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NATO Summit

Volume 831: debated on Tuesday 18 July 2023

Consideration on Report adjourned.


The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Thursday 13 July.

“Mr Speaker, I have just returned from the NATO summit in Vilnius, where we strengthened the NATO alliance and confirmed Britain’s place at its heart. Faced with a more volatile and dangerous world, a mechanised war in Europe and increasing aggression from authoritarian states, we must show those who would challenge our security and prosperity that NATO is united, that it is ready for this new era and that it will remain the most successful alliance in history.

Together with our allies, that is exactly what we did, in three specific ways. First, we acted decisively to strengthen the alliance. We agreed the most fundamental transformation of NATO’s readiness since the Cold War. That includes comprehensive war-fighting plans to defend the UK and its allies, scaled-up defence production to boost our stockpiles, which will benefit British industry and jobs, and increased defence spending. All allies made

‘an enduring commitment to invest at least 2%’

of GDP.

The Vilnius summit also saw NATO’s membership expand. We welcomed Finland to the table as a NATO member and ensured that Sweden will follow close behind. The historic decision of our Finnish and Swedish friends to join NATO would have been almost unthinkable just a year and a half ago, but Putin’s aggression made it almost inevitable. Where he sought to make us weaker, he has achieved the opposite. We are stronger than ever with these new allies by our side.

Secondly, we acted to increase our support for Ukraine. Let us never forget what Ukraine is going through. Over 500 days of war, Ukrainians have experienced untold suffering, the likes of which no NATO country has suffered since its inception. I know the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the Ukrainian people and their incredible spirit and fortitude. They are still standing strong and defiant, and the counter- offensive is making progress. In the last few weeks, they have taken back more ground than Russia has taken in the last year. We are standing with them, and allies are doubling down in their support.

This is not just about NATO. At the Munich Security Conference in February, I called for long-term security arrangements to protect Ukraine, re-establish deterrence in Europe and break the cycle of Russian violence. And now allies have delivered. Yesterday, the G7 leaders came together to sign the joint declaration of support for Ukraine, agreeing to provide the long-term bilateral security commitments that Ukraine needs and deserves. Those commitments mark a new high point in international support for Ukraine, and more allies will be signing up to add their support. But let me be clear: that is not a substitute for NATO membership.

We took a big step in Vilnius towards bringing Ukraine into the alliance. The summit communiqué echoed the UK’s long-held position that

‘Ukraine’s future is in NATO’.

Of course, there is more work to be done, but we have shortened Ukraine’s path to membership, removing the need for a membership action plan, and holding the first meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council with President Zelensky sitting at the table, by our side, as an equal. As President Zelensky said, the summit was

‘a very much needed and meaningful success for Ukraine’.

Thirdly, we showed in Vilnius that the UK remains a driving force behind this alliance. As I have told the House before, those who run down this country and its place on the world stage could not be more wrong. In my bilateral meetings and the wider NATO sessions, I was struck again and again by how valued our contribution is. The British people should know that and they should be proud. The United Kingdom is, and will remain, one of the world’s leading defence powers. We are the leading European contributor to NATO. We were one of the first to hit the 2% target for defence spending, and we are going further. Earlier this year, I announced a significant uplift of an extra £5 billion over the next two years, immediately increasing our defence budget to around 2.25% of GDP, on our way to delivering our new ambition of 2.5% and ensuring that our incredible Armed Forces can continue to keep us safe.

Right now, RAF jets are patrolling NATO’s eastern flank, our troops are on the ground in Estonia and Poland as part of NATO’s enhanced forward presence, and the Royal Navy is patrolling the seas, providing a quarter of the alliance’s maritime capability. We are one of the only countries that contribute to every NATO mission, and we will keep playing our part as a leading nation in the Joint Expeditionary Force. We are building deep partnerships such as AUKUS and the global combat air programme. We are using our leadership in technology to keep NATO at the cutting edge, hosting the European headquarters of the defence innovation accelerator and holding the first global summit on artificial intelligence safety in the UK later this year. We are also leading the debate on tackling emerging security threats, including the migration crisis. I have called on NATO to play a stronger supporting role here, helping southern allies to build their capabilities.

That leadership in defence and security is matched by our diplomacy, strengthening our relationships around the world. In just the last few months, we have concluded negotiations on the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership and have signed critical minerals partnerships with Canada and Australia, a semiconductor partnership with Japan, and the Atlantic declaration with the United States—a new kind of economic partnership in a more contested world.

