Page last updated at 15:00 GMT, Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Gordon Brown denies 'guillotining' UK defence budget

Sir Kevin Tebbit: ''The Treasury felt we were using far too much cash''

Gordon Brown has denied troops were sent to Iraq and Afghanistan without the equipment they needed after being accused of "guillotining" the budget.

In angry Commons exchanges, Tory leader David Cameron picked up on the claim from ex-MOD mandarin Sir Kevin Tebbit to the UK's inquiry into the Iraq war.

Mr Cameron said the PM ignored forces' welfare until it became "politically convenient to do otherwise".

But Mr Brown said defence spending had risen to meet the challenge.

He said it was not fair to troops in Afghanistan to suggest otherwise, adding: "They are properly equipped for the job they are doing."

'Properly equipped'

The clash came minutes before Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth began making a Commons statement on the strategic defence review.

Mr Cameron said: "Isn't it becoming clear from the Chilcot inquiry that the government in general, and you in particular, made a series of bad decisions that meant our armed forces were not equipped properly when they were sent into harm's way?"

The most important question raised by the Green Paper is: "What does Britain want to do in the world?"
Jonathan Beale
BBC News

As Labour backbenchers furiously heckled the Conservative leader, Mr Brown replied: "I will welcome the opportunity to speak to the Chilcot inquiry.

"But you must know that defence spending rose every year and it was the fastest rises for 20 years - and that Iraq and Afghanistan received £14bn from the contingency reserve to enable the fighting there to take place.

"Not only did we prepare the Army, Navy and Air Forces with proper funding, but we also funded every urgent operational requirement that was made.

"I don't believe it is in the interests of this House to tell people that when funding was provided they were not properly equipped."

Trident claim

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg also seized on Sir Kevin Tebbit's evidence to the Chilcot inquiry, using it to lambast the government over its commitment to replacing Trident nuclear weapons.

I think it's fair to say that the Treasury as a whole didn't want us to get as much as we got
Sir Kevin Tebbit, former MoD permanent secretary

He said: "We've got troops in battle without proper equipment, 'guillotined' defence budgets and a world which has changed out of all recognition since the Cold War.

"Yet you want to spend billions of pounds of taxpayers' money replacing and renewing a nuclear missile system designed to flatten Moscow at the touch of a button.

"How are we going to face the threats this country faces, if government thinking is so stuck in the past?"

On Wednesday morning, the Chilcot inquiry was told that Mr Brown, when chancellor, had insisted on a "complete guillotine" of defence spending in December 2003 - just nine months after the invasion of Iraq was launched.

Former Ministry of Defence permanent secretary Sir Kevin Tebbit called the £1bn cut "arbitrary".

'Major savings'

He said: "In the December of 2003, the chancellor of the day instituted a complete guillotine on our settlement, and we were, from then on, controlled by cash rather than resources...

"It meant that we had to go in for a very major savings exercise."

But the settlement of 2004 resulted in "almost £4bn of extra cash".

This agreement had been reached "at about 10 at night by the chancellor, the defence secretary and myself - about six hours before the whole public spending settlement was published", Sir Kevin said.

He added: "I think it's fair to say that the Treasury as a whole didn't want us to get as much as we got."

"The final settlement in 2004 was a normal, hard negotiation... The guillotine that came in 2003 was an arbitrary issue."

Sir Kevin said: "That would not have made an effect on Iraq or Afghanistan... but [would have involved] a longer-term restructuring of the defence programme."

Shadow defence secretary Liam Fox said defence spending under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had not kept pace with inflation when it came to the rising cost of equipment and hardware needed for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But Welsh Secretary Peter Hain said "monumental" sums had been spent on defence under Labour, contrasting this with what he said were sharp cuts under previous Conservative governments.

Several witnesses have told the inquiry that preparations for what became a long campaign, including equipment provision, were inadequate.

Last week, former Prime Minister Tony Blair told the inquiry that planning for the immediate aftermath of the initial military campaign had not been "cavalier".

The Iraq inquiry is looking at the UK's role in the build-up, conduct and aftermath of the Iraq war, in which 179 service personnel died. It is expected to report next year.



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