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Operational Deployments

Volume 465: debated on Monday 22 October 2007

2. For what period of time operational deployments are expected to require annual expenditure from the reserve. (159394)

The additional costs of operational deployments will be funded from the Treasury reserve for as long as the operational deployments continue.

Given that 7,700 troops are on deployment in Afghanistan—it is rumoured in NATO that Britain will contribute more troops—and given that our ambassador in Afghanistan has spoken of a commitment that might last three decades, it is simply not reasonable to expect the armed forces to have to budget year on year, on the basis of an indefinite commitment. That money should be structured into the defence budget, and the armed forces should not have to come back to the Treasury, year in, year out for a commitment that is going to last decades.

If the money for operations was built into the budget, that is exactly what the armed forces would have to do: they would have to budget within that structure. At present, the armed forces are funded to provide the capability required—operations are funded from the reserve—so that they are not put into that position. May I take the opportunity to scotch the rumour on which the hon. Gentleman drew? Unfortunately, the NATO spokesman, Colonel Appathurai—I hope that I have pronounced his name properly—made an error yesterday. I will not read the detail of the document I have received, but I am happy to place it in the Library. Today, however, he gave a clear explanation in a press conference, in which he admitted that he had inadvertently misled the media yesterday, and that there were no such plans to increase the UK contingent.

The Secretary of State must be the only person in the House who does not understand that the armed forces are overstretched and under-resourced for the commitments that they have undertaken. When is he going to face up to the fact? If the military has to cancel 10 per cent. of its training every year, the resources are clearly not available for it to do the job and be trained for the job that it is meant to do?

Statistics show that the number of training events is increasing every year. For the year 2004-05, the total of planned training events was 379; for 2005-06, it was 533; and for 2006-07, it was 699. I accept that some of those events were cancelled, but the percentage of cancellations has decreased. I accept, too—I have said so at the Dispatch Box—that we are asking the military to do a significant amount, which has an effect. I have also explained time and again what we plan to do to reduce that pressure.

Have not the Government failed in their attempts since 2004 to produce a defence-specific inflation index? They keep trumpeting the fact that they have given the armed forces 1.5 per cent. more than the general level of inflation, but the Royal United Services Institute calculates that defence equipment projects run at 5 to 10 per cent. above the general level of inflation. Does that not mean that the Government’s claim that they are spending more on defence in real terms is simply a load of hogwash?

It is not a load of hogwash. I have given the figures, and the Opposition spokesmen must accept, however reluctantly, that there have been real- terms increases. The Opposition face a problem, as there is a £6 billion hole in their spending plans. In our policy debate last Tuesday, I invited the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) to say from the Dispatch Box whether he would match or improve our spending plans. Given that he said he was prepared for an election a couple of weeks ago, the Opposition face a challenge—will they spend more than us and, if so, on what will they spend less?