Nia Griffith on Labour’s Defence Policy

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A lecture by Nia Griffith MP, Labour Member of Parliament for Llanelli and Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, House of Commons.

In her lecture, Nia discussed what defence policy would look like under the next Labour Government, in the context of the work being undertaken by the UK Ministry of Defence as part of the Modernising Defence Programme.

The Speech

It is a great honour to be here today at RUSI.

For nearly two centuries, this Institute has been a crucial platform for debate on the future of our country and our world.

Through periods of great turbulence and relative peace, RUSI has remained renowned for its unrivalled insight and analysis.

And the ground-breaking research and creative thinking that RUSI provides is needed now, as much as ever.

Britain’s security

We are at a critically important time for the United Kingdom, our allies, our place in the world and our nation’s defence and security.

We are just nine months away from our departure from the European Union. One of the biggest challenges to our global strategic role since the Second World War.

We see rising tension and growing instability around the globe, and a range of threats to the security of our citizens here at home.

As Russia seeks relentlessly to challenge and disrupt our democracies, and the threat of terrorism remains as real as ever.  

Labour is clear that the state has no higher duty than the protection of our citizens and the maintenance of national security.

And we take that responsibility seriously.

The next Labour government is committed to doing everything necessary to protect the security of this country and of the British people.

And to do this effectively we need a range of strong, conventional capabilities – alongside our nuclear deterrent – and the strategies and technologies to respond to cyber and hybrid threats.

Modernising Defence Programme

Now here at home we are in the middle of a live debate about how we deliver those capabilities and the appropriate level of investment in our Armed Forces and our defences.

It is a debate that has - yet again - descended into outlandish briefing to the Sunday papers, with the latest reports suggesting that the Secretary of State has lost the battle for any additional funding for defence, and is actually threatening to bring down the Prime Minister.

Let me be clear - if these reports are anywhere near the truth, then they betray a shocking immaturity that is as befitting of the great office that he holds as the pronouncement that Russia should just shut up and go away.

Our Armed Forces and our nation’s defences are of the highest importance, and quite frankly they deserve a great deal better than this.

We sincerely hope that the government’s Modernising Defence Programme will set out a positive and ambitious vision for the future of defence – it cannot simply be an exercise in crisis management.

We need a vision that is informed by the threats that we face, that is underpinned by our values, and which is not simply driven by the Treasury.  

As I have always said, if the government comes forward with a programme for real investment in our defences and an end to the short-sighted and painful cuts that have marred the last seven years, then they will find support on the Labour benches in Parliament.

Because, quite simply, things have got to change.

We have had years of deep cuts - with the MoD’s budget falling by nearly £10bn in real terms between 2010 and 2017.

And of course our purchasing power has been cut dramatically, because of the sharp fall in the value of sterling following the Brexit vote.

Ministers in the Department have recently been going off-piste, with Tobias Ellwood advocating for a hike in spending to 2.5% of GDP, and the Defence Select Committee recommended last week that the figure should rise further to 3%.

Now I don’t want to prejudge any possible uplift in defence spending that might come ahead of next month’s NATO summit – and let me be clear, the Opposition would warmly welcome any rise.

But the Government also needs to set out clearly where that money is coming from – given their failure to do so last week on NHS funding

And what I will say is that there does need to be discipline within the MoD in relation to the defence budget. And the Department does need to think on a much deeper level about how it spends the money that it has and the impact that this has outside the MoD.

For example, I think that the MDP should look at reversing some of the changes made in the Levene reforms when it comes to budgetary control, or at least set out a new vision about how the department plans to maintain a grip of its budget.

In reality, it is highly unlikely that the UK would ever deploy a significant Force outside of a larger coalition. And it is therefore important that we shape our Armed Forces to reflect this, placing a real emphasis on interoperability with our NATO allies, and maximising what we do well whilst being aware of our Allies’ strengths.

The persistent rumours around the fate of the Royal Marines are an example of the short-sighted approach the Government has seemed to favour. We know that the Marines make up a disproportionate amount of our Special Forces community - an absolutely vital part of the UK’s defence capabilities - so any cut would have a knock-on effect on recruitment to the Special Forces.

But of course, I am not simply here to critique and scrutinise the government’s approach – although that is one of the core responsibilities of HM Opposition.

I also want to set out Labour’s distinctive vision for defence and our Armed Forces.

And it is a vision which is guided by our values.


Labour is - and has always been – a proudly internationalist party.

As it says in our constitution, by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone.

So we believe that Britain works best when we unite with our allies and partners to confront the challenges that face our world.

We believe in multilateralism, and in taking a lead in the alliances and partnerships that have served this country well – as Labour governments have done down the years.

It was Clement Attlee, and his Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, who were so instrumental in setting up the NATO Alliance in 1949. Uniting allies together in the cause of collective defence.

