The Royal Navy continues to meet all its operational tasking and remains extremely busy in support of current operations and standing commitments. The Royal Navy remains flexible and dynamic in its ability to respond to unforeseen events and emergent tasking.
I thank the Minister for his response, but will he make a statement on the future role of equipment in the Royal Navy, including HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Queen Elizabeth? How will they fit into the United Kingdom’s future national security interests?
May I say to the hon. Gentleman that we remain determined that the wishes of the Falkland islanders should be paramount? We have transformed our military presence since 1982 and we maintain an appropriate deterrence force on the island and in the south Atlantic, comprising a range of land, air and maritime assets. Of course, we keep our military presence under constant review to ensure that the islands are properly protected.
In view of what the Minister has just said, will he confirm not only that the Government are paying attention to the interests of the Falkland Islands and the south Atlantic but that the Royal Navy has the ability to protect all 16 of our British overseas territories, wherever they might be throughout the world?
I know that my hon. Friend has taken a real interest in these issues. Indeed, we discussed them when I visited Plymouth, Devonport a couple of weeks ago. The future surface combatant is expected to build on the capabilities of the existing Type 22 and Type 23 multi-purpose frigates that it will replace. It is an integral part of the balanced fleet required to support the UK’s future defence commitments, and we will be making an announcement on the issues very shortly.
That is a large and significant challenge. It has a political dimension in tackling the root causes of piracy, and the £21 million a year we are investing through the Department for International Development is extremely important in that. We also need to provide advice to vessels on implementing effective self-protection. Critically, we also offer group transit to vulnerable vessels using the internationally recognised transit corridor, which is protected by international forces.
The seas around the Falkland Islands are part of British overseas territories. Is it not the duty of any British Government to do all that is necessary to give adequate protection to vessels, companies and individuals who carry out legitimate business in these waters? Is it not also the case that no amount of intimidation from Buenos Aires can alter what is a fundamental issue of self-determination? Will he also tell us what communication Defence Ministers have had with their opposite numbers in Argentina to make all this crystal clear?
There has been no change whatsoever to our policy. We have no doubt about the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, and there has been no change in our support for the Falkland Islands’ legitimate right to develop a hydro-carbon industry within their waters. We do take, have taken and will take whatever steps are necessary to protect the Falkland Islands, and our counterparts in Argentina are aware of that. We continue to have a bilateral relationship and we use every avenue within that relationship to get those messages across.
Given the renewed tension in the south Atlantic, the huge upsurge in piracy already mentioned, the challenges of energy security and the fact that 92 per cent. of Britain’s trade goes by sea, just how big a mistake was it for the Government to cut our surface fleet from 35 destroyers and frigates to about 20, and to cut the number of our attack submarines from 12 to eight and now, probably, to seven? Do they regret what they have done to the Royal Navy?
Our forces today are much more capable, and that has enabled us to make the changes we have made. I hear a lot of noise from the Opposition but the hon. Gentleman needs to recognise, acknowledge and admit that his party is not committed to one extra penny of defence expenditure compared with the amount to which we are committed. Hollow words provide no conviction whatsoever.