Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 548: debated on Monday 16 July 2012

My departmental responsibilities are to ensure: that our country is properly defended now and in the future through delivery of the military tasks for which the MOD is mandated; that our service personnel have the right equipment and training to allow them to succeed in the military tasks; and that we honour our armed forces covenant. My first priority is the success of the operation in Afghanistan, followed by the provision of support to the Olympics security plan. The Ministry of Defence has also embarked on a major project of transformation to ensure the behavioural change needed to maintain the budget in balance and deliver the equipment programme.

As a former Territorial soldier, I have every confidence that our reserve forces will rise to the challenge set by the Secretary of State, as they always have done, but when does he expect the order of battle for the Territorial Army to be announced?

As I said, we will publish a consultation paper in the autumn. The consultation period will take us through into the new year and we expect to be able to publish full details of our plans for the Army reserve in the spring, including the order of battle.

How many contracts does the Ministry of Defence have with G4S? Will the Secretary of State commit to reviewing them in the light of recent events, and will there be a moratorium on the MOD signing any future contracts with that company until the findings of those reviews have been reported in full to Parliament?

I cannot given the right hon. Gentleman a simple answer on contracts we have in place with G4S—

I am quite happy to look into the matter and write to him. Depending on the type of contract being let, the MOD is bound by the regulations binding all Departments—European procurement directive regulations—unless it is a contract for war-like supplies, and must conduct its procurement in accordance with them.

T2. Can the Minister update the House on the range of protected vehicles available to our troops in Afghanistan? (116916)

Yes I can, and I have heard very moving testimony from those who have returned from Afghanistan, and from the families of those in Afghanistan, about the effectiveness of such vehicles. We have a range of options that balance firepower, mobility and protection, including Huskey, Mastiff, Warthog, Warrior, CVR(T)—combat reconnaissance vehicle (tracked)—Coyote and Jackal; and the latest protected mobility vehicle, Foxhound, which is being deployed to Afghanistan now, will reinforce our commitment to provide force protection and proper protection against the improvised explosive device threat, while providing maximum utility. It is a good package.

T4. The armed forces careers advice centre in Hanley in my constituency is the second busiest in the country, but, under the Defence Secretary’s ill-thought- out plans, its recruits will not be able to join their local battalion, the Staffords. On recruitment, his numbers are not wrong, but, rather than acting like a desiccated calculating machine, will he support the campaign to keep the Staffords’ name in the Mercian Regiment by merging it with 1st Battalion the Cheshires? (116918)

On the first point, I take advice from the Army, and that is the correct way for the Defence Secretary to behave in these matters. On the preservation of the name of the Staffords, I am well aware of the concerns expressed by Staffordshire Members of Parliament, and as I said in relation to the Yorkshire Regiment, this is a matter for the regiment. If the regiment comes forward with a proposal to merge the antecedent name into the antecedent names of the 1st Battalion the Cheshires, we will be quite happy to support that arrangement.

T3. Does the Defence Secretary agree that the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers has done everything that was asked of it in conflict, in peacekeeping, in recruitment and in coping with reorganisation? Why, then, has it been reduced to a single battalion, when its recruitment record is so much better than battalions unaffected by the infantry cuts? (116917)

I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman repeats the comments that my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) made earlier, and that is simply not the case. Looked at over a 10-year horizon, the recruiting figures speak for themselves, and the Army has conducted a rigorous process that resulted in the withdrawal of the 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. I can say no more than that to the right hon. Gentleman.

T5. Significant cuts to the armed forces carry real risk; increased reliance on the reservists carries real risk; and greater emphasis on the private sector for logistical support, again, carries real risk. Will the Secretary of State therefore respond to my concern that the potential cost-saving benefits of the cuts to capability that the Government have announced do not outweigh the risks that they pose to our ability to leverage force in an uncertain and changing world? (116919)

As usual, there is no alternative constructive suggestion. We have a £38 billion black hole in the defence budget, and we have to resolve that problem to make our armed forces sustainable in future and to ensure that we can properly equip them when we ask them to put themselves in danger. What we have done is to set out a coherent plan that will deliver smaller but better equipped armed forces that are sustainable in the medium and long term, and I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that that is the best way forward for them.

T7. I warmly welcome the involvement of the armed forces in ensuring that the Olympic games are safe and secure. Will my right hon. Friend explain the role that they will play during the Olympics and, in particular, the various consultations and engagements that have taken place with the community over the use of ground-based air defence systems? (116921)

Yes. The armed forces will support the police in the security operations for the Olympics. We will provide the air policing regime, including the ground-based air defence missiles, to enforce the prohibited and restricted zones around London. There will also be Royal Marine activity on the River Thames in support of the police, and of course 11,000 people will be deployed in support of the venue security operation. There has been extensive consultation with local authorities, landlords and Members of Parliament on the proposed location of the ground-based air defences.

I am very happy to double-check and write to the hon. Gentleman, but I believe that the position is that we have two MOD personnel on secondment in Libya. [Interruption.] The Minister for the Armed Forces is confirming that.

