It's hard not to feel some sympathy for the secretary of state but despite the sweeteners, the fact that this Government is making cuts to our wider defence capability when we're fighting a war only strengthens the perception that they're not committed to the armed forces. This is a government willing to spend £12.5bn on a pointless VAT cut, but not to maintain the capability of our Armed Forces.
What will be the effect of the Pre-Budget Report on the MoD's core budget, given that the Institute of Fiscal Studies has said that non-protected departments, including defence, will have to bear cuts of 16% over the 3 year period? By how much does this increase the black hole identified by Bernard Gray and others?
This is a day of humiliation for defence ministers and confirmation that this Labour Government has decided to spend £900m sacrificing tomorrow's defence capability in order to fund current operations in Afghanistan. It follows publication earlier today of yet another highly critical NAO Report which accuses the Govt of a 'save now, pay later' approach where short-term savings today will have to be paid with interest by the next Government.
His announcement of new Chinook helicopters is of course welcome but it would not have been necessary if the Prime Minister had not, against all advice, cut £1.4bn from the helicopter programme in 2004. But for his failure to understand the Armed Forces, those Chinooks could have been on the front line today, saving the lives of our brave soldiers; instead, they will not be available until at least 2013 by which time, according to the PM, we should have substantially transferred security responsibility to Afghan national forces.
Furthermore, it cannot mask the severity of the cuts being made elsewhere. As for those cuts, the Prime Minister constantly claims that the cost of operations in Afghanistan is being funded from the Treasury Reserve, but today the truth has been exposed: as the Secretary of State said in his statement, he has raided £900 million from the core defence budget to fund current operations when it is the Treasury Reserve which should be paying.
So, Mr Speaker, the core defence budget is having to bear the cost of today's operations, seriously damaging our ability to engage in more conventional operations in the future. The Government is mortgaging our current security to pay for the shortfall in current operations. That is why the Secretary of State has had to announce the cut in RAF Tornados and Harriers available at readiness, the closure of RAF Cottesmore and the abandoning of the vital Nimrod ASW and long range SAR capability for years until the MRA4 enters delayed service.
All this has been forced on the Armed Forces because the Govt has consistently refused properly to fund its own 1998 defence review, leading to the black hole the MoD now faces.
The Secretary of State tells us that he has sought not to cut capabilities in advance of the SDR but many people will see today's statement as a mini SDR in its own right.
Is it the case that the new Chinook aircraft will be funded from cancellation of the Future Medium Helicopter Capability programme, not from savings arising from cuts in RAF Tornado & Harrier fleets? If so, where have the £1bn savings from those cuts gone?
What impact will the reduction in Tornado and Harrier Squadrons have on the RAF's force elements at readiness strategy? What does he mean when he says 'decisions on the make up of our future forces will be taken later? Does that mean we should expect further cuts?
Although more Chinooks will be welcome, this will be 2013 before we get them. It will be 12 years by the time we get them, doesn't it confirm the stupidity of the Government's decision in 2004? And when we get them, will they be compatible with the ones we already have?
How will our submarines be protected following the withdrawal of the Nimrod MR2 next spring? And how will the requirement for long range rescue and maritime reconnaissance be provided once the Nimrods are gone?
What aspects of Army training does he intend to reduce? Will he be specific? What implications does his statement have for the Defence Training Review and RAF St Athan?
And why are we reducing minehunter capacity when tension in the Gulf is rising? We need to maintain that capacity at a time when there are tensions over what Iran intends to do. Will the Secretary of State think again about removing a minehunter at such a sensitive time?
He says nothing about the carrier status and nothing about the downgrading of our facilities in Cyprus, both trailed in the media.
The secretary of state told us on TV at the weekend that the Treasury reserve is covering the cost of the war in Afghanistan. They're trying to fight wars on a peacetime budget. Our defences are being cut, not as a response to a diminished threat - if anything the threat is increasing. The Government that's had four defence secretaries in 4 years is now cutting capability as a result of catastrophic economic mismanagement. All the time his Secretaries of State are having to make real cuts in their capability. This is the final chapter in the wasted New Labour project. Who is paying for their incompetence? Our brave armed forces.