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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 612: debated on Monday 27 June 2016


The Secretary of State was asked—

Allies and Partners: Co-operation

I hope you will allow me, Mr Speaker, to add my tribute to Jo Cox and her work on behalf of the Syrian people, which she pressed very hard on and which must never be forgotten.

Our strategic defence review set out ambitious plans to strengthen our work with allies and partners to promote our security and prosperity. We will continue to lead in NATO, the G7 and the United Nations, and maintain strong and enduring relationships with the United States and our other friends and allies around the world.

My constituency, my country and people of my generation voted against Brexit, yet we are going to be dragged out of the European Union against our will. This is the same European Union that plays an important security role in Afghanistan, in Ukraine and across swathes of Africa, as well as the vital role played by Frontex in the Mediterranean. What reassurance does the Secretary of State have for Scotland and for young people that this vital work will not be undermined by last Thursday’s vote?

The bedrock of our defence in the United Kingdom rests on NATO, and the United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is committed to strengthening co-operation within NATO and collective defence across the alliance. We will be adding further reassurance to that at the NATO summit that is coming up in Warsaw the week after next.

What an utter shambles this is. I am afraid that that is not good enough from the Defence Secretary. We do not have a plan A for Brexit, let alone a plan B. The position of the Government and the Brexiters is confused. There is no plan on the table. Are we going to do a Norway? May I suggest to the Defence Secretary that we look at doing a Norway when it comes to defence, and we perhaps go for the opt-in that Norway has to EU defence schemes?

Norway remains and is a very valued member of the NATO alliance. We will be intensifying our co-operation with such countries. It is true that membership of the European Union complements our membership of NATO, and we are engaged in an EU operation in the central Mediterranean, continuing to save lives there and to disrupt the business model of the migrant smugglers from Libya to Europe. The Royal Navy will continue that task.

Does the Secretary of State agree that our relationship with members of the EU will remain as strong as it is today even when we are not a member? Given that nearly all members of the European Union are members of NATO, and that most members of NATO, leaving aside Turkey and the United States, are members of the EU, surely the fact that we are that cornerstone of NATO stands for our strong defence, and being a member of both involves some degree of duplication.

We have continued to argue against duplication between the European Union and NATO, but my hon. Friend is right. We have the very important bilateral relationships with other European countries—the Lancaster House treaty with France, and our growing co-operation with Germany—and I reassured both the French and German Defence Ministers last Friday that we will continue to work at those relationships and to strengthen them.

In the light of the result last week, will the Secretary of State reassure me that the United Kingdom as a united kingdom remains as committed in both the conventional and nuclear sense to article 5 of the North Atlantic treaty, for our allies in the eastern parts of Europe?

Absolutely. That article is one of the central commitments of NATO. We have, as my hon. Friend knows, committed to the 2% NATO defence spending target and we will be offering further reassurance, particularly to members on the eastern flank of NATO, at the Warsaw summit on Friday week.

Given the intensified bombing of Aleppo by President Putin over the weekend, and the important role that Britain played in stiffening European resolve on sanctions against the Putin regime, how concerned is the Secretary of State about the impact of the referendum result on European solidarity in standing up to Putin?

It is very important, not least because of the way in which Russia has intervened in the Syrian civil war, that Russia is held to account for its actions. We took the lead in not only proposing the sanctions imposed on Russia for its actions in the Crimea—in the Ukraine—but ensuring that they were continued. They are being continued for the moment, but, obviously, once we are outside the European Union, our influence over that will be slightly diminished.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the upcoming negotiation on leaving the EU presents a huge opportunity to redouble our efforts at co-operation with our EU friends and allies? What plans does he have to support UK defence industries and cross-border investments, such as those in helicopter manufacturing in Yeovil?

We will continue the co-operation that I have already set out—our co-operation with France under the Lancaster House treaty, and the growing co-operation we have with Germany and, indeed, with other European countries. Our recent strategic defence review is international by design and prioritises working more closely with our allies. European companies that are invested here see a rising defence budget, and we hope they will continue to invest here and to compete for the various tenders we are making available.

Our military alliances rely on strong diplomatic ties, especially with our European neighbours. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure our Brexit negotiations do not sour these relationships and weaken our alliances?

