case for a substantial increase in reserves.
The noble Lord, Lord Soames, mentioned the yeomanry. I am conscious of the contribution that forces from the London Scottish, now a reserve company of the Scots Guards, have made in recent years. They are valuable—they can make an enormous contribution. Ministers should now be emphasising the positive role that well-trained reserves play in strengthening the UK’s security and expanding the reserves.
The need for home-based reserve forces becomes even clearer when we take into account the importance of improving the UK’s resilience in the face of a changing pattern of threats. We have far fewer organised groups to assist with civil contingencies than many of our neighbours, let alone the USA. Assistance to the civil power used to be a significant part of the responsibilities of our forces, but they are now too small to fulfil that role.
However, as the noble Lord, Lord West, said, little can be achieved without more money. So long as the overall priority of the Government and of the Conservative Party behind them is to cut taxes, and therefore to hold down public spending across the board, little can be done to improve our security and resilience. If the choice is between an early tax cut or an improvement in our national security, which will the Chancellor, the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party choose?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for securing this debate. It is very timely, as I worry that the capabilities of our Armed Forces are getting seriously out of balance with the ambitions of our defence policy.
Why do I say that? I suppose that one of the many benefits of being a Member of this House is that you get a free copy of the New Statesman every week. The copy I received just before the House went into Summer Recess contained an article by George Eaton on the fears of British decline. A quick summary of that article is that Britain is in relative decline, and that the decline is not historic or terminal. Importantly, however, the point the article makes is that we will not revise or reverse that decline through the alchemy of a small number of transformative breakthroughs. The idea that we can quickly become a science superpower, a global leader in green tech or the world’s entrepreneurial powerhouse are simply not feasible if you represent only 2% of global manufacture and global research and development.
The article made a simple footballing analogy: if you are sitting towards the lower end of the Premier League, you cannot suddenly reach the top by investing in one or two expensive players. Rather, you need to embark on a strategy of overall improvement. On reading the article, I reflected on the state of the UK’s Armed Forces and this forthcoming debate.
I start with the reassurance that our Armed Forces are definitely still in the premiership. However, we are also in the 2% club, we are in relative decline, we definitely suffer from a belief in the magic of various alchemies—digital, technological, doctrinal—and we have increasingly adopted a strategy of investment in a few very big players that we struggle to afford.
To add some flesh to this, our world-leading attributes probably consist of the continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent, the carrier-strike capability, our special forces, the overall quality of our people—as has been mentioned—and our ability to stage state ceremonial that is still the envy of the world. I worry that such capabilities are born more of a continuing desire to parade the totemic instruments of global authority rather than being the product of a cold-hearted analysis of defence need based on current threats and resource realities. I also fear that the excellence of such capabilities generates to an extent a misplaced public confidence in the Armed Forces as a whole.
To return to footballing parallels, the team has some wonderful players, we retain the ability to win some memorable games, but we do not have a big enough squad, we have some lousy kit and some very poor facilities, and we have no meaningful reserves, either human or material. We are not designed for resilience or deterrence.
What should we do? I fear that the Defence Command Paper was, perhaps understandably, an exercise if not in deception then at least in public and self-delusion. It seemed designed primarily to ingeniously reassure rather than honestly inform. What is needed is more blunt honesty about the need to resource defence appropriately and to apply those resources to a programme of holistic betterment, but, most of all, to set a realistic ambition for our nation.
As far as resources are concerned, I do not believe that the Government have developed a compelling strategic narrative to convince our society of the need to spend more on defence. Perhaps I worry in part because they do not themselves believe in such a narrative; hence, they are happy to publish illusions. As far as betterment is concerned, we need an holistic programme of reform that covers defence procurement, the relationship with the defence industrial base, the Reserve Forces, war-fighting resilience and the condition of defence infrastructure, including married quarters.
However, above all is the need to set a more realistic national ambition. At least part of the reason why Russia invaded Ukraine was that Putin did not think that NATO, and by inference the UK, had the capability or resolve to do anything about it. To an extent, he may have been proved wrong. However, the fact that Putin made that assumption means that our conventional deterrence posture lacked credibility.
I fear that we have forgotten the reality that defence is built largely on a paradigm. The greater the investment made in capability, the less likely it is that you will need to use it. Deterring war is a far less expensive option than fighting it, even by proxy. Therefore, the stark choice we face is either to increase resources or to reduce ambition. I fear that the alternative is incoherence and accelerating decline.
My Lords, I start by reminding your Lordships’ House of my various interests in the Armed Forces and thanking the noble Lord, Lord Soames, for introducing this excellent debate. I sense already that a common theme is building.
I have spent the first part of this week in Poland at its defence trade fair in my capacity as the Government’s Defence Export Advocate. It was impossible not to feel a real sense of urgency in Poland’s desire to modernise its Armed Forces as a result of the events in Ukraine. Impressively, Poland is set to spend 4.2% of its GDP on defence, and defence is one of the key battlegrounds in its upcoming general election. Interestingly, the more than doubling of defence spend is being spent not only modernising equipment but on increasing the size of its Armed Forces, and in particular its territorial defence reserve, which is set to increase in size from 32,000 to 50,000.
Poland recognises that one of the lessons from Ukraine is the need for a strong reserve, and that throughout history, not just in Ukraine, wars are started with regulars but finished with reservists. Our NATO allies recognise that as well. France has announced that it is planning to more than double its reserves from 40,000 to 100,000, which includes a proposal for an industrial reserve corps to backfill defence industries with up to 2,000 reservists if they need to expand for war. Germany is also expanding to a 100,000 reserve, plus expanding the liability on others so that it can theoretically call on 950,000 reservists in extremis. The reservist retirement age is 65. Denmark is increasing reserves from the current manning of 28,500 to 62,200. Estonia has 4,000 active reserves, mirroring its 4,000 regular force, with 40,000 trained passive reserves and 230,000 enrolled on a mobilisation registry. There is a common theme: all our Allies’ reserve armies are potentially bigger than the regular force. It makes sense: reserves are a cost-effective way of maintaining mass and skills at an appropriate readiness.
So what, your Lordships may ask, is the situation in the United Kingdom? On paper, the Army Reserve is 32,000, with no plans to increase its size. In reality, it is smaller and declining in number every month. It was not always the case; following the Future Reserves 2020 review we saw major investment in our reserve, and, between 2015 and 2019, numbers of the Army Reserve grew substantially. It probably helped that the Minister for the Armed Forces at the time was particularly interested in reserves.
The Reserve Forces Review 2030 that I chaired tried to build on this “down and in” success by looking “up and out”, recognising that Reserve Forces are the ideal medium to access skills and talent that the regular force simply cannot hold. This, too, has been a success. Today’s Reserve is no longer just a contingent capability to be held at low readiness; it is also a pool of talented individuals, many of whom act as auxiliaries, bringing their skills to support defence on a daily basis. One of our proposals in the review was to adopt the concept of a spectrum of service for individuals, recognising that, throughout their working career, they should be able to move in and out of uniformed service—be that regular, Reserve or civilian life—gaining skills and experience without necessarily being penalised. Remarkably, sometimes it can be quite difficult for an ex-regular to join the Reserve.
I am delighted that this concept has been picked up by the recent Haythornthwaite review in terms of service with our Armed Forces, but if there is just one message that I hope noble Lords take away from my contribution, it is that today’s Army Reserve is a very different beast from the Territorial Army of the past, and contributes to defence outputs on a daily basis. I have every confidence that the current decline in Army Reserve numbers can be reversed, but the Reserve needs to be invested in both financially and conceptually.
I sensed at times that the Army was never quite sure what it wanted from its Reserve. The new NATO force model of graduated readiness is a building block for that clarity. However, there remain challenges to it. I will name but two. First, the MoD financial model always puts Reserves at risk. Reserves, unlike regulars, are a variable cost and Reserve service days are always at risk of being cut. Who would want to stay in the Reserves and not be able to train? Secondly, we always seek to mirror the Reserve to the regular force in both training and structure. I am delighted that the Army proposes to end that direct equivalence, and regulars and Reserves should integrate at the point of use in one Army, but have the flexibility to be organised and trained in different ways to suit the institutions.
I end by simply saying that, after 35 years of Army Reserve service, it will be my pleasure in October to enter what will be my last job in the Army, as director of Army Reserves—effectively the head of the institution—so this will probably be my last contribution on the Reserves in this forum, for a while at least. But I am clear what needs to be done and relish the challenge.
My Lords, in opening, I associate myself with the words of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Soames of Fletching, for securing this important debate and add my words of admiration for his excellent introductory speech.
In essence, today’s debate is about the measurement of aspiration against reality. The simple questions are: does the UK have the military resource it needs to meet our obligations and can we, in fact, defend our country and its interests in a fracturing, increasingly multipolar world?
The Command Paper published in July outlined the geographical and strategic breadth of the challenges we face. Our ability to shape events in our favour depends on our military, our participation in NATO and other bilateral defence relationships and our new Indo-Pacific tilt. NATO is critical in this context. In theory, the UK is supposed to have the capacity to provide a warfighting division to NATO if needed. When asked about the readiness of our warfighting 3rd Division before the Defence Select Committee in July, the CDS responded by saying, that the “vehicles are really old”, the division is “lighter than we want” and that, in order to offer much more than a brigade in this scenario, we would need the gap to be filled by our allies.
Our position of influence within NATO is not static. If our capacity weakens, our influence will weaken with it. It is no accident that General Sir Tim Radford, who was, until July, Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, warns that at present, cuts to the size of the UK’s Armed Forces mean that we are only “just holding on” to our leadership role within the alliance.
This reflects the consequences of a wider set of political choices. The number of total deployable active-duty personnel is smaller than the US Marine Corps and is smaller, in fact, than at any time since the Napoleonic Wars. A senior US general earlier this year said that the shrinking of numbers in our military meant that we were barely a tier 2 military power, let alone a realistic aspirant to tier 1 status.
The conflict in Ukraine has upended any hypothesis suggesting that sophisticated military technology has rendered the role of soldiers, sailors and airmen obsolete. I understand that, as in all areas of life, technology diminishes the need for human agency, but the size of our Armed Forces is still a factor in assessing their strength The British Armed Forces are simply too small. This is not a fringe or minority view, but one shared by several former Chiefs of the Defence Staff. It is especially concerning that we continue to face recruitment challenges even when overall numbers are so small. This is true across all three services, with figures to March this year showing an intake decline of 14.6% for the Army, 16.6% for the RAF and around 22% for the Navy. Like others, I hope that the Government’s response to the Haythornthwaite report will see significant progress made in this area.
In today’s economic context, spending decisions are not between good or bad, but between necessary and urgent. In preparation for these proceedings, I had occasion to look back at other recent debates, both in your Lordships’ House and in the other place, on these issues. In addressing concerns around our military capacity, the ministerial answers I read frequently sought to encompass two irreconcilable positions. We have been told, often in the same statement, that economic stringency imposes regrettable restrictions on our ability to build the defence capacity we need, while being just as solemnly assured that our existing capacity is adequate, indeed ample, to meet all foreseeable needs. That is like having at the same time a Dickensian miser whispering in one ear and Dr Pangloss in the other. If our current capabilities are indeed ample, restrictions are not regrettable but responsible. If they are not, we must revise the scale of our ambition accordingly.
During my time as Secretary of State for Defence, I had the privilege to meet countless service personnel, and was always awed by their dedication, courage, patriotism and resilience. We often ask our troops to do the impossible, and with startling frequency they do just that. In speaking, I seek not to question their bravery but to ensure that the three services have what they need to engage with maximum effectiveness the challenges posed by our strategic adversaries.
