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Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:43 pm on 20th June 2018.

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Photo of Wayne David Wayne David Shadow Minister (Defence) (Armed Forces and Defence Procurement) 6:43 pm, 20th June 2018

We have had an excellent debate. Eighteen Members have spoken and there have been many constructive interventions. My apologies to the House if I fail to mention all the Members who have spoken. The debate has displayed a wide range of knowledge. Members have spoken with passion and sincerity. I am delighted that Plymouth has been mentioned. The debate has also been largely bipartisan in tone and content. I very much take on board the very good point made by Richard Benyon, who said it was imperative for us all to have as much unity as possible in this important area. There has been a high degree of consensus.

This is an important time for NATO. As we have heard, NATO’s origins go back to 1949. We on the Labour Benches are very proud that the likes of Clement Attlee and Ernest Bevin in particular played an important role in NATO’s formation. Today, the threats which NATO was established in response to are very different, but they are clear threats that we ignore at our peril. My hon. Friend Mary Creagh, Mr Francois, Bob Stewart and many other Members accurately referred to Russia’s increasingly aggressive activities. We have seen the recent actions of Russia in Ukraine, the illegal annexation of Crimea, and the destabilising cyber-activity of Russia in a number of countries, not least Estonia.

On the weekend before last, it was my pleasure to attend a festival of military music in Cardiff. This was a marvellous display of music, performed with vitality and precision. It also gave me the opportunity to speak to soldiers of the Royal Welsh who served with the Royal Welsh in Estonia. As we have heard from the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State, the number of UK personnel routinely deployed in Estonia is now around 800. Our troops are working alongside French personnel and, before long, Danish personnel. This enhanced forward presence, and tailored forward presence, is vital to ensuring that NATO provides strong defence and a clear deterrence.

Significant as this eastern European theatre is, it is also important to be aware that Russia is becoming increasingly assertive in other areas as well, notably in the Arctic. Members hardly need reminding that we have seen ever-increasing military activity close to the United Kingdom. British fighter pilots, jets and warships have responded to Russian military activity near the UK more than 160 times since 2010 and, only a couple of weeks ago, a Royal Navy destroyer was deployed to escort a Russian underwater reconnaissance ship after it approached the UK coast.

At the end of 2016, along with my Front-Bench colleagues, I visited the NATO headquarters in Brussels. I was impressed by both the collegiate nature of the organisation and its accurate estimation of the growing Russian threat. Not only is Russia increasing the numerical strength of its armed forces, but it is increasing its investment in its capabilities, and it is increasingly prepared to address and test our collective responses. In the light of this, I believe that it is important for our NATO allies to make real their commitment to hit the military spending minimum of 2% of GDP for NATO. That argument has been made coherently and well by the Select Committee on Defence, and we have heard a number of Members in this debate making an eloquent case for it, not least Giles Watling and the Chair of the Defence Committee, Dr Lewis. It is also important to recognise that the UK only meets its 2% target because the Government include expenditure on things such as pensions. The need for more resources has been stressed strongly by a number of Members on both sides of the House.

At the start of my speech, I stated that this is an important time for NATO, and it is indeed, for the reasons that I and other Members have given. It is also important because we must not give the impression that, because Britain is leaving the EU, we are going to lessen our determination to co-operate with our partners and friends within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. In this context, the NATO summit in Brussels in July will be of tremendous importance. There will be important discussions, especially on the creation of a new command structure to deal with maritime security and the threat that is posed in the north Atlantic. A number of Members have made their support known very strongly for these developments.

NATO is a vital alliance. We live in a dangerous and uncertain world, and we need to ensure that NATO speaks with one voice and acts as an effective alliance. All of us in this House agree that NATO is important but, as my hon. Friend Mrs Moon and my right hon. Friend Mr Jones eloquently said, we must all make sure that we put the case for NATO to the people of this country to make sure that there is not only understanding, but full support.