Lord West CREDIT MOD.jpg
The Armed Forces have been "underfunded" and "hollowed out", Lord West says (Picture: MOD).

Former Royal Navy chief urges more defence spending to counter maritime threat

Lord West CREDIT MOD.jpg
The Armed Forces have been "underfunded" and "hollowed out", Lord West says (Picture: MOD).

A former Navy chief has warned the UK Government not to overlook the maritime threat to the UK's security and to boost funding to all three branches of the Armed Forces, not just the Army.

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

The Labour peer's comments came after Defence Secretary Ben Wallace admitted the Army had been "hollowed out", following claims from an American general that the UK is no longer a top-tier fighting force.

Lord West told the House of Lords: "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.

"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 under-sea 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 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."

She added: "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 Stirrup warned that the Government needs to "strike an appropriate balance between ambition and resource".

Ben Wallace, Secretary of State for Defence of the United Kingdom visits The Queens Royal Hussars soldiers and officers in Finland during Ex Arrow 22 050522 CREDIT MOD.jpg
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace visits the Queen's Royal Hussars in Finland in 2022 (Picture: MOD).

Noting the minister's comment about the largest spending increase in the defence since the Cold War, the independent crossbench peer said: "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 minister quipped back: "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 MOD (Ministry of Defence) that we can reconcile these conflicting tensions."

Former Army officer Lord Robathan said he welcomed Mr Wallace's comments and that he has realised "what a sad state the Army is in".

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

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