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The first duty of the state is to defend national security and the national interest. Even in today's defence debate, we have to admit that the chief threat to this
country is not military at all, but economic. It is, of course, against that backdrop that we have had the strategic defence and security review.
I might be accused of being sycophantic, but I will say this nevertheless. I think that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has done a first-rate job in marrying our need to ensure that the country returns to an even keel economically with the ongoing need to ensure that we prepare for all foreseeable threats to the country, particularly in a world that is ever-changing.
Much has been said about aircraft carriers, which are close to my heart. I spent 18 years in the Navy, and developed a healthy respect for them during that time. During most of my career, the Harrier jump jet took off and landed on aircraft carriers. It must be said that they were rather short. I think we should bear in mind that, while STOVL-short take-off and vertical landing-has many virtues, its chief virtue is as an expedient for countries that have short aircraft carriers. I listened with interest to the remarks of the former Secretary of State for Defence, the right hon. Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth), and noted his concern that we should be able to land on small plots of land. Nevertheless, the chief virtue of the aircraft carriers is connected with the fact that for several years-indeed, for decades-we had to make do with carriers that were smaller and more economical than we might have liked.
We are now to have two impressive aircraft carriers, which will be larger than the Charles de Gaulle. Their size will approach that of some of the largest ships in the American fleet that we admire so much. It is absolutely right for us to have craft that are fitted out to accommodate the naval forces of our two greatest allies, the United States and France, and I welcome the fitting of the "cats and traps", which will provide us with that interoperability.
It strikes me as bizarre that the previous Government should have ignored the obvious desire and need for aircraft from those two nations to use our aircraft carriers, whether or not there is a formal arrangement with France to share one of them, and I am exceptionally pleased that we will now be able to do that. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary on the important work he has done, both in opposition and in government, to strengthen the links with France. It is quite wrong to say that that has happened since May. As one who was on the Defence Front Bench until recently, I know that it was a recurring theme throughout my three years there. We have a great deal in common with our neighbour, and it is not just about our willingness to pay for a defence umbrella under which others in Europe are content to shelter. Both countries, while slipping down the league table of global significance as others rise, have residual interests overseas, although France, of course, has rather more than the United Kingdom.
I congratulate the Government on resisting the temptation to close some of our remaining overseas assets. In particular, our removal from the sovereign base areas in Cyprus would have been most unwise, given the strategic situation. Akrotiri and Dhekelia offer a combination of barracks, training areas, an airfield and a seaport that is peerless, not to mention other assets in the Troodos mountains that are beyond the scope of the debate. Those of us who have had the
pleasure of serving in Cyprus will attest to its importance, and to the totemic significance of any east-of-Nicosia moment that the Defence Secretary may have been forced at least to contemplate.
Inevitably, much has been said today about bombs and bullets, but I must confess that my interest is now, and has always been, in our military software, by which I mean the men and women of our armed forces. Tempting though it is for policy makers to become obsessed with equipment, not least when there are jobs and constituency interests to be considered, we must always bear in mind the greatest single factor: the bloke with the gun or, increasingly, the metal detector on the front line. I think that the SDSR has done that.
Importantly, the White Paper makes it clear that an armed forces covenant will be formalised, and I imagine that that codification will feature prominently in the Armed Forces Bill. The military covenant made its debut in April 2000 in a rather dusty Army publication, "Army Doctrine Publication Volume 5"-a snappy title! We can, however, find examples of such a covenant going back to ancient Greece. It was certainly considered in Roman Britain too, with the distribution of bits of land to those who had served in the Roman army, and it continued to the reign of Elizabeth I, who formally codified a system of pensions for those who had been disabled in action. Ironically, it rather fell apart during Cromwell's military Protectorate, but it has been an unspoken theme of service throughout our history.
Whether or not the author of the military covenant knew it, it was at the extreme end of the spectrum of psychological contracts identified by Harry Levinson in 1962, following his study of the Midlands Utilities Company in the American midwest. The point about such contracts is that they are unspoken and unwritten. In an age of lawyers, that has a certain appeal. We are now considering codifying the military covenant and putting it in writing so that people will be able to rely on it as of right, and potentially, of course, in a court of law.
If we are rather reluctant to go down that route, we must consider the developments of the early 1990s. Many of us will recall NMS-the new management strategy-and the new managerialism introduced into the Ministry of Defence, and the impact that had on the relationship between leaders and led. Commanding officers morphed into budget holders and military units into cost centres. The relationship between commanding officers and those they commanded was subtly changed. In that context, it is right and proper that we should look at articulating the psychological contract of the military covenant in statute. I look forward to seeing the form in which it is introduced in the forthcoming armed forces Bill.
The insurgents in Afghanistan have proved capable of being flexible in their tactics. The Taliban lost, as they were bound to, in the head-to-head early conflict in Helmand and Kandahar. They then shifted to the use of IEDs, and that proved very successful, as all of us will know who have spent time in Birmingham and at Headley Court and who represent constituencies with a military element. The Taliban's tactics are now changing once again. They are developing their own brand of Sharpe's Rifles, chosen men who are rather less appealing even than the men of the South Essex.
It is worth bearing in mind the threat that still exists, and is likely to continue to exist, from IEDs. They are a mortal threat to our men and women and a bitter fact of life for the civilian population. I know that the Government have taken a real interest in this and that the Prime Minister has taken the trouble to familiarise himself with the workings of the Vallon metal detector that is currently used by our troops.
I am pleased to note that a contract has now been let to improve the collective counter-IED training of our troops, especially as it has been let to a firm in my constituency. We have a digital record of aptitude and performance in training, and it has been shown to be extremely variable. Will the Minister ensure that the value of that highly granular information is exploited further so as to allow us to assess post-deployment how effective the new training has been, and perhaps refine it further? Will the Minister also say what further personal protective equipment our troops are to have to reduce the toll taken by IEDs?
For servicemen with children there are few issues of greater concern than education, and that is rightly cited in the White Paper. The Department for Education has been consulting on a pupil premium for service children. There is no doubt that schools with substantial numbers of service children are at a distinct disadvantage because of the extra costs involved in their education. I would cite the New Close primary school and the Avenue school in Warminster as prime examples of that. If we are serious about the concept of "no disadvantage" from military service, we must ensure that the extra costs relating to service children are properly reflected in the funding formula.
I have an abiding interest in military health care, so I am very pleased to see a substantial reflection in the White Paper of the importance of doing more. I am particularly keen to see improvements in military mental health care, and I very much welcome the fact that that is cited specifically in the White Paper. However, it is important that we bear in mind that it is not just about combat stress and post-traumatic stress disorder, and that we need to look more widely at mental health issues, including those relating to service families and issues such as alcoholism and the overuse of alcohol, depression and so on.
It is important that we are far more proactive in dealing with combat stress, because most people, including the general public, would accept that of all those conditions the ones that the military has a direct hand in causing need to be addressed as a priority. Although, numerically, the incidence of PTSD-combat stress-might not be vast in the great scheme of things, men and women experience it by virtue of their exposure on the front line, so if we are serious about the military covenant, we must do our utmost to reduce the chances of it occurring in the first place and to manage it when it does. The key to that is being proactive and ensuring that we look for people with problems before they wait, often for many years, before seeking out medical attention. It is important to go where young men and women are if we want to find out whether they are having problems and to signpost services where they are available-and that means going online.
I very much welcome the extra mental health professionals whom the Government have announced they will recruit to improve mental health care for this community. I also welcome the prospect of a veterans'
information service, by which we will inform veterans, after they have left, of the services available to them, and not simply cut them free and let them go, as we have done in the past.
Mr Havard: I know of the hon. Gentleman's particular interest in medical services and mental health. He will be aware that the British Medical Association has made suggestions on improving general practitioners' understanding about the medical treatment of those who have served. Does he have a view about that?
Dr Murrison: Yes, I do. I commend the BMA for its efforts, as I do the Royal College of General Practitioners, which has recently put out a leaflet trying to apprise GPs of the problems that may be faced by patients who have served in the military. That is not an easy task. Most GPs are faced daily with a whole pile of stuff and will jettison most of it, so getting the message across to them is extremely difficult, given that a relatively small number of their patients will have served and may have a problem as a result of their service. That is not to say that we must not do what we can to raise the prominence of this issue.
In conclusion, may I say how much I welcome the emphasis in the White Paper on the military covenant? It is essential that we try to codify it in some way, and I look forward to it becoming a far more prominent part of the way in which we think about the service community and veterans in the future.
Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): As we approach the defence and security review and discuss how we are going to ensure our future defence and security, one thing that we must be very conscious of is the fact that this is not just the responsibility of our military. My father was in the merchant navy in the last war and was on a merchant vessel going to Russia. His ship was sunk by German submarines and he then spent considerable time in Russia, suffering extreme privations as a result of that sinking. That might be one reason why I am interested in maritime security.
Another reason might be my coastal constituency, and the fact that my friends and neighbours are involved in search and rescue operations on a daily basis. Seeing how the mood of the sea changes is part of our daily life. I do not have any military bases in my constituency, but there are hopes that it will play a key part in the future development of RAF St Athan and the joint training college that was to be established there. My local authority spent a considerable amount of money preparing for that, and still hopes that something positive will come of it. As a member of the Defence Committee, I am aware of the central strategic role of the Royal Air Force in intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance capability. My colleague on the Committee, the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), has mentioned the importance of intelligence in any future war, and the RAF and ISTAR are certainly critical to that.
I want to focus on the unbelievable, short-sighted and downright dangerous decision to cut the Nimrod aircraft. I cannot believe that the decision came from the Ministry of Defence: it must have been a Treasury-led decision, because only a bean counter could have made it. I honestly cannot see why else it would have been made.
Last Sunday I was at Rest bay in my constituency, where people had come from across south Wales, as well as from north Somerset and north Devon, because of the proposed loss of the search and rescue capability at Chivenor, which rescues people across those areas. We do not know what is happening in that regard and I urge that we should consider seriously our search and rescue capability, particularly on our coasts and for our mountains. That Sunday gathering was attended by experts in the field. I spoke to Phil Missen from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and Ian Coles from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, both of whom expressed concern about Nimrod being cut.
Back in my office, when I was preparing this speech, I had my own little personal cyber-attack. As I was typing away, I received an e-mail in my inbox from Michael Hiscocks in my constituency. It said:
"With the cancellation of the Nimrod, how does the RAF intend to conduct long range surveillance of the sea, not only against the submarine and surface threat, but also long range search and rescue that the Nimrods and her crews so ably carried out over the years?"
That one paragraph written by a member of the public in an e-mail to a member of the Defence Committee, who happens to be their constituency MP, asks the major question that must be dealt with in today's debate.
In his leaked letter to the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Defence made it clear that the primary objective of the strategic defence and security review is to set direction, and that decisions should be based on the risks and threats to the security of our country now and in future. He made it clear that the review should not merely be a cost-cutting exercise, and said that the primary duty of the Government and the SDSR was not to undermine the UK's ability to defend itself. He also said-I am sorry that he is not here now-that the Government's words would be "thrown back" at them. Well, I am going to throw some words back at him today for getting things wrong. I do so despite the huge respect I have for him, as he has done an excellent job so far. However, we in the House must support him in getting the decision about the Nimrod MRA4 changed.
The Nimrod MRA4 has several key functions. It forms part of military operations, is an advanced reconnaissance tool, helps to ensure the safety of civil national infrastructure, assists in maritime search and rescue operations, and assists in the defence of our dependent territories. The Secretary of State also said:
"Deletion of the Nimrod MR4 will limit our ability to deploy maritime forces rapidly into high-threat areas, increase the risk to the Deterrent, compromise maritime CT (counter terrorism), remove long range search and rescue, and delete one element of our Falklands reinforcement plan."
