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Defence: Strategic Defence and Security Review

Volume 760: debated on Monday 2 March 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what, if any, preparatory work has been, or is being, undertaken in advance of the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review; and whether any such work will be made available, subject to not compromising national security, prior to the general election.

My Lords, preparatory analytical work is under way to refresh the risk-based assessment approach taken in 2010. As the review will formally begin after the next election, no decision on its final scope or approach has yet been made. The Government have no plans to make any preliminary work available prior to the general election.

I thank the Minister for that response. In the light of that response, is it this Government’s intention that there should be a real opportunity, including sufficient time, for an open discussion about our defence and security strategy prior to the 2015 SDSR being finalised? The previous Government produced a Green Paper on defence and security before the last election. From what the Minister has just said, there appears to be no comparable document forthcoming from this Government in respect of the 2015 SDSR. Why is that, particularly when future defence and security strategy is one area where Governments normally seek to achieve some degree of consensus?

My Lords, I agree that debate and search for consensus are important, particularly as we now face a remarkably diverse selection of security threats. The 2009 Green Paper was indeed about defence and not about security in the broader sense. I remind noble Lords that, in the national security strategy 2010, only two of the eight tier-one and tier-two threats identified were directly military; the others included pandemics, climate change, cyberattacks, organised crime on a transnational basis, terrorism and surges of migration.

My Lords, given that the French Government invited the former UK National Security Adviser—now the British ambassador in Paris—to take part in their recent defence review, could my noble friend the Minister say whether the Government intend to invite an appropriate official from France to participate in next year’s strategic defence and security review?

My Lords, the House of Commons Defence Committee raised that question in its report last year. The Government’s response said that,

“we have already had preliminary discussions in particular with the US and France following our engagement in the French Livre Blanc and US Quadrennial Defense Review processes”.

This question is out there, but to be decided by whichever Government emerges after the next election.

My Lords, each night some 500 veterans sleep on the streets of London and towns and cities across Britain. I mean in no way to diminish the importance of the strategic defence review, but can the Minister indicate when the Government will honour the spirit of the Armed Forces covenant and face up to this crisis? Our defence depends on the commitment of the men and women of our Armed Forces and we owe them a duty of care when they have left the services.

My Lords, I of course acknowledge the importance of the noble Lord’s point, but I merely stress that I am answering for the Cabinet Office and the Government as a whole. We are talking about a security and defence review that involves the majority of departments in Whitehall feeding into an overall view of threats to our domestic and international security.

The world is a much more dangerous place than it was in 2009, when that report was well received. Now there is a danger of conflict between European Union states and Russia, and there is a profoundly dangerous conflict in the Middle East as well. Surely there is a case for a debate, as my noble friend on the Front Bench suggested. We really cannot carry on as if there were not a problem emerging in the world that makes the world a much more dangerous place than it was five or six years ago.

My Lords, the 2010 SDSR was undertaken at speed, in the context of a very wide gap between defence spending commitments and the Treasury’s ability to fund them. We may hope that after the next election we shall have a little more time—perhaps a matter of six to nine months—before the conclusion of the SDSR. I remind noble Lords that in 1997-98 Labour’s defence review took well over a year. That will allow more time for the sort of debate about our role in the world, the threats we face and how much we devote to meeting these different threats than we had in 2010.

My Lords, the Minister is deluding himself there, because the driver will be the CSR, which will have to gallop down the track very fast. I was disappointed with the Minister’s response to my noble friend on the Front Bench, in terms of the ability to go out and talk to various other people. Does he not believe that we need something like the National Security Forum, and an ability to talk to academe and experts on military affairs, so as to get an input from all parties, moving very fast? The CSR will hit us and we will have to make decisions about spending that will have a huge impact on the military.

My Lords, the process of consultation and debate with outside bodies is well under way. The noble Lord makes his points about involving those parties, and I myself have been to see some of them. I was at the Royal United Services Institute and at Chatham House discussing precisely those broad issues behind the SDSR, so the process of consultation with outside experts is under way. I wish we had seen more, for example, about Labour’s approach to defence and security, which might have fed into a more public debate before the election.

My Lords, as the SDSR of 1998 sought to reduce the Reserve Forces, and the coalition’s recent SDSR moved in the opposite direction, if my noble friend is still serving in a coalition Government in the next Parliament, in which direction does he think it is likely to go?

My Lords, as the noble Lord has remarked, we are in a much more acute security situation, not only in eastern Europe but in north Africa and across the Middle East, than we were five years ago. One of the questions that whichever Government emerges after the next election will have to consider is what spending priorities are, and how far we need to raise the issue of security within that. I again stress that an SDSR is not just about military spending: there are a wide range of other security threats—some very long term—which that includes.