I beg to move,
That this House has considered Britain and international security.
Last Friday a terrorist carrying a Kalashnikov murdered 38 tourists on a beach in Tunisia and injured many more. Thirty of those who lost their lives were British, in the worst terrorist incident we have faced since 7/7. Several hundred miles away in Kuwait, a suicide bomber blew himself up at a Shi’ite mosque, murdering 27 worshippers. Across the channel, on the same day, the boss of a company in Chassieu in France was beheaded by an Islamist extremist. It was a day of terror. It offers a chilling reminder that the world we are living in has become a darker, more dangerous place, and that we are engaged in a fight that will last a generation. Today’s debate on international security could not be more timely.
I want to take this opportunity to do three things: first, to update the House on our response to Tunisia and how we are confronting Islamist extremism in the middle east; secondly, to explain how we are acting to tackle the wider state and non-state threats we face; and, thirdly, with the strategic defence and security review now under way, to give hon. Members an early insight into our thinking.
Does the Secretary of State accept that those terrible events are part of a deliberate ploy by ISIS to change what is a regional conflict between Sunnis and Shi’as, and between nations in the middle east, into a world conflict between what they see as the Christian west and the Muslim east? Would it not be a terrible mistake to react to that provocation by having mission creep that would make a world war more likely?
I will reflect on that analysis, but I certainly hope that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that we should not react to the events that took place last Friday and the murder of our constituents. I will set out how we are reacting.
As Tunisian security forces investigate accomplices in what looks like an ISIL-inspired plot, RAF aircraft have been bringing home the seriously injured and have started repatriating the bodies of those who died. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families at this time, as well as with those who have lost loved ones in France and Kuwait. Tomorrow we will hold a national minute’s silence to remember them.
The Government continue to work with tour operators to ensure that all those who want to come back from Tunisia can do so. Extra flights have been organised and several hundred counter-terrorism officers are at our airports, supporting travellers and gathering evidence. The UK national police response will be one of the largest counter-terrorism operations in a decade. Here at home, the threat level from international terrorism remains unchanged—severe. That means an attack is highly likely. Our police, security services and armed forces are working day and night to protect us. This year we have increased funding for our police and intelligence services, and we are legislating to give them stronger powers to seize passports and prevent travel.
Disrupting violent threats to the UK mainland and our interests overseas is just one element of our broader strategy to counter ISIL. I want to assure the House that Britain is playing a full part in the international coalition to defeat ISIL by targeting the financiers, disrupting supplies of weapons and discrediting its poisonous ideology.
The Secretary of State will be aware of the very concerning incidents in my constituency of individuals travelling to fight for ISIL. Will he say a little about what is being done to step up the co-ordination between agencies in order to prevent travel? We need to ensure that passport agencies, airlines, security services, police and community organisations are all working together to share information on vulnerable individuals who might be considering travel. We are still seeing cases every week, which is deeply worrying.
Absolutely; it is worrying. I will explain exactly what we are doing shortly.
Since September RAF planes, with the agreement of this House, have carried out nearly 1,000 missions in Iraq and 300 strikes against ISIL bases. Last month we sent another 125 troops to train Iraqi forces and help them counter roadside and vehicle-borne bombs. Our surveillance aircraft are already assisting other coalition countries with their operations over Syria, and British forces are helping to train the moderate Syrian opposition. Overall, we now have more than 900 British personnel in the region. Last year we spent £45 million in the fight against ISIL. This financial year we plan to spend at least £75 million[Official Report, 9 July 2015, Vol. 598, c. 1-2MC.].
Last year the Defence Committee visited Iraq and Jordan. We were briefed by the King of Jordan about his ambition, shared by other players in the region, for what he called “Arabising” the narrative and taking control of the strategy. How far is that going, and what more can be done to ensure that it is their strategy we are supporting, so that nobody can label us as somehow imposing our views on the region? We are supporting a serious attempt to deal with this cancer of Daesh in the region.
I discussed exactly that with His Majesty the King of Jordan when he was here last week. I assure my hon. Friend that we are doing everything we can to encourage the region itself to assist the legitimate Government of Iraq. For example, we are taking the lead in the strategic communications group, which is a smaller group of nations helping to battle that ideology. It is a fight in which the region itself must be fully engaged.
I will give way in a moment.
As the Prime Minister said on Monday, there must be a full-spectrum response to deal with ISIL at its source in places such as Syria, Iraq and Libya. We know that ISIL is organised and directed from northern Syria. That is why the Prime Minister said during last September’s debate on taking military action in Iraq that
“there is a strong case for us to do more in Syria”.—[Official Report, 26 September 2014; Vol. 585, c. 1259.]
However, he recognised the reservations that some Members had, and we will not bring a motion to the House on which there is not some consensus. However, this is a new Parliament and it is for all Members to consider carefully how best to tackle ISIL, an evil caliphate that does not respect state boundaries.
Therefore, our position remains that we would return to the House for approval before conducting air strikes in Syria. The exception, as the House knows, is if a critical British national interest was at stake, or if there was the need to act to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe. We are also clear that any action we take must not provide any succour to Assad or his regime.
In 2013, the Government wanted to remove Assad without helping al-Qaeda or similar groups that later became Daesh. Now we apparently want to remove Daesh but without helping Assad. Those two things are incompatible. It is a choice of two evils. Which does my right hon. Friend think is the lesser of those two evils?
We do not want to give any succour to Assad. I do not think that anybody in this House wants the Assad regime to continue for a day longer than is necessary; we want Assad to go. But we are equally clear that ISIL operations in Iraq and elsewhere, probably including Libya, are being directed from northern Syria. We already have American air strikes being carried out in northern Syria and air strikes being carried out from other Gulf countries. We have air strikes being carried out by Canadian aircraft that are helping to keep our streets safe as well.
The Tunisian Government have today arrested 12 Daesh suspects whom they believe were trained, along with the gunman himself, in jihadist camps in Libya. Why, then, is the Secretary of State not proposing to bomb jihadist camps in Libya as opposed to extending the bombing campaign to Syria?
We have to deal with ISIL extremism right across the board. We are working with the Tunisian authorities to find out exactly how the outrage last Friday was carried out, how it was planned, and who was involved in it. Let the House be in absolutely no doubt: the people who perpetrated the murders of our constituents are going to be tracked down, whether they are in Libya, in Syria, or anywhere else.
If we have a Daesh terrorist plotting murders in the United Kingdom, we arrest them, prosecute them, and put them in prison. If that same terrorist goes to Iraq, we try to hunt them down and kill them and blow up the building they are living in. How does that help create a rule of law or democratic pressures in Iraq? Is not the most important thing to try to impose a rule of law and diplomacy and work away to get some solution?
I recognise my right hon. Friend’s view, which he has honourably held for a long time and advocated very eloquently in the debate two years ago. However, I am afraid that the people we are dealing with—ISIL—do not respect the rule of law, do not respect our system of prosecution, and do not respect international boundaries. Everything we are doing in Iraq is at the request of, and with the authority of, the legitimate Government of Iraq, and any action that we are supporting in Syria is in aid of our operations to assist the Government of Iraq.
In one sense, the Secretary of State’s desire to get consensus across the House is laudable, but many of us have been calling for these air strikes to go on across the border, which is not recognised by the extremists, since the action in Iraq began. He has a majority now. If he wants to do this, he should make the case, put it to a vote, and get his own side in order.
I am laying out some of the case today. However, the Prime Minister has made it clear that we will not return to the House for parliamentary authority to conduct air strikes in Syria unless there is a sufficient consensus behind it. It may be that opinion in this Parliament is rather different from opinion in the previous Parliament. A number of things have changed, not least the attacks that have multiplied and the spread of ISIS itself.
The Secretary of State knows that in the absence of an effective Iraqi Government response, the people who have been fighting bravely on the ground are the Kurds—the peshmerga from the Kurdistan Regional Government. At the same time, Kurds in Syria have been fighting bravely against the same forces. Is it not the case that those Kurdish forces have been calling out for heavier weaponry and for military support from this country, as well as from other countries? Why are our Government not giving the Kurds the weaponry and the support that they need?
As I think the hon. Gentleman knows, we have supplied heavy machine guns to the Kurds. I have seen the training on those weapons for myself. As I have told the House, we are stepping up the counter-IED—improvised explosive device—training that we are offering to the Iraqi and the Kurdish forces. We are now doing that training in all four of the so-called building partner capacity centres.
Let me turn to the domestic front—
The Secretary of State mentioned a full-spectrum response, whether at home or abroad. Does he agree that electronic surveillance is a key part of that response? As our enemies move ahead in technology, we need to move ahead of them to have the technological advantage to keep us safe in this country, as well as our armed forces abroad.
Yes, we are playing our full part in the intelligence and surveillance efforts. Some 30% of the intelligence effort that the coalition is mounting is British. It is being flown by our aircraft—Sentinel, Sentry, and Rivet Joint—and utilising our other assets.
I have been generous in giving way and I will do so again in a moment.
I want to deal with the particular issues on the domestic front. We are preventing those who have been radicalised from travelling. Last year, the Home Secretary removed or refused, under the public interest criteria, 24 passports of individuals intending to travel for terrorism-related activity. We have given the police new powers to temporarily seize passports at the border. We have put our no-fly list on a statutory footing. The police have issued new guidance to airlines to ensure that vulnerable children travelling on high-risk routes are identified and referred. I accept that, as the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) said, this needs to be fully co-ordinated across Government, and that is the case. Our world-class security services work day and night to disrupt terrorist plots, and we will continue to give them the investment they need. We will introduce new investigatory powers legislation to ensure that law enforcement, security and intelligence agencies have the capabilities they need to keep us safe from those who would do us harm.
At the same time, we are challenging the extremist narrative, using strategic communications to get out a faster truth to counter the malicious misinformation of our adversaries; joining with internet companies to take down more than 90,000 pieces of extremist material; training over 300,000 people since 2011, including front-line public sector workers, to ensure that they can identify and prevent radicalisation; and excluding nearly 100 preachers of hate—more than any other Government. We are using moderate voices across the middle east and north Africa, and in the United Kingdom, to air a counter-narrative. We spend about £10 million a year with social media and local journalists to encourage millions to reject ISIL’s recruiting slogans. The terrorists should know that every cowardly attack will only harden our resolve. We are in this for the long term and we are determined to win this fight.
On the protection of the UK as a whole and border security, the Secretary of State will be aware that the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic—the land frontier between the United Kingdom and another member state of the European Union—is very open. What measures are in place to ensure that people are not exiting and getting into the United Kingdom there for nefarious purposes? We do not have the kinds of border controls that are present in relation to, for instance, people crossing from France into England.
I shall certainly look at the right hon. Gentleman’s specific point about the border. We now have a very strong defence relationship with the Government in the south. I recently signed a defence co-operation agreement with my counterpart. There needs to be a north-south partnership as well as an east-west partnership, if I may put it like that.
One of the most striking images of the terrorist attacks in Tunisia last week was of Muslim hotel workers who lined up to prevent Daesh terrorists from slaughtering more guests in a neighbouring hotel. Would it not be more appropriate, for the purposes of this debate and beyond, that we refer to the perpetrators of these attacks as Daesh rather than granting them the legitimacy and association with Islam that the term “ISIL” or “Islamic State” provides?
I have a lot of sympathy with that view. Of course, our interlocutors in the Gulf and our coalition allies refer to it as Daesh, and as the Prime Minister reported on Monday, we have now got the BBC to move away from calling it any kind of state. I have referred to it in shorthand as ISIL, and it may be too late to replace “ISIL” with “Daesh”, but the hon. Lady is right to say that we need to reflect on it and not to confer any further legitimacy on ISIL.
My right hon. Friend says that the BBC has been persuaded to drop the term “Islamic State”, but is he aware of reports that the BBC has in fact said that it
“must be fair with Islamic State…on the ground that its coverage of the terrorist group must be impartial”?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the BBC need not be impartial with murderous scumbags such as ISIL and that calling them Daesh is perfectly correct?
I agree with my hon. Friend. The BBC needs to be impartial about the facts, but we cannot be impartial on terrorism and the rules by which the rest of us live.
Let me move on to my second point regarding state and non-state threats. ISIL/Daesh is not the only danger we face. Russia is sabre-rattling in eastern Europe and has followed up its illegal annexation of Crimea by backing rebels in Ukraine and repeatedly entering Baltic and, indeed, British air traffic regions. Russia is continuing to modernise its military capability, and by 2020 it will have spent some $380 billion upgrading or replacing 70% to 100% of its equipment. It has brought into service new missile systems, aircraft, submarines and surface vessels and armoured vehicles, as well as modernising its nuclear capability. It has chosen a path of competition with the west rather than partnership.
In Africa, failing states are falling prey to insurgency and triggering large-scale migration. These crises threaten not just our national security and interests, but the whole international rules-based system on which our values of freedom, tolerance, and the rule of law rely.
From Defence, we make a threefold contribution to protecting national security and upholding the international system. First, we protect and deter. All day, every day, our aircraft, ships and bomb disposal teams are employed in and around the UK, supporting counter-terrorism efforts and ensuring the integrity of our territorial waters and airspace and demonstrating our resolve to those who would threaten us.
Secondly, our defence personnel, ships and planes are out in the rest of the world, helping us to understand the challenges we face, as well as building the capacity of our partners and shaping events to prevent the spread of conflict and instability which could threaten our interests.
Thirdly, when our efforts to deter adversaries are not enough, we will respond with all the military force at our disposal, working with our allies and partners, to defeat aggressors, contain instability and sustain the rules-based system which is the key to our prosperity.
That is why today 4,000 brave and capable men and women of our three armed forces are working around the clock on 21 different joint operations in 19 countries—double the number of operations five years ago.
I am glad that the Secretary of State has mentioned the threat posed by the Russian Federation, especially its recent manoeuvres on the borders of NATO allies Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Given that we have already spent more than £900 million on redundancies in our combat-ready forces over the past four years, how are we going to be capable of invigorating our combat forces and ensuring that they will be ready to deal with any threat from the east?
We are invigorating our forces. It is because we have the defence budget in order now and have dealt with the mess that we inherited in 2010 that we are able to reinvest. We are one of the very few countries in the world that is now building aircraft carriers and hunter-killer submarines and ordering new armoured vehicles for the Army. We are reinvigorating our forces and I shall come in a moment to how exactly we are doing that.
The Secretary of State will know that during the cold war our and NATO’s defence and security policy was shaped by our assessment of the threat. In the current circumstances, what is the Ministry of Defence and the Secretary of State’s view of the threat today?
We face a number of threats—that is obvious to everybody. We cannot choose between them. They are out there, and this year, because we are conducting our strategic defence and security review, which I will come to in a moment, we are able to look at them in the round. That is the answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s question.
As far as NATO’s immediate assurance measures are concerned, our Typhoons are protecting Baltic airspace and will be back next year to continue their mission for the third year running. Our warships have been patrolling the Baltic sea, and our ground troops have exercised this year alongside their counterparts in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Romania. We are also doubling spending on the training of Ukrainian forces to about £6 million and providing additional training tasks in medical evacuation, winter survival and reconnaissance skills. We have already trained about 650 members of the Ukrainian armed forces, and by this autumn we expect to have trained nearly 1,000. We have increased our contribution to NATO’s new very high readiness joint taskforce, and we will augment it with 1,000 troops each year into the next decade. At the same time, we have been playing a leading role in helping to address the migrant issue, with HMS Bulwark rescuing literally thousands from the Mediterranean.
We are not just tackling the symptoms of instability; we are working on its causes, too. We plan to deploy some 130 military personnel to Nigeria between now and the end of September. They will assist the new Government in a range of tasks, including training those Nigerian units deploying on counter-Boko Haram operations. That is a significant increase on the numbers previously deployed. We are continuing to mentor the next generation of Afghan army officers, and we are supporting the people of Sierra Leone in their struggle against the scourge of Ebola and bringing humanitarian help to those affected by the Nepalese earthquake.
My right hon. Friend has mentioned a number of operations on which I had the honour to serve. Although he is identifying military options for these problems, he will be more than aware that most of them do not really have a military solution. For example, in Nigeria, where we are helping against Boko Haram, the fundamental problem is the huge corruption in the Nigerian armed forces and the destructive element in the Nigerian Government. What can we possibly do with our Foreign Office colleagues to address the real problem rather than just the military fix?
I welcome my hon. Friend and parliamentary neighbour to his place in this House. He brings a wealth of experience from the armed forces and, indeed, the Ministry of Defence to debates such as this one. His question allows me to emphasise the importance of the work of other Departments. These cannot just be military solutions.
The work of the Department for International Development is extremely important and I have always seen development and defence as two sides of the same coin. The money we can spend up-front on capacity building helps to avoid a bigger financial outlay downstream. That money and the work by DFID and the Foreign Office can help prevent crises and conflicts. By strengthening countries in Africa, we can do more to discourage people from leaving them, and because today’s aid budget is much better focused, with fewer countries receiving it, it has greater impact.
We are spending some £60 million on supporting millions of people who have been displaced by ISIL/Daesh, and we have pledged £900 million to answer the specific humanitarian crisis in Syria—the biggest ever UK response to any crisis anywhere.
There are a number of measurements, including the OECD one and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute one. The return that I have filed on behalf of the United Kingdom is to NATO, and it complies with NATO guidelines. The House will want to know that, on the basis of that guidance, we spent 2.2% last year and expect to spend more than 2% again this year.
As well as the 4,000 service personnel committed to the operations I have described, more than 10,000 people working in defence are stationed overseas—from Brunei to the Falklands, and from Cyprus to Kenya. They delivered courses in some 15 countries last year, and we have helped to train representatives from 90 countries in our military academies. More than 1,200 naval personnel are deployed in the middle east, helping to keep our energy supplies flowing and to counter terror.
Given the breadth and scale of the operations that the Secretary of State is describing and the fact that they involve service personnel from the Army in particular, what progress has been made on the reserve recruitment targets, and does the Army 2020 strategy still holds? Given the scale of those operations, we must ensure that we can resource them with personnel.
I can confirm that Future Force 2020 is still our strategy. Reserve recruitment is now increasing rapidly—up by more than 60% on last year, with some 6,000 people having stepped forward to join the Army Reserve. We will continue to look at how to make the process of encouraging more people to join faster and simpler as the target becomes more challenging in its latter years, but that is still our ambition.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the sensible and pragmatic way in which he is dealing with all the problems around the world. He is talking about planes and ships, and about men and women doing various good things all around the world, as no doubt they are. As an ex-member of the armed forces, I am fully aware of the top quality of our men and women, and I cannot praise them enough. However, in my day those would have been called out-of-area operations, and we do not have the volume to meet a major threat. The Secretary of State has already said that we face many potential major threats. Surely we need to spend a lot more than 2% on defence to meet that awful inevitability.
I hope that my hon. Friend will recognise that we are rebuilding our forces, not least our reserves, which were shamefully neglected for years. We are continuing to work at that. In the 2010 review, we set out the aim of being able to put a division into the field—obviously with notice, as in any other major operation—and we are still able to field a brigade at much shorter notice. This year’s strategic defence and security review will give us the opportunity to look at exactly those points all over again.
As a proud new recruit of the armed forces parliamentary scheme, I look forward to gaining first-hand experience of the work done by our fantastic servicemen and women. Does my right hon. Friend agree, however, that our national security is not just about armies, but about individuals? That is why it is vital that the Government’s proposed extremism Bill is developed alongside our wider defence strategy.
I absolutely agree. That is what the Prime Minister calls a “full spectrum” effect. We have to deal with these things right across the board—with diplomacy and tackling radicalisation, as well as the harder power that we are charged with. I wish my hon. Friend well in her experiences with the armed forces parliamentary scheme.
