Rt Hon Jim Murphy MP, Shadow Defence Secretary, has done a quick roundup of today’s Defence Questions:
I am just coming out of the House of Commons following Defence Questions.
There were a lot of questions asked about the MoD budget and not many answers. Philip Hammond claimed in May 2012 that he had ‘balanced the budget’. He submitted the books to the National Audit Office to validate this. The independent auditors, however, declared that his costings are ‘over optimistic’ and his approach ‘not statistically valid’. It said simply: ‘The costings are not sufficiently robust to support the affordability assertion’. I asked Philip Hammond about this but, rather than engage with the policy, he played politics and blamed the past Government for his own failings.
When I pointed out that the NAO said of the MoD equipment budget, ‘Achieving affordability is contingent on savings being achieved elsewhere in the budget’, and that this raises very serious questions about future funding for welfare and personnel, the Defence Secretary again chose to decline to answer.
My colleague Gemma Doyle asked about the impact of the Bedroom Tax on the Armed Forces, Reserves and their families. Astonishingly, the Minister for Personnel and Welfare admitted that forces families will be hit, but that he did not know how many, and that he did not have any intention to find out. In other words, while Labour wants to protect our Forces with an exemption which exists for prisoners and students the Government are happy for families of service personnel to be penalised when they go away on operations or for training. The principle of the Armed Forces Covenant is that no-one is disadvantaged as a result of service – this policy undermines this and yet Ministers appear happy this is the case. We are deeply concerned about this and yet Mark Francois accused Labour of being “over excited” – I wonder whether Forces Families will feel the same?
Interestingly, Richard Drax, Conservative MP for South Dorset, raised the issue of Reserve Forces, as did I. I asked whether recruiting targets were being missed. Mr Drax asked whether it was wise for the Government to cut Regular Forces faster than the Government is planning to train Reserve Forces who will be serving with them on the frontline. Again Ministers are taking a complacent approach, with no answers on how to increase recruitment. This is a vital policy area since the Reserves will fill the capability gaps left by cuts to Regular Forces, and yet it is unclear when and how Government targets will be hit.