The Ministry of Defence's targets for efficiency improvements and the sale of surplus estate assets cover the period 1998 to 2002, as set out in the Department's public service agreement. The targets for 1998–99 were achieved, with efficiency savings of £594 million against a target of £505 million, and receipts from asset sales of £158 million against a target of £150 million. The Department is on track to meet its targets in this financial year and over the remainder of the PSA period.
I draw the Minister's attention to the comments of Admiral Sir John Brigstocke. He said that £1.5 million, which had been earmarked for the Surgeon General's department, is being wiped out as efficiency savings. In other words, that represents £1.5 million of budget cuts. In the light of that, does the Minister understand the contempt of serving men and women in our armed forces for a Government who are happy to send them into battle zones but do not have the decency to fund the health care that they need when they fall sick?
That was a good try, but wholly misdirected. The claim is untrue. Such a cut has not been made. A letter from the admiral shows that our actions on resources and funding have been understood at the highest level. We are beginning a get well programme. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are trying to rectify the cuts that we inherited. That takes time, and such action has to be balanced against other operational requirements.
The Minister has hinted at part of the problem: the Government inherited a disastrous medical service that had been cut not on the basis of need, but purely to-make savings. Does he agree that we cannot run defence medical services in such a way and that, although it will take a long time, the Government are committed to replacing those services?
It was always anticipated that cuts would be made by the previous Government, but I fear that the real problem was their lack of both coherence and a comprehensive view of the country's defence needs. It is a constant refrain that they made ad hoc cuts in a variety of ways, which had consequences that they never imagined.
Will the Minister make it absolutely clear from the outset that the Prime Minister's press spokesman is wrong and unfair to attack senior military staff for simply leaking documents ahead of budget discussions? That is outrageous. Is not the reality that there have been cuts in housing, fuel and health? The housing programme has slipped by at least three years, the Government cut the fuel budget by 30 per cent. and then had to raise it by 25 per cent., and there was definitely a cut of £1.5 million in the get well programme in their health budget. This morning, they panicked and talked about remedial action with fast-tracking in Portsmouth. Have they talked to Portsmouth health authority, and exactly what waiting list will they damage now?
No, I have not spoken to Portsmouth health authority; and no, I certainly would not question the probity of the Prime Minister's official spokesman—that would take a brave man on this side of the House. I also say no to the hon. Gentleman's assertions about where cuts have allegedly been made. Even if they had been made, I would ask him to say where he would find the money to make up those cuts, which are notional—he has invented them.