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NATO North Atlantic Command

Volume 632: debated on Monday 27 November 2017

1. What discussions he has had with his counterparts in other NATO member states on the location of the new NATO North Atlantic Command. (902547)

May I start by congratulating, on behalf of those who work in our armed forces, His Royal Highness Prince Harry on his engagement to Meghan Markle? Prince Harry has acted as a proud champion of servicemen and women in the armed forces, most notably with his commitment to the Invictus games. I am sure we would all like to echo your words, Mr Speaker, in wishing the two of them the very best in their shared future together.

During my first few weeks as Secretary of State for Defence, I have had the privilege of being able to join the Army on Salisbury plain, the RAF in Cosford and the Navy in Devonport. It is truly moving to see the dedication and commitment they all show in their work. On 8 and 9 November, I had the opportunity to join fellow NATO Defence Ministers to discuss the future NATO command. This is about creating a new structure to lead NATO, but the establishment of a command for the Atlantic and its location have yet to be decided.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but with Russian submarine activity in Scottish waters at a level not seen since the cold war—just last week, the Russian destroyer the Vice-Admiral Kulakov was escorted through the Moray firth—how can the Secretary of State reassure Scots that, when the command is re-established, it will meet the needs of Scotland, which sits in a vital strategic position with respect to the High North?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the increased activity of Russian submarines in the north Atlantic. I am sure he would welcome the investment that the UK Government are putting into Her Majesty’s naval base at Clyde. Some £1.5 billion is being spent on investing in Scotland and 6,500 personnel are already based at Her Majesty’s naval base at Clyde, and that number is going to increase. NATO and what we do in terms of NATO are vital. It is the cornerstone of our defence. The hon. Gentleman must understand, though, that it is about not only conventional warfare and conventional deterrents but a nuclear deterrent. If we do not recognise the fact that nuclear weapons have been safeguarding our security, then we do not understand what NATO is. I very much hope that the hon. Gentleman will start to welcome our investment in not only conventional submarines in Scotland but nuclear submarines.

Does the Secretary of State agree that, when global threats to British interests around the world are increasing, it might seem illogical to have a defence capability review that could decrease our capabilities at a time when we need to be doing everything we can to increase our armed forces’ fighting power?

My hon. Friend makes a valuable point about making sure we have the right capability for all our armed forces. I am taking the opportunity to look at all the work that has been done and I am making my own judgment as to the best way to go forward.

I, too, extend warm wishes to the happy couple. My mother has already asked me whether she can join me in London on the day of the royal wedding.

I pay tribute to the Royal Navy assets, including HMS Protector, that have taken part in the search for ARA San Juan. Let us move from the south to the north Atlantic. I welcome the Secretary of State on his first appearance at the Dispatch Box. We do, of course, have differences, but where we can agree in Scotland’s interest, we will hopefully do so. With that and the re-establishment of NATO command in mind, does he agree that Scotland is ideally placed to host such a command?

I have no doubt that many places in the United Kingdom would be brilliant places to host such a command. I will be making strong representations to all our NATO partners to make sure that we get the very best deal out of NATO. At the moment, it is too early to determine where that command is going to be, but I will be doing everything I can to ensure that it is in the United Kingdom.

I understand that that matter will be discussed in February next year, so let me just point out to the Secretary of State what Scotland has to offer. It is the most northerly nation not to have any territory inside the Arctic circle; it is in a strategic position, jutting out into NATO’s north Atlantic heartland with access to the Icelandic gap; and it has Kinloss and Lossiemouth with unparalleled history in maritime aviation. Given what my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) has also said, will the Secretary of State commit to further investigating the strong position that Scotland is in and taking that to NATO in February?

I am always delighted to explore the many benefits that Scotland brings to our Union. The fact is that Scotland is always stronger as part of the United Kingdom than it is on its own. I also very much welcome our continued investment in Scotland. It is absolutely integral to our defence as a nation that we are always stronger together. I would be happy to look at all the evidence to make sure that we continue to get the very best investment in Scotland from our armed forces.