My Lords, I associate myself with the amendment and particularly with the remarks made by my noble friend Lord West. I do that for three reasons: first, because the primary duty of government is the security and welfare of our citizens and our sovereign nation in the world. I will not elaborate on that, as I think it is accepted by most of your Lordships’ House.
My second reason, however, is the commitment of honour that we have towards the men and women who serve this country—not just because charity starts at home but because of the unique contract that they have with the people of this country. It is a contract even until death and, tragically, many of them encounter that and lose their life in the service of this country. We have a debt of honour to illustrate that we are giving just as much attention to them as to others.
The third reason is because of the relationship between development overseas and our position as a nation which has a proud tradition of soldiering and contribution overseas. I am not one of those who believe that every problem has a military solution; they do not. Nor do I believe that you should develop military plans, strategy, operations or structures without regard to what used to be called “grand strategy”. Grand strategy, if we are to have it—I have to say that I do not see many signs of it in the Government—must encompass both hard and soft power: economic development, aid, diplomacy, military, Armed Forces and so on. That needs to be at both the strategic and the operational levels.
As the noble Lord, Lord West, pointed out, there are many cases—though not the majority, I accept—where aid can be supplied only under the umbrella of protection of the British Armed Forces. There are cases where the Armed Forces commit themselves, as in the Ebola crisis, to functions that are not necessarily directly related to defence, but where they are operating in difficult circumstances where they have particular attributes to defend themselves. In other words, you can no longer isolate military and Armed Forces action from soft power, whether diplomacy, aid or whatever. That is the essence of the strategy. In many cases you will not need the military and it would be better, as in some of our recent experience, to pay a little more attention to providing civilian attributes such as justice systems, but the two are meshed together.
The truth is that I believe we are now falling beneath the critical mass regarding our Armed Forces—certainly, though I will not rehearse all the details, with regard to our soldiers, surface fleet and aircraft, some of which has been pointed out already. We are also falling beneath critical mass in terms of our commitment. When I was a much younger lad, we were spending 5.4% of GDP on our Armed Forces. We are now spending less than 2%. If the nuclear deterrent is transferred from the central budget, out of which it has been paid for 50 years, into the defence budget, we will have an even greater deterioration, although that will be disguised because of that internal transfer.
I accept that we are among the highest spenders in NATO in this regard because other members of NATO are, frankly, not even getting to 2%. In some cases, when they are getting to 2% that is rather cloaked in euphemisms as well. I was talking to someone recently about the details of the Belgian defence budget. That country spends 2%, 90% of which is on salaries and pensions. As one official said, “We don’t so much have an Armed Forces as an extremely well guarded pension scheme”. So it is not the case that we are falling dramatically behind the rest but, given some of the things that are happening in Europe and the wider world, and the necessity to combine soft and hard power together, we can no longer allow the isolation and continued deterioration of defence; that is not something that can be put back quickly.
I understand that education, health and other domestic issues are extremely important to people in the country. I understand also the sincerity and motivations behind the discussions on the 0.7% target. Still, it would be better to be cautious about our future strategy as a country, for ourselves but also for the many people in the world who look to us not only for moral assistance and diplomatic and development aid but as partners who can be counted upon when the real hard times come, and they come in the form of threats. There is therefore nothing incompatible between arguing for a strong, robust and effective budget with regard to overseas development—particularly economic development, which is the basis of all human progress—and our commitment to adequate funds for defence.