Ministry of Defence

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:48 pm on 26th February 2018.

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Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham 6:48 pm, 26th February 2018

The right hon. Gentleman is nodding. He and I kept raising that and asking why that decision had not been made. The costs arriving now are because of the decisions taken by the coalition Government. I accept all that has been said about increased defence expenditure, but we cannot get away from the core decisions that have led to the problems we have today.

The 2015 pre-Brexit strategic defence and security review announced an additional £24.4 billion spending on new equipment. Some of that, for example on the P-8, was to fill the gap the Government created in 2010 by a hasty decision to scrap the Nimrod. Reference was made earlier to the civil service making decisions. I am sorry, but it was not civil servants or generals making those decisions; it was Ministers making these decisions, including the right hon. Member for North Somerset and the current Chancellor, when he was Defence Secretary. They decided to reduce the size of the Army to 82,000. I asked a retired senior general, “Who came up with the figure of 82,000 for our armed forces?” He scratched his head and said, “We were just told that that was what the figure was going to be to fit the cash envelope.” We then had the construct of Army 2020, which is a complete political cover, to try to give the impression that we are going to keep the Army at nearly 100,000. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend very eloquently outlined in her contribution to the debate, that is not only not producing the additional personnel required, it is actually costing more than if we had not done that in the first place.

Another point about the 2015 review is that, again, hasty decisions were taken in ordering the P-8. There is a gap, created by this Government, in maritime patrol aircraft. The P-8 was to be bought off the shelf—the Apache contract was announced at the same time—from the United States. That was pre-Brexit. The added costs in foreign currency exchange are now creating pressures on the defence budget, and that is before we look at the effect on the economic and industrial base of our country. It may seem an easy option to buy off the shelf from the United States, but that lets our own industrial base decline, and that is what is happening. I have not yet seen any meaningful commitment by the contractors, Boeing, to create real jobs in the UK. What angers me is that if it was the other way around and we were selling equipment to the United States, we would be unable to do so without a clear commitment to jobs and investment in United States industry. That is where the MOD woefully and shamefully let down the British economy.