As a maritime nation-and we do remain a maritime nation-monitoring and defending our sea is a critical element in the maintenance of our security. The Nimrod's maritime reconnaissance capability was to have protected our nuclear deterrent, our nation's ultimate defence, and supported royal naval vessels and submarines in our waters and way beyond. The Nimrods were to have fulfilled a hugely important civil role, providing 24/7 search and rescue services for seafarers, as well as defending
vital national infrastructure. Our nuclear power stations and our North sea oil rigs would have all been defended thanks to the Nimrod.
We have talked about working closely with our allies to ensure that we have access to the equipment, training and personnel that we need as a necessary part of our defence, but we cannot rely on our allies to pick up on the capabilities that we will lose by not bringing the Nimrod aircraft into service. The Nimrod MRA4 has far greater capabilities than the aircraft that our allies either use now or have planned for the near future. It has world-leading anti-submarine warfare technology-a particular strength in the UK. We have that strength because of our history, and because submarines carry a vital part of our national security. So there we are: submarines carry the most vital part of our national security, and we are going to scrap the means of protecting them.
Mrs Moon: It worries me that our defence capability is up for sale. We are selling off some of our defence industry's crown jewels, and selling on to potential enemies-we do not know where they will be-those capabilities at a time when we are in desperate need. I totally object to that, because anti-submarine warfare is not a relic of the cold war. If we are to protect our aircraft carriers when they are deployed in high-risk areas, who will provide the air cover? We recently lost track of a Russian submarine in the Atlantic for three weeks. We cannot rely on allies who are comparatively poorly resourced, or hope that they will buy the Nimrods, save us the money and provide us with the security.
The Nimrod's civil use must be emphasised, too. Let us look at the history of its search and rescue capability. When the Fastnet yacht race was hit by storms in 1979, and when the Alexander Kielland oil rig overturned in the North sea, Nimrods provided vital cover. They also did so during the Piper Alpha disaster and, just recently, for the Athena fishing vessel, which needed the Nimrod's capability because Sea King helicopters could spend only 20 minutes hovering above the vessel. We must remember that we have an international obligation to provide long-range search and rescue missions. We will not be able to adhere to the international convention on maritime search and rescue, which we signed in 1979, if we cancel the new Nimrod.
Let us also remember the use of maritime surveillance capabilities against drug smuggling, human trafficking and piracy. The new maritime patrol aircraft, of which the Nimrod was the mainstay, had the capacity to counter drug-running operations in the Caribbean, fight pirate activity in the gulf of Arabia and form a crucial part of maritime counter-terrorism operations.
It has been a long time since the Conservative Government needed to reinforce the Falkland Islands. I pay particular tribute to the speech made by the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh), who recognised the vulnerability of the Falkland Islands, particularly given the growing demand for energy. The UK's claim to energy resources in the south Atlantic, which are being explored as we speak, must be safeguarded. The Nimrod provides the only capability that could deploy
to the Falklands within 48 hours. It can provide early indicators and warnings for forces that follow. The Royal Navy would take three weeks to deploy there. That is 48 hours for a Nimrod, but three weeks for the Royal Navy.
The Nimrod MRA4 has not been cleared for overland operations, but it does have a tremendously sophisticated suite of new sensors that would make a good surveillance and support asset for land operations. I fail to see why our security and defence capability has been reduced by the removal of this asset. It has the capacity to provide maritime eyes and ears at long range-up to 4,000 miles. Where else do we have a 4,000-mile capability for intelligence? It can move very rapidly-within two hours-and with persistence it can fly for 12 hours without refuelling. No other asset has that capability.
Dr Murrison: The hon. Lady is making a compelling case, but will she say what elements of the defence programme she would scratch, given our unfunded liabilities, to make good the spending commitment that she is apparently making?
Mrs Moon: That is not a matter for me. As a member of the Defence Committee, my objective is to look at what the Government propose and ask whether they are providing the best defence and security for the UK. Removing this platform is not in the best interests of Britain's defence and security. I defy any Member to contradict me-and the Secretary of State for Defence, who said exactly that in his letter to the Prime Minister.
I acknowledge that the procurement history of the Nimrod MRA4 has been difficult. But past problems bear no relation to the decision not to bring it to service. The Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff), made it clear that the decision to cancel the project was based on the future support costs of the aircraft-not the past spend, but the future costs. Considering what we have spent on research and development, the capability that we have put in place and the versatility of the aircraft, saving the modest future running costs is short-sighted.
If we really cannot find the pocket money that we need for those running costs, why do we not at least consider mothballing rather than selling off? Let us mothball, so that when the Treasury wakes up to the enormous capabilities that we would have, it can bring the Nimrod back into operational service. In the meantime, we must make sure that we do not lose the skills of the Nimrod aviators; there must be ongoing training and skills development to make sure that the capability is retained.
"sought to mitigate the gap in capability"
"Type 23 Frigates, Merlin Anti Submarine Warfare helicopters and Hercules C-130 aircraft, and by relying, where appropriate, on assistance from allies and partners."-[ Official Report, 28 October 2010; Vol. 517, c. 451W.]
This was meant to be a short-term solution while the new Nimrods were developed, and we now need to know what longer-term plan will be put in place. How long are we going to rely on a patchwork of aircraft to fill the gap left by the Nimrod?
The decision not to cancel the renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent has demonstrated a belief in the need for us to maintain a constant and secure independent nuclear deterrent, yet we cannot provide the reconnaissance to ensure the safety of those submarines and of our nuclear deterrent.
We are going to get rid of the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers as well, it seems, and we are cancelling the aircraft that would defend the carriers. It does not make sense. We have talked about asymmetrical warfare and the threat to our nation from individuals and groups rather than nation states, yet we are going to reduce our capability to protect national infrastructure and essential offshore assets, particularly our energy capabilities.
"Cuts, there will have to be. Coherence, we cannot do without".
Not bringing the Nimrod into service does not represent a coherent approach to the defence of our country. I hope that the Treasury will listen and that the Ministry of Defence will yet again argue for this piece of equipment so vital for our defence and security.
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. A number of colleagues would still like to speak in this important debate, so in order to facilitate the wishes of all Members I am introducing a 10-minute limit on speeches.
Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): I commend the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) on alighting on a vital capability. There was one thing that she did not say about it: if it were deployed, it would be the envy of the Americans, such is the sophistication of the capability. It is also a valued asset of many of our European NATO allies and I hope that even now, at this eleventh hour, there might be ways to explore how we can share the burden of the capability so that it can be retained. I fear that that underlines how the defence review was done in a rush and that, whatever the thinking in advance, it ended in the inevitable collision between the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury which, as the letter from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to the Prime Minister advertised, threatened to be even more destructive than it was.
I would further underline, as the Secretary of State admitted, that the review has been distorted by our activities and the burden of operations in Afghanistan. To that extent, the review is raiding future capability to sustain current operations, which is an unstrategic approach. I fully accept-I think we have to understand the predicament faced by those on the Treasury Bench-that the Government have inherited a very difficult situation and not just in the Ministry of Defence. Of course the national deficit has to be addressed, but there is a deeper malaise at the heart of the dysfunctional relationship between the Ministry of Defence and the rest of Government and, indeed, in dysfunctional relationships at the MOD.
As shadow Secretary of State for two years and a member for four years of the Select Committee on Defence, I watched with increasing perplexity post-9/11
our first Afghan deployment, the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent deployment to Helmand, as chaos grew due to policy that was increasingly reactive to events and less and less in control of them. There was increasingly an apparent lack of strategic thinking behind what we were doing. As we started calling for NATO to develop a new strategic concept, I began to ask myself who held the UK's strategic concept and whether there was one. That was the starting point for the Public Administration Committee's inquiry once I was elected its Chairman in this Parliament. Our report entitled, "Who does UK National Strategy?" is on the Table and tagged for this debate. The evidence, I am afraid, was more disturbing than I had imagined.
The word "strategy" itself has become corrupted. It has become a tool of management-speak for consultancies and people who do not really know what they are doing when they use it. We heard evidence from Sir Rob Fry and Commodore Stephen Jermy, who were both involved in decisions in the Ministry of Defence about the deployment to Helmand. They said that it was driven primarily by military concerns, without any strategic thinking going on in Whitehall about the reasons for it or its consequences.
In one rather telling piece of evidence, Peter Hennessy, shortly to be ennobled as Lord Hennessy, says that politicians too often reach for the word "vision", and that we should be ready to excise that word with our red buzzer, because it is an excuse for a politician to disconnect his aspirations and the sunlit uplands that he dreams of from the reality of the world in which he, and the civil servants who have to deliver the policy that he is seeking to deliver, have to live.
We found that Whitehall Departments each have their own version of strategy, with their own strategy units, but none of them knows what they are meant to contribute to national strategy, if they even knew what that was. That applies to the Treasury in particular. There is no doubt that the main strategic effort of this Government has to be deficit reduction, but I think that, as far as the Treasury is concerned, it is the Government's sole strategic effort. To have a sole strategic effort is strategic blindness, not strategy. It may be a necessity to have that imperative driving the whole Government at this time, but other strategic priorities have to be recognised.
Strategy is not just about reconciling ends, ways and means. It is not about having a document that is published as a Command Paper and stacked on a shelf afterwards-job done. Strategy is a state of mind. It is a process of thinking that has to be ongoing, has to be done continuously, and has to be continually adapted. A grand strategy, or a national strategy, is about reconciling all the instruments of statecraft to the main ends of promoting the security, peace and prosperity of the people of these islands. It is evident that both the national security strategy and the defence and security review lack strategic thinking-the consistency of analysis and assessment that is necessary to give them strategic coherence.
The problem is that the work simply has not been done, because Whitehall lacks the capacity to do it. There are no people working for the National Security Council or the strategy units of different Departments
who are tasked with doing or trained to do such work. Some people say, "Strategists are not trained, they are born", but that is like saying that a great gymnast is born a gymnast. Of course, someone has to have talent to be a great gymnast or a great concert pianist, but they also have to put in the work and the training in order to be successful before they give that first recital. There used to be a six-month civil service course on strategic thinking; at the moment, it consists of one module of one week's training.
That lack of strategy is evident in all the contradictions in the documents. The national security strategy says that it is the first duty of Government to protect our people. Well, that is clearly not so. The first priority of Government is not defence. Health, pensions, schools, the Department for International Development, and even the European Union budget have taken priority over the defence of these islands in the comprehensive spending review.
The words "national interest" are sprinkled liberally throughout the documents. They are mentioned 26 times in the national security strategy and six times in the SDSR, and were even mentioned once by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in his comprehensive spending review statement-but that was only in connection with justifying the increase in spending on overseas aid. In all those mentions, there is very little definition of what our national interests actually are. When I tabled a parliamentary question to the Prime Minister to ask him, he referred me to paragraph 2.12 of the national security strategy:
"Our security, prosperity and freedom are interconnected and mutually supportive. They constitute our national interest."
The real inconsistency at the heart of all three of the Government's reviews is the attempt to reconcile what the Foreign Secretary has said about having no strategic shrinkage and expanding our influence on the world stage with the savage defence cuts that will lead to a reduction of one third in our deployable capability. That is what the defence planning assumptions actually show. There has been an attempt to connect the Foreign Secretary's vision of our foreign policy with the reality of the deficit reduction programme, but it has not been achieved.
Our Committee concluded that political strategic leadership is essential if we are to have a coherent national strategy. Strategic thinking is vital, and we need to examine all the threats, possibilities and opportunities, not just certain threats and contingencies. Within Whitehall we need challenge, with alternatives coming up through the system and people conducting thorough analysis. Ideally, we want a national centre of strategic assessment, protected for secrecy in a similar way to the intelligence services and able to provide a permanent resource to Ministers.
