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House of Commons

Friday 23 October 2015

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I beg to move, That the House sit in private.

Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 163), and negatived.

Defence Expenditure (NATO Target) Bill

Second Reading

9.34 am

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Chocks away!

Sir Gerald Howarth: I thank my hon. Friend from the Army for reminding the House of my interest and experience in aviation.

I am genuinely delighted to open this important debate on defence spending and to introduce my Bill to give legal effect to the Government’s welcome commitment to meet the NATO target of spending 2% of gross domestic product on defence. It is an additional pleasure to do so as a former Defence Minister and the Member of Parliament for Aldershot, the home of the British Army, and for Farnborough, the birthplace of British aviation and the home of many of Britain’s finest and world-leading defence companies, whose contribution to our national security is invaluable.

It is also very good to see my hon. Friend the Minister for Defence Procurement, who is responsible for defence equipment and support. He is representing the Government today, but he is a very great friend of mine who is discharging his responsibilities with extraordinary dedication and professionalism.

By the same token, although I have not known the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) for as long, I had the pleasure of meeting her earlier this week and I warmly welcome her to her role as shadow Minister. She will find that it is one of the most exciting privileges in this place to have some responsibility for the management of the defence of our country and I wish her well as she seeks to hold the Government to account, as, of course, do we on the Government Benches, fulfilling our constitutional duty.

Before I address the detail of the Bill, I want to set out the context as I see it. I am sure that you will understand, Mr Speaker, but the full force of my argument in support of the Bill cannot be made without reference to the context. Since my right hon. Friends and I produced the strategic defence and security review of 2010 there has been a massive change in the international scene. In a nutshell, we live in an increasingly dangerous

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world. The turmoil created by the Arab spring, the Syrian uprising, the Libyan campaign, Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimea, which itself followed the illegal annexation of a part of Georgia in 2008, and the rise of ISIL has transformed the international landscape, but that is not the end of it. The jury is out on Iran’s intentions and North Korea remains an utterly irresponsible dictatorship, determined to develop further weapons of mass destruction. The stand-off between India and Pakistan, both nuclear powers, from time to time threatens to destabilise that important region.

Most importantly, in this, the week of the state visit by the President of the People’s Republic of China, that country is causing concern not just to the Japanese but more widely across the region. As I reminded the House again on Monday, China has recently embarked on a relentless process of colonising uninhabited but disputed atolls in the South China sea, where it is building runways and port facilities. In May, US Defence Secretary Ash Carter prodded China on its continued rapid reclamation efforts, which have resulted in 2,000 acres of land that China claims as sovereign territory but that the United States refuses to recognise. Although China claims this as sovereign territory, many of the islands, including the Spratly islands—that is a wonderful name; I always like putting it on the record—are claimed by other regional powers.

The US Defence Secretary said in some prepared remarks in May that

“China is out of step with both the international rules and norms that underscore the Asia-Pacific’s security architecture, and the regional consensus that favors diplomacy and opposes coercion.”

He reinforced that message more recently when he said that the United States

“will fly, sail, and operate wherever the international law permits… at the times and places of our choosing”.

Last night’s news that TalkTalk had been subjected to a massive cyber-attack serves as a timely reminder of the ever-increasing threat to our security and our intellectual property from such attacks, often committed by criminals, but from time to time committed by nation states, including the People’s Republic of China.

Sir Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): My hon. Friend is making an effective case for adequate and proper defence spending, but as he and I are both against unnecessary red tape I hope that during his remarks he will deal with why he feels we should have the straitjacket of legislation in this area.

Sir Gerald Howarth: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and of course I shall come on to that. As I explained at the outset, in order to explain why I believe this Bill is so important, it is critical to set out the international scene as I see it, for defence can be undertaken only in the context of an analysis of the threats we face. That is why a strategic—I emphasise strategic—defence and security review is under way at present. We could not cover the strategic element in the last SDSR because we had only five months in which to prepare, our having come into government in May 2010. That review was largely Treasury-driven and needed to be Treasury-driven. The present one is different.

Bob Stewart: On my hon. Friend’s comment about China and cyber-warfare, I am sure he knows as well as I do

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that China has a dedicated cyber-warfare division, which it exercises—it last did so, as far as I know, three years ago—and practises attacks against the west.

Sir Gerald Howarth: Indeed. My hon. and gallant Friend has come to my support, for I was about to say that it was our recognition of the significance of cyber-security that led us, when my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) was Secretary of State—I am sure he is in the Chamber—to identify cyber as what he called an up-arrow. At the time there did not appear to be a threat from Russia, so heavy armour became a down-arrow—that is, an area where we felt we could take a hit—but cyber was identified in 2010 as being one of the areas we needed to prioritise. That led us to earmark £650 million over five years to address that threat. As the then Secretary of State and now Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr Hammond), revealed last year, some of those funds are being directed at the development by the UK of an offensive cyber capability, which I thoroughly support.

To give the House a bit of the flavour of what we are talking about in the cyber-attack context, The Times published an article on 10 September headed “Cyber criminals make Britain their top target”. A company had analysed 75 million raids on international businesses over three months. It showed that Britain was the criminals’ favourite country, followed by America. Online lenders and financial services are losing up to £2 billion a year to hackers stealing passwords and creating false accounts. The scale of the challenge is highlighted by the volume of attacks, with all those attempts being recorded between May and July this year alone.

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): It so happens that last weekend I was stopped in the street by a constituent who works at Roke Manor, who told me that this is a really serious problem. She raised it in the context of the Chinese visit.

Sir Gerald Howarth: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for two reasons—first, he reinforces my argument, and, secondly, he puts on the record an institution of phenomenal value to this country, Roke Manor Research, formerly owned by a German company and now very much in British hands. As I am sure the Minister knows, Roke Manor is doing outstanding work. It is an example of the leading-edge technology that is available to defence in this country and that it is so important we maintain.

Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing this Bill for discussion in the House today. Does he agree that the situation is even more alarming when we look at the size of Chinese defence spending, which was recently announced to be $144.2 billion—a 10% year-on-year increase, approximately?

Sir Gerald Howarth: I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for independently adding to the case on what we face around the world. Russia is engaged in about the same ramping up of its defence spending and, accordingly, its capability. I am very grateful to her for making that point.

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Significantly, the message for those engaged in drawing up defence planning assumptions is that in the space of barely three years the assumptions on which we worked in 2010 were blown apart. None of the events I listed earlier was remotely foreseen. For those of us brought up in the shadow of the iron curtain, over which two massive superpowers pivoted in an uneasy equilibrium—I was brought up in Germany—today’s outlook seems decidedly more complex and more dangerous. It is against that backdrop of a seriously turbulent world that we need to judge the priority we accord to defence of the realm.

There is no doubt that Europe’s security and peace for the past 70 years has been largely delivered by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation—NATO. The north Atlantic treaty was signed on 4 April 1949 as a means of establishing enduring stability and peace in Europe. Under article 5, the new allies agreed

“that an armed attack against one or more of them…shall be considered an attack against them all”

and that were such an attack to take place, each ally would take

“such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force”

in response. Understandably, much has been made of article 5 as the foundation stone of north Atlantic peace, and the onus it places on all alliance members, but it is also worth considering article 3, which states that

“the Parties, separately and jointly, by means of continuous and effective self-help and mutual aid, will maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack.”

Arguably, this set the precedent for the 2% target long before it was first mooted in 2006, and it has subsequently become the target for alliance members.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): May I urge my hon. Friend not to use the word “target”? It is in fact a minimum. Those countries that are below the minimum may have it as a target; those that have always been above it should not be ringing the church bells just because we have decided not to go below it.

Mr Speaker: Order. I think the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) is pleading for terminological exactitude.

Sir Gerald Howarth: I quite understand that that finds the most enormous favour with you, Sir. My right hon. Friend is to be commended, I am sure you will agree, for his terminological exactitude. However, he anticipates something I shall say later.

The US and Britain have long been meeting this target given the necessity of a strong defence during the cold war. We were spending about 10% on defence in the 1950s and 4% to 5% in the ’80s, and we are hovering at 2% today. Of course, the higher level of defence spending was because of the cold war. While we are not in the same state of emergency now, Russia’s aggression in Ukraine led the then NATO Secretary-General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, to whom I pay tribute for his work, to say in March 2014:

“We live in a different world than we did less than a month ago.”

However, it became clear that there was a perceived imbalance in the structure of the alliance, with the current volume of US defence expenditure representing

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73%—almost three quarters—of the defence spending of the entire alliance as a whole. It spent 3.5% on defence last year compared with our 2.2% and Germany’s less than 1.5%. NATO would not continue under America’s patronage if the alliance were to meet its necessary credibility as a politico-military organisation, with all 28 members committed to the treaty and its requirements.

Today 28 states all stand committed under article 5 of the NATO treaty to come to each other’s defence if one of them were to be attacked by a foreign aggressor. Together with the commitment of the United States and the United Kingdom to maintain a continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent, article 5 has for the past 70 years served to preserve the security of all of western Europe and has been the central tenet underpinning Britain’s defence and security strategy for my entire lifetime. It is not the European Union but NATO that has been the guarantor of the peace in Europe. Furthermore, recent operations in Afghanistan and Libya have proved that NATO has a valuable out-of-area role to play.

It is essential for our present and future peace and prosperity that in all strategic decisions we make as a nation we show our unwavering support for the alliance. That includes ensuring we have the manpower to conduct operations such as those in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the hardware to defend alliance countries through the deployment of assets such as Royal Air Force Typhoons patrolling our skies and those of former Soviet satellite states such as Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, which are under increasing pressure and hostility from Russia.

NATO requires all alliance members to meet its defence expenditure target of 2% of GDP. Currently only four do so: the United States, the United Kingdom, Greece and Estonia. This Bill, when passed into law, will ensure that the Government maintain their leading position in the alliance by ensuring that we keep spending at least 2% on our national defence. That is not an arbitrary figure. It is totemic in its importance for Britain’s standing in the world, Europe’s security and for maintaining our special relationship with our closest ally, the United States of America.

I am particularly pleased to see present some of my hon. Friends who argued so passionately in support of the Liberal Democrats’ International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015 in the last parliamentary Session, to enshrine in law that we commit 0.7% of our gross national income to international aid. They are fulfilling the offer they made then to support this Bill if I were fortunate enough to secure a place in the ballot. I particularly appreciate the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce). She was a doughty champion of the 2015 Act and she told me that she agreed that we should do the same for defence, so I am grateful to her for her presence today.

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): From a public accounts point of view, the concept of protecting Departments is causing enormous stresses in Government. For instance, the entire budget of the Foreign Office is only twice the amount of aid we give to Ethiopia. We must address that, and surely the way to do so, particularly given the possibility of massive procurement overruns, is not for MOD accountants to aim for 2%. As my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) has said, that has to be seen as a minimum; otherwise there will be chaos in procurement.

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Sir Gerald Howarth: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that is why clause 1 of my Bill states that the figure should be at least 2%. It is therefore a base, not a ceiling.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I commend my hon. Friend for promoting this Bill. I am sure he will agree that the Minister is a good man. Does he share my hope that the Minister will not insult our intelligence by saying that the Government will not support the Bill and that it is unnecessary because we are already hitting the 2% target, given that we were already hitting the 0.7% target for overseas aid when the Government supported enshrining that into law?

Sir Gerald Howarth: My hon. Friend has the capacity for perspicacity and anticipates a point I shall make shortly. I agree with him entirely. My Bill seeks to follow, almost slavishly, the principle set by the 2015 Act. I did that intentionally, to encourage the Government to give this Bill, promoted by a Conservative, the same strength of support they gave to a Liberal Democrat Bill.

