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Volume 586: debated on Monday 20 October 2014

The Secretary of State was asked—

Maritime Support Delivery Framework

1. What assessment he has made of the effect of the maritime support delivery framework on employment at UK naval bases. (905513)

15. What assessment he has made of the effect of the maritime support delivery framework on employment at UK naval bases. (905529)

The maritime support delivery framework contracts are an excellent example of the contribution that the Ministry of Defence makes to sustaining the long-term economic health of the nation's three main naval bases. The contracts total £3.2 billion of spending by the Royal Navy over five years with BAE Systems and Babcock, and will sustain about 7,500 jobs, up to 4,000 of them at Devonport and more than 2,000 at Portsmouth, and about 1,500 at Clyde.

Can my hon. Friend confirm that there is actual funding in the project, that it is sustainable, and that, unlike the Labour party, we will not leave a black hole in military defence?

Yes, I can certainly assure my hon. Friend that these contracts are an integral part of the Department’s innovative 10-year forward equipment plan. Not only are they in the plan, but they represent far better value for money for the taxpayer than the previous support arrangements by securing more than £350 million of savings. As my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary said last month, the last Government left a terrible legacy of waste and mismanagement in the form of a £38 billion black hole in defence, which this Government have eliminated through our long-term plan for defence and improving the efficacy of defence procurement.

Will the Minister join me in praising the work done by civilian contractors throughout the country, and, in particular, that done by Babcock at Devonport naval base in helping to repair and manage the Royal Navy’s warships and submarines, which play a key part in protecting our vital national interests?

My hon. Friend is right to welcome the stability that these contracts provide for the communities that support the Royal Navy’s three main operating bases. That includes an investment of nearly £2 billion in support activity at the largest base—the one at Plymouth Devonport, to which he referred and which is near his constituency—until 2020.

On the subject of the Royal Navy—still, without doubt, the finest navy in the world—may I ask the Minister how he and his colleagues will be commemorating, and even celebrating, Trafalgar day?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, Trafalgar day is the source of a great deal of commemoration and celebration throughout the Royal Navy at all its bases, and Ministers are invited to events all over the country in support of those activities.

I am sure that the Minister would like small and medium-sized enterprises to benefit from these contracts as much as large companies. What is he doing to make it easier for SMEs to get into the supply chain?

As I have told the House during nearly every session of defence questions, securing greater penetration of the MOD’s contracting base by SMEs is an important priority for the Ministry and for me. On Tuesday next week I shall chair the latest SME forum to discuss that very subject.

Strategic Defence and Security Review

2. What progress his Department has made on the next strategic defence and security review; and if he will make a statement. (905514)

The next strategic defence and security review will be conducted next year by my Department, the Cabinet Office, the Foreign Office, the Home Office and others. Until then, our priority remains delivery on the 2010 review, which gave us a balanced and affordable budget and maintained our armed forces’ reputation while modernising force structure and capabilities.

Is the Defence Secretary as concerned as Labour Members about the possibility that by 2020 there will be more seats in Wembley stadium than British soldiers in the Regular Army?

No. The 2010 review rightly identified the need for agile and flexible forces, and set out the numbers. It is too early to prejudge the review that will be conducted next year, but I am sure that the House will want to salute the achievement of our armed forces in so many difficult parts of the world.

Will the Secretary of State ensure that the new SDSR acknowledges that Russia has radically changed the situation, first by creating a war in Europe and secondly by ensuring that NATO is undermined, and will it plan for what appear to be Russian planning assumptions for a major war in 2018-19?

My hon. Friend the Chairman of the Select Committee is right. The 2010 review did not predict the scale of Russian aggression in Ukraine, and the recent NATO summit at Newport reinforced the need for NATO members to maintain the level of their spending and to ensure a properly rapid reaction force that can be an effective deterrent to Russian aggression in future.

The last SDSR made no mention of the high north and the Arctic. Since then, the United Kingdom has never provided any fast jets for northern NATO air policing from Reykjavik, and it rarely provides any naval vessels to take part in northern NATO patrolling. In the last few days, the Ministry of Defence has confirmed that not a single civil servant is working exclusively on this important region. When will the MOD take the northern dimension seriously?

We do take the Nordic regions seriously: I meet my colleagues from Nordic members of NATO regularly; I look forward to attending the northern summit in Oslo shortly; and we have, of course, participated already in the Baltic policing mission.

The Secretary of State will be aware of HMS Sultan in my constituency, which is home to the Royal Navy’s school of marine engineering and the first Ministry of Defence training establishment to have received an “outstanding” Ofsted report. Will he confirm that such sites, which are incredibly valuable not only to the MOD but to the local community, will continue to be valued as part of the strategic defence and security review?

I certainly appreciate the valuable and positive benefits that all defence education and training facilities provide to the armed forces. I am not aware of any current plans to alter the establishment my hon. Friend mentions, and I know that she met my hon. Friend the Minister of State last week to discuss it further.

