Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 5:23 pm, 23rd November 2015
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made earlier this afternoon by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place on the national security strategy and strategic defence and security review. The Statement is as follows:
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the national security strategy and 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 past 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 and our renewed economic security means that 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.
And of course, Mr Speaker, the threats we face today go beyond this evil death cult. From the crisis in Ukraine to the risk of cyberattacks and pandemics, the world is more dangerous and uncertain today than five years ago. So while every Government must choose how to spend the money they have 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 UN target of spending 0.7% of our GNI on development, while also increasing investment in our security and intelligence agencies and in counterterrorism.
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 and our prosperity depending on trade around the world, 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 and the need to counter threats that do not recognise national borders. Today we face both and we must respond to both. 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, counterterrorism, 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 the 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 Select 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. 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, and we will 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 F35 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, based in Scotland, to protect our nuclear deterrent, hunt down hostile submarines, and enhance our maritime search and rescue. 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. These will be more affordable than the Type 26, 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 counterterrorism, we will make a major additional investment in our world-class intelligence agencies to ensure that they have the resources and information that they need to detect and foil plots from wherever they emanate in the world. As I announced last week, we will invest £2.5 billion and employ over 1,900 additional staff. We will increase our investment in counterterrorism police and more than double our spending on aviation security around the world.
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 attack that 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 that the powers that we give our security services keep pace with changes in technology. We will see through the draft Bill that we have published to ensure that GCHQ, MI5 and our counterterrorism police continue to have the powers that 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 that we face, not just their consequences. Alongside the strategic defence and security review, I am 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, 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 the 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 such as 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 depend 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. We will play our full part in the alliances that underpin our security and amplify our national power. 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, and police and security and intelligence services, are the pride of our country. They are the finest in the world and this Government will ensure that they stay that way. Using our renewed economic strength, we will help them keep us safe for generations to come. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
Lord Touhig Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence) 5:36 pm, 23rd November 2015
My Lords, the House is grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for repeating the Prime Minister’s Statement. I am especially grateful to him for the very helpful briefing he afforded my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe, the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, of the Liberal Democrats, and me earlier today.
The noble Earl, for whom I have great personal respect, has a difficult job. Our country, people and way of life are again imperilled. Not only do we have to contend with the conventional challenges posed by air, naval and ground forces, but we face the threat of those who would walk down high-street Britain and shoot and kill our fellow citizens. The days when Britain might engage in a conflict and send our forces into battle while those at home were, in the main, safe are now long gone. Today any strategic defence and security review must take account of that.
When in Government, my party had a proud record in the area of defence. It was a Labour Government at the end of the last war who committed us to an independent nuclear deterrent and who helped create NATO. The then Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevan, said of the atom bomb:
“We have got to have this thing over here … we have got to have the … union jack on top of it”.
Bevan made sure that his opponents were excluded from the Cabinet committee that took the decision. That is my kind of Foreign Secretary. Under the previous Labour Government defence spending rose by an annual average of 1.8%, resulting in the modernisation of our Armed Forces. We published Britain’s first national security strategy, delivered the first cross-governmental approach to forces welfare and strengthened medical care and welfare support for those serving in Afghanistan. I judge the Prime Minister’s Statement on the SDSR against that background.
It is the second SDSR of Mr Cameron’s premiership. The first in 2010 was not strategic and not about defence or security. It was nothing more than a cost-cutting exercise run by the Treasury. The Prime Minister has since admitted that his Government took 8% out of defence spending over the past five years. Under his stewardship, defence has underspent the budget that Parliament has voted for it. Such has been the enthusiasm to put saving money at the top of defence priorities that the planned cuts in the size of the Army, announced in 2010, have been achieved two years earlier than intended.
Before the 2010 general election, Mr Cameron promised a bigger Army, Navy and Air Force. In fact, the Army of today is smaller than the one we put in the field against Napoleon. The Royal Navy has just 19 vessels. We are told in the Statement that in the long term we are to increase the size of our frigate fleet. Can the Minister tell us what is meant by “long term”? The French already have 23 service vessels, the Russians 35 and the United States 105. Naval manpower is a real problem. My noble friend Lord West said only recently that 3,500 to 4,000 people were needed to man the fleet correctly. Can the Minister say what is being done to reverse this?
As for the Royal Air Force, the number of planes is at an historic low. We have to rely on the maritime patrol aircraft of our allies to track Russian submarines close to our waters, following the scrapping of Nimrod. That massive error of judgment has to be seen against a background in which the Russians have increased submarine patrols by 50% in the past two years. We welcome the decision to acquire Boeing P-8 MPAs but will the Minister confirm that it will be seven years before Britain has a fully operational independent maritime patrol capability? Today’s announcement of the F-35s is welcome, as is any move to strengthen our high-end military capability, but why has it taken so long to make this decision?
Why is it taking 10 years to create the new strike brigades of up to 5,000 personnel for rapid deployment missions? The world could be quite different in 2025. Does this decision mean that we are abandoning our capability for sustained deployment, which was set out in the previous defence review? Can the Minister tell us for how long these new brigades will be capable of being deployed?
One of the greatest challenges we face is cybersecurity. The Prime Minister has said that due to the threats posed by Russia and ISIL, Britain will be investing in cybersecurity. The Chancellor, speaking at GCHQ, announced that spending on cybersecurity would be almost doubled to £1.9 billion over the period to 2020. He made that statement after the director of GCHQ, Robert Hannigan, called on the Government to intervene in the cybersecurity industry because the free market was failing. Can the Minister say what the Government are doing about this? What projects will be part of the £1.9 billion fund? The Chancellor went on to say:
“Strong defences are necessary for our long-term security. But the capacity to attack is also a form of defence”—
I most certainly agree. He said that Britain is,
“building our own offensive cyber capability—a dedicated ability to counter-attack in cyberspace”.