John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): One of the issues that concerns me is the inherent flexibility in the definition of what NATO says is acceptable as constituting part of the 2%. If for the first time this year war pensions, pensions of retired civilian MOD personnel and contributions to UN peacekeeping missions are deemed acceptable, is there not a risk that there will be flexibility in what is included in the 2% and that underlying expenditure on defence capabilities will be unclear?

Sir Gerald Howarth: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I want to address that issue. The Bill involves a number of technicalities, and that is one of them.

I have always accepted that overseas aid has a role to play, but I have consistently opposed the extraordinary increase that the Department for International Development has enjoyed from Government ring-fencing since 2010—up from £8.5 billion in 2010 to £13 billion in 2014—to meet the figure of 0.7% of gross national income.

It may benefit you, Mr Speaker, and the House if I explain the difference between GDP and GNI. I am advised that GDP is the market value of all services and goods within the borders of a nation, the measure of a country’s overall economic output, and GNI is the total value produced within a country, comprising GDP plus the income obtained from overseas through businesses and so on that have foreign operations. GNI is therefore a more generous fiscal measurement, which naturally inflates the amount of overseas aid required to meet the 0.7% figure.

Mr Henry Bellingham (North West Norfolk) (Con): It is important to bear in mind the Government’s policy on overseas aid. They have made it very clear that as countries move to middle-income status, so aid will be withdrawn and we will move to more of a trade relationship. In theory, the 0.7% would therefore become redundant. Does my hon. Friend agree that the country’s duty to defend itself will never become redundant?

Sir Gerald Howarth: My hon. Friend is absolutely right.

The problem is that today’s policy is driven by a belief that a key way to respond to the challenges we face is to increase our intervention upstream so that, by providing

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aid to poor and dysfunctional countries, we reduce the causes of tension and thus our need for hard power. My response is twofold.

First, there is little evidence, despite committing the massive figure of £13 billion of public money, that such soft power delivers the effect sought. We have provided more than £1 billion to assist refugee camps to cope with the Syrian crisis, yet there has been palpably no reduction in the tidal wave of migrants, whether economic migrants or those genuinely fleeing persecution. I support what the Government are doing in Syria, which is noble and right. We should seek to maintain refugees near their country of origin, not to uproot them and import them into the continent of Europe. I strongly support that policy.

Secondly, there seems to be a quaint idea that the exercise of soft power offers an alternative to hard power. Make no mistake, Mr Speaker: without serious hard power, your soft power is completely non-existent. As Theodore Roosevelt said, it is better to “carry a big stick”, and then you can speak softly.

Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a powerful point. Does he agree that the two budgets are not mutually exclusive? As things such as Operation Gritrock have shown, military capability gives us choices to deliver humanitarian goals.

Sir Gerald Howarth: I could not agree more. There is an argument that we should combine all such budgets. I am not in favour of that, because it might turn out to be an excuse for reducing our defence budget. I am not opposed to overseas aid, which has a role to play. We are talking about priorities or quantum. In trying to establish our priorities, I am pointing out that soft power— overseas aid is a massive implement of soft power—has limited value in terms of the threats we face around the world.

Philip Davies: Is it therefore the case that the Government could claim to be spending one amount of money to hit both the 0.7% target on aid and the 2% target on defence, in effect double counting the same money?

Sir Gerald Howarth: That is entirely possible, but I am sure the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not be guilty of such double counting, for he is our right hon. Friend.

Some have said that my Bill has been rendered redundant because the Chancellor guaranteed in July that the Government would commit to the 2% target until 2020. Given my party’s reticence to make such a pledge during the general election campaign, I was naturally delighted by that somewhat surprising announcement. However, it soon became clear that to meet the 2% target, the Government had to engage in a certain amount of creative accounting by including several items in our NATO return for 2015 that had hitherto not been included in the defence budget.

Looking at the specific financial detail of our current defence expenditure is complex, as NATO does not have a clear set of parameters on what constitutes defence spending, unlike the OECD in its monitoring of aid spending. Furthermore, NATO’s definition of spending and the Government’s definition differ, in as much as

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NATO publishes its figures retrospectively and is thus able to include costs from military operations, whereas the British Government’s defence expenditure document is forward-looking and is unable to account for unforeseen operational requirements. The NATO figure is therefore higher than the Government’s. To simplify the debate, I am using the Government’s calculation of our defence expenditure.

The House of Commons Library, to which I pay tribute for the fantastic job that it does in serving us entirely impartially and incredibly professionally, advised me a few days ago that, according to figures published by NATO on 22 June, the United Kingdom is projected to spend just over £39 billion on defence in 2015-16. That is reckoned to be 2.08% of GDP.

However, when reporting to NATO, the United Kingdom included several items of expenditure that had not been included in previous years: provision for war pensions of about £820 million; assessed contributions to UK peacekeeping missions of £400 million; pensions for retired civilian MOD personnel, possibly amounting to £200 million; and much of the MOD’s income of about £1.4 billion, including £164 million received as a result of the sale of the Defence Support Group to Babcock, for which the Minister was entirely responsible and on which I congratulate him.

Although it is perfectly legitimate under NATO’s rules to include those items, their inclusion serves only one purpose: to assert that we are meeting the NATO target, albeit by the skin of our teeth. It adds no new money to meet the essential demands of defence. I understand that the Minister will tell us that the income of £1.4 billion is new money, and I am happy to accept that, but that still means that of the £39 billion, another £1.4 billion has been transferred in from other budgets. If that sum were stripped out, we would clearly fall below 2%.

In an excellent briefing paper from the Royal United Services Institute, Professor Malcolm Chalmers explains that if we had used the same parameters as in previous years, we would be on course to spend £36.82 billion on defence in the current year, including £500 million on operations. That amounts to 1.97% of GDP, meaning that we would have fallen below the NATO target for the first time. Thus, it is only by introducing the new accounting rules that we have pushed our defence expenditure over the 2% target.

Although NATO has accepted the changes, it is likely that further such changes will need to be made if the Government are to meet the 2% target for the next five years. As Professor Chalmers observes:

“While the MoD budget is set to grow by 0.5 per cent per annum over the next five years, national income (GDP) is projected to grow by an average of 2.4 per cent per annum over the same period. If these assumptions are correct, UK NATO-countable spending would fall from 2.08 per cent of GDP in 2015/16 to 1.85 per cent of GDP in 2020/21, assuming the recently introduced counting methods are still used. A further £2.7 billion per annum would be needed in 2019/20, and a further £3.5 billion in 2020/21, in order to bring NATO-countable defence spending up to 2.00 per cent of GDP.”

The Budget statement explained that the gap would be filled by including the single intelligence account, which is set to total £2.2 billion by 2020-21. That will close the gap until 2018-19. The further allocation of the £1.5 billion joint security fund by 2020-21 could be

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sufficient to cover the shortfall by the end of this Parliament, provided that NATO accepts all those additional accounts as being eligible.

Although funds such as the single intelligence account are committed to Britain’s security, the SIA will not equip conventional ground troops or build ships, and it is still unclear what will be included in the joint security fund and how it will be apportioned. I understand that the idea is that it will be up to the MOD, DFID, the agencies and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to bid for the funds, so there is no guarantee that they will plug the gap in the apparent shortfall later in the decade, as predicted by Professor Chalmers, unless the MOD gets the lion’s share.

I acknowledge that NATO has allowed the inclusion of the SIA budget in our annual defence return, and that according to 2013 figures it is estimated that more than 90% of US intelligence programme spending is reported to Congress through the Department of Defence budget. It can justifiably be argued that if our main ally, and the main contributor to defence spending in the alliance, includes secret intelligence funding in its budget, we should be entitled to do the same. Nevertheless, the point remains that the Government are introducing into the defence budget funds that were previously allocated elsewhere.

I know the Government believe that they have met their obligation, but I am concerned by how it has been done. It is hard to see how we are not making ourselves more vulnerable by bringing in other budgets to shore up our 2% commitment rather than spending the money on manpower, equipment and combat readiness, which the increase in our projected GDP would demand by the end of the decade if we were to maintain the 2% spending.

As a direct result of that major shift in the accounting arrangements, I have included in my Bill a clause that is not to be found in the 2015 Act. Clause 4 provides that the Secretary of State be required to

“make arrangements for the independent evaluation of the extent to which United Kingdom defence expenditure meets the criteria established by NATO for determining whether expenditure qualifies as defence expenditure.”

The intention is to hold the Secretary of State to account for what is included in our NATO return and not allow extraneous funds to be included in our defence expenditure.

Before I leave the issue of accounting, I acknowledge that the Chancellor has committed to a 0.5% real-terms increase in defence spending during this Parliament. Although of course I welcome that commitment, I am not sure whether it is a departure from earlier policy. As I recall, when my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset was Secretary of State, he secured an undertaking from the Prime Minister that in recognition of our taking a pretty substantial hit, the MOD would receive a 1% per annum real-terms increase in the equipment budget from next year. As equipment accounts for about half of the total MOD budget, is it not the case that the 0.5% is no more than the fulfilling of that undertaking given by the Prime Minister in 2010? I know not the answer and would welcome the Minister’s response.

Dr Liam Fox (North Somerset) (Con): For the sake of clarity, the undertaking that was given was not just a defence budget rise. In fact, it was impossible to meet the commitments of Future Force 2020 without that increase.

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Sir Gerald Howarth: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, with whom I had the pleasure and honour of working for such a long time and to whom we all owe a debt of gratitude for having sorted out the mess that was the MOD’s accounts when we first arrived in government in 2010. That was a major achievement.

I recognise that this is all very dry stuff, but this debate provides the opportunity to drill down into an analysis of the detail underpinning the Chancellor’s trumpeted commitment to meet the 2% target. Why is that so important? There are two reasons. First, the Prime Minister made much at last September’s NATO summit at Newport of the importance of NATO’s European members stepping up to the plate and delivering effective capability by honouring the NATO obligation to spend 2% on defence. As a result of that Newport summit,

“every NATO member not spending 2% will halt any decline in defence spending and aim to increase it in real terms as GDP grows, and to move towards 2% within a decade.”

As the host nation, our failure to honour that Wales pledge would clearly damage seriously our leadership within NATO, so meeting the 2% target is not simply an accounting matter but goes to the heart of our resolve to prioritise defence in a dangerous world.

Secondly, in recent months, open concern has been expressed by the US about the UK’s spending levels and how they affect our ability to fight alongside it. We bring real value to the relationship, which goes beyond men and equipment, not least in the field of intelligence. Underpinning that relationship must be an ability to deliver a critical mass that is able to operate alongside the US.

The 2% target bears an element of the totemic, but the Bill provides for us to set that 2% national target as a minimum. Many of us argue that we should spend as much as we can afford, so as to provide Her Majesty’s armed forces with the equipment and manpower that they need to meet the threats and potential threats that we face. Only yesterday, one Labour Member—he is not in his place today; he shall remain nameless but he takes a keen interest in defence—told me that he wants a target of at least 3%, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), Chair of the Defence Committee, is in the same camp.

There have been plenty of stories about how DFID has struggled to find projects on which to spend the embarras de richesses from which it has benefited, with 62% of its budget being distributed through agencies such as the World Bank and the EU. One story earlier this year spoke of £1 billion being up for grabs before the year end in March. In contrast, our armed forces lost whole capabilities and suffered cuts in manpower to meet the Treasury demands that drove the 2010 SDSR. We desperately need a replacement for the Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft.

The RAF is operating at the very margin, as illustrated by the late reprieve for a Tornado squadron, without which we could not have conducted the current tempo of operations in Iraq. I welcome what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State did with that squadron, but how on earth can we sustain more intensive operations, particularly against a more sophisticated enemy and where we have suffered losses? I simply do not buy the argument that was advanced some years ago by my great friend Geoff Hoon, former Defence Secretary,

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which was that platform numbers do not matter because each one is more sophisticated than previous generations of aircraft and ships.

