My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Burnett, for introducing the debate. The essential question seems to be: what is the future of the Royal Marines? I believe that with this Government the future is very uncertain—and the reason is the 2015 SDSR.
Defence is in a mess. The gap between the SDSR promise and the money required seems to be, by consensus, some £2 billion per annum. Hence the Royal Marines are under threat, together with HMS “Albion” and HMS “Bulwark”. Labour believes that our amphibious capability is hugely important to the UK’s humanitarian work around the world, as demonstrated recently in Operation Ruman. Cutting this would signal that we are stepping back from our global responsibilities.
The effect of the 2015 SDSR is already showing in the morale of the Royal Marines. I quote from the UK Regular Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Survey 2017, which states:
“In 2017 the Royal Marines have seen large decreases in morale and satisfaction with Service life in general … The proportion of Royal Marine Officers who rate Service morale as high has decreased 20 percentage points from 2016 to 41%. The proportion of Royal Marine Other Ranks who rate Service morale as high decreased 13 percentage points from 2016 to 16% … Self morale and Unit morale have also fallen for this Service compared to last year. Around a third (32%) of Royal Marine Other Ranks rate self morale as low (up from 24%) and almost half (47%) rate Unit morale as low (up from 32%) … Royal Marine Other Ranks have decreased satisfaction with many aspects of work compared to 2016 whilst other Services remain unchanged”.
“Satisfaction with my job in general” has fallen seven percentage points. “Sense of achievement” has fallen by five percentage points. “Challenge in my job” has fallen by three percentage points, while “the amount and variety of work” has fallen by five percentage points. What is the cause of this collapse in the morale of our elite force? It is not about their immediate superiors. The same review showed three-quarters of all personnel saying that their immediate superiors supported them in their job. More than two-thirds said that their immediate superiors set a positive example. Most organisations would give their right arm for results like that.
So perhaps it is the cuts in training or in overseas deployment that we see in press reports. Can the Minister assure the House that the level of training of the Royal Marines is sufficient to achieve the standards we expect of this elite force? Have there been cuts in equipment? Rumours about “Albion” and “Bulwark” must leave uncertainty the minds of Royal Marines. Is uncertainty the essence of this collapse in morale? Defence is in a mess. When are this Government going to sort it out?
Finally, I have no doubt that, in his response, the Minister will want to refer to the Strategic Defence and Security Review implementation. Last week he said that this was a cross-government review and that Ministers expected to consider its outcome towards the end of the year. I remind the Minister that the end of this year is less than five weeks away. I hope that he will achieve his aspiration. When will we in this House see the review and hear of the cuts to our Armed Forces that we all so fear?
Earl HoweThe Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 7:11 pm, 28th November 2017
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Burnett, on securing this debate on a subject that I know is of great importance to him. I pay tribute to him for his staunch support for the Armed Forces, including in his role as president of the Tavistock branch of the Royal Marines Association. I welcome the opportunity to discuss this extremely important subject.
It is widely recognised that the Royal Marines have a proud and rich history. They were formed in the reign of King Charles II on 28 October 1664, as the Duke of York and Albany’s Maritime Regiment of Foot, or Admiral’s Regiment. The name “Marines” first appeared in the records in 1672 and, in 1802, they were titled the Royal Marines by King George III. On 28 October this year, the Royal Marines celebrated their 353rd birthday. They were present at Lord Nelson’s victory over the combined fleets at Trafalgar—one of the most decisive naval battles in British history. They were involved in the raid on Zeebrugge on 23 April1918, where two Royal Marines earned the Victoria Cross for their bravery and conduct during the operation. During World War II, at the landings in Normandy on 6 June 1944, 17,500 Royal Marines took part in the largest amphibious operation in history. In 1982, the Royal Marines were essential to the recapture of the Falkland Islands.
However, I endorse the point made by the noble Baroness about the international aid budget. The UK plays a vital role in helping the world’s poorest and most vulnerable through our aid budget. That is not only our moral duty but in our enlightened self-interest: our humanitarian efforts pay a security dividend and, as we have heard, the Royal Marines can play a part in that.
In recent weeks there has been significant media speculation on possible cuts to our amphibious capabilities and to Her Majesty’s ships “Albion” and “Bulwark” and of a manpower reduction of 1,000 Royal Marines. I have to repeat to the House that these reports are pure and simple speculation and, as I said last week, extremely unhelpful at a time when the Ministry of Defence is contributing to a cross-government review of national security capabilities. This review is being conducted to ensure that the United Kingdom’s investment in capabilities is as joined-up, effective and efficient as possible. Defence aims to use the national security capability review to understand how to spend our growing budget in a more intelligent way, further modernising our Armed Forces against the harder threats across the spectrum of potential