With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the NATO conference, but before I do so, I am sure the whole House will join me in paying tribute to Jim Dobbin, who died suddenly this weekend. Jim gave his life to public service. He worked hard for his constituents, he loved this House of Commons and he contributed hugely to all its work. With his expertise in microbiology, he also did outstanding work in this House championing vaccines for children in the developing world. Though we may not have agreed on everything, we did agree about the important contribution of faith in politics—although, unlike Jim, I have to say I am not expecting to get a knighthood from the Pope, which Jim received, and much deserved it was, too. He will be missed by us all, and our thoughts are with his family at this time.
We have also heard this morning that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are expecting their second baby. I am sure the House will join me in congratulating them on behalf of the whole country on this fantastic news and wishing them well in the months ahead.
The NATO summit in Wales saw the successful coming together of this vital alliance. Everyone could see its unity, its resolve and its determination to meet and overcome all the threats to our security. I want to thank the local council in Newport, the Welsh Assembly, the First Minister, the Secretary of State, our armed services and police and all those who worked so hard to deliver a safe, secure and successful summit. It was, I think, the biggest gathering of world leaders that has ever taken place in our country. Most of all, I want to thank the Welsh people for their incredibly warm welcome. They did our United Kingdom proud.
The summit reached important conclusions on Ukraine, on defence spending and the reform of NATO, on countering Islamist extremism, on the future of Afghanistan and on supporting our military and their families. I want briefly to take each one in turn.
First, on Ukraine, we welcome the ceasefire that has been in place since Friday. At the NATO summit, I chaired a meeting with President Poroshenko and the leaders of France, Italy, Germany and America to agree that what was needed was the implementation of a proper peace plan that respected Ukraine’s territorial integrity. NATO sent a clear message to Russia that what President Putin was doing was illegal and indefensible. We stand firmly behind Ukraine’s right to make its own decisions and not to have them dictated by Russian soldiers trampling on Ukraine’s sovereign soil.
We will continue our efforts to support Ukraine, including by providing financial assistance to improve its command, control and communication capabilities. Today’s new sanctions from the European Union will further ramp up the economic cost to Russia. They will make it harder for its banks and its energy and defence companies to borrow money. They will widen the ban on selling so-called dual goods, such as machinery and computer equipment, which could be used for military as well as civilian purposes. They will also prohibit the provision of services for the exploration and production of shale, deepwater and Arctic oil.
Secondly, the summit reached an important agreement on defence spending. One of the problems with NATO is that only a small number of countries have achieved the commitment to spend 2% of their GDP on defence. As a result, the share of spending by the largest country, the United States of America, continues remorselessly upwards and now accounts for around 70% of the total. That is not sustainable. The summit addressed that by agreeing the responsibility of those countries that have not achieved 2%. The conclusions were very clear about that. Through the Wales pledge, every NATO member spending less than 2% has now agreed to halt any decline in defence spending, to aim to increase it in real terms as GDP grows and to move towards 2% within a decade.
There was also a second target—namely, that a fifth of all defence budgets should be dedicated to major new equipment, because what matters most is having military assets that we can actually deploy. Here in Britain, we have the second largest defence budget in NATO and the biggest in the European Union. We have taken long-term and often difficult decisions to put our defence budget on a sustainable footing, and the fruits of that are now coming through.
We are equipping all three of our services with the best and most modern military hardware that money can buy. This includes a £3.5 billion contract for Scout armoured vehicles, which I announced on Friday—the largest such order in over three decades. [Interruption.] It includes new fleets of joint strike fighter and Voyager refuelling aircraft; 22 new A400M transport aircraft; new Astute hunter-killer submarines; Type 45 destroyers and Type 26 frigates; and HMS Queen Elizabeth, our brand new aircraft carrier—
The hon. Gentleman keeps saying “Labour”. He might remember that Labour left us a £38 billion defence black hole.
At NATO, I announced that our second new carrier—
We ordered them.
It is all very well to order them, but they actually have to be paid for. In a nutshell, that is the difference between a socialist and a Conservative. They dream about having money; we actually raise it and spend it.
The hon. Gentleman will be very pleased to hear that I announced at the NATO summit that that our second new carrier, HMS Prince of Wales, will also be brought into service. This will ensure that we always have one carrier available 100% of the time. This investment in our national security, our prosperity and our place in the world will transform our ability to project power globally, whether independently or together with our allies.
Turning to the wider reform of NATO, after the end of the cold war, NATO stood down its highest readiness force. At this summit, we decided to reverse that decision and scale up our readiness to respond to any threat. At the same time, we agreed to do more to build the capacity of other nations outside NATO, to help them with their defence capabilities. A new multinational spearhead force will be formed, and it will be deployable anywhere in the world within two to five days. That is vital in underlining our article 5 obligations to collective defence, and the UK will support that by providing a battle group and a brigade headquarters. We will also contribute 3,500 personnel to exercises in eastern Europe between now and the end of 2015, as part of NATO’s efforts to ensure a persistent presence on our eastern flank.
On capacity building, NATO has a vital role in helping other countries with their capacity to defend themselves against all threats, including terrorist threats. When we consider how many of the threats that NATO countries, including the UK, now face from the middle east, north Africa and elsewhere, we see that this capacity building is becoming ever more important. It was a key priority for the UK at the summit that we made progress. NATO will now undertake capacity-building missions, beginning in Georgia and Jordan, with the offer of a training mission for Iraq as soon as the new Iraqi Government are in place.
Next, the alliance was clear about the scale of the threat from Islamist extremism, and we agreed that we must use all the instruments at our disposal—humanitarian, diplomatic and military—to squeeze this barbaric terrorist organisation out of existence. We should be clear about what needs to happen: we will continue to support the Kurds, including by providing them with arms and training their troops; we will work to support a new and representative Iraqi Government, which we hope to see in place later this week; and the fight against ISIL must be led by the Iraqis themselves, but we will continue to encourage countries in the region to support this effort and to engage allies across the world. We will proceed carefully and methodically, drawing together the partners we need, to implement a comprehensive plan. Earlier today, I spoke to Ban Ki-moon to seek support at the United Nations for a broad-based international effort to confront ISIL, and I will be working on building that international support when I attend the United Nations General Assembly later this month.
Turning to Afghanistan, we called on the two presidential candidates to work together to deliver a peaceful election outcome and a new Government as swiftly as possible. They made a statement during the conference that they would make those endeavours, and it is vital that that comes about. The summit paid tribute to the extraordinary sacrifice made by all our armed forces in driving al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan and training the Afghan security forces to take control of their security. We reaffirmed our long-term commitment to supporting a peaceful, prosperous and stable Afghanistan, including through our development conference in London in November.