There is no better example of our ability to bring all those elements together and lead on the world stage than our response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Our diplomats have led the unprecedented effort to co-ordinate sanctions against Russia’s economy. Last month, we hosted the Ukraine Recovery Conference, raising over $60 billion to help rebuild Ukraine’s economy and bringing in the private sector to help unlock its economic potential.

As the House knows, we have backed Ukraine’s fight for its freedom and sovereignty since the start. We were the first country in the world to train Ukrainian troops, the first in Europe to provide lethal weapons, the first to commit tanks and the first to provide long-range missiles. Now, we are at the forefront of the coalition to equip the Ukrainian air force, with Ukrainian pilots starting their training here in just a few weeks’ time.

We do all of this because it is right, because it protects our values and our interests, because it keeps our people and our allies safe, and because, quite simply, it is who we are as a country. We were there at the start of the NATO alliance, and this week we have shown once again that we remain at its heart, leading it into the future. I commend this Statement to the House.”

My Lord, with the leave of the House, I will repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in the other place.

I thank the noble Lord very much. It was taken a few days ago, and we have all had the opportunity to read it. I do not wish to show any disrespect, but I hope we can focus on the questions on the Statement.

The summit in Vilnius was a display of NATO’s unity, and an extension of the principles which Ernest Bevin, of course, signed up to in 1949. He was one of the finest Foreign Secretaries the UK has had and, of course, one of the greatest trade union officials, which I know the Leader will be impressed by. Noble Lords on these Benches, and indeed across the House, will always remain committed to those unshakeable values of the North Atlantic Treaty.

I welcome the progress made in strengthening the alliance. The country which President Biden referred to as the “light of Lithuania” provided a symbolic backdrop for the meeting, and a reminder that Europe’s freedom can never be taken as a given. As the Prime Minister said, the world has been made a more dangerous place by authoritarian aggression. It is only right that we respond by building NATO’s readiness. I therefore very much welcome the agreements made last week.

In particular, I draw attention to Finland’s accession, and the hope that others will soon follow. These are historic decisions, which will bring strong and valuable additions to the group. NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg described President Erdoğan’s agreement to Sweden’s accession as a “historic step”, but stressed that a clear date could not be given for when it would join the military alliance, as this relied on the Turkish Parliament. I hope the Lord Privy Seal will be able to give us an update on Turkey’s position, and what timeframes the Government anticipate for accession to take place.

By welcoming allies into the NATO fold, we are strengthening the collective defence of our European neighbourhood and sending a signal that Russian aggression will be confronted. But the House will know that membership of the alliance brings responsibilities, and that includes a commitment to spending 2% of GDP on defence. Seeing our NATO allies all commit to this was heartening, but it shines a light on how our own contribution to defence spending has fallen in the past years. The Prime Minister’s Statement referred to the renewal of this commitment in Vilnius, but the Lord Privy Seal will know that there is unease on these Benches at the cuts to our Army, and our troops lacking the equipment they need to fight and fulfil our NATO obligations. Given that there are now 25,000 fewer full-time troops since 2010—leaving our Army at the smallest size since the time of Napoleon—I use this opportunity to ask the Lord Privy Seal to encourage his Cabinet colleagues to halt these cuts and keep Britain safe.

Today’s refreshed Defence Command Paper was an opportunity, but as my right honourable friend John Healey said:

“Labour wanted this to be the nation’s defence plan, not the plan of current Conservative Defence Ministers”.

He offered

“to work with the Government on a plan to make Britain secure at home and strong abroad”.

This is no such plan.

Similarly, the Lord Privy Seal will know that our military is only as strong as the stockpiles behind it. On the plans announced to scale up defence production, I ask him to commit to updating Parliament on progress towards stockpile targets, so that the House can support the monitoring of this new agreement.

As part of the world’s most powerful military alliance, we must also ask questions about our collective readiness. The Statement referred to regional war-fighting plans. Can he assure the House that the plans will adapt to changing security threats in eastern Europe?

I also welcome the commitment to pursue Putin for his crimes. In addition to our membership of NATO, the Lord Privy Seal will be aware that the United Kingdom is currently serving as president of the UN Security Council. Given the Foreign Secretary’s commitment to using this role to hold the Russian Government to account, can the Lord Privy Seal provide an update on yesterday’s high-level briefing?

