National Security and Defence

David Cameron The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party 3:32 pm, 23rd November 2015
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the national security strategy and the strategic defence and security review.

Our national security depends on our economic security, and vice versa, so the first step in keeping our country safe is to ensure our economy is, and remains, strong. Over the last five years we have taken the difficult decisions needed to bring down our deficit and restore our economy to strength. In 2010, we were ordering equipment for which there was literally no money. The total black hole in the defence budget alone was bigger than the entire defence budget in that year. Now it is back in balance. By sticking to our long-term economic plan, Britain has become the fastest growing major advanced economy in the world for the last two years.

Our renewed economic security means that today we can show how we can afford to invest further in our national security. This is vital at a time when the threats to our country are growing. This morning I was in Paris with President Hollande discussing how we can work together to defeat the evil of ISIL. As the murders on the streets of Paris reminded us so starkly, ISIL is not some remote problem thousands of miles away. It is a direct threat to our security at home and abroad. It has already taken the lives of British hostages and carried out the worst terrorist attack against British people since 7/7 on the beaches of Tunisia, to say nothing of the seven terrorist plots right here in Britain that have been foiled by our security services over the past year.

Of course, the threats we face today go beyond that evil death cult. From the crisis in Ukraine to the risk of cyber-attacks and pandemics, the world is more dangerous and uncertain today than even five years ago. So while every Government must choose how to spend the money it has available, every penny of which is hard-earned by taxpayers, this Government have taken a clear decision to invest in our security and safeguard our prosperity. As a result, the United Kingdom is the only major country in the world today which is simultaneously going to meet the NATO target of spending 2% of our GDP on defence and the United Nations target of spending 0.7% of our gross national income on development, while also increasing investment in our security and intelligence agencies and in counter-terrorism.

In ensuring our national security, we will also protect our economic security. As a trading nation with the world’s fifth biggest economy, we depend on stability and order in the world. With 5 million British nationals living overseas, our prosperity depends on trade around the world, so engagement is not an optional extra; it is fundamental to the success of our nation. We need the sea lanes to stay open and the arteries of global commerce to remain free-flowing. So the strategy which I am presenting to the House today sets out a clear vision for a secure and prosperous United Kingdom, with global reach and global influence. At its heart is an understanding that we cannot choose between conventional defences against state-based threats, or the need to counter threats that do not recognise national borders. Today we face both types of threat and we must respond to both types of threat.

So over the course of this Parliament our priorities are to deter state-based threats, tackle terrorism, remain a world leader in cybersecurity and ensure that we have the capability to respond rapidly to crises as they emerge. To meet these priorities we will continue to harness all the tools of national power available to us, co-ordinated through the National Security Council, to deliver a full-spectrum approach. This includes support for our armed forces, counter-terrorism, international aid and diplomacy, and working with our allies to deal with the common threats that face us all. Let me take each in turn.

First, the bottom line of our national security strategy must always be the willingness and capability to use force where necessary. On Friday evening the United Nations Security Council unanimously agreed resolution 2249 calling on member states to take “all necessary measures” against ISIL in both Syria and Iraq. On Thursday I will come to this House and make a further statement responding personally to the Foreign Affairs Committee. I will make the case for Britain to join our international allies in going after ISIL at its headquarters in Syria, not just Iraq, and I will explain how such action would be one element of a comprehensive and long-term strategy to defeat ISIL, in parallel with a major international effort to bring an end to the war in Syria.

But today I want to set out how we will ensure that our armed forces have the capabilities to carry out such a task, and indeed any other tasks that might be needed in the years ahead. We will invest more than £178 billion in buying and maintaining equipment over the next decade, including doubling our investment in equipment to support our special forces. We will also increase the size of our deployable armed forces.

In 2010 we committed to an expeditionary force of 30,000. Today I can tell the House that by 2025 we are increasing that number to 50,000. As part of this, we will create two new strike brigades, forces of up to 5,000 personnel fully equipped to deploy rapidly and sustain themselves in the field. We will establish two additional Typhoon squadrons and an additional squadron of F-35 Lightning combat aircraft to operate from our new aircraft carriers.

