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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 632: debated on Monday 27 November 2017


The Secretary of State was asked—

NATO North Atlantic Command

1. What discussions he has had with his counterparts in other NATO member states on the location of the new NATO North Atlantic Command. (902547)

May I start by congratulating, on behalf of those who work in our armed forces, His Royal Highness Prince Harry on his engagement to Meghan Markle? Prince Harry has acted as a proud champion of servicemen and women in the armed forces, most notably with his commitment to the Invictus games. I am sure we would all like to echo your words, Mr Speaker, in wishing the two of them the very best in their shared future together.

During my first few weeks as Secretary of State for Defence, I have had the privilege of being able to join the Army on Salisbury plain, the RAF in Cosford and the Navy in Devonport. It is truly moving to see the dedication and commitment they all show in their work. On 8 and 9 November, I had the opportunity to join fellow NATO Defence Ministers to discuss the future NATO command. This is about creating a new structure to lead NATO, but the establishment of a command for the Atlantic and its location have yet to be decided.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but with Russian submarine activity in Scottish waters at a level not seen since the cold war—just last week, the Russian destroyer the Vice-Admiral Kulakov was escorted through the Moray firth—how can the Secretary of State reassure Scots that, when the command is re-established, it will meet the needs of Scotland, which sits in a vital strategic position with respect to the High North?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the increased activity of Russian submarines in the north Atlantic. I am sure he would welcome the investment that the UK Government are putting into Her Majesty’s naval base at Clyde. Some £1.5 billion is being spent on investing in Scotland and 6,500 personnel are already based at Her Majesty’s naval base at Clyde, and that number is going to increase. NATO and what we do in terms of NATO are vital. It is the cornerstone of our defence. The hon. Gentleman must understand, though, that it is about not only conventional warfare and conventional deterrents but a nuclear deterrent. If we do not recognise the fact that nuclear weapons have been safeguarding our security, then we do not understand what NATO is. I very much hope that the hon. Gentleman will start to welcome our investment in not only conventional submarines in Scotland but nuclear submarines.

Does the Secretary of State agree that, when global threats to British interests around the world are increasing, it might seem illogical to have a defence capability review that could decrease our capabilities at a time when we need to be doing everything we can to increase our armed forces’ fighting power?

My hon. Friend makes a valuable point about making sure we have the right capability for all our armed forces. I am taking the opportunity to look at all the work that has been done and I am making my own judgment as to the best way to go forward.

I, too, extend warm wishes to the happy couple. My mother has already asked me whether she can join me in London on the day of the royal wedding.

I pay tribute to the Royal Navy assets, including HMS Protector, that have taken part in the search for ARA San Juan. Let us move from the south to the north Atlantic. I welcome the Secretary of State on his first appearance at the Dispatch Box. We do, of course, have differences, but where we can agree in Scotland’s interest, we will hopefully do so. With that and the re-establishment of NATO command in mind, does he agree that Scotland is ideally placed to host such a command?

I have no doubt that many places in the United Kingdom would be brilliant places to host such a command. I will be making strong representations to all our NATO partners to make sure that we get the very best deal out of NATO. At the moment, it is too early to determine where that command is going to be, but I will be doing everything I can to ensure that it is in the United Kingdom.

I understand that that matter will be discussed in February next year, so let me just point out to the Secretary of State what Scotland has to offer. It is the most northerly nation not to have any territory inside the Arctic circle; it is in a strategic position, jutting out into NATO’s north Atlantic heartland with access to the Icelandic gap; and it has Kinloss and Lossiemouth with unparalleled history in maritime aviation. Given what my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) has also said, will the Secretary of State commit to further investigating the strong position that Scotland is in and taking that to NATO in February?

I am always delighted to explore the many benefits that Scotland brings to our Union. The fact is that Scotland is always stronger as part of the United Kingdom than it is on its own. I also very much welcome our continued investment in Scotland. It is absolutely integral to our defence as a nation that we are always stronger together. I would be happy to look at all the evidence to make sure that we continue to get the very best investment in Scotland from our armed forces.

Departmental Funding

2. What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the adequacy of funding for his Department. (902548)

I have regular meetings with the Chancellor. As yet, I have not had a formal meeting with him, but I am very much looking forward to doing so to discuss our shared future.

