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Submarines and Frigates (Plymouth)

Volume 527: debated on Tuesday 26 April 2011

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.––(Miss Chloe Smith.)

I thank the Speaker’s Panel for selecting the subject of base-porting destroyers and submarines in my constituency for this debate, and I thank you, Mrs Brooke, for chairing it. My hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon (Mr Streeter) will try to make an appearance—he has been caught up on the train—because he is keen to support the debate. I realise that the Government are still considering their base-porting strategy, and that the Minister may not be able to give me many answers at this stage. However, I hope he will take my arguments into account during the few weeks remaining before the decision on base-porting is made.

More than 25,000 people in the Plymouth travel-to-work area are employed in the defence industry, either through contractors or in the armed forces. That and the university have been a magnet for a cluster of maritime industries in a part of the country that is dependent on the public sector for employment. In the next few moments, I want to concentrate on the context of Plymouth Devonport within the strategic defence and security review, Devonport’s strategic case as a principal naval port, the benefits of base-porting frigates, destroyers and submarines in Plymouth, Plymouth’s economic dependency on the naval base and our dockyard, and the social and economic consequences of any further reduction in Plymouth as a strategic naval port.

In my submission to the Government’s strategic defence and security review last summer, I made it clear that as a maritime nation we need a strong Royal Navy. The United Kingdom’s basis for our defence should continue to operate through NATO and its framework of collective security, and our relationship with the United States of America. However, that contribution should reflect our geography, maritime history, and our trade and other relationships throughout the world. In that context, the UK’s obvious contribution to NATO should be sea and air power, supplemented with our amphibious and special forces capability.

The naval role should explicitly equip the UK to undertake naval policing responsibilities, including dealing with piracy, drug trafficking and international environmental responsibilities such as conservation of our fish stocks. In addition, the Navy should be equipped to offer more effective international assistance to countries and communities experiencing the consequences of natural and other disasters when they need assistance from the international community, as part of an explicit deployment of soft power as an arm of foreign and defence policy. The implication of that judgment about the UK’s role in NATO is that the Navy should be larger and equipped with greater transport and logistical capability. I fully support the building of the two new aircraft carriers. The Air Force should be maintained to provide effective air power, with multi-purpose aircraft in sufficient numbers to protect the homeland and to wage state-on-state warfare. In addition, it should be equipped with much greater heavy-lifting and cargo-moving capacity.

In my submission, I added that politics is about making political priorities. I welcomed the Chancellor’s decision to reduce the financial envelope of public expenditure in general and to cut the deficit during the lifetime of this Parliament, but I stressed that government is about reordering priorities, and that spending on defence should have a greater emphasis within our budget. Defence spending has fallen not only as a share of national income, but as a proportion of total Government expenditure. The study by the Office for National Statistics in 2009 on public sector output productivity between 1997 and 2007 exemplifies, among other things, how public expenditure priorities have been changed. The weight given to defence within general Government expenditure by service weight fell from 15.1% to 11%. That shows that, during a period of increased international risk when we engaged in more than two protracted operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and public spending was rising rapidly, the priority given to defence was reduced. In my judgment, those priorities must be reversed.

My hon. Friend is making a powerful point: that at time like this, we should not cut defence spending. Does he not agree, however, that we have sold the pass on that issue because of the appalling legacy that we inherited from the previous Government? It is now essential that from 2015, no matter what the world looks like, we must see the uplift in defence spending that has been promised for the subsequent five years, without which this country will never again hold its head up in the world.

The decision has been made, but other issues must be taken into account. I agree that we inherited a £38 billion shortfall, which needs attention. I also agree that from 2015 we must ensure that we have the ability to build up our capacity.

Will the hon. Gentleman explain where he gets the figure of £38 billion from? Even his own Front Benchers have now retreated from that election propaganda put out by Conservative central office.

That debate is certainly above my pay grade, but my understanding is that there is a shortfall within the defence budget, and that needs to be sorted out sooner rather than later. What is important is that we must contain public expenditure. It must be reduced, and that is part of the general thrust of what we inherited and must try to deal with.

The principal issue of the level of defence spending is not affordability, but deciding political priorities. If the events in the middle east continue, I firmly believe that our defence budget may have to be reviewed. During the past 13 or 14 years, there has been real uncertainty about Devonport’s future both as a dockyard and as a naval base. Let me make it clear that I am not suggesting that Plymouth should take precedence over Portsmouth, Faslane or Rosyth, but I am arguing that Ministers should not put too much reliance on one naval port for surface ships, and another for submarines. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has already said that we should avoid putting all our eggs in one basket. However, I want to challenge the previous Government’s plans to base-port both aircraft carriers, all the Type 23s, all the Type 45s and eventually the new Type 26s in Portsmouth, and to move the submarines currently based in Plymouth and the submarine school at HMS Raleigh in Cornwall to Faslane.

Last October, when I asked my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to confirm that Plymouth Devonport will continue to play a major role in the defence of our country and will remain a premier naval port, he replied:

“I can absolutely confirm that.”—[Official Report, 19 October 2010; Vol. 516, c. 817.]

In all fairness, he added that both Plymouth and Portsmouth would have to face some challenges. We in Plymouth are up for that, but we are worried that if the previous Government’s plans are implemented, there will be a real threat that Devonport will be left with just three amphibious assault ships and five survey vessels.

I am grateful that the strategic defence and security review confirmed that Devonport will retain flag officer sea training, and deep maintenance work at the dockyard, and that the city will host the amphibious capability through 3 Commando Brigade, which is currently in Afghanistan. However, I am worried that the decision to move the seven Type 23s from Devonport to Portsmouth was taken at a time when the four Type 22s were expected to stay in service for at least another few years. That could make quite a difference to the balance of UK base-porting, and could do enormous damage to the skills base in a city and region where both skills and wages have traditionally been low. If the Government allow Devonport dockyard’s waterfront work to decline, they could make it difficult for Babcock, or its successor, to retain and attract the skilled work force needed to refit our nuclear submarines and surface ships. In my opinion, such a collapse in a service that provides unparalleled value for money could have an impact on whether Babcock is able to deliver economies of scale. That in turn could see greater costs for the Ministry of Defence and the taxpayer, and lead to a reduction in competition.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. He may expect me to go in to bat for Portsmouth, but I add my support to his call for all three naval bases to remain open and viable. One of the millstones around the neck of both Plymouth Devonport and Portsmouth is the amount of the defence budget that is spent on maintaining historic buildings. There are about 200 such buildings in Portsmouth’s naval base and, as in Plymouth, although there is no shortage of developers who want to take over those buildings, they are restricted by the MOD’s current procurement protocols. If we want both bases to be able to wash their faces, that issue should be a priority for both the MOD and the Treasury.

