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Karl Turner (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab): May we have a debate on the Government’s latest plans to reform civil legal aid? Last Thursday we had an excellent debate in the Chamber on the reforms, but the issue of civil legal aid was largely missed, particularly with regard to judicial review and the Lord Chancellor’s barmy idea not to allow prisoners to access legal advice unless and only if they are opposing a parole decision.

Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman must recognise the requirement to reform legal aid; there are issues of fairness, of quantum and of the resources expended on legal aid, and there is also the need to secure savings. My right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor rightly has made it clear that those savings had to be achieved, but has listened to the representations made in the consultation. The Law Society was very clear that it was able to accommodate additional choice while understanding that the need for savings had to be met. It was very fair on the part of the Lord Chancellor to respond positively to that.

Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con): Please may we have a debate on tomorrow’s 65th birthday of the NHS? As the NHS changes from a target-based culture to a more open culture, and when various historic failures are coming to light, some of the achievements of the NHS, such as the removal of mixed-sex wards, improved cancer and stroke care, and the sheer hard work of those who work in it, are all in danger of being missed. If we were to have a birthday debate, we would be able to take a more rounded and celebratory view.

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I had the privilege of attending the 50th and 60th anniversary celebrations. At 65, the value that this country derives from having a national health service, with the principles that underpin it, is undiminished. As I said earlier, it is important that people in the NHS know full well that the NHS will carry that respect and valuation into the future only if it continues to put quality and outcomes at its heart. Building on recent announcements on publication of data and greater transparency on outcomes will enable clinicians and the NHS to demonstrate internationally not only that it is the most universally accessible service anywhere in the world, but that it can be among the most excellent, too.

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11.41 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Esther McVey): With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on Remploy.

Today’s announcement by Remploy means that jobs for approximately 70%—515—of the disabled employees in the remaining Remploy factories and CCTV sites could be saved through the commercial process. The sites and businesses are subject to final negotiations with preferred bidders looking to take over the businesses. Hon. Members will agree that our first concern must be Remploy employees, and they have been informed of the latest decisions by the Remploy board today. There are now 234 disabled people at risk of redundancy and they will take part in individual consultations with Remploy. All employees affected will be supported by the £8 million tailored package of support to help them move into mainstream work.

If I may remind the House, the Government announced in March 2012 that we would implement the recommendations of the Sayce review to withdraw funding from Remploy factories and redirect it to enable more disabled people to get jobs in the labour market. We have always made it clear that this is about supporting individuals in factories and disabled people across the country. As it stood, Remploy factories were losing £50 million—a sixth of the specialist disability employment budget. That money was not going to people but to failing factories, and that cannot be right. As announced in the spending review, the Government have confirmed £350 million to support disabled people to move into, remain in or progress in work.

On 6 December 2012, I tabled a written statement to inform the House that the Remploy board had commenced stage two of its commercial process. The aim was to transfer the remaining seven businesses in 18 factories and the 27 CCTV contracts, potentially affecting 1,016 employees. The Remploy board identified three businesses as potentially viable and appointed KPMG, as a professional agent, to manage the sale of the CCTV, furniture and automotive businesses. Of the 27 CCTV contracts, 17 are subject to the commercial process. KPMG, appointed by Remploy, is currently working through that process, which it hopes to complete shortly. I am pleased to be able to tell the House that eight of the remaining 10 contracts have either been taken back in-house by the local authorities or moved to alternative service providers. This means that approximately 50 employees will be, or have been, transferred to new employers. However, it is likely that the remaining two contracts will be terminated. I can also confirm that in addition to CCTV, the furniture businesses based in Port Talbot, Sheffield and Blackburn will remain in the commercial process.

I confirm that Remploy has received a number of good-quality innovative bids for its automotive business. In the next few weeks, KPMG will continue commercial discussions with a number of bidders who have expressed an interest in acquiring the whole business, which has 217 employees, including 179 disabled people based in the sites in Birmingham, Coventry and Derby. KPMG aims to have identified a preferred bidder in a matter of weeks. I will provide further written updates on progress

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when details become available. I can also confirm that offers have been received for the E-Cycle business, which has factories based at Porth and Heywood. I am pleased to say that the E-Cycle business will remain in the commercial process, as Remploy begins to work with the preferred bidder, with the aim of completing the business sale in mid-August.

Following independent and expert advice, Remploy has carefully considered best and final offers received for the three other businesses: Frontline textiles, Marine textiles and packaging. Remploy, together with an independent panel of experts including KPMG, has assessed the viability of these best and final offers against a series of published criteria, including the continued employment of disabled people, value for money and the sustainability of the businesses. Our priority throughout the process has been to safeguard jobs, which is why we have offered a wage subsidy of up to £6,400 for disabled employees to encourage interested parties to come forward.

Despite considerable interest in the Marine and Frontline textile businesses at Leven, Cowdenbeath, Stirling, Dundee and Clydebank, Remploy did not receive a best and final offer for these businesses as part of the commercial process. Additionally, there are no viable bids for the packaging businesses based at Norwich, Portsmouth, Burnley and Sunderland. These sites will now move to closure. In line with the Remploy redundancy procedures, all 284 employees at the packaging, Frontline and Marine textile businesses, including 234 disabled employees, will be invited to individual consultation meetings over the next 30 days to discuss the options and the support that will be available to them.

Our experience with stage 1 shows that businesses such as textiles that did not have commercial interest and closed afterwards reopened as social enterprises or new businesses. In fact, nine sites have been sold on that basis. This has resulted in employment opportunities for the original employees. For example, businesses have opened under new ownership in Bolton and Wigan, and at similar factories, which are looking to create 35 jobs for disabled people, including former Remploy employees. In addition, Remploy has already confirmed that it has received an asset bid from a social enterprise organisation for the purchase of assets of the textiles business. This may create potential job opportunities for those disabled people.

We have put in place a people help and support package for all disabled employees to provide a comprehensive range of support for all disabled individuals made redundant as a result of Remploy factory closures. This tailored support is available for individuals to access for up to 18 months after their factory closes and includes access to a personal caseworker and a personal budget to help individuals with future choices. I can confirm that the personal caseworkers have already begun engaging with employees on stage 2 Remploy sites. This has provided an important opportunity to give individuals currently at risk of redundancy the information they need about their opportunities moving forward. We will continue to do everything we can do in finding them work.

We have also built into the package a community support fund to provide grants to local voluntary sector and user-led organisations to run social job club projects to support disabled people and their families. Some

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32 organisations have already been awarded funding, supporting 748 ex-Remploy employees locally. There has been welcome success during stage 1 in terms of the number of disabled former Remploy staff who have found alternative employment. We have every expectation that job outcomes from stage 2 will be similar. As at 28 June, 400 of the 1,103 disabled former Remploy workers who chose to work with us are currently in work and a further 328 are working with Work Choice to undertake other training activities.

In closing, let me confirm that the factories going forward in the commercial process are the CCTV contract, the furniture businesses in Port Talbot, Sheffield and Blackburn, the automotive sites in Birmingham, Coventry and Derby, and the E-Cycle business in Porth and Heywood. Those that will be closing are the Marine and Frontline textile businesses in Leven, Cowdenbeath, Stirling, Dundee and Clydebank, and the packaging businesses in Norwich, Portsmouth, Burnley and Sunderland. I have written to all affected MPs and parliamentarians, inviting them to a briefing session today at 4.30 pm in Room S, Portcullis House. I commend this statement to the House.

11.49 am

Mrs Anne McGuire (Stirling) (Lab): I thank the Minister for her statement, and for giving us advance warning of it just after 9 o’clock this morning. If there were a league table for the way in which Departments advise us of ministerial statements, hers would certainly be ahead of the Ministry of Defence.

Given the great interest in Remploy, will the Minister tell us what efforts were made to inform Members with a Remploy factory in their constituency that their factory was due to close? I understand that a letter went out at 11.40 this morning, just one minute before she stood up to make her statement—

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): What did you do when you closed Remploy factories—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order.

Mrs McGuire: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am sorry; I might have touched a nerve.

I also wonder, given the way in which the House works, whether the Minister had given Members advance warning of her briefing at 4.30 this afternoon.

I shall turn now to the substance of the review. The Minister often cites the Sayce review, as did her predecessor, as protection for her decisions. I would remind the House, however, that the Sayce review did not recommend the speedy closure of the Remploy factories in the way that the Government have progressed it. Indeed, it recommended a phased development of the process. Once again, however, the review has been brought into play. The Government’s aim has always been to get rid of the Remploy liability in this financial year, and no matter what else was said, this was always going to be the cut-off point. That has been confirmed this morning. Of course I welcome the fact that viable bids have been received for some of the factories and that 17 of the 27 CCTV businesses are in the commercial process. I also welcome the Minister’s comment that it appears that eight of the other 10 will continue in one form or another.

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The textile division based in Scotland has a long and proud tradition of making security and chemical protection wear for the Ministry of Defence, and the disappearance of the skills built up over many years will be a great loss. The textile division recently lost a major MOD contract that it was eminently capable of carrying out, given the quality and timeliness of its work. Given that the factories are under pressure of closure, will the Minister tell us whether she or any of her officials had any engagement with MOD procurement officials to encourage them to use Remploy as a supplier, given that it had carried out the work successfully over many years? It has never been properly recognised that much of the kit worn by our service personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq was made in Remploy factories. Did the Minister use her good offices to encourage the MOD to award that contract to Remploy, if necessary using article 19?

Will the Minister also explain what she meant when she said that there was an asset bid from a social enterprise company for the textile section? What opportunities does she believe that that bid will open up? Many of us on the Opposition Benches see the words “asset bid” and worry that they might really mean asset stripping. We need to know exactly what is involved.

I also want to ask the Minister to define the word “success”, which she used in the closing paragraph of her statement. She mentioned that about 1,100 former Remploy workers were choosing to work with personal caseworkers to find other jobs. In other words, they are not currently in employment. Another 400 are in work and another 300 are in training, so by my calculation, significantly less than 50% of the former Remploy workers who have already been made redundant are currently in employment. I am wondering what the Minister’s benchmark for success is.

Given that the Work programme is performing three times worse than doing nothing for disabled people—

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr Iain Duncan Smith): Rubbish.

Mrs McGuire: The Secretary of State keeps saying “rubbish”, but he needs to listen—[Interruption.] I did not realise that the Minister had brought along—[Interruption.]

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I am sure that we need to hear both sides. I was happy to hear the Minister and will certainly be happy to hear and wish to hear the shadow Minister. Interruptions are not helpful.

Mrs McGuire: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. If the Secretary of State wants to say something, he should make his own statements and not heckle.

Given that the Work programme—[Interruption.] This is ridiculous, Mr Deputy Speaker, frankly. Given that the Work programme is not performing for disabled people, can the Minister say how the former Remploy workers are going to be supported in their quest for employment?

Finally, if the Minister looks at the areas where the Remploy closures are happening, she will find that there are unemployment rates of 7.5%, 8.2%, 8.1%, 7.4% and 7.9%—nearly double the national average—in the majority

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of cases. Does she really think that the closure of these factories today is an indication that she is really there to support disabled workers?

Esther McVey: I am led to believe that the etiquette of the House is to come here first to give a statement, which is entirely what I did. I believe, too, that this is a working parliamentary day—a full working day—so all the processes we undertook were carried out to the best possible standard. People were informed through a correct process and in the correct way. I am glad that we can put that on the record.