In a recent letter to the Defence Secretary, 25 of his Conservative colleagues said:

“We look forward to rhetoric being matched in deeds over the coming months.”

Will the Secretary of State listen to colleagues from all parts of the House and match the Government’s rhetoric with increased resources for our armed services?

What we have in our national security and capability review is the opportunity to step back, look at the threats and challenges that face this country, whether it is from cyber or from more conventional threats, and make sure that we have the right resources in place to deliver for our armed forces. That is what I will be looking at. I am looking forward to meeting the Chancellor as well as many others and having those discussions going forward.

I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on taking up office in this vital position. When he speaks to the Chancellor, will he take the opportunity of reminding him that, in the cold war years, we spent 5% of GDP on defence and that now we spend barely 2% of GDP on defence? Perhaps a target nearer to 3% of GDP on defence might prevent our armed forces from being further hollowed out.

I will always listen intensely and very carefully to the arguments of my right hon. Friend. I have always seen 2% as a base as opposed to a ceiling, and I will certainly take on board his thoughts and comments in discussions going forward.

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his new post and to the world of defence. The National Audit Office report earlier this year highlighted the fact that the Government have committed £24.4 billion to extra equipment, but only another £6.4 billion was actually there in new money for the joint strike fighter. How will he fill that £18 billion black hole in the budget on the basis that both the efficiencies and the headroom identified by the NAO have not yet been met?

We have an unparalleled commitment from this Government to continue to increase defence spending on equipment—0.5% above inflation every single year. I will be very happy to look at all the issues in the National Audit Office report and make sure that, working with our industrial partners, we deliver very best value for our armed forces.

I welcome my right hon. Friend, my constituency neighbour to his place. Training is key to ensuring that our armed forces are operationally ready should they need to be mobilised. Will my right hon. Friend outline what measures are being taken to ensure that training is well funded?

We have often been criticised for having the most poorly equipped armed forces, but the best trained armed forces. In my tenure as Secretary of State, I want to ensure that we have armed forces that have the best equipment and the best training. I have spoken to ministerial colleagues from Norway and other countries across Europe, and they all recognise our commitment to training. We will continue to invest in that, including in what the Royal Marines do in Norway every single winter.

I welcome the Secretary of State to his place, and echo his good wishes—and yours, Mr Speaker—to His Royal Highness Prince Harry and Meghan on their engagement.

Security cannot be done on the cheap. With expert after expert highlighting serious gaps in defence funding, it was surreal last week to hear the permanent secretary say that the man in charge had made no formal pre-Budget requests to the Chancellor for more money. It is one thing to ask and not get, but another not even to bother asking. Did I hear correctly today? Will the Secretary of State confirm that he actually did not make any representations to the Chancellor before the Budget?

We have to ensure that we understand the needs of our defence and armed forces. The hon. Lady may wish to rush into things, and to demand and demand, but I want to ensure that we have the arguments ready, we understand the threats that this country faces and we deliver for our armed forces. That is what the focus will be. I have had many conversations with the Chancellor, and I look forward to having many more.

I think I will take that as a no. This is serious; we hear that the Marines may be cut by 15% and the Army reduced to 70,000. That would seriously put our international credibility at risk. With the Secretary of State’s Back Benchers in open rebellion and one of his Ministers threatening to quit over cuts, just how bad do things have to get before the Secretary of State does his job, stands up for defence, and tells the Prime Minister and the Chancellor that enough is enough?

I will take many lectures from many people, but it is a little bit rich to be lectured about defence spending by the party that is led by a man who does not even believe in the British Army or a continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent. The Conservative party is the party that is ensuring that we deliver on 2% and that we increase defence spending. Frankly, I find it shocking to be lectured by the party that is led by a man who does not even believe in the British Army.

Cadet Units: State Schools

I am pleased to see that cadets are so popular in the Chamber today.

In 2015, the Government committed £50 million to increasing the number of cadet units in state schools through the cadet expansion programme. The programme targets schools in less affluent areas and is on track to achieve its target of 500 cadet units by 2020.

The sea cadet corps in Henley has provided the youngest of my daughters with enormous opportunities for personal development. Does the Minister agree that it is important to support cadet units in state schools, particularly with things such as uniforms?

I am happy to agree with my hon. Friend. He is right that cadet units provide life skills, employability and social mobility—things that schools do not necessarily offer themselves. I also pay tribute to the work of the cadets who participated in Remembrance Sunday up and down the country.