May I start by welcoming the Secretary of State to his place and thanking him for the way in which he has tried to work with me? As I have said, where possible I will try to work constructively with him in the national interest. With our armed forces engaged in a new combat mission against ISIL, intervention in west Africa to prevent the spread of Ebola and support in providing relief to humanitarian crises elsewhere, and with increased NATO commitments in eastern Europe, the next SDSR will be crucial in setting the strategic direction for Britain’s armed forces. How does he intend to ensure that preparations for this SDSR, unlike those for the last one, are well informed, properly scrutinised and not rushed?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s welcome, which I hope the House will extend to the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier), who, as Minister with responsibility for the reserves, will make his first appearance at the Dispatch Box shortly.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his advice, but I am not sure we need too much advice from a party that failed to carry out a defence review for 12 long years. I assure him that this time, unlike the one for 2010, we will be starting from a much better base, where the defence budget has been brought under control and we have equipment programmes that are properly funded.

I had two questions, so I split them and was going to welcome the reserves Minister when asking this one, but let me welcome him now. I am sure we are all grateful for the Defence Secretary’s response, such as it was, but would it not be much easier if he simply published the 60 questions that, according to his permanent secretary’s evidence to the Defence Committee, are forming the basis for the next SDSR, as that would allow us to judge for ourselves? Some months ago, we wrote to his predecessor, who refused to share them. We then put in a freedom of information request, which has also been denied. In the national interest, and to ensure an open, transparent debate about the future of our country’s defence, will he today commit to publish the 60 questions and to consult this House properly on them ahead of the next SDSR?

Let me make it very clear that the next SDSR is being carried out next year. Work has not begun on it this year. Obviously, a certain amount of preparation, thinking and evidence gathering is going on, but we have not started on the review this year—that awaits next year.


All the reserve forces have worked to simplify their application procedures, including through streamlined online processes and shorter medical forms. We have increased capacity in Army recruitment and selection centres, and more mentoring and support for candidates is being provided by their chosen unit. Early indications of those measures are promising, and Army Reserve enlistments over the summer quarter, traditionally the quarter when enlistments are lowest by far, are running at roughly double the levels of last year.

I welcome my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour to his appointment as reserves Minister. The Gurkhas are a much-valued force within the British Army. Would the MOD be prepared to consider creating a Gurkha company within the reserves, if that would help to boost the number of Gurkhas who seek to join the reserves after their retirement or of their children who seek to do so?

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind welcoming of my unexpected mobilisation. We are indeed looking at ways in which we can get more ex-Gurkhas to join the Army Reserve, but there are legal and practical reasons against establishing a separate Gurkha reserve unit. Given their experience, there are great benefits in ex-Gurkha personnel joining a whole range of Army Reserve units. Gurkhas leaving the Army receive briefs on reserve service as part of their transition support, and we have a programme of using ex-Gurkha reservists to visit Gurkha units to provide case studies of what can be expected.

I am not a defence expert, but I do chair a skills commission, and I know about the market for certain skills. Is not the problem that the whole reserve policy is bound to fail, because these days most people in our country work for small and medium-sized enterprises that do not allow, or have the capacity for, people to serve as reservists?

I hugely respect the hon. Gentleman, but I should tell him that these targets are extremely low compared with either our national history or targets in our English-speaking counterparts. A whole range of larger businesses has come on board, 10 of which have already been over to Downing street for their gold awards. As a special incentive for the employers of SMEs, we are offering £500 a month over and above the other award they can get if someone is mobilised. The various branches of Government, including the civil service, are all on the move. This can and will be done.

Clearly, this is a welcome scheme. What more can be done to promote it to small businesses as a way of encouraging them to be happy about people being reservists?

We are making use of every possible route. The Federation of Small Businesses is particularly active and helpful on this. The Reserve Forces and Cadets Association and Supporting Britain's Reservists and Employers—SaBRE—which now comes under it, are providing advice to small businesses. A small business connection with just seven employees expressed his concern through a family friend about taking on a reservist. I was able to put him in touch with those organisations and provide reassuring messages. A pack will come out shortly showing how individual MPs can help.

The South Wales valleys have traditionally been a recruitment source for the regulars and the reserves, and long may that continue for those young people who wish to pursue such a career. The valleys are also characterised by a huge proportion of small and medium-sized enterprises. Will the Minister monitor the success of this approach, and has he set targets internally on how he will measure his success with SMEs?

We are looking at the employment market of reservists in a segmented fashion, but we do not have separate targets for separate sectors. We want to make progress in all areas—Government, large businesses, SMEs and self-employed as well as students, who are now a crucial element and of particular interest to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Troop Deployment: West Africa

4. What the timeline is for deployment of British troops in west Africa; and if he will make a statement. (905516)

11. What contribution armed forces are making to tackling the spread of Ebola; and if he will make a statement. (905524)

The armed forces are making a significant contribution in tackling the grave threat posed by Ebola in Sierra Leone. RFA Argus, which left Falmouth on 17 October, is due to arrive off Freetown by the end of this month. Approximately 750 UK armed forces personnel will be in Sierra Leone by the end of October. Those personnel are supporting the Department for International Development-led effort and will initially run a 12-bed Ebola treatment centre in Kerry Town for international health care workers; deliver up to 700 additional treatment beds; and set up and run a training academy primarily to train health care workers for those additional beds.

Given that Ebola vaccines are unlikely to be ready at scale before April and that in the meantime millions could have been infected, does the Minister agree that these kind of military contributions are absolutely vital? Will this country do whatever is necessary for as long as necessary and encourage other countries to do likewise?