Moving forward, what this was all about was supporting disabled people. We had a situation in which £50 million—a sixth of the entire budget—was not supporting individuals, but going into failing factories. We cannot allow that to be case. We have therefore made sure that we support those individuals. There are 8,500 disabled people in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Stirling (Mrs McGuire), but only 29 of them, along with two non-disabled people, were employed at Remploy, making a total of 31 people. The Remploy factory in her constituency turned over £71,000 a year, but actually lost £439,000 a year.

I have faith in Remploy employment services to be able to find those people jobs. Since 2010, Remploy employment services have found a job for 109 people with the same disabilities. That is 109 in two years, while there are only 29 disabled people at this factory. Those are the statistics for the right hon. Lady’s constituency, and they are the same for many others.

I did indeed look into the MOD contracts. There are various criteria, which have to be adhered to—the cost to taxpayers, for example, and various others—and I also looked at article 19. It was put in place, which meant that Remploy factories could be considered, but article 19 also says that offers have to be viable and value for money, which was not the case.

On the asset bid, I said that no best and final offer came forward, although there were expressions of interest in the Marine and Frontline textiles businesses. An asset bid, however, has now come forward from a social enterprise, so we have faith that this can move forward. Our criteria for the bid involve, first of all, the employment of disabled people.

Let me add, to put the right hon. Lady’s mind at rest, that following the submission of assets bids during stage 1, the factories in Wigan, Wrexham, Oldham, north London, Motherwell, Bridgend, Bolton and Birkenhead have reopened.

I described as a success, and warmly welcomed, the process during stage 1 which led to 400 people obtaining jobs and 328 being involved in some form of training, because that has happened at a faster rate than has been the case following any other regular redundancy. Furthermore, nine factories have reopened.

I have read the written statement made by the right hon. Lady in November 2007, and the report of the oral statement made during the same month by the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain). At that time, everyone was looking for a way of making the factories work. The Labour Government put in more than half a billion for modernisation, but that did not work. They looked

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into whether an increase in public sector procurement was possible, but it proved not to be, following an overestimate of 130%.

The right hon. Lady also forgot to mention that she had closed 29 factories in 2008. In that instance, 1,637 people were not tracked, and did not benefit from an investment of £8 million and the provision of personal caseworkers. We have done all those things. I have met ex-Remploy workers. I went to Talit’s house in Oldham, and asked him what he wanted, and I met Chris from Burnley here at the House of Commons. We helped to reshape the whole package with the help of those people.

We have done a great deal, and, although there is more to do, I am proud of what we have done.

Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that at a time when there are 6.9 million disabled people of working age in the United Kingdom, we need to find a better way of using the budget that is available, rather than supporting loss-making factories which employ only a tiny fraction of those people?

Esther McVey: I entirely agree. We must proceed with care and consideration, and we must also listen to the views of disability groups, advisers and experts, all of whom say that they would like to see more disabled people in mainstream work. That is what we must do: provide proper, sustainable, full-time jobs.

Dame Anne Begg (Aberdeen South) (Lab): Today’s announcement will not affect the Remploy factory in Aberdeen, because it has already closed, although a social enterprise has been running the textiles business very successfully, which suggests that the factory had the potential to be more successful than the Minister has suggested. However, the social enterprise was formed by the more able workers, and those who have remained unemployed are the most disabled. Do the Government think that there is still a need for sheltered workplaces in this country?

Esther McVey: I agree with what the hon. Lady has said about what happened in Aberdeen. People have come together, and some of the workers involved have made progress. However, the most severely disabled need to be helped into work and supported while they are there. We have therefore announced a £350 million strategy, on which we shall be working over the summer. Moreover, in July we shall be launching a two-year awareness campaign at an employment conference, bringing together employers, employees and disabled entrepreneurs

John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): As the Minister knows, a social enterprise bid has been submitted for factories in Coventry, Birmingham and Derby. It has received considerable public support, including from me. It is well financed and well advised, and above all it is inclusive. Can the Minister suggest a way of ensuring that it succeeds?

Esther McVey: At present, that bid is still part of the commercial process. There have been several significant bids for the automotive industry. KPMG is currently working on the process with Remploy. We must ensure that the best bid is successful, so that there are jobs now and there will be jobs in the future for those disabled people.

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Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): On Monday, I asked the Minister how many disabled people stayed in a job after 12 months. She said:

“Of the nearly 13,000 people who have started on Work Choice, a third—30%—have stayed in work.”—[Official Report, 1 July 2013; Vol. 565, c. 595.]

Given that many disabled people have been employed for 12 months, has she assessed why 70% of them are not staying in work long term?

Esther McVey: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. We are looking at that, at what we can do and at the best way forward. That is why we have a brand new, two-year specialist disability employment strategy, which will start later in July, to see what is the best support we can give to those people.

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): Could my hon. Friend confirm for people in Norwich what kind of support package they will have? She mentioned something about access to personal budgets and similar support.

Esther McVey: My hon. Friend asks a good question: what support do we offer and how do we provide that support? It is tailored to what the person needs, whether it is help with CVs or extra training, or support into the workplace. Therefore, it is dictated not by me but by the person who is coming forward who needs that help.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): The Minister referred to the Wrexham site. She should claim no credit whatever in respect of Wrexham. It was she and Remploy who made the decision not to allow the business to continue there, and it has now moved to an alternative site. The factory remains closed and empty. When the Government asset-strip the Wrexham site, what will they do with the proceeds from the sale of the land?

Esther McVey: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that the Wrexham site is being sold with a view to making 10 to 20 jobs available for some of the ex-Remploy staff. That is the reality, which is far from the picture he is painting.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): The Minister will be aware that I have always been and remain opposed to the closure of the Remploy factories, but given the amnesia among those on the Opposition Benches, may I remind her that when the last Labour Government closed the Remploy factory in Bradford, they gave next to no support to the workers there and did not even monitor whether they found a job? Does she agree that that was totally unacceptable and that what is most important is that we do everything to find these people, who want and deserve to work, a job? The Government have a duty to help them as much as they can.

Esther McVey: My hon. Friend raises many key points, which are correct. Stages 1 and 2 were so difficult because there was no blueprint in 2008, and those people were not supported, tracked or monitored. It was shameful of Labour not to do that.

Mr Frank Roy (Motherwell and Wishaw) (Lab): I do not understand why the Minister is misleading the House by saying that the Motherwell factory has opened.

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It absolutely has not. A year after the factory closed, many of the workers still do not have a job. There is no guarantee that when that factory is eventually opened by someone else any ex-Remploy worker will get a job there.

Esther McVey: I read out the names of the factories, including Bolton. It is anticipated that up to 10 employment opportunities for disabled people will result as social enterprises come forward. The hon. Gentleman is right: the factory may not be open at this moment but it is going through the process of opening, so considerable work is being done. That is why I can say that that has happened and is happening—we have been dealing with it for two years, knowing that it is happening.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that work programmes for the disabled should be efficient but, most important, they should be effective?

Esther McVey: My hon. Friend is correct. They have to be effective—that is what everybody wants—but the answer is more complex than that, because they have to be tailor-made and we have to look at the individual. So, yes, they must be efficient, but first and foremost they must be effective, caring and tailored to the individual.

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): But is not the truth that amid all the Minister’s spin and management-speak, she is strangling Remploy to death, and there is no prospect of the most vulnerable disabled workers in their 50s who work there all the time getting jobs in mainstream employment? By the way, her description of the 2008 programme is a total travesty. There was a £550 million subsidy for that, which she has cut savagely, and there was a programme for getting people into mainstream work, too. Also, she has given no guarantees, despite my asking the Secretary of State, and nor has the preferred bidder, who is based in Yorkshire, that the Neath Port Talbot site at Baglan will remain open. Can she give a guarantee on that now?

Esther McVey: I have a couple of points to make to the right hon. Gentleman. There was no spin in what I said; those were the numbers, and he is more than welcome to verify them. As for his comment about strangling, that is incorrect, too. I would say “liberating”. That is why some of the factories that closed have reopened and we are supporting them as best we can. If I were him, I would claim no credit for spending £555 million in 2008 on a modernisation process that went nowhere, or for estimates for contracts in the public sector that were grossly exaggerated—by 130%—and which never came to pass. Ours are real, they have been justified, they are monitored by an expert panel and KPMG is involved as well.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): To put today’s statement in context, is it not fair to say that over the past three years Remploy employment services has found employment for 35,000 disabled and disadvantaged people, many of whom have similar disabilities to those employed in the factories?

Esther McVey: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. That is exactly what it has been doing. It has found people jobs in mainstream work at a fraction of the cost. It can do it, we know we can do it, and that is what we are going to do.

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Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): As far as I am concerned, Remploy was one strand of social services to help people with disabilities and give them dignity. More specifically, however, what is the Minister going to do to help Remploy in Coventry to develop a social enterprise there? It is facing problems with the acquisition of the land. Will she meet me, along with one or two of my colleagues, to discuss that?

Esther McVey: I will indeed meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss that. I should add that that is one of the automotive businesses, and it has attracted considerable interest because it is a viable business. KPMG is currently working on that with Remploy, and I will table a written statement shortly about what will happen there. The hon. Gentleman is right, however, that this is about dignity and supporting disabled people, and that is what we are doing.

Sir Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Following on from the comments of the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Dame Anne Begg), many of us are interested in the details of the Government’s national strategy for helping disabled people back into the world of work, whether through Jobcentre Plus, social enterprise, or supporting job clubs. My hon. Friend has talked about work that will be done in the summer, so will she give an undertaking to come back to the House when Parliament returns in September or October to update us on the national strategy, because all of us have disabled people in our constituencies who want to get back into the world of work, and we are keen to understand how we can engage with them and the Government to make sure they do so.

Esther McVey: I will indeed come back to the House to speak about our national employment strategy; that is only fair and correct. We have been working on it for some time. We have been analysing the Work Choice and Work programme figures and looking at other social support, such as job clubs, and we have developed for the first time ever this community support fund and opened 32 different sites across the country helping almost 750 disabled people.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): The disabilities Minister has talked a lot about opportunities and moving forward, so is she satisfied that in Hull in the first year of the Work programme only 10 people with disabilities were found work? Is that acceptable?

Esther McVey: As the hon. Lady says, we are working on the Work programme and taking huge strides forward, and I am looking at the specialist disability support such as Work Choice and how to reshape it to make it even better.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): In the last Parliament we on the Work and Pensions Committee looked at the Labour Government’s decision to close a number of Remploy factories, and I have to say that the collective amnesia of Labour Members, which was most ably demonstrated by the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain), who oversaw the closure of Remploy factories in Wales when he was Welsh Secretary, is extraordinary. The people concerned is what is important here, however,

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so can my hon. Friend the Minister give us a sense of the additional disabled people who could be helped into work as a result of these changes?

Esther McVey: My hon. Friend asks a very good question: how many more people can be helped into work, and into mainstream work? That is what we are doing. We now have £350 million to do that. We have got to look at what works, get value for money and support as many people as possible.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): First, may I echo the positive message from my right hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mrs McGuire) about the advance notice given? That certainly compares very favourably with the MOD. On Cowdenbeath Remploy, there will be great disappointment in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Glenrothes (Lindsay Roy), and the Minister knows the excellent work done by us and my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown). Will she meet the three of us as soon as possible to discuss what the options are for the two factories in Fife?

Esther McVey: I will indeed. I have met the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues as a collective group in the past, and I will certainly do so again.