Finally, as our troops return home from Afghanistan, it is right that we do all we can to support them and their families. In Britain, we have the military covenant—a pledge of commitment between the Government and our military—and we are the first British Government to write this covenant into the law of the land. We have made it ever more real by taking a series of measures, including doubling the operational allowance; introducing free higher and further education scholarships; investing £200 million in helping our service personnel to buy homes; increasing the rate of council tax relief; signing up every single local council in our country in support of the military; and giving unprecedented support to military charities.
At the summit, we took our military covenant internationally, with every NATO member signing up to a new armed forces declaration, setting out their commitment to support their military and enabling all of us to learn from each other about how we can best do that. We will continue to do everything possible to look after those who serve our country and whose sacrifices keep us safe. This, I believe, was a successful NATO conference. It proved that this organisation is as important to our future security as it has been to the past, and I commend this statement to the House.
First, I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Jim Dobbin. He was an assiduous Member of Parliament who always put the people of Heywood and Middleton first. He was, as the Prime Minister said, a man of faith, which underpinned everything he did, and he was a lifelong public servant, having worked in the NHS for 30 years before coming to this House. He was also a proud Scot, and was planning to be in Scotland this week to help campaign to keep our United Kingdom together. He will be sadly missed, not just by his family and friends, but by colleagues from across this House.
I also join the Prime Minister in congratulating the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on their happy news, and I, too, wish them well in the months ahead.
I congratulate Wales on its successful hosting of the summit. Perhaps we should also congratulate the enterprising Raffle family on their picture at Stonehenge with President Obama.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. This NATO summit was the most important for a generation. Today, NATO faces the gravest challenges in Europe, the middle east and beyond since the fall of the Berlin wall and the first Gulf war. I commend NATO leaders for seizing the opportunity to put down firm markers on the key issues: Russia and Ukraine, ISIL, and defence co-operation.
Starting with Ukraine, the ceasefire and peace plan announced on Friday by the Presidents of Ukraine and Russia was welcome, but it must be observed. It would be a grave mistake to ease international pressure on Russia before Russian troops no longer operate in Ukraine. We therefore welcome the readiness action plan, which is a step towards more nimble and flexible capabilities, sending a signal that if a NATO member is in danger, allies will take quick action. I welcome the attendance of President Poroshenko at the summit. What assurances were specifically given to Ukraine by NATO? Given also the desired aim of agility in the plan, how is the NATO decision-making process requiring agreement of all 28 countries being made sufficiently reliable and swift? Specifically, on the spearhead force, what countries will be host to it and in what situations will it be deployed?
Let me move on to the rise of ISIL in the middle east. The whole world is acutely aware of the barbaric threat that ISIL poses, and it was right that NATO members sought to address that. It is right also to seek to build the widest possible consensus in pursuit of that aim. There is no long-term solution to ISIL without a long-term plan that is based on widespread partnership in the region and the legitimacy of an inclusive Iraqi Government, and that includes a genuinely multilateral, political, diplomatic and humanitarian alliance.
In that context, will the Prime Minister tell us what progress is being made in the urgent task of assembling a genuine inclusive Government in Iraq? I welcome the united position taken by the Arab League yesterday against ISIL. Will the Prime Minister update the House on what other progress has been made in the vital work of building regional support?
Let me turn to NATO’s clarity of purpose, which is the collective defence of a strong transatlantic alliance. On defence spending, we share the commitment to maintain strong defence and a strong NATO. In the light of the pressures that all countries face, does the Prime Minister agree that part of the task that NATO faces is better pooling of alliance resources so that we have the kinds of capabilities that are required?
Finally, on Afghanistan, I commend the commitment of NATO members to Afghanistan. Our country has made huge sacrifices, and so have a number of others. It is right that by the end of 2014 we will see the drawdown of British forces. I pay tribute to our forces for the sacrifices that they have made and I join the Prime Minister in giving my full support to the military covenant, the armed forces declaration and its implementation.
We know from the past, not least in Iraq, the crucial importance of securing the right political settlement. To ensure that the sacrifices that have been made lead to a better future, Afghan leaders must resolve their current post-election differences and agree to a unified leadership. Will the Prime Minister update the House on progress on that matter and on a security agreement with the remaining forces? Given that the force contribution from coalition nations will be critical, will the Prime Minister tell the House the number of NATO troops expected to stay past 2014 and the UK contribution to that mission?
This summit has demonstrated that the NATO alliance is strong and is needed by its member states more than ever. As President Obama said:
“The defence of Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius is just as important as the defence of Berlin and Paris and London.”
The task for NATO is to demonstrate this commitment and to understand that wherever our interests lie, we need a strategy that combines military readiness with political, diplomatic and strategic alliances. We join the Government in supporting a NATO that meets that challenge.
I thank the Leader of the Opposition for his response. He was right to say that this was the most important NATO conference for a generation. That is because we face multiple challenges—in Europe and Ukraine, with ISIL and the other threats around our very dangerous world. Let me take his questions in turn.
On Ukraine, the mood of the NATO meeting and the meeting I chaired with the Ukrainian President was that there should be no easing of the pressure on Russia. With regard to what NATO is doing for Ukraine, there is some important defence capability building being done on things such as command and control and ensuring that the Ukrainian army is properly managed. There is also support in the form of non-lethal equipment such as body armour and other facilities that countries are giving. It is important that we do not measure the NATO commitment to Ukraine through military support for war-fighting capabilities. The real measure of support is the EU and US approach on sanctions, which have been ratcheted up. As I have said in the House before, it is important that we keep up the pressure in that regard.
As for the new spearhead force, different countries will be contributing and Britain has got out ahead by making clear the nature of our commitment through the brigade headquarters and the battalion. I am sure that others will come forward with their contributions, but the right hon. Gentleman is right that the implementation of the NATO agenda will now be vital.
On the question of combating ISIL, I agree absolutely with what the right hon. Gentleman says about the need for an inclusive Government in Iraq. That is supposed to be being put in place this week. It has already taken time and it is a complex undertaking, but it is absolutely vital. I would argue that without that, it is very difficult to take the further steps that need to be taken, so it is vital that it is put in place.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about regional support. Jordan, as a partner nation of NATO, was at the conference and made a very strong statement about its support for squeezing ISIL. He asked whether NATO countries are properly pooling their resources, and this is where the 20% pledge on new equipment is so vital. When new equipment is commissioned, it should be properly interoperable between NATO countries, and increasingly it is.
