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

The hon. Gentleman is a stalwart of the Committee. I hope that he will develop that important point if he catches your eye presently, Mr Deputy Speaker. Obviously there has to be flexibility and a means of making adjustments when adjustments have to be made to very large sums during the course of an annual budget cycle. But we are talking about an overall shortfall that is so great that we are not going to get anywhere unless we recognise reality and accept that defence should not be so far down the national scale of priorities that it has far left behind those areas of high Government expenditure with which it used to bear straight comparison.

I mentioned previously the National Security Adviser and his security and capability review. The House will know something of the difficulties that the Defence Committee has had in getting the National Security Adviser to appear before it on the grounds—he says—that defence was only one out of 12 strands in that review. The new Secretary of State for Defence has now had some success in regaining control of that one strand for the MOD. Nevertheless, there is something to be said for a very in-depth interrogation of the people who are currently charged with the overall design of our defence and security policy.

At the present time, there is a degree of complacency by people who work in these Ministries. Then, as if by magic, the scales drop from their eyes the moment that they leave. Dare I say this in relation to our most recent former Secretary of State for Defence? Throughout his tenure he played a very straight bat, constantly talking up how much more money was being spent on defence. But within a very short time of leaving his position he made an excellent speech—I believe it was on 22 January this year—in which he said not only that he feels that we need to spend more on defence, but that we ought to be spending 2.5% of GDP on defence by the end of this Parliament.

In the further contributions to this debate, I look to some magic formula that will take hold of our Defence Ministers, civil servants, National Security Adviser and all the rest who seem to think that all is well with the world when, confronted with threats such as we face today, we are spending a fraction of what we used to spend in percentage terms of GDP, and who are saying, “Everything is fine and we are on course.” We are not on course. We need to change course, and the direction in which we have to go is towards a significant uplift to 3% of GDP to be spent on the defence of the United Kingdom.