Speech

2010/07/22 - ADS Charity Dinner in support of SSAFA Forces Help

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Speech delivered by Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology at the RAF Club, Piccadilly, London on Thursday 22 July 2010.

Good evening.

I’d like to thank Sandy for his kind introduction, and for his kind words about the MoD.

And ADS more generally for hosting tonight’s charity dinner.

In a week when the PM visited the States; President Karzai hosted a major international conference in Kabul; and Robbie Williams rejoined Take That(!), ADS have done a remarkable job at Farnborough, successfully promoting the best that British industry has to offer.

Of course, my main thanks are reserved for SSAFA Forces Help whose work we are all supporting tonight, and I echo everything that Sandy said about the sacrifices being made by our Armed Forces.

One of the core principles that underpin our approach to the Strategic Defence and Security Review - the SDSR - is “responsibility.” As the Prime Minister has said, we want to create an atmosphere in which we, as a nation, “back, revere, and support our military”.

There has actually never been a formal document setting out precisely what this Military Covenant means.

That’s why, for the first time, this government will create a Tri-Service Military Covenant.

But it requires everyone to contribute as part of our broader ‘Big Society’ idea.

That means us all of us across Government.

That means the general public whose generosity and vocal support for our Armed Forces is so crucial and so appreciated.

Demonstrating support for our Armed Forces through acts of personal and corporate acts of generosity is a powerful testimony to the high regard in which they are held.

Some people say it should be left to the taxpayer - but I disagree.

We are stronger as a nation when we do not nationalise compassion.

The Armed Forces are strengthened by the knowledge that their needs and their service prompt generosity from the nation.

We are all more involved through practical acts of charity.

That’s why voluntary and charitable organisations like SSAFA Forces Help - whose support has helped so many in the 125 years of its existence - are so important.

I hope tonight’s dinner raises a lot of money.

Interestingly, looking back to 1885 when SSAFA was established, there were several challenges then that seem rather familiar now.

Then as now, the international outlook was sobering, the environment challenging, and the threats growing.

Then, as now, British attention was fixed on Afghanistan.

Then, as now, scientists were pushing the boundaries of knowledge, as the first successful appendectomy was performed.

I also discovered that in February 1885, John Henry George Lee, better known as John “Babbacombe” Lee, miraculously survived three attempts to hang him for murder, before the Home Secretary commuted his sentence.

Will we look back at 2010 as our year of miracles?

There was no miracle for the England football team.

But Lembit Öpik becoming a stand-up comedian - well that is a miracle!

‘Lord’ Prescott came as a bit of a surprise.

And hearing Ryanair say sorry is close to miraculous!

Certainly, the time is ripe for change in the world of Defence, miraculous or not.

So, as Farnborough week draws to a close, I want to look ahead to some of those changes.

Budgetary pressures, changing threats, and technological change means the time is right for a radical re-think of our national Defence and Security needs and of government’s relationship with the Defence industry.

While Afghanistan is our number one priority, the SDSR is the baseline for determining the capabilities we need, now and in the future.

I know that you in industry are apprehensive about the consequences, perhaps even a little uncomfortable.

I heard Sandy say so after the Secretary of State’s frank speech on Tuesday.

To deal with the deficit and have appropriate defences for the threats we face, he set out a deal that needs to be struck.

For our part, we will reform our acquisition processes and provide you with increased clarity and predictability.

After the SDSR has reported in the autumn, and before the end of the year, we will publish a Green Paper on our defence industry and technology policy.

I know that this will be challenging for industry and I am anxious to involve you closely before the Green Paper is published.

Listening to you is a central part of the process; it is already informing the SDSR.

The results of our review of industrial and technology policy should not arrive like a cloudburst on unsuspecting passers-by.

The Green Paper will build on the SDSR conclusions and ongoing discussions with industry and others.

There will then be a wider consultation process with industry, academia, and Parliament before we bring forward a White Paper in spring 2011 - and I mean spring.

This will formally set out our new approach to industry and technology until the next SDSR.

It will provide more detail on two of my highest priorities - supporting exports and helping small and medium-sized enterprises.

