Strategic Defence and Security Review — Question

Lord Alderdice (Liberal Democrat)
To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they plan to re-examine the Strategic Defence and Security Review.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, in January the Prime Minister informed the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy that work was beginning on the next strategic defence and security review—SDSR. This work is in its preparatory stages and will intensify after the general election for the post-election SDSR.

Lord Alderdice (Liberal Democrat)
I thank my noble friend for that information. The last SDSR took place in the context of a Westminster election and the global economic crisis. From the point of view of many of us, it was overly impacted upon by those things. Since then the situation has changed. The Middle East is dissolving into chaos; the European Union is in disarray; cyberaggression has increased exponentially; and in our relations with Russia, we have not only found difficulties over Syria, Crimea, and Ukraine, but also an increasing statement by Mr Putin of the strength of its nuclear weapons. In the light of this, can my noble friend assure me that during this review, this House will be given an opportunity of having a number of serious debates on the question before the completion of the review, not merely a post-hoc debate after decisions have been made and a posture adopted?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (Liberal Democrat)
I cannot of course commit the next Government in terms of managing the business, but there is time for this House to have a debate on one or two of these issues before then. Since the 2010 SDSR was published, we published in 2011 a cyber security strategy, in 2012 a climate change risk assessment and in 2013 the Ministry of Defence’s report on global strategic trends. We are keeping pace as far as we can with all the expected and unexpected developments that the noble Lord mentions.

Lord Davies of Stamford (Labour)
Has it occurred to the Government that the cuts by many NATO countries in defence expenditure, in which this Government—our Government—unfortunately led the way, might just have had something to do with the much more aggressive policies pursued by Mr Putin over the past couple of years?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (Liberal Democrat)
That is a slightly unfair question in many ways. Britain remains the second largest member of NATO in terms of the amount spent on defence. We are currently deterring Russia through the use of sanctions at least as much as through defence. So when we talk about national security we do not only mean defence in strict terms.

Lord Trefgarne (Conservative)
My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that if by some cruel mischance the Labour Party wins the next general with the assistance of the Scottish nationalists, it will have to find the money to move Trident, not to mention covering all the unemployment in that part of Scotland?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (Liberal Democrat)
I find it very interesting that the noble Lord should describe the possibility of the SNP taking a very large number of seats in Scotland away from the Labour Party as assisting the Labour Party.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon (Labour)
My Lords, coalition at the end of a fixed-term Parliament is a difficult beast. I would like to know what the Government’s policy is on having a strategic defence review in every Parliament as a statutory review. It is very difficult to ask a member of the Liberal Democrat Party because that is not, I think, its policy. I wonder whether the noble Lord could answer on behalf of the Government.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (Liberal Democrat)
The coalition Government promised in 2010 that there would be moves towards a regular SDSR. The noble Baroness will well understand that this is because the Labour Government did not have a strategic review between 1998 and the end of their 13 years in office. It is our intention that the next Government—however they may be constituted—should conduct a post-election SDSR as a matter of urgency.

Lord Palmer of Childs Hill (Liberal Democrat)
Could the Minister give the House the government assessment of the security risks from terrorism that will be included in the review?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, terrorism, just like transborder organised crime, is clearly one of the major threats that we have to consider. There is a domestic dimension as well as an international one, and the Government are devoting considerable resources to both those overlapping issues.