New Forest East



Sir Julian Lewis: Welcome back, Madam Deputy Speaker [Dame Eleanor Laing]. It is great to see you. I was going to put to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State the statistics that he has heard many times about proportions of GDP spent on defence both during and after the cold war – they are a lot higher than those of the present day. May I instead ask him to bear in mind when negotiating with the Treasury that any investment made in defence now for the purposes of conventional deterrence will be miniscule compared with what we would have to spend if, heaven forbid, the war in Ukraine escalated into a war with NATO? Such spending is an investment; it is not expenditure that should be lightly considered. It is essential for our future security. 

[The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Ben Wallace): I completely concur with my right hon. Friend. Defence is not a discretionary spend and not an add-on; it is a core function of any state and especially of this Government. I have been very grateful since 2020 that we have turned the corner on this and started to rebuild that momentum. The extra money that I have got for this week is continuing that momentum, but he is right to say that the important thing here is that deterrence is cheaper than having to go to fight the war if it goes wrong, as we see when we look at the cost to the people of Ukraine and to their economy. We need to make people change this culture that we have got used to since probably the early 1990s where somehow defence is discretionary – it is not. I am pleased that the Prime Minister recognises that, as he did when he was Chancellor in 2020, and we need to continue on that trajectory.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing): I call the shadow Secretary of State.

John Healey: The House will be thankful and grateful to the Defence Secretary for updating it on the latest Op Shader activity. If there are any questions that cannot be raised this afternoon, we will return to them. On tonight’s AUKUS announcement in San Diego, does the Defence Secretary recognise that this has Labour’s fullest support? We want Britain to play the biggest possible role in building the new Australian submarines. But beyond the subs, how will he develop the pillar 2 collaboration on artificial intelligence, cyber and hypersonic missiles?

Mr Wallace: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his support for AUKUS, which is a decades-long commitment. People talk about procurement challenges, and when we start this journey on submarines that will be delivered in the 2030s and 2040s, with some going on to the 2050s, it is not a journey we can stop halfway along or stop for a break in. To go back to the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Sir Julian Lewis), let me say that sometimes parts of the Treasury struggle with that concept, so I am grateful for the extra money. AUKUS pillar 2 is incredibly important. It is about the next generation’s technology. One of the most important works we are doing – and we met in the Pentagon in December – is clearing away the International Traffic in Arms Regulations challenges that for so many years have held us back in being able to share our own technology with the United States or to collaborate properly to make a step change to give us the strategic advantage we need. We are going to be working on that, and I am happy to brief the right hon. Gentleman in detail on the future of the pillar 2.]