We will maintain our ultimate insurance policy as a nation, our continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent, and replace our four ballistic missile submarines. We will buy nine new maritime patrol aircraft, to be based in Scotland at RAF Lossiemouth. They will protect our nuclear deterrent, hunt down hostile submarines and enhance our maritime search and rescue. And we will buy at least 13 new frigates and two new offshore patrol vessels. These will include eight Type 26 anti-submarine warfare frigates. We will design and build a new class of light, flexible general purpose frigates as well. These will be more affordable than the Type 26s, which will allow us to buy more of them for the Royal Navy so that by the 2030s we can further increase the total number of Royal Navy frigates and destroyers. Not one of these capabilities is an optional extra. These investments are an act of clear-eyed self-interest to ensure our future prosperity and security.

Secondly, turning to counter-terrorism, we will make a major additional investment in our world-class intelligence agencies to ensure they have the resources and information they need to detect and foil plots from wherever they emanate in the world. So as I announced last week, we will invest £2.5 billion and employ over 1,900 additional staff. We will increase our investment in counter-terrorism police and more than double our spending on aviation security around the world. And I can tell the House today that we have put in place a significant new contingency plan to deal with major terrorist attacks. Under this new operation, up to 10,000 military personnel will be available to support the police in dealing with the type of shocking terrorist attacks we have seen in Paris.

We will also make a major new investment in a new generation of surveillance drones. These British-designed unmanned aircraft will fly at the very edge of the earth’s atmosphere and allow us to observe our adversaries for weeks on end, providing critical intelligence for our forces. We will also do more to make sure the powers we give our security services keep pace with modern technology, as we will see through the draft Bill we have published to ensure that GCHQ, M15 and our counter-terrorism police continue to have the powers they need.

Thirdly, we will use our formidable development budget and our outstanding diplomatic service to tackle global poverty, promote our interests, project our influence, and address the causes of the security threats we face, not just their consequences. So alongside the strategic defence review, I am also publishing our strategy for official development assistance. At its heart is a decision to refocus half of DFID’s budget on supporting fragile and broken states and regions in every year of this Parliament. This will help to prevent conflict, and, crucially, it will help to promote the golden thread of conditions that drive prosperity all across the world: the rule of law, good governance, and the growth of democracy. The conflict, stability and security fund will grow to over £1.3 billion a year by the end of this Parliament, and we will also create a new £1.3 billion prosperity fund to drive forward our aim of promoting global prosperity and good governance.

Building on our success in tackling Ebola, we will do more to improve our resilience and our response to crises, identifying £500 million a year as a crisis reserve and investing £1.5 billion over the Parliament in a global challenges research fund for UK science to pioneer new ways of tackling global problems like anti-microbial resistance. We will also invest £1 billion in a new fund for the research and development of products to fight infectious diseases, known as the Ross fund, and £5.8 billion in climate finance to play our part in helping poorer countries switch to greener forms of energy.

Taken together, these interventions are not just right morally—they are firmly in our national interest. They mean that Britain not only meets its obligations to the poorest in the world, but can now focus our resources on preventing or dealing with the instability and conflict that impinge on our security at home, investing at scale to create the economic opportunities that lead to long-term stability across the world and responding rapidly and decisively to emerging crises overseas. Acting on all of these fronts gives us greater influence in the world.

Finally, Britain’s safety and security depends not just on our own efforts but on working hand in glove with our allies to deal with the common threats that face us all, from terrorism to climate change. When confronted by danger, we are stronger together. So we will play our full part in the alliances that underpin our security and amplify our national power, and we will work with our allies in Europe and around the world, as well as seizing opportunities to reach out to emerging powers.

History teaches us that no Government can predict the future. We have no way of knowing precisely what course events will take over the next five years; we must expect the unexpected. But we can make sure that we have the versatility and the means to respond to new risks and threats to our security as they arise. Our armed forces, police, and security and intelligence services are the pride of our country. They are the finest in the world, and this Government will ensure they stay that way. Using our renewed economic strength, we will help them to keep us safe for generations to come. I commend this statement to the House.

Jeremy Corbyn Leader of Her Majesty’s Official Opposition 3:43 pm, 23rd November 2015
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement.