Consider the Falklands war of 33 years ago. We lost six ships, two Type 42 destroyers, and two Type 21 frigates—the RFA Sir Galahad, and most critically the Atlantic Conveyor with its precious load of helicopters. In 1980 we had a complement of 48 frigates, destroyers and cruisers, but today the loss of two Type 45 destroyers would cut the fleet by one third. If a further third were in maintenance, just two ships would be left to provide one carrier with air defence. The Royal Navy is struggling to meet its standing commitments, and there are real manpower concerns with engineers in short supply and questions over the manning of two new aircraft carriers. The Minister is still unable to confirm whether the new Type 26 global combat ship fleet will be maintained at 13—I very much hope that it will be, but even if it is, 19 frigates and destroyers is woefully inadequate for a seafaring nation such as ours.

There is a decision to reduce Army regulars to 82,000—all of whom could fill Twickenham tomorrow night—as a cost-saving measure. Yes, we are contributing small numbers of personnel around the globe in pursuit of our welcome defence engagement strategy, but during operations in Afghanistan we could barely meet that commitment.

Let us not forget defence research. As the Minister’s predecessor, Lord Drayson, stated in his excellent policy document, “Defence industrial strategy”, so much of our leading battle-winning technology today is a result of yesterday’s investment. If we fail to invest today, how much risk do we assume for the future of our military power? Defence expenditure on research has fallen from £4.3 billion in 1980 to £1.3 billion in 2011-12.

As Sir John Major said to me earlier this week, it is remarkable and encouraging how favourably the United Kingdom is still regarded around the world. We are hugely respected, but much of that derives from our big stick, which in my view is much smaller than it needs to be. In that context, it is critical that the United Kingdom stands shoulder to shoulder with our closest ally, the United States. Its concerns about defence spending have been voiced publicly by a number of senior figures from President Obama down. General Raymond Odierno, head of the US army, said in March this year:

“We have a bilateral agreement between our two countries to work together. It is about having a partner that has very close values and the same goals as we do…What has changed, though, is the level of capability. In the past we would have a British Army division working alongside an American army division.”

He feared that with any further cuts to Britain’s defences, the US military would have to work on the assumption that we would produce only half that number in the future, forming a brigade under US leadership rather than a division in its own right. This would, of course, be catastrophic for Britain’s international credibility.

I am encouraged that the Minister was well received in Washington following the Chancellor’s Budget commitment, but adding real money—not juggling the accounting—will be the only way to maintain that reassurance. It is no exaggeration, as Malcom Chalmers pointed out, that the US sees us in a special category of our own, a category we must continue to guarantee.

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I submit that by enacting this measure we will be sending a clear signal to our allies about the seriousness of our intent.

We have to take note that the United States is seeking to re-evaluate its position. There was much talk earlier of its pivot to the Pacific, with the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in 2011, recalling America’s commitment to Europe after world war two by saying:

“The time has come for the United States to make similar investments as a Pacific power.”

I am sure that Russia ramping up both its defence spending and its interventions, as in Ukraine and Syria, has tempered any tendency for the US to switch too sharply in the direction of the Pacific, but we should never place ourselves at risk of a sudden US reorientation, which could still occur if China continues its policy of military expansion.

Before I conclude, let me just address the argument that the Government’s commitment is enough and we do not need to enshrine it in law. Had it not been for the decision to enshrine our overseas aid target to 0.7%, I might have accepted that. However, as a Conservative who believes the first duty of Government is the defence of the realm, I really struggle to understand why they are prepared to enshrine the law on overseas aid yet doggedly refuse to apply the same principle to defence. It is not as though aid is unique in this context. In the previous Parliament, we were prepared to enshrine in law holding an in/out EU referendum by the end of 2017. Indeed, we all, including my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, trooped enthusiastically through the Lobby on successive Fridays in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (James Wharton). As recently as last week, we voted on the charter for budget responsibility, requiring Governments in normal times to spend less than they take in tax. Much like the European Union Referendum Bill, this measure was seen as a way for the Government to provide a reassurance that they will stick to their commitment, in this case, to eliminate the deficit.

Why are the Government so eager to enshrine certain budgets in law and yet disregard the one that ensures our safety and security? Why have the Government been so keen to ensure future Administrations commit to the aid budget and yet refuse to offer a similar reassurance to the armed forces that they share the same commitment to defence? I fear that the only logical conclusion one can come to is that the Government prioritise overseas aid over defence.

I want to conclude, because I have spoken for rather longer than I had intended. I do not suggest for one minute that the United Kingdom is not a world leader—we are. We are the fifth most important defence power in the world. We have our nuclear deterrent and this Government are committed to the renewal of that deterrent. We have new carriers, which were ordered by the Labour party and are being delivered by us. We have the new joint strike fighter coming on stream. We also have a Prime Minister who entirely, properly and rightly wants Britain to help to shape the world and not simply be shaped by it. To that extent, as the world continues to be a very dangerous place and events clearly show the need for Britain to maintain its strong defence—with north Africa in turmoil, the middle east as fractured as ever, renewed tensions on the eastern border of Europe through Russia’s aggression, and with China engaged

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with adventures on the South China sea—this is not a time to be playing with the figures on our defence spending. We need to ensure that our armed forces are properly resourced to defend Britain and protect our interests abroad. Our commitment to NATO, the cornerstone of Atlantic peace, remains paramount for our future and the future of the alliance if the treaty is worth the paper on which it is written. We must commit to spend at least 2% of GDP on defence and not draft in other funds to the defence budget in a pretence that we are honouring this commitment. What is more, we must show we mean business by enshrining this commitment in law to send the key message to our allies, most importantly the United States, that we take our place and responsibility in the world extremely seriously, and that we are prepared to defend ourselves and our allies against attack.

At the Conservative party conference, the Prime Minister spoke of security, stability, opportunity. The first two of these can only be achieved through strong defence.

10.19 am

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): It is possible to argue that my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) has already achieved one of the main aims of the Bill, because he originally chose the subject and sought the sponsorship, readily given, of people like me in support of his Bill before the Government gave their welcome pledge to meet the minimum 2% commitment not only for the year ahead but for the remainder of this Parliament, year after year after year. However, I believe he was right not to let the Bill drop, just as I believe that I was right to continue to sponsor it after becoming Chairman of the Defence Select Committee.

The reason that is right is that we must not assume that pledges given at one stage in the political and economic cycle will be good for ever after. It is a sad state of affairs that the word of politicians in government is no longer sufficiently trusted so one feels one must enshrine something in law in order for the electorate to believe that a promise will be kept.

My hon. Friend referred to two previous examples, one of which was to do with overseas aid. In that case, it was indeed a target to be met, not a minimum to avoid dipping below. The other was the referendum—the in/out referendum, let us be precise about it—on our continuing membership of the European Union. That is possibly where a lot of the scepticism crept in, and why trying to get commitments nailed down in law originally took hold.

I distinctly remember in earlier debates about European treaties that referenda were demanded. Parties, not least our former coalition partners the Liberal Democrats, refused demands for a referendum—on the Lisbon treaty, I think—because they felt that it was avoiding the real question, which was: “Should we stay in or leave the European Union?” But, strangely enough, when they had the opportunity to support having a referendum on staying in or leaving the EU, they opted to oppose it. It is that sort of cynicism, frankly, that makes it necessary for my hon. Friend to persist with his Bill, although, fortunately, the people who reneged on their pledge to have an in/out referendum are no longer in a position to hold the Government to ransom.

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It was indeed the work of many hon. Members on both sides of the House, but not least that of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot, that ensured that the Government finally gave the 2% pledge. It would be unsuitable for me at this stage to go in any detail into the question of the extent to which creative accountancy may be involved in fulfilling that pledge, because one of the first two inquiries of the new Defence Select Committee is to examine that very issue.

Sir Edward Leigh: Apparently, the Secretary of State for International Development says that landing on 0.7% is like landing a helicopter on a moving handkerchief. The Ministry of Defence is an infinitely more complex Department, so are we not in danger of giving too much power to accountants in the MOD to try to land this helicopter on a moving aircraft carrier, creating chaos in the procurement process?

Dr Lewis: No, frankly, I do not think we are. That comes back to the fact that this is not a target that we have to hit precisely. This is a minimum—in my opinion and from my point of view, an inadequate minimum. It is much easier to land the helicopter on a deck when the deck is quite an enormous one: all we have to worry about is putting the helicopter down on some part of that enormous deck. We do not have to worry about which part of the deck we manage to alight upon. Therefore, should we end up spending, for example, 2.5%, 2.8% or 3%, we shall still have fulfilled the purposes of the Bill. At this point, it may be convenient to reflect on what the size of the deck of that carrier has been in decades gone by. Then, perhaps, we shall see that we should not be struggling to get on to the deck; on the contrary, we should be asking ourselves why we are engaged in achieving such a very modest aim.

Between 1955 and 1960, the percentage of GDP that we spent on defence varied from 7.2% to 5.9%. Between 1960 and 1969, it varied from 6.1% to 5%. From 1969 all the way until 1980, it varied from a high of 4.8% in 1975-76 to 4.2%. As recently as 1980-85, it varied from 5.1% to 4.7%, and in 1985-90, it varied from 4.6% to 3.9%. Even after the end of the cold war, in the period between 1990 and 1995, it varied from 4.1% to 3.2%. Not until the financial year 1994-95 did the figure dip below 3%. I would argue—and this was foreshadowed by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot in his excellent speech—that a country with our level of commitments and responsibilities certainly ought to be thinking about spending 3% of GDP on defence.

The situation in terms of the threats that we face has become increasingly fraught. I, for one, was very surprised that only a year after the 2010 strategic defence and security review made what I think was an 8% cut in the defence budget, we were already keen to engage in an additional conflict in Libya, the wisdom of which has subsequently—and, in my view, rightly—been questioned. But whichever side we take in that particular argument, it follows that if we are in the business of still wishing to intervene, we must certainly be in the business of making the appropriate financial investment.

During one of the public hearings that we have held so far, it was pointed out that it is not enough simply to look at the amount of defence investment that we make, because it is possible to spend a lot of money on the wrong things and still end up with inadequately structured armed forces. If I may dip into history, I suspect that

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the Maginot line occupied a rather large chunk of the French military expenditure budget in the period leading up to the second world war. It was not a very good investment.

It is, of course, difficult to quantify outcomes when it comes to the appropriateness of the way in which money has been spent, but even if spending a lot of money on defence is not a sufficient condition for the achievement of good defence outcomes, it is certainly a necessary condition. Earlier, I described in detail what happened to the defence budget when it was in decline. Over the same period, our welfare budget ballooned, our education budget ballooned, and our health budget ballooned as percentages of GDP. I am not criticising that in any way, but it is rather extraordinary that that pattern of steep decline in spending on defence as a national priority has been allowed to occur, given the extent to which we have remained engaged in the carrying out of military activity from time to time on the world stage.

Embodying the proposal for 2% in law is a worthwhile endeavour because it will send a signal that any Government who wish to renege on the commitment will have to unpick the legislation in order to do so. It is unsatisfactory that we as a country cannot feel comfortable that defence occupies a sufficient role in our league table of commitments to spend from the public purse. As I said in an intervention, however, the endeavour of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot to ensure that the commitment is enshrined in law carries with it the risk that what should be a minimum will become a target. It is true to say that, from time to time, some of us on these Benches who take a particular interest in defence have been less than totally helpful towards those on the Front Bench when we have felt that their commitment to defence had fallen short of what it should be.

