Let's make the case for a stronger, better resourced military, says Leo Docherty MP

Leo said: "It’s a myth that the British people don’t support greater spending on defence - let’s make the case for a stronger, better resourced military. Here’s my speech yesterday in the House of Commons."

The full transcript, from Hansard, is below:

Leo Docherty (Aldershot) (Con)

I am grateful for this opportunity to speak in the debate today. I am pleased that the Minister chose to use this opportunity to lay out the challenge of transformation that our national defence faces in this era. I have been pleased to see the outline that the Ministry of Defence has given this in the modernising defence programme, following the doctrine of the need to mobilise, to modernise and to transform. I think we are reassured that this document—the modernising defence programme—is a clear statement of intent that takes us forward to the comprehensive spending review and really goes into battle for a strong national defence. I for one am right behind it, but the proof will be in the pudding when it comes to how much money is secured in the comprehensive spending review. If we want what the document describes as the Joint Force 2025—a maritime task group, a deployable land division with three brigades including a strike brigade, a properly resourced combat air group and a special forces task group—we will have to pay for it. We will also have to pay for the equipment programme, which involves some excellent new platforms but also has some significant financial holes. As I have said, the proof will be in the pudding.

As well as needing to pay for all this, there are other things that we will need to do if we are to make the vision in this document a reality. We must ensure value for money, and that is about ensuring that we use big data to make the management of our military much more efficient, especially in areas such as fleet management and the management of large numbers of people. We have to use big data in order to become more efficient, and we need to reform the way in which we do defence procurement. We also need to win the data war. We have heard from the Minister about the cyber threats that we face, and we need to up our game in that regard. We need to acknowledge that the world is connected in ​a way that it has never been connected before. That is not just a matter of defence; it is also a matter of offensive cyber.

We also need to adopt a global posture. The global deployments in Bahrain, in other middle eastern countries and around the world are a force multiplier, and I am proud that soldiers from my constituency are involved. The Scots Guards are deployed in Cyprus, the Grenadier Guards are in Iraq and Afghanistan, and 4 Rifles—a specialised infantry battalion that is absolutely match fit and purpose built for engagements that involve the training of foreign troops—are deployed right around the world. They are a terrific force multiplier, and that is something we should be proud of.

Alarmingly, the document does not mention our defence response to China. That is a central challenge that we will have to grapple with in this new era of transformation. I invite the Minister to mention that in his closing remarks...

Moving on swiftly—we will also bring our allies with us. We are committed to NATO, but we need to demonstrate that commitment by exercising at scale. Perhaps we could do a “brigade plus” exercise in Poland to show resolve against threats on our eastern flank. We need to nurture sovereign industries, such as the ones in my constituency, which in turn nurture incredible defence innovation. We also need to get the legal framework right for foreign deployments. If we are to have a military that deploys with confidence to inflict violence on our behalf, soldiers need to be able to do that without fear of being pursued through the courts on their return.

I want to turn to the central argument in all of this. It is the argument, which we need to win, about hard power. The Minister mentioned this, and it is the central argument that we will be making as we move forward to the comprehensive spending review. We have been somewhat bruised by the past 18 years of the war on terror, which has informed this generation’s understanding of conflicts abroad, and it is easy to think that the public have a limited appetite for foreign intervention or foreign deployments. However, I actually believe that the reverse is true.

The British military conducted itself in Iraq and Afghanistan with such remarkable professionalism and courage that, whatever one thinks about the politics, there is wholehearted support among the British public and an acknowledgement that our armed forces can and will do a remarkable job on our behalf when deployed. There is absolutely no hesitation at all among the British public when it comes to supporting increased defence expenditure, as the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) noted. That argument is wrong, we need to debunk that myth, and we need a new commitment to a fully funded national defence in the comprehensive spending review. I look forward to making that argument in a clear, resolute and confident manner for the sake of a strong national defence in this great era of transformation.​