Armed Forces — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:31 pm on 7th April 2014.

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Photo of Lord Burnett Lord Burnett Liberal Democrat 8:31 pm, 7th April 2014

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, on calling this debate and on his powerful speech. It is a compelling irony that the Secretary-General of NATO set the scene for this debate in an article in today’s Daily Telegraph. Long before Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, there was much to concern us about its future foreign and defence intentions. Russia some time ago embarked on a massive programme of rearming and re-equipping its armed forces. Can my noble friend quantify the expenditure that Russia has set aside for this purpose? Will he write to me explaining what naval, military, air and other assets will be coming into service as a result of Russia’s huge expenditure and the personnel ramifications?

Russia’s economy is potentially very fragile. It is quite possible that energy prices will fall significantly. Russia is already in deficit. Corruption and nepotism are rife. There is a rapidly falling population. The legal system and the press and media are not considered to be independent of the Executive. All the apparatus of an autocracy are in place. If there are greater strains on the Russian economy, it is not difficult to speculate how this regime, or another even more hard-line regime, might react.

There are so many other areas of mounting tension in the world: not just the Middle East but most of Africa; China and Japan have got longstanding difficulties between them; North Korea; certain parts of South America; and there is even unrest in certain parts of the European Union. The USA cannot be expected to continue to bear nearly three-quarters of NATO’s total defence expenditure. We must honour our treaty obligations. As I have said, I wholeheartedly support the full Trident replacement programme. Can my noble friend tell us this evening how this is proceeding? Finally, can my noble friend tell the House what effect these events are having on government policy?

My noble friend gave me some encouragement in a reply to an Oral Question some months ago that the Government understood that the Royal Navy required some 2,000 or so additional personnel to man the aircraft carriers. For reasons already given, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, we also need more personnel in the regular “teeth” arms—the Royal Marines and the Army. I hope the Government are aware of this and that my noble friend will be able to give us some encouragement.