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Defence Budget

Volume 546: debated on Monday 11 June 2012

A balanced budget gives our armed forces confidence that once a project is in the programme, it is real, funded and will be delivered, so that they can plan with certainty. The balanced budget is a firm baseline for the transformation to an armed forces that are smaller, but that will be adaptable, agile, well equipped with the best technology and supported by a Ministry of Defence that is re-focused around their needs.

Will the Secretary of State give me a further assurance that in future we will never again return to an unbalanced defence budget, which saw us buying very expensive, high-ticket items while our brave personnel were going without some of the basic equipment they needed in theatre on the ground?

My hon. Friend has put her finger on the problem: in the past we had an armed forces budget that was out of kilter, and were trying to support armed forces that were not properly resourced. The consequences were inadequate protective equipment and inadequate military equipment to do the job they were being asked to carry out. I believe that we have an absolute moral responsibility, when we ask people to put themselves in harm’s way, to equip them with the kit that they need to be as safe as possible in doing that.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that we live in a very uncertain world, in which new threats are evolving—we have already heard mention of cyber-security threats. Is he convinced that now that we have a balanced budget, there is scope to tackle these new threats and to provide the kit that our armed forces need?

As my hon. Friend says, we live in a very uncertain world and the threats are changing, and technology also is changing very rapidly. Precisely for that reason, we have kept £8 billion-worth of headroom in the equipment programme, rather than allocating every last penny of it, as was the practice in the past. Too often in the past, we have had to cancel or abandon expensive commitments in order to respond to changes in technology or threat. We should not be in that position in future.

In terms of the budget and the impact on armed forces personnel, what is the Secretary of State’s policy on service personnel who have lost a limb or have other disabilities staying in the armed forces? Has an across-the-board decision been taken that anyone who has lost a limb will have to leave, or is it down to individual circumstances or commanding officers?

It is down to individual circumstances. We have given a clear commitment that as long as someone who has suffered injuries on active service is in the process of treatment or rehabilitation, where it is appropriate for them to remain in the Army, they will so remain. Once they have completed the rehabilitation process, we will do our very best to find positions that they can fill in the Army. Many service people who suffer disabilities as a result of their service have been found positions that they can continue to hold down in the Army, but we cannot give a guarantee that nobody will be medically discharged after they have completed the rehabilitation process.

Given that the Secretary of State’s statement about supposedly balancing the defence budget relates only to the 45% of the budget spent on equipment, how will his announcements this week of compulsory redundancies in the armed forces affect the other, unaccounted for, 55% of the budget? When can we expect the details of how he has balanced the rest of the budget?

I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman was here when I made my statement, but he is completely wrong; my statement related to the whole budget, not simply the equipment plan. As he will know, the announcement of a reduction in the size of our armed forces was made last year. We are now making a series of tranches of redundancy announcements, of which the one due tomorrow will be the last for the Royal Navy and the RAF, to get us eventually to armed forces of the size specified for Future Force 2020 in the strategic defence and security review.

The news that the defence budget is balanced is obviously very welcome, but there will inevitably be a certain amount of scepticism about it. Does my right hon. Friend accept that if he is to dispel that scepticism, the sooner he can provide absolute clarity about exactly how he has balanced the budget, and exactly how the £38 billion black hole that Defence Ministers referred to is calculated, the better?

I accept that there will be a certain amount of scepticism. In relation to the equipment plan, there are two parts to the answer. First, the armed forces committee has confirmed that the equipment plan that we set out and funded does deliver the capabilities required for Future Force 2020. Secondly, we have submitted the programme to the National Audit Office for review, and we will publish the result of that review in due course. In respect of the 55% of the annual budget that is not taken up by the equipment plan, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and Members in all parts of the House will look to see a defence budget that comes in within the spending plan total, as they did in 2011-12.