MP for Plymouth Moor View, Johnny Mercer, yesterday led an intensive questioning of the Secretary of State for Defence in public, over the future of HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark at the House of Commons Defence Select Committee inquiry session into the Department’s work for 2017.
Following speculation that the Royal Navy were considering proposals that called into doubt the future of the two Plymouth based warships, Mercer has led efforts both in London and Plymouth to ensure that the two Plymouth-based warships and Royal Marines are not removed in the latest Defence Review, due to report around Christmas this year.
Earlier this month, alongside fellow Plymouth MP, Gary Streeter, Mr Mercer had written to the Defence Secretary firmly laying out his concerns. The MPs then chased up the Defence Secretary at a private meeting where they further detailed their concerns and the potential these changes had to impact upon Plymouth.
Despite the Defence Secretary repeatedly stating that this was little more than an unsubstantiated leak and he had yet to see any proposals brought forward as part of an MOD-wide capability review, concerns have rumbled on, peaking in yesterday’s session.
During a sometimes heated session where Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, and Lieutenant General Mark Poffley, Deputy Chief of Defence Staff for Military Capability were grilled at length by MPs, the Plymouth Moor View MP mounted an impassioned defence of the amphibious capability, provided through Albion and Bulwark, saying, “…the ability to secure access to the beach-heard, that capability, that unique capability we have, has not only been relied on by our NATO allies, it has been a fundamental part of operations. So, I would say to you it is not part of a suite of measure we have, it is one of the most vital things we have in our military today…”
Later in the session, further rumour regarding the potential sale of the warships to South American nations was denied by the witnesses who, Lieutenant General Mark Poffley, said, knew of “no engagement” from the countries named.
Speaking after the session, Mr Mercer, said:
“That was a difficult session and I had to be very firm with the Defence Secretary, but I have been reassured to a certain extent by his answers and those of the Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff.
“They have said they are not aware of any engagement by South American nations over these two ships and it still appears these proposals have not reached the desk of Michael Fallon.
“I have worked hard on this – I am proud to be Plymouth’s MP and at times like these you must stand and be counted. These two ships play an important role in our nation’s strategic defence, and their importance to Plymouth is huge.
“My job now is to make it clear to the Defence Secretary that it is both some militarily and politically unpalatable, that he is simply unable to authorise the scrapping of these two ships.”
Notes to editors:
- A transcript of the session will be available here, shortly.
- Witnesses at yesterday’s session were Rt Hon Sir Michael Fallon MP, Secretary of State for Defence, Lieutenant General Mark Poffley, Deputy Chief of Defence Staff for Military Capability Peter Watkins CBE, Director General Security Policy, Ministry of Defence.
- The purpose of yesterday’s session, held in the Palace of Westminster, was to questions the Secretary of State for Defence on defence spending, the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review and the ongoing National Defence Capabilities Review.