My Lords, I declare my interest as executive chairman of the Changing Character of War Centre at Pembroke College, Oxford—and that is the issue with which I start. The nature of war has not changed since ancient times. It involves the use of force and, arguably, the threat of the use of force, by one group against another. It also requires resistance by those under attack: without that resistance, there is merely a rout. War also implies an intensity and duration to the conflict. None of this is new and none of it has gone away. However, the character of war changes with each new technological and tactical development, but these do not necessarily obviate all previous technologies and tactics. This was the mistake of these so-called “new wars” theorists, who, in the 1980s and 1990s, announced that major wars were now obsolete: there would be terrorism and other attacks by non-state actors, but inter-state war was no longer an international policy option. This was wishful thinking.
Another mistaken view was expressed by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who in the other place in November 2021 claimed that the days of big tank battles and land wars in Europe were over, and mocked his party colleague Tobias Ellwood, the chairman of the Defence Select Committee, for expressing concern about the cuts to British military capabilities. Three months later, Russia invaded Ukraine.
Old methods are never given up completely. Wars started on land, moved to sea and then airspace, and now to the cyberspace created by human beings. We have added to the spaces where wars may be conducted, but we have not abandoned the original spaces. So it is with the technology of war. We add new ways of attacking and resisting, but the old ways always remain available. Be suspicious of the credibility of anyone who says otherwise.
My second point is that the use of force is the one area where the state must maintain a monopoly and a convincing capacity. With healthcare, education, transport and many other social requirements, we may wish, and increasingly have wished, the state to provide, supply and manage them, but in none of them is a state monopoly essential or even, in my view, desirable. With increasing internal disruption and defending against external attack, it is crucial that the state maintains its monopoly. The recent coup attempt by the Wagner mercenaries in Russia shows what happens when a state allows any other model of the management of physical force.
In addition, the naive assumption that major war has gone away and that government is merely about providing domestic services is seriously mistaken and dangerous. If adequate resources are not provided for the defence of our country and our interests abroad against internal and external threats, a time will come when we will not be able to protect ourselves against attack.
This became the case with Europe, which for decades largely left it to the United States to be its protective umbrella, but no country has friends and benefactors who can be depended upon permanently to fulfil such a role. Countries have allies who will work with them when it is in their interests, not friends who will sacrifice themselves for no other reason than friendship. Our defence collaboration was never going to be based on the EU but on NATO as a defence alliance—and one that we nearly lost through neglect.
Finally, I want to say something about people. There is currently a superficially attractive notion that, with technology, we will be able to defend ourselves with a diminishing corps of people in our military. This is very ill-advised. There are many arguments already being made in this debate about the need to have enough people to operate the ships, planes, tanks and computers that we need, as well as those who can be called upon to apply military discipline and organisation to assist the civil power with the increasing incidence of pandemics, natural disasters and, in some cases, I am afraid, civil disturbance and illegal immigration. However, there is another aspect to it. If a significant section of our population have served in some capacity, they, their families and their communities have a very special sense of the value of their country and the need to take risks and sometimes make sacrifices to protect it and to defend our freedoms, culture, way of life and interests abroad.
Many people in our country no longer understand the need for this. They think that we managed in the past and that technology will save us in the future. Others live in a world that they wish existed rather than in the troublesome world of humanity that actually exists, with all its dangerous and unsavoury characters as well as the good people. Still others assume that we are all rational actors who will, in the end, weigh up the social and economic costs and benefits and act on those. In the context of war and existential threat, we as individuals and communities become devoted actors, not rational actors. Indeed, if we do not, our community will likely not survive.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Soames, on securing this important and timely debate. I thank him for concentrating his remarks on the commitment and excellence of our soldiers, sailors, Air Force personnel and marines. As the war in Ukraine has demonstrated so starkly, it is the morale and determination of those in military uniform which results in success or failure on the battlefield.
However, we need to place what our excellent service people do on a daily basis in the context of the real world which is around us. The refresh of the integrated review earlier this year confirmed the tilt towards the Indo-Pacific and the need to support our allies and friends in that region in the face of an expansionist China. There is the unfinished business of confronting Islamist militancy in the Middle East and increasingly in Africa. Dominating across all environments is our support for Ukraine in defeating Russian aggression. This broadens out to our vital participation in NATO and other multinational commitments and the need for sustained deterrent deployments, such as in Estonia and Poland.
All this comes at a cost, especially in the land environment, which remains so poorly underinvested. In this month’s edition of the Army’s in-house magazine, Soldier, I was not surprised to read this:
“Talk to personnel in any section of the British Army at the moment and there is one piece of feedback you 'll hear over and over again; everyone is being asked to do more with less”.
Some will say it was ever thus, but I disagree. There have been times in the recent past when there was a balance between commitments and resources. Eventually this came right, at the height of the two campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, but that was with an Army of over 100,000 regular soldiers and an Army Reserve near its recruited strength of 30,000. Today, we are not engaged in major combat operations ourselves but the criticism is still there: everyone is being asked to do more with less.
Is it any wonder that there is this imbalance when the Regular Army is on course to reduce to 73,000 soldiers and the Army Reserve is down to around 26,000? The ultimate illustration of “more with less” must surely be the situation in 1st Regiment Royal Horse Artillery, a close-support artillery regiment in 3rd Division—supposedly our one deployable war-fighting division. That regiment has no operational guns. An artillery regiment with no guns is truly reminiscent of the inter-war years, when football rattles replaced machine guns in training.
I exaggerate somewhat to make my point. We have gifted 32-tracked AS90 self-propelled artillery guns to Ukraine, but what about the replacement capability? That is what the commanding officer of 1st RHA needs to tell his soldiers about. It is a Swedish system called Archer. We have bought 14 of these wheeled vehicles and, all being well, they will be in service next November. What about our tracked Warrior infantry fighting vehicles? There was no money for a mid-life upgrade, so they are to be retired and a wheeled alternative introduced instead. Is the plan to upgrade only 148 of our Challenger 2 main battle tanks to Challenger 3 capability enough? Frankly, I mind less about the reduction in our manpower than I do about the reduction in our equipment.
Of course, there are those who would say that armoured fighting vehicles are oh-so 20th century and that the future is with hi-tech drones, clever imagery and high-speed communications, and of course they are right. However, the sad and expensive fact of life that Chancellors and Defence Secretaries must confront is that, as the conflict in Ukraine is showing, the new ways of warfare are not replacing the old ways of warfare but complementing them. A blending of the old chin-to-chin slugging match is as important today as the hi-tech developments of the 21st century. Satellite-informed button-pressing long-range firepower is in lockstep today in Ukraine with brutal gutter-fighting with bayonet, grenade and short-range drones. There are no revolutionary silver bullets. We are told that there is to be an investment in Army programmes—the Future Soldier programme— but largely towards the end of the decade. Is that good enough or soon enough? In any event, that programme must not be subject to further cuts when the squeeze comes.
In the 1930s, there was the threat of a dictator rising in Europe. We chose to appease him. Too late, we began to re-arm. Mercifully, just in time, we produced enough fighter aircraft to win the Battle of Britain. However, the British Army, undermanned, undertrained, underequipped and transported in wheeled lorries, faced an armoured enemy that had embraced the then new technology of the main battle tank. In May and June 1940, our Army was defeated in France and escaped annihilation via Dunkirk. Today, there is a new dictator in Europe—not just a threat but a proven aggressor. Are we re-arming? Are we increasing our defence expenditure? Are we taking our defence responsibilities seriously? In 1935, we spent 3% of GDP on defence. Today, it is not even 2.5%. By 1939 we were spending 18%, and in 1940 it was 46%. Does history have to repeat itself? I sincerely hope not.
My Lords, I declare my interests as a vice-chair of the All-Party Group on Bosnia-Herzegovina and as a member of the PSVI advisory board at the FCO. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Soames of Fletching for tabling this debate. At a time when we are facing the most complex geopolitical situation since the Cold War, and with the knowledge and experience of this House, which we have just witnessed, we should have a regular opportunity to debate and challenge our collective assumptions.
In the last decade, we have seen extraordinary changes take place: leaving the European Union, the occupation of part of a European country by its neighbour, the emergence of a more assertive and aggressive China, and new technologies changing the nature of war-fighting. Now we have a new Defence Secretary, who will have to master all this. However, as he faces new threats, some of our most serious challenges are persistent problems and some of them need conventional answers.
I will focus on two issues: the role of our Armed Forces in preserving peace and security in the western Balkans, as predicted by my noble friend Lord Soames, and the role that they can play in addressing conflict-related sexual violence.
Russia is engaged in political meddling and malign influence in the western Balkans, projecting influence through military assistance to its main partner, Serbia, while supporting the militarisation of the Bosnian entity of Republika Srpska. Lacking a direct military presence on the ground, Russia supports far-right nationalist organisations, a mix of organised crime and paramilitary groups, encouraging polarisation and stirring up anti-western sentiment. Its ultimate aim is to keep the region constantly unstable and under its influence. This is most visible in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which faces sustained attempts by Russian-backed secessionists to undermine its sovereignty and stability.
A war in Bosnia, were it to happen, would destabilise the region and bring with it the very scenario that we are keen to avoid: mass displacement of people in Europe, a breakdown of border control and renewed smuggling of people, arms and narcotics, let alone the loss of life and another war in Europe. This is a direct threat to the United Kingdom. To watch it unfold and not deter that scenario would go directly against our own assumptions in the recent Command Paper, which states:
“Putting more ships to sea, planes in air and people around the globe to operate in contested areas imposes costs on our adversaries, and ultimately—and crucially—reduces costs to ourselves”.
In the case of the western Balkans, we are talking not about ships or planes but about the redeployment of the British Army contingents that left EUFOR after Brexit, when we ceased our contribution to Operation Althea, the international military mission in support of a safe and secure environment in Bosnia-Herzegovina. I hope that the Government will show leadership and rejoin and bolster this critical stabilisation force to ensure that it provides a credible deterrent to violence. I hope my noble friend the Minister can share the Government’s assessment of the threat of instability in the western Balkans and what steps they deem necessary to address any such threat.
Conflict-related sexual violence destroys lives and undermines peace and security. It is not just an individual tragedy: it affects whole communities and nations and threatens prospects for long-term stability. We have seen it in Iraq, Syria, Myanmar and Ethiopia, recently in Ukraine and now, as I speak, once again in Darfur. Our Armed Forces must play their role in taking leadership in countering this heinous crime.
As part of the high-level review of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, the MoD made a commitment to ensure that, by November 2016, all pre-deployment training for our forces would include women, peace and security and PSVI in the agenda. I know that some of the Ukrainian troops being trained in the United Kingdom have received human security training. Can my noble friend confirm to the House that this commitment made in 2015 has been honoured and that this is still the case eight years later, and that it is a standard part of our training package, whether for our forces or in engagement with allied and partner forces?
I am running out of time, so I will say just one thing. Men and women of the Armed Forces defend and protect our freedom every day of every year. Much of that we never see, and we take it for granted. For that, we owe them and their families immense gratitude.
My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Soames, for his excellent starting point for this debate, which many of us on this side of the House would wholly agree with in every way. I do not have the experience of military service and defence questions that many Members of this House have, but I share the admiration that he expressed for the people in our armed services. When I was a humble adviser in No. 10, working on the defence review, Charles Guthrie, Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank, took me to Banja Luka in Bosnia to look at the conditions in which our people had to work. I had tremendous admiration for that. He then insisted that I go and get on board one of Admiral West’s frigates. Somehow or other, I managed to climb up a rope ladder to get on and take a look.