In describing the personnel who serve this country across the globe, it would be wrong not to mention those who work in our nuclear submarines. In those submarines, unseen and undetected, we have an ultimate deterrent that has now been maintained for more than 46 years. It is right to pay tribute to the men and women of that service, whose work is unseen but never out of our minds.
Apart from the United States, no other country has our global reach or defence footprint, which I have described. In a world where global problems demand global solutions, we are leveraging that influence to strengthen our international partnerships. At the multilateral level, we have encouraged NATO, the cornerstone of our defence, to upgrade its capabilities and increase allies’ defence spending. Bilaterally, we have worked with the French to form the combined joint expeditionary force, with some 1,000 British and French personnel taking part in an exercise this year to bring us up to full operating capacity next year. Our relationship with the United States remains as strong as ever. We are working together not just in Europe and the Baltic, but in the Gulf, the Red sea and the Indian ocean. The United States Defence Secretary, Ash Carter, emphasised the importance of that relationship when I met him at NATO ministerial meetings last week.
We have been able to maintain this vast range of activity only because of the reforms we have implemented. We cannot have strong defence without a strong economy, so we had to take some tough decisions. We are now on course to deliver more than £5 billion of savings since 2010. We are making efficiency part of the culture of the Ministry of Defence and of our armed forces by making the drive to seek savings a habit. That approach has allowed us to protect the front line better, to maintain the existing size of our regular and reserve forces and to ensure that our personnel have the high-end capability they need, as well as to spend £160 billion over the next 10 years on the new hunter-killer submarines, helicopters, armoured vehicles and joint strike fighters that are needed.
Tough decisions were taken back in 2010, but let me tell the hon. Gentleman that the maritime patrol aircraft, which were supposed to have been delivered some 10 years previously, did not exist. Not a single aircraft had been handed over to the RAF. The programme was years behind schedule. The Conservative Government ordered them, but in their 13 years the Labour Government did not deliver them. There was not an aircraft on the tarmac, so we had to take a tough decision to organise our maritime patrol capability differently. That will of course be one of the areas that will be considered in the 2015 review, which is now under way.
Let me turn to that review. We have to deal not just with the challenges of today, but with those of tomorrow, which I think was the point made by the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes). I know that the strategic defence and security review has generated high levels of interest in this House, and I am grateful to the Defence Select Committee of the last Parliament for its reports, which are certainly informing our work.
The 2015 review will build on the 2010 review. Much of its analysis still holds good. We were right to identify counter-terrorism and cyber as key areas for investment, to start reshaping the Army for a post-Afghanistan future and to reform our defence structures. The 2010 review was the first forward-looking review of national security policy, plans and capabilities to cover all national security departments, not just defence. It established the National Security Council, ensuring strategic decision making at the top of Government, and it underlined the need for more agile forces in an era that is placing a greater number of more diverse demands on defence, which we are meeting through our Future Force. We are therefore far better placed for a review today than we were five years ago.
The review that is under way must reflect a world that now looks darker and more dangerous than at any time since the end of the cold war. It will consider the full range of threats that we face now and in the future, examine the capabilities that we need to handle those threats, and help us to judge how to resource those capabilities. Underpinned by a strong evidence base, the review will unite diplomacy, defence, development and homeland security. It will recognise that our security and prosperity at home and abroad are interlinked. It will also focus on opportunity and innovation—on getting the most out of our whole national security workforce, not just the uniformed services; on strengthening the defence and security industries to harness their technological know-how; on promoting the prosperity agenda; and on cementing key international partnerships.
We expect the review to be completed before the end of the year, but today is a good chance for me to listen to colleagues’ views as well as to speak. The House has huge expertise in defence, development and national security, and I invite Members, whether they are going to speak today or not, to make submissions on the defence aspects of the review directly to me at the Ministry of Defence. We would welcome those submissions.
I say to those who are worried about the events of last Friday that we have highly capable armed forces, respected the world over, and we are putting in one of the biggest defence efforts of any nation in the world, with the fifth biggest defence budget. We are doing that right around the world, and for all the right reasons—to defend the values of freedom, tolerance and the rule of law that we hold dear. To the terrorists in Tunisia and extremists wherever they are, that is the best possible answer.
I start by welcoming the new Chair of the Defence Committee, the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), to his role. I hope it goes well for him.
Today’s debate is of great importance. As the Secretary of State said, it has taken on even greater significance after the harrowing events in Tunisia and the separate attacks in Kuwait and France last week. Like him, I extend our heartfelt sympathies to the family and friends of all those killed or injured. This must be a truly desperate time for them, and they deserve our full and unstinting support. I also pay tribute to the consular staff, police, Foreign Office officials, service personnel and others who assisted in the highly professional multi-agency response to the appalling tragedy and horror in Tunisia. I am sure I speak for the whole House in expressing our deep gratitude for their effectiveness in the face of a highly challenging and dynamic situation.
As if we needed reminding, the events of the past few days have shown that the security of British citizens does not begin and end at the border. The interconnected nature of the modern world is such that the radicalisation of a graduate in Tunisia can have consequences as profound for the safety of British citizens as if that graduate lived here in the UK. Last week’s tragedy again emphasised the fact that the fight against Islamic extremism will be gruelling and enduring. It would be easy to conclude, as some already have, that taking on such a poisonous ideology is all too difficult and we cannot win. That is a counsel of despair, and we should have no truck with it. This has to be the time when the democratic nations of the world come together with those battling the threat wherever it occurs. Terrorism cannot be allowed to succeed, and the terrorists have to know that our will to defeat them remains undiminished.
I wish to respond directly to the Secretary of State’s comments about the possibility of further action against ISIL. We are all horrified by what has happened in Tunisia and by the growing threat that ISIL poses. We must tackle that threat to our citizens both at home and abroad. We stand ready to work with the Government to defeat ISIL and will carefully consider any proposals that they decide to bring forward. We all need to be clear about what difference any action would make to our objective of defeating ISIL, the nature of that action, its objectives and its legal basis. Any potential action must command the support of other nations in the region, including Iraq, and the coalition that is already taking action in Syria.
This is a time for a considered assessment of the best course of action that we can take to defeat this deadly threat to the UK—an objective that unites all of us throughout the House. In redoubling our efforts to tackle extremism in the middle east, north Africa and beyond, we need to be honest not only about the scale of the challenge but about where we may have gone wrong. Despite the hundreds of billions of dollars spent over the past decade, a territory controlled by jihadis, spanning northern Iraq and Syria, is hundreds of times larger and better organised than anything al-Qaeda ever conceived of. The fall of Mosul was a victory of 1,300 men over a 60,000-strong force of Iraqi army and police. The United States has said that five of 18 army and police divisions disintegrated completely in the fall of northern Iraq last year.
The Syrian crisis comprises five different conflicts that cross-infect and exacerbate each other. It started with a popular revolt against Assad, which soon became intertwined with the struggle between Sunnis and the Alawites. That then fed into the wider Sunni-Shi’a conflict, with a standoff between the US, Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states on one side and Iran, Iraq and the Lebanese Shi’a on the other.
That all demonstrates that it is essential that the Government and all of us recognise that, given the ever closer relationship between development, foreign policy and defence, political solutions are essential in order to ensure long-term stability. That is the crucial point at the heart of this afternoon’s debate. Military activity can create the conditions for politics to succeed, but there have to be strong alliances and clear objectives. That is the strategic challenge that will have to be met in the coming years if the threat to us both at home and abroad is to be tackled successfully.
I acknowledge that there are no easy solutions, but is it not crucial that the Government work with our allies to bridge the sectarian divide and bring together what seem, at least from the outside, implacable enemies to fight ISIL? Will the Minister who winds up the debate say what more the Government propose to do to tackle the threat of ISIL and how we can improve Iraqi resilience on the ground? How can we better empower and work with our regional allies and build up the relationships that are so crucial to the success we need? Similarly, what role are the armed forces playing here at home to support operations by the police and the security services to prevent Islamic extremist terrorism here in the UK?
Today’s debate is one of the most crucial of our time—not the debate in the House, although that is important, but the debate in our country about what our future global role should be. Many hon. Members have participated in that debate. Our belief is that the country stands at a crossroads. Which path should we take? Our view is that withdrawing from the world is not just undesirable but impossible. Britain can and must play a positive role in securing and improving international security. Our allies look to us to take up that mantle, and in short we have a responsibility to do so.
Before my hon. Friend moves on to the more general issue, will he clarify the fact that the House’s refusal in 2013 to become involved in a brief bombing campaign against Assad—Members of all parties were involved in that decision—has absolutely no logical connection with taking military action against Daesh? Linking the two does not serve the interests of developing a proper national policy.
My right hon. Friend’s well made point is crucial to the debates that we will have in the House. The decision about whether we should take action in 2013 was related to Assad and his use of chemical weapons. The House as a whole took the view that it was not convinced that the motion before it would help us deal with that problem.
The Defence Secretary has not put a proposal before the House today, but he suggested that we may need to consider what further action can be taken, and how we should deal with Islamic extremism and with Daesh or ISIL. The situation is totally different today compared with 2013, and we do no service to the country—or to anyone—if we are not clear about the difference between 2013 and 2015. We must all consider how we tackle Islamic extremism and terrorism, and keep our country and citizens safe. There will be debate and discussion on that, and people will have different views, but if we conflate 2013 with 2015, or whenever, we will not do the country a service, let alone anyone else.
Unless I am very much mistaken, the hon. Gentleman is preparing the ground to move the Labour party’s position potentially to support air strikes in Syria. Given the complexities of the Syrian situation that he has described, and given that terrorist targets in Syria are already being bombed by our allies, what exactly can he or the Government identify regarding the participation of UK forces that will make any vital difference in this situation?
The right hon. Gentleman asks a fair question, but he should also reflect on what I have tried to say, which is that we will consider the Government’s proposals. As yet, the Government have made no proposals. This is not about preparing the ground; it is about saying what action we will take. The right hon. Gentleman will unite with everyone in the House in asking what we must do to tackle extremism and terrorism, and we must consider any proposals that the Government may bring forward.
Neither the right hon. Gentleman nor I have access to the intelligence or military advice that is available to the Defence Secretary, and we must consider what that advice might include. If military or intelligence advice suggests that a headquarters is directing terrorism across the world from parts of Syria, and that those who are conducting terrorist activities and killing British citizens who are on holiday do so on the directions of people in northern Syria—[Interruption.] UK citizens—English, Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish or whatever: all citizens who are under threat from terrorism. All I say is that it would be right and proper to consider that information, and take whatever action is felt appropriate to deal with it. That is not the same as saying to the Government, “It does not matter what you say. We will support you”. It means that we will be responsible—as will the right hon. Gentleman—and consider what advice the Government have received and what action we should or should not take.
We both know that the Defence Secretary, for some considerable time—as long as he has been Secretary of State—has wanted to extend the bombing campaign into Syria. If we examine the anguished debate that is taking place in America, does the hon. Gentleman agree that in Syria it is difficult to define targets, and to know who is who, which organisation is being struck, and what the effect will be of such airstrikes? Syria provides incredible complexity in such a campaign.
I accept that point. Of course the situation in Syria is complex, as I stated earlier. All I say to the House is that we will consider any proposals that the Defence Secretary brings forward and, like the right hon. Gentleman, we are united in tackling Islamic extremism and terrorism. There is no difference between us on that. When the Defence Secretary comes forward with proposals—if he does—we must consider them and see whether we can support any such action. That is all I am saying.
I was speaking about Britain’s global role and how we cannot remove ourselves from that responsibility. We are uniquely placed: a P5 member, a leading EU country, the second largest contributor to NATO, a founding member of the G7 and—this is often missed out—a central partner in the Commonwealth. We are the only country that is part of all those things. That is not overblown rhetoric, jingoism or national chauvinism. We must be confident in the role that we could, should and will play. By the end of the decade we will have taken the decision to renew the nuclear deterrent, which we support, delivered new attack submarines, and be close to the regeneration of carrier strike. We are still a significant military force, and that is allied to our considerable political influence in the decision-making bodies of the world, and the defence engagement that we undertake in all regions by advising, supporting and training our friends. Such work is often unrecognised but it is crucial none the less. We must also accept that our armed forces have been shaped by more than a decade of conflict, and the British public have become far more sceptical about the use of military force. The case for our military must be made by us all.
Our highly capable armed forces are vital to the UK and its interests. Indeed, military power is not an alternative to, but acts as a support for, political solutions. Our armed forces project power on a global scale and deter potential enemies. The lesson of history is that deterrence, alongside politics, is the best course of action. In the modern world we must treat defence and security as separate sides of the same coin because we must do all we can to prevent a latent threat from becoming a patent one. We must ensure that we have responsive, high-tech armed forces with the capability to respond to emerging interconnected threats in an unpredictable security landscape, including hybrid warfare.
My hon. Friend makes an important point about intelligence. We in this House are proud that our intelligence services are some of the best in the world, and the Defence Secretary will know about the work that our intelligence services are doing across the world to keep us all safe—the rest of us will not know so much, but no doubt attacks and various other terrorist outrages across the world are being thwarted. We must ensure that our intelligence services have the best possible support and resources.
This is a time of multiple and complex global challenges —a far more uncertain security landscape than was envisaged in 2010 by the coalition Government in their national security strategy. Countries such as Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, Yemen and Libya are being torn apart by internal conflict, helping to incubate groups such as ISIL and other ideologically affiliated groups from whom we face a growing terrorist threat. From Vladimir Putin’s Russia comes growing hostility, with military breaches of sovereign territory that we hoped had been consigned to Europe’s brutal past. Who among us believed that we would ever see the day when once again actions appropriate to the cold war era would be taking place within eastern Europe?
Alongside that, humanitarian crises are causing death and human misery with growing regularity and increasing scale, with migration not only a result of instability but a cause of it. We are all aware of the threat that climate change and resource scarcity will play in the coming years in causing instability and potentially sparking conflict, and new emerging threats such as those involving cyber seem to grow at an exponential pace. Our defence and security policies need to navigate that unpredictable and changing landscape by offering certainty and stability.
One part of the debate that gets little coverage or discussion is the renewal of the 2010 national security strategy, which is critical. I do not criticise the Government for failing to see into the future, but the fact that the 2010 strategy fails to mention many of the threats that we are now discussing shows the difficulty of this situation. For example, Russia and ISIL are not mentioned in the 2010 strategy, and the concept of hybrid warfare is not addressed either.
Let us be clear: the process must identify the threats the country faces. From that, we should identify the military capabilities needed to defend us from such threats. The debate is crucial but the Government need urgently to address the lack of transparency and sense of importance. The relationship between the national security strategy and the SDSR is vital. The strategy was a welcome innovation, but it is time to build on it.
In 2010, the Government trumpeted their rejection of strategic shrinkage, yet in the past five years it is said that Britain has lost influence in Europe and the wider world. The Defence Secretary argued just a few weeks ago that we are more engaged than we were in 2010, but we all know that, wherever we go and whatever the reason, it has seemed to our friends and allies that we are less globally relevant than we were five years ago.
The argument barely needs rehearsing, but the previous Government presided over a strategic defence and security review that was strategic in name only. They began by asking what could be cut instead of focusing on ensuring that we have a strong, high-tech armed force equipped for the many emerging and interconnected threats of the 21st century. This time, we should ensure that there are no last-minute deals or rushed decision making based on inadequate thinking. We should not be afraid to debate the future of our country in an open and inclusive way. We might not agree, but the argument is important. I believe there is a great deal of consensus about our global role.
We should ask the important questions on the regeneration of the carrier strike, and the operation of the two carriers and what that means. We should ask questions about the regeneration of the maritime patrol aircraft, which is essential; and the need to refresh Army 2020 and Future Force 2020. It will be interesting to hear what the Defence Secretary says over the next week or two about the future of the reserves, and whether there has been a change of policy. Is the policy on the integration of the reserves with the regulars the same as it was a year ago? Army 2020, Future Force 2020 and the upgrading of our ISTAR capability are major issues that we will need to address, alongside recruitment to 77 Brigade and the need for forces who are able to combat new forms of hybrid warfare. In short, we need to fill the strategic vacuum at the heart of the Government.
The Government have put us on the road to an EU referendum and we need to have a debate about the security aspects of that vital relationship. How can we ensure that NATO not only remains relevant in European security in the 21st century, but develops a coherent and effective response to Russian aggression on our continent? In that regard, the stakes could not be higher. With Russia’s recent actions in Ukraine, its upgrade of its nuclear arsenal and its bellicose rhetoric towards NATO, we have seen a dramatic shift in the strategic balance on the continent of Europe. Let us be clear: we must convince our allies to do more. The debate has mainly been about resources, but it should also be about our willingness to defend one another and to live up to our treaty obligations, especially article 5—and, yes, that means having a frank discussion about our country’s commitment to the 2% NATO target.
The MOD is scrabbling around Whitehall this year looking for pots of cash to include in our defence spending. It is redefining £800 million of war pensions. The Defence Secretary said on Monday, as he has said many times in the past, that spending plans will be set out in the autumn. Can he guarantee that, this year, the reductions he has been asked to make by the Chancellor will not result in any reductions in the training activity of our armed forces? Where threats are identified, they need to be addressed and appropriately resourced. That is how we expect an SDSR to be run.
Briefly on other parts of the world, I recently visited Japan, where there are growing concerns. Do we need to consider our strategic interests in that area? How do we build on our burgeoning relationships with Japan and how do we renew our deep links with Australia, New Zealand and Canada?
On Monday, the Prime Minister mentioned that the G7 wanted to create a kind of clearing house to ensure that countries that need assistance receive help from the nation most able to give it effectively. How will that work? What role can the UK play to ensure its success?
At the end of the previous Parliament, the Defence Committee produced a series of excellent reports on the SDSR. The third report came up with more than 70 questions that the SDSR should address. That would be an excellent starting place for a more wide-ranging debate.
In 1998, Robin Cook and George Robertson toured the country, holding in-depth seminars with expert panels, where the public could engage. The process may have taken longer and might have been more unwieldy from a Whitehall perspective, but it produced a piece of work that is unrivalled as an assessment of the UK’s role in a global context. So far, we have not seen that ambition from the Government. I call on them today to open up a wide-ranging dialogue with the British people about the future defence of our country.
I said that we stand once again at a crossroads as a nation. A few weeks ago, the Washington Post wrote that Britain had resigned as a world power. The Defence Secretary claims we are doing more than we did five years ago, but it is not good enough just to assert it—we need to demonstrate it. The Prime Minister has called ISIL an existential threat to the UK. The Government need to live up to their rhetoric. Britain remains a global power. The SDSR is a chance for us to refresh, renew and rethink our strategy as a nation. We should and must take that chance.
It has been touching to receive so many messages of congratulations on my becoming Chair of the Defence Committee. It is a great responsibility and I will endeavour to live up to it. I pay tribute to the work of my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), for the reports he produced in short order, some of which were slightly overshadowed by the advent of the election campaign and deserve further scrutiny. There was a lot of very interesting material in them.
If I may, I will begin by addressing the excellent interventions made by the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Ms Ahmed-Sheikh) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray) relating to questions of terminology. In that connection, I pay tribute in his absence to my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) for his achievement. He attracted support from every part of the House—he gathered 125 right hon. and hon. Members’ signatures—and petitioned the BBC to stop playing the propaganda game of Daesh and to describe it correctly.
I am sorry to interrupt my right hon. Friend to make such a tiny point. It is most kind of him to describe me as “gallant”, but I was only ever a private soldier in the Territorial Army. Surrounded as I am by brave soldiers who truly deserve the title, I should say that I am not in any shape, size or form “gallant”.