For over 500 days, Ukraine has fought for its freedom, and for ours. I want to finish by welcoming the declaration which backs its accession to NATO. In the short period between this Statement being made in the other place and its repeat today, the people of Ukraine have suffered Russian drone attacks in many cities, missile strikes in Kharkiv and shelling in Kherson and many other places. Between the time that this House rises next week and when it returns in September, we can all hope that the Ukrainian counteroffensive will have progressed, but we all know that there will be further civilian deaths at the hands of Putin’s regime. Despite the lack of timetable for Ukraine’s accession, I hope the Lord Privy Seal will agree that it should be a matter of when, not if, and that we will welcome Ukraine as a full member to NATO.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Leader for responding to the Statement—and, indeed, for not repeating it.

The Vilnius summit took place at a potentially pivotal point in the Ukrainian struggle against its Russian occupiers and clearly demonstrated why NATO plays such a pivotal role in the security of Europe. The Prime Minister in his Statement set out three ways in which the alliance was being strengthened to deal with the challenges of Ukraine and more broadly.

The first was an increased defence readiness. The Prime Minister cited the fact that the UK was scaling up defence production to boost our stockpiles. There have been newspaper reports in recent days about how this is happening in respect of shells and other ordnance, but could the noble Lord reassure the House that stockpiles of other equipment are being replenished with equal urgency? Strengthening of the alliance also includes its expansion to admit Finland as a member, with Sweden closely to follow. These are extremely welcome developments.

The second development which the Prime Minister highlighted was the increase of support for Ukraine. We can understand why Ukraine is so keen to join NATO at the earliest opportunity but equally understand why that is not possible with the war still under way. The establishment of the NATO-Ukraine Council in these circumstances is a sensible interim structure under which dialogue can be conducted, but as far as the UK is concerned, could the noble Lord the Leader say whether the increase in support which the Prime Minister mentions involves any specific increase in military hardware support from the UK? Does he accept that it is hardly surprising, and certainly not a reason for censure, that the President of Ukraine is persistent in asking for more military hardware, without which success—in what we all accept is a must-win struggle —cannot be achieved?

The third issue stressed by the Prime Minister is that, in his words,

“The UK remains a driving force behind this alliance”.

To support this argument, he points again to the proportion of GDP which the UK devotes to defence. While this is clearly greater than some of our allies, there is widespread and growing concern about the effectiveness of this expenditure. For example, the recent House of Commons Select Committee report on military procurement, It is Broke—and it’s Time to Fix It, sets out a catalogue of specific and generic failings within MoD procurement. It says that the system suffers from “misplaced optimism”, a shortage of legal and commercial expertise, a lack of key skills, a habit of overspecifying, not

“sufficient emphasis on the value of time”


“a lack of a fixed long-term budget”.

Given that half of the defence budget is spent on the purchase of equipment, these are fundamental problems. What are the Government doing to reduce the waste and inefficiency in the MoD procurement process, which could ensure that the very many calls on the defence budget—not least the sensible calls to reverse the manpower cuts to the Army—can be more effectively met?

The Prime Minister also boasts of our role in keeping NATO at the cutting edge of technological developments. One way in which we could do so is by working with European partners via the Horizon programme. It was reported that the Prime Minister was to sign a deal at the summit for the UK to rejoin Horizon. This did not happen. Can the Leader say when it will happen, so that vital scientific collaboration can resume? If, in the Government’s view, there are arguments for not doing so, can he set out what they are, given the unanimity of scientific support for the UK to rejoin without further delay?

Finally, the summit communiqué discusses the partnership between the EU and NATO. It says that this partnership also needs the participation of non-EU allies—that is, the UK. It looks forward

“to mutual steps, representing tangible progress”.

Do the Government agree that working with the EU on military issues is of fundamental importance? If so, what kind of tangible steps do they have in mind to bring this about?

My Lords, I am grateful for those responses and again apologise for volunteering to read the Statement. I had initially been told that the usual channels had agreed to that. I obviously always wish to be of service to the House, but we are proceeding in a way that appears to please those present.

I was pleased by what those present said in response to the Statement. I would not accept the characterisation of the Prime Minister as “boastful”. He has many characteristics, but I do not think that boastfulness is one of them.

