This week our party is putting forward a vision of a country that works for everyone. Where you can go as far as your talents take you. Ultimately the opportunity to get on depends on the security provided by our Armed Forces.
Today British forces are fighting terrorism, countering aggression, and training troops in democracies as far apart as Iraq and Ukraine, Nigeria and Afghanistan. Here at home, they are patrolling our skies and seas. Serving around the world, around the clock – to keep our country safe. Each one of them deserves our thanks. In Theresa May we have a leader who puts security first. Her first act as Prime Minister was to win an overwhelming majority in Parliament to build the new nuclear submarines that will deter the most extreme threats through to the 2060s. That sent a powerful message about Britain’s commitment to defend our way of life, and that of our allies.
Tomorrow I will be cutting steel on the first new Successor Trident submarine. A billion pound investment that will benefit businesses from Barrow to Berkshire, from the North of Scotland to Tyneside. Contrast that with the Labour Party. While we are getting on with the Successor programme, they can’t even agree on a successor to Jeremy Corbyn. Instead, they’ve just re-elected a Leader who wants to scrap our nuclear weapons, leave NATO, and talk to terrorists. Let me tell you waving a white flag won’t keep us safe. Labour would risk our defence for dogma – that’s why they cannot be trusted with Britain’s security.
Today we face Daesh terrorism, a resurgent Russia, cyber attacks, North Korea illegally testing nuclear weapons. Unlike Labour, we have the will to respond to these threats. We’re investing in more ships, more planes, a 50,000 strong division, better equipment, and stronger cyber defence. All paid for by a defence budget that will grow every year of this parliament. Our party – putting defence first. Leaving the EU does not mean we are stepping back from our commitment to the security of our continent. We will continue to have the biggest defence budget in Europe – meeting the 2% NATO spending target.
And we will lead in NATO – the cornerstone of our defence – putting troops onto its eastern border next year. But we will go on blocking an EU Army, which would simply undermine NATO. We will step up, not away from, our global responsibilities. Our Armed Forces are already playing the second biggest part in the coalition against Daesh.
Last month in Iraq I met our troops training Iraqi Forces and we are doubling the numbers we have there……the RAF is striking Daesh day and night;…Royal Navy frigates and destroyers help guard coalition aircraft carriers. Defeating Daesh will help keep Britain’s streets safe. Two years into this campaign, I ask you to pay tribute to all our military are doing. We will also increase troop numbers in Afghanistan and doubling our contribution to UN-peacekeeping missions in Africa. With new aircraft carriers…maritime patrol aircraft..attack helicopters…armoured vehicles…and the fifth biggest defence budget in the world…we are ready to defend freedom and the rule of law to advance democracy and protect human rights. It is the men and women of our Armed Forces who put themselves in danger to provide the security that is essential for a country that works for everyone.
Armed Forces that can be a remarkable engine of social mobility. Look at Cadet, now Lieutenant, Kidane Cousland. The school system failed Kidane. He left a Tottenham estate with a few GCSEs but the Army turned him into the best officer graduating this year at Sandhurst. Look at how the Armed Forces provide the most apprenticeships. Helping people develop skills that benefit our military – setting set them up for better careers in civilian life. I am setting a target to deliver 50,000 apprenticeships over this Parliament. Look at the young cadets who learn the skills and confidence they need to thrive.
Today I am announcing the first 25 of 150 new units we are creating in state schools. They include one at Rockwood Academy – in this city – which I will be visiting this afternoon…….a phoenix from the ashes of a ‘Trojan Horse’ school that is now instilling British values, instead of promoting religious segregation. And look at how we help service personnel buy their own homes. Last year I told you I wanted our Forces’ Help to Buy scheme to help 10,000 personnel and we’re meeting that target. But I want more people to benefit so I am extending the scheme until 2018. More homes for heroes.
We aren’t just helping servicemen and women get on the housing ladder. We are selling MOD land we don’t need to build the homes we do. Thanks to the experience gained serving our country, most veterans find good jobs. But inevitably a few are scarred by their service and we are doing more to support them, particularly those with mental health issues. I also know how much stress is caused by legal claims years after conflicts have ended. It is right that we investigate serious allegations but we’ve seen our legal system abused to falsely accuse our armed forces. So we’re taking action. Of more than three thousand claims about half have already been discontinued – and another thousand further cases will be thrown out by January. Already one of the firms that filed thousands of these claims, the so-called ‘Public Interest Lawyers’ – has had its legal aid contract terminated and shut down in August.
It won’t be missed. So we are working hard to get vexatious claims thrown out. And we are taking action to draw up a new time limit for bringing claims and to tackle no win no fee deals. But much of the litigation we face comes from the extension of the European Convention on Human Rights to the battlefield. This is damaging our troops, undermining military operations, and costing taxpayers’ millions. So I can announce today that in future conflicts we intend to derogate from the Convention. That would protect our Armed Forces from many of the industrial scale claims we have seen post Iraq and Afghanistan. Now this isn’t about putting our Armed Forces above the criminal law or the Geneva Conventions.
Serious claims will be investigated – but spurious claims will be stopped. And our Armed Forces will be able to do their job, fighting the enemy, not the lawyers. As Defence Secretary I see how our Armed Forces give people chances they never thought they would have. And I want to do more to move people through the ranks. More to ensure any young man or women can aim for Sandhurst, Dartmouth, or Cranwell.
I want more recruits from ethnic minorities and more women. So I’ve challenged the Service Chiefs to get at least 10% of our new recruits from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background by 2020. And I’ve opened up all combat roles to women so ability, not gender, defines how far you can go. This isn’t about tokenism; it’s about talent. And we will make sure that our Armed Forces can recruit the brightest and best in our society whatever their background. Playing their part in a country that works for everyone. Conference, our Armed Forces keep us safe every day, every night. Providing the security that underpins our freedom and promotes opportunity. This party will back them with the equipment they need……we will support the nuclear deterrent……and we will stay committed to NATO. Putting the security of Britain first.