All Commons Debates, Defence Expenditure (NATO Target) Bill

Second Reading

Gerald Howarth Conservative, Aldershot 9:34 am, 23rd October 2015
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham
Chocks away!

Gerald Howarth Conservative, Aldershot
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

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.

Greg Knight Conservative, East Yorkshire
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.

Gerald Howarth Conservative, Aldershot
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 Conservative, Beckenham
On my hon. Friend’s comment about China and cyber-warfare, I am sure he knows as well as I do

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.

Gerald Howarth Conservative, Aldershot
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.

Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch
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.

Gerald Howarth Conservative, Aldershot
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.

Cheryl Gillan Conservative, Chesham and Amersham
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?

Gerald Howarth Conservative, Aldershot
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 its defence spending and, accordingly, its capability. I am very grateful to her for making that point.

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.

Julian Lewis Chair, Defence Committee
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.

Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons
Order. I think the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) is pleading for terminological exactitude.

Gerald Howarth Conservative, Aldershot
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

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.

[…]

Gerald Howarth Conservative, Aldershot
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,

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.

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

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.

[…]

Kevin Foster Conservative, Torbay
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 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 Conservative, Romford
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.

Antoinette Sandbach Conservative, Eddisbury 10:59 am, 23rd October 2015
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 Conservative, Beckenham
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 Conservative, Eddisbury
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 not only in protecting 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.

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 Conservative, Torbay
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 Conservative, Eddisbury
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.

Henry Bellingham Conservative, North West Norfolk 11:04 pm, 23rd October 2015
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 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.

[…]

Kevin Foster Conservative, Torbay 11:45 am, 23rd October 2015
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 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.”

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.

Gerald Howarth Conservative, Aldershot
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 Conservative, Torbay
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 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 Conservative, Beckenham
Twenty-eight.

Kevin Foster Conservative, Torbay
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.

Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Defence) 11:58 am, 23rd October 2015
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 Conservative, Horsham
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?

Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Defence)
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 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 Conservative, Eddisbury
Will the hon. Lady give way?

Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Defence)
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.

Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Commission
Will Labour vote against Trident?

Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Defence)
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.

Philip Dunne Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Defence Procurement) 12:09 pm, 23rd October 2015
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.

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.

Gerald Howarth Conservative, Aldershot
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?

Philip Dunne Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Defence Procurement)
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 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:

Allies currently meeting the NATO guideline to spend a minimum of 2% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on defence will aim to continue to do so. Likewise, Allies spending more than 20% of their defence budgets on major equipment, including related Research & Development, will continue to do so…Allies whose current proportion of GDP spent on defence is below this level will halt any decline in defence expenditure; aim to increase defence expenditure in real terms as GDP grows; aim to move towards the 2% guideline within a decade with a view to meeting their NATO Capability Targets and filling NATO’s capability shortfalls

Allies who currently spend less than 20% of their annual defence spending on major new equipment, including related Research & Development, will aim, within a decade, to increase their annual investments to 20% or more of total defence expenditures. All Allies will ensure that their land, air and maritime forces meet NATO agreed guidelines for deployability and sustainability and other agreed output metrics and ensure that their armed forces can operate together effectively, including through the implementation of agreed NATO standards and doctrines…Allies will review national progress annually, and that will be discussed at future defence ministerial meetings and reviewed by heads of state and government at future summits.”

Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Commission
Will the Minister comment on the German problem? Germany is a massive political and economic power in Europe and a lot of us are very concerned about what has happened to its defence budget.

Philip Dunne Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Defence Procurement)
We have a close and growing defence relationship with Germany. I would anticipate that, as part of the SDSR, we will see an increasing strand of activity, looking to work in a more interoperable way with German armed forces and to bring them into more of our alliances, and bilateral and multilateral relationships within NATO. We are certainly doing what we can to encourage our friends in Germany to play their part.

Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Commission
That is all fine, but I just wonder what discussions are going on. Is there any chance of Germany meeting this target?

Philip Dunne Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Defence Procurement)
I will come on to the targets shortly, if I may, in relation to individual nations. The point is that we are increasingly recognising a need to engage with the German military to bring it more into line with operations training and other defence needs.

The reason for reading out such an extensive quote from last year’s NATO summit is to emphasise the importance of the words included in that statement. They are at the heart of the alliance. The commitment to an annual review of investment pledges by Heads of Government was new and is significant. It helps, for the purposes of this debate, to ensure that there is no doubt whatever about why our 2% spending commitment matters. That is what I shall go on now to address. There are three principal strands.

First, it will give the UK the capability we need to face the dangers ahead. It is no secret that our national security strategy will confirm that we are living in a darker, more dangerous world. That has been referred to by many hon. Members, not least by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot in opening this debate. We have seen other nations upping their spending and, as we have also heard from Members today, upgrading their capability.

