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Amphibious Ships

Volume 630: debated on Monday 23 October 2017

The tremendous work of RFA Mounts Bay last month in the Caribbean in response to Hurricane Irma demonstrated the versatility of amphibious ships in the Royal Navy.

It did indeed, but people in County Durham will be very alarmed that there appears to be a question mark over the future of HMS Bulwark. She is one of the newest amphibious ships; she has been the fleet flagship; and she has been used to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean. Surely, would not a decision to decommission her early be a false economy?

I, too, have read the speculation in the press, and it is just that. As we have discussed at Defence questions today, a national security and capability review is taking place. It is very important that we have that review, which is about trying to bring together our capabilities with our investment. Equally, the hon. Lady will recognise that, while that capability review is ongoing, it would be entirely inappropriate for me to pluck out individual capabilities and comment on them.

I see the Minister of State is enjoying the benefits of family encouragement. This is something that we enthusiastically welcome.

In welcoming my hon. Friend’s assurance that the future of our amphibious capability is under active and positive consideration, may I say, as one who has been privileged to spend a little bit of time on HMS Bulwark, that she is a magnificent fighting ship? She punches well above her weight. She has served this nation very well, and to remove her from service would be an absolute tragedy.

I recognise my hon. Friend’s support, and indeed the support of colleagues from across the House who feel strongly on this matter. We enjoy an amphibious capability; of course, it is not just Albion and Bulwark. Albion is about to step up into the high-readiness role for the next five years and Bulwark will be going into the low-readiness role, but there are also the three Bay class ships and we will be investing in amphibious capability for the Queen Elizabeth class as well.

As the Member of Parliament who represents the dockyard and naval base where Albion and Bulwark are base-ported, may I ask the Minister to speed up this review? There are lots of people who are very concerned about their jobs and the local economy if Albion and Bulwark and the Royal Marines are scrapped?

Once again, the hon. Gentleman seems to be unnecessarily adding fuel to the speculation—indeed, perhaps even scaremongering—among his own constituents, which I do not think is particularly valuable. What I will say is that the review will be completed in a timely manner, but it is important to get it right.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that, in taking decisions about our amphibious capability and other issues, he will always be guided by military advice on what capabilities we need?

That is a very fair point. Indeed, at the moment, no advice has been put on Ministers’ desks about the outcome to which the review is leading, but it will be based firmly on military advice.