WEEKLY COLUMN by Stroud MP Siobhan Baillie 

The first duty of any government is defence of the realm. I have always known that.

My dad is a military historian and my brother has only recently stopped serving in the RAF.

We are living in the most unsettled times since the Cold War and people are concerned.

At the weekend on the doorsteps during canvassing, defence spending came up a lot. I thank all those who engaged with me on this as their views will be fed back to ministers.

I have already discussed this issue with government on many occasions. 

The UK spends 2.2% of its GDP in defence. In the Budget last week, the Chancellor said this will rise to 2.5% as soon as the economic circumstances allow. We have spent more than most of our NATO allies for many years.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, more NATO countries have increased their defence spending and this is welcome news.

This year, 18 of our allies are expected to spend at least 2% of their GDP on defence – six times more than in 2014, when only three met the 2% or more target. I think the UK should be applying pressure on all our allies to meet this target.

Increased defence spending acts as a very effective deterrent against aggressors like Russia.

We must accept fully that freedom always comes at a price and, if necessary, defence should be prioritised over other government spending. Another point I will happily make to government.

But there is more to defence than spending it on weapons. We do seem to have recruitment and retention problems and more needs to be done to attract young people to the services. It is a skilled career in many cases.

More pay and better accommodation, plus simple things like free broadband for all the services would help enormously. In addition, we cannot have experienced service personnel leaving either.

The UK has been a steadfast supporter of Ukraine from the beginning of its fight against Russia giving it weapons, aid, and the training of its troops. However, these weapons and ammunition will need to be replaced.

This is another reason to increase defence spending.

I suspect this issue will gain a sharper focus in the coming months and rightly so.