As I say, I have spoken to all my fellow Defence Ministers in these key relationships, and we will have to work hard to ensure that these bilateral relationships are kept in good repair. We have strong defence relationships and defence sections in these embassies across Europe, and we will have to look at them independently and make sure in the Brexit negotiations that none of that co-operation—the joint training, the exercising and the co-operation on capabilities—is put at risk.

What representations has my right hon. Friend received from our allies and defence partners about renewing Trident, which the new shadow Defence Secretary described as

“a monumental mistake our country and planet can ill afford”?

As my hon. Friend knows, we are committed in our manifesto to replacing the four Trident submarines, and I hope Parliament will be able to endorse the principle of that replacement shortly. Our allies can rest assured that our commitment to NATO and our commitment as a nuclear power to NATO are not altered by the result of the referendum.

The Secretary of State will be aware that, as the pound plummets against the dollar, the cost of procuring the maritime patrol aircraft and the F-35s we were promised will undoubtedly soar. There will be inevitable consequences for forward procurement, including on the already delayed Type 26 programme. The Government warned that, in the case of a Brexit, there would be swift and savage cuts to the defence budget. Where will that axe fall, and when is it likely to fall? What will the Secretary of State tell our allies at the Warsaw summit, every one of whom was convinced unambiguously that we should remain in the European Union?

It is a fact that all the other Defence Ministers around the world were anxious to see us remain in the European Union, but the British people have made their decision. So far as the equipment programme is concerned, we are now negotiating for the maritime patrol aircraft and for the first F-35s to fly off the carriers, and I hope the negotiations will be concluded reasonably soon.

Scotland faces the very real prospect of being taken out of the European Union against its will. May I remind the Secretary of State of the first page of the 2015 SDSR, which says:

“Economic security goes hand-in-hand with national security”?

The UK’s membership of the European Union was an integral part of our defence policy. It was strategically valuable in promoting the UK’s policies and implementing our defence and security obligations. Given that the Brexiteers have won their referendum and the economy is now in freefall, what plans does the Secretary of State have to review the 2015 SDSR?

I am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman should be talking down the British economy, on which so many jobs in Scotland depend. I would caution his party against talking down an economy on which all our constituents depend. Our national security is of course the security of the United Kingdom, including that of Scotland.

At what will be my last Defence questions before I take up my new post, may I start by thanking the Secretary of State, and his office, for all the co-operation that he has given in the six months that I have been in this role? Whether it has been, for example, in arranging trips to Army bases or providing briefings on the fight against Daesh, he has been a generous opponent and I regret that I will no longer be his shadow.

At this time, the only thoughts of anyone in this House should be on how we can reassure the British people that we can keep our country safe and secure in the wake of the Brexit vote. We all need to pull together and work together on that, not just within our own parties but across the House as a whole. Will the Secretary of State please reassure us that leaving the EU will not put an end to participation in joint security missions with our European partners? He has mentioned the mission in the Mediterranean, but may I also ask him particularly about the highly successful counter-piracy mission off the Horn of Africa?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her generous remarks, and I congratulate her on her move. I think the new shadow Defence Secretary is AWOL on his first parade, but we will welcome him and pay tribute to his service in uniform. He will, I note, be the fourth shadow Defence Secretary I have seen in under two years, but I hope he lasts.

Yes, it is very important that we reassure our allies in Europe and around the world that Britain is not turning its back on them. On the contrary, we are still playing a leading role in the world, and that includes work in some of the vital operations in the Mediterranean and off the Horn of Africa, some of which are led by NATO and others of which are led by the European Union.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer and his generous words. I shall pass on his comments to the new shadow Secretary of State for Defence when he takes up his post this afternoon; they are typical of the way in which he and his office have worked.

One particular concern that many people have is the implications of Brexit for our border controls. What will happen to our border control at Calais, what will happen to the common travel area with Ireland, and will the co-operation we currently receive from our European counterparts in respect of tackling illegal immigration be maintained? How will we go about resolving these issues? Will the armed forces play a role in that, and in what way can we keep our borders safe and secure?

My arithmetic may be faulty, but I counted six questions, to which I know the right hon. Gentleman will give a single pithy response, because we must make progress to other hon. Members who also have questions on the Order Paper—something it would have been good to remember earlier.

I will do my best, Mr Speaker, noting that the hon. Lady has postponed her defence review because she said it was

“important that the Labour party sticks together and is united”.

I leave it at that.

