Ministry of Defence

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:40 pm on 26th February 2018.

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Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough 4:40 pm, 26th February 2018

Yes, I certainly think it should reconsider it. All the old, conventional threats are still very real and require conventional responses. We have to maintain our original capabilities while also expanding and improving them.

On the range of capabilities, last year Hurricane Irma wreaked devastation in the Caribbean, and HMS Ocean was a key element in our response to that tragedy. Now, apparently we have sold HMS Ocean to the Brazilians, but we have a proud humanitarian tradition on these islands and it is our duty to maintain it. This is not just about responding to threats; it is also about our humanitarian duty. We have direct responsibility for our overseas territories and bonds of close friendship with other members of the Commonwealth.

Ministers have so far refused to commit to keeping HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark, which give our armed forces an amphibious landing capability, as Nick Thomas-Symonds said in an earlier intervention. Dan Jarvis pointed out last month that

“40% of the world’s population live within 100 km of the coast”.—[Official Report, 11 January 2018;
Vol. 634, c. 516.]

I voted against the Iraq war, but the fact remains that we made a very effective contribution with our amphibious invasion of the al-Faw peninsula in 2003. I may not always be in favour of using military options, but I want, and the British people demand, that we have as many options on the table as we can and that we maintain our capabilities.

Meanwhile, there are proposals to cut the Royal Marines, some of our most useful, well-trained, high-quality and greatly effective troops. The variety of roles they can undertake underpins the ability of Great Britain to project our military power. As I will mention in a moment, this has led to low morale and a culture of fear for the future in one of the most important and valuable parts of our military.

Then there is the Navy. I received an email—one of many that have been sent to many Members from all sorts of sources—from a former Army major, writing to me through “gritted teeth”, that

“the area of defence that has been shockingly neglected is the Royal Navy. Put Trident to one side and disregard the vanity project that is HMS Queen Elizabeth and you have virtually no ships. The Royal Navy has to be the most important service for an outwardly facing island nation.”

I agree with that. In December 2017, all six of our Type 45 destroyers were laid up in Portsmouth, whether for repairs, equipment failures, routine maintenance or manpower shortages. The possibility of a significant crisis requiring a naval deployment catching us not ready is strong—too strong.