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Non-equipment Budget

Volume 559: debated on Monday 25 February 2013

The defence budget was set for this Parliament in the spending review conducted in 2010. As I have set out, the budget for financial year 2015-16 will be set in the current spending round, which is expected to conclude in the summer. The MOD’s planning assumption is that the non-equipment element of the budget, about 55% to 60% of the total, will grow in line with inflation—that is, will remain flat in real terms—over the 10-year planning horizon that the Department uses for budgeting purposes.

The National Audit Office has called into question the Secretary of State’s projections, and MOD analysis shows that capability gaps could arise in some areas, particularly the Army. Will the Secretary of State publish the analysis to which the NAO referred, and will he guarantee to all future, current and past members of the Army that their livelihoods will not be cut to pay for miscalculations within the Department?

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we have right-sized the Army to the budgets we have available, and having taken tough decisions we are in the process of drawing the Army down to its future size of 82,000. That size will allow us to equip and protect properly our service men and women when we ask them to go out and do a very dangerous job on our behalf, and we believe that is the right approach.

Given that the National Audit Office did not confirm the affordability of the equipment plan, will the Secretary of State commit to publishing a more detailed summary of the plan with individual funding lines for individual programmes?

I remind the hon. Lady that the question is about the non-equipment defence budget. For the equipment budget we have published a plan that is more detailed than anything published previously, and certainly more detailed than any equipment plan published during the 13 years of the Labour Government. We have gone as far as we believe we can without compromising either national security or taxpayers’ commercial interests in negotiating with defence contractors, and I am afraid I cannot offer her any more detail than that already published without compromising those things.

Although Ministers rightly never comment on funding for our special forces, does my right hon. Friend agree that the current operational capability of our special forces, in terms of both equipment and manpower, is a huge national asset?

Our special forces are a huge national asset, and their capability has been expanded very substantially in response to the needs of Operation Herrick in Afghanistan. It follows that as we draw down from our operations in Afghanistan we will want to review some of the supporting infrastructure put in place for that specific operation. As my hon. Friend will know, however, the MOD never comments publicly on the details of special forces numbers, funding or disposition.

Last week I met trade union representatives from Defence Support Group Sealand who are obviously concerned about the future of the maintenance budget. What future plans does the Secretary of State have for the maintenance budget, and in particular on whether DSG might be privatised?

The current intention is that DSG will be privatised, and we are in the process of achieving that objective. On the equipment support budget, one important innovation—hon. Members might have thought that this was standard practice, but it has not been until now—is to ensure that no equipment is allowed into the programme for procurement unless we also clearly have a budget to support that equipment over the 10-year horizon to which we budget. Achieving that will ensure not only that our equipment will be first class, but that we can maintain it in first-class condition.

On an all-too-frequent basis, we hear of cyber-attacks on global businesses and Government Departments globally. Last month, the Select Committee on Defence published its report on defence and cyber-security, which appears to highlight a number of failings. Bearing in mind that cyber-security cuts right across the Government, does the Secretary of State recognise the need for even more investment in it? What percentage of any additional governmental spend will go to his budget?

Cyber-security is a cross-Government agenda led by the Cabinet Office, but the Ministry of Defence is heavily involved in the programme. The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the increasing frequency and severity of attacks on industrial and civilian infrastructure targets not just in the UK but throughout the western world. The arrangements the Government have put in place for a quinquennial strategic defence and security review give us a framework within which to review our responses to cyber-threats and to make any adjustments in priority that we need to make for the next five-year period. The allocation of costs across Departments would be a matter for the next spending review.