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Comprehensive Spending Review

Volume 533: debated on Monday 10 October 2011

5. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of his Department’s budget during the comprehensive spending review period; and if he will make a statement. (72903)

On 18 July 2011, I announced that the defence budget is now broadly in balance over the decade and adequate to enable the Department to fulfil its objectives, including success in Afghanistan and Libya, delivery of the Future Force 2020 and the major process of transformation that follows the strategic defence and security review.

Men and women in the west midlands have always made a huge contribution to the armed forces, not least at MOD Donnington, which provides a first-class logistics service, ensuring that forces get the right kit in the right place at the right time. Will the Secretary of State assure the House that he will use those resources to ensure that the logistics commodity services site at Donnington is retained as the main logistics site for the MOD, safeguarding the 2,000 jobs that depend on it, and will he meet representatives of the work force to discuss this issue?

I and any of my ministerial colleagues will be very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss the issue. We are keen to retain as much of the defence infrastructure, naturally, as possible within the constraints we are set given the budgetary position in which the Department finds itself. First, may I pay tribute to the excellent logistics the hon. Gentleman has described? We will do what we can to retain what we can.

One of the really excellent initiatives that my right hon. Friend has pressed for to make capacity in defence affordable is the decision to move various elements towards the reserves. May I ask when we can expect a full response to the reserves review? He has already given a very positive preliminary response.

I would like to be able to do it before Christmas, but, as my hon. Friend will understand, there is a lot of very detailed work to be undertaken. Perhaps the biggest challenge is the fact that we are pouring £400 million into the reserves over this Parliament—an unprecedented amount to put into that organisation, which was very badly run down by the previous Government. There will be challenges in absorbing that amount of money and, of course, the rate at which we are able to build up the reserves will determine the rate at which we are able to change the ratio with the regulars.

The Government have used the issue of cost as the main reason they are scrapping the office of the chief coroner. This is a Justice lead, but it affects fallen servicemen and women and their bereaved families. The Royal British Legion has submitted a compromise proposal in which it outlines reforms that could be made to the coronial system at a much lower cost than the Government estimate. Has the Secretary of State reviewed this proposal and does he support it?

I have had conversations with ministerial colleagues over this and although I am broadly sympathetic to some of the changes outlined, the hon. Lady is right that this is a Justice lead. For her to say that the Government simply use cost as a means of having to make reductions is, again, not to understand what it is to inherit a budget with a £38 billion black hole. Of course we have to learn to live within our means, and we do not yet know from the Opposition what their budget would be and which parts of the SDSR they accept and do not accept. In fact, we hear very little from them except negative criticism. It seems they have nothing constructive at all to say on the matter.