George Eustice (Camborne and Redruth) (Con): One of the barriers to disabled people going into mainstream employment is a misconception among employers that it will somehow cause them difficulty, although the evidence shows that the employers who overcome their apprehension often find that the disabled person compensates for their disability by having much greater ability in other respects and therefore becomes a very valued member of their team. What more can be done to educate employers and persuade them to give disabled people a chance?

Esther McVey: My hon. Friend makes a terrific point. This is all about awareness, and it is important to understand that only 3% of people are born with disabilities but most of us will acquire one during our life, probably in our 40s and 50s, so we have to do what we can because we all have a vested interest. On my hon. Friend’s specific point, we will be holding a disability employment event in July, bringing together some of the biggest employers locally, nationally and internationally to ask them, “What are you doing, how do we spread best practice, and what can we do to support you?”

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): How many employees at Remploy in Abertillery, closed last year, have now got jobs? Unfortunately, as of December, just three out of 21 had jobs.

Esther McVey: The hon. Gentleman is quite right. There were 35, actually, in December who had a job, and because of that we completely reshaped the process, so now, he will be pleased to know, 400 people have a job, 328 are in training, and that is out of the 1,100 who came forward for support.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): May I thank the Minister for coming to the House and the Secretary of State for being present? May I also thank the Minister

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for the way this statement has been presented to the House, with the ministerial briefing that will be given to colleagues later and the fact that she took the time to write to Members who were affected by this? That is the way a statement should be handled, and she should be congratulated—and I am afraid I must say that the speech by the right hon. Member for Stirling (Mrs McGuire), who spoke for the Opposition, was one of the worst I have ever heard.

Esther McVey: I do not know what to say to that, but I think I might even be blushing. Thank you.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): The Government spent £248 million less than anticipated on the Work programme in 2012-13, owing to provider under- performance under payment by results. In view of the disappointing figures about the number of ex-Remploy workers who have managed to find re-employment, can this underspend be used to extend proven alternative programmes for disadvantaged jobseekers, like the Work Choice programme for disabled people and Access to Work, which helps them cope with some of the obstacles they might face in the workplace?

Esther McVey: I am not sure that the hon. Lady has been listening. These are not disappointing figures; they are better than those for most other redundancies—that is how fast these people are getting into employment. We have given personal support. People are going on Work Choice and getting the tailored support they need, and we are doing this for 18 months.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): Does my hon. Friend recall a fantastic Marks & Start event she attended in my constituency last year, where not only were more than 1,000 newly created jobs announced, but 200 of them were reserved for people with disabilities? Does she agree that that is an excellent model of how to help those with disabilities into sustainable employment?

Esther McVey: I do indeed remember being at Castle Donington with my hon. Friend at the Marks & Start site. This was a distribution centre looking for 1,000 employees, many of them disabled. He, like me, will be pleased to know that it is ahead of its target and is getting more disabled people into work there.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): In terms of helping people with their future choices, will the Minister give the House a commitment that she will continue to track the fortunes of these people? Will she regularly update us on how many find themselves in full-time work and how many end up in part-time, temporary or unpaid work?

Esther McVey: I will indeed, and I keep abreast of the figures on a weekly basis. That figure of 400 who have got a job did not include people who were on fewer than 16 hours, so more than that number are in work on fewer hours.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Will my hon. Friend confirm that the specialist disability employment budget has been protected in the latest spending round? Consequently, it is all the more important that this money

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is used to help as many disabled people as possible back into work, as opposed to spending such a large sum on a small number of loss-making factories.

Esther McVey: My hon. Friend makes a good point. Yes, that budget was protected in the spending review and we have committed to £350 million to support disabled people into work. That money has got to be best spent on people—not on failing businesses—to support them into work.

Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): The loss of a further five Remploy factories in Scotland will be a devastating blow to disabled people in Scotland. Does the Minister not accept that, with the National Audit Office now conducting an inquiry into the shambles of a tendering process at the Springburn factory in my constituency, with growing evidence of asset-stripping and of confidential contracts signed on this Government’s watch between Remploy and private companies, this Government have sold the jobs of disabled people down the river?

Esther McVey: I ask the hon. Gentleman to be very cautious with the words he throws around the Chamber, many of which are inaccurate. He is correct to say that more information has gone to the NAO about the health care business and the commercial process that was undertaken, but the NAO will then just be considering whether it wants to take this further and look further into the programme. There has been no asset-stripping. There has been full governance and procedure in this commercial process, undertaken by an independent panel and by KPMG. Remploy is a legal entity in its own right and it is the legal steward of what goes forward. I warn the hon. Gentleman to be very careful with his accusations.

Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): If nothing had been done and Remploy had continued to suck up resources, what would the impact have been on other programmes to help disabled people back into mainstream work and on the inclusion agenda?

Esther McVey: We have to look at what disabled people want to do now, and they have said clearly that they want to be a part of mainstream society. They want to be in mainstream jobs and they are looking towards their goals and aspirations. We are helping them with that, be it as part of the alliance, as part of disabled people’s user-led organisations, as part of the role models programme or, as I said, as part of our new disability employment strategy.

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): Does the hon. Lady have any guarantees that the companies that will be taking over the Remploy businesses will continue to focus on employing disabled people in the future?

Esther McVey: Let us examine how the bids were looked at and what the key criteria were for being taken forward and selected as the preferred bidder. The No. 1 criterion, goal and aim was the employment of disabled people. After that came viability, sustainability and value for the taxpayer, so employing disabled people was first and foremost at the heart of these commercial processes.

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Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Roughly what percentage of Remploy employees are disabled ex-service personnel?

Esther McVey: I will have to get back to my hon. Friend on that. I do not know who were ex-service personnel, because now all types of disabled people, from all different backgrounds, are working there. However, I know that our key aim is to help all disabled people into mainstream work.

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Points of Order

12.25 pm

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. This is about the extremely offensive remark made by the shadow Leader of the House, to whom I have given notice, about me and some other Members at business questions. She accused us of being Taliban, and at a time when the brave men and women of our armed forces are fighting these evil people, and some of us have very close personal relationships with people serving in Afghanistan, I found that to be a completely objectionable remark. I wonder whether there is any way in which it could be withdrawn.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Would the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty) like to comment on that before I make a ruling?

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman has indeed given notification to my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle), who regrets that, because of the running of the day, she is unable to be here. She has been clear that this is not the first time she has used the phrase “Tory Taliban”, and she has said on many occasions that that is what is said on ConservativeHome. As far as she understands it, it is a self-proclaimed term and she means no disrespect to the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), for whom she has a great deal of affection.

Mr Deputy Speaker: I would say that this is about using moderate language in the Chamber. Obviously, if people are offended, of course we do think about what we say in future. It is not a point of order, but it has certainly been aired a little bit.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I seek your advice, because last week the chief executive of NHS England appeared before us on the Public Administration Committee. He gave a clear answer to a question that I asked, saying that he would ensure that e-mails were released to the Yorkshire and Humber health and scrutiny committee. Since then, NHS England staff have again refused to do that. How do we ensure that when people, particularly those with such an important role in the public sector, give an answer to a parliamentary Select Committee they are held to it to ensure that they do what they say they are going to do?

Mr Deputy Speaker: As the hon. Gentleman will know, that is not a matter for myself in the Chair on the Floor of the House. The message has certainly been sent out loud and clear, and it will be recorded. I feel it is something that the Chair of the Committee may wish to take up as well.

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Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) Bill

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 56), That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Question agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Question put forthwith, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Question agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

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Backbench Business


12.28 pm

Hugh Bayley (York Central) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House has considered NATO.

Let me begin by thanking the Backbench Business Committee for granting us time for this afternoon’s debate. I thank colleagues, particularly fellow members of the UK delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, for joining me in requesting this debate. We used to have three or four defence debates a year in this House in Government time, but when the Government allocated time to the Backbench Business Committee they gave up, among other things, those general defence debates. I am therefore grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for giving those of us with an interest in defence and security some of that time back. I hope that when members of the Committee read the report of the debate they will feel that it was worth while and that if we make applications in the future we might get similar debates, perhaps twice a year after the two annual sessions of the Assembly.

As delegates to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly—I see in the Chamber many colleagues on both sides of the House who are part of the delegation—we have a responsibility to report back to colleagues on the work of our Assembly and of NATO. On my way into the House today, an hon. Member who had seen the agenda for this afternoon simply said to me, “You are having this debate, but why do we need NATO?” It is a question that those of us who believe that there is still a need for collective security and joint action with our allies must answer convincingly, not just for fellow Members of the House who do not share our view, but for members of the public who are often sceptical about the defence and security missions with which our country is involved and increasingly want a say in defence and foreign policy matters.

NATO, in a attempt to address that question, recently adopted a new strategic concept to define its role and mission. I do not believe, however, that we can any longer be satisfied that Ministers, ambassadors and generals understand what NATO is for. We need to explain to the public—and, clearly, from this morning’s conversation with a colleague, to other Members of Parliament—why it is still relevant and necessary.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): I commend the hon. Gentleman and others for securing today’s debate. Will he confirm to other Members that his dealings with delegates from other NATO member states, particularly those from northern Europe, including Norway, Denmark and Iceland, show that they believe that the challenge of the Arctic and high north—in our backyard—should be taken seriously? Does it concern him that the Arctic and high north did not feature once in the last strategic defence and security review published by the Ministry of Defence and that the UK has declined to take part in NATO air policing operations operating from Keflavik in Iceland?

Hugh Bayley: I certainly agree that that is an extremely important issue in security, trade and environmental terms. The Arctic Council is one of the forums in which

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NATO member countries—the United States, Denmark and Canada—meet and discuss matters with Russia and other Scandinavian countries that border the Arctic. I do not think they would want the United Kingdom to join the Arctic Council as a full member, but we most certainly need to co-operate on these issues.

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Hugh Bayley: I will, because I know that my hon. Friend has taken a particularly strong interest in this matter within the Assembly.

Mrs Moon: Let me reassure Members that NATO takes the high north seriously. I have been fortunate enough twice to go as a delegate to the high north and a NATO conference was held in Tromsø two years ago to consider the issues of climate change and the defence risks to our back door, which is largely vulnerable and undefended by NATO.

Hugh Bayley: If we go back to the time of the cold war, we can see why it was relatively easy to explain why we needed collective security.

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): I do not wish to delay my hon. Friend, but I thought it important to intervene following the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) to point out that one of the sub-committees of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly will visit Greenland in September, which shows NATO’s interest. British Members of this House, including me, will participate in that visit.

Hugh Bayley: I am glad that my hon. Friend will be on that visit, discussing the matter with colleagues from other NATO countries. I look forward to hearing from him when he reports back.

During the cold war, it was fairly easy to explain why we had NATO and why we needed to work jointly with allies to defend ourselves. Europe was divided by an iron curtain. We in democratic states to the west wanted to preserve our freedom, our human rights, trade union rights, property rights, freedom of speech and freedom to protest while the states in the east—the USSR and its fellow travellers in satellite states—did not share those values. The Soviet Union was well armed with conventional and nuclear weapons and demonstrated that it was prepared to use those military assets to crush the Hungarian uprising in 1956, to blockade Berlin, to invade Czecho- slovakia in 1968 and to try to destroy the Solidarity movement in Poland. It was quite clear to most of the public why we needed military assets to protect ourselves and why we needed to co-operate with other countries to do so.

