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I had a chance to visit a hospital that just about managed to keep going through the crisis, but we know that teenage pregnancy, which is partly due to the fact that children have been out of school, has been a huge problem that will need to be addressed. It is important that the NGO community works as part of that overall Government of Sierra Leone-owned health care strategy and we will play our part in helping to deliver it. It has to focus on some short-term imperative deliverables and look at the longer term. That includes making sure that the Ministry of Health in Sierra Leone has the capacity to continue to develop policy.

Sir Nick Harvey (North Devon) (LD): I welcome the statement, commend the work of all those combating the crisis, and echo the good wishes to the British military in its work of flying personnel home for emergency treatment at the Royal Free hospital. The Secretary of State mentioned the figure of 12,000 orphans created during the crisis, which is probably a vast underestimate, particularly in the rural areas. There will be so much to do afterwards—getting the health system and the transport links sorted and getting the economy going again—but can we make a particular commitment from the UK to help clear up the profound legacy that those orphans will represent?

Justine Greening: I can reassure my hon. Friend that we are already working on that alongside prioritising work to get health care systems back up and running. Interestingly, as part of the response, we have had to improve water, sanitation and hand-washing. We now hope that some of the health care workers whom we trained to be part of the response who were originally teachers can take that into schools, so that as children get back into school we can keep embedded those positive behaviours that are good for health.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): The magnificent courage and professionalism of all those involved have earned the gratitude and admiration of all of us, and that includes the work of the Secretary of State herself. Are not the lessons that we must persuade the World Health Organisation to move away from its dominance by commercial interests and reshape our armed forces to concentrate on what we do so well in these humanitarian situations? The challenges in future will be more diseases; the need for clean water; all the impact of global warming. Should we not concentrate on a future not of warring tribes among the nations, but of one human family, which is in deadly peril?

Justine Greening: I am grateful for that wide-ranging question. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that what we have learned from this crisis is not to see problems such as Ebola as someone else’s. They are absolutely relevant to us. We can fly from that part of west Africa to the UK in under six hours. He talked about this new model of development, if I can call it that, particularly in response to humanitarian crises: the work that DFID has done with critical support from the Ministry of Defence and the NHS. This triumvirate departmental response shows that the Department can bring to bear a much broader UK offer in responding to these crises in future than we have ever been able to do in the past.

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I pay tribute to the willingness of both the Department of Health and the MOD in working with DFID. It is a fantastic working relationship, which has gone from strength to strength.

The hon. Gentleman also talked about the role of the private sector in global health security and the WHO. Some of the lessons that we are learning are as much about the WHO’s command and control, and its ability to drive projects from the centre down into the regions, but there is no doubt in my mind that the private sector does have a key role to play, particularly given some of the important ways in which we might more significantly combat Ebola, for example through the development of a vaccine. The key is to find the right role for the private sector. In my previous answer I referred to sanitation and hand-washing, and clearly companies such as Unilever have long played a role in helping to educate the public.

Mr Speaker: These are extremely important and sensitive matters, but we have a heavily subscribed defence debate, to which I wish to move without delay.

Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): The contribution made by the armed services, 750 of them, the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Argus and the Merlin helicopters, has been superb, and it would not have been possible to battle against Ebola in this way without them. I look forward to welcoming them back here to Parliament in the autumn perhaps. In the meantime, does the Secretary of State, or perhaps the Minister for the Armed Forces who is sitting next to her, agree that if we were to see unwelcome defence cuts, such operations in the future and elsewhere in the world would not be possible?

Justine Greening: This case shows that the work of the MOD is intrinsically linked to the work on development. We need to see the UK foreign affairs strategy in the round and to be prepared to look at it in that light.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): The right hon. Lady says that she will hold her nerve, stay the course and support the recovery of health services, but House of Commons Library figures show that she cut health care support to Sierra Leone and Liberia by more than £10 million during this Parliament, only for the Prime Minister to have to top it up by £80 million to deal with the crisis. Does she not need to admit that that is evidence of poor judgment on her part, rather than evidence of her holding her nerve and staying the course?

Justine Greening: Since 2010 the UK has spent a total of £64 million in the health sector in Sierra Leone, compared with a total of £23 million spent between 2005 and 2010 under the previous Government. I think that a more constructive approach in this sort of discussion is more productive.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): A significant number of the service personnel serving in west Africa are from Northern Ireland. Obviously their families and loved ones want them to return safe and healthy. I understand that the incubation period for Ebola can be up to a month. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that a quarantine period is initiated?

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Justine Greening: As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, we have to follow Public Health England’s guidelines. Our duty of care to all the people involved in the UK response is obviously a top priority.

Mr Speaker: I am extremely grateful to the Secretary of State and to colleagues for their helpful co-operation.

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Backbench Business

Defence Spending

[Relevant documents: Third Report from the Defence Committee, Towards the next Defence and Security Review: Part Two–NATO, HC 358, and the Government response, HC 755.]

Mr Speaker: I will very likely want to impose some time limit, but I will make a judgment on that after the debate has been opened by the hon. Gentleman moving the motion. I know that he is suffering from the Westminster cold, but I very much doubt that any cold will dare to impede him. I call Mr John Baron.

11.46 am

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House believes that defence spending should be set to a minimum of two per cent of GDP in accordance with the UK’s NATO commitment.

Thank you for those kind words, Mr Speaker. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing this debate and those MPs who supported the application. We live in times of heightened international tensions. We would do well to remember that the adage about defence being the first duty of Government has been forged by events, and we ignore the lessons of history at our peril. The world remains a dangerous and unstable place, and a growing number of countries that are not necessarily friendly to the west are not only rearming at an alarming rate, but becoming more assertive. We need to spend more on defence not only to better protect our interests and support key alliances, but to deter potential aggressors and ensure that we try to avoid conflict in future.

The motion calls on the Government to spend at least 2% of GDP on defence, in line with our NATO commitment. Defence spending as a share of GDP has been falling in recent years, and it is widely believed that Britain will shortly fall below the 2% figure. We all know that 2% is an arbitrary figure; spending should reflect desired capability. I believe that defence spending should be much more than 2%—I suggest 3% to 4%. But the 2% figure does have symbolic value. Having lectured other NATO members about its importance, we should lead by example.

In short, we need to rediscover the political will for strong defence, and that political will transcends the political divide here. Some demons may need to be vanquished first, most notably our recent misguided military interventions, which have probably distracted us from greater dangers, but banished those demons must be. That we have the political will to ring-fence the international aid budget at 0.7% of GDP suggests that such will can be found; it is simply a question of priorities.

We have in this country, I believe, a political disconnect that needs to be put right. None of the main parties seems to question that Britain has global interests and needs to remain a global power, both to protect them and to uphold our international obligations as a member of NATO and a permanent member of the UN Security

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Council. Yet the political establishment, across the political divide, appears unwilling properly to resource these commitments.

So why the disconnect? I can only put it down, in large part, to our misguided military interventions of the past decade, which have led some to question the value of spending on defence. These interventions have been very costly in terms of blood and treasure, and have rarely achieved their original aims, with the extent of civilian casualties and the persecution of minorities being two such examples.

Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con): While I disagree with my hon. Friend about misguided previous military engagements—I do not think that either was misguided—we did see what happens when we try to deploy troops abroad on the cheap without their being properly equipped. We lost a lot of good people because of that, and there were a lot of injuries. We should never put our people in that position again.

Mr Baron: My hon. Friend and I may disagree about whether our interventions were misguided, but he makes a very valid point, which is that we have been intervening with increasingly marginal effect. Helmand in Afghanistan was a classic case of that. It took the Americans putting in another 20,000 troops before we pulled that situation round.

Let me return to the point about disconnect. The military interventions over the past decade have distracted us from the greater danger. Too often in these military interventions, we have failed to take the long view in favour of short-term foreign policy fixes that give rise to as many problems as they solve. A key reason is a deficit of strategic analysis at the heart of our foreign policy making, in large part because of continual underfunding—but perhaps that is a debate for another day.

There is little doubt that we went to war in Iraq on a false premise, and that we foolishly allowed the mission in Afghanistan to morph into one of nation building after we had achieved our original objective of ridding the country of al-Qaeda. Our Libyan intervention has not ended well courtesy of a vicious civil war. Speaking as someone who opposed them all, we must dispel these demons when thinking about defence more generally, because, in addition to being mistakes in themselves, these interventions have distracted us from, and blinded us to, the greater danger of traditional state-on-state threats.

For example, recent events in Ukraine reveal a resurgent Russia that is once again making its presence felt around NATO’s borders. Russian bomber aircraft and submarines have resumed their aggressive patrols, some near UK waters and airspace. The Defence Secretary correctly observed last month that Russia posed a real and current danger to Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia—all NATO members covered by article 5. Only by dispelling these previous intervention demons and recognising the bigger danger can we mend the political disconnect between commitments, on the one hand, and funding, on the other. It is absolutely essential that we do that.

Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that two of the most chilling interventions in recent weeks have been, first, from the chief of staff

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of the American army, who said that he thought that a diminished UK defence capability would serve not alongside, but as part of, an American division; and secondly, from the Europeans, who indicated that the best deterrent against Mr Putin was a European army? Are not both those interventions extremely telling?

Mr Baron: I can only agree with my hon. Friend. The idea that British brigades would serve within American divisions would probably have been unthinkable only 10 years ago. That is testament to the alarm in Washington, expressed—this is highly unusual—as we head into a general election. The extent of that alarm is clear for all to see.

Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): Like my hon. Friend, I am suffering from flu.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the intervention in Iraq has allowed Iran to get away with its own nuclear programme, which is what our emphasis should have been on?

Mr Baron: I agree with my hon. Friend. One of the intended consequences of our misguided intervention in Iraq was that we fundamentally altered the balance of power in the region, and we have been playing catch-up ever since.

There are significant benefits to strong defence. As no one can predict with any certainty from where the next substantial threat will emerge, we require armed forces of sufficient capability and capacity to respond to any challenge. The straits of Hormuz or the South China sea may seem a long way away, but we would soon realise their importance should sea lanes become closed, given the fact that the majority of our goods and trade arrive by sea. Argentina is looking to buy sophisticated fighter jets, and that reminds us that our capacity must include the ability to act independently, if necessary.

The heft of a strong military underpins a successful foreign policy. By contrast, a shrinking defence budget threatens our ability to lead global opinion, reduces our foreign policy options and, crucially, sends the wrong message both to our allies and to potential adversaries. It is doubtful that President Putin would operate as he is now if he thought that NATO, especially the European NATO members, would robustly stand up to him. [Interruption.] That is very kind.

Mr Speaker: In deference to the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), I think that that is called coalition co-operation.

Mr Baron: Whatever it is called, the glass of water is gratefully received.

Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): Test it first.

Mr Baron: If I go down, hon. Members will know why.

Falling defence budgets across NATO have emboldened the Russian President, who has concluded that the heart has gone out of the alliance. This is dangerous, and it underlines the point that well-resourced and capable armed forces can, by deterring potential aggressors, make future conflict less likely. How many times have we foolishly discounted or underestimated that fact?

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As we heard in the statement, the benefits of strong defence are not confined just to deterring potential aggressors. Strong armed forces can help us and others to face many of the emerging global challenges for which we need to be better prepared. Armed forces training has a wide skill base—everything from medicine and catering to construction and telecoms—and is a key component of our disaster relief capabilities, as shown by our response to the hurricane in the Philippines and the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone.

That skill base will be in increasing demand because the emerging global challenges include those posed by the fact that Africa’s population will be two and a half times that of Europe’s by 2050, the reverse of the proportions in only 1950; by resource scarcity, including water scarcity, which now affects one in three people; by temperature anomalies, which increasingly affect north Africa and the middle east; by fast-emerging middle classes who question political systems that struggle to deliver the goods; and by a growing tendency, aided by social media, for social unrest. Yet it could be argued that this is happening at a time when, in large measure, the international community is failing to produce co-ordinated responses on the scale needed to meet many of the most pressing challenges facing mankind, including poverty, organised crime, conflict, disease, hunger and inequalities. All that points to the need for investment in our foreign policy making and defence capabilities not only so that we are better sighted, but so that we can retain the maximum possible number of policy options by way of response.