Around the time of the Wales summit, the Prime Minister made a statement about the importance of urging our NATO allies to meet the 2% minimum, and I decided to seize the opportunity to show my full support for those on my Front Bench by asking him an easy question. I got to my feet and the Prime Minister gave way graciously, as he always does. I asked him whether he would like to give the House an assurance that, as long as he remained Prime Minister, there would be no question of this country dipping below the 2% minimum. Rather to my discombobulation—[Hon. Members: “Sorry?”] I thought that would attract a bit of attention. Rather to my discombobulation, I was told that, although the commitment was being met that week and that year and was going to be met the following year, after that we would just have to wait and see. That prompted concern among a number of us that the commitment to the NATO minimum was in jeopardy.

I well remember how, during the long years of opposition, we used to excoriate the Labour Government for playing fast and loose with the figures relating to the GDP spend on defence. In particular, I remember one statement that Tony Blair made, I think in 2007 when he was coming to the end of his 10-year period in office as Prime Minister. He made a speech on HMS Albion, in which he said that, taking defence expenditure as a whole over the preceding 10 years of the Labour Government, it had remained roughly constant at about

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2.5% of GDP if the costs of Iraq and Afghanistan were included. As a Member of the shadow Defence team, I was quick to point out that the costs of Iraq and Afghanistan were supposed to be met from the Treasury reserve funds, and that if they were stripped out of the picture, Labour was actually spending more like 2.1%, which was inadequate. I continued to make that point in speeches in the House over quite a long period—some would say an excessively long period.

What worries me about the debate on defence expenditure generally is that we are being subjected to the management of expectations. There should never have been the slightest doubt that this country would continue to meet the NATO minimum. We had always done so, and we never even had to think about doing it because we had always surpassed that level quite comfortably. It is a measure of the situation in which we find ourselves today that, as I said in earlier interventions, we are apparently supposed to be ringing the church bells in triumph that we are not going to dip below the NATO minimum.

Because of this undercutting of belief in what politicians do, compared with the commitments that they give, I think it is important that this Bill should go through. I therefore propose to set a good example to other right hon. and hon. Friends by keeping my remarks brief, because I would not like us to find that we were running out of time for the Bill to make the necessary progress that it needs to today. Not that I would ever think for one moment that the Government Whips Office would encourage people to expatiate excessively on this important subject, but just in case they might be tempted to do so, I wish to make that task as difficult as possible and will therefore conclude my contribution to the debate.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I call Bob Stewart.

10.35 am

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am rather shocked, but delighted, to be called so early.

Twenty-five years ago, the 14 European NATO members spent $314 billion annually on defence; this year, European NATO members spent $227 billion on defence. Those figures, taken from the global think-tank Carnegie Europe, show that there has been a 28% reduction in real defence spending by European NATO members since 1990. Yet since 1990, European membership of NATO has almost doubled, from 14 members to 26 partners, so in truth the reduction in collective defence finances in Europe has been much starker.

Since 2008, the UK has reduced its defence spending by over 9%. We are not alone: Germany has reduced her defence spending over the same period by over 4% and Italy by a whopping 21%. That reduction has made the contribution made to NATO by the United States even more cock-eyed than it was before. From 1995 to 1999, European NATO allies spent about 2% of GNP on defence, but now that average is down to 1.5%. That was at a time when US defence spending had increased from about 3.1% to 3.4% today. In 1995, US defence spending made up 59% of the NATO budget, and today it is expected to be over 70%. Since the formation of NATO in 1949, the United States has always dominated NATO spending, and European members of the alliance have never really paid their fair share of its costs.

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Although the United States spends 3.4% of its GNP on defence, we Europeans prefer to use our money for softer priorities. Europeans effectively put far more of their resources into social rather than military security. There are 0.9 billion people living in all NATO countries and just over 300 million of them are US citizens. Yet each American pays $1,900 a year for his or her defence, while no other NATO member, including ourselves, comes anywhere near that. Let me give the House some examples from the figures I have got—mainly from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute—of how much some of the newer members of the north Atlantic alliance are contributing to their collective defence as new NATO members. I will do so based on what each person in their population might be expected to contribute. Each Albanian contributes $42 a year. A Bulgarian gives $116 a year. Croats provide $204 and Czechs pay $189. Estonians supply more—$392. Hungarians also devote $392 and Latvians $150. Romanians pay $118, Slovakians $180 and Slovenians $233 for their defence. Joining NATO was clearly a cheap way to buy military security for many European countries, many of which are deeply worried about Russian intentions close to their borders, although they hardly show that by way of their defence budgets.

Mrs Gillan: Will my hon. and gallant Friend give way?

Bob Stewart: With delight.

Mrs Gillan: It is worth noting that, despite the smaller amounts paid by the newer members of NATO that my hon. and gallant Friend has laid out for us, in the wake of Russian aggression, the biggest increases are coming from the Latvians, Lithuanians, Poles and even the Estonians, because their minds are now concentrated on the immediate threat on their borders.

Bob Stewart: I understand and accept that, and in a way that is good. Some good things are coming out of it.

As my right hon. Friend has just demonstrated, many countries are clearly deeply worried about Russian intentions close to their borders. No wonder NATO membership is so attractive now. It is a great deal. For those countries, the NATO guarantee is cheap security and insurance. Far too many of the new members of NATO have simply got to pay more. Only Estonia, France, Greece, Poland, Turkey and the UK will come near the NATO minimum target of 2% in 2015. Some NATO members will spend far less than that. According to the IMF, some—such as Albania, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Iceland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Slovenia, Slovakia and Spain—spent 1% or less of their GNP on defence last year.

I am sorry for spending so much of my speech on statistics, but I hope that I have made the point about the huge importance of NATO’s minimum target of 2%. Achieving it and keeping above it shows commitment, and is also a symbolic gesture of genuine support for the alliance.

Kevin Foster: Does my hon. and gallant Friend agree that the 2% is like an insurance policy? Countries get the protection of article 5 mutual defence, but it is the premium that they need to pay in exchange.

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Bob Stewart: I agree. It should be a minimum of 2%, and I and other hon. Members here today would like to see it at 3%. So would the Minister, but we are constrained by the financial responsibility we bear as a Government.

Sir Edward Leigh: We heard from the Bill’s promoter that international aid spending has gone up from £8 billion to £30 billion. Is not that exactly the same amount that we are cutting tax credits by?

Bob Stewart: I have no idea; it may well be.

Antoinette Sandbach (Eddisbury) (Con): I do not know whether my hon. and gallant Friend had the same experience as I did during the election in May, but many of my constituents expressed to me their concern about defence spending and the fact that the 0.7% had been enshrined in law. They wanted the 2% to be enshrined in law too, because they wanted to see that commitment.

Bob Stewart: I thank my hon. Friend for that point. I know exactly why her constituents said that: among them are valued members of the Cheshire Regiment, who live around her constituency. Cheshire has always been dead on for defence.

Why should each American citizen forfeit his or her right to spend so much more on social programmes, as Europeans do? That is unfair. We are now committed to spending 0.7% of gross national income on overseas aid— well over one third of the defence budget. I have heard rumours—admittedly, they may well be fallacious—that in late March, British officials were running around places such as Geneva throwing money at aid organisations to reach that target.

Sir Edward Leigh: They were!

Bob Stewart: In which case I take back the word “fallacious”; I trust everything that my hon. Friend says.

It was our Prime Minister who convinced fellow NATO members to commit to a target of 2% of GNP at last year’s NATO summit. He was absolutely right. We have now committed ourselves to keeping to that figure, at least for the immediate future. Personally, particularly in the current very dangerous international climate, I would prefer us to spend far more than that on defence. Everyone in this House knows our first and primary duty as Members of Parliament: the defence of our country.

John Glen: I want to focus on the principle of setting targets. It seems to me that if we pass this Bill, we have to consider where that stops. The Government have also made commitments on the NHS and education budgets. Would my hon. Friend be inclined to support minimum percentages of expenditure in other Departments? This seems a dangerous road to go down. We should be free to make the case that he has just made: to spend whatever is necessary to meet the challenges that we face in the world.

Bob Stewart: I thank my very hon. Friend for that point. My view is that there should be no ring-fencing whatever: Governments should govern and decide what is right. What is right for defence is probably more than

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we are paying at the moment. The fact is that we have ring-fenced other Departments and international aid, but we have not ring-fenced the first duty of government. That is why the 2% minimum target is so important.

That is a good way to end, actually. I will shut up and sit down.

10.48 am

Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): Thank you for calling me to speak in this excellent debate, Mr Deputy Speaker. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) for the powerful case he made for ensuring that we have an adequate defence budget for our country. The Bill is vital. I also commend my hon. Friend for his lifelong dedication to supporting Her Majesty’s armed forces and to the defence of Queen and country; there is no greater champion of the defence of the realm than my hon. Friend.

I hope that hon. Members will agree with me that, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) has just said, the first priority of Her Majesty’s Government, regardless of their political persuasion, is the defence of the realm and the protection of British people from threat, both internal and external. Protecting Britons from harm, defending our democratic way of life and upholding our freedom must surely be our first duty in this place. That is why our membership of NATO has been so vital and must be protected.

To maintain a 2% minimum spending target is a wise allocation of public funds and a necessary investment in the defence of our nation. We can ring-fence other budgets, but surely the defence of the realm should be uppermost in our priorities. Securing our freedom is worth every £1 we spend. In my view, defence should certainly take precedence over our commitments on international aid.

The Bill will enable the Government of the day to carry out their solemn duties to this country in the confidence that those who wish to subvert our way of life will not succeed. Some would argue that, in the post-cold war era, such investment in our national defence is no longer necessary, but if the actions of Vladimir Putin in Ukraine and Syria have taught us anything it is that we can no longer take for granted the notion that the cold war is well and truly behind us. Our nation faces powerful enemies—nations, and terrorist organisations and cells—just as we did in the 1980s. They pose significant threats to our national interests and security. Even if we accept the highly dubious argument that we live in a post-cold war world, we must conclude only that the new era makes continuing to invest adequately in our armed forces more imperative than ever.

Mrs Gillan: Does my hon. Friend agree that NATO has had to adapt, and that we are looking for NATO responses to be more mobile and agile? It also needs to respond on shorter timelines, particularly in countering irregular operations and other new forms of threat, some of which were well laid out in the TalkTalk cyber-attack earlier this week.

Andrew Rosindell: My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. The truth is that we live in a very different world from the one of the 1980s. We have to adapt to modern-day threats, including people who use

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technology against the interests of our country and our NATO allies. Therefore, we cannot take it for granted that defence spending should be on a downward slide. We must think about the importance of dealing with today’s threats. My right hon. Friend makes that point eloquently.

The enemies we face today no longer occupy clear territory or fight conventionally, as my right hon. Friend stated. Today’s threats come from groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIL. They have no clear borders and fight unconventional wars. In many respects, they pose a greater challenge to our armed forces and national defence.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis)—my good friend—has made clear, defence spending as a proportion of GDP has declined. NATO figures suggest that, for 2015-16, the Government will spend 2.1% of GDP on defence. However, that figure includes previously excluded expenditure such as war pensions and other items, as many hon. Members have said. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot referred to the Royal United Service Institute, which says that, without those added expenditures, defence spending will be 1.97% of GDP. I am sorry to say to the Minister that, under the old measurement, the Government will this year fail to meet their 2% spending commitment. Perhaps he will clarify that. It is imperative that my hon. Friend’s Bill becomes the law of this country so that the Government, of whichever political party, will be duty bound to honour the commitment and make the necessary investment to the defence of our United Kingdom.

Continuous decades of cuts to our defence budget have caused despair among many leading members of our defence staff. In 2012, General Sir Michael Jackson warned that, if Argentina were to launch another invasion of the British overseas territory of the Falklands Islands, retaking them would be “impossible”—I know that you, Mr Deputy Speaker, are very passionate about the defence of the Falkland Islands. In stating that, General Sir Michael Jackson pointed out that he feared that we could not adequately defend British citizens in our overseas territories. At that time, defence spending was, at 2.2%, higher than it is today.

