On the Politics Show, Sunday 9 November 2008, Jon Sopel interviewed Liam Fox MP
JON SOPEL: And joining me now, having just attended his local Remembrance Service, the Conservative Defence Spokesman, Liam Fox and Liam Fox I'm grateful to you for being with us here on the Politics Show. Do you think the Volunteer Reserves, should be playing a bigger role in our armed forces.
LIAM FOX: I think there are two questions: the first is, is there a potentially bigger role for Reservists and the answer to that is yes. The second question is have they been used to plug the gaps, where we should have had full provision and the answer is also yes. I think the reserves have had full provision and the answer is also yes. I think Reserves have done a fantastic job. They've make great sacrifice, alongside our regular forces.
The questions for me are about the level of training that they have, whether they're being used inappropriately at times to, to plug gaps where we should have full provision and I think that they do have a level of expertise which could be used to provide a wider range of, of services in places where we're looking like Afghanistan or Iraq, to reconstruction and so they'll need skills as well as what they have in the military, so perhaps we have to think even beyond the box that we're in at the present time.
JON SOPEL: And I'd like to come back to that thought in a second but just the idea - so the Territorial Army play a bigger role and the Regular Forces play a bigger role, is that what you're saying. Not that one plays a bigger role and the other plays a smaller one.
LIAM FOX: Well there are, I think, complementary roles to be played as well as the Reservists actually, helping in fighting alongside our regular forces. Our problem has been that the government has asked the Armed Forces to exceed what they're planned to do and what they're resourced to do for several years now and that has meant that we've had to try to find extra forces to come in and supplement regulars, in effect the government has been trying to fight two wars on a peace time budget and is now finding that that's very difficult.
We've also had at the same point a problem with recruitment and retention in our regular forces and the problem is particularly acute in retention; we're losing a lot of middle ranking officers which is causing us problems not only in operations but in training in future and all these things will be problems which will be cumulative and which we'll have to face up to. The question is, how do we look at them creatively at a time when there's going to be budgetary restriction.
JON SOPEL: So you have no problem for example with the Reserves playing this prominent role in Cyprus.
LIAM FOX: Well the question is, is it an appropriate role, they're obviously capable of doing so and any suggestion that you know, they were not, I think is quite wrong and insulting. The question is, should we be forced to using them and I think that's where the debate needs to be. We believe that we actually require a Strategic Defence Review, not the small review the government are carrying but a wide review of what do we expect our Armed Forces to do and what are the threats to the United Kingdom and UK interests and what sort of shape of Armed Forces do we require in the decades ahead to help meet that.
We don't think the government are actually dealing with these issues sufficiently seriously at the present time. But as for the TA, I think that what we've send is a force which is perfectly capable of doing the job that they're being asked to do in Cyprus for example: the question is whether they're being forced to do that because we've got insufficient investment and insufficient resources in our regular forces, given the commitments that they have at the present time.
JON SOPEL: Sorry, you, you raised the question yourself, is it an appropriate use - well give me your answer.
LIAM FOX: Well yes, it's not an inappropriate use of Reservists in the sense that they're perfectly capable of doing this. The question is, should we have to - doing this sort of job, the answer is probably not. We probably should have sufficient forces to do it. The problem is that we are over-stretched.
The Minister in your introduction said that we'd been exceeding the defence planning assumptions and what that actually means is that the government have asked our armed forces to do more with insufficient resources and we need to get the country to re-balance those commitments and resources over time, which is why we believe there should be a proper strategic defence review carried out.
JON SOPEL: So if we're over-stretched, would you commit a Tory government to more defence spending.
LIAM FOX: Well, as you well know, none of us know exactly how disastrous the position will be that the current government will leave us in financially and we're borrowing two thousand pounds a second at the present time. It's very hard to know just what level of debt we'll be in, should there be a change of government in 2009/2010 - we'd have to review that in the light of that.
What we must have though is a balance between our resources and commitments and there's a secondary point here which is that we're part of an alliance and we need to be asking whether our partners in that alliance, some of those countries in the NATO, particularly some of our European partners in NATO, are carrying their load and whether or not they're forcing Britain to carry a disproportionate load in terms of both our tax payers contributions and what our armed forces are being asked to do.
JON SOPEL: You speak about the worrying levels of debt that are growing and growing and yet we read in the Sunday Telegraph today that the Conservatives are thinking of coming forward with a set of tax cutting proposals, which presumably adds to that.
LIAM FOX: Well we've said that any reductions in taxation, which can actually help us, especially with small employers to stop shedding jobs, have to be fully funded and it's in very stark contrast to the current government, with Gordon Brown seems to have maxed out the country's credit card and simply wants to open another one to keep spending. And I think that most people watching your programme will think that to keep spending now and simply to pass the debt on to the next generation is not a responsible thing to do.
We wouldn't like it done at a level of our families - why would we want it done at the level of our government. But when it comes to the military, well we'll have to assess what we inherit if we come to office at the next election and see exactly where our armed forces are at that time, in relation to where we might be for example, will we still be in Iraq - I would doubt that very much, by 2010 and that might give us some greater room for maneuver in terms of what we have elsewhere. But we're still likely, in the long term, to be over-stretched because of a cumulative under-funding by the government, which now has unfunded liabilities, stretching way in to the next decade in defence.
JON SOPEL: So are you saying it's wrong to consider cutting taxes now, because at a time when you could - the government argues then - this is exactly the right time to borrow and you need to stimulate the economy so that the recession is short-lived.
LIAM FOX: No, we're instinctively in favour of lower taxes but we think that reductions in taxes should be fully funded and the proposals that we'll set out will be. What we think is wrong is just to keep borrowing and keep spending and - because that's really why we've got in to the position that we're in at the present time and to simply hand bigger and bigger levels of debt up on to those who come after us, can't be the best way for us to run our economy.
What we want to see are practical solutions like lowering the costs for employers, by putting their tax - delaying what they do in terms of VAT, by helping householders in terms of freezing council taxes, practical levels, which we have costed and which we will set out in detail, cos we think that's a far better, more responsible and balanced way to deal with the current economic problems than simply maxing out the country's credit card.
JON SOPEL: Okay, Liam Fox we must leave it there. Thank you very much indeed for being with us, fresh from your Remembrance Sunday service. Thanks very much indeed.
LIAM FOX: Thank you.
END OF INTERVIEW
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