It was always a struggle then, in 1997 under the Blair Government, to argue for an increased defence budget. I believed then that we had to have a strong defence budget, and I believe it even more now. But there are always arguments and many other worthy claims—that we have to spend more on overseas aid, or that we have lots of child poverty and pensioner poverty to deal with. At the present conjuncture, our problem with public spending is that we face a huge demographic challenge with increased costs from pensions, health and social care, and the existential, longer-term challenge of climate change, which we have to address and will be expensive.
I must say that, in the present situation, I find all the chatter about tax cuts rather unrealistic—let us put it like that. I believe that we must have a stronger defence budget, but it will be difficult. If there is a change of Government, it will be as difficult on our side as it has been. I remember the sessions we had in No. 10 at every public spending round on what department budgets should be, and I was the only one of the political advisers in No. 10 who fought for a higher defence budget. Fortunately, I had a single ally—the Prime Minister. I hope we can get a bigger defence budget in the years ahead, but defence has to make the case for that. It has to reform where there are obvious weaknesses. We must shake up the procurement system and get on top of those problems.
Secondly, I agree totally with the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Houghton of Richmond, that we must have realism about what we can achieve in the world. We have to balance realism and resources in a sensible way. I am a bit sceptical about the return east of Suez: is that really where Britain should be putting its efforts? Reading the recent defence White Paper, I could not understand why we were increasing the size of our nuclear arsenal. We need a minimum deterrent—I have fought unilateralism all my life in politics—but our deterrent should be as minimal in cost as it possibly can be, yet the Government were proposing an increase in expenditure.
Here is the thing I worry about the most—I know that people have a long and noble history of Anglo-American co-operation and do not like this. I look at the opinion polls in the United States, and Biden might be 1% ahead of Trump. The prospect of another Trump presidency is very real. The prospect of a party that believes that America should become isolationist and withdraw from Europe is very real. We have to get our act together with our European partners. I know that this is difficult because of Brexit but, for me, this is an absolutely key priority in the defence field, given the situation we now face. So, yes, defence has to be a priority. It will be extremely difficult to make it one, but our future in Europe depends on it.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Soames, on his fine introduction to this important debate. Two MoD reports published this summer received much less attention than the revised DCP. These were concerned with personnel issues, the continuous attitude survey, and the very comprehensive Agency and Agility report. No matter how much is spent on equipment, fighting platforms and war stocks, none will be any use without the men and women of our Armed Forces who use their training, skills and commitment to use them. Personnel are often rightly singled out for praise and admiration by Ministers and others. In return, I believe Ben Wallace deserves praise for his fine performance as Defence Secretary at a particularly difficult time.
As time is short, I return to the Agency and Agility report. In the Written Statement to Parliament on
“committed to the change set out in this report”.
The report sets forth with a following wind in its sails. I wonder whether it will reach its destination. The last major look at terms of service, and much else to do with personnel, was the Bett report way back in 1994-95. He recommended full acceptance and no cherry picking. It took the Government nearly two years to respond and more than a decade to implement, and then only in part. It is still early days, but have the Government set themselves any target date for a response?
In the vignettes at the end of the report, every individual is expressing job satisfaction. Yet this critical aspect, contributing to good morale, could be even better highlighted in the body of the report. Working for government will hardly ever be paid more than is likely to be available in the private sector for comparable tasks; it will probably be less, even when making adjustment for pension expectations. So the suggestion that expertise could be financially rewarded regardless of rank will not be the whole story. Rank, too, has status and reward, as well as more pay, as has job satisfaction and working as part of a team.
Long experience of adversity and antipathy to risk taking with public funds may raise difficulties with its encouragement, which Haythornthwaite, the author, proposes. His report recognised the importance in operations of the chain of command, underpinned by service ethos. He seems, perhaps unfairly, to ascribe less importance to ethos in peacetime settings. More thought is given to what is in it for the individual and less to what obligations and undertakings must be given in return to reflect the 24/7 commitment and the Armed Forces Act. His people valuation proposal must have this. It is unique for the Armed Forces. He uses a catchphrase several times to encapsulate his approach:
“Think big, start small, scale fast”.
For the MoD, or any government department, thinking big is a policy ambition. “Start small” is the classic pilot “see if it works” approach. But “scale fast” is rarer than hens’ teeth, maybe triggered only by a pandemic or war. Even the proxy war in Ukraine has not seen procurement scaled fast. Test of success of this report will be delivery of “scale fast”.
This timely report deserves a proactive approach and a determination to take it forward. New thinking of this kind is more essential than ever to get the best from the far too small number of operational platforms and weapons stocks to hand. I was pleased to note the positive references to the Armed Forces covenant. It deserves far more than government is so far prepared to state in statute.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure for me to follow the noble and gallant Lord. Many years ago, he and I worked quite closely together when he was Chief of the Air Staff and I was chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority. The armed services in those days were a great deal larger than they are today.
The Government frequently boast of the help they have given to Ukraine and all they have done to mobilise support for Ukraine, and I congratulate them for everything they have achieved. That comes at a price, of course, and I should like the Minister to tell us what all our help has meant for the British armed services. How much of what we have given has been replaced? Is it true that stocks that we used to count in days are now down to hours? Is it true that if the supplies to our Armed Forces are not transformed in the very near future, we will not be able to sustain our support for Ukraine, nor maintain the present level of training for our troops? I do not expect the Minister to give me chapter and verse in reply, but I should like her to assure the House that the Government are taking urgent steps to re-equip our own Armed Forces to the level of preparedness that they had before the Ukraine war began.
We have no idea how the Ukraine war might develop. We do not know what diversionary or other tactics Russia might deploy. But just suppose that a threat arises that necessitates the deployment of British and other NATO troops to the Baltic states, to Finland or to Poland. Would our troops in those circumstances be in a state of readiness? Would they be credible as a deterrent force? I should like the Minister to give her view on that.
In the light of the present situation, with a land war in Europe and continuous tension in Asia, can it be right to stick with a target of 2% of GDP for the defence budget? While campaigning for the leadership of the Conservative Party last year, Grant Shapps talked in terms of 3%. I believe he was on the right lines then and I hope he will remain on the right lines now. NATO has a target of 2%, but we have committed ourselves to more than most NATO countries with our nuclear deterrent, our very expensive aircraft carriers and our continued involvement in the Far East, exemplified by AUKUS. If that is the league that we wish to play in, we must put up the money to fund it.
I know that Ministers are very busy people and do not have much time to read books. None the less, I would urge the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister to read a slim volume entitled Guilty Men, which was written by Michael Foot and a number of other people and published in 1940. It excoriated the Ministers in the 1930s who, by failing to re-equip the Armed Forces when there was still time, left them in mortal danger in that year. God forbid that we should ever again face the sort of danger that we faced in 1940, but the skies are darkening, and we owe it to our men and women in uniform to ensure that they are properly equipped for the dangers they might face. That is the first duty of the Government.
My Lords, I join noble Lords on both sides of the House in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Soames, for obtaining this debate this morning and endorsing everything he said about the brave men and women of our Armed Forces, a group that is being asked to do more and more with less and less, as has already been indicated.
I joined the British Army as a regular soldier in 1960 when it was 258,000-strong, a figure admittedly swollen by the last National Service men, who had just a year to do. Compare that figure to the forecasted 73,000 outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt. It is the smallest army since the days of Oliver Cromwell, and yet we are expecting fewer and fewer of those men and women to do more and more with less and less equipment, less and less salary.
I will talk about the three Ms: manpower, including the contribution made by servicewomen, morale and money. On manpower, I have indicated the figures of how small the British Army is becoming. I will compare those with the strength of the British Army and our Armed Forces that the incoming Conservative Government enjoyed back in 2010, using the figures provided by His Majesty’s Government in the UK regular Armed Forces continuous attitude survey results over that period. What a blow to morale has taken place over those 13 years. As reported in Her Majesty’s Government’s figures, in 2010, the last year of the outgoing Labour Government, satisfaction with service life in general was at 61%. Some 73% of commissioned officers expressed satisfaction with life in the Armed Forces at that time. Compare that with the latest government figures for 2023: only 52% of officers and 42% of other ranks expressed satisfaction with their conditions, pay and life overall in our Armed Forces.
It is an incredible thought to an ex-regular soldier like me that almost half the officers in the British Army are dissatisfied with their conditions and with what they are being asked to do. I say in all sincerity to both sides of the House that, given the task our Armed Forces presently face, the fact that their leaders are so depressed about future prospects ought to give us concern.
Back in 2007, I had an exchange in your Lordships’ House with Lord Tebbit. At that time, my noble friend Lord Browne was being attacked for holding down two jobs in the Blair Government. He was both Secretary of State for Scotland and Secretary of State for Defence. Lord Tebbit said, in his forthright way, what an impact it was having on morale in the Armed Forces that the Secretary of State for Defence was, in effect, fulfilling a part-time role. I am surprised we have not heard anything from the Conservative Benches so far on what impact the appointment of the current Secretary of State for Defence has had on the morale of the Armed Forces over the past few days. A man who, under a false name, embarked on a get-rich-quick scheme is now doing his fifth Cabinet job in the course of a year. My former colleagues in the British Army certainly would not be throwing their caps in the air at the thought of such a person being in charge of our Armed Forces. I am amazed that, given the criticism levelled at my noble friend in 2007, not a word has been said about that appointment so far.
The third point I want to make in the short time available is about money. I suspect the Minister, who commands the respect of both sides of the House, will say that the Government have accepted fully the recommendation of the Armed Forces’ Pay Review Body this year, ignoring the fact that in two previous years, 2018 and 2019, the same Government rejected those figures. They accepted part of them, yet insisted that the country could not afford the pay increase recommended by an independent body. I wonder what impact such a decision had on morale in the Armed Forces generally. If the Minister and her colleagues were all in uniform, I would have them prosecuted under what was Section 69 of the Army Act, for conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Soames of Fletching, on securing this debate and on his introduction to it. He may have watched recently, as I did, the film “Oppenheimer”. It reminded me of colleagues we have lost—Lord Ramsbotham and Lord Bramall, who, with all their military experience, were staunch advocates of holding the Government to account over their nuclear weapons policy as part of defence. So far in this debate, with the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, no mention has been made of our nuclear programme.
Last month, Aidan Liddle, the UK ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, gave a statement during the preparatory session for the 10th Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. He said:
“The threat of nuclear proliferation persists. We, as States Parties to the NPT, must work to reduce this threat by strengthening the non-proliferation architecture, combating programmes of concern and building trust between regional neighbours”.
So far so good. He gave an extensive commentary on Iran but failed to mention that Israel has a nuclear arsenal, and nor did he mention that India, Pakistan and North Korea have not signed up to the NPT. We are signing a trade agreement with India; we should remind it that signing the NPT is essential.
Currently, nuclear weapons states, including the UK, are engaged in a new modernisation and expansion of their nuclear programmes, in contravention of Article 6 of the NPT. Furthermore, the Trident programme should make all those concerned with our Armed Forces deeply worried; it certainly worries me. The choice of spend is increasingly stark. The MoD paper Defence’s Response to a More Contested and Volatile World talks of recapitalisation of the nuclear defence strategy, but there remains a trilemma: a choice between increasing the overall MoD budget at the expense of other departments, reducing the spend on conventional weapons and forces or reducing spending on the Trident programme.