I agree we should make sure that we use what moneys are available, and spend them on delivering ships, sailors and the kit needed by our armed services to do their job. Later in my speech I will speak further about some of the ways in which one might manage the estate, and I thank my hon. Friend for her contribution.

If all work associated with basing the Type 23 frigates at Plymouth was transferred to Portsmouth, it is likely that the relevant skills and experience would transfer with it. Such a loss could make it difficult and expensive to recreate that frigate expertise back at Plymouth if it is subsequently decided to base some of the new Type 26s at Devonport in the future. Moving the Type 23s would leave Devonport very much as a nuclear dockyard, unable to make use of its additional work force capacity, should submarine work be in a trough.

I welcome the building of the new Type 26 frigates, but I would like to see more of them and more landing platform docks once public finances become available. Ideally, I would—needless to say—like the Type 26s to be located in Devonport. The UK maritime sector takes a great interest in the evolution of Type 26s and the global combat ship programme as the Navy’s next—and only—major surface combatant proposed to replace Type 23 and 22 frigates. Most hon. Members who represent royal naval garrison towns, including my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), recognise the significant potential for the export of that platform, and it rightly lies at the heart of the coalition Government and the MOD’s agenda. Although the sector recognises that BAE Systems has the lead in the ship design and ultimate build, the industry—and we as taxpayers—look to the Government to help ensure that the rest of UK industry gains opportunities to provide the ships with key systems and equipment. We must ensure that other defence contractors are able to make changes to the equipment provided as and when necessary.

Having looked at a number of ships over the past year, I am aware that there is a tendency for pieces of equipment to be bolted on to current frigates and destroyers. No doubt that is also true for submarines and aircraft carriers. The approach I suggest will help maximise export opportunities for the UK, which in turn will deliver much needed growth and create new jobs. Although UK exports of ships have been challenging for some years, the maritime sector’s suppliers of systems, equipment and services have maintained an active export drive that could clearly benefit from further association with this flagship programme.

I understand the argument for moving submarines from Plymouth to Faslane because of the depth of the loch and access to the Atlantic on the west coast of Scotland. I recognise that Faslane has genuine merits, but I feel that the Navy should have submarines based in more than one location. Plymouth has a practical and convenient natural harbour to complement Faslane. When service families are relocated from one part of the country to another, there are always costs. However, whenever I look at arguments about location and the associated costs, I become aware that all Departments, including the MOD, have weak information about their unit costs. It is a matter for the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office to pursue with vigour and vim.

I do not want to concentrate too much on Devonport’s geographical location, but its position on the western approaches means that it is within easy reach of the necessary training area. It was of little surprise that the previous Conservative Government decided to transfer flag officer sea training from Portland to Devonport in the mid-1990s. If the seven Type 23 frigates were moved from Plymouth to Portsmouth, they would regularly have to travel 150 nautical miles to participate in any training exercises.

Fresh water from the Rivers Plym and Tamar means that the Sound is permanently flooded, and the channels are kept from silting up. Plymouth Sound is not subject to the same amount of commercial traffic as the Solent. Although a terrorist could potentially sink a ship in the Sound—as they could in the Solent—by placing all our frigates and destroyers in Portsmouth, we could run the risk of bottling the vast majority of our surface ship fleet in one port without easy access to the channel. Portsmouth is a busy commercial port, which, with increased traffic, could make naval shipping movements more complicated and hazardous.

I will conclude by talking about the social impact that would be faced by Plymouth and the sub-region should there be a further reduction in the Royal Navy’s presence. Over 38% of the city’s employment depends on the public sector, not including the 5,000 people who work in the dockyard, which is also dependent on defence contracts. The city council, working with trade unions and other interested parties, has commissioned work from Plymouth university to quantify the impact that a further downgrading of Plymouth as a naval base and dockyard would have on the local benefits bill should there be a further loss of skills and jobs. Once that report is ready I will, if I may, brief the Minister on it so that he is aware of some of its findings.

That is not the only piece of work the city is undertaking. As many hon. Members know, Plymouth has an excellent, dynamic university with a fine reputation for marine science research and engineering. It is a global centre for maritime activity and has an historic dockyard and dramatic waterfront. I am currently working with the dean of the university’s business faculty, the editor of the Western Morning News and the council to identify ways in which Plymouth can create a cluster of maritime industries. I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister recently wrote to the editor of the Western Morning News to voice his support for that initiative and encourage the dean and the editor to explore ways of making greater use of land that may become available once the base-porting strategy has been finalised. That land-management initiative could deliver further savings to the MOD and ensure that more money is available to be spent on equipment and troops—especially important at a time when the defence budget is under such pressure. I would welcome the chance to brief the Minister on that work once it has been completed. An enterprise zone to deliver that maritime cluster would be most useful.

Whatever decision is made on the base-porting of frigates, destroyers and submarines, I would be grateful to be told the timetable so that we in Plymouth can make the necessary plans to accommodate any changes. As a country, we must place greater emphasis on defence within Government spending than we currently do. We must recognise that we cannot do everything, and we should make our contribution to NATO through an air and sea power capability that reflects our history, geography and wider interests. The Royal Navy should be a central part of that, and I believe that Plymouth can play an important and cost-effective role in helping to make that contribution.

I congratulate my neighbour, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile), on securing the debate. He made a strong argument for base-porting frigates in Plymouth and gave a detailed explanation of not only Britain’s position in the world, but Plymouth’s role. Those arguments have been made, tried and tested under successive Governments, but let me focus on base-porting.

The hon. Gentleman’s predecessor, Linda Gilroy, fought long and hard on the issue of base-porting, and so, too, have the trade unions in the dockyard and the naval base. As a result of the close synergy between what happens in the dockyard, which is now under Babcock’s marine division, but which was previously under Devonport Management Ltd, the unions have frequently voiced the view that base-porting is vital to not only the dockyard’s industrial base, but the city as a whole.