I was asked a number of important questions. It is right that this challenge should be here, and it is against the background of the unswerving support that all parties in this House have given to the Ukrainian people and the effort against Putin’s aggression. I underline the gratitude of the Government and, I am sure, of the whole British people, for the unanimity that has been displayed in our Parliament and in our House, which was displayed again today.

I was asked a number of specific questions. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, that freedom can never be taken for granted. Former President Reagan—not perhaps one of the noble Lord’s great heroes—none the less famously said that freedom is

“never more than one generation away from extinction”.

We must fight for it always. That is a great characteristic that unites the three great parties represented here. The accession of Finland was, I agree, a very important and historic event. What an absurd effect Putin has created: by launching this unlawful and vicious invasion, he has done something that few of us ever thought would happen—Finland has joined NATO and Sweden possibly will join.

On the date of the Swedish accession to NATO, as the noble Lord knows, there have been detailed discussions with President Erdoğan and the Turkish Government. The Prime Minister spoke to him a number of times and there is a general agreement that NATO will be stronger with Sweden in it. Sweden is a country with great capabilities, technical and in defence terms.

The legal position is that President Erdoğan has said that he will transmit accession protocols to the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, which, following the recent election, his party controls, as I understand it. The next step is for the protocols to be voted through by the assembly. While I have some control over business in your Lordships’ House through the usual channels, it is clearly a matter for the Turkish Government and Parliament to decide how swiftly they proceed. We obviously hope that they will proceed swiftly. We are dependent on our allies, and we are in no doubt that Sweden’s membership will strengthen the NATO alliance and make us all safer, as Finland’s membership has done.

On deterrence and defence, some scepticism was expressed about Britain’s defence posture and our commitments on spending. The defence Command Paper was published today, and there will be a Statement in your Lordships’ House tomorrow, when noble Lords will be able to probe that more deeply. I can reassure the House that on defence our core business is to deter and defend against all threats to our security in the modern world in the way we regard as the most effective. That is set out in the latest Statement.

These are questions on the Statement, rather than just the Statement, so I thought I had more than three minutes .

Just to clarify, the Clock did not start correctly. I think that it would be reasonable to say the Leader of the House has until the clock says 15 minutes, and then we will open for 20 minutes of Back-Bench questions.

I thought I had more time and was therefore trying to answer the House in some detail.

The defence White Paper sets out our posture; we can discuss that tomorrow.

The capability and effect in numbers of the British Army has been questioned. We are a huge contributor to NATO in its forward presence. We will continue to do that, and £41 billion is being invested in equipment and support projects.

On the Balkans and the eastern flank, we are already one of the biggest contributors to NATO’s forward presence on our eastern flank. We will work closely with Estonia and Poland to ensure that we have the appropriate posture for the current climate. Last year, we said that we would maintain a brigade in the UK at high readiness. We are also watchful of the situation in the Balkans.

I was asked about holding Russia to account for its crimes. We have certainly been supporting efforts to ensure accountability for the crimes committed in Ukraine. We led the state party referral to the ICC and provided £1 million in funding to the court. That sits alongside other efforts to find justice for Ukraine, including the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group we established alongside international partners in support of the prosecution of domestic war crimes in Ukraine. We are a founding member of the international register of damage caused by the Russian aggression against Ukraine, and we have joined a core group of countries to explore options to ensure criminal accountability for the crime of aggression. We ourselves have now sanctioned over 1,600 individuals and entities, including 130 oligarchs with a net worth estimated at over £145 billion.

Both noble Lords asked about the situation in Ukraine. We fully support Ukraine’s inherent right to self-defence, which is enshrined in Article 51 of the UN charter. Ukraine is a sovereign country and has a right to choose its security arrangements. Any alliance decision on membership is solely for NATO allies and Ukraine to make. NATO has committed to an expanded package of practical and political support for Ukraine; the allies agreed that Ukraine’s future is in NATO. We reaffirm the commitment that allies made in 2008 and recognise that Ukraine’s path to full Euro-Atlantic integration has moved beyond the need for the membership action plan.

We have also, as the noble Lord, Lord Newby, referred to, established the NATO-Ukraine Council, a new joint body inaugurated at the summit, where allies and Ukraine sit as equals to advance political dialogue, co-operation and Ukraine’s aspirations for NATO membership.