Defence is indeed playing a significant role, supporting the Department for International Development, which leads Her Majesty’s Government’s £125-million mission to support Sierra Leone. The defence contribution to controlling the Ebola outbreak in west Africa—Op Gritrock, as we call it—is well advanced. The contribution is led by 2nd Medical Brigade and 104th Logistic Support Brigade. In scale, this represents the second-largest contribution to fighting the outbreak of any country in the world after the United States.

Britain has been at the forefront of handling the crisis. What steps have the Government been taking to encourage other countries to do as much as us? I am thinking particularly of France, where, in Calais, the authorities have lost control of the security situation, endangering themselves and putting us at risk.

Leaving Calais out of it for a moment, there is a need for the international community to do much more to support the effort against Ebola. That includes a need for an increase in spending, and for more support for international personnel working in the region. We recently held a donors conference in London for our international partners. The Ministry of Defence has engaged widely, securing assistance from Norway, Canada and the United Arab Emirates, among others. We urgently need to upscale the international response. EU Foreign Ministers are meeting today in Brussels to discuss this very issue, and the forthcoming EU Council will be a vital forum for us, if we are to take this work forward with our partners.

The families of personnel deployed to west Africa, although undoubtedly supportive, will naturally be concerned about their family members’ well-being, given the virulence of the disease. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the health of personnel deployed to west Africa is a prime concern for his Department, and that all necessary resources will be made available?

Yes, I can. We take the safety and well-being of our personnel extremely seriously. Anybody, be they military or civilian, deploying to Sierra Leone must meet specified theatre entry standards before being allowed to depart from the UK. That includes a specific Ebola threat brief. I recently visited 22 Field Hospital in Strensall in Yorkshire, and witnessed the staff’s rigorous training, and their professional approach to safety in their preparation. Nevertheless, given the nature of the disease, there will always be some element of risk, so I hope that the whole House will join me in wishing our brave personnel good luck and Godspeed.

Will the Minister explain to the House what provisions are being made in Sierra Leone to make sure that the treatment facilities that he described, which are being put in place by the British armed forces, remain secure?

We are providing up to 700 beds for the treatment of Ebola-infected patients and, critically, a specialist 12-bed facility to treat health care workers, should any unfortunately become infected. That second element is a magnet, because we must recruit more health care workers to go to Sierra Leone to help fight the disease. I am extremely proud of what our military personnel are doing, and the whole country and the House can be proud of them, too.

Last year, the cost that the RAF incurred in supporting the operation in Mali was picked up by an urgent operational requirement, yet an answer last week showed that the cost to RFA Argus had been met by the Department for International Development. Why the difference?

DFID is leading on this operation. It has a clear lead, working with international partners. We in the MOD are supporting the DFID strategy. It is DFID’s lead, and it is paying for this.

I welcome the fact that the troops have already left, and Members from across the House will have every good wish for the safety and success of the operation. Will the Minister say how many more troops are expected to travel to Sierra Leone in the coming weeks, how quickly we can get them there, and how quickly, once they are there, they will become operational, bearing in mind any extra training that they may need?

I thank the hon. Lady for her bipartisan support for this vital mission, which the whole House will welcome. As I have already outlined, we will have around 750 troops in theatre by the end of this month. We will continue to keep the situation under review, and if further resources are required, we will of course consider that, but I reiterate to the House that we already make the second-largest commitment to the area, and we need to get our international partners to do more. We are doing our bit; we must get our international partners to do theirs.

NATO Summit

5. What progress was made in delivering the UK’s priorities at the NATO summit in September 2014. (905517)

The NATO summit in Wales reached important conclusions on NATO’s response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, on the 2% of GDP guideline for defence spending, on the reform of NATO, on countering Islamist extremism, on the future of Afghanistan, and on supporting our military and their families, all of which were United Kingdom priorities.

In the week of the Ukrainian elections, what are NATO and the UK with NATO saying to the people of Ukraine about their uncertain border and insecurity?

We continue to address this issue through sanctions and through the political work of the European Union. NATO is implementing the decisions taken at Newport, which will see NATO’s responsiveness increase significantly. We have offered four Typhoon aircraft for next year as part of the ongoing policing mission, and the deployment of 3,500 troops as part of NATO exercise activity this year and next. We have also offered a battlegroup and a brigade headquarters as part of the new very high readiness joint taskforce.

Will the Secretary of State update the House on any subsequent discussions he has had with his Turkish counterpart on what active part Turkey may be playing in dealing with ISIS and Islamic extremism?

My right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have been in discussion with our allies about the role that the Turkish Government could play in the middle east. For the Turkish Government, as the hon. Lady will know, it is an extremely complicated situation, but it is important that all the neighbours of Iraq and Syria contribute to the effort to prevent Iraq from falling apart and Syria from falling into further bloodshed.

President Putin’s activities in eastern Ukraine have been largely covert and deniable. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if President Putin tried similar tactics in any of the three Baltic states, that would constitute a breach of article 5 of the NATO treaty? If my right hon. Friend does not agree with me on that, would that not fundamentally undermine the credibility of NATO?

