Monthly Archives: June 2014

Rory Stewart walks Hadrian’s Wall

Article first published in The Financial Times on 20 June 2014.

Hadrian’s Wall begins a little bewilderingly, buried under the settlements east of Newcastle, but stretches into some of the loveliest, loneliest country in Britain. Segedunum, the fort at the eastern end of the wall, has been excavated from under tight terraces of Victorian housing beside the former shipyards at Wallsend. At one end is a reconstructed bathhouse, neatly plastered in blue and white. The Roman writer Tacitus claimed the British had embraced bathing with enthusiasm. But the fashion didn’t last: this bathhouse was abandoned along with perhaps a thousand others, almost exactly as the Roman legions left, 1,600 years ago. Today, restored to working order, it still seems a little alien, advanced and luxurious.

From here, the Hadrian’s Wall Path runs along an abandoned rail track, in the shadow of half-abandoned administrative buildings, above the dockyard gates. My plan was to follow it west to Willowford, on the Cumbrian border: a walk of just over 40 miles, do-able in a weekend, although three days would be more comfortable.

I emerged, after a couple of hours, on to the Newcastle quays. A Pyrenean mountain dog, the size of a small pony, stood, newly blow-dried, in the centre of the street. It was being admired by three Persian-Bahraini women in giant sunglasses. One petted it, another jumped in terror whenever it looked up, and a third posed for photographs. I stopped for an espresso from a van parked on the quayside.

On the outskirts of Newcastle, my boots sounded heavy on the new pavement. I hurried through mini-roundabouts, stared at porcelain decorations on windowsills, and large empty armchairs in front rooms. Women in new black trouser-suits, smoking outside a hair salon, watched me pass, and I felt a little embarrassed to be seen in a city in my stained blue trousers, and with a large backpack.

Then I was beyond the suburbs, into flat farmland, where high hedges blocked the view, until gradually the hills emerged. Coming down a long slope, I saw the first clear section of the wall: a line of square sandstone blocks standing 3ft high. The section was only about 20 yards long but you could see the diagonal scratches of the Roman chisels that had built it in the 2nd century. The track followed a quiet road, alongside green fields full of large, pale, continental cattle. Every 10 or 20 minutes was another short section of wall or the remains of the once 10ft deep Roman ditch, or vallum, that ran along its southern side.

Fourteen miles, or five hours’ walk from Newcastle, a small metal noticeboard indicated the site of a fort called Vindobala. Beyond the sign was rough pasture. Thick-necked, flat-faced, Texel sheep moved solidly back and forth, inspecting the grass as closely as an archaeologist but there was no Roman stone to be seen. I stopped to eat an egg sandwich.

The 500 men who had been based in this empty green field had not been limited to egg sandwiches. Bones, and documents, recorded rich meat, Italian wine, north African cereals, Spanish olive oil and fish paste. This fort had once contained Frisian soldiers from Holland. Further west at Carvoran were Syrian archers. They came from Hama, now caught up in the Syrian war, and they had left a poem carved in stone that celebrated their cities and the marriage of a Syrian woman to an emperor from Libya. Each unit would have brought their own languages, some brought their gods; all brought their cuisine. One African unit had left the remains of an African casserole dish in the ground.

As I walked on, the ground became rougher, the soil poorer: there were fewer cows and more sheep. It was becoming clear how startling this wall must once have been. It had been a rigid mortared structure dropped in the midst of a local culture that had never built in mortared stone. It was so long as to be, to the human eye at least, endless, and because it was 12ft to 15ft high, it concealed everything behind it: cutting a familiar landscape, suddenly, in two. Everything on my right would have been wet sour ground, crags and moss, and scrub-trees, and a glimpse of further ridges. But on my left there would have been no view, no natural thing, nothing except a wall, up to three times the height of a man. It would have felt like the perimeter wall of a vast compound.

Every mile, the wall seemed ever more prodigious, and incomprehensible. The rain came and went. I reached sections where the grey stone became wet black granite and then a pale dry, red sandstone. Sometimes the wall ran along the edge of great cliff escarpments, or plunged into narrow gullies, but the shape of the almost square blocks never changed. An iron-age walker would have been aware of its almost inhuman precision. Every 300 yards was another manned turret – and every Roman mile, a milecastle.