How are we faring? Following a strategic defence and security review driven largely by financial pressures, rather than strategic design, the current Government have markedly reduced our armed forces. Plans to replace 20,000 regular troops with 30,000 reservists have created unacceptable capability gaps in the short term and false economies in the long term. Particularly given the fact that the original idea was to hold on to the 20,000 regulars until we knew that the plan to replace them with 30,000 reservists was going to work, I suggest that it was incompetent to let 20,000 regulars march out of the door while only adding 500 to the trained strength of the Army Reserve in the two years that the plan has been in operation.

Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech and I agree with every word he has said so far. If trends continue, all the problems that he has just identified will get worse, not better. In that context, he will surely agree that any move to cut expenditure on defence would be sheer lunacy. Clearly, we need to move in the opposite direction.

Mr Baron: I completely agree with my hon. Friend. That point is best encapsulated in the recent statistic from the Library, which suggests that if the international aid budget continues to grow as it is, it will be as big as the defence budget by 2030—in only 15 years’ time. That is nonsense.

Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): I am sympathetic to many of my hon. Friend’s arguments, but does he not need to make it clear that the Government had a £38 billion black hole to deal with, and many major challenges had to be addressed in 2010?

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Mr Baron: I agree that we inherited a financial shambles, as I have said many times before, but if we are prepared to ring-fence the international aid budget, it becomes a question of priorities. My point is that we need to spend more on defence and we need to reflect what is happening on the international stage: we are failing to do that.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): It may be worth reflecting on the fact that in 2010 we spent 2.5% of GDP on defence, so considerable cuts have already been made. The 2% is a marker.

Mr Baron: I made the point earlier that defence spending as a percentage of GDP has been falling under this Government, but my message is not just to my own Government. There is a political disconnect between the extent of our commitments and the lack of funding that is not being recognised across the political divide. I do not hear either of the main political parties saying that we should scale back our ambitions in the world, but nor has either party made it clear that it is committed to at least 2% in the future. I personally would like to see much more than that, but everyone can see the terms of the motion.

The reservist plan has been a disaster, in my opinion, resulting in unacceptable capability gaps in the short term and false economies in the long term, as we throw yet more money at it to try to make it work. Matters are not much better in the Royal Navy, which has been reduced to a mere 19 surface ships, although a recent SDSR suggested that 30 would be more appropriate. In addition to problems with the new aircraft carrier, the lack of a replacement for Nimrod means that we are in the ridiculous situation of having no maritime patrol aircraft. We have to go cap in hand to the Americans and the French to police our waters against potentially hostile submarines. That is a ridiculous state of affairs for a country of our standing.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) (LD): I agree with the point that my hon. Friend makes about maritime patrol aircraft. It is urgent if we intend to deploy aircraft carriers, which are currently being constructed and fitted out in order to come into service in a couple of years.

Mr Baron: My right hon. and learned Friend makes a valid point.

With these major shortcomings in our defence, it was alarming that a report by the Royal United Services Institute published this week suggests that the defence budget might be cut by 10% after the next election. Talk that Britain has the fifth largest defence budget—and the second largest in NATO—rings hollow when MOD reforms are cutting manpower, capabilities and the armed forces’ capacity to deploy force. Some estimates suggest that we rank 30th in the world in our ability to deploy force overseas, and my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray) told us of the extent of the American concern about this issue.

Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. If we see defence cuts of another 10% after the election, another major concern will be the impact on our special forces. If we have an Army of 50,000 or 60,000, we will reduce the ability to

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recruit men into our special forces—currently probably the most respected in the world—and that will have a significant effect on our ability to project force.

Mr Baron: I completely agree with my hon. Friend. He makes a very valid point, but time is pressing and this is a popular debate, so I will bring my remarks to a conclusion.

At the very least, the British Government should fulfil their NATO commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence. Having implored fellow NATO members to reach this level at last year’s NATO summit, which we hosted, falling below this level ourselves would be a grave mistake as well as a national embarrassment. Given current levels, it would be a dangerous message to send to the Kremlin.

The past decade of questionable military interventions may have bred a reticence among the political establishment on defence. This must end. We must banish these demons and recognise the greater danger of state-on-state threats, which never really went away. It is essential that we have the capability to protect ourselves, our interests and our allies. Reassessing our defence spending should go hand in hand with a wider reappraisal of how we approach foreign policy generally. Budgets have fallen at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Our key soft power institutions, such as the BBC World Service and the British Council, have suffered accordingly. This has resulted in a dilution of skills that has hindered policy making and reduced our options.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): I am following the hon. Gentleman’s speech with great admiration. He talks about banishing demons. There are 632 demons that we cannot banish: those who will be commemorated tomorrow; those who died as a result of terrible mistakes made in this Chamber that sent them to Helmand and Iraq. Should we not acknowledge the dreadful delusions, under which we have been operating for the past 12 years, which created those disasters, before we repeat them?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. In fairness, Mr Flynn, you have just asked to be put on the speaking list. I want to hear your speech later rather than now.

Mr Baron: All I will say is that we can have our own opinions about those misguided interventions, or interventions generally. I do not think any of us would say that it has been the fault of the troops on the ground. They did a sterling job in their operations. If the fault lies anywhere, it is with the politicians and the generals who perhaps promised too much and delivered too little.

In closing, I call on both main parties—I do mean both main parties—to recognise their reluctance to commit to spending at least 2% of GDP on defence. As an ex-solider and an MP now of 14 years, I find it difficult to believe that I am still, with others, having to try to make this case. I make no apologies for repeating that the adage about defence of the realm being the first duty of Government has been forged by events. We ignore the lessons of history at our peril. Whereas

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previous generations have perhaps had time to recover from such adverse situations, time may be a luxury we can no longer afford. We must learn those lessons.

12.8 pm

Mr Dai Havard (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab): I would guess that many hon. Members will make contributions about the symbolism of the 2% target and its relationship with foreign policy and so on. I will try to restrict my remarks to its utility: the purpose for it, the benefits of having the process, and some predictions—guesses may be a better word—and advice on what we might do.

The 2% of GDP NATO target can be defined in all sorts of ways, and there have been many discussions on that recently. It is largely, but not totally arbitrary. It is largely the basis on which we currently spend our money, and so it informs our current decisions. I do not want to discuss what we have done in the past, however. I want to discuss what we are going to do in the future, and why it is important as a mechanism for the future. It should not necessarily be driven by NATO or US ambitions. It should be a matter of deliberate choice for particular strategic reasons, and there should be merit to it.

That is why I want to talk about this. We need certainty with which to plan against the uncertainty, and, in my opinion, the 2% mechanism would help and perhaps provide some structure and context. The truth is that we need a threat-based assessment. No doubt, there will be a new national security strategy, but we can no longer say, “We’ll have a long war over here, and then we’ll have a short war over there. Can you lot hold on until Christmas, and then we’ll come and fight you, because we haven’t quite finished this one yet?” That world is dead. We now have a series of threats and concurrent difficulties to deal with, and they will continue to be concurrent. The way we plan against that uncertainty has changed. Our methodologies are different—there was a great example in the Ebola statement earlier. We need an integrated process, not just within the military, but across the other Departments, if we are to deploy and do this properly. That is the big discussion. I have said to boys from my constituency in the military, “I’ll tell you two things, right—buy a thermal vest and a pair of shorts, because you’ll be in Estonia in the winter and no doubt somewhere warm a bit later. You’re going to be around the place, because there are going to be concurrent reasons to be deployed in different places at different times.”

I want to set out the benefits of the 2% mechanism. We now have five procurers in the MOD: we have the three chiefs—Army, Navy and Air Force; we now have this joint command; and we still have large projects done centrally. So there are five procurement organisations. I have been involved in the many discussions about how we buy equipment, but the real question is: how do we decide what to buy in the first place? We know where the inefficiencies have been, so the managerial structures have changed and we have a different set of relationships. We have chief executives now who are chiefs of services. These are the people who are going to buy this stuff. They told the Defence Committee, “Well, we have redone the structures in the original plans you gave us”, and I said to General Nick Carter when he redid the Army one, “Well done, Nick—you’ve provided a structure

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that protects you from me.” What do I mean by that? I mean we have this structure—adaptive and reactive forces—and it has some utility and it could be made to work, but it will work well only if we make the right decisions about how to fund and resource it and allow it to operate properly. Currently, the chiefs are telling us, “Unless we get 1% uplift on procurement and flat real, we cannot make those resources work. If you change that, we will have to change your plans or come back with advice on how you will change them.”

There are also questions about how we build this capability. The industrial agenda is really important, but it is not as well described as it could be. It needs to be better described. The defence growth partnership is a great thing, but it concerns applied research, not the whole business of how we deal with industry. Industry needs to plan. All the contractors—whether their function is to go to war or to provide support so that we can release other people to go to war—have to be factored in and they have to plan. This mechanism could produce some rigour, some tools, a language, an understanding and some certainty with which to plan. It might then allow us to plan strategically and even come together and find this magical thing—integration—that will give us the collaboration we need and which we talk about here and on the National Security Council.

The mechanism would test all sorts of things. It would test individual capabilities too. It could go up and down—because GDP increases and decreases—so some people might say, “Well, Trident—difficult question. It’s been set aside really—it’s a given; and therefore we’re arguing about the rest of it.” The mechanism would have to test itself against all others, and the military would have to decide its continued capability and utility. Everything would be in a process of iterative, continual assessment. In the future, these processes have to be iterative; they cannot be linear, they are not binary and they will not be spasmodic.

If we do that, this is what I think will happen: we will spend 2%, we have spent 2% and we will continue to spend more than 2%. But will we do it well? Will we do it in a strategic and planned fashion? Or will we do it just because we are responding to events? The “dogs of war”, as I call them, are a clear example—all these vehicles we now have: the Jackals, the Bulldogs, the Foxhounds. They are all individually important and useful, but they all came out of what? Urgent operational requirements—that is where they came from; they did not come from any proper strategic planning process. We now have to reintegrate this legacy equipment and fit it into the discussion about future planning. You could have avoided being in that position, if you had done some things differently—not you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am not blaming you personally. We could all have been in a better position if we had done those things.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): On urgent operational requirements, the key is in the wording. We do not necessarily have any idea of the threats or requirements in advance. Our soldiers, sailors and airmen will suddenly be in a situation where we have to find a piece of kit to protect them better. That is the key—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. Again, the hon. Gentleman wishes to speak later. Please keep something back. Do not use it all at once.

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Mr Havard: Obviously, yes, we will continue to need them. I am trying to make the point that this became the process, rather than the exception to the process—it should be the exception—and the money came out of the contingency fund, not the core budget.

The budget should be 2%. As hon. Members might remember, when Labour was in Government and people said, “You should give more money to defence”, I used to say, “Well, if I was Gordon Brown, I’d say, ‘When you can spend the money I’ve given you properly, come back and ask for some more.’” That is the same debate, and it is the debate for the future. How do we plan for it properly? I think that 2% might give us a way of structuring the discussion. Spent well, the 2% could give us ways of planning and the right language, tools and transparency.

I have something to say to us in Parliament. This is probably the last time I will speak in this Parliament, so I will say something to the next one. The next Parliament will have to debate this better than we have debated it up till now. As I have said several times, we do not have structures any more and we do not discuss defence properly. We can make all the criticisms we like of other people and how well they do things, but we would do well to look at ourselves and consider how well we do them. In my opinion, the 2% could give us, if not certainty, at least some process by which to start to plan against the uncertainty, and it could enable other people to plan for themselves. For me, this is iterative; it will have to deal with the concurrence issue; and it is more than just a declaratory or arbitrary figure—it has a purpose.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): That was a perfect example of taking up to 10 minutes. If we all stick to that, everybody will get in with the same amount of time.

12.18 pm

Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border) (Con): I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr Havard) both for his service on the Defence Committee and for having set out very clearly the two central questions in the debate about defence spending: first, the focus on threat—what is the threat we face?—and secondly the fact that these threats are now concurrent.

