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Nato

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:34 pm on 20th June 2018.

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Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Labour/Co-operative, Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport 6:34 pm, 20th June 2018

We have got towards the end of a defence debate, with all the defence family here, and no one has said the word “Plymouth”, so it seems only appropriate that I should rise to my feet and talk about Plymouth.

First, however, I want Members to cast their minds back a few years. Before I was the wonderful silver fox that Members see in front of them, I had brown hair, and back in 2004 I was at the NATO summit in Istanbul. It was there that my real affection for NATO was formed and that I understood how important it is that we co-operate across borders and are ready to face the threats coming our way.

Warfare is changing—no one is denying that it is changing—and we must keep an eye on the future. NATO needs to be flexible and adaptable, but if I am honest, it has been too hard and too structured to respond to some of its needs. It was too inflexible after the terrorist threats we saw from 2001 onwards, and it is still a little too inflexible. To return to the point that my hon. Friend Vernon Coaker made, it does not seem able to cope with understanding how hybrid warfare and online and cyber-threats face us as an alliance, and it needs to.

We know that there is increased Russian activity threatening the alliance. We know that there is a very real risk of Russian cyber-attacks in the UK, and there have been such attacks on our NATO allies. However, article 5 has not been triggered, which means that we are in this limbo land, where the Russians are getting away with these things, but if we were using the tactics prevalent 100 years ago, they would have been in a conflict. We need to understand that threat.

As well as understanding what is being done with hybrid warfare to destabilise our allies, we need to understand the use of drones and swarm warfare, which Russia is practising and using in Syria, as well as the increase in its military activities elsewhere and in the weaponising of migration.

We need to keep an eye on our high-end capabilities. In particular, I want briefly to talk about the maritime role. In Devonport, we have a world-class dockyard, a world-class naval base and skills that we really need. With increased Russian submarine activity in the north Atlantic, the anti-submarine warfare of the Type 23s and the Type 26s, which I hope those on the Government Front Bench will announce are coming to Devonport shortly, is absolutely essential, as is understanding how we can counter the rise in Russian surface fleet activity and under-sea cable spy ships, which are an increasing threat, but which are not often spoken about in this place.

We also need to protect our amphibious capabilities. The UK has fantastic amphibious capability in Albion, Bulwark and the Royal Marines, and we need to make sure that that is protected in the modernising defence review that is coming. In terms of the ministerial assurances that Albion and Bulwark will go out of service in 2033 and 2034, I hope that that commitment will be maintained in the modernising defence review, when it is published next month.