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Topical Questions

Volume 620: debated on Monday 30 January 2017

My priorities remain our operations against Daesh, strengthening NATO, and implementing our defence review. I can announce today that Her Majesty the Queen will unveil the new Iraq Afghanistan memorial, with a service in London on 9 March, as a reminder of the huge contribution that our armed forces, aid workers and civilians make to the security of the United Kingdom and to help build a more stable future for the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan.

So far, 6,981 people from my constituency have signed the petition to cancel Trump’s visit, and minute by minute the figure is going up. Will the Secretary of State publicly condemn the entry ban that Donald Trump has imposed on seven majority-Muslim countries under the pretext of defence?

I think that the Government’s position on this has been made very clear. We do not agree with the way in which the ban is being applied to British citizens, and the hon. Lady may have an opportunity later this afternoon, if she catches your eye, Mr Speaker, to pursue this directly with my colleague the Foreign Secretary.

T3. What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of Trident renewal on associated supply-chain jobs in the United Kingdom? (908430)

I can confirm that the Dreadnought submarine programme is a major national investment programme that will sustain thousands of jobs across the UK. The benefit will extend well beyond the major companies leading the programme.

Army recruitment levels are now worryingly low, due in no small part to the Government’s total failure to manage the contract with Capita, allowing that parasitic company to sponge off the public purse while bringing in only 6,900 of the target of 9,500 Army recruits? Will the Minister review Capita’s contract and improve his Department’s monitoring procedures to stop leech-like companies siphoning off taxpayers’ money for little or no return?

We need to be careful, because comments like that undermine the morale of our armed forces. Let us have some facts. On 1 December 2016, the fully trained strength of our regular forces was 143,680, of whom 29,400 were in the Royal Navy; 83,360 were in the Army; and 30,870 were in the Air Force. We have more work to do on retention and recruitment, but those sorts of comments are not helpful to our armed forces.

T5. Last week, we debated the difficulty and challenge of recruiting new prison officers. May I urge the Ministry of Defence to use its good offices to point personnel who leave the services of their own volition in the direction of the Prison Service? There seems to be a synergy between the two, with the skills and expertise of those in the services much valued by the Prison Service. (908432)

Our service leavers have many transferrable skills, and I am pleased to say that the Ministry of Defence is working with the National Offender Management Service to encourage service leavers to join the Prison Service as part of the Government’s recruitment of 2,500 new prison officers.

T9. The recent report of the Select Committee on Defence on UK military operations in Syria and Iraq recommended that the Government “provide the necessary detail on what is being targeted”in those countries, and“put this information, as far as possible, into the public domain”.Is the Secretary of State prepared to make that commitment today? (908437)

We already publish a huge amount of information about the number of strikes that the Royal Air Force has carried out. That information was updated today on the Ministry’s website. It gave details of operations last week in and around Mosul, and a strike to the west of Raqqa. That information has already been made public but I will, of course, look again into whether we can improve on it.

T7. I welcome the visit to Yeovil earlier this year of the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin), and the investment in Crowsnest fleet protection to be provided by our Merlin helicopters. What is she doing to ensure that Boeing works with Leonardo in Yeovil on the UK’s Apache helicopters, and to encourage Boeing further to build capability in the strategic aerospace cluster in Yeovil? (908435)

I was very impressed when I visited my hon. Friend’s constituency earlier this month. Of course, Leonardo helicopters will support our existing Apache Mk1 helicopters until they are retired from service. I am delighted that Boeing announced last week that it will make the UK its European base for training, maintenance, repair and overhaul across its defence platforms. I am sure it will want to discuss that with Leonardo, which is well placed to secure subcontract work on the next generation Apaches.

When will the Secretary of State answer calls to grant an independent inquiry into the botched Trident II D5 missile test to inform this House and our constituents what went wrong? What plans has he made to ensure that the House can be confident that the procedure for providing information is reliable and timely?

I have no plans to commission the kind of inquiry that the hon. Lady proposes because, as I have made clear to the House, we do not on the Floor of the House comment on the details of nuclear submarine operations or on the details of the demonstration and shakedown operations, except to conclude that HMS Vengeance successfully carried out that operation last summer and has now rejoined the operational cycle.

T8. With Iraqi security forces making good progress in liberating Mosul, will the Secretary of State confirm what our brave British forces are doing in training Iraqi security forces to rid Iraq of Daesh? (908436)

As Iraqi forces become increasingly capable and are deployed across the country, we now need to deliver our training more flexibly. In addition to training in Besmaya, Taji and al-Asad air bases, I have authorised UK personnel to deliver training at other secured and protected locations in Iraq. This aligns with our approach in the Kurdish region and ensures that we continue to deliver the infantry skills, counter-IED, combat first aid and bridge training that the Iraqi forces require.

Ministers are well aware and, no doubt, very concerned that RAF serviceman Corrie McKeague has been missing since September. The hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) has done sterling work keeping Members informed of the work that is taking place to find him, but this is clearly a very distressing time for his family. Will the Minister place on the record the Government’s concern about Corrie’s whereabouts? Will he also give an assurance that all work is being done and all resources are being put towards the search to bring him home?