The reason we need to spend at least 2% of GDP on defence is that the entire defence planning assumptions created in 1998 and in 2010—those in the national security strategy and strategic defence and security review, leading up to Future Force 2020—have been bypassed by events; they no longer hold. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, the world has changed fundamentally, and those assumptions—this is why we cannot just tweak the NSS or be complacent about the SDSR—were essentially developed on two bases. The first was that the cold war had ended. The NSS stated again and again that the cold war had ended and that we needed to be much bolder about getting rid of cold war capacities.

The second assumption was that what we will be doing in the future is the same kind of things that were happening in 2010—primarily Afghanistan. Absolutely central to the SDSR was the idea that what we need is something called “enduring stabilisation operations”.

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That meant that we were planning to go into a single country—or, at most, in US planning, two countries at a time—for a very long time with a large number of troops. The concept was: Iraq and Afghanistan; 100,000 to 130,000 troops on the ground; Britain contributing 10,000 of those troops—or, in the latest Future Force 2020 structure, 6,600 troops. All our brigade structures were set up to sustain that. The idea was that we would have force structures to keep 6,600 troops on the ground for a decade.

The world has changed completely, however, and as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, it has changed in two ways. First, we have a return to a threat from a conventional state with an advanced military capacity—Russia. That is a major change: it reshapes the entire assumptions from 1998 to 2010. Secondly, as the hon. Gentleman also pointed out, we now have concurrent threats that are not just happening in one state at a time. General Sir Peter Wall pointed out that the basic assumption of the SDSR was for a benign security environment. We had come out of Afghanistan, and we assumed that there would not be anything looking like Afghanistan again very soon. Of course, if we look around the world, we see developments—I shall deal with them in greater detail later—in Yemen, Libya, Syria, to some extent in South Sudan and certainly in western Iraq and still in Afghanistan. We are seeing exactly the same threats, but they now happening in half a dozen countries at one time.

Let me deal briefly with this threat assumption. We need more defence spending because we need to deal with those two things: the conventional threat from Russia and the concurrent threats from all the fragile states that are currently harbouring Islamist groups, terrorist groups—groups that appear to threaten the west. Dealing with this requires imagination, new force structures and spending.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): Is not part of the problem of dealing with these threats having a strategy in the first place? There has been an absence of a real strategy.

Rory Stewart: That is a fundamental point, so let me deal with it briefly. We need to work from the assumption of three things. First, we must agree that these things are threats. There is a huge debate within the civil service, where some people are beginning to say, “Perhaps failed states and terrorist groups are not really threats at all; perhaps everything we have done in Afghanistan and Iraq was mistaken, and we do not need to worry about what is happening in Libya, Iraq and Syria.” Secondly, we need to assume that Britain wants to do something and actually wishes to be a global power. There is another danger in this whole debate, with people in Whitehall saying, “Perhaps this is none of our business; perhaps these things are threats, but somebody else such as the United States will deal with those threats for us”—a freeloader problem. Thirdly and most importantly—this comes to the centre of the strategy—we need to believe that we have a doctrine that can deal with these things. We need to believe that we can deal with them and that we have the capability to engage.

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I shall deal with resources needs separately. First, the threat posed by Russia’s recent actions requires serious imagination. We have had “reassurance measures”—the grisly jargon we produced in Wales, essentially to talk about setting up a high-readiness joint taskforce, about exercising in NATO at a divisional level and about air policing operations. Those things need to be resourced. It will be surprisingly difficult in practice to have that very high-readiness joint taskforce, with all its enablers in place and functioning, particularly when some of the framework nations are still insisting that they can take their forces out of that very high-readiness joint taskforce and deploy them somewhere else such as in the Central African Republic.

It is much more than that, however. This House will have heard that we need to invest. Here, however, the idea that flat real plus 1% is somehow going to be enough cannot be the case if we are serious about the threats. Let me run through some of the requirements. Maritime surveillance is an obvious one, so there is no point debating it here today. Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear capacity is another. Any Members present who were in the armed forces will remember training, walking around in NBC suits and thinking about how to deal with that kind of threat. All that capacity has gone out the window. We do not do that anymore, because we have been fighting for nearly 15 years against lightly-armed insurgents, and most of our planning was based on counter-insurgency warfare operations that did not require that kind of training.

Ballistic missile defence is a third requirement. If we are serious about taking on a country such as Russia, which has tactical nuclear weapons as part of its normal operational doctrine, we need ballistic missile defence. That will probably mean—I do not want to pre-empt procurement decisions made by the Ministry—finding some way of buying into an existing US system and persuading the US to locate it not just in continental Europe, but in the United Kingdom.

If we look at our Navy, we find that it is currently down to 19 frigates and destroyers. That is pretty radical. What we have heard in the other place from Lord Astor is that our attrition calculations are currently zero. That means that we function on the assumption that we are not going to lose any of these frigates or destroyers. Lord Astor said that we have not lost any of those things since the Falklands war, so we do not need to worry about that. Of course, the Falklands war was the last time that we were fighting a navy, so it does not provide a basis for making this sort of calculation if we are thinking about taking on Russia.

It is the same for the Royal Air Force. As we move down to just seven squadrons, our attrition calculations are again pretty close to zero. If we are serious about carriers, we need to realise that they cost a lot of money. If we are to put one carrier at sea, we need to think about how to resupply it and how to get the fuel and weapons to it. The fuel and weaponry supply vessels will be moving along at 9 knots, which poses a huge challenge to us. We need to work out where to get the money to buy the planes to put on that carrier. How can we have a comprehensive carrier strike capacity? We have not yet paid for it.

Then there is the Army. If we are thinking about manoeuvre warfare again, it amounts to a huge spending commitment. It means thinking about heavy armour and whether we want to relocate the Royal Air Force at

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an Army headquarters level rather than two levels up. It means wide water bridging capacity and all the things that any Members present who operated during the NATO era will be able to think of much better than me.

Then there is ambiguous warfare. If we are thinking about dealing with Russia, we are going to have to think about what to do on cyber, information operations, strategic communications; and we will need to think about whether we have the special forces capacity right the way around the edge of Russia to deal with the phenomenon of these “green men” in these insurgency operations. We need the knowledge of places such as Narva in Estonia.

That is the easy stuff. That is before we get on to the concurrent threats, mentioned by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney. If we in this country take seriously the idea that we care about threats from failed states, terrorists and Islamist groups, we are going to have to think about northern Nigeria, Libya and Yemen, and we are going to have to think much more seriously about Syria and Iraq. We are going to have to think about continuing to support Afghanistan and, potentially, Pakistan, and if we do not do something about these places now as a coalition, it is just going to get worse. We will be reporting back to the House in two years’ time, and the Nigerian problem will have spread into Chad and Niger; the Libyan problem will have re-exploded back into Mali; Syria and Iraq will be destabilising Lebanon and Jordan even more profoundly than they are now.

Unfortunately, in dealing with these problems, we cannot base what we do on the Future Force 2020 structure. That was about the enduring stabilisation operations and heavy investment in counter-insurgency operations, with 100,000 people retained for a decade or more. That works if we have only one of these problems, but it simply does not work if we are dealing with a dozen of them at one time. So we need a much lighter, smarter approach to dealing with these countries. That will mean moving out of the world view of “one at a time” and not losing confidence. That is central; it cannot be about despair. It is about recognising that in Bosnia and Sierra Leone, we did these things quite well, but that if we are serious about them, we are going to have to upgrade our special forces and potentially look at—again, these are just ideas—type 2 special forces of the “green beret” type that they have in the United States. We may need to develop the idea of the Chief of the General Staff on defence engagement, but much more ambitiously, much more imaginatively and much more aggressively, including pre-posting officers into a dozen countries. We may be talking about 50 or 100 officers at a time, not about just one defence attaché covering three Baltic countries, and we may need to rethink the whole force structure that lies behind that.

I have run out of time, so let me say a few things in conclusion. I have sketched out a world which, as was made clear by the hon. Gentleman, is very different now. It is different in terms of the conventional threat, but—and this is something that we have only touched on so far—it is, above all, different in terms of the concurrent threats that are emerging from all the fragile states. We have not begun to think those through. We have not begun to consider the deep implications of the skills set, the force structures and the capacity that we would need in order to deal with those states simultaneously.

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The 2% of GDP matters for several reasons. First, we can deal with these problems only as a coalition, because they are beyond the sort of problems that Britain can deal with on its own. The 2% matters because it is a way of raising the commitment of more than 20 NATO countries to matching that expenditure themselves. It is essential to keep the United States bound into the system, because it is currently spending 70% of the NATO money. The President, the chief of the United States army, and the United States ambassador to the United Nations have all made it clear that they view the 2% as a sign of seriousness and of Britain’s commitment to keep the United States involved. Above all, however, the 2% is needed because the threats are real. The world is genuinely becoming more dangerous, and Britain cannot be a freeloader.

One of the sad aspects of what I feel is happening is our growing obsession with kit. People stand up and list all the different bits of kit that we have bought, but they do not intend ever to use it. They are freeloading on the idea that Britain will never act alone, that the United States will somehow fill in all the gaps, and that therefore we do not need to be serious about what we are actually doing in countries such as Libya. The challenge to Ministers should be, “Explain how we are to deal with a situation like the one in Libya. Explain what we are going to do in Yemen and northern Nigeria. Explain how this kit will really prevent us from letting the Russians into Mariupol.” Do we care about those issues, or are we creating an isolationist world view?

That 2% of GDP will return confidence to the military. It is an increasing budget, so the military will have £1 billion a year more every year to finance imaginative ideas. They will be able to restructure our forces, invest in defence engagement rather than scrimping and saving around the edges, and give us back the confidence that we need as a nation.

12.32 pm

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): We have heard three excellent speeches, and I found very little to disagree with in any of them, but perhaps I did disagree with the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) when he spoke of our “misguided” interventions. Surely it was not our interventions but the way in which we carried them through that was misguided. We generally did not carry them through with enough stamina and enough commitment to the action that we needed to take.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr Havard), who serves on the Defence Committee and who has provided us with some extraordinary insights. We have occasionally wished that we could edit some of what he said, or make it a little quicker—we ribbed him about that mercilessly at times—but I think that the whole Committee learned from his long-term, strategic way of looking at things and pulling them together.

It might have been beneficial for the entire defence team to listen to today’s debate, for, as I look around the Chamber, it seems to me that it will turn out to be a debate worth listening to. The same applied to our last debate on defence spending: every speech contributed something. Even if Ministers take in what is said by Members on both sides of the House, they do not make

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it clear that they are taking any notice of some of the friendly advice that is given to them. A classic example arose during Prime Minister’s Question Time, when I raised the subject of the 2% target. It was the Prime Minister who, at the Wales summit, lectured other countries and told them that they should step up to the plate. I suggested that he might just feel a tiny bit embarrassed, but all that he could come back with was some reference to the Scottish National party. Defence is not a party political issue; it is an issue for which the House has a collective responsibility. It seems that Back-Bench debates are required to bring Members together to discuss an issue that the Government ought to encourage us to talk about, but do so very rarely.

Let me return to the question of why the 2% matters. We all agree that it is an arbitrary figure, but it is part of an international commitment: it is part of article 5. Article 5 contains no mandate for a particular kind of response, but if we continue like this, we shall have no response except sanctions. We shall not be able to respond militarily except via the Americans. It is deeply irresponsible for the mainland European NATO members to keep cutting defence spending and keep telling their publics that, while their aspirations have not changed, everything will be done through much smarter methods and in co-operation, so they will continue to deliver more by investing less.

A few years ago, someone in the Pentagon described European countries as “no-good, crummy allies”. If we continue on our present trajectory, we shall join the ranks of no-good, crummy allies, and I do not want to see that day. The hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay spoke of national and international interests, to which I would add “national and international responsibilities”. If we wish to be a significant player in the world and to fulfil those international interests, we must possess not only capacity, but reliability and steadiness.

I do not want to repeat the speech that I made last week. My last point concerns political leadership. It is true that defence is not a vote-winner. I would not like to live in a country where people demonstrate in the streets, demanding more weapons and military action. It is in the nature of our people to want peace, but the leaders must show that they are responsive to the needs of the defence of the realm, and are conscious of their international responsibilities.