Russia has continued to modernise its military capability, bringing in new missile systems, aircraft, submarines and surface vessels, and armoured vehicles. As President Putin regularly reminds us, it is also upgrading its nuclear capability, preparing to deploy a variety of land-based intercontinental ballistic missile classes, planning to reintroduce rail-based intercontinental missiles, and commissioning a new Dolgoruky class of eight SSBN vessels.

I am sure hon. Members will be interested, if they are not already well aware, to know that this class of vessel is named after the Russian medieval founder of Moscow, Yuri Dolgoruky. Dolgoruky, my friends, literally means “long arms”, a rather sombre metaphor for President Putin’s ambitions to extend Russia’s military reach around the world.

This new military capability and assertiveness, as most recently seen in Ukraine and Syria, must inform our national security risk assessment that we are undertaking as a precursor to the SDSR. It also underlines the arguments in support of our decision to press ahead with the Successor replacement for our own Vanguard class strategic deterrent—on which more later.

I note the comments from the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) that the Opposition are undertaking a strategic review of defence. I urge them to do that as swiftly as they can, so that they will have made their mind up by the time of the decision.

Julian Lewis Chair, Defence Committee
I am a little surprised at the vagueness of the Opposition today. I thought the position was absolutely clear—namely, that the Opposition are committed to continuous at-sea deterrence and the continuation of Trident under the Successor programme, because that was the position adopted by the Labour party and endorsed by its recent conference. The decision was taken not to change the policy. If a free vote is necessary for the Opposition, it will be the Leader of the Opposition who has to take advantage of it, not the people who believe in Trident.

Philip Dunne Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Defence Procurement)
My right hon. Friend has highlighted one of perhaps a number of apparent inconsistencies between certain leading members of the Opposition and those on their current Front Bench. I do not want to prey on the misery of the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell). I should have started by welcoming her to her position. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] This is her second appearance in the Chamber this week in her new role as a Defence Minister. She is doing an admirable job, if I may say so, completely unsupported as she is in this debate by a single colleague. That speaks volumes for the interest the Opposition parties en bloc take in defence. I do not want to put her under any more pressure than my right hon. Friend has done. It is really for her to decide whether she wants to intervene to clarify the position. I would be very happy to take such an intervention, but I would not be surprised if she chose not to make one at this particular moment.

Moving beyond Russia, our friends from China are here in the UK today. They are already the world’s second-highest military spenders, with the world’s largest standing army. The Chinese are investing in hi-tech equipment, such as submarines and stealth jets, and upgrading their naval forces, including their first aircraft carrier.

Russia and China are far from the last of the big spenders in defence around the world. India has announced a core defence budget of $41 billion for this fiscal year. Perhaps most understandably, South Korea plans to increase its defence budget sharply next year, with its ministry of national defence requesting a budget of $36 billion to bolster its combat power at the border with North Korea and to increase funding for anti-submarine warfare systems. Some of this increasing international commitment to defence spending brings with it opportunity. Where we can develop greater interoperability of equipment and capability with our partners and allies, we will seek to do so.

If we look at the emerging international picture, it helps to crystallise our need to stay competitive and keep ahead of the curve. That is why we have spent the past few years transforming defence, eliminating the black hole in our finances and turning our procurement arm, Defence Equipment and Support, into a bespoke trading organisation that is able to operate along more commercial lines with an agreed operating cost and more business-like relationship with industry. The reason we are doing this is to meet some of the challenges that have been posed by hon. Members in their remarks. If we are going to have a growing defence budget, we need to make sure we spend it wisely.

The reforms we have enacted so far have allowed us to put in place the £166 billion 10-year equipment plan I referenced earlier in my intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough. I commend it to the House. It was published yesterday and I have a copy here. It is a relatively easy read and has some helpful pictures to encourage hon. Members to get through the document readily. It provides us with a plan for the future to spend our growing budget, in particular our commitment on new equipment. We will do so meeting our NATO pledge throughout this Parliament.

This new financial rigour allows us to get far more bang for our buck by procuring more efficiently. Yesterday, alongside our equipment plan, the public spending watchdog, the National Audit Office, published its independent audit of our major projects and the equipment plan. It found that the cost of the Department’s 13 largest equipment programmes fell by £247 million last year. With the exception of one additional requirement to refuel a Vanguard class submarine, we brought the delivery-on-time performance for those 13 major projects down to an in-year increase of only eight months. If I may take a moment, I would like to contrast that with the performance highlighted by the NAO’s 2009 report, the last full year of the previous Labour Government, where the in-year delivery performance was on aggregate 93 months out of time. In real terms and in real English, that is around eight years. We have brought that down to eight months, which I think is the most graphic illustration I can provide of how we are transforming defence acquisition—an issue raised by several of my hon. Friends.