That was long ago. We still have foreign policy differences with Russia—for instance, over Syria.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and putting NATO in its historical context. Does he not think that with some hindsight, the 1990s, when the Warsaw pact collapsed, was a time when we should have promoted European

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security and co-operation rather than developing NATO as a stronger, bigger military force, and that that could have brought about a level of disarmament rather than rearmament?

Hugh Bayley: There has been considerable disarmament and a big peace dividend on both sides of the former iron curtain since the collapse of the Berlin wall. An attempt was made to rebuild a different relationship in Europe in which the Assembly played a large part, working with the emerging democratic movements in central Europe and in the eastern European countries to help them establish the institutions that enabled them in the fullness of time to join both NATO and the European Union. The door remains open—to countries such as Georgia, for instance. Indeed, I have had heard Russian delegates—they attend the Assembly as a confidence-building measure and because we have a joint NATO-Russia parliamentary committee—ask whether if, at some future date, Russia were to want to form an association with or to join the alliance, it would be possible for it to do so. It is important not to build new barriers between parties in Europe or between Europe and other parts of the world but to seek to build co-operation where we can.

Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): In connection with the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), does not my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley) think that it is a bit peculiar that Croatia, a former Soviet bloc country, entered the European Union a few days ago whereas Turkey, which has been a staunch ally of European countries for many years and is a member of NATO, still finds considerable opposition to its membership of the EU from within the EU?

Hugh Bayley: I must say I strongly agree with my hon. Friend, but I do not want to turn the NATO debate into a debate about the future of the EU. Turkey plays and has played an important role ever since it joined the alliance in helping to defend our freedoms in Europe, and that ought to guide the views of other EU member states when decisions are made about Turkey’s accession to the EU.

I mentioned the history, but only to show that things have moved on. Despite our foreign policy differences with Russia on certain matters, such as Syria, we co-operate on many matters. Russia provides the land bridge to convey NATO’s non-military assets to Afghanistan and will help us remove many of our assets from Afghanistan as we bring our troops home.

The question that we must answer for Members of this House who do not share our views and for the public is, “If the cold war is history, why isn’t NATO?” It is not history because we still need international co-operation and solidarity with our allies and shared and permanent structures to plan to deal with the security risks we face, to deter those risks and, when things go wrong, to manage military action.

No single NATO state, with the possible exception of the United States, has sufficient military assets to protect itself from today’s risks without the help of colleagues. Actually, I do not think the United States should be excepted, because it needs and gains international legitimacy at the UN and elsewhere when it engages in military action that is supported by its allies.

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Since the end of the cold war, we have needed NATO to end conflict in the heart of Europe—in Bosnia, for example; to respond to the threat of global terrorism, which had devastating effects on the streets of New York, London, Madrid and a number of cities in east Africa and elsewhere; and to protect human rights and stop ethnic cleansing, as in Bosnia, Kosovo and Libya. We needed NATO to provide humanitarian assistance during the 2005 floods in Pakistan and, indeed, following Hurricane Katrina in the United States, when other NATO states sent humanitarian assets. We have needed NATO to counter the threat of piracy off the horn of Africa: the losses suffered at the hands of pirates now cost insurers and shipping companies many hundreds of millions of pounds less than they used to, thanks to NATO and EU coastal patrols. We also need to work collectively with our allies to deal with new and emerging threats—cyber-attack, transnational crime, people trafficking or the drugs trade. All are threats that affect the United Kingdom, but none is a threat to which we can successfully respond and against which we can protect ourselves on our own.

What does the NATO Parliamentary Assembly bring to the table? Where is our added value? After the fall of the Berlin wall, as I said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), the Assembly sought to build bridges with democrats in the former Warsaw pact countries that wanted to move closer to the west. Indeed, the Assembly moved faster than NATO itself or the Governments of many member states to open a dialogue with those democrats.

At the end of last week, General Nick Carter, the UK soldier and deputy commander of the international security assistance force, said that peace and reconciliation talks with the Taliban should have started a decade ago, and he is right. There were people engaging with moderate leaders in the insurgency in the mid-2000s, and I met them during some of my visits to Afghanistan; but there were disputes at the time about who should do this—whether it should be the Government of Afghanistan, or perhaps the United States. I remember when two people who had been involved in talks with elements within the insurgency were expelled from Afghanistan.

Last week, lead responsibility for security passed from ISAF to the Afghan national security forces in every part of Afghanistan. As our role changes so that we no longer provide the security lead in that country, we need to learn lessons from NATO’s biggest, longest and costliest military operation. Our Parliamentary Assembly has visited Afghanistan 11 times in the past eight years, and when preparing for this debate I looked back at our reports.

In 2004, we argued that NATO, which at that time had a role in Kabul but not throughout the country, should expand its presence throughout Afghanistan. In reports in 2004, 2005 and 2006, we called for a unified command, encompassing both ISAF, the NATO mission, and the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom. Between 2005 and 2008, we published reports calling for better burden sharing between NATO member states and for caveats imposed by some of the national contributions to NATO to be lifted. As early as 2004—nine years ago—we highlighted the need to accelerate the build-up and strengthen the training of Afghan national security forces; we stressed that particularly strongly from 2006 onward.

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Even in 2002—more than a decade ago—we were stressing the link between security and development assistance; and from 2006, in reports and resolutions we called for what is now described as the comprehensive approach: diplomacy, defence and development co-operation. Again as early as 2004, we identified that much aid was used inefficiently because it was not channelled through Afghan institutions, and now even 50% of US aid is channelled through the World Bank’s trust fund and the Government of Afghanistan. Interestingly, in 2006—seven years ago—we called for reconciliation talks with moderate elements in the insurgency. Since 2006, we have stressed the need to challenge the safe havens in Pakistan and we have been involving Pakistani MPs in meetings of our Assembly. I have visited Afghanistan five or six times during the period our forces have been in the country, and I have to say that many of the prescient ideas reflected in reports of our Assembly came from British commanders, British diplomats, DFID staff or British aid workers.

The Assembly is an effective forum for sharing good ideas and good practice and, where we identify good practice adopted by one country, we try to persuade others in the alliance to support similar approaches. Often, it is easier for legislators who do not have executive responsibilities to reach conclusions on these matters than it is for members of a Government. We are still, even now, debating defence budgets, following the reports we produced some years ago on burden sharing. As we know, Robert Gates, the former US Defence Secretary, in his outgoing statement, called on Europe to step up to the mark on defence spending, and it is clear to our Assembly that most countries in Europe do not spend enough on defence. Indeed, only two—Britain and Greece—spend the 2% of GDP that NATO recommends.

When I put that point to our Secretary of State, as I have a number of times, he says that, with the economic situation so fragile, now is not the right time to press Governments of other countries to increase their defence expenditure, but I believe it is necessary for security reasons, and that the way to get through the difficulty is to seek commitments that, as the economic situation improves and Governments receive a taxation dividend from growth, they will devote a proportion of it to greater defence expenditures. I do not think we have public opinion on our side for that proposition at the moment, which is another reason we need to do more to explain why we have the security structures we have in NATO and why it is necessary to maintain them and finance them properly. Both the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and NATO itself need to do more to get their case into the public domain, and I congratulate the Secretary-General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. May I gently say to the hon. Gentleman that he has been speaking for 20 minutes, and it was to be 10 to 15 minutes? I am sure that he is nearing the end now.

Hugh Bayley: Mr Deputy Speaker, I should not have taken so many interventions.

Mr Deputy Speaker: You have had some extra time.

Hugh Bayley: I simply want to say this: we have a responsibility to make the case for defence spending in our constituencies and through debates such as this.

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We need to stress also—this is the final point that I shall make—the importance of maintaining the trans-Atlantic relationship, which underpins NATO as an alliance. We share much with the United States and Canada in terms of our culture, history, family links from not just the United Kingdom but many European families, and trade links. The United States and Canada exported more to the European Union last year—$304 billion worth of goods and services—than they did to Japan, China and Korea combined, to which they exported $266 billion. EU exports in the opposite direction are more than $400 billion to the United States and Canada and $300 billion to east Asia.

We need to stress these things that we have in common. Of course the United States should focus on security concerns that it faces in the Pacific, but it should not forget the common interests it has with us in Europe, on which we need to work together.

12.50 pm

Mr James Arbuthnot (North East Hampshire) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley) on securing this debate and I have agreed with all he said—with one exception, which I will come to —particularly about the need for NATO. The one exception was that I think there is a bit of work to be done on the need for the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. I was once a Member of what was then the North Atlantic Assembly for six months. Then I realised that for two years I had been a Defence Minister and had been completely unaware of the existence of the North Atlantic Assembly. Therefore I suggest that the NATO Parliamentary Assembly needs to do some work in order to build its profile.

It is a great pleasure to see the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr Swire) in his place, ready, willing and able to answer this debate. It is also a bit of a surprise, as some of us in our ignorance might have thought that NATO was a matter for defence, but there we are.

My great-great-great-great-grandfather, Captain George Duff of HMS Mars, who was committed to the deep, along with 28 of his crew, off the coast of Cadiz at the end of the battle of Trafalgar, and whose memorial is next to Nelson’s tomb in St Paul’s cathedral, would have been proud to find the French, the Spanish and the British working as closely together now as NATO allows us to do. Interestingly, at the battle of Trafalgar there were a lot of French and Spanish sailors in the British fleet, just as there were quite a number of British sailors in the French and Spanish fleets. That was not a matter of treachery—more a matter of expediency. In those days, when a ship was taken by the enemy, its sailors were given the not very difficult choice of joining the enemy crew or sleeping with the fishes. I do not want to describe Trafalgar as the beginnings of NATO, but it could be described as an early example of exchange postings.

Allied Maritime Command is the central command of all NATO maritime forces and the commander of MARCOM is the prime maritime adviser to the alliance. While the Allied Land Command is held by a US general, and the Allied Air Command by a US general—

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although at the moment the acting commander is French because the last US commander became chief of staff of the US air force—the Allied Maritime Command is not only based in the UK at Northwood, but is commanded by a British vice-admiral, Peter Hudson. We have an important and respected role to play in NATO.

And we play it to the full, with our crucial role in ISAF, our joint leadership in Libya, our contribution to Mali and the Balkans, and our operations in Sierra Leone and elsewhere. Some of those were not, of course, NATO operations, but even when NATO itself did not deploy, as the hon. Member for York Central said, the command structure, the training, the equipment convergence and the sheer competence of NATO were fundamental to our own command structure, training, equipment and competence. NATO is a vital resource and a valuable pool from which coalitions of the willing can be drawn.

The Defence Committee has been told that the United Kingdom is still regarded by its NATO allies as a leader, and so it should be. Unfortunately, the last strategic defence and security review spoke of “no strategic shrinkage” while shrinking the means available. That led to a perception that there is a gap between the United Kingdom’s stated policy and its delivery. The Defence Committee recently heard from Professor Lindley-French, who told us:

“The German-Netherlands Corps, which I know well, had several British officers in. About a week after we had made the statement in SDSR 2010 that we were going to reinvest in the alliance as a key element in our national influence policy, somebody in the MOD decided that they had to pull those British officers out of the German-Netherlands Corps headquarters. The Dutch and the Germans said, ‘Right, we will pull the Dutch and German officers out of the ARRC.’”—

that is, the allied rapid reaction corps—

“In a sense, what is happening is that we are declaring policy at one level, and somebody lower down the food chain is taking a spreadsheet action at another level, so we are sending conflicting signals.”

