[Dr Julian Lewis rose –
Mr Speaker: The good doctor and the illustrious Chair of the Select Committee on Defence – Dr Julian Lewis.]
Dr Lewis: I hope I get an extra-long question in the light of that introduction, Mr Speaker. May I take this opportunity to congratulate, for the first time, my right hon. Friend on becoming Secretary of State for Defence? May I return to the question of the tanker seizures and the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron)? Does not the fact that it was originally conceived that 32 frigates and destroyers would be necessary to complement the carrier strike forces and the amphibious forces mean that, at 19 frigates and destroyers, the size of the escort fleet is woefully too small?
[The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Ben Wallace): I look forward to working with my right hon. Friend. I think I am going in front of his Committee later in the week, and no doubt I shall bow to his knowledge as he will no doubt grill me.
I understand the point that my right hon. Friend has made. All our defence capabilities have to match our ambitions across the board – that is the first point – whether that is land, sea or air. It is the case that our surface fleet is of over 50 – of course, 19 are frigates and destroyers – and that means we do allow flexibility in our fleet to meet certain needs, such as disaster relief, which was done by a Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship. However, in case the threat changes, we must always be prepared to move to match that threat, and we will always keep under review the size of our fleet, but it is also why we are continuing to invest in new ships – more capable sometimes than numbers because of the very potency they pose. The Type 26 frigate will be a world-leading capability, and that in itself will be a deterrent to many of our adversaries.]