On Afghanistan, the right hon. Gentleman is right to say that the way to secure our legacy in Afghanistan is to ensure that there is a proper political settlement. A lot of pressure is being put on Dr Abdullah Abdullah and Dr Ghani to bury their differences and form a Government together. They have promised to do that, but we need to see it happen. The right hon. Gentleman asked about the contribution that Britain will make to the NATO forces. Our principal contribution post the end of 2014 will be the officer training academy that President Karzai specifically asked for and that we are providing. That should put our contribution of troops for that facility into the low hundreds. Some other countries, most notably the United States but also Germany and some others, will have more NATO troops on the ground, as it were.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the bilateral security agreement; both candidates have said that they will sign it, and I would expect it to be signed. As for his general point, what is required in Afghanistan, as in Iraq, is a combination of all the assets we have at our disposal. On occasion, that will include military assets, but the importance of politics cannot be underestimated. The future of Afghanistan will best be secured by an inclusive Afghan Government and the future of Iraq will best be delivered if there is an inclusive Iraqi Government.
Never has there been a time when decision makers have been faced with so many key decisions, and I congratulate the Prime Minister and his colleagues on an excellent summit in Wales. However, as they were meeting, yet another front was opening up, with reports of militia activity on the Russia-Estonia border. Does the Prime Minister agree that Estonia is a red line? Can he assure me that if there are any incursions, the UK and NATO will treat them with the most serious attitude conceivable?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his remarks and I can absolutely give him that assurance. It was important that one of the first things that needed to happen at the conference was for NATO to be very clear about the article 5 commitment that all members of NATO are subject to collective defence, Estonia included. It is important that that message goes out and that we should not only have the readiness action plan and the new spearhead force but start to see more NATO exercises, so that when Russians look at Estonia—or Latvia or Lithuania—they see different nationalities involved in their defence, not just Estonians. That is vital and yes, it is a red line.
May I thank the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition for their generous tributes to our north-west colleague and friend, Jim Dobbin? I know that they will be much appreciated.
I want to ask the Prime Minister about the searing divisions that are now opening up within the Gulf Co-operation Council, with allegations by some states in the GCC that others, including Qatar and to a lesser degree Kuwait, are harbouring people, sometimes quite senior, who are helping to finance and give other support to the Islamist extremists in Iraq and elsewhere. What representations are the Prime Minister and others making to the Governments of those states to ensure that if such activities are taking place—there is high suspicion that they are—they should stop?
The right hon. Gentleman makes the important point that, on occasions, there have been concerns that some Gulf states have supported players—whether in Syria, Libya or elsewhere—with extremist views. We have repeatedly said how unwise we think that is. There are discussions between those Gulf states but, as I have said many times with respect to our domestic arrangements, Britain is clear that we need to oppose not only violent extremists, but the extremist narrative.
May I associate myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends with the tributes that have been paid to Jim Dobbin? He was proud to be a Labour MP and he was proud to be a Scot, and those things are not mutually inconsistent, despite some of the observations made elsewhere in the kingdom about loyalty.
The attempt to obtain a 2% level of expenditure within 10 years can be regarded only as a rather gentle target, so is my right hon. Friend satisfied that it is strong enough? The real question that will be in the minds of many hon. Members is this: exactly where do we stand on action with regard to ISIS? Does he agree that it is right to recognise that the best that can be done in relation to an ideology such as that of ISIS is to degrade it as far as possible, but that it would be entirely unrealistic to believe that political, economic or military means would destroy it?
I agree very much with what my right hon. and learned Friend says about Jim Dobbin. As a passionate Scot, a passionate Brit and a passionate Labour MP, he showed that you can be all three of those things, and we could replace the word “Labour” with “Conservative” or “Liberal Democrat” and say absolutely the same thing.
What is different about this time is that the 2% spending pledge has never before been included in a leaders declaration in quite the same way, and there has never been a time scale for it. I particularly pick out that it puts in its sights those who are below 2%, saying that they need to halt any further decline in their defence spending. I think that is a powerful statement.
On ISIL, of course one has to degrade an ideology. However, when it comes to terrorists who have taken control of a state’s institutions, meaning that they have land, oil, money and weapons, we should be more ambitious and say that the right people to run the state of Iraq are the Iraqi Government and the right people to run Syria are an inclusive Syrian Government, and that there should be no place in those states for these extreme terrorists.
Can we presume that the implication of the undertaking of those countries spending below 2% not to let that fall even lower is that those countries at or above 2% have undertaken not to allow their contribution to fall below 2%, particularly the United Kingdom?
The hon. Lady is basically right, but I refer her to the text of the declaration. Interestingly, it says that all allies
“currently meeting the NATO guideline to spend a minimum of 2%...will aim to continue to do so”,
which is important, and then it sets out the point about spending 20% on equipment, which is absolutely vital. The declaration then singles out allies
“whose current proportion of GDP spent on defence is below this level”.
Page 4 of the document sets out in some detail that those allies 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”.
It is important that for the first time all 28 countries signed up to that sort of specificity.
On ISIL, my right hon. Friend is clearly right to have been cautious and to have sought the widest possible support for any international action, including by going through the United Nations and working closely with the Arab League. Will he continue to make it clear that this long and painstaking problem will not be solved only by smart weapons delivered from 12,000 feet, but will need long-term engagement on many fronts?
My right hon. Friend is right to say that this is long and painstaking work. What is needed is a comprehensive plan that includes everything: humanitarian aid, political support, diplomacy, regional pressure and, above all, an inclusive Iraqi Government. President Obama and I very much agree that military action can be only one part of a plan; it is not, in itself, a plan, and it is important that people understand that.
I would like to associate myself with the Prime Minister’s comments on the sad news about Jim Dobbin and the happy news about the Countess and Earl of Strathearn.
There is particular concern about the hostage David Haines in Tayside, where he is from, and in Sisak in central Croatia, where his wife and child live. What more can the Prime Minister say about the support for David’s family both in Scotland and in Croatia?
It is obviously a tragic situation. One only has to think for a few moments of what it would be like to be in his or his family’s position to understand what they are going through. What I try to make sure of in all these situations is that the family gets support from a police liaison officer and directly from the Foreign Office. There is always an offer for Ministers to speak directly to the hostage’s family to tell them about all the efforts being made on their behalf. We have a clear policy, which I believe is right, not to pay ransoms when terrorist kidnaps are involved. I made that point at the NATO dinner and pleaded with other countries to do the same, but no one should interpret that as our not doing everything we can in every case to help the family and the hostage.
The whole country will be delighted to see a NATO restored and newly vigorous after the summit, but will the Prime Minister tell the House specifically what assistance he is seeking from the Sunni Gulf states, without which this coalition will find it hard going?
First, my right hon. Friend is right that what was interesting about this NATO conference was that it was one of resolution and unity in purpose. There were none of the sort of debates that might have been had in previous discussions about Iraq. There was real unity about what needed to be done, and part of that unity was not just about the Iraqi Government that were required, but the support—the active support—that would be needed from the regional players, in particular Sunni countries that can provide not only resources, diplomacy, aid and even military support, but real insights and input into the thinking of the Sunni tribes in Iraq, whom we need to rise up against this appalling regime.
