My Lords, the Government are committed to investing in growing the Royal Navy for the first time in a generation, utilising the department’s whole-force approach to deliver defence needs. The naval service will continue to adapt to ensure that it has the correct number of personnel to operate, maintain and support all its ships, submarines and air squadrons. This whole force includes service personnel, the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, civil servants and contractors.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer—I have to say that my flabber is totally gasted. The bottom line is that there is a real issue with manpower within the Royal Navy. A ceiling is needed which allows some flexibility to recruit people of various types so that you have a little bit of spare so that you can man ships. The fact that we have laid up one Type 45, one Type 23 and HMS “Ocean” and that we are swapping Royal Marines for sailors shows that there is a real problem within our manpower. Is there any intention at all to honour the pledge given by the coalition Government to up the number above 400 towards the 4,000 limit, so that we will then be able to man our ships? And why have we stopped production of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines monthly personnel statistics and the pocket brief, so that we cannot see what is happening?
My Lords, statistics are published on a regular basis but it has been decided that there is very little virtue in doing it month by month. On the noble Lord’s first question, he will know that the 2010 SDSR predicated a manpower figure for the Royal Navy that has now been superseded by about 1,600 personnel. There will be 400 more, measured against the current complement, by 2025. So we can genuinely talk about a growing Navy. We can also talk about a growing budget. There has been huge investment in the Royal Navy in the past few years, and that has gone not only into personnel but into cutting-edge equipment as well.
My noble friend is absolutely right. The maritime and, indeed, the RAF reserves are often used to provide individuals and small teams for specific roles, and their training is designed to integrate them with the regulars. In fact, my noble friend may be interested to know that there are reservists already serving on the offshore patrol vessels, supporting regulars, at the moment.
My Lords, as I am sure the Minister is aware, Plymouth—a city I know very well—is home to 700 Royal Marines. Speculation is rife in the city about a reduction in their numbers and their locations. What comfort can the Minister give those 700 Royal Marines about their future in the defence of our country?
My Lords, I hope that the comfort that I was able to give the House in last week’s debate on the Royal Marines will have reassured many in Plymouth that there is no question of scrapping the Royal Marines. What is going on at the moment is a national security capability review, which is looking at numbers and capabilities and seeing how we can invest and spend our growing defence budget in the most intelligent way. But the ability to transfer personnel and equipment from ship to shore will remain highly relevant to the Royal Navy’s capabilities.
My Lords, the depreciation of the pound is certainly an issue that we are wrestling with. To a certain extent, the Ministry of Defence hedges against currency devaluation but we cannot do that indefinitely into the future. We are protected to a large degree at the moment. But it is one of the reasons why we need an NSCR exercise such as the one going on at the moment, which is about not only investing in capability wisely but doing it in a cost-informed way.
Yes, indeed. One of our objectives is to strengthen our bilateral relationships, not only with the French but with Germany and other countries in Europe. But, as the noble Lord will be aware, the UK and France have had a long history of working together on operations and exercises, and the Combined Joint Expeditionary Force is a realisation of the commitment made in the Lancaster House agreement for our forces to train and operate alongside each other.
My Lords, following the Minister’s answer just a moment ago about foreign currency exposure and the procurement of military equipment, would it not be sensible—in the light of recent, rather uncomfortable experience—to extend the period of that hedging to cover the full delivery and payment period for the relevant project at the time when the contract is signed and the project is undertaken?
Certainly, that idea is under consideration, but I am not qualified to make a judgment as to whether a particular form of hedging, or the timing of a hedging contract, is opportune. That is for more skilled minds than mine.
My Lords, in all this talk about cuts and the debate last week on the Royal Marines, is there any saving grace for the most famous military band in the world, the Royal Marines Band? Has the band been ring-fenced to make sure that this nation does not lose such a valuable asset?
My Lords, I am sure all noble Lords would agree that the Royal Marines bandsmen are the finest in the world, alongside those of the other Armed Forces. But on a more serious note, I emphasise to the noble Lord that the stories that have appeared in the press about what options may be on the table are pure speculation at the moment. No decisions have been taken on any of those options.