Defence Budget and Transformation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:49 pm on 14th May 2012.

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Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond The Secretary of State for Defence 2:49 pm, 14th May 2012

They still don’t get it. Still they do not understand that a balanced budget is the essential underpinning to effective defence. Still they are in denial about the £38 billion black hole they left, even though we have the internal Labour party documents admitting that the £38 billion black hole is Labour’s biggest weakness in defence. Still they appear to believe, like children in a sweetshop, that it is better to have a big programme that cannot be delivered than a smaller one that our armed forces and defence industry can rely on. Where would we be if the right hon. Gentleman was in charge? We would be right back where we were in May 2010, because he will not make the difficult decisions that support effective defence and will get the MOD back on track.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me about the process from the SDSR and the three-month exercise. It has been a long and drawn-out process, with savings made at the SDSR, further savings made in the three-month exercise to get to the position announced by my right hon. Friend Dr Fox—that the defence budget was broadly in balance—and, now, the work that we have done to go the final mile, which has enabled us to say that we have a fully balanced budget.

I must correct the right hon. Gentleman on his point about pensions. Pensions are not frozen, as he very well knows, and using emotive language like that will not help him.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the £500 million increase in the defence programme projects over the last year. What he forgot to tell the House was that in the last year of his party’s Government there was a £3.3 billion increase in the equipment programme. I can also tell him, in answer to his question, that there is no delay to the Trident programme. The timetable of the Trident programme allows us to include all the critical path items in the PR12 period, and we have done so in the figures that I have announced today.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about regimental structures in Scotland. I can say this to him: I, too, have read in a newspaper that I am determined to introduce a continental-style Army, without a regimental structure. I can say this to the House: I understand absolutely the vital role that the regimental structure plays in the British Army, and as long as I am Secretary of State for Defence, the regimental structure will remain.

The right hon. Gentleman made a fair point when he asked how, when the equipment plan in all its detail cannot be published—as it never has been published in the past—I can substantiate the statement that I have made today. I can do two things. On the one hand, I can ask the armed forces committee and the chiefs of staff to confirm that they can deliver the Future Force 2020 capability within the budget that I have announced, and they have done that. On the other hand, I can ask the National Audit Office to review the statement that I have made—the plan that we have produced—and confirm that it is deliverable within the available budgets. As I said earlier, once the National Audit Office has completed its review, we will publish the equipment plan at the same level of detail as it has been published in the past.

Finally, the right hon. Gentleman asked me whether I was confident that managing the Department’s budget prudently, with in-year unallocated provision and contingency provision in the equipment plan, would not lead to a Treasury raid, in an attempt to snatch back the headroom. May I guarantee that it will be retained for use in defence? He might have noticed that my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury is sitting on the Treasury Bench. He gets it—he understands that the only way in which we will be able to manage the defence budget effectively in future is to have an open and transparent relationship between the Treasury and the MOD, where we both understand the boundaries and drive the incentives that will change behaviour in that Department.

As we have taken the painful decisions in the best interests of our armed forces and of Britain’s defence, we have required no lectures from the party that shirked them. As we have tackled the £38 billion black hole, we have asked for no advice from the Labour party, which has yet to take any action to deal with that black hole.