Admiral Lord West – Speech in Queen’s Speech debate

DefenceSynergia (DS) has been requested by concerned supporters of United Kingdom (UK) Defence and Security to publish a speech made in the House of Lords on 7 January 2020 by Lord West of Spithead. This is in response to what DS would agree was a ‘defence light’ Queen’s Speech. 

We should say that DS has said all this and more over the last decade. 

We must also point out that Lord West is an accredited Labour Peer and in the interest of balance we are prepared to publish the defence views of any UK political party should they be offered. Here is what Lord West said:
My Lords, we are in a highly volatile and dangerous world, but despite that, I am afraid that Her Majesty’s most gracious Speech is rather light on defence. I have become used to what successive Prime Ministers have described as the most important responsibility for any Government, the defence and security of our nation and people—and of course, it is—being consigned to the end of the speech, and on this occasion, only 26 words nod towards the funding necessary to ensure our nation has the requisite Armed Forces.

The statement that:

“My Government will continue to invest in our gallant Armed Forces” is meaningless. There are presumably idealists who would not wish to invest in our Armed Forces, but in this very dangerous world, while we may try to avoid conflict, the same, I am afraid, is not true of everyone whom we confront in this world. Hilaire Belloc captured the reality with his little rhyme:

“Pale Ebenezer thought it wrong to fight,

But Roaring Bill (who killed him) thought it right.”

I do not want my nation to be killed.

The Government quite correctly plan to undertake an integrated security, defence and foreign policy review to reassess the nation’s place in the world. That is absolutely right and I am delighted that it is going ahead. We need clarity over our foreign policy now that so many of the old certainties have disappeared and been replaced by confusion. However, I am concerned about the basis on which the review is being conducted. Downing Street has started setting out parameters, one of which is that

“The new strategy will seek to modernise defence”— fine—

“while reducing costs in the long term.”

The 2010 and 2015 SDSRs were incoherent cost-cutting exercises with little regard to strategy or strategic thought. It seems that our political culture recognises only as much threat as it is willing to spend money on, rather than the realities of the world. One of our many strategic delusions is to undertake reviews that set objectives based on an analysis of the strategic environment and then simply refuse to fund the consequent strategy.

Since the last SDSR in 2015, a growing number of defence experts, many of them in this House, have pointed out that there is not sufficient money in the defence budget for the planned defence force 2025. I personally have raised that issue on numerous occasions. Time and again we have been told that we are wrong and everything is fine. Lo and behold, on 20 December the Defence Secretary said that there was a shortfall in funding in the Ministry of Defence budget—what a surprise—and the military will have to

“cut its cloth to meet its ambitions.”

That is an insult. These are not the military’s ambitions but, rather, the requirement identified by the Government in SDSR 2015 to ensure the security of our nation and people, which has not been properly funded.

I am afraid that there is a large lobby, including senior officials in Whitehall. who are willing to take ever greater risks with the defence of our nation. As for spads’ advice, well, defence spending is not a vote winner, so we get no joy from them at all.

We have taken risk on risk, and I fear that trying to use cyber and the impact of the fourth industrial revolution as a way of saving money and pretending that our forces have the same effect is naive in the extreme. Yes, of course, there have been these huge changes. I was the first Cyber Minister in 2009; I am aware of these changes. But that does not mean you can save money on defence by using these other ways of fighting. The kinetic effect is still very important.

In the gracious Speech, the Government say they will promote and expand the UK’s interests and influence in the world, stand firm against those who threaten the UK’s values and try to encourage peace and security globally. All of this demands hard, as well as soft, power, and I am afraid that the Government are not investing in hard power. They will not achieve any of these things unless we have hard, as well as soft, power.

I do, however, Mr Cummings’s concerns about defence procurement, which needs a shake-up, but let us be clear: politicians have been guilty over the years of repeatedly seeking cost savings during build that reduce capability and push up cost; delaying main-gate decisions, again boosting costs; changing their minds about what they want an asset to do; and repeatedly changing their minds about the number of assets to be procured, then pushing up development and construction costs per unit. They have done this again and again, so it is not clear-cut. The aircraft carrier programme suffered all of these, but, despite that, Britain has now paid for and has in service two world-beating aircraft carriers—thank goodness —even though successive British Governments have done all they could to destroy our shipbuilding industry.

The Prime Minister recently stated that our nation requires

“a shipbuilding industry and Royal Navy that reflect the importance of the seas to our security and prosperity.”

Hurrah for that. The recent order of five frigates to replace those going out of service does not achieve this aim. Our shipyards and SMEs are collapsing. They need commitment and a large rolling programme, and the Navy is desperate for more ships. The shortage has already been felt in the Gulf. Should—God forfend—there be military action in the Gulf, we may find that we are wanting. Expansion of the fleet and enhanced defence spending are an urgent requirement.


  • (Citation: HL Deb, 7 January 2020, c69)