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Armed Forces: Capability and Strength

Volume 666: debated on Monday 21 October 2019

9. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of the (a) capabilities and (b) strength of the armed forces. (900009)

Our armed forces have suffered decades of being hollowed out to meet short-term pressures. Eventually, that takes its toll on the men and women of the armed forces and the equipment and maintenance programme. The funds announced recently in the spending review will allow us to reinvest and to maintain our forces at their present levels. The adequacy of our capability is of course defined by the extent of our ambitions, and by whether we as a nation are willing to fund them.

Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that nothing in the European Union’s co-ordinated annual review of defence will affect the capability or strength of our armed forces in the short, medium or long term as we leave the EU?

My hon. Friend has raised some concerns about the engagement with Europe, and, indeed, about Europe’s ambition. I think it absolutely right that the European Commission has a strong ambition for a single defence capability. We have made it clear that we will only join any part of this European defence arrangement voluntarily, and on condition that there is a unilateral mechanism for exit. That is the key purpose. We will, of course, work with international partners often to face threats.

If the Secretary of State wants to assess the strength of the armed forces, does he now agree that it is about time that they had a trade union to stand up for ordinary members of the armed forces against his puny Government?

Coming from a party that would reduce the armed forces to a rubber boat in Scotland, I do not think we should take any lectures from the hon. Gentleman and the SNP. It is absolutely clear: the SNP is obsessed with trade union representation rather than investing in armed forces.