The six-mile diversion from the wall at Chollerford south to the town of Hexham adds three hours of walking; perhaps it would be better to take a taxi. I stayed at the Beaumont Hotel (good breakfast, friendly owner) facing the pink-tinged dark stone of the old Abbey. Following a parade of prams that came down the cobbled streets from Argos, I walked into the Abbey.

By the stairs stood a carved sandstone tombstone of a young Roman soldier. His face was invisible but he had settled his flag firm by his waist, as his horse reached skyward. Focused on the rearing pony between his knees, he hardly seemed to notice how his fine leather boot kicked against the naked bottom of a kneeling man, prostrated beneath the horse’s belly. The crouching nude held a naked sword. His head was stretched back, so at first it looked as though it were stretched in agony but it was at an angle far beyond any anatomical possibility: he was decapitated. He was a Briton – a naked barbarian, kicked aside by the leaping hooves of Rome.

Approaching the Roman fort at Housesteads the next day, I met a large, white-haired man, who walked with giant strides. He wore short white socks, hiking boots, a kilt that came down to the middle of his calves, and no sporran. He was followed by a woman in a kilt that was more of a miniskirt.

“We are the Club of Irish-Scottish Californian Lawyers,” he told me. “Every year, we go on a trip to celebrate our heritage. This year is Hadrian’s Wall.” What had the experience been like?

“Pretty punishing to be honest, long days, but we’ll make it.”

I ran across the hill from the fort on the ridge at Housesteads to the fort at Vindolanda, because I was bored of the slow trudge. I came through a quarry, across a road, down into a ditch, and over a fence, finding myself amid the familiar stone rectangles that seem the standard way of presenting the foundations of a Roman fort.

Last time I had visited, I found archaeologist Andrew Birley crouching beside a path, staring at a hole which he said had once contained a native hut. “We’ve been excavating here for 80 years,” he said, “and I reckon we’ve uncovered about 20 per cent of the site.” At this rate, I worried, they would be excavating for longer than the fort had been occupied. Now, however, he was nowhere to be seen and I wandered the site alone.

Birley’s grandfather had bought the fort at auction in 1929, and then dedicated his family’s life to restoring it. There had been a break for almost 15 years, when the government tried to prevent them from excavating it (and when they reconstructed one section of wall, local council officials refused it planning permission on the grounds that it was not in keeping with local architectural traditions).

People who I thought would have liked the fort, often seemed to complain that it was “overdone” and groaned when I praised it. I liked the fact that they had relied for decades on teams of volunteers – hundreds of people camping over the summer – often students of his family, most of whom had become professors. I liked the fact that they had become a northern family rooted to this soil and this project.

The Birleys’ most famous discovery was a cache of Roman correspondence in the deep peat soil. It was written on thin wooden tablets, the ink could only be revealed under the most specialist lighting conditions, and informed guesswork seemed to underlie every act of deciphering. It was a tiny fraction of what must have once existed – and it was on a rubbish pile, intended to be destroyed. But the correspondence revealed centurions, setting off south to pick up more supplies, negotiating with contractors for transport; and it restored the voices of civilian traders, enraged with the military brutality. There were endless leave tickets, and muster rolls, showing soldiers flowing back and forth, down to London, or on temporary postings to neighbouring bases, or to the governor’s staff.

The museum at Vindolanda contained Samian pottery, fine red ware, imported to this remote heathered valley from a ceramics factory in what was now central France – almost as though a contemporary officer had brought his family silver to a forward operating base in Afghanistan. There was painted glass, a marble altar, an elaborate decorated leather horse-mask, and a whole case of leather shoes, women’s sandals, children’s boots, a little worn, still carrying the shape of the lost feet of their owners.

Willowford Farm, close to the village of Gilsland, is constructed from the stones of the wall, like many old buildings in the area. On a lintel is a Roman inscription “from the Fifth cohort, the century of Gellius, Phillipus, built this”.

The neat and warm bedroom in which I stayed for my final night was built into the side of the farmhouse courtyard. Breakfast was fresh loaves of granary bread, home-made jam, and thick-cut Cumbrian bacon.