I do agree with my hon. Friend—the Baltic states are members of NATO and fully entitled to the protection that NATO members afford to each other. It is also important that where we confront such ambiguous warfare, NATO is unambiguous in its response to it and labels an annexation as an annexation and the invasion of Ukraine as an invasion.

The NATO summit announcement on the development of the new Scout armoured vehicle was a good thing. It will help our troops in battle and boost employment at General Dynamics in south Wales and down the supply chain, but can the Minister update us on the possibility of more British jobs on this project, particularly in south Wales?

Yes, there are jobs involved in the supply chain for that contract, including high-value jobs in design and engineering, which will be in Wales, and in the manufacture of the turrets, which will be elsewhere in England. Other parts of the armoured vehicle are being manufactured in Scotland, so the United Kingdom stands to benefit overall from this project, which is the largest single order given to the Army in over 30 years.


The UK remains firmly committed to Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. We welcome the ceasefire agreement reached between Ukraine and Russia in Minsk on 5 September and the subsequent agreement on 19 September setting out the modalities for its implementation. The ceasefire agreement is broadly holding, although there have been a number of breaches on both sides. The MOD will continue to build on its long-standing relationship with the Ukrainian MOD. We have increased our defence engagement, providing additional support on crisis management, anti-corruption measures, defence reform and strategic communications.

As my right hon. Friend is aware, Ukrainian forces recently engaged not just with Russian-backed separatists, but with regular Russian army troops and their armour, which invaded their country and inflicted heavy losses upon them. Will he see what more can be done to rebuild Ukraine’s defence capability?

We are clear that there cannot be a simply military solution to this conflict. We have provided military support and additional non-lethal support in line with Ukrainian priorities. Specifically, the Government have already provided non-lethal support to the Ukrainian security forces, including personal protective equipment, and last week the Government announced their intention to deliver more than £800,000-worth of further kit, including body armour, medical kits and winter supplies. Also at the NATO summit the UK committed to leading a new C4—command, control, communications and computers—trust fund. We have pledged over £500,000 to the C4 logistics and standardisation trust fund as well. With contributions from other nations, those trust funds and wider NATO activity will play a significant role in supporting the Ukrainian armed forces.


Britain is making a significant contribution to the international coalition to defeat ISIL: training Kurdish forces and gifting and delivering more than 320 tonnes of weapons, ammunition and other military equipment. Since the vote in this House, the Royal Air Force has flown 37 combat missions, conducting 10 successful strikes, providing valuable intelligence and surveillance, and helping to halt ISIL’s advance.

I accept that there are no guarantees, but will my right hon. Friend assure the House that all measures will be taken to avoid civilian casualties from air strikes?

Yes, the United Kingdom seeks to avoid civilian casualties. All air strikes are conducted under UK rules of engagement, which I have agreed for this campaign in accordance with the law. Close observation, careful selection and approval of targets before a strike, and the use of precision weapons, such as Brimstone and Paveway, minimise collateral damage and the potential for civilian casualties, in stark contrast with ISIL’s complete disregard for human life.

The moderate Syrian opposition continues to fight a two-fronted battle against a brutal dictator on one side and the ISIL extremists on the other. Are the Government actively reassessing their refusal to support these boots on the ground with the weapons that they need?

The decision to authorise military action in Syria is a matter for this House, and we have made it clear that we would return to Parliament for that authority if we wanted to proceed there. We are already considering the assistance that we might be able to give to help to train moderate Syrian forces and Syrian communities in self-defence, and we are looking now with our allies in the region as to how and where that training could be provided.

RAF Waddington is in my constituency of Lincoln, and many personnel, some of whom I know personally, and assets of the RAF used in any international effort against ISIL are based or controlled from there. Will my right hon. Friend therefore give an update on the work to replace the runway, and will the base be fully operational as planned and well in time to see a return of the international air show at Waddington in 2016?

I certainly appreciated my visit to RAF Waddington earlier in the summer. Work on the runway has now begun, and it will be for the review of air shows early next year to decide where they can be supported, but I very much hope that the Waddington air show will be able to return in 2016.

The excellent work of our armed forces is being undermined by the number of British citizens who are travelling to Syria and Iraq to fight for ISIL. The numbers are now put at more than 500 from the United Kingdom, and at more than 1,000 throughout the EU. What steps is the right hon. Gentleman taking to work with our partners to try to prevent our respective citizens from travelling abroad to fight?

The right hon. Gentleman will know better than anybody the work that is being done by the Home Secretary and the Home Office in this regard, stepping up the number of checks that can be made and making sure that those here are deterred from making that journey to fight for ISIL, which as a proscribed organisation therefore involves a criminal offence.

I fully understand the need for democratic support expressed by the House for any military action, and furthermore I have no desire whatever to see our deploying troops either in Iraq or in Syria, but may I gently say to my right hon. Friend, while congratulating him on his relatively new position, that it is important in any military campaign not to rule anything out, because that gives away a great deal to our opponents?

I hope that it is clear to the House, as the Prime Minister emphasised during the debate, that ISIL can be defeated only in Syria and in Iraq. With the RAF and our own action in Iraq, we have plenty to do to help to check the advance of ISIL, but ISIL’s personnel, equipment and supply routes lie further back in Syria, and it is important therefore that it is countered there, which is why we welcome and support the US and other coalition air strikes that have taken place in Syria.

