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Defence Review

Volume 760: debated on Wednesday 25 March 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, in the light of the current security situation in Europe, they will bring forward the commencement date for the next defence review.

My Lords, the exact timing of the post-election strategic defence and security review is for the incoming Government to decide, but preparatory work is under way across Whitehall. Noble Lords will be aware of the latest edition of Global Strategic Trends, published by the Ministry of Defence. This and other papers feed into the confidential national security risk assessment, which will in turn inform the next national security strategy and the subsequent strategic defence and security review.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the widespread concern, both inside and outside Parliament, that, with the lack of defence capability, we face widespread political and security turbulence, not only in eastern Europe, but in other areas, such as the Middle East. I appeal for this process to be truncated. This is a matter of urgency because of the clear gaps in our capability. We cannot hide them or sweep them under the carpet: they are there. This review is the mechanism that can start the process of filling the gaps. I appeal to the Minister to ensure that his right honourable friends in the other place understand that that is the feeling I believe to be widespread throughout the United Kingdom and that this needs to be brought forward as a matter of urgency.

My Lords, I disagree with the noble Lord in a number of ways. It is important not to rush too far and too fast into this. The question of what forces we want for what ends remains relatively open. The noble Lord’s Question referred to the situation in Europe as the reason why we had to rush. The last time we were in a direct conflict with Russia we bombarded Helsinki and laid siege to Sevastopol. I do not think that is what we want to do this time.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that RUSI has calculated that next year, 2015-16, we will spend 1.88% of our GDP on defence. I also have from the House of Commons Library its post-Budget calculations, which show that we will be spending 1.5% of our GDP on defence by 2019. Does the Minister not think it a disgrace that, having lectured the whole of Europe about coming up to 2%, we are planning and working on a basis of not hitting 2% in future?

My Lords, we will hit 2% this year. My understanding is that, on current trends, we will hit 2% next year. What happens after that is a question for the SDSR and for the next comprehensive spending review, which the new Government will take through. I am sure that the question of the need for more frigates will be high on the agenda for any SDSR.

My Lords, as the noble Lords are not giving way to each other and the House was calling for my noble friend Lord Spicer, we will start with him.

My Lords, I am sure that some will want to spend more but, as all noble Lords are aware, the number of calls on public expenditure is large and the amount of revenue available is relatively limited.

The previous Government produced a Green Paper in early 2010 to promote discussion on future defence strategy and inform the work on a strategic defence review after the 2010 general election. Why have this Government not sought, in the same or a similar transparent way, to engage the public in general, and relevant stakeholders in particular, on the options and considerations to be taken into account in the strategic defence and security review, which is now scheduled to be finalised in just nine months’ time?

My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, there has been a great deal of discussion on preparations for the next SDSR. He will have seen the new House of Commons Defence Committee report. The Government have responded to various reports from the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, and there have been a number of conversations between officials, Ministers and various think tanks around London. I have certainly taken part in those and I think that the noble Lord has as well.

My Lords, the report suggests that the departing part-time chairman of BAE Systems was paid £211,000, plus £5,000 for a chauffeur, for three and a half months after he ceased his board duties. Can the Minister confirm that the defence review will ensure that these obscene costs are not recharged to the taxpayer?

My Lords, I was not aware of the issue that the noble Lord has just raised. The next security and defence review will certainly look at how to squeeze the most out of the defence procurement process.

Returning to current spending, will the £25 million allocated in the Budget to military veterans be extended to former service men and women in Northern Ireland?

My Lords, I am assured that it will be extended to Northern Ireland and that the MoD is quite clear that this is a UK scheme and not just a Great Britain scheme.