John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): The hon. Lady is making some characteristically wise observations, and I think we all agree about the 2%. Surely, however, leadership is not just about calling on all NATO members to match that 2%, but about calling for effective use of that money. Many people feel that if the 2% is not spent wisely, it is not really the end of the story. We need to be sure that it is being spent properly.

Ms Stuart: The hon. Gentleman is right: it must be spent properly. The 2% commitment sends signals, and gives the services and the supply chain certainly, about what is going to happen. It is no good trying to massage the figures and suddenly include war pensions in order to arrive at the 2% figure, because that would render it absolutely meaningless.

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I said that I would be brief. Let me end by saying that the 2% is part of our North Atlantic treaty commitment, because part of our commitment is to a capacity that will enable us to respond to an article 5 threat. It is up to all parties in the House—and, in particular, Front Benchers—to show leadership, so that we can bring our voters with us in relation to our commitment. Without leadership, that simply will not happen.

12.38 pm

Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington) (Ind): I strongly agree with what has just been said by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart). I also pay particular tribute to the impressive and remarkable speech that we heard from the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), the Chairman of the Select Committee, who explained the practical implications of our situation in a very detailed and convincing way. I shall not repeat the points that he made, because they were made so well by him.

Let me begin by emphasising that this debate is not just about defence expenditure, but something far wider. If we continue to make cuts in our defence budget of the kind that are being contemplated, we shall find that we are making a profound and irreversible change not just to our defence capability, but to the ability of the United Kingdom to conduct a global foreign policy with authority, conviction and credibility. That, in essence, is the fundamental choice that we are being asked to contemplate.

We have had these cuts over a number of years. I have not until now criticised the Government for their defence cuts over the five years of this Parliament, for several reasons. First, I have recognised—as have most of us—that in a period of great austerity it is of course impossible to remove the contribution that the Ministry of Defence, given the size of its budget, might be able to make to resolving matters. I was privileged to serve as Secretary of State for Defence, and I had to implement defence cuts myself, so I am very conscious of the pressures that exist, and the need to try to find a way of resolving them.

Richard Drax: May I counter that argument by saying that, with defence, if we cut ships, regiments or planes, we cannot just reinvent them when we need them? It takes months or years to bring them back.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: My hon. Friend helps to take me to exactly the next point I was going to make. What also enabled me to modify my concerns—to not feel the need to speak out during those few years—was the way in which the MOD addressed the difficult decisions it had to make. To a considerable extent, it tried to preserve the major improvements to our overall capability —our carrier capability, for example, and the need to renew the Trident submarines because of our strategic requirements. A lot of the reductions were made in the areas of manpower. That is painful and difficult, but the reality is that if we had cancelled the carriers, they could never have been reintroduced. That would be gone for ever, with profound and permanent impacts on our maritime capability. When we reduce Army manpower, it is painful, but the changes can be reversed, if the resources are available and the need is there, over not

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too long a period. That will still be difficult, but it can be done without the implications that come from a major reduction in capability.

Perhaps the most important thing that reassured me—rightly, I hope—over the last five years was the clear assurance that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave that once we had resolved the immediate economic crisis, and had economic growth and economic development, there would be, as an absolute necessity, real-terms increases, year on year, in our defence expenditure. That was, so far as anything can seem to be a commitment, a commitment at the very highest levels of our Government five years ago, and we have been told ever since that that remains the Prime Minister’s view.

We face a most extraordinary situation. The Government say—I happen to agree with them—that the United Kingdom is going through a period of remarkable economic recovery. We are now one of the strongest economies in Europe, we are told; our economic growth is now higher than that of almost any other country in Europe, and our employment situation has improved. All these economic developments, which will rightly be very important in the forthcoming general election, are being shown as examples of how we have succeeded in our strategy, and how the UK is therefore stronger than many other countries in the western world. Yet ironically, simultaneously, precisely because our GDP is growing substantially, meeting that 2% requirement becomes that much more difficult, if not unattainable. It is a great irony that the more our economy improves, the more we seem likely to fall below the 2% requirement, when the reverse should be the case: if our economy is growing and doing well, it should be easier to find the resources required, because the revenues coming into Government will also increase considerably. That irony is not one that I have yet heard explained.

I hope that when the Minister winds up, he can reassure us on how we will benefit from the remarkable economic growth for which we are taking the credit. We certainly did not expect increases in defence spending when the economy was in a mess. Now it seems to be much healthier. I recognise that the budget deficit continues, but that is only part of the overall economic situation.

Something else worries me, too, and it has been mentioned by colleagues and those outside this House. Of course this 2% is a nominal figure, a totem, and it is the real resources that are important, but I find it difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile a cavalier approach towards the 2% objective, which we have held for many years, with saying that overseas development is somehow untouchable, and indeed may have to be given statutory protection in the current economic circumstances. Indeed, it now has statutory protection of a kind that I find extraordinary. These are very curious situations.

The consequence of what is happening, particularly if it continues after the general election, will be not just pain for our armed forces and their capability, but an irreversible change to Britain’s ability to conduct a credible foreign policy. After the United States, our armed forces and those of France are unique around the world. We are the only other two countries that have been able to make a meaningful contribution—albeit that we come far behind the United States—to providing a global deployment of armed forces to assist with overall issues of global security. Our role and credibility in the Security Council of the United Nations as not

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just a member, but a permanent member, is because of our ability to contribute towards security. That is what the Security Council is all about.

Our foreign policy is conducted on the basis of three assets that we have: first, of course, our diplomatic capability, which is impressive, although it has been under considerable strain in recent years; secondly, our intelligence capability, which is strong, and I pay credit to the Government for the resources provided there; and, thirdly, our military capability. The UK’s military capability is in a serious condition, of a kind that we are all familiar with, and that has an impact on our diplomatic credibility.

I read some years ago a remark that I have used since—colleagues may have heard me use it. It is attributed to Frederick the Great: “Diplomacy without arms is like music without instruments.” That remains true, not because we will necessarily always wish to use our armed forces, but because if we are pursuing, with good faith, a desire to develop a political and diplomatic solution to some intractable problem—there is a perfect example in our relations with Russia and Mr Putin at present—the fact that we have as the ultimate back-stop a military capability has a significant and profound impact on the likelihood of our delivering the result that we are trying to obtain. However, if we are seen as once having had that military capability, but as having opted, as a deliberate act of Government policy, to reduce that capability so that it remains significant but is not in any profound sense impressive, we will have seriously reduced our diplomatic clout and made the ultimate problem that much greater.

It is always dangerous to draw comparisons with the 1930s, but we know perfectly well that those in Berlin who were planning aggression believed that the western democracies were incapable of providing the resources required for a strong defence, and that influenced their foreign policy. I am not saying that the threats that we face today are of that order, or that the individuals concerned are comparable to the people who led Germany at that time—of course that would be unfair—but the fundamental principle is nevertheless the same.

What I beg of the Government, or any Government who emerge after the general election, is that they do not ask the facile question, “Does this win votes? Are the public demanding it? Is this therefore something we must respond to, or it will hurt us politically?” If a Government have one justification in a democratic society, it is that they do not just follow, or seek to follow, public opinion, but occasionally recognise the need to lead public opinion, and to take decisions that may involve painful choices, and that may be difficult in terms of newspaper headlines, but may have profound and beneficial impacts on our ability to make our contribution to sorting out some of the problems of the world.

Looking around the world, there are very few countries indeed that combine strong democratic institutions, genuine respect for the rule of law, and a military capability that can help build up security, restore peace and achieve the global objectives with which this country has always been proud to be associated. Let it not be the legacy of this Government, or any Government who emerge after this election, that we can no longer say that or make that contribution, not because the public rejected the idea, but because politicians failed to provide the right level of leadership.

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12.49 pm

Mr Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): It is a pleasure to participate in this debate. I commend all who have spoken, especially the Chair of the Select Committee on Defence, the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart). I have the privilege of being a member of the Committee but do not attend as often as I might like because of other commitments back home in Northern Ireland to do with the peace process, but what he said made a lot of sense. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr Havard), vice-Chair of the Committee, made an excellent contribution, too. It has been a pleasure to serve on the Committee during this Parliament. The work that it has done has been of real value, and when a cross-party Committee of this nature comes together and says clearly to the Government that a minimum of 2% of GDP should be allotted to defence spending, the Government should listen to the wisdom of that Committee. We look at these issues week in and week out, taking evidence and examining all the facts.

Judging by what I have heard today, there is a high degree of support for the need to get on with the task of strengthening our armed forces and the United Kingdom’s defences, especially in the light of our improved economic conditions. Other speakers have rightly said that the world around us is changing, as is the nature of the threat against the United Kingdom and our allies. That threat emerges in various locations, and our capacity is being spread and stretched. I know that there are plans to enhance and improve our armed forces, but we believe that it will be critical for the incoming Government to make a clear commitment to spending 2% of our GDP on defence.

I shall go further than that. I acknowledge what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) said about the debate not being party political, and I entirely accept that. However, the Democratic Unionists are a small regional party in this Parliament and we might have some influence over who forms the next Government. Let me therefore place clearly on record, so that there can be no doubt, and so that this does not become a bargaining chip—it will not—that we will only support a Government of this nation who make the commitment to a minimum of 2% of GDP being spent on defence. That is not a party political comment; it is simply something that we believe to be important.

We have been accused in the past of focusing our interest narrowly on Northern Ireland. It has been said that when it comes to negotiating with coalition Governments or in confidence and supply arrangements, we will always be there with the begging bowl on behalf of Northern Ireland, but that is not the case. We have spelled out today certain key areas on which we want the next Government to make commitments on national issues. We are focusing on the national need and what is in the interests of the United Kingdom, and right at the top of that list are the defence and security of this nation and the need for a commitment to 2% of our national income being spent on defence. I agree that it is not enough just to make that commitment, and that it needs to be made clear how the money will be spent. It must be spent wisely and it must be prioritised towards the areas in which it is required.

Looking at the world around us, we see that we have two aircraft carriers under construction. The Queen Elizabeth is now being fitted out and the Prince of

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Wales is being built. There must be certainty that both ships will be brought into service and properly equipped with airframes and aircraft. We need a credible carrier force. That will be an essential component of our defence strategy’s capacity and global reach, not only in defending this nation’s security but in providing security to our allies. That needs to be a priority.

If I may say so, one of the mistakes that this Government made was to scrap our surveillance aircraft and to cut up the Nimrod aircraft. That was frankly an act of madness. We now have Russian aircraft flying around the coastline of the United Kingdom but we do not have the capacity to deal with it properly. We need to do something about that. That is an area of our armed forces that could, with extra expenditure, be re-equipped, to enable surveillance globally but particularly around the shores of the United Kingdom. The British Isles need defending—they need watching in the most literal sense—but our maritime surveillance capabilities are currently well below par. Vladimir Putin respects force, and we need to respect it too. We need to be able to show that we as a nation have the military capacity to defend ourselves against any possible attack.

Beyond equipment, we need to get the strategy right. Many Members have already referred to the strategic defence and security review. I stated in an earlier debate that we needed to bring forward that review, but in any event it is clear that the current SDSR is not fit for purpose, because the world has changed and things have moved on. It is therefore essential that we get the next SDSR absolutely right. We will need to know why and on what the 2% of national income will be spent, and to set that in the context of our strategic needs and defence requirements. That is not just some marketing commitment to be waved around as a policy commitment during the election. We need to know exactly what the policy will mean in terms of the numbers, what the money will be spent on, and what our strategic requirements are for national defence and security.

Beyond capabilities and strategy, we have to consider the daily needs of the men and women who serve in our armed forces. I get worried when I see the provision of housing and catering for our armed forces personnel, because decisions on these matters are often taken on the basis of the lowest tender that comes into the Department. I have had many complaints from members of the armed forces about the quality of the services that are put in place to support them. We need to improve on that. It should not always be about the lowest tender.

Richard Drax: I am listening intently to the right hon. Gentleman’s excellent speech. Does he agree that we do not give sufficient consideration to the funding for treating those who have been wounded once they return to this country? Does he acknowledge how much our armed forces have to rely on charity to take care of those who have been wounded, both physically and mentally?

