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House of Commons Hansard
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Royal Navy: Fleet Size
05 March 2018
Volume 637
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3. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of the size of the Royal Navy fleet. [904153]

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The Royal Navy is growing for the first time in a generation, with the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers and new submarines, frigates, patrol vessels and aircraft. The Royal Navy continues to meet the demands we place on it and maintains its operational edge.

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With the sale of HMS Ocean, Devonport and the nation have lost a third of our Royal Navy amphibious assault ships. In more and more uncertain times, can the Minister reassure people in Plymouth that Devonport will not see any more cuts to frigates, amphibious assault ships, and survey ships such as HMS Scott in the upcoming review?

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I certainly take this opportunity to underline our thanks to the people of Plymouth for their age-old commitment to and support for the Royal Navy. I absolutely assure the hon. Gentleman that Devonport will continue to be one of the cornerstone bases of the Royal Navy in future. As he will be aware, we only recently allocated the location of the Type 23 frigates. We are doing more work on the location of the Type 26 frigates, and we hope to be able to announce that shortly.

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I must declare an interest, Mr Speaker: my grandfather and father both served in the Royal Navy, and both would be turning in their graves at the size of the Royal Navy. Although I quite accept the financial difficulty that the Minister has, does he accept from me that the threats from around the world—not least from China, which is talked about too seldom—are growing? We are sending one ship, I think, across the waters to the south of China. I ask the Minister, please, for an assurance that the Royal Navy’s size and capability will be increased.

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My hon. Friend will be aware of the recent deployment of HMS Sutherland, and there will be further such deployments in future to that part of the world.

For the first time in a generation, the Royal Navy is actually growing. It grew in manpower last year and will continue to grow over the next couple of years, and not just in manpower—the size of its surface fleet is also growing. The latest of the offshore patrol vessels arrived in Portsmouth only this weekend.

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Given everything that the Minister’s boss has just said about the importance of NATO, the deterrent and the threat from Russia, it would be absolutely unthinkable, would it not, not to order the full quota of seven Astute class submarines?

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The hon. Gentleman is a champion of his constituency and repeatedly comes to the House to support the work that his constituents have done for generations in building our submarines. I am very confident that shortly he will have the news that he wishes for.

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When HMS Queen Elizabeth puts to sea, it will need a fleet of frigates and destroyers to escort and protect it. Will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that the Royal Navy has sufficient vessels to perform that vital task while protecting our shores at home?

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Yes, indeed, I can reassure my hon. Friend that the Royal Navy continues to meet all its operational requirements. As I said a few moments ago, the size of our fleet will increase in the years to come.

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The Minister will be aware that the National Audit Office has produced a scathing report on the Ministry of Defence’s equipment plan for 2017 to 2027. It says that there is a £20.8 billion gaping black hole in the MOD’s budget. Can the Minister tell me why the Type 31e frigate is not even referred to in the equipment plan?

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It is a little bit rich when the hon. Gentleman comes to the Dispatch Box to criticise this Government over supposed black holes in defence spending, given the previous Labour Government’s record in this area, but I am sure the Defence Procurement Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb), will write to him to explain why that is the case.