Richard Drax, Conservative MP for South Dorset, spoke in Parliament to demand reassurances that the Royal Navy would increase in size and capability.
“I must declare an interest, Mr Speaker: my grandfather and father both served in the Royal Navy, and both would be turning in their graves at the size of the Royal Navy. Although I quite accept the financial difficulty that the Minister has, does he accept from me that the threats from around the world—not least from China, which is talked about too seldom—are growing?
We are sending one ship, I think, across the waters to the south of China. I ask the Minister, please, for an assurance that the Royal Navy’s size and capability will be increased.”
Mark Lancaster The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, responded:
“My hon. Friend will be aware of the recent deployment of HMS Sutherland, and there will be further such deployments in future to that part of the world.
For the first time in a generation, the Royal Navy is actually growing. It grew in manpower last year and will continue to grow over the next couple of years, and not just in manpower—the size of its surface fleet is also growing. The latest of the offshore patrol vessels arrived in Portsmouth only this weekend.”
Recently, earlier concern over the speculated cancellation of Astute boat number seven was eased by a defence minister.
New defence procurement minister Guto Bebb informed MPs in a written statement:
“The Ministry of Defence (MOD) has received approval in principle from Her Majesty’s Treasury (HMT) to recognise new contingent liabilities associated with the Astute Boat 7 ‘Whole Boat’ Contract.”
We understand that this announcement paves the way for the formal contract to be signed before the end of the financial year.
The scrapping of the seventh Astute Class submarine under construction had been “actively considered” it emerged earlier in the year. A leaked document seen by The Sunday Express stated senior officials read:
“In the long term the delay (or cancellation) will ease the pressure on manning, but we must not be seen to welcome this situation. Any loss of capability will impact on operations.”
Barrow MP John Woodcock said at the time:
“This leaked document is confirmation that scrapping Astute boat seven is being actively considered by the government. There is embarrassingly flawed logic within the decision but it shows just how much pressure there is to find any route out of the cash crisis that is gripping the MoD.”
Woodcock later tweeted:
“To be clear – we are not there yet. The defence secretary will clearly fight for the funds to cover the defence equipment programme, including boat 7. But the fact our submarine programme is under threat shows the terrible funding pressure being imposed by the Treasury.”
This comes not long after the fourth Astute class submarine, Audacious, which is being built by BAE Systems for the Royal Navy, completed her first ever dive.