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Government: Departmental Funding

Volume 698: debated on Monday 21 January 2008

My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the all-party group on defence.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will reconsider the allocations for three years to the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development rising from £5.4 billion to £7.9 billion to alleviate concern as to the availability of requisite funding for the Armed Forces and counterterrorism.

My Lords, I apologise; I was clearly eager to respond positively to the noble Lord. The 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review set out the Government’s priorities and spending plans for the years to 2010-11. These plans are fixed and will not be reopened. Planned spending on defence will rise from £32.6 billion in 2007-08 to a total budget of £36.9 billion by 2010-11, demonstrating the Government’s continued commitment to the Armed Forces. The budget of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will rise also, from £1.6 billion to £1.7 billion in the same period.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his response and respectfully ask if he is aware that this does not address the concerns of Sir Richard Mottram, the former Permanent Secretary at the MoD, chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee and co-ordinator of government intelligence and security? The Times reported on 30 December that he said in his Demos lecture that DfID expenditure should be used to its “maximum effect” on defence and counterterrorism.

My Lords, the Government agree that expenditure must be used to its maximum effect; that is why this defence expenditure provides two new aircraft carriers for the Navy, protected vehicles for the Army and additional air transport capability for the Royal Air Force—as well as, within the Foreign Office budget, increasing expenditure that will help in broader counterterrorism activities. These points were, of course, debated and taken into account before the spending plans were decided upon last year.

My Lords, would my noble friend confirm that the second largest percentage increase in budget after DfID went to the intelligence services, which lead the fight against terrorism? Will he also confirm that DfID’s work to eliminate poverty around the world helps to reduce the likelihood of conflict and terrorism?

My Lords, of course my noble friend, with his vast knowledge of these matters, is absolutely right that we have made provision in the budget for the reduction of poverty, which is an important part of the general battle against terrorism. As he indicated also, there is a substantial increase in the single security and intelligence budget, which will rise to some £3.5 billion by 2011—more than three times what we spent on these matters before 9/11. The Government are giving proper priority to this important work.

My Lords, can the Minister explain why the Government have let defence spending fall to its lowest level since 1930, as a percentage of GDP?

My Lords, I do not think that defence spending has fallen below that of 1930; it is massively above the spending of the Conservative Government’s last decade in power—the late 1980s and early 1990s. The simple fact is that defence expenditure is falling, if the noble Baroness meant in relation to the rise in GDP, first, because the rise in GDP is proceeding significantly, and secondly, our percentage drop against GDP is in line with all other advanced countries, including the United States of America.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary said two weeks ago that one-third of our diplomats in Europe are to be moved to the Middle East and Asia? While there may be a need for more in the Middle East and Asia, given the troubles there, is it not doubtful wisdom to reduce our diplomats in Europe by one-third?

My Lords, as I indicated in my Answer, there is increased expenditure on the Foreign Office’s budget, but its priorities change significantly from time to time and the noble Lord will recognise that there is an immense need to increase our capacity, ability and representation in the Middle East in areas where we are all too well aware that real difficulties manifest themselves. He will, no doubt, have heard this morning the extremely able way in which our ambassador to Afghanistan responded to the issues confronting the Government there, reflecting the enhanced status of his role in the country—a properly enhanced status, given the significance of Afghanistan to world security.

My Lords, can the noble Lord assure us that adequate provision of resources for our Armed Forces, for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in this respect, and for counterterrorism will remain a priority over other expenditures?

My Lords, I apologise on behalf of my noble friend the Chief Whip for intervening on the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, for the second time today between the two of us.

The noble Lord is right: defence expenditure is bound to be a very high priority. He will appreciate that we need to guarantee the security of our country in troubled times. He will also recognise that we have provided in the budget additional resources for the period up to 2010-11.