My hon. Friend is, in my eyes, as gallant as they come.
In my hon. Friend’s intervention, he drew attention—he was kind enough to give me the copy of the news article to which he referred—to what the head of the BBC had said. According to today’s edition of The Times:
“The head of the BBC has refused demands from 120 MPs to drop the term Islamic State on the ground that its coverage of the terrorist group must be impartial. Lord Hall of Birkenhead, the director-general, warned that an alternative name for the militants was ‘pejorative’ and said that the broadcaster needed to ‘preserve the BBC’s impartiality’.”
I have news for Lord Hall. I am well familiar with the concept of impartiality that applies to the BBC and independent television. I used to look into it decades ago. It is not absolute impartiality. The example that is always given is that there is no need for the media to be impartial between the arsonist and the fire brigade. The BBC is required to show due impartiality, which does not mean that it has to be impartial between terrorists and constitutionally constituted Governments and their armed forces. Lord Hall would do well to reflect on how he would react if somebody from his ranks of well-paid BBC executives said that the corporation needs to be impartial between the Nazis and the forces that fought them. He would not stand up for that suggestion for a moment.
Far be it for me to defend the BBC, since it has done so little in Scotland recently to merit defence, but does the right hon. Gentleman not allow that perhaps we should unite across the Chamber in the expression of the term Daesh and the wisdom of using it? Once we do that, we can then reflect on whether the broadcasting organisations would follow, as opposed to just turning this into a bash the BBC session.
I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who anticipates the very next point I was going to make. If we use the term Daesh, eventually, with luck, the BBC will be the only organisation left not doing so. At that point, even the BBC might see sense.
I wish to paint a brief picture of the sort of problems we face that lead to the strange paradox that I alluded to when I intervened briefly on the Secretary of State. As I said, two years ago we were proposing to intervene on behalf of one side in a civil war and against the other. Now, it is being proposed that we do exactly the opposite. There are people in the House who are far more expert in these matters than I—
I am afraid I have to disagree with my hon. and gallant Friend. If the vote had been carried, intervention would have taken place the very next weekend. The vote was defeated in this House and the Americans, as a result of that defeat, wisely followed suit, and we did not go down that dangerous road.
As I was starting to say, my interpretation of the situation we face in the world—it may be over-simple, but here it is for what it is worth—is that the western world is being caught up in a terrible recrudescence of the age-old battle between the Shi’as and the Sunnis, a point made by the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) in an earlier intervention. The complexity is that the Shi’a and the Sunni militants have a selection of powerful allies. On the Shi’a side, the Syrian Government two years ago posed the threat of chemical weapons, and the Iranian regime has the potential to acquire nuclear weapons. As part of that particular little gang, we also see our old friend President Putin, who has been flexing his muscles, in a way that we all strongly condemn, by taking unilateral action in Ukraine.
On the Sunni side, we see al-Qaeda and the Daesh militants. Behind them, we see strong elements at least of ideological support in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Qatar, who are supposed to be our friends and allies. The problem we face is that there are no good outcomes to be had, whatever course of action we take. What we therefore have to do is to choose between, at any one time, and adopt a policy that is the lesser of two evils. What we have to decide at any one time is: which is the greater danger posed by one element or another in those two unlovely collections of hostile regimes and terrorist organisations?
I wish today simply to sow the seed of the idea that, where we cannot get a wonderfully satisfactory outcome, and we know the only outcome we will get is to try to minimise the damage and that that will have to be done over an extended period, we should adopt a policy that stood us in good stead for half a century in relation to Soviet Communist Russia and its empire: the policy of containment. We cannot force countries that are not ready yet for democracy to become democracies at the point of a gun barrel, unless one goes to the same extent as at the end of the second world war when there was the total defeat and occupation of countries at the cost of millions of lives.
The idea of containment is not passive; it is an active containment. I spoke earlier today with Lord West, whom I greatly respect. He combines much knowledge with a great deal of practical common sense, and I consulted him two years ago before going ahead and deciding to vote against the proposed intervention then. I said to him today that I was minded to think that if we intervened on this occasion, we would be intervening in a very different way from the one that was proposed two years ago. We would not be intervening to bring down another dreadful Arab dictator and replace him with another failed state run by Islamist extremist terrorists. His response was interesting. He said it is a policy of deciding, at any one time, which of the crocodiles is swimming nearest to the boat. Of course, there is no way of permanently taking the crocodiles out of the scene and sailing blissfully out of danger. When dangerous organisations and deadly regimes wield their weapons in ways that are most threatening to us, we must constantly, over a period of time, try to contain the threat by active measures.
What we are seeing with Daesh and its activity is new. It requires containment, but it requires active containment. Daesh is seizing large areas of territory. By doing so, it is giving up the one great advantage that insurgencies and terrorist groups generally have: the advantage of invisibility. A policy of active containment will, from time to time, certainly require the step of military intervention to prevent the enemy on that particular side of the two-sided threat that I have been trying to describe from becoming over-dominant.
We must not fool ourselves into believing that any steps we take will result in a decisive solution. As the Secretary of State said, we are in this for the long haul. At any given time, we will have to intervene to keep whichever particular set of enemies is becoming too dominant, under control. In a way, that is nothing different from what was traditionally the role of the balance of power, when Britain looked after its national interests by ensuring that no one potential enemy power became overwhelmingly strong on the continent.
That leads me, very briefly, to the question of NATO and European defence. We have seen the concept of article 5—the guarantee whereby NATO ensures that none of its members is attacked without the potential aggressor knowing in advance that, if it does that, it will immediately be at war with all other NATO members—stretched to its limit. We have a long and honourable tradition of supporting the independence of the Baltic states. It goes back at least to the time of our intervention in the Russian civil war in 1919-20. I must say to the House, however, that the decision NATO took to extend its protection to the Baltic states is, realistically, as far as we can go. It is simply not fair to countries further east to hold out the false hope of NATO membership, which, if granted, would be totally incredible. If a potential enemy believes that it is not credible that all NATO members would, in fact, declare war upon the aggressor if there were an attack on one of these eastern states, we will have destroyed the whole foundation and the whole reason for having NATO in the first place. That does not do anyone any favours. It just takes us back to the scenarios of the 1930s, when an aggressor thought that it could pick off one state after another without larger states coming to their rescue.
Finally, I want to say this. The Government keep saying that defence is the first duty of Government. I agree: it is the first duty of Government. It is more important than any other duty of Government. If that is the case, there can be no coherent or rational case for safeguarding and ring-fencing the budgets of other Government Departments, thus increasing the pressure on the unprotected Departments, which include Defence. Something has gone awry with the Government’s sense of defence as the top national priority. We constantly hear talk about Britain punching above its weight, but in reality, the weight of the punch depends on the resources allocated to the armed forces. The stronger the armed forces in peacetime, the more likely it is that we will not have to engage in warfare, because anyone who is likely to attack us will be forced to think again.
Order. Before I call the next speaker, it may be helpful to know that I hope not to impose a time limit on speeches this afternoon, if I gain the co-operation of Members who, out of courtesy for their colleagues, will hopefully keep their speeches to some seven or eight minutes. If everyone were to do that, there would be no need for a formal time limit and we would have more flexibility and a better-flowing debate. This stricture, of course, does not apply to the Front-Bench spokesmen, such as the next speaker, Mr Alex Salmond.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. You have no idea how joyful it is to hear those words spoken and, after so many years in this House, to be in a position where those time strictures do not apply. I know it is not democratic and is unfair to other Members, but I must confess a feeling of real joy and anticipation. You will be delighted to know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that despite the invitation to proceed at some considerable length, I intend to be quite brief. I have enough feeling regarding previous occasions to remember just how frustrating it is to Members not to be able to avail themselves of an opportunity to speak.
I am delighted to follow the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), the new Chairman of the Select Committee. I have a fellow feeling for much of what he said, although perhaps not the last part. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Douglas Chapman), who represents Rosyth, is looking forward to serving under his chairmanship.
I want to re-emphasise my condolences and those of my hon. Friends and our allies in Plaid Cymru, the Green party and the Social and Democratic Labour party to the friends and relatives of those who suffered in the atrocity in Tunisia. It is really important that we emphasise that point across the Chamber—without any ambiguity whatever.
My own feeling is that we did the House a disservice last Monday by combining the statement on Tunisia with the statement on the European Council. If we look at Monday’s Hansard, we see that hon. Members were alternating between asking questions about their potentially dead or missing constituents in Tunisia and asking questions, which were legitimate in themselves, about the Prime Minister’s renegotiation stance on the European Union. When something such as the Tunisia outrage happens, I feel it is worthy of a statement on its own to be considered on its own. As I say, we did a disservice in not doing that.
There is some element of a disservice, albeit not to the same extent, in the Secretary of State for Defence claiming in his advance publicity that this afternoon’s debate relates to extending military action into Syria. If there were a military reaction to the atrocity in Tunisia, it would be important for it to be considered on its own merits and to be judged on that line of responsibility in terms of the justification and efficacy of such military action.
I have known the Secretary of State for Defence for a long time—perhaps too long for both of us—but I was struck by an interview he gave which said:
“The Ministry of Defence is like a sauna on Sunday. The air circulation system has been switched off and the place is hot—and deserted. Yet when you reach the Secretary of State’s floor, a small team is hard at work. As you enter Michael Fallon’s office, you see the reason why. On an easel sits a map of Iraq and Syria.”
Despite the weather conditions, this interview was conducted not last week but on 23 September last year. The Secretary of State has always believed—it is a perfectly honourable belief—that the United Kingdom should participate in the air actions in Syria. That has been his belief and statement. I do not think it is correct, however, to suggest, without specific understanding and without revealing to the House the reasons why—and in more than vague and general terms—that we should frame and publicise this afternoon’s debate in relation to extending military action into Syria.
As I mentioned in an intervention, the Tunisian Government have conducted a number of arrests today. They claim and believe that the terrorist cell responsible for the atrocity was trained in a terrorist camp in Libya. Logically, if there were a military response, people would understandably ask why it did not extend to where the Tunisian Government believe the responsible gunman was trained.
I very much agree with the right hon. Gentleman that if there were to be a military strike against Syria, the matter would have to come back to this House. I commend to him my recently published book “Who Takes Britain to War?” on this very subject. If ISIL or Daesh is operating from Syria as well as from Iraq—there is no real border between the two countries; the border is entirely porous—does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would be perfectly logical to strike against Daesh in Syria as well as in Iraq?
I am coming on to explain exactly why I am sceptical about that argument. I would be delighted, however, to receive a signed copy of the hon. Gentleman’s book if he would care to provide one; in return, I shall give him a copy of my recently published book, which is nothing like as useful or informed as the hon. Gentleman’s. None the less, he might find it of some interest.
I particularly support the words of the Chairman of the Defence Select Committee on the question of the description of the terrorist organisation as Daesh, as opposed to the variety of other acronyms and descriptions that have been widely used. It is fundamental. It is not a matter just of semantics or language; it is fundamental to the campaign of ideas that we should be conducting. This is, fundamentally, a campaign that is going to be decided by whose ideas and whose vision of society and the world have the most attraction to generations of young people across the planet.
I would like to compliment both my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Ms Ahmed-Sheikh) and the hon. Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) who have been taking this matter forward so avidly over recent days. I have done a lot more thinking about this over the last few weeks than I have previously, and the more one looks at the arguments, the more sensible, rational and substantial they become.
There is in the Library an article written by Alice Guthrie, who is an expert on these matters and a translator of Arabic. I was struck by the logic and the coherence of the argument she advanced in the article. As I say, it is available in the Library and it is entitled “Decoding Daesh: Why is the new name for ISIS so hard to understand?”. She quotes a number of important sources—for example, al-Haj Saleh, the Syrian activist, writer and influential figure, who impressively said:
“If an organisation wants to call itself ‘the light’, but in fact they are ‘the darkness’, would you comply and call them ‘the light’”?
Clearly, the answer is no. Alice Guthrie herself goes on to say:
“All of this is why some Syrian activists therefore see it as so important that use of the word 'Daesh' spreads, and have been working hard to make that happen – so effectively in fact, as we know, that the word has been taken on by several global heads of state and their associated media, who have a limited grasp of the specifics behind the term. Originally hailing from the city of Raqqa, Daesh’s current Syrian headquarters, al-Haj Salih says his main goal in making a new name for Daesh was to avoid people getting used to referring to a tyrannical and despotic movement as a ‘state’… In terms of its use by global heads of state and media, he feels that this is only natural, and right, as ‘The people who suffer most at the hands of Daesh should decide what they are called’.”
This is much more than a matter of semantics. It is at the very heart of the need to remove from a terrorist organisation the legitimacy of its aspiration to statehood and a new caliphate, and of its claim—a misleading, wrongful and hurtful claim—to represent one of the world’s great religions. I think that that is absolutely fundamental to the question of how we deal with this matter.
I intervened on the right hon. Member for New Forest East to make the point that, as he later acknowledged, it is crucial for us to unite as a Chamber if we believe this issue to be important, as I do, and as my hon. Friends do. I think that the Secretary of State himself was sympathetic to that when, in response to an intervention, he said it was something that we must reflect on. I think we should reflect on it very soon. I am sure that if we unite, as a Chamber and as a House, in recognising the importance of the war of ideas behind the words, then the broadcasting organisations in this country will follow, as broadcasting organisations have followed in other countries. If we have the confidence to state something which is, at its heart, of fundamental importance, then let us do so. If the broadcasting organisations do not see the wisdom of it, then, and only then, will perhaps be the time for us to open up the full fusillade and barrage of gunfire against the BBC that the right hon. Member for New Forest East suggested.
My second major point is this. I am sceptical about the basis for the extension of the United Kingdom’s participation in an air campaign in Syria. There are questions that I think should be considered, and considered profoundly. The first relates to the legal basis. I have here a summary note which was presented by the Attorney General on 25 September last year and laid in the Library, and which provided the legal basis for the UK’s participation in the air campaign in Iraq. It is a one-page note, and it leans heavily—almost exclusively—on the argument that such action was beyond reproach in international law, because it constituted reaction to a request from a legitimate Government in Iraq.
The Secretary of State suggested that, by extension, it could be said that the Government in Iraq were requesting an intervention in Syria, but it is difficult to see how that could be justified on exactly the same legal basis as the one on which the Attorney General relied last September for participation in the air campaign in Iraq. Let me say to the Secretary of State, and to the Minister who will sum up the debate, that if that is to be the legal basis, we must be given, and presumably will be given, a further summary note explaining the legal basis for participation in Syria. Does the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) wish to intervene?
I am glad that I have captured the attention of the Labour Front Bench, and I hope what I have said will receive wide support in the House.
Another reason for my scepticism is my experience—an experience that I have shared with a number of Members over the last 12 years—of successive military interventions in a range of Islamic countries. At each stage it was argued, and we were assured, that the next intervention would be the absolute key, or at least would deliver progress towards the objectives of this country. I think it must be said that, on each and every occasion, exactly the reverse has come about.
According to the House of Commons Library, 2,047 days have passed since Sir John Chilcot made his opening statement in the Iraq inquiry. By contrast, the first world war lasted 1,561 days, and the second world war lasted only slightly longer than the Chilcot inquiry, at 2,075 days. I am told that a trip to Mars and back would take 520 days. We are also reminded that the Franks inquiry into the Falklands war took a little over six months.
I think it very important—and I would apply this, with great respect, to those who voted for intervention in Iraq, including the present Prime Minister, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer and the present Secretary of State for Defence—for us to reflect on the lessons of that intervention, and also the wider interventions which have, in my view, removed despotic tyrants only to create political vacuums from which unspeakable horrors have now emerged. I think that we should reflect on the wisdom of what we are doing before embarking on another extension of military intervention without at least establishing a specific line of causality between the latest atrocity carried out against United Kingdom citizens and the way in which military intervention would affect it. My view of this matter is tempered by experience, and that experience has not been helpful to those who advocate military intervention.
The third reason for my scepticism is one of practicality. I hope that I shall be able to type in my eight-numeral password so that I can find something that I read a few minutes ago on this iPad. I had looked up the derivation of the dictum “My enemy’s enemy is my friend” . I was once told that it had originated from Sandhurst—that it was the Sandhurst view of diplomacy—but further examination reveals that it is much, much more ancient than that. In fact, the original dictum came not from Sandhurst but from Sanskrit. It is as old as recorded history itself. Having consulted my iPad, I now understand that there is a Bedouin Arabic version of the proverb which reads “Me and my brother against my cousin, but me and my cousin against the stranger”.
The dictum about “my enemy’s enemy” no doubt applies to many situations in many countries in the world, but I think that one country where it certainly does not apply—or where it is not easy to fathom—is Syria. In Syria, your enemy’s enemy is just as likely, perhaps more likely, to be your enemy than to be your friend. It is a country of extraordinary complexity. We read of the anguished debates about Syria that are taking place in the United States at the moment about the wisdom of specific air strikes on specific targets, and whether the allied air force will end up bombing the wrong people in Syria and undercutting the aims that the campaign is meant to engender. For that third reason, practicality, we remain to be convinced that this is a wise course of action.
I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend that the situation is extremely complex. Every Member who has spoken in the debate seems to have accepted the complex and ever-changing nature of the threat that we now face. The response to that threat must be flexible and innovative. Does my right hon. Friend agree that nuclear weapons cannot be used to combat terrorism, and are, in fact, useless at protecting citizens against sentence atrocities? Does he agree that the Government’s plan to spend £100,000 million on renewing Trident, while at the same time making swingeing cuts in the conventional forces on which we shall rely more and more, is an extremely worrying development?
I do agree with my hon. Friend. I could, if I wished, spend a great deal of time talking about Trident to Conservative Members, but I shall try to confine myself specifically to the issue that the Secretary of State has cast as the issue under discussion. Nevertheless, I think that there is a connection between these issues. The Secretary of State talked about a number of threats that the United Kingdom faced. To remarkably few of those threats would anyone present the Trident nuclear system or its renewal as an effective answer, and it could certainly not be presented as an answer to the threat that we face from terrorism.
In summary, I say to the House that we could achieve something together by accepting the wisdom of so many of our Arabic friends and so many of our allies that “Daesh” is the right term to describe terrorists. Is a terrorist by any other name still a terrorist? Most certainly. Does it matter that they are called “terrorist” and not accorded the respectability of being referred to as a state or representing a religion? I think it matters a very great deal, and I think we are on the point of a consensus on the matter—and I hope the Secretary of State for Defence will, perhaps, be able to go further in summing up this debate.
We are sceptical and opposed in the current circumstances to extending the air campaign into Syria. We would have to see the legal basis, and the practicality would have to be much better understood. In particular, a great deal of my experience in this House, and our experience collectively as a country over past years, tells us that interventions can have unforeseen consequences. Many of our interventions and extensions of military action could at best be described as counter-productive and at worst have helped to replenish the dark well from which terrorism is now springing.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) and to take part in this important debate. I say to the Government that the House will have to return to many of these issues in the coming months and years, and they would do well to secure a two-day debate on the next occasion so that they have the chance to hear the views of Members from across the House and answer their concerns. That would avoid the problems that have arisen in the past.
It is a truism to say that we face a very threatening international situation that is incomparably worse than it was five years ago. To the erudite list the Secretary of State for Defence gave at the beginning, I would add what is happening in the China sea and underline the catastrophe—the tide of human misery—that has taken place in the middle east, centred on Syria. When I first went to the Zaatari refugee camp as Secretary of State for International Development in 2012 and pledged a great deal of British money to help those fleeing Syria, I had no idea that the whole region would be convulsed by the subsequent refugee crisis and tragedy.