The importance of retaining the work that the frigates bring and the economic benefit that the crews and their families generate cannot be understated. No local MP will have attended a meeting locally or with Ministers at which base-porting was not on the agenda. The issue has certainly always been raised by the outgoing dockyard works committee chair, Roger Darcy, who knows just how big this issue is for Plymouth. I would like to take this opportunity to thank him for his hard work and commitment over 47 years—this is his last year in post.

Perhaps I can describe the position in which we find ourselves following the strategic defence and security review, or at least the position we think we are in, given that the turmoil in the middle east has called into question whether we have the right priorities. The frigates Cumberland, Chatham, Campbeltown and Cornwall have, in some cases, had to respond to the demands placed on them by the Government and NATO despite being en route to be decommissioned and scrapped. We must be clear that we have the right resources in the right places, and that we can apply force or the threat of force effectively against our enemies wherever that is needed. I agree with the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport that the strategic defence and security review should be revisited.

The naval bases are undoubtedly an important part of our capability and significant strategic assets. That said, there is a recognition that we should have three naval bases. The maritime change programme announcement under the previous Labour Government effectively confirmed that position, as did the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary in the run-up to the general election. The hon. Gentleman suggested that the Labour Government had effectively said that all the frigates would go to Portsmouth, but that is incorrect—it was still a matter for debate, and it has ever been thus. What we really need is clarity, and I hope that we will get some from the Minister.

The naval bases are assets in which the nation has invested billions of pounds over decades, so it is crucial that the best and most efficient use is made of them. Is optimum use being made of Devonport? It has 4 miles of waterfront and 640 acres of landside space, whereas Portsmouth has only 3 miles of waterfront and 297 acres of landside space. Portsmouth—I am sorry to make this comparison, but it is important—must share its space with a substantial flow of commercial shipping, including busy cross-channel services. It is also due eventually to become the home port to the two aircraft carriers, the Type 45s and minesweepers.

We have just had the announcement that the replacement for HMS Endurance—the MV Polarbjorn, which is soon to become HMS Protector—is to be base-ported in Portsmouth. Why? That, too, is not a sensible decision, given all the expertise in Plymouth and the clear link to all the meteorological, survey and hydrographical work that happens there. We also have expertise in civilian science at the university and Plymouth marine laboratory, which could support and benefit the base-porting of that vessel in our city.

We need to have the Type 23 frigates, and eventually some Type 26s, to ensure that dips and troughs in the work stream at the dockyard can be filled and that Babcock does not have to reduce the full-time work force below a core level that can retain the skills that are vital to support the fleet. Plymouth also has the capacity to provide naval personnel with adequate accommodation, some of which is new and refurbished, at the naval base and HMS Raleigh.

Plymouth loses out every time, and never on the grounds of capacity, skill or added value, all of which we always offer. We can hope that a Minister will be brave enough at some stage to take on the Navy top brass in Portsmouth and to support Plymouth’s case. A Treasury Minister might also work out that it actually saves the Treasury money if vessels are based in the most cost-effective and efficient naval base in the country, and that any diminution of the Royal Navy’s commitment to Plymouth has a massive socio-economic impact on the region. Plymouth is very peripheral; we need the naval base and the work that it brings, and we need the frigates tied up there.

The hon. Gentleman touched on the fact that academics are undertaking work on the socio-economic impacts, and I urge the Minister to seek that work out before finally reaching any conclusion on base-porting. I support the suggestion that MPs from the area should talk to him about the report when it reaches its first stage.

We need joined-up government when we look at these issues, because the implications of not base-porting in Plymouth are serious. I urge the Minister to talk to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Treasury, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Communities and Local Government, because they will pick up the tab if the wrong decision is taken.

There is strong case for keeping the Type 23s, as well as for basing some future surface combatants in Plymouth. The Minister must be concerned that surface fleet sailors will be lost if vessels are moved out of the city of Plymouth, because they may want to leave the service rather than uproot their families. That view is expressed in a good article in Warships magazine, which also suggests that Plymouth might feel

“betrayed by a coalition of idiots”.

I hope that the Minister will prove that view wrong by showing eminent good sense and deciding to ensure the ongoing base-porting of frigates at Devonport.

The article, which was published in March, goes on unfairly to attack civic leaders in Plymouth for their lack of commitment to protecting the future of the naval base. However, leaders from our city have brought Plymouth’s case repeatedly to Whitehall on a cross-party basis, most recently just before the recess. We were seen by the Secretary of State, and although we were given reassurance, there was no commitment.

It would be wrong for the Government, in five years’ time, to allow Devonport to be reduced back to a home for amphibious ships that have been mothballed and for decommissioned frigates and submarines that are waiting to be sent for scrap. My fear is that Plymouth could then be closed shortly afterwards. Perhaps the Minister will tell us today that that will not happen. When will we know when the decision will be taken? Will he confirm that he will take the time and trouble to talk to colleagues across the Government for whom his decision could have significant cost implications?

Clearly, the discussions that I and the hon. Members for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) and for South West Devon (Mr Streeter) have with the city about future developments at the dockyard are extremely important, but the decision ultimately rests with the Minister, and I hope that he will make the right one.

It is a great pleasure to participate in the debate under your chairmanship, Mrs Brooke. It is also a great pleasure to see my hon. Friend the Minister in situ to respond to the debate, and I am sure that he will be as typically robust in responding in government as he was in opposition.

It is a particular pleasure to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) on initiating the debate and on ranging so widely in his approach to it. We would err if we focused entirely on basing without considering, as he did, the larger issues of the state of the Royal Navy, the country’s strategic requirements from it and the amount that the country feels it can spend on it.

I want to start, however, by taking up some of the comments made by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Alison Seabeck), who rightly said at the beginning of her speech that events in the middle east have rearranged the strategic furniture, as it were. She will not have been surprised by that, given that the odds are, strange to relate, usually very great that it will come as a surprise when some sort of conflict breaks out in that way. When conflicts have yet to break out, and still more when we are already fighting in such conflicts, it therefore behoves us not to be too dogmatic and rigid as we make arrangements for the Royal Navy and, indeed, the other armed services.