Last week, I was able to see Scunthorpe’s 119 Squadron, which meets outside the school day, but does fantastic work developing young people. The young people and the volunteers are a real tribute to us all. What are the Government doing to ensure that cadet groups—Army, Navy and sea—continue to play an important role in our communities?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on visiting his local cadet unit, and I encourage other hon. Members across the House to support our cadet programmes when they are in their constituencies. I mentioned the cadet expansion programme; there are 126,000 cadets supporting by 28,000 volunteers, and we are very grateful to them.

20. Given the findings of the recently published report by my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois), does my hon. Friend agree that schemes such as the combined cadet force at Westcliff High School for Boys are an excellent way to boost recruitment in the armed forces? Perhaps he will also encourage other schools to adopt the programme. (902568)

I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend’s work on understanding the challenges we face with recruitment and retention. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that, as a starting point, the cadet programme is important to encourage and open up opportunities in the armed forces. Some 20% of those who sign up for the cadets go on to become members of our armed forces, and the other 80% have an affinity and an understanding for them, and a desire to support them, which is also welcome.[Official Report, 5 December 2017, Vol. 632, c. 6MC.]

The combined cadet force at Treorchy Comprehensive has been going for 10 years now, and it has done a brilliant job. Lots of young people have been given skills and opportunities they would never otherwise have had, and the same goes for the sea cadets in Llwynypia. However, one of the daftest things the MOD did last year was to sell the Pentre barracks for a paltry sum. We now really need a venue for the sea cadets and the combined cadet force to be able to work together. Would the Minister like to visit the Rhondda very soon—he may have some spare time in the near future—to look at the combined cadet force and the sea cadets?

I am not sure how useful I would be if I did have spare time in the future. There is an armed forces rationalisation programme of real estate in the UK. Some 2% of the land is owned by the Ministry of Defence and we are going through a process to rationalise that. That may include some locations that the hon. Gentleman mentions, but because of the contribution the cadets make to wider society and the armed forces, we absolutely need to work with local authorities and Members of Parliament to make sure cadets have a place to go.

Queen Elizabeth Aircraft Carrier

HMS Queen Elizabeth has returned to Portsmouth after a successful second set of sea trials. Her commissioning ceremony is planned for 7 December in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen. The handover to the Royal Navy from the contractor is planned for the end of the year.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is now a sense of urgency? Not only are we planning a global future for ourselves, which will require a greater presence around the world, but with the royal wedding coming as early as next year, and with the absence of the yacht Britannia, is there not a possibility that the new prince and princess will require something to sail around the seas?

I certainly was not anticipating that line of questioning from my hon. Friend, the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, but he is absolutely right that this new class of aircraft carrier will give a powerful expression of national ambition and intent. They are versatile and agile ships and will be able to perform a wide range of maritime security roles.

Will the Minister confirm that the Government see the future of the Queen Elizabeth, when it comes into service, as an aircraft carrier and not as meeting defence cuts by replacing amphibious landing craft such as HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion?

I am delighted to confirm that we have not only one aircraft carrier but a second aircraft carrier, which is now structurally complete, at Rosyth. Of course, there will be adaptations to ensure that the carriers are able to support the full range of helicopters in our fleet, but we have absolutely confirmed that we will have a full range of maritime capabilities from these two remarkable and adaptable ships.

It will be essential that we have sufficient surface fleet to provide escort capability for the carriers. Will the Minister confirm that we will indeed have sufficient of the Type 31s and that, where possible, they will be made from UK steel?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. To give just one example, today in Portsmouth one of the new Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability tankers has been commissioned into the Navy. There are six Type 45 destroyers. We cut steel on the first of eight new anti-submarine frigates, and we are running the competition for the Type 31e global general purpose frigate.

HMS Diamond recently had to abandon its operations because of issues with its propeller. This means that none of the £1 billion Type 45 destroyers, which have been riddled with issues, is currently at sea. Given the important role that they will play in supporting the carriers, what urgent action are the Government taking to remedy these issues?

There is of course a limit to what we can comment on with regard to the specifics of the situation, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that as part of our regular force deployment we will be regenerating that capability, and the Royal Navy is able to meet all its operational capabilities around the world.