Mr Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, given the time limit-perhaps I have bought him a little more time. Would he like to define for the House what he believes national strategy should be?
Mr Jenkin: I am grateful for the question, but I will continue. [Interruption.] With respect, that was not the purpose of the Committee's report. We were not trying to write a national strategy; we were simply trying to advertise the fact that the capacity for developing a coherent national strategy does not exist.
Mr Ainsworth: I think that the hon. Gentleman is on to something, and I know that a number of people are examining his report. Why does he think that we as a political class have shrunk to pragmatic reactions, rather than daring ones? Does he think politicians would be rewarded or punished if they dared to be strategic?
Mr Jenkin: The right hon. Gentleman asks an interesting question, which has been raised with me before. There are two reasons why politicians fear such a challenge. The first is that politicians who are busy running their Departments do not like people running into their offices with contrary ideas and imperatives. The other reason is that if they ask for alternatives to be developed, they say, "Whatever you do, don't put it on to a piece of paper and don't e-mail it to anybody, in case it leaks out."
We are embarked on a deficit reduction programme that depends on a certain economic out-turn. I just hope that the Treasury has run through the alternative plans B, C and D, in case things do not turn out as we expect. The problem is that we have got into the habit of thinking in closed systems. Economists in particular work in mathematical equations and like tame, predictable problems. Economics is all about prediction and certainty, with the intention of being vindicated by what happens. We live in a world in which problems are not tame but wicked and unpredictable. As we face greater and greater global challenges, we must be more prepared for the unpredictability of the global security, economic and geopolitical environments. We therefore need the capacity for strategy.
I shall give a brief example. I gather that after the global banking crisis started, Her Majesty the Queen asked how nobody had seen that it would happen, given that it was so big. The answer is that one body did foresee a global banking collapse being a major security threat to the UK. It was the advanced research and assessment group, based at Shrivenham, and I am afraid that in March the right hon. Member for Coventry North East as Defence Secretary closed it down, to save £1 million. [Interruption.] It was such a small cut, he did not even realise it was being made. I have no doubt it did not cross his desk. It was shut down because it had made enemies by telling truth to power, and that is the capacity that needs to exist in Whitehall.
Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to speak in the debate. As a new Member, I have to say that there have been a number of distinguished and knowledgeable contributions from both sides of the House.
Along with every other Member, I would like to place on record my admiration for the work of our armed forces and for those who work for the Ministry of Defence, particularly at this time. Since being elected in May, I have had the privilege of meeting constituents
who have served, or are serving, in the armed forces. A number of constituents work for the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces in a civilian capacity. Too often-although not this afternoon, I am pleased to say-they are dismissed with pejorative labels, when the reality is that they often do important work of great value to the armed forces, and some do so in dangerous circumstances.
As the right hon. Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot) said, the previous Government announced the first ever strategic defence review within a month of taking office in 1997 to determine the future of the UK's defence policy. At the time, the then Defence Secretary, now Lord Robertson, who is one of my predecessors in the Hamilton part of my constituency, said:
"Hundreds of experts from within the MOD, the Armed Forces and elsewhere have given a great deal of time over the past year to produce the most significant reshaping of our Armed Forces in a generation...It is absolutely right that we should have consulted so widely".
As the right hon. Gentleman noted earlier, that review took 13 months. It was comprehensive in its scope, forensic in its detail and rooted in the needs and priorities of our defence. It would obviously be foolhardy to measure such exercises by such shallow criteria alone, but the strategic defence review in 1998 ran to 390 pages. Given the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy) at the start of the debate, I should say that I am not sure how many of those pages were blank, but I am sure there were a lot fewer of them, proportionately, than in the recent strategic defence and security review.
There is a real contrast between the two exercises, not only in the time taken and the depth of content in the reports, but in the detail and the consultation undertaken, which leads many of us to express real concerns about aspects of the current review and the consequences that we will all have to face as a result.
Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): I would like to point out one contrast between the review then and the review now. We now have the National Security Council, which is bringing in a lot of information from various Departments, such as the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development. Will the hon. Gentleman comment on that improvement on the process that the Labour Government followed between 1997 and 1998?
Tom Greatrex: I was just going on to say that there are differences in the circumstances in 1997 and now. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) has talked about some of the security aspects of the review, and I am sure that he will go into that further if he catches the Deputy Speaker's eye.
Obviously, the economic circumstances were more benign in 1997 than they have been recently. Reviewing defence requirements in 2010 is not an unnecessary exercise, but as the Secretary of State's own words in his correspondence with the Prime Minister exposed, perhaps brutally:
"this process is looking less and less defensible as a proper SDSR and more like a 'super CSR'".
The strength of the link between the defence and security review and the comprehensive spending review has been widely acknowledged as a deficiency in the strategic
nature of the defence and security review. Given the explicit link to cost, it is even more important that the SDSR approach should have been thorough.
That brings me to a specific concern, which has been raised by a number of constituents. Perhaps the Minister will have time to address it at least in passing in his closing remarks. The decision to rebase our forces from Germany is in principle welcome. The presence of UK armed forces on mainland Europe was at one time necessary, but perhaps the need is no longer so pressing. The aim to return half our personnel from Germany to the UK by 2015 and the remainder by 2020, as page 32 of the review states, is laudable, and I am sure there will be very little opposition. However, the lack of detail on how that will be achieved undermines the nature of the review and its thoroughness. In response to a number of parliamentary questions, the MOD said that more detailed work will be required and that it is too early to say what the financial impact will be. It troubles me that the Government have taken such a decision in the context of a cost-influenced-if not cost-driven-review exercise without considering the cost.
One estimate is that the eventual cost could be many millions, and I believe that the Minister is on record as saying that there will be a long-term saving, but there is little detail on when that saving will be achieved or on the figures on which any projection of savings is based.
Mr Kevan Jones: I had responsibility for this matter as a Minister and we looked at rebasing from Germany. The estimate back in 1994 when we brought most of the RAF back was something like £5 billion. Under the treaty, there is a responsibility to write to the German Government to inform them that we want to withdraw. I made some inquiries this week and found out that that has not yet happened.
Tom Greatrex: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, which I think brings to bear an important aspect of the matter that has not been addressed-I look to the Minister to do so in his closing remarks.
I am raising the issue of rebasing not to devalue the point that defence and security interests should be paramount, but to illustrate that even when it appears that costs have been prioritised, as in the review, there is insufficient detail. That leads to concerns that other matters have not been considered in sufficient detail. Specifically on rebasing, it is unfair on returning personnel and their families to announce their return to the UK without providing detail to allow them to prepare. What does the Minister say to a family who have lived and worked in Germany for the past 20 years and who now face the prospect of a return to the UK in five or 10 years? On what criteria will decisions on when to return troops be made? What assessment has been made of the suitability of using RAF bases that are no longer used as such for housing Army personnel? There are a series of unanswered questions and we need answers-if not this afternoon, soon.
The detailed work of which the Minister spoke in his parliamentary answer-it was a vague but not necessarily unhelpful or unrevealing answer-should have been carried out before, or at least parallel to, work on the strategic review. An SDSR that takes no account of the
cost of rebasing troops from Germany to the UK and no account of where service personnel and their families will be housed, and that gives no detail on exactly how the draw-down of personnel from 20,000 to zero in 10 years will happen, has a gaping hole in the middle of it. I hope the Minister will respond to at least some of those points in his remarks.
Laura Sandys (South Thanet) (Con): I should first like to associate myself with the tribute paid to our armed services and their families by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames)-a family member of ours is on a second tour of duty in Afghanistan. I am also delighted to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin), because among the key terms in the review are "strategy" and "strategic thinking". Although I am not an expert in every aspect of the armed forces, nor on every aspect of procurement, I have been involved, through the centre for defence studies, in the international framework and landscape in which our country must operate in future.
Some would say that the last century was dominated by the politics of ideas, whether communism, terrorist ideology or issues of nationhood, including in the Balkans. I believe that this century will be dominated by the politics of economics. The ability to satisfy the demands of domestic audiences will shape international politics, and may well make international engagement more vicious and less high-minded than previously. Even in countries where democracy is not exactly the byword, such as China and Russia, the economic needs of domestic populations will determine international policies and strategies. Britain will be no different.
This more competitive and aggressive economic climate will be based around access to resources and global trade. We are particularly vulnerable to threats to globalised trade: we import 50% of our food, the prices of which are expected to rise by 40% over the next 10 years; we will be importing by sea more than 35% of our gas supplies, while energy costs will rise and be subject to greater politicisation; and imported minerals such as chromium, cobalt and manganese are crucial to the future of our electronics businesses. These minerals are a finite resource, and we will no longer be competing for these resources just with our natural allies. We and the rest of the world are totally interdependent, and the rest of the world is getting a whole lot more acquisitive and competitive.
What are the threats that our defence capacity must address in this economic paradigm? Piracy is one. The Somalis are merely adopters of an old entrepreneurial business. With food price spikes, the increase in energy costs and limited mineral resources, it is calculated that the impact of piracy has only just begun. Last year alone, 217 merchant ships were abducted by pirates, and this was not just confined to the horn of Africa. The British Chamber of Shipping has stated:
"Climate change and scarcity of resources will bring unknown and destabilising influences at sea - as we all fight for vanishing resources."
However, it is not only sea routes that could be disrupted. I believe that there will be an increase in land piracy. I was involved in the Caucasus and worked on the pipeline policy across central Asia, and I believe that there will be an increase in land piracy, such as energy pipeline
hijacking and the illegal sequestration of essential mineral resources, which could fundamentally disrupt our domestic economy.
The MOD has an important role to play, in relation to special forces with specialist knowledge, logistical assistance to support countries whose mineral resources are at risk or vulnerable to criminal or state-sponsored sequestration, the global reach from our aircraft carriers, our frigates playing their part in keeping trade routes open, and minesweepers securing key pinch points across the globe. Neither can we underestimate the diplomatic value of our military when it supports other military forces around the world. It is respected by the world and can secure our trade routes and aid the capacity of other countries to secure theirs.
Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the defence budget is unique in the way we must view it? It is a form of insurance policy. That being so, we must accept that when the risks increase, so must the premium.
Laura Sandys: Most certainly. However, my point is also about how we look at those risks. We must start looking at them from a domestic perspective. We are part of the globalised trade environment, and if globalised trading is threatened, our domestic economic capability, our recovery and everything about our growth is threatened. When we talk to our constituents about the strategic defence review, and the budget that defence requires, we must make the case that it is about ensuring that we do not get into an inflationary cycle of rocketing food prices, that energy arrives in this country safely and without the increased cost of convoys and supply from unstable countries, and that our high-tech businesses can access the critical resources that will keep Britain open for business.
The free movement of global resources will be the prize, and must form part of the strategy. I am encouraged by the strategic defence review, and the fact that at the heart of the illustration of how we take the defence review forward, strategy and policy are guiding us. I hope that we will all take note of the recent report on strategy and on thoughtful planning that has just been published. I believe that we have got the framework right; we must now get the texture right, as well as the context in which this country will have to survive in future.
Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the excellent speech of the hon. Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys). She rightly widened the debate beyond the defence part of the defence and security review to include other aspects of global policy that affect the security of our country. That is what I intend to do in the brief time available, and I shall try to follow her example in not taking up all my allocation.
The hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex) correctly predicted that I am here not to increase my knowledge of defence, although if I had
wanted to spend four hours listening to the country's experts on defence, this would be the place to be. It has been a fascinating debate. As the Chairman of the Defence Committee said, we have in this House people who know a huge amount about the subject.
In the time available, I want to raise three aspects of the review, the first of which is security and the importance of recognising the counter-terrorism agenda within the wider defence and security strategy. I shall probably make a loyalist speech as far as the Government are concerned, certainly compared with some of the speeches from Conservative Members, because I fully support the Government's counter-terrorism strategy in the security review.
