Tuesday, 8 May 2012

A week with the Royal Navy

Last week I joined HMS Ocean as part of the Parliamentary Armed Forces Scheme.  The scheme is open to all parliamentarians, with the aim of improving the quality of debate on defence issues by exposing Members of Parliament to first-hand military experience. Most of this experience is acquired during periods when parliament is in recess.

In light of the historic connection of the Royal Navy with the Port of Falmouth and the importance of RNAS Culdrose to my constituency, I have chosen to serve with the Royal Navy.

While I was onboard HMS Ocean I spent time with each part of the ship's company from marine, aviation and weapons engineering and navigation teams to catering and stores staff, as well time with the helicopter pilots and Royal Marine Commandos. Each evening I spent time in the messes of all ranks listening to concerns and ideas as well as answering questions. I was delighted to meet many people from Cornwall including constituents serving on this the Royal Navy's largest ship.

HMS Ocean played a very important role in the recent operations off Libya and east of Suez. The crew set sail expecting to be away for seven weeks and didn’t return for over seven months. This was very tough for both the ships company and their families. Despite the soaring temperatures off Libya they delivered an effective operation.  

HMS Ocean is now part of the team, led by the police, that will be providing security for the Olympic Games in London. She will be providing a platform from which RN and Army Lynx helicopters will be operated. She will also be open to the public one day a week. I urge anyone visiting London over the summer to try and fit in a visit to get a peep into the workings of a warship, and to meet your fellow Cornish men and women who are so positively and professionally serving their country.  

While I welcomed the Government's commitments to build two new aircraft carriers, I was concerned about the potential lack of aircraft for the new carriers. Having debated this with senior navy officers as well as defence analysts, I am reassured that aircraft will be available for use by the Royal Navy as the new carriers come into operation. This will be an important consideration as Parliament scrutinising the Government’s preparation of the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review. While working in partnership with our allies is indisputably the way forward, we need to maintain our own capability to defend out nations interests around the world. Carriers and the ability to use aircraft to support our soldiers on the ground is critical to this.

These are very difficult times for our armed forces as they face changes as a result of cut backs to defence spending and I am determined to do what I can to make sure that those serving on the front line are treated with the respect they deserve.

Below are a couple of photos from my time on HMS Ocean:


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