International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Bill — Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:30 pm on 27th February 2015.

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Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Labour 12:30 pm, 27th February 2015

My Lords, I have put my name to this amendment and I support it. I should add that the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, has also put his name to the amendment but has asked me to say that he unavoidably cannot attend today, and to mention that he had raised this very issue in Questions earlier in the week.

Defence and security of the nation, as has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, are the first responsibility of any Government. Indeed, the Prime Minister has said so, as did the Prime Minister before him and the Prime Minister before him. But in 2015-16, the next financial year, defence spending is on track to fall to 1.88% of our GDP. This is the lowest percentage of our GDP in 25 years, yet we are in a highly dangerous and chaotic world.

In that highly dangerous and chaotic world, defence spending has been reduced by 8% since 2010 through a lot of the measures that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, mentioned. A recent study by the International Institute for Strategic Studies shows that the United Kingdom’s military capability—our capability to do things—has reduced by more than 20% since 2010. That is more than a fifth; which is an incredible reduction in our military capability. We are standing into danger—I apologise for using a nautical term but that is what you say when you are about to go on to the rocks—and I think we should be afraid. Our forces have not just been cut to the bone; they have been cut into the bone. Our military now is unable to do what the people of our great nation expect it to be able to do. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, mentioned a submarine to the west of the UK. Our inability to prosecute that properly is a dreadful indictment of what has happened to our forces.

If our defence forces are incapable of defending our nation, its people and its interests worldwide then to be quite honest welfare, health, education and foreign aid are as naught. They become irrelevant if we cannot do those other things and, ironically, in many parts of the world where DfID is working it can do so only courtesy of the military. As has been said, the Government made it very clear at the NATO summit in Wales that the European nations of NATO should spend a minimum of 2% of their GDP on defence because of the threats that there were, which are now seen rising within the European theatre, let alone worldwide. Indeed, the Secretary of State for Defence has referred to a “real and present danger”.

One would like to think that the Government believe that the UK should do the same as it has told all these other countries to do, yet almost every statement and action by this Government since the NATO summit seems to indicate that the Chancellor wishes to renege on that promise. I can of course understand the problem that he has. As a result of multiple ring-fencing of budgets, his room for manoeuvre over the allocation of sufficient funding to departments is seriously curtailed, right across government. Indeed, ring-fencing has a lot of unintended consequences and is not necessarily a clever thing to do.

For this reason, if we are going to ring-fence I believe that it makes absolute sense to link the ODA to the defence budget so that as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, says, we can show that defence is more important —because without the defence, we cannot have an aid budget. This amendment would assist the Government in meeting their promise of spending 2% of GDP on defence. For that reason, it is a very sensible and proportionate amendment, which would enhance the security of our nation and therefore enable us to continue to provide aid into the future.