Mr Donaldson: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. The military charities play an important role in supporting our veterans, but the military covenant must mean something and it must be real. I still meet too many armed forces veterans who feel, rightly or wrongly, that they have been abandoned after a number of years. That applies particularly to those suffering

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from post-traumatic stress disorder. Sadly, as a result of Operation Banner being conducted in Northern Ireland for more than 30 years, we have a large number of ex-security force and ex-military personnel suffering from PTSD, and recent research has shown that the number is growing. The armed forces charities are really struggling to support those personnel, and more needs to be done. The hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that if we are going to increase our spending we should ensure that our veterans, especially those who have been injured on operational deployment, get the support, care and treatment that they need, and that they can continue to do so.

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr Mark Francois): Specifically on injured service personnel, I would like to give the House just one example of how we have tried to do better. We managed to get £6.5 million from the Treasury special reserve, with the Treasury’s full approval, to provide the latest generation of prosthetics—the so-called geniums, or what The Sun describes as “bionic” legs—for our wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan. They set the world standard in prosthetics. We spent £6.5 million of taxpayers’ money—which no one would object to—to give our wounded service personnel the best that money could buy.

Mr Donaldson: I appreciate that. I have the greatest respect for the Minister and I know from our conversations how deeply and strongly he feels about supporting those who have served in our armed forces. I take on board the point that he has made. My concern, however, is for those who are beyond that point, particularly those who are suffering from mental trauma. There is a need to do more to support those members of our armed forces. We need to support, through infrastructure, those who serve our nation.

I want to conclude by mentioning the reserve forces. We have put a lot of emphasis on their work and there is an urgent need to embed more regular personnel into the reserve forces to help with the training regime there, so that they are better trained and so that we improve the levels of manpower retention. As Ministers know, we have been very successful in Northern Ireland in our recruitment capacity. Many of our units are already fully recruited and we want to build on that work.

I welcome this debate. The Chancellor recently said:

“We can afford whatever it takes to provide adequate security. Defence comes first.”

If in the next Parliament my party is called upon to support a Government, that Government will need to be one who mean just what the Chancellor said.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order, I call Sir Menzies Campbell.

1 pm

Sir Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) (LD): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am not sure whether to call you colonel on this occasion.

I, like others, have been greatly impressed by the quality of the debate so far. I agree with much of what has been said, but let me pick up on a couple of points. First, it is right to say that defence does not win votes, but poor defence can certainly lose them if the public form the view that we are not fulfilling our primary

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objective—their protection. Secondly, the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr Donaldson) made an extremely eloquent speech, but I say to him that there was no option but to abandon the maritime patrol aircraft. The original decision to go with Nimrod was questioned by the Defence Committee at the time. Other alternatives were available, for example, the P-3 Orion, but the decision was taken, I believe by Mr Secretary Portillo, that Nimrod it should be. A final irony was that Nimrod, the mighty hunter, never actually fulfilled his responsibility.

Let us consider the following:

“The Ministry of Defence is being led by the nose by the Treasury towards reductions in Britain’s armed forces which have no rational basis”.

The House will not recognise that quotation, and neither did I until the BBC drew to my attention, in an article written for its website, that in my capacity as defence spokesman for the Liberal Democrats in August 1991 I had said just that. I do not introduce that to offer some support for the view that I am wise; I do so to point out that nothing seems to have changed. My proposition was put rather more pithily by my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames), who said that after four years as Minister of State for the Armed Forces he formed the clear view that the enemy was not the Russians, but the Treasury.

Some things have changed, though, and the point has been made by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr Havard). When I first came into this House and took an interest in these matters, we had five days of the parliamentary year to consider defence. We had a two-day debate on the annual White Paper at the beginning of October, and then each of the services had a single day of discussion devoted to them. When the three service days were amalgamated we were confidently assured that it would not result in fewer opportunities to hold the Government to account—people can form their own view about the value of that assurance.

I have been through it all: “Options for Change”; Front Line First; and Labour’s so-called defence review of 1998. That came closest of all to being a proper defence review, except for one thing: Labour refused to publish its foreign policy baseline attributes or intentions. As a consequence, what was otherwise a first-class exercise, with consultation the length and breadth of the country, driven by the then Secretary of State, now Lord Robertson, and with Lord Reid, as he now is, a very important part of it, that was the closest we have come to a defence review. We have not, even in this Parliament, had a defence review. It is an open secret that in 2010 the MOD was told, “Here is a metaphorical envelope containing money. Go away and find a defence policy that fits that sum of money.”

Mr Kevan Jones: It is a fact that in spring 2010 the Labour Government produced a Green Paper, which would have fed into the defence—[Interruption.] What happened afterwards was what the Conservatives did with it, but we did produce the Green Paper to start the process.

Sir Menzies Campbell: The hon. Gentleman is right about that. I know a bit about this because I was invited by the then Defence Secretary to be part of the group of politicians, of all parties, who participated in debates with officials as to what should be in the Green Paper.

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A defence review is not a hugely impossible concept to understand. What one needs to do is set out one’s foreign policy objectives; decide what military resources are necessary to fulfil those objectives; and then allocate the financial resources necessary to provide the military capability. We have not had a defence review that fulfils those three principles in all the time I have been in the House of Commons.

The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney made a sound point when he said that 2% cannot be described as a panacea for all the ills of defence. If 2% is to be spent, it must be spent wisely. We do not have to go far in Europe to see that several of our allies spend money, perhaps getting up towards 2%—there are not enough of those countries—which could much more readily be spent otherwise. For example, it could be spent on a greater amount of interoperability, force specialisation and such things. There is no point Mr Juncker talking about a European defence policy when European states have not yet properly fulfilled their responsibilities to NATO, of which almost all of them are members.

Mr Havard: May I take the right hon. and learned Gentleman back a little to the defence and security review? We can have a defence review and we can have a security review, or we can have an integrated process that looks at the whole business of future resilience, which I think is what he is suggesting we have not done and are not doing now. Does he think that when the new Parliament forms, the circumstances will be such that the current budgets for defence might be maintained in order to allow time for a proper, integrated assessment of defence and security, possibly in the next calendar year, if not this one?

Sir Menzies Campbell: The hon. Gentleman makes a very sound point. I am sorry that I cannot give any commitments in relation to the next Parliament, as I shall not be here, but as a spectator outside I shall firmly cling to the view that a proper, full-scale defence review of the kind I have described, and with which he agrees, is necessary if we are to provide ourselves with the proper defences for the foreseeable future.

The situation is worse than I have described, in a way. Not only is the 2% a public commitment, but it was restated at Celtic Manor during the NATO summit and in the final communiqué from that summit. Of course, it is also one that the British Government have been at pains to emphasise to other allies. How are we going to explain away the fact that in recent months, even years, we have been complaining about the level of defence expenditure of other allies yet we are about to breach the very standard we signed up to and advocated only a few months ago? It is a bit worse than that, too, because we know that the possibility that we should fall below 2% has caused great anxiety, particularly in the United States, which is our closely military ally. Senior official after senior official has made exactly that point.

I have another source of embarrassment: in about 10 days’ time, the United Kingdom delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, which I have the honour to lead, will be the hosts of the Standing Committee of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. We have in the past 12 months, with the encouragement of Ministers,

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sought to persuade the other members of the Assembly of the importance of the 2% figure. We will look rather embarrassed in 10 days if the consequences of the actions that appear to be taken in this country are that we will fall below the very figure which we have been advocating and on which we have been seeking to hold the feet of others to the fire.

Let me finish by saying this: if we do not have sufficient defence—and 2% may not be enough—we will diminish our capability, we will reduce our influence and we will limit the options of government. We cannot afford any of those.

1.9 pm

Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): When the cold war ended in the early 1990s, the established view was that there would be a peace dividend. Defence spending would decline as countries spent money on initiatives that would create peace and stability rather than on arms. Russia was expected to become a fully integrated member of the international community; deadlock in the UN Security Council would become a thing of the past; and Russia would engage productively with its European neighbours. There was even talk of it joining NATO.

Those aspirations have since dissolved, and the illusion that we live in relative peace has now been lifted. The hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) painted a very good picture of this new insecurity in the world. The most pressing concern is the continued ambition of Russian President Vladimir Putin to establish his dominance over eastern Europe. His tactics go beyond conventional warfare. Using subversive tactics such as political destabilisation, informal military units, information warfare and energy blockades, he has destabilised and partly occupied Ukraine. We saw such tactics for the first time in the 2008 Georgian war in which, under the pretext of aiding Russian citizens, he annexed South Ossetia and Abkhazia. We have now seen him do the same with Crimea and large parts of eastern Ukraine.

Russia seeks to flex its military muscles across the whole of Europe, as we have seen recently with the incursion into our airspace by Russian bombers. That is not the first time that that has happened and it will not be the last. In 2013 and 2014, there were eight similar incidents of Russian military aircraft invading UK airspace.

Aside from Russia, we are also once again faced with the threat of the spread of nuclear weapons and the question of nuclear proliferation. Since 2006, North Korea has conducted three nuclear weapons tests, and Iran, while at the negotiating table, continues to work on its nuclear weapons programme.

International terrorism has taken on a new form with the rise of Islamic State, which, every day, conducts grotesque, barbaric and despicable acts. Now is certainly not the time for Britain to shirk its responsibilities. After all, we pride ourselves on being a world power. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, a member of the European Union and a member of NATO, we should make a minimum 2% GDP commitment to defence. Listening to the debate today, I get the impression that one or two Members think that 2% of GDP is a target, but it is not; it is a floor below which spending should not drop.

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Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): In endorsing that important point, may I point out that, during the cold war in the 1980s, we were spending, at times, more than 5% of GDP on defence?

Mark Hendrick: I was not aware of that fact, but I totally concur with the idea of spending anything up to 5%. As I said, 2% should be considered the floor. I am very concerned that some of our NATO and European partners are not getting anywhere near that figure. How can it be argued that we should shut our doors to Europe and, at the same time, commit to working closer with European nations if we cannot work together to reach at least that 2% figure?

The recent report by the Royal United Services Institute says that the strength of our Army, Navy and Air Force could fall from 145,000 to 115,000 by 2020, which is a 26% decline. If we follow that trajectory, we could face a situation in which our armed forces numbers drop below 100,000. If we consider that Wembley stadium can accommodate 90,000 people, our entire armed forces might soon be able to fit into the stadium, which does not bear thinking about. There are also around 92,000 people currently in prison in Britain. We could well end up with more people incarcerated than in our armed forces.

This country has always had a powerful air force. We have always built and supplied the best military aircraft in the world, from the Harrier to the Typhoon. Yet air support today accounts for only £13.8 billion of our £162.9 billion defence budget, which is 8.8%. The numbers of RAF servicemen have been continually cut over the past few years. There are 8,810 fewer servicemen in the RAF in 2015 than there were in 2010, which is a decline of nearly 25%. That is despite the fact that limited military intervention via the deployment of aircraft for bombing campaigns has once again become the norm. We saw that in Libya and we now see it in Iraq where Tornadoes and Reaper drones have flown 374 missions and released 206 weapons against ISIL targets.

Derek Twigg: My hon. Friend makes a very good point about the continual use of the Air Force. That pressure on the Air Force coupled with the cuts that are taking place means that we will not be able to sustain that sort of use in the long term.

Mark Hendrick: That is the point I am making. As I have said, we may soon be in a position where all our defence forces will fit into a football stadium and where our prison population will outnumber our military personnel.

The technological edge that we have in military aerospace has created huge dividends for our economy and is an indispensable part of our economic infrastructure. That is particularly evident in my region in the north-west of England where BAE Systems employs around 15,000 people at sites in Lancashire, Cumbria and Cheshire. Some 10,000 people, including many of my constituents, make military jets at Samlesbury and Warton just outside Preston, which means a great deal for the local economy. BAE Systems currently trains 264 apprentices across those sites and young people are trained to use the high-technology equipment and to develop engineering skills that will secure them permanent jobs into the future.