Not only the UK but NATO itself is facing unprecedented challenges. The fundamental one, as the hon. Member for York Central said, is how to maintain a strong alliance without a war, whether it is a cold or a hot war. The withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan will throw this matter into even starker relief than did the events of 1989. This will be exacerbated by the economic woes of the western world. How do you spend money on defence if your people are in financial pain, cannot see an external threat and are at the very best ambivalent about the use to which we have put our armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Mrs Moon rose—

Mr Arbuthnot: I give way to the hon. Lady, who plays such a valuable role on the Select Committee.

Mrs Moon: I thank the right hon. Gentleman and our Chairman of the Defence Committee. Is not part of the vital role of NATO in these straitened times to enable key competences to be maintained by allowing capacity sharing and allowing officers and service personnel to train, particularly in relation to platforms that have been cut in various countries?

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Mr Arbuthnot: I agree. Capacity sharing is essential and there is a lot that we can do together. NATO at its highest levels keeps talking about pooling and sharing, but there is not much that can be pooled and shared if member countries are constantly cutting their defence capabilities, so that is a real worry and it is all caused by the financial concerns that we have.

The economic downturn has meant that the defence expenditure of most countries has declined, with the exception of countries that are definitely not in NATO, such as Russia and China, whose expenditure is increasing. Perhaps we in Europe know something about world stability that the rest of the world does not know, but in Europe, the United Kingdom is, as the hon. Member for York Central said, almost the only country which meets the NATO target of 2% of gross domestic product spent on defence. Greece does, but for increasingly irrelevant reasons of its own.

I believe that the 2% target has considerable importance which is not only symbolic. I am glad that the Secretary of State for Defence confirmed in answer to a parliamentary question last week that the UK will continue to meet this 2% target until 2015-16. I believe it is very important that it is met after that as well.

In February this year, in Oslo, the Deputy Secretary-General of NATO, General Verschbow, suggested that the 2% target might be replaced by an aspiration that no single ally needs to provide more than 50% of certain critical capabilities. I am always suspicious about aspirations, but what would the consequence of this be? In my view it would reduce the last remaining pressure on our European NATO allies to maintain their defence spending at respectable levels. It would be a negative aspiration rather than a positive one—it would say what countries did not need to do rather than what they did need to do. Sadly, our European NATO allies have no difficulty in agreeing what they do not need to do.

The only clear practical difference it would make would be that the United States would not need to commit so many of its forces to NATO. That would, at a stroke, weaken the alliance and result in reduced ambition overall. It is my clear view that it would be the wrong road to go down. I think we should stick with the 2% target and that we in the United Kingdom should find innovative ways of encouraging our allies to meet it.

The United States historically has provided the lion’s share of NATO expenditure. That country is now in the grip of sequestration over and above the originally agreed defence spending cuts. Nevertheless, our US interlocutors assured us that despite the rebalancing it is currently going through, the US still attaches importance to NATO and, within NATO, its relationship with the United Kingdom. The US looks on its allies for niche capabilities and says that it needs its friends more than ever, but when the Defence Committee visited the US a couple of months ago it made it clear that it expects other NATO nations to provide a larger share of their own defence, and well it might. The Libyan operation demonstrated that the US intention of taking a back seat whenever possible shines a stark light on the poor capabilities of its European allies in NATO. Air Marshal Harper told the Defence Committee:

“There is no question but that this operation throws into stark relief the capability gaps that exist between the non-US members of NATO and the United States.”

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That is hardly surprising, because the US still spends more on defence than the whole of the rest of the world put together.

I have a dream, and it has tinges of nightmare about it. I foresee that the economy of the west will gradually get stronger, and that we shall therefore eventually be in a position to spend more on our own defence. However, before Europe decides to do that, and to create the defences that the instability of the world requires, we shall have to go through a major—perhaps catastrophic—incident that reminds our people that without strong defences we have no schools, hospitals, welfare payments or economy. Then, and perhaps only then, we shall painfully learn our lesson. Let us try to do it without having to go through too much pain.

1.2 pm

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot), some of whose relatives died in unique and novel ways. It is also a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley), who has brought to the United Kingdom the great honour of his election as president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. It is one thing to garner the votes of one’s constituents, but quite another to garner the votes of 28 NATO member countries for the presidency of their body.

Unlike the right hon. Member for North East Hampshire, I value being a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. I think it provides an opportunity to look at defence from the wider European point of view and to discuss and reflect on issues in the wider world in a way that the at times UK-centric Westminster bubble does not allow us to do.

I am pleased to take part in this debate on a subject that, as the previous two speakers have said, requires greater attention. Public awareness of NATO is low and I would suggest that that is influenced by the fact that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office does not maintain a specific budget for NATO-related diplomacy campaigns. I am aware that an FCO meeting will be held in about two weeks and I look forward to seeing whether that will represent the beginning of a new way of highlighting the importance of NATO.

I think that NATO helps us consider the challenges we face today and how to address them. Like the other speakers, I start by pointing out the need for a dose of reality. The UK has rarely, if ever, gone to war on its own. In all the major conflicts of the past, we have nearly always acted in concert with others—including our Commonwealth partners—and we have drawn on support, equipment and people from other nations. It is a fantasy to think that the UK will ever again act unilaterally in deploying its armed forces. All future military operations will be conducted as part of a coalition. We no longer have the range of platforms, personnel or financial resources to go it alone. We also face an increasingly complex set of challenges, many of which do not respect international borders or the traditional rules of engagement. We need the greater thinking power of those 28 countries in NATO.

NATO is under pressure from a number of different sources, all of which make its long-term survival very important. Getting every member of NATO to make an equal contribution will never be easy—it will probably never even be possible—and debates on burden-sharing

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are not new, but cuts made to defence budgets across the European partnership, coupled with the budgetary pressures in the United States, pose a real threat. The dose of reality that everyone in NATO needs to take is that we can no longer rely on a 70% contribution from the US to our defence.

Leon Panetta pointed out that the example of burden-sharing in Libya made it clear that the current level of US commitment to NATO would not continue. Robert Gates was more forthright:

“If current trends in the decline of European defence capabilities are not halted and reversed, future US political leaders—those for whom the Cold War was not the formative experience that it was for me—may not consider the return on America’s investment in Nato worth the cost.”

Those words should hang above the desk of every Secretary of State for Defence in NATO.

Most recently, General Odierno, a senior American commander, said:

“As the British Army continues to reduce in size we’ve had several conversations about keeping them integrated in what we’re trying to do…In a lot of ways they’re depending on us, especially in our ground capabilities into the future.”

Finally, at NATO’s 2012 Chicago summit, Dr Andrew Dorman said:

“There is a very real danger that as individual nations make cuts to their armed forces they will increasingly assume that some capabilities will be provided by others without necessarily communicating this assumption. Such a policy of risk-sharing can only really work if there is some degree of central management of the attendant risks to ensure that capability gaps do not appear across the alliance.”

He noted in the same breath that the UK Government’s decision to cut maritime control capability would be reasonable if other NATO members were able to cover the gap.

A quick survey, however, shows that we failed to take that into consideration. Norway has one maritime patrol aircraft, while Belgium and Holland have none. During a recent NATO Parliamentary Assembly visit to the Netherlands, I asked its chief of defence whether he regretted cutting their maritime patrol capability and selling it off, and he replied that he regretted it deeply. Ireland has two long-range MPAs, primarily to protect fishing. We are all, therefore, reliant on the French fleet of about 24 aircraft. We have little or nothing to protect our vital sea lanes. Pooling and sharing works only if there actually is something to pool and share.

On defence, it is constantly said that strategic thinking is not being done, that it has been left wanting in the race to cut budgets and that there is a real danger that the one forum we have to facilitate joint operations is being undermined by our failure to realise its worth. I do not think that we can rely on the much-anticipated peace dividend after our withdrawal from Afghanistan. It will cost significant sums to get troops and equipment home.

As European members of NATO wake up to the budgetary pressures in the US, we also have to face the fact that the US is pivoting towards Asia. Ministers have made it clear that they see that as presenting no threat to the US’s commitment to NATO, but it does pose such a threat. Hillary Clinton noted in the Foreign Policy journal:

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“The future of politics will be decided in Asia, not Afghanistan or Iraq, and the United States will be right at the center of the action.”

President Obama, in a speech to the Australian Parliament, provided reassurance that the US defence cuts would not impact negatively on its commitment to the Asia-Pacific region:

“As we end today’s wars, I have directed my national security team to make our presence and missions in the Asia-Pacific a top priority. As a result, reductions in US defence spending will not—I repeat, will not—come at the expense of the Asia-Pacific.”

They will, however, come at the expense of Europe. By 2020, 60% of US naval assets will be in the Asia-Pacific region.

The US is responding to reality and we must do the same. The recent “Balance of Trade” study concluded that defence budgets in Asia will have increased by 35% to £325 billion by 2021, eventually overtaking the US. China has increased its defence spending by 7.8%. Russia has increased its defence spending by 16%. The UK will not launch a military operation alone again. The change of focus in the US puts pressure on NATO, making it essential that we take a central role in the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and in the forum of NATO.

New threats emerge all the time and it seems that old threats are reappearing. Russia is reasserting itself. China is developing its armed forces and its capability at great speed. The collapse of Syria has implications for the wider region. There are threats to our cyber-security. The growing militarisation of south-east Asia, with the potential for disputes in the South China sea, is underlined by the clamour to augment submarine fleets across the region. Most countries, including China, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia, have submarines and are looking to expand their numbers. Thailand is seeking to procure its first submarines.

Meanwhile, the Asia-Pacific highway to Europe is opening up. The high north will make it possible for Russia, China, Japan and the south Pacific nations to reach our back door much faster, and we will not have the ability to monitor it and see that they are coming. The high north has 22% of the world’s undiscovered oil. With the opening up of those sea routes, we will have a growing area of vulnerability. That is heightened—I am sorry to keep going on about it—by our lack of maritime patrol capability. Those issues can be dealt with only if we work together as NATO.

Jeremy Corbyn: I am interested in what my hon. Friend is saying about the high north and the Arctic. Does she not think that it would be better if there were serious negotiations about a nuclear weapons-free Arctic, which would have to include Russia, Canada, the USA and all the European countries, as a way of bringing about some peace, rather than accelerating our expenditure?

Mrs Moon: My hon. Friend hopes against reality. Norway has taken 40 years patiently and persistently to negotiate a treaty with Russia on joint responsibilities in the Arctic circle. I think that it would take slightly longer than 40 years to get all countries across the globe to agree to nuclear non-proliferation.

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): The hon. Lady is making an extremely interesting and well-informed speech. Should she not also say in response

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to the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) that if there is an aggressor in the high north, it is Russia, which is aggressively arming and renewing its vast nuclear weapons stockpile in an attempt to dominate the high north? The idea that we should lie down meekly and let it do that unchallenged suggests that the hon. Gentleman starts from a rather naive standpoint. Russia’s fuelling of the conflict in Syria and the way in which it just walked into Georgia show how prone it is to reasonable negotiation.

Mrs Moon: I do not want to be as personal as that in response to my colleague. However, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the opening up of the high north makes it imperative that we maintain a continuous at-sea deterrent. Perhaps Russia is rearming, but we must also be aware that China is moving in our direction. It has sent through an ice-enabled ship on at least two occasions recently and is agreeing mineral trading rights with Iceland, which will facilitate regular voyages into our backyard. We need to be aware of that. I am not necessarily saying that it poses a threat, but we must not ignore it and must prepare for any risk that comes our way as a result.