Fifty years ago this week, Harold Wilson signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. A ground-breaking declaration which made the world safer and more secure.

And when Labour entered government in 1997, we took a leading role in the drive to cancel the debt of developing countries and to deliver the landmark convention banning cluster munitions.

Now, more than ever, there is an overwhelming need for the UK to step up and to rediscover that proud record of leading in the world.

At a time when states responsible for maintaining peace and security, through their permanent seats on the UN Security Council, are challenging our rules-based system.

This should be the moment for our democracies to unite in upholding the norms and institutions that have preserved our peace for decades.

But instead we see increasing fragmentation and the weakening of global alliances. 

We have witnessed the erratic and isolationist tendencies of a US President who is more comfortable praising dictators than working constructively with longstanding allies.

A President who has made the shameful decision to pull out of the UN’s Human Rights Council and to tear up the Iran nuclear deal.

Against this dereliction of moral authority, Britain has an even greater responsibility to step up and provide meaningful global leadership.

And our exit from the European Union, despite its effect on our international standing, must not be an opportunity for Britain to turn further inwards, pulling up the drawbridge and shirking our obligations to the world.

That is not the approach that the next Labour government will pursue. Instead we will engage proactively within international institutions and with respect for international law.

Conflict resolution and UK security

Because we recognise that the security of the UK is intricately linked to the stability and prosperity of states across the world.

And in this complex, interconnected world, Britain cannot be immune from the new and emerging challenges posed by climate change, migration and a scarcity of resources.

It is a fact that conflict and instability abroad make us less safe here at home.

As Jeremy Corbyn has said,

“The best way to protect the British people against the threats we face to our safety at home and abroad is to work to resolve conflict.

“There is no contradiction between working for peace across the world and doing what is necessary to keep us safe.”

What we have learned from recent history is that bad things happen in ungoverned spaces.

That where there is a void, someone will seek to fill it, and sometimes they will want to do harm to the UK, to our interests and our citizens.

UN Peacekeeping

And so the next Labour government is committed to stepping up and substantially increasing our contribution to UN peacekeeping missions.

We will offer equipment and personnel and we will focus on those areas that the UN itself identifies as being key to effective peacekeeping.

And we will treble the UK’s financial commitment by increasing the available funds for UN peacekeeping operations to £100m.

The UN has consistently said that the Permanent Members of the Security Council have a responsibility to drive forward peacekeeping, so it is time for Britain and our allies to step up.

We will also use our role on the Security Council to pursue reform of the UN and its structures so that they can use to the best advantage the offers made by states for troop and equipment contributions.

It was good to see Secretary General António Guterres launch the Action 4 Peacekeeping initiative in March and I hope that the UK will take a leading role in the discussion.

The Santos Cruz report on peacekeeping clearly identifies a deficit of leadership as one of the main problems that prevents the UN from adapting. It also identifies the need to do more to improve the operational effectiveness of peacekeeping missions.

With our highly-skilled Armed Forces and world-class equipment, Britain is ideally placed to take that leadership role and to be at the forefront of peacekeeping, peace-building and peace enforcement operations with the wider P5.

This is not about making a commitment on a specific number of personnel, but rather working with the UN to best support them in the best way possible to deliver on their objectives. Labour wants the UK’s commitment to be strategic, and to make a difference where it matters.

What the UK can provide

The UK has a range of specialist capabilities that would provide a significant boost to UN missions in areas where they need it the most; in ISTAR, cyber, engineering and logistics, medical units, airlift and maritime patrol to name but a few.

The engineering and medical skills demonstrated by our troops in South Sudan highlight what the UK can bring to the table.

Similarly, our logistical skills are a critical enabler in that they allow the UN and NGOs to operate effectively and to deliver for local people.

And we can also make a substantial difference through the provision of training.

Our Armed Forces have a reputation for skill and professionalism that is second to none.

And each of the Services is currently involved in training troops from multiple countries across the world, with the Army alone involved in 107 nations.

A Labour government would extend the offer to provide pre-deployment advice and support to UN troop contributing countries as a practical way to improve the professionalism of operations, and ultimately to improve outcomes.

This support will include the offer of UK personnel to accompany those countries on deployments in an advisory capacity, embracing the role of a partner and mentor to those who want the support.

We also know that slow deployment is one of the key challenges when it comes to peacekeeping operations.

Quick decision making and decisive action can prevent situations from spiralling out of control. And it is vital that the UN is able to act at the appropriate moment to prevent humanitarian challenges from becoming humanitarian disasters.

The UK has the ability to deploy quickly with significant high-readiness capabilities. Our experience with the Joint Rapid Reaction Force and the new Joint Expeditionary Force show that our Armed Forces are well placed to deliver on this and we could make a real difference at the UN level.

