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Royal Marine Corps

Volume 448: debated on Monday 26 June 2006

7. What assessment he has made of the likely future structure of the Royal Marine Corps within the UK’s defensive capability; and if he will make a statement. (79716)

The Royal Marines make a unique and essential contribution to our armed forces and have done so for more than three centuries. We remain firmly committed to maintaining a world-class Royal Marine force and amphibious capability.

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House will recognise and applaud the work of the Royal Marines, especially in the deployment to Afghanistan that will take place shortly. What thoughts do the Minister and the Department have about the formation of a future additional fourth commando of the Royal Marines? Has he thought about the formation of a new special operations group with commandos from the Royal Marines, the Parachute Regiment and others who have done the commando course at Lympstone?

On the latter point, the hon. Gentleman might be aware that a special support regiment has been stood up and is based at St. Athan. The question of the fourth manoeuvre unit of the Commando Brigade is being examined, although no recommendations have reached Ministers’ desks yet. I will wait and see what the recommendations are before giving the hon. Gentleman an answer to his specific question because I will have to see the merits, benefits and, perhaps, disbenefits of the proposal before reaching a considered opinion. Work is in hand to achieve that, however.

The Minister will know that there has been a lot of speculation in Scottish newspapers recently about the possible deployment of 45 Commando, which is based in my constituency, to Afghanistan. Those troops have special expertise—they are technology experts—in winter warfare. Given the Secretary of State’s earlier answer, will the Minister assure us that any such deployment would keep UK troops within the agreed ISAF parameters and would not represent an extension to the UK’s involvement in Afghanistan?

No decision has been taken as to the next deployment, but 45 Commando clearly has particular capabilities and is trained for specific purposes, and that comes into play as part of the planning process, in both the medium and long term. However, I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is arguing for it not to be deployed or he is in favour of it being deployed. I do not know where his party currently stands on that because we are talking about a NATO mission, and his party is of course opposed to NATO. Therefore, I am unsure where he is coming from on this issue. I meet 45 Commando personnel regularly and I can say that, in common with all other members of Her Majesty’s armed forces, they actually like being deployed. We have to make proper judgments accordingly as to when and how often that deployment takes place.