I went out at first light. The farmhouse lay on a ridge, and I stood outside. The farm’s two collies seemed willing for a moment to leave their bald tennis ball and consider the view. Mist was rising from the river below, revealing the wall. Its rough stone face ran straight through the grass field – a border, drawn with a colonial ruler, cutting a landscape in two. A footbridge led up to Birdoswald fort, whose garrison had once been tall red-headed Dacians, from a homeland almost 2,000 miles away. But I could see nothing except the wallstone, and the fellside, scattered with Swaledale sheep, in a landscape where perhaps a hundred thousand people, from places stretching from Gaul to the Black Sea, had eaten olives, and gazed at the wet ground, and the scrub, and the distant line of hills, for 300 years.


MP for Penrith and the Border, Rory Stewart, has congratulated and thanked all those involved in the 176th Cumberland Show, with visitor numbers well up on last year. The local MP held a stall at the show, and welcomed farming minister George Eustice to talk about local and national concerns with constituents and the farming community.

Rory Stewart MP said: ” It’s always a pleasure to attend and show my support for such a fantastic event. The weather just about held out, and ensured everyone could enjoy fully the most wonderful array of local produce, trade stalls, amusements, and of course the incredible display of livestock, which remain at the heart of this hugely important Cumbrian tradition. Many thanks to everyone who worked so hard to make the show a success, and it is really great to see so many local Cumbrians coming out to enjoy themselves and support our rural economy.”
Farming Minister George Eustice praised the show, stating:

“I think it’s really important these events to bring town and country closer together because all too often i think we’ve got a bit of a divide between town and country and people lose contact and lose touch with the farming industry.

“I don’t think it happens as much in Cumbria because it is a very rural area but these shows are just vitally important I think to help promote farming and promote public understanding of it.”



As part of national ‘My Money Week’, Local MP, Rory Stewart, this week visited William Howard School in Brampton to learn more about the secondary school’s work as a local centre of excellence for financial education. The Penrith and the Border MP was invited to sit in on a year 7 class led by the Cumberland Building Society, where pupils had the opportunity to ask questions about banking and finance with former William Howard student, Charlotte Vaughan.

From September 2014, financial education will form a part of the Government’s compulsory national curriculum in England, and the subject will be part of citizenship for 11-16-year-olds and maths for 5-14-year-olds. The move follows years of campaigning by financial education charity pfeg (Personal Finance Education Group), the All Party Parliamentary Group on Financial Education for Young People and’s Martin Lewis.

William Howard has been teaching the subject for several years already however, and as a centre of excellence, now supports other local primary and secondary schools develop the subject.

Rory Stewart said:

“Preparing our young people for the wider world beyond school is about more than ensuring they come out with a good set of GCSEs; it is clear from my visit today that William Howard is doing a wonderful job in ensuring its students come out as well-rounded individuals. In a world where money matters can seem increasingly confusing and complex, the opportunity to engage with the subject from a young age will clearly help young people feel more confident with financial decisions, better able to budget, and better able to understand the risks associated with issues like pay-day loans or online gambling.”


Local MP Rory Stewart, has joined in on a weekend of celebrations at the Lazonby Community Swimming pool, to mark it’s 50th year in business. The pool was officially opened in July 1964 and has remained at the heart of village life ever since. It is still managed my a small group of dedicated local volunteers, and the pool’s original founder, Mr John Hume – now aged 92 – took part in a celebratory swim to mark the occasion.
Speaking at the event, Rory Stewart said:
“It is fantastic to see a wonderful community asset like Lazonby pool still going strong after 50 years, thanks wholly to the spirit and energy of local volunteers. Looking around today, we see people of all ages here to enjoy the pool, and there are few better examples of a local amenity bringing an entire community together.

There is absolutely no reason why the pool cannot continue to thrive for another 50 years, and I very much hope to find myself going for a celebratory swim to mark its 100th anniversary.”


Local MP, Rory Stewart, has welcomed the latest achievement to secure high-speed fibre broadband to over half of the businesses and homes in Cumbria, in his on-going campaign to ensure the county has the best superfast broadband in Europe. Reaching this latest landmark means that around 121,000 premises in the county now have speeds of at least 24 mb/s, and ensures The Connecting Cumbria project – a partnership between Cumbria County Council and BT – remains on track to be finished by the end of 2015.