What is the Secretary of State’s assessment of the levels of Arab countries’ support for military action against ISIL, in equipment and troops that have been provided, and, equally as importantly, politically?

Political support for the coalition’s efforts is extremely important, particularly from the countries neighbouring Iraq and Syria, as I have stressed on my visits to the Gulf. Five countries have already participated in air strikes—the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar. It is very important that the action is seen not simply as British, American or western, but as a regional battle against the advance of ISIL.

Typhoon and Hawk Aircraft

This Government are proud to prioritise economic growth, and this Ministry is proud to support the role of responsible defence exports in contributing to the nation’s economic recovery. The Ministry of Defence is supporting export campaigns for Typhoon and Hawk aircraft, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, other ministerial colleagues and I are actively engaged with senior military officers and the UK Trade & Investment Defence & Security Organisation in seeking to broaden and deepen the family of user nations among our allies and partners.

The Minister might be aware that there have recently been announced new job losses in management positions at BAE Systems in Warton in my constituency. Given that the Typhoon is playing such an important role in our defence exports, what progress are the Government making with Typhoons for the Malaysian air force, in the light of Malaysia’s recent election to the UN Security Council?

Clearly, as my hon. Friend knows, given his proximity to the Warton facility, export growth is important for sustaining jobs in Lancashire. The Typhoon is competing vigorously in a number of export campaigns, including the Royal Malaysian air force’s multi-role combat aircraft requirement. The Government are actively supporting the BAE Systems bid to win the competition and the company has discussed various options to meet the needs of the Malaysian Government. I visited Malaysia earlier this year to support those efforts, and today six RAF Typhoon aircraft from 3(F) Squadron are flying in Malaysia as part of Exercise Bersama Lima.

Reserve and Cadet Forces

9. What assessment he has made of the contribution of armed forces community covenants to the reserves and cadet forces. (905522)

The Government have committed £30 million over four years to fund a range of community integration projects. That work helps to deliver a network of support for our armed forces community, whether regular, reservist, serving or veteran. Full details and accountability will be provided in the annual report on the covenant.

I am grateful to the Minister for her reply. I recently visited the Hereford and Worcester Army Cadet Force at their base in Tiddesley Wood, and a very impressive bunch they are too. Will she join me in commending the decision of the regional grant committee of the armed forces community covenant partnership to fund a new shooting range for those cadets, which I understand will also be available to local reservists?

I absolutely will not hesitate to commend it and point out that it received a grant of about £70,000. I understand that a further £6,000 has been made available in Worcestershire and Herefordshire for booklets to help ensure that all our service families and personnel know about the services available to them. That is another good example of some great work being done under this Government.

Will the Minister look again at proposals to charge schools to use the combined cadet force? Llanwern high school in my constituency is one of only three state schools in Wales that has a CCF. I know how much the pupils value it and how much they get out of the experience, but state schools will find it impossible to make the financial contribution when they are contributing in other hidden ways.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. It is important to understand that that is part of expanding our CCFs into all state schools. In fact, we have made great progress on that and anticipate that 100 new CCFs will be ready in September next year. However, it is a consultation and I know that there are concerns. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her comments and we will listen to everything that is said.

Type 26 Frigates

The Type 26 global combat ship is the next major investment for the Royal Navy, following the new destroyers, the new aircraft carriers and, more recently, the offshore patrol vessels. The programme is still in its assessment phase. We want to learn the lessons from previous multi-billion pound contracts to ensure proper value for the Navy and the taxpayer, so we are currently working with BAE Systems to gain greater granularity for the programme, for example in relation to detailed ship design, the supply chain and the contracting structure.

I welcome the Minister’s confirmation of an imminent decision on the Type 26 frigates. In an uncertain world, I believe that they have an important contribution to make on the high seas. Does he agree that Type 26 frigates named after cities would reinforce the Royal Navy’s community links? Should those on the ship naming committee recognise that, does he believe that they will weigh carefully the 360-year history with the city of Gloucester through the 11 previous Fighting Gs?

As for every new class of Royal Navy warship, the naming of the Type 26 frigates will follow a theme. My hon. Friend will not be surprised to know that he is not alone in seeking to advance the cause of UK cities. He is also not the first to make such strong representations in favour of Gloucester, the city he so forcefully represents. I will ask the Ships’ Names and Badges Committee to note his interest in attempting to revive the name HMS Gloucester, given its impressive heritage.

Names matter, but so do numbers. Can the Minister assure us that at least 13 of these fine ships will be built for the Royal Navy?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He is well aware that the strategic defence and security review 2010 is looking at the number of ships for the Royal Navy, to include up to 19 destroyers and frigates.

The Minister said that we will learn lessons from previous programmes. Can he assure me that the mistakes of the Type 45, which set out wishing to be an international project with a big export market, but ended up as a magnificent but very expensive ship, will not be repeated? Will the Type 26 be kept affordable in the global market?

This is part of the rigorous work that we are doing at the moment to ensure that the Type 26 design is modular to allow for regular upgrading as systems improvements take place over the decades to come. As my hon. Friend knows from his work in the Ministry of Defence, we have had a number of engagements with other international navies to see whether they might be interested. While it is likely that the interest will be more in systems than in platforms, we are taking that work forward continuously.

