Defence Spending (Commitments)

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 29th March 2010.

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Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury 2:30 pm, 29th March 2010

What recent assessment he has made of the balance between UK defence spending and UK defence commitments.

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Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Secretary of State for Defence

Aha! Another hon. Member appears to have asked exactly the same question as Michael Fabricant.

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Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury

The Secretary of State might be aware that Lord Guthrie has recently observed that, because of the Prime Minister's attitude when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, the military wanted to do many things but was unable properly to fund the 1998 strategic defence review, which the Cabinet had approved. Does the Secretary of State think that Lord Guthrie's comments are fair criticism?

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Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Secretary of State for Defence

No, I do not, and I refer to the substance of the answer by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at the Chilcot inquiry-no one has been able to say otherwise. Every request that was made in regard to urgent operational requirements was met, and in every spending round while my right hon. Friend was Chancellor of the Exchequer, there was a real-terms increase in the defence budget. When those things are taken together, they add up to almost £1 billion a year.

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Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Shadow Minister (Defence)

If our troops had as much armour on their vehicles as the Secretary of State has in his defence of indefensible statistics, they would be very safe indeed. However, even if we include the money from the Treasury reserve, is it not a fact that, as a proportion of gross domestic product, defence expenditure has declined over the lifetime of this Government?

This is the last question that Opposition Front Benchers will be asking of Defence Ministers, so may I point out that, during this sitting, there have been twice as many Conservative Members present as Government Members, with a solitary three Lib Dems? Does not that show how the different parties rate the importance of defence?

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Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Secretary of State for Defence

I say to the hon. Gentleman quite genuinely that I am not dead certain about whether, after taking the urgent operational requirements into account, the fact that he cites is correct. The only thing that I would say to him is that, because of a Labour Government, the time that he mentions has been a period of unprecedented growth in GDP. [ Interruption. ]

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