DEFENCE (FRONT BENCH) – PART-TIME MINISTERS – 3 December 2007

[The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): I am always conscious of my responsibilities as Secretary of State for Defence and I am constantly ready to exercise them. It is not possible accurately to determine what proportion of my time is spent on defence issues or Scotland Office issues, however. ...

I simply do not accept that the morale of our deployed personnel is lowered by my working patterns. I say that advisedly because I regularly visit members of our Armed Forces deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. ...]

Dr Julian Lewis: The Secretary of State evidently did not read the comments of five former Chiefs of the Defence Staff if he genuinely thinks that it is not believed that his having two jobs sends out a terrible signal to members of the Armed Forces. He will recall that, earlier this month, I asked whether his ministerial salary was paid to him entirely for his duties as Secretary of State for Defence, and he failed to give me a direct reply. However, the Library has spoken to the Cabinet Office and a note to me states that a second official at the Cabinet Office informed the Library that

“following the recent Cabinet reshuffle, the Ministry of Defence was instructed to pay Des Browne a ministerial salary and the Scotland Office was instructed not to”.

There may not be enough money in the defence budget for helicopters, but there is enough for the Secretary of State for Scotland.

[Mr Speaker: Order. The question is about time spent.

Des Browne: I shall endeavour, Mr Speaker, to answer in relation to the original question, which was about the time that I spend on my respective duties. I ask the hon. Gentleman, as I have asked all his colleagues, to judge me by my actions rather than the criticisms that he can manufacture. Our record in the Ministry in the past six months, when I have held both responsibilities, is, in my view, impressive. We have improved the operational welfare package, with council tax relief and free post; offered financial and practical support to assist inquests and improved compensation for those with multiple injuries; sustained outstanding operational medical capability; improved commitments and funding for accommodation, especially single-living accommodation; settled the comprehensive spending review, meaning an additional £7.7 billion for defence spending in the next three years, and – a matter that is close to the hon. Gentleman's heart – ordered two new aircraft carriers, which are the largest vessels ever to be commissioned for the Royal Navy.]