Response to the Prime Minister’s statement on the Strategic Defence and Security Review

I thank the Prime Minister for his statement.

As I said to him in the House last week the first duty of a state is to protect its citizens.

At the moment the country’s overwhelming focus is on the threat we face from terrorism and on how we can best ensure the defeat of ISIL.

Labour supports the increased expenditure to strengthen our security services that he 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 frontline policing.

Everyone will be very concerned about the warnings we now know he has had from security officials and the police that police 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 attacks.

Will he 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 protect areas such as helicopter cover?

Will he also confirm the Government will meet in full the requests from the Metropolitan Commissioner – and his security advisers – for the further resources they say are required to counter attacks such as those in Paris?  The public 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:

Inequality, poverty, disease, human rights abuses, climate change and water and food security …

… Or indeed the flow of arms and illicit funds that enable groups like ISIL to sustain and grow.

Let me join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the men and women who serve in our armed forces.

We must look after their interests in the decisions that we make and pay particular attention to their welfare while serving and just as importantly when they have retired from service.

Is the Prime Minister concerned that the latest MOD survey showed that 25 per cent 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 per cent?

Does he think it a coincidence that these results come at the same time as his Government has capped armed forces pay and changed forces’ pensions.

Although he is talking tough about defence spending today the facts are that under his Government spending fell in real terms by more than 14 per cent.

And we saw soldiers with many years operational service putting their lives on the line sacked days before becoming eligible for their full pensions.

Does he not agree that the changes proposed by the Chancellor to tax credits breach the spirit of the Armed Forces Covenant?

Will he confirm now that this plan which would cut the annual income of a Corporal with two children by £2,300 will be fully reversed?

And that such a family will not be made worse off by any other welfare cuts the Chancellor may be planning.

And what damage does he think will be done by the big cuts being planned in civilian support for the armed forces?

This country is united in its respect for those who serve in our Armed Forces.

But there is widespread concern about how far lessons have been learnt from recent military interventions.

Will he confirm that he will update and revise this review in the light of the forthcoming Chilcot inquiry report into the Iraq war?

What is his response to the UN report this month 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, the Rt Hon member for Sheffield Hallam, his former Deputy Prime Minister wrote that “Britain failed to provide meaningful backing to Libya in the wake of our air strikes there” and that “We must learn from our mistakes.”

What lessons has he learnt 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 ensure this, given the huge commitment made to Afghanistan over the past 14 years by our armed forces and the ultimate sacrifice made by 456 British forces?

How will he apply the lessons learnt 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 modern military and security forces to keep us safe.

And to take a lead in humanitarian and peace keeping missions – working with and strengthening the United Nations.  And I recognise the increased commitment made.

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.

My honourable friend, the Member for Garston and Halewood, 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.

It 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 how we should ensure skills and jobs in our defence industries are fully protected.

It will focus on the failure of his last Government to replace the Nimrod MR4A, leaving Britain to rely on asking for French planes for its airborne maritime capability.

Why has the Government now chosen a replacement with virtually no UK defence content and when will it be in service?

Can the Prime Minister confirm that the reduction in the number of Type 26 frigates we are procuring from 13 to 8 will not impact on the Royal Navy’s ability to protect the carrier fleet?

Can the Prime Minister give some reassurance to workers on the Clyde? Last year it was suggested that thirteen ships would be built, but now it is eight.

Can he confirm this is simply a first batch and the commitment for 13 frigates still stands?

The 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 highly professional and experienced diplomats, some of the best in the world, as well as world-class peace and conflict research academics.

Does he not agree that the severe cut in the Foreign Office budget is clear evidence of his 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?

In concluding I return to what is uppermost in everyone’s minds:  the horror of the Paris attacks and the memory of the bombings in London in July 2005.

It is so important now that we make the right decisions on how to counter and defeat the brutal threat of ISIL and learn from what has gone wrong in the past.

And secondly that the police and security services do have the resources that they advise are necessary to protect the public from the threats we know we face.

I do ask the Prime Minister to think hard about the warnings he has had in recent days from the most senior police officers and confirm that there will be no cuts to frontline policing.

He will have the full support of the Opposition and the House in making this commitment.