Backbench Business — Summer Adjournment

Part of Child Benefit Entitlement (Disqualification of Non-UK EU Nationals) – in the House of Commons at 5:58 pm on 22nd July 2014.

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Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham 5:58 pm, 22nd July 2014

I would like to follow almost exactly the same theme as my hon. Friend Dr Lee, who made an extremely thoughtful speech. We must not underestimate the seriousness of the current international situation. Never in my life have I seen the world in a greater mess, from Afghanistan to Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, Palestine, Israel, Egypt, Libya and central Africa, and we must also remember the problems in North and South Korea, and those are only some examples.

While we in the west are decreasing our defence spending, Russia is rapidly expanding its own. In 2013 it spent more on armaments than the United States. Russian defence spending increased by 4.8%. Under Russia’s state armaments plan, Moscow plans to spend $705 billion to replace 70% of the country’s military equipment by 2020. Some 45% of its ships will be new by next year. However, in the west, and particularly in Europe, defence is seen as a low priority. Spending on social security dominates and military security, which is the first duty of government, takes a back seat. Are we sleepwalking? The west won the cold war, but right now it does not look like we are winning the post-cold war.

We, the British, are strong supporters of NATO, yet we are still prevaricating about spending a definite 2% of GNP on defence, which is an alliance commitment. Even that is not enough; we should be increasing defence spending well beyond that. For instance, how are we going to man, equip, fly from, sustain and protect two massive aircraft carriers currently being built in Scotland? Looking at the projected military budget for 2020, I simply cannot see how we can afford it. Where will the money come from? I cannot see how we can do it, based on current projections. We must increase our defence budget beyond 2%. Although I understand and support the need for some targeted overseas aid, I am none the less surprised that we spend one third of the defence budget on such aid each year.

Defence is much too serious a matter to be fiddled, but NATO members, particularly in Europe, do so year in, year out. They certainly do not pay their NATO club dues. Surely what is happening in Ukraine, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell pointed out, is a serious wake-up call. A French defence strategist recently described NATO as

“an alliance of the unable and unwilling” .

I am not sure that he was wrong.

The situation in Ukraine is a total disaster, and tragically it is one that we seem unable to affect. Politically, as my hon. Friend suggested, we will huff and puff internationally, particularly in the United Nations, but probably with little effect. Economically, some states might tighten sanctions on Russia, but they are severely constrained by their interdependence with Russia. Militarily, the Foreign Secretary has already ruled out armed action, but surely there are some measures we might contemplate. Let me suggest two of them.

First, would it be a total flight of fancy or madness for a UN force of some sort to have flown into Ukraine, at that state’s request, to secure the crash site of flight MH17? Of course there would be huge Russian protests, but at least that would have shown that we are very angry about what has happened and that we mean business. It is just a thought, but perhaps it is not as crazy as it might seem at first sight.

Secondly, perhaps a more acceptable option would be to position NATO troops permanently, or in rotation, in eastern Latvia, eastern Estonia and eastern Poland. I think that should definitely be on the agenda of the forthcoming NATO summit. Again, Russia would denounce such a move, but so what? President Putin has asked for it by his actions. He would protest long and hard, but at least it would prove that NATO was not a paper tiger, as some think, and that it has teeth.

I wish everyone in the House a really good recess, particularly you, Madam Deputy Speaker, because you have been so nice to me, and even called me to speak occasionally. I thank everyone in the House, particularly my colleagues, who have been good friends. I thank the Clerks of the House, the ladies in the Tea Room and, in particular, the staff in the Strangers Bar.