I am writing to ask whether you would be kind enough to support me to be the next Chair of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee - on which I currently serve.
I suspect my enthusiasm for aviation and support for the Royal Air Force won’t be news to you (after all, I talk about RAF Brize Norton often enough…!) but I’d like to take a few moments to explain, firstly, what I would want to do as Chair of this committee at a critical time and, secondly why I think that I would be worthy of your support.
What would I want to concentrate on?
We face a more uncertain world than at any time in recent memory. The asymmetric threats of the post-9/11 world have not gone away. The terrorists and non-state actors are still there and challenge our way of life as they always have. Yet we have seen the resurgence of “old style” hard power rivalry in a way that some thought we had left behind.
Our support for Ukraine must be unequivocal and steadfast. Russia is a strategic threat that sees the West as an enemy. China presents the greatest challenge to the liberal West and the international rules-based order that we have ever seen. We need to be realistic about the fact that the scene is darkening.
We need to look seriously at strategy and deterrence. I wholeheartedly support the full CASD nuclear deterrent. It is our ultimate insurance policy – a political rather than a military weapon – but it is not enough alone. It is imperative we rebuild our layered deterrence; this is essential to ensure such a deterrent is effective. Conventional capabilities must not be undervalued or traded.
So, we must decide what challenges we need to face first. Then decide what we need and how much we need to spend on capabilities. That is inevitably going to require considerably more defence spending, but the figure ought to be based on our current challenges. As we know, the Government will not want to do this because of the inevitable demand on the Treasury that will result. I will not shy away from this. The reality is that we need to spend considerably more on defence and I will be unashamed in making this case to Government.
We should have a detailed consideration of the impact of the Ukraine war on our current military posture. Whilst there is no doubt that “new” military focus such as AI, drones, technology are going to be increasingly important, I do not think that we should be under any illusion that these will allow us to do ever more with ever less. Sooner or later, any military force has to hold ground: tanks still have a role, troop numbers are vital, we need sufficient mass of warships and aircraft to ensure that we remain a credible military power, not least to our Allies. We need to ensure that we could effectively “get out of the door” should we ever be required to do so, backed by the world-leading intelligence and logistics capabilities without which, any “sharp end” capability is rendered blunt.
All of this is going to require a serious look at the partnership between Government and industry, and a critical understanding of where procurement failures, particularly short-term thinking, lack of serious control of projects, and a failure to invest in sovereign capability and industrial capacity have let our Armed Forces and the UK down.
Yet we must not be preoccupied with “kit”. The reality is that the British Armed Forces are so highly regarded because of the professionalism of their people and the quality of their training. Ensuring this is maintained, and the “drain” of people from the Armed Forces to the civilian sector is slowed, is more important than anything else.
It’s for precisely that reason that I wanted to set up and am currently leading a subcommittee on Military Housing - the biggest issues raised by military communities and one of the main drivers causing these highly sought-after men and women to leave our Armed Forces. We must push for more action to look after those who protect us.
Finally, the importance of working with our Allies and of soft power is important as never before. The Ukraine war has revitalised NATO, and we must work to make it ever more effective as a military alliance, ensuring that we maintain the confidence of the United States at all times.
I already serve on the committee, and feel that I have made a significant contribution. But above all, the committee is respected and has produced good quality, valuable work in the recent past. It is, and must remain, a committee that is regarded as effective & respected by Parliament, Government, industry and the Armed Forces alike. During this critical time for defence, the need for a determined Defence Committee, with stable and expert leadership is critical.
Holding the Government to account has never been more important. I have demonstrated - for example over C-130J Hercules withdrawal - that I am prepared to fully scrutinise the Government and have no qualms in continuing to do so.
I do feel that moving forwards, the committee requires a Chair rather than a "free-flowing voice". I will always strive to echo the voice of all members, not just my own.
I pride myself in approaching everybody in a courteous fashion. I have worked effectively cross-party in the past both as a minister and from the backbenches, and would hope that all colleagues would agree that, regardless of party or position, I have always treated every colleague with courtesy and respect.
I would work tirelessly to be a strong and unifying chair of the committee, dedicated to ensuring it is a collegiate, truly cross-party body that scrutinises the Government and the MOD in a robust but courteous, fair manner.
Importantly, I believe that my two years as Minister for Aviation, Maritime and Security - during the pandemic and in the run-up to the Ukraine war - which has considerable crossover with the Armed Forces, will enable me to bring a unique perspective and knowledge of the workings of Government to this vital role as Chair.
In conclusion, I believe that my significant ministerial experience and proven, expert knowledge of defence, ability to master detail and work effectively cross-party will ensure I am a strong and reliable Committee Chair, helping to provide the scrutiny that is required as our nation confronts the most contested times in a generation.
I hope that you will consider supporting my candidacy. Please do call me on 07799 417291 if you would like to discuss anything further.
Robert Courts MP