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Maritime Surveillance

Volume 546: debated on Monday 11 June 2012

The wide range of assets capable of conducting maritime surveillance were reviewed during the strategic defence and security review and decisions were made in the light of our future requirements and the challenging circumstances facing the Government. Due to the financial legacy we inherited from the previous Government, including the woeful mismanagement of the Nimrod MRA4 project, we had little choice but to cancel that project and make a number of other adjustments to our force structure. I believe we have the capabilities we require in this area, but we keep our requirements under close review against operational circumstances. Should the threats change, we stand ready to respond.

The Government have made a commitment to additional maritime surveillance with respect to Somalia because of the serious maritime threat posed there. What additional steps are the Government taking to support the Prime Minister’s peace process initiative in Somalia and what steps are they taking on the threat to the peace process caused by piracy?

The hon. Gentleman is right to point to the importance of the international efforts being made in Somalia, in which the UK is proud to play a part. Surveillance is certainly a part of the international effort, but the UK did not specifically engage to undertake it—it is done on an international basis, and other allies provide the surveillance capabilities.

The Minister’s right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said that he has balanced the budget, but the lack of maritime surveillance demonstrates that he can make such a claim only because he has cut the equipment budget so deeply that he has left our nation with a capability deficit. He cannot deny that we have a capability deficit in terms of maritime surveillance.

The hon. Gentleman has answered his own question. If one has had to balance the budget having inherited a £38 billion black hole, inevitably certain capabilities would have had to be deleted. I remind him that the previous Government were using alternative methods of providing maritime surveillance. They considered that such methods would be adequate for a two-year period, and we have concluded that they provide sufficient cover for a further period.