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...
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?
James Arbuthnot: Yet.
James Arbuthnot: Will my hon. Friend give way?
James Arbuthnot: Mr Brady, you are our Chairman, of course.
James Arbuthnot: My hon. Friend danced lightly over the possibility of regenerating the capacity and the skills to fly these aircraft. Such skills are difficult to maintain, let alone to regenerate. Is he coming to that important point, which needs to be covered?
James Arbuthnot: I entirely confirm what the hon. Lady has just said. The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) was the first to demand this inquiry, and has led it throughout. We are grateful to her for her commitment, even though she is not here today.
James Arbuthnot: We are an island. That makes what happens around our coasts of great importance to us. We are a member of the permanent five in the UN Security Council, of the Commonwealth, of the European Union, of NATO and of other organisations, which, added together, means that we are a world power, with global responsibilities and interests. That makes what happens in the seas of the world of great...