International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Bill — Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:45 pm on 27th February 2015.

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Photo of Lord Davies of Stamford Lord Davies of Stamford Labour 12:45 pm, 27th February 2015

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, invited me to be consistent in my attitude towards this amendment and the first amendment we debated this morning. I think it might have been a slightly rhetorical invitation, so I will probably surprise him when I say that I propose to be exactly that. The way in which the amendment is worded, making public expenditure in one department a function of public expenditure in another, is a rather peculiar way to go about managing public expenditure. I rather doubt whether the noble Lord and his colleagues, including my noble friend, plan to put this amendment to the vote, but I certainly share the aspirations and inspiration behind this initiative.

Earlier, I said, and I stand by it, that one of the two major points of this Bill is to set an example in the world and therefore to achieve something of a leverage effect so that, where we spend more money, we may succeed in persuading others to spend more money in the same way and the same direction and thereby greatly promote the cause we have in mind. That applies, in my view, to the 0.7% target in international aid. It would also apply in the case of the 2% of GDP defence spending target that NATO has formally adopted. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, just said, that is the only other field in which such an international target exists.

I have to say that if the Prime Minister were, by some misfortune, to be re-elected in May and our defence spending went below 2%, not only would we have no influence at all in saying to our NATO partners,

“You ought to increase your defence spending to 2%”, but saying such a thing would be the most blatant hypocrisy. He would make a complete fool of himself and his words would be entirely counterproductive.

I think we all know that, very sadly, when this Government came to power, they decided that they could safely cut defence expenditure quite dramatically in real terms. They got rid of some absolutely fundamental capabilities, including our carrier strike capability and our long-range marine surveillance capability, which was just mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, and is a very serious matter. We have no such capability at all now and depend entirely on our allies. The Army was reduced by 20% and our escorts were reduced to 19, as my noble friend reminded the House. On the reduction of the fast jet squadrons, the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, is slightly wrong; there are eight at the moment, not seven, but there is a prospect of our going down to seven, which I believe is the Government’s present plan. That would be seven squadrons of fast jets when we have to defend the Falklands and provide air support for the Afghan National Army, if we do not want everything to go completely down the tubes there. We have rightly decided to deploy to deal with the considerable threat of Islamic State. Even more rightly, we are deploying Typhoons in the Baltic at present. We are also having to scramble our own quick-reaction force ever more frequently because Russian incursions are becoming more frequent, bolder and closer to our shores. We can hardly turn around to Mr Putin and say, “I’m sorry, we haven’t got enough aircraft”. If we did that, we would very soon find him flying over the skies of London.

This is a very serious matter. The world has become increasingly dangerous, volatile and unstable. During precisely that period, we have been cutting our defence capability. We must change that and we must set the right example to our EU and NATO partners. Doing something of this kind—accepting the 2%—would be the right way to do it. One of my great hopes for the country is that, in the course of the coming election campaign, both major parties—in the tradition of responsibility over national security that they have both displayed for countless generations, thank God, otherwise we would not be here today—will commit to spending not less than 2% of GDP on defence.