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Arctic and High North

Volume 602: debated on Monday 23 November 2015

The UK respects the sovereign responsibilities of the eight Arctic states while promoting our own interests in the region. We engage with the security of the region through the Arctic security forces roundtable, and directly with Arctic nations. We maintain naval and air assets capable of deploying to the region, and Arctic trained and equipped forces, including elements of 3 Commando Brigade.

The Minister for the Armed Forces recently confirmed to me in a parliamentary answer that the Russian spy ship, the Yantar, passed through UK waters unhindered by the fleet ready escort. Scotland is on the front line of emerging threats from the High North, yet our defence footprint continues to shrink. Will the Minister confirm when UK naval surface ships will be rebased at Faslane and Rosyth, and say when we will see the re-establishment of RAF Leuchars?

I cannot confirm what the hon. Gentleman asks for about RAF Leuchars, but if he waits until half-past 3, he should hear some excellent news for Scotland.

There can be no question but that the retreating ice provides significant commercial opportunities, and that will lead to military stresses if we do not handle it correctly. The UK has a fantastic offer—namely, the Royal Marines who are trained in the Arctic; I have seen their work—so can we expand that capability? Secondly, we have not used under-ice submarines for a number of years. We have that capability so is it time that once again we used our submarines to operate under the Arctic ice?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question, but he will have to wait until half-past 3 for confirmation of the future of our amphibious capability. I take on board his point about under-ice submarines, and I will write to him about that.

Perhaps I can help the Minister with a question that does not involve waiting until half-past 3. A lot of our focus is currently on the middle east and north Africa. Does he agree, however, that with two Russian Tupolev bombers off our coast recently, as well as a Russian submarine, it would be naive for us to take our eye off the strategic risk to the UK from the High North and Arctic region?

May I gently implore Members to proceed a little more quickly? We have a lot to get through, and questions and answers have been lengthy.

One of the finest parliamentary answers in the course of the hon. Gentleman’s 28-year career to date.

Maritime patrol aircraft featured large in last year’s referendum, but does my hon. Friend agree that they are pretty pointless, either manned or unmanned, unless there is the data-gathering and analysis technology to go with it, and the wherewithal to respond to any threats that emerge—something that the SNP failed to offer last year?

As my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Douglas Chapman) says, the High North is becoming one of the world’s strategic hotspots. Does the Minister agree that, for a nation with a maritime history such as ours, seeking the assistance of France and Canada in locating a possibly hostile submarine is deeply embarrassing? Will he confirm that this is the third time the UK has had to call on such assistance?

The hon. Gentleman will have to wait until 3.30 pm for the detail, but I just remind him that the Defence Committee shared the Government’s view that the Nimrod programme was dying. I am very glad that it should be possible to give some better news a little later today.

The lack of naval capability in the High North is indeed a worry. Given that just 14 months ago the workers at Scotstoun and Govan were guaranteed a bright future should they vote no to independence, will the Minister like to take this opportunity to make sure the promise made to them of 13 Type 26 frigates, is kept? Does he agree that if, at 3.30 pm, that promise is not kept, it will be a shameful betrayal of that workforce?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I cannot give him a detailed answer. I can, however, say that the future for Scotland will look even brighter after 3.30 pm. We have just completed, in the past few months, the largest far north exercise in NATO history.