Legal Claims

The Ministry of Defence conducts a wide range of activities, many of them inherently dangerous, and faces many legal claims arising from them. It is an absolute priority that when we accept liability, we get on and settle the case, and, equally, that when we resist it, we do so with vigour.

Does the Minister agree that human rights reform should include curtailing the jurisdiction of the Strasbourg Court, which, by expanding in unprecedented ways human rights on to the battlefield, where international humanitarian law already applies, has created legal confusion and operational distractions, and diverted precious public money away from investment in our troops?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. It is completely lost on me as to why the European Court of Human Rights should be involved, when, as he says, there is already international humanitarian law and, of course, the Geneva convention, both of which are tried and tested. That is how we make sure that things are done properly; we do not need the ECHR in this respect at all.

On the subject of legal claims, I am sure that the Minister has seen the Royal British Legion’s 2015 manifesto, which brings to light a breach of the principles of the armed forces covenant whereby veterans who contracted mesothelioma as a result of their service before 1987 are unable to sue the MOD and instead apply for 100% war disablement pension. That means a difference of over £100,000 less in the possible total payments to those veterans compared with their civilian counterparts, because the newly established compensation scheme for civilians pays a lump sum, whereas the war pension scheme does not. Will she review this matter urgently to avoid unnecessary legal action and to ensure that the principles of the covenant are being applied across Government?

I do not need to review it urgently because the review is under way. Indeed, I have had a meeting with my officials in the past few weeks, so I am very much alive to the issues. The situation is a bit more complicated than the hon. Lady has explained it, because further complications are involved. However, I hope to be in a position to be able to explain the conclusions that we hope to come to very swiftly.

War Graves

16. What assessment he has made of the criteria used by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to determine the level of maintenance of war graves; and if he will make a statement. (905531)

Graves are maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission predominantly for Commonwealth armed forces personnel who lost their lives in the first and second world wars. Since January 1948, all service personnel who die in military service and receive what we call a service-funded funeral are entitled to have their grave marked with a military pattern memorial regardless of the circumstances of the individual’s death. If their next of kin chooses to mark their grave with a military pattern headstone, my Department will offer to maintain that headstone and grave at public expense. Families are free to choose to mark the grave with a private memorial. In those cases, the MOD does not maintain the grave.

I am very grateful to the Minister for that helpful answer. A constituent came to see me recently to tell me that her son, who served in the armed forces and was killed in a terrorist attack, could not have his grave tended by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission because he was not killed in active service. Could the Minister confirm whether that is right or not, whether there should be such a distinction and whether anything can be done to help my constituent?

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for that question and I know that he wrote to the Ministry of Defence only last week; in fact, I saw the letter this morning. I am more than happy to meet him to discuss the matter, because I think it may not be quite as simple as it appears at first blush. I am sure we can find a way of resolving it and am happy to meet both him and, of course, his constituent.

First, may I declare an interest as a Commonwealth War Graves Commissioner? The question that has just been asked relates to the confusion between MOD graves and Commonwealth war graves. Is the Minister aware that the MOD maintains large numbers of non-commissioned headstones in Germany? Will she have a look at what plans are in place to maintain those graves post-2014, after the British Army withdraws from Germany?

The anomaly is not acceptable, because post-1945 war graves have not been maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. I would suggest that this is in breach of the armed forces covenant. If there is a will, there is a way. The CWGC should be allowed to take over and maintain those graves of military personnel who have died since 1945.

Again, I am very grateful for those comments and happily take them on board. I am happy to look at the issue and report back both to the hon. Gentleman and to the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones).

If the Minister is able to induce happiness in the hon. Member for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell), it will be regarded, I think, by all as a great triumph.


17. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the UK’s contribution to the future stability of Afghanistan. (905532)

The United Kingdom can be proud of its achievements in Afghanistan. The terrorist threat from the region has substantially reduced. We have helped to build the Afghan national security forces, which are now 330,000-strong and lead on providing security. The United Kingdom remains committed to supporting the new Afghan Government and the Afghan forces as part of the new NATO mission after 2014.

As a new Defence Secretary—I congratulate him on his appointment—my right hon. Friend may not be aware of my view that strategic bases are necessary if the hard-fought gains in Afghanistan are not to unravel. Given that we ourselves are not going to provide such a strategic base, what news does he have of whether the Americans will do so, given the recent welcome sign of an agreement between them and the Afghan Government?

I was, in fact, aware of my hon. Friend’s views, which he always articulates so forcefully. The international community has reaffirmed its commitment to Afghanistan at the NATO summit. On current plans, the resolute support mission will have approximately 12,000 personnel. It plans to operate one hub in Kabul/Bagram and four spokes to that hub in Mazar-e Sharif, Herat, Kandahar and Jalalabad. We, of course, have made our commitment to assisting with liaison, support and training at the officer academy.


This has so far been a stand-out year in rolling out more than £11 billion of our investment programme in helicopter capability. During this year alone we have already achieved, within time and budget, initial operating capability for the Merlin Mk 2, which we brought in four months ahead of schedule, and the Army Wildcat. We also expect that initial operating milestone for the Puma Mk 2 and the Navy Wildcat next year. We have also achieved the in-service date for the Chinook Mk 6 and taken delivery of six of the 14 new helicopters.