That trilemma may have led the Government to conclude that they will welcome the return of US nuclear weapons to UK soil. The American airbase at Lakenheath has seen a lot of activity, which many expert commentators say foreshadows US nuclear weapons being based there. If so, we face the build-up of nuclear arms in Europe. Russia has already escalated matters by using Belarus to extend its nuclear base. These developments mean we will again be a moment away from the nuclear nightmare that hung over us throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
I know that to expect progress on disarmament at this time, given the situation with Russia, would be naive. However, there is still much that can be improved, so I conclude with some questions for the Minister. What would she regard as a successful outcome from the next NPT round? What aspects will the UK Government especially prioritise? Will Parliament be asked to approve the hosting of US nuclear weapons in the British Isles?
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Soames of Fletching on giving us this welcome opportunity to debate defence. I declare my interest as honorary air commodore of 600 (City of London) Squadron, Royal Auxiliary Air Force, and as an adviser to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. I agree with everything my noble friend said in his moving and inspiring speech.
I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, in lamenting the Government’s inadequate commitment to defence spending. I understand that it is now proposed that the Army be cut to 73,000, although it has been reported in the media that it has been put under pressure to accept further cuts to an even lower level of 70,000, most of them to be borne by the infantry to provide more resources for the artillery, which has been heavily used in Ukraine and whose stockpiles are therefore somewhat depleted.
After Putin’s second illegal invasion of Ukraine, my right honourable friend Boris Johnson was quick to respond. We can hold our heads high in the world as a result. The decisive and strong response that the Government took at the time was widely recognised and crucial in bringing on board the ambivalent United States and the divided and lukewarm EU, several of whose member states were very slow to apply sanctions against the Russian regime.
I worry that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has stepped back a little from the commitments his predecessors made to spend more on defence. His commitment to increase defence spending over the next two years by £5 billion was welcome, but his aspiration to reach a level of 2.5% “over time” was decidedly underwhelming. However, this increased spending is relatively insignificant compared with the £52 billion increase that Ben Wallace has spoken about. Besides, I understand that £3 billion of the increase, some 60%, will be deployed to meet the UK’s contribution to the AUKUS pact, a trilateral defence agreement with the United States and Australia. Could my noble friend the Minister tell your Lordships what her expectations are of the timeframe within which our defence spending will rise to a level of 2.5% or more?
I also welcome the growing interest of Japan in working ever more closely with AUKUS. There is a new alignment of four liberal democracies emerging, as Australia, Britain, Japan, and the United States increasingly align their security interests to contain and balance the growth of China’s influence and power. It is also highly relevant that we have joined forces with Japan and Italy to build the next-generation fighter jet, the Global Combat Air Programme, which brings together our Tempest project with Japan’s F-X project.
I want to say how sorry I am that General Sir Patrick Sanders has retired early from his position as Chief of the General Staff. As a former volunteer officer of the Royal Green Jackets myself, I am of course biased, but I know how highly regarded he was in all three services. I was impressed by his view that the Ukraine conflict has reminded us that military conflict is ultimately about holding land—and without enough troops on the ground, you cannot do that. Will the Minister confirm that the Government recognise that point and have taken it on board, as well as other lessons from the Ukraine conflict?
Lastly, based on my experience with my Reserve squadron, I also ask my noble friend for her thoughts on a question that is worrying the leadership of my squadron. How are both regular and Reserve forces in the future going to retain the crucial NCO cadre, who take 10 years to train, against a background where young people expect instant results and tend to change jobs and roles much more often?
My Lords, I join colleagues in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Soames, for securing this debate and for his powerful and insightful introduction. It was direct and to the point—but I think the House would expect nothing less from the noble Lord.
When I had the honour of serving as a Defence Minister, I was responsible for service families, their accommodation and well-being. One thing I soon learned was that, if our service families were happy, our service men and women were happy—and if they were happy, we could send our forces anywhere in the world in defence of our country’s interests. But I very much regret that that would be more challenging today, as the morale of our forces continues to decline.
I will focus my comments on the latest Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Survey, which reveals that satisfaction with service life has fallen for the second year in a row. In 2021, the level of service satisfaction was 50%, but since then it has fallen eight points to 42%. Satisfaction with basic pay has fallen considerably in the last two years: down to 31%, the lowest ever recorded. Furthermore, satisfaction with allowances has fallen 19 percentage points since 2021. Just 39% of personnel think the allowances are fair. Just as worrying is the satisfaction with the quality of maintenance and repair of service family accommodation, which has fallen markedly in the last year. Satisfaction with the overall standard of service family accommodation has fallen from 52% to 46%. That is bad news.
The survey is a very thorough piece of work and provides us with vital insights into the attitudes of our service men and women. That brings me to a key point. Throughout my professional and political life, I have held the view that the greatest asset of any organisation is not its IT system, working environment, kit or additional benefits. Its greatest asset is its people. That came home to me very strongly when I was a Welsh Office Minister. An official came in one day and said, “I have some bad news, Minister. One of our RAF fighters has crashed into the sea off the Pembrokeshire coast. The pilot has ejected and is safe”. Then he added, “£5 million plane lost; £10 million pilot saved”. Those figures are illustrative, not actual; I am afraid that age has prevented me from remembering the exact figures. But the point he was making, and that I want to make, is that we invested far more in the person than the kit, and that it was easy to replace the kit, but we could not easily replace the person.
I make that point because one of the most worrying concerns I have is that the proportion of personnel planning to leave the services has increased for the second year running. The survey suggests they are leaving for a variety of reasons, but I fear it may be because they do not feel valued. Some 24%—a quarter—of personnel surveyed are planning to leave the services.
The survey also reveals that our service men and women do not believe that we will do anything about it. Overall, 48%—almost half—of personnel surveyed say that we will not act on the findings. They believe we will do nothing about their concerns. We must change this, and we will do that only by taking their concerns seriously and putting right what they see as wrong.
There has been a steady erosion of morale of our Armed Forces for some time now, and for me that is the most urgent problem that needs to be addressed. Failing morale, poor service family accommodation and increasing numbers leaving the forces is a real crisis at the heart of the challenge facing Britain’s defence. Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary John Healey has said that Britain has to do more of what he termed the “moral component”. He said:
“It is not acceptable, but it’s also not viable, if your satisfaction ratings are less than 50% of those who are serving”.
I welcome his comments, but I stress that I am not seeking to make a party-political point here, because I believe that colleagues on the Conservative Benches and across the House will also be concerned about the failing morale of our Armed Forces. All of us in this House would welcome hearing from His Majesty’s Government how they plan to respond to the key points in this survey.
I hope the Minister, who is hugely respected in this House and beyond, and who went out of her way to a great extent to help a former constituent of mine with a problem, will, when she replies to this debate, give us some guidance on what the Government are going to do, so we can say to our servicemen and women of our Armed Forces, “We are listening and we will do something about your concerns”.
My Lords, Ben Wallace, in his recent resignation letter, said:
“The Ministry of Defence is back on the path to being once again world class with world class people”.
Well, certainly, some world-class people and units, but hardly world-class procurement or use of manpower. On procurement, the recent Defence Select Committee report in July was scathing:
“We have discovered a UK procurement system which is highly bureaucratic, overly stratified, far too ponderous, with an inconsistent approach to safety, very poor accountability and a culture which appears institutionally averse to individual responsibility. We agree with the previous conclusions of the Public Accounts Committee from November 2021 that our procurement system is indeed ‘broken’. We believe the system is now in need of major, comprehensive reform”.
Turning to manning levels, in a Written Answer to me in June, the noble Baroness disclosed that 28% of combined military and civilian personnel were civilian—in other words, 60,000. Indeed, over the last five years, that number has risen from 58,000, despite a reduction in service personnel, a reduction in bases and major advances in communication systems such as videoconferencing. It is difficult to think of any other similar large employer that has not reduced headcount during this period. Compared with our 28%, the figure in France is only 23%. So is it not time to bring in a very senior and experienced external team to look at our procurement processes and seemingly bloated civilian manning levels? I do not believe that the MoD can or will do the necessary itself. The Defence Select Committee looked at Israel, admittedly a more modern nation starting from scratch. It noted:
“The Israeli system, which places a premium on efficient use of manpower, by effective use of contractors, manages to achieve similar outcomes … but with far fewer people”.
Turning to resources and defence priorities, I expect virtually all participants in today’s debate to support increased defence spending given our very dangerous world, with so many flashpoints apart, of course, from the appalling conflict in Ukraine. But, in a nation that has lived above its means for years, all departments argue for more spend. Thus we must ruthlessly focus on defence priorities and, sadly and inevitably, employment considerations writ large. Would Gordon Brown have given approval for our new carriers were Scottish jobs not involved? Should we really be planning the next generation of manned fighter aircraft given the rapid growth of unmanned vehicles in the air and at sea? I suggest that we have been behind the curve in the development of UAVs, well behind the USA and Israel, probably also Turkey and maybe even Iran. Just look at drone usage in Ukraine. Are we building up our capability and stocks as fast as we should? Where to spend defence cash is never easy. Looking back, I do not criticise the decision to reduce our tank numbers. It was not an unreasonable assumption that a major European land war was very unlikely. Who foresaw a Russian invasion say five years ago?
On Ukraine, we have to stay the course however long it may be. We are hugely impressed and humbled by the spirit of the Ukrainian people and the bravery of their forces, and perhaps there should also be a word of sympathy for young Russians press-ganged into a war against their will. I hope that one day there will be some form of negotiated peace. If Ukraine is understandably opposed to ceding any territory in a negotiation, perhaps a stay on Ukraine’s NATO membership might be sensible for a limited period, if only as a sop to Russia.
Finally, I have three or four specific questions for the Minister. First, what percentage of our Armed Forces currently receive an annual dental check? Secondly, who will pay for the repairs to HMS “Prince of Wales”? If it is the MoD, why? Thirdly, what plans can she talk about to build up our reserves, given the embarrassing comparisons made by the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, a little earlier? Finally, can she give an indication of the number of F35s currently in service and the number on order?
My Lords, the Government talk of the UK having military effect globally and of Britain being a global power, yet our Armed Forces have never been weaker or less credible. We have no discernible grand strategy on which to base our defence strategy, other than post-imperial pretensions drawn from a political slogan, “Global Britain”, a conceit our ailing economy cannot hope to fund.
The strategically confused integrated review was meant to bring order to our defence posture. Its failings were neatly summed up by Professor Paul Cornish of Exeter University, who called his essay on the subject Everything Everywhere All at Once. He emphasised that, given their size and capability shortcomings, the Armed Forces could not hope to do all the things being asked of them.
In his resignation letter, Mr Wallace implied that things were not as he hoped. He wrote:
“The Ministry of Defence is back on the path”—
I say again, “back on the path”—
“to being once again world class”.
He went on:
“I genuinely believe that over the next decade the world will get more insecure and more unstable”.
He is right.
Last year the MoD was given an additional £24 billion. Earlier this year it was allocated a further £5 billion over the next two years, followed by £2 billion per year over the subsequent three years—a total of an additional £11 billion. The House of Commons Library usefully informs us that, adjusted for inflation, this amounts in real terms to only an additional £1.1 billion. The nuclear enterprise AUKUS, together with the replenishment of stockpiles gifted to Ukraine, will consume all the additional money. Day-to-day spending is set to reduce by 6.1% or just over £2 billion over the four years of the current programme. The outcome will be a continuing decline in the size, effectiveness and morale of the Armed Forces.
I could talk of the tragedy of lives lost unnecessarily because of soldiers being sent to fight wars in insufficient numbers and with inadequate equipment. I could, I think, rightly bang the table and insist that, to avoid this, defence must get 2.5% of GDP now, but I am a realist. Given the huge pressures on the Exchequer, it is not going to happen—anyway, even 3% of our current GDP would be insufficient. No, the deduction is clear. It is a grand strategic imperative, not simply an economic one, to build a vigorous high-growth economy. This requirement must be placed ruthlessly at the heart of government policy. It is not just because this is the only way to afford the NHS or an ever-bigger welfare bill but for the sake of our security: 2% of the GDP of a booming economy will pay for the Armed Forces needed to protect our way of life, but 2% of a sluggish economy never will.