It will also set out our sovereignty requirements and how we will seek to safeguard the associated industrial capabilities.

I am determined that our new policy approach will give the clarity that you need about our priorities and how we intend to work with you.

While you were Farnborough, I also hope you saw just how sincere we are about reinvigorating our support for Defence exports.

You can’t rely on UK demand alone; you need exports to survive and grow, just as we need a resilient Defence industry, fuelled by exports, in order to reap the benefits in our own acquisition costs.

So we will aim to grow the UK’s already significant share of the global Defence market.

Specifically, we will ensure that our own requirements for new equipment are designed from their inception with exportability in mind.

Earlier this week, in an obscure blog, Guardian journalist, Kaye Stearman, made the odd claim that we are embarrassed about supporting Defence exports.

She said that - to spare my blushes - my comments expressing our support for Defence exports had not been placed on the MoD’s website.

I can assure the confused Ms. Stearman of two things.

First, that supporting legitimate Defence exports is something that this Government is proud to do.

Secondly, we do not hide from saying so, and I advise her to check our website tomorrow where she will find this speech and many others!

Be in no doubt: this government is committed to helping you export more.

We will do what we can to help you, but we expect industry to step up to the mark too.

Here, like the Secretary of State, I will be blunt.

The Armed Forces must have the equipment they need, when and where they need it - you know that.

But, in these austere times, their equipment must also come at a reasonable cost to the British taxpayer; your long-term prosperity rests on it.

So you must help us reduce costs.

Without this, we will have no option but to cut the programmes currently underway or curtail investment in future programmes.

The MoD has work to do as well.

We must reduce the diversity of types that provide any one capability.

We cannot afford the luxury of multiple supply chains and the associated training costs.

Too often in the past we have simply replaced old platforms with an upgraded version of the same sort of equipment.

So we will all need to think differently and carefully about what the 21st century battle space requires.

An integral part of that effort will involve cutting edge science, innovation, and technology - all three.

The Minster for Universities and Science, David Willets, said recently:

“We talk of scientific discovery enabling technological advance, but the process is much more inter-dependent than that.

For example, imaging technology is driven by the demands of astronomers, and then enables those same astronomers to make new discoveries.”

He also spoke about having the capacity to absorb research and knowledge from elsewhere and turn it to our advantage.

All this has great resonance in Defence.

We see the operational impact of science, innovation, and technology - for example, in better, lighter, more comfortable, and more effective body armour.

We have a sense of its importance in projects like Taranis as we test the possibility of developing the first ever autonomous, stealthy, Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle.

We must look outside our traditional base as well as within, drawing on civilian technology and applying it in a military context.
For example, you in industry have utilised the composite technology expertise of motorsports companies like Lola on a variety of projects.

But while a great deal of equipment has improved in recent years, there is always more to do.

ISTAR, and information management - especially the capacity to trade information - is dependent on having sufficient bandwidth.

The growing threat of cyber warfare is almost a new domain in its own right.

These are not the high-profile, traditional platforms that we have seen all week at Farnborough.

They are the intangible, invisible, yet battle-winning components of truly modern Armed Forces.

And these emerging challenges provide industry - perhaps particularly SMEs - with excellent opportunities.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we need this agile approach to drive down costs; have appropriate defences for the threats we face; and develop an industry that can flourish in the long-term.

All of us have a job to do.

We will play our part - and if I’ve managed to make industry uncomfortable and offend Guardian sensitivities in the same week then I think I’m playing mine!

You, in industry, must play yours, and very quickly.

To paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt, “If we wait till you’re ready, we’ll never get started.”

We must also keep looking to the future by shaping the industrial and technological means to face it.

And as a society, we must come together and support those who sacrifice so much on our behalf.

The work of organisations like SSAFA Forces Help is as significant now as it ever has been.

Occasions like tonight’s charity dinner remind us that we must never forget who we are all working for.

As businessmen, members of the Armed Forces, and Members of Parliament, I know we all enjoy rising to a challenge, no matter how uncomfortable that may be.