The Royal Navy will continue to play its part in assisting Border Force and other organisations—the European Union and NATO—in dealing with people smuggling and illegal migration, as the hon. Lady asks.

Type 26 Frigates

2. What steps he is taking to mitigate the effect of the extended timetable for construction of Type 26 frigates on maintaining skills in the defence industry. (905474)

This Government are committed to sustaining shipbuilding skills on the Clyde. As we confirmed in the strategic defence and security review last November, we will build two additional offshore patrol vessels before build work starts on the Type 26. This will help sustain shipbuilding skills between the completion of major blocks of the Queen Elizabeth class carriers and commencement of the Type 26 build. That remains the case; the plan has not changed. Over the next decade we will spend about £8 billion on Royal Navy warships.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O'Hara) pointed out, the pound is in freefall and every cent it falls against the dollar makes purchasing either the maritime patrol aircraft or the F-35 more expensive. The workers at the Clyde yards have already seen apprenticeship numbers cut by 80%, and the current crisis makes the situation worse. Can the Minister assure me and those on the shop floor in Govan and Scotstoun that the Type 26 programme will begin as soon as possible and not in 2019, as some have suggested?

We have already invested £1.6 billion in Type 26, including £472 million this March. I say to the hon. Lady as gently as I can that that commitment could not have been made if her friends had had their way and become independent, because shipbuilding would have ceased two months ago.

The Minister will remember that previous shipbuilding projects, in particular the carriers and the Type 45 destroyers, ended up being much more expensive because of delays. Does he accept that BAE Systems is ready to start cutting steel on the Type 26 programme relatively soon and that delays will cause our total number of warships to dip and the ones we eventually get to be more expensive?

I say to my right hon. Friend, who is knowledgeable about these matters, that this will be one of the largest defence programmes that this Government will enter. I am sure that he will agree that it is absolutely right to enter into a contract once we are confident of the delivery schedule and the ability of the contractors to meet that schedule on a cost-effective basis. Once we are in that position, we will be ready to contract.

The Clyde was promised a world-class frigate factory to build 13 new frigates for the UK. However, today we hear that work has been delayed by a year. Thousands of members of staff are on secondment around the country because there is not enough work in the shipyards, and the word “betrayal” rings around those shipyards because no factory has appeared and no work has started.

We have asked in the past for plans for the frigate-building programme, and for promises that all work will be carried out on the Clyde, but those questions have gone unanswered—[Interruption.]

When precisely will the Secretary of State present a committed plan to build the new frigates we need, with cast-iron timescales to bring some security to the workforce in Glasgow and around the country, and will leaving the EU affect the building—

As I have already indicated, this Government have already contracted significant sums into the programme. Once we are in a position to sign a contract, we will say what the duration of the build programme will be. We are not there yet.


3. What recent discussions he has had with his international counterparts on progress in the campaign against Daesh. (905475)

14. What recent assessment he has made of the progress of the international campaign to defeat ISIS/Daesh. (905486)

The next meeting of coalition Defence Ministers will take place on 20 July. The campaign against Daesh is making progress. With coalition support, Iraqi forces now hold Ramadi and Hit, are engaged in clearing Daesh from Fallujah and have begun preparatory operations for retaking Mosul. The Syrian democratic forces are currently conducting operations around Manbij.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that Britain is playing the second biggest part in the coalition after the United States of America, and that our involvement is making a real difference to the fight against Daesh?

I am pleased to confirm that the United Kingdom is playing a significant role in the coalition. The RAF has undertaken more strikes in Iraq and, since December, in Syria than any coalition nation apart from the United States. We now have more than 1,100 service personnel supporting operations in the region, and that is making a real difference to the momentum of the campaign.

What assistance are the Government providing to the Jordanian authorities in the light of the recent deterioration in security there, and especially in the light of the recent suicide attack that killed six soldiers outside a refugee camp?

We have a very strong defence relationship with Jordan that includes work on training forces together. We will obviously continue to keep that under review, not least because of the pressure on the Jordanian-Syrian border.

Last week it was reported that US fighter jets were scrambled to intercept Russian bombers attacking American-backed rebels in Syria. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to de-conflict competing allied air forces in the campaign against Daesh?

There is a memorandum of understanding between the United States and Russia about the conduct of air operations. We do not co-operate with Russia, but there is a mechanism by which we can avoid that kind of conflict. The easiest way to avoid it would be for Russia to stop assisting the regime and to stop bombing innocent civilians.

