Ministry of Defence

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 26th February 2018.

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Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Defence Committee 5:45 pm, 26th February 2018

It depends whether the hon. Gentleman is talking about absolute figures or percentages of GDP spent on defence. In 2016, the Defence Committee produced a unanimous report called “Shifting the Goalposts? Defence expenditure and the 2% pledge”. We had the Committee staff use all available sourcing to draw up a definitive table of what had been spent on defence by Britain as a proportion of GDP over the past 50 years. The figures for the period we are talking about are: 1990-91, 3.8%; 1991-92, 3.8%; 1992-1993, 3.7%; 1993-94, 3.5%; 1994-95, 3.3%; and 1995-96, 3%. It then dips below 3% in 1996-97 to 2.7%, and thereafter it is down and down, with little blips here and there, until it is hovering around 2.5% because the cost of operations were included.

The point about all this is that we should not be arguing about who did the most damage. We should be agreeing about what we need in the future. If we are hearing a chorus of voices from the Labour Benches—it is music to my ears—saying that we have not been spending enough on defence and we need to be spending more, that is what we should be saying loud and clear to those people who seem to be perfectly content to spend the existing inadequate sums.

I do not wish to prolong my contribution, but I do wish to speak briefly about the equipment plan that was alluded to in some detail by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough. The equipment plan of 2016 is for £178 billion over 10 years. That includes a small number—nine, which some would say was too small a number—of new P-8A maritime patrol aircraft, replacing a capability that was quite wrongly dispensed with after 2010. We are also supposed to be replacing 13 Type 23 frigates and supplying mechanised infantry vehicles out of this budget, and we are of course engaged in resurrecting carrier strike capability—another capacity that was temporarily lost after 2010.

The first report of the Defence Committee in the new Parliament was entitled, “Gambling on ‘Efficiency’: Defence Acquisition and Procurement”. The word “efficiency” was in inverted commas because we believe that the affordability of the scheme is predicated on an estimate of £7.3 billion of theoretical efficiency savings that are to be made in addition to some £7.1 billion that was previously announced. As we have heard, the National Audit Office thinks that the equipment programme is at greater risk than at any time since reporting was introduced in 2012. The truth of the matter is that we encounter black holes everywhere we look in defence. This brings me to my concluding point.