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PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Sir Michael Walker: We recognised that with the smaller numbers clearly you would not be able to have as many ships in as many places as you were with a large number of ships, and we looked at the tasks around the world. There are always as many tasks as you could dream up for military forces and various things, but we have to cut our cloth at some stage according to what we believe are the right levels of activity and commitment. So we looked at the various commitments we had around the world, whether they were patrol ships in the Caribbean, whether it was in the South Atlantic, North Atlantic, our commitments to NATO, and we came up with a judgment that said, “That is a fair deal for a country of our size with armed forces of our size. That is what we should be recommending to our Government as to the sort of commitments we should undertake”, and some of them perhaps are no longer as relevant as they were.

Mr Hoon: Can I say this as well? There is a temptation sometimes, I think, to see the Royal Navy as somehow separate from the kinds of strategic changes that are occurring in the world. When the First Sea Lord talks about reducing commitments, it may well be that he is reducing commitments that in a sense are no longer as relevant. Some of our standing commitments historically, particularly those through NATO for example – NATO also has to change in this environment. We have put a lot of effort, as an important member of NATO, in getting NATO to recognise that some of its traditional commitments and organisation still largely determined, I think entirely wrongly, by the Cold War need to change. So there are adjustments that are taking place at national level but which also take place internationally and changing the way in which our Royal Navy operates, and our Royal Navy will be engaged in this expeditionary warfare in exactly the way that the Army and the Royal Air Force will be; so it is supporting that expeditionary flexible capability.

Q72 Mr Hancock: I think that is very helpful, and I do not think any reasonable person would dissent from that; but I think it would help us enormously if the suggested reduction in the capabilities was actually spelt out in a more explicit way rather than in the vague way that you describe, General. I think it would help enormously if there was some meat on the bones of what you have said, saying, “These are the ones that are offered up as possibilities.” HMS Richmond, doing a first-class job in the Caribbean today, I think based on the evidence that we have seen, would be an impossible commitment to reduce because that on-going problem that they get and our expectation to have a ship there will continue. So I think from our point of view, looking at what we are trying to decide here about the way in which this is going to work out for all of the forces, it would be helpful if we knew?

Mr Hoon: But that is a perfect illustration of precisely what General Walker was saying. The ship that happened to be available in the Caribbean, or the two ships were there for a completely different task than the one that they had engaged upon. We could put ships anywhere in the world, we could find perfectly proper activities for them and they would then be available for whatever natural disaster occurred in whatever part of the world we are considering. That is not a very sensible way to organise our armed forces.

Q73 Mr Hancock: No, you are taking that the wrong way. I know very well that those ships in the Caribbean are not there to protect islanders from the menace of hurricanes. It is fortuitous that they have that capability. So you are being a bit too cynical. I am looking for you to tell us, “Not that one”, I am looking for you to explain to us where is the reduction in capabilities that the head of the Navy said would have to happen by 2006 when these reductions start to bite in the Navy’s ability to deliver the same punch as they have got at the pre

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