T8. Will the Secretary of State join me in paying tribute to our armed forces, who do such a tremendous job? Does he believe that their professionalism will be an asset at the Olympic games? (116922)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Contrary to a lot of the noises off that we have been hearing, most people visiting the Olympic games and most people living in London will be hugely reassured by the presence of our armed forces. They bring resilience and reliability to the security arrangements. When a soldier is scheduled to be at place A at time B, you can bet your bottom dollar that he will be there.

What will be the effect of the ludicrously last-minute commitment for our armed forces on post-operative leave entitlement for those returning from Afghanistan?

I have answered that question in the House before. People who came back from Afghanistan in April will have had their post-operational leave scheduled. It is possible that some people who have post-operational leave scheduled for the period of July and August will be asked to reschedule it. However, I can confirm to the right hon. Gentleman that everyone will receive their full entitlement of post-operational leave, or any other kind of leave, and that people who have to change their personal arrangements and incur any financial loss as a consequence will be fully reimbursed for that loss.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Scout specialist vehicle will go ahead, giving much needed certainty both to the armed forces and the supplier, General Dynamics, a valued employer in my constituency?

I can confirm that. The Scout specialist vehicle programme is currently in the demonstration phase. The first vehicle platform test rig was rolled out on 6 June this year and pre-production vehicle prototypes are due to begin delivery from 2013. The successful completion of the demonstration phase will lead to a main investment decision at main gate, currently planned for 2016. That is good news for my hon. Friend’s constituents, and I thank them, through her, for what they are doing to create that important capability for the Army.

Constable Colin MacColl of Tayside police came to my surgery last Friday in his capacity as a constituent and someone who works in my constituency. He outlined how distressed and distraught his family are at the fact that his nephew, Leading Seaman Timmy MacColl, was last seen on 27 May in Dubai on shore leave from HMS Westminster. Can the Minister outline what has been done to try to locate Leading Seaman MacColl and what will be done in future to alleviate my constituent’s concerns?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that question, and I should say that the right hon. Member for Stirling (Mrs McGuire) has been in touch on behalf of the family as well.

This is a sad case. Leading Seaman MacColl has disappeared. The Royal Navy police made all efforts to find him in Dubai, but unfortunately the ship then sailed, as ships do. We have no particular police presence in the country. We are liaising with the Dubai police, who are leading on the case. The Foreign Office is absolutely on the side of the Dubai police.

We have announced all the reductions in armed forces manpower required to deliver the outcome of the strategic defence and security review. The changes announced will allow us to deliver the Future Force 2020 structure in 2020.

Will the Secretary of State look again at the cuts to the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, particularly the impact on Coventry and Warwickshire and the local impact? Can we have an answer without the right hon. Gentleman blaming everybody else? He is responsible for the double-dip situation that we have got.

I am responsible. I take advice from the Army, which is the only responsible way to decide on a restructuring package for the Army. As I said, I have reassured myself since I made the announcement that all of its elements are sound and based on proper evidence provided by the Army.

There is an excellent proposal for 10,000 tickets for the Olympic games to be given to Her Majesty’s armed forces personnel. What procedures are being undertaken for the proper allocation of those 10,000 tickets? Can my right hon. Friend say something about whether, if other tickets remain unsold, it might be possible to give those tickets to armed forces personnel?

We are extremely grateful to the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games for the help that it has provided in making tickets available through Tickets for Troops and directly to the armed forces. We now have a substantial number of tickets available and we hope there may be still more to come. The detailed arrangements for distributing those tickets will be determined by the commander-in-chief, land forces.

I am sure that the thoughts of all right hon. and hon. Members will be with the families of those who lost their lives in Afghanistan in recent days. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of recent reports that the Taliban believe that the insurgency can no longer be won? Is not this the perfect opportunity to convene all-party talks to bring about a secure peace in Afghanistan?

Indeed. The Government’s policy is to maintain the pressure through the military campaign, while encouraging both sides to come together and explore their tentative early contacts, and also to encourage Pakistan to play a constructive role in this process, because, in many ways, Pakistan holds the key.

A senior military source has told me that many soldiers have been taken off promotional courses as a consequence of the G4S shambles. Will the Secretary of State assure me that they will get back on to those courses and will be fully compensated if their course is delayed by, say, a year?

I am not aware of any such cases, but I am happy to talk to my hon. Friend outside the Chamber and to write to him.

Further to the previous unclear answer, is the Secretary of State categorically ruling out revisiting the “cat and trap” system for the aircraft carriers?

I do not think that there was a previous unclear answer. We have made a decision to revert to the STOVL––short take-off and vertical landing—solution. We are highly confident of the delivery of the F-35B STOVL variant, which the US Marine Corps depends on. We have had the highest level discussions with the US Administration, who strongly support the programme. I am looking forward to seeing US Marine Corps aircraft flying at Pax River on Wednesday.

Before I call the shadow Home Secretary to ask the urgent question that I have allowed, I must tell the House that I intend to bring proceedings on it to an end after half an hour. In view of the proceedings on Thursday, I ask Members not merely to repeat questions already posed and answered then, but to explore new territory that has since arisen.