There is, however, some good news. The important innovation of the National Security Council is very valuable, representing a huge improvement in the way we weld together defence, diplomacy and development. After all, a third of the development budget now goes to conflict resolution and tackling conflict. We should not forget that the purpose of Britain’s intervention in Libya was to stop a bloody massacre in Benghazi in which thousands of people would have been killed.
In the election campaign, it was suggested that the Government had not learned the lessons of Iraq in respect of stabilisation. I was on the NSC at that time and we certainly learned the lessons of Iraq, but if we are to stabilise a country after a conflict, there must be some degree of stability. We had well co-ordinated international plans on stabilisation, which unfortunately were destroyed by the complete lack of stability and security in Libya at that time.
This autumn, the strategic defence and security review will be completed. That is the time when we will need to assess whether 2% is enough for defence, because we will then be able to match the resources to the tasks which we require of our great armed services. That is an important equation; there must be sufficient resources for those brave men and women to carry out their tasks.
I pay tribute to the exceptional work that is done by UK development in pursuing Britain’s national interests. I had the privilege of leading DFID in the first half of the last Parliament, and the men and women of that Department do an excellent job of boosting prosperity, tackling—often successfully—conflict and disorder, and building on the good foundations, I readily concede, of the Labour years. Although those three aspects should encourage us, there is much we can still do better.
On Daesh, or ISIL, we must have a strategy that splits off the hardliners from those who hear with some sympathy the drumbeat of the terrorist message. It is another truism that in Ireland at one point there were perhaps 200 active terrorists, but thousands of sympathisers. As Chairman Mao once said, fish need water to swim in. Splitting off the hardliners from those who are more biddable is extremely important and we do that in a number of ways. In the longer term, we need to support development. That is the way, over the longer term, that we will attack the desperate poverty and deep unfairness in the distribution of resources that we see, in particular, in north Africa and the middle east. By focusing on clean water, education, schools, health and family planning, and by offering desperately poor people those basic ingredients of life that we in the west take for granted, international development helps to bind people into a system and a country.
We need a long-term, coherent political strategy to defeat the brutal thugs and anarchists of Daesh that involves all the regional powers and is backed by the international powers outside the region that have influence. Those with influence over the protagonists must exert it for political progress to be made.
In the short term, there is great concern that a more coherent plan needs to emerge. There has been a dearth of leadership from the United States in the recent past; Europe is facing inwards, addressing substantial problems over Greece and migrants crossing the Mediterranean; and the UN, which ought to be the means of progress, is hamstrung by its structure. If there is to be greater military involvement by Britain, colleagues who were not convinced that there was an overarching strategy at the time of the Syria vote must be persuaded that this time there is.
We should also go after ISIL’s funding with greater vigour. We should seek to destroy the oil sales and the means of delivery. We should do more to train and arm the peshmerga, and we should do the same for other Gulf forces once they get their act together. We should also make far more co-ordinated use of international and Gulf special forces on the ground. There are good guys on the ground in Syria; we need to work more closely with them.
In north Africa, we need to give specific help to Tunisia. We need more public information campaigns to stop the very brave migrants coming across the sea in leaky boats, seeking a better life on a European shore. We need to consider the use of blockading and military action against the horrendous trafficker gangs, and we need to find all possible ways of diminishing and ending this huge humanitarian tragedy.
Longer-term economic progress in north Africa is essential. The southern European Mediterranean states need to understand that, in the end, they will either take the people or the goods and services that those people can produce in north Africa. I freely concede that that is a long-term objective, but it is essential nevertheless.
I have almost finished.
May I end on this point? On Sunday night, I shall attend an Iftar at the Birmingham mosque—the biggest mosque in Europe, I think—with a community every bit as horrified by, and condemnatory of, what happened in Tunisia as all of us here. We in this country need to condemn Islamophobia with every bit as much force and conviction as we condemn anti-Semitism. We need to stand up for human rights, recognising that human rights are not just for nice middle-class people in the royal town of Sutton Coldfield, but for some very unpleasant people who populate our world as well.
We must never compromise our standards of justice and integrity in this ideological battle. Again, I make a plea to the US Government to release for transfer from Guantanamo the last British detainee held there as rapidly as they can. We must not allow terrorists to bully us into abandoning the long-cherished liberties that Britain has stood by. This House eventually stopped the absurd idea of the Executive that we should incarcerate people for up to 90 days without charge. I cannot think of any better recruiting sergeant for terrorist fanatics than the colossal mistake that that would have been. We stopped identity cards. We are now wrestling with the issue of secret courts and the information that has come out of the first secret trial, which is enormously discouraging. This is a generational battle against a threat that is a clear and present danger not only to all of us in Britain, but to many of the poorest Muslim people in the world.
I add my voice to those of other Members who have said that it is time for all of us, including our national media, to start to categorise this organisation, which we are against in a wide-ranging international struggle, as what it is: a criminal caliphate; murderous monsters; homophobic horrors; and people who have nothing to do with a state.
It is more than a death cult. It is worse than that, because its members are interested not just in themselves dying, but in trying to kill people of all faiths and none throughout the world. There can be no negotiation with such organisations, and that means we have to rethink—sadly—some approaches we have taken in recent years.
In Syria we also have to recognise, as we look back to a century ago, that the system of nation states established as a result of Sykes and Picot after world war one is coming under serious strain. The states that exist in the middle east, many drawn simply as lines on a map by British and French diplomats, are now seriously in question. Arab nationalism was for many years the dominant force in the region, but since the events of 2011—the so-called, misnamed Arab Spring—it is now questionable whether Humpty Dumpty can be put back together again.
In the past few days an embryonic Kurdish autonomous region, Rojava, in northern Syria next to the Turkish border, has come about. The town that was taken the other day, Tal Abyad, by the PYD/YPG, the Syrian Kurdish organisation, has for the first time given it a contiguous series of enclaves.
On the other side, since the justified and welcome decision by John Major’s Government to introduce a no-fly zone in northern Iraq, to protect the Kurds from the murderous Ba’athist, fascist regime of Saddam Hussein, we have had for many years the Kurdish regional Government, with their own flag and armed forces, the peshmerga. The Syrian Kurds and Iraqi Kurds have been fighting Daesh. They have had setbacks, lost many people, and been poorly equipped and outgunned by the most well funded and best armed terrorist organisation that has ever existed. That is mainly because the Iraqi army ran away and handed over American-donated weaponry, but it is not simply for that reason. It is also because that organisation pays people to join it. I heard a story the other day of people leaving republics of the former Soviet Union, having been recruited—young Muslim men, paid thousands of US dollars and recruited to that organisation.
Daesh has an appeal to some disaffected groups and, sadly, within our own society. There is the horrific story of the family of three generations from Luton, of Bangladeshi heritage, who on their way back from Bangladesh via Turkey have apparently disappeared. It is suggested that one of the women was influenced and radicalised, and the whole family—three generations, grandparents and young children, 12 people—have disappeared and are thought to be in Syria.
My hon. Friend rightly mentions the quality of the weaponry that the peshmerga and the Kurdish forces use. Is he aware of the statement they have just made, to the effect that they are fighting people who have the most modern American equipment while they have to use Soviet-era matériel? Does he feel that we in this country could do more to assist the people who are actually there, on the ground, fighting that murderous, brutal band, which he so accurately describes?
I agree entirely. That was the point of my intervention on the Secretary of State earlier.
The German Government have provided far more weaponry than we have to the KRG in Iraq, but the United States and our Government are still reluctant to directly provide weaponry. The Syrian Kurds may be getting some limited support, but because of Turkey’s concerns and Baghdad’s objections, the Kurds in Syria and in Iraq are not getting what they absolutely need. These are brave people, and they are putting themselves on the line in defence, in the case of the Iraqi Kurds, of a democratic, pluralistic society that welcomes those internally displaced from the rest of Iraq and refugees from Syria.
I, like the former Secretary of State for International Development, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), visited a refugee camp in Kurdistan in 2013. At that point there were only 250,000 Syrian Kurdish refugees inside the KRG. The KRG has a population of about 4 million, but now 1 million people have gone there to seek refuge and survive. They need humanitarian help, but they also need military assistance, which we should be giving directly to help the Iraqi Kurds in their existential fight against Daesh.
I was in Iraq on Friday. I had an opportunity to speak to the Deputy Prime Minister of Kurdistan, and we are upgrading our military contribution. We have to bear in mind that this is not a competition with NATO allies. We are working together on providing important assistance to the peshmerga, an incredible fighting force, but there are requests for Warsaw pact-calibre capabilities. We obviously provide NATO ones, and we have to be careful about what we provide them.
I look forward to seeing the details. No doubt, as a Select Committee member in future, I will be able to question the Minister on those matters more directly.
Libya is partly our creation. Members of this House overwhelmingly—I was one of those Members—supported military intervention in 2011 to stop the prospect of mass slaughter in Benghazi. An indirect consequence was the downfall of the Gaddafi regime. There was a democratic process and an election, but it all went wrong, and the weaponry that left Libya can now be found throughout north Africa. I saw that myself when I went to Mali.
Libya has played a major role in the destabilisation of democratic, pluralist, modern Tunisia, and the Egyptians are also facing concerns. We have a responsibility to deal with the situation in Libya and to eliminate the potential for Daesh to use it as a safe area. The former leader of the Scottish National party, the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond), was absolutely right to say that we need to look at Libya. I am not sure whether he was advocating military intervention, but that is one interpretation of what he said. I agree that if we are going to do something in Syria, we should also be considering how we can combat Daesh in Libya.
As the hon. Gentleman suspected, I was not arguing for military action. I was merely saying that, to justify any such action, we have to identify and be sure about who we are taking action against, and to justify giving support—I am sympathetic to his points about the Kurdish forces—we need to identify and be confident about the people we are supporting.
That is true, although we can never be certain about anything. As we have seen throughout history, Governments change from time to time and bad people come to power. I will not go down that route now, however.
We have major responsibilities, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) pointed out when he referred to our global reach and our international alliances. Major threats are going to arise in other parts of the world, and we need to maintain those alliances and work with our partners, whether in NATO or the European Union, or more globally through the United Nations system. We have responsibilities, and they include the responsibility to defend our country, our values, our ideas and the world system, because that is in our interests.
Order. I know that hon. Members are better at arithmetic than this. Seven or eight minutes is not the same as 11 minutes. Let us see whether they can prove that, so that we do not have to have a time limit. I know that I can trust a former colonel to do his best, and I call Bob Stewart.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will be bang on time.
Nobody should underestimate the seriousness of the current international situation. In particular, the security threats we now face have changed massively and fast over the last few years. Five years ago the so-called Arab spring had yet to happen, but boy, when it did, the ripples had an impact on the whole of the middle east, especially on Libya, Egypt, Syria and Iraq. At the same time, there has been a massive resurgence of Russian military power, and it is on this, rather than on the consequences of the Arab spring, that I wish to concentrate.
Russia has rapidly increased its defence budget. In 2013, it spent more on armaments than the United States. Its defence spending increased by 4.8%. Moscow plans to allocate more than $700 billion to replace 70% of the country’s military equipment by 2020, and 45% of its naval ships are new. This represents a massive change in Russia’s military posture.
At the same time, we in western Europe much prefer spending on social rather than military security. The inconvenient truth is that defence too often takes a back seat, well behind not just social security priorities but other worthy concerns such as education. Are we sleep-walking? The west won the cold war, but maybe it is starting to simmer again. Burying our heads in the sand to avoid the obvious military facts of life will not diminish the problem. In defence, a wishbone is never a substitute for a backbone.
I dislike having to pin my colours to an exact figure of 2% of gross national income to be spent on defence. For me, such a number is simply a symbol to help people to understand our minimum defence requirements.
The maintenance of international security depends to a great extent on countries working together to ensure that extremists and terrorist organisations are unable to use the internet to spread their propaganda and conflict, particularly if we want to prevent British citizens from joining the death cult, Daesh. Does my hon. Friend agree that internet security and cyber-defence must be at the heart of the strategic defence and security review?
I thank my very hon. Friend for her intervention, and I entirely agree with everything she says. Those matters are now considered very seriously in the SDSR.
Of course I support the military being given what it requires to defend our country properly. I remind the House that, at the height of the cold war, we were normally spending as much as 4.6% of our national income on defence. Although I understand and support the need for targeted overseas aid, I am none the less absolutely shocked that we spend the equivalent of a third of the defence budget on it each year. And I am afraid I do not subscribe to the argument that providing international aid can be a proper substitute for sufficient military power. Defence is too serious a matter to be fiddled.
Forgive me, but I am really up against the time and I want others to have time to speak. Because of you!
Defence is too serious a matter to be fiddled, yet NATO members, particularly in Europe, do so year in and year out. They most certainly do not pay their NATO club dues and we must give them no excuse not to do so. Surely what is happening in Ukraine is a wake-up call. The situation there is a total disaster. Militarily, the Foreign Secretary has already ruled out armed action by our Army, Navy or Air Force, but surely there are some measures we could take to help Ukraine, in addition to the military training we are already providing. Perhaps we could gift-aid non-lethal equipment such as night vision devices and range-finders, which would greatly help Ukraine’s military to see at night. Right now, Ukraine’s armed forces are almost blind after dark. At the same time I cannot see why we should not give Ukraine some of our vast reserve pool of military transport trucks and Land Rovers.
I thank the hon. and gallant Gentleman for giving way. We have identified cybercrime and terrorism as two of the things that threaten us today. Does he therefore agree that it is an absurdity to spend £100 billion on our nuclear so-called deterrent? It is a cold war defence system that is utterly unsuited to dealing with today’s problems.
He was my very old friend. [Laughter.] Of course I disagree with him. The point is that, when we are talking about nuclear weapons, deterrence works, whether in a cold war or a hot war.
I know that we provide aircraft to the Baltic patrols, but should we not also position British ground troops permanently in rotation in eastern Latvia, Estonia or Poland? Since 2010, Russian troop numbers around the Baltic have increased from 9,000 to around 100,000 today. Is it too late, colleagues, to stop the redeployment, back to the United Kingdom, of our last armoured brigade in Germany? It may even be cheaper to leave it there anyway—the Germans will be very happy with that. If we reversed that decision, surely it would send a strong signal to the Kremlin that its actions do have consequences. Many of us here will recall the wrong message that we sent to Argentina in 1982 when we withdrew HMS Endurance just before the Falklands war. Keeping an armoured brigade in Germany might be the right message to send today.
Russia would denounce such a move, but so what? Mr Putin and his cohorts have hardly paid any attention to our protests about what he has been doing in eastern Ukraine, the Crimea, or the Baltic. President Putin might protest long and hard, but at least it would prove that NATO still has teeth. Madam Deputy Speaker, I am finished in time.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to address the House today. May I start by reassuring Members that, despite my youthful appearance, I have not got lost from my school group and wandered into this Chamber? In my first few weeks, I think that members of staff thought that that was the case. It is also getting on a bit, but it is not quite past my bedtime. Indeed at the tender age of 23, in any normal Parliament I would be the baby of the House. However, due to the election of my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Ms Black), I feel positively middle-aged. Being the second youngest Member, I have missed out on much of the press coverage, because nobody cares about the middle child. I am sure my colleague has been delighted with how much attention she has received. For the benefit of the media here, I have some potential stories. I too have spent some of my salary on fast food. I have not eaten a chip butty on the Terrace, but I have eaten a salad—I do not know whether that counts. I await the articles with interest.
I pay tribute to my predecessor, Sir Robert Smith, who served the constituency of West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine tirelessly for 18 years. Sir Robert had a reputation for working hard for his constituents and championing issues that were important to them. That is something that I hope to emulate and excel at over the course of this Parliament. I wish Sir Robert well for the future.
Members may not be aware of my family history in this place. My late grandfather, Hamish Watt, served as the MP for Banffshire from 1974 to 1979. I understand that, due to his use of the north-east dialect of the Doric, Hansard often had a job deciphering exactly what he said. I assure Hansard that my grasp of the Doric is not as assured as that of my grandfather, so it will always ken fit ah mean.
It was my grandfather who first suggested that I should stand for Parliament, although his suggestion was for the constituency of Gordon. However, I felt that my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) had done enough to earn a free shotty at that seat.
I will, if I may, quote from my grandfather’s maiden speech. He said that
“I have been given to understand that it is the tradition for a new Member to speak about his constituency. Were this not a tradition, I would do it anyway.”—[Official Report, 14 March 1974; Vol. 870, c. 467.]
West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine is a diverse and geographically large constituency. From farming to oil and gas to tourism, the constituency is both prosperous and pioneering. Although many of my colleagues have claimed the title of most beautiful constituency, I think that we will all find that West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine is the most beautiful. Indeed I am sure that is endorsed by my constituents who live on the Balmoral estate. With visits from no fewer than four Members of the coalition Government’s Front Bench, including the former Deputy Prime Minister and the Chancellor, during the election campaign, they were obviously all very keen to see for themselves its sheer beauty.
It is the royal family who gave the area in which I grew up the name Royal Deeside. The gateway to Royal Deeside is Banchory, right in the heart of West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine. Banchory has well known features such as Scolty Hill with its tower monument and the beautiful Falls of Feugh. Banchory is also the birth place of the famous fiddler, James Scott Skinner, who was asked by Queen Victoria to teach callisthenics to the royal household.
My former high school, Banchory Academy, is one of the highest achieving in Scotland. Wikipedia notes that notable alumni include top-flight footballers, the founder of the website, Mashable, and an Olympic snowboarder. I am sure that Members will agree that that is a prestigious and high-quality list, although it is somewhat diminished by my name, being elected as an honourable Member to this place. Banchory also has the most 4x4s per head of population anywhere in the UK. But at least the people actually need them, unlike the previous titleholder, Chelsea. Despite the obvious affluence, there is a food bank in Banchory. I have no doubt that this is due to the austerity agenda of the previous Government and this one, and the punitive measures inflicted on some of the most vulnerable in our society.
Moving up Royal Deeside, we come to Ballater. In the week following my election, there was the shocking news that the historic Ballater royal station, used by Queen Victoria, had burned down. The station was very much a focal point for the village and for tourists coming to the area. I am pleased to say that the station will be rebuilt, and would like to reassure Members and the public that Ballater is still very much open for business—and I should think so for a village with more royal warrant holders than any other.
In the southern part of my constituency we have Stonehaven and the Mearns. Stonehaven is famous for its art deco Olympic-sized heated saltwater outdoor swimming pool, the northernmost lido in the UK. It is also famous for its magnificent Hogmanay fireball celebration, which is truly a sight to behold. It is also the birthplace of Robert William Thomson who, at 23, patented the pneumatic tyre.
The Mearns is an area immortalised by Lewis Grassic Gibbon in his book “Sunset Song”. Visitors to the Grassic Gibbon Centre are occasionally disappointed to find out that it has nothing to do with monkeys—I believe that that applies to my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Philip Boswell)—but it is still very much worth a visit.
Where my constituency meets Aberdeen sits Westhill, the global centre of excellence in subsea engineering. The companies based there are the best in the world and export their expertise and skills around the globe. However, even they have been affected by the recent downturn in the oil price. That is why I have pushed and will continue to push the Government to work with the industry to ensure stability and long-term employment in this important industry.
Alford, in the north of my constituency, hosts a statue of a bull to symbolise the historic connection between the celebrated Aberdeen Angus breed and the town. In fact, one of my predecessors, William McCombie, MP for West Aberdeenshire between 1868 and 1876, is credited as one of the original breeders of Aberdeen Angus cattle. The breed is said to have many good characteristics. The cattle are resistant to harsh weather, adaptable and good natured, and they mature extremely early. I think that I share some of those characteristics, although in the past couple of days I have found that I am not so resistant to harsh weather. However, Aberdeen Angus cattle are also said to be undemanding. I am sorry to tell those on the Government Benches that they will not find that from me.