Opposition activists and Kurdish officials have said that hundreds of Kurds are fleeing Manbij, and that the Syrian defence forces are engaged in clashes there with Daesh. If Manbij is captured, it will be the biggest strategic defeat for Daesh in Syria. Can the Secretary of State comment on the situation, and particularly that of the Kurdish civilians, who are being abducted in their hundreds?

They are, and that is why we need to bring this terrible conflict in Syria to an end. Progress is being made by the Syrian Democratic Forces in closing off what is called the Manbij pocket and breaking the supply line between Raqqa and the Turkish border, which restricts the ability of Daesh to trade oil illegally across the border or to recruit foreign fighters the other way. Progress is being made around Manbij, and I hope that one day, when Manbij is recaptured, those same forces can move on towards Raqqa itself.

To carry out its activities, Daesh requires funding. What discussions is my right hon. Friend having with our allies to cut off the funding for Daesh?

International efforts are under way to restrict the ability of Daesh to raise money from selling oil, artefacts or anything else, or to access other funding on the international markets. That is work that requires co-operation right across the coalition, and it is work in which the United Kingdom is playing a leading part.

While we have been otherwise preoccupied, the atrocities that have been carried out by Daesh over the last few weeks remain deeply worrying. Will the Secretary of State give an undertaking that he will co-operate through NATO bilaterally with other European allies and take strategic action unilaterally to make sure that everything possible is done to try to stop these appalling atrocities?

Yes, we are facing a most barbarous enemy, which is not simply torturing and killing innocent civilians in Syria and Iraq, but still poses a very direct threat to us here in western Europe—on the first anniversary of the slaughter of 30 of our subjects in Sousse by an equivalent extremist. Whether it is through the international coalition, through the use of NATO assets or through other bilateral frameworks, let me reassure the right hon. Gentleman that we are absolutely committed to this fight and to the eventual defeat and degradation of Daesh.

At-sea Nuclear Deterrent

4. What assessment he has made of the viability of alternatives to a continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent for protecting national security. (905476)

The 2013 Trident alternatives review considered alternative systems and postures for the United Kingdom’s nuclear deterrent and concluded that no alternative is as capable, or offers the same degree of resilience, as continuous at-sea deterrence.

Some have expressed concern that with advancing technology, our submarines can now be detected and discovered by underwater drones. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that that is not the case?

Yes, we are confident that our submarine fleet remains safe and secure. We devote considerable resources to assessing capabilities and new technologies that could threaten the operation of our deterrent, including potential threats from the development of cyber and unmanned underwater vehicles. I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend on precisely that point.

Whoever stands at the Opposition Dispatch Box or at the Government’s, there is a cast iron majority in the House to do the right thing by Trident’s successor and to reach outwards to defend our nation, rather than to turn inwards. Will the vote still happen before the summer recess?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he has said. There is clearly a majority—[Interruption.] There are those who are opposed in principle, but there is clearly such a majority in this House. I believe that it is right that this House should vote on the principle of the renewal of the deterrent, and I very much hope that he will not have too much longer to wait.

With the Type 26 frigates well behind schedule, it has been said that the Navy has “run out of money” to progress these contracts. Given the perilous state of the economy since Friday morning, will the Secretary of State give us an assurance that we will—please, please—run out of money for Trident as well?

The schedule for the Type 26s has not yet been set. These ships are likely to cost between £500 million and £1 billion each, and I will not sign a contract for these ships until I am satisfied that they represent good value for the Royal Navy and good value for the taxpayer.

Armed Forces Welfare

In January, the Department published the first ever armed forces families strategy, embracing seven key themes—partner employment, accommodation, children’s education and childcare, community support, specialist support, health and wellbeing, and transition. We have reviewed our casualty and compassionate processes, and this autumn we are introducing a pilot for a new welfare scheme for reservists. We continue to work to ensure that our armed forces and their families are treated fairly through the covenant.

Economic and military security assurances, as laid out in the strategic defence and security review, have been significantly weakened by the events of the last week, and this could not have come at a worse time for armed forces personnel. To give just two examples—

Order. I am awfully sorry, but we have not got time for two examples. I need a single, short supplementary question, with a question mark at the end.

The armed forces satisfaction survey has caused considerable concern in this regard. Does the Minister agree that the continuing welfare of our personnel should be the priority at this tumultuous time?