Order. I gently point out to the House that although very engaging, the exchanges have been rather protracted, so progress is slow. There are lots of very important questions on the Order Paper that I am keen to reach, so let us try to speed up.

Hawk Aircraft: Overseas Promotion

5. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for International Trade on promoting Hawk aircraft overseas. (902551)

The Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Trade continue to work closely with BAE Systems to promote and secure sales of the world-leading Hawk advanced jet training aircraft.

I recently had the opportunity to talk to Unite and GMB members about the importance of a consistent flow of orders to maintain jobs throughout the supply chain for Hawk. In a recent debate on defence aerospace strategy, the Minister referred to 12 Hawk aircraft for Qatar. Has this figure changed from the six initially announced? Could she update us with progress on getting further orders on the books?

I can absolutely confirm that the Government are working wholeheartedly in every way they can to ensure that we put that order from the Government of Qatar on the order books by the end of the year. That includes—

My hon. Friend and constituency neighbour will know that the Red Arrows have just returned from a very successful tour of the Gulf. Part of what they do is support the wonderful export campaigns that the company is running.

There are 21 RAF officers sitting in the Gallery today who are due to be deployed on Op Shader in the new year. I am sure that the whole House wishes them well in their future deployment.

Ten days ago, we had a debate in this Chamber on a new defence industrial strategy. Given the jobs that are still vulnerable at Brough and the Qatar order that we still do not have the detail on, can we just have a defence industrial strategy, please?

I am happy to pay tribute to the people who are here in the Gallery today for everything that they do.

The hon. Lady is right to keep raising these issues. I can assure her that the Government are focusing very fully on both the matters that she raises.

On the day that the Government are launching their industrial strategy, this country is in danger of losing its sovereign defence industrial capability, not least in aerospace. Will the Minister therefore be specific in telling us what efforts she is making to promote additional orders across the world?

Nonsense! We could not be working harder across the globe. We have not only the Department for International Trade but a fantastic network of defence attachés.

I am working tirelessly on behalf of the Government, travelling around the world to support a range of different export campaigns, as is my colleague, the Secretary of State for International Trade.

Cyber-Warfare Defence

We take cyber-attacks very seriously and are aware of the increasing threats. As part of the defence cyber programme, we are investing £265 million in a programme of cyber-vulnerability investigations for military equipment, building a new £40 million cyber-security operations centre, and ensuring that our people are fully equipped to meet the cyber challenge.

Is the Department looking at the recent Russian activity in this sphere, especially in Ukraine and Crimea, where it is clear that cyber-warfare has gone hand in glove with conventional warfare? The initiatives that the Minister has outlined today are very welcome, but does he understand that he also has to speak to and include other Departments, commercial interests and media outlets?

I was in Ukraine quite recently, and the right hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point. That is precisely why this has to be a cross-Government effort, and why we are spending some £1.9 billion on our national cyber-security strategy.

My constituents in GCHQ are on the front line of the UK’s cyber-defence, and they are among the brightest and the best. Recruiting and retaining people of exceptional ability does, however, require competitive levels of pay. May I urge my right hon. Friend and the Foreign Secretary to have that very much in mind when future decisions are made?

I was in my hon. Friend’s constituency quite recently at GCHQ, looking at the joint work that the MOD and GCHQ are carrying out together. He makes a reasonable point. That is why we are determined to invest in a career structure for cyber specialists, and we will be opening the defence cyber school at the Defence Academy at Shrivenham in January 2018.

Tweets are cheaper than tanks, and Russia, Iran and other state and non-state actors are increasingly looking to cyber and to social media as a cheap, effective way of destabilising the west. The Foreign Secretary told this House that he had seen no evidence of Russian interference in UK elections or the referendum. Has the Minister?

Let us be absolutely clear: there are limits on what we can discuss in this Chamber, and I think the hon. Lady will recognise that. In this age of constant competition, this country is under constant attack from both state and non-state actors, and this is a defence capability in which we are determined to continue to invest.

Does my hon. Friend agree that a trade-off between cyber and conventional capabilities is wrong; that the MOD needs to be capable of cyber, conventional and non-conventional forms of warfare; and that further cuts to our niche and specialist capabilities will do strategic harm to this country?

I certainly agree that this is not a binary choice. Indeed, perhaps it is more of a digital choice, as we look further on in the 21st century. That is why it is absolutely right that we are carrying out the national security and capability review, because as the threats intensify across the spectrum, we have to invest in those things.

