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

I do not disagree with my hon. Friend, but that goes to the point—this was the problem back in 2010—of the Treasury being let in the door of the MOD, and being in control and in the driving seat. When I was a Minister, I chaired the finance group in the MOD when we were looking for savings and dealing with the Treasury. I know exactly what Ministers are dealing with. The Treasury does not understand the value of our armed forces and how they operate. I am glad that the Secretary of State seems to have wrestled control of that element back. If our defence policy is determined by Treasury figures, we will have very strange decisions that will not match strategic needs.

We keep hearing from the Government that they are meeting the NATO 2%. As someone who is committed to NATO and who supports it—I am a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly—I can say that that is an academic argument. It is important in that we are trying to get people to spend a minimum of 2%, but it is also important to look at what our NATO partners spend that 2% on. It is clear that the Government have rejigged the figures. I am not saying that they have done anything illegal or anything like that, but in 2015, they changed how defence spending was calculated. War pensions of £820 million were included; assessments of contributions to UN peacekeeping of £400 million were included; and the pensions of retired military personnel, which was another £200 million, were included. The thick end of £1 billion of that 2% is made up of things that the hardiest defender of Government policy would not think were frontline defence commitments.

It is about being realistic. It would be fine if we were spending only 1.8% on defence but spending it on the right things. There is a case for increasing the defence budget—that argument was made by the right hon. Member for New Forest East and by my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling—but we need to do it by setting strategic objectives that show why we need more than we are spending. There is also an onus on the MOD to ensure that what it is spending is not only efficient, but provides value for money for the taxpayer.

All hon. Members who have contributed to this debate have said that our armed forces are universally and rightly held in the highest regard. I agree. But, it is not just national sentiment; it is because they are vital for our nation’s security and because they define our place in the world. I do not think for one minute that the new Secretary of State or his ministerial team lack commitment to the armed forces—they are all committed to defence and want to do the best for our armed forces, so I wish them well in the battle they will have with the Treasury—but without new money or a radical rethink about the commitments we ask our armed forces to fulfil, I fear for their future, and more importantly for Britain’s place in the world.