The short answer is yes. The huge number of local authorities, companies and other parts of the nation that have signed up to the armed forces covenant shows that the country as a whole is responding with a resounding yes.

17. I have been working with Neath veterans support group to ensure that those leaving the armed forces receive the support they need. Will the Minister explain what his Government are doing to extend the support offered, through projects such as Change Step, so that the welfare of serving personnel is viewed through a model of prevention, rather than of cure? (905489)

I am grateful to a whole range of charities in Neath and other areas for the work they are doing with the armed forces. We are giving considerable priority to this and to ensuring that people’s transition, which is one of the seven aspects of the strategy I have mentioned, is successful. From the stories one hears of companies that have signed covenants successfully taking on people for new careers after they leave the armed forces and of the work we are doing with local authorities on housing, I can say that all this work is bearing fruit.

Defence Spending

I will answer pithily. This Government are delivering stronger defence. The defence budget will rise by 0.5% above inflation every year to 2020-21, and we will access up to £1.5 billion a year from the joint security fund by the end of this Parliament. This is the first time in six years that the defence budget will increase in real terms.

Given the vote last week, does the Minister agree that Britain should remain a key player on the international stage? Will Britain continue to use its influence to encourage our NATO allies to spend 2% of their GDP on defence?

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier, NATO is the cornerstone of our defence, and we are leading players in influencing fellow NATO members to meet the spending commitment. Allies have made welcome progress since 2014; five now spend 2% of GDP on defence, eight spend 20% of their defence budgets on major equipment and research, 16 have increased defence spending in real terms and 24 are now spending more of their defence budgets on equipment.

With the increasing budget comes increasing responsibility for ensuring value for money for taxpayers. Has my hon. Friend learned the lessons of failed procurement under Labour of maritime patrol aircraft, which had to be cancelled because the programme was 10 years behind and £800 million over budget?

My hon. Friend and constituency neighbour is right that the Nimrod programme suffered repeated and unacceptable delays and cost overruns. The decision in 2010 to cancel it was difficult but the planned purchase of nine P-8 Poseidon aircraft for maritime patrol will give us the capability we need in the timeframe we want, and at best value for the taxpayer.

Part of making sure defence spending is adequate is making sure that we get value for money. The Public Accounts Committee was very disturbed when we looked recently at housing management for service families, which seems to be woeful. The contractor, Carillion, has not stepped up to the job. Will the Minister tell me how he will ensure that we get value for money and, more importantly, a better service for our service families?

I am pleased to confirm to the right hon. Lady that in the area of defence equipment procurement, for which I am responsible, the Public Accounts Committee has found that we have consistently brought programmes in within budget and with minimal time overruns. I accept we have more to do on housing.

Where the defence budget is spent is absolutely crucial. Given the gross uncertainty for the British steel industry as a result of the EU referendum vote, what assurances on defence spending can the Minister give to steel manufacturers in this country to boost them at this crucial time?

We have adopted the Government’s policy to ensure that defence contractors make all steel procurement opportunities available to UK producers. The amount of steel expected to be available for tender for future work is much reduced, because the most substantial amounts have been in the aircraft carrier programme and we will not be building vessels as big as that for the foreseeable future.

I warmly welcome the Government’s commitment to spend at least 2% of GDP on defence, but will my hon. Friend confirm that this year and next there will be no increase in cash terms, and assure me that we will not find ourselves in the same situation as we did this year, where in order to meet our 2% commitment money was transferred to the Ministry of Defence from other Departments?

As was made clear in last year’s comprehensive spending review at the same time as the strategic defence and security review, and as I have already said this afternoon, the defence budget is going up in real terms in each year of this Parliament.

There has been much loose talk about the increase in the defence budget, but to be able to hit the target of 2% of GDP we now have to be very careful, as there may well be a recession given the Brexit vote. Will the Minister reassure the House, the public and the armed forces that the Government’s commitment on defence spending will be maintained not just in terms of GDP but in cash terms?

I am not going to join those in the Opposition who seek to talk the economy down. We have a clear commitment to meet the NATO defence spending pledge and that is what we will do.

Naval Procurement

The Department continues to develop our naval force structure, as we set out in the defence review. That will include completion of two new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers, eight Type 26 global combat ships, new solid support ships and two new offshore patrol vessels.