More than 70,000 man hours been amassed so far, with 350 kilometres of fibre optic cable laid, and 48 new green fibre street-side cabinets installed. The half-way point was reached in part by the surge in work by the partnership between March and May, when Connecting Cumbria made fibre broadband available to a further 13,216 homes and businesses. As a result, a number of areas which previously had no fibre broadband at all have now been connected for the first time.

Speaking at a stall setup in Brampton to educate local residents about the latest improvements to broadband in their area, Rory Stewart said: “It is fantastic to have reached this milestone, but the challenge remains to continue rolling out fibre as deeply and widely across Cumbria as possible. Cumbria can benefit from broadband more than any other region in the UK, and for those areas that now have broadband, we need to ensure we are making the most of it; be it in healthcare, education or strengthening our small, rural businesses.”

Ed Vaizey, communications minister, said: “The Government subsidised national rollout of superfast broadband continues at pace and I’m delighted to hear that the Connecting Cumbria project has already passed the halfway mark.

“Cumbria’s homes and businesses will have access to superfast broadband as a result of this project, providing a significant boost to the local economy.

Councillor David Southward, Cumbria County Council’s Cabinet member responsible for economic development, said: “This is a significant milestone that has been achieved on time thanks to the dedication of everyone involved in the programme who are all working tirelessly on this project.

It is hoped that 93 per cent of Cumbria’s 240,000 homes and businesses will have access to fibre broadband by the end of December 2015, with everyone in the county achieving speeds of at least 2 Mbps are available to all.

Bill Murphy, BT’s managing director of next generation access, added: “Fibre broadband will bring the digital world right to the doorsteps of homes and businesses across the county.

“It enables local small businesses to compete on an equal footing with larger firms, and means that families in rural areas are better connected and able to do more online than ever before.

The Lasting Institutions of our Society

Last Saturday, Shoshana and I spent the day at the Cumberland show. It has passed its 175th anniversary and you could see why it has lasted so long. It wasn’t only the ice-cream. We must have met two hundred people who had come from across two thousand square miles of Cumbria. Shoshana stood, transfixed by the sheep-dogs (herding geese), and the gun-dogs (finding sausages in piles of branches). She seemed to admire every muscle of the Charolais, and to photograph many hairy feet of many Clydesdales. I don’t seem to be able to keep her away from shows: last year she came with me, I think, to Dufton, Lowther, Penrith, Skelton and Hesket Newmarket. Now she is bringing her mother all the way from the United States to see the Skelton show again on 5th July.

But it’s also great to see how much she, who was a teacher in inner city schools in the United States, seems to be impressed by British schools. The day before the Cumberland show, we were both at William Howard in Brampton. Last time, I was there, I was shown a mobile science lab, with state of the art optical equipment. The time before, I was in the dance and theatre class. This time we attended a class in financial management; heard a twelve year old, debating interest rates; saw a video on financial education, shot and edited by another member of the class; and ate cakes which the children had baked for elderly people from Brampton. (They had invited them all to the school for a mass tea party).

Schools are, apart from the church, the most long-lasting institutions in our society: older than the agricultural shows, and emblems of continual change. At Greystoke I was lucky enough to be at the 175th anniversary celebration with members of the local family that had first supported the school. The old walls of the class-rooms were covered with a hectic exuberance of modern pictures, photographs, models, and maps. On the way in to watch the Appleby school musical, I passed a copy of its 22 March 1574 charter on its wall (its origins go back to the thirteenth century). At Nelson Thomlinson, I saw copperplate records from 1914 recording teachers, stuck in snow, and students sent to the First World War. In the next door classroom, I met student entrepreneurs, who had just built a software training program, which they ran from a computer the size of a playing card.

At Rosley, the choir seemed to have drawn in almost every child in the building to dance and sing. At Fellview primary in Caldbeck, ten year olds asked me about dignity and trust in politics. At Penruddock, I was cross-questioned on the constitution. In Armathwaite, I spent 40 minutes with a class of children, and their parents, discussing philosophy, peace-keeping and the causes of war. Shoshana points out how lovely the settings were: from Yanwath, for example, whose new playground lies in the gently rolling land where the Lowther approaches the Eamont; to Milburn, which sits in a perfect stone building in the very centre of the village green surrounded by a square of village houses. Armathwaite’s broad, wood-fringed playing field, is my favourite – on a hill with the fells behind.

