Tony Baldry accordingly presented a Bill to amend the Children Act 1989 to make it mandatory for local authorities to safeguard and promote the welfare of children within their area who are in need and to ensure that children with severe disabilities receive similar levels of respite care from local authorities as other vulnerable members of the community: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 19 July, and to be printed [Bill 184].
The Minister of State for Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): I welcome the official Opposition's support for the Government's announcement on defence spending. Monday's announcement by the Chancellor represents the biggest sustained real increase in defence spending plans for 20 years.
That is excellent news for defence. The 2000 spending review provided the first sustained growth in the defence budget since the end of the cold war: an annual average of about 0.3 per cent. over the three years. This year's spending review has gone further, providing for real annual growth of 1.2 per cent. over the next three years. In real terms, it represents new money: in year one
In year one, the amount will be £725 million. In year two, it will be £798 million and in year three, £1.047 billion. Unlike the years of Tory decline, when it comes to defence, Labour means business.
Mr. Laws: Is the Minister aware that Treasury officials, in evidence this morning to the Select Committee on Defence, confirmed that defence expenditure in real terms would be lower in every year of the spending review than it was last year?
Mr. Ingram: I should like to see the transcript of the evidence. It is certainly worth examining any advice given by Treasury officials, but we have to be cautious in interpreting it. I should rather take advice from Departments than from the hon. Gentleman.
I hope that the Opposition's support for our new budget extends to our programme of radical, realistic reform that underpins it. Based on our approach of maximising support to the front line, that has meant an extensive and ongoing overhaul of our delivery of support services to our Navy, Army and Air Force. Difficult decisions have had to be made, and there are more in the pipeline.
I want to make it clear from the outset that we will not flinch from those decisions, because it is important that we get it right. We must make best and efficient use of our newly increased budget; more money to spend does not mean less focus on effective delivery. Indeed, the very opposite applies. We need to get real value for our defence pound.
Against that background, I welcome this opportunity to outline our progress in delivering the programme of equipment modernisation set in hand after the strategic defence review to ensure that we have capable and effective armed forces, properly equipped for the tasks that we ask our service men and women to undertake.
The SDR set us firmly on the right track for making sure that our armed forces can meet the demands of today's and tomorrow's operations. It identified a range of improvements to our capabilities, especially to enhance the ability of the armed forces to conduct expeditionary operations.
Of course a great deal has happened since the SDR and since we last debated defence procurement in October 2000. The events of 11 September last year shocked us all. In response, we have looked afresh at our defence posture and plans. In doing that, we have not set aside the conclusions of the strategic defence review; rather, we have described this work as a new chapter building on the assumptions that we made and the conclusions that we reached during the SDR.
The new chapter work has considered the extent to which the strategic context has changed and how we might best engage in tackling both the symptoms and causes of terrorism. It has also focused on the balance between home defence and countering threats abroad, and on how to enhance the effectiveness of our military contribution to both.
Further conclusions on the wider aspects of the new chapter review will be published in a White Paper tomorrow and, clearly, I do not want to anticipate that now. But I can give some broad indications of the likely consequences for our forward equipment programme. It will not surprise the House that we are likely to see a continued emphasis on rapid deployment, intelligence gathering and precision strike capabilities. That is consistent with the conclusions of the SDR, although some further enhancements in those areas will be needed.
In particular, we are moving in the direction of what is called "network-centric capability", bringing together sensors and strike assets to enable the controlled, precise and rapid delivery of military effect. We will therefore want to look at enhancements to our capability to acquire and analyse information, get the information to those who need it and the precision strike capabilities to turn it into results. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will make a full statement tomorrow, setting out our conclusions on the new chapter work and the implications for defence capability.
Mr. Ingram: My hon. Friend should be aware that we never set out the scenarios in which those weapons would be put to use, although my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made it clear time and time again, at this Dispatch Box and elsewhere, that, in the right circumstances, the weapons would be used. That is the purpose for their existence as part of our force capabilities.
Mr. Ingram: No, I have dealt with that point. The issue concerns the use of equipment rather than its capabilities. My hon. Friend has had the opportunity of hearing my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State explaining time and time again about that part of our equipment capability.
The settlement for defence agreed as part of the 2002 spending review, and announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor on Monday, will provide a firm foundation for moving forward with the new chapter. It will offer in particular an opportunity to make the further investment necessary to deliver the enhanced capabilities that the new chapter work tells us we need. The Government have made available £1 billion of new capital investment and £500 million of new resources to take the work forward. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will provide more details on this tomorrow, but it is clear that the settlement is very good news for defence.
Mr. Ingram: Given the sparse presence on the Conservative Benches behind him, the hon. Gentleman will have plenty of opportunity to take all the time that he wants to set forth his arguments. But I shall certainly give way to him.
Mr. Gray: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way so early in his speech. He is right that I may have a few moments to speak later, if I am lucky enough to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Minister has talked about the switch to resource accounting and, particularly, on 1 April 2003, he will have to take account of depreciation and carry-over costs of some £12.2 billion, in addition to current costs. Has he taken those figures into consideration in coming up with the figure of £3.5 billion to which he has referred?
Mr. Ingram: The answer is yes. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman look at the make-up of the figures for the three-year programme, which have been published by the Treasury, and the way in which those figures are affected by taking account of depreciation. It is important to take account of those non-cash items; doing otherwise would, in a sense, be false accounting. Those realistic aspects of the Budget settlement have to be taken into account.