Can the Minister confirm press reports today that leaked correspondence shows that the Ministry of Defence is looking for savings of £500 million in the Type 26 programme, and has refused an offer from BAE Systems that would bring savings of £270 million while starting the programme on time?

As I said in answer to other questions on the Type 26 programme, we will enter into a contract once we have established best value for the taxpayer, and a delivery schedule that can be met by the contractor.

After last week’s vote, these are uncertain times for UK manufacturing. One thing that the Government could do now to boost manufacturing and protect British jobs and skills would be to make a decision on Successor and bring it forward. Will the Minister say when that vote will be?

The hon. Gentleman will have heard the Secretary of State confirm that that will not take too long.

NATO Warsaw Summit

The National Security Council has considered the UK’s preparations for the Warsaw summit next week, which is an opportunity to build on the success of the summit that we hosted in Wales in 2014. Our intention at Warsaw is to demonstrate a united alliance that is adaptable, transparent, and capable of planning for and responding to the full range of threats that we face today.

Today the United Kingdom is seen as an ineffective, unreliable partner in global affairs, as highlighted not by Opposition Members, but by a former general and supreme commander of NATO, Admiral Stavridis. Reflecting on the admiral’s words, what does the Secretary of State think that his Government can achieve in Warsaw?

I hope that we can further reassure NATO members on the eastern flank that we stand by our commitment in the face of Russian aggression. I hope that we continue to make the alliance more flexible to deal with the new threats we face, particularly from cyber and hybrid warfare, and that through British leadership we will encourage other allies to meet the 2% commitment that we are already meeting this year.

I hope the Secretary of State is aware that we cannot hide behind the fig leaf of a percentage of GDP, and that we need NATO membership and partnership more than ever before, given last Thursday’s dreadful result in the referendum. We have only 100,000 people in our defence forces—we could get them all in Wembley. Let us have a stronger NATO and a greater partnership against Russia with Europe.

We have more than 100,000 members in our armed forces, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of NATO. Because we are withdrawing from the European Union, it will be all the more important to reinforce our commitment to NATO and the obligations of NATO membership. That is why we lead in complying with the 2% commitment, and he will hear from the Warsaw summit about additional deployments that we are now likely to make to the eastern flank.


Forces aligned to the Libyan Government of National Accord are making progress against Daesh, but while Daesh may have suffered setbacks in its stronghold in Sirte and in the east, it has not yet been defeated and may look to re-establish itself elsewhere in Libya. In Tripoli, the security situation is relatively calm but fragile, with increasing support for the Presidency Council from militias.

Before last Friday morning, Libya was seen as this Government’s worst foreign policy disaster. In light of that, will the Secretary of State say what discussions he has had with EU counterparts about continued involvement in Operation Sophia off the coast of Libya?

I continue to discuss Operation Sophia with my European counterparts, and we have agreed to deploy an additional vessel, a Royal Navy ship, as part of that. We are working with the new Libyan Government —I recently spoke to the Defence Minister there—to support them in their fight against Daesh. It is vital that we continue to work with other allies along the coastline, and we are extending the counter-IED training that we provide to Tunisian forces for a further year.

Defence Spending: Small Firms

13. What steps he is taking to increase the proportion of defence spending that goes to small firms. (905485)

Small businesses are a crucial engine for growth and innovation in this country, and we are determined that they should play an increasing part in supplying defence. We are committed to achieving 25% of our procurement spend with small and medium-sized enterprises by 2020, and that target is 10% higher than the one set during the last Parliament. We recently refreshed our SME policy to show how we will work to achieve that.

What steps is my hon. Friend taking to make it as simple as possible for small firms to benefit from this increased spend?

We have already appointed a new network of supply chain advocates to provide a named point of contact for potential suppliers. We are providing a new online tool for suppliers to highlight opportunities, and we are simplifying our standard terms and conditions.

I should maybe come to questions more often.

A former First Sea Lord told the Defence Committee that the delay in the Type 26 frigate programme was due to money problems in the Ministry of Defence budget. Will the Minister tell the House, and more importantly tell the workers on the Clyde, how many jobs will be lost and what the impact will be on its world-class apprenticeship programme?

Apprentices are very important to maintain the skills on the Clyde to complete the Type 26 programme. The intention is that once we have signed the contract we will have clarity on the best value for money for the taxpayer. That is our priority.


