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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I join with others in paying tribute to my hon. Friend Anne-Marie Trevelyan not only for securing this debate but for her consistent championing of our armed forces.
It is worth putting the debate in the context of our international alliances. This year, NATO celebrated its 70th birthday. Despite discussion about its long-term future, I think that future looks bright. Since the 2004 Wales summit, non-US spending among the other member states has increased by $87 billion, and the UK’s record of consistently meeting the 2% target—although there is debate about that, which I understand—is symbolically and politically important.
NATO faces some real challenges. The UK’s spending commitments are therefore more important than ever. Given the geopolitical situation, it is no accident that Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have been among those most keen to see their defence expenditure meet the 2% target that has already been met by the UK and US. Furthermore, as we leave the EU, 80% of NATO forces will be contributed by non-EU members. Given Brexit, however, our commitment to co-operate with our European allies must remain a key element of our strategic direction and spending.
Despite all the successes achieved as a result of British defence spending—whether our strong record of meeting our NATO target, the fact that we are the only country to meet both that target and the 0.7% on aid, or the Government’s increased support for our cyber-capabilities announced in last year’s Budget—we need to address the real financial strains faced by our armed forces, as we have rightly heard about. The Public Accounts Committee has identified a £7 billion funding gap in Ministry of Defence expenditure, which could double over the next 10 years. As hon. Members also know, the nature of defence procurement can often lead to a Catch-22, in which piecemeal spending on capital projects can cause delays and consequent increases in expenditure.
When the new Prime Minister, whomever it might be, gets his feet under the table, a real priority will be to make a clear-eyed and long-term assessment of those capital projects, with a commitment to increased defence spending. I was pleased to hear the potential new Prime Minister’s words in that respect.
As the Defence Secretary said recently, however, the value of our defence industries, supply chains and armed forces goes beyond what we think of as specifically military activities. UK defence spending provides employment right across the country, not least in my constituency. The £293 million contract signed between the MOD and Leonardo helicopters in Yeovil was welcomed across the south of my constituency, not just by Leonardo employees but by those whose companies are part of the supply chain. Beyond the purely economic, the Defence Secretary was right to highlight the role that our armed forces play in increasing social mobility, binding communities together and exemplifying those real values which they are called on to defend.
The three objectives set out in SDR ’15 remain of paramount importance: protecting our influence; projecting our global influence; and promoting our prosperity. As we take stock of whatever Brexit resolution is achieved in future, it is vital that it does not undercut either our commitment to the security frameworks that have guaranteed peace on our continent, or Britain’s ability to project its power in defence of our values and interests.