I went down from Armathwaite to chair the Defence Committee in Westminster. This week, we welcomed 7th Brigade back from Afghanistan, hosted Gurkha cadets (these eighteen year olds from remote rural areas of mountainous Nepal asked me at length in fluent English about the European economic crisis, and policy towards Syria); saw the Defence Attaches from France, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, Israel, Canada, and Denmark; cross-questioned the two outgoing chiefs of the Defence Staff; and held a debate on the floor of the house, touching on Defence spending, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Syria; and the ISIS take-over of Western Iraq. But my experience at Armathwaite primary school class made me wonder whether their generation – thirty years younger than me – would see Defence and Security in the same way. The pupils seemed, on a sunny morning, in that beautiful setting, above the loveliest stretch of the Eden, very far from any kind of war. Child after child, questioned whether violence could ever be the answer. I found it difficult to explain what I – as a product of the twentieth century – took for granted: that sometimes we needed to fight to protect others, and ourselves.

But perhaps the most striking thing last week was the fiftieth anniversary of the Lazonby pool. It too was the product of a primary school: the project was driven by the local head John Hume in 1964. It had been built by the community, for about a quarter of the price quoted by a local contractor, because the community provided the labour. It too had changed with the modern world: the green river water had been replaced with new water, fences had gone up, a playground had been built, health and safety now required a full-time life-guard. The new generation of volunteers who were triumphantly keeping the pool open were now facing regulations and restrictions which didn’t exist before. But Mr. Hume who had built the pool, fifty years ago, was still there. All that effort, and imagination, were still preserved in that pool, filled with people. Mr.Hume at 92 swam a lap with the children. I very much hope Shoshana and I are still able to swim a lap on its hundredth anniversary.

Rory’s response to 2014 Budget


Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border): I want to speak briefly about the elderly. The response to the Budget has focused on the needs of the next generation and of younger people, but I represent a constituency in Cumbria with serious issues of isolation. I will make three points.

First, we should bear in mind the enormous contribution of older people. All of us, from all parts of the House, know from experience that people aged over 55 are probably the most vigorous and active citizens in our communities. Many of the things that happen day in, day out for us as constituency MPs involve people aged over 55 challenging our decisions, holding us to account, being highly articulate and leading community projects.

Whether it is by digging in superfast broadband or working out how to support the hospice at home movement, the elderly make an enormous contribution.

The reality is, however, that the elderly in this country are suffering a real problem. We have developed a culture that is increasingly focused on the young: on the idea of youth, on the idea of productivity, and on the idea of the next generation. We are finding it more and more difficult, in the media or in the House, to talk properly about the elderly, although in my experience—and, I suspect, in the experience of many other Members—it is the elderly in particular who represent the most shocking scandal in our society. Day after day, walking into the homes of the elderly, we witness scenes of loneliness, isolation and deprivation which can be shocking. We do have ways of addressing this—the Government’s pension reforms are a very good step in the right direction, and it is good to hear, for example, Age UK praising those reforms— but there is much that we can do to become more ingenious.

One concrete example of the scandal in our society is deafness. We pride ourselves constantly on huge technological changes. We pride ourselves on being able to produce a new kind of laptop every year, and on increasing developments in miniaturisation. However, hearing aid technology is still basically stuck in the 1970s. Deafness is a terrible thing. Anyone who lives with a deaf person can see that it removes the complexity from conversation, it removes the human relationship, and it creates deep isolation. Yet we are not investing in and developing the technology in the way in which we could.

Secondly, we need to grasp the potential of telehealth and telemedicine, which, despite spending more than £1 billion on superfast broadband, the national health service has not yet done. If we want elderly people to remain at home, we need to find a way of addressing them directly. I recently had a very depressing conversation with staff in a GP’s surgery, who told me that they felt no need to use superfast broadband connections, because they were just coming to terms with the huge benefits of talking to people on the telephone.

Thirdly, we need to think about how we can use community hospitals in a much more flexible and imaginative way to support social enterprises and third sector organisations—about which we heard from the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears)—when it comes to going into people’s homes. The biggest killer among elderly people in this country at the moment is, of course, loneliness. A person’s chance of dying doubles within a year of his or her partner’s death. We can all understand how that happens, in very concrete terms. Your partner dies suddenly, and perhaps you no longer receive a prescription for a new set of glasses. Your partner dies, and perhaps your medication is no longer checked. Perhaps the stair carpet is not being nailed down. Perhaps you are not being taken to the supermarket to buy food. Those are all things that the third sector can help to deal with, and they are all things that can be dealt with by community hospitals if they are imaginatively managed.