Funding peacekeeping

And we know that UN peacekeeping offers good value for the taxpayer - it represents only a very small fraction of defence spending.

Our expenditure on UN peacekeeping currently comes from the Cross Government Conflict, Security and Stability Fund (CSSF).

Labour is committed to replacing the CSSF with a more transparent, human rights-focussed fund which will continue to be the source of funding for peacekeeping work, as our DfID team has made clear.

Political processes

Of course the overriding purpose and effect of peacekeeping is to enable a political process to take effect.

Stabilising a situation is the necessary starting point to getting the relevant parties around the table and to achieving a long-term resolution to the conflict.

But look at one of the UK’s most significant and longstanding contributions to peacekeeping: Operation Tosca on Cyprus. Whilst the peacekeeping mission there has been stable for a long period of time, the political process has stalled.

And so our approach to peacekeeping must be multidimensional and closely integrated with a range of policy aims, such as improving governance, pursuing reconstruction and advancing rights and the rule of law.

In that sense we are returning to the spirit of defence diplomacy that the Labour Government set out in the 1998 SDSR; linking defence, diplomacy and development to maximise our outcomes.


Refocusing on peacekeeping is not a sign that the UK is any less committed to NATO.

NATO remains the cornerstone of our defence and our security, and the sole organisation for collective defence in Europe.  

And we would want to explore how NATO and hybrid NATO/ UN missions could make peacekeeping, peacebuilding and peace enforcement more effective.

Increased UN activity would represent an opportunity for our own Armed Forces to improve their skills, to gain experience outside the Alliance area and operate in challenging climates and locations where future conflicts are more likely to be found.

It will also enable the MoD to improve its ability to operate multilaterally with a wide variety of states and to gain institutional knowledge from UN missions.


Our ability to contribute effectively to UN missions or NATO programmes depends in large part on the first-class equipment that we have at our disposal.

We are very fortunate in this country to have a truly world-leading defence industry and we value the jobs, apprenticeships and skills that it brings right across the country.

Labour will be setting out more detail of our offer on the defence industry in due course, but today I just want to touch on one area where we will do things very differently.

At present, the MoD does not factor in the socioeconomic value of defence contracts when they are making procurement decisions.

This means that the many benefits of awarding work in Britain go unaccounted for - the additional revenue that comes back to the Exchequer in taxation, higher National Insurance contributions and lower social security payments. Not to mention the value of apprenticeships and spending in the wider economy.

Reports by Oxford Economics have highlighted that the UK defence industry has an output multiplier of 2.3 – meaning that a £100 million investment in the UK industry generates some £230 million to the UK economy.

Their reports have also highlighted that each additional job created in the manufacturing element of the defence industry results in a further 1.8 jobs being created in the wider economy.

The case for buying British is clear.

And so it seems extraordinary that UK bidders could potentially lose out on some contracts because their true value to UK PLC is not being measured.

This is particularly anomalous when so many companies are quite used to having to set out the socioeconomic value of contracts when bidding with other countries.

And so the next Labour government will expand the definition of “good value” to include wider employment, industrial or economic factors when making procurement decisions.

This approach has been endorsed by the Defence Select Committee and it has received the support of the trade body ADS, as well as defence trade unions such as Unite, GMB and Prospect.

And it is this approach that was behind our recent commitment to build the new Fleet Solid Support ships here in the UK by making it a UK-only competition.

Now of course Labour is realistic that in this global marketplace not every contract can or should be delivered in the UK.

I represent a constituency where steel is a large employer, and we want to see more British steel used in defence contracts, but of course we know that some specialist steel is no longer made here and so it must be sought from overseas.

Where we are buying from abroad or working in collaboration with allies to develop assets, Labour would prioritise workshare agreements to create jobs and boost growth in the UK.

And where we can build in Britain we will do so. And our new definition of ‘good value’ will ensure that this takes place.


The next Labour government will also get to grips with the practice of outsourcing MoD services to the private sector.

All too often these private contracts simply fail on their own terms.

They fail to make the promised savings, and it is hardly surprising that by the time they have siphoned off taxpayers’ money to make a profit, either they cut corners on the service that they provide or they drive down terms and conditions for the workforce.

And how is it that a few big companies have hoovered up so many Government contracts? -  quite simply because they drive the bidding down so low that other companies cannot compete. But this leaves them open to huge risk, and then it is we the British taxpayers who have to sort out the mess when companies like Carillion go bust.

Whether it is the persistent complaints about the quality of housing maintenance provided by CarillionAmey – with personnel and their families stuck for days with leaking roofs, broken boilers and appliances that don’t work.

Or the appalling performance of Capita’s Recruiting Partnership Project which is failing on every measure.

It is not doing its basic job of recruiting people to the Army – with numbers continuing to fall, month after month.

Nor is it making the savings that were promised, in fact it has missed the MoD’s target by over £100m in the last six years.

