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New Equipment (Expenditure)

Volume 546: debated on Monday 11 June 2012

Before I answer the question, I am sure the House will wish to join me in paying tribute to the three servicemen who have lost their lives in Afghanistan since the House last met: Captain Stephen Healey of 1st Battalion, The Royal Welsh, who was killed by an improvised explosive device in the upper Gereshk valley on Saturday 26 May; Corporal Michael Thacker, also of 1st Battalion, The Royal Welsh, who was killed by gunfire in Nahr-e Saraj on Friday 1 June; and Private Gregg Stone of 3rd Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment, who was also killed by gunfire, on Sunday 3 June. We owe them a debt of gratitude for their service and sacrifice, which we will never forget. I know the thoughts of the whole House will be with their families and loved ones.

I am sure the House will also want to join me in paying tribute to the bravery of the British and American forces involved in the operation to rescue aid worker Helen Johnston and her three colleagues, and to the Afghans for the huge help they provided throughout. The rescue operation was conducted with immense skill and professionalism in the most difficult terrain imaginable. Through this operation, we send a clear message to terrorists around the world that the UK will not tolerate the kidnapping of our citizens.

As I announced to the House in May, the core committed equipment programme—which covers investment in equipment, data systems and equipment support—amounts to just under £152 billion over 10 years. This includes some £80 billion for new equipment and its support and, for the first time, over £4 billion of centrally held contingency to ensure the robustness of the plan. In addition, the Department has a further unallocated £8 billion in the equipment budget. This will be allocated to projects not yet in the committed core programme only when it is necessary to commit in order to ensure the required delivery, and when the project in question is demonstrated to be affordable and with military advice.

May I join the Secretary of State in offering my condolences to all those brave troops?

My visit to Afghanistan last year served to bring home to me how important it is for our troops that any uncertainty about future equipment supplies is eliminated. Therefore, will my right hon. Friend offer more details on the £4 billion contingency fund that is in place to ensure the robustness of the equipment programme?

I agree with my hon. Friend that what our armed forces particularly want to know is that, unlike sometimes in the past, they will always have the protective equipment and the support helicopters that they need. Through our balancing of the equipment plan and introducing the £4 billion contingency fund, they will have much greater assurance that that will the case. That is the least we owe to them.

Whilst having a long-term plan for defence equipment is crucial for our conventional military capability, does the Secretary of State agree that we also need to be investing in cyber-defence capability, to combat threats to our national security from this rapidly evolving threat?

The Department certainly recognises the rapidly evolving threat from cyberspace, and we keep it under constant review. The national cyber-security programme has provided the Department with £90 million, and the Department has allocated some additional funding to increase investment in cyber-security this year, enhancing our existing capabilities. It will also be increasingly appropriate to consider cyber-security issues as an integral part of wider projects that depend on networked command and control capabilities.

The sums the Secretary of State mentions are, indeed, substantial and will guarantee thousands, if not tens of thousands, of jobs. How many of those jobs does he envisage will be in Scotland in the event that Scotland decides to be separate?

Clearly, at this stage it is not possible to identify how many jobs will be created in different parts of the United Kingdom by the equipment programme we currently envisage. However, we enjoy an exemption from European Union procurement rules in respect of defence capabilities when we are procuring them in a way that protects our national defence capability, and if Scotland were not a part of the UK, it would be competing for defence contracts in the open market along with other providers in Europe and beyond.

Since May 2010, £1,250,000 worth of kit and equipment have been stolen from the Ministry of Defence and its bases across the UK. That includes night vision goggles, body armour, military uniforms and boots, and even an aircraft fuselage. How much of the new spend will be covering unexplained thefts which have not been investigated and for which only one person has ever been prosecuted?

The hon. Lady can probably do the maths: she says £1.25 million worth of equipment has been stolen, and I have announced a £152 billion investment, so she can work it out for herself. As a member of the Defence Committee, which asked questions about this matter, she will know that of the equipment listed as stolen, a significant amount has been recovered, but not necessarily netted off against that figure, so in fact the total is probably less than the £1.25 million she suggests.

May I, on behalf of the Opposition, join in the condolences offered to the families of the three servicemen who, tragically, gave their lives serving their nation?

A decision has been taken to cut the co-operative engagement capability, which was designed, among other things, to enable and support a reduction in the number of type 45s from eight to six. Dropping the programme, which has already cost the taxpayer £45 million, therefore poses capability risks. Will the Secretary of State tell the House what were the strategic—not the budgetary—reasons for his changing his mind?

I notice that the hon. Lady did not tell the House what was the strategic reason for Labour having delayed the programme for five years, before we grasped the nettle and decided to cancel it. We take decisions on the basis of advice from the Armed Forces Committee, which takes the budget available and decides what the priorities should be. In this case, the First Sea Lord and his colleagues on the Armed Forces Committee have decided that the programme is not a high priority for naval spending.