Defence – in the House of Commons at on 25 March 2024.

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Photo of Henry Smith Henry Smith Conservative, Crawley

What steps his Department is taking to help ensure stability in the Indo-Pacific.

Photo of Grant Shapps Grant Shapps The Secretary of State for Defence

The UK is committed to a free and open Indo-Pacific, and we are putting our regional approach on a long-term strategic footing. I returned this weekend from Australia, where we have been talking to our colleagues there, working hard on the Indo-Pacific programme.

Photo of Henry Smith Henry Smith Conservative, Crawley

Stability in the Indo-Pacific has been largely aided by the military base presence on Diego Garcia. What assessment has the Defence Secretary made of the military base and the island of Diego Garcia remaining under full British sovereignty, so that we can help to counter the many threats of the modern world, whether that be China, Iran or others?

Photo of Grant Shapps Grant Shapps The Secretary of State for Defence

As I think my hon. Friend knows, I share the goal of ensuring that the base on Diego Garcia remains permanently available for our use, and for the United States. It is strategically positioned, it is absolutely vital and there is read-across to our military facilities elsewhere. It remains safe in our hands.

Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

When assessing our ability to influence the stability of that region, or any other, has the Secretary of State conducted any kind of impact assessment of the reduction of our investment in international aid from 0.7% of GDP, or the fact that we have the smallest standing Army in the United Kingdom for 200 years?

Photo of Grant Shapps Grant Shapps The Secretary of State for Defence

The hon. Gentleman will recognise that I look after the Defence budget, rather than the overseas development budget, but I think he will welcome the fact that, because of the Indo-Pacific tilt, we have ships with a permanent presence there—HMS Spey and HMS Tamar—and the littoral response group south, which operates in the Indo-Pacific. We have already sent the carrier strike group previously; it is going to the region again next year. That is in addition to the global combat air programme sixth-generation programme, and of course AUKUS, for which I was in Australia at the weekend. I think we can all agree that we are doing a lot more than ever before in the Indo-Pacific.

Photo of John Healey John Healey Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

As you did, Mr Speaker, I pay tribute to the Armed Forces Minister at his last Defence questions. Since the last election, we have had five Chancellors, four Foreign Secretaries, three Prime Ministers and two Defence Secretaries, but only one Armed Forces Minister. He has been a rare constant in the turmoil of Government, totally committed to defence. We thank him for that and wish him well.

On the Indo-Pacific, we welcome last week’s updated defence agreement with Australia, further progress on AUKUS, and today’s 10-year plan for Barrow to support AUKUS. This is our most important strategic alliance beyond NATO, so why has the Defence Secretary given the leadership of key parts of AUKUS to the most junior Minister in his Department?

Photo of Grant Shapps Grant Shapps The Secretary of State for Defence

As I explained, I have just been in Australia talking about AUKUS. I have previously been to Japan, I think at least twice but possibly three times, on AUKUS, and to Italy—sorry, not to Italy, obviously, on AUKUS; that was on GCAP, but with an Indo-Pacific tilt. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman’s comments about the Armed Forces Minister, but I am interested to hear his comments on the Indo-Pacific. Back in 2021, when the integrated review suggested a tilt to the Indo-Pacific, he called it a serious flaw in the programme, and urged us not to defocus from elsewhere in the world.