The third and fourth parts of the review document deal with counter-terrorism and acknowledge this country's success over several years in joining up various aspects of government. I am delighted that the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) is here, because he was co-author of the Home Affairs Committee report that strongly recommended the establishment of the National Security Council, which the previous Government strongly resisted, although I never discovered why. As soon as the new Government took office, they accepted the Committee's recommendation, and we now have a Committee that spans all Departments and all the experts who sit under the chairmanship of the Home Secretary or the Prime Minister and can draw all the strands together to look at the security of the country as a whole.
My second point is about the counter-terrorism budget, and I believe that the review document preserves that budget. From what I have read of it, there is a commitment to ensuring that the previous Government's initiatives and the new initiatives proposed in the strategy are pursued. That means-I hope-that the fears of people such as John Yates, the head of counter-terrorism in the Metropolitan police, will not be realised. The House will recall that in a closed session of the Association of Chief Police Officers conference earlier this year, Mr Yates raised the possibility that the counter-terrorism budget would be cut. I think that the review preserves that budget. Indeed, from the opportunities that I and others have had to probe the Government on the issue, I think that that aspect of the home affairs budget is to be preserved, although perhaps the Minister will confirm that when he replies to this debate.
My final point concerns Yemen. I should declare my interest: I was born in Yemen and I spent the first 11 years of my life there. I have led parliamentary delegations to Yemen over my 23 years in this House, and the only reason we have not visited this year is the security situation. However, I plan to go in the next few months with other Members of Parliament, and if anyone would like to come-including you, Mr Deputy Speaker-we would be delighted to take them. My concern is that people outside this House have talked about Yemen as though it were a failed state. It is not a failed state; in fact, it is probably the most democratic of all the states in the middle east, with the exception of Israel. It is, however, a country that is capable of failing, which is why we need to give it enormous support. We need to engage with the Yemeni Government and the
Yemeni people. We need to ensure that our international development budget is increased, and not kept to its current levels, because even though Yemen is one of the most beautiful countries on earth, it is also one of the poorest. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula-as the branch of al-Qaeda in Yemen is called-is determined to feed on the poverty of the Yemeni people and make the case to them that nobody is interested in what happens in Yemen.
The hon. Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) paid tribute to the security services and the authorities at East Midlands airport when the Home Secretary made her statement on Monday. As the constituency MP for the airport, he will know of the concern-indeed, the shock-of local people that a package that started off in Yemen should have gone through Germany and ended up at East Midlands airport. While we have been sitting here over the past four hours of this debate-I am not saying that I have been sitting here for that time; rather, the House itself has been sitting-the French Interior Minister has made a statement. He has said that it is thought that one of the bombs-we do not know whether it was the one on its way to Dubai or the one going to East Midlands airport-was going to be detonated within 17 minutes of its being found.
There is a serious problem, but what do we do to help Yemen? We do not cut off all its freight, and we certainly do not want to stop people coming here from Yemen. Instead, we need to give Yemen the security equipment that we promised at the London conference in January. Prime Minister Gordon Brown called a conference of the Friends of Yemen, who were given certain assurances, one of which was that equipment would be sent to San'a and Aden. [ Interruption. ] The Minister shakes his head, but the answer is yes, and other Ministers have confirmed that to me. There was an assurance that security equipment would be given to Yemen, so that it could perform the task that is being performed at our airports in this country, thereby preventing packages of that kind and any passengers carrying such devices from leaving Yemen.
My message to the Government is that if we are talking about the security of our country, we have to remember that security does not stop at our borders. The hon. Member for South Thanet talked about piracy off Somalia, another country that is in great difficulties. What do we do? We do not leave those countries on their own; we engage with them and ensure that they have support. As part of the review, I hope that we will understand that issue. If we do, not only will the people of Yemen and the world be safer; more importantly, the people of our country will be, too.
I thank the Secretary of State and his colleagues for the work they have done on the strategic defence and security review in extremely difficult circumstances. It has been said on many occasions that the state of the public finances, together with under-investment in defence
over a considerable period, has put this Administration in a near-impossible position, yet the outcomes of the SDSR are tough and realistic but forward-looking. The SDSR and the national security strategy have, by and large, been well received. I think that their common theme is flexibility and adaptability.
My hon. Friends the Members for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) and for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) said that, after this debate and its due consideration, it ultimately comes down to the individuals who are on the front line. That being the case, I want to talk about defence training.
Naturally, I was disappointed that the Metrix consortium plan for a single tri-service defence training establishment in St Athan in my constituency was not viable. I am pleased, however, that the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister have said that St Athan remains the preferred location for the defence training solution. Decisions such as this cannot be taken in isolation, and the communities surrounding St Athan recognise that fact.
I have had the opportunity to question in private and in more detail the Secretary of State and some of his colleagues, and I am grateful for their responses, some of which it would be inappropriate to share here. I have gained a better understanding of the reasons for the failure of the Metrix consortium. I look forward to further meetings with the Secretary of State and his colleagues to try to establish what St Athan can do to put itself in a strong position as we go forward with the defence review. As a strong supporter of the plan, I am disappointed that Metrix could not deliver a commercially robust proposal within the desired time scale. Clearly, I would have welcomed a £14 billion investment in my constituency, but it must also be right for the nation and for the nation's security needs.
Questions have been raised by constituents about the appropriateness of providing training through a private finance initiative scheme under a 30-year contract. This raises and highlights two key points, the first of which is whether defence training should be conducted by a private firm. I am a fan of PFI in general. The transfer of risk is a key benefit of PFI, but in defence terms the public purse will always have to carry the risk and bail out any failure. That raises questions about whether PFI is appropriate for defence.
The second issue is the term of the contract. The public purse will be hit hard unless all details are specified and agreed at the signing of the agreement. It is difficult to know what will be all the requirements over a 30-year contract; our technical training requirements 30 years ago were very different from what we need now. That demonstrates the difficulty of planning over a 30-year period in a PFI contract, especially as the nature of the risks we face these days changes at a much quicker pace. It would be useful to have the Secretary of State's and the Minister's views on the timing and particularly on the use of PFI for defence projects and, most specifically, for defence training.
The training needs of the forces still need to be addressed. The reasons for the previous Government's defence training review remain. We need to offer our forces the best training possible to protect themselves and our nation when fighting in the line of duty and to equip them with transferable skills when they leave the services. To my mind, that is an essential element of the military covenant. The principle and benefits behind
the tri-service training model are still true, and the run-down state of training establishments, as inherited from the previous Administration, is still a matter of concern and needs to be addressed.
The social and economic demands of today's trainees are far greater than they were in the past, and we need to match their expectations. The positive influence over the different cultures of each individual service that a tri-service facility would bring can only be beneficial. It was interesting to note from the UK-French security co-operation data that there is a plan to develop a joint expeditionary force involving all three services. When I refer to a joint force, I mean that it would involve all three services; it would not necessarily involve the French. Training will be provided. The proposal underlines the importance of co-operation between the services. We also need to offer transferable skills that members of the forces can use when they leave Her Majesty's service.
It was alarming to read that even in 1999, when the previous Government launched the defence training review-incidentally, the fact that the process began 11 years ago highlights the delays created by that Government-site running costs represented between 40% and 50% of the total costs of the training establishment. That is clearly not efficient spending. Training is currently delivered at nine key locations. A considerable amount of technical training is common to all services, and it obviously does not make sense for identical functions to be delivered over several locations.
Mr Havard: I was going to ask the hon. Gentleman earlier what he had been told by Ministers, in secret or otherwise, about why the St Athan plan would not go ahead, but as his speech has unfolded it has become clear what the excuses are. Given that he agrees that St Athan should still be the preferred site and given that PFI is not the right way of financing it, has he received any undertaking that it will be financed by general spend from the Ministry of Defence?
Alun Cairns: The Secretary of State made clear in his written statement that there would be a statement about defence training by the spring, and that written statement specified St Athan as the preferred location for the defence training solution. We could not ask for a clearer statement than that. However, I also benefited from meetings with Ministers, including the Secretary of State. One of those meetings, incidentally, was offered on an all-party basis, but unfortunately Labour Members chose not to turn up. Obviously, information would have been shared with the hon. Gentleman's colleagues if he was unable to attend himself.
Mr Havard: The hon. Gentleman may be satisfied with that, but I think that the position is still very unclear. It is also unclear where St Athan will fit in with the training that is required elsewhere in the country. It seems that the hon. Gentleman has been handed a Confederate dollar. A better explanation is needed.
Alun Cairns: If the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) had not left after a bit of a spat because there was a mix-up over the room changes, that information would have been shared with him. It is not necessarily appropriate to share such information in public, although I have been reassured that more information will be given in public as time goes on.
There are also significant opportunities to introduce modern training methods involving the latest technologies, thus enhancing the capabilities of our forces. I would, however, caution against centralising technical training on a single site, as Metrix proposed. I believe that that would pose a security risk that could be managed better on a small number of sites than in a single location. We need a defence capacity that involves not only appropriate equipment, but the training flexibility that makes it possible to respond to an ever-changing environment.
Let me return to the subject of St Athan. As the Secretary of State has pointed out on several occasions, its infrastructure, facilities and location won through during the last consideration. Preliminary site works have been conducted, and planning permissions are in place. Those factors remain, as do the needs of the forces. I look forward to the spring, when the Secretary of State will outline the next steps-within the financial envelope, of course.
There was no problem with the site. It was Metrix, the developer, that failed. However, I hope that the Secretary of State and the Ministry of Defence will recognise the support that the communities in and around St Athan were prepared to give, and the compromises that they were prepared to make. That good will remains, on the basis that the St Athan facility will be used to its full potential.
Mr Ian Davidson (Glasgow South West) (Lab/Co-op): The debate has been excellent, but I do not believe that it has addressed the aircraft carriers issue in as much detail as it deserves, and I hope to remedy that.
When the Secretary of State and others discuss the nuclear deterrent, great emphasis is placed on the need for a continuous at-sea presence, yet in respect of Britain's global reach by aircraft carrier we are apparently happy to settle for a presence every now and again. We are building two aircraft carriers but one is to be mothballed, so the second will not be available when it is in refit-or, indeed, when the French are seeking to use it. Therefore, we will have only occasional use of our own aircraft carriers: for us to end up with part-use of one when we are building two does not seem to me to represent the best use of money.
There is no guarantee that we will ever have much access to the French carriers. We will be able to use them only when the French are not using them, or when they agree. There will, of course, also be times when a carrier is being refitted. Therefore, although we are going to the expense of building two carriers, we cannot receive a guarantee that we will have a continuous at-sea global presence by aircraft carrier.
In defending the implementation of the "cats and traps" policy, the Defence Secretary has mentioned that we want to have interoperability with the United States. However, it is unclear whether any agreement has been struck with the United States about our being able to borrow one of its carriers or use its decks, or whether the United States will want to use our carriers if it ends up one short. There is no point in arguing that we want to have "cats and traps" for the sake of interoperability with the United States unless some deal has been done whereby that will be a benefit-but no mention has been made of that so far.
When the Minister sums up, will he tell us whether catapults are to be fitted to both aircraft carriers? If not, we will have aircraft designed for catapults and traps but only one aircraft carrier they can fly off. On the other hand, if we fit catapults to both carriers, we will end up spending half a billion pounds fitting them to mothballed aircraft carriers. Neither of those options seems to me to represent an effective use of money. It would be helpful if the Minister were to tell us whether the French or the United States had asked us in any way, shape or form to fit catapults and traps to our aircraft carriers, or did this situation arise simply as a consequence of the Air Force's obsession with fast jets?
