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Topical Questions

Volume 612: debated on Monday 27 June 2016

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?