The noble Lord asked about munitions: what we have and, with new funding, whether we have the contracts in place to get new weapons. We have enough weapons systems to defend our national security while fulfilling our commitments to NATO and Ukraine. We remain fully engaged with industry, allies and partners to ensure both the continuation of supply to Ukraine and replenishment of UK stock as quickly as possible. We have already placed a number of substantial procurement contracts directly to replenish munitions granted to Ukraine. The Treasury provided an extra £560 million in the Autumn Statement to increase stockpiles to above pre-Ukraine levels. I assure the noble Lord that NATO support will continue. We announced the gifting of 70 combat logistics vehicles, a contract for spare parts, new training for Ukraine Air Force fast jet pilots and so on, with many weapons systems.

As for the EU, of course it is important that we have unfettered collaboration between EU and non-EU partners in NATO: that is vital for protecting long-term European security. The United Kingdom Government agree with Secretary-General Stoltenberg’s very sensible approach. EU defence initiatives should be coherent with NATO requirements and should develop capabilities that are available to NATO and open to the fullest participation of non-EU NATO allies. On that basis, co-ordinating international efforts through collective procurement will be very much part of our strategy.

My Lords, I welcome the Statement. While he does not need my congratulations, I congratulate the Prime Minister and the Government on their work at the NATO summit, which is incredibly important. However, where I part company with the Government and my noble friend is that it is not enough, I am afraid. There is a war raging in Europe; it is not enough.

When I was a boy, there were four divisions in the British Army, with three armoured divisions sitting in Germany. We cannot find a single full division now. Notwithstanding anything the Defence Secretary has recently said—and, by the way, he has done very well with Ukraine—we need more troops. We cannot cut the size of the Armed Forces—Army, Navy and Air Force —at the same time as this war is raging. In fact, we should never have cut them in the first place. That is very important.

I pray in aid President Reagan, as did my noble friend. As we recall, President Reagan spent a lot of money on a thing called Star Wars. People said it was nonsense and that it would create war, but, as a result of Star Wars, an arms race with the Soviet Union took place that led to the end of the Cold War. We have to be strong. Ask the Ukrainians and the Russians whether the number of troops is important. Of course it is important: they are desperate for more recruits on both sides. So I ask my noble friend, for whom I have a great deal of time, to please mention in Cabinet that we need more money, because this is a time of crisis. We need more troops. I know that everybody says, “Oh, the National Health Service is very important”, and it is, but actually more important is that we can defend our country and our interests abroad.

I understand the passion with which my noble friend, with his distinguished and courageous record of service to our country, makes his points. The defence paper published today sets out the rationale for the balance in forces in terms of numbers and capabilities. Effective war fighting units must have the best possible modern equipment. The Government announced a significant uplift of an extra £5 billion over the next two years, which will immediately increase our defence budget to around 2.25% of GDP, and we are on the way to delivering our new ambition of 2.5%.

We contribute to every NATO mission and operation; we offer the full spectrum of capabilities to the alliance; we will apportion almost all of our Armed Forces to NATO as part of the new NATO force model in 2024-25; we contribute more troops than any other ally to NATO’s enhanced forward presence, with 900 troops deployed in Estonia and a further 150 in Poland, all at high readiness; and we will be the frame- work nation for the land component of a new allied reaction force.

None the less, I hear what my noble friend says. The Government are determined to have an effective and capable Army, and we will continue to work for that end.

My Lords, I begin by declaring my interest as a member of the British delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, where, I have no doubt, many of the issues that have been ventilated this evening will be further discussed.

If I had to choose what I regarded as the two most significant things as a result of Vilnius, I would be driven to accept that these were the accession of Sweden and what looks like—I put it no more strongly than that—an end to the intransigence of Turkey. These are very good harbingers of the extent to which NATO remains the bulwark of not only our defence but the defence of the free world. For that reason, the addition of Finland and, in due course, Sweden is more than welcome, not least because they will make a positive contribution to the overall position of the whole membership of the alliance.

The other point I am particularly pleased about is the joint declaration of support for Ukraine. There was much speculation before, during and after in relation to membership of NATO and the extent to which that should be accelerated or, indeed, even granted in the course of the Vilnius discussions. We should never forget that Georgia was made the same undertaking. In all these discussions, no one ever talks about the consequences of the implementation of that undertaking given the fact of very considerable Russian influence in Georgia.