I am merely pointing out that such conflicts come as a surprise, but is it not always the Navy that seems to be the first responder?

I will try to be as non-partisan between the services as possible but, following the hon. Lady’s provocation, I cannot resist pointing out that the Navy would have been an even quicker responder to the Libyan crisis had we not decided shortly before that blew up to take our last remaining aircraft carrier out of service. I have raised that issue a number of times, particularly with the Foreign Secretary, who on the most recent occasion informed me—I am sorry that he has such a low opinion of my knowledge of things nautical—that an aircraft carrier would not have been necessary because a Tornado could not be flown from it. I am reassured to know that the Government are well aware of which aircraft can fly from aircraft carriers and which cannot, but I do not hesitate to say that if we had had an aircraft carrier in commission when the events in Libya blew up so unexpectedly, I would have bet the farm on the fact that that particular warship—an aircraft carrier—would have been the first to be dispatched to the Mediterranean in response. It is very unwise to make decisions in peacetime, and still more unwise to make decisions when we are involved in not one but two conflicts simultaneously, that will bind us rigidly into circumstances that we might regret when the strategic situation changes as unexpectedly as it almost always does.

Let us consider the position with regard to frigates and submarines. I have never hesitated to say that the 1998 strategic defence review was a well thought-out document. The problem, as we know, was that the plans it outlined were not fully funded, although at least one had the feeling that a theory was being set out, which meant that some sort of balance was understood and some sort of flexibility was retained. We did not take the view that because our circumstances in the world were more limited in terms of the interventions we could make, we should reshape our defence forces in such a way that we would be incapable of responding to an unexpected crisis as we had responded in the past.

At one point during the years of the Labour Government, a naval base review was carried out. My hon. Friend the Minister will recall that we, as the shadow defence team in opposition, were adamant that it would be most unwise to rely on only two naval bases in the entire country, one of which would be in Scotland and the other in either Portsmouth or Devonport. In particular, we had regard to the argument put forward so eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport in his introduction to the debate: if we put all our eggs in one basket, or all our ships in one or two ports—one at one end of the country and one at the far end from that—we will be in danger of the basket of eggs getting smashed or the ships getting bottled up. We therefore argued strongly for retaining the ports at Devonport and at Portsmouth, and it would be a grave mistake to change that argument now. If we believe that it is strategically wise, strategically necessary and, I would say, strategically essential to continue to have the potential to use both Devonport and Portsmouth as naval bases in the future—I can never emphasise enough that we cannot predict the future—it follows that we must spread out our assets to ensure that both ports remain viable. I have no prejudice as to which assets should be in Portsmouth and which should be in Devonport, but some assets should be in each of the two ports.

The Labour Government took office in 1997, and when their SDR was undertaken we had a total of 35 frigates and destroyers. The deal done in the SDR was that in return for the great future promise and asset of two large aircraft carriers, the number of frigates would be modestly reduced from 35 to 32, and the number of attack submarines—nuclear-powered, but not nuclear-armed—would be reduced from 12 to 10. We know what happened over the years: the number of frigates went down successively from 35 to 32, as predicted, and then to 31 and 25. If I remember correctly, at the last count the figure had gone down to 19. It is true that during that period six new Daring class—Type 45 —destroyers came into play, and they are, of course, much more powerful, potent and potentially lethal, so one could argue that they are a much better deterrent than the destroyers they replaced. However, one should fight shy of getting into the position that Geoff Hoon, the then Secretary of State for Defence, got into of saying that because a new warship is so much more powerful than the warship it replaces, the number of “platforms”, as they used to say—the number of ships to the rest of us—becomes irrelevant. That is not true, because no matter how powerful a warship is, it can be in only one place at any one time. Unfortunately, but necessarily, the activities of the Royal Navy often have to take place in many places simultaneously. At the moment, we are considering what we should do in relation to events in Libya.

There is something else that slightly bothers me: I lost count of the number of times that Conservative spokesmen said in opposition that although we could not be sure whether we would spend more money on defence until we saw what the books actually said about the economics, we would definitely keep expenditure on defence in line with the commitments undertaken. I often stood up and said that we would need either to spend more on defence or to reduce our commitments. In reality, as we know, we are very stretched indeed as a result of the ongoing commitment in Afghanistan, and we now find ourselves suddenly with an additional commitment in Libya. After some prodding, the Foreign Secretary conceded that its cost, on which I was rather aggravatingly pressing him, would be met from the Treasury reserve, but all signs are that the commitment to a Libyan no-fly zone will not prove decisive in ousting Colonel Gaddafi, even though it may prove, and arguably has proved, effective in preventing him from initiating the wholesale mass slaughter that he was not only ruthless enough but stupid enough to announce to the world that he intended to visit on the citizens of Benghazi.

If those two statements are true—first, that the no-fly zone will not be enough to oust Gaddafi and, secondly, that it will nevertheless be effective in limiting the massacre of innocent civilians, which was our purpose for intervening—the logical consequence is that the commitment will go on for a considerable time. The Government will have to think hard about what they are prepared to spend on defence.

The Government cannot meet the costs from Treasury reserves indefinitely. We all know what then happens: we tend to get ourselves into the situation encountered by Tony Blair, who said towards the end of his time as Prime Minister that spending on defence had remained roughly constant at 2.5% of gross domestic product throughout the decade of Labour rule, but then added the crucial words, “if the costs of Iraq and Afghanistan are included.” In other words, the cost of those two wars was effectively being counted as part of our basic expenditure on defence. Such a thing will always happen.

The Government must think clearly about whether to put the economic case at the top of their agenda or whether to put up there instead the ability to intervene, as we have intervened in Libya. They cannot have it both ways. Many countries, including in Europe, would doubtless love to be able to intervene to stop massacres in Benghazi, but they do not do so—or not more than minimally—because their simple view is, “Well, we’re very sorry but we’re too small, too ineffective, too weak and too poor, and we cannot afford to maintain the armed forces necessary to do that sort of thing.” That is fair enough.

My hon. Friend makes a case for flexibility and options versus the economy, but it is worth remembering that we need a strong Navy with the right number of platforms to protect trade, our fuel security and our fibre-optic cables. Our economy depends on the Royal Navy.

