Ministers have regular discussions with international counterparts on NATO’s 2% of GDP spending target. It is important that all NATO allies meet the 2% commitment they made at the Wales summit in 2014.
With the greatest respect, we think it is incredibly important that all NATO members, who share joint responsibility for the defence of the alliance, committed at the NATO conference in Wales in 2014 to spend 2% of GDP. We welcome the fact that eight further countries are now on a clear trajectory to meet that target, and Ministers from across all Departments continue to have discussions to encourage them to reach it.
I reassure my hon. Friend that there has been progress. Five countries now meet the 2% target, up from three in 2014; 10 countries now meet the 20% pledge on major equipment and research; and the cuts to defence spending overall have been halted. I am sure, though, that everyone would agree with the sentiment he expressed: we cannot reiterate too often that we hope everyone will reach the 2% pledge soon.
Last month, the International Institute for Strategic Studies concluded that the Government have in fact missed the 2% NATO defence spending target, and that they would have missed it by even more had they not included budgetary headings such as pensions, which do not contribute to our defence capabilities and were not included when Labour was in government. Is it not time that we went back to the criteria used for defence spending when the Labour party was in power so that we may give our armed forces the resources they need?
Well, honestly, I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has read the Defence Committee’s report, which
“commends the UK Government’s commitment to UK defence and finds that its accounting criteria fall firmly within existing NATO guidelines”—
as does NATO itself. It would be worrying if we were to follow his party leader, who wants to see cuts to defence spending, the abandonment of our NATO allies and the scrapping of the nuclear deterrent.
May I helpfully suggest to the Minister that one way she could avoid these arguments about whether we have or have not scraped over the 2% line is to recognise that the last time we faced threats like those we face today was the 1980s, when we used to spend between 4.5% and 5% of GDP on defence? Let us settle for 3% so that we can avoid this sort of argument.
I appreciate my right hon. Friend’s campaign. We are proud of the fact that we are spending substantially more than the 2% target; that we have a growing defence budget for the first time in many years; and that we are on track to have a £178 billion equipment plan over the next decade.