I have regular discussions with the Chancellor and, as the Prime Minister announced last month, the Ministry of Defence will benefit from an extra £800 million in the current financial year, including £600 million for the Dreadnought submarine programme. The Government are committed to spending at least 2% of GDP on defence, and the defence budget will rise by at least 0.5% above inflation in every year of this Parliament. The modernising defence programme will ensure that our armed forces have the right processes and capabilities to address evolving threats.
In a recent report, the Defence Committee said:
“We seriously doubt the MOD’s ability to generate the efficiencies required to deliver the equipment plan.”
How can we have confidence in the Government’s ability to deliver, even with an enhanced budget, when the modernising defence programme is seemingly focused on efficiencies and the budget is already over-reliant on projected savings?
Part of the reason behind the modernising defence programme is to look at how we can drive inefficiencies out of the system, ensure that we deliver on the commitments we need to make, and see how to respond to the changing threat environment. That is why we took the decision to take defence out of the national security capability review, as we recognised that we need flexibility in the system to deal with the changing threat picture.
One way to ensure that we have enough money to spend on defence is to take full account of British industry’s opportunities and contribution when making procurement decisions. End-to-end helicopter manufacturing in the south-west is a strategic asset supporting more than 10,000 jobs and £700 million-worth of exports. Will the Secretary of State discuss with me developing a specific defence industrial strategy for helicopters?
My hon. Friend is a strong advocate on this issue and a defender of jobs in his constituency. We are committed to spending more than £3 billion with Leonardo over the next 10 years, but I would be very happy to meet him to discuss how we can develop our strategy. It is about not just manned rotary but unmanned rotary. What are the options and opportunities that we can exploit to ensure that our world-leading industry continues to hold that top spot?
I am very grateful for the progress that the Secretary of State is making in securing additional funding for defence. As these discussions continue, will he reassure the House that the needs of our enhanced forward presence in Estonia will be taken into consideration and that they will receive the fire power and protection they need?
I can assure my hon. Friend of that. I recently visited our enhanced forward presence in Estonia and it is pleasing to be able to announce that we will be adding to that presence, with more Wildcats stationed there to support operations. An additional 70 personnel will join them.
The National Audit Office found that the MOD had not included £9.6 billion of forecast cost in the 2017 equipment plan, including the cost of buying the Type 31e frigates. Does the Secretary of State think that that kind of mismanagement is likely to help his discussions with the Chancellor about additional funding?
Our armed forces are looking closely at everything we have committed towards investing in. With a changing threat environment, we are looking at how we can do things more efficiently, at how we can make our money go further and at what we will need to deal with those increasing threats. I am confident that we can put a strong argument to the whole of Government on the importance of defence to our nation’s security.