Russia fears prompt defence plea in the House of Lords

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THE government has come under pressure from a former head of the armed forces to rule out defence spending cuts in the face of Russian aggression.

Air Chief Marshal Lord Stirrup, the former chief of the defence staff, called for the Conservative Party to pledge to keep spending on the forces above the Nato target of two per cent of GDP.

His call was supported by senior Conservative peer Lord Spicer, who warned of a potential new Cold War.

Defence minister Lord Astor of Hever at question time in the House of Lords pointed to Nato actions, including the spending target, and said it was important ‘momentum’ was maintained.

Lord Stirrup, an independent crossbench peer, told him: ‘Your own party has yet to commit itself to that minimum level for the United Kingdom. Will you take the opportunity to correct that position now and if you cannot, will you explain the inconsistency between that and what you have just said.

‘And could you also explain how we stand any chance of persuading our partners in Nato and Europe who do even worse than we do on this to do better.’

Admiral Lord West, a Labour former security minister and head of the Royal Navy, said Russian president Vladimir Putin had increased spending on his nuclear triad by 42 per cent ‘even though the country is an economic basket case’.

He said Mr Putin was following a strategy of ‘escalation’ and it was imperative to maintain a continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent.

Lord Astor told him: ‘I do agree. The 2015 defence budget is equated to be equivalent of $50bn, which is around 4.5 per cent of Russian GDP.’