In a debate in Parliament, James spoke about plans to modernise the Armed Forces highlighting the importance of getting better control of costs, plans to deliver efficiency savings, and an improved offer for servicemen and women.
Text of speech
"I welcome the Opposition’s shift in wanting to have a debate on the strength of the armed forces that focuses on enhancing them rather than weakening them. It would perhaps have been better if the shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), had been up front about the £38 billion black hole in the defence budget that the last Labour Government left behind—a shortfall that meant painful cuts were required in the 2010 review.
I advised the then Defence Secretary on the 2015 strategic defence and security review, which was about investing once again with a budget that was growing. The Integrated Review and the Defence Command Paper together build on those reforms and highlight the intensifying threats we face, and the need to continue to modernise and adapt our forces, backed by a budget that matches the ambition.
Contrary to the motion, the plan strengthens our defence capabilities and the power of the armed forces, with major investments across the five domains.
Opposition Members have spoken about election pledges, and it is fair to say that we have changed our plans. Instead of increasing defence spending by 0.5% above inflation every year, we are going further by committing to an additional £16.5 billion over the next four years on top of the existing plans.
That extra funding is welcome to help to put the budget on a sustainable footing, because for too long MOD spending has involved short-term financial management and delays or deferrals that simply increase the budgetary pressure in future years. However, the opportunity to strengthen our armed forces that this multi-year commitment provides does not remove the need for choices, and how could it? The UK cannot do everything, and focusing on what we do best and working with our allies is at the heart of our global Britain approach.
During the debate, there has been an understandable, if slightly misplaced, focus on the arbitrary numbers in the Regular Army, given the changing picture of threat. In my experience, military chiefs are more interested in the ability to generate and deploy forces rapidly, and a more agile Army with technological advantage can have greater effect with fewer people.
This significant increase in defence spending provides an opportunity to deliver for our servicemen and women, as well as taxpayers, and there now needs to be a clear focus from the Ministry of Defence and the commands on implementing these plans. That means a more agile approach to procurement, with better control of costs and programmes. It means addressing the recommendations of the recent Public Accounts Committee report and having robust plans to deliver efficiency savings. Finally, it means an improved offer for everyone who serves our country, and their families."