I welcome the readiness action plan, which will enable NATO to respond with greater force and greater speed in a dire emergency—provided the 28 member states are able to give political authority for its use quickly. In the bad old days of the cold war, the similar Allied Command Europe mobile force gave the SACEUR—Supreme Allied Commander Europe—pre-authority to use it in a dire emergency. If there is any question of pre-authority being given to use the readiness action plan, will the Prime Minister bring that proposal to the House for debate?
The short answer to that is yes, I will. As the hon. Gentleman knows, a lot of the detail of how the force will be constructed, who will contribute to it and how exactly it will work is still to be determined. The main thing is that the readiness of it is decided. May I take the moment, though, to thank him for his contribution to the NATO summit? He spoke as head of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly with great clarity and great support for what NATO is doing.
In support of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) has just asked, may I draw the Prime Minister’s attention to a very important article by General Jonathan Shaw, a former director of special forces, in the Evening Standard on 5 September, in which he wrote:
“Deploying the Western military without a Muslim political plan would be folly”?
What approach will we be taking to Saudi Arabia, which has a habit of looking both ways on these questions, and where the Government appear to be friendly but sources inside Saudi Arabia supply funds to organisations like IS?
I shall certainly look at the article my hon. Friend mentions. It is sometimes hard to keep up with all the contributions and advice that retired military figures are given to offer, but I do my best. The point my hon. Friend makes is absolutely right: were there to be a military element to the strategy, it would work only if it was in conjunction with all the other parts of the strategy. As I put it, we cannot intervene over the heads of local people and leave them to pick up the pieces; it has to be part of a strategy and a plan.
As the Prime Minister knows, secure borders are essential in the fight against terrorism. During his discussions with President Hollande, was the crisis in Calais mentioned, given the French Government’s criticism concerning British Ministers’ inaction in dealing with our juxtaposed borders? Will the Prime Minister ask the Home Secretary to visit France at the earliest opportunity to engage in meaningful discussions to end this crisis, including giving the French the fence that we used at the Cardiff summit?
The offer of the use of the fence is there, and it was a very effective piece of equipment. These discussions are taking place at every level. I do not think it is fair to say that Britain has been unengaged in this. The juxtaposed border controls have been a success, but we need to work very closely together to make sure that the appalling scenes that we have seen are not repeated.
Did the Prime Minister have time to discuss with our NATO partners the very serious implications of Scottish secession for the defence of the rest of the United Kingdom and NATO’s northern flank—in particular, the potential threat to our sea lanes? Does he agree that in these very seriously troubled times, surely England, Wales, Northern Ireland and, indeed, Scotland would be infinitely better defended and better together?
A number of people raised their concerns about the referendum. The overwhelming view of people who wish our country well is to say that of course it is a decision for people in Scotland but they hope that we stay together. I would absolutely echo that. Two visions of Scotland’s future are being put forward. The vision I believe in, and I believe the majority of Scots believe in, is, yes, of a proud and strong Scotland with strong institutions and a powerful place in the world that is in part secured by its membership of the United Kingdom. The alternative vision of separation involves such uncertainty about all these organisations—not knowing whether they would have a place in the European Union, or indeed a place in NATO, or indeed what currency they would use. These are real problems of uncertainty. I believe that the patriotic choice for Scotland is a strong, proud Scotland but within the United Kingdom.
May I echo the Prime Minister’s words about Jim Dobbin? I sat beside him at the meeting of the parliamentary Labour party that we had on Friday, and we both discussed the Scottish situation. His death has come as a great shock to us all.
President Obama will set out his strategy for dealing with ISIS on Wednesday. If, as seems likely, military action is part of that strategy and if the UK Government decide to join in that military action, even if that decision is restricted to action in the air and not forces on the ground, does the Prime Minister believe that that would require a vote in this House?
The short answer is yes, but we are not at that stage yet. As I said on Friday, we should be building this comprehensive strategy. We are already helping the Kurds, delivering arms to them. I said that we should step up to arming them directly and to training Kurdish peshmerga battalions, and increasing all the elements of the strategy. I have always believed, in this role and as leader of a Government, that you should consult the House of Commons as regularly as you can and the House of Commons should have an opportunity to vote. The point I always make, though, and this is not to run away from the right hon. Gentleman’s particular scenario in any way, is that it is important that a Prime Minister and a Government reserve the right to act swiftly without consulting the Commons in advance in some specific circumstances—for instance, if we had to prevent an immediate humanitarian catastrophe or, indeed, secure a really important, unique British interest. But other than that I believe it is right, as he said, to consult the House of Commons.
I welcome the summit declaration. Does not the discussion about parliamentary consent, parliamentary consultation and the need sometimes for swift action underline the need for a proper legislative framework to govern this country’s engagement in military action overseas?
That has been an interesting issue of debate and we have not come up with the final answer. There are problems with trying to write down every scenario into a law of the land. The convention that has grown up—it is now clear that the House of Commons should be consulted and a vote taken—is now very clearly understood on both sides of the House, and my personal view is that that might be better than trying to write everything down in some inflexible document that can create all sorts of legal problems of its own.
Given the debate about our defence capability that has taken place both at the NATO summit and in the wider context of UK foreign policy, if it can be shown that we might in the foreseeable future require areas of our defence capability that have been recently removed or are in the process of being removed, would the Prime Minister consider reinstating that lost capability?
I always have an open mind on these issues, but I say candidly to the hon. Gentleman that in the last four years I have often wanted to see even more of the capabilities that we have been ordering—intelligence, surveillance, special forces and transport—rather than more of the things that we have got rid of or discontinued. My instinct is that defence reviews are vital, but only if we make bold decisions about the future capabilities rather than hang on to old ones that might not have so many uses.
May I commend the Prime Minister on the confidence he showed in Wales by bringing the NATO summit to Newport? It was the biggest international event of its kind ever held in this country and was clearly a resounding success. Does he agree that it is now important that Wales should capitalise on its period of international attention by ensuring that the international investment conference, which will take place in November, is an equal success?
I am very grateful for my right hon. Friend’s comments. The Welsh Assembly Government, the Secretary of State, the police and all the organisations, including Newport council, which I singled out, did a brilliant job, and Celtic Manor was an absolutely excellent venue. Something like 24,000 hotel room nights were required, not just in Wales, but on the other side of the Bristol channel. Wales must make sure we secure the legacy from the summit, and that can be seen in trade and investment. It was a great window on Wales. I also think there is a legacy in making sure that young people in our country understand the importance of NATO and of defence.
Perhaps the best way we can honour the memory of Jim Dobbin is to ensure the continuation of the fine work he did here and in the Council of Europe to help those who have become addicted to prescription drugs.
