Skip to main content

UK-Australia Security and Defence Co-operation

Volume 709: debated on Monday 21 February 2022

13. What steps his Department has taken to strengthen security and defence co-operation with Australia. (905596)

AUKUS is a generational commitment to the security of the Indo-Pacific. Last month I agreed with my Australian counterpart additional steps to deepen our bilateral co-operation in the region, building on the deployment of two UK offshore patrol vessels and facilitated by an enhanced British defence staff in Canberra.

The AUKUS deal highlights the benefits of co-operation between the Royal Navy and the Royal Australian Navy. The RAN’s first boat, the HMAS AE1, was lost with all hands in 1914. In May this year, the sacrifice of those who gave their lives then—and nearly 6,000 others in the service—will be commemorated with a submariner memorial. More than half a million pounds has been raised to fund it, under the guidance of one of my constituents who is the project director. Will the Secretary of State join me in thanking our submariners for all that they do in the protection of our country, and will he attend the dedication if he can?

My hon. Friend has highlighted a very important part of our armed forces. I pay tribute to the submariners who keep us safe 24 hours a day around these shores. There have been 50 years of the continuous at-sea deterrent, and before that they played a strong role in both defeating the Nazis and, indeed, ensuring that we were protected. Few of us are privileged to know what they so often do under those seas. I want to join my hon. Friend in remembering those early submariners who, in 1914 and subsequently, made the ultimate sacrifice, not only in the service of their country but in pushing the boundaries to take us to where we are today.

It is encouraging that the AUKUS agreement has bipartisan support in all three countries, but surely the Secretary of State will accept that it has to be about more than submarines and the military themselves. How are we going to co-operate to deal with the pressing problem of supply chain resilience and security, which is an increasingly weak point for our military effectiveness and sustainability?

The right hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the fragility in the submarine supply chain, which concerns not just us but the United States, and indeed all those involved. These are highly complex boats, and keeping them maintained and ensuring that they are also a skill base is a real challenge for us all. That is why we have invested in a record number of apprentices, and have increased much of the necessary funding. As the right hon. Gentleman suggests, AUKUS must be not only about capacity-building and capability in themselves, but about how the United Kingdom and the United States industrial base can assist, support and develop those capabilities in Australia. It cannot be done on its own; it has to be done with all of us.