Continuous At-Sea Deterrent

Part of Parental Rights (Rapists) and Family Courts – in the House of Commons at 4:20 pm on 10th April 2019.

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Photo of Philip Dunne Philip Dunne Conservative, Ludlow 4:20 pm, 10th April 2019

It is a pleasure to follow Mrs Moon, who painted a very clear and well-informed picture of the threat that we face. It is also a pleasure to speak in the debate.

I last spoke about this subject during a debate on alternatives to Trident under the coalition Government. It was a most unusual debate, in that it began with the then Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury putting forward one position which would put CASD at risk, and ended with me, in closing the debate, putting forward another that would sustain it for the foreseeable future. I recall colleagues—perhaps in all parts of the House—being somewhat bemused at the novel idea of Ministers pulling in opposite directions. I had firmly wished that those days were behind us. However, in a sense that highlights the main point that I wish to make today: regardless of the turbulent politics of the time or the party of government of the day, the continuous at-sea deterrent has been there, day in, day out and night after night, the ultimate guarantor of our nation’s security against existential blackmail or threat.

Let me begin by adding my personal tribute to the Royal Navy personnel who have made Operation Relentless the longest sustained military operation in this nation’s history. With each boat having two captains and two crews, allowing continuous deployment, there are a large number of personnel on whom we rely and who perform to the highest standard in the challenging conditions that other Members have already described. We should also be grateful for the support of their families; long operations can take a particular toll on loved ones. There are pinch points of skills, which means that attracting and retaining skilled submariners is vital, but difficult, for the maintenance of the deterrence. I support the Royal Navy’s efforts to allow increased flexibility in service to take account of modern family life in such difficult circumstances.

Of course, the deterrent has an impact on employment not only through boat crews but in the wider community. I hope that the House will excuse this shameless plug, but colleagues who read the Dunne review last year will be aware of the contribution of defence to our economy around the UK, and the submarine programme is a vital part of that. About 6,800 military and civilian personnel are currently employed at Her Majesty’s naval base Clyde. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier, that number is scheduled to increase to more than 8,500, and Clyde will then become the largest employment site in Scotland. Those vital skilled jobs would be lost should the Scottish National party’s policy of scrapping the nuclear deterrent ever come to pass. Thousands more are employed in keeping the deterrent both current and afloat, working for companies in the industrial supply chain in constituencies all over the country—in addition to the particular concentration in the constituency of John Woodcock, who is in the Chamber to hear me point out that he is a long-standing champion of this whole endeavour. Now more than ever, it is vital that we make the case for our continuous at-sea deterrent.

Looking back over the 50 years of Operation Relentless, it is clear that in its infancy the need for the deterrent was fresh in the public consciousness, following the horrors of the second world war. In the years that followed, the immediate concern of Soviet proliferation and posturing outlined the very real potential existential threat to the west—perhaps no more so than during the Cuban missile crisis, which brought the world so close to the brink of devastating nuclear war. But since the fall of the Berlin wall 30 years ago and the collapse of the Soviet Union, current generations have faced a less obvious threat. For some, that has led to an undercurrent of public perception—so readily fed by social media misinformation—that there is less threat, and that the need for a nuclear deterrent is behind us. But that, as we have heard so well from the hon. Member for Bridgend, is fundamentally to turn blind eyes—to underestimate and ignore the global risks that we face as a country.