As I said last week in the House, the first duty of a state is to protect its own citizens. At the moment, this country’s overwhelming focus is on the threat we face from terrorism and how we can best ensure the defeat of ISIL. Labour supports the increased expenditure to strengthen our security services that the Prime Minister has announced to protect against the threat of terrorism. However, faced with the current threat, the public will not understand or accept any cuts to front-line policing. Everyone will be very concerned about the warnings we know that he has had from security officials and the police that the cuts will reduce very significantly the ability to respond to a Paris-style attack. Cuts affecting neighbourhood policing will damage the flow of vital intelligence that helps prevent such attacks. Will the Prime Minister give an undertaking now that police budgets after the spending review will be sufficient to guarantee no reductions in police or police community support numbers and to protect areas such as helicopter cover?

Will the Prime Minister also confirm that the Government will meet in full the request from the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and his advisers for the further resources they say are required to counter attacks such as those in Paris? The public, quite rightly, expect that.

We are naturally focused on the immediate threats today, but it is disappointing that there is insufficient analysis in the national security strategy of the global threats facing our country and people around the world, including inequality, poverty, disease, human rights abuses, climate change and water and food security—[Interruption.] I have no idea why Conservative Members find food security such a funny subject. The flow of arms and illicit funds enables groups such as ISIL to sustain themselves and grow.

Let me join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the men and women who serve in the services. We must look after their interests in the decisions we make and pay particular attention to their welfare while serving and, just as importantly, when they have retired. Is the Prime Minister concerned that the latest Ministry of Defence survey showed that 25% of those serving plan to leave as soon as they can or have already put in their notice, and that the number dissatisfied with service life has risen to 32%? Does he think it is a coincidence that those results come at the same time as the Government have capped armed forces pay and changed pension arrangements?

Although the Prime Minister is talking tough about defence spending today, the facts are that under his Government it has fallen in real terms by 14% and we saw many soldiers with many years’ operational service putting their lives on the line being sacked days before becoming eligible for full pensions.

Does the Prime Minister not agree that changes proposed by the Chancellor to tax credits breach the spirit of the armed forces covenant? Will he confirm that the plan to cut the annual income of a corporal with two children by £2,300 a year will now be reversed and that such a family would not be made worse off by any other welfare cuts the Chancellor may be planning? What damage does the Prime Minister think will be done by the big cuts being planned to the civilian support of the armed services?

The country is united in its respect for those who serve, but there is widespread concern about how far lessons have been learned from recent military interventions. Will the Prime Minister confirm that he will update and revise the review in the light of the forthcoming findings of the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war? What is his response to this month’s United Nations report that all sides in the continuing conflict and anarchy in Libya are committing breaches of international law, including abductions, torture and the killing of civilians, and that ISIL militants have consolidated control over central Libya, carrying out summary executions, beheadings and amputations?

Last week, Mr Clegg—the former Deputy Prime Minister—wrote:

“Britain failed to provide meaningful backing to Libya in the wake of our air strikes there…We must learn from our mistakes.”

What lessons has the Prime Minister learned from the intervention in Libya in 2011, which, regrettably, has been followed by appalling chaos, persistent violence and the strengthening of ISIL?

Does the Prime Minister believe there is any prospect of Afghanistan maintaining its own security in the near future? How does he see Britain’s role in helping to ensure that that happens, given the huge commitment made over the past 14 years and the ultimate sacrifice paid by 456 members of the British forces? How will he apply lessons learned in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere to Britain’s role in the escalating war in Iraq and Syria, ensuring that further disastrous mistakes are avoided?

Britain does need strong military and security forces to keep us safe and to take a lead in humanitarian and peacekeeping missions, working with and strengthening the United Nations. I recognise the increased commitment to the UN in the Prime Minister’s statement. There is no contradiction between working for peace across the world and doing what is necessary to keep us safe at home—in fact, the very opposite is true.

My hon. Friend Maria Eagle will be leading a review about how we deliver that strong, modern protection for the people of Britain. Our review will seek to learn the lessons from Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, and look at our military capabilities and requirements in that light. We owe it to the members of our armed forces and to the country as a whole to engage in the kind of review which is sadly lacking today.