I shall not say much more, as I am aware that we are short of time, but if our nation is looking for a mission for the next 20 or 30 years, it is this: we need to come to terms with the elderly. We all understand the statistics, because they are easy. The number of people aged over 85 will double. The number of people aged over 65 will rise by 2 million between now and 2025. The number of people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia will double. Every single one of us will experience, in our families and our homes, the terrible pressures of ageing.

As I saw when I was in Afghanistan, all young Afghan men—men in stonewashed jeans with the latest mobile telephones— show enormous respect to the elderly. Indeed, they will cross the road to show their appreciation and support. It is very worrying that in this country, where the elderly are contributing so much in terms of citizenship, wisdom, advice and support, every one of us, day by day, sees our parents, our grandparents or indeed our friends undergoing the terrible process of deafness, forgetfulness or, ultimately, dementia. We need, as a Government and as a community, to build a society that is fit not just for our children, but for our parents.

Rory hands Veterans Review over to Stephen Phillips

Due to my recent appointment as Chair of the Defence Select Committee the House of Commons Clerks have advised that I hand the review over to one of my colleagues. This is to avoid a conflict of interest and to allow the new lead to dedicate the time to the review that it deserves. Stephen Phillips QC MP has now taken over and I will continue to follow the review with interest.

Defence Spending

Written Transcript:

Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border, Conservative)

I am well aware that my No. 1 obligation in my new role in the Defence Committee is to sit down quickly to let other people speak who know a great deal more about the subject than I do. I will therefore, very rapidly, give a sense of what the Defence Committee has been working on for the past 15 years directly relating to defence spending.

Over the past three or four weeks, I have had a happy time going through an enormous number of Defence Committee reports; as one can imagine, after 15 years they fill almost an entire room. The central theme in everything the Committee has done is to argue that defence spending should be determined, above all, by our assessment of the threats we face and the strategy we have to deal with them—that it is not good enough to base a defence strategy, or defence spending, on what we have spent in the past or on what kit we have had in the past that we wish to replace.

Over the past 15 years, the Committee has identified three types of threat: state-on-state threats, threats from humanitarian catastrophes, and threats from terrorists. Today, in 2014, we face all these threats simultaneously—in some cases, in a more extreme and aggressive form than we have ever seen them before. First, on state-on-state threats, there is Russia. I have here the Committee’s 2008 report, in which Mr Jones participated as a member, “Russia: a new confrontation?” As Hugh Bayley said, Putin’s actions in Crimea suggest a very dangerous type of threat—a type of threat that the Committee was beginning to point to in 2008 and has finally come to fruition. It is the threat, as proved in Crimea, of Putin’s ability to deploy unconventional measures almost without a shot fired.

This is traditional spetsnaz or GRU activity whereby he is able to annex part of a neighbouring state without the deployment of full conventional forces. Another type of threat is represented by last year’s so-called Zapad 2013 exercises, which suggested that Russia is practising an airborne invasion of the Baltic and is able to follow this up with a maritime blockade and the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons.

The second type of threat is evident in Syria, where the challenge of humanitarian intervention can be seen at its most extreme, with 150,000 people killed and millions of refugees created.

Thirdly, on terrorism, we face in western Iraq almost the sum of all fears from the past decade. We have there exactly the problem that the global war on terror was supposed to solve for ever: an entire territory controlled by a jihadist group that now, in Mosul, controls a city of 2 million people. Unfortunately, that represents a real challenge to the west.

The question is what we—Britain and our allies—can do and what additional resources we would require to deal with those three threats. If we look at it on the surface, we will see that it is pretty depressing. It does not seem, looking at it directly, as though there is much that Putin would be worried about if he was contemplating chewing off a corner of Latvia. We need to be clear about the decline in our capacity and planning over the past 20 years. We have not been exercising for this phenomenon, nor have we designed troops for it. The kind of man who likes to go fishing with his shirt off might well be tempted to try to humiliate NATO. The chance of that happening might be 0.1% or 1%, but it does not matter how unlikely it is: the question is whether we are ready to meet it. Do we have the kinds of plans in place to make that article 5 defence credible? In particular, when we talk about tripwires, do we have a population prepared to use nuclear weapons to support a NATO member state?

