This Government have invested heavily in strengthening the UK’s armed forces so that we can deliver the tasks that we require of them, from maintaining the nuclear deterrent to defending against threats in airspace, and from supporting the police in counter-terrorism to providing disaster relief. We are committed to maintaining the size of the armed forces and Joint Force 2025 will offer us choice, agility and global reach.
The Secretary of State might be aware that my father and two brothers served in the British Army, and I am very concerned at the moment should we be threatened with invasion. Our Army is down to 82,000 men and women, yet the Russians have 1 million in their army and 1.5 million in reserves. Could we really defend this country if push came to shove?
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s family members who have served, but yes we could defend ourselves. Just the other week, I was with HMS Albion and others from the nine Joint Expeditionary Force nations. There were 44 ships and submarines. It was the largest Royal Navy deployment in that region—just off Lithuania—for 100 years. Yes, we could defend ourselves, and the size of our trained and untrained strength is growing.
It is positive policies that this Conservative Government have implemented, such as the armed forces income tax compensation for those serving in Scotland and the decision to secure the long-term future of my base, RM Condor in Angus, that mean we can continue to recruit in Scotland. Will the Secretary of State commit to visiting RM Condor to see at first hand the Government’s great work in Angus?
These are the armed forces of the United Kingdom. We should celebrate them and ensure that our basing is spread across the four nations, and I would be delighted to visit at the earliest occasion.
With Devonport-based HMS Montrose forward deployed, we now need to consider how we can rotate crews effectively, not just on the Type 23s, but on the Type 31s, which hopefully will also be Devonport based. What advances and learnings have arisen from the forward deployment of HMS Montrose that could be applied elsewhere?
The hon. Gentleman is right. We can ensure that we are much more operationally effective and that people have a better quality of life while serving in the armed forces by enabling crews to be sent out and rotations to happen without their having to come back to base port. We continually learn from those exercises. It is another example of how the fleet is changing, and I think it suits everyone that it does.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
I am pleased that the Secretary of State mentioned HMS Albion in an earlier answer. Does she recall that it is not that many months since her predecessor had to fend off moves to scrap HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark and to reduce the size of the Army by 11,000, the Royal Marines by 2,000 and the RAF by 1,250? Does she accept that there is a fight to be had with the real enemy here, and that is the Treasury?
I should declare an interest, as HMS Bulwark was the last ship I served on. I am very glad that she and Albion are still going. We are approaching a spending review, and I think we need to do more to tell the Treasury and the nation how much defence brings to this country—to the prosperity agenda, social mobility, research and development, innovation, and many other things. We need to tell that story because we need to keep our armed forces strong.
When the Treasury is up against the right hon. Gentleman, they ought to know when they are beaten. I say that having known him for 36 years in October.
Not only have RAF personnel numbers fallen by more than a quarter since 2010, but the Government are consistently failing to train enough pilots. Some 350 are currently on the waiting list, and the problem is going from bad to worse, the backlog having doubled in the past year. When will the Secretary of State get a grip on this situation and ensure that things are put right?
The pipeline for our pilots is one of the first things I asked about when I entered the Department. The numbers are improving, but it is an area where we are fragile; it is probably one of the areas where we are most fragile. That said, I would gently point out to the hon. Lady and the Opposition Front-Bench team that last I heard the leader of her party wished to reduce the headcount of our armed forces to zero.
Is it not the case that recruitment is very dependent on the state of the economy? It is very difficult to recruit when there is high employment, so, in a way, do we not need a Labour Government to get recruitment up, because only a Labour Government are guaranteed to create huge unemployment and a declining economy?
I thank my hon. Friend for his cunning plan to get recruitment numbers up, although, given the Leader of the Opposition’s stance towards our armed forces, there might not be any places to be vacant.