The Government seem to have an unhealthy obsession with fast jets, and to have inadequately appreciated the additional capability provided to us by vertical and short take-off and landing aircraft. Yes, it is true that they carry lighter weights and can fly less far, but they are also much more effective in providing close air support, as our troops who have served in the Falklands and Afghanistan can testify. As the previous Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth), said, we are giving up this capability not just in the short term but permanently; if we scrap the Harriers or do not upgrade them in future, we will lose that entire capability. To base our entire fast jet defence structure on the concept that we must have generation five because at some point in the future somebody else might have it is to focus too much on one element of need. It would be useful if the Minister told us how much each of the "cats and traps" will cost, because if he does not have that figure to hand, this would appear to be a leap in the dark.
The lack of political balance in how the British media treat the various parties is nowhere more glaringly obvious than in the discussion about aircraft carriers without aircraft. Can we imagine the meal the press and television would have made if a Labour Government had for one moment proposed that we should have aircraft carriers without aircraft? I am not necessarily the brightest, but I recognise that the secret is in the name: the concept of an "aircraft carrier" means something that carries aircraft. The fact that we will have aircraft carriers without aircraft-and that the Government have got away almost scot-free with it-represents something of an imbalance. I am looking forward to hearing the Minister announce that he has devised a new system of guns without bullets, rockets without explosives and so on. Those are equally ludicrous suggestions.
The Government have been insufficiently radical in examining structures. I understand that under their proposals the joint strike fighter will be flown off the carriers by joint RAF/Fleet Air Arm groups, crews, pilots and so on. In those circumstances, why do we need a Fleet Air Arm? Why do we need to have RAF pilots flying off aircraft carriers? That is an example of the sort of culture of defence in the forces. I served on the Public Accounts Committee for many years and we constantly got the feeling that the service personnel at the top were all far too cosy, that it was all too much of an old pals act, that they were drawn from too narrow a social base and that they were all scratching each other's backs. Only 7% of children go to a private school, yet
90% of top generals did-so it is difficult to accept that the forces represent the society that they seek to defend.
Thinking back to my days in the borders, I recall that in some towns the reaction to any proposed change was "Aye been", on the basis that things had aye been like that, so must not change. Although we must be proud of traditions, we should not be prisoners of tradition. There is an unwillingness on the part of the Government to challenge some of the existing structures, be it the Fleet Air Arm or the need to maintain an RAF. There is no evidence that some of those more drastic options have been fully discussed or thought through.
I wish to touch on the defence industrial strategy, because there has been a lot of discussion about the terms of business agreement-TOBA-between British Aerospace and the Ministry of Defence. That is an ideal example of good practice, rather than bad practice. People could haggle about the detail of the deal, but the concept of the Government making a plan with a firm in the private sector that gives it a guarantee of work for a period that will allow it to invest, in both capital resources and personnel, in return for that flow of work is sensible. We cannot go on with a system of simply buying off the shelf-one here, one there and one somewhere else. Without question if we had not built aircraft carriers we would never have had the capacity to build Type 45 destroyers. That capacity would simply have been lost, because the work force would have been dispersed.
I hope that when the Government come to examine the defence industrial strategy, or whatever their equivalent of that is, they will overcome their tendency simply to buy the cheapest on all occasions, but will look forward and identify what industrial and commercial capacities we want to retain for the long term.
Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Moor View) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend for the points that he has been making about the skills base. That is particularly important in Plymouth, where proposed changes in base porting and the removal of frigates mean that Babcock will have a huge trough in its work load, which will cause us real problems. Does he share my concern, and my belief that those factors should have been considered before the SDSR, not after it?
Mr Davidson: Yes, I do share that view. The Government, rightly in many ways, have said-the previous Government said this too-that defence is not simply a job creator for people on the home front, so to speak. The question of jobs and, more importantly, continuing capabilities is a valid part of this whole discussion and negotiation. We could probably always buy almost any individual item more cheaply somewhere else, but if we do that we will end up beholden to someone else for everything. We must identify the capacities we want to retain, as Lord Drayson's defence industrial strategy did, and then be prepared to enter long-term agreements with suppliers for them. That will involve manpower and personnel planning to avoid peaks and troughs.
In the minute that remains, I want to ask the Minister about base closures. The Government must start making commitments fairly quickly, not only to individual locations but about what they are prepared to do when bases are shut. Will they promise Kinloss or Lossiemouth that they will clean up the land sites and spend money on
infrastructure and making those sites available for firms to move in, or are they simply going to pull up sticks and move away? Many of those communities have served the country well for some substantial time, and I hope that we will reward them appropriately, or at least that we will not leave them swinging in the wind.
My final point is about our agreement with the French. I hope that we are going to be as hard-headed about it as they are, and that it will not mean that they take over our industrial capacity rather than our being able to contribute to joint developments.
Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): I thank you for imposing a time limit, Mr Deputy Speaker. That is the first cut of this Parliament that I welcome, because it means that everyone who wishes to speak will have the opportunity to do so.
Let me start by paying tribute to the soldiers of 16 Air Assault Brigade from the Colchester garrison, who are currently deployed for the third time in Helmand province along with others from Wattisham, Woodbridge and various other bases around the UK who are part of the brigade. I also pay tribute to the people back at the garrison, including the families and all the support units. It is fantastic to see the Army welfare provisions and safety nets come into play when 3,000 men and women, but predominantly male soldiers, are deployed overseas-previously in Iraq and now in Afghanistan.
Given the events of the past 48 hours in the United States of America, we should bear in mind that in two years' time there will be another presidential election, which will be three years before 2015 and the proposed withdrawal from Afghanistan. I have a real fear that the next President of the United States will be not so much a Republican as a Tea Party headbanger Republican. That is a serious issue for the United Kingdom in relation to our joint defence activities.
I welcome the fact that the coalition Government have increased the number of helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles going to Afghanistan. I urged the previous Government to do that, because UAVs are a very important part of the efforts to identify insurgents.
Mr Kevan Jones: It is a bit rich to suggest that the Government have increased the number of helicopters, given that the order that had been placed for 22 new Chinooks has been reduced to 10-and I must add that the answer I got this week on that subject was wrong.
Bob Russell: I am delighted with whichever Government provides additional resources to 16 Air Assault Brigade. If the previous Government gave additional resources, I say well done to them, and if the coalition Government have given them, I say well done to them. What our troops need are more resources to help them. In that regard, I was delighted to spend some time with 16 Air Assault Brigade, before some of them went to Afghanistan on their third deployment, on their improvised explosive device training. That was a very worthwhile exercise.
The last aspect of domestic military policy that I want to address is the Army housing modernisation programme. This is an issue that I have been raising with the previous Government for the past 13 years. I sincerely hope that matters will be resolved during the
lifetime of this coalition Government. We cannot expect to send our brave men and women to serve overseas when their families back at home live in accommodation that is not up to an acceptable standard. I praise the previous Government for Merville barracks, even though, like others, I do not approve of the private finance initiative. None the less, the barracks is of the standard that we should expect for all our military personnel, and its married quarters-an area in which we are lacking-are also of the quality that we would wish to see.
I shall conclude with the Falklands and related matters in the south Atlantic. The only air bridge between the UK and the Falklands is Ascension Island, but there is another island in the south Atlantic to which this country owes a debt of gratitude, and which has the same strategic importance in the 21st century as it did in the 19th and 20th centuries. I refer to the island of St Helena. There are plans for an airport on the island, and it would be of strategic as well as domestic and economic importance, because it would provide an alternative air bridge between the UK and the Falklands.
As we have heard today, the Argentines still cast covetous eyes on the Falkland Islands, and there is an economic case for placing all the islands of the south Atlantic in one economic and military federation. They are all British overseas territories, with British citizens, and just as successive Governments have protected the Falkland Islands, we should realise that there are other islands in the south Atlantic, too. Ascension Island is a crucial element in Britain's interests in the area, and it comes under the jurisdiction of St Helena, so I urge the Government to give every support to an airport on St Helena, because of its strategic defence importance.
John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): As a new member of the Defence Committee and, indeed, a relatively new Member of this House, I do not approach these matters as an expert. However, having listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin), I contribute with some trepidation as a former strategy consultant. He seemed to say that, essentially, there is a lack of strategic thinking throughout government. I suspect that the real problem is the interaction with strategic thinkers and politicians. That is what has bedevilled the process.
I shall make four observations and then some brief concluding comments. Overall, the conclusions of the strategic defence and security review were the best that could have been achieved in the time available and in the circumstances that existed. Legacy issues were the first instrumental factor in defining the outcome of the SDSR, and I make that point broadly, without any intention of launching into a partisan attack. It is absolutely clear that over the period from 1997 to 2007, spending on defence stayed at broadly the same level-2.5% of GDP. However, the number of commitments grew massively, and in that context it was going to be difficult not to delay some decisions or over-spend. The right hon. Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth), the former Defence Secretary, this afternoon disputed the idea of over-spend, but in reality, with that commitment and with the unintended expenditure that emerged, there was bound to be a problem.
Mr Kevan Jones: I am interested that the hon. Gentleman should be using 1997 as his starting point. Does he agree that some of the cost pressures on the procurement budget were down to the incompetence of previous Conservative Governments? I am thinking particularly of how Nimrod was procured and of programmes such as HMS Astute, to name but one other.
The hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex) was looking at the respective contexts for the reviews-the one in 1997-98 and the one this year. The fundamental difference is the economic context. As the chief economic adviser to former Prime Minister Tony Blair said, the Government had a golden economic legacy. That was not the case this time, and that is a reality. We talk about strategic reviews, but they are within the context of the reality of the spending environment. There was no way in which the spending review could have been completed at a time scale different from that of the SDSR. That is just the reality, it seems to me.
There seems to be a legacy, going back to '97 and beyond, in which decisions were delayed. The decision last year to slow the rate of the QE class carriers was absolutely the right thing to have done in the context of the bigger pressures to release money for Afghanistan, but that will mean that £600 million in extra spending will be required later. The top 15 equipment programmes are £8.8 billion over budget, with a 32-year cumulative delay. These are real challenges.
As a layperson, I look at the situation of Nimrod. I look at how the number of aircraft ordered was reduced from 21 to nine and the cost per aircraft was increased by 200%. When I also consider that it was eight years late, I see that there are fundamental problems in the whole system of government.
The second factor is making Afghanistan the No. 1 priority in the review. We can say with some confidence that the decisions made in the SDSR were completely necessary and absolutely right in respect of our commitments-more than 9,000 troops in the theatre of war. That costs a lot of money. The problem of all defence reviews is that they seek to address the long-term strategic issues. That, however, can never be done in isolation; it has to deal with current realities.
There will be some positive consequences. Those listening to the debate who have family members in Afghanistan can be assured that the full range of training and equipment is now available. Support for families is as it should be and the previous Government took good steps in that direction during their last year in power. The doubling of the operational allowance is also to be welcomed.
I am trying to be as quick as I can. The third issue that I would like to touch on is procurement. Procurement issues are systemic; there is no clear balance of power-or the balance is not right-between the MOD and the defence industry. The relationship is probably flawed. I hope that, as we see the defence industrial strategy emerge-after the SDSR, unhelpfully-we will have a serious examination of what is going on and what is required. I fear that sometimes the political pressures
that obviously influence the MOD's decision making have led it to prop up industry ahead of making the best decisions in defence terms.
I acknowledge the contribution made by the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Mr Davidson); of course there needs to be an understanding of what long-term capabilities we need to invest in, but that must not always be as a substitute for making the right defence decisions for our country's long-term interests. Often, we do not have the same person managing the procurement process. There is a change of scope and a lack of ownership. The MOD suffers and the taxpayer suffers, too. That is a critical issue that needs to be addressed.
My fourth point is about the capacity to change, which does not exist across the services in sufficient quantity. One commentator over the summer referred to the SDSR debate-or discussion, or negotiations-as a knife fight in a phone box, which is a pretty horrible analogy but one borne out by an assessment in the immediate aftermath of the SDSR announcements of which services won. I do not think that that is helpful in edifying the consequences and impact on the defence of this nation.
