Skip to main content

Icebreaker Capability

Volume 660: debated on Monday 20 May 2019

4. What assessment she has made of the potential merits of commissioning icebreaker capability to operate exclusively in the Arctic. (910970)

The Royal Navy’s ice patrol ship, HMS Protector, has an icebreaking capability and can operate in the Arctic. We are aware of the importance of the high north region to our environment, security, prosperity and energy supply, and keep our requirements—including further icebreaking capability—under review.

Far too few women are engaged in defence, so may I welcome the Secretary of State to her position, as a fellow woman who has served with her on the Select Committee on Defence? The Arctic ice is melting, but during the winter its capability to freeze is still present. Both Russia and China are building large numbers of icebreakers. Will the Minister look at forward planning so that Britain can also have icebreaker capability in the north to protect British shipping when those sea routes begin to open up, as they will?

As I mentioned, HMS Protector does have an icebreaking capability. However, I take the hon. Lady’s points on board. As she will be aware, we will shortly be publishing the Arctic strategy, which builds on the House of Commons Defence Committee’s “On Thin Ice” investigation last year. The hon. Lady is quite right; we are looking very carefully at the Arctic—not least at potential trade routes—and her point is a reasonable one.

The report “On Thin Ice”, to which the Minister referred, plainly laid out the threat from Russia, which has significantly increased in the Arctic in recent years. Therefore, the call for either ice-strengthened or ice class ships—together with, for example, ice-strengthened submarines and increased training, such as the first-class training offered to our Royal Marines in the high north—is extremely important. In that context, when will the Ministry of Defence be publishing its long-awaited report, and will it take quite a robust attitude towards encouraging NATO to taking the Arctic very seriously indeed?

The report will be published shortly. I apologise to the House for the delay and ask that hon. Members do not read anything into it. Of course, my hon. Friend is quite right and has shown a keen interest in this part of the world for many years. This point precisely ties into the earlier question about the purchase of the P-8 aircraft. Only last year, I attended the Ice Exercise—ICEX—up in the high north, where I had the honour to go on board HMS Trenchant and spend two days under the ice. We are showing an increasing interest in this part of the world for the reasons expressed by the House.