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, which takes my argument forward exactly as I intended. The key point is that the things that she outlines are constants. Those requirements of a strong Royal Navy will carry on regardless, even if we were not involved in those additional conflicts. It really worries me that if we continue to be driven by every crisis that pops up in other parts of the world, whether or not we have what is commonly described as a dog in the fight, something else will have to give. Unless we see a genuine increase in resources and in the priority given to defence, if we continue to take on roles such as the worthy one of trying to intervene in Libya, something will have to give, and it is precisely the sort of core functions to which my hon. Friend adverts that may suffer.

If we cap the defence budget, we might have to sell off or mothball vital defence assets, or not introduce new assets that had been planned for, but I am concerned that whenever a crisis pops up in another part of the world, we want to be at the forefront and to punch above our weight. There will be only one outcome of that approach: our very limited defence resources will be used up in dealing with these ad hoc crises, which are not of our choosing, but then one day, when we face an existential threat to the security of the United Kingdom, we will not have the assets necessary to defend ourselves. I predict that there will be attempts to derail the renewal of the nuclear deterrent on the grounds that we are so stretched in other conventional areas that we cannot afford to build those submarines.

That is not a subject for this debate but, with your indulgence Mrs Brooke, may I say that I am particularly alarmed about the Trident Commission? The commission is orchestrated by a well-known anti-nuclear group called the British American Security Information Council, and is funded by such anti-nuclear bodies as the Ploughshares fund and the Joseph Rowntree charitable trust but, nevertheless, such distinguished people as two former Secretaries of State for Defence—my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) and Lord Browne of Ladyton—have agreed to sit on it. What will the commission come up with? In my opinion, it certainly will not come up with a recommendation for the like-for-like replacement of Trident. What will it say? Will it say, “We’d better not have continuous at-sea deterrence,” or, “We must join up with the French”? Whatever it says, I bet that the root of its argument will be the statement that we cannot afford to continue with a properly self-sufficient strategic independent nuclear deterrent. If so, future generations may have cause bitterly to regret the sort of arguments that have been put forward when we one day find ourselves vulnerable as a result of that omission.

How does that relate to base-porting? It is simple: during times of economic stringency, it is vital to conserve defence assets. Whatever final decision my hon. Friend the Minister and his colleagues make about what should be based at Portsmouth or Devonport, one point is vital. Something must be based at each of those two ports so that their viability is retained, because we might need those naval bases one day not simply to allow us to intervene in wars of choice, but to safeguard ourselves against an existential threat to the United Kingdom itself.

It is a pleasure, Mrs Brooke, to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) on securing this debate. He follows his predecessor Linda Gilroy, in being a strong advocate of Plymouth and the dockyard. As a Member, she was tenacious in debate. As a member of the Select Committee on Defence, she put the case not only for Plymouth but for the Navy. On numerous occasions, as a Minister I was on the receiving end of her representations.

Like the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, I pay tribute to the people of Plymouth. As a Minister, I had the honour to visit the town several times. Its contribution to the defence of the country is not only recent, and we should be thankful for what it did previously. I also pay tribute to the men and women of the Royal Navy currently serving in Afghanistan, including the Royal Marines, mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. We often see Afghanistan through an Army prism, but it is important to recognise the contribution made by the Navy.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned HMS Raleigh. It is an excellent facility, and I once had the honour of taking a passing-out parade there. The best of British youth can be changed in a matter of 10 weeks from what one mother described as being difficult to get out of bed and not knowing how to use an iron to people who can make a huge contribution to our country’s defence. We should be proud of the young men and women at HMS Raleigh.

May I associate myself with those remarks? I recently visited Lympstone, another Royal Marines training centre. I decided not to go into the sheep-dip because I did not want to spend two hours walking about soaking wet. Nevertheless, I was desperately keen and interested in what was being done.

The hon. Gentleman is right to recognise the work that is done at Lympstone. He and my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Alison Seabeck) mentioned the economic contribution that the dockyard makes not only to Plymouth itself but to the surrounding area; some 25,000 individuals are directly employed by the dockyard and there is a knock-on effect on local business. In addition, I have seen for myself the support that exists for the excellent university.

My hon. Friend rightly paid tribute to the trade unions at the dockyard which, over many years, have campaigned for the dockyard and ensured that its case is put to both Tory and Labour Governments. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport mentioned the cross-party nature of the campaigning that has been carried out by the local authority. When I visited Plymouth, I was very impressed with the way in which the members of the local authority, irrespective of political party, spoke with one voice for Plymouth and the dockyard.

The previous Labour Government conducted a naval base review, in which the decision was made to support Faslane, Plymouth and Portsmouth. However, there were those who said that we should put all our eggs in one basket at Portsmouth, as the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) mentioned. I am sure that there are many who still say that and the Minister will have to address those pressures in the coming weeks. It has been said, perhaps unfairly, that some of the naval top brass prefer Portsmouth to Plymouth because it is nearer to London.

The review was supposed to bring some stability to the future footprint of the Royal Navy in the UK, which is important. Earlier, we mentioned forces accommodation. When I was the Minister responsible for armed forces accommodation, I was conscious that we needed long-term investment in the naval estate. However, that is difficult, especially if the sword of Damocles is hanging over a site—whether it be a naval base, an RAF base or an army base—because there is a tendency not to invest. We have certainly seen that at Faslane and other places. The delay by the previous Government in making a decision on the long-term basing of submarines meant that investment did not go into armed forces family accommodation. If we want our armed forces to be ready for deployment and to fight in difficult situations, it is vital to have good family accommodation and support. For far too long, we have thought of the families as secondary to the fighting forces. They are, in my opinion, integral and important. That is particularly relevant for the Royal Navy because individuals are away at sea for many months. It is important that, while they undertake their duties, they are content and feel that their families are being well looked after.

The naval base review agreed that HMS Ocean, HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark would be based at Plymouth along with the hydrographic survey ship and the Type 22s and Type 23s. More importantly, there was also a 15-year agreement with Babcock Marine on the dockyard itself. When people look at the arguments for or against Plymouth or Portsmouth, they should consider the fact that the dockyard at Portsmouth has not been viable since 1984, when it was closed. That is an important argument for retaining Plymouth. We need a dockyard capability not only for nuclear but for the refit of existing frigates and other service ships.