Naturally, there is an ongoing police inquiry, but I am sure that Members across the whole House will want to register that their thoughts are with Corrie’s family, loved ones and his service colleagues from the RAF Regiment who I had the honour of meeting at RAF Honington just after he went missing. On a daily basis, I have ensured that all available military kit, personnel and surveillance equipment are available should the police request them, and they have requested them on several occasions. I thank the hon. Gentleman for paying tribute to my Parliamentary Private Secretary, who has done diligent work in Bury St Edmunds to ensure that the local community knows what is going on. We all want Corrie to come home safely, and the MOD will do all we possibly can.

Following the revelation of a very rare failure of a Trident missile test, will the Secretary of State confirm that our nuclear deterrent still meets what might be termed the Federer criterion of being able to deliver lethal projectiles at high velocity, in rapid succession and with total accuracy over a very long period of years?

It is a very high bar to imitate the accuracy and genius to which the right hon. Gentleman alludes.

Has the Secretary of State had an opportunity to speak to his American counterpart over the weekend, because many of us would hope that he would have pointed out to the Americans that Trump’s ban is potentially a massive recruiting sergeant for terrorism and is not going to protect anybody at all?

I have already made it clear that the Government do not agree with aspects of the ban that was announced on Friday. The hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity later this afternoon to ask more detailed questions about it.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we will need to increase the study of what is happening in the South China sea, where the strategic threats are changing?

Yes, we are concerned at the rising tensions in the South China sea. We continue to encourage all parties that may be contesting the sovereignty of particular islands or other areas to take those disputes through the international forums that were established for that purpose, and therefore to de-escalate the situation as far as they can.

The whole country will welcome the memorial to our 625 brave soldiers who perished in Iraq and Afghanistan, and also welcome the Prime Minister’s admission that we will never engage in wars of that kind in future. Would it not be appropriate now to investigate why we went into Helmand in the belief that not a shot would be fired, yet that resulted in 425 deaths of our soldiers? Should we not investigate that to make sure that we do not repeat it?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman, who has long held these views, will take the time to read in full the Prime Minister’s speech in Philadelphia last Thursday, where she spoke of the importance of standing by the fragile democracies in both Iraq and Afghanistan, where we have increased our troop presence and where we will stay until the job is done, which is to reduce the threat to our own people here.

I am sure that the whole House will have heard with some joy that the MOD’s procurement process is to be simplified and diversified. To help us to judge the success of this, will the Minister say how many people currently work in procurement at the MOD and whether that number will go up or down between now and the end of the Parliament?

I can provide in writing the exact number of people, as of today, who work there. As this is a bespoke trading entity, the aspiration is that we do not manage the head count in terms of our procurement but manage down the cost of procurement.

In the light of recent events, how relaxed is the Secretary of State about Trump having his finger on the nuclear button?

The United States has always been a good partner to this country and has played a leading role in NATO, and is a key part of the nuclear alliance that we and the United States share together. It is worth remembering that NATO is a nuclear alliance. I look forward to working with the new Administration on precisely that.

Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming the Heads of Government agreement signed at the weekend between the UK and Turkey, securing over 400 jobs in Lancashire? Does that not send out a signal that Britain post-Brexit is open for business?

It does. I, too, am delighted that the agreement has now been signed in principle on the TFX programme, which will combine Turkish and British technology and brainpower into the development of a new fighter aircraft. I hope that that will lead to many more jobs being created both here and in Turkey.

In October, NATO appointed its first ever assistant secretary-general for intelligence. If the new US President follows through with his stated intention to reinstate rendition and torture, the NATO allies would be legally obliged not to work with him on intelligence. Will the Government ensure that the alliance rules out the use of torture in all respects, for the good of NATO effectiveness?

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. We do not condone the use of torture and there are obviously implications that flow from that.

I am not sure whether my right hon. Friend is referring to the Ajax programme, but I can confirm that we have taken extensive steps to ensure that a significant portion of the manufacturing processes of the Ajax vehicles takes place in south Wales, and we will continue to work with our suppliers to ensure that we get significant UK content in all our procurement.

What are the reasons for the delay in the HMS Queen Elizabeth’s sea trials, and what will its in-service date be?

It has always been our intention that HMS Queen Elizabeth should be accepted into the Royal Navy before the end of this year. We are not giving specific dates as to when the sea trials are likely to commence. Queen Elizabeth will set out on those sea trials when she is ready to do so.

In 2020, Plymouth will commemorate the Mayflower leaving in order to found the American colonies. Is my right hon. Friend willing to meet me and potentially some other people to discuss how we can put together a review of the NATO fleet, not only for Her Majesty the Queen, but potentially for the President of America?

I am very happy to consider that suggestion, which is the first I have heard as to how we might commemorate that particular anniversary at sea. It is certainly worth looking into.