I could go on for quite a while about all that West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine has to offer. With many fantastic castles from Craigievar to Dunnottar and spectacular mountains such as Lochnagar in the Cairngorms national park, there is much that makes West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine a wonderful place to live, work and, of course, visit. However, I want to touch briefly on the topic of today’s debate.
Recently, some of my colleagues in the SNP, along with other Members from across the Chamber, backed moves to refer to the so-called Islamic State as Daesh. That group is arguably one of the biggest threats to British security, but it is clear that Trident is not the best way to combat that threat. The UK Government need to realise that it is neither justifiable nor appropriate to continue to spend billions of pounds of public money on an outdated nuclear weapons system. It is the wrong priority for defence spending and this money could be better spent on our NHS, our education system and ending austerity. We on the SNP Benches oppose Trident with the understanding of the new challenges we face in international security, but these challenges do not require and would only ever be exacerbated by the threat and use of nuclear weapons.
I look forward to the presentation of the strategic defence and security review, and can only hope that it will reflect the need to prioritise new and evolving security threats and will include provisions to ensure that the Ministry of Defence engages with the Scottish Government to take account of security concerns affecting Scottish people.
Like my stature, I have tried to keep this speech short. It has been an honour to be called to make my maiden speech today, and I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and the constituents of West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine for giving me the opportunity to speak in this place.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech during this important debate on Britain and international security. I congratulate the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Stuart Donaldson) on his excellent speech.
Britain has the finest armed forces in the world but, as always, there is a huge challenge in anticipating the nature of the changing threat and preparing for it. As we prepare for an increased cyber-threat and the increasingly asymmetric nature of conflict, we must also understand that a strong deterrent is vital, as showing a weakness will only serve to encourage our enemies. We must never forget that the first duty of any Government is national security, and it is important that the Government continue to invest in our defence industry.
A world-leading defence company, MBDA, has a manufacturing facility in the centre of my constituency, Bolton West, that produces missiles for our defence. It does high-skill, high-value work on cutting-edge technology. MBDA is investing in the building of a new state-of-the-art facility, which shows its commitment to Bolton for decades to come. As a contribution to defence, MBDA’s missiles were used to protect key sites during the London Olympics. Another contribution to the Olympics from Bolton West is Britain’s largest piece of public art, the ArcelorMittal Orbit, designed by Sir Anish Kapoor. The steel structures were made at the Severfield plant in Lostock because only the highest level of precision engineering would do.
Having listened to the recent debate on the legacy of the Olympic venues, I suggest that we again look to Bolton West, this time to see how the Bolton arena from the 2002 Commonwealth games continues to be an excellent centre for sport all these years later. The Bolton arena has also been the venue for Bolton West resident Amir Khan’s home fights, as well as for the general election counts. I still have not come to a conclusion about which is the more exciting.
Our economy needs to continue to rebalance, with an increased emphasis on high-skilled, high-value industry and manufacturing, which we have in Bolton West, but we must recognise that we need a mixed economy and that the service sector also has a huge contribution to make. When I visited Axa Insurance to see its facility, we discussed not just the jobs and opportunities it offers, but the vision of driverless cars and the insurance implications. We need to recognise that innovations in one industry require complementary innovations in others.
Only a couple of weeks ago, I was delighted to open the newly refurbished A.G. Barr regional office in my constituency. This shows the confidence that businesses have locally and what a great place Bolton West is to invest in. The unemployment rate has nearly halved since May 2010 and the youth unemployment rate has more than halved. While I was visiting A.G. Barr, I was delighted to visit its quality control laboratory where I had a reminder of the industry I so recently left. One of the aims I have as a new Member of Parliament is to promote science, technology, engineering and maths, which increasingly offer fantastic career opportunities. As an engineer, I had the opportunity to work from California to Cuba and Israel to Taiwan, and I met some amazing people on my travels.
As a member of the Science and Technology Committee, I will use my background and experience to champion science and technology, for the advanced jobs and manufacturing of the future and for our graduates and apprentices. Politicians always talk about STEM subjects, science at university and apprenticeships, but it is important to ensure that we have the high-skilled research, industry and manufacturing jobs available for them to apply their skills. We need to be better at taking advantage of Britain’s genius and turning it into the high-tech products of the future.
I come from Liverpool. My dad worked in catering after his 22 years’ service in the Army, and my mum worked as a school dinner lady. I was an engineer in the mass spectrometry industry for nearly 20 years. When considering which political party I would join, there could be only one choice—to join the workers’ party, which is why I am now a Conservative.
Bolton West, as a constituency, takes in the western edge of Bolton and the towns and villages on the western side of the borough. Atherton was a new addition to the constituency in 2010, and this means that this is the first time any part of the Wigan borough has been represented in the House of Commons by anyone other than Labour. I am the first Conservative to represent Bolton West since in 1997.
I pay tribute to my predecessor, Julie Hilling, for her great passion for social justice, although with a belief in the central importance of Government in its delivery. In December 1910, there was a disaster at the Pretoria pit, located halfway between Atherton and Westhoughton; 343 men and boys were killed. Last December, I attended events to mark the tragedy and heard Julie Hilling speak with such passion, not just about the tragedy itself, but about the treatment and conditions suffered afterwards. A lesson for me was that often we will agree on how to deal with social injustice, but, when we do disagree, we should have respect for how others desire to deal with it.
As an engineer, I find that people’s perception of modern industry has not always kept pace with what is now so often the reality in Britain. The expectation, when people hear of manufacturing, is of mills and huge factories like the now-closed Horwich Locomotive Works. There is the expectation of smoke stacks and grime. Although this is sometimes still the case, more often modern industry in Britain takes place in business parks where, from the outside, one could not guess whether the building is an office block or a new high-tech venture. This is what we, as a country, need to continue to focus on. We should not be trying to compete with the mass production of China, but we should continue to lead with our innovative industries.
One of the best aspects of being a parliamentary candidate, and now a Member of Parliament, is the opportunity to see and get involved with so many wonderful community groups, clubs and events. That was perfectly illustrated by the Horwich Communities Working Together event, which brought together over 50 different voluntary groups from across Horwich to share ideas and offer each other support. I am looking forward to next Saturday’s Blackrod scarecrow festival, and to being a judge for the Westhoughton yarn bombing—I had best learn the difference between a plain and a fancy French weave pretty quickly. I am delighted to say that there are so many other wonderful events and community groups across the constituency—from Atherton, through to Daisy Hill and over to Heaton, Lostock and Smithills—which I am looking forward to supporting.
Bolton West is well served culturally. We will all know of Bolton Wanderers football club, whose renamed Macron stadium is at the heart of the constituency. I live in Wingates, which has a famous and award-winning brass band, and I am looking forward to Bolton symphony orchestra’s performance of Sibelius’s fifth symphony at the Victoria hall in a few weeks’ time. I believe that a shared culture is fundamental to a strong community and healthy society, underpinned by education, industry and innovation. I am deeply honoured to represent the people of Bolton West in this place.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bolton West (Chris Green). I was elected at the same time as his predecessor, who is a passionate champion for social justice and a great friend, so I am glad that he mentioned her in such glowing terms in his maiden speech. We also heard a maiden speech from the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Stuart Donaldson). I started thinking of myself at the age of 23. I am amazed that he was able to make such a speech. At that age, I was lucky to string a sentence together.
At the weekend, the world, our country and my constituency were rocked by the evil attack in Tunisia. The community of Blackwood has lost one of its own, a person who placed others before herself all her life. She worked tirelessly for her family, her friends and her community. She was quite rightly described as an angel. Throughout this difficult time my thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Trudy Jones, who was needlessly taken away from them.
We now know much about the attack: we know the man who carried it out; we know the people who supported him; and we know the evil that was in their hearts as they planned and then killed innocent people. But we also know that the gunman and his accomplices were not born wanting to kill. They were not born wanting to do evil. In fact, just five years ago the gunman was break-dancing in YouTube videos and posting online about his love of the beautiful game, football. It was a twisted ideology, pushed by brainwashers and demagogues, that made them see innocent holidaymakers as deserving of death. I do not believe that anyone is born believing that. It was a death cult, and their sympathisers around the world have pushed those beliefs to make them see fellow human beings as enemies. No one is born believing that.
We cannot allow this to become about one man and one attack, no matter how horrific. Our response must be to ensure that we deal with the twisted and evil ideology that led to the attack and to the attacks before it. We must challenge it abroad and here at home. The UK is currently second only to France in the number of its citizens fighting in Iraq and Syria. This ideology is on our streets and in our communities, and we must challenge it here.
In 2010, Demos’s report “The Edge of Violence: a radical approach to extremism” examined radical and young Muslims, terrorists and others across five countries, interviewing over 100 people. Its recommendations, although now five years old, still hold true. To tackle domestic extremism we must take four actions. First, we must distinguish between the radical and the violent. Holding radical views is not always the first step on the path to violence. Although radical views might represent a social threat, they should be tackled as a social problem, not as part of our campaign against violent extremism. We must debate and defeat ideas, not shut them down; doing so often turns radicals to violence.
Secondly, we must demystify and de-glamorise Islamic extremism. For many young Muslims, ISIL, Daesh and similar groups represent an anti-establishment counter-culture that they find appealing. The concepts of jihad, the caliphate or struggle against perceived oppression are appealing to many people across the world. Their views have nothing to do with Islam; their views are bent and twisted evil. It is our duty to strip Daesh’s brand of its glamour. The Prime Minister says of our using the phrase “Islamic State” that it is not Islamic and not a state, and we should support him in that. At the community level, we must demystify and de-stigmatise these flawed ideas with a series of local debates to allow them to be challenged, because challenging them proves how shallow they really are. All communications from Government must emphasise the terrorists’ shallow and weird concept of religion. Above all, our language must be about engaging with the people we are talking to. The Demos study found that the slogan “Islam is peace” did not really resonate, but “Islam is just” did. The arguments and actions of terrorists are not just.
Thirdly, we must focus more on prevention. Prevention work is absolutely vital in our security strategy, but it must be targeted. It should be limited to interventions where there is a clear, identified danger of groups or individuals undergoing a movement towards violence. Broader engagement with the UK’s Islamic community on issues such as discrimination, integration or socioeconomic disadvantages cannot be part of our security strategy, as it only isolates communities. The prevention work that does take place must be multi-agency and copy from the successful counter-gang techniques of the past.
Fourthly, we must choose diverse partners. Government and policing agencies should work with partners from religious communities but also non-religious ones. Some of the most important figures in people’s lives are their teachers, social workers and sports coaches. We must harness those relationships to help prevent violence. Beyond this, the Government cannot avoid working with radicals in some situations where there are specific tactical benefits. For example, when working with individuals who believe that violence is a religious obligation, non-violent radicals can sometimes have the credibility needed to convince them otherwise.
We can and must tackle the twisted ideology pushed by Daesh and its ilk right here in Britain, but we must also tackle it at source in Syria and in Iraq. That will not be easy, but it is absolutely vital. The right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) made a pertinent comment early in the debate when he said that if someone is caught in a terrorist action in this country, they are charged, tried and locked up, but if it happens in Syria or Iraq, we bomb the house where they live and bomb their communities, and then all that does is perpetuate more and more violence. We have to change that approach and understand that the rule of law applies in this country as it does in the middle east.
Where Daesh exists, our citizens are seduced by its draw. Where Daesh exists, thousands, if not millions, of people in the middle east are under direct threat. While Daesh exists, our streets and our citizens across the world cannot be safe. But Daesh is only the most recent example of this twisted and evil ideology, which stretches back decades. We must defeat this ideology wherever it is found. We have that duty to our constituents, to our country, and to the world.
I want to end by saying something about the community that I represent. Over the past few months, we have seen tragedy in a number of forms, but we have come together as a close-knit community. I want to say to the family of Trudy Jones that if they need help, our community is there for them, and I am there for them. My thoughts are with them now.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans). My heartfelt sympathies go out to the family also. It is a case of one Evans following another.
It was a pleasure to listen to two maiden speeches. The hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Stuart Donaldson) is carrying on his dynasty, it would appear. I congratulate him on his speech and on representing the second most beautiful constituency in the United Kingdom. I look forward to working with my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Chris Green) on promoting the northern powerhouse.
I remember making my maiden speech when I was 34. I made it at 1 o’clock in the morning and it was rubbish. I sometimes wake up at night thinking about it. This is not self-deprecating humour: it is on the record and it was awful. I congratulate both hon. Members.
I want to pick up on a couple of points that have been raised. The first is about the term “Daesh”. What is the BBC playing at, for goodness’ sake? It cannot be neutral when it comes to terrorism. I am amazed it is still known as the British Broadcasting Corporation; I suspect I will wake up one day to find it has changed its name to simply the Broadcasting Corporation, because in its desire to show neutrality throughout the world it will want to claim that it is not really British. It should remember that it is on the receiving end of £3.7 billion of British taxpayers’ money. I do not expect it to be neutral when talking about terrorism.
I was delighted to hear what the Secretary of State had to say about tomorrow’s national one minute’s silence, which I will observe. In another shot at the BBC, I hope that it and every other TV channel will observe the one minute’s silence at midday. It will bring the whole nation together in condemning what was an absolute atrocity. Many families and a nation are grieving about what happened in Tunisia.
I recently took over the chairmanship of the British group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and I will write to the Tunisian ambassador, as well as to the Kuwaiti and French ambassadors, to show our solidarity with their countries at this awful time.
Many find it difficult to get to terms with the concept of Daesh, its ambitions and the destructive horror of what it does. Its actions, including the beheading of people and what it did to that Jordanian pilot, are barbaric. Is that in the name of religion? I am a Christian and I simply cannot get my head around what it is doing, and the fact that it is doing it in the name of religion makes it even more bewildering to me. As many Members have said, this has got nothing to do with religion. What Daesh doing is barbaric. It has been said that it is not Islamic and that it is not a state—no, it is not. It may well try to hijack a religion, but I am sure that Muslims will not allow it to do so, and neither will I.
The Chair of the Defence Committee has said that this is a most dangerous time. We have heard that time and again, but on this occasion he is absolutely right. Yesterday the Turkish President changed his country’s policy on what it may now do as far as attacks on Syria and Daesh there are concerned. I visited a Turkish refugee camp where there were thousands of Syrians. We know the impact that this conflict has had on Turkey, as well as on Jordan, one of whose camps I have also seen. Dozens of soldiers were killed in another attack on Egypt this week, so it will be interesting to see what Egypt’s reaction will be.
This is an enormously dangerous time and we have to make it absolutely certain that we have the right defences for the challenges we face. Just before election, I voted to keep defence spending at 2% of GDP. I am proud of the 0.7% spent on international development. If we can do it for that, we can do it for defence. By 2%, I mean a minimum of 2%, because if it takes more, we will need to spend it. This is a most dangerous time for us.
I am saying that not simply because BAE Systems Samlesbury is in my constituency—I am proud of the work it does—but because we need to ensure that we have the right level of servicemen and women with the right kit to defend us. I hope the Minister will visit BAE Systems to look at the new apprentice academy, which will open next year. I am proud to say that, in response to a question I asked just before the general election, the Prime Minister agreed to open it.
Russia, which has been mentioned, is clearly hugely disturbing. When I went to Georgia a couple of years ago, I stared at the Russian flag in South Ossetia, one of the two areas that the Russians have invaded and in which they now have troops. What they have done in Crimea is awful. It is the occupation of another country. The one thing we can say about President Putin is that there are fairly well no limits to what he might do in the future. Again, we must make it absolutely certain that we have the right defences to meet the challenges that Russia might present.
I have just been elected to the Select Committee on International Development. It is a return visit, because I was on it just before I became Deputy Speaker, and it is one of the most fulfilling things that I have done. I believe that there is so much we can do, but if we are to spend 0.7% of GNP on international development, we must make sure that it is spent effectively. There have recently been newspaper reports of it not perhaps being spent effectively, and that does us no service whatsoever. It does not matter that 98% of it is incredibly well spent; people pick up on the other 2%. We need to ensure that the money is spent effectively. It is hugely ironic that some people who have been radicalised can terrorise us within our own borders while, at the same time, we are trying in France to protect our borders against people who want to come to live in the United Kingdom. If we spend our international development money effectively, particularly in Africa—to mitigate the reasons so many people want to leave the countries in which they live to come here—we can do incredibly well.
On the international development front, I want to pay tribute to the many young people who are doing their bit in schools or universities in our constituencies. They have projects in which schools work out where they want to provide help, and then they provide help. I have many such projects in schools in my constituency, and I am sure that other hon. Members have equally good examples of projects done by schools and young people. We should pay tribute to them for what they do.
Yes, this is an incredibly worrying time. The Secretary of State asked for our views about the strategic defence and security review. When he reads my speech, I hope that he will see that my view is simply this: we need to spend the money that will properly defend our country. The 2% figure is a minimum, and if there is another vote in this Chamber during this Session, I will go through the Lobby to vote for 2%.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me this wonderful opportunity to make my maiden speech. It has been truly a privilege today to listen to the range, depth and quality of the speeches in this debate, and of course to the eloquence and excellence of the recent maiden speeches. I am trying to tone down my voice after yesterday’s Prime Minister’s screaming match, at which I was, of course, a little louder.
I thank all the staff here in Westminster for being both welcoming and warm. I am truly humbled to be here, and it is with honour and respect that I intend to serve the people of Dundee West.
This is a momentous Parliament, is it not? To this House, I extend the warmth of celebration at Scotland having elected a team dedicated to work to deliver a better, fairer deal for the people of Scotland. In every sense, the SNP is now the national party of Scotland. As we have seen in this House over the last few weeks, however, there is a deficit in terms of the Scottish democratic will being fully realised. The key to resolving such issues is, of course, to increase the powers at Holyrood.
I want to take this opportunity to pay my respects to my predecessor, Jim McGovern. Representing Dundee West for the last 10 years, he served my constituency with diligence and conviction. He had the courage to oppose his own party by refusing to support the renewal of Trident, which is costing over £100 billion. It has been very sobering to listen to today’s pressing debate, which is particularly appropriate because Trident does absolutely nothing to protect us from the threats coming from north Africa and the middle east. I wish Jim and his family the very best for the future.
Dundee is a city of diversity, steeped in history, culture and industry. In fact, one of our bards, Hugh MacDiarmid, once called the city that “great industrial cul-de-sac”. He was right that its industry was great. It was a world centre for linen and jute, and we built ships and furnished engineering needs. Paddington Bear would be interested to know that the Dundonians, James Keiller and Son, invented marmalade. We have given pleasure to generations of children across Britain through the work of the newspaper firm D. C. Thomson, with its many famous publications, which Members will recognise, from The Dandy to The Beano and, of course, The Broons.
MacDiarmid was wrong, however, to suggest that Dundee was a cul-de-sac. The wealth of the city has long been used to reach out to the world, from the Americas to Australia and Asia. There has long been a tradition of welcoming migrants, and in recent years we have built up vibrant Irish, Italian, Polish and Asian communities—something to be proud of and celebrate. This cuts to the heart of who we are in Scotland; we are a’ Jock Tamson’s bairns.
Dundee is also a city of discovery, and importantly it has always been a radical city, ahead of the political curve. Dundonians, whether they were Chartists in the 1820s and ’30s campaigning on Magdalen Green or suffragettes setting fire to Leuchars railway station and Farington hall, have long taken an interest in constitutional affairs. Winston Churchill—I wonder whatever became of that Member—was treated, as the Member of Parliament from 1908, to a few raucous meetings by the suffragettes, later losing his seat to the lively and charismatic Edwin Scrymgeour.
