We need your support to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can continue to hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Defence Spending — [Mr Clive Betts in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:05 am on 16th July 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water) 10:05 am, 16th July 2019

It is good that Anne-Marie Trevelyan, who I call a friend, has secured the debate. We disagree on nearly everything except defence, so it is a good place to be.

As Devonport’s MP, I talk a lot about defence and defence spending—and rightly so, because it is the country’s largest naval base. It is home to the Type 23s with tails, which are soon to be replaced like for like by the new Type 26s; our amphibious capabilities, Albion and Bulwark, although sadly we lost the HMS Ocean due to Conservative cuts earlier in this Parliament; and the basing for the fantastic and underappreciated flag officer sea training arrangements. In Babcock, we have a refit capability that is second to none around the world; it is currently refitting HMS Vanguard and our hunter-killer class.

Devonport is also where we tie up old nuclear submarines; there are 13 awaiting spending to ensure their safe and sustainable recycling. That is why a defence spending debate is important, because those nuclear submarines—those big expensive tickets—frequently drop off the bottom of the priority list. They get left and tied up not only in Devonport but in Rosyth. That is why we need to get our defence spending level right.

The argument that I and the hon. Members for Berwick-upon-Tweed and for Dunfermline and West Fife (Douglas Chapman), who represents Rosyth, have made is that we should use a different funding mechanism to support the recycling of those submarines. We know that the defence budget does not have enough pennies in it and that there will always be a greater priority than recycling old nuclear submarines. Our cross-party argument is that, instead of putting pressure on the Minister, who already has many demands on his time and on the pennies in his budget, the civil clean-up programme that is cleaning up our civil nuclear power stations should be extended to those nuclear submarines.

We have to find a way to recycle those submarines. If we wait for the Ministry of Defence’s budget to provide the funds, I fear that we will wait as long again as we already have—many decades. The first submarine was tied up before I was born; we cannot wait that long again for it to be done sustainably. That is why we need to look at the issue carefully.

I agree with Jamie Stone on the need to value the whole-life costing and to invest to save. That is certainly what we need to do with our submarine programme and our future capabilities in naval warfare in terms of the basing arrangements.

I look forward to meeting the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, Mr Ellwood, to talk about the refit of the Stonehouse barracks as an interim measure. It is not right that when at home, not on operations, our Royal Marines are being asked to reside in blocks without hot water or decent heating. That is not acceptable to Plymouth, which is a military city that is proud of its Royal Marines, and it should not be acceptable to any hon. Member. I hope we can put cross-party pressure on Ministers.

We could go into the line-item spending on defence, but we need to start from the top. What are we trying to do with defence? Where is our strategy for it? The 2010 and 2015 strategic defence and security reviews were fronts for cuts; all hon. Members present know that, because we are the defence-focused MPs from every party. They were excuses for cuts and did not portray a decent strategic analysis of where we are as a nation or the threats against us. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed was polite in her description of the 2010 SDSR, but we need a proper review that looks at the real threats that face us and that has a properly funded plan to address them, including long-term industrial strategies for combat air, naval procurement, autonomous marine and autonomous aerial. There is a lot to get right, and we should start with a decent strategy that enables us to look at it properly.