I spoke today in the debate on defence spending. As is often the case, we had to cut short our contributions from seven minutes to three, such are the time pressures on debate, but I hope I was able to make my point clear – we spend a great deal on our Armed Forces, but when we still hear of poor accommodation, unreliable equipment and a lack of support for mental and physical wellbeing, we must ask ourselves whether what we are spending is enough and whether it is on the right priorities? I urged the Minister to commit to spending more on supporting our armed forces - they certainly sacrifice a great deal to support us and we must ensure we reciprocate that support.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan) for securing this important and most interesting debate.
It is crucial that the UK has robust and reliable combined armed forces that are well trained, properly equipped and ready to respond as required to keep our nation and its people safe and secure. That is ever more important as the threats to our nation evolve in intensity, intertwined with ongoing scientific and technological advances. Hopefully, the modernising defence programme launched in January 2018 is taking account of those somewhat fast-moving developments.
Having worked in the emergency services, I appreciate that our armed forces personnel are going into situations that others are escaping from. Added to that, they will engage in conflicts where the norms on law, order and safety no longer apply. The Government must consider their duty of care to armed forces personnel prior to, during and after committal; no doubt, their health and wellbeing underpins any successful mission. Armed forces personnel may be called on to put their lives on the line to protect us from harm, and we need to afford them the best protection available. That certainly will mean spending more money on personal protective equipment or military equipment. Surely, it is preferable for all involved to spend money by choice than to be decreed by a court to pay compensation, which has an impact on the morale of our service personnel and those wishing to join.
The Government have taken much needed and welcome measures, as has been mentioned, to improve housing provision for armed forces personnel, increased allowances and tax reliefs, and facilitated access to rehabilitation centres. However, I hope they will not rest on their laurels, but continue to review that important aspect of defence spending as part of a continuous improvement programme. We heard earlier that there is much more to be done on housing for our service personnel.
Our involvement is further afield, too. As was the case with our forebears in the two world wars, our armed forces may be called upon to assist in defence partnerships with other nations. I hope—like many others, I am sure—that responding in anger will seldom be required in future, but with that will come a greater focus on peacekeeping assistance throughout the world and the opportunity for the armed forces to bring their unique skills to bear on local civil contingencies. That said, for our children and grandchildren, cyber-space may be the war zone of the not too distant future.
Let us be clear: funding for our armed forces depends on a strong economy, which only the Conservative Government can fund; not the fairy tale finances that we hear about from other quarters. UK defence spending over the last five years has been stable at around £36 billion in real terms, increasing this year to around £38 billion. Minister, is that really enough?
Despite the future of RM Condor in my constituency and jobs across Scotland being secured by the UK Government, does my hon. Friend recognise that we have not seen a firm commitment from the SNP that they would still be secure in an independent Scotland?
I recognise that there has been little or no comment about defence for Scotland from the SNP, but I welcome the investment in Scotland by the Ministry of Defence, not least in my hon. Friend’s constituency.
Finally, in relation to the defence transformation budget of £160 million ring-fenced from the defence budget, I would be grateful to know if the Minister expects the stated possibility of a further £340 million to be raised as part of the spending review.
Our regular servicemen and women, in addition to the reservists who balance a civilian life with commitment to the armed forces, are talented people from a diverse range of backgrounds. They deserve our fullest support. That means investment in our armed forces and those who serve in them.