This week the Shadow Defence Team had their first questions session in the Chamber since Dissolution began. Departmental Questions take place once every six weeks and are a key opportunity for the Opposition to hold the Government to account on important issues. This week, the Shadow Defence Secretary, Vernon Coaker, asked the Government about the lack of transparency regarding the upcoming SDSR.
Here’s a link to Hansard where you can read the questions the Shadow Defence Team asked in full:
Here’s a snippet of the exchange betweenVernon Coaker and the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon.
Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab): I congratulate the Defence Secretary on his reappointment and wish him and his ministerial team well for the future. I also pay tribute to all the crew on HMS Bulwark who are doing such a fantastic job in the Mediterranean at this time.
Due to a lack of transparency—almost secrecy—nobody outside a small inner circle in the Government has a real clue about what is going on with respect to the forthcoming strategic defence and security review. At a time when Britain is being accused of resigning as a world power, should the Government not get a grip, abandon warm rhetoric and set out a clear timetable for discussing how we address our role in the world and the military capability that we need to match it.
Michael Fallon: I am grateful to the shadow Defence Secretary for what he said and congratulate him on hanging on in there, at least for the moment. I thank him for his tribute, which I hope the whole House will echo, to the crew and the air crew on HMS Bulwark. I visited Bulwark myself on Saturday afternoon and saw at first hand how the crews were preparing to cope with this extraordinary number of migrants who need rescuing from the sea.
As far as the strategic review is concerned, I have set out the timetable to the House today, and the scope and the ambition of the review, which has already started and will be concluded towards the end of this year. We will also consult key external voices, such as academics and those in other areas who have something to contribute to the review. I hope that will include the hon. Gentleman.
Vernon Coaker: That answer really shows just how complacent the Government are. Just yesterday, the US President spoke to the Prime Minister. The US Defence Secretary said that our actions seemed to indicate disengagement. I ask the Secretary of State again: when will the Government set out their plans to discuss, with Parliament and the rest of the country, the threats we face, our global role and the military capability we need? For example, when will they discuss the lack of a maritime patrol aircraft and what the availability of two aircraft carriers actually means—just two examples of the decisions facing the country? This is the Defence Secretary’s chance to launch a wide-ranging debate about the forthcoming SDSR. Will he do it?
Michael Fallon: Yes, of course we will engage with Parliament and I look forward to engaging with the newly established Select Committee on Defence. However, the hon. Gentleman has chosen two rather odd capabilities to put on the table. We are addressing the gap in maritime patrol aircraft because the previous Labour Government were supposed to deliver 23 Nimrods but, when we came into office in 2010, the programme was eight years behind schedule, £800 million over budget and not a single Nimrod had been delivered. He then went on to mention aircraft carriers, but it is this Government that are building two aircraft carriers and this Government that are committed to sailing them both.