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To maintain our existing military air superiority, our priority is twofold: the upgrading of the existing Typhoon fleet and the purchasing of the F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighters. The upgrading of our Typhoon fleet has to be of the upmost importance. Our RAF pilots currently rely on our ageing fleet of Tornado GR4 bombers to conduct missions against ISIL positions in Iraq. That is because of delays to the RAF's upgrade programme for the Typhoon fleet, principally caused by the lack of funding available for the new equipment.

The next UK Government will decide the size of our new fleet of F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighters. So far, the Government have approved the purchase of 14 aircraft to provide the first operational squadron, plus four aircraft for testing and training. The current cost of their development is more than £5 billion and their completion is vital for our economy and the future of our security. The next Government must commit to offering clarity over the size of our F-35 fleet and a timetable for its completion.

There can be no doubt that the future security of Europe should be our main priority. Irrespective of whether we are in the EU, Britain will always be a European power and an internationally strong mid-league military power. The threats to European security are threats to Britain’s security. We must maintain our technological edge. Technological advancements and investment in skills not only have a direct spin off into other industries in our economy, but support thousands of independent small to medium-sized businesses in the supply chain.

The key to security for the future is our mastery of technology and our ability to stay one step ahead. We see that now with the development of unmanned aerial vehicles. We are leading the way with projects such as BAE Systems Taranis stealth attack drone, which is part of an Anglo-French project to develop unmanned capability by pooling technology from each nation’s work so far. In November 2014, a £120 million contract was awarded to six industry partners across the UK and France to invest in the development of future unmanned combat aerial vehicle technology.

A commitment from the next Government in the strategic defence spending review for the next generation of drones would reinvigorate our domestic aerospace industry. Without it, says one BAE senior executive, there will be no UK aerospace industry to speak of in the future. Our military aerospace industry is a source of jobs, skills and pride for many in this country. It is an area where, technologically, we are leading the way. I fear that, if our spending commitment falls below 2%, we could put many of these skills and jobs in jeopardy, not to mention our national security. Therefore, I strongly believe that the next Government, whichever colour they are, should commit to meeting that target and going beyond it. We cannot put too high a price on our security. Our security must come first.

1.20 pm

Sir Peter Luff (Mid Worcestershire) (Con): As for others who have spoken in this debate, it is likely that this will be my last debate in Parliament. I am glad that it is on defence—the defining purpose of the state and of Parliament. I will seek not to repeat what others have said, but I want to say this. We have no more important

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role than to keep those who elect us safe from our enemies. This view is not as popular as it was. Elections, we are told, are not won and lost on defence; there are no votes in defence. I am not so sure. If the political establishment is seen to be playing fast and loose with our security, we will all pay a heavy price in further disillusionment and alienation.

The 2% NATO floor or target, to which we are all politically and morally committed, is the minimum that we should spend, yet it is far from safe. I do not generally favour targets for spending of any kind, and I certainly do not favour writing them into law, but the unavoidable truth is that if we are to achieve our current objectives, spending of that order is needed. I understand the scope for increased efficiency in the area of human activity; indeed the increased sophistication of the technology behind military equipment enables us to do more with less, which means that fewer people are needed to deliver the same effect than even a decade ago.

A Type 45 destroyer is considerably more capable than the Type 42 that it replaces and needs a smaller crew. And there are opportunities to do more with less. That is one of the purposes of the UK-French defence relationship. The application of the whole force concept could increase the effect and efficiency of defence. So our debate about national security must not lapse into sentimentality. It is not sentimental to speak up for defence. I want to do so by addressing three things—the financial background, the fact that defence is a long-term game and the threat to essential investment in science and technology.

The Chancellor is right to say that strong defence depends on a strong economy. That is why as a Minister in 2010, I swallowed hard and accepted significant cuts to defence capabilities, even though they led to some very challenging gaps in capability. But for a trading nation like ours, the protection of the sea lanes and the maintenance of an open rules-based trading system are crucial. So a strong economy also depends on strong defence. Prosperity is built on peace. The urgent question to both Front-Bench teams today is this. The funding post-2015 that is needed just to achieve Future Force 2020 is based on a 1% per annum increase in the equipment budget and flat real for the non-equipment budget. That is what the chiefs of staff and Ministers were promised at the time. So will Ministers and shadow Ministers commit today to both the equipment and non-equipment figures that we were promised?

The commitment on the equipment budget made only by my party is welcome. There is a long list of very important capabilities, but it is not enough on its own. The significant cuts that appear to be pencilled in for current expenditure—RDEL, or resource departmental expenditure limit—are deeply worrying. I commend Professor Malcolm Chalmers excellent paper, “Mind the gap; the MOD’s emerging budgetary challenge.” It is an objective, factual assessment of the cost pressures facing defence. I doubt that the Minister can offer reasons to disagree with any of its deeply worrying conclusions, but even in the optimistic scenario that Professor Chalmers outlines, under which defence is given the same protection as health and education, those cost pressures would still force a total cut of 8.7% over the next 10 years—about £35 billion in total.

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If further cuts are to be made, they would sadly have to be based on a refreshed and less ambitious strategic approach. The decisions in the 2015 review, then, could redefine Britain’s role in the world. There are other strategies, depending more on diplomacy, soft power and development assistance, for example. They are all vital components of our national security, but are they credible without strong defences too? No. Not when, for the first time since the cold war, Europe faces a real military threat on its borders. The world is more dangerous than it has been for decades.

In some ways, though, the 2015 SDSR will be easier than the last one. Crucially, a major programme of reform has rebuilt the MOD’s credibility, and its performance on equipment acquisition has been transformed. From both the industrial and security perspectives, the 2010 SDSR succeeded in protecting the very special US-UK defence relationship, but will this last? President Obama, the US Chief of Staff and the US ambassador to the UN have all warned us and are sending us a clear message about what they fear is the future of UK defence spending.

So to my second theme—the need to take long-term decisions to protect our operational advantage and our freedom of action. In layman’s terms, that means making sure that we have superior capabilities to our enemies and that we can use them and sustain them whenever we want to. At the heart of this for me is the alarming engineering skills shortage that we face as a nation, especially in defence. This is the area of the 2012 White Paper on defence acquisition, to which I put my name, with which I am least satisfied. The ingredients were all there, but the urgency of the issue was not properly articulated and opportunities were missed. Crucially, commentators did not understand what the White Paper said. It made it clear that

“We will take action to protect our operational advantages and freedom of action, but only where this is essential for national security.”

Here is the commitment to invest in what industry calls the body of knowledge essential to sustain capabilities in the long terms. We cannot protect all the skills and capabilities that we need and would like to on current budgets, but there are areas of capability that we simply must invest in to sustain our security. Short-term budget cuts make this White Paper promise, which is essential to our security, impossible to deliver, with serious long-term consequences.

My third theme is the priority that we must attach to sustaining investment in technology. The centrality of research investment to UK national security takes on greater significance in a new global security context—a context defined by state fragmentation, asymmetric threats and technology proliferation. Belligerent non-state actors are increasingly using technology to counter the traditional technological advantage of conventional military and security forces. Since the end of the cold war, we have seen widespread development of technology by commercial organisations and individuals driven by a consumer society and business sector hungry for tomorrow’s technology today. This has lowered the bar for entry to conflict, espionage, terrorism and serious and organised crime, meaning that there are far more threats out there now than there were. As a result “conflict” will be far less predictable than we have seen before. It simply will

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not conform to set-piece scenarios in the same way that the west planned for in the last century or in the last SDSR.

If we are not committing to investing a realistic amount in science and technology, I see several things happening. First, we will become less relevant to our key strategic allies—the United States and France. Secondly, we will miss the opportunities to build capability by adapting the best of the commercial and international technology sector because we simply will not know what the cutting edge looks like. Thirdly, we will cease to act as an intelligent client. How do you know what you are buying if you do not know what good looks like? Fourthly, we will be unable to evolve during a conflict. This is potentially the most serious if we cannot defeat the novel threats deployed against us.

If the 2015 SDSR correctly prioritises science and technology, logically the MOD must spend more on it.

Mr Havard: The hon. Gentleman is making an important point. The Defence Committee in reports in this Parliament and the previous Parliament has talked about the MOD devoting 2% of the money that it has to S and T as well as R and D so that such spending is structured into budgets.

Sir Peter Luff: I could not agree with the hon. Gentleman more strongly. That is the precise figure that I have in mind for the level of resources from the defence budget that should be spent on S and T. It was 2.6% under the previous Government, but it declined under them to 1.2%. The White Paper on technology put a floor under it of 1.2%. It is far too low a floor, and what is more, as defence budgets have shrunk, the sum being spent has gone down too. It is only a third higher than what the Department for International Development now spends on research. Two per cent. is the bare minimum, of rising budgets as well. The trouble is that the Department sees S and T as the cash cow of the spending round. It is a resource that is easily cut because contracts are short term, but the consequences for our security are devastating.

If cuts to revenue spending happen, the science and technology budget will go straight back into the firing line of the Treasury and the bean counters of the MOD. We must not let that happen. Maintaining operational advantage is a race against time to take innovation from the lab and into the battle-space.

Our partners envy our ability to do more with less. Key to this is understanding the operational advantage of technology and moving it quickly into the hands of the military. As Bernard Gray, Chief of Defence Matériel, put it recently,

“The key question is, of all the desirable things in the world, which are the ones you can afford?”

But the country can afford more, as it should choose to do. In the end, this is not about votes, it is about leadership. We must all in this place do everything we can to sustain the national understanding that we maintain peace through strength, not weakness. That is why it is imperative that the next SDSR is well argued, persuasive and properly funded, and why all the political leaders of our nation must show their deep personal commitment to this outcome.

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After every major conflict we have cut defence and regretted it. The Crimean war, the first world war, the second world war, the cold war—cut and regret, cut and regret, cut and regret, cut and regret. As Hegel said,

“We learn from history that we do not learn from history.”

In 2015 we celebrate the 800th anniversary of the foundation of our freedoms, Magna Carta, and the 750th anniversary of the beginning of our representative democracy and Simon de Montfort. It would be depressingly ironic if in 2015 of all years a timid Parliament, an intellectually feeble SDSR and another round of austerity combined further to weaken our defences and threaten our freedoms at such a dangerous moment in world history.

1.28 pm

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): It is a happy coincidence that this debate follows the statement on the Ebola crisis and what will be a magnificent page in the history of the armed forces and government. I believe that we have performed splendidly there, with great courage and with great professionalism, and it is what we do best. We also have a great deal to be proud of in the military intervention in the same country—Sierra Leone—and in other countries and in Bosnia. We are very good at humanitarian work, and that is what our role should be.

I would be happy to see 2% being spent if we reshaped our Army to concentrate on what will be the real problems of the world, not on repeating all the divisions of past centuries and the tribal wars between nations, and accepted what the real challenges are for the future. They are mostly environmental. They are the shortage of clean water—a challenge for us all—and all the other environmental tasks that will probably overwhelm us because the future is one in which we should see ourselves not as groups who are plotting against one another and carrying on traditional wars, but as one human family whose future is in deadly peril from various sources.

We are carrying out this debate again with a sense of delusion. We are talking as we could have done 100 years ago or 50 years ago. The 2% Newport pledge was agreed in my constituency, not that the Government were very keen to see me at the summit. I think that the 30 foot wall around it was intended more to keep me out than anyone else. They would not have welcomed my views there, but it had an element of pantomime and farce. How many of the 28 countries will spend up to 2%? Well, I will tell the House: none. How many of the 28 countries will get nuclear weapons. Twenty-five of them are without nuclear weapons at the moment. There will still be 25 in the future. It is all a bit of window dressing and it is fairly meaningless.

What we should be doing, before we decide on continuing to repeat the errors of the past and celebrating them, is looking at the mistakes that we have made in the House. It was not that long ago when we were told that we had to go to war to eliminate non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We were also told that we had to intervene in Helmand to protect our streets in Britain from a non-existent Taliban terrorist threat. About 18 months ago, we were told to prepare against Iran, which was threatening us with its non-existent long-range missiles, carrying its non-existent nuclear weapons.

