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Defence Spending — [Mr Clive Betts in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 16th July 2019.

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Photo of Anne-Marie Trevelyan Anne-Marie Trevelyan Conservative, Berwick-upon-Tweed 9:30 am, 16th July 2019

I thank the right hon. Gentleman. The Minister will have heard his perspective.

One of the key issues for defence is its people, who are flexible, selfless, uncomplaining and serve willingly—indeed, alongside the Minister, who puts his life on the line to serve his country. Equipment changes constantly—if it did not, we would still be sending our Navy to sea under sail—but the quality of our people is always critical. We spend more than a third of our defence budget on people. I say that that is an investment, since they are highly trained and we invest in their training throughout their careers, in a way almost no other employer does. However, we classify them as a cost, so departmental behaviour fails to look after them—our human capital—as assets.

We would not fail to repaint a warship—clearly, that would make her less seaworthy or less capable of dealing with the scars of battle—yet we are perfectly content to fail to invest in the personnel who serve, by not looking after their families and by failing to demonstrate what the armed forces covenant should mean: that if someone has served or is serving, this country genuinely thinks they and their family should not suffer disadvantage. It is imperative that we change the financial models the MOD is allowed to use so that our human capital can be classified as an asset. Service chiefs cannot determine how to reward their personnel, because they are not allowed to use their budgets freely to maximise the benefit to their people and their service. For small change—in both senses of the word—the behavioural changes achieved by flexibility would be substantial and immediate.

I believe the reason change is not happening is that the Department and the Treasury fail to understand the nature of military preparedness, and do not seem to question our resilience if we need to put our military under pressure. Although we put kit that is small, plentiful, cheap and speedy to resource on to the soldier, we put highly skilled men and women, who take years to train, into equipment in the Royal Navy and the RAF that takes years to build. A modern warship or fast jet cannot be whipped up in a few months. It is at the mercy of international supply chains, the risks of which, as John Spellar mentioned, perhaps are not properly understood.

Importantly, that equipment would take a long time to replace if lost. Although bullets for small arms can be produced at speed if necessary, the missiles sustaining our warships and Air Force cannot be churned through a production line at speed if they are suddenly required. Training a submarine commanding officer or fast jet pilot takes years of investment—it takes time. Too often, it feels like the Department’s financial models simply refuse to acknowledge that and fail to understand the human capital investment that is being made, leaving us with huge risk from poorly assessed decisions.

We must consider the key tenets of successful defence and assess whether we are investing enough to sustain them. The first is deterrence. Deterrence works. Nuclear is the ultimate deterrent, but we must never forget that conventional deterrence has greater utility and that strong power generates respect. Let us consider for a moment our nuclear deterrent in its 50th year in our Royal Navy. Our continuous at-sea deterrent is an extraordinary feat. I always refer to it as our best weapon of peace, because the threat of nuclear war has ensured that we have had no more global wars. Humanity understands genuine existential threat, and the CASD is the embodiment of the UK and USA’s global policing, which reminds any rogue state why using a nuclear weapon would be a bad decision. But do we invest properly in our submarine service?