Let us consider some of the specifics. We have heard a lot this afternoon about the decision on the Harriers, but my concern would be about the extent of that gap in capability and how long it will take us to get the capability in place to fill that gap. Will the Tornadoes be viable for the length of time that they will potentially need to fill the gap and how much money will be required to fill some of the gaps? There is a great deal of supposition about how some of these things might work out. That might be from necessity-it is absolutely right to say that the financial pressures have been dominant in the entire decision making process-but some real concerns about capabilities that might be lacking in the near term need to be addressed.
As my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) said, by 2020 more than a third of our energy will be delivered by water-borne means, particularly liquefied gas. We have seen the emergence of piracy on our seas. Such things might proliferate and it is difficult to determine the risk that will face our country. I am concerned that there will be a delay in the readiness of capabilities.
It is absolutely clear that there needs to be greater capacity among the services to harmonise-for example, to harmonise the frequency of deployment, particularly as the Navy and the RAF will be working more closely together. As significant reforms of allowances will need to take place, it is important that that is done with care and fairness. I was talking to a constituent just a few weeks ago who has moved with his family nine times in the past 11 years. I hope that when decisions are made about the continuation of the CEA-the continuity of education allowance-they will be made fairly so that people can have continuity in their education. That seems to me an appropriate need, not a perk.
The SDSR could never have achieved all that it set out to achieve, because of the legacy, the challenges of procurement and the real issues to do with managing a budget that was pretty restricted. It was always going to be difficult, but I think there are grounds for optimism. I commend the Secretary of State for fighting hard and doing the best he could in extremely difficult circumstances.
Elizabeth Truss (South West Norfolk) (Con): I have found this a very interesting debate, and I was particularly interested in the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen) and the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Mr Davidson) on the subject of the Tornado. One thing that the defence review got right was the retention of the Tornado fleet, not least because of the role that that aircraft is performing in Afghanistan. I know that there is a discussion going on about the future base of the Tornado, and I want to suggest-[Hon. Members: "That it stays at Marham."] The right hon. Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth) and the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr Havard) have the right idea about where my speech is going.
I understand that there will have to be a reduction in the number of squadrons, and it is right that we look at the future basing of the Tornado. However, it would be a grave mistake, both financially and militarily, for that capacity to move away from RAF Marham. The brave men and women of 2, 9, 13 and 31 Squadrons have all been fighting in Afghanistan. Recently, 2 Squadron returned to much fanfare in the streets of Swaffham. Although Air Force personnel are very popular locally, nationally the role that they have played in Afghanistan is not well known. Quite a lot of it comprises covert operations that are not necessarily publicised. They also give support to our ground forces through close air support, shows of presence and shows of force, which the Tornado is capable of doing at any time of day and in any weather conditions, unlike any other aircraft. In addition, they do vital intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance work. I was privileged to be shown around the air base, where I saw the tactical imagery intelligence wing and the raptors that are installed on the Tornado fleet, which are very high-tech and innovative. These images are used not only by our forces but by our allies, and they are forming a very important part of the combat striking that is going on in Afghanistan.
I want to pay particular attention to the engineering and maintenance work that takes place at RAF Marham. That work used to take place at eight different bases but has been centralised at Marham. I understand that it is a third more efficient than the US equivalent because of all the work that has gone into ensuring that it is more cost-effective. I have heard-this is just an estimate-that it would cost £50 million to move that engineering capacity to an alternative location. Given the deficit situation that we face, it would be a grave mistake to move it for political reasons when it makes economic sense to base it at Marham.
RAF Marham is also in an excellent strategic position in relation to the conflict in Afghanistan. Unlike other bases, there is no need for in-flight refuelling in order to get to the forward operating base in Cyprus, because Marham has a very long airstrip that is suitable for all varieties of aircraft, and it is near to Lakenheath and Mildenhall-key bases for our allies.
The maintenance and engineering functions are very important for our local skills base in west Norfolk. I recently visited Swaffham Hamond's high school, where several pupils are talking about joining the RAF and getting involved in that engineering work. This is an area with relatively high unemployment, where there is not a great variety of highly skilled jobs, and RAF
Marham contributes greatly in that respect. If it were to be closed and moved elsewhere, that would remove a key source of aspiration from the local economy. The employment figures for King's Lynn and west Norfolk unfortunately show that the area has 7.4% unemployment. The other base that is being suggested for the Tornado is Moray in Scotland. That area has 4.8% unemployment, so there is much higher unemployment in the Marham area than in its Scottish equivalent. I want to add that to the debate.
It is not only right economically and militarily for the Tornado to be based at Marham; it makes more sense in terms of employment and the long-term impact that removing such a base could have on the constituency. There has been much discussion about the potential impact of closing two bases in Scotland-Kinloss and Lossiemouth. However, bases in the area surrounding Marham have also been heavily hit. Cottesmore and Wittering are under threat because of what is happening with the Harrier. Coltishall was closed in 2006, and that had a very considerable impact on Norfolk. East Anglia has not been immune from cuts over this period and is, as I say, an area of higher deprivation than the equivalent part of Scotland. Instead of looking to relocate the engineering facilities that I have mentioned from RAF Marham, which has a very good cost base, we should look to its being a future base for fast jets such as the joint strike fighter. I am very keen to discuss that further with the Ministry of Defence.
Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con): The long-awaited and long-overdue SDSR has been an extremely difficult task, and I place on record my thanks to the Secretary of State, his team and all those who have worked on the review. Portsmouth base alone considered 900 options over the summer, and I pay tribute to the Navy and civilian staff for doing an incredible job in a very short time.
I am delighted that the review has not been sea-blind and has shown an appreciation of the role that the Navy plays and its contribution to other Departments such as the Foreign Office, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Treasury. That contribution is not just about our country's security but about our entire way of life-our ability to trade, our hydrographical and meteorological services, tackling crime and providing help in times of crisis. However, the breadth of its role should never detract from the depth of its contribution to the defence of the realm.
To see the scale of the challenge that the SDSR presented, one just has to examine the disparity between what the 1998 strategic review suggested for the Navy and the current number of ships in service. For example, it suggested 12 Type 45 destroyers, and we are building only six. In future, to close the gap between need and affordability and to preserve the development and maintenance capabilities that we want in our bases and dockyards, we need a planned but flexible approach to procurement and to maximise every opportunity to increase UK exports. We must get away from small orders built at lightning speed, which short-change the Navy and the yard and place stress on the defence budget. I am delighted that we will focus more on industrial strategy and defence diplomacy, and I look forward to the opportunity that the Type 26 will bring to improve procurement practices and increase exports.
We should remember that we have not sold a new Navy-designed ship abroad since the 1970s, but it is achievable. We are already selling standard kit to the US navy, and British gas turbines will power the DDG-1000 destroyer and are already powering the USS Freedom. I urge the defence team to focus on trade deals where they are viable and strategically advantageous.
During the course of the review there has been much discussion of the inflexibility of the carrier contracts, as well as costly delays to the programme. Many Members have formed the view that that is why we are to have the carriers. I wish to use this opportunity to set the record straight. There are considerable running, docking and maintenance costs attached to having the carriers, and I do not believe we would have them if we had not concluded that they were absolutely necessary. I echo the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot), who said that we needed two carriers if we were to have them available every day of the year. However, that can be no excuse for poor procurement and inflexible contracts, even for vital items.
My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) is absent from our Benches today. Sadly, he is attending the funeral of the late Councillor Alan Shotter, his friend and election agent. If he were here, he might well be arguing that we should lock ourselves into a contract for Trident's replacement, such is his concern about the matter. I know that he would be pressing the Secretary of State on that matter and joining in the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh). My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East wrote in a recent article that
"time and again, we hear the facile refrain that complex modern weapons systems are 'legacy programmes, irrelevant to the threats we face now'."
We have heard that said about the carriers and about Trident during the review. I know that my hon. Friend will continue to make the case for early sign-up to Trident and remind the House why continuous at-sea nuclear deterrence is so important, and I will continue to remind the House of the importance of carrier strike.
The arguments that we heard over the summer that carriers would be deployed only in the event of a world war are plain wrong, and ignore the fact that we have deployed carrier strike force in every humanitarian and conflict situation that we care to mention-the Falklands, Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan. It has extended Britain's reach into land-locked countries across the globe. Even when the carrier fleet has not been pressed into action, its constant presence has served as a deterrent to those who would harm us and our interests. I urge the defence team to do all they can to plug the gap in the carrier strike force, which some defence analysts have said has existed since 2005.
I want the House to be excited about the new carriers. I am disappointed about the retirement of the Harrier, and I note the Secretary of State's comments on the matter. The decommissioning of the Ark Royal is also sad. Her battle honours are many, most notably in Iraq in 1993, and they will never be forgotten. However, the QE class carriers will continue her legacy. For those not familiar with those amazing ships, the Ark Royal can fit comfortably on one of their flight decks. They are
amazing, and I urge all Members of the House to take every opportunity to see them being built-built with great skill in British yards. They are well able to meet the challenges of this unpredictable world. They are multi-use, they provide value for money and they will last 50 years. We will use them, they will prevent conflict and they will lead our response if and when the most dread circumstances arise.
The green light for both carriers to be built gives Portsmouth base the stability to develop further as the home of the surface fleet. The SDSR and countless other studies have always concluded that Portsmouth should be the home port. Hon. Members who take The Times will be familiar with my favourite political sketch writer's column. In her coverage of Monday night's well-attended Adjournment debate, she confused the names of the base port, Faslane, and the maintenance dock, Rosyth, to produce Forsyth. Whether that was by design or error, it was very apt, because for many years we have had Scottish Members of Parliament and Portsmouth Members of Parliament yelling "Higher, higher" or "Lower, lower" at successive Secretaries of State in debates about where the carriers' home base should be. Although I am a fan of Brucie, I am glad that we can draw a line underneath that and that Portsmouth will be the carriers' home port.
Mr Arbuthnot: Did my hon. Friend share my alarm when she saw the headlines about two weeks ago saying that Portsmouth might close down? Did she think that basing the carriers there would make that much less likely, until she decided that the story was something to do with a football club?
Penny Mordaunt: Over the summer, there have been headlines about Portsmouth and many other bases, which has caused great stress for people working in the industries affected, and I am glad that they now have a clear path and reassurance. I never worry about such headlines about Portsmouth, because I know the excellent partnership that exists there between the private sector and the Royal Navy. However, my right hon. Friend is absolutely right that the carriers now give us the green light to develop services further.
Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): Does my hon. Friend not also recognise that Plymouth has a significant role to play in the defence of our country? Making sure that we have an amphibious fleet will be important.
In Portsmouth, we have the work force, the suppliers, the accommodation, the training and the supply chain facilities. It should not be forgotten that we also have the correct weather conditions to enable safe transit to and from the open sea. As we go forward to discuss the maintenance of the carriers, I very much wish Rosyth the best of luck in securing maintenance work, but a lot will have to be done in Portsmouth because of the opportunistic nature of the refit work, which results from the operational pressures on carriers. It also means that we can now progress in generating our own power
and enhance our refit and maintenance services. The excellence of that unique partnership between the Royal Navy and the private sector means not only that Portsmouth will remain the home of the Royal Navy, but that it is fast becoming the port of choice for navies around the world. The city should be incredibly proud of that achievement. It has nothing to fear from an off-the-shelf approach to procurement, such is its excellence in build, refit and training.
