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Volume 760: debated on Monday 9 March 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their most recent assessment of the situation in Ukraine with regard to its implications for United Kingdom defence policy.

My Lords, developments in Ukraine and elsewhere underscore the need for flexible and adaptable Armed Forces. We are committed to providing a defence posture that is ambitious and responsive to the challenges we face, while being affordable. UK defence policy is underpinned by a defence budget that is the largest in the EU and the second largest in NATO. This Government are committed to the NATO 2% target.

My Lords, after what has happened in Ukraine and with the Russians probing our defences at sea and in the air, is it not time now to raise our guard and spend not less but more on defence? Will my noble friend confirm that the first duty of any British Government is the defence of the realm?

My Lords, I absolutely agree that defence is the first duty of the Government. I reassure my noble friend that we will remain a first-rate military power. Sufficient defence spending will be required in light of all recent events. As well as maintaining our standing commitments, we must be able to deal with multiple challenges across all forms of the military spectrum, including new threats, such as cyber and asymmetric warfare.

My Lords, in this very dangerous world, clearly defence cuts have gone too far. It gives the wrong message to people such as Mr Putin. What was the reaction of the Minster’s right honourable friend the Prime Minister when he asked him, as he promised he would last week, to talk to the leader of the Opposition about putting a commitment to 2% of GDP on defence in each party’s manifesto? What exactly did he say when he asked him that question?

My Lords, I think my answer was that I would take it back to my department. I am sure that the Prime Minister will take notice of the discussions in this Chamber, but decisions on departmental budgets are a matter for the next Government.

My Lords, I welcome the Secretary of State’s decision to supply Ukraine with non-lethal arms worth £850,000. It is an important gesture. My noble friend will recall that in the recent battle for Debaltseve there was only one set of night-vision goggles for several units to use. Do the Government intend to build on this by providing extensive training as well as further equipment of a non-lethal nature?

My Lords, we are providing non-lethal assistance that has been requested by the Ukrainian Government to enhance the capability of their armed forces, enabling them to defend themselves better and to reduce the number of fatalities and casualties that they are suffering. All this training will be conducted well away from the conflict zone in the east.

Does the Minister recall that Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in return for guarantees of territorial integrity from a number of countries, including Russia. Will he remind the people of this country, particularly the SNP, of that fact?

My Lords, there may be a great deal to be said for speaking softly and carrying a big stick. However, does my noble friend agree that there is very little to be said for using a megaphone and carrying a tennis racquet?

My Lords, we very much follow the wise advice of former President Teddy Roosevelt to talk softly and carry a big stick.

My Lords, so far there has been no real attempt by the Government to engage in any public debate about the 2015 strategic defence and security review and the future direction of defence strategy in the light of developments both at home and abroad, including in Ukraine—unlike the previous Government, who issued a Green Paper. Why have the Government so far declined to have any such public engagement, and is it not as a result becoming increasingly likely that if the next SDSR is to be finalised in 2015— in less than 10 months’ time—it will, like the last one, have to be another rush job carried out without the level and degree of engagement with key stakeholders and the public which such an exercise surely both merits and requires?

My Lords, we are thinking very seriously about the next SDSR. The MoD has conducted some early thinking to prepare for the review, and this programme of work will provide a solid and sound basis on which we can consider whether adjustments to current policy and plans will be required when the review gets under way later in the year.

My Lords, it is this side—we have not had a turn yet. Did I hear the Minister correctly when he gave the assurance that the 2% of GDP would be maintained? That seems to conflict with what the Foreign Secretary said yesterday when he refused to confirm it. Finally, can he comment on the reports in the Daily Telegraph today that after the election the Armed Forces will be cut to 50,000?

My Lords, I said that this Government are committed to the NATO 2% target—I said that clearly. I did read the article in the Telegraph about the RUSI report, but we do not recognise a lot of the figures it used.

My Lords, my noble friend, in replying to the original Question, said, “if it is affordable”. Can he please tell us who will take the decision on whether the defence expenditure is affordable or not?