The need for a much stronger Royal Navy presence in the British sovereign waters around Gibraltar is now paramount. More resources are needed to counter the illegal and aggressive incursions by Spanish vessels, which are shamefully supported and excused by the Spanish Government. Those extra resources should be combined with a more robust approach to the defence of Gibraltar from the Government, which is long overdue.

It seems perverse to me that, at a time when we ask our armed forces to undertake ever more demanding work in far-flung regions of the world, we have been so short-sighted in reducing the resources they desperately need. As hon. Members know, in the last Parliament, a Bill was passed that requires the Government to spend 0.7% of GDP on overseas aid. Failing to pass a similar Bill—it applies the same principle—that legally commits the Government to spend 2% of GDP on defence would send a very negative message to the servicemen and women who put their lives on the line for our wellbeing every single day of their lives.

Kevin Foster: My hon. Friend is making a great speech outlining the existing threats to this country. We regularly talk about a nuclear deterrent, but does he

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agree that NATO must also provide a conventional deterrent and keep a minimum capability that can be expanded in a crisis if necessary to deter an attack by another industrialised nation on one of its members?

Andrew Rosindell: I am delighted to see my new hon. Friend in the House. He makes an excellent point with which I agree entirely. We must ensure that the nuclear deterrent is maintained, but we must also not neglect our conventional forces, which are perhaps more relevant now than they were a few years ago. His point is absolutely spot on.

If the Bill fails, the message would be that Britain is not willing to commit to those who serve us so selflessly, and that defence is no longer the priority it might once have been. I hope the Minister assures the House that that is simply not the case.

The Bill gives us, the elected representatives of the people of the United Kingdom, a chance to enshrine in law a commitment that would prevent this or any future British Government from performing the kind of U-turns and policy failures that could jeopardise their ability to carry out their first and foremost duty, namely the defence of the realm, which includes Her Majesty’s overseas territories and Crown dependencies. The Bill, which was so ably presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot, will guarantee the ability of Her Majesty’s Government to carry out their fundamental duty to invest adequately in Britain’s defences, maintain the freedom of the people of these islands and protect our cherished British way of life.

10.59 am

Antoinette Sandbach (Eddisbury) (Con): I am grateful to have been called to speak in the debate, Mr Deputy Speaker, because, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) pointed out, my constituency, through its link with the Cheshire Regiment, has a proud history of service in the armed forces, and not just in the Army. The key point of importance for my constituents is not only the defence of the realm but the role of the armed forces in upholding the rights of others. That is particularly important in my family, as my mother was liberated, along with her family, by British regiments during the occupation of the Netherlands by the Nazis. Many others in this House and in wider society understand the huge debt of gratitude we owe to those servicemen and women who put their lives on the line for others.

Bob Stewart: Would it not be absolutely wonderful for my Cheshire friend if the soldiers who liberated her family were from the Cheshire Regiment, which drove through Holland in 1944-45, given that she now represents them?

Antoinette Sandbach: I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. and gallant Friend. My constituents are hugely proud of that.

The role that the British Army and our forces play is key in protecting not only the realm but overseas. My hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) refers to the diverse threats we now face and it is clear that those threats are varied and appear suddenly out of the blue in places where they were not anticipated. We have seen, for example, the rise of Daesh and the threat that that poses to our country.

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I know that the Minister appreciates that investment in defence leads to skills that come back into our civilian community, particularly in vital areas such as engineering, communication and cyber-skills. That investment represents an investment elsewhere in our economy and gives a return to us as a country. I urge the Government to support the Bill, as that investment in our country’s future is key. It is not just about the defence of the realm but about the economic benefits that can be gained from the huge skills that that investment provides to the British economy.

My constituents raise the question of the 2% commitment with me regularly, and they do so because they have seen the 0.7% commitment. I agree that we need to support countries that need our assistance, but they do not understand why that commitment can be made to international aid but not to defence.

Kevin Foster: My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech and a powerful point about the economic benefit of the skills people acquire in the military. Does she agree that it is even more pressing when we consider the potential expansion of civil nuclear power, given that virtually every senior nuclear engineer in this country has been trained by our nuclear Navy?

Antoinette Sandbach: I wholly agree. In the context of the north-west and Wales, the new Wylfa B power station is planned and those nuclear skills will be key in securing the energy future of our country. My constituents specifically asked me to be present for this debate and to make the point that they urge the Government to stick to the minimum commitment of 2% to be spent on defence and to consider increasing the budget. For them and their families, the security and defence of the realm is hugely important. They understand and appreciate that that investment in defence leads to broader economic benefits. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) for introducing this Bill so I can support it today.

11.4 am

Mr Henry Bellingham (North West Norfolk) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach), who made a very good speech.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) on his Bill and on the way he introduced it. He is one of the most knowledgeable people in this House, and probably in the country, and his expertise and judgment on the issue deserve to be recognised and respected. He gave us a superb tour d’horizon of the world today. We live in an ever more troubled and dangerous world and I agree with what he said about Russia and China. We also should not forget those rogue states in the world—those potential rogue nuclear states—that could put our security at risk. I agree with him when he says that all the previous norms and assumptions have been torn up, and the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), made that very same point.

Never before in the 30 years since the end of the cold war has our nation’s security been more important. Many of us had a rosy vision of what the world might have looked like in this part of the 21st century, but how wrong we were. I welcome the Government’s response

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to this new troubled world security environment. I am grateful for their commitment to spend more on defence and to spend at least 2%.

I have always been a glass half full person, and there are some good programmes coming on stream in the near future—the carriers, the Dauntless class destroyers, which are incredibly formidable vessels, the joint strike fighter, which has relevance to west Norfolk and RAF Marham, and the numerous upgrades that are taking place. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot pointed out, there are still some significant gaps in our defence capabilities, not least our maritime reconnaissance capability; the carriers are obviously not yet operational and there is a carrier gap with the Harriers having been mothballed and sold.

I mentioned RAF Marham, which is the proud home of the Tornado force. That aircraft has been the workhorse of the RAF over many years and, as we speak, is playing a vital part in the campaign against ISIS and deploying its state-of-the-art reconnaissance system, RAPTOR. It is also the only platform that can deploy the Brimstone precision bomb system. It is very valuable in that theatre.

I pay tribute to the airmen and Air Force women, their families, the other personnel and the civil servants stationed at RAF Marham. They serve this country with huge competence and we should be very proud of them. The base also has a great impact on west Norfolk and is a vital and integral part of our local community. Only those colleagues with an airbase or a barracks in or near their constituency will understand how the armed forces always want to be involved, and play a part, in the community, the wider family and civic life.

Sir Gerald Howarth: I hugely appreciate my hon. Friend’s support for the Bill. May I draw his attention to the fact that one of the squadrons based at RAF Marham is 31 Squadron—the “Goldstars”—with which my father served during the second world war?

Mr Bellingham: That is an incredibly important connection, too, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning it. I am also grateful that he mentioned the reprieve given to the third squadron at RAF Marham, because that is crucial to the squadrons rotation through RAF Akrotiri. Had we gone down to two squadrons, the rotation would have been at least six months and perhaps nine months, which, with unaccompanied tours, would have put immense pressure on the families. Keeping the third squadron enables a three-month rotation.

I am very pleased that the joint strike fighter, the Lightning II, will be coming to RAF Marham in 2018. We are looking forward to this superb aircraft coming to west Norfolk.

I mentioned RAF Akrotiri—I shall not digress too much—and yesterday’s news of refugees arriving on its shores is extremely worrying. I understand that 17 refugees arrived there 15 years ago and their status is still uncertain. If this is opened up as a new route into Europe, it will be incredibly dangerous and I very much hope the Government will take firm action. We have the two sovereign base areas and it is essential that extra personnel and capability are put in place properly to guard the coastline and stop these very unfortunate people landing there. Does that

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not reinforce the Prime Minister’s decision to take refugees direct from the camps in the region, rather than encouraging people to make such a perilous journey across the Mediterranean?

Bob Stewart: I was in Cyprus at Dhekelia and at Akrotiri a few months ago. The 17 refugees to whom my hon. Friend refers are in Dhekelia, the eastern sovereign base area, and they have been there as long as he says.

Mr Bellingham: I am grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend for that clarification. The idea that there is any quick solution to sorting out the status of such people when they arrive there, granting them asylum or perhaps relocating them is wishful thinking. It takes a very long time indeed under our current processes.

Let us look back roughly one year to Michael Moore’s Bill that set a target of 0.7% for international development. I said at the time that I was appalled by the Bill because we were already spending the 0.7% and I could see no reason for encapsulating it in our law. I could see no logic in doing that, based to some extent on my own experiences of overseas aid. I had the chance to see the good, the very good, the bad, the ugly and the downright bad in Africa, the Caribbean and elsewhere. There is no question but that in some parts of the developing world our aid programmes are making a profound difference on the ground. They are helping with sustainability and development, they are helping small businesses expand and they are making a big impact on the growth of those countries. British humanitarian aid is saving lives in different parts of the world.

Staff from DFID, the related agencies and the NGOs with which they are working in partnership are doing a superb job in many countries. I had the chance to see that all over Africa—in places such as Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where I saw a clean water and road building programme; in Juba, the capital of the newest country in Africa; and in the refugee camps in northern Kenya. That is the good, but there are also examples where aid is not being well spent. I lost count of the number of heads of DFID I saw on my travels around Africa who told me that they would struggle to get good-quality aid out of the door. We were looking for programmes and partners in many of those countries, and I was warned on a number of occasions that there were aid programmes that would not deliver and on which mistakes would be made and things would go badly wrong. I can think of at least four examples in Africa where there had been outright scandals involving British aid.

To be fair to DFID, it is taking action, but there is growing evidence that we must try to move from aid relationships with those countries to trade. Many of those countries will move to middle-income status during our political lives, and as they do so it is extremely important that we reduce the aid and move to a trade relationship. My argument at the time was that the 0.7% was not necessary, it was an ill-thought-out move, and the only reason we did it was because we made a pledge in the election campaign. That is an honourable reason for doing something, but it is the wrong reason for doing it because in many cases the 0.7% will be redundant. Furthermore, as our economy expands, that aid budget will go not just from £8 billion to £13 billion, as it has

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done over the past five years, but it could well be up to £20 billion-plus by the end of this Parliament if our economy grows.

You are looking at me, Mr Deputy Speaker, so I shall conclude by saying that we have a moral obligation to help the poorest in the world. I feel that very strongly. We have a moral obligation to help those who are less in need. We have a moral obligation also to educate our children and young people in this country—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I was hoping the hon. Gentleman was going to come back to defence. I thought there was an analogy coming, but my worry is that he is going to continue doing the same thing.

Mr Bellingham: Indeed, Mr Deputy Speaker.

We have those moral obligations to house our people, to educate them and to make sure they have good health, but if we did not provide that as a Government, in many cases the private sector would step in. However, the private sector will never step in to defend this country. We have a duty to defend our country, and that is why, of all the Departments that should be ring-fenced, Defence is the one. There is no logic whatever in ring-fencing and encapsulating in law the 0.7% unless we do the same for defence. That is why I support the Bill wholeheartedly. If we do not get it through, that will send a very bad signal not just to all those constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach), but to our partners in NATO, our friends in America and many countries around the world that are looking to Britain to set an example in this crucial area.

11.16 am

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): My hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Mr Bellingham) was making a local point, and I start by making a local point. Last week I was at RAF Scampton in my constituency and I was tremendously honoured to be asked to present the long service awards signed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. There was his signature, on the award to those people who had given a lifetime of service—20 or 30 years—to the RAF. RAF Scampton is the home of the Dambusters, an historic RAF base.

I make that point because we should see defence not just in terms of numbers but in terms of its contribution to our society, and the contribution that the other RAF bases, Coningsby and Waddington, make to life in Lincolnshire. They are an integral part of Lincolnshire, and I very much hope that now that the air show is apparently moving from RAF Waddington, it can come to Scampton, and perhaps the battle of Britain memorial flight can come there.