I thank the Minister for that response. He will be aware of the importance of Middle Wallop, the Army Air Corps and the school of Army aviation. Given that the training for the Army Wildcat is conducted at Yeovilton, what reassurance can the Minister give on the future of Middle Wallop in Army 2020?

Middle Wallop, as my hon. Friend has just told the House, is the home of the Army Air Corps school of Army aviation. It will continue to play an important part in preparing our helicopter crews of the future, including the Apache conversion to type training for Army pilots and ground crew.

Topical Questions

My immediate priorities remain our current operations in Afghanistan and against ISIL and Ebola, as well as the commitments reached at the NATO summit and the delivery of Future Force 2020 by building up our reserve forces and investing in the equipment that our armed forces need to keep Britain safe.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Red Arrows on their 50th display season this year? Will he give an assurance that the future of the Red Arrows is secure under a future Conservative Government? The shadow Secretary of State was unable to give such an assurance for a future Labour Government.

Yes. As the Prime Minister made clear, so long as there is a Conservative Government, the Red Arrows will continue flying.

The reported bonus package allowable under new Treasury rules for the new chief executive officer of Defence Equipment and Support would certainly embarrass a banker. In the interests of openness and accuracy, will the Minister confirm exactly how many freedoms and flexibilities there will be? Importantly, have the proposed managed service providers been told about them, and if so, please will he make them available to Members of the House and the shadow defence team?

The hon. Lady is referring to the recent advertisement for the new chief executive of DE&S. I think that she and the whole House will agree that for one of the largest procurement programmes in Government—£14.5 billion a year out of a £164 billion programme—we need to get the best person for the job, who needs to be adequately rewarded. I will leave it at that, because the recruitment process is in progress. As far as the MSPs are concerned, the freedom allows us to recruit 25 people within DE&S at in excess of the Prime Minister’s salary.

T2. To return to cadet forces, the excellent Sandbach school in my constituency has run a popular combined cadet force since 1948. The head teacher, Sarah Burns, has told me that the leadership and life skills it develops are particularly positive for the most disadvantaged pupils who attend. It is a vital part of community life, but proposed funding changes threaten its future. May I add my voice to those urging the Minister to review these plans? (905504)

I thank my hon. Friend not just for her question, but for her letter. I have seen letters from various schools in her constituency, and I note that a large number of them are state schools with existing CCFs. It would not be our plan at all to threaten any existing CCF, and we will do everything we can to ensure that that does not happen. However, we have to look at a good funding solution for our expansion programme, which is exactly—with a new Secretary of State—why we have consulted on it.

T7. I welcome the contract awarded for maritime support at HM Naval Base Clyde. Will the Minister give more detail about how many apprenticeships will be created through the contract? (905509)

I can give the hon. Gentleman a little extra detail, but I may not satisfy him completely. The contract values by location are £1.98 billion at Devonport, £600 million at Portsmouth and £632 million at the Clyde, which breaks down to £2.6 billion for Babcock and £600 million for BAE Systems. Of course, both those companies are intimately engaged in the defence apprenticeship programme.

T3. In May, I joined North West Leicestershire district council in signing up to the armed forces community covenant. Will the Minister update the House on how many councils have now signed up to the covenant, and what assessment her Department has made of the resulting benefits to members of the armed forces and their families? (905505)

I am pleased to say that all local authorities have now signed up to the covenant. We must now make sure that everybody delivers on it. If I may say so, it is beholden on councillors and, indeed, MPs to make sure that we now see real delivery at local level and put the covenant into practice so that none of our service personnel and their families, or indeed our veterans, suffers any disadvantage because of their service.

What local economic impact assessment is being undertaken on each of the bids coming in as part of the Defence Support Group sell-off?

The hon. Gentleman will be well aware that the DSG bids are being evaluated. I will not be in a position to enlighten the House further until the evaluation has been completed.

T5. I listened with interest to the Minister’s responses to my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) about Ebola. I welcome his commitment to providing further resources, if they are needed. Given how quickly the situation can change with Ebola, how frequently will he review the need for more personnel? Has he considered training more people to deal with Ebola before they go into the field? (905507)

As I hope I made plain to the House, we have taken extreme care to train all the people who will be deployed to Sierra Leone to take on this difficult disease. It is important to remember that we are doing that not in isolation, but with international partners. For instance, the United States is leading in Liberia and France is leading in Guinea. We need to get more international partners to join the fight to beat this disease.

The Minister for the Armed Forces will know that, with the support of the North Staffordshire chamber of commerce, I had arranged to visit the west Mercian Regiment in Fallingbostel in the spirit of the armed forces covenant. Unfortunately, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority did not approve the designated journey. Given that IPSA, after representations from various people, has reconsidered its policy, does the Minister agree that it is of the greatest urgency that it should issue revised guidance on the scope for proper visits?

I congratulate the hon. Lady on her doggedness. As she will recall, we have had exchanges on this matter before. She has persuaded IPSA to change its mind, which does not happen every day of the week. We congratulate her and are considering erecting a small statue to her in Parliament square.

