This year I’m taking part in the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme – a programme that gives MPs the chance to spend time with one of our forces to learn more about what life is like for the people who serve our country, as well as a bit more about defence. I decided to sign up to the Royal Navy scheme because I think this is an area that every MP should learn about. The Navy also has a particular emotional resonance with me, because my grandfather and great-grandfather both served in the Navy during the two world wars.
This week I spent time with the Royal Marines at our cold weather training camp in Norway, within the Arctic Circle. We stayed in the same accommodation, ate in the same galley and even camped overnight in temperatures as low as -26 degrees celsius. For the cross-party group of MPs it was hard work, but we experienced just a fraction of what our servicemen and women do as part of their training. I’m in awe at their professionalism, strength and resilience.
We learned about our air capability, logistics and combat at sea. We were briefed on the importance of our partnership with Norway. But, as I’ve found during my previous visits as part of the programme, the most rewarding part of the programme is talking to service men and women about their careers, what motivates them, what they enjoy and – perhaps most importantly – what we could do to improve their ability to do the job well.
I’m about half way through the programme, which is a 15 day minimum commitment. I think it’s worth every second. During the previous two visits I’ve done – to the National Defence Academy and to our naval base in Portsmouth – I’ve learned a huge amount. Given the weight of the decisions we take in Parliament, I think it’s the responsibility of each of us to take more than a passing interest in the welfare of our troops and the defence of the realm.
I’d like to say a very public thank you to everyone who made us welcome this week. You’re a credit to our country.
Now from one cold and hostile environment to another – back to Parliament tomorrow!