I have frequent conversations with my Cabinet colleagues on a wide range of Government business. The current spending review will set departmental funding limits for financial year 2015-16 and is due to report on 26 June. My officials have been working closely and collaboratively with the Treasury and Cabinet Office colleagues to identify areas where further efficiencies in defence spending can be achieved.
I am sure the whole House agrees that we live in dangerous and difficult times. Does the Secretary of State not agree with me, and, more importantly, the Chief of the General Staff over the weekend, that any further cuts in defence spending would seriously risk undermining our capability to defend our realm and to project power overseas?
As my hon. Friend will know, the Prime Minister and the Treasury have already confirmed that the equipment plan will increase in real terms plus 1% in the period from 2015 to 2020, and we are not looking at changes that will reduce military manpower. However, I have to say to him and to the House that efficiencies can always be found in any budget, and we will search for all the efficiencies that we can reasonably find and deliver.
I am pleased to hear the Secretary of State highlight the importance of efficiencies in considering the spending review. Will he meet me to discuss the deep concerns of Joseph Gleave & Son, which has been a long-standing supplier to the Ministry of Defence and employs approximately 80 people in my constituency, regarding inefficiencies in procurement following the shift to the Government Procurement Service and the establishment of Defence Equipment and Support operations?
I recognise that there may be a tension between our determination to drive more efficient procurement and some suppliers finding that to be a difficult experience, but I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne), who has responsibility for defence equipment support and technology, would be delighted to meet the hon. Lady.
Has the Secretary of State thought of giving Treasury officials and Ministers an idiot’s guide to what Her Majesty’s armed forces are all about, because some of the comments over the weekend about army horses and tanks showed a degree of ignorance?
I will probably not share with my hon. Friend all the thoughts that I would like to offer to the Treasury and some of my colleagues, but I will say this: while it is easy to draw attention to such things as the number of horses in the army, the moral component of our armed forces—that which links it to the great tradition of military service in this country—is a very important part of delivering military capability and is money well spent.
Included in those discussions will be the projected savings from the proposed changes to Defence Equipment and Support announced in last week’s White Paper. For the benefit of the House, will the Secretary of State set out what specific flexibilities he has won from the Treasury—one assumes he got its agreement before publishing the White Paper—so that the DE&S-plus model can compete openly and fairly with the Government-owned, contractor-operated option during the assessment phase?