DEFENCE – PORTSMOUTH NAVAL BASE – 5 December 2006

Dr Julian Lewis: Before the hon. Lady moves to that particular part of the military-strategic aspect, does she agree that the Government's welcome decision yesterday to renew the nuclear deterrent because of the unpredictability of future threats means that concentrating all our major naval warships in a single port on the south coast is a reckless strategic gamble that should not be considered?

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: I could not agree more. Does the hon. Gentleman mean a single naval port on the Scottish coast?

Dr Lewis: No, I meant if two went down to one.

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: I understand the point. In my view, we should still be considering a three-dockyard strategy to keep the military-strategic figures.

* * *

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Derek Twigg): ... We also need to look at our support capacity at the naval bases, to ensure that it is matched appropriately to the future needs of the Royal Navy. We need to ensure that every penny counts and that resources are rightly focused on the front line. We must not lose sight of the fact that the number of ships requiring maintenance and repair has been steadily reducing. As my hon. Friend has heard before, we must be realistic, and look to the future rather than dwell in the past. That is not to say that we should not celebrate the remarkable achievements of the past, but we need to take this opportunity to consider our future support needs in detail.

Dr Julian Lewis: Could the reason for the fact that fewer ships require maintenance be that although the Government's strategic defence review in 1998 predicted that we would have 32 frigates and destroyers, that number has been slashed to 25? Might not circumstances arise in which it will be necessary to increase the size of the surface fleet to that which was originally anticipated?

Derek Twigg: I shall come to that issue about the fleet later in my speech.