Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:23 pm on 11 January 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Ruth Smeeth Ruth Smeeth Labour, Stoke-on-Trent North 2:23, 11 January 2018

Not too easy. I thank James Gray very much. One important thing, demonstrated here today, is that the armed forces parliamentary scheme and the all-party parliamentary group on the armed forces inform all of us and ensure that the standard of debate in the House is as high as it can be.

I return to our amphibious capability. The proposals to cut our amphibious capability in the shape of HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark could cause tremendous harm to the adaptability and deployment options of our armed forces. Simply put, they would cut our options at a time when we need as many as possible, not fewer.

We will not adapt to this new world by running down our existing capabilities or by undermining the very people who are putting themselves in harm’s way in our defence; let us remember why they are there. But I fear that that is exactly what we are doing. It is no secret that the MOD currently faces a £20 billion black hole and the risk of further cuts. I sincerely hope that the new Secretary of State has made representations to the Treasury demanding more money from the pen pushers who worry about their air conditioning—my favourite quote of the day.

It is my very real fear that if we continue down the path that the Government have set, we may find ourselves ill-equipped to deal with what the future holds. We also need to recognise that Britain’s security does not just depend on our service personnel, vital though they are; we also need new and advanced technology platforms for them to use. A vital aspect of that is buying British, so that we can retain domestic skills to design, develop and produce cutting-edge defence technology.

In a post-Brexit world, that is more important than ever. That is why I began this year with a visit to the BAE Systems site in Brough to meet the team behind the Hawk. That was not just a chance to see some of the incredible engineering technology that goes into these aircraft; it was an opportunity to speak with the wider defence family—that is who they are: the engineers, technicians and manufacturers—who make kit knowing that their neighbours and children may well end up using it to keep them safe. They support both our own military and those of our allies, and we need to recognise that. Unfortunately, many of them are currently under threat of redundancy, owing to a lack of orders. The reality is that the MOD needs to step up and ensure that industry has a steady drumbeat of orders, so that it can invest in their workforce and emergent technologies.

Fundamentally, however, my real concern today is that the Government are focused only on the cost envelope—trying to fill the black hole in the budget rather than investing properly in our future and what we need to keep us safe.