CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

DEFENCE (FRONT BENCH) – WARSHIPS' CREWS – 21 June 2007

[The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr Adam Ingram): ... The configuration of the future fleet in respect of modern warships requires substantially fewer people to serve on them. I cannot recall the figure offhand for the Astute vessels, but I suspect that it is in the region of 90 or so fewer per vessel. That clearly has an impact on the overall structure.

Dr Julian Lewis  rose –

Mr Ingram: I am not giving way in the middle of answering a question – and I may not even give way to the hon. Gentleman at all.

As I was explaining, the impact will be felt among those who believe that their career paths may be temporarily stalled. All that has to be taken into account, but this is a point of readjustment as we look towards the future Navy. As I say, that will apply to the new types of warships that will come into play, including the new aircraft carriers, which we look forward to joining the fleet – [Interruption.] I will give way to the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr Lewis).]

Dr Lewis: I knew he would, Mr Speaker. Although the newer warships require fewer personnel when they go to sea, is it not planned that they should have double crews in some cases in order to take advantage of the fact that they can stay at sea longer? I think that the Minister's point about fewer personnel is a little less clear cut than he makes out.

[Mr Ingram: I agree with that. There are wider issues concerning personnel profiling. As to the sea swap concept, I witnessed the trials currently being held when I was down in the Falklands. HMS Liverpool is there and it was being manned by the crew of HMS Exeter. Many identified with their mother ship. I am sorry, I meant HMS Edinburgh is in the Falklands, not HMS Liverpool. Many of the crew felt that they should have been on their mother ship. Issues have to be addressed, but I tried to explain to the personnel that this was a genuine attempt to ensure that we maintain our capabilities at sea for as long as we can. It seems to me much more sensible in principle – though whether or not we can deliver in practice may be more difficult – to keep ships on station. Who knows what may happen at any particular time? It would be wrong for a ship to be sailing home only to be turned back when it could have been on station. So there are issues that are being addressed, and all of them will have an impact. They are not easy to resolve, but none the less, we are seeking to address them.]