Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Bernard Jenkin on Today

Sarah Montague: The former Conservative defence spokesman Bernard Jenkin and the former chief of the defence staff, Lord Guthrie, say defence spending needs to be increased by £3 billion a year for the next five years. Bernard Jenkin who is also on the Commons defence committee joins us here now and in Westminster is a Labour counterpart of his form the same committee, Kevin Jones …

Bernard Jenkin, why's this money needed?

Bernard Jenkin: Well, we’re reaching a crunch point. The latest spending round is underfunding the Ministry of Defence again and its widely understood that they're going to have to find a billion out of the next three year's spending and there's going to be crunch over the next few months as they throttle back on equipment programmes, squeeze manning further and this has been going on for some considerable time

And the choice we really have to face - and all parties have to face and we have to face as a nation - is whether we're prepared to pay what it takes to give the military a global role, which is certainly what the foreign policy has demanded over the last ten years, or whether we’re going to throttle back and opt out of that global role. That's the choice.

Sara Montague: But the £15 billion, £3 billion a year for five years, is just to maintain present capabilities?

Bernard Jenkin: Pretty well just to maintain present capabilities. And I thought this was going to be pushing the boat out but earlier this week Lord Robertson, the former Labour secretary of state for defence said we needed an extra £25 billion spent on defence

Sara Montague: Kevin Jones, what do you reckon?

Kevin Jones: Well, I think if look that if you look at the document that Bernard's launching today, I mean it's a little bit like what a lot of youngsters will be writing in the next few weeks, their Christmas list to Santa. It's full of aspirations with no realisation how you would pay for it, or actually what you should get out of this kit, for example an increase of all Services back to Strategic Defence levels; all the submarine fleet, increasing the surface fleet ships to 30 destroyers and frigates; more Apache helicopters, more tactical airlift and strategic lift. And it says in an all-encompassing paragraph, all commitments for the covenant met, including military dedicated hospitals. This is just a wish list which can't be afforded.

Sara Montague: That's right, isn't it Bernard Jenkin. I can quote to you your own leader, David Cameron when he was asked about Armed Forces: He says: "No magic pot of money we can dip into to spend a lot more on our armed services, much as we would like to."

Bernard Jenkin: Well, I mean that's the choice we've got to face as a nation isn't it. Em..

Sarah Montague: But there is no money.

Bernard Jenkin: Well, there have been very, very large increases for other programmes over the last ten years – eighty percent for health, forty-five percent for education. This is recommending no more than the increase in spending that we’ve had on transport we've had under this government and, er, we really have to decide what our priorities are. If we want to carry on projecting a global role and being able to intervene around the world, then we need these capabilities, which the SDR seemed to remove any doubt that these capabilities were the government's policy.

Sarah Montague: Kevin Jones, would you give up the capabilities that Bernard Jenkin is talking about so that you could spend the money on health and education and transport?

Kevin Jones: Well no, if you look at what he is actually proposing, £1.5 billion a year extra will not even meet what is actually being put forward in this document. And it's not the status quo what is being put forward. It's an increase in entire areas. And if you look at ...

Sarah Montague: Let's just address .. if you want - an argument was put forward … forget the document, but just to maintain current capabilities you need this extra money, and it's one and a half billion a year on top of what the government is already promising …

Kevin Jones: No but, I think you want to read the document. That’s not what its saying. It's actually saying we have to increase a whole host of areas including, for example just take one, military dedicated hospitals. Bernard and I are currently doing an investigation on the Committee into Armed Forces medical services. There's one thing that all clinicians say that we do not want is that. And these have got huge price tags to them. This is not a costed document.

Sarah Montague: On the pricing, at the moment..

Bernard Jenkin: I wouldn't pretend this is a detailed costed document.

Kevin Jones: Far from it.

Bernard Jenkins: What I’ve set out are a range of capabilities which would certainly be desirable and many of which we actually need if we’re going to be able to project our global role.

Sarah Montague: OK, but just [indistinct] talk roughly … At the moment the government is planning a yearly increase of £1.5 billion a year.

Bernard Jenkins: No, no 1½ percent.

Sarah Montague: OK, how much more is needed a year just to maintain current capabilities?

Bernard Jenkins: Well, this is crucial because the rate of defence cost inflation is much, much higher than the rate of inflation. It’s between six or eight percent. Equipment costs, technology and of course salaries go up much faster than inflation. So, barely giving more than inflation means there are going to have to be more mothballed ships, more delayed equipment programmes, more cuts in manpower. Em, if we carry on like this with very, very minimal increases in defence, it means more cuts.

Sarah Montague: What do you cut back then? Do you cut health, do you cut education, do you cut transport?

Bernard Jenkins: Well, the government has managed to increase other programmes very substantially indeed and it's a question of balancing the increases of these programmes. Over the next few years, the economy is expected to still grow. I'm quite certain that we'll be able to increase what we spend on defence alongside other programmes as well as being able to reduce taxation in the long term. It's called sharing the proceeds of economic growth and its consistent policy.

Sarah Montague: Bernard Jenkin, Kevin Jones, thank you very much.

Kevin Jones: Fantasy world!