I wonder whether the Minister heard BBC Radio 4’s “Profile” yesterday on Yevgeny Prigozhin, otherwise known as Putin’s chef, and his so-called troll factory in St Petersburg. If the Minister heard it, he should be very concerned indeed about Russia’s increasing efforts at cyber-warfare and the threat of disruption it poses to our democracy and the defence of the realm. What steps are he and the Department trying to take to minimise that serious Russian threat?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to say that I did not hear that profile yesterday because I was at the 100th anniversary of Cambrai—the first use of the tank—in France, and a marvellous event it was, too. He makes a reasonable point, and I can only refer him to some of the comments I have made during this question about investment and how seriously we take the threat.

Partner in Defence

The MOD works closely with our allies and partners, making a crucial contribution to Britain’s status as a global power. The challenging global security context, including a resurgent Russia, makes our relationships all the more vital. In my first three weeks, I have met Defence Ministers from the US, France and other NATO members, and I will continue to engage widely.

Given the current financial pressures within the MOD, does my right hon. Friend agree with Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, who was the commander of the US army in Europe and who said that Britain risks

“going into a different sort of category”

of ally if we cannot maintain our capability commitments?

When I had the good fortune to sit down with Secretary Mattis to discuss our partnership, what struck me was the value that the United States puts on everything that Britain does, and the contribution our men and equipment make. He was left in no doubt that that commitment—that resolute support that we have always provided to the United States—will always be there.

Despite what the Secretary of State says, Lieutenant General Hodges and James Mattis have both said that we will lose our clout in NATO and our place at the top table if the cuts continue. Will the new Secretary of State commit to stopping the cuts to our capability, and will he make sure that Britain stays at the top table and that we have the capability to defend ourselves and our allies?

The Government’s commitment to making sure that we have the very best for our armed forces has always been clear. The rising defence budget, which is going from £36 billion to £40 billion, is evidence of that commitment. [Interruption.] The United States knows quite clearly that we will always be there in support of them, regardless of what the hon. Lady’s leader may wish. [Interruption.]

Order. An unseemly habit is developing of Members asking a question and then proceeding to rant from a sedentary position during the course of the reply. I had a letter about that today from a member of the public, who was most aggrieved. I am sure the hon. Lady would not wish to disappoint the person concerned, and that she will recover her usual composure ere long.

I call Bob Stewart—a well-behaved fellow.

I am not normally, but thank you, Mr Speaker.

Bearing in mind our alliance relationships, how long does my right hon. Friend think that RAF pilots will have to continue to fly above Iraq on Op Shader, as apparently Daesh is almost defeated?

My hon. Friend raises a very important point. While we have made such amazing progress, with over 1,600 operations flown by the RAF over Iraq and Syria, we should not think that Daesh, as territory is denied to them, are actually defeated, because they will disperse. The threat this country faces means that we will continue to have to fly operations above Iraq and Syria for a considerable time.

Our amphibious capability is important to our defence partners, so is the future of HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion secure?

There has been an awful lot of speculation in the press about all of our capabilities. As part of the national security capability review, we have been asked to look at everything that we do, but I am not going to start any speculation about what the results will be. I have made it clear that I want to look at the evidence and the details, and we are not going to be rushed into any decisions.

Lethal Autonomous Weapons

9. What assessment he has made of the future threat posed by lethal autonomous weapons; and if he will make a statement. (902555)

The MOD continuously monitors developments and challenges arising from emerging weapon technology, including increasingly automated weapons systems. The UK considers the UN convention on certain conventional weapons to be the right forum in which to discuss lethal autonomous weapons systems, and welcomes the progress made in Geneva by the group of government experts earlier this month.

Weapons that can kill without human instruction or accountability are not science fiction, but a worrying potential reality with huge moral consequences. If we are to secure international agreement on the control of these lethal autonomous weapons, we need to start from a common understanding of the challenge, so will the Minister re-evaluate the UK’s definition of autonomous weapons systems to bring it into line with that of the United Nations?

My understanding is that there is no international agreement on what an autonomous weapons system is, which is precisely why calls for, for example, pre-emptive bans would be inappropriate at this point. The task in hand is absolutely to get an internationally agreed definition, and we believe that the UN CCW is the right forum in which to do so.

