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MS7 - Strategic Defence Review
Madam Speaker,

I am pleased to confirm to the House that the Strategic Defence Review authorised by this Government has now been conducted and completed, in close consultation with military officials, experts at the Ministry of Defence and indeed around the world, and through a close and effective assessment of Britain's future strategic defence needs.

The aim of the Review was to identify Britain's strategic defence needs over a long-term timescale, and it is important to see the Review in the context of defence spending broadly over the past 16 years and beyond.

Madam Speaker, the Options for Change review in 1990 saw the amalgamation of 12 infantry regiments into five, the loss of seven battalions from further regiments, the amalgamation of 14 Royal Armoured Corps regiments into seven and the amalgamation of 15 service regiments into three. The number of Royal Air Force bases in Germany has been halved since 1993, and F-4 Phantom II squadrons withdrawn. The Brimstone missile project has been cancelled and the number of Nimrod patrols reduced; the number of serviceable frigates and destroyers has been reduced by a fifth, and overall manpower in the armed forces has been reduced by 18% over five years. Defence spending, according to current trends, will fall to 2.4% of gross national income by 1997, compared to a figure of 5% ten years ago.

Just last year, contracts were signed to sell three class 22 frigates, and Britain's three surviving aircraft carriers are approaching the end of their serviceable lives. Recommendations have already been made that the Trident nuclear weapons system not be deployed fully, and extensive cutbacks have been made to personnel at the Ministry of Defence.

Madam Speaker, the proximate trigger for these large-scale cutbacks was the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, heralding - we expected - a period of unprecedented peace as for the first time in a half-century the world found itself free from the spectre of apocalypse. Increasingly, conventional warfare appears to be in decline as smaller-scale, asymetrical conflicts are followed by the gaze of the western powers. Already, we are moving rapidly towards a comprehensive ban on nuclear testing. Relations with the former Soviet bloc are strong and improving; the European Union, whose project of ever-closer union and integration has made war between continental powers all but impossible, stands as a beacon of world peace in difficult times. Britain's relationship with anglosphere countries, authenticated by the ongoing war games in the Pacific Ocean in which Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States are all playing a part, grows ever more strong and overwhelming. In short, for the short-termists and the deficit hawks of the Treasury, defence represents an area of government spending ripe for the cull.

But the findings of the Strategic Defence Review are clear. Our base assumption has always been that the United Kingdom should maintain the ability to respond to up to two major international crises at any one time, with concurrent military efforts and combat deployments on the scale of Operation Granby during the Gulf War. Britain should also be capable of undertaking a more extended overseas deployment on a lesser scale for humanitarian, peacekeeping or pacification purposes, and, above all, retain the capability with all those hands in play to defend our island nation and its territories around the world.

The Strategic Defence Review outlines what will be needed by the military over the next ten and twenty years if the decline in our capability is to be halted and if the security of the free world is still to be able to depend upon the United Kingdom as one of its standard bearers. It outlines the need for three new aircraft carriers to replace those that will be retiring in the next decade, including HMS Illustrious, presently on deployment for ongoing war games in the Pacific. These new aircraft carriers, which should be capable of launching catapult assisted takeoff but arrested recovery aircraft, which should be nuclear-powered in order to facilitate long-term and reliable deployments, and which should have at their disposal an arsenal comparable in scope to that which was proposed for the CVA-01 in the 1960s, would cost circa £12 billion apiece. Their purchase is not optional; should or aircraft carrier capacity decline or be eliminated, it will not be easily regained. More importantly, the construction of these vessels is a decade or decades-long project which cannot be rapidly green-lit in a time of suddenly changing international priorities. For the sake of our defence and our security, we must have the tools when we do not need them so that we may deploy them quickly if and when we do: to coin a phrase, we must fix the roof while the sun is shining and ensure that nobody can burst through the sunroof in a surprise assault which catches us off guard.

The Review further identifies the need, over the next ten years, to purchase 175 new tanks, 200 new artillery pieces, 450 armoured vehicles, 50 attack helicopters, 4 submarines, 5 new destroyers and frigates to replace the ten which have already been or are already being axed, 40 new maritime patrol vehicles to secure our coastline and 100 new carrier-based aircraft of a type as yet undetermined which will replace the Sea Harrier, presumably with supersonic capabilities, and complement our carrier fleet. The Review identifies a need over ten years for thirty additional strike fighters, 15 transport and refuelling aircraft and up to 60 helicopters for the transportation of troops.

Madam Speaker, the total cost envisaged by the Review is to the tune of £70 billion over a ten-year period, or £7 billion of additional spending per year compared to the status quo. Much of this spend represents one-off capital investment in new equipment and facilities, which would not form a longer-term component of current budget spending. It represents a 50% increase in the size of the fleet air arm and a 15% increase in the number of frontline troops over the course of the next decade. 

The Review of course represents a recommendation from the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces community; it is naturally a matter for my right honourable friend the Chancellor to determine the precise funding allocation that will be possible over the coming years. What I have made clear to the Chancellor in my extensive discussions with the Treasury is that no further cuts to the defence budget can reasonably be made without seriously jeopardising the ability of the British armed forces to act in the defence of the realm, and to that end I can confirm that the further sale of military assets has been halted effective immediately.

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