With the decommissioning of the Type 22s under the strategic defence and security review, there will be very little left at Devonport. The current review will consider whether the dockyard has a future. However, as the hon. Member for New Forest East so eloquently put it, to put our eggs in one basket would be a mistake. The arguments that were proposed by the previous Government in their base-porting review are relevant today. Although the SDSR is a defence and security review, it is basically led by the Treasury. Having dealt with the Treasury on a number of occasions, I am sure that it will be breathing down the neck of the Minister to ensure that it gets every last pound from any decisions that are made to free up money in the short term.

If the defence review was, as we all believe, Treasury led, does my hon. Friend not find it surprising that the Treasury does not seem to be listening to the wider socio-economic case about the implications for Plymouth, given the huge cost implications of making the wrong choice?

I agree with my hon. Friend. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport suggested that that review is being presented to Government. I urge my hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman, along with the trade unions and the local council, to make the case strongly to Government. However, I have to say that I sympathise with the Minister. Under any Government, the bottom line is that the Treasury will look only at the budget of the Ministry of Defence. My hon. Friend is right to make the wider case. Closing a dockyard might save money on the defence budget, but in terms of the overall spend to Government, it would cost money in the long term.

I was impressed with the way in which Plymouth, and particularly the university, tried to diversify into other naval-related and maritime sectors. Such efforts would be taken away if the dockyard were closed and the effects would be felt for many years to come. I come from a region which unfortunately saw the end of naval shipbuilding on the River Tyne under a previous Conservative Government, so I am not sure whether this Government will take much cognisance of the wider effects that such closures will have on the region or its capabilities.

The danger that we face is that the Treasury, which is leading the decisions in the SDSR, will make short-term decisions that will have long-term implications. If we were looking for an example of where a short-term decision could be made and we could get things wrong, this would be it.

Although I accept that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport is a strong advocate for the armed forces and would argue for a larger defence budget, I have to say gently to him that it is naive to pin his hopes on an increase in the defence budget after 2015 saving his dockyard. The Treasury will not reopen facilities once they are closed and will not invest in new capacities. Its policy will be one of entrenchment rather than expansion. Both he and my hon. Friend must ensure that the case for Plymouth is put very strongly and effectively.

In closing, we are already seeing the effects of the short-term decision not to have any carrier-based air strike force for 10 years, in terms of our inability to deploy air power in Libya effectively and swiftly. Certain Ministers in the Ministry of Defence are recognising that it is now time to look again perhaps at the SDSR and to do so not only through the prism of the Treasury. We must realise that, if we are going to be a nation that wants to project power around the world—both naval influence and other types of influence—a strong, effective Navy is an important part of that aspiration. In addition, a well financed and strategically thought out defence policy is a cornerstone of any such aspiration.

Mrs Brooke, it is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for this important debate.

I must state at the outset that I am responding to the debate on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government in the stead of the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff), who is the Minister with responsibility for defence equipment, support and technology. I am very pleased to say that he is in Japan undertaking work that I hope the House will approve of: promoting Britain’s defence interests and defence exports to that country. Consequently he is unavoidably detained overseas and so it falls to me to respond to the debate.

As is customary, I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) on securing this important debate. I also congratulate the other hon. Members who have taken part in it, most notably my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), who is an esteemed former Front-Bench colleague, and the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Alison Seabeck). Along with my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, all three of them have taken part in various defence debates in this Parliament. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East and the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View have participated in such debates during the many years they have been in the House, and are therefore noted contributors to the wider issues of defence. They are not limited simply to their constituency interests, which I always think is a rather healthy manifestation of political expression in the House. It is healthier than simply articulating the case for one’s own constituency.

I must also say that, as ever, it is a great pleasure to participate in a debate with the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones). I have sparred with him for many years and personally we have always enjoyed the best of friendships, although I am delighted to say that I am now on the Government Benches and he is on the Opposition Benches.

Where Royal Navy vessels are based is an important topic for the entire House. It has an impact on both service personnel and their families, and on local jobs and infrastructure. I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the important role that Plymouth has played in the defence of the nation throughout our seafaring history and to pay tribute to the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport. Those men and women have contributed so much to the United Kingdom’s defence, at home and overseas.

The story of the naval base at Plymouth stretches back as far as the time when the English fleet sailed out to face the Spanish armada. Famously, Sir Francis Drake, who was a vice-admiral in that fleet, was playing bowls on Plymouth Hoe when he sighted the armada. Indeed, the fleet accommodation centre at the base in Plymouth is still known within the Royal Navy as HMS Drake, in his honour. Since the time of the armada, the base has survived more than four centuries of warfare, including heavy bombing during the blitz. That is thanks in large part to the hard work and resilience of the people of Plymouth.

As everyone knows, we have had to make some difficult decisions in recent times as a result of the utter incompetence of the previous Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), who virtually destroyed the public finances. It always astonishes me how few people in this country understand the magnitude of the budget deficit problem that we inherited. I ask people at various gatherings, “How much was the budget deficit in May 2010?”, and very few people—even well informed ones—know the answer. For the benefit of putting it on the record, I will say now that the deficit then was £150 billion. For those of us interested in defence, that translates to the cost of three Type 45 destroyers each and every week of the year. The deficit is that great. To put it in a wider historical perspective, my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East and I both remember that in 1979 the budget deficit was £8.25 billion; now it is some 20 times greater. [Interruption.] That statement is true. The hon. Member for North Durham is mumbling away, but I remind him that Jim Callaghan left an economic legacy almost as bad as that left by the last Labour Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, last year.

Of course, it is in the context of the current budget deficit that we have to address the position on defence. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has said, the budget deficit is itself a threat to our national security, and if we were not dealing with it in the way the Chancellor is dealing with it now, the UK would most likely have found itself in the same position as Greece, Ireland and Portugal.

It is not a load of nonsense. I was in the financial world and I understand how important it is to secure the support of the international financial community. It is just as important for an individual, if they have an overdraft, to have the support of their bank manager. When the nation is in the dire straits it now finds itself in, it is absolutely imperative that we have the support of the international financial community. That support is what deserted Greece, Ireland and Portugal. Does the hon. Gentleman wish to intervene?