It is important to emphasise that all over the country the armed forces are not just defending us from some threat that we cannot yet evaluate; they are here in our midst, contributing to the economy, the community and in many other ways.

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): Is not one of the contributions that the armed forces are making their investment in the lives of the young people in our cadet forces?

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Sir Edward Leigh: Absolutely. My youngest son has just left the air cadets after serving for five years. He adored it. In the heritage museum in RAF Scampton, there is Guy Gibson’s office and all that wonderful stuff and a room devoted to the air cadets, because this is taken extraordinarily seriously by the RAF and the other armed services. By the way, what an honour it was for me when I was visiting RAF Scampton a week or two ago that another visitor there was a veteran of the raid on the Tirpitz. Is that not extraordinary—this old man in a wheelchair who, all those years ago, had taken such appalling risks on behalf of our country?

Sir Gerald Howarth: My hon. Friend mentioned one of my great heroes, Wing Commander Guy Gibson, VC, Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar, Distinguished Service Order and Bar—an amazing man. He made the point in a book he wrote, “Enemy Coast Ahead”, that it was down not just to the pilots of the Royal Air Force, but to all the others who contributed—the maintenance crews, the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and all the rest of it. It was also down to technology. We had an edge because we had invested in radar and other forms of technology. Is there not a lesson from Guy Gibson to us today that if we do not invest heavily in technology in the future, we will not have the battle-winning technology we need to defeat any future enemy?

Sir Edward Leigh: Absolutely. We survived by the skin of our teeth in 1940. Incidentally, it is sometimes forgotten that when Guy Gibson was killed in his Mosquito over Holland in 1944 serving his country, he was already an adopted Conservative candidate for this place. What a wonderful MP he would have been, and what a loss he was to our nation with his untimely death.

Let me move on to the future, and this Bill, which I warmly support. In his magisterial opening, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) really delved down into the detail, which is desperately important. Like many hon. Friends, I am deeply concerned about the increasing tendency to ring-fence Government Departments. As a former Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, I believe that that is a bad way of running Government. Government—it does not matter whether it is health, education, international aid or defence—should be run by working out what you want to do, what you have to do, and what you can afford, and then having a negotiation with the Treasury on that basis.

We now have an extraordinary situation where the entire budget of the Foreign Office, which we must remember is absolutely critical to this country in terms of promoting trade and good relations, is now only twice that of our aid programme to Ethiopia. That is not a sensible way of running Government. It gives rise to all sorts of other stresses. Of course, I am as committed as anybody in this House to international aid. I have two daughters working in that sector. We all know the wonderful work that DFID is doing. However, it does not make sense to have an accounting procedure that results in DFID chasing after international aid agencies in Geneva at the end of the accounting year just to meet its 0.7% target. The International Development Secretary has said that trying to sort out her budget is like landing a helicopter on a moving handkerchief. When I put that analogy to my right hon. Friend the Member for New

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Forest East (Dr Lewis), he said, “Well, of course we just have to ensure that the aircraft carrier on which the helicopter lands is big enough.”

If we see the commitment to hit 2% as an accounting device, we are in a disastrous situation. In the Public Accounts Committee, we found time and again that there were fantastically complex and difficult cost and time overruns in MOD procurement programmes. I fear that in a desperate bid to meet its 2% target, using all the accounting mechanisms that my right hon. Friend mentioned, we could be skewing the whole procurement process in a very dangerous way. I take his point, and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth), that we must therefore see 2% as an “at least” target. That is in the Bill, and that is why I support it.

The Minister for Defence Procurement (Mr Philip Dunne): I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for giving the House the benefit of his experience as a former Chairman of the PAC. I was pleased to serve on his Committee for two years. He mentions defence procurement. Yesterday we published the fourth iteration of the annual equipment plan, in which we demonstrated, for the second year in succession, an improvement in the delivery of major projects on time and to budget. I hope he will have the opportunity to read that report and recognise the good progress that we have made over the past few years.

Sir Edward Leigh: I am grateful to the Minister. We have learned lessons from previous procurement programmes, and we are building in time overruns, which is a sensible thing to do so that the MOD is not embarrassed. We all pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who is doing sterling work in this area. Nobody doubts his commitment to what he is trying to achieve. I was not making any criticism of the work that he is doing or that the Government are doing. I am merely saying that in the long term, just as we have stresses and strains in the international development budget, we might get similar stresses and strains in the MOD budget, which is infinitely more complex. Perhaps we could bear that in mind.

Let me paint the picture, as my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) has done, of what is happening in Europe as a whole. We all know that for too long we have ridden on the coat tails of America. Since the 1990s and the end of the cold war, I am afraid that we have witnessed a radical downturn in the US military commitment on the European continent. That means that in order to make up the capability shortfall, European states must step up, but they are not stepping up; and that they must invest more, but they are not. By the way, it is extraordinary what is happening to the German defence budget. It is unbelievable how small its land army now is, for a great continental power. What is happening in the German military programme is very worrying. How extraordinary that a Conservative Member of Parliament should be saying that, given our history, but it is worrying.

NATO member states’ failure to meet the 2% minimum target exposes Europe to risks both known and unknown. Jan Techau of the Carnegie International Endowment for Peace has warned:

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“Since the end of the Cold War in 1990, overall defense spending among NATO members has been cut so significantly and so persistently that serious concerns have arisen about the alliance’s military readiness and its ability to keep credible its security guarantee to its member states.”

Yet, as we have heard, only a handful of countries are meeting the target. I asked my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East, who is an expert in these matters, who dreamed up the 2% target, and he thought it might have been George Robertson. Perhaps we can investigate that and the Minister will deal with it later. The target has proved very useful. It might be unscientific, but at least it is doing a good service in holding our feet to the fire, and those of other countries, and showing up exactly what is happening.

NATO’s experts estimate that four European countries have met the target: Greece, with 2.4%; Poland, with 2.2%; the United Kingdom—some have argued about this—with 2.1%; and Estonia, with a level 2%. We might be surprised that Greece, in the midst of economic turmoil, has the highest defence spending as a percentage of GDP, but the recent refugee crisis should help to remind us that it has a massive maritime patrol area as its responsibility. We have talked a lot about defence, but we have not mentioned migrants. There is a real role for NATO, and for our armed forces, including the Royal Navy, in dealing with migrants.

Kevin Foster: My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. He touches on the role of NATO and defence forces in relation to the migrant crisis. Does he agree that one of the important things about having the minimum floor in defence spending is having that capability, because of the flexibility it provides? As the First Sea Lord has said, the Royal Navy can go anywhere, without permission, on the global commons and provide options and capability for this nation.

Sir Edward Leigh: I am grateful for that intervention. At RAF Scampton I was told that the RAF is stretched to the limit, and so is the Royal Navy. There is a lot of focus on reductions in the Army, and my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham would like us to focus on that, but the real stresses are in the RAF and the Royal Navy.

Greece has been reticent in cutting personnel and finds it worthwhile, strangely enough, to maintain twice as many tanks as we do. Poland, meanwhile, is a front-line state that feels very keenly Russia’s increased assertiveness. It is replacing a great deal of outdated Warsaw pact equipment, and Estonia is doing likewise.

The United States is top of the NATO list, of course, with 3.6% of GDP committed to defence in 2015. Recent history attests that the US is in a period of hyperactive commitments all over the globe. It is no surprise, then, that despite the withdrawal from Europe, US defence spending as a percentage of GDP and in real terms is still high, especially in relation to other NATO states. There is no denying that the US is still the keystone of NATO, but there is a danger—we should not forget the lessons of history—of overestimating its willingness and capability to respond in common to a defence threat in Europe if it is engaged in large-scale operations elsewhere in the world.

President Obama’s pivot—that is their word, so I use it advisedly—towards Asia is indicative of an American trend away from valuing the European continent as a

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place where defence attention is required and where attention should be focused. Events may force that evaluation to change rapidly, but NATO member states in Europe will need to have the capability to handle conflict while awaiting the arrival of greater American participation.

We need to remember that fundamental lesson of history—the lesson of Suez. Although the US is mandated to come to the aid of NATO member states that are victims of external aggression, we may find ourselves in much more complex situations in which NATO member states are active in a conflict without the support of the United States. Indeed, we were active in a recent conflict in Libya without the active support of the United States on the ground.

The simple truth, of course, is that we do not know what the future holds. Imagine what the reaction would have been if we had told people in 1985 that in 20 years’ time Russia would have a thriving if unequal capitalist economy and that Russians would own most of the most expensive London properties, premier league football teams and even daily newspapers. They would have said that my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot and I were fantasists if we had argued that Russia would be in the position she is in today. More recently, the events of the Arab spring have challenged many of our assumptions about the middle east and north Africa while confirming others. It is incumbent on us, therefore, not only to uphold the 2% commitment but to set it as a minimum, not a target.

I recommend that Members read the recent Civitas report on defence acquisition, behind which my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) was a driving force. It states:

“The painful truth is that, on two per cent of GDP, we cannot maintain the kind of robust defence structure we did in the past, where we were able to organise and equip our armed forces; to match all potential competitors and to undertake all likely contingencies simultaneously; to support all our foreign policy objectives through influence and deterrence; and to cope with all the non-combat tasks they might be called upon to perform.”

That sums up the situation very well, and the report focuses on our actually meeting the 2% commitment.

The Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot is admirable in its simplicity. In fewer than 700 words, it lays out clear commitments, as well as simple oversight structures, to ensure that this country maintains, at the very least, its NATO target of 2% of GDP spending on defence.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in July that the United Kingdom will meet that target. I do not need to stress the point—my hon. Friend has dealt with it more than adequately—but it is not enough for the Chancellor to make that commitment, because we do not know what events will rock us in the future. Indeed, the Government are currently being rocked by a row about cutting tax credits. I understand what the Chancellor is doing in terms of addressing the budget and I do not want to argue about tax credits, but the political turmoil we are going through in order to cut them is going to save £5 billion, which is the exact sum by which we have increased the international aid budget. That is an interesting analogy. I suspect that the reason the Government were so reticent to make the 2% commitment to defence during and after the general election—we have had to wade through blood, in a sense, to get it—is that the

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defence budget is so much bigger and more complex than the international aid budget that the Chancellor is, quite rightly, desperately worried about how he is going to deal with the deficit. I do not blame him for that: it is his job and these are very complex and difficult issues.

The Bill simply provides clarification and a useful political tool for us to not only meet but exceed the target. It also requires the Government to explain their actions if they fail to meet that condition. I pray that the Bill is passed, because not only has it given us the opportunity to debate the issue, but it will allow us to scrutinise the Government on their primary commitment and most absolute function, which is the defence of the realm.

11.35 am

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): I shall be brief. I am sure that Members will be surprised to see me speaking in a defence debate. It is not a matter on which I would ordinarily presume to speak and I do so with some trepidation. I support the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth), but I do so from a different perspective from those of my right hon. and hon. Friends who have already contributed to the debate.

My first different perspective is that neither I nor any immediate members of my family have a military background, but I represent many members of the public who are increasingly concerned about the increasingly dangerous world around us, and who want to be absolutely reassured that our forces have the necessary resources to protect and defend us in this new world. That goes hand in hand with an increasing respect for the military among those of us who do not have that background. For that reason, I believe it is valid for me to contribute to this debate, even though my expertise is not equal to that of virtually every colleague who has spoken thus far. I represent a large number of concerned members of the public who, when they watch television at night and see what is happening around the globe, want to be reassured that the remarkable men and women in our forces are properly resourced to protect us and to promote global peace and stability.

Bob Stewart: My hon. Friend’s town of Congleton was a centre for an entire battalion of the Cheshire Regiment. It is still very powerful and I know that it supports her as well.