Last year, 57% in Dundee voted yes in the referendum on Scottish independence, setting it again at the vanguard of Scottish politics. This House would do well to acknowledge the democratic will of Dundonians, because believe me when I tell you that Dundonians are proudly forthright, feisty and formidable.
Today, Dundee is an extraordinary city. It has been reborn and stands as a cultural beacon in Scotland. It has been named the first UK UNESCO city of design for its cutting-edge games industry, biomedical research and development of cancer treatments. It boasts two universities, Dundee and Abertay; a fantastic art school, Duncan of Jordanstone; a further education college; and cultural landmarks such as the Dundee Rep, the Gardyne theatre and Dundee Contemporary Arts. Ninewells is one of the largest teaching hospitals in Europe.
In the centre of Dundee stands the Law—it is a hill, no relation to myself. At the waterfront is the £1 billion redevelopment, where the first V&A museum outside London will be opened in 2017. Next year, we will open the new school at the Harris academy. If people are looking for innovation either in the arts or sciences, Dundee is the place to be. When Members come to Dundee, which of course I invite all of them to do, they can arrive at our own wonderful airport on the banks of the silvery Tay estuary.
However, as is the case with many constituencies, mine is a game of two halves, as the local teams Dundee and Dundee United will understand. It runs from rich and affluent areas to others that are struggling in this austerity-driven climate. Children are the world’s most valuable resource, and in my constituency one in four lives in poverty. In some areas, it is one in three. Inequality is the political mountain for this generation to conquer.
Every child in my constituency of Dundee West, and in your constituency, Madam Deputy Speaker, and in all constituencies, deserves to maximise their potential, and it is our job to make sure that happens. It appears to too many outside the House that this Parliament is, at times, distant and disconnected from the misery and suffering of its citizens. It is cold comfort to struggling families in Dundee West to be told that “we’re all in it together” and that they must be “aspirational” when, at the same time, a low-wage economy is being built in a world of permanent austerity, driven by ideology. Estimates for the next five years are that 100,000 more children will be plunged into poverty in Scotland.
I understand that only too well, as a child who grew up in a single-parent family. My mother lived with multiple sclerosis. I pay tribute to her memory—she was one of the most indomitable, strong women I have ever known. She relied on the welfare state to enable her to achieve the quality of life that she deserved. Without the safety net of the welfare state, the most vulnerable in our society are under attack by the very apparatus that should look after them. This Government are abolishing disability living allowance in a way that is committing harm on our citizens. In addition, the independent living fund became a postcode lottery only yesterday in the rest of the UK. The exception is Scotland, where the Scottish Government have had the good sense and compassion to protect those who wish to live as normal a life as possible in their own home.
I urge the House to safeguard each and every citizen who resides on these isles. We are yet to have full view of the Government’s plans for welfare cuts, but Dundee is already dubbed “sanctions city” for the sheer number of withdrawn payments of benefits such as jobseeker’s allowance from those who we know should be in receipt of them. Poverty is not a choice that people can be scared or starved out of. That takes me back to Mary Brooksbank, one of the political activists at the turn of the century when Churchill was in Dundee. She was a jute mill worker and also a songwriter. She wrote a song, two lines of which stand out clearly for me:
“Oh dear me, the world is ill-divided.
Them that work the hardest, are the least provided.”
On a lighter note, it has come to my attention that since my election I have apparently attracted some media headlines for my striking and handsome appearance, notably my ponytail. I follow in a good tradition of Scottish nationals critiqued for such matters. The last man to solicit such a level of attention was the great Keir Hardie, another progressive Member of this House who attracted negative comments about his working man’s garb—in his case a deer stalker of all things! It has not gone without notice, however, that such attention is generally reserved by the media for my female colleagues, so not only am I happy to take up that mantle for the male contingent of the House, but I am proud to do so on behalf of all my female colleagues. I am, of course, delighted to represent a party that, by following a wholly democratic process of candidate selection and then election, has enabled the return of 19 excellent and formidable female MPs to this House.
I have always returned in life to one quote from the social anthropologist Margaret Mead—I studied social anthropology many years ago. She stated:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
That was the slogan of the Spirit of Independence, which was a campaign that I ran throughout the Scottish referendum. Now that we are writing a new chapter in Scotland and the UK, that has never been more relevant, and I hope over the next five years to ensure that the distance we travel together can be a journey that we are collectively proud of.
What a privilege it is to follow the hon. Member for Dundee West (Chris Law) and his excellent maiden speech. I congratulate him and wish him well in his future career and his service in this place. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans), I do not think back much to my maiden speech—it was not a happy moment and it is something I like to forget. Making speeches is something that we do, and people tell me it gets easier—ask me in about five minutes and I will say whether it does or not.
This important debate is on a vast and complex subject, so I shall endeavour to make just a few points, mainly on NATO, foreign aid and defence spending. I agree with the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) who said we must decide what sort of country we are in our attitude to defence and security—that conversation came up at a defence event last night, and there was some consensus.
Are we just another northern European power with armed forces that are broadly defensive and engage in a limited fashion in UN peacekeeping missions or—dare I say it?—on EU missions? Or are we, as I and perhaps the majority of British people think, a global force for good with the sovereign capability to defend ourselves robustly and to project power globally in the national interest, keeping our people and streets safe wherever the next threat may come from? Even if we are the former, we must accept that such things come at a financial cost. History demonstrates time and again that our wars choose us; we do not choose them.
A myth promulgated by certain sections of the liberal media is that somehow our engagements and operations in Iraq and Afghanistan were merely wars of choice. I would disagree strongly with that and say that they were undertaken with the highest, most decent and honourable motivations to protect our national security, keep our people safe, and improve world security. In my view, in order to maintain our contribution to international security, keep our people safe and maintain our place in the world, we must be prepared to invest more in our defence capability. As Denis Healey—not someone I quote often or agree with much—said in 1969:
“Once we cut defence expenditure to the extent where our security is imperilled, we have no houses, we have no hospitals, we have no schools. We have a heap of cinders.”—[Official Report, 5 March 1969; Vol. 779, c. 551.]
He was absolutely right.
The cornerstone of our defence and security policy, and our place in the world, is our membership of NATO. Let me refer to the most up-to-date figures that NATO published last week on estimated defence spending by member states in 2015. Happily, this year we will comply with our treaty obligations and spend 2.1% of GDP on defence. Astonishingly, however, the only other countries in Europe that it is estimated will spend the agreed 2% of GDP on defence to be members of NATO are Estonia, Greece and Poland.
Poland has made a big improvement on last year, stepping up to the plate having been spending only 1.8%. France spends 1.8% and Germany 1.2% of GDP, which is the same as last year. Turkey is getting close with 1.7% of GDP, but Luxembourg is expected to spend only 0.5% of GDP on defence, the lowest in NATO. The other NATO members that will spend less than 1% of GDP alongside Luxembourg are Belgium, Hungary and Spain.
We have led by example. I agree with points the Prime Minister made last September at the NATO summit in Newport when he called on NATO members that are not making their 2% of GDP contribution to spend more. The UK and the US account for almost four fifths of the total NATO defence spend. The US will pay practically 73% of NATO’s total estimated budget for 2015. The European nations cannot keep relying on the Americans to write the cheques to provide them with the personnel, kit and manpower to protect them. We are next on the list, paying 6.6%, followed by France with 4.7% and Germany with 4.2%. It is estimated that Germany is planning to spend nearly £14 billion less than us on defence. France will spend £10 billion less than us. The US is spending around £300 billion more than the UK, Germany and France put together.
The home country of the President of the European Commission, Mr Juncker, is Luxembourg. As well as spending the smallest percentage of GDP, as I have mentioned, Luxembourg provides 0.3% of the NATO budget in real terms, less than any other NATO member apart from Albania. No wonder he is constantly calling for a European army, so that other people can write the cheques and provide the manpower to protect his country.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that if countries want the cover, they have to be prepared to pay the premium, but does he agree that, rather than insist on 0.7% or 2% imposed by supranational organisations, we should instead focus on outputs? In other words, we should focus on effectiveness—be that international development or defence. In those respects, this country does pretty well.
They are not mutually exclusive. We need a benchmark figure to show we are serious and that we are maintaining a commitment. That does not diminish the other things we do, looking for value for money and finding other avenues for defence and security, which I will come to. It is an important commitment for a nation state to say, “I belong to NATO. I get the benefits of the protection. I am prepared to make the right contribution.”
The relatively rich countries of Europe cannot expect the United States and the UK to continue to look at their defence needs. On kit, NATO already has an over- reliance on the US for the provision of essential capabilities, including intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, air-to-air refuelling, ballistic missile defence, airborne electronic warfare and carrier strike. That is completely unsustainable.
Obviously, the use of soft power, including the Foreign Office, the Department for International Development and the BBC World Service, is key to our national security, but they must be backed up by hard power. I was shocked and surprised when I looked at the Library figures for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, MOD and DFID. According to Treasury figures on expenditure for 2015-16, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office spend is £1.3 billion; DFID spend is £11.2 billion; and MOD spend is £42.5 billion. It seems to me that, if we are looking at soft power, influence, defence, security and our place in the world, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is woefully underfunded. Obviously, the MOD spend needs to be increased. DFID does excellent work, but we ought to consider returning to the previous model, when a large degree of that excellent work was carried out under the FCO and MOD. That would help to focus what we are doing, save the taxpayer money, avoid potential duplication and waste, and be more concentrated. We should perhaps look at getting rid of DFID as a Department and going back to having ministerial representation in the FCO and MOD.
We are still a great nation and one of the biggest defence spenders. We are one of the largest economies in the world. Owing to our history, our contribution and our unique relationship with the United States, we are a global power. We are also a nation with moral authority, recognised around the world for our rule of law, parliamentary democracy, basic freedoms and common decency. However, to remain a global force in the world, we must accept that we cannot continue to do it on the cheap. Freedom is not free, and the Government’s refusal to commit to 2% of GDP for the duration of this Parliament is troubling to say the least. Two per cent. should be not an aspiration or the maximum but the absolute line that we will not fall behind. If we did so, it would send a terrible message to our allies and our enemies.
Finally, in the words of Donald Rumsfeld, the former US Defence Secretary: “Weakness is provocative. Time and again weakness has invited adventures which strength might well have deterred.”
If you will allow me, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to mention the extremely dignified behaviour of the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), at Brize Norton yesterday. He brought great credit to this House and to this country. It must have been poignant and painful for him to be present, bearing in mind his family circumstances and his own service. I hope I speak for everyone here when I say how much we admired his demeanour yesterday.
The hon. Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) quoted a former US Defence Secretary. In West Point in 1962, another former US Defence Secretary, this time from Truman’s Cabinet, Dean Acheson, made the famous remark:
“Great Britain has lost an Empire and has not yet found a role”
In his extremely wide-ranging speech at the beginning of this afternoon’s debate, that was very much the sense of what the Secretary of State was saying: what is Britain’s role in international security? We have tended to see it through the prism of military force and we have tended to see that as a military defensive process.
In terms of Britain’s military posture world wide, no one can deny the quality of our armed forces, our servicemen and women. However, we have to accept that the Royal Navy—the branch that I perhaps know most about, and which has been experiencing lean manning for many years—has been doing as much as it can with a diminishing resource decade after decade, year after year, month after month. There comes a time when we have to evaluate our role in terms of our capability on the global stage and in the wider global theatres. Where I may slightly disagree with most of those on my party’s Front Bench and with the official policy of my party—but, slightly worryingly, agree with the hon. Members for East Dunbartonshire (John Nicolson) and for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Stuart Donaldson); I sincerely hope that I do not blight their political careers for ever by supporting their comments—is that I am simply unconvinced that the Trident nuclear system, which is not an independent missile system, is the answer to the problems we face today. When we are talking about international security, I simply cannot understand how the Vanguard boat system, a system predicated on the cold war and vast Russian tank divisions rolling through Poland and on to the north German plains, has any relevance in a modern asymmetric civilianised warfare.
What we have talked about this afternoon proves to me that there may well have been a time for that system, but it is not today and we have to look at different ways. I appreciate that the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), the Chairman of the Defence Committee, is writhing in agony upon his Bench. I would not deny him four Vanguard boats in his bath to play with, but I am not entirely sure they should be the major financial component of our Royal Navy. Despite how few assets it has, the Royal Navy is not just combat ready and does not just interdict drug smugglers; it rewires cities after natural disasters and is a great maritime rescue agency. We all know the work that HMS Bulwark is doing in the Mediterranean. Let us credit the Royal Navy for all the things it does so well, but not at the same time automatically fall victim to the shibboleth that there is something wonderful about the Trident nuclear weapons system, which somehow informs everything the Royal Navy does. We can do much more than that.
If there is one thing I have learned from this afternoon’s debate, it is the absolute and utter primacy of the United Kingdom remaining part of the European Union. If we are to be that one lonely nation fighting our corner across the world and doing all the things we want to do so well, how much better and how much stronger would we be as part of the wider organisation of the European Union and as part of NATO? Anyone who may be harbouring any thoughts of being tempted by the seductive words that sometimes drift across the Chamber even to think about voting to leave the European Union will have heard this afternoon’s debate and said, “No. For this nation’s security, for international security and for strength, we are part of Europe—and we should continue to be so.”
In terms of youth and hair, I intend to challenge neither the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine nor the hon. Member for Dundee West (Chris Law), but I repeat my earlier comments and say I agree with their statements about the nuclear weapons system. We are talking here about international security—not just international military security.
We have to be smart. What is this country really good at? It has the intelligence; it has the global expertise. We know about Iraq because we created Iraq. We know about much of the world because we were there at the beginning. We have the expertise and intelligence, so let us be a smarter country and work on that basis.
Let us pause for a moment. Last Friday everyone was talking about Tunisia. What did we do to support Tunisia, which should have been a beacon of hope in the Maghreb? It should have been one of the few countries resulting from the Arab spring that was actually taking the right route and going forward. We should have done more. It cannot be only when disaster strikes that we suddenly discover the importance of these countries.
We heard earlier about Russian expansionism. Let us look at some countries that we do not talk about except in crisis. I make no apologies for mentioning Armenia yet again on the Floor of the House. Armenia is a beacon of stability in the south Caucasus. It is a country that we should be supporting, endorsing and working with. We should be looking to our friends. We should not be waiting until disaster strikes before we start talking about countries, sending them resources and devoting our attention to them. There are many terrifying places in the world and it is inevitable that we look at where the blood is flowing fastest and where the sound of gunfire is loudest, but let us also look at those places that are not in crisis, but which can add massively to the peace of the world.
We can do so much more in this country. I profoundly hope we can. This afternoon’s debate has been incredibly important. I apologise if I have offended my Front-Bench team by my slightly traditional and old-fashioned Labour views on nuclear weapons. Let us please remember that this is about international security—not just international military security.
The Trident-sceptic and Europhile hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) has the ability to say completely and utterly unacceptable things—total twaddle—but to do so with such charm that we do not realise he has said such unacceptable things. It is a great pleasure to follow him.
I do not intend to take up more time than I need, partly because this afternoon’s debate has been superb, with some very fine speeches covering an enormous amount of ground in relation to our defence policy. I shall not repeat much of what has been said before. It is also right that the debate has focused significantly on Tunisia and the consequences with regard to Syria. In that context, I pay tribute to my constituents, Eileen Swannack from Biddestone who was killed in Tunisia last week, along with her partner John Welch from Pickwick in the neighbouring constituency. We think of them at this difficult time.
It is right for us to find a solution to what happened last Saturday. I spoke strongly against the airstrikes against Assad in Syria two or three years ago, but I now feel that extending our airstrikes from Iraq into Syria would make nothing but logical sense. These people are easily moving back from Iraq into Syria, so if the Prime Minister were to ask us to support targeted airstrikes against Daesh targets in Syria, it would be only logical to support him in that ambition. It is entirely different from what we were asked to do two or three years ago.
At the risk of being technical, I intend to talk not about the broad sweep of defence policy but to focus on one thing. For five years, I have argued that we should have regular defence debates in this place. They should be Government defence debates in Government time and called by the Government on significant issues. For the last five years, we have had only Backbench Business Committee debates, in which the important issues of defence and international security have competed with such worthwhile things as animals, zoos and other such issues. I think that the Government should set out to provide a reasonable number of proper, full-day defence debates—probably six—during this Parliament. I hope that they will agree to do that, and will not leave it to the Backbench Business Committee.
If the Government are seeking topics for those debates—apart from the Army, the Navy and the Air Force; we used to have one debate on each—I would say that the three topics on which they ought to focus are why, how and what. Those three questions are central to defence. “Why” is the topic we are discussing this afternoon. Why should we be doing anything internationally? “What” concerns how we do it, and the strategic defence and security review that will be held later in the year. “How” is the question of the amount we spend on it, and the issue of the comprehensive spending review.
Those are the three main debates that I propose. “Why” is the topic covered by the national security strategy. The strategy has worked well, and it was a good document five years ago. However, when the Defence Committee—I am proud to serve on it, and to have been re-elected to do so—addressed the issue recently, the Prime Minister was quoted as having said that the 2010 national security strategy needed some tweaks, although he may have changed his mind by now. In other words, the document ought to be reasonably fit for purpose today.
That may well have changed in recent days, and I hope that it has, because the world has changed entirely since 2010. We did not know anything about Daesh in 2010. We did not know anything about what is happening in Russia, Ukraine and so forth. We did not know of the threat to the European Union in the form of the Baltic states and Poland. Those things were unknown to us then. In the 2010 national security strategy, state-on-state warfare was downgraded to third or fourth least likely risk. It was said that all we needed to worry about was terrorism. Now, the whole picture has completely and utterly changed, and the first thing we must do is fundamentally redraft the national security strategy.
That must be dealt with at a different time from the security and defence review, which is planned for later this year. What would be the purpose of a fundamental rethink about Britain’s purpose in the world if we were simultaneously working out what arms and armaments we might need in order to achieve those ambitions? The two things must be done at entirely different times. The SDSR must attempt to address fundamental questions about our arms, armaments and people, and the Government must think particularly carefully about the youth reserves. The SDSR document must be designed to fulfil the ambitions that are laid out in the national security strategy.
Both those processes must be entirely separate from the comprehensive spending review, which did not happen in 2010. If we mix the three up and deal with the SDSR, the national security strategy and the comprehensive spending review on the same day, as we did in 2010, it will be said—possibly wrongly, but it will be said—that the SDSR is entirely driven by the Treasury, and will be concerned with cuts.
This year, defence budgets have been cut by half a billion pounds, and it is alleged around the souks that quite a lot more has been cut. Ministers have said very firmly that that does not change the baseline, which remains at £34 billion and will increase. I should like them to repeat that today. I should like them to say that half a billion pounds is only half a billion pounds, that we will start with £34 billion next year, that we will not see further defence cuts, and that we will stick by our manifesto commitments to make no manpower cuts and to increase spending on equipment by 1% per annum. All that is terribly important. Whether or not we spend 2% of GDP on defence, we need to see the output.
I want the national security strategy, the strategic defence and security review and the comprehensive spending review to be entirely separate—I want them to be logical and consequential, and not mixed up together—and I want our Government to commit themselves to doing what they should have done in the first place. We heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), the new Chairman of the Defence Committee—I look forward to serving under his chairmanship—that the first duty of a Government is the defence of the realm, and I want to hear the Government repeat that mantra tonight.
I intend to devote most of the time available to me to the situation in the middle east, but first I shall say a little about the general issue of defence expenditure. I strongly believe that our starting point should be what is in the best interests of our security and of the country. We should start with that and proceed from there, rather than the other way around.
