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Royal Navy: Capability and Strength

Volume 634: debated on Monday 15 January 2018

The Government are committed to increasing our maritime power to project our influence across the world and promote national prosperity. Growing for the first time in a generation, we will spend £63 billion on new ships and submarines over the next decade. We are also committed to increasing the number of personnel in the Royal Navy.

As the Minister will know, the strongest arm of the Royal Navy is the Royal Marines. Will he update the House on the work that is ongoing to transform the Royal Marines home base in south Devon into a world-leading facility and how it will enhance our national amphibious capability plans to ensure that we continue to meet our NATO and national priorities?

In my previous role, I was responsible for the better defence estate strategy. I can confirm that it remains the intention to dispose of the Royal Citadel and Stonehouse in 2024 and Chivenor in 2027, and to provide units for the Royal Marines in either Plymouth or Torpoint. I cannot confirm exactly what form that will take at this stage, as further work is required, but I will update the House in due course.

The lack of clarity and the leaks and confusion surrounding the national security review are really hitting morale, and morale affects capability in the Royal Navy. Given the uncertainty over Plymouth’s HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark and, now, the leaked proposal to merge the Royal Marines with the Parachute Regiment, will the Minister clear up the confusion and rule out those Navy cuts and the merger?

I am sorry to have to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but I can only repeat what has already been said: the Government take the security of our nation incredibly seriously. I think it is far more important to ensure that the review is robust, comprehensive and detailed than to rush to make announcements simply to appease the hon. Gentleman.

May we take a moment to acknowledge the courageous service of Surgeon-Captain Rick Jolly, whose death has just been announced? He was the only person to be awarded a gallantry medal by both sides in the Falklands war.

Will the Minister please take back to those conducting the review the united opinion on both sides of the House that any loss of frigates and amphibious vessels before their due out-of-service dates would be totally unacceptable?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for highlighting the very sad passing of Commander Rick Jolly. He was indeed an absolute legend, and the service that he provided in the Falklands is worth reading about. It is unique to have been given awards for gallantry by both the United Kingdom and the Argentine forces. I also note my right hon. Friend’s other point.

Does not the passage of the Russian frigate Admiral Gorshkov through the English channel over Christmas prove that the Russians are intent on constantly observing our capability on the high seas, and is it not vital for us to maintain that capability at as high a level as possible?

Absolutely. The Russian activity in the north Atlantic is as high as it has been since the end of the cold war, which is why we constantly assess it and respond appropriately. I was delighted that, as ever, HMS St Albans accompanied that Russian vessel during its passage through the channel.

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.

May I reiterate what Members on both sides of the House have said so far, and add my concerns to those that have already been expressed about the future of the Royal Marines and the Royal Navy? I believe that any cutting of the Royal Marines or any further part of our amphibious fleet—HMS Ocean having already gone to the Brazilians—is absolutely out of order and totally unacceptable.

My hon. Friend is a champion of the armed forces, and I am of course aware of his own service. I can only repeat what has already been said, but I entirely recognise the contribution made by both the Royal Marines and the Royal Navy. I was deeply honoured to be able to award green berets to our Royal Marines back in 2016, having accompanied them for a short run across the moor. I am only too well aware of what they are capable of, and I note my hon. Friend’s concerns.

What assessments have been undertaken of naval capability in response to the inevitable arms race in weapons of mass destruction which would follow the implementation of the United States’ nuclear posture review?

I am sorry, but I did not catch the question. If I may, I will review it and write to the hon. Gentleman.

I think it would be fair to say that it was tangential to the subject of the strength of the Royal Navy.

We have heard from the Government ad nauseam that the Royal Navy is growing when that is demonstrably untrue. There continues to be a sharp divide between rhetoric and reality. It is utterly unacceptable that the House should hear about significant potential cuts from the newspapers, as we did yet again this weekend. Can the Minister refute those reports, and confirm that we will not see a repetition of the 2010 scale of cuts in our armed forces?

It is deeply disappointing that the hon. Lady once again comes to the Dispatch Box almost trying to talk down our Royal Navy. As is clear from the opening comments, we are absolutely committed to some £63 billion-worth of investment in our Royal Navy. Only shortly before Christmas we saw the Queen Elizabeth arriving in Portsmouth, after £120 million worth of investment in Portsmouth. We have now laid the first contracts for the first three Type 26s, and we are looking at Type 31s, and there are also nine new P-8 aircraft. The investment in our Royal Navy is significant, so for the hon. Lady to come to the Dispatch Box and simply try to talk it down is deeply disappointing.

Once again we do not seem to have very clear answers on that front. We also know that a lack of personnel is a driving factor for decisions in the Royal Navy. Capita is failing miserably on recruitment targets, failing to deliver savings, and is still bungling its IT systems, so what specific steps will the Minister be taking to get to grips with this situation?

We seem to be switching seamlessly from the Navy to the Army. [Interruption.] If it is in order, that is fine, but there is continuing work on recruitment in the Army. I am pleased to say that compared with this period last year, applications are up about 20%. There have been some minor glitches in the new computer system, but they are being ironed out and I am confident that we will see recruitment into the Army increasing.