The review will consider carefully and fully, on the basis of evidence and with the widest consultation and expert input, whether it is right for the UK to commit so much of the defence budget to continuous at-sea nuclear patrols, and if not, what alternative investments in our security and military capabilities would be required to meet the threats we face and ensure skills and jobs in our defence industries are fully protected. It will focus on the failure of the last Government to replace the Nimrod MR4A, leaving Britain to rely on asking for French planes for its airborne maritime capability. Why have the Government now chosen a replacement with virtually no UK defence content when it is in service?

Will the Prime Minister confirm—he was just talking about this—that the reduction in the number of Type 26 frigates we are procuring from 13 to eight will not impact on the Navy’s ability to protect the carriers? Can the Prime Minister give some reassurance to the workers on the Clyde? Last year, they were told that 13 ships would be built; now it is eight. Can he confirm this is simply a first batch and the commitment of 13 frigates still stands?

Our review will question the wisdom of British arms sales to repressive regimes with links to the funding of terrorism, and be firmly founded on the importance of human rights across the world. It will recognise that security is about much more than defence, and look to fulfil the huge potential this country has to lead the way in peacekeeping, conflict resolution and peace building.

We have a highly professional and experienced diplomatic corps—some of the best diplomats in the world—as well as world-class peace and conflict research academics. Does the Prime Minister not agree that the severe cut in the Foreign Office budget is clear evidence of the Government’s determination to sacrifice our place in the world on the altar of misplaced austerity? Will he commit to a human rights adviser in every embassy?

I return to everything that is uppermost in people’s minds—


Bernard Jenkin Chair, Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. It is a very welcome declaration of long-term strategic intent on behalf of our country to remain a global nuclear power with armed forces that have global reach. May I remind him, however, that our defence industries are among our largest export earners because of what Her Majesty’s Government have invested in research and technology over the years? If we are to sustain that, and the ability of our industries to help us to produce the capability we need in times of emergency, we will need not only to continue but substantially to increase the amount we invest in those industries.


Madeleine Moon Chair, Defence Sub-Committee
The Ministry of Defence employs civil servants as nuclear scientists and nuclear engineers, and in a whole range of tasks, including logistics, training support and maintenance, as well as in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. I understand that there is a cut of 12,000 to the MOD’s civil service. How will the Prime Minister ensure that critical roles and tasks are not lost to the Ministry of Defence?


Steve Brine Conservative, Winchester
I welcome the SDSR, as I suspect it will be welcomed across Hampshire and its significant defence interests. Will the Prime Minister confirm that when it comes to our security, whether it be shoot to kill, hunting our enemies wherever they are in the world, or renewing our independent nuclear deterrent, every Member of this House, wherever they sit, can find safe haven under the leadership of this Government?


Phil Wilson Labour, Sedgefield
In an increasingly uncertain world in which we cannot seem to predict the security measures needed in five years’ time, let alone 30 or 40 years’ time, does the Prime Minister agree with the Defence Committee’s report, which came out over the weekend, on the need for the SDSR to be flexible in its response to known and unknown threats? Does he also agree that that has to be underpinned by a renewed nuclear deterrent, because unilateral nuclear disarmament is not the answer?


Alan Brown Scottish National Party, Kilmarnock and Loudoun
In his statement, the Prime Minister correctly identified cyber-attacks and Daesh activities as the two biggest threats at the moment. Is it not the case that, for each of those activities, Trident is not a deterrent? With nuclear warheads travelling across Britain by road, is it not a £167 billion liability and target, not a deterrent?

David Cameron The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party
Trident is not supposed to be a deterrent against cyber-attack. Trident is the ultimate insurance policy, in an unsafe and uncertain world, that we can never be subject to nuclear blackmail. That is why, if we look across the United Kingdom, we can see that people support having this ultimate insurance policy in a dangerous world.


Steven Paterson Scottish National Party, Stirling
Does the Prime Minister agree that the replacement of the Trident nuclear weapon of mass destruction should be a matter of serious consultation with the people of this country, including the people of Scotland who are expected to live next door to it? Is he scared of what the result of that consultation might be?

David Cameron The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party
Of course this issue must be carefully thought through, but we have been clear that the decision on Trident is necessary. It has been part of Government programmes for many decades, it supports many thousands of jobs in Scotland, and I believe that it helps to keep our country safe.