Page last updated at 19:10 GMT, Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Gordon Brown admits error on defence spending evidence

Brown admits Iraq funding error during prime minister's questions

Gordon Brown is to correct his evidence to the Iraq Inquiry after accepting defence spending had not risen in real terms every year under Labour.

The PM, chancellor during the war, said he now accepted it "did not rise in real terms" in one or two years.

The Tories said it was a "humiliating climb-down" for the prime minister, whose evidence to the inquiry had been criticised by former defence chiefs.

Mr Brown told MPs he had written to the inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot.

Mr Brown appeared before the inquiry into the Iraq War on 5 March, and denied starving UK armed forces of equipment when he was chancellor.

Cash terms

He told the inquiry that the defence budget was "rising in real terms every year" - but House of Commons figures showed this was not the case.

A research note prepared last October showed defence spending had fallen in real terms in four years - 1997/8, 1999/2000, 2004/5 - at the height of the Iraq War - and 2006/7.

Asked at prime minister's questions on Wednesday if he would correct the record, Mr Brown said: "Yes. I am already writing to Sir John Chilcot about this issue."

He should apologise for the fact that under his watch our troops have not had the equipment they need to do the job.
Nick Harvey
Lib Dems

He said defence spending had risen from £21bn in 1997 to around £40bn this year and "grows every year in cash terms".

But he said: "Because of operational fluctuations in the way the money is spent, expenditure has risen in cash terms every year, in real terms it is 12% higher, but I do accept that in one or two years defence expenditure did not rise in real terms."

Mr Cameron said it was the first time in three years he had heard Mr Brown "make a correction or a retraction" and said there had been real-terms cuts and "at last the prime minister has admitted it".

'Fantasy figures'

Shadow defence secretary Liam Fox said later: "This is a humiliating climb-down for Gordon Brown as his attempt to rewrite history has failed and his fantasy figures have been exposed."

He said Mr Brown should be called back to the Iraq Inquiry.

Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Nick Harvey said Mr Brown should go further: "He should apologise for the fact that under his watch our troops have not had the equipment they need to do the job."

The increase in defence spending has been absolutely clear and significant over the last 13 years
PM's spokesman

Mr Brown's spokesman said the PM had "taken the first opportunity" to tell MPs about his mistake but would not say when he first became aware of it.

Asked how Mr Brown had made the mistake, Downing Street said budgets were "pretty complex" and defence was one of the biggest.

"One has to accept that the broad direction and the increase in defence spending has been absolutely clear and significant over the last 13 years," he told reporters.

But Colonel Richard Kemp, a former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, told the BBC that the overall 12% real-terms rise should be looked at in the "context of very, very substantial military commitments in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the significant difference between defence inflation and normal inflation".

'Gruesome accommodation'

He added: "The 12% rise - particularly also in comparison to rises in expenditure on other departments - is not a great deal."

And former head of the Army Gen Sir Mike Jackson told BBC Radio 4's PM programme: "The important thing is that overall, has defence been given the right resources to do what it's been asked to do both operationally and non-operationally?

I don't think it is appropriate for people to criticise us for not providing what we did provide
Gordon Brown

"And the answer to that, I think, is no it hasn't. We still have soldiers still living in gruesome accommodation for example."

Mr Brown was criticised over his evidence to the inquiry by former heads of the armed forces Lord Guthrie and Lord Boyce.

But, in an interview earlier this month, the prime minister said: "I think they are wrong. To be honest, I don't think it is appropriate for people to criticise us for not providing what we did provide.

"The urgent operational requirements that were asked for by our forces were always met."



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