A starting point of 2% is one thing, but I do not think that it is enough, and the Chair of the Defence Committee and others have said the same today. We must, for instance, retain and upgrade our nuclear deterrent. It is a dangerous world and we face many dangerous threats, including future threats we do not know about yet. It would be dangerous to let our expenditure fall below that level and not increase it. The SDSR and CSR will be very important in indicating which way the Government are going. Our first and foremost aim is to protect our country, and we must ensure we have enough resources for our armed forces—although this is also, of course, about diplomatic solutions, the Foreign Office and international development and integrating them better.
I want to concentrate on the middle east. It has been said that if we have air strikes on Iraq, we should by logic also have them on Syria, as Daesh moves across the border and has many people based in Syria. We must ask a number of questions before agreeing to that. I have real doubts about whether we have a proper, thought-through strategy for dealing with Daesh.
Those who are radicalised and recruited by Daesh see it as winning at the moment. They see it as being very successful—undefeated in the true sense—and that acts as a recruiting sergeant. Air strikes alone are not going to inflict serious damage on Daesh, and therefore will not be a solution on their own. There will have to be boots on the ground, and we will have to ponder where they will come from. It would be ideal if they came from Iraq and other middle east nations.
Last year the Defence Committee went to Jordan, which has an important role to play, and we should be giving it more support. We must develop a proper strategy and make sure the Arab nations are involved in putting boots on the ground to defeat Daesh.
We might need to put more resources on the ground ourselves, whether through special forces or specialist forces. We already support the Iraqi Government and the Kurds with training, but that is not enough. The question of whether the Kurds have enough arms to take on Daesh has been raised today.
Those of us who went on the Defence Committee trip to Iraq last year were struck by a number of things. There is still great concern among the Sunni community about their being kept out of the fight against Daesh and not being involved, and not being armed by the Iraqi Government. The Shi’a militias have driven Daesh out, but they have also caused death and destruction in their wake in other parts of Iraq.
We on the Select Committee trip met a large group of tribal leaders in Baghdad. They were crying out for Britain to support them, but they also wanted the Sunni tribes to be armed, to be able to defend themselves and take on Daesh. At present, Daesh is recruiting a lot of Sunnis, who see themselves as ostracised from the Iraqi nation and dominated by the Shi’a. This question has got to be answered.
What are we going to do about Libya? Camps are being set up there in the vast expanse of desert. Air strikes in Syria must be considered in the context of what we do in the rest of the middle east, because Daesh is already spreading its tentacles far and wide. There is a story by Mark Urban on the BBC website, which might feature on “Newsnight” tonight, about Daesh opening a front in Bosnia in the Balkans.
These are serious issues that the Government must address. We will need to know about their strategy to be able to decide whether it is the right one to take on Daesh and inflict serious damage, which is what we need to do. While it is seen to be winning—or at least holding its own—that will be a massive recruiting sergeant, encouraging a lot of people to join, having already been radicalised by it. We need to know what the Government’s strategy to deal with Daesh is. Air strikes into Syria alone will not be the answer. I want the Government to set out their strategy, along with our allies and others in the middle east, for defeating Daesh or at least pushing it back.
There are many threats facing us. We must have the armed forces, diplomatic services and intelligence on the ground to deal with them. We cannot do this on the cheap. The Government must think again about the resources they are putting into our armed forces.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Halton (Derek Twigg), who made a very thoughtful contribution. I want to talk about globalisation and the opportunities that it has given us, although I get the impression that we have grasped the opportunities and not understood the threats. It is about time we did. Communicating immediately with people across the face of the earth is a fantastic thing, be it by flying or tapping in an email, but with it come the threats of extremism and extreme nationalism via the internet. It is not possible for states as we see them to counter that threat in its entirety because of the amount of data that is flowing, and that is before we start talking about the dark web.
On the transmission of disease that takes place via our remarkable systems of transportation, we do not yet have a bio-security strategy that makes sense in this globalised world; we cherry pick the illnesses that we check. For example, we passed legislation in the previous Parliament on the transmission of TB through migration, but we have absolutely no checks on the transmission of blood-borne viral illness. About 6,500 cases of hepatitis are imported every year into this country, and it is important that those individuals know that they have the condition and are treated, but just as importantly the public need to know what is happening so they can be protected against it. How come we want to treat TB but not hepatitis?
Globalisation also brings with it socio-economic challenges. This country has a large and vibrant economy, but the European economy in proportion to the rest of the world is in decline. We cannot presume to be economically vibrant for the foreseeable future, so we need to start thinking about how on earth we are going to pay our way in this world. This country’s debt is currently about £1.5 trillion. If we add personal debts and liabilities for pension schemes and the like, we get to north of £5 trillion. That is not a sustainable position, and it affects national security, particularly if such debt is held by autocratic regimes.
There is also our level of dependence, and not just at home. We know it is an issue, because welfare is discussed in all parts of the House, and that level of dependence has to change. But there is our dependence on the wider world, too, and how we are increasingly dependent for our energy on countries abroad, most of which are also autocracies and not terribly stable.
The concept of nation states has been challenged by globalisation. What constitutes a country? We have a European view, but I am not so sure that it is shared by our friends or enemies in the middle east. It is, however, important, because we rely on the nation state to provide plenty of things in our lives, not least security, but when it comes to what we would like to see happen in the middle east, we need to define the nation state in a different way, because broadly people in the middle east have stronger loyalties to tribe and to religion than they have to Governments.
Having considered all those issues, and there are plenty of others—this is a very broad topic to cover in one debate—I think that Britain as a country has to decide what it is for. What is our role? What part should we play in global affairs, in bio-security, in making sure that the economies of democracies remain strong and vibrant? That is where we have a problem, because we do not know what it should be and what role we should play. This country should play a big role, because the world is a safer place if Britain plays a bigger part in it. I do not recall any extensive debate on foreign or defence policy in the recent rather parochial general election campaign; I recall only the increasingly parochial arguments, which did no credit to this institution or to the political parties.
Defence matters greatly, and it is unsustainable that we spend more in six weeks on health and welfare than we spend on the defence of the nation in a year. When I turn on my television or my radio, I see an increasingly chaotic, unstable, insecure world. We are being presumptuous if we think we can continue to spend in this way on those areas, however important they might be, if that spending is to the detriment of the defence of the nation.
Only when we have defined our role should we start to have conversations about supranational organisation membership. The upcoming EU referendum is premature, because if we do not know what kind of country we should be or what our role in the wider world should be, it will be extremely difficult to work out whether our membership of the European Union is a good thing or not. We have not yet defined what we want to get out of it. I am well versed in the inadequacies and shortcomings of the EU and the eurozone—we all are, particularly Conservative Members—but I stress that we might just want to retain our membership of certain supranational organisations. We might, for example, want to retain our membership of NATO and to adhere to article 5 if Mr Putin dares to walk into Lithuania.
The document issued by the National Security Council, whose establishment during the last Parliament was a good development, did not mention Russia or Daesh, yet Russia had invaded Georgia and we also had Islamic extremism. That just shows how difficult it is to predict future threats. Given that fact, and the fact that we live in a complex world, I would like us to err on the side of caution and to concentrate extra resources not just on tanks and planes but on intelligence services. We face a challenging future, and I want this great nation to be sustainable and successful.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), who has, as always, made a thought-provoking speech.
The events at Calais, and the events—as tragic as they are horrifying—on a holiday beach in Tunisia, have brought home something that was perhaps obvious but that we have overlooked for too long. It is a fact that this country sits in a continent separated from some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people by what is effectively an inland sea capable of being crossed in less than a day. That passage is made by thousands every day. The majority of them are of course seeking a better life, but it can safely be inferred that some are coming to Europe, and attempting to make their way to the United Kingdom, in order to harm us and our democratic way of life. I spoke about that in the debate on the Adjournment last night, and it is a problem that will not go away unless and until we deal with its root causes and direct a focus, which has hitherto been lacking, on the problems that are being experienced particularly in Africa and particularly in relation to corruption. Those problems are leading to much of the difficulty that we now find ourselves in.
The first duty of a Government is, and must always be, to ensure the security and safety of their own people. I know that this Government are well aware of that; it is in part why we make the case—not always popular in the country—that we should spend 0.7% of gross national income on international aid, which is one of the greatest tools of soft power we enjoy. That is not only the right thing to do; it is critical to our own national security. We have been through some tough times, and that is perhaps what has led the Washington Post and the federal Government in Washington to the view that Britain has not walked as tall on the international stage over the past few years as it has done in the past. I venture to suggest to those on the Government Front Bench that it is time to change that view.
We need to ensure that whatever proportion of our national income we spend on defence, we continue to have strong armed forces that are capable of projecting British power across the world. We need that not merely to ensure some form of national aggrandisement, but because what we do overseas matters—it matters to our own security at home. The threat we face from Islamic terrorism in particular means that we have no option but to think long and hard about how we use both our hard and soft power internationally to deal with an ever-increasing menace.
Although many colleagues have focused their remarks on a wide range of subjects, particularly on the middle east, the base of Daesh and al-Qaeda, I wish to focus my remarks on Boko Haram and its operations in northern Nigeria and the surrounding region. What began as a radical political movement in 2002 has essentially become a violent Jihadist insurgency that has killed and abducted thousands, and caused many more to flee their homes in fear.
Boko Haram’s ambition to carve out a caliphate in the region, its links to al-Qaeda and its bloodthirsty violence bear similarities to Daesh in Syria and Iraq. Its exporting of Jihad across post-colonial borders is destabilising the region, just as Daesh is destabilising the middle east. But we cannot, and I know that Ministers will not, forget or ignore the threat of Boko Haram not just to the region but to our own security. The task is far from easy, as I recognise. Boko Haram has seldom shown much regard for national boundaries. It readily retreats across them when threatened, and it crosses into neighbouring states to recruit and train disaffected young men, as indeed has recently been the case in Niger. Its focus has changed recently from the north of Nigeria to a much larger area—perhaps in an attempt to replicate the Kanem-Bornu empire that once spanned parts of northern Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon under the Muslim Sayfawa dynasty. We have seen increasing numbers of incidents on Cameroonian soil in particular, especially kidnappings and village attacks, none of which, it must be said, has attracted much coverage in the media here and still less any debate in this House. The United Nations rightly remains concerned. The Secretary-General has said that he is deeply troubled by Boko Haram’s
“continuing indiscriminate and horrific attacks”.
The world seems largely to have forgotten the girls who were kidnapped overnight on 14 and 15 April 2014, but the truth is that Boko Haram has been kidnapping girls from northern Nigeria for years, often for sale as slaves. Although the Nigerian people and the international community were rightly horrified by the scale of the mass kidnap of more than 200 girls from the town of Chibok, such kidnappings have continued to this day and very little is being done to stop them. The horrifying nature of these kidnappings underscores the horrific nature of the menace with which we have to deal, because it does threaten us here in this country.
The displacement of people from the immediately affected area in which Boko Haram is operating is also causing refugee crises all over the region, as terrified people flee further and further away to get out of the reach of the violence, even to the Maghreb from where they attempt to make their way to Europe.
I have been part of the main debate from the beginning.
Does my hon. and learned Friend recognise that it is the governance problem in Nigeria that is causing the rise of Boko Haram? The rise of so many of these insurgent movements has rather more to do with governance and diplomatic problems than military ones.
It is always difficult to condense a longer speech into a shorter speech, but I will take the injunction from the Chair.
In closing, this is a problem that Ministers must not forget. Of course the threat from Daesh is critical and something with which we must deal, but the threat of Islamist terrorism across Africa is also a very real threat. It threatens us here. I hope that the Minister will say that it is a matter of which the Foreign Office is aware and on which it will concentrate.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I wish to focus my remarks on three areas: the changing nature of the threat; the increased need for broader and deeper collaboration with our allies, with reference to NATO; and the critical significance of the need to win the battle of ideas.
Military strength, though vital to our nation, must be complemented by a more sophisticated understanding of extremist perspectives and the dynamics of how people are recruited to such evil causes. Let me start by examining the very different threats that Britain now faces. The stark differences between the world today and that of the cold war are abundantly clear. Economic and military power are now widely diffused across non-state actors, and an increasingly unpredictable Russia and an inscrutable China, which has evolved and will evolve further into a major player in international security matters, make the world we face very different.
In very recent times, the threat of Islamic extremism, splintering into al-Qaeda offshoots in west and north Africa and the even more extreme Boko Haram, as we have just heard, has made the geographical scope of security risks even broader, thereby accounting for our armed forces being deployed on 21 different operations in 19 countries, double the number of operations just five years ago. Then we have the separate but linked group of al-Shabaab in Somalia. We must recognise that the wide range of extremist groups have different emphases, even though they have a common uncompromising resolve to undermine and attack western values, interests and citizens.
The Arab spring certainly had the consequence of generating greater uncertainty. Even though progress towards democracy appeared to have been secured in Tunisia, last weekend we tragically saw just how easy it is for extremists to penetrate Britain’s security interests—that is, the wellbeing of all our citizens—throughout the globe. In Algeria, Lebanon, Jordan, Mauritania, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Sudan, Iraq, Libya and Kuwait, grave but wide-ranging risks face those who live there as well as those who travel and do business there. This fragmented, complex and uncertain security environment, involving security events, risks and attacks that are much more unpredictable, means that Britain’s assets must be deployed with increased frequency and with more sophisticated skills and roles.
That leads me to my second point. In this uncertain and profoundly more complex international security environment, Britain will need to collaborate more effectively with our NATO allies. The Gracious Speech made clear the Government’s commitment to remain at the forefront of NATO. That will involve intermeshing our assets and capabilities with those of our allies more and more, but it is inconceivable to me that NATO can continue to exist as it does with such wide variance in the interpretation of the 2% of GNI that is to be spent on defence.
In the expanded theatres in which we operate, such as our work with the Kurdish Regional Government, our help for the unprecedented humanitarian response in Syria and our work in Iraq, we must see our allies in NATO spending more. In the UK, the challenge requires three options for defence spending. We must either meet the 2% of GNI not just in the current year but in the comprehensive spending review period for 2016-17 and beyond, or concede that the principle is not sustainable and assess the impact that will have on our moral leadership in NATO and how that differs from where we were at the summit in Wales last year. Alternatively, we can do what I fear we are moving to, and have a fudge using some more DFID money, deftly appropriated for joint humanitarian work. Although the arguments about the £163 billion—1% above RPI—in the equipment budget and the retention of the size and shape of the armed forces will be deployed, the options place a question mark over the integrity of the 0.7% commitment on DFID expenditure and do not fully reflect the necessity to defend and maintain defence budgets at current levels in the face of increasingly diverse and fragmented security interests. Although I readily concede that the budgetary pressures are immense, a greater and impressive list of activities leads me to the view that more effective defence spending, and more of it, is required.
Finally, and more briefly, I wish to reflect on the need to examine more fully the battle for ideas. We will always need military force and I am fully committed, representing the constituency that I do, to the people of our armed forces, who do so much and put so much at risk for our nation. If we examine the geopolitical landscape and fully grasp the fragmentation of extremist ideologies, we will see that we must devote more energy, thought and resources to understanding how to fight against those who hold a very different and extreme eschatology to ours. We must develop a fuller grasp of how the radicalisation process occurs in the UK and in the unstable states we have referred to. This is difficult. It will not be quick or easy.
Today’s debate is timely and critical. We live in a world of changing threats where greater collaboration on a fairer basis will be needed. Britain has led the way in Europe. It must soon decide if it will continue to perform that role in its defence expenditure, but the budget envelope is only one part of it. Without intelligent collaboration, more effective spending focused on reliable outputs, and improved understanding of how all the Government’s assets are used together, we will be at risk of failing in our duty to protect our nation.
I am pleased to follow the excellent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen), and more particularly to follow three extraordinary maiden speeches. I congratulate their authors enormously—my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Chris Green), and the hon. Members for Dundee West (Chris Law) and for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Stuart Donaldson). I agree with the hon. Member for Dundee West in his thesis that we risk, particularly in defence and foreign policy, becoming distant and disconnected—I think those were his words—from the views of those whom we represent.
In 2003 I voted against the Iraq war, though I went on to serve in that conflict. I was conscious at the time that the Government of the day were distancing themselves, as were the official Opposition, from the views being expressed to me by my constituents. It is important, particularly in this arena, that we try to reconnect with the views of the public—the people we represent. The hon. Gentleman was quite right to underscore the dangers we face in the event that we fail to do that.
Twelve years on, we should rule nothing out in dealing with Daesh. It is indeed illogical to conduct strike missions in Iraq, yet not to contemplate doing the same in Syria against an organisation that respects no national boundaries. I suspect that we can lead public opinion on that. Where I think we may have problems is in committing boots on the ground, other than special forces. We will face grave difficulty if such strike missions succumb to mission creep. Right hon. and hon. Members will, I know, be very mindful of their duty to reflect public opinion more fully in this endeavour than perhaps we did in 2003, when this House gave the green light to an unpopular war which badly stretched the patience of the public. We must not do so again. We must reflect on the lessons of the past.
Trust and confidence were very much part of the Anderson report that we debated in this place last Thursday, and were reflected in the title of that report, “A Question of Trust”. Next Tuesday will mark the 10th anniversary of the 7/7 bombings. We can see when terrorists win, but generally not when they are foiled, yet the public do not necessarily understand—Anderson touches on this—when it is necessary to do things in their name which they do not fully understand to protect their liberty. An attack foiled is a liberty upheld.
The pre-legislative stage of the investigatory powers Bill this autumn and the passage of that Bill in advance of the axe falling on the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 in December 2016 is an opportunity to socialise, as far as prudence allows, the activity of the intelligence and security community honestly, openly and with candour. Fear of the unknown and the unseen always promotes mistrust. Reality is often rather dull, but in this context dull is good.
As defence and security face down the rather techie challenges of the future, we have to ensure that there is no 21st century equivalent of the wild west—no ungoverned space, nowhere for organised criminals and terrorists to go, no refuge for the ill-inclined state and non-state actors from where they can threaten the people whose interests we represent.
In addition to its vital inquisitorial role, I look forward to the reconstituted Intelligence and Security Committee being in the vanguard of the promotion of better public understanding of the intelligence activities carried out in their name, and reaffirming consent, reducing suspicion and improving the trust to which Anderson refers and to which the hon. Member for Dundee West alluded.
The other subject on which I think we might be at risk of parting company with the public is international development, which is a vital part of what we are debating today. Let me be clear that I, like most Members of the House, support spending substantial sums of money on international development, because it is right that we do so. I support the Government’s spending of £11.7 billion on aid.
Conflict states do not meet millennium development goals, and states cannot attain prosperity without stability. It follows that if we are serious about international development, we have to be serious about the kind of contribution that our armed forces can make to stability and up-stream conflict prevention. It is strange that we cannot count the cost of the 500 British servicemen in Kabul who are training up security forces simply because they are part of the military and the OECD does not recognise soldiers. It appears that we count finding mates for lovelorn tropical fish in Madagascar as aid, but not squaddies teaching Afghans how to prevent their country from collapsing into civil war. That is clearly wrong.
I am pleased that the OECD is this month belatedly considering its rules for official development assistance—ODA. Perhaps it is time for a parallel system: it has been called total official support for sustainable development, known as TOSSD—acronyms in this field are rarely attractive—which would encompass some element of peacekeeping and up-stream conflict prevention. I think that is well worth considering. The Prime Minister has said that he is open to spending more aid on peacekeeping and security, and he is right to do so. The vehicle is the highly successful conflict pool, which it seems would be far better aligned with TOSSD than ODA, and much easier to sell to a sceptical British public.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in today’s debate on the defence of our country. I join my hon. Friends in congratulating the hon. Members for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Stuart Donaldson) and for Dundee West (Chris Law) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Chris Green) on their superb maiden speeches.
