James Sunderland welcomes the commitment to extra defence spending and urges the Government to ensure the extra money is spent responsibly and flexibly both to secure the best equipment for our armed forces and to support Global Britain by investing in the British defence industry and growing UK defence exports.
The debate has been animated and enjoyable. It is a great pleasure to speak from the Back Benches from a position of unequivocal strength. As someone who would ordinarily have been critical of defence spending at any time over the past three decades, I admit that today I cannot be. Why? This year, the Government announced an unprecedented multi-year settlement for defence.
It is not.
Yes, it is. It offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to modernise our armed forces.
Throughout my 27-year career in uniform, I lost count of the times I was told that I could not do something, whether it was going on an exercise, organising adventure training, buying trucks or getting the latest equipment. I was always told by the bean counters that it could not be done. It was all doom and gloom, but now it is different. If anything, part of me wishes I were still in uniform because I believe that defence is well placed to take advantage of the excellent settlement.
Let us look at the facts. First, the deal for defence is worth an extra £24.1 billion over the next four years. It is a huge increase, unlike anything we have seen in recent history.
No, it isn’t.
Yes, it is. It will exceed not only the manifesto commitment—
Will the hon. Gentleman not keep repeating that Front-Bench or central-party pump-out? He should look at the Library note. I explained the increase. He says he would like to be there now, but I am not sure he would get the opportunity were he a young man wanting to join the armed forces now, because there are nearly 55,000 fewer people because of the Conservative Government. The budget today is still lower than it was in 2009. Even with the increase, the £13 billion black hole in the equipment budget will not be filled. The idea of painting this rosily might get him on the Front Bench, but he should look at the facts and be independent—which he usually is on a lot of the issues.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman, but of course he is wrong. I will explain why—because the figures speak for themselves. Have a look at the maths! He is also wrong, because I believe that the offer right now for our armed forces is better than ever before. If I were 21 or 22 years old, I would want to do exactly the same thing that I did almost 30 years ago. I am proud of my service and of the fact that the Government support defence. So, £6.6 million has been invested in research and development, generating £25.3 billion a year for the UK economy and directly employing 133,000 people across the country. Defence spending is critical to levelling up, and we are doing it—fact.
The recent Command Paper “Defence in a Competitive Age” reflects a balanced budget. The MOD now has a fantastic opportunity to balance its red line, to get above the line—
Yes, it does. The UK armed forces will become a threat-focused integrated force with a continued shift in thinking across land, sea, air, space and cyber, while also being financially sustainable for the first time in decades. If I may say so, the Conservative Government over the past 10 years have spent much of their time putting right the mess that Labour left this country in 2010.
Defence will spend £85 billion on equipment over the next four years. Shipbuilding investment will double over the life of this Parliament, rising to more than £1.7 billion a year. This will support the MOD in its commitment to grow the Royal Navy surface fleet to 24 frigates and destroyers by 2030. Admittedly, we need more, but of course we have to balance the budget as well.
Recently, too, the Procurement Minister launched the new defence and security industrial strategy, which benefits British industry to a superb degree. It is about jobs, livelihoods and, above all, export markets. The new strategy allows us to mandate UK content in all our defence contracts in a way that we could not do under the auspices of the European Union.
It is a fact.
The hon. Gentleman is just wrong on that. Military contracts were excluded from any EU law. The only individuals who chose to put a military contract out to international tender, hiding behind the EU, were this Government, when they were arguing to put FSS out to international competition, even though they could have designated a warship, as did every other country in Europe—France, Spain, Italy and everyone else—and built it at home.
Again, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. My clear understanding as someone who has spent time working in Defence Equipment and Support and in the MOD is that European Union legislation prevented this country from preferring UK industry. We are now not beholden to the European Union. We can place contracts with whom we want, and we are seeing it right now with our new strategy.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will not give way, sorry.
Go on, give way.
Go on then, if the right hon. Gentleman insists.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, because he said something very significant—about his understanding when working at DE&S. He was saying that the culture there was to embody in their thinking the idea that they could not do it. In fact, that was totally untrue, and every other European country looked after its own industry. He has, very helpfully, exposed the deeply rotten culture inside the Ministry of Defence.
My clear view is that the Ministry of Defence has the ability in law to extend contracts to whom it wants. We are no longer beholden to the European Union.
We never were.
Yes, we were. I rest my case.