In the interim, it is vital that we cut our defence coat to our economic cloth. This country must stop deluding itself that it can have a global role. We are a medium-sized country with a faltering economy. The UK must focus ruthlessly on the Euro-Atlantic theatre, not state that this is our priority but then spread our efforts so thinly that we are strong nowhere. Our predecessors faced a similar moment in the 1960s. Denis Healey had the moral courage to devise a new strategy that saw the UK withdraw from east of Suez. He tailored the Armed Forces to their NATO obligations. With an open and inquiring mind, our new Defence Secretary, Mr Grant Shapps, has the opportunity and, I argue, the responsibility to be our generation’s Denis Healey. In so doing, the UK can become once again the second most important state and de facto European leader of the alliance, we can free up some American assets to allow the Americans better to confront the challenge of China on our collective behalf and, importantly, we will recover lost influence in Europe.
In sum, let our economy genuinely be at the heart of a much-needed post-Brexit grand strategy. The ends, ways and means of the associated defence strategy must be kept responsibly in balance throughout. This will mean focusing single-mindedly on NATO, where we will gain most strategically and have most tactical effect should deterrence fail, ensuring in the process, as the war in Ukraine signals daily, that mass as well as technology determines the size and shape of our Armed Forces.
My Lords, I add my thanks and congratulations to my noble friend Lord Soames for securing this debate and for his very moving introduction. I rise as a recent graduate of the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme, where I have just spent a year with the Navy. It is perhaps a better perk of this House than the free copy of the New Statesman. I joined the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme, and particularly the Navy, because I wanted to understand the importance of defence and the Armed Forces for Scotland. I do not need to tell my noble friend the Minister that Scottish skills, expertise and innovation make an enormous contribution to the UK’s defence industry, with massive benefits for our national security and economy.
His Majesty’s naval base on the Clyde has delivered the UK’s continuous at-sea deterrent remarkably safely and securely for over 50 years. More than that, the base is one of the largest employers in Scotland. Scotland has a thriving defence and security industry. Every Royal Navy submarine in service since 1917 has been fitted with a periscope or optronics mast manufactured on the Clyde. The Dreadnought version continues this tradition through the defence contract awarded to Thales, in Glasgow, just the other day.
In noting the importance of the role of the Armed Forces in Scotland and the union benefits of our defence policy for Scotland, I also note, like other noble Lords, the importance of our military personnel. During my year with the Navy, it was very obvious to me—and as other noble Lords have said—that our people are undoubtedly our single most impressive asset, from the keenness and excitement of the raw recruits who I met to the knowledge and experience of our commanders. It cannot be right that, in today’s world, where we expect recruits to complete some of their learning online, our bases cannot deliver reliable wifi. Nor can it be right that you cannot be guaranteed a hot shower when you come off exercise because there is no hot water in your building. Frankly, it is a disgrace that there have been times when there has been no sea access at Britannia Royal Naval College Dartmouth. The recent Ofsted report pointed to a “lack of adequate support” from the MoD, to the extent that Ofsted felt that the captain and senior team in charge at the college could not be held responsible for
“lamentable failings in maintenance, renovation and refurbishment”.
I am afraid that we are letting our people down.
We must also value those who support our military personnel. While the Navy asks the Royal Fleet Auxiliary to do more and more, its terms and conditions are out of step with comparable civilian services and really should be looked at before it is faced with a recruitment crisis and operational capacity is affected.
As the very proud parent of a recently commissioned reservist Guards officer, I welcome the remarks of my noble friend Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton, because I have been astounded at the way that the military engages—or, frankly, does not engage—with the civilian employers of reservists. As the number of service personnel shrinks and the population at large lose personal, family connections to the military, it is even more important that our Armed Forces seek to engage co-operatively with the civilian world and that the Government and the MoD ensure that our people are properly supported and valued, given the challenges that we face.
I pay tremendous tribute to the role of the Armed Forces. It was an enormous privilege to be on the Navy course of the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme last year—I commend it to all noble Lords who have not done it yet. As a proud Scot, I was delighted to see the contribution that Scotland makes. I believe that the United Kingdom is punching above its weight, which is a source of immense pride. However, I fear that, if we do not address some of these issues and put our money where our mouth is in valuing our people, we will not be able to punch above our weight for much longer.
My Lords, I also join in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Soames, for leading this debate so powerfully.
In a generation, the British soldier has fought across the Falkland Islands, delivering the combat power carried on his shoulders. He has steadfastly, and without favour, absorbed bullets, bombs, fire and venom in Northern Ireland for some 32 years. He has driven massed armour into the depths of a fortified enemy in a Middle Eastern desert, having calmly waited for it for 40 years on the north German plain. He has hunted terrorists in the Hindu Kush. He has kept his reputation in the Balkans, while others have lost theirs. He has snatched hostages from the swamps of Sierra Leone and the embassies of Kensington. He has fed refugees, slaughtered sheep, put out fires, guarded prisons, cleared domestic rubbish, driven tankers, built hospitals and fought floods.
That CV shows that our Armed Forces are required to support a wide range of national policies, from fighting a well-equipped army—such as that of Saddam Hussein—in high-intensity conflict, through counter insurgency and terrorism, to peace support operations and humanitarian relief. There is no reason to believe that these types of demands being placed on our Armed Forces will not continue. We cannot predict what the future will present us with but, as history demonstrates, it will certainly be unexpected.
Unfortunately, there is no one size fits all for equipping, manning and training an army for such a wide span of commitments. Our Army has been one optimised for the most difficult and complex form of warfare—we call it war-fighting. By this, I mean that it has been structured and trained to fight a war, equipped with the firepower, mobility and protection that is needed on the high-intensity battlefield and continually seeking the best available technology to ensure that it can orchestrate all these measures and exploit them to best effect, and having the resilience to provide for sustained losses.
War-fighting has been our Army’s engine; other operations are about gear selection. That means tanks, artillery pieces, armoured personnel carriers and attack helicopters, last used for real 10 years ago when we fought Saddam Hussein and very nearly used against the Serbs in Kosovo. There is no clearer demonstration of this potential need than the war between Russia and Ukraine. It is worth remembering that there remain some 80,000 operational tanks in the world, of which we have fewer than 160.
I have three final points. First, our seat at the highest political and military tables and the influence that we may wish to bring to bear on world events are absolutely predicated on our credibility as a nation that has serious, balanced, expeditionary war-fighting forces. Our capabilities, as we have heard, have already been called into question by many commentators and American generals. It will be no good preparing for the war that we want to fight; we should prepare for the war that we have to fight.
Secondly, the price of failure in a peace support operation in some far-flung place, as we have seen, will be painful but probably containable. The price of failure in something such as the Gulf War would most likely be catastrophic for the nation. This price would certainly be out of all proportion to the price of proper preparation beforehand.
Thirdly, in the United Kingdom , political will continues to be manifest in a policy-driven defence review—integrated, strategic or whatever—with a deliberate, judgment-based and scientific estimate of the level and range of military capability required to meet the extant will. The weakness of our Armed Forces lies not in their design but in the level of resources applied to them, as we have heard. Political will, force design and resource levels are simply not aligned. Defence bureaucracy is psychologically inclined to short-term pragmatism and does not invest sufficient energy in competing for the necessary resources. It is culturally adept at blurring the distinction between affordability and military efficacy.
We must establish a pure and simple method of gaining real visibility of this predicament and be prepared to expose the true military consequences of a failure to invest properly in our Armed Forces in a politically effective way. The existing processes, attitudes and schedules are not optimised to do this. Instead, they are geared to managing decline. We see this day by day and, if it continues, it will take a great deal of resources, time and money to regenerate our forces to the right level.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble and gallant Lord. The week before last, I was in India speaking at the B20 in Delhi. Our Prime Minister leaves today for the G20 in Delhi. I hope we will soon have a free trade agreement signed between the UK and India.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Soames, for leading this important debate, which is extremely timely. The Government’s Defence’s Response to a More Contested and Volatile World, published in July this year, says very clearly, right upfront in the ministerial foreword, that:
“We are proud of the role the UK is playing in supporting Ukraine in this fight. They are not only defending the international rules-based system on our behalf, but in many ways they are proving the way for warfare in the 2020s – whole of nation, internationally partnered, innovative, digitised and operating with tempo, precision and range. In turn, we are providing Ukraine with equipment, training and political support. We have galvanised European and international, governmental and industrial partners to do likewise. We are campaigning globally”.
Defence’s purpose is to protect the nation, help it to prosper, shape the international environment, deter, defend and compete across all domains, address vulnerability of civilians and generate strategic advantage. Yet it is our minimum credible independent nuclear deterrent which is assigned to the defence of NATO that works every single hour of every day to guarantee our security and that of our NATO allies.
However, the total number of active duty personnel is under 150,000, which is smaller than the US Marine Corps. Many would argue that the weakness of the Government’s Command Paper is that it reverses ends and means. Change is desperately needed, given the challenges from Russia and China, and our budget is far too small. Our Royal Navy has fewer than 30,000 and the Army is getting down to 72,000. The Royal Air Force—I am proud to be an honorary group captain in 601 Squadron—is fewer than 30,000. The total is just 133,000.
There is a delay with the F35 Lightning II fighter jets—there should be 48 of them. Can the Minister tell us when we will reach that number? We will now have fewer than 150 tanks. What is great news is that we are embarking on joint exercises. The Royal Air Force joined five other nations in the UK’s biggest aerial exercise, with 70 aircraft flown by six nations in March this year. I was delighted that it was called Exercise Cobra Warrior.
In 2019—I am like a stuck record—in the debate on the 70th anniversary of NATO I called for our expenditure to go up to 3%. I shall continue being a stuck record. AUKUS has been a superb security pact between Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom for the Indo-Pacific region. Sir Stephen Lovegrove has said that the submarine element of the partnership was
“perhaps the most significant capability collaboration anywhere in the world in the past six decades”.
Does the Minister not think that the UK should join the Quad—the USA, Japan, Australia and India? That would be a wonderful global partnership.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, before leaving, said that Ukraine has, tragically, become a “battle lab” and that lessons learned would inform the future of Britain’s Armed Forces—in particular, drone defence and artillery. He pointed out that, at the end of the Second World War, 35% of the Army was artillery and that it is now only 8%. Are we learning those lessons?
In conclusion, £45.9 billion spending on defence is not enough. Yes, we may be spending the minimum 2% NATO requirement but, actually, given all the threats that there are in the world, the alliances are crucial, and NATO is crucial. Let us not go further than the Royal Gallery and the battle of Waterloo, and that wonderful painting. Without Marshal Blücher arriving, the Duke of Wellington would not have won the Battle of Waterloo. We need the alliances, we respect NATO and we are proud to be part of NATO.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Richards, mentioned that the UK was a medium-sized economy. Much as I respect him, I put it to your Lordships that we are not a superpower. There are only two superpowers: the United States and China; and one more emerging, India, which I predict by 2060 will be the largest economy in the world. But we are still the sixth-largest economy in the world and at the top table of the world, whether it is the G7 or the G20. We are the second-largest power in NATO. Most importantly, we have the strongest elements of soft power, whether it is the Royal Family, our Premier League football, the BBC or our universities. But soft power without hard power is absolutely useless. We need to support and invest in our Armed Forces and enforce that precious covenant between the public and the Armed Forces and we must never take them for granted. We must spend a minimum of 3% of GDP right now.
