James Arbuthnot: As I have said before, the hon. Lady performs a valuable service on the Defence Select Committee. She has put her finger on an extremely important point, which was also raised by the Select Committee in our report on defence acquisition. She is right; this matter has to be covered. I asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State a question about how the United States and France were...
James Arbuthnot: Oh, good. One problem is that the date for the invitations to negotiate has already slipped. That was meant to take place this month, but it is now taking place in August. Let us hope there is no further slippage. We have not heard that any is expected; let us just hope.
James Arbuthnot: My hon. Friend, as a former Minister responsible for defence procurement, has a great deal of expertise. Despite the enormous qualities of his successor, I was very sad to see him leave his job. He has got this point absolutely right. I am going to divide the final question on this defence procurement issue into three. We understand that the process of moving towards a GoCo, if a GoCo is...
James Arbuthnot: I am delighted with the right hon. Gentleman’s tone. I do not want to put words in his mouth, but can I take it that he has no objection, in principle, to a GoCo, but that he wishes to see how it works out in practice?
James Arbuthnot: I am delighted with what my right hon. Friend has just said. Will he consider, among the further measures that might be taken, action to help reservists who find that their promotion is held back by their being in the reserve forces?
James Arbuthnot: I thank my hon. Friend for making this valuable statement to the House. Does she accept that the Post Office, which has acted highly commendably in commissioning this independent review, has a conflict of interest—or, rather, a conflict of duty—in both looking after its sub-postmasters and protecting public money, and that the review has shown that it has fallen too far on the asset...
James Arbuthnot: I remember, because I was then a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Ministry of Defence, that the Labour party was begging us to cut further and faster at that time.
James Arbuthnot: I congratulate the hon. Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley) on securing this debate and I have agreed with all he said—with one exception, which I will come to —particularly about the need for NATO. The one exception was that I think there is a bit of work to be done on the need for the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. I was once a Member of what was then the North Atlantic Assembly for...
James Arbuthnot: I give way to the hon. Lady, who plays such a valuable role on the Select Committee.
James Arbuthnot: I agree. Capacity sharing is essential and there is a lot that we can do together. NATO at its highest levels keeps talking about pooling and sharing, but there is not much that can be pooled and shared if member countries are constantly cutting their defence capabilities, so that is a real worry and it is all caused by the financial concerns that we have. The economic downturn has meant that...
James Arbuthnot: I declare an interest in that my daughter is a member of the Territorial Army. I know my right hon. Friend and the entire House will wish to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier) for what is by any standards an astonishing parliamentary achievement. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is no plan B, and that it is absolutely essential that this reserves...
James Arbuthnot: I know my right hon. Friend believes that NATO’s output is more important than the 2% target of defence spending, but does he accept that if we abandon that 2% target, we will reduce the pressure on improving the output from NATO?
James Arbuthnot: What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with key allies, notably the United States and France, about this proposal and what has been their response?
James Arbuthnot: A few weeks ago, the Prime Minister told the House that he continued to hold the “strong view” that the overall defence budget should rise in real terms from 2015 onwards. When will that prime ministerial wish become Government policy?
James Arbuthnot: I do not think that that was precisely what the Prime Minister said. Nevertheless, does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State agree that if we possibly can we should continue to meet the NATO objective of spending at least 2% of our gross domestic product on defence?
James Arbuthnot: Would the shadow Minister tell us whether the Leader of the Opposition is committed to increasing defence spending year-on-year in real terms after 2015?
James Arbuthnot: To be fair to the National Security Council, describing it as a loss of a capability implies that the capability was in service, which it was not yet, due to aerodynamic and other difficulties with the aeroplane itself.
James Arbuthnot: Does 86% of the blame therefore need to lie with the Labour Government?
James Arbuthnot: It was a very important question.
James Arbuthnot: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be able to help us further? Has he heard Leader of the Opposition give a commitment to increase defence spending after 2015?