Tomorrow, there will be a commemoration of those who died in the Afghan war. I think that we all had a letter from the Secretary of State for Defence that says:

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“We can be very proud of what we have achieved, which has eliminated the terrorist threat to the UK and from Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan”.

It has also done something else: it has multiplied the terrorist threat. In March 2003, I wrote to Tony Blair and said that, if we carried on with what we were planning to do in Iraq, we would deepen the divide between the Muslim eastern world and the Christian western world. That is precisely what we did. I suggested in that letter that it would deepen the antagonism not only in the far corners of the world, but in the mosques on the corners of our local streets. Now, it has happened. It is unbelievable that young children born and brought up here in Britain think it right to go out and join the barbarous operations of ISIS. Who is responsible for that? There is an element in which the hubris of past Prime Ministers is responsible.

It was not that long ago—29 August 2013—when we were being asked in the Chamber to go to war against Assad, the deadly enemy of ISIL. Now, we are in that area attacking ISIL, which is the deadly enemy of Assad. If we are to take decisions here, we cannot rely on the hubris of leaders or others who are here talking about these great plans. Someone thinks that we should spend money to avoid him embarrassment at an international meeting that he is going to.

We should look at what happened in Afghanistan. We could not look at the truth then. What are we saying now? A number of statements have been made since we pulled out militarily from Afghanistan. Brigadier Ed Butler said that the UK was under-prepared and under-resourced. General Sir Paul Wall said that the calculus was wrong. Major General Andrew Mackay said that the war was a series of shifting plans, unobtainable objectives, propaganda and spin. The former ambassador, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles said that the UK operation was a massive act of collective self-deception by the military and politicians unable to admit how badly it was going. General Lord Dannatt said that the UK knew it was heading for two considerable-sized operations and really only had organisation and manpower for one.

I am sure that all those gentlemen will be there tomorrow at the ceremony with a tear in their eye, sincerely regretting the deaths of 453 of our brave soldiers. Where were they when they could have done something about it? Why were their mouths bandaged when those decisions were taken and we were sending those young men to die in vain. They were silent: cowardice by those military men against the reality. They knew that Afghanistan was a hopeless war. They knew that we were not protecting our streets from Taliban terrorism. Yet they remained silent, and that is something that should be on our consciences and teach us that we should never do it again, as we blindly go forward with the delusions that we have here.

A great problem that we have had is this myth, coming back from the 19th century, that we must punch above our weight. We have heard about our role in the world. Punching above our weight has meant in the past 20 years that we spend beyond our interests and we die beyond our responsibilities. We are in the ignominious position now where we pride ourselves on having an independent nuclear weapon, worth spending £100 billion on, but we do not have an independent foreign policy.

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No one protests that we have an American general telling us what to do with our budget. When he tells us to spend more on defence, he is also telling us to spend less on the health service and education. What has it got to do with him? America, of course, is our great partner and an admirable nation in many ways. It has lost more of its sons and daughters in wars to bring democracy and freedom to other countries than any other nation in the world, but we must not be tied to the United States. What it did in the Afghan war—the cause of that link there—and our refusal to part from American policy cost us at least 200 of those 453 lives.

Countries such as Canada and Holland pulled out of Afghanistan after making very honourable sacrifices in blood and treasure in the war, but they could see the hopelessness of it. Why did we not do the same? Are we going to do it again? Will we continue to aim for this mythical 2% target? We can have a great role in the world. We have great riches in skills, money and imagination and in our technical equipment, and I believe that we need to redraw the whole purposes of our defence forces.

No one can claim that we were in Iraq or Helmand to defend Britain. It was part of supporting the United States and trying to build a new world. It has gone terribly wrong, and it was counter-productive because we have created and spread these terrible wars. Al-Qaeda is virtually gone. It had gone from Afghanistan by 2002, and we went into Helmand in 2006. What has happened is that we have got the daughter organisations of al-Qaeda. They are more blood-thirsty and more vicious. Can we not understand that the battle for world peace is a battle for hearts and minds and that we can never win hearts and minds with bombs and bullets?

1.38 pm

Sir Richard Ottaway (Croydon South) (Con): I enjoyed listening to the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn). It is 32 years since I first came to the House and made my maiden speech on defence and this is probably the last speech that I will make in the Chamber, but during those 32 years, I have never agreed with a word that he has ever said. None the less, I enjoy listening to him.

Dr Julian Lewis: I cannot resist pointing out that the second name on the motion today, which is

“That this House believes that defence spending should be set to a minimum of two per cent of GDP in accordance with the UK’s NATO commitment,”

is indeed that of the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn).

Sir Richard Ottaway: Perhaps I can start again.

What is behind this debate, I think, is a fear of cuts. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron), who is a valued member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, on bringing this debate. I agree with much of what he said during his opening remarks, except for the points that he made about intervention. It is a debate that we have had in the Foreign Affairs Committee and our latest report on the finances of the Foreign Office makes the point that the Foreign Office, like the defence budget, is at a

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crossroads. We have such a thinly spread diplomatic service around the world that either it needs to have more resources or it has to narrow its bandwidth and match its aspirations to the budget available.

Linking a percentage of GDP to any policy is, in my view, bad politics. It is not the way to run Government, and that applies equally to the aid budget and the defence budget. Economies go up, economies come down. Of course, we are not going to have the defence and aid budgets going up and down like a yoyo. These things have to be evened out over an economic cycle. As many colleagues have said, the defence budget has to match our requirements. We must look at it in the context of the threat. What is the threat to the United Kingdom?

I do not think anyone is arguing at present that there is any serious existential threat to the United Kingdom. If there were, the figure on the motion today would be 20%, not 2%. We can safely say that NATO and the EU have given us the longest period of peace for centuries. As my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) said very effectively on the “Today” programme today, we cannot ignore the impact and the deterrent effect of nuclear weapons.

Sir Peter Luff: May I clarify one important point of detail? Early-day motion 757 as originally printed referred to a 20% target. Desirable as that would be, it was a mistake. I think 2% will do for the time being.

Sir Richard Ottaway: I used the figure of 20% for effect, rather than for any serious argument.

On the defence budget in the context of NATO, the same point applies. Russia is now spending heavily. I believe that nearly a third of its federal budget is being spent on defence, though no one is arguing that we are going to see Russian tanks rolling across the central European plain in the foreseeable future. With hindsight, Russia’s intentions have been flagged up for longer than we realise. We should have realised that when the intervention in Georgia started. Then Russia’s focus moved to Syria and later to Crimea. Russia’s human rights record is appalling. It is a country under authoritarian and unpredictable rule at the top and in the Kremlin.

Mr Havard: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Richard Ottaway: I give way, for the last time.

Mr Havard: The Defence Committee produced a report in 2009 after we visited Russia because of the Georgian conflict and we made recommendations then. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree, on the basis of reports from his own Committee and others, that as a Parliament we do not properly debate the recommendations that we advise it to discuss?

Sir Richard Ottaway: I hang on every word of the reports of the Defence Committee. They are authoritative, powerful and impressive. The Chairman of the Defence Committee was once a valued member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and might follow the Foreign Affairs Committee in instigating debates on our own reports, through the Backbench Business Committee.

The focus now may be on the Baltic states. We are right to deploy troops and aircraft there with the Spearhead

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brigade, and we should make it clear that if there is an intrusion which poses a threat, we shall not hesitate to use that force. But it is ultimately a political decision and one that will be very difficult to make when it comes because the intrusion will involve the use of militias, rather than an overt use of force.

But we are not going to defend Europe on our own. As has been said by many people, the rest of Europe needs to live up to expectations on its level of expenditure. It is ironic that NATO, which was formed in the aftermath of the second world war and of German re-armament, is now calling for Germany to re-arm. I wonder what will be the public reaction if Germany, the largest economy in Europe, said that it was going to double its defence budget. One thing is certain: that would mark the end of the post-war era.

Russia is spending heavily on equipment and so are we. The two new aircraft carriers soon to be launched are the most powerful weapons that this country has ever produced. As someone who served for several years on aircraft carriers in the 1960s, I am well aware of the projection of power that those bits of equipment bring. Where the mistake has been made is in the lack of support equipment to go with it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) said, the issue is not just the fruit and veg being transported behind the carrier, but the anti-submarine underneath it, the air defence aircraft above it and the air defence screen around it. That is the distortion that we will get. Most of the Royal Navy will be required to defend just that one ship, distorting the whole projection of Royal Navy power. If I had been in the Admiralty at the time, I would have preferred to have a dozen Type 45 frigates, which are equally formidable bits of equipment, than the two aircraft carriers.

We have to accept—again, this point was made in an excellent speech from the Chairman of the Defence Committee—that the nature of warfare is changing. As I said, we are not going to see tanks coming across the central European plain. The real battles of the future lie in cyber-warfare—attacks on both economic and military targets. It is the anoraks inside cyber-warehouses in eastern Russia or in Asia who are the current enemy. It is absolutely legitimate for us to increase our levels of expenditure on the security agencies, in particular on GCHQ, to address that. We can argue about whether that should become part of the budget, but the need to do it is beyond doubt.

Sir Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con): Although I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend about the changing nature of warfare, does he agree that it is essential that this country retains its ability to conduct conventional full-manoeuvre warfare?

Sir Richard Ottaway: There is no doubt about that, but the point that I and others make is that the threat is not static and we have to keep adapting.

The second great threat that we face arises from the instability in north Africa. We have seen the flow of boat people coming across the Mediterranean. The drip has grown to a trickle, the trickle is becoming a stream, and 100,000 people are projected to reach Lampedusa. President Sisi of Egypt said the other day that that figure would not be hundreds or thousands; if we do not sort out north Africa, it will be millions. That is the threat that we now face.

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I distance myself from critics of the aid budget. It is a perfectly legitimate use of public expenditure to protect this country by spending that budget in innovative ways to address the economic instability in north Africa. Hundreds of millions of young men and women are being born into an economic wasteland. They are turning to crime or emigrating and trying to get into Europe. That is the threat that we face and it must be addressed. So it is not just the defence budget that matters, but the agencies’ budget and the aid budget, all of which have to be looked at in an holistic manner.

As I said in my opening remarks, this is probably the last time that I shall address the House so, if I may, I shall make one or two other comments. It has been a huge privilege to have served in this House. I would like to convey my thanks to all the people who have made it possible, from the policemen on the gate to the ladies in the cafeteria to the Clerks, the Librarians, the staff and the officials whom we work with. It has been a huge privilege to work with them.

There are three great laws in politics. The first is that you should never ask a question unless you know the answer. I believe we are asking serious questions here today and I hope we are going to get the answers. We have some idea what the answers might be, but it is a law to keep very much in mind. The second great law is that old age and treachery will overcome youth and skill any day. Ask anyone who has served in the Whips Office, where I had two happy years, but just look at the mindset in the Kremlin and the old age and treachery there now. We ignore it at our peril. The third great maxim is that in politics perseverance pays. The British people will persevere in their demand of this House to protect the nation if they consider it appropriate and the circumstances call for it, and the House will persist in asking these questions, and it will be right to do so.

1.49 pm

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the Backbench Business Committee for giving us the opportunity to have this debate, and the right hon. and hon. Members who have made a contribution and those who will follow. We should not begin any defence debate without acknowledging the work of our armed forces and those who have lost their lives defending our nation. I commend the fantastic integrity of our armed forces and their continued excellence, standards and recognition globally.

To speak directly, my concern is not wholly focused on meeting the aspirational NATO figure of 2% of GDP on defence spending, not because this is not an extremely concerning issue, but because we do not want to risk figures and budgetary considerations making us lose sight of what we seek specifically to achieve in practice—armed forces who are equipped to deal with any and all circumstances that might reasonably occur. My concern stems from needing assurance that we will be prepared for a number of situations. The Government have a global strategy, but we must have armed forces who can respond to our strategy as a nation. Sadly, we live in a world of ever-growing danger and risk, in the form of both old and new challenges.

My first concern would be not having adequate manpower or provision to step in and offer adequate aid to buttress against further pressures in the areas in

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which we are involved. This concern is in the wider context of heightened security tensions across Europe, the middle east and the Atlantic. There are threats of both an internal and existential nature, threats that we need to be prepared to meet, and threats that stretch the capacity of our defence capabilities, first to maintain the standard of assistance in areas that we are involved in, and, secondly, to meet the prospect of further demands.