My Lords, I too begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Soames, for initiating this debate. It is a pleasure to have him among us, and we are very lucky that he has come from the other place to join us. I am sure that his contribution will be widely appreciated over the years to come.
Two themes have come through very clearly: that we are not spending enough and that the Army and the military forces, including the Navy, are just not big enough for what we are trying to do. Those points have been made by several people. I want to concentrate on what I call the need for realism, because our attitude in defence is often pretty unreal. On its own, the UK cannot really do very much at all; we have to work in an alliance and in alliances with other like-minded countries. That is point one.
The second point is that we are a most important part of NATO, but we are not important enough to get the General Secretaryship, it seems. We have to realise that, even within NATO, we are beginning to be overshadowed by Germany. Within NATO, we need to concentrate more on interoperability. I was the first leader of the European Parliament delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in around 1989. At that time, we were talking about the need for interoperability. The fact of the matter was that you could not send a tank through Denmark without the permission of the Danish parliament—and the fact of the matter is that interoperability is still a challenge for NATO and one that we need to look at.
The other challenge is that we need to be more realistic about Article 5. We are fond of saying, “Oh, it’s an Article 5 commitment”, but all that Article 5 says is that an attack on one is an attack on all. It does not say what we should do if Russia decided to intervene in Estonia. It does not give Lisbon any guidance as to what it should do, apart from saying, “Oh dear, Russia has intervened in Estonia. What shall we do?” As far as I can tell, we are not obliged under Article 5 to do anything at all, other than to note that an attack is an attack on us all. That needs looking at.
The point has been made on more than one occasion that the United States is yet again blowing hot and cold on its commitment in Europe. This has been the pattern for many years now. We must bear in mind that, in the end, Europe will have to defend itself. We cannot outsource defence for ever. In fact, we cannot outsource it for very much longer.
We hear lots of strong words about Ukraine, but we also need some realism. One day the fighting will stop—we do not know when, but it will. When it stops, Russia will still be in the same place geographically, it will be the same size and it will present the same challenges, and we have to come to terms with those challenges. We go on about Russian money rebuilding Ukraine, but the truth of the matter is that it is not going to happen. It has never happened—one country has never rebuilt another. It might be said that we rebuilt parts of Germany after the Second World War, but Germany did not rebuild anyone outside its borders for many years until it was rich again. We have got to be realistic: when the fighting stops, Ukraine will need a lot of help from the countries of the West that are now behind it.
As Ben Wallace said, the world is now more unstable and insecure, but I am not sure that that is not a predictable thing. What I would say is that we need to be tolerant and we need to look at building a new Helsinki and coming to terms with the reality of being a small but important nation contributing to the defence of our common home.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Soames, on securing this debate and on so excellently setting the scene in his introductory remarks. I also declare my interest as an honorary captain in the Royal Naval Reserve.
I very much associate myself with most of what has been said by the other speakers, especially on the level of defence spending, the need for urgent action and the critical importance of reserves. I support the comments of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Richards, on the critical importance of a strong and growing economy.
Previous speakers have done an excellent job of highlighting the important contribution and needs of the armed services; I might add their value and importance in diplomacy. The Joint Expeditionary Force was an outstanding success, which played a part in the decision of Sweden and Finland to join NATO—a major development. Britain played a significant role here and in the AUKUS agreement with Australia and the US. Both were of great diplomatic value, demonstrating an outward-looking United Kingdom at a time when we had left the EU.
Our actions and clear thinking in support of Ukraine have gained us considerable admiration among close friends and others who are not so committed. This is Britain in an outward-facing role. Britain’s support for open seas and the presence of the Royal Navy are important not only for Britain as a trading and maritime nation but for all trading nations.
More can be said about the contribution of the services to our national well-being beyond defence. We have not said a lot about their contribution to humanitarian aid in times of weather or health emergencies. Their skills and training are of benefit to wider society, as is their innovation in science and technology. I believe that more can be done to bring across expertise and knowledge gained in the military into civilian life and the wider economy.
We have heard about procurement mistakes, but mention has not been made of the export benefit that Britain gains from every delivered F35 jet, where 15% of equipment value accrues to the United Kingdom. The AUKUS project will be based on the British next-generation submarine. I also draw attention to the sale of the design of the Type 26 frigate being built in Australia and Canada, as well as the Type 32 being built in Poland.
In concluding, I want to make the case for a whole-of-society approach to defence and the support of our armed services. When I was coming up to my year as Lord Mayor of London, one of my predecessors, the late Sir Roger Gifford, told a reservist audience that defence is everyone’s business. Of course he was right, and I have never forgotten his words. As we have heard, not all of society is properly conscious of our Armed Forces and their needs. Most of us here had parents who were in the war, and people had uncles, neighbours and so on who were in the services, so they were connected to the services and knew a great deal about them. This is not the case now, with our smaller services. What steps can the Government take to increase public understanding of the role and importance of the armed services?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Soames for securing this most timely debate, deploying his immense experience and knowledge of defence matters. The refreshed integrated review and the 2023 defence Command Paper represent a concerted effort to target Britain’s foreign policy where it is most able to have impact. The documents are forthright in acknowledging the changing nature of the rules-based international system and the myriad threats to it, but we need to step up British efforts to defend this system. However, it would have been inconceivable to have predicted the international environment as it exists today.
I will say just a few words about Ukraine, a country I have visited many times, including Crimea, in my capacity as the former chairman of the British Ukrainian Society. We are aware of the millions of Ukrainians who have sought refuge elsewhere, but let us remind ourselves of the huge internal displacement. Every week I get emails from Ukraine and, despite the economic situation, the splitting up of families and the atrocious Russian drone attacks, Ukrainians never, ever complain. Their stoicism and resilience are astonishing and very humbling for us all. The decision to begin the training associated with Operation Orbital in 2015 and what followed paid dividends, and the gratitude of Ukraine towards us is enormous. The leadership shown by this country, and the role of Ben Wallace, are universally acknowledged there.
President Putin has talked and written about Ukrainians and Russians being effectively one people and one country; this is absolutely not the view of Ukrainians. He argued that he invaded Ukraine because of a threat by NATO via Ukraine. Now, despite all the Russian threats, Sweden and Finland have abandoned their former neutrality; despite a hesitant initial response from some NATO countries, 22 of NATO’s 31 members have increased defence spending; imports of Russian fossil fuels have been dramatically curtailed; and new defence and foreign policy structures have led to much more strategic convergence. But Putin’s major miscalculation has been on the focus and generosity of the United States. It is not the first time that this country thousands of miles away has ridden to the rescue, and thank heavens this has happened again. Far from abandoning Europe, it would have been impossible without the US for Ukraine to have fought back so effectively. Our relationship with the United States today, in intelligence, security and defence matters, is hugely appreciated in Kyiv and must be retained.
Russia’s grotesque war of aggression against Ukraine shows how developments in the Euro-Atlantic area can affect countries in the Indo-Pacific, which the 2021 integrated review tilt has now developed further. As Penny Wong, Australia’s Foreign Minister, said at King’s College in London earlier this year:
“In our modern, tightly-woven world, what happens in Europe reverberates in the Indo-Pacific. And what happens in the Indo-Pacific reverberates in Europe. No region—indeed, no country—is an island”.
Our relationship with Australia has developed exponentially. Its defence strategic review of April this year is particularly focused on naval modernisation and long-range maritime strike forces, reflecting the aggressive activities of China in the region. The initial AUKUS partnership links us to Australia and the United States, reflecting a common analysis of the region’s challenges but also offering greater longevity to our own shipbuilding industries. This new partnership reflects our shared values. We can be pleased that Australia is building important relationships with countries such as India, Indonesia and the Philippines. Just as European countries have re-established common defence objectives—for example, the UK, Japan and Italy’s global combat air programme—so we see the same in Japan and Korea.
However the Ukraine war ends, Russia is likely to retain its sea and air capabilities essentially intact. The United Kingdom is one of its least favourite countries, and we remind ourselves that China does not share our view of international maritime law. Defence spending has at times in the past been seen as lacking electoral appeal. The last few years have been a dramatic wake-up call, to which we now absolutely have to respond.
My Lords, I think it splendid that my noble friend Lord Soames managed to get this debate. It is very interesting that three to four years ago I tried to get a major debate in this House, for one or two days, about defence. It is something that could be possible, with the way we work here, but has never happened. I discovered from chatting with people in the other House that there is no method there whereby you can call for a debate in that format; there never has been, going right the way back through history. Some noble Lords will know much more about that than I did.
I feel very strongly about national service, possibly because I did it, in the Royal Air Force in Egypt in 1973. We had 87,000 of the finest of our troops based there in every conceivable form, but things have changed. I am a great believer in bringing back some form of national service. The reservist system in this country, in which I have been involved since 1991, is different; it is not a form of service in which you have full training. There is not the same number as we talked about before who have the time, in this modern day and age, to bring what we need to defend the country. But increasingly we need the brain power of those who can deal with hacking and areas of that nature, which can be the most dangerous things that affect the armed services, not just banks or others.
Supposing Ukraine had not happened, would we be having this debate? Would there be any talk at all about what to do about the armed services? A lot of the ideas we are thinking about are important because it is a dangerous world, but we also have the attitude that in no way whatever does anybody who is part of NATO want to put a single boot into the campaign in Ukraine. I totally agree with my noble friend Lord Risby’s view: the United States is our finest ally. It picks up nearly 82% of the cost of NATO, which people forget. From the point of view of down under, we have to think about our relationships with all our Commonwealth countries; they are very important. In my company, where my predecessors served in the Battle of Trafalgar, we lost 186 ships and crews at sea in the last two wars. The people in that area are part of us. Is the idea that we should not go beyond the Atlantic area? After all, we have been protected for 50 or 60 years by our submarines, if you can remember what they do, which is a terrific background.
The private sector is a hugely important part of whatever we do for the defence of the realm, because it produces most of what we do in every way possible. But we must create wealth; if you do not have wealth, you do not have the money to spend. In the discussion we had on the last review, in which the noble Baroness also took part, we agreed that it was troubling that we have a debate such as this one, and talk about what must be done, and nothing happens. It takes ages for anybody to get anything done and report back on what is really happening, and I suggest that this has not really finished today.
Finally, on the money side, I believe in 5% and more because, with inflation, if we do not have at least 5% we are really going to be in a mess.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak in this debate. Like other noble Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Soames, for introducing this debate so brilliantly and, as so often, demonstrating how much we have in common across all parts of your Lordships’ House when we speak on defence. So often from this Bench, I find that if there is a Statement and I am following the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, I echo what he has said. Most of the time, we stand up and pay tribute to His Majesty’s Armed Forces and the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, thanks us for doing so and does likewise.
Today, I think there is almost unanimity across the House, but, for once, the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, may not feel it is quite such a comfortable place to be. This is precisely because, across the House, while paying tribute to His Majesty’s Armed Forces, there is a common theme where in many ways we are all echoing the outgoing—or rather, outgone—Secretary of State, Ben Wallace, in suggesting that there has been a hollowing out of His Majesty’s Armed Forces. At the present time, the last thing that this country can afford to do is to hollow out our Armed Forces, because we are at a time of international turbulence. We have had a new integrated review refresh, and this defence Command Paper, precisely because the threats that were perceived in 2021 have been realised, and things have gone much further in Ukraine.
The danger for the Liberal Democrats, or indeed for any of the Front Benches, in winding up in a debate like this, is that by the time we get to the winding speeches, everything has been said but perhaps not everybody has said it. But on this occasion there are a couple of questions that I would like to raise that I do not think have been touched on in other speeches. I will then come back to the themes of defence spending, Armed Forces morale and the role of the Armed Forces in this country.