Mark Francois’ report, which the government itself commissioned, concluded nearly a year ago that the contract with Capita was “underperforming significantly below initial projections.”

The Secretary of State has said that he will ‘give them a red card if they don’t deliver’ – so when is he going to do this? Are they waiting for a V.A.R. decision?

To be perfectly honest I have yet to see any evidence of any benefit that Capita brings, nor any reason why this service should not be brought back in House, to be delivered by personnel who know what they are doing.

But these examples typify the MoD’s current approach – rushing to privatise services without being clear about the rationale, failing to monitor these contracts when they have been outsourced, and then doggedly refusing to take any action against companies that do not deliver.

So the next Labour government will get to grips with outsourcing at the MoD. Upon taking office, we will carry out a root and branch review of significant service contracts that have been outsourced by the Department.

And let me be absolutely clear – where they are not delivering, where they are failing our personnel and their families, or failing to provide value for money to British taxpayers, we will have no hesitation in bringing these contracts back in House.

And we will call an immediate halt to the significant contracts that are currently being considered for outsourcing, with Labour introducing a clear presumption in favour of public contracts being delivered by the public sector.

After all, there is a very serious question about whether some of these services should ever be run for profit in the first place.

Take the Defence Fire and Rescue Service which the MoD has announced that it will be privatising.

It simply beggars belief that their chosen partner for this venture is Capita. Now Capita, it must be noted has scored ten out of ten. Ten out of ten for being exceptional – exceptionally high risk.

When it comes to fire safety, the security of our Armed Forces, their families and vital defence assets must be the main concern, not the drive to make cuts in the attempt to meet efficiency targets.

It would be extremely concerning if a situation were to arise where this contract could not be delivered or where it could not be delivered to the standard required. The risks are simply too great.

Now of course there are instances where the private sector can carry out services as a responsible partner to the MoD.

And unlike the government, ours is not an ideologically- driven view. We are not against the private sector having a role per se, but we are against outsourcing where it is letting down taxpayers, our Armed Forces and their families.

Because fundamentally it is people who are at the very heart of our defence.

Personnel, welfare and veterans

In this, Armed Forces week, the nation rightly comes together to honour the service and sacrifice of all who serve and have served.

To say thank you, and to consider what we can all do to support the whole of the Armed Forces Community – personnel, both Regulars and Reservists, their families and our veterans.

I look forward to being in Llandudno on Saturday to take part in the national celebration and it is a great thing that there will be similar events right across the country.

But we also need to make sure that the Community enjoys proper support all year round in meaningful and practical ways.

Labour believes very firmly that our serving personnel deserve a better deal.

We want to see a proper pay rise for our men and women who have had to endure seven years of real terms pay cuts, despite rising rents in service accommodation and cuts to tax credits.

And pay, as part of the wider offer to personnel, is inextricably linked to the crisis in recruitment and retention that is currently affecting the Forces.

It is not a silver bullet, by any means, but we do know from personnel themselves that pay is one of the main reasons why they choose to leave the Armed Forces and to seek alternative employment. 

I am pleased that, after initially resisting these calls, the government has now recognised that the status quo is simply untenable.

So Ministers must now come forward with a fair proposal and ensure that it is the Treasury, not the already cash-strapped MoD, that foots the bill.

We also believe in working to strengthen the Armed Forces Covenant so that its promises become a reality to the Community.

We know that provision can be patchy, something that is not helped by the fragmentation of the NHS in England or the deep cuts to council budgets.

The challenge is finding ways of monitoring and evaluating the implementation of the Covenant in ways which are effective, but which are not overly burdensome or bureaucratic on public authorities that are already hard-pressed.

Because, at the end of the day, we owe a solemn and abiding duty to all who have put their lives on the line in defence of our security and our freedom.

And that duty should be at the very forefront of our minds in this centenary year - as people come together, here at home and overseas, to mark one hundred years since the end of the First World War.

And those last one hundred years have sadly seen so much conflict, strife and instability – the nature of which could not have been foreseen in 1918.  

I hope that we will all use this opportunity to dedicate ourselves to the causes of brokering peace, resolving conflict and advocating for greater stability and security across the world.

Thank you.

Speaker Biography

Nia Griffith MP has been the Labour MP for the Llanelli constituency since 2005. She is currently in Labour's Shadow Cabinet, serving as the Shadow Secretary of State for Defence. Since Labour went into opposition in 2010, she has also served as Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, and previously as a shadow business minister. Between 2005 and 2010, whilst Labour was in Government, Nia served as a ministerial aide firstly to Rt Hon Hilary Benn at the department for the environment, working on the climate change, marine conservation and flood and water bills, and then to Harriet Harman working on the equalities bill. Nia is also an active member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on steel, reflecting the interests of her constituency, where steel is an important industry.

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