With regard to targeting or other rules of engagement, the use of remotely piloted air systems is no different to that of any other aircraft. Therefore, there is no separate policy for their use in this respect.

With respect, it is evident that the Government intend to use lethal force outside armed conflict for counter-terrorism purposes, despite the legal basis for that being unclear. Will the Government clarify the legal basis on the use of drones for targeted killing outside of armed conflict?

We have been very clear that this is guided by international law. Where there is an identified, direct and immediate threat to the United Kingdom, and where we have no other means of dealing with it, we reserve the right to use force.

The hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson) has a question on the Order Paper on this very same subject. Does he wish to intervene and give the House the benefit of his thoughts?

Topical Questions

My immediate priorities remain success in our operations against Daesh, and implementing our strategic defence and security review commitments. On Friday week, I will join the Prime Minister for the NATO summit in Warsaw, where we will review progress since the Wales summit, agree further reassurance to our eastern allies, and take further steps to demonstrate the alliance’s strength and unity.

Given the unfortunate success of the Brexit campaign and the subsequent downward spiral of the value of the pound, which now sits at a 31-year low, will the Minister tell me the additional cost of the Trident renewal programme on top of the current estimate of £205 billion?

In the strategic defence and security review, we published our most up-to-date assessment of the cost of the Trident replacement programme at £31 billion, plus a contingency of a further £10 billion.

T3. In the light of the momentous decision taken by the nation last Thursday, will the Minister explain to the House what implications that decision will have on working with military intelligence from not only European countries but other countries around the world? (905500)

Defence in the UK is grounded on the strength of our relationships with our closest allies and partners. We work extensively with them, principally through NATO but also bilaterally. The UK’s decision to leave the European Union does not change that approach.

In the first year of this Government, over 1,800 properties within the married quarters estate were left empty for the majority of the year. Since then, the number has more than quadrupled. Can the Minister explain why that has been allowed to happen and why the properties are not being used?

My understanding is that there are just over 10,000 void properties at the moment under the service family accommodation estate. We need to have void properties to ensure that when people trickle post they have a property to go to. Equally, the hon. Lady will be aware that we are moving the Army back from Germany at the moment so we need spare properties, but up to half of those properties are currently up for disposal.

The fact is that departmental policy is for about 10% of such properties to remain vacant. In fact, there are more than 20%. The reality is that there is such a high proportion of empty properties because they are not in a fit state for people to live in. They cannot be released for sale by the leaseholder, Annington Homes, because it would cost too much for the Government to repair. The taxpayer is having to spend more than £30 million every year for the MOD to rent these properties. Will the Minister explain why his Department is wasting £30 million?

I am not sure whether the hon. Lady heard my answer. It is not every year that we seek to bring back the Army from Germany, which is why we need extra properties. However, more than half the properties are currently up for disposal and we have also invested more than £200 million in building 1,200 new service family accommodation units to ensure that we get the best quality accommodation for our troops.

T4. While I welcome the recent announcement that Lincolnshire will still have an air show—now at RAF Scampton—what steps is my hon. Friend taking to increase home ownership among members of the armed forces? (905501)

I am delighted to say that since the forces’ Help to Buy scheme was introduced, more than 7,260 service families have taken up the opportunity to buy their own home.

T2. Will the Minister undertake an urgent review of the awards of the Légion d’Honneur? I have many constituents who were awarded the Légion d’Honneur by the French authorities and who notified the Ministry of Defence more than a year ago, but have still not received their medals. Will the Minister look at that urgently? (905499)

I am more than happy to do so. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that there was a review. It is fair to say that the French authorities have simply been overwhelmed by the number of applications, but we have a system in place now whereby 200 are sent each week to the French. Of the original applications that were made, I understand that all have now been awarded.[Official Report, 28 June 2016, Vol. 612, c. 1MC.]

T6. My hon. Friend will be aware of the valuable and essential work done by African Union troops to prevent and ameliorate conflicts all over Africa—work that is also essential for this country. Will she update the House on the support being provided to the AU by the UK to assist with its peacekeeping role? (905503)

My hon. and learned Friend affords me the opportunity to pay tribute to our armed forces who are training the Rwandan defence force as well as the African Union’s Eastern Africa Standby Force. The training that we are providing is there to help security sector reform and enhance their capabilities for peace operations and disaster relief.