I just wish that the Minister would not keep peddling this absolute nonsense. The idea that the UK economy is the same as the Greek economy is utter rubbish. The idea that somehow the UK’s credit rating was in peril, in terms of receiving the support of the international financial community, is complete nonsense. If he looks at long-term borrowing for Greece, he will see that more than 50% of its debt is on short-term loans of about three years. Most of the UK’s debt is on loans that are in excess of 14 years. If he is using the deficit argument as an excuse for decimating the armed forces, I can accept that he needs some cover for what he is doing; but he should acknowledge economic reality rather than just continually peddling nonsense.

It is wonderful that the hon. Gentleman can still come to the support of his former boss, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, after the devastation he wreaked on the country.

Does my hon. Friend the Minister agree that, in addition to the deficit that we inherited, it was the web of incompatible programmes that made the strategic defence and security review a particularly difficult exercise to carry out? Does he also agree that if there is any justification for not having a carrier strike force in the short term, it is that the SDSR has drawn a line in the sand and we are now preparing for the future? To do that, we need to look at maintaining three Navy bases in this country.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The SDSR sought to reflect the position that we found ourselves in. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View was perfectly right to refer to the Treasury. Inevitably, the Treasury had an influence on the SDSR. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport made the point at the start of the debate that government is a question of priorities. This Government is not a Conservative Government; it is a coalition Government and the priorities were set by the Cabinet. The good news is that the Ministry of Defence took a lesser hit than many people imagined it would, and that is in large measure thanks to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, who ensured that the MOD did not fare as badly as some people had feared.

My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East said that he wants me to be robust, and I will be. He is absolutely right to say that we face a dangerous world. That is what we said when in opposition, and the world is just as dangerous—if not more dangerous—than it was then. However, the cupboard is bare and we have had to allocate our resources as best we can. He also made the fair point that the 1998 strategic defence review was itself never fully funded, and therefore last year, when the Chancellor came to allocate the Budget across the Departments, the Ministry of Defence was hobbled by the fact that it was already underfunded for what it was trying to do—we took a double hit, one might say. These are challenging times, and the SDSR has had, and will continue to have, an impact on all areas of defence, but I can assure my hon. Friend that we are determined to maintain a strong and capable fleet that preserves our long and glorious naval tradition.

Nowhere is there greater evidence of that than at Devonport, which is the largest naval base in western Europe, stretching along four miles of coastline. The naval base and the associated dockyard employ approximately 12,000 people and are an important part of the local economy. The dockyard has been privately owned since 1997, and operated by Babcock Marine since 2007. Babcock also manages naval base support services in Devonport. Devonport contributes to the UK’s defence capability through its vital role as the only facility in the UK able to carry out the deep maintenance of submarines, and it undertakes the long overhauls that all submarines must undergo at least once during their service life. As well as that unique role, it carries out valuable work on the support and maintenance of complex warships, and is a centre of excellence for sea training and for the UK’s amphibious capability.

Babcock Marine, along with BAE Systems Surface Ships, is one of our key maritime industrial partners, and the Department works closely with it to ensure that Devonport and the other naval bases and dockyards have the level of work they need to sustain them, ensuring that critical skills, such as high-end design, systems engineering and combat systems integration are not lost, and that we continue to maintain the ability to carry out such work in Britain.

Given that the Minister is standing in for the Minister with responsibility for defence equipment, support and technology, this is possibly an unfair question: under the business agreement—which was signed and is generally very welcome—how firm a commitment is expected from the companies, whether BAE or Babcock Marine, to continue to operate in Portsmouth, Plymouth or Faslane? The Minister might want to come back to me later on that.

As I understand it, the decisions are based on where the case for the best enterprise can be established. The agreement is between Babcock Marine, BAE Systems Surface Fleet and the Ministry of Defence, and the idea is to allocate the work around the three bases. As I shall say again in a moment, repeating the Prime Minister’s assurance, all three naval bases, including Portsmouth, will be maintained, for the very reason that everyone has been articulating: to maintain the capability and not to put all our eggs in one basket. That is the basis upon which the decisions are made, but I could invite my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for defence equipment, support and technology to drop the hon. Lady a note about it, if that would be helpful.

One of the mechanisms in place for ensuring that we can maintain the capabilities is the surface ship support alliance between Babcock Marine, BAE Systems Surface Ships and the Ministry of Defence. In answer to the hon. Lady’s question, the alliance meets regularly to discuss the best allocation of support work, so that the work is balanced between various locations. The alliance has been in place since September 2009, and the proof of concept phase has demonstrated the benefits of collaborative working between the Department and the industry, and should lead to the delivery of a more sustainable programme of surface ship support work. I hope that that addresses the hon. Lady’s point.

It is important to emphasise that the Department is not alone in providing employment opportunities in Plymouth. Plymouth city council and local business leaders are actively seeking to attract investment and business into the area, and I hope there will be further opportunities to maximise the benefits to the city from the proposed release of MOD sites. We remain committed to working with other Departments, and with trade unions and local councils, as opportunities emerge.

Moving on to base-porting more specifically, the Devonport flotilla includes HMS Ocean—a landing platform, helicopter and the largest ship in the Royal Navy—on which last year I was privileged to sign a defence co-operation treaty with Brazil. The 22,000 magnificent tonnes of British steel standing there in the harbour were a manifestation of the influence that the military can bring on behalf of our country around the world, and we should not forget that. Also based in Devonport are the active Type 22 frigates, seven of the 13 Type 23 frigates, HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark—amphibious landing platform docks—four ships of the oceanographic squadron, and six Trafalgar-class nuclear-powered submarines. That is a substantial portion of our naval fleet, and the flagship of the Royal Navy, HMS Albion, is the first Devonport-based ship in living memory to hold the responsibility of fleet flagship.

The tough decisions that have had to be made as part of the SDSR mean that the Royal Navy’s fleet will decrease in size. As a result, the number of vessels based at Devonport will be reduced, but Devonport’s importance as a vital strategic asset supporting the Royal Navy will not be diminished. As I mentioned a moment ago, the Prime Minister confirmed in the debate that followed the SDSR announcement last year that we are determined to retain all three naval bases, and to keep them busy. We advocated that in opposition, and have kept our word. Any decisions taken on future base-porting arrangements for the Royal Navy’s vessels will therefore take into account the long-term sustainability of all three naval bases.

