Prime Minister personally derided a policy they're now defending - Jim Murphy

10 May 2012

Jim MurphyJim Murphy MP, Labour's Shadow Defence Secretary, responding in the House of Commons on the Joint Strike Fighter programme and aircraft carriers, said:

Thank you Mr Speaker and thank you to the Secretary of State for his statement.

Let me start by saying that when the Government do the right thing on defence they will have the support of these benches.

In politics you can often judge what Government genuinely feels about their own policy not just by what they say but when they say it. They want us to believe that this is positive news and yet they announce it the very first day they can after the Council elections. It must be the first ever example of a Government waiting until the polls close to announce good news.

It is worth reminding the Secretary of State how he got here.

The Government was elected promising a bigger Army but is delivering the smallest Army since the Boer war.

They have curtailed anti-piracy duties due to Royal Navy cuts.

The RAF has lost long-term surveillance capabilities.

On the defence budget, decisions this government has taken have increased costs.

Changes to the Astute Class submarines added a further £200 million.

The carrier u-turn has a reported £250 million.

On top of this they are failing to reform.

A defence procurement plan delayed for two years.

Last year the largest defence programmes were delayed by a combined 30 months and £500m over-runs.

And while hundreds of defence workers are losing their jobs up and down the country the Government has no Defence Industrial Strategy whatsoever.

The biggest blow to the Government’s defence credibility is the chaotic carrier programme.

Standing at the Dispatch Box the Prime Minister announced his plans to reverse Labour’s carrier strike policy, scrap the Harrier, sell Ark Royal, build two carriers but mothball one, sack trainee pilots and downgrade British power at sea.

But this u-turn has now gone full circle.

And nothing has been gained.

Two years wasted.

In tough times a reported £250m squandered while Forces are having their allowances cut.

Harriers sold to the Americans for a fraction of their value.

International ridicule.

No jets on carriers for a decade.

You don't have to be a military strategist to know what these ships are meant to carry - the clue is in the name.

They said their policy was cheaper - but it was more expensive.

They said we would be interoperable with the French - but that their chosen jet couldn’t even land on the French carrier.

The Prime Minister personally derided a policy they’re now defending.

Military figures have warned weekly about these decisions.  While our allies deployed Harriers from carriers off the coast of Libya we simply could not do so.

Mr Speaker the Government said Britain didn’t need jump jets. Ministers scrapped the expertise to operate STOVL aircraft only now to decide to buy a new fleet of jump jets. We will need to retrain and redevelop the skills carelessly cast aside just two years ago. It is as incoherent as it is ludicrous.

His defence is that the facts have changed, but that is not the full story.

I know the advice the Prime Minister received, which was that the defence review policy was high risk and high cost and Ministers over-ruled it.

The Public Accounts Committee warned of rising costs.

The National Audit Office said the Government had an “immature understanding” of costs.

The Defence Select Committee warned against strategic shrinkage.

The Prime Minister’s decisions have cost British time, money, talent and prestige.

I know the Secretary of State always likes to blame someone else – he recently accused British families for causing the financial crash – but he cannot scapegoat the former Defence Secretary for this decision.

He has got to take some responsibility for the Prime Minister’s mistakes.

He has nurtured a reputation as a spreadsheet king most at home over his paperwork so he needs to share some of it with us.

Will he publish a full breakdown of the costs of plans being abandoned?

Will he confirm that the cost of the u-turn is greater than the income from the sale of the Harrier?

How many new jets are being purchased?

Will he now publish the advice received at the time of the review in full?

Can he guarantee Britain will have continuous carrier strike capability from 2018?

If Britain will have two active aircraft carriers will more Royal Navy personnel be employed to make this possible?

Mr Speaker, the Secretary of State has said his Government do the right thing when the facts change. But the facts haven’t changed.  Labour got it right and the Government’s policy has unravelled.

In recent weeks we have seen incompetence piled upon hubris.

From soldiers being sacked by email, to a discredited defence review and pension cuts for war widows, the Government has lost its way.

Only a government who started a petrol crisis when trying to avoid one and whose idea of putting more police on the street is having thousands demonstrating outside Parliament would sell the Harriers and have no planes to fly off carriers for a decade.

Describing the Governments defence policy as an omnishambles would be a compliment.

It is time the Prime Minister started to take responsibility. He should be here apologising for his incompetence.