DEFENCE – TOWARDS THE NEXT STRATEGIC DEFENCE AND SECURITY REVIEW – 2 March 2015

Dr Julian Lewis: I thank the Chairman of the Committee [Rory Stewart] for giving way so early in his speech. One of the reasons that he has had to consider only two aspects – namely, conventional and unconventional warfare – is that our strategic nuclear deterrent is still in place, and if either the Opposition or the Conservative party has anything to do with it, that will remain the case. Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be madness to think about disposing of our deterrent and ending our continuous at-sea deterrence? Is it not strange that there is not a single Member present who represents the party that proposes that we should abandon that continuous at-sea deterrence – namely, the Liberal Democrat party?

[Interruption.]

Oh, the hon. Member for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell) has just appeared. I hope that he disagrees with his party on that matter.

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[Sir Hugh Bayley: ...We should also look closely at UK defence spending. According to the public expenditure statistical analysis produced by the Government in 2014, at table 4.2, in the year I entered the House, 1992-93, defence spending was £23.8 billion or 3.5% of our GDP. By 1997-98, when there was a change of Government, of course, defence spending had fallen in cash terms to £21.7 billion, and by more in real terms. At that point, it was down to 2.5% of GDP. Throughout the period of the previous Labour Government, defence spending remained at 2.5%. The Ministry of Defence’s statistical analysis shows an increase, but if we remove the increased spending on operations it remained at 2.5%.]

Dr Lewis: In his last few words, the hon. Gentleman said something that contradicted my memory of events. The point I wanted to make to him was it was often said, particularly by Tony Blair on leaving, that under the previous Labour Government spending had remained roughly constant at 2.5%, if the costs of Afghanistan and Iraq were included. In opposition, we used to criticise that, as we said that it was sleight of hand, so the hon. Gentleman can imagine my embarrassment now that we are in government to find that there is no sign of our sticking to the pledge when we criticised the Labour party in government for massaging the figures.

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Dr Lewis: The hon. Gentleman [John Woodcock] knows that he and I are as one on the question of the future of the deterrent. He also knows that if there were a Labour Government pure and simple, or a Conservative Government pure and simple, the future of the nuclear deterrent would be assured. How confident is he that if the Scottish nationalists held the balance of power and offered the keys of No. 10 to the leader of his party, his party would say no rather than abandon the nuclear deterrent?

[John Woodcock: I am glad the hon. Gentleman asked me that. I am completely confident. It is a shame that not a single MP from the Scottish National party has bothered to turn up to the debate. It gives the lie to the idea that they care about the future of our country’s defences.

I am absolutely confident about that. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we were the ones who took the difficult but necessary decision to start the programme of renewal, we have remained committed to it throughout our time in opposition, and we will finish it if we are elected to government. In the words of the soon-to-return Member, Alex Salmond, it would be unpardonable folly for either side to listen to the minor parties. We will not compromise the future security of our nation. They may ask, but the answer from our side will be no. I know that if the hon. Gentleman has breath left in his body, the answer on his side will be no as well. ...]

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Dr Lewis: May I say to my hon. and gallant Friend [Crispin Blunt] that it is no good contrasting the building of the Successor-class submarines with the Astute-class submarines, because if we do not build the Successor submarines – I am not saying that that is a reason to have a deterrent when we otherwise would not have one – there will be a huge gap between the ending of the Astute hunter-killer programme and the next hunter-killer programme, in which all skill in building submarines will be lost.

[For Julian's speech in this debate click here.]