A Dorset MP has warned that the Royal Navy is operating a 'skeleton fleet' and failing to properly face the threat from China.

Richard Drax, the Conservative MP for South Dorset, spoke in Parliament to ask Armed Forces Minister Mark Lancaster for reassurances that the Royal Navy would increase in size and capability.

Mr Drax, himself a former captain in the Coldstream Guards, referred during Defence Questions to his family ties to the Navy, noting that both his father and grandfather had served in the force.

"Both would be turning in their graves at the size of the Royal Navy," he said. He added that while he understood the financial difficulties faced by the armed forces, he was keen to highlight the threats Britain faced from around the world, especially China - which, he said, 'is talked about too seldom'.

"We are sending one ship across the waters to the south of China. I ask the minister for an assurance that the Royal Navy's size and capability will be increased."

Mr Lancaster confirmed that while only one ship - namely HMS Sutherland - was currently deployed to China, further deployments would be made in future 'to that part of the world'.

“For the first time in a generation, the Royal Navy is actually growing," the minister claimed.

Mr Drax, however, was unassuaged by the response, insisting that the Navy was operating 'a virtual skeleton fleet'. He pointed out that only one of the fleet's two landing docks goes to sea at any one time for lack of sailors, while the recent sale of flagship HMS Ocean to the Brazilian navy had cut amphibious capability by a third.

“This island nation has relied heavily on the Royal Navy through the centuries," he concluded. "We must not lose our precious capabilities.”