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I congratulate my hon. Friend Anne-Marie Trevelyan on securing this debate and introducing it with such brio. I am delighted to see how many colleagues are present to debate these important matters.
On the defence budget, I was reassured to hear from the Chair of the Defence Committee, my right hon. Friend Dr Lewis, that my right hon. Friend Boris Johnson, who is most likely to win the leadership election, told that Committee
“I can give you an absolute commitment to fund defence fully.”
In the nicest possible way, we should bank that and endeavour to hold him to it if and when he becomes our Prime Minister.
Having been a Defence Minister—I have great respect for the Minister, as he knows—I have always believed that there is a kind of asymmetric conversation between the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury. I will exaggerate slightly for effect, but it essentially goes as follows.
The MOD view is, “Those people over the road don’t know what they’re doing. They don’t understand us. They don’t realise the relentless operational pressure that we have been under for 20 years, or the pressure on our people. They ask us to scrimp and save at every possible opportunity to make false economies that are injurious to the defence of the realm.”
The Treasury view goes something like this: “Those people across the road don’t know what they’re doing. They have £36 billion a year. They don’t manage it very well or control their contractors properly, and waste a vast amount of it on procurement programmes that go way over budget and come in years late. All they ever do is bleat like children for more money so that they can waste it on more procurement programmes that go wrong.”
Those are the asymmetric views, and the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. If we are to deal effectively with the defence of this country, rather than that adversarial relationship, which is how I have seen it happen for so long, we have to get those two Departments to work together positively for the benefit of our country and its defence. In fairness, the MOD does have to be better at managing its budget. Some contracts are shocking and the MOD has been deficient in holding contractors to account. The military flying training system is a disaster, partly because of the unavailability of Hawk, and on that, BAE Systems needs to look to its laurels.
The Defence Infrastructure Organisation is not the most efficient part of the Ministry of Defence—the maintenance contract with Amey is awful. The other day, the DIO told the Public Accounts Committee that there was a 64% satisfaction rate, but there is not. In the armed forces continuous attitude survey, the satisfaction rate is actually 32%, which is an appalling statistic. The A400M has been an absolute procurement disaster—it is known as “the dog” by the crews that operate it at RAF Brize Norton—at a cost of £2.6 billion for aircraft with an appalling reliability rating, bad engines and gearbox, and an inability to deliver paratroops. Finally, as the Minister knows, it would be unlike me not to mention my great friends “Crapita,” whose army recruitment contract is utterly hopeless. While the number of applications goes up, the number of people joining goes down.
There is a way through this: whoever they may be, the next Defence Secretary and the next Chancellor—I wish our outgoing Chancellor the very best of luck in his posting in outer Mongolia—need to work together for the benefit of this country’s defence.