Defence Questions

13th March 2017

Mike Penning answers MPs’ questions in relation to depolyment of the Armed Forces.

Royal Navy

4. What operations the Royal Navy is currently engaged in. [909189]

 

In this year of the Royal Navy, the service is deployed at home and around the globe 365 days a year, protecting national interests and promoting our prosperity. Whether maintaining our continuous at-sea deterrent, providing reassurance to British overseas territories or conducting counter-piracy and counter-narcotics patrols, we will be there when we are needed.

 

Given that the Ministry of Defence has confirmed that Plymouth will be the centre for the Royal Marines, has my right hon. Friend considered base-porting all the Type 23s in Devonport?

 

We will look carefully at this as the new ships come on stream and as we spend £63 billion on the Royal Navy in the next few years. We will ensure that Devonport gets a very good look-in.

 

I am not sure whether the Minister mentioned this, but one of the Royal Navy’s key roles is to meet NATO commitments to protect not just this country but our allies. In that context, will he say whether the new Type 31 frigate will actually be able to meet those NATO commitments?

 

I am sure that, when the Type 23 frigate comes in, it certainly will—[Interruption.] Type 31; I apologise. We have extensive NATO commitments around the world: HMS Ocean is just returning from six months in the Gulf and will be in Gibraltar soon; and HMS Daring is down off the strait of Hormuz. As for HMS Dragon, I was woken in the early hours because one of our civilian yachts was in distress with a crew of 14, some of whom were injured, and that Type 45 sailed 500 miles to rescue them. That is exactly what our Navy is for.

 

22. The role of the Royal Navy will clearly be even more important in the future, so will the Minister update the House on exactly how many ships will be bought and what type of ships they will be? [909207]

 

We will have new frigates, new submarines, new aircraft carriers, new patrol vessels, and new aircraft to support them—£63 billion of expenditure in the year of the Navy and going forward.

 

The Royal Navy is at the forefront of tackling the migration crisis in the Mediterranean by training the Libyan coastguard. Is it now allowed to enter Libyan waters, as opposed to remaining in international waters, because that is the way to stop the people traffickers sending boats in the first place?

 

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. That is exactly what we have been pressing for along with our coalition colleagues for some time. We have been training the coastguard, and we want to do more, but we cannot enter that area at the moment.

 

For some two decades, NATO’s focus has been largely land-based, particularly in Afghanistan, Iraq and other such hot and dusty places. However, we now acknowledge that the threat will increasingly come in the north Atlantic and Arctic, particularly with the reinvention of the Russian “Bastion” concept, and the Royal Navy and NATO will increasingly have to turn their attention back to that area of threat.

 

We would all agree that the Royal Navy is capable of doing exactly what we ask it to do. As we are now turning back to eastern Europe, which we thought we had turned away from, with our land and air defences, that is exactly what the Royal Navy will be doing elsewhere.

 

We have Royal Navy Astute-class submarines that are too slow to keep up with US carriers. We have no maritime patrol aircraft and await a contract to be signed. We are waiting for the Type 26 contract to be signed and there is also still no sign of the shipbuilding strategy. At a time when Russian incursions into our waters are at cold war levels, does the Minister agree that it is time for the Scottish people to take decisions on how to defend their country?

 

If the Scottish people want their armed forces to be run down and demoralised, they should listen to what the hon. Gentleman just said.

 

The Royal Navy has run EUNAVFOR Operation Atalanta successfully for many years. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should continue to usefully co-operate with our European neighbours on such things after we leave the European Union?

 

We are leaving the European Union; we are not leaving Europe. We will continue to consider all the work that we can do with our European friends.

 

Last week, there were reports of increased activity in the number of ships moving unchecked through UK waters having deliberately deactivated their tracking system. On one occasion, a Cypriot ship called in at Algeria and then moored off the coast of Islay in my constituency. With that increased level of suspicious activity and Scotland’s proximity to the high north and Arctic, does the Minister believe that a sufficient number of large surface ships are based in Scotland to meet that threat?

 

The ships do not have to be based in Scotland—even though an extensive number of ships are based in Scotland—to protect Scotland and the United Kingdom. They are at sea, where they are doing exactly what they should be doing.

 

How can the Minister say that ships do not need to be based in Scotland to protect Scotland when the world’s hotspot is the high north and Arctic? Let me ask this again: does the Minister think that having no large Royal Navy surface ships based in Scotland is the best way to protect Scotland, and to meet our obligations to our Nordic neighbours and allies in the high north?

 

All our submarines, including those with the nuclear deterrent, which the Scottish National party wants to get rid of, are based in Scotland. Ships at sea is what we need, not ships hiding in ports.

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Cadet Units: State Schools

10. What steps he is taking to increase the number of cadet units in state schools. [909195]

 

In 2015, the Government committed £50 million to increase the number of cadet units in the UK state school sector under the cadet expansion programme. This joint Ministry of Defence and Department for Education project targets areas of social and economic deprivation, and is on target to hit 500 cadet units in schools by 2020.

 

The Lincolnshire Army Cadet Force does valuable work with young people, particularly the Two Squadron detachment based in Sleaford. I am delighted that so many people in the county have the chance to become a cadet, but that is not the case everywhere. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he will prioritise the approval of new units in areas where young people do not have the opportunity to become a cadet?

 

I declare an interest in that I was an air cadet and an Army cadet before I joined the armed forces many, many years ago. St George’s Academy—a comprehensive school—in my hon. Friend’s constituency has expressed an interest, and we hope to give the school an indication of whether that has been approved in the autumn.

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Topical Questions

 

T2. The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment headquarters and museum, Fulwood barracks, is to be sold off, while its 2nd battalion will lose over half its complement of soldiers and move to Aldershot. That will leave just one regular infantry battalion in the north-west by 2020 in that regiment, which as it stands has no headquarters identified after 2022. What message do the Government think that sends to serving personnel in St Helens and to the young men and women who want to follow in their footsteps and join Merseyside’s county regiment? [909212]

 

The best message we can send to that unit—I know the hon. Gentleman will do this with me—is that it is one of the best units in the British Army. I have visited it on operations literally around the world. We will support it all the way through. At the same time, we must get the best estates for the best parts of the Army.

T8. Thirty-five years on, our armed forces still play a vital role in safeguarding the security of the Falkland Islands and other British overseas territories in the south Atlantic. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that this Government are committed to maintaining a strong armed forces presence in the Falklands? [909219]

 

Thirty-five years on, we not only continue but will enhance the protection of the Falkland Islands. I know that many colleagues from the House have visited the Falklands recently and seen the excellent work that our armed forces do far away from home. We will continue to support that with the Typhoons, the Rapier, and the other battalions that are there now.

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T4. Last week the Royal United Services Institute published a report demonstrating that the Royal Navy is no longer designed for sea control in the north Atlantic. Indeed, there is not one major surface vessel based in Scotland. Can the Minister confirm that the lesser spotted national shipbuilding strategy, if and when we eventually see it, will redress this strategic imbalance? [909214]

 

Yet again Scottish National party Members want to run down the Royal Navy and the fantastic work it is doing. What is important is whether the Navy is there and whether are our submarines there. They are, and this is exactly what the Navy will be expected to do.

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