Looking at the opening ministerial words of the defence Command Paper of this year, I think there is very little with which we would disagree in what Ben Wallace and James Heappey said. They talked about Russia, but they also mentioned China, as the noble Lord, Lord Soames, did in his opening remarks. I wonder whether the Minister could tell the House a little bit more about what His Majesty’s Government think in terms of relations with China and defence threats, in particular in light of the suggestions over the weekend that the MoD had been hacked? Could the Minister reassure the House about cybersecurity, which is, I think, a topic that has not really been explored today but is worth thinking about? If our own MoD is not secure, what message is that sending? Something about cybersecurity would be very welcome.
Beyond that, we heard the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, suggest towards the end that “defence is everybody’s business”. The noble Baroness, Lady Fraser, pointed out a problem of recent years: that, as the size of the Armed Forces has declined, fewer members of our society are used to having family members having experience of the Armed Forces. That means that it is very difficult to make the case for funding for the Armed Forces or for defence; it does not necessarily feature in debates. If you are out on a doorstep, you are unlikely to have people saying, “Please put more money into the Armed Forces”. You hear it sometimes, but if you are a campaigning politician running for office in the other place or for a local council, it is usually about the NHS or, on a local level, potholes, rather more than military capabilities. Yet, if we do not get those military capabilities right, there is nothing else that the Government can and should be doing.
So, from these Benches, I echo the requests for His Majesty’s Government to pay proper attention to the MoD budget. It is a great loss to the Government and to the country that Ben Wallace, with his persistent concerns and demands about funding the Armed Forces and defence, has left office. Could the Minister enlighten the House on whether she believes that the new Secretary of State really does believe in 3% being spent on defence, because that would seem to be an important commitment?
Could she also say whether the Government would agree with the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Richards, and his important comments about the size of the economy? On these Benches, while we are committed to defence expenditure, we also believe that it is the size of the economy that matters, because 2% or 3% of a larger economy is rather more important. So what are His Majesty’s Government thinking about in that regard?
We heard from the noble and gallant Lord, Craig of Radley, and the noble Lords, Lord Touhig and Lord Snape, among others, about the Continuous Attitude Survey. Our Armed Forces are vital to this country; we owe them not just a debt of gratitude but quality of accommodation. As we heard from many noble Lords, we need to ensure that the Armed Forces have appropriate accommodation and that their families are also looked after, because that is a vital part of keeping morale and ensuring retention. What are His Majesty’s Government doing to ensure that morale and retention are improved?
On the question my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire raised and the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, discussed at some length, what are His Majesty’s Government doing about Reserves? As well as a policy of increasing the number of Reserves, should we not think much more about an interplay between the regulars and the Reserves? That seems to be an area where we could ensure that the £10 million fighter pilot is not lost when he or she leaves the RAF. So is there is some flexibility and creativity in government thinking on those matters?
Finally, I was not expecting to speak about the nuclear deterrent, because it is a decision that has been made in terms of Trident replacement, but the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, and my noble friend Lady Miller both pointed out that there is question about the size of stockpiles. In the integrated review, His Majesty’s Government talked about increasing the number of nuclear warheads. Have they had a chance to rethink that? The deterrent only needs to be a minimal deterrent; increasing the number of warheads does not necessarily seem to be the most effective way of using scarce resources. Would it not be better for us to think not about increasing the number of nuclear weapons but about ensuring that we have credibility in conventional weapons, so that we can keep our place and seat at the table, leading in NATO?
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and have it the other way round from what we normally do—and what a privilege it is to take part in this debate.
It would be remiss of me not to start by conveying again to the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, the appreciation that His Majesty’s Opposition have for the work that Ben Wallace did as Defence Secretary. It has been acclaimed by many across the Chamber, and we recognise him as someone who has done an excellent job. In other areas of politics, we sometimes criticise each other unnecessarily, but, on defence, where credit is due it should be given, and it is in the interests of our country that we have a Defence Secretary who does the job well. I hope that the Minister will pass that on.
In the same way, I hope that the new Defence Secretary does well in his post—notwithstanding the criticisms that can be made about the number of posts he has had. It is in all our interests to have a UK Defence Secretary who does a good job, and I hope that that works out for him, notwithstanding the other criticisms and challenges we may make.
What a brilliant speech it was from the noble Lord, Lord Soames, to start the debate. Sometimes in this House, people are moved by speeches that are made. We were moved today, and in a way that reminded us of the importance of what he was talking about in the heartfelt and sincere tribute he paid to our Armed Forces. I hope that our Armed Forces hear that and recognise the sincerity with which it was made. It informed our debate and set the tone, and it gave us all the opportunity to lay out what we think.
I think it is important to remind the House of some of the fundamentals of His Majesty’s Opposition’s defence policy. We fully support the Government’s efforts in Ukraine and the need to tackle the Russian threat. The unity of purpose across this Chamber and across NATO has been really significant in standing with the Ukrainian people to resist Russian aggression. There must never be a scintilla of difference between us in that unity of purpose. Putin sorely underestimated the unity of NATO in standing up against Russian aggression and our resilience to be in it not just for the short term. As the former Defence Secretary, the Prime Minister and others have said, we will do whatever it takes to deliver that objective.
I remind noble Lords of the importance we give to NATO and our support for AUKUS and our other alliances. As the noble Lord, Lord Soames, reminded us, we are proud of our Armed Forces and want, hope and expect them to be treated with the respect and dignity that they deserve. The noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, pointed out the importance of our reserves, their families and veterans—I declare an interest as my son-in-law is an active reservist who has recently been on operations with His Majesty’s Armed Forces in eastern Europe. His Majesty’s Opposition also fully support the renewal of the independent nuclear deterrent.
This House is sometimes criticised, and people may have a view of what reform should or should not happen, but this debate has shown the quality of contributions and the experience brought to bear by many who have served in and led the Armed Forces. The experience of former Secretaries of State, former Ministers and others in this Chamber who still hold positions is really important. I look forward to seeing how the Minister will try to distil how some of that information may inform government policy. It would be a shame for us to have a debate and just walk away from it saying: “That was very interesting, there were brilliant speeches”. There have been informed speeches that seek to challenge the Government in a legitimate and positive way and ask: “Have the Government got this right? Is the way they are looking at the future right?”
The Government face numerous challenges and none of us wants them not to succeed, but are they right about the size of the Army? Can we really deliver what we want with the size of the Army we have? These are legitimate questions posed by the noble and gallant Lords, Lord Houghton, Lord Richards and Lord Walker, the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, and many others. My noble friends Lord West and Lord Browne, a former Defence Secretary, asked this not because they want the Government to fail but because, with all its various commitments, is that really the size of the Army we want today? Have we really got enough ships? Have we got the numbers of fighters we want, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, pointed out from his own experience? What about stockpiles and industrial strategy?
It is not only about the numbers but about recruitment and retention in our Armed Forces. Recently, I went to HMS “Raleigh” in the south-west—I think the noble Baroness, Lady Fraser, may have been on that visit. They could not recruit young people even with the opportunity to gain skills. It is so dispiriting. That is a real problem for us as a country and for our Armed Forces. It is not necessarily about size, but not being able to recruit young people is something that we need to look at.
I have one particular point and then a general comment. A number of noble Lords mentioned resources. There will be debate about whether you keep it at 2% of a growing economy or 2.5%, or leave it where it is, or whatever. I think the British public have been remarkable in the strength of support they have given to us for what has happened in Ukraine. It has cost them in their energy bills and in many other areas, but they have stood steadfast with the people of Ukraine because they understand what is at stake. They understand what needs to be done to win that battle, and that is really important. We cannot take that public support and confidence in what we do for granted.
Many of us here are well informed. We understand what is going on and understand the threats, and we believe that this should happen. However, if we argue for more resources to deal with it, that must be set against some of the other demands that will be made of the public budget and public resource. All of us need to understand and recognise that. The British people need to be told the truth about what it will cost to defend democracy, freedom and human rights. If they wish to do that, as I hope and believe they will, we need to argue it. That is one area that all of us should perhaps pay more attention to.
I have one other point to raise in my final minute. This country should be proud of the role it plays throughout the world. That is not in terms of being a military superpower, sending aircraft carriers here, there and everywhere all over the world. I believe that the United Kingdom, with its aircraft carriers, ships and planes, through its alliances and as a permanent member of the UN, its membership of NATO and AUKUS, and the other things it can do, alongside its soft power and its defence attachés, can be a power for good in the world, standing up and operating with its allies. A battle and struggle are coming in a contested world between democracy and autocracy. This country has always been at the forefront of the fight for human rights, freedom and democracy, and it should once again be at the forefront of that. I hope that whoever is in government will take that forward, and I am sure they will.
My Lords, if I may say, perhaps unusually, for a very fine debate, that was a very fine closing speech. We have had an enlivening and, perhaps more importantly, enlightening debate. As I have come to expect from a House that is abundant with former Ministers and former heads of our Armed Forces, there have been many fascinating points of illumination and, predictably, points of challenge. I will endeavour to respond to these in turn shortly.
First, however, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Soames on an impressive feat of foresight: namely—assuming his Mystic Meg demeanour—by arranging for this debate to coincide with some prominent arrivals and departures at the MoD. Many of your Lordships, led by my noble friend Lord Soames, have already paid generous homage to Ben Wallace. I thank my noble friend for his kind remarks about Ben as well as his kind remarks about my colleague James Heappey and me.
I will start by paying my own tribute to Ben Wallace. He and I first met when as rookie MSPs we stumbled across the threshold of the Scottish Parliament in 1999. I found him then to be a decent, principled, compassionate man, and my opinion remains the same today. He has been a steadfast colleague for the past four years, and he now bears the accolade of being the longest-serving Conservative Defence Secretary since my noble friend’s grandfather Winston Churchill. As Secretary of State, Ben oversaw many things: the evacuations of Kabul and Sudan, the Armed Forces’ response to Covid and the majestic “Queen Elizabeth” leaving these shores for a successful seven-month deployment to the Indo-Pacific. At the same time, his leadership gave us the Global Combat Air Programme, AUKUS—to which some of your Lordships referred—a new shipbuilding tsar and the Defence and Security Industrial Strategy. These legacies will all secure thousands of British jobs, not least for generations of young people. Also, as many of your Lordships acknowledged, there has been the immense contribution to Ukraine. As the Prime Minister said in his generous tribute, Ben
“saw, before others did, what Vladimir Putin’s true intentions in Ukraine were”.
It is worth pausing briefly to reflect on the scale of the assistance his not just clear-sighted but far-sighted response generated. In the past 18 months, we have gifted a huge amount of equipment to Ukraine. We have sent logistics vehicles, search and rescue helicopters, helmets and metal detectors, not to mention all the missiles, armoury and munitions that it needs in its struggle. We have led the international response, together with Canada, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway, New Zealand, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Australia. We have trained more than 23,000 Ukrainians.
I particularly thank the Lord, Lord Coaker, for his warm recognition of that contribution by Ben Wallace and his affirmed alignment with the United Kingdom Government’s approach. As Putin has continued his savage assault, the UK's support has never wavered, and that is testament to Ben Wallace’s leadership. Our new Secretary of State for Defence has been absolutely clear that this steadfast support for Ukraine will continue for as long as it takes.