On humanitarian intervention in Syria, the entire debate in this House showed the problems of us responding to that situation. On the subject of terrorism, the failure, ultimately—four years later—of the deployment of more than 100,000 American troops and $120 billion of expenditure to achieve a lasting settlement to the Sunni insurgency in western Iraq suggests that we will face a very considerable problem doing it again.

Nevertheless, on the basis of my very early superficial reading of what the Defence Committee has been saying for the past 15 years, I would suggest that the answer, ultimately, is more hopeful. What the Defence Committee has argued again and again is that to answer these kinds of questions we need to begin fundamentally with strategy. That means that we as a country need, bluntly, to get more serious. We need to invest far more in our thinking capacity and to rebuild a hollowed out Defence Intelligence. We need to rebuild the hard questions that were regularly asked in NATO planning meetings throughout the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s.

We need to focus on where we have got it wrong. If we are to win the public back again—if we are to win back public confidence in intervention and action, which we must—we can do so only if we are honest about our failures. We will not be able to carry the public with us if we try to pretend that everything we have done over the past 15 years has been absolutely perfect and all gone swimmingly; that nothing is our fault, but the fault of

the United States or the local government; and that Britain has no lessons to learn. If we take that attitude, we will not be able to carry the public with us.

We must focus on what we can do. We can address these threats. We showed for 60 years that NATO knows how to contain the kind of threat posed by Putin—we have proved it again and again, year in, year out, and it is the greatest achievement of our civilisation. We achieved that peace in Europe and we can do it again. We have shown—my hon. and gallant Friend Bob Stewart showed this in Bosnia—that we know how to do humanitarian intervention. We have proved it clearly and we can do that again—perhaps not on the scale of Syria, but that is not a reason for despair. Finally, on counter-terrorism, we have shown for the past 12 years that we have effectively prevented a repeat of a 9/11-style attack on the homelands of the United States or Europe, and we have done so without winning the counter-insurgency campaigns, creating rule of law and governance, or nation-building under fire.

As we go into the NATO summit, these lessons from the Defence Committee over the past 10 years need to be taken forward: investment in strategic thought; a focus on what we have got wrong and on what we can still do; and absolute leadership in NATO on the subject of the 2% spending. That leadership is essential to protect ourselves and to encourage other NATO countries to meet their obligations. Above all, we need a commitment to that level in order to show Russia that we are not bending or moving away and that we are determined to maintain the hard-won peace of the past 60 years.

If we can get that right and connect strategic thinking to defence spending, we can make this NATO summit in Wales a chance to say, finally, that Britain understands that if we cannot always do what we pretend, we can do much more than we fear.


Rory Stewart, Member of Parliament for Penrith and the Border, hosted a reception in parliament this week to showcase the work of Community Land Trust (CLT) Network across the country. The inspiration for the event was the Cumbrian project in Crosby Ravensworth of community-led affordable housing. The event was attend by Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Planning, Nick Boles MP, as well as members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords and representatives from CLTs.

The National CLT Network supports communities to take collective action to challenge the way we construct housing in England, and to deliver permanently affordable homes for their community.  The sector has more than doubled in size in the last two years and today there are over 170 communities in England and Wales which have formed a CLT. CLTs are owned and government by local people and are a powerful example of local democracy allow people to set their own agenda for their community: true localism in action.

Rory Stewart MP has been a long supporter of the national network of Community Land Trusts and instrumental in piloting some of the country’s most successful national pilots, both in the form of the Crosby Ravensworth CLT model and the Upper Eden Neighbourhood Plan.

Rory Stewart said: “I completely support the excellent work of both the national network and, closer to home, the Cumbria Rural Housing Trust, which have done an incredible job in increasing the number of community land trusts in the UK, and helping to get small-scale, community-led, affordable housing projects off the ground. We have living examples here in Penrith and The Border, showing just how effective these mechanisms can be, and government needs to do all it can to support this growth, and harness it as a force for tangible change in our rural communities. There is now a wealth of experience, expertise and knowledge to draw upon for future projects, and yet again Penrith and The Border is showing the rest of the UK how this can be done.”