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UK Military Base (Bahrain)

Volume 590: debated on Monday 12 January 2015

The Ministry of Defence has had a naval base in Bahrain since the 1950s, providing naval and logistics facilities in support of our operations in the Gulf. The agreement that was signed last month reaffirms the joint determination of the United Kingdom and Bahrain to maintain security and stability in the region.

How long does the Secretary of State expect the military personnel who have been sent to train the Kurds in Iraq to remain there? Can he give us a time frame?

Our training effort, our troops and our air contribution to the fight against ISIL will remain in Iraq for as long as is necessary, which may well be a very long time. As for our presence in the Gulf, I hope that the House will welcome the recommitment that we have made to security and stability through the new naval base agreement, which will enable us to deploy larger ships and to provide better facilities for those who are deployed in or are passing through the Gulf.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend and salute the work carried out by Lieutenant General Sir Simon Mayall in re-establishing an east of Suez policy with our very close and reliable ally the Kingdom of Bahrain. Is this not a good example of the role defence diplomacy can play, and, in that context, may I invite the Secretary of State to reaffirm our commitment to the five power defence agreement in the far east, which reassures our allies and gives Britain an influence in the region?

My hon. Friend, one of my predecessors as a Minister in the Department, is right to pay proper tribute to Lieutenant General Sir Simon Mayall, who was responsible for negotiating this agreement, which will put our naval presence in the Gulf on a more permanent footing. My hon. Friend is also right to say that we should continue to examine our defence engagement policy in the far east as well as in the middle east.

It has been estimated that a three-day closure of the strait of Hormuz, perhaps by a terrorist attack, could lead to a four-year negative impact on the world economy. Has that influenced our decision to increase our capability in the Gulf?

Yes, the hon. Lady is absolutely right to draw attention to the economic and strategic importance of the strait of Hormuz. Our mine counter-measure vessels are playing a major part in ensuring that the strait always remains open, and I was privileged to visit two of those vessels and meet their crews. I put on record our appreciation of them for the very difficult and challenging work they do, particularly their divers, in making sure the strait remains open.