QUEEN'S SPEECH – DEFENCE EXPENDITURE & COUNTERING EXTREMISM – 28 June 2017
Dr Julian Lewis: It is a pleasure to follow the eloquence of the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), and an honour to be re-elected once again to represent the lovely New Forest East constituency.
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr George Howarth): Order. I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but I should have announced that there is now a time limit of six minutes, which I think he was aware of, in order to accommodate as many people who want to speak as possible. Dr Lewis, your six minutes start now.
Dr Lewis: I have at least benefited from a few extra seconds as a result.
There is plenty to welcome in this Queen’s Speech, from the prioritisation of mental health to the forthcoming visit of Their Majesties the King and Queen of Spain, which will give us all a chance to show that our friendship with that great country is as enduring and immovable as the Rock of Gibraltar. I will touch, however, on two other aspects of the Queen’s Speech, and they will not come as a surprise to colleagues who know of my areas of speciality.
The first is the reiteration of the Government’s pledge to continue to meet the NATO commitment to spend at least 2% of national income on defence. I am sorry to say that it is not enough. One of the things that the Select Committee on Defence managed to establish, through a great deal of hard work and original research by its professional and dedicated staff, was a comparison over the decades of what happened to defence with a graph showing something very different for other high-spending subjects. We found that in the early 1960s we spent similar sums – about 6% of GDP – on welfare and defence. Now we spend six times as much on welfare as we do on defence. In the mid-1980s we spent similar sums – about 5% of GDP – on education, health and defence. Now we spend two and a half times as much on education and nearly four times as much on health as we do on defence. In every year from 1981 until 1987, at the height of east-west confrontation, we spent between 4.3% and 5.1% of GDP on defence, yet even after the cold war had finished, even as late as the financial year 1995-96, we were spending 3% of GDP on defence – a total that does not include things such as war pensions and Ministry of Defence civil service pensions.
Mrs Madeleine Moon: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Dr Lewis: I will happily give way to my fellow former member of the Defence Committee.
Mrs Moon: I thank the former Chairman of the Select Committee for giving way. He, like me, was at a dinner last night at which it was pointed out that at 2%, without pensions and all the other bizarre add-ons that the Government add to get this country to 2%, France will be spending €56 billion on defence; Germany, when it gets to 2%, will be at €70 billion. We are at £36 billion. How can we hold our heads up high and say that we can defend ourselves with sums like that?
Dr Lewis: The hon. Lady is a staunch defender of everything to do with the defence of this country, and she is absolutely right. It is a measure of the management downwards of our expectations that we are supposed to ring the church bells in triumph at our not falling below the bare minimum that NATO members are supposed to achieve. We really have to rethink this. We really should be looking at 3% of GDP, and not this bare minimum of 2%.
I want to turn mainly to what is said in the Queen’s Speech about the creation of a commission for countering extremism,
“to support the government in stamping out extremist ideology in all its forms, both across society and on the internet, so it is denied a safe space to spread.”
That implies, although it is not explicit, that the new body will be some form of executive agency. I want to hear from the Front Bench that that will be the case, because we are approaching a key point: it looks likely that the territory seized by ISIL/Daesh will be retaken from it. That will rightly be hailed as a considerable achievement, but we need to remember that only a few years ago no one had heard about ISIL/Daesh, and everybody was overwhelmingly concerned with al-Qaeda. It was unusual for a terrorist organisation to seize territory, because by doing that, ISIL/Daesh gave up the advantage of invisibility, which is what most terrorist organisations make maximum use of. However, I venture to suggest that when it has been removed from its territory and its moment has passed, there will be other groups that take its place, perhaps fighting in different areas and perhaps not trying to seize territory. This will go on and on, as long as there is no effective response to the underlying ideology.
This is not the first time that there has been talk of commissions of this sort. Back in 2013, David Cameron had a taskforce on tackling radicalisation and extremism. On that occasion, too, evidence was taken, but I believe that any future successful plan needs to draw on the similar threats that we faced and overcame in the past.
As I said in an earlier intervention, huge agencies were called into existence to counter other totalitarian ideologies. This rather massive book was never really meant to be published. It is called “The Secret History of PWE”. PWE was the Political Warfare Executive, and the book is a classified history of all the work that it did to counter fascist and Nazi ideology. It was published as recently as 2002. Another organisation, the Information Research Department at the Foreign Office, worked on a grand scale to counter the poisonous ideology of Marxism-Leninism.
What we need today is an organisation that is equally wide-ranging, equally proficient, and equally capable of answering the thoughtful interjection of the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) on the subject of the vocabulary that we should use – whether we should use the terms “Islamic”, “un-Islamic”, or simply “violent extremism”. We need an agency to do that. Until we have such an agency, and until it operates to scale, groups will continue to crop up to implement the ideology, and we do not want that to happen.