At this stage the Secretary of State for Defence may be saying that we do not plan to cut the numbers of the Army, but we should remember that manpower has already been reduced, and the reality is that the number of 30,000 reserves that has been bandied about has yet to be reached. Perhaps when the Minister replies he will inform us exactly how many reserves have been recruited to make up the number of 30,000 that was cited.

Our combat mission in Afghanistan has now ended, and about 470 military personnel remain deployed there in support of the national unity Government of Afghanistan to ensure a positive future for all the peoples of Afghanistan, and we are glad to see that. Of course, I praise the UK for helping to fund the Afghan national defence and security forces, in addition to providing important resources such as mentoring and training support. This continued commitment to Afghanistan is commendable, and I hope that it will continue, but the situation requires upkeep. While we are maintaining a commitment, there is a need to recognise that in any defence considerations, we have to take into account the long-term trajectory in places where we already have an involvement, including Afghanistan.

As reports from the European Leadership Network emphasise, the crisis in Ukraine has not only caused death and destruction in the country’s east, but poses the most significant existing threat to European security of recent times. The possibility of further Russian antagonistic behaviour and lack of responsiveness suggests that now more than ever we should be thinking carefully about our defence capabilities, how we are spending the money and what areas are vulnerable to being overstretched. The figure that needs to be spent must be at least 2%, but if not achieving this target means that we will be left vulnerable, open to being under-resourced or ill-prepared, the figure needs to be upped, not reduced. We have to be adaptable to a volatile international scene. An arbitrary spending freeze that curtails our ability to respond to new, fast-developing demands would be excessively risky.

Reinforcement of that point comes from military officials and analysts who warn us to increase defence expenditure, though to the majority of spectators on the international stage, that would not be seen as warranted, rational or advisable. Of course there is pressure from our US counterparts, who say that we will be undermining NATO commitments if we do not strive toward our 2% GDP spend on defence. If we do not, who else in Europe will follow suit in aiming to hit the target?

The Ukrainian situation has been much debated in the Chamber, but we cannot be complacent and not take adequate account of the potential for further Russian aggravations—aggravations that seek to send us and our European counterparts signals of Russia’s ever-growing muscle. I do not want to be sensationalist, but we are all very aware that between January and October 2014 there was clear evidence of Russia becoming increasingly antagonistic, in the form of 40 highly sensitive close military encounters. That matched cold war levels. That must be of concern to the House. I do not mean to say

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that Russia is pushing for a war, but it is certainly playing a game of brinkmanship, and considerable defence cuts send a signal of weakening resolve, and possibly of complacency and disbelief towards a state that poses a very possible threat.

I cannot forget that we had to seek assistance from NATO to search for Russian submarines off the Scottish coast in light of our scrapping of sea patrol planes. Nor can we forget that we had a 10-year purchasing plan for a number of procurements, and intended to plug the capability gaps that were discovered and recognised as needing to be addressed. All of these matters are critically important to the debate. Even more alarming is the gravity of the possibility that our Army could be reduced to its smallest size in some 250 years. We need assurance from the Minister on what will happen in the future.

We as a Chamber must stay mindful of the implications of what we are doing, and also recognise that this is picking at the minds of the public, especially in the light of ongoing activity from ISIS, with more of our vulnerable young people being drawn into its toxic activities. I do not question the resolve that led us to ring-fence health and education, as they were extremely important, but I see defence as needing a similar degree of protection as a matter of national safety. I understand that it may be difficult for our constituents to understand what that means, but we must deliver and make sure that defence spending is also ring-fenced and looked after.

In the 2010 spending review, the Government could and did say that they were building up our political and security dialogue with Russia; that was part of the considerations for that budget. But in 2015, what can we say of this political and security dialogue? What does this say about how rapidly the global context and our relationship with countries, including Russia, can change? Can we confidently ever predict any more, if we ever could, the threats in the next five years? Whether or not we hit the 2% target on the head, we should be ever mindful of our capability gaps, and of whether a budget can or should prioritise areas where we can feasibly make cuts. At the same time, we must be careful where that is done.

The gradual run-down of our armed forces is a matter of grave concern. A great many of my constituents have served in the armed forces and will continue to do so, so this issue is important. On hearing about this debate, one of my constituents asked why, at this time and at this political juncture, we would consider weakening our forces, and whether there was another agenda at work. He suggested that there would be a European army—that a British Army would not be able to stand alone and would need co-operation, or to stand alongside others. My first response was that there was no chance of that; that it could not happen. But it would be wrong to say that that has not weighed heavily on my mind during the last few days. Whether the agenda is to be part of an EU army with co-operation, or to have stand-alone British forces who can react and respond to our Government’s foreign policy, I nail my colours to the mast and ask: why would we dilute the best armed forces in the world? The answer is: we should not and we cannot. Is it not enough that much of our trading is ruled by the EU, without our defence and sovereignty being called into question? Minister, we must not be put in a situation whereby we cannot meet our obligations. Allow our armed forces to do what they do best, and let our British Army continue to be simply the best.

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1.58 pm

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): May I first remark upon the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash)? He had wished to be here to support the motion but is attending the funeral of Sergeant Doug Lakey, who was awarded the military medal and was with my hon. Friend’s father, Captain Paul Cash, on the day he was killed in Normandy in July 1944.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and his colleagues on pinning their support for any future coalition Government to the 2% commitment, which is a significant benchmark. I hope that we will not be relying on his support after the general election, but I think that it sends a strong signal, both to people in my party and to others, so I commend him for that.

This debate is about the importance of defence. Every Member who has spoken seems to understand the importance of defence, but I hope that the House will forgive me if I go right back to basics and explain why defence is important. It is about what defence is expected to achieve: security. Security can be hard to define. It is best understood as a state of mind: how safe and secure people feel in carrying on with their daily life without undue anxiety about what might happen to them, to those on whom they depend, and to those who depend on them. It is also about providing security of expectation. We expect access to reliable supplies of clean water, food, energy and communications, which we all take for granted, and in the longer term we expect access to health, economic security, jobs, incomes and pensions, and education in order to strive for a secure future for the next generation.

It is true that military capability is just part of what we need in order to achieve true security. We want to shape the world for our own benefit and to advance democracy, human rights and free trade for the benefit of all humanity. We and our allies must therefore separately and together conduct campaigns to advance those ends. For the most part we want to use soft power—diplomacy, trade, aid and cultural links—to succeed in those campaigns. In a peaceful world, the exercise of soft power is the only acceptable way to conduct international relations.

During periods when it is less obvious how expensive military capability can be of much value, as was the case in the period immediately after the end of the cold war, it is tempting to believe that national or European defence is not about being prepared to repel invaders or protect from potential aggressors. The use of soft power can seem to be the only way to combat insurgencies driven by religious tensions or extremist ideologies, but there is another danger in that regard. Some offer soft power as an alternative to hard power, and that is particularly attractive due to the war-weary sentiment that pervades our politics today. Some even warn that using or threatening to use hard power—we heard this from my friend and Public Administration Committee colleague, the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn)—undermines and discredits our commitment to the objectives that we Europeans wish to achieve in the world. That is a dangerous fallacy.

The lessons of history are very clear. We cannot enjoy a soft-power world unless we also have recourse to hard power when necessary. Central and eastern Europe were able to emerge from under Soviet communism and

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join the western family of democratic nations only because the west’s determined hard-power stance succeeded in facing down Russia during the cold war. Today, democratic nations must be ready and willing to deploy hard power to maintain global peace and security. The successful resolution of the 1990s Balkans crisis, which was not a humanitarian operation, proved that when NATO threatened a ground invasion in order to resolve the conflict.

Therefore, as we Europeans—I say “Europeans” because this spending problem is a European problem—conduct our global campaigns to promote peace, security and prosperity around the world, and we seek to do so by using our influence through trade, aid and diplomacy, we need to remember that global security and the rule of international law depend on our ability to defend them—in the last resort, by force, if necessary. The commitment to foreign aid, which eschews the national interest, is no more important an indication of the national will than our commitment to spend the NATO minimum of 2% of GDP on defence.

This concept of defence rests on the concept of deterrence, which has already been mentioned. It is a grave mistake to see defence merely as a collection of tools to be kept in a box that is taken out of the cupboard under the stairs only when something goes wrong, and is put away again when the job is done. Some like to see defence as a kind of insurance against worst-case scenarios. Britain’s nuclear deterrent is often described in that way, but the analogy is deeply misleading and dangerous, because it encourages a false belief that we can balance what we have to spend on defence against what we perceive to be the risks or threats. Not even the nuclear deterrent can buy national or European security on its own.

Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Is it not also the case that if someone belongs to a club, they have to pay the subscription? We are never allowed to cut the subscription we pay to the European Union, from which some of us do not think we get value, and now people are suggesting that we can cut our subscription to NATO, which is vital to our security.

Mr Jenkin: Yes, and it should not be forgotten that our subscription to the EU is also written into legislation, and that we are not allowed to change that. I am thinking of asking the Library to speculate on when our contribution to the European Union will overtake what we spend on defence.

The question is what role defence plays in shaping the kind of world we want. We need to possess and be able to deploy the capacity to discourage, or even to retaliate against, those who would disrupt that. Opponents of the maintenance of our minimum nuclear deterrent systems in the UK and France often assert that they are a waste of money “because they are never used”. Actually, our nuclear deterrent is used every hour of every day of every year. All that we require potential adversaries to know is that we can and might use it, if circumstances arose that would make that expedient. That is how we influence the global strategic environment.

The same applies by degrees to all military capabilities that nations, or groups of nations, possess that can inflict harm or disadvantage on adversaries who threaten

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our interests or global security. The mere possession of military capability is not a threat to international security. The lack of it on our part, in the face of those who do have it and have the intention of using it, is the threat we confront today. Money spent on our capability is not wasted if we never use it. It is an indication of our will—our determination to succeed in our aims of promoting international security and the rule of international law. We need military capability in order to be peacekeepers. What we possess changes how potential adversaries perceive us because of what we can or might do in response.

Defence is not just about having the armed forces to match the particular military threats that we can see or imagine. Defence policy is about how we decide what military capability we need to possess in order to help shape the world to be more as we want it to be, rather than subject to the will of those who seek to take unfair advantage, or to disrupt that. These days, defence policy extends beyond the traditional domains of land, sea and air, as was so ably described by my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart). In the globalised and technological world of today, we need to think of defence in wider domains such as economics, trade, aid, cyberspace, technology, industry, media, communications and even politics, and throughout the whole sphere of global society.

For each nation to be effective in international statecraft, we need to act collectively where we can, which is why we Europeans must be prepared to commit national resources to defence, to harness our potential together, and to join with other global allies, or we will find that we have failed to provide for our own security.

That brings me to the absolute primacy of NATO. The idea of a happy new world order, which some still seem to believe we can enjoy, is disappearing before our eyes. That is evident from the failure on a spectacular scale in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in the emergence of a more Soviet-style leadership in Russia. Putin pursued a brutally repressive war in Chechnya and then tested his revived military capability in the invasion of Georgia. The subsequent diplomatic stand-off was resolved only when President Sarkozy of France made a unilateral visit to Moscow and effectively conceded permanent Russian annexation of the Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Perhaps that led to his later boldness. We have seen the Arab uprising lead to chaos in the middle east, not the spreading of democracy that we had hoped for.

It is clear that we live in a world where soft power must still be sustained by hard power. We will need to continue to live up to the 2% commitment that all NATO members agreed to at the summit in Wales. If we will not do that, which countries will we have to rely on for our security and for the future of world peace, stability, freedom and democracy around the world?

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Dawn Primarolo): Order. May I remind hon. Members that we need to conclude the debate by 3.30 pm to allow for the Front-Bench contributions? That means that we have about an hour, with six speakers in the Chamber at the moment. If each Member aims for about eight minutes, we will

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comfortably get there; otherwise the last few speakers will have their time severely squeezed. That would not be particularly fair, so I ask for co-operation.