T6. I welcome the deal that the Secretary of State signed last week in Gibraltar. Does he agree that it shows that the UK’s commitment to Gibraltar is as strong as ever? (905508)

Yes. The agreement that I signed last week with the Chief Minister, whom we welcome to London today, is for the resurfacing of the runway, a transfer of surplus land for the benefit of the Gibraltar economy and the fuller incorporation of the Royal Gibraltar Regiment, all of which demonstrates our long-term commitment to Gibraltar and should leave nobody in any doubt as to the strength of British sovereignty there.

Given their localism rhetoric, why have the Government ignored their published guidance on the disposing of assets at market value to public authorities that express an interest in acquiring them in the case of Kirton in Lindsey air base?

I am aware of that issue. In fact, I have just signed a letter to the hon. Gentleman. I am more than happy to meet him to discuss the future and what has happened.

T8. What impact will the decision to use, rather than sell, the second aircraft carrier, the HMS Prince of Wales, have on the defence of the realm? (905510)

I am delighted to confirm our decision to deploy the second carrier within the Royal Navy. It will ensure that we have one carrier available 100% of the time, either at sea or at very high readiness. The carriers will give us unprecedented flexibility over the next 50 years to deploy our power globally to assist in joint strike fighter operations, peacekeeping, conflict prevention missions and the provision of aid and assistance in times of humanitarian crisis.

What will the Government do to help unblock the long-stalled deal with the Indian Government for the innovative Barrow-designed and built M777, and when will the Army start using that superb piece of kit?

The hon. Gentleman is a doughty champion and I pay credit to him for his work in helping BAE Systems to conclude its contract with the Indian Government. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is due to visit India between now and Christmas. We are in active discussions in support of the US efforts—the contract is being placed through BAE Systems Inc.—to secure the order.

T10. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that Iraqi forces can conduct a ground war against ISIL? (905512)

I can tell my hon. Friend that 2nd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment is already training the Kurdish peshmerga in how safely to maintain, operate and use British-gifted heavy machine guns. We have run one course and a second course is under way. We are working on additional courses in specialist skills. We will, of course, authorise further commitments to train Iraqi or Kurdish troops, if it is consistent with the strategy to defeat ISIL on the ground and consistent with the support of our coalition allies.

I welcome Thursday’s statement from the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne), about the submarine dismantling project. Will the Minister confirm that as far as he is concerned we are still on course for early dismantling, and will he meet me before the end of the year to discuss further the future of Rosyth?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s support for the consultation, which will take some time. We are arranging consultation exercises in public in each location proposed on the shortlist—of which his constituency is one—and I would be happy to meet him before Christmas as part of those efforts.

The only way that we will militarily defeat ISIL is to face it in battle on the ground. Will my right hon. Friend say which of our allies and friends in the middle east have committed themselves to providing forces such as infantry to close with the enemy and deal with them?

It is our view that the advance of ISIL can only be dealt with, and that it can only be driven back to the border by, a home army of Iraqi and Kurdish forces that other countries are ready, able and willing to support, help to train, and provide with arms and ammunition. We have made it clear that neither ourselves nor the Americans will deploy our combat troops on the ground.

How many bombing raids has the RAF been involved with in Iraq to date, and on what basis does the Secretary of State judge how effective they have been?

Around 37 combat missions have been undertaken by the Royal Air Force since Parliament gave that authority, and a further mission is being conducted today. Success is measured not simply by the number of airstrikes, but also by the intelligence gathered and the surveillance in support of ground forces. That has already had some success in pushing ISIL back to the civilian areas.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that to maintain our essential Apache helicopter capability a procurement decision for the upgrade must be made soon?

My hon. Friend is aware that the Ministry is considering a number of options to sustain the attack helicopter capability. We have not yet made a final decision on procurement strategy, but we expect to do so soon. Our existing fleet is due to remain in service until 2025, and in January this year we announced a £500 million package of support to keep the aircraft flying until 2019.

When awarding defence procurement contracts, large or small, what levers do Ministers have to ensure that supply chain economic multipliers are maximised, particularly in areas such as south Wales that give so much in other ways to our armed forces?

As my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary told the House in answer to an earlier question, the contract to award the Scout armoured vehicle is the largest single contract that has been placed under this Government since 2010, or to the British Army for 30 years. The Ministry’s job is to get the best deal with the prime contractor, and it is down to the prime contractor to secure the best supply chain.

There is an unsatisfactory anomaly whereby war widows can keep their pensions if they remarried before 1973 or after 2005, but not in between. That is an unhappy and unsatisfactory anomaly for war widows, so will the Secretary of State or the Minister look at it?

We have a new Secretary of State, and he, I, and other Ministers, continue to consider that issue. Notwithstanding how much sympathy—perhaps that is not the right word—but support we might have for the argument made, there is a real legal problem and difficulty with retrospection, and that also occupies our minds when deciding what to do.

What can the Minister for reserves tell us about the future of the Barnstaple Territorial Army centre? He knows that the existing unit does not want to relocate more than an hour’s drive to Exeter, so can they stay where they are?

I was with the Royal Wessex Yeomanry on Saturday, and in the gentlest possible way may I remind my hon. Friend—of whom I am extremely fond—that he promised me a short written brief on the subject? I look forward to discussing that with him and seeing what can be done.