Former Navy chief warns of maritime threat to UK security

Needs of today have to be balanced with demands of tomorrow, House of Lords told

HMS Portland, bottom, tracks the Russian warship Admiral Gorshkov and tanker Kama as they sail in international waters close to the UK on January 11. PA
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The UK government should not overlook the maritime threat to the UK’s security and must boost funding to all three branches of the Armed Forces, a former Navy chief has warned.

The British Army, Royal Navy and RAF have been underfunded for years, said Lord Alan West of Spithead, who was First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff from 2002 to 2006.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace admitted on Monday that the Army had been “hollowed out”, after claims from an American general that the UK was no longer a top-tier fighting force.

“No matter how it’s dressed up, it is quite clear — because even the government’s admitted it, the Secretary of State’s admitted it — that we have underfunded our Armed Forces and that they are hollowed out," Lord West told the House of Lords.

“Can I ask the minister, will we ensure that all three services actually have an increase in spend?

“Because, for example, although there’s a lot of talk about the Army, there is no doubt that there is a maritime threat too.

“One looks at the undersea cables, one looks at the huge growth in the Russian submarine force — and that all three services must be looked at and there is an absolute need to invest now.”

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Defence minister Baroness Annabel Goldie responded: “I hold the noble lord in very high regard. What I do not hold are the purse strings of government.

“But he makes a consistent message that I’m sure is resonating beyond this chamber.

“This government is responsible for a record-breaking finance settlement for defence — the biggest since the Cold War.

“And I think it should be acknowledged that we have made a serious attempt to address what has been a hollowing-out process over many years.”

Former head of the Armed Forces Lord Jock Stirrup said the government must “strike an appropriate balance between ambition and resource”.

“Since virtually all spending reviews since the Cold War have been reductions in defence expenditure, that’s not a very high bar to clear,” the independent peer said.

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Baroness Goldie replied: “He may consider it not a very high bar. I think it’s a higher bar than any of the other bars that have been set and I think the facts speak for themselves.

“The challenge for defence is we have to balance the operational and remote resource demands of today with the overarching vision to modernise to meet the demands of tomorrow.

“We are confident within the [Ministry of Defence] that we can reconcile these conflicting tensions.”

Former Army officer Lord Andrew Robathan said he welcomed Mr Wallace’s comments and that he had realised “what a sad state the Army is in”.

“I hate agreeing with the Labour side, but we do know that a great more money needs to be spent on defence," the Conservative peer said.

Updated: January 31, 2023, 8:41 PM