I want to make a point that is not always made in relation to membership of NATO: it is not just about military capability. Membership of NATO involves an acceptance of democratic principles, an acknowledgement of human rights and an absence of corruption. Any country that seeks to join NATO and become part of the arrangement, in particular under Article 5, is obliged to demonstrate these principles. In the best possible analysis of the current position, which we must make, it could hardly be said that these matters were well and truly at the centre of Ukraine.

The Leader of the House was sceptical about the use of language, or criticism of the use of language. I make this point: the Statement reads a bit like Dr Pangloss. I think the effectiveness of the Statement on these issues would be much enhanced if it were in much more down-to-earth language.

Finally, I am being advised that I must ask a question, and I am about to do so: how can it be said—as the Statement says—that there has been an increase in defence expenditure when, while more money has been given to the budget of the Ministry of Defence, there has been no increase in defence expenditure? What money has been given does not to any extent deal with the issue of inflation. Everyone knows that inflation when it comes to, for example, the purchase of military equipment is always much greater than elsewhere. Respectfully, returning to the point I made a moment or two, it seems to me that a bit more realism would carry more credibility.

My Lords, I try not to use gung ho language. If I was guilty of that, I apologise; it is not really my wont. I was simply trying to give the House factual answers to some of the questions that were asked. I appreciate what the noble Lord says about accession and the role of both Sweden and Turkey, if Sweden becomes a member. Both Sweden and Turkey are, in security terms, extraordinarily important and proud nations, and we should look on them warmly. It would be good to see that any difficulties between those nations, such as they exist, do not continue, and that is the augury of the NATO summit.

As for guarantees, I said in a previous answer that all agreed that Ukraine’s future is in NATO and the proposal for a membership action plan was dispensed with. However, the alliance will continue its support for Ukraine in making progress on interoperability in weapons terms, but also, as the noble Lord implied, additional democratic and security sector reforms, on its path towards future membership. We will be in a position to extend an invitation to Ukraine to join the alliance when allies agree and due conditions are met. I am confident that that will happen.

On the security position, as I said in answer to an earlier question, we fully support Ukraine’s inherent right to self-defence—that is common in this House—as enshrined in Article 51 of the UN charter. There has been a broad international swathe of support for the heroic battle of the Ukrainian people against a grotesque breach of international law in this invasion. What happened at the summit is that the United Kingdom, G7 allies and Ukraine agreed a new framework for guaranteeing Ukraine’s long-term security, delivering on an ambition that we set out earlier this year. The joint declaration, signed by all members of the G7, set out how the United Kingdom and its allies will support Ukraine over the coming years to end the war and deter and respond to any future attack. It is the first time that the G7 has agreed to a comprehensive long-term security arrangement of this kind with another country. That is a specific of the commitment that is given—we are not talking about the wider ambit that the noble Lord spoke of, but it is important none the less.

As for support, I will not weary the House with the range of support that is being given, but suffice to say that the Ukrainian Government have made very clear their gratitude to the British people—and indeed the British Government, if I may mention that benighted authority in your Lordships’ House—for the unswerving support we have given in matériel, diplomatic efforts and support. That will continue and, as I said earlier, we are beginning the next step forward: this summer we will commence an elementary flying phase for cohorts of Ukrainian pilots in basic training.

My Lords, NATO member states at Vilnius made an enduring commitment to spend 2% of their GDP on defence spending per annum, but that is a long-standing commitment. Although the UK has been in the vanguard of meeting that kind of commitment—along with the US, of course, which funds most of Europe’s defence—sadly many European partners have fallen well short of meeting that commitment, over many years. What pressure or incentive is being brought to bear? I know that there are increases in expenditure, but what can be done to ensure that our partners meet that commitment to defence spending over the very short-term future?

My Lords, this is an alliance of volunteers and volunteer nations. Of course, it is ideal that every nation should contribute to the agreed target, and that has been reaffirmed at the summit. I am not going to stand here and throw stones at other nations. Putin has failed in his illegal invasion: he thought it would divide NATO and that some of the less enthusiastic nations might split away but, as we have discussed, the reverse has happened.

I do not think we can talk about penalising nations that do not reach 2%. We have made good progress in recent years, with more countries hitting the 2% minimum. Last year, 2022, was the eighth consecutive year of increased defence spending across Europe and Canada. Since 2014, our European allies and Canada have spent an additional £350,000 million—£350 billion in easy parlance—on defence. The noble Lord is right: if we are to ensure that our alliance is equipped to take on the challenges of the future, we must go further. However, it is in all our interests for every member to meet the 2% commitment; that is our plea to our allies and partners. As far as a penalty is concerned, the penalty for failing to fund NATO properly is our future collective security, and I think that is recognised by all our allies.