I shall end with an appeal to all hon. Members. Now the SDSR is over, we should continue to keep defence high on our agenda. This is the starting point. Much is yet to be decided and we must ensure that as this Government put the country back on a financial even keel, we continue to make the case for excellence in procurement and maintaining defence budgets, for the benefit of servicemen and servicewomen and our country. Although we will not reopen the SDSR, we must ensure that we fully understand the reasons for the decisions that have been taken, such as on the Harrier, better to understand what future decisions might be. As we do so, as I am sure all colleagues will, we would do well to remember the Ark Royal's motto: "Zeal Does Not Rest".
May I begin by paying tribute to the men and women of our armed forces and their families? It was a privilege to work with them as a Minister. May I also say a big thanks to the civil servants with whom I worked? They have been unfairly targeted as the problem, when in fact they are dedicated individuals without whose work we could not project the operations and power that we have in support of our armed forces. May I also put on record the thanks of Labour Members to Sir Jock Stirrup and Bill Jeffrey at the MOD? It was ironic that the Defence Secretary congratulated those two individuals when he was the one who basically announced their departure in the Sunday newspapers the week before the official announcement. Those two people were committed to the defence of this country, and I put on record my thanks to them.
The hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) raised the issue of cadets and the university training squadrons. As a Minister, I had responsibility for those, and I met some fantastic individuals who greatly benefited from those organisations. I put on record my thanks to the volunteers who work hard-unpaid-in the cadet force throughout the country. They are a large volunteer army who work to support young people. Those young people not only experience military life, but take that discipline and structure into their lives.
The hon. Gentleman referred to reserves. I am a little disappointed that there will be yet another review of reserves. The previous Government reviewed reserves, and it would have been interesting to see the implementation of that work. I am also disappointed that there are as yet no terms of reference for the next review. It will be interesting to see how reserve forces fit into the restructure of the Army.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman on his call for the Government to take a more purple approach. However, in my experience-perhaps he shares it-the biggest problem on occasions for Defence Ministers is inter-service rivalry at chief level on different programmes. He also reiterated and repeated the point about a £38 billion black hole. As on many things, this Government believe that if they repeat something often enough, it will become fact, but I have now tabled a question to ask where that figure comes from. It has been a convenient cover for the spending cuts review.
If we look at last year's National Audit Office report, we see that the figure on the procurement side could only be between £6 billion and £36 billion. The only way to get to the figure of £38 billion is to apply a cash freeze over the next 10 years. In addition, the figure of £38 billion would apply only if we had to pay for equipment tomorrow, which people know we do not. That figure has been a convenient cover for some of the things that the MOD is implementing.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth) made a good contribution. I thank him for the support he gave me when he was Defence Secretary. It is interesting and strange to hear Government Members now thanking and praising him for being such a good Defence Secretary, given that last summer he was being pilloried by every national newspaper and Conservative Members. However, he has been rightly rehabilitated. He raised issues concerning Afghanistan, including the date of 2015, which was plucked out of thin air by the Prime Minister. It is important that we have a conditions-based draw-down from Afghanistan, and it is clear that if, come 2015, we need to retain that combat role for longer, that ought to be our position. It would be a huge mistake if the hard work, dedication and sacrifice put in so far in order to make progress in Afghanistan were to be jeopardised for purely political purposes. That would be wrong.
My right hon. Friend made an interesting and important point about the withdrawal of Harrier and short take-off and vertical landing capacity, which leads to another issue raised by the right hon. Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot), the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South West (Mr Davidson). I am glad that today the latter did not call for a third, fourth or fifth carrier, as he normally does. However, he summed up the matter quite well: they are called "aircraft carriers". It is in the name! They should have aircraft on them.
Over the past few weeks, the Government have tried again to throw mud and confuse the issue by saying that the contract entered into for the carriers was a wicked plot by the last Labour Government, and that it was a bad deal. That continued yesterday with this nonsense from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, when he said to the Treasury Select Committee that this was an "unusual contract". It was not an unusual contract at all; it was a complex contract. It was exactly what my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South West talked about: it was about restructuring the shipbuilding industry in this country to ensure our continuing sovereign capacity. However, it is now convenient to demonise the contract for political reasons.
The contract is also supported by BAE Systems. By chance, I have a letter sent by Mr Ian King to the Prime Minister when the review was ongoing, pointing out
that the contract represented a long-term restructuring of the maritime manufacturing capacity in the UK and that BAE Systems had already invested about £500 million of its own shareholder money in it. Clearly, he sent the letter because he was worried about the Government cancelling the contract for the second carrier. The final paragraph of the letter reiterates the problem with the Government's approach to the review. Instead of having an all-encompassing review involving the industry, it tended to excluded people. He wrote:
"But I fully stand behind it and would welcome the opportunity, which we have not had, to present this to you"
to explain the reasoning. That has been the problem with the review, unlike our approach, which was about involving industry, Opposition parties, academia and others. Instead, we have had a cuts review, which has been Treasury-led and has led to some very short-term and dangerous decisions.
Mr Davidson: Does my hon. Friend accept that had the second carrier been cancelled, the results would have been the closure of the shipyards and a permanent loss of capacity, and Britain would no longer have had the ability to build the Type 26?
Mr Jones: That is an interesting intervention. I would have to refer to Mr King's letter, which states that if the second carrier had been cancelled, the shipbuilding yards would have closed by 2012, removing all capability for future naval shipbuilding in this country. We have to stop the spin and excuse-making, and the Government have to start explaining and justifying some of their decisions.
In his usual robust way, the hon. Member for North East Hampshire, who is Chair of the Defence Committee-I was privileged to serve under him-said that the process of the review was rubbish, which is obviously a technical term. It was rushed, and the Committee made it clear that mistakes will be made, and that they will be at the cost of our security and defence.
The right hon. Gentleman, the hon. Member for Gainsborough and the hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) referred to the deterrent and Nimrod. The revision of history, which is remarkable, is that somehow we can take capacity such as Nimrod out without an explanation of what will replace it to protect our nuclear deterrent. That worried the Secretary of State when he wrote to the Prime Minister stating that cancelling Nimrod would seriously affect the deterrent. I would like to know what will replace it, and at what cost. The parliamentary answers that I have received so far have been uninspiring.
The Trident issue is important. It is clearly a political fudge to help the coalition Government stay together, and it is interesting that the Liberal Democrats are going around trumpeting the fact that they have won the argument. The fact is that we were accused of moving the main gate on the run-up costs for the carriers, but that is exactly what the Government have done with Trident. The only difference is that when we considered the matter, there was a question mark about whether the first boat that goes out of service in 2024 could continue until the new in-service date of 2028. It
would be interesting to know what has changed in terms of the engineering capability to be able to do that. It is clear that the Labour party has been, and is, committed to the nuclear deterrent. It is important that decisions are taken, not just for the country's security, but for the skill base and confidence that that skill base needs in procuring that vital piece of equipment for our defence needs.
The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr Donaldson) paid tribute to the armed forces in Northern Ireland, and I add my thanks to them. When I made visits as a Minister, I paid tribute to the work of 19 Light Brigade in Afghanistan. The right hon. Gentleman made serious points about the rise of terrorism, which shows the wide spectrum of the defence and security issues facing us. I also pay tribute to a member of his family whom I met on several occasions. His brother, Lieutenant-Colonel Kingsley Donaldson, makes a great contribution to the armed forces. He is proud of his brother, although when I first met him he asked me whether I knew his brother, and I said that I had met him once or twice.
The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr Havard) made an interesting point about defence industrial strategy. We have been told that it will come out in a few weeks, post the review that we have had. It will be interesting to see whether it gels together, having set the framework already.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) and the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns) talked about St Athan. Again, the Government are revising and rewriting history. A savings measure in the defence review suggests that extra savings will be made by centralising training and with greater use of electronics. That is exactly is what St Athan is about, so I do not know how they will achieve that without St Athan.
The hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) rightly paid tribute to the Paras in his constituency. I was pleased to visit Colchester on several occasions. On one occasion, I threw him out of a plane-unfortunately, with a parachute attached. However, he is a great supporter of the Colchester garrison, and I pay tribute to its sacrifice and its work.
The hon. Member for Salisbury (John Glen) was also trying to rewrite history, when he talked about strategic thinking-he was trying not to get in trouble with his Whips. It seems that year zero is now 1997 and that nothing happened before. There is a clear point to be made-a point that was also made by the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin)-about strategic thinking, which is important across Government. However, I have been at the coal face on occasions, and with the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, day-to-day decision making can interfere with the process. Sometimes it is important to step back, but it is difficult to do that when having to make clear decisions on Iraq and Afghanistan.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) apologised for unfortunately being unable to attend this part of the debate. He made important points about Yemen and congratulated the Government on establishing the new National Security Committee. A promise was made in opposition that the NSC would have Opposition Members on it, but that promise seems to have been ditched. It has also been said that the
previous Government did not have something like that, but we did, with the NCIS committee-the committee of the National Criminal Intelligence Service-which met weekly under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister. Its key issue most weeks was the contributions being made in Afghanistan. That was important.
One issue that was mentioned by the hon. Member for Colchester, and which needs to be raised again, is helicopter capacity in Afghanistan. It is interesting that since the coalition Government have come into being, all the equipment problems that we had in Afghanistan seem to have ended and everyone is now happy. We were criticised heavily by both the hon. Gentleman and the Conservatives when they were in opposition about helicopter capacity. I tabled a question last week to find out why the order for 22 Chinook helicopters had been reduced to 12. I consulted my former colleagues last night, because the reply that I received in a written answer says that 22 helicopters were never ordered. That is not true. We ordered 12 helicopters, and then there was a letter of understanding with Boeing for a further 10. I am sure that that is standard practice, so as to improve price controls and ensure that the specifications are up to date, so it will be interesting to know what has changed since, and also whether the unit cost of the 12 helicopters being purchased will increase, now that the overall number has been reduced.
"a defence review based on our national security, not on Treasury guidelines".
How hollow that sounds today. In government, we were keen to ensure the widest possible participation in the debate about the future defence needs of our country. We included academics, industry and Opposition parties, in full consultation, to try to reach a consensus on defence, thereby not only ensuring the right posture for our future defence needs, but performing the important role of supporting our armed forces. Unfortunately, that was binned in May. What we have seen since is a Treasury-led cost-cutting review. Industry has been excluded from most of the work streams. The Conservative Chair of the Defence Committee, the right hon. Member for North East Hampshire, has said that
"mistakes will be made and some of them may be serious."
The SDSR was an opportunity to step back for a moment-to learn the lessons of the past decade and put in place a sustainable posture for our armed forces and defence. Sadly, that opportunity has been missed. As the Defence Secretary himself said, in his unexplainably leaked letter, the process is looking less like a proper SDSR and more like a "super CSR". The Conservatives in opposition offered a great deal for our armed forces at the election. They promised a larger Army, but they have cut it. They promised to look at after-hours service personnel, but one of the first things they did was to freeze pay and reduce pensions. They promised a strategic defence review, but they have given us a cuts package and a review. Even today, we have heard the Defence Secretary say that some of these Treasury-led proposals will present us with what he called "calculated risks"-I would say "dangers"-for the future of our country's defence and security.
The Minister for the Armed Forces (Nick Harvey): This has been an excellent debate-interesting and wide-ranging-which is no surprise, as the House contains many Members who are well informed, interested and passionate about defence and national security; while many Members' constituents will be affected by the decisions in the strategic defence and security review.
The SDSR is underpinned by the new national security strategy, which presents a picture of Britain's place in the world and a full assessment of the challenges we face and the opportunities available to us. It is the first-ever national security strategy that really decides priorities for action and feeds directly into decisions about resources. It was the force driver for the decisions we have made.