May I begin by sending my condolences to the families of the victims who have been injured or killed in Tunisia, France and Kuwait? They have our sympathy and solidarity. The attacks demonstrate more than ever that we need to confront and defeat those who threaten our peaceful and prosperous way of life and our rules-based international order. They show that Britain’s defence decisions affect not only this country, but countries around the world.
The attacks also remind us how much we rely on our armed forces and security services to keep us safe. They do a superb job around the world. Today, 4,000 men and women of our armed forces are deployed on 23 different joint operations in 19 countries. That includes taking on Daesh. Since last September our planes have carried out over 1,000 missions and 300 air strikes. Our military are training local forces in 15 countries around the world. As my hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) reminded us, 500 British troops remain in Kabul. It is thanks to their efforts that more than 6.7 million Afghan children now have the opportunity to go to school. More than 200 of our servicemen and women remain in Sierra Leone, helping to contain the Ebola epidemic. We have 10,000 service personnel stationed overseas, everywhere from Cyprus to the Falkland Islands. Few nations can match that footprint or respond to such challenges so rapidly and at such scale.
I have recently been given a snapshot into the world of our armed services. As a member of the new intake, I have had the privilege of participating in the armed forces parliamentary scheme, which allows hon. Members across the House to experience life in the armed forces, to understand their working environment and engage with servicemen and women of all ranks. Having recently returned from the UK Defence Academy at Shrivenham, where we met senior officers to discuss current operations, finances and strategy across all three services, I commend the scheme to the House. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray) for his work in chairing the all-party armed forces group and leading the work of the armed forces parliamentary scheme.
Amid all that activity it is easy to forget that the past quarter of a century, although punctuated by periodic and dramatic crises, has been one of relative peace, compared with the past 1,000 years. The proportion of people killed in armed conflict has fallen and living standards have risen as globalisation and technology help lift millions out of poverty.
In the year that we celebrate Magna Carta’s 800th anniversary, we must also remind ourselves that that success was built on the foundations of an international rules-based order. That order did not exist by accident. From the peace of Westphalia to today’s NATO alliance, it is underpinned by states working together for their collective defence. We cannot take it for granted, because today it faces a set of multiple and concurrent challenges. In Europe, we see Russia trying to change an international border by force. In the middle east, we see ISIL, Daesh and al-Qaeda trying to establish a caliphate. In Africa, we see Boko Haram trying to cause mayhem in Nigeria.
Against that backdrop, our armed forces and this country’s security and defence are more important than ever. That view is certainly shared by my constituents in Havant, which has a long and proud naval tradition. We are home to many naval personnel and veterans who have given so much to our country’s defence and who have not hesitated to press their new MP on defence issues. We are also home to defence contractors such as Lockheed Martin and Eaton Aerospace, as well as a number of supply chain partners who provide the equipment that enables our armed forces to operate.
I welcome this Government’s continued investment in our military, especially in our equipment and our Navy. From the two Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers and the new Type 26 global combat ships, to the seven Astute-class submarines and the renewal of our nuclear deterrent through successor-class submarines, these hardware upgrades will ensure that this country remains at the forefront of technology for many years to come, particularly as the nature of the threat to our country changes.
I am proud to say that our country spends 2% of our national income on our defence budget; long may that continue. Our defence budget is in fact the fifth biggest in the world, the second biggest in NATO, and the biggest in the EU. Although our commitment to the safety of our citizens cannot be measured simply in pounds and pence, the commitment of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to investing £160 billion over the next 10 years is certainly welcome. Our plans to buy new aircraft carriers, the joint strike fighter, attack helicopters and armoured vehicles show that some of the threats that we face are still from conventional forces, even in a world where cyber-attack and chemical attack are equally likely.
As I said, the threats we face today are constantly changing, and those behind them are constantly adapting to find new ways of destroying our way of life. I welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement of the strategic defence and security review, which will reassess the new threats that we now face in today’s world. That review will help us to assess those threats and, I hope, ensure that we have the right equipment, strategies and solutions to deal with them in the coming years. I especially welcome his decision to look into the use of unmanned aircraft, cyber-defence and precision weaponry. The review will ensure that we are ready, willing and able to act to defend our national interests and our values, as we always have done.
The coming strategic defence review will build on a very strong track record that we have had since 2010. Over the past five years, we have established the National Security Council to ensure proper strategic decision making, balanced the defence budget, led the world in promoting women’s rights and tackling sexual violence in conflicts—for that, I pay tribute to my fellow Yorkshireman and former Foreign Secretary William Hague—and continue to play a leading role in NATO and the UN in maintaining a strong defence.
I join my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in praising the contribution that our armed forces are making at home and abroad. This Government rightly put security—economic security and national security—at the heart of our election manifesto. They have also promised to do whatever it takes to maintain our defence and keep our country safe and prosperous in a changing world. I am proud to support that work during this Parliament, both inside this House and outside it.
This has been an important debate at a very appropriate time to be considering Britain’s security and our place in the world. We gather here today knowing that our national security is affected by events far from home and actions taken by people thousands of miles away.
Last week, our country was touched by the tragedy of terrorism. Our thoughts are of course with the families of the 30 British citizens who lost their lives. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) rightly spoke of the importance of observing the minute’s silence tomorrow. There is perhaps no better and more chilling an illustration of the interconnected nature of the threats that we now face in the modern world than the horrors that took place on that beach. Today, we have discussed how to keep Britain safe knowing that events in Syria and Iraq can inspire a terrorist to seek out training in Libya and turn a gun on British holidaymakers in Tunisia.
We hold this debate knowing that terror has no respect for borders, from the streets of Kuwait, to the suburbs of southern France, to the forests of sub-Saharan Africa. We know that we face threats that are varied and ever changing—from instability in eastern Europe and uncertain economic events unfolding in Athens, to the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, people fleeing conflicts in failed states and a region still recovering from the outbreak of Ebola. Never has it been more timely to debate our essential partnership with Europe and Britain’s place in the wider world. This excellent debate has risen to that task.
Let me begin by saying how good it is to see the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) in his place to respond to it. I know that he has plenty on his plate at the moment, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) has said, he has been so impressive in responding to the appalling events in recent days. I pay tribute to him for that.
We have heard many excellent speeches by hon. and right hon. Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) and the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray) made powerful tributes to their constituents who were killed in Tunisia.
I also congratulate those who have made excellent maiden speeches. If I may say so, the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Stuart Donaldson) gave a speech beyond his years, and I thank him for recommending the salads in the Terrace cafeteria, even though he is of Aberdeen Angus stock. The hon. Member for Bolton West (Chris Green) spoke powerfully about the importance of science and innovation across the world. Of course, no debate in this place would be complete without a mention of Winston Churchill, so I wish the hon. Member for Dundee West (Chris Law) well as he follows in his predecessor’s footsteps.
This debate has shown that we live in an unstable, stormy and rapidly changing world. Global wealth and influence are shifting from north to south and west to east. Technology is changing our lives beyond recognition. This is the year when the human beings on a small planet will be outnumbered for the first time by mobile phones, three quarters of them owned by people in developing countries.
That holds important lessons for our security. Our global village has never been wealthier, healthier or more connected, but the number of people made homeless by conflict and disaster has never been higher. The forces of change have ratcheted up the pressure on volatile states and fragile regimes. That means that today our challenge is to keep Britain safe in a world where the only certainty is uncertainty.
Much has been made over recent months of Britain’s apparent retreat from the world. Let us be clear: withdrawing from the world is not an option, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), the shadow Defence Secretary, rightly said at the beginning of this debate. Britain can and should continue to play a leading role in global affairs. We must never allow a false choice to be created between nation building at home and engagement on the world stage. We can do both. Our future success and security depend on it.
The hon. Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) talked about Britain’s unique reach as a nation. He is absolutely right. We are members of the UN Security Council, NATO, the European Union, the G7, the G20 and the Commonwealth. We have a time zone, history, language and cultural exports, and we are home to the capital of global finance.
We should not underestimate how much people are looking for our country to show a lead. Research by Chatham House has shown that more than 60% of the great British public remain ambitious for Britain to play a leading role in world affairs. Across the globe, many countries still expect Britain to play our part as a senior power that led the world in prioritising humanitarian development and upholding human rights. We should continue to live up to that.
Many hon. Members have reflected on the tremendous debt we owe our armed forces. Nothing should give us greater confidence than our brave men and women in uniform, who, like the hon. Member for Havant (Alan Mak), I thank, together with the Foreign Office staff working in consulates and embassies around the world, often in difficult and dangerous situations and often well beyond the call of duty. They are the best of British and we thank them for what they do for our country.
As we begin the strategic defence and security review, the Government’s task is to plot a course for how we best marshal that talent and ensure that we have the capabilities we need to keep our country safe in the years ahead. That is not limited to our capacity on land, sea and in the air. At a time when Britain is reported to suffer more cyber-attacks than any other country in Europe, we must also ensure that we have the means to protect ourselves online. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that they can deliver the comprehensive plan for our future security that we need?
Several hon. Members have rightly concentrated on the new threats that we face. Terror and extremism are as formidable an enemy as any that our country has ever faced, but it is not one that we can easily pin down on a map. It is every bit as fierce as the evil this country waged war on more than 70 years ago. This is the challenge of our generation, and we must use every single asset at our disposal to respond to ISIL or Daesh. The right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) spoke about his reasons for using the term “Daesh”, and we have had a good debate about that this afternoon.
As hon. Members will know, ISIL or Daesh is a different entity from al-Qaeda and other foes we have faced in recent times, as the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) pointed out. May I take this opportunity to congratulate him on his new role as Chair of the Defence Committee? We wish him well in that important post. ISIL occupies ground, commands huge resources and is very effective at disseminating its messages. We will defeat its poisonous ideology, which the hon. Member for Salisbury (John Glen) mentioned, only if we work together with our allies and international partners to take on this threat wherever it occurs. That includes the co-ordinated military action against ISIL in Iraq voted for by this House in 2014.
The Defence Secretary spoke about a possible case for extending air strikes to Syria. As the Opposition, we stand ready to work with the Government to defeat ISIL, and we will carefully consider any proposals that they decide to bring forward. These are important judgments that must be made carefully on their own merits. There must be clarity about the nature, objectives and legal basis of any action, and about how it would help us to achieve our shared objective of defeating ISIL.
We must ensure that any potential action commands the support of other nations in the region, including Iraq and the coalition of nations already taking action in Syria. We also know from past conflicts that decisions on military action need to be accompanied by a broader political strategy. That point was made by the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), whom it is very good to see in this place, although he is not in the Chamber at the moment. We should also reflect on the comments made by the hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) on engaging with partners such as Jordan.
What diplomatic efforts are the Government making to work with the regional powers? What efforts are being made to build alliances with countries that hold a shared interest with us in defeating ISIL? That includes working together to disrupt the means by which ISIL spreads its propaganda, and involves sharing intelligence where appropriate. Crucially, we need to follow the money, which means doing all we can to cut off the finances that fund the bloodshed. More broadly, we need to work with our partners to tackle the illegal trade in narcotics and the people trafficking that is spreading disorder and funding such atrocities across the globe. What efforts are the Government making to address those issues?
This has been a wide-ranging debate, but let me briefly touch on some of the broader issues. The way in which we use our soft power is key to ensuring our security in the modern world. That particularly applies to maintaining peace in eastern Europe following the annexation of Crimea and to the role Russia has played in destabilising Ukraine. The hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart)—his arrival in the Chamber is very timely and just in time—particularly focused on how we can support Ukraine. As I am sure he knows, European Foreign Ministers voted just last week to extend the economic sanctions against the Russian regime. If the Minister has time, will he give us his assessment of whether the current sanctions are working? What further diplomatic efforts are the Government making in this area?
Does the Minister acknowledge the variety of grave threats that we face in the coming years? They include patterns of migration, pandemic disease—the hon. Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) rightly made that point—and the impact of climate change. The effects of climate change are already contributing to the scarcity of resources and making populations more transient. It is estimated that as many as 200 million people will have been displaced by climate change by 2050, which is five times the world’s entire refugee population in 2008. I would be grateful if the Minister updated the House on the steps that the Government are taking to ensure that there is a binding agreement at the UN climate change conference in Paris this December.
I welcome the agreement between the Front-Bench teams about the important role of international development. The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) and the hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) made good points about that. Supporting developing countries is not only the right thing to do morally but the right choice for our national security, because it will help to build a safer world in the long term. As we approach the deadline for the millennium development goals, I would welcome anything that the Minister can say about how the Government will help to build on the progress that has been made.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) made a passionate speech about the lessons that we can draw from history, particularly in the region we have discussed today. Perhaps to nobody’s surprise—certainly not to mine—the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray) also referred to learning the lessons of the past, so I will conclude with a reflection from history. Some 70 years ago, a new majority Government took office and a new Foreign Secretary issued a warning that foreign affairs would present them with their most vexed and difficult problems. Ernest Bevin said that we would secure a safer and more peaceful future
“by patience. By trying to understand one another’s point of view, and bringing people together for a common purpose.”
He spoke from a generation that overcame fascism and worked to repair a world shattered by conflict. Today we face different threats that bring new dangers and complexities, but when people look back on our political generation, let it be said that we kept true to that, brought people together for a common purpose and stood up to the varied challenges before us. Let it be said that we were not cowed by those who lived to spread fear and hatred, but that we acted to keep Britain safe and to pursue a safer and more prosperous world. Let us deliver on that.
I begin, as I am obliged to, by acknowledging my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as a reserve member of Her Majesty’s armed forces.
This has been an invaluable debate. Today, Parliament is not just debating but learning about and understanding the challenges that we face. I commend all Members who have contributed, and it is an honour to respond to the debate.
We live in a complex and uncertain world in which we are exposed to a wide range of threats, which Members have articulated in their contributions today. That was brought home by last Friday’s brutal terrorist attack on the beach in Tunisia. Our first priority has been to help the British victims and their families. British experts and officials have been working around the clock to support British nationals—the fallen, the injured and the bereaved.
On Monday I visited Sousse with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and we offered the Government’s sympathies to the families who have lost loved ones. We also met Tunisian senior Ministers to offer a variety of UK support. Yesterday I was with the families of eight of the deceased who were returned to RAF Brize Norton in a dignified ceremony. I join the House in reiterating my deepest sympathies to all the victims and their families.
Although the attacker appears to have been a lone actor, the same ideology of violent extremism is spreading, and sadly that ideology will be behind the next attack as more terrorist groups than ever before seek to do us harm at home and abroad. We must not allow terrorists to dictate our lives. We must learn and adapt to protect our people, but we must not give in to hatred and intolerance. That is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in his statement on Monday, and the Defence Secretary repeated today, that we will pursue a full spectrum response. What that response will be, and what Britain can and should do, has rightly been at the heart of today’s debate.
I turn to some of the contributions that Members made. The shadow Secretary of State made a thoughtful and constructive contribution. He said that he stood ready to work with the Government and agreed about the need for a considered assessment. We note the criteria that he set out, and all Members of the new House of Commons must ask the important question about what greater role Britain might play across the full spectrum of capability to expedite the defeat of ISIL.
I join other Members in welcoming my neighbour and right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) to his elected position, and I congratulate him on his appointment as Chair of the Defence Committee—it is wonderful to see him there. He spoke of the challenge of the Sunni-Shi’a divide, and I am pleased with his cautious welcome for further debate on what Britain might do.
The right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) spoke about Tunisia. He will be aware that, sadly, four Scots were killed in Tunisia, and they were repatriated today. He also advanced the debate about the threat of ISIL which, as right hon. and hon. Members know, does not exist only in Syria. In the Sinai there is Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, and in Libya there is Ansar al-Sharia. In Nigeria we have Boko Haram, which has been mentioned by other Members. The House must ask itself whether, if we are to take on an adversary, we are limited by geography.
I apologise but I will not because I have a lot to get through.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) has huge experience in international development and spoke of the importance of supporting those caught up in these dreadful conflicts. He mentioned his visit to Zaatari camp, which I have also seen. I intervened on the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) to confirm the difference between NATO and Warsaw pact weapon systems, and he spoke about the numbers of weapons in Libya, which now outnumber the people there. That shows the challenge we face.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) was robust and knowledgeable in his speech and spoke about the importance of a relationship and co-operation between DFID and the MOD.
The hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Stuart Donaldson) made an incredible maiden speech, on which I congratulate him. He suggested that looking youthful might be a deficit, but I suggest that he should play on it because it will not last for ever. He clearly has good connections if he has the Balmoral estate in his constituency, and I noticed that he also got in his tuppence worth on Trident to force his position—it might cost a bit more to keep that in place, but that is for further debates.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Chris Green) made an equally composed speech and spoke about the importance of a mixed economy and innovation, offering Bolton West as a place to invest. I am pleased that his skills as an engineer have already been recognised in his position on the Science and Technology Committee, and I congratulate him on that.
The hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) spoke of the twisted ideology and false promise of a place in paradise for those who believe in ISIL. He also mentioned his constituent Trudy Jones, and I confirm that she has been repatriated today.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) spoke about the importance of the one-minute silence in tribute to the fallen victims that will take place tomorrow. That will be honoured not only in the UK but in all our embassies across the world. Usual channels permitting, I hope that a full list of victims will be presented to Parliament next week to allow right hon. and hon. Members to pay their respects and condolences. I also hope that the BBC will acknowledge the one-minute silence.
The hon. Member for Dundee West (Chris Law) gave a confident performance. I noticed his stature and snappy dress sense, and I am pleased that I was here for his maiden speech—[Interruption.] We will not mention the hair. He spoke with pride about his constituency and has huge knowledge of the area he represents. I am sure that he will be feisty and formidable in representing his constituency, as he spelled out.
My hon. Friends the Members for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) and for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray) illustrated their command and understanding of defence matters and the importance of appropriate funding, which we will probably debate on a further occasion in the House.
I am grateful for the kind words of the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound), whom I can call a friend. I am pleased with the repatriation process—all hon. Members can acknowledge that that is an important step. It is the least we can do in the House to support those in their time of need.
The hon. Member for Halton (Derek Twigg) spoke of the wider strategy required to help those countries away from Iraq and Syria—Jordan and so forth. That important matter was also reflected by my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen). My hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) spoke of the importance of defining our role and ensuring that appropriate defence spending is met. That was also reflected by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips), who gave a thought-provoking speech and spoke with some authority on the Sahel.
I commend the work of my hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) on the centenary of the first world war. He made a profound statement when he said that we must reconnect with the views of the public following the Iraq invasion of March 2003. Those are important words.
As an active, open and forward-thinking global player in an interconnected world, the United Kingdom is exposed to those who would do us harm, but we are one of a small number of countries with the aspiration, the means and the relationships to play a significant role, if we choose, in shaping a safer and more stable world. As has been said, being a member of such important organisations as the UN Security Council, NATO, the EU, the G7, the G20 and the Commonwealth, the United Kingdom is in a unique position to act as a strong and stabilising force for good in today’s uncertain world. That is why we were one of the first nations to join the counter-ISIL coalition. The cautious tone of the debate was clear. We must ask ourselves how we can further leverage our distinctive, decisive global role, our diplomatic network, our military capability and our influence, working with our partners overseas, to expedite the defeat of ISIL and tackle its ideology. That ambition needs to be considered properly and carefully. It is not only in Britain’s interests, but in the interests of building stability, security and prosperity for the people of the middle east, north Africa and around the world. We have started a very important debate today and it should continue.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered Britain and international security.