But Ben Wallace did something else: he oversaw the most radical review of defence policy since the end of the Cold War. In the process—I have seen this at first hand—he turned the MoD into a modern, proactive, forward-thinking and threat-led organisation. Next year, we will spend more than £50 billion on defence for the first time in our history, and this Government have committed—it is a laudable commitment, as noble Lords have noted—to increasing spending yet further over the longer term to 2.5% of GDP as we improve the fiscal position and grow our economy.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, for his helpful recognition of the economic and financial realities that confront the Government. My noble friend Lord Balfe reiterated them, and they were powerfully and eloquently affirmed by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. We unfortunately do not live in a perfect world. If we did, the defence budget would be infinite and we would never cease to have things to spend money on, but in the real world things are very different. The Government have put their money where their mouth is, and the record is there. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, that there is a healthy equipment budget for the Army, and, yes, we shall keep the number of CR3s under review.
The conclusions in the original Defence Command Paper remain right. Russia was and is the greatest threat to European security; the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, was quite correct to refer to that. China’s rapid military modernisation and growing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific and beyond pose an increasing challenge to us all. But Ben Wallace was clear that, as the threat moved from greater competition to active contests and accelerated volatility, defence must move with it. That is why we published the refreshed Defence Command Paper this July. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, that I would turn to that source more readily than to any other publication. It is certainly not an exercise in deception. My noble friend Lord Risby acknowledged the significance of that Command Paper refresh.
Not even the greatest champions of that paper, and I am one of them, would hail it as a sparkling work of engaging prose with dazzling announcements, but that is not its purpose. Instead, it is grounded, sensible and sober. In drawing on the experience of its ministerial team to look under the hood and fine-tune the engine, we are endeavouring to make the whole machine run better. The noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, wisely urged us to deal with the real world, and that is what this Command Paper refresh seeks to do. A number of themes from the paper have a direct bearing on this debate, so let me just touch on some of the most salient.
First, the paper rightly acknowledged the contribution of our people. I want to spend a little time on that, because it was an aspect raised by many of your Lordships. My noble friend Lord Soames said that they are a unique asset and that that does not happen by accident, and I entirely agree. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, said that nothing else is anything without our people, and I absolutely agree with that, too. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Snape, who has sadly had to withdraw because he is unwell. He mentioned women; women are a very important component of our Armed Forces.
I thank noble Lords for the warmth of their remarks about our people. The noble Lord, Lord Touhig, referred to the continuous attitude survey and what it indicated about morale. That was echoed by my noble friend Lady Fraser of Craigmaddie, who spoke particularly of accommodation. I reassure both noble Lords that we take these issues very seriously. There is an accommodation programme under way for new investment and reinvestment. We are seeing that delivering improvement, but my noble friend Lady Fraser is quite right. The circumstances that she described are unacceptable, and we are doing everything in our power to deliver improvement.
I assure my noble friend Lord Lancaster, for whom I have the greatest respect and whom I thank for his tremendous contribution on our reservists, that I see them as a vital component of our personnel and, in the case of the Army, with a particular relevance to future soldiers. I say to him and to others who are concerned about the future of our personnel that I believe that the Haythornthwaite review offers a very sensible and encouraging way forward, because it is building on resilience and flexibility. That is to help the work environment of the people we have and to make a more attractive career offer to those whom we need to recruit. My noble friend Lord Trenchard asked whether we will have 73,000 regulars. The answer is yes. We will have a whole force of more than 100,000 personnel in the Army—73,000 regulars and 30,100 reserves. I make clear that the Chief of the General Staff has not retired. He remains a much-valued colleague.
The Command Paper acknowledged all that I have been talking about, because our men and women are our greatest capability, the jewel in our defence crown. As I have indicated, our reforms give them greater career flexibility and, I hope, a more compelling and competitive incentive package.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker, gave a most captivating narrative of just what our personnel do and the diversity of activity that we ask of them. I felt that it was a little male-orientated, with the greatest respect, and observe that our women play a singularly important role in these endeavours as well.
The second thing that the DCP refresh does is strengthen our scientific and technological base. We are world leaders in specific areas, and DSTL is revered globally. However, to continue outmatching our adversaries we need to stay ahead of the curve, leading the way not just in digital in data but in emerging scientific fields such as artificial intelligence and quantum robotics. We must also pull R&D breakthroughs into the front line. Quite often, sourcing a £100 solution may stop 100,000 threats in their tracks. That is the world that we live in.
The paper also sets up a more sustainable partnership and relationship with industry. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltire, rightly raised how we approach procurement. He is correct that it is folly to hold out for the 100%-perfect solution if the acceptable and workable 80% solution is there on the shelf. We are very much aware of that, and that is part of the new approach. However, because of the exponential pace of technological advance, we do not have time to wait. We need to upgrade kit rapidly, we need to respond to the relentless rhythms of the battlefield, and we need to ditch acquisition programmes that drag on for decades. We are now setting maximum delivery periods of five years for hardware and three years for digital programmes, which I am sure your Lordships will find refreshing. For the avoidance of doubt, our nuclear programme is not in contravention of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. We support that treaty.
We are adopting a global campaigning approach where it is the character of the adversary and their threat, not the geographic focus, that will drive our enduring campaigns. We have established a global response force. Ready, integrated and lethal, it will better cohere forces from across land, sea and air, space and cyber to get in first in response to unpredictable events around the world. All these domains are critical, but it is the aggregate cohesion of them that packs the punch. I reassure noble Lords who are concerned about individual domains and services that we will keep a close eye on these separate components.
The Command Paper also recognises that, in an interconnected world, we are unlikely to act alone. Partnerships are critical to our security and prosperity. Many of your Lordships raised this. In future, we will be allied by design and national by exception. That is not some meaningless platitude. Frankly, it is sound pragmatism. Our support for NATO will remain ironclad, but we will continue to prioritise our core relationships. Deepening relationships with like-minded partners is extremely important. We have invested in our global defence network. We are improving its core communications and co-ordinating our defence attachés, who are a vital component of what we do globally within our intelligence functions. All of this keeps us safe and helps us contribute to global stability, but, very importantly, as my noble friend Lady Fraser observed, it brings benefit to the whole of the UK in myriad ways.
I am conscious of time, so I will deal with some of the particular points that have been raised. I do not promise to get through them all—I have a kind of Encyclopaedia Britannica here—but I will undertake to write if I cannot cover all the points I need to refer to.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, raised the important issue of China and I am very grateful to her for doing that because, to my surprise, it did not feature prominently. The review refresh has defined China as an epoch-defining and systemic challenge; it has implications for almost every area of government policy and the everyday lives of British people, as many of your Lordships are not only aware but may have experienced. We will strengthen our national security protections, align and co-operate with partners, and engage where it is consistent with our interests. It is important to say that, where it is consistent with these interests, we will engage constructively with the Chinese Government, with business and with people, and co-operate on shared priorities, but wherever the Chinese Communist Party’s actions and stated intent threaten our interests, we will take swift and robust action to protect ourselves and our interests.
The noble Baroness also raised the matter of MoD hacking. This is a very serious issue, which we of course take seriously. We have robust digital and cybersecurity safeguards, checks and barriers. The matter is under investigation. I do not know to what extent I am able to disclose further information, but I will make inquiries.
My noble friend Lord Soames, supported by my noble friend Lady Helic, raised the important issue of the western Balkans. I reassure the House that we remain committed to supporting regional security and stability, and to building resilience against malign influences. We continue to contribute to KFOR and the NATO headquarters. We have extended our contribution to KFOR—to the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance task unit, and to the strategic reserve force—until at least 2026. I reassure my noble friend Lady Helic that we strongly support the critical role that EUFOR continues to play in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and we are exploring how to increase our bilateral presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina and our co-ordination with the EU on the ground.
Very recently, the Bled Strategic Forum was held in Slovenia and attended by my noble friend Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Peach. I have had a report back, and it seems that it proved a very useful forum, not just for the discussion of the particular items envisaged but as an important opportunity for genuine engagement among the member states. As your Lordships will be aware, Slovenia is now an important presence as a non-permanent member of the Security Council. I say to my noble friend Lady Helic that I understand that, within Europe, Slovenia wants to focus on Ukraine, the western Balkans and Cyprus, and thematic priorities include women, peace and security, and conflict prevention.
On the specific issue of training for the Ukrainian soldiers in relation to women in conflict and violence, I am going to ask the specific question to get more information. I shall write to my noble friend.
On procurement, a subject raised by a number of your Lordships, including the noble Lords, Lord West and Lord Lee of Trafford, we will respond to the Select Committee report that is under way. We dispute that defence procurement is broken; we say that it is not broken, and there is evidence that we are on target with a vast change in how we are dealing with procurement. The Type 26 programme has not had poor oversight. We have made, through decisions on E-7, savings of £720 million, and with the uplift of £5 billion over the next two years we are continuing to ensure that we will deliver world-leading equipment to provide our people with the capabilities they need.
The important reforms made within the department in procurement, in addition to setting time limits for delivery of hard equipment at five years and digital programmes at three years, have vastly improved the professionalism of the senior responsible owners and programme directors. We are engaging much earlier in strategic conversations with industry and we are keeping an eye on exportability of whatever we decide we need.
The noble Lords, Lord Browne of Ladyton and Lord Snape, raised the matter of recruitment. The Army’s recruiting partnering project continues to recruit in large numbers the talent we need, and it is a diverse talent, to maintain a competitive advantage. That is demonstrated by achieving between 98% and 100% of the recruitment target between 2019 and 2022, even during the pressures of the Covid pandemic.
My noble friend Lord Tugendhat raised the issue of stockpiles. I can confirm that contracts worth over £285 million have been placed since March 2023 in support of increasing and maintaining stockpile levels through investment with industry. My noble friend also raised the issue of the Baltic states. I can confirm that we are an important contributor to JEF, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, for noting that. We maintain our operational efficacy at all times.
I still have a great pile of notes, which no doubt would be of riveting interest if I had time to read them, but they are going to lead me into trouble with the Whips, so I think I had better look to bring my remarks to a close. This has been a genuinely interesting and stimulating debate. Noble Lords have asked whether this is something more than a courtesy opportunity for a discussion—yes, it is. We play close attention to the views expressed in this House, and these views will be used to inform and make us reflect on how we approach what we are doing within the MoD.
As our former Defence Secretary Ben Wallace understood, in a fraught world defence has never been more important. A number of your Lordships emphatically reaffirmed that. Our previous Defence Secretary accelerated the MoD to become a world-class organisation, and that is reflected by the recently published refreshed defence Command Paper, which provides a serious road map for our future and has had a good reception—people regard it as a very solid piece of work. My new Secretary of State wants to make sure that progress continues. I have had very constructive and cordial engagement with him. Our task in the MoD, led by our new Secretary of State, Grant Shapps, is quite simply to ensure that progress continues and that our magnificent Armed Forces continue to deliver for our nation.
My Lords, I think we can safely say that this House has taken note of the role of the Armed Forces and the UK’s defence policy, in what has been an exceptional debate. We have heard some very informative and important speeches from many people whose interests and experience do not, in my view, get enough hearing in these defence debates. I would like to endorse my noble friend Lord Sterling’s request that we should in the future, if we can, move defence debates so that they have a full day and all these important matters are able to be heard.
I was Minister of State for the Armed Forces from 1994 to 1997—by far the most marvellous time I ever spent, really. The argument about the balance between commitments and resources was rampant then, as I am sure all of us remember. The arguments were all very much the same and they remain the same, as do the forecasts: it was all very difficult—there were endless difficulties overseas and great instability—so we needed to cancel something. Actually, as the Minister said, the Ministry of Defence continues constantly to search for better ways of doing its business. Of course it does but, as she said, the truth is that, however much we spend, it will not be enough.
I thank everyone from all sides of the House for taking part in this fascinating and most rewarding debate, and the Minister for summing up.