In this motion to take note Lord Bilimoria asks what level of spending the Minister considers appropriate for the Armed Forces, whether there has been a shortfall in the number of reserves and whether there has been a growing reliance on reservist medical personnel. He also asks for the Minister’s view on the UK’s position as Number 2 in NATO potentially being transferred to another EU member and whether the UK is doing enough in furthering defence collaboration with universities with regard to innovation and research . He argues that the peace has been held been held by both the EU and NATO and concludes by asking whether enough is being done to publicise the Covenant among the army and the public. He states that UK Soft Power does require some Hard Power which work to make the UK a global power.
Armed Forces: Capability
12 January 2017
Motion to take note moved by Lord Robertson:
That this House takes note of the future capability of the United Kingdom’s armed forces in the current international situation.
My Lords, not one member of the UK Armed Forces was killed in operations in 2016, thankfully. It was the first time since 1968 that no one had died, although sadly there were deaths on exercises. And yet, as the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, said with crystal clarity in his brilliant opening speech—and I thank him for leading this debate—the challenges that we face globally are, in his words, a “bonfire of certainties”.
The head of the Defence Select Committee, Julian Lewis, said that the last time this country faced a threatening Russia as well as a major terrorist campaign, the UK invested between 4.3% and 5.1% of GDP in defence. A measure of just how low our expectations have fallen is that here we are celebrating the minimum of 2%, and there are debates about how this 2% is measured. He suggests that 3% would be a much better level of spending. Does the Minister agree?
General Sir Richard Barrons, retired head of the UK’s Joint Forces Command, said that we are “dangerously squeezed” in manpower. Can the Minister confirm that there is a shortfall of 22% in our Maritime Reserves and 12% in the Army Reserves? As far as the Defence Medical Services are concerned, we no longer have military hospitals and what exists now is within the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham—attached to the University of Birmingham medical school, where I am proud to be chancellor of the university. There is a shortage of medical doctors being recruited, retained and motivated. Such undermanning has led to a reliance on Reserve Forces, which are also underrecruited. Can the Minister confirm this? This negatively impacts our capability.
Sir Richard Barrons also said in 2016 that the UK and its NATO allies had,
“no effective plan for defending Europe from a Russian attack because of splits in the alliance”.
He said that, while Russia could,
“deploy tens of thousands of troops into NATO territory within 48 hours, backed by warplanes and ships”,
NATO would take “months” to do that.
Professor Malcolm Chalmers of RUSI has said that the overall capability in defence and diplomacy has been severely restricted after Brexit. As we have heard before, RUSI also said that the position we have held as number 2 in NATO for more than 60 years could be transferred to another EU member to retain links to the EU. Can the Minister give his view on that?
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker, spoke about the EU army. We have had the best of both worlds being part of the European Union. We are not in Schengen, we are not in the euro, and we are not into any further integration. There is no way we would have been into an EU army; it would have been a bridge far too far. And yet, we have to acknowledge that the peace for the last 70 years has not been because of NATO alone; it has been because of the existence of the European Union and NATO.
We are the fifth largest economy in the world—we were the fifth largest economy in the world, but because of the uncertainty the world sees before we leave the EU and the devaluation of the pound, we are no longer fifth. India has overtaken the UK as the fifth largest economy in the world and will soon overtake the UK as the fifth largest defence spender as well.
Can the Minister say whether we are doing enough in furthering defence collaboration with universities, particularly with regard to innovation and research? At Birmingham we have a defence club. The noble Lord, Lord West, has spoken there and the CGS General Sir Nick Carter will be speaking there next week. Collaboration would help with our strategic thinking and with our defence manufacturing base. Manufacturing is still 10% of our GDP; we must not lose that. The 2010 SDSR was negligent—thankfully, the 2015 one was much better—as 2010 was all about means before ends.
I conclude on the covenant. We have had a debate on the covenant. The covenant is wonderful; it is the promise that we make as a people to our Armed Forces for the service and sacrifice that they make. But are we doing enough to publicise the covenant within the Army family, within the troops, within the families, within the veterans and, most importantly, with the public so that we never take the Armed Forced for granted?
Finally, we are a strong soft power. We have oodles of soft power, but that soft power is no good without the hard power. The combination of those two makes Britain not a superpower, but definitely a global power, and we must never lose that.