Bishop of Portsmouth joins calls for a full defence review

On Thursday 19th January 2018 Lord Sterling of Plaistow led a debate on the Lords on his motion “To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to conduct a full defence review, in the light of the capability of the Armed Forces to meet global defence needs.” The Bishop of Portsmouth, Rt Revd Christopher Foster, spoke in the debate:

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, I confide in you. Priests— even bishops, perhaps particularly so—are inclined to repeat themselves. I imagine noble Lords might have noticed. I have heard it said that we ​have only one sermon in us and just dress the message up differently each Sunday. I will be repeating my message today, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sterling, for the opportunity to do so. I am just as grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for listening to my repetition with the grace, care and attention that we all appreciate.

My message is that I applaud the Government’s ambition for defence, which is about British power for good in the world—but as things stand, I doubt that we have the capability, or the defence budget to deliver the capability, to meet that ambition. Things could be about to get worse, judging by what we read in the media. So, if we are to meet the Government’s ambition, we must also review our ability to do so.

My second point is that the present state of uncertainty is not helpful, and that is an understatement. The media is not the forum in which to conduct discussions on defence expenditure. We should have discussions in private, followed speedily by clarity in public. That would be fair to those who are affected, so they know where they stand. The current lack of clarity creates uncertainty, particularly among the servicemen and women we value so much.

My final point is also on morale. The noble Earl may have an inkling of the direction in which I am heading. I hope that he will be able to respond to my question on whether he can commit to a debate on the Floor of the House on the Armed Forces covenant—an opportunity to pat the Government on the back for all that has been done and to look forward to all that might be done. When it comes to defence, our greatest riches are the commitment, sacrifice and professionalism of our Armed Forces. We need to provide them with resources and end this ghastly uncertainty.

Baroness Smith of Newnham: …What commitment can he give us that defence expenditure will be ring-fenced in real terms? The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth rightly mentioned morale in our Armed Forces. What is the Minister doing about the offer in terms of pay and pensions, and to what extent does he think morale is in the right place? Can more be done?