New Forest East



Sir Julian Lewis: May I express my admiration for my right hon. Friend’s dedicated and distinguished service as Defence Secretary? It is a sad commentary on the state of the special relationship that our American ally did not recognise his suitability to be the next Secretary-General of NATO.

My right hon. Friend will remember that successive Defence Committees, well before the invasion of Ukraine, argued that defence expenditure should never have been allowed to fall below 3% of GDP. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he was standing for the leadership in 2019, even expressed the wish that it should be at 4% of GDP, which would have taken us back to the cold war percentage of between 4% and 5.1% of GDP spent on defence. In what way does this refresh allow defence the potential to expand quickly if that extra money is belatedly made available?

[The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Ben Wallace): I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend. Long before I was doing this job, he was campaigning for defence to be properly apportioned the funding it deserved to keep this country safe, and I pay tribute to him for that. He has fought for that for many years.

Should there be an increase in funding for defence – and I seriously hope that there will be, based on our Prime Minister’s 2.5% pledge – and if we invest in our specialties and our skills, we can expand our armed forces when the threat increases. Finding a way to hold those skills on the books even if they are rarely used, is why it is important to develop a single armed forces Act. Currently we have legislation that says that if you want to join the reserves from the regulars, you have to leave the regulars and join a separate legal entity – the reserves. That prevents soldiers from going backwards and forwards and people from being mobilised in the way we want. We want to introduce a single armed forces Act. We think this will help us do that. Skills are at the core.

The second thing is the investment in rapid procurement – the ability to keep headroom in the budget to respond to the latest threat as the adversary changes. The third is making sure that we invest in sustainability and enablers, because there is no point in having all the frontline vehicles if you cannot get anywhere.]