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

It is. As an example, we have to look only at the sale of Airbus in the United States market. As part of that deal, it had to build a plant in Alabama, I think. We have the mindset in this country that somehow the ticket price looks cheap, but we are not thinking about the loss in tax revenue going back to the Exchequer and the fact that the defence industrial base is suffering.

Some decisions in 2015 were very strange. The Navy has been mentioned, and I accept that naval platforms are far more capable than they were 10 or 20—and certainly 50—years ago, but people are fixated on the number of hulls. The Government came up with the novel idea of having a cheap alternative through the Type 31e. This was literally just to deal with the idea that we have a certain number of hulls. I asked what the Type 31e is capable of doing. It cannot do NATO tasks and it is not clear what weaponry will go on it. Lo and behold, when I looked at the Ministry of Defence budget, I saw that there was no budget line for it at all—it has a £1.3 billion price tag on it—so again, how will it be paid for?

The Secretary of State needs to look not just at asking for more money, which the budget clearly needs, but at some of the ill-thought-out decisions. Take the P-8, for example. Buying off the shelf from the United States might look like a simple solution, but as I understand it, the sonar buoys and missiles cannot be fired from the P-8 as it is configured, so we will have to redevelop the programme, adding more costs in. This is about looking at whether we have to revisit some decisions and take things out of the budget. I think that will be the case if we are to fit the budgets,

The issue of numbers is always contentious. When we were in government, I remember the hue and cry from the Conservative Front Bench—the right hon. Member for New Forest East was part of it—when we froze training days for the Territorial Army. The cost was £20 million. From looking at the headlines and at the way some Conservative politicians were going on, one would have thought that the world had stopped. If a Labour Government had slashed the defence budget by 16% and sacked and made people redundant, as this Government have, they clearly would have been condemned.

It is the same old story. I understand the point that the right hon. Member for New Forest East made about arguing for defence—I have argued consistently for it in this House—but these are political decisions. When I was in the Ministry of Defence in 2010, I did not hear Conservative politicians stand up and say, “No, we do not need extra expenditure.” We were being condemned because we were not spending enough. In 2010, I did not see a single poster or anything in the Conservative manifesto saying, “We are going to slash the defence budget by 16%,” but these are the real facts and we cannot ignore them.

Let me turn to recruitment, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend touched upon. I do not like to say, “I told you so,” but the decision on the Capita contract for recruitment was criticised at the time. My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling raised complaints, asking why armed forces personnel were being taken out of recruitment centres and why such centres were being closed in some areas. The position we find ourselves in now was bound to happen. We have heard some of the stories. The recruitment process is not only taking a year, but given the rate at which people are being failed, it is no wonder the Government are not meeting the targets. It is now time to revisit the contract and put uniformed personnel back into recruitment centres. The Capita contract should be scrapped, because it is completely failing to deliver what was outlined.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend talked eloquently about reservists. It is time to rethink “Army 2020”. It was never going to work. It was political cover so that when the Government were cutting the Army to 82,000, they could still give the impression that they had an Army of more than 100,000. The issues my hon. Friend raised are not the only concern. I have never had an answer to the question about how we get formed units. How do we get training whereby regulars and reserves can train side by side to go on operations? I have not seen any evidence that that is happening in practice. If, in addition, it is costing what my hon. Friend says it is, it might be time to revisit it and see whether those resources can be put elsewhere. Let us come back to the suggestion that Ministers were asking advice from the Army about this. They were not; it was a political decision imposed on the Army.