May I thank the Prime Minister for the chance he gave Newport to display its magnificent facilities as a world habitat for occasions of this kind? I also thank him for the chance he gave himself and his Ministers to see the high quality of education in Newport, including a lecture the Secretary of State had from a young 10-year-old in St Woolos on the wonderful Chartist history of Newport. May I emphasise the fact that in November there will be a world conference of almost equal importance to get business opportunities to Newport, Wales and the United Kingdom? What is the Prime Minister going to do to ensure that that will be an equal success?
It is a rare event for the hon. Gentleman and I to be in almost complete agreement, but I think this is it! I agree with what he said about the importance of the issue of addiction to prescription drugs, but above all I think Newport really did put a great face forward in how it responded, because there are pressures with a NATO summit: there are traffic problems and disruption, but I thought people were incredibly reasonable about that and very welcoming, including the local media, to everyone who came. Securing the legacy is about supporting the investment conference and making sure we maintain a pro-business environment in south Wales.
The growing parliamentary convention, which the Prime Minister mentioned a moment ago, that this House should be consulted and given a vote on all overseas deployments would fail for two reasons in this context. The first, of course, is that the NATO rapid reaction force he has described would be deployed within two days, so presumably there would be no possibility of any such vote—perhaps there should not be one anyhow. It would also be deployed under NATO command. Secondly, the House has voted on war on only two occasions—one was Iraq in 2003 and the second was Syria last year—and neither of them was an outstanding success. Does the Prime Minister agree that serious thought ought now to be given to precisely what role this House should have when we decide to deploy our troops overseas?
I hear what my hon. Friend says, but I would say that the convention that has grown up is that if a premeditated decision is made by the Government about action to be undertaken—whether the war in Iraq, or my view that it was right to consider action in response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria—it is right to consult and, if possible, to have a vote in the House of Commons. I do not think that we need to write that down in some book of rules for it to be the overwhelming convention. But as I have said, there are times where very rapid decisions have to be taken, and I think that the House of Commons understands that when that happens, as was the case with Libya, you make the decision and come straight to the House to explain yourself afterwards.
Will the Prime Minister clarify the position as regards arming the Kurds? He said in his statement that
“we will continue to support the Kurds, including by providing them with arms”.
I took that “we” to mean NATO, because he was referring to the alliance. Yet he has just said in an answer both that we are supplying them with weaponry from other countries and—I think this is what he said—that we might arm them directly. Is he now saying that we will arm the Kurds, which I would welcome, and what weaponry will we give them?
The short answer to that is yes. Up to now, we have helped to provide the Kurds with weapons. We have transported some weapons, for instance from Albania to the Kurds, using our transport planes, because that fitted in with the weaponry they have been using, some of which is from the Soviet era. However, I have always said that we would respond positively to requests from the Kurds for a direct supply. We are now prepared to do that, so we will provide them with arms, as the Germans and others will. We think it is right, also with allies, to step up our training and mentoring efforts. We have said that we were willing, if they would like, to train a battalion of peshmerga fighters, because they are doing such a vital job in holding back ISIL. That is “we” as in the United Kingdom, rather than “we” as in NATO.
The Prime Minister and the NATO summit have been absolutely right to stress the importance of strong defence, but given recent critical reports from the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee and given the very disappointing reserve recruitment figures—creating the risk of capability gaps and false economies—has the time not come for the Prime Minister to reconsider the Government’s Army reforms?
The short answer to that is that, no, I do not think that it would be right to reconsider the reforms. Over the last year, 3,200 people joined the Army Reserve—I am confident that we will now see some good recruitment figures to the Army Reserve—but we are putting in place a major change.
The bigger point that I would make to my hon. Friend is that when we consider the sorts of things that we contemplate doing—whether helping the Nigerian Government to overcome their problems, what we did in Libya or the sorts of things we are doing in Iraq—what we need more of is intelligence, surveillance, special forces, mobility, assets and equipment that can be used with partners, the most modern equipment, and armed forces that have no extra equipment needs because they have everything they want. That is what is required, rather than just very large numbers of people involved in any of three services.
May I associate myself, my party and my colleagues on these Benches with the Prime Minister’s tribute to our colleague, Jim Dobbin? For me, Jim will of course be remembered greatly for his strength of opinion on Gibraltar, particularly his support for the right to self-determination of the people there to remain British. That resonated very strongly with me as an islander, and with my desire to remain British. I also associate myself with the Prime Minister’s comment that he is not expecting any knighthood from the Pope—he’s not the only one in this House in that particular regard.
To turn to the military or armed forces covenant, the Prime Minister will know that Northern Ireland is a fertile recruiting ground for Her Majesty’s forces. Indeed, we are more than matching our weight in numbers for Her Majesty’s forces. However, the military covenant has not been fully implemented; indeed, in many cases it has been dishonoured. Will he go the extra mile and ensure that the Northern Ireland Executive do more to ensure that it is honoured in every regard?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I have discussed this with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland, because it is important that we look after our armed forces and their families in every part of the United Kingdom. I hope that some progress can be made on that. In the meantime, local councils can of course take up the community covenant to make sure that they act in a way that supports the armed forces and their families. Many councils in Northern Ireland will be able to do that. As for the hon. Gentleman’s remarks about the Pope, I assumed that there might be something that cascaded down the generations, but obviously not.
The House will share the Prime Minister’s concerns about the situation in Ukraine, particularly his description of President Putin’s actions as indefensible and illegal. At his meeting with President Poroshenko and other leaders, did they reach any conclusions on what were the aims of Russia and President Putin in Ukraine, and on what action might be taken if he continues to pursue those aims?
I think that the aim of Russia is to deny the people of Ukraine their legitimate choice to be closer to the European Union and to have an association agreement with it. We need to say very reasonably to President Putin that he cannot overcome the stated will of a people to determine their own future. Of course there should be a relationship between Ukraine and Russia, and indeed between the European Union and Russia, but he cannot use force to stop people choosing their own future. That is why we should measure our response to Russian action not in a military response through NATO or Ukraine, but in raising the pressure through sanctions. We should say to Russia that if she continues down that path, she will suffer economically, because ultimately, as I have said from this Dispatch Box before, Russia needs America and the European Union more than America and the European Union need Russia.
Further to the Prime Minister’s last answer, it is clear that ultimately, we will need to move to a political process with the Russians. What support have NATO and the United Kingdom given President Poroshenko in developing his political dialogue with the Russians?
That is a very good question. We are supporting President Poroshenko by saying that a ceasefire is only the first stage and that what is required is a proper, worked-up peace plan. He set out a 12-point plan in front of all of us at the meeting. We are giving him our support by saying that we will do everything that we can to engage with Russia to ensure that it engages properly in the peace process. That has to include getting Russian soldiers out of Ukraine and Ukraine being able to determine her own future. Obviously, Russia also has a number of concerns, including over the treatment and rights of Russian minorities in Ukraine, which it is perfectly legitimate to discuss.
May I add a tribute to Jim Dobbin from the Government Benches? He worked tirelessly for vulnerable people in the tropics, in particular through his work on tropical disease eradication and his expertise in pneumococcal disease. He will leave that legacy for the benefit of the most vulnerable people on our planet. We will miss him.
On the combating of ISIL, I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement on the unity of approach in respect of the development of governance and security at the same time—NATO is speaking with one voice. I urge him to put those arguments forward at the upcoming United Nations meetings, as he indicated he would, and to use NATO as an example of finding a united way, not least because that is one of the great lessons that we learned from the rapid reaction in Mali, which dealt somewhat successfully with the most recent outbreak of the al-Qaeda threat.
There are good lessons from Mali because there was proper concentration on the importance of the political process that would bring a new Government in Mali, as well as some important military action. My right hon. Friend is right to stress the importance of the United Nations as a way of building support and legitimacy for what needs to be done.
Does the Prime Minister agree that the reason most of us support NATO is not that we are warmongers, but that we want to prevent war? The more strong, organised, strategic and well-resourced NATO can be, the better. The news from Newport was very good, as long as it is carried through and we check that the members of NATO deliver. However, did he think it strange that nearly every report said that President Obama and everyone else had stipulated that there should be no boots on the ground? Is that not strange coming from NATO?
First, let me agree with the hon. Gentleman that NATO is a defensive alliance. That is at the heart of its success. Of course, it now has to think more about the threats from outside Europe, such as terrorism and cyber-attacks, which might require more activism. On his remarks about boots on the ground, in order to squeeze ISIL out of existence, as I have put it, there will have to be boots on the ground, but those boots should be Iraqi boots. It is their country and they should be leading the process. The question for us is what we can do to help those boots on the ground, rather than put our own there.
The absence of any of Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran from a commitment to or the formation of an international strategy to destroy the Islamic State, will probably fatally compromise such a strategy. What efforts are being made to include them?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, and the Turkish President, with whom I had quite extensive talks at the NATO conference, is, like everyone else, extremely worried about the creation of that state on his doorstep, not least because of the appalling kidnaps that have taken place of such a large number of Turkish personnel. My hon. Friend is right that discussions must be held with all those regional partners and players to ensure that the strongest possible squeeze can be put on that organisation.
The west went into Afghanistan 13 years ago, Iraq 11 years ago, and now a massive NATO summit agrees to spend yet more money on defence around the world. What consideration was given to why there has been such an increase in terrorism since those two wars, and to why ISIL has grown as such a big force? Should the NATO summit, and indeed all leaders, be looking at the causes of war, and at the perception of the role of the west in seeking commercial and mineral advantage around the world, rather than bequeathing us yet more military expenditure?
Let me try to find a little common ground with the hon. Gentleman. As well as believing in the importance of defence expenditure and keeping our defences strong, I also believe that international aid and development is an important tool not just for helping people out of poverty, but in demonstrating the compassion and generosity of the west in helping people who are less fortunate than we are. Where I think the hon. Gentleman is wrong is that we have to understand that a fundamental cause of the extremism and terrorism that we saw with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and that we see with ISIL in Syria and Iraq, is the poisonous ideology of Islamist extremism. We see people joining it who have not suffered poverty or deprivation, but they have bought into that perverted world view. Irrespective of what we might think of them, they are very clear that they want to kill us.
Is the Prime Minister satisfied that all our NATO allies are taking sanctions against Russia? In particular, is he concerned about the role of Turkey, which does not seem to be taking sanctions and is alleged to be undermining some of the sanctions that we are taking?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The EU has through its mechanisms decided and implemented sanctions, as has the US. There are a number of countries that have serious trading relationships with Russia, and which I believe ought to see the dangers to them of the approach that Russia is taking to the sovereign authority of another country. Yes, it is important that we have those conversations.
May I echo the comments already made about Newport in this statement? Hosting the summit certainly put our city in the headlines; the community grasped the opportunity and we all hope that we benefit from things such as the investment conference coming up in November. Will the Prime Minister join me in thanking those public services that worked collaboratively, not least Gwent police force that worked with 42 other forces to deliver one of the largest security operations ever in the UK, with fantastic community policing?
I would like to say a particular thank you to the police. The Gwent force did a brilliant job, but police had to be called in from all over the country to deal with, I think, 54 Prime Ministers and Presidents, and the heads of a number of important international organisations. That is more Heads of Government or State than have ever come to a conference in Britain’s history. We were asking a lot of Newport, and Newport, the local police and all those involved responded magnificently.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the response to ISIL must be global, with the ambition of securing peace in the long term, and that it must include religious leaders, because it is not to exaggerate the facts to say that the traditional Christian communities of the Levant are more threatened with extinction than at any time in more than 1,000 years?
My right hon. Friend is right to talk about the threats to minority communities in the area, including Christian communities. We should be standing up for them. He is also right to draw attention to the role of religious leaders and religious communities. It has been heartening to see how many Muslim and Islamic leaders have come out to condemn ISIL and to say that those people are not in any way acting in their name. They have even gone viral burning the ISIL flag. It is thoroughly worth while for people right across different religious communities to condemn ISIL.
In response to the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) and the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), the Prime Minister confirmed that the response to ISIL must involve regional Governments more effectively. In view of the fact that the British military has trained many people in those regional Governments, and certainly in the militaries of those countries, what is our Army doing to ensure that its counterparts are on board?
The hon. Lady makes a spot-on point. We have good relations with, for instance, the Saudi military, the Qataris, the Emirates and the Jordanians, partly because many have trained here alongside our armed forces. We should maximise those relationships and that defence engagement. That should be part of the comprehensive plan that has been put in place—we should work with them to squeeze ISIL. One thing we decided at NATO was that we need to do even more to build the capability of those militaries because, increasingly in our dangerous world, we are confronting problems, whether in Syria, Mali or Somalia, where it would be good if the regional players had the military capabilities better to deal with the problems—with our assistance and help, but not always with our direct interaction.
Jim Dobbin campaigned with gentle tenacity about the plight of minority Christian groups in the middle east. When even Pope Francis has indicated that he supports limited intervention to stop the massacre of the innocent, may I press my right hon. Friend on the two previous questions he has been asked about Saudi Arabia? Saudi Arabia is allegedly our ally. We train Saudis and supply them with military wares. Will he tell me specifically what interventions he and his Foreign Secretary have made with the Saudi Government to ask them whether they will be part of the solution in their back yard?
Engagement is certainly taking place. I spoke to the King of Saudi Arabia around 10 days ago about how we should best work together to confront the threat, which the Saudis see very much as a threat to them. John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, is currently in the region and talking to a number of the important regional players. That process needs to continue.
Will the Prime Minister clarify what support is being provided to Iraq to ensure that it has an inclusive and strong Government to tackle its national threat, and to ensure that it has the resources to support the safety of citizens in war zones, particularly women and children, given the reports of appalling sexual violence perpetrated by ISIL?
To take the second part of the hon. Lady’s question first, our aid budget is obviously being brought to bear, working with others, to build refugee camps and to help those people who get to safety, whether the Yazidi community or other people who are being persecuted.
On working with the Iraqi Government, we are stepping up what we are doing. We obviously have a full embassy engaged in that work, as do the Americans. We are doing more, but the crucial decision needs to be made by the Iraqi leaders. They need to decide that it is time to end the client politics of looking after the Shi’a and not the Sunni, and instead to form a proper, inclusive Government that includes Sunni, Shi’a and Kurd.
In the light of Russia’s destabilisation actions in Ukraine, what discussions were had at the summit on improving NATO’s cyber-security capabilities and on the article 5 implications of cyber-attacks?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. The issue was discussed, because clearly some very vicious cyber-attacks have been carried out on NATO members. It is no good having a defence alliance if we cannot address one of the modern threats, which is the ability of people to take out computer programs, electricity grids or what have you. That is an important part of the work that we do, and Britain has some particular expertise in that area.
May I, too, convey my shock and sadness at the loss of our good friend and comrade Jim Dobbin? His daughter lives in Cardiff, and he never missed an opportunity to tell me how proud he was of his grandsons and their achievements.
Will the Prime Minister add to the list of organisations that he thanked Cardiff council, which organised the NATO dinner in Cardiff and the warships in Cardiff bay? Will he comment on the question that I think my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) was trying to get at—namely, is he offering a guarantee that the UK will not allow its defence expenditure to fall below the 2% target next year?
First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for accurately reminding me that I should include Cardiff city council in my thanks. It did a brilliant job with the dinner in Cardiff castle, which was a fantastic setting for discussing the issues we needed to discuss. I am very grateful for everything that it did.
We meet the 2% target and have done so under this Government. The new targets are set out clearly in the document, and as I said, they put particular emphasis on those not currently meeting the 2% target. All parties in the House will have to set out their spending plans, including for defence, at the next election.
May I thank my right hon. Friend for his commitment to investing more money in equipment for our armed forces?
Should the Scots tragically decide to vote for independence in the forthcoming referendum, would my right hon. Friend consider Plymouth dockyard for the building of future naval ships, rather than continuing to have them built in what would then, of course, be a foreign country?
Of course, my hon. Friend loses no opportunity to stand up for Plymouth, but let me say, as Prime Minister, how much I welcome the fact that we bring to our armed forces those from every part of the United Kingdom. We can think of the magnificent service of the Scottish regiments and the expertise of those who have built our incredible warships in Scotland—most recently, of course, the aircraft carriers. It is the contribution of all parts of the United Kingdom that means we have a defence budget that is one of the top five in the world and armed forces that are the envy of the world. My argument would be not just that Scotland benefits from being part of that but that it contributes a huge amount to what is a unique asset around the world.
May I add my tribute to our colleague and friend Jim Dobbin, who has been supportive of me since I came into the House in 2010? He will be greatly missed.
The appalling attack on flight MH17 saw two avid Newcastle United fans, Liam Sweeney and John Alder, murdered along with 296 other innocent passengers. What specific discussions did the Prime Minister have with his NATO colleagues about ensuring that the perpetrators of that appalling atrocity are brought to justice?
The appalling act of the shooting down of MH17 was discussed at the NATO summit. I have also met some of the relatives of the constituents to whom the hon. Lady refers. It was an absolutely horrific set of affairs that came about. The Dutch will be publishing their report in the next few days, and I think we all wait patiently for what they have to say about how this was caused.
In the light of Britain’s further defence commitment at the NATO summit, will the Prime Minister give a categorical assurance that there will be no more cuts in the size of Her Majesty’s armed forces?
I certainly do not want to see further reductions in, for instance, the size of our Army. We have had to take difficult decisions, such as going to a regular force of 82,000 and a larger reserve force, and I do not want to see further changes to that. But as I said in answer to a question earlier, what matters most of all is having armed forces that we are confident to use because we know that we have the most modern equipment and that we are never going to send soldiers, sailors and airmen into a difficult situation with substandard equipment. We have been able to make sure they have the very best equipment now, with the Scout vehicle to come, because that is absolutely crucial.
May I thank the Prime Minister for his kind tribute to our friend Jim Dobbin, who was a greatly respected member of both the labour and co-operative movements in Greater Manchester and will be missed?
I was interested in what the Prime Minister said in his statement about the new exercises in eastern Europe. Given that NATO’s permanent bases have historically been located in what is probably now the wrong part of Europe, may I ask him, without wishing to ramp up the tensions on NATO’s eastern flank, what discussions were had at the NATO summit about where NATO’s permanent bases ought to be located in the future to face the challenges of the future?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to make that point. Part of the readiness action plan is that there should be prepositioning of equipment and better use of bases in central and eastern Europe. He will see from the detail of the declaration that that is very much anticipated by the NATO conference.
We have always been told that the more we spend on overseas aid, the more it will enhance our security. We have been spending more on overseas aid, but the security threat level has been raised, so that correlation has clearly been shown to be a load of old cobblers. Will the Prime Minister therefore divert some of the money from the overseas aid budget and give much-needed additional resources to our armed forces and security services to help keep us safe in these very dangerous times?
I do not think it is quite right to make that correlation. I would argue that had we not put money into stabilising Somalia, for instance, or Afghanistan or into helping save lives in countries such as Pakistan, we would have seen even more pressures from asylum seeking and migration, and even greater problems with drugs and terrorism. What we have to get right is the balance between armed forces to keep us strong and an aid budget that fulfils our moral responsibility to the poorest in the world, which also helps, I would argue, to keep us safe.
The NATO summit showed how vital NATO still is. It was good to see the Gloucestershire constabulary in RAF Fairford playing a small role in the logistics, and I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement. As part of the security discussions, did members discuss the role of foreign imams in our mosques? UK-born and educated imams preach in the context of understanding Britain and are valued, but that is not always the case with foreign imams. Does my right hon. Friend believe that it may be time to tighten the policy on foreign imams while encouraging the training of British ones?
There is a lot in what my hon. Friend says. I think what matters most of all is that imams are able to communicate to their constituents in English—that is absolutely vital—and that they are up to date with how to help young people by diverting them from the extremist preachers that they find online.
I, too, pay tribute to Jim Dobbin. As a new member on the Transport Select Committee, I particularly appreciated his expertise, knowledge and shared passion for trans-Pennine infrastructure in transport. He will be sadly missed in the Committee.
I very much welcome the news about the full commissioning of our carrier, the HMS Prince of Wales, but will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity to debunk the myth that our carrier force will not have the aircraft it needs and confirm our full commitment to the new joint strike fighter, the F-35 Lightning II, which will provide the aircraft for both HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales?
I can confirm that. We will have joint strike fighters on these aircraft carriers, as well as, of course, vital attack and other helicopters, which will provide platforms of real power. The announcement I made about making sure that both are commissioned means that at any time we will always have a carrier available. I think that really strengthens this country’s defence capabilities.
I chair the all-party parliamentary group on Georgia. The Prime Minister referred to NATO beginning its capacity-building missions. He is held in very high regard in Georgia since his visit shortly after the war with Russia. Will he say a little more about the enhanced partnership, which will put Georgia alongside Sweden and Finland, among other countries, and how it will help the country, and particularly its Defence Minister Alasania who has done exceptional work on modernising the Georgian armed forces?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. There are various elements to this. First, the fact that there will be a defence capability-building mission in Georgia is very significant; it will help the Georgians modernise and build up their armed forces. It is also worth noting that a lot of this is being done because of the real contribution that Georgia has made, not least to the ISAF forces in Afghanistan, where the Georgians took on some very difficult work and paid a high price in terms of casualties. This is an enhanced partnership. Georgia is one of the strongest partners that NATO has, and I am sure that this defence capability mission will be much welcomed.
I think it reasonable to regard the defence budget of our country as an insurance policy for its security, and to regard NATO as a group insurance policy. However, it is clear that while all NATO members wish to enjoy the security that the cover of membership gives them, not all of them wish to pay the premiums. Does my right hon. Friend agree that now is the time for Germany, in particular, to step up to the plate and increase its defence spending to 2% in line with NATO guidelines?
My hon. Friend puts it in a good way. In order to enjoy the collective security, we must pay into the insurance policy, but the Germans tend not to sign things unless they have read the small print. They are quite meticulous. I know that Chancellor Merkel looked very carefully at what the agreement said before she signed it. I think that that is important, because Germany’s defence expenditure is below 2%, and it must therefore halt any decline in that expenditure.
May I associate myself with the remarks made about the late Jim Dobbin? He was my parliamentary neighbour, and he was a man of faith and a man of great principle and decency.
Does the Prime Minister agree that, in an increasingly dangerous and uncertain world, our 27 allies in NATO provide a better guarantee of safety and security for the British people than could be provided by the other 27 members of the European Union?
I must point out to my hon. Friend that they are two quite different organisations. NATO is about defence and collective security—and we have, if you like, signed away a bit of our sovereignty in NATO, in that we are pledged to go and defend anyone who is attacked—whereas, of course, the core purpose of the European Union is not defence, but should be about securing our prosperity and ensuring that we can trade freely with our 27 partners.
Does the Prime Minister agree that in considering defence equipment increases across NATO, we should give equal weight to the importance of co-operation on cyber-defence and cyber-attack? Will that not be an important area of theatre in the future, particularly in relation to countries such as Russia?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. He mentioned cyber-defence and cyber-attack. If we believe in deterrence in the field of, say, nuclear power or conventional forces, we should apply the same logic to cyber-warfare.
In the context of achieving a secure, stable, democratic Afghanistan, does the Prime Minister agree that it would be helpful to have a secure, democratic, successful Pakistan? That being the case, and in view of recent events, does he also agree that the United Kingdom will always support a democratically elected Government in Pakistan rather than those who are trying to derail that Government?
I agree with my hon. Friend: we should be friends of a democratic Pakistan. I think it is good that, in spite of that country’s difficulties, there has been a transition from one democratically elected Government to another democratically elected Government, and we should be encouraging that process.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the work that he has done in NATO to secure a strategy to deal with ISIS. Does he agree that Kurdistan is the only beacon of democracy and the rule of law, and the only place of religious tolerance, in Iraq? Does he also agree that, as well as supporting Kurdistan in the short term, we should bear in mind the fact that, given its status, it will need continuous political, military and humanitarian support in the long term? May I also ask whether there was any discussion in NATO about Iran’s onward march towards nuclear capabilities?
Obviously, this meeting spent more time on ISIL, Ukraine and other elements than on the Iranian nuclear issue, which has been discussed a great deal at other recent meetings. As for what my hon. Friend said about the Kurdish regional authority, yes, of course we should support it—I very much admire what it has done to protect minorities and foster democracy—but I think that we should support it as part of our effort to build a pluralistic and democratic Iraq. I think it is absolutely vital that we see it as part of that country.
Both Greece and Turkey are members of NATO, and both were at the weekend summit. Was it made clear to Turkey that it needs to secure its border to prevent the flow of foreign jihadist fighters to the new caliphate forces, and was it made clear to Greece that it must secure its border, which is the weakest part of the EU’s external frontier, against the hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants who are making their way into the EU and across it to Calais, and then trying to make their way on ferries to our shores?
My hon. Friend makes two points that I totally agree with. First, I discussed the Turkish border issue with President Erdogan. The Turks have taken quite a few steps to provide further security at their border, and they are looking at a range of military intelligence and security co-operation with us to that end. There is a real problem with Europe’s external borders—the Greek border being one—where people are coming into Europe to claim asylum, but instead of claiming asylum in the first country they arrive in, which is what they ought to do, they are making their way to Calais in order to try and come to the UK. We need those external borders secured, but we also need everyone properly to implement the rules we have all agreed.
Although the British people are united in their opposition to terrorism and their determination to overcome it, they remain somewhat nervous about possible military involvement unless there is a clear link to our own security. I welcome my right hon. Friend’s approach, particularly when he says that he will make careful and methodical moves towards a comprehensive plan. Can he assure the House that he will be equally careful and methodical in his moves to ensure the full support of the British people?
I will try to be careful and methodical about everything I do, but the point I would make, even today, to the British people is: be in no doubt about the threat that the so-called Islamic State poses to us here in the United Kingdom. We have already seen something like six planned attacks by ISIL in the countries of the European Union, including of course the appalling attack in the Brussels Jewish museum where innocent people were killed. That flows directly from this organisation. It kidnaps people, it has ransom payments—it has made tens of millions of dollars in that way—and it now has the weapons, resources and oil of a state and is using some of that money directly to target people in this country and across the European Union. We have to be fully cognisant of that fact. There is no option to look away, to put our heads in the sand, to hope this will all go away if only we did not get involved. The fact is that we are involved because it has decided to target us, and that needs to be the beginning of the conversation we have.