When we introduced the equipment plan, it was characterised as “hopeful” by the then shadow Defence team in that it was based on a number of assumptions. We have been publishing the plan and getting it reviewed by the National Audit Office each year, so the assumptions we have made each year are being assessed. I am pleased to say that in each of the four years, greater confidence has been gained in the assumptions being made. The proposals in this particular document have been described as more stable than in any of the previous years. The NAO believes that we are set to remain “affordable” for the rest of the Parliament under current conditions.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough will appreciate as former Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee—he had some of the closest dealings with the NAO—it is rare to receive praise from the NAO. For that office to declare a programme as “stable” is about as close as one can get to a positive red star. We are very pleased with the report. Perhaps a gold star is more appropriate in the school context.

Let me now touch on the capability that we will be able to call on as a result of our reforms. Some programmes have already been referenced by hon. Members. Of course, one of the largest programmes currently in build is the construction of the two Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers, each 68,000 tonnes—the most powerful ships ever built in this country. Earlier this month, I was privileged to visit BAE Systems shipyard in Govan on the Clyde and see the latest blocks of HMS Prince of

Wales before they were barged to Rosyth to be assembled. Shortly after I was there, the largest single block—over 11,000 tonnes—sent round to Rosyth was attached to the existing dry dock, and the process was described as “skidding”, whereby a block on a barge is gently moved into place. This was the largest such move of a block of shipbuilding anywhere in Europe ever. It happened successfully and to within the tolerance of 3 mm that it was working towards, which is an astonishing feat of engineering by any standards.

While I was in Scotland, I had the distinct privilege of cutting steel for the first time on HMS Trent, the third of our offshore patrol vessels, the latest class that we are commissioning for the Royal Navy. These projects are, in turn, securing the skills required to build the Type 26 global combat ship, which is another example of our investment in the Royal Navy. It will be one of the most significant programmes undertaken during this Parliament.

Julian Lewis Chair, Defence Committee
Given that the Minister mentions the Type 26, which I would loosely describe as a replacement frigate, will he take this opportunity to confirm, now that we have just the six Type 45 destroyers, that there is no question of going below the total of 13 Type 26 frigates, thus keeping our total of frigates and destroyers at 19—itself a huge reduction from the 35 we had in 1997?

Philip Dunne Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Defence Procurement)
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing the chairmanship of the Select Committee. I have no doubt that he will press Ministers on many programmatic issues. What I am afraid I cannot be tempted into doing is to pre-empt the conclusion from the SDSR, which will reach its conclusions, as I have said, before the end of the year. What I can tell my right hon. Friend about the approach to the SDSR is that any programmes not committed before the start of the process are on the table for review and consideration of allocation of spending in accordance with other programmes. I am not going to be drawn on what that means for Type 26 in particular, but as I have said, this is going to be one of the biggest programmes we have for the rest of this Parliament.

Julian Lewis Chair, Defence Committee
Do I therefore understand that when the SDSR comes out, we will know for certain that there will be no reduction from the total of 13 Type 26s?

Philip Dunne Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Defence Procurement)
I think all I can do is to encourage my right hon. Friend to read the SDSR carefully when it comes out, so that he can draw whatever conclusions he can.

Moving beyond the Navy for a moment, flying from the aircraft carriers will be the F-35B Lightning II Strike Fighters, which have stealth built into their DNA. Their advanced systems give pilots enhanced network connectivity, allowing them to send real-time information untainted and unseen by others from the battlefield to the back office, up to Ministers and back again if necessary to prosecute decisions.

Last month at the defence and security equipment international exhibition, we saw what is going to happen on the land front, but before I move on to land, I believe my right hon. Friend was fortunate enough to visit the showcase that took place when Parliament was in the conference recess and the F-35 cockpit simulator was here in London. He has indicated that this was an outstandingly good event and worthwhile experience, which unfortunately many hon. Members were unable to share because the House was not sitting at the time. I think he may have an observation to make on that.

Julian Lewis Chair, Defence Committee
I was not intending to intervene, but I cannot resist an invitation like that. This was an outstandingly good event. I am hoping that it may be possible to bring the same presentation—not only the cockpit simulation of the Lightning II, but the presentations by the representatives of many of the firms involved in the supply chain—to illustrate to hon. Members that hard power has economic value, as Lord Sterling is always trying to tell us in the other place.