Fiona Bruce: I will not comment on my hon. Friend’s last remark, but the town very much supports the regiment. Indeed, every year soldiers from Holland visit Congleton to celebrate with our town the wonderful work many of them did when they were stationed there during the last war.

My second different perspective comes from being a member of the International Development Committee. I also sat on the Bill Committee that debated Michael Moore’s International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015. I very much wanted the 0.7% commitment to international aid to be enshrined in legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot also sat on that Committee, but he was on the other side of the argument. I am pleased to say, however, that we are on the same side today. I absolutely agree that if we can commit to a particular target for the overseas aid budget, why not do the same for defence? I also agree

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with my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) and others that 2% must be the minimum.

The International Development Committee visited New York last month for the announcement of the sustainable development goals, to which 193 countries have signed up. One of the new goals is to ensure that we keep the peace and provide good governance, the rule of law and sustainable institutions. Unlike the millennium development goals, which were far shorter and simpler, the SDGs require every country not only to endeavour to support the developing world in meeting them, but to commit to do so ourselves. As a country, we have now committed to ensuring that we will do what we can to promote global peace through the SDGs. We did so very publicly, with the Prime Minister and several other Ministers going over there to make that commitment. However, we need the capacity and resources to ensure that we can do so and that we can, when crises occur, ensure that stability, security and peace are promoted.

That is very much my perspective when I say that our forces must be properly resourced to keep the peace. When crises occur and other institutions lack the necessary resources and expertise to tackle potentially devastating problems, it is often British armed forces who step in. I am not seeking to take away from all the other essential roles our forces play with their defence capabilities, on which other hon. Members have much greater expertise, but want to talk instead about the remarkable role that British forces play in promoting peace and containing crises that would otherwise lead to severe instability.

The Ebola crisis last year, particularly in Sierra Leone, was absolutely devastating, but it would have been far worse without the 800 UK military personnel who were sent to west Africa. Military engineers built six treatment centres, each of which had 100 beds. The UK naval ship RFA Argus anchored at Freetown, acting as a base for helicopters to distribute aid and supplies.

When the International Development Committee was in New York last month for the announcement of the SDGs, we met Dr David Nabarro, the UN Secretary-General’s special envoy on Ebola. He told us that last September, when the speed of the epidemic suddenly became clear, the UK provided immediate, strong political leadership. The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the International Development Secretary all said together, in effect, “Count on us.” But it was our military that enabled them to translate that political commitment into immediate and very effective action, saving countless lives. I made a careful note of what Dr David Nabarro said:

“My abiding memory of tackling Ebola in Sierra Leone at an early stage were the district Ebola response centres—the DERCs—run by UK Army officers.”

He continued that the UK “wins the prize” on military support:

“The big prizes go to the young Army officers in district offices using management disciplines to bring everyone around the table.”

Without that, he said that

“the epidemic would have been far worse.”

He told us:

“The very presence of RFA Argus in the port of Freetown projected an important symbol of solidarity and stability which helped the capital remain calm.”

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We cannot be complacent because, time and again, global health experts tell the International Development Committee that there is likely to be a similar and possibly worse global health crisis within the next 30 years. Unless our forces have the capacity to deal with such situations, the world will be a far less stable place. Unless they have that capacity, we will not be able to reassure our people not only that the defence of this country is provided by the Government as a priority, but that so is the global peace to which the Government are committed as part of the SDGs. However, in speaking about that, I do not want to take anything away from all the other aspects of the work that our forces do so expertly.

In closing, I want to give another example of the remarkable impact of our servicemen. I was a member of the International Development Committee when we went to Nepal just before the terrible earthquake disasters, with which our Gurkha regiment officers and retired Gurkha officers helped out. I want to tell the House about the work that a young serving engineer in the Gurkha regiment oversaw in Nepal. The Gurkha welfare scheme looks after retired Gurkhas in Nepal quite remarkably.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. Perhaps I can help the hon. Lady. The Bill is about NATO. I understand that great efforts were made by the Royal Army Medical Corps on Ebola and everything else, but we are debating the funding of NATO. I have been very lenient, but if she could just come round to funding that would be helpful.

Fiona Bruce: I will conclude by saying that some remarkable work was carried out in Nepal to provide the water supply for an entire village, at a cost of just £18,000, and it was overseen, with his engineering skills, by that young Army officer. I support the Bill because I believe that it is an essential key to promoting global peace, stability and security, to which our country and 192 other countries have signed up with the SDGs.

11.45 am

Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con): It is a pleasure to support the Bill. I welcome the fact that it has been brought forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth).

It is safe to say that I am probably only here because of the Royal Navy. In 1944, Philip and Dorothy Foster—both RN—met in a galley. He was in charge of the stewards and she was in charge of the Wrens in the kitchen. They both had a view on how the galley could perform better and they each blamed the other. Hon. Members can imagine what followed.

To know why the Bill is so important, we need think only about what we see when we are out and about as members of the armed forces parliamentary scheme, meeting many people in the Navy and looking at what they are delivering. I will stick with the Navy, because I am with that service, although the Royal Air Force and the Army also provide such a valuable role. As my grandfather would have said, however, I know which is the senior of the three services.

This is about defending and protecting our nation from all threats, not just military ones. The crew of HMS Iron Duke have been out in the Baltic to deal with

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a more traditional threat, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) has said, others went out to fight Ebola, a virus that would have threatened lives in this country had it been allowed to spread. That is key: it was as much about saving lives here as about saving lives out in Africa. Had it become a pandemic, it would have reached this country. We could not keep out the black death in the middle ages, and we would not have kept out Ebola in the interconnected 21st-century world.

The Bill is about providing a basic level of support—a floor—in spending as an insurance policy. Why should that be put into law? In the past, I would have emphasised the view that it is for the Chancellor in each Parliament to set out the spending commitments and plans, and to put forward Budgets for approval by the House. The Act to enshrine the international aid commitment has changed my view. For the first time, the commitment of a specific part of GNI—in this case, it is of GDP—was enshrined in law. Now that such a precedent has been set, it is right to put into law one of our other key international pledges, the 2% of GDP on defence.

How we spend the 2% is key—nobody is arguing that it should be wasted or put into inefficient projects—but at 2% of GDP, given some of the historical spending figures that have been cited, we are hardly being spendthrift. It is vital to keep a minimum capability to be able to act. That should be not just through our nuclear deterrent, which we regularly talk about, but, as I said in an intervention, through the conventional deterrent that NATO needs to provide.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) spoke about the German defence budget. Fundamentally, having a bulwark of conventional forces that can be rapidly expanded at a time of crisis is as much a part of NATO’s article 5 deterrence as is the threat of nuclear retaliation if an aggressor state uses weapons of mass destruction against any NATO member. For me, the Bill is about that.

The Bill is also about encouraging our allies by enshrining the commitment in legislation. A country cannot have the Rolls-Royce insurance policy of article 5 mutual self-defence if its budget is that of an old banger. Some countries are building such a capability, but others need to do the same, not least the larger European countries such as Germany and Italy. I would join my hon. Friend in saying that for Germany—a modern, democratic Germany, committed to human rights—to have a capable and effective military is as key a part of keeping security and stability and deterring potential threats to our allies as it is for the United States and the United Kingdom. We obviously had a few differences in history, but we need to look at the future threats, not reminisce about the past.

Putting the target into legislation will secure us against future Governments who do not have the same priorities as we have today. I believe that the current Chancellor and Prime Minister are committed to meeting the target of spending a minimum of 2% of GDP on defence, in accordance with the NATO standard, but imagine if we had a Prime Minister who took the following view:

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every politician around the world, instead of taking pride in the size of their armed forces…abolished their army and took pride in the fact they don’t have an army… That is the way we should be going forward.”

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I do not think that the British people are very likely to elect to that role someone who believes that, but it is important to have a bulwark to ensure our ongoing capability. The NATO alliance is based on knowing that the allies that would come to one’s rescue will have their capabilities for 10, 15 or 20 years, not just for the lifetime of one Government.

As I said in a couple of interventions, I do not accept the argument that there is a conflict between our 0.7% commitment on international aid and our 2% commitment on defence. Our expenditure is about providing a military capability that gives this House and our Government—in particular the Prime Minister, who exercises the royal prerogative—choices when faced with situations. The choice could be to exercise lethal force to take out a threat to this country’s security in a lawless area where the application of international law or a request for extradition would be an almost meaningless gesture, as occurred recently.

The choice could also be to provide unarmed assistance, as in Operation Gritrock, which has been mentioned, thereby using the ability of the military to go anywhere, to deploy and to deliver a capability for a humanitarian end. That could be setting up a field hospital, providing medicine or providing people who are skilled and trained in dealing with biological and chemical warfare agents, whose skills are eminently applicable when a major illness or disease breaks out. As has been said, the military can deliver soft power as well as the hard power that we traditionally assume it will use.

The example that I always give is HMS Ocean, which I have visited. It can be viewed as an amphibious helicopter landing platform. I recently saw it used as part of the Wader exercise, which involved deploying marines and planning a beach raid. It can also be seen as a hospital, a place that can feed thousands of people in an hour and a place that can provide infrastructure for a country that has just had its infrastructure shattered by an earthquake or other natural disaster. It is still the same capability and the same money is being spent.

Sir Gerald Howarth: HMS Ocean serves a further purpose. It provides a magnificent backdrop for signing a treaty with Brazil, which I was privileged to do as a Minister.

Kevin Foster: Indeed, our Navy has always been part of our diplomatic missions across the seas. It has provided a platform not just for war fighting but for trade and diplomacy. It has literally flown our flag for all purposes, not just the traditional purpose of deterrence. Plenty of treaties have been signed on board our ships in the past, and hopefully plenty more will be signed in the coming years.

It is appropriate to commit to the target in the Bill because we do not know exactly what the future threats will be. Two hundred and ten years ago, our predecessors in this House were still awaiting the news of Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar, because HMS Pickle was still on its way to Falmouth. The threats we face today would have been unimaginable at that time. For me, this is about making sure that we have a minimum expenditure on capability enshrined in law, so that whatever threat comes along over the next 20 to 30 years we have armed forces that are able to respond to it in their current form or able to expand, as they did in the great crises of 1939 and 1914 to meet a new aggressive threat. At the core of

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those forces must be professionals who have been in the military for many years and can take their skills with them into an expanded military.

I believe that this is the right step to take. It is certainly one that many of our constituents wish us to take. If we had not put into law one international target, I would accept the argument that we should not put such targets into our national law, but the precedent has been set. It is therefore time to put this target into our law and send a similarly powerful message to other countries about our commitment to the north Atlantic alliance as that which we have sent about our commitment to the UN’s development goals. I might have accepted the arguments about relevance and so forth, but they were all dealt with in the consideration of the other Bill.

As has been said, NATO has now expanded to 26 members, and it is vital—

Bob Stewart: Twenty-eight.

Kevin Foster: I happily stand corrected by my hon. and gallant Friend.

This House needs to send a clear message to all the other members that we expect them to play their role in the alliance and not just rely, as has traditionally happened, on the United States to fund the majority of NATO’s capability. As we approach a presidential election next year in which it appears domestic issues will again be the greatest priority in US public debate, it would be naive at best to continue to believe that the US will not take the opportunity to ask Europe to pay for its own defence. Hence, it is important that we, as one of the key European powers, set this benchmark into our law and give it a more permanent basis.

In conclusion, it has been a pleasure to listen to so many colleagues in this debate. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say. I pay tribute to the improvements in the spending of our money in the area of defence procurement. Hopefully, we will see massive new capabilities coming on stream with projects such as the Type 26. The Bill is not about being spendthrift on defence or about spending money on things that we do not need. It is right to make sure that our procurement is accurate. We do not want another situation like the Type 45 project, where a £6 billion budget for 12 destroyers became a £6 billion budget for six. That is not a situation that anyone in this House wants.