The SDSR made it clear that the Royal Navy has a bright future, with new aircraft carriers, Type 45 destroyers, new submarines and new frigates, and that maintaining 19 frigates and destroyers was the best option for delivering a sustainable and flexible surface fleet. To implement that decision, the Secretary of State for Defence announced on 15 December that the four remaining Type 22 frigates—HMS Chatham, HMS Campbeltown, HMS Cumberland and HMS Cornwall—would be removed from service. The decommissioning of Cumberland was delayed because of her involvement in supporting enforcement action against Libya under United Nations Security Council resolution 1973, and I should like to take this opportunity to congratulate the ship’s crew for their fantastic work during that deployment, which emphasised the versatility of the Royal Navy at its best.

The seven Type 23 frigates based at Devonport, along with the six at Portsmouth naval base, will form the backbone of the Royal Navy’s frigate fleet until the introduction of the Type 26 global combat ship at around the turn of the decade. I am lead Minister for the global combat ship, which we hope to build in collaboration with a number of other countries, and, like my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, would like to see more of them. We advocated in opposition that although the ships should not be exactly cheap and cheerful, they should not have the sophistication of the Type 45 destroyer, the unit cost of which was £1 billion—simply unaffordable.

I understand the need for much more of a workhorse vehicle than an all-singing, all-dancing one; however, lovely as it will be to have the new Type 26s, I hope the Minister will strongly consider the fact that Plymouth has the skills to manage and support some of those vessels into the future.

I hear the hon. Lady’s representations, and shall duly convey them to the Minister responsible, but I have to say that we are nowhere near making the base-porting decisions on the Type 26.

I understand that that decision is not imminent, but in thinking through the decisions that need to be made, the Department must look ahead. The decision must be part of a bigger strategic vision for the future.

The hon. Lady makes an extremely important point, which I endorse and emphasise for the record. It builds on something that the hon. Member for North Durham said about the Treasury. If we are to have the Future Force 2020 that we seek, it will depend on uplift in financial resources from the middle of the decade. One of the last things that the outgoing Chief of the Defence Staff, now Lord Stirrup, said to me was that if we want that uplift in 2015, we must start planning for it now. It is important that we as parliamentarians understand the importance of long- term planning. I hope the hon. Lady will forgive me for latching on to the point that she made about base-porting for the Type 26, but it feeds into a wider argument about defence planning, and she is right to make it.

My phrase was “cheap as chips”, actually. It upset the First Sea Lord of the day, although not too much. Will the Minister confirm that the reason why it is important and practicable to make the new frigates in that way is that modern methods of naval design enable the production of a ship that is modular? Therefore, we can produce a considerable number of hulls initially and then upgrade them with bolt-on modules as resources allow, rather than producing something expensive from the outset.

My hon. Friend, as ever, has latched on to an extremely important point. A big selling-point in my discussions with other nations about working in co-operation on the programme is that modular building design not only gives extraordinary flexibility, but is something in which we in the United Kingdom have a world lead. We did it with the Type 45s and we are doing it with carriers; we can do it with global combat ships as well.

My discussions with the Royal Navy, from the First Sea Lord down, have proved extremely encouraging. The Navy has understood the force of the argument and is working enthusiastically to that end. All of us in the House have an interest in ensuring the success of the programme. Personally, I am staking a lot on it myself. If I were to leave office having done only one thing—securing a new fleet of frigates for the Royal Navy—I should feel extremely proud.

On submarines, we have made it clear that the Clyde naval base will become the base port for all Royal Navy submarines. The Vanguard class submarines are already based there, and as the Astute class enters service, it too will be based at and operated from the Clyde. The Department has announced that it will move in-service Trafalgar class submarines from Devonport to Faslane, although we are still assessing how best to implement that decision. None the less, Devonport’s highly skilled work force will continue to be called on to deliver the highest standards of engineering in the vital area of submarine maintenance.

It is important to recognise that decisions about changing the base-porting of naval assets are not simple or straightforward. Although factors such as sustainability and work loads are of importance locally and to the nation as a whole, I am sure we all appreciate that any changes have a major impact on the welfare of the service personnel affected, particularly those with young families. Any decisions to change the arrangements are made only after extensive deliberation and consultation. At this point, I would like to put on the record—I am sure on everybody’s behalf—what an immense debt of gratitude the nation owes to the families of our servicemen and women in all three services. Without their support, the men and women on the front line would never be able to do their job.

As part of the process, as the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View said, full consideration must be given to the impact on naval service personnel and their families, reflecting the need to give them sufficient notice to plan their futures, in line with the naval service individual harmony guidelines. The guidelines exist to ensure that naval personnel retain the ability to enjoy leisure at their place of duty and that they do not spend excessive time away from their homes and families.

I am pleased to be able to confirm, therefore, that we have made a decision that I hope will reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport and the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View. We have decided to make no changes to base-porting arrangements for surface ships, including Type 23 frigates. The frigates at Devonport and Portsmouth will remain where they are for the foreseeable future. That will provide a period of stability for naval personnel and their families at our naval bases, for the naval bases at Devonport and Portsmouth and for our industrial partners, which I know my hon. Friend and other Members were seeking. It is our view that any review of those arrangements should be linked directly to the wider studies informing future strategic defence and security reviews, which we have committed to undertaking during each Parliament, so we do not anticipate any changes until 2020 at the earliest. I recognise that that decision will be of interest to many Members. The Minister with responsibility for defence equipment, support and technology, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire, will write to those Members shortly to provide the detail that I am sure they seek.

To answer a couple of points made by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View, HMS Protector will be based at Portsmouth because, as I understand it, that reflects the base-porting arrangements in place for HMS Endurance. However, we expect to decide on the longer-term delivery of that capability, including base-porting arrangements and the future of HMS Endurance, next year. I hope that that puts the matter in context. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport referred to the university of Plymouth study. I say to all local Members that Ministers will be pleased to receive the results of that study.

In summary, I assure my hon. Friend and the whole House that we remain determined to make the fullest use of all three naval bases, including Devonport, and to capitalise on the excellent skills and experience that they have to offer. Difficult decisions have been taken, but everyone involved can now look forward to a period of stability, confident in the knowledge that they will continue to be central to our island nation’s influence, prosperity and security.

Sitting suspended.