Philip Dunne Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Defence Procurement)
I am grateful for that suggestion, and will happily take it up with Lockheed Martin, who I believe organised the event, to establish whether it would be willing to repeat it. On the issue of prosperity, I can give my right hon. Friend another sneak preview ahead of publication of the SDSR, in that there is likely to be a theme coursing through that document of how much defence contributes to our economy and the nation’s prosperity.

Gerald Howarth Conservative, Aldershot
I would like to endorse what my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) said about the F-35 cockpit simulator. I had a chance as a pilot to have a look at it, and I have to say that it was extremely impressive. I agree that that should be made available to more Members because this is going to be a very important programme in the Royal Air Force agenda and in the defence of the United Kingdom.

Philip Dunne Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Defence Procurement)
I am grateful for that endorsement. I completely agree with my right hon. and hon. Friends that the UK as a tier 1 partner has a unique role to play in the development of this programme over decades to come. It is the single largest defence programme in the world ever—in value terms, although that may be as much to do with inflation as anything else. We have a 15% share in the manufacture in this country of each and every one of those platforms as they come into service in air forces around the world. The contribution it will make to sustaining the vibrancy of our defence industry cannot be overstated.

Julian Lewis Chair, Defence Committee
There is, in fact, one other aspect of the F-35 programme that I had not realised until recently: the potential for expansion in a crisis. When the assembly line is operating at its peak in America, it will produce one of these aircraft per day. If ever, heaven forbid, we found ourselves in sudden need of a large number of extra aircraft, that joint capacity between British industry and American industry will enable us to fulfil our needs.

Philip Dunne Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Defence Procurement)
That is a very interesting observation. At a time of surge and crisis, it will obviously be a challenge to produce a pilot every day at such a pace, but it is clear that that is currently being planned. Given the scale of the programme, which will last for three decades, it will involve a steady and regular introduction of capability to a number of air forces, including ours.

Let me say a little about what is coming to the land environment. At the DSEI exhibition, which a number of Members were able to attend last month, we showed what the next generation of Ajax armoured vehicles would look like. They are fully digital platforms with multi-purpose capability. They will have 360° thermal and visual drive-in cameras, laser detection ability, and numerous other new features that would be expected from a platform that has been designed in the 21st century —the first such platform to be available for our armed forces. They will act as the eyes and ears of commanders on the battlefields of the future.

Thanks to the Warrior capability sustainment programme, Ajax will line up alongside the Army’s fleet of upgraded Warriors, soon to be enhanced with a range of upgrades that will be relevant to their variant role. Some will have state-of-the-art turrets, cannon and electronics, which will keep this highly successful armoured fighting vehicle at the front and centre of combat capability for the next 25 years.

We are not just investing in our traditional single services; we have also created the Joint Forces Command, which has combined our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance with our cyber and command, control, co-ordination and communications assets for even greater effect.

That brings me back to the Successor programme, and the other major investment decision that will be made during the current Parliament. On Wednesday, I was pleased to be able to attend at least part of the “keeping our future afloat” event, which brought together the shipbuilding industry, unions and Members of Parliament from all parts of the House. At that meeting, the Defence Secretary again restated our commitment to building four Successor ballistic missile submarines to replace the four Vanguard boats, and to retaining the Trident continuous at-sea nuclear deterrence patrols that provide the ultimate guarantee of our security. He also reminded us why it is so vital to keep remaking the case for our deterrent at a time when the nuclear threats have not disappeared, when emerging states have not stopped seeking nuclear capability, and when we cannot guarantee that it will not be present again in the 2030s, 2040s or 2050s. There has never been a more important time for the United Kingdom to have a credible, operationally independent minimum capable deterrent—and we should not forget that it was Attlee and Bevin who argued for a nuclear deterrent with a Union Jack on the top of it.

I reiterate that I look forward to the conclusion of the review that the hon. Member for York Central is conducting with the shadow Defence Secretary, the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), to clarify the Opposition’s posture, and we look forward to support from Opposition Members in the Division Lobby when we come to vote on the topic. We think it important for politicians of all stripes to put aside politics for the national good, and to work together to keep our country safe. After all, our deterrent advances our prosperity as well as our security.

That was at the forefront of the remarks of the host of Wednesday’s event, the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock), who is a strong advocate of the deterrent programme—not least because most of it is built in his constituency. He pointed out that in the Members’ Dining Room was a map of the United Kingdom on which were little red dots criss-crossing the whole country—every nation and nearly every county, although I cannot add “every constituency”. It showed the huge number of companies in the supply chain which support our nuclear defence industry: hundreds of businesses providing thousands of jobs. That is, of course, before we consider the physical facilities where the deterrent will be based. I believe that Her Majesty’s naval base Clyde is the largest employment site in Scotland. It currently provides about 6,700 military and civilian jobs, and by 2022 the number will increase to 8,200.

[…]