I want to comment briefly on the NATO training mission in Afghanistan, which has been essential in building post-conflict capability. Capabilities of different levels are available across the NATO alliance. It is important that we recognise that the end of the cold war brought back allies from the eastern European bloc that have expertise in building capacity and creating democratic capabilities that we should utilise more.

I am aware that a number of Members want to speak, but I want to comment briefly on the Government-owned contractor-operated model. I recently asked a Minister what capacity the GoCo would have to facilitate bilateral and trilateral procurement with our NATO allies. The response was a bit pathetic, because I was told that nothing would change.

The NATO Parliamentary Assembly gives us the opportunity to test such ideas with our allies face to face. We can hear their assessment of what we are doing and their understanding of why we are doing it. I look forward next week to asking the French how they would feel about negotiating the joint procurement of equipment with an agency that could potentially be owned by a third power on our behalf. Next week, along with some of my NATO Parliamentary Assembly colleagues, I will travel to the US and attend briefings at the Department for Defence, the State Department and Capitol Hill. I will raise all the issues that I have raised today at those meetings.

In conclusion, NATO provides the opportunity to share our understanding of the world, its problems, its risks and conflicts, and to build a shared understanding and response. On a personal level, having the opportunity to meet people and share our thoughts and views on defence issues is invaluable. Long may it continue. Long may NATO provide Europe with the peace and security that it is dedicated to defending jointly among its 28 members, and which it has succeeded in providing for a long time.

1.19 pm

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): I, too, thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting time for a debate on NATO in the main Chamber.

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My first real awareness of NATO came when I was interviewed to join the Royal Air Force in the 1980s. I was asked how many countries were in NATO and who was the Secretary-General. Of course, all Members will know that there were 16 member countries at that time and that the noble Lord Carrington was Secretary-General. NATO has now grown to 28 member nations, with former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen as Secretary-General. Like previous speakers, I now serve on the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, which brings together parliamentarians from the Atlantic alliance and contains 257 delegates from the 28 nations. I serve on one of the five committees, the defence and security committee. I am proud that a UK member, the hon. Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley), is the current president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and is well into the first year of his two-year term. Congratulations, el Presidente.

NATO’s essential core tasks and principles are summed up in the strategic concept, and I will run through them. The cornerstone of the alliance, of course, is collective defence. NATO members will always assist each other against attack in accordance with article 5 of the Washington treaty. That commitment remains firm and binding.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): May I ask my hon. Friend’s opinion of whether French Guiana, in south America, might be defended under that collective security umbrella if it were attacked by Brazil?

Jason McCartney: My hon. and gallant Friend makes a good point. There are a number of anomalies, such as the situation of the dependency of the Falklands Islands and the tensions between Greece and Turkey, which of course are both member nations, in Cyprus. There are certain cases, of which he gave a prime example, in which article 5 perhaps has a little leeway.

Crisis management is another core task of NATO, and it has a unique and robust set of political and military capabilities to address the full spectrum of crises before, during and after conflicts. Of course, my hon. and gallant Friend was involved in one such conflict in Bosnia.

Another task is co-operative security. The alliance engages actively to enhance international security, through partnerships and by contributing actively to arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament. Other recently added facets of NATO’s work are cyber-security, which has been much in the news in the past fortnight, energy security and the threat posed by climate change.

NATO has been at the heart, and at the head, of command and control for current and recent western military interventions and operations. In many ways, it now delivers the military aspects of the United Nations’ work. I will highlight three examples. First, as we have heard, there is the international security assistance force, the NATO-led security mission in Afghanistan that the UN Security Council established in December 2001 under resolution 1386. Secondly, there was Operation Unified Protector, the NATO operation enforcing UN Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973, concerning the Libyan civil war. Those resolutions imposed sanctions on key members of the Gaddafi Government and authorised NATO to implement an arms embargo and

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a no-fly zone and to use all necessary means, short of foreign occupation, to protect Libyan civilians and civilian-populated areas.

Thirdly, there is Operation Ocean Shield, which was referred to earlier. It is NATO’s contribution to the anti-piracy campaign off the coast of the horn of Africa, following the earlier Operation Allied Protector. Naval operations began early in 2009, having been approved by the North Atlantic Council, and primarily involve warships from the UK and the United States, although vessels from many other nations are also included.

That brings me to some of the challenges facing NATO, a big one of which is duplication. The operation against Somali piracy is a good example. I have been with the NATO Parliamentary Assembly to Djibouti, which is strategically placed on the horn of Africa, and there are clear signs of overlap and mission repeat. We have not only the NATO-led mission but an EU-led operation called Operation Atalanta, also known as European Union Naval Force Somalia. There is also an independent French air base, a US army camp and a Japanese air base. Time and time again, I ask the commanding officers how much liaison there is between the different operations, and I have never got a satisfactory answer.

Mike Gapes: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that at Northwood, in this country, there is close co-operation between the NATO and EU activities, and there is also UN discussion about anti-piracy activity. I do not think we should be quite as pessimistic as he implies.

Jason McCartney: I guess that the hon. Gentleman is a bit more pro-EU than I am. That is probably what is behind his comments. I will give another example of what duplication does. It can confuse command and control, and further evidence of that is the EU force headquarters being set up in Belgium, in a similar location to NATO’s headquarters on the outskirts of Brussels. That is more costly duplication of command and control.

Mr John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman should be celebrating the success of the anti-piracy operation off the coast of Somalia. I will mention unnecessary duplication in my speech, but the activities that he has mentioned are complementary, as are those of the Chinese and a number of other Asian countries. They are all operating together successfully to achieve a common goal. It is a success, not a problem as he is trying to make out.

Jason McCartney: I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. He will be well aware how confusing it can be to answer to two leaders—for example, the leader of one’s party and a union. As a serviceman myself, I believe it is important to have a clear command and control structure and for people to know whom they answer to.

Mrs Moon: The hon. Gentleman will remember that I was also a member of the delegation to Djibouti. I specifically remember the response that we received to our questions, which was that people found it helpful to

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move between the two different organisations, largely because of the different rules of engagement. They said that the European rules of engagement gave greater flexibility. We should bear that in mind.

Jason McCartney: And of course, as the hon. Lady will remember, another interesting aspect was the Japanese air base, which I think is the only place in the world where Japanese forces are operating militarily outside their own sovereign area.

Expansion is another area of concern. Ever more former Warsaw pact countries are joining. Poland, Romania, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have already done so, and many more are waiting to join and are already acting as observers. It is sometimes asked whether even Russia will join NATO at some point. It already has observer status at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, and I have chatted to the leader of the Russian Communist party in the Duma while on a NATO briefing. Having been a serviceman in the late 1980s and ’90s, I found that very strange indeed.

What would happen if Scotland were to go independent? How long would it have to wait in the long queue to join NATO? By the way, our NATO assets, including our Trident submarines, which I have visited on the Clyde, would have to be relocated.

My final area of concern is budgets, to which many Members have referred. There is an increasing balance of capabilities within NATO. Eighteen member nations are spending less on defence from their current budgets than they were four years ago, and as others have said, only three allies have spent the target of 2% or more of GDP on defence in the past couple of years—the United Kingdom, the United States and Greece. We have already heard about the situation in Greece because of its GDP. Would an independent Scotland be able to commit 2% of its GDP to defence spending? There is pressure on the United States, which now provides 77% of allied defence spending within NATO. Just a decade ago, it was 63%. The United States’ commitment to European defence as it shifts its focus to Asia is one of the biggest uncertainties.

NATO is at the heart of western defence and overseas operations. It is changing and adapting, and it has many challenges, but we on the NATO Parliamentary Assembly will continue to scrutinise the Atlantic alliance, support it, celebrate its achievements and remember what is was set up for—keeping the peace in Europe.

1.29 pm

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley) for introducing the debate and describing the work of the Assembly, and for dipping into the history of NATO. That is a good starting point.

At the end of the second world war there was a triumph and a tragedy. The triumph was the end of the war, the defeat of Nazism, the foundation of the United Nations and the universal declaration of human rights and the UN charter. The tragedy was the descent into the cold war, the foundation of the Warsaw pact and NATO, and the decades-long nuclear arms race with costs borne by both sides and the economic problems that ensued as a result. Then there was the election of Gorbachev as President of the USSR, and his proposals for disarmament. The Reykjavik summit was unfortunately

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neutralised by Reagan’s proposals, and Gorbachev’s proposals for a common European home and promotion of European security and co-operation were not responded to effectively by the USA or NATO. Gorbachev eventually went and the Warsaw pact collapsed. Surely the 1990s were a time for reassessment and looking at an alternative. Why did NATO continue at that point when its cold war raison d’être had gone?

The Library briefing contains a helpful statement by J. L. Granatstein, a distinguished research fellow from the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute. In the National Post on 5 March 2013 he wrote:

“Perhaps it might have been better if NATO had wound itself up at the end of the Cold War. The alliance instead sought for a new role, a new strategic purpose, and it found it outside the boundaries of the alliance.”

He goes on to mention Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and later the Libyan adventures of NATO.

I think we should seriously consider the whole purpose of NATO. It was founded as part of the cold war and had a specific area of responsibility—the north Atlantic. It successively increased its operations out of area, and with the Lisbon treaty it does two things. First, it vastly expands its area of operation to include Afghanistan, which by no stretch of the imagination can be anything to do with the north Atlantic, any more than can the seas off Somalia or North Korea, South Korea and south Asia.

Mr Spellar: Does my hon. Friend accept that in a more communicated and linked-up world, threats to our security from other parts of the world can have a significant impact on our security at home? Piracy off the coast of Somalia is a real threat to trade lanes between western Europe and east Asia. Those are massive trade lanes for the continuing prosperity of the world. Is that a threat to our security, and should we respond to it?

Jeremy Corbyn: Of course piracy off the coast of Somalia is not a good thing. Instability in Somalia is very bad, but surely one solves that problem by political support for changes in Somalia—to some extent that is happening and considerable changes are taking place. I sometimes get the feeling that NATO spent the 1990s and early 2000s looking for something to do, and that it was more than pleased to get involved in Afghanistan and present itself as the armed wing of the United Nations. It may be that the UN should have its own force, and that is a matter for consideration and debate. However, when NATO calls itself the arm of the UN, what does that say to countries that are not in or aligned to NATO, or indeed are deeply suspicious of NATO and its activities? Members who talk about NATO as being the effective arm of the UN should think carefully about the implications of what they are saying.

The costs of NATO membership are considerable—probably far greater than those of membership of the European Union, which seems to excite massive debate on the Government Benches. NATO requires 2% of our gross national product to be spent on defence, and Members complain that other countries do not meet those demands. Presumably, NATO membership requires a level of expenditure that many countries simply cannot afford, yet they are required to make that expenditure and, for the most part, to buy those arms from the

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United States or approved suppliers that produce NATO-issue equipment. We must think far more seriously about why we are in NATO and what it is achieving.

Let us consider Afghanistan from 2001 onwards. Yes, 9/11 was a dreadful event and an act of murder against civilians, but was it an appropriate response to invade Afghanistan? Twelve years later, 400 British soldiers, a larger number of American soldiers, and a very much larger number of Afghan civilians, and others, are dead. Drone aircraft are operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and there is a real threat to the civil liberties of everyone in the world from Guantanamo Bay, extraordinary rendition and anti-terror legislation. That has not made the world a safer or more secure place.

Mike Gapes: Does my hon. Friend accept that in 2001, an estimated 10,000 terrorists came out of training camps in Afghanistan from areas that the state had effectively handed over for al-Qaeda to operate in? Was there not a need to protect communities around the world by removing those terrorist bases from Afghanistan?

Jeremy Corbyn: I question the figure of 10,000 and I would take my Friend back a little further. In 1979, Soviet support for the then Afghan Government provoked a massive US response and arming of the mujaheddin in Afghanistan. Massive amounts of US money went into Afghanistan from 1979 onwards and—hey presto!—the Taliban were formed with US weapons. Al-Qaeda was founded by US trainers. What goes around comes around and we should think more carefully about instant information and instant sending of vast amounts of weapons to opposition groups. The same may happen if we decide to send arms to one group in Syria. Where will those arms end up? A little bit of historical analysis might be helpful.

Mrs Moon: My hon. Friend is right to say that what comes around could go around. Does he also accept that some of the conflict in Afghanistan perhaps also led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, bringing freedom and democracy to swathes of people across Europe? Some of those countries are now members of NATO, having recognised the importance of joint defence in securing independence and democracy.

Jeremy Corbyn: Of course the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan was a mistake; it was just as disastrous as previous British interventions and the current NATO intervention in Afghanistan have been. It did irreparable damage to the leadership of the Soviet Union through its cost and loss of life. It was a disaster and a contributory factor—not the only one—to the break-up of the Soviet Union. Is NATO the answer to the problem? Should we not have a more assertive policy of peace and disarmament around the world, rather than the NATO policy of rearmament above what any country can realistically afford, which in turn encourages more rearmament?

I was alarmed by the whole discussion about the Arctic and the so-called threat from the north. A whole new scenario seems to be being built up, namely that China will somehow occupy the Arctic and invade us from the Arctic ocean, and therefore we must develop a new missile shield—as we already have aimed against Russia—to protect ourselves. The USA is moving more into the Asia-Pacific region. Should we be thinking

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more about regional peace and security measures? That has been achieved to a large extent in Africa, Latin America, and parts of central Asia. Should that not be our direction of travel, rather than one that involves large levels of armaments?

The other point I want to raise—this will not be popular with many, if any, Members in the Chamber today—concerns NATO’s preference for being the nuclear umbrella, and the holding and potential use of nuclear weapons. These are the ultimate weapons of mass destruction. There is no “limited use” of nuclear weapons. There is no limited availability of them. You either use them or you do not. If you do, it brings about the death of very large numbers of people, a nuclear winter and the destruction of the lives of millions of people. Those who argue that NATO should hold nuclear weapons must in reality be saying that they would be prepared to use them, with all the consequences that that would bring about.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have a lot of time. On this issue, however, I disagree. Does he agree that nuclear weapons cannot be uninvented and that it is in the interests of global security that the democracies of the world join together in a common nuclear defence rather than unilateral nuclear disarmament, which would only hand greater power to countries and forces in the world that do not wish to see democracy prosper?

Jeremy Corbyn: Of course the technology of nuclear weapons cannot be uninvented; indeed, Einstein in his later years said that if he had his time again, he would have been a clockmaker rather than making the discovery he did. He did not make it with the intention of starting nuclear war, but that was a danger that came from it. Obviously nuclear weapons cannot be uninvented, but it is possible to give them up. South Africa did so, as did Argentina, Brazil, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. There are nuclear weapons-free zones around the world. The prize surely would be a nuclear weapons-free middle east, which would require the nuclear non-proliferation treaty conference that was envisaged to include Iran and Israel to actually be held rather than endlessly procrastinated on. It will not be easy; of course not. But if we do not start somewhere, more people will get off the nuclear non-proliferation treaty trail and go elsewhere. Egypt has already left the NPT because of inaction by the nuclear powers over the middle east nuclear-free zone. Should not we be doing the same in terms of an Arctic nuclear weapons-free zone as a step towards a nuclear-free world? Everybody says they want a nuclear-free world, but at the same time are rearming, rather than going forward on it.

We are spending £34 billion a year of our money on defence and we are bound to spend at least 2 per cent. of GDP as long as we remain members of NATO, as all other countries must do. Those countries that are in the EU and NATO obviously accept both treaties. Those that are in the EU but not in NATO have a problem because of the close relationship between the EU and NATO. One can hardly say that the traditional neutral foreign policies of, for example, Sweden and Ireland can be maintained while the EU maintains this close relationship.

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My plea is simply this. We live in a world where a quarter of the world’s population are hungry, if not starving. We live in a world where the environmental consequences of what we are doing are catastrophic for future generations. Yet we are spending a vast amount of money on armaments, which, in turn, encourages others to spend vast amounts of money on armaments. We have a growing arms race between NATO and Russia, despite the apparently cosy chats between members of the Russian Communist party and delegates to the NATO Assembly. I absolutely welcome those and wish they could be videoed and portrayed to the whole world. The same applies to China.

If we are to live in a world of peace in the future, it will not be achieved by spending more and more on weapons. It will be achieved by spending less on weapons and more on dealing with the problems of human misery and human insecurity. I hope that instead of developing a nuclear shield or the missile shield along the eastern flank of NATO, we will instead move towards much better relations with all the power blocs as a way of bringing about a more peaceful world.

I do not believe in the continuation of defence alliances that have within them a built-in accelerator of cost and of danger, as well as massive pressures from the arms and other industries to sell more of their goods, when the needs of the world are health, education, food and housing. Those are the issues that we should prioritise, not weapons of mass destruction. I realise that this is a minority position in the Chamber today but I am not actually alone among the wider public in holding those views.

1.44 pm

Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay) (LD): Of course the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) has outlined a minority perspective, but that shows the value of this Chamber in allowing those perspectives to be aired.

I disagreed fundamentally with the hon. Gentleman on a number of points. First, he said that NATO was looking for a role in the early 1990s and was therefore keen to latch on to Bosnia and Kosovo, whereas at the time NATO commanders were very reluctant to get involved in those conflicts. It was the international community, through institutions that I am sure the hon. Gentleman supports, that was looking for a mechanism to deliver its collective will on the ground. The only mechanism available to the international community at the time was NATO.

Bob Stewart: May I just confirm what my hon. Friend is saying? At the time, I was the chief of policy at Supreme Allied Commander Europe’s headquarters. It was my job to try to avoid getting involved in Bosnia and places like it, but I was given political instructions that we had to start thinking about it. What my hon. Friend says is absolutely accurate; the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) is wrong.

Stephen Gilbert: I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I am pleased that he has been more successful in some of his more recent endeavours than he was in getting NATO to stay out of the Balkans. It was the international community looking for a vehicle to deliver its will on the ground that led to the NATO involvement in south-east

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Europe, which shows the benefits of an alliance that brings together collective action in support of common values.

I do not entirely share the view of the hon. Member for Islington North on Afghanistan. Hundreds of thousands of people are now going to school there in a way that they did not before. There is now a freedom for women that has not been felt recently. There is also the beginning of self-determination. NATO has helped to bring an end to a religious dictatorship there and my hope is that, as the negotiations go forward, it will continue to protect the newly won rights for people there.

I would like to pay tribute to the hon. Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley) and to my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) for securing this very important debate. My hon. Friend talked about the danger of unnecessary duplication—we may see that in some of the remarks today—but that in itself pays tribute to the work of the Parliamentary Assembly and to its British delegation, which works on a cross-party basis, putting the British national security interest first. The delegation is able to come back to this House and to the country and share a fairly coherent and joined-up criticism of NATO where there are criticisms to be made. We also play a key role in advocating the benefits of the alliance for everybody.

We all recognise that the world has changed. NATO was born into a Europe that was divided, and it formed the bedrock of our security for 60 years. The world was split between two diametrically opposed systems of government that were forged out of the second world war, the largest conflict in history. For much of its existence, NATO has been preoccupied, rightly, with conflicts between states, but as hon. Members on both sides have said, that has now shifted. It is no longer simply about interstate warfare. In Bosnia and in Kosovo, NATO has involved itself with civilians as well as states and this new role has been cemented in Afghanistan and, more recently, under the right to protect mandate delivered by the UN in Libya. That latter conflict displayed a strong example of how NATO, in accordance with international will and international agreement, was able to deliver effective military capabilities to prevent, I believe, the escalation of that conflict and to hasten the end of hostilities.

Humanitarian-led intervention is only one part of the changing landscape. There has been a paradigm shift towards focusing on international terrorism and piracy, as we have heard, and UK forces are highly active alongside NATO and EU allies in these regards. Cyber-security is also a new frontier for NATO. The unrelenting computerisation of our society and our reliance on the internet bring many opportunities for NATO Governments and citizens, but it brings significant dangers too. The scale of such infrastructure is something that no state could have anticipated in 1949. It requires a completely different approach that, through common endeavour, is better delivered within the alliance.

The power structures of the world have shifted far more rapidly than many predicted. We now live in a world where China is the world’s second largest economy, and it looks set to overtake the United States this century. This, coupled with the relative demise of the Russian economy and the break-up of the Soviet Union, has seen the attention of the United States shift firmly

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to the Pacific. That poses fundamental questions for NATO, an organisation that remains embedded in the regional geopolitics of Europe and the Atlantic.

The US remains by far the largest contributor of money and matériel for NATO. In 2011, the US spent 4.8% of its GDP on defence. Germany, Italy and France failed to contribute even 2% of their respective GDP. Like many hon. Members, I think it is deeply unfair that our European NATO allies expect the US and the UK to bankroll European defence. It is right to expect our allies in NATO to contribute fairly to the upkeep of NATO forces, and I call on Ministers not to be shy in their discourse with our European counterparts. Calling for member states to contribute fairly is one part of ensuring that the organisation remains effective. For NATO to be effective, we do not just need a willingness to deploy military force when necessary, but for our European allies to be willing to fund that resource, so we have the ability to deploy when the time is right.

On procurement, we can and should do things differently. There are many ways to work more closely with our European allies. We must ensure that the sum total of a country’s specific specialised contribution exceeds its individual parts. By procuring equipment and weapon systems together, we can create the flexibility essential to meeting the array of challenges in the 21st century. For example, it is wasteful to buy planes that cannot land on another country’s aircraft carriers, to have to supply different types of bullets for different countries, or to have radio systems that cannot be integrated or talk to each other. We must ensure that our armed forces can operate as effectively as possible with troops from other countries. That underscores the point made by the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) about how unlikely it is for this country to go to war by itself. The more likely scenario is that we will always be acting as part of a coalition, so it is important to make that coalition effective—very basic stuff that NATO continues to get wrong.

Let us be clear: Britain should always be able to retain control over the deployment of its forces. We must do so wisely and with appreciation of the consequences of engaging our men and women in armed conflict. However, the EU can play a role in developing institutions and structures that allow humanitarian access and peacekeeping missions in partnership with NATO where possible. As I and other hon. Members have said, the gaze of the United States is now firmly on the Pacific. Having EU structures, where appropriate and necessary, to help plug the gaps left by the Americans, who are now more concerned with Beijing than Berlin, will be in the UK’s national interest. Deeper EU defence co-operation makes economic sense for the same reasons that it does within NATO. We are stronger together, and if we are smart, it will not be an additional burden to the taxpayer.

Mr Jenkin: Will my hon. Friend explain why it is necessary for the EU to duplicate what European nations can already do on a military and politically co-operative basis through NATO? Does he agree that it is essential not to waste resources by duplicating NATO structures that already exist?

Stephen Gilbert: I share the hon. Gentleman’s concerns. It is clear that we need to reduce duplication both within the EU and between the EU and NATO. There

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will, however, be certain fundamental operational ways in which a resource on a European basis can best plug a gap that NATO does not move into. I suggest that these things are best looked at on a case-by-case basis.

Mr Jenkin: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Stephen Gilbert: No, I will not.

It is my view, and that of the Liberal Democrats, that NATO should remain the bedrock of our international defence obligations. It should be properly and fairly funded, but it must adapt for the 21st century.

1.55 pm

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Stephen Gilbert), who, like me, is a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. I want to pick up on a reference he made—it has come up in other contributions too—to Kosovo.

During the Whit recess, I went with a NATO Parliamentary Assembly delegation to Serbia and Kosovo. We went by road from Belgrade through north Mitrovica and south Mitrovica down to Pristina. We visited a Serbian orthodox monastery in Kosovo, which is now in an area overwhelmingly populated by Kosovo Albanians, rather than Kosovo Serbs. One interesting development is that in Belgrade, Mitrovica and Pristina everybody unanimously praised the work of KFOR, the NATO-led force doing the vital job of providing stability and protection to the minority Serbian communities and religious places in Kosovo, as well as acting to prevent conflict in north Mitrovica.

KFOR divided Kosovo into five areas of operations, and its commanding officer is German. The most difficult area covers north Mitrovica, in which approximately 80,000 Serbs live. Many do not accept that they live in Kosovo—they still identify with Belgrade. Significantly, the KFOR commander for this area does not come from a NATO country—he is from the neutral country of Switzerland. Through its structure, infrastructure and continuity, NATO enables partner countries and others to participate and play important roles in NATO structures.

There is a similar situation in Afghanistan, with an alliance of 28 countries—or 43 countries, I am not sure what the actual figure is now—that participate in international operations. NATO has played an essential part in providing the framework for that to happen. Similarly, EU co-operation is happening in different places. Wearing my Foreign Affairs Committee hat, I was in Mali last month. I was pleased to meet and talk to the EU’s training mission, led by French officers who are doing a fantastic job, which includes 46 British forces personnel. Interestingly, for the first time British officers will be in charge of Irish soldiers, from the Royal Irish Regiment. The two flags will be working together for the first time since the 1930s. That is a symbol of international co-operation. That work is done under an EU initiative, so that Ireland, Sweden and other EU countries that are not in NATO can nevertheless contribute and work with NATO countries. Often, the assets and resources of NATO are used in that way to enhance our European defence and security.

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Hugh Bayley rose

Mike Gapes: I give way to the president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.

Hugh Bayley: My hon. Friend makes an important point about the new military co-operation between Britain and the Irish Republic. When I was in Mali, just a week or two before him, I saw a training unit led by a British major and, from the Irish Republic, an Irish captain. However, my hon. Friend made a slip of the tongue: he referred to the Royal Irish Regiment, but of course those forces were from the Republic of Ireland.

Mike Gapes: I am grateful for that intervention.

Let me turn to some of the other issues that have been raised. An important point was made about the internet and cyber-warfare. NATO has a facility in Estonia—I have visited it with the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and I know that the NATO Parliamentary Assembly has also visited it—to bring together best practice for dealing with cyber-warfare. As we have seen from the media headlines in the last few days, we will face significant challenges, not just from states but, I suspect, over the coming decades from private interests and private companies spying and stealing data and commercially sensitive material. We also know of reports—I am not in a position to say whether they are true—that the Iranian nuclear weapons programme was seriously set back because of the activities of some countries and the so-called Stuxnet, and there are other areas where these matters are also of great importance.

International security is enhanced by co-operation, not just in hardware and personnel but in intelligence and security sharing. We need to be honest: these are not issues that can be dealt with by simplistic headlines in The Guardian or any other newspaper. They have to be looked at seriously. There needs to be international co-operation to deal with threats to our security, which might come not from terrorist bombs but from somebody sabotaging a banking system or undermining the supply of electricity or water to our major cities by making a minor change to a software programme, albeit one with potentially disastrous consequences. We need to look at those issues. I believe that NATO has a role in that respect.

My final point relates to the United States, which has already been referred to several times. We have heard about the so-called pivot towards Asia, President Obama’s strategy of leading from behind and all the other concerns that we have as Europeans. The NATO Parliamentary Assembly provides one of the few forums for members of the US House of Representatives and the Canadian Parliament to come to meetings at which we can have regular discussions with them. Sadly, given the nature of the insane political system in the United States and two-year elections to the House of Representatives, it is difficult for its members to get abroad very often, because they have to spend all their time raising election campaign money or fighting re-elections, normally in their primaries.

The NATO Parliamentary Assembly is important, because it means that there is a group of Americans from the Republicans and the Democrats who have had contact with and learnt about European politics. In the same way, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly provides a way for people from European countries to understand

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the politics of other countries better. The current President of Turkey, Abdullah Gul, was a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly for many years. I am sure that that was important, given that he comes from the AK party, which comes out of an Islamist tradition. He has clearly learnt a great deal and built confidence and understanding with other European parliamentarians and those from across the Atlantic.

The forum that is provided, the specialist committees and the reports that the NATO Parliamentary Assembly publishes provide members of Parliaments in different countries with vital information that they would not always get from their own Ministries of Defence—I am glad that the Minister is in his place to hear this. In the more than 10 years that I have been attending meetings of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, I have found that the access we get to high-level meetings and the information we get in those meetings is often far superior to the level of information I used to get as a member of the Select Committee on Defence or the Foreign Affairs Committee. That is not something to be proud of.

Jeremy Corbyn: Can my hon. Friend say—I am genuinely interested in this—what degree of influence over NATO policy and strategy the Parliamentary Assembly has?

Mike Gapes: Without straying too far from what I was going to say, I can say that the NATO Parliamentary Assembly produces reports which are published online and are published in draft form before final versions are produced. Every year the NATO Secretary-General produces a response to the points made. It is a bit like the relationship between Select Committees and the Government. Recommendations are made, reports are published and then the NATO bureaucracy—the Secretary-General, on behalf of NATO as an institution—responds to the assembly’s recommendations. The Secretary-General and other senior NATO figures come before our meetings. We hold them to account, whether at the February session in Brussels or the autumn meeting, which rotates among different countries.

There is therefore a level of connection and accountability, although NATO is not a democratic parliamentary structure. It works through a consensus arrangement between the different member Governments. In a sense, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly is far less democratic than other bodies—there is no qualifying majority voting, like in the European Union—while the European Parliament has a lot more powers. Nevertheless, the work we do as parliamentarians, representing our national Parliaments but also understanding and working in co-operation with others, is vital. Under my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley), the president of the assembly, I believe we will have a much higher profile in future.

2.7 pm

Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con): I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley) on securing this debate. He has fulfilled his responsibilities as president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in an exemplary manner, to the credit of Members in all parts of this House.

All three of the major military contributors to NATO have in the last few weeks made a significant policy change on the supply of equipment to Syria. All three

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have said that they are now ready to supply lethal military equipment to Syria. I want to bring before the House what I believe is a critically important case study before those countries, and possibly other NATO countries, decide in specific detail whether they will supply military equipment to Syria and, if so, what types.

Over the last few days, I have been analysing what was supplied to Gaddafi’s Libya in the five years prior to the outbreak of the Arab spring. The UK was one of the NATO suppliers, and was far from the only one. Non-NATO countries were supplying arms as well, and contributing to the substantial Libya-Gaddafi arms stockpiles. That five-year period ran from the beginning of 2006 until the end of 2010, which was of course the eve of the Arab spring.

I shall give the House a brief snapshot of the arms export licences that were approved by the previous Government here. They covered items including components for assault rifles, armoured personnel carriers, command and control vehicles, military utility vehicles, military communications equipment, cryptographic equipment, electronic warfare equipment, artillery computers, and components for surface-to-air missile launching equipment. The decision to issue an export licence for that last item— components for surface-to-air missile launching equipment—was made here in London, in blissful but understandable ignorance of the fact that within a few months NATO aircraft, including those from this country, would be overflying Libya to establish the no-fly zone.

Then came the change of Government in May 2010. In the subsequent seven months leading up to the outbreak of the Arab spring in 2011, the present coalition Government continued the policy of the previous Government. Indeed, I believe that they somewhat enlarged it. The export licences that were granted to Libya’s Gaddafi regime covered items including small arms ammunition, semi-automatic pistols, sniper rifles, assault rifles, machine guns, military communications equipment, cryptographic equipment, military cargo vehicles and, once again, components for surface-to-air missile launching equipment.

I raise this case study because the key issue for NATO in relation to supplying arms to Syria is to determine what has happened to the Libya-Gaddafi arms stockpile. To help us to answer that question, we are indebted to one key public source: the report presented to the United Nations Security Council by the panel of experts charged with reporting to the Security Council on the implementation of Security Council resolution 1973. I believe that that report should be made compulsory reading for all Ministers considering whether NATO countries should supply weapons to Syria and, if so, what weapons they should be.

I wish to place before the House a few key sentences from that recently published report. The panel of experts states that

“the proliferation of weapons from Libya has continued at a worrying rate and has spread into new territory: West Africa, the Levant and, potentially, even the Horn of Africa. Since the uprising and the resulting collapse of the security apparatus, including the loss of national control over weapons stockpiles and the absence of any border controls, Libya has over the past two years become a significant and attractive source of weaponry in the region. Illicit flows from the country are fuelling existing conflicts in Africa and the Levant and enriching the arsenals of a range of non-State actors, including terrorist groups.”

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Jeremy Corbyn: I compliment the right hon. Gentleman on his excellent speech. Does he agree that, once those weapons have leeched out of Libya, there is no way of retrieving or controlling them, and no way of knowing where they will end up? This happened in Afghanistan in the past, and it could well happen in Syria.

Sir John Stanley: The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to learn that he has anticipated a point I am about to raise.

I raised the future of the Libya-Gaddafi arms stockpile with the director-general of the Royal United Services Institute, Professor Michael Clarke, when he gave oral evidence to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee last week. His answers were extremely illuminating. In reply to my first question to him, he said:

“The arsenals that existed in Libya, as we all know, were extensive, and there has been almost no control over those weapons stocks. The new Government has proved virtually incapable of preventing those weapons stocks draining away.”

He went on to make this key point:

“Weapons never go out of commission; they just go somewhere else. Almost all weapons find a new home once a war is over.”

On Syria, he said:

“There is a lot of evidence that Libyan weapons are now circulating pretty freely in the Levant, and that seems to be where they will have the most destabilising effect.”

The huge geographical dispersal of the Libyan stockpile is happening not only because of the breakdown of security in Libya following the end of the Gaddafi regime but because, in the middle east and in north Africa, all through Saharan Africa and down to west Africa, arms are seen in a different way from in NATO countries. In NATO countries, the value of weapons relates to their military capabilities. We ask how capable a weapon is, how much firepower it has, how accurate it is, and so on. In that part of the world, however, there is a different approach to weapons. It is not merely a matter of their military utility. They are tradeable items.

I put that point to Professor Clarke:

“Would you conclude from that, as some people have, that the very act of supplying weapons in those circumstances means that you are basically supplying weapons into a commercial market? The moment the weapons leave your possession—whether it is weapons or ammunition—they become commodities to be sold at the highest price.”

He replied: