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Royal Navy: Size and Capability

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30th January 2017.

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Photo of Ian Mearns Ian Mearns Chair, Backbench Business Committee 12:00 am, 30th January 2017

What recent assessment he has made of the (a) adequacy of the size of the Royal Navy’s fleet and (b) capability of that fleet to respond to global threats.

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

The Royal Navy is growing for the first time in a generation, with new aircraft carriers, submarines, frigates, patrol vessels and aircraft all on their way; 2017 is the start of a new era of maritime power, projecting Britain’s influence globally and delivering security at home. [Interruption.]

Photo of Ian Mearns Ian Mearns Chair, Backbench Business Committee

Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Select Committee on Defence recently said, in a fairly damning report, that the Royal Navy’s fleet of just 17 usable frigates and destroyers is

“way below the critical mass required”.

Does the Minister agree with the many former Sea Lords who gave evidence to the Committee that the number of vessels is just not sufficient, given that we are island nations, to protect our interests on the high seas?

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

My sympathies to the hon. Gentleman. I wish to emphasise that the 2015 SDSR announced that we will maintain our fleet of 19 frigates and destroyers, and committed to eight Type 26 global combat ships, three new solid support ships and two new offshore patrol vessels. That is in addition, of course, to the two new aircraft carriers, which, as he knows, are well on their way.

Photo of Anne-Marie Trevelyan Anne-Marie Trevelyan Conservative, Berwick-upon-Tweed

There is a thought for a Monday afternoon. What percentage of the Royal Navy is now female? How does that compare with other NATO countries? What is the MOD doing to ensure that women who are joining up can have a long and fulfilling career in our world-class Royal Navy, alongside their family responsibilities?

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

I can confirm that as of 1 October 2016, some 9% of the naval service strength was female—the departmental recruitment target is 15% by 2020. The Royal Navy has a number of initiatives to encourage recruitment and address the retention of female officers, including having more focused career management and increased access to flexible ways of working.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

In the 2015 SDSR, and again last December in the first annual report on the SDSR, the Government were very clear that the sea trials for HMS Queen Elizabeth would begin this spring, but in response to a parliamentary question last week, the Minister informed me that the trials would now take place this summer. What are the reasons for that? What will the operational service date be for HMS Queen Elizabeth?

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

I can confirm that she will commence her sea trials this summer and enter into the same programme so that she can sail into Portsmouth later this year.

Photo of Flick Drummond Flick Drummond Conservative, Portsmouth South

Will the Minister join me in wishing Godspeed to HMS Diamond, which is shortly to leave from Portsmouth to lead the NATO taskforce in the Black sea?

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

I certainly will join my hon. Friend in wishing Godspeed to HMS Diamond and, indeed, to all our destroyers that are currently on a range of different tasks around the globe.