Bishop of Portsmouth speaks on Strategic Defence and Security Review

On 3rd December, 2015 the House of Lords debated a motion from Lord Attlee “that this House takes note of the United Kingdom’s role in supporting international security and stability in the light of the strategic defence and security review.” The Bishop of Portsmouth, Rt Revd Christopher Foster, spoke in the debate. His speech is below, alongside an extract from the Minister’s response.


 Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, even before we reach the halfway point of this debate, a range of significant and important matters have been raised. Some merit much more substantial consideration—for example, international partnerships and relationships, the deliverability of counterterrorism and the cyberterrorism agendas, and the huge importance of diplomatic presence and influence. To these I add the projected development of the delegated model.

Like others, I look forward to further opportunities to discuss these and the many issues before us as we consider the SDSR. However, I shall restrict myself to three specific and, I hope, succinct comments and queries. First, noting the small increase in numbers in the defence review—400 for the Navy and 300 for the Air Force—what steps will the Ministry of Defence take to address the equally important matter of skills imbalances in the services—for instance, the Navy’s challenge in recruiting engineers? Existing commitments, equipment and new hardware need not just any soldiers, airmen and sailors but properly skilled, trained and experienced men and women. Further, if, as I suspect, military commanders sought increases, or greater increases, in their numbers—if they argued that they needed, let us say, 2,000 more—do the Government accept responsibility if one or other of the forces cannot deliver what they ask and expect of them?

Secondly, paragraphs 60 and 61 of chapter 4 of the White Paper amount to just three sentences announcing a 30% reduction in defence civil servants. There is no detail there. Indeed, the lack of it makes me quizzical, perhaps even anxious about whether there is clarity within the proposal. So I ask: is some percentage of this already anticipated; for instance, in withdrawal from Germany or from outsourcing or privatising plans already in place? What does this reduction mean? It might seem to imply that further civilianisation of tasks is not possible. Might it, by contrast and worryingly, mean that the tasks presently done by civil servants are to be transferred to the armed services, further stretching their people resources?

Thirdly and finally, in the Royal Navy and in Portsmouth there is relief at the news that the one new carrier that is operational at any time will have 24 aircraft. Can the Minister tell us what decisions have been made about the attribution of these aircraft? If not, when will these crucial decisions be made?

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Earl Howe) (Con) [extract]:…The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth focused some of his remarks on the plan to reduce the civilian workforce. It is too soon to say how those will play out. Further efficiencies will need to be found beyond our existing change programmes; we will undertake a series of studies that will identify opportunities for more innovative and flexible ways in which to work, including through better technology and moving work to different locations. The reduction in MoD civil servants will include many personnel in change programmes that are already under way, including the final draw down of British forces in Germany.