Geoffrey Cox calls on Government to honour 2% defence spending commitment

13th March 2015

Geoffrey Cox calls on the Government to honour its commitment to spending 2% of GDP on defence.

Mr Geoffrey Cox (Torridge and West Devon) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Simon Reevell), who has given us a salutary reminder of the importance of defence. He and I share a profession, and I have to say that this is the first defence debate that I have attended in my 10 years in the House. I say so not out of pride, but out of shame, as well as to emphasise the growing unease I have felt from reading and listening to such important debates—it has been a privilege to listen to the speeches of hon. Members from both sides of the House. I am now better informed, and perhaps even a little wiser and more enlightened, but none of them allayed my anxieties or convinced me not to make the effort to attend the debate this afternoon.
I must say that my only qualification—a tenuous one—for speaking in a defence debate is that my father was a career soldier and that I was brought up on Army bases and camps around the world in the 1960s. He was a gunner for 40 years, and left the Army only in the mid-1980s. The experience of growing up within the Army taught me not only its values—its ethics, its morality, its discipline and its code—but that it was essential to the very fabric of this country for us to maintain our armed forces in a state of readiness and properly resourced to be able to defend its people. Following my increasing concern over the past few years, I have to say that I am no longer convinced that we give our defence forces the priority that they require.
I should not have been in the Chamber this afternoon; with the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne), who has responsibility for defence equipment, support and technology, I should have been in Appledore visiting the last English shipbuilder, which is just completing its third Irish—I stress, Irish—naval patrol vessel, having already completed the bow sections of both of the carriers. I believe that our visit would have been widely welcomed by the 400 or 500-strong work force of that shipyard because they feel that the defence establishment should nurture the last remaining skill bases that exist for the production of naval vessels and ships. I am grateful to the Minister for having expressed his wish to visit, and I hope that he will visit after the election—and I hope that he will still be in his present job or some even more senior and illustrious position.
My purpose today is not to contribute to the weight of opinion, authority and expertise that I have been awestruck to listen to this afternoon, but by appearing here today as the representative of a sedentary and dusty trade, a long way removed from the military or the armed forces, to demonstrate to the Government, including Ministers from my party, that the issue of defence is not a specialised interest confined merely to a few dozen of our colleagues. It was suggested earlier that those present are “defence enthusiasts”, but concern about defence is spreading widely, not only through the Conservative party, but the country. It would be wrong of us to believe that it is a specialised interest of significance only to a narrow circle: it is becoming ever more widespread.
I attend this debate not to send a message to my hon. Friend the Minister, who I know grasps these points, but to those in charge of the Treasury that enough is enough and that 2% is a line in the sand. Beyond it we must not go. It represents a demonstration of will and the fulfilment of a commitment, and no amount of creative accounting, sneaking or ducking and diving will deflect the attention of the British people from the solemn responsibility of this Government and the next to defend our interests and the integrity of our borders. I say to my hon. Friend as a messenger to those who sit in Cabinet and have the decision-making power in the councils of the Government that if we were to compromise that 2%, the message it would send to the dictators, and the enemies of freedom and all the values and principles we hold dear, is that we are no longer willing to stand by our commitments and to pay the price of freedom.
I agree with those who have said that to do business in terms of proportions and percentages of GDP is not good politics, but we have made the 2% figure the line in the sand. We have said it to other countries and we cannot now compromise on our determination to fulfil our responsibility to the international community. If we allow ourselves to become weak, impliedly we expect others to take up—to the same measure and in the same proportion—the burden of defending us. That has never been Britain’s way and cannot be the way that this House regards as appropriate. I ask all my hon. Friends to hold the Government to the 2% commitment and not to let it go.
2.34 pm

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