With the new carriers coming on stream, the new Astute class submarine being available for deployment and the new kit across our armed forces, I think we will have capable and effective armed forces into the future, but we need to give them certainty over future funding. That is why it is right that the Government made the pledge that they did and why it is right that this House puts into law the minimum we will spend for the long term, making it much harder for any future Government to change it on a whim. I do not believe that this Government will, but there is always a chance that others will.

It is right that we take a leading role in NATO, it is right that the Government are committed to the target and it is right for us to give the Bill its Second Reading.

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11.58 am

Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on Second Reading and to respond to the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth), who is renowned for highlighting the importance of our security. I thank him for his kind words to me today.

There have been many excellent contributions to this debate. The right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) made a plea for a 3% minimum underpinning and highlighted the challenges of accounting across Departments. The hon. and gallant Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) highlighted the inequality in defence spending across different European nations and in comparison with the US. The hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) warned of the risks of making further cuts to defence and supported the case for a 2% target. The hon. Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) spoke about the wider benefits that we receive from our military and looked, in particular, at the investment in skills that is part of that 2% spend.

The hon. Member for North West Norfolk (Mr Bellingham) talked about the vital role our forces play in our community. As the Member for York Central, with Imphal barracks in my constituency, I concur with those comments. I recognise the huge contribution that the barracks make to my community.

The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) made a broad contribution. He warned about the accounting challenges for Departments and talked about the changing spend across Europe, particularly in Germany. He also reflected on the wider contribution of our servicemen and servicewomen in humanitarian efforts, and he particularly drew attention to the humanitarian challenges that we currently face with the immigration and refugee situation.

The hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) brought to the debate her growing experience and her respect for the forces. She particularly reflected on the 0.7% of GDP commitment for the international aid budget, and she highlighted the important role that our service personnel play in humanitarian work, particularly the 800 service personnel who supported those affected by the Ebola crisis in Africa. We pay tribute to them.

Finally, we heard from the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), who reflected on his experience in the armed forces parliamentary scheme.

It is a huge privilege to highlight the importance that the Labour party places on our national security and our role in safeguarding the wider world. We live in an ever complex and challenging international landscape, in which our service personnel selflessly give of themselves to keep us safe. Today we have been reminded of new threats such as cyber-threats, which we have seen over the past 24 hours, and we have heard about the expanding spend on the defence capability of China, with which we have struck a deal on nuclear power this week. Clearly, the Labour party would place a question mark on that.

Jeremy Quin (Horsham) (Con): Given what the hon. Lady is saying about all the threats that this country faces, is giving up the nuclear deterrent really the best way forward?

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Rachael Maskell: I will come on to our defence strategy later in my contribution.

The first duty of any Government is to ensure that we have the capacity and capability to defend ourselves against current and future threats, while ensuring that every precaution is taken to safeguard those who put themselves in danger for our security. The Opposition are determined to scrutinise each decision the Government take and ensure that there is a modern and strategic plan to maximise our security.

As the party in power, Labour consistently spent well above the minimum 2% NATO target, and we therefore embrace the principle that the Bill is intended to achieve. In 2006 NATO recognised the sharp decline of an average of 10% in many of its European members’ defence budgets, but we have witnessed an even sharper decline in the UK, with the Conservative-led Government cutting the defence budget by 18% between 2009-10 and 2014-15. We can thank the current Administration, and the previous Conservative-led Administration, for the scepticism about our defence budget. Because of such actions by the last Government, and by other European countries, an agreement was made through NATO that Governments should commit to apportioning 2% of their GDP to defence spending. Under a Labour Government in 2006, Britain was recognised as the largest NATO contributor of its GDP to defence outside the US.

At the September 2014 summit in Wales, progress had not been made, so the nations again embraced the 2020 minimum target of 2% with renewed commitment, although it must be noted that no nation has enshrined that target in its domestic law. In fact, academics have been quite critical of the 2% target, as it does not commit to how much investment should be hypothecated, for instance, for research and development to provide cutting-edge technology. Even with a 2% spend, the proportion of national defence spending does not necessarily align with the capability that a nation is willing to deploy and how relevant its equipment is to the challenges faced in any particular operation.

I am sure that a further air of scepticism has developed among Members, because if a statutory 2% of GDP is apportioned to defence, we know that it will be met, even if that happens through creative cross-departmental definitions involving wider security. As the NATO report on financial and economic data highlights, and as we have heard in the debate, the UK is projected to spend 2.08% of GDP on defence this financial year. However, when measured against the NATO determinants, spend sits at 1.97%, and that is before accounting for the £500 million cut to the MOD announced on 4 June. So let us be clear: Labour Governments deliver on the minimum 2% target, and it is only since 2010 that the target has been put at risk. Indeed, it is at risk this year.

Stretching definitions to wider defence and security interests does not make our shores safer. Not putting the 2% into statute enables a more honest assessment of our capability and spend. I mention both capability and spend because output is more significant to Labour Members than input. To give an example, £800 million is being spent on military pensions, which the Government have now classified as defence spending. Spending on the single intelligence account, from which MI5, MI6 and GCHQ derive their funding, has also now appeared

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within the Government’s 2% classification, and today we have heard that up to £1.4 billion has been added from other budgets.

Labour is determined that the Government’s defence spending should become not just a smoke-and-mirrors exercise to justify a target, as has happened with so many targets, but that it should reflect a serious commitment to safeguard our security. After the last strategic defence and security review, we were left with aircraft carriers without aircraft, and the UK was left without any maritime patrol capabilities. Shamefully, serving personnel were left without the most up-to-date equipment.

Antoinette Sandbach: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Rachael Maskell: I am going to continue at this time.

Even this week, we heard in Defence questions about how old equipment, not the most up-to-date, is being used for training. Not only do such decisions seriously shrink our capability in proportion to spend, they also create risk. There is clear nervousness among the Government’s own Back Benchers, which is why they want to tie the hands of their Front Benchers today so that that can never happen again.

Labour Members can therefore understand the concerns that have been raised throughout the House as a result of the last strategic defence and security review, which was neither strategic nor sought to maximise our security. The huge scale of the cuts driven by the Chancellor since 2010 has placed ideology ahead of our national security. Labour is taking a different approach to defence spending. We have already announced that we will carry out a strategic review of our security, which will be evidence-led to ensure that our nation is safe and that we secure strong global partners in defending those at risk and creating a safer world.

Sir Edward Leigh: Will Labour vote against Trident?

Rachael Maskell: I do not want to repeat myself for the hon. Gentleman, but I have just said that we are leading an evidence-led strategic security review, and obviously we will have to see the findings.

Labour has a proud history on these matters. We need only look to the record of the Labour Government’s last term, when we spent an average of 2.4% of GDP each year, compared with the little over 2% predicted for this year, which includes wider spending commitments beyond those strictly defined as defence. That is a worrying trend. With NATO having been founded under that great Labour Government led by Major Attlee, our party is committed to the principle of spending a minimum of 2% on defence so that we have the modern capabilities we need to secure our nation’s future.

12.9 pm

The Minister for Defence Procurement (Mr Philip Dunne): It is a great pleasure to conclude this debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth)—a predecessor in my Department—on his commitment to defence. That commitment is well known not just in this House but to every citizen of Aldershot, whether they vote for him or not, and not least by the Royal Air Force, with which he spends a great deal of his time outside this Chamber. His commitment is much appreciated by all those who come across him.

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My hon. Friend’s commitment to this Bill is in no doubt, and although the Government may have issues about legislating for such a commitment, we have none whatever with the intent to ensure that the country makes a full contribution to meeting our NATO pledges. Having secured such an elevated status in the ballot for private Members’ Bills, he chose defence as his topic, and we all owe him a debt of gratitude for the opportunity to hold this debate, even if we are not all in wholehearted agreement with the precise wording of his Bill—despite that, most of the people who have spoken thus far would appear to be.

The Government fully support the objective of spending 2% of GDP on defence and we are delivering on that, but I have some reservations that I will set out in my remarks. My hon. Friend’s desire to legislate for Government spending on defence to constitute no less than 2% of gross domestic product is founded on admirable intent, and reflects a sense of the absolute importance that we place on that guideline. It is yet another reminder of the Chancellor’s announcement in the July Budget that we will not only meet the NATO guideline to spend 2% of GDP on defence this year, but we will meet it each year for the rest of this Parliament.

In July the Chancellor also confirmed that our budget will rise by 0.5% above inflation until 2021, and that up to £1.5 billion will be made available by the end of this Parliament for the armed forces and the security and intelligence agencies to bid into. Those combinations, which I will touch on later, make us confident that we will meet the 2% target, which some hon. Members have questioned.

Sir Gerald Howarth: On the joint security fund, will the Minister explain how we get to £1.5 billion? Will there be a progressive increase, and what does he anticipate the bidding process will be?

Mr Dunne: My hon. Friend tempts me to venture into the inner workings of the comprehensive spending review that is being conducted by my hon. Friends in the Treasury, but he will not have too long to wait before we get a proper and comprehensive answer to his question. The profiling and allocation of the fund will be determined through the spending review and the strategic defence and security review, and all will be revealed before the end of the year. I am sure that he will scrutinise it with considerable interest.

Let me look briefly back in history and remind hon. Members about the origins of the 2% GDP guideline, which was a question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh). The target was first found in NATO resource guidance during the cold war, and it underlined the political and military need

“to improve NATO’s conventional defence capabilities in relation to those of the Warsaw Pact in order to narrow the gap and reduce dependence on the early recourse to nuclear weapons.”

It stressed:

“Those nations which have not met it in the past should make every effort to do so in the future.”

When that ambition was set, the reasons for the guidance were self-evident. I am not the oldest Member in the Chamber. I was born in 1958, and that frames my recollections of the later stages of the cold war in the

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1970s and 1980s. One or two Members might be able to go back a decade before that, but very few—with the possible exception of the Leader of the Opposition—could go back to the origins of the cold war in the 1950s. Those who lived through those dark times have not forgotten what it was like, with armies of the east and west facing off against each other, and the ever-present fear of not just conventional war, but a potential nuclear attack.

After the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and the downfall of the Soviet Union, attitudes to defence spending changed. Nations—including this one—spoke of a peace dividend, and chose to channel defence spending into social programmes rather than military hardware. Yet more recently, nations have begun to redress that position. In 2006 the then United States Ambassador to NATO, Victoria Nuland, referred to 2% as the “unofficial floor” on defence spending in NATO. One month later at the NATO summit in Riga, further comprehensive political guidance helped to redefine the role of the alliance, and 2% became a genuine aspiration. Despite that, the likelihood of reversing the downward trajectory of defence spending seemed remote until last year when, at the NATO summit in Wales, and as we faced the greatest crises since the end of the cold war, nations finally agreed to raise the profile of the 2% pledge to make it meaningful.

I am sure that Conservative Members at least will remember the Prime Minister standing shoulder to shoulder with President Obama at Celtic Manor in Wales last year, urging all 28 nations to step up to the plate, and signing a landmark declaration. It might be helpful to the House if I remind hon. Members of exactly what was said—I hope that you will indulge a longish quote, Madam Deputy Speaker. It was declared:

“We agree to reverse the trend of declining defence budgets, to make the most effective use of our funds and to further a more balanced sharing of costs and responsibilities. Our overall security and defence depend both on how much we spend and how we spend it. Increased investments should be directed towards meeting our capability priorities, and Allies also need to display the political will to provide required capabilities and deploy forces when they are needed. A strong defence industry across the Alliance, including a stronger defence industry in Europe…and across the Atlantic, remains essential for delivering the required capabilities. NATO and EU efforts to strengthen defence capabilities are complementary. Taking current commitments into account, we are guided by the following considerations: