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Defence Spending (NATO Target)

Volume 596: debated on Monday 8 June 2015

7. Whether his Department’s budget will meet the NATO target of spending 2% of GDP on defence in each year to 2020. (900121)

We will be spending 2% of GDP on defence this financial year. Spending beyond that will be determined in the spending review. The Government were elected with a mandate to maintain the size of our regular armed forces, increase the equipment budget in real terms every year and replace our four nuclear ballistic submarines. Those commitments will secure the shape and power of our armed forces throughout this Parliament.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but I think he is aware from the comments already made that there is deep concern on both sides of the House about the fact that the Prime Minister, having asked other NATO countries to commit themselves to spending 2% of GDP on defence, is unable to commit to that beyond 2015-16. I hope we will all urge the Secretary of State to make certain that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is aware of that concern, given the threats that have been outlined and the fact that our capacity to deal with them is stretched pretty thin.

Let me assure my hon. Friend that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is fully aware of the commitments that were made at the NATO summit and has been even more fully aware during recent negotiations over the in-year savings, which have not taken us below 2%. It is important to note, though, that seven of the 28 NATO members do not even spend 1% on their defence and 20 of the 28 do not even spend 1.5%.

As NATO now requires us to pay 2%, and apparently other member states the same, and has since 2006 given itself a global role, whose interests is it defending worldwide, and is it demanding that we replace the Trident nuclear missile system, or is that a self-grown decision?

The purpose of the alliance is to defend its members. That is why our troops were exercising last week in Estonia and will shortly be exercising in Romania and the Baltic sea, and why our Typhoons are flying with the Norwegians to protect the skies over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in the face of Russian aggression. We are one of the nuclear members of the NATO alliance, and that nuclear shield helps to protect all members of the alliance.

When the Secretary of State is next having a word in the shell-like ear of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, will he mention that it does not make a lot of sense for any Government to say that defence is the first duty of Government if they protect other Departments’ spending but not defence spending?

I know of my right hon. Friend’s long-standing commitment to defence and to defence expenditure. He is right, of course, that the first duty of Government is to defend our country and our people. I reminded him earlier of the commitments in the manifesto to protect the size and power of our armed forces right through this Parliament. However, I note what he has said. Those commitments are for the remaining three financial years, from 2016-17 onwards. These are matters for negotiation in the autumn.

Given the £500 million of cuts announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week in this House, will the Secretary of State advise us whether they will affect Trident replacement? If not, will that mean a cut to conventional forces?

Let me assure the hon. Gentleman that the in-year savings that we have been asked to find for the current financial year are way below the original demand of the Treasury. They do not affect the 2% target that we are continuing to meet, they will have no effect on manpower numbers or on current operations—I have just explained to the House that we are extending one of our current operations in Iraq—and they will have no effect on the baseline of defence expenditure before the negotiations begin in the autumn. These savings will fall on some in-year expenditure on travel costs and on consultancy, and we will defer some spending on infrastructure and equipment from this financial year to the next—

Order. We are deeply obliged to the Secretary of State, but the answer is too long. We have to move on.

We are all waiting for the National Security Council risk assessment that the Government are carrying out at the moment. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that there will be an intellectual and coherent thread from that through to the strategic defence and security review, and from that to the comprehensive spending review?

Yes, I can. The review will be based on the risk assessment that is now being updated from the 2010 assessment. That will take us through the work that is being done under the review, which is being undertaken at the same time as the spending review, so all these things come together in identifying the threats we face and the capabilities we need to address them.

Given the lack of success by the leader of the free world at the G7 in extracting the 2% commitment that he desired from the Prime Minister, I am realistic about my own chances, but will the Secretary of State at least accept that if the UK falls below 2%, it will do significant damage to our standing in NATO and our defence relationship with the United States?

It is nice to hear so many Opposition Members championing the cause of 2%. I did not hear that quite so loudly during the general election; perhaps I was listening to the wrong people, and perhaps the Opposition were due to explain exactly how they would finance it. Let us be clear what was agreed last September. In response to the threats from Russian aggression and the rise of ISIL—direct threats to us here in western Europe—the United States wants European members of NATO to shoulder a greater proportion of the burden.