Let me echo the Secretary of State by reinforcing the idea of how difficult this has been, particularly in the Ministry of Defence. We have been acutely aware of the human impact of the decisions we are making-not only on jobs and livelihoods, but on the emotional attachment that people have to certain aspects of defence. Our decisions have had to be objective and unsentimental, and based on the military advice we have received. We simply have not had the luxury of self-indulgence or populism. The fiscal deficit is an issue of national security. Without regaining economic strength, we will be unable to sustain in the long term the capabilities required, including military capabilities, to keep our citizens safe and maintain our influence on the world stage. Every Department has had to make a contribution to deficit reduction, and the Ministry of Defence has been no exception.
We still have to live within our means as the deficit is addressed, which means also tackling the unfunded liability in the Defence budget. So the decisions we have had to make have been necessarily tough and finely balanced, and it means smaller armed forces as we make the transition to the future force structure set out for 2020 and beyond.
Before I turn to the specific issues raised in the debate today, let me say this: the decisions we have made are coherent and consistent and will provide us with the capabilities we require for the future. The campaign in Afghanistan has been protected; nothing has been done to compromise success there.
It was a pleasure to welcome the new shadow Defence Secretary to his Front-Bench role. I thought he made a very fair speech. He welcomed the five-yearly SDSRs for the future and he specifically acknowledged the up arrows on certain capabilities for the future, including in cyber-security. He referred, as did some other right hon. and hon. Members, to written parliamentary questions, showing that many of the details that will flow from the strategic defence and security review have yet to be worked out. I make no apology for that. It is essential that the House should understand the difference between a strategic review and a detailed plan. The SDSR has established a strategic aim-point and it is absolutely right to take more time working out, bit by bit, the details of what this will mean for each and every different aspect of defence.
We heard an excellent speech from the hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames). He was quite right to say-I am grateful to him for doing so-that we have had to make cuts that we would not have wished to make. That, unfortunately, is the true scale not only of the financial backcloth to the SDSR, but of the legacy left by the last Government. He made some interesting points about reserves, calling for a fundamental reappraisal of the way in which we use them. He rightly pointed to the much wider use of reservists made in the United States. The US certainly uses them on a far greater scale, and as a consequence they are much cheaper than the regular forces there. One of the difficulties that we must tackle is that our current model for reservists makes them extraordinarily expensive. We will have to find a better and more effective way of using them in the future.
The hon. Gentleman was right to say that the SDSR was just the start of transformation. He mentioned the permanent secretary's inaugural speech. I am sure that when she spoke of the next planning round, she was expecting it to be not the sole means by which reform would be pushed forward, but simply one among many. I also had a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's comments about the Ministry of Defence being centralised, and about problems with accountability and vested interests. I entirely agree with his view that we need a more purple approach.
The former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth), very fairly acknowledged the financial backcloth, and said that he thought the review amounted to a fair stab. However, I entirely disagree with his suggestion that the 2015 timeline for exit from Afghanistan was somehow party political, or had something to do with the dynamics of the coalition. It was an entirely sensible and rational end point to specify, in the light not of only President Obama's stated plans but of President Karzai's intention to achieve full transition of security powers by the next presidential election.
There are many different audiences when remarks of that kind are made. It is essential for public opinion in ISAF countries to understand, to some extent, the length of the engagement, for the armed forces to understand it, and for the people of Afghanistan to know how long those forces intend to be there. They do not want foreigners in their country for ever. If the political process that Members in all parts of the House want to see in Afghanistan, along with the military effort, is ever to gain any momentum or reach any conclusion, it is vital for President Karzai and others to understand some sort of time scale as well. It seems to me that to state, as the Prime Minister did, that by 2015 our troops would no longer be involved in a combat role on the ground was eminently sensible. It does not mean that all our troops will be out by then, or that there will not be an ongoing role for them; it simply means that the combat role will not continue beyond that point.
Nick Harvey: I cannot say that I had any conversations with the Prime Minister, but discussions between the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister are the confidential discussions that they would be expected to have. We are not going to be drawn into that sort of discussion at the Dispatch Box. The Prime Minister made a statement with which we are comfortable, and which we are making every effort to enact.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the 2% NATO figure. Let me make it absolutely clear to him that throughout the spending period that we have outlined today, we will remain above NATO's 2% figure without resorting to the sort of things that NATO includes in its figure, such as military pensions. The defence contribution towards cyber will certainly count towards that, but the efforts on cyber are cross-governmental. In that sense, I am including only the defence contribution. The right hon. Gentleman made some good points about force generation; those issues will be examined in depth in the coming months.
We also heard from the Chairman of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot), who made criticisms of the process that we had heard before, but thought that the outcome was OK. He asked what "extended readiness" meant when applied to the second carrier. Let me make it perfectly clear to him that no decision has been made to sell it. Further decisions on what we will do with it can be made several years from now, and will depend on what the security considerations are at the time.
The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr Donaldson), who speaks for the Democratic Unionists, rightly paid tribute to the work of the armed forces in Northern Ireland over a period of years. He also warned us of the increasing security threat. I do not want to get drawn into saying anything more about that, but let me simply say that it is fully acknowledged. He also made points about the regional footprint of our armed forces throughout the United Kingdom. For military purposes, we are very keen for the footprint of defence to be felt throughout the UK.
The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) said that the Navy was being left very thin-I forget the precise word that he used. We understand that we are undertaking risk now, but we hope very much that that will enable us to make our way to having a bigger and stronger Navy in the future. We are also retaining the ability to reconstitute, if that will be significant or helpful.
The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr Havard) wanted to know more about the future details. Detail will emerge in the next few months as we work through the key points. He and a couple of other Members asked about St Athan. The Metrix project for St Athan failed. Unfortunately, it did not come up with a viable business plan within the deadlines that had been laid down and the finance could not be found, although a fair stab had been made. I entirely accept that the financial markets are very different now from what they looked like when Metrix made its bid and embarked on the programme; the world is different today. However, we have to face the unfortunate reality that it failed.
The hon. Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) rightly said that the military covenant needs formalising. That will happen in the next few
months. He also spoke about mental health-a topic about which he has acquired considerable knowledge. The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) and several other Members raised the Nimrod issue. The Secretary of State has offered to hold further discussions with the Opposition Front-Bench team on how we intend to bridge that capability gap.
The hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) spoke of the need for a national strategic assessment centre. That is an interesting idea worthy of further consideration. The hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex) asked about the troops coming home from Germany. I simply cannot agree that that should have been worked out in every last particular before the intention to do it was ever declared, but he did make the good point that people will want to understand what is going to happen, when it will happen and in what order. We will do our best to address that in the coming months. An Opposition Front-Bench Member made the specific claim that we had not discussed that with the German Government, so let me make this perfectly clear: the Federal Government have supported the British military presence in Germany for more than 50 years-it has been a symbol of our steadfast friendship with Germany-and the Prime Minister discussed this matter with Chancellor Merkel during the course of the SDSR.
Nick Harvey: I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman, as time is running out and he left me rather short. On the issue of the troops in Germany, proper letters will be written when we come to make specific moves.
The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) asked about Yemen. The equipment he inquired about is being procured at the moment, and we are working closely with the Yemeni Government with the aim of providing that equipment by the end of the year.
The hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Mr Davidson) wanted to know whether we had had discussions with the French or the Americans about their potential use of a carrier fitted with "cats and traps". Yes, of course we have; we have had lengthy discussions with both of them. He also asked whether the second carrier would have "cats and traps" fitted. We can decide that at any point in the future; we have left ourselves the flexibility to do that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) rightly spoke up for the brave men and women from the Colchester garrison who are going to Afghanistan. He champions their cause well, and we all wish them well in their endeavours. Other Members made constituency points on behalf of Marham and Portsmouth, and I will do my best to keep in touch with them about the developments in their areas.
The SDSR has been a difficult process, but I think people that will recognise that it is the start of the transformation of our defence, not the last word. I look forward to many further debates in the House as the details of what it will mean for every different aspect of defence is worked out in the coming months.
That this House has considered the matter of the Strategic Defence and Security Review.
Mr David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): This relatively simple debate has been complicated by the fact that it has spread across the world, as it involves an international airline. I am raising this issue as someone who has for more than 30 years acted as a representative for people in many forms of conflict and dispute, many times doing so in times of direct conflict. What I have found during those years is that there are always at least two sides to every story. I am here tonight to present one side of this story-that of my constituent, Mr Simon Robertson. He is a 38-year-old young man who had visited Japan five times before he went there in February. I wish that I could make part of the case for the Japanese immigration service and for KLM, the airline involved, but because they have not given me the relevant information I am hard-pushed to do that.
"This...should be considered both as an official protest at the unacceptable and unlawful treatment to which I was the victim of, as well as an official report of criminal offences, committed against myself, by those at the Narita Airport Border Agency... The incidents to which I refer are as follows:
Recently, I arranged to make a long trip to Japan. I was to stay in your country for 89 days and while I was there, I was to have meetings with numerous individuals as well as seeing some friends of mine. The trip was to last from 4 February...until 4 May 2010. Arrangements had been made to hold meetings during that period, and these meetings were over various topics, but the main business reason was to make preliminary investigations as to expanding my business operations."
"I accurately filled out an immigration form, while on the aircraft and I arrived at Narita on 5 February....I presented this form along with my passport to the Narita Border Agency. For unknown reasons, the official queried this information and then took my airline tickets and my passport from me and I was taken to a separate room.
While I was there, I was interviewed by another official, who despite being told by me on numerous occasions in both English and in Japanese, that my Japanese was poor, insisted in conducting this interview solely in Japanese.
After a while, I was led into another room, where I was investigated by a different inspector. He wished to know my purpose of my visit. I explained very clearly what the purpose was...I pointed to the address of Mr. Junji Abu and his family, who I was to visit. They were aware that I was coming and they would confirm this to the investigator. He telephoned Mr. Abu and returned. At this point, his entire tone and manner became extremely hostile. He demanded to know about the relationship between myself and Mr. Abu's daughter called Yuuko. I correctly stated that I had known...Yuuko...for 17 months, we speak everyday and are close. At this point, the questioning became even more outrageous. The investigator demanded and shouted over and over: 'Are you going to marry Yuuko?' He repeated this question six times and on the first five occasions I stated that we had not decided that at that time. On the sixth occasion, I said that this decision was a matter between myself and Yuuko. At this answer, the investigator got angry and stated that he would oppose my entry to Japan.
I consider this to be an outrage. My relationship with Yuuko is a matter solely between myself and the Abu family. It is not a visa requirement of any country that visitors must marry one of their citizens, in order to be granted a visa.
Subsequently to this, I was taken into another room where the same investigator spoke in Japanese, but a translator was used. At the beginning of the interview, I was told that the investigator was the judge and his decision was final. I answered all the questions accurately and truthfully, but I noticed on the investigator's desk that the decision to refuse my entry had already been written out.
I was told that my request for entry was denied and I was to be removed from the country.
I was then marched to a bureau de change where it was demanded that I give the inspector 40,000 Yen. A copy of this transaction is included within this letter as proof of this. I was forced to hand over this money and I was marched into a car and then to a cell. I was held in this cell for 24 hours where I was denied food and access to a telephone to call a lawyer or one of my friends. The guards also deliberately deprived me of sleep by continually hitting the metal door of the cell and then laughing about it, for one entire night.
The following morning, again no food was provided to me and at 12:15, I was marched into a car and to Narita Airport. I was not told where I was going, nor was I permitted to call my friends who were extremely worried about me, nor was I allowed to call my family. I was forced to wait at the gate with the guard standing right over me for over an hour. I found this to be extremely humiliating."
"The KLM Captain had been told by the Narita Border Agency that the reason that I had been refused entry to Japan was because I had arrived in Japan with the wrong documents. This was a blatant lie. I produced a copy of my travel arrangements and a photocopy of my passport to show the captain and the purser who both confirmed that my documents were all correct and in order. They said that my treatment was 'an outrage' and that I should make a formal complaint. I am sure that the KLM staff will confirm this.
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