Armed Forces (Pensions and Benefits)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:43 am on 8th March 2011.

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Photo of Nick Harvey Nick Harvey The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence 11:43 am, 8th March 2011

I am coming to that. We have to acknowledge three things. First, the scale of the deficit is so enormous that £1 in every £4 of public expenditure is being borrowed, and the interest alone on the debt this year is greater than the entire defence budget, including the proportion being paid by the Treasury for operations in Afghanistan. That is how immense the overall deficit black hole is. That is compounded in the area of defence by the situation we inherited, where the defence budget was lagging behind the defence forward programme over the 10-year planning period by £38 billion. That is the gap between the programme that we inherited and the existing budget, set at a flat real basis, for the 10-year planning period. That is over and on top of the general deficit picture that we inherited. There is the general picture and the specific defence picture.

The third element, which I do not think was acknowledged adequately by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton, is that before there ever was an economic downturn, before the banking crisis hit, before the deficit became part of the political currency, there was already a problem with public service pensions, which the previous Government had acknowledged and was beginning to address, and which was going to require pretty drastic action sooner or later, irrespective of the nation’s finances plunging as they did. Before any of that started, there was already a serious problem with the affordability of public service pensions. We have to acknowledge all three factors as the backcloth to the decisions that have subsequently been taken.