My Lords, some 34 years ago I was the first leader of the European Parliament delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. At that time, we were trying to be friends with the Russians; indeed, a certain Mr Kelin, who is now the Russian ambassador in London, was in Brussels representing the Russians. We always found it difficult, but part of the difficulty was the disunity among NATO members, which we must address. We also have to address the fact that the Minsk process, which was supposed to help get peace in Ukraine, failed comprehensively.

Will the Minister make it clear to the Americans that the break-up of the Russian Federation, which is widely talked about in some Washington circles, is not in the interests of European security? Secondly, will he promote interoperability within NATO? We discovered, for instance, that you could not drive one of the British tanks in Germany through Denmark because the Danish Parliament would not allow it and the bridges were not strong enough. The biggest challenges facing NATO are interoperability and the fact that, if we do not stop the guns firing, there are far too many frozen conflicts in Europe for us to go to bed happily. We need at some point to find a way of promoting a ceasefire.

My Lords, interoperability is obviously important—I agree with my noble friend on that, at least. When I made reference to Ukraine’s accession, I said that interoperability is important. What we face here is the most brutal and disgraceful challenge to the international order seen in modern times. More people have perished in that country than in any NATO country in the post-war era. I believe that we need to be absolutely solid in the face of the Russian Government. They must understand that no advantage or chink of gain will come from this aggression. I appeal to my noble friend to play his part in that.

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem, I am a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and I agree with him completely about the importance of the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that that is very important, not least because one of Putin’s excuses for invading Ukraine was that he did not want to see the expansion of NATO, but NATO has expanded as a result of his invasion, which will have caused him quite a bit of difficulty?

The noble Lord, Lord Newby, raised the issue of European defence. It is worth making the point that NATO is an alliance; it may well be defending Europe but it does not look mainly to EU members to do so. It is always well worth bearing in mind that, prior to the entry of Sweden and Finland, 80% of NATO’s expenditure came from countries outside it. Does my noble friend the Minister agree with Jens Stoltenberg, the Secretary-General of NATO, that the European initiatives to create a defence identity will inevitably lead to duplication and unnecessary expense?

My Lords, I agree with everything my noble friend said. Indeed, in an earlier answer I reported the specific comments that Secretary-General Stoltenberg made in relation to this question of the EU and NATO. It is fundamentally important that we are allies, but it is equally fundamentally important that nothing must be done that undermines or conflicts with NATO obligations and the central role, as my noble friend said, of NATO, involving the US and Canada, in this extraordinary commitment to the common defence of our continent.

My Lords, can I say how much I and my noble friend Lord Collins agree with the statement that the Lord Privy Seal made with respect to our attitude to the illegal invasion of Ukraine and Russian aggression? In his remarks, the Lord Privy Seal made a point about how important the unity of this and the other Chamber is in the face of that aggression. Would he congratulate the Prime Minister on including in his Statement the comment referencing the British public and the importance of their continuing support for our efforts with respect to Ukraine through NATO? Will he also ask the Prime Minister whether he can continue to talk within NATO about the importance of maintaining the morale and support the Ukrainian people themselves have for the ongoing conflict they are having to endure on our behalf?

I am grateful for and strongly support and endorse the noble Lord’s perceptive comments, as always. I assure him that the Prime Minister will do both those things, internally and externally, and will be fortified by the support of the other great democratic parties.

My Lords, like many people, I very much welcomed the photo of the President of Turkey, the Prime Minister of Sweden and the Secretary-General of NATO, but there is still another country standing in the way of Swedish membership—Hungary—which has not gone through the process of allowing it. One of the things that Erdoğan did, which was quite surprising, was to tie EU membership to the conditionality of saying yes to Sweden coming in. There could be a real issue if Hungary did the same in terms of its own disputes with the EU. Did the Prime Minister talk to Viktor Orbán, and was he assured that Hungary would also allow the accession of Sweden into NATO?

My Lords, I do not have specifics on the Prime Minister’s discussions. I understand what the noble Lord is saying. Technically that is the position, but I think it is widely understood that the expressed position of the Hungarian Government is that they certainly would not be the last seeking to frustrate the entry of Sweden. That is a public and clearly established position.

House adjourned at 8.48 pm.