Let us look at what we have right now. We have Lightning II.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, now that we have left the European Union, we have a great opportunity, because we do not have to adhere to state aid rules or to European Union procurement rules, and that most defence contracts were bilateral anyway?
I reiterate my previous points on this. The Opposition can make as much noise as they want from the Back Benches, but the fact is this: under the new defence industrial strategy, it is absolutely clear that the MOD can purchase equipment from whom it wants in a way that has not been possible over the past 10 to 40 years.
Perhaps. But it is also about balancing the need for the right equipment against the need to make sure that we look after our nascent defence manufacturing industry. I believe that the balance is right today in a way that has not been possible before.
I am not precious about this. I agree with the hon. Gentleman in terms of wanting to buy the best kit for our armed forces. May I ask him why, in all those Government-to Government contracts—on Wedgetail, on Apache and now on Brimstone—there is no work share, not even in terms of allowing ongoing maintenance for those things? Why have we just given that out and exported UK jobs to the United States, if this Government are so committed to ensuring that we have a vibrant UK defence policy?
It is my clear understanding that the MOD’s responsibility is to purchase the best kit. This is about supporting our soldiers, airmen, sailors and so on. This is about a balanced decision made by the MOD, on advice from DE&S, about buying the right kit. In my humble view, we are in a new era. This is post Brexit and post EU. This is a new era where the Government have the autonomy, as never before, to make the decisions that they want to make. The post-Brexit era gives us that opportunity—that incentive—to look after British industry, which, in my view, is what we must do right now. In terms of what has gone before, that has happened. As of now, under this Government, from 2021, I am absolutely clear that our new strategy gives us the opportunity to do the right thing with the kit that we buy.
Several hon. Members rose—
I am not giving way again.
Time is marching on. What have we got? We have Lightning II, an advanced fifth generation aircraft, procured to operate alongside the RAF Typhoon. We have Dreadnought, which will replace the Vanguard-class submarine. It will be the largest ever submarine operated by the Royal Navy. We have the Astute-class nuclear submarines, the largest and, again, most powerful attack submarines ever procured. We have our fantastic carriers: the Queen Elizabeth and the Prince of Wales, again, the largest and most powerful warships ever built for the Royal Navy.
We have Ajax, which, I know, has been the subject of debate in this House, but it is a purpose-built platform and, like many other state of the art protected mobility platforms, it will be the best on the market. We have Type 26 frigates, Type 31 frigates, the fleet solid support ships and so much more.
These are not vanity projects. These platforms allow us to project force, deter, fight and win. Our forces might be small in comparison with yesteryear, but they are perfectly formed, battle ready, potent and anything but cuddly. They are poised at readiness to be deployed anywhere in the world and our adversaries know that, which is why so much mischief is being caused by them in other domains, but we are ready there, too, as the review has proven.
For those in any doubt, and I address my remarks to those on the Opposition Benches, defence spending is a necessary evil to keep us safe. Today, we do face a multitude of threats in multiple domains. Some are known to us and some are not. We are living in an era of constant competition, with persistent engagement against our foes. Sub-threshold conflict pervades all around us. It is a dichotomy perhaps that, in this age of relative peace and prosperity, our future has rarely been less certain or predictable, not least in the battlegrounds of space and cyber. As a fan of the integrated review, it seems obvious to me that the proverbial golf bag of military capability will need to carry ever more clubs and that is happening under this Government. For a start, the golden thread that links hard power with soft power through worldwide free trade exports, balance of payments and creating national wealth is persuasive. We must therefore protect our ability to project force anywhere in the world by being able to call upon the additional, if needed. It is about platforms, ro-ro ferries and long-range aircraft such as the C-17 and the A400—the list goes on.
I am being urged to finish by Madam Deputy Speaker, but, before I do, I want to quickly cover a few points. Given that we now have more money to spend on defence—fact—the MOD should be placed under even greater pressure to ensure that it is spent wisely. That is about integration of British kit and integration in the UK of overseas equipment if we have to buy overseas equipment. This is about UK content in our defence contracts.
In finishing, I will raise three quick points. We have fantastic kit in the UK and I am confident in the main that our forces have what they need. I say that after three decades in the armed forces. I am also proud to serve under a supportive Government who really get defence, and we must spend responsibly and flexibly both to secure what we need for defence and to keep our British defence industry at the forefront of what we do. It is also about producing competitive exports that allow us to benefit our balance of payments, prosperity and reputation. Global Britain is here to stay.