T5. Following the questioning of Ministry of Defence officials at the Public Accounts Committee on infantry management, will the Minister tell us about the current state of the logistics commodities and services’ transformation programme? Is the super shed built, and how confident are the Government that the privatisation of logistics to support our armed services will not result in equipment shortages on the ground? (905502)

T7. Will the Department update the House on the progress being made in increasing the number of cadet units in state schools so that more young people can benefit from the skills and experiences of those cadet units? (905504)

We are receiving a healthy number of applications to set up new units. These are processed through a six-monthly run. Twenty five new state school units have been approved since last November, and 350 school cadet units are currently parading. The programme is on track to achieve its target of 500 in schools by 2020.

T9. Thousands of Kurdish peshmerga killed or seriously injured fighting Daesh could have been helped by good front-line facilities. Can we now rush in a field hospital to reduce avoidable deaths and allow at least 100 of the most seriously injured to benefit from specialist beds here in the UK? It is the least we can do. (905506)

We have done a huge amount to support Kurdish fighters. To date, we have trained 3,900 and that includes not just dealing with improvised explosive devices, but providing first aid and that first-line medical support.

T10. On Saturday, I met my constituent Benjamin Greaves who was injured by a thunder flash in 1979, but whose injury was not diagnosed until 2011. Will Ministers look at his case to ensure that he is receiving all the compensation and pension that he deserves? (905507)

What percentage of the P-8 contracts will be offset to British companies and what maintenance work will take place in the UK? Will the Minister confirm that the sonobuoys and missiles will be procured from British companies?

The P-8 contract has not yet been let. We announced at the time our intention to procure P-8, and some $4.5 million per aircraft is UK-sourced. The support contracts will be let in due course.

Will my hon. Friend assure us that, despite Airbus trying to bully its employees to vote remain in the referendum last week, the wings of the magnificent A400 aircraft will still be made in Filton?

Airbus is an important defence contractor and a significant employer in my hon. Friend’s constituency for both civil and defence work. Where it chooses to locate wings in the civil contracts in the future will be a matter for Airbus.

Depressingly, UNICEF reported that 25 children were killed by airstrikes in Syria yesterday. Will the Secretary of State tell us what conversations he is having with our international partners to make sure that we take every necessary step to defend civilians?

The hon. Lady raises an important point. On that operation to date, we know that UK strikes have produced no reports of civilian casualties. That is because of the care we take and the investigations we carry out after every strike. We are working with our allies to develop joint policy in this area.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

The Royal Military School of Music has been in Whitton for 150 years. Will the Minister work with me to ensure that the Ministry of Defence keeps a physical military presence “remaining” in Whitton?

I commend my hon. Friend, whose constituents could not ask for a greater champion on this issue. Since last month’s Adjournment debate, the situation has not changed. However, I am convinced that we will continue to have military concerts there in the future.

Exactly what actions are the Government taking to protest about the use of phosphorous bombs and barrel bombs against the people of Aleppo?

We have a very clear policy in this country on the export of cluster munitions and the like. We have not sold cluster munitions since 1989. The right hon. Lady asks about phosphorous, and I will write to her about it later.

I was grateful for the Minister’s earlier answer on the cadet expansion programme. Will he tell us at what point, if at all, expressions of interest from schools in non-priority areas will be accepted if insufficient applications are made from priority areas?

My hon. Friend reflects on the problems of success. We have many applications from priority areas, according to the three criteria that were set out a number of times. I cannot make any firm promises, I am afraid, for those who do not meet the priority criteria. We are firmly on track to deliver the schools we need.

Last Friday, I was privileged to be invited to Burma company 4th Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment, based in Barnsley, to thank them for the service ahead of armed forces day. Will the Secretary of State join me in paying tribute to the superb men and women there, who are superbly led by Major Darren Schofield?

Let me congratulate all those from the armed forces, including those from reserve units, who participated in the key events in Cleethorpes, Plymouth, Glasgow, Woolwich and many other locations up and down the country. We are proud of them, and we gave the public the opportunity to show their support.

Will the Secretary of State reassure us that, by contrast with the Labour party, morale in our armed forces remains high and the desertion rate is very low?

I am happy to confirm, on the basis of the attitude surveys that we conduct each year, that morale is high, and the armed forces appreciate that, given a defence budget that is growing every single year, they have much to look forward to.

I thank the veterans Minister for taking account of the plight of war widows who have been penalised for remarrying. Can he give us some idea of how long his review of the matter will take?