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Equipment Plan 2017 to 2027

Volume 642: debated on Monday 11 June 2018

2. What recent assessment he has made of the affordability of his Department’s equipment plan 2017 to 2027. (905743)

22. What recent assessment he has made of the affordability of his Department’s equipment plan 2017 to 2027. (905764)

We are taking steps to ensure strategic affordability through the modernising defence programme and our annual financial management processes. The cost of the plan is reviewed on an ongoing basis, and we expect to publish the equipment plan financial summary for 2018 to 2028 in the autumn.

Can the Minister confirm that the Government still intend to procure the full 138 F-35s, as previously announced?

It gave me great pleasure to be present at RAF Marham on Wednesday to welcome the first four F-35s. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, the first 48 are fully paid for and committed to. We are looking at everything in the modernising defence programme, but the current situation is that we still anticipate the purchase of 138 F-35s.

The Public Accounts Committee said in a recent report:

“The Equipment Plan for 2017 to 2027 is not realistic and the Department lacks cost control.”

Does the Secretary of State share my deep concern about his Department’s equipment budget being in such an appalling state?

I am sure that the Secretary of State shares my view that the Public Accounts Committee does an important job, but it is important to state that the assumptions made in the National Audit Office report, which underpin the report of the Public Accounts Committee, highlight the possibility that every single project will end up with no efficiency savings and that the worst-case scenario will be achieved on cost controls. We are very confident we have an equipment plan that is affordable but, as I have stated, we are looking at all issues as part of the modernising defence programme.

How many drones will we have for the RAF, the Royal Navy and the Army by 2027, both for reconnaissance and for taking out our enemies?

I am happy to concede that my hon. Friend has caught me on the hop. I am not able to give him a specific answer at this time, but I am sure that he will allow me to write to him to confirm those figures in due course.

Can the Minister confirm that the Type 26 frigates are being built within budget and will continue to provide jobs for the Scottish workforce for years to come?

I can confirm that the Type 26 project is going extremely well. The first blocks have been built, the steel has been cut and the first three ships have been named. The really important point, which was highlighted in a recent Westminster Hall debate, is the fact that the last apprentices to work on the Type 26 project have not yet been born. That shows the long-term commitment to shipbuilding on the Clyde that the Type 26 project represents.

The NAO estimates that, of the £9.6 billion shortfall in the equipment budget, £1.3 billion is for the new Type 31e frigate. Can the Minister assure the House that, in the autumn, the budget line for the Type 31e will be included in the financial summary?

The key submission for the Type 31 is that the procurement is going extremely well. It is currently on target, and our expectation is that the £1.25 billion budget for five Type 31 frigates will be achieved.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the arrival of the F-35s on British shores is a signal to the world that “global Britain” is not empty rhetoric, as some would have us believe, but a demonstrable fact?

I agree with my hon. Friend that that is a statement of our aspiration, and it is also a significant statement on the contribution of defence to our national prosperity. Some 3,500 F-35s will be procured worldwide, and 15% of them will be produced here in the United Kingdom. That is equivalent to 525 platforms, which is a significant vote of confidence in UK industry.

Can the Minister confirm to the House the details of a letter he sent to me saying that the fleet support vessels will be bound by EU rules on state aid?

The situation, as per the shipbuilding strategy and as per the letter I sent to the hon. Lady, is that we are looking to procure the fleet solid support ships. The shipbuilding strategy aims to ensure that we have a strong shipbuilding sector, and a strong sector also needs a degree of competition. We are protecting warships as a national capability, but we are opening other elements of the shipbuilding strategy to international competition.

Does the Minister agree that keeping our armed forces equipped to the very highest standard, well led and with a strong fighting spirit, is the best deterrent our country has?

“Not affordable”, “not realistic”, “not complete”, “unbalanced” and “unmanageable”—those are some of the politer things that have been said about the Government’s equipment plan. The comments have been made not by the Government’s political opponents, but by the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office. Not since the end of the second world war have there been such devastating criticisms of a Government defence programme.

This £20.8 billion black hole in the MOD’s equipment plan has arisen due to this Government’s shameful incompetence. How do they intend to get out of this mess, and can we look forward to extra resources from the modernising defence programme?

I would say, at the risk of repeating myself, that the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee do important work for this House, but I should highlight the fact—I have said this once but I will say it again—that the figures quoted in the NAO report were a worst-case scenario. It looked at every single project hitting the worst-case scenario and at no efficiencies whatsoever being created within the programme. We are considering all these issues as part of our modernising defence programme, but I genuinely say to the hon. Gentleman that he should read the report with a bit more care and understand it.