Can the Minister tell us if such an offensive capacity already exists or is it just at the planning stage? If that is the case, what is the timeframe before it becomes operational? How much is being invested in the national offensive cyber programme?
I was in Paris the day before the attack; I was there again last Tuesday, and what a difference in the city in those few days. In view of the horrors of Paris, will the Minister comment on reports in the Daily Telegraph that our special forces have shrunk by 40% due to reduced numbers and restructuring, and will he comment on a senior MoD official telling that newspaper that,
“there is no point spending vast amounts of money on new kit if you don’t have the manpower to operate them”?
Still on personnel matters, noble Lords around this Chamber who have served or spent time with the Armed Forces will know that if service families are happy, the service men and women we send into conflict will have the morale they need to do the job—I am sure the Minister has found that in this time. Does he agree, therefore, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s changes to tax credits will be seen as a breach of the Armed Forces covenant? How well does he think ending annual pay rises for the forces will be received, if the Government go ahead with that? Is it any wonder that a survey by his own department shows that one-quarter of those serving in the Armed Forces plan to leave as soon as they can and one-third are dissatisfied?
The Prime Minister has committed Britain to a NATO target of spending 2% of GDP on defence. We welcome that but worry whether it is another of Mr Cameron’s cosmetic creations. For instance, can the Minister say how including the £800 million we spend on war pensions as defence spending will help protect and project Britain’s force and military capability?
The tradition of Governments of both main parties in this country has been to show how much we value the men and women of our Armed Forces by giving them the tools they need to defend and protect our country and ensuring proper remuneration for them and their families. That tradition, I fear, has been spectacularly badly served by this Prime Minister and this review.
Baroness Ludford Liberal Democrat
My Lords, can the Minister help to resolve a disconnect between the recent remarks of the Prime Minister and this document? The Prime Minister recently stressed the significance of the European Union for the UK’s national security in the context of, for instance, standing up to Russia, helping to stop Iran’s nuclear programme and tackling maritime piracy. But this document hardly mentions the European Union as such, as opposed to individual European allies. For instance, in chapter 5, “Project Our Global Influence”, you have to get to its seventh page before there is any mention of the EU. This seems to contrast with the Prime Minister saying a fortnight or so ago:
“The EU, like NATO and our membership of the UN Security Council, is a tool that”, we use,
“to get things done in the world, and protect our country”.
One would have thought that would count as projecting our global influence, so why is there so little mention of the European Union?
Lord Robertson of Port Ellen Labour
My Lords, although the review is light on detail and timing, it is at least strategic and therefore sets itself apart from the exercise in 2010. In the light of events that took place across the channel 10 days ago, I do not think this is the time for picking holes in the review, although there are a few holes to be picked. It is a time, however, for us to assert to our enemies and adversaries, both actual and potential, that this country still has robust defences and that we are still capable of deploying those forces in the defence of this country and of our allies and playing our part in the international community. After all, we are the second military power in the West.
I will make two points about the review. In relation to the deterrent, I fully support the reinforced decision made today to order the four new nuclear submarines. Will the noble Earl’s department be a bit more robust in taking on the opponents of Trident who say that it does not address the biggest threats that we face today? Were it not for the deterrent, we would face even bigger threats to our national safety and security today—that is, nuclear coercion and blackmail.
Finally, the noble Earl has the responsibility with other government Ministers to ensure that the safety and security of the people of this country does not depend on the military alone. If further raids are going to be made on the budget of the Foreign Office, the World Service and the British Council, then huge damage will be done to the reputation of this country abroad, and to the safety and security of the British people.
Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords
My Lords, as regards the last points that the noble Lord made in his speech, we will have to wait for the spending review announcement. However, I take on board all that he says, particularly about the Foreign Office. We are clear that we must maintain the global representation that we have at the moment, if we are to support this country’s interests.
The noble Lord began by making some very welcome remarks, for which I thank him, about the strategic nature of the review. It is indeed strategic. It has been a two-year exercise. It included the lessons that we learned from the last SDSR. More importantly, it involved a deep analysis of the evidence base and wide consultation across diverse stakeholders both at home and abroad. We have tried to be truly strategic in identifying what we wanted to achieve in the national security arena, as outlined clearly in the national security strategy, and how we will achieve that in the SDSR.
Further details will emerge over the coming days, which will flesh out some of the high-level aspirations set out in the document. Unfortunately, I cannot release those at the moment.
We still have a global power projection capability second only in NATO to the United States. We should remember that. We have among the most capable troops and aircraft ships and submarines in the world.
The Joint Force 2025 that we have designed is genuinely better equipped, more capable, more deployable and more sustainable than ever before.
As regards the deterrent, I welcome the noble Lord’s comments. The nuclear deterrent exists to deter the most extreme threats to our national security and way of life. Other states have nuclear arsenals. There is a risk of further proliferation of nuclear weapons. There is a risk that states might use their nuclear capability to threaten us or to try to constrain our decision-making in a crisis, or to sponsor nuclear terrorism. We cannot rule out further shifts in the international order that would put us or our NATO allies under grave threat. That is the rationale and the context for the substantial investment that we are making in the successor programme.
The document tries to make and refresh the case for the deterrent. We thought it important to do that, to go back to first principles and to demonstrate why this was something that we felt it absolutely right to include in the forthcoming defence programme.