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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

The hon. Gentleman’s point is well made.

The question today is defence spending. Let me therefore share with the House the assessment the Public Accounts Committee made of the latest equipment plan:

“In May 2018 we reported that the Ministry of Defence…did not have enough money to buy and support the equipment it needs.”

Bear in mind that buying is 50% and supporting is 50%. Our report continued:

“the Department has made little progress, continuing to delay the difficult decisions needed to make the Equipment Plan…affordable, particularly around which programmes to stop, delay or scale back. It now estimates a most likely affordability gap…of £7 billion across its Plan…
It also estimates that the gap could widen to £14.8 billion, but even this looks to be unlikely and overly optimistic. The escalating and continuing affordability issues have led to short-term decision making which has only worsened the longer-term affordability risks.”

We continue to watch that on the Public Accounts Committee, but the sense of anxiety just builds as we keep seeing a lack of change in policy frameworks. Instability across the globe is increasing, so if we do not build the equipment we need to achieve our SDSR ’15 goals, let alone what those in SDSR ’20 might look like, we will simply not be able to meet politicians’ requirements.

Politics is about making choices and we need to think carefully about this one. Our military will always offer their political masters choices and solutions as required, but they may have to bend themselves out of shape with collateral damage, gaps and risks elsewhere in order to do so. I do not believe that we can expect them to do so if we, the politicians, do not give them the funds they need to meet at least the SDSR ’15 asks. If we do not show confidence in our military personnel with, in the scheme of things, a very small amount of cash investment in human capital, which is utterly vital to success in warfare, we will continue to lose too many people who have been willing to commit their lives to defending us and our families.

We must not leave our armed forces with the impossible decision of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Short-term decisions on finances can have long-term implications on recruitment, retention and equipment capability and availability. Defence is an insurance policy, so if we get our deterrence right, it stops wars and attacks on us or our allies. That is success, but it costs to achieve that, and it is invisible. No soldiers on our TV screens battling in the desert does not mean that we are not maintaining a global presence to deter those who would wish us and our allies harm. Military personnel are defending us and our way of life invisibly 24 hours a day.

We all have house insurance not because we expect our homes to burn down, but because a roof over our family’s head is so important that we plan to protect ourselves just in case. Our armed forces are our nation’s “just in case.” I worry about how our political leaders sleep soundly at night thinking that we have only a budget insurance policy and hoping that we will never have to claim on it. The budget is large at £40 billion a year, but, without the right decisions and an acceptance that that is not quite enough for what is needed to keep us all safe, the shortfall in funding and financial frameworks leaves us horribly exposed to unknown threats.

We must bring the defence budget up at least to the point where the political ambitions set out in our own SDSRs are matched by the funding for our military experts to deliver those for us. To do that, I estimate we need an increase of some £4 billion a year to the budget and, equally importantly, flexibility to fund long-term projects intelligently for best value and speediest output. It cannot be right that we allow our military personnel to be put at greater risk than they need to be by failing to invest properly in our Army, Navy and Air Force.

I do not mind if the Treasury wants to invest more because it is morally the right thing to do to ensure we can protect our people, our trade and our allies, or simply because it is the right financial method to make better use of taxpayers’ money over the long-term to get real value for money. If the financial models set out in the Green Book do not deliver that, we should change them so that they do.

We are in charge of our country’s destiny and we can set the framework to maximise the positive outcomes for this great nation of ours, which is respected around the world for its military prowess and its people. I thank the Minister for his loyal support of our armed forces, and I hope that the Treasury is listening.