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Queen’s Speech - Debate (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:00 pm on 23rd May 2016.

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Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 10:00 pm, 23rd May 2016

My Lords, we have had a fascinating, wide-ranging and well-informed debate, as one might expect of this Chamber. I will shortly pick up on as many points as I can made by noble Lords on all sides, but first I think it would be helpful to return to what I consider to be the three central tenets underlying the programme set out in the gracious Speech from a defence, development and foreign affairs perspective.

First, the Government’s commitment to protecting our people remains absolute. Today we face challenges growing in concurrence, diversity and multiplicity. We are responding with stronger defence. The noble Lord, Lord Touhig, spoke of cuts. Not only have we confirmed that we will meet the NATO guideline to spend 2% of GDP on defence, but we are presiding over a budget that will grow by 0.5% in real terms every year for the remainder of this Parliament. This very significant statement of intent allows us to increase our equipment spend and invest in full-spectrum capabilities, from digital armoured vehicles and F35 stealth fighters to carrier strike. As aggressive nations flaunt their nuclear arsenals, we are securing the future of Britain’s nuclear capability—our ultimate deterrent. Above all, our additional resource allows us to continue to stand up to aggression.

I say to the noble Lord that the SDSR made it clear that we will be able to deploy an expeditionary force across all three services of around 50,000—up from the 30,000 we announced in 2010. The Army could provide that force with up to 40,000 personnel. This is an increase, not a reduction. We are not just focusing on preparing for major conflicts; we are currently conducting lots of smaller operations at the same time, so Joint Force 2025 is being designed to enable us to do that better.

Our investment in defence is particularly evident in the way we are upping our efforts against Daesh, not just in Iraq, but, following last year’s decisive parliamentary vote, in Syria. Our efforts, alongside our coalition partners, are now pushing the terrorists back. They are losing territory, money and manpower. As the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Baglan, reminded us, we cannot defeat Daesh by military means alone, so we are countering its insidious ideology, such as through the coalition communications cell we have created, to undermine Daesh’s failing propositions that it is winning militarily and building a viable state, and that it represents the only true form of Islam.

The second principle underscoring the gracious Speech is our determination to do everything in our power to safeguard the rules-based international order. That is why our Typhoons are back in the Baltic for the third time to police the skies against Russian aggression. Since beginning their mission in April, they have already been scrambled on numerous occasions and remain on standby all day, every day. In response to mass migration we have ships in the Aegean and Mediterranean, disrupting and preventing illegal people trafficking. We are also doubling the number of UK troops on UN peacekeeping missions. Simultaneously, we will continue to use our influence to defend human rights. Opening this debate, my noble friend spoke movingly about the importance of preventing sexual violence in conflict. This is just one area where we are working hard to defend the values of tolerance that are the cornerstone of our nation.

The third principle behind the gracious Speech is that defence and development are two sides of the same coin. We must deal with the causes as well as the consequence of the issues we face today, whether extremism, mass migration, or deadly disease. That is why we have restructured our aid budget to focus on these great global challenges. Spending money up front on development and building up the capacity of struggling states prevents crisis turning to chaos. More than that, it boosts prosperity which in turn allows us to establish new alliances and trading partners. We are proud that Britain is the only major country in the world meeting the NATO target and the only G7 country spending at least 0.7% on development. It is a commitment we will continue to honour.

The valedictory speech from my noble friend Lady Perry was a reminder, if any were needed, of how much we lose with her retirement from this House. Her humanity, expertise and good sense will be much missed. I also pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Jowell, for a maiden speech of characteristic warmth and wisdom. We welcome her heartily to our debates.

However, it was perhaps no surprise that the predominant theme of this debate has been the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union and in particular the implications for our national defence and security. The security of Europe relies on not only the strength and unity of NATO’s collective defence but the prosperity underpinned by the EU’s single market. For several decades, the two institutions through their different means have provided the architecture to enable nations to work together in keeping the peace in Europe. We cannot address the threats to our national security alone. They are transnational and even global. We are the largest European defence contributor in NATO and in the EU. Through our active membership of both, we are able to play a leading role in shaping Europe’s security, which requires the broad range of tools that both institutions provide. This is critical for our own national security but also for that of our closest allies and partners around the world. As was emphasised powerfully by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, if we leave the EU we lose our ability to ensure that the EU’s tools are used in co-operation with NATO, and that the EU does not try to duplicate NATO’s proven military capabilities but focuses on the critical diplomatic, social and economic levers that enable European nations to address the complex threats to our security.

Leaving the EU risks weakening NATO. As the noble Lord, Lord Soley, rightly said, the UK is an important part of the international system. Our allies and partners often look to us for leadership. As many noble Lords emphasised—the noble Lords, Lord Robertson, Lord Campbell, Lord Kerr, Lord Ashdown, Lord Hannay, Lord Liddle and many others—leaving a major component of the international system would reduce the UK’s international standing, including with our key ally, the United States. At a time of international tension, we should work more closely with the international system and not seek to leave a key element of it. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, was right to say that we played a decisive role in shaping the EU’s common security and defence policy, and in ensuring that it is focused on areas of concern for us—for example, on counter-piracy and the Balkans. Our continued membership will maintain and potentially enhance that influence. On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, while NATO is the cornerstone of the UK’s defence, the EU plays an important complementary role in addressing and managing international crises.

I hope I will be forgiven for not commenting on every contribution on the subject of the EU, whether for or against our membership, but I briefly turn to the information published by the Government. In response to my noble friend Lord Forsyth, and pace my noble friend Lord Lawson, the Treasury’s comprehensive analysis, published today, has at its core a desire to present as true and fair a view of the future as possible. It focuses on the immediate economic impact of a vote to leave, and the two years that follow. The Treasury followed a comprehensive and best-practice approach to estimate the immediate impact of a vote to leave the EU on the UK economy. In doing so, it did not just pick figures out of the air; it used the available evidence and best-practice techniques, constructing an uncertainty indicator and estimating the impact of uncertainty on the economy. It combined these using a widely used model that assesses the total impact of all the effects on Britain’s economy of a vote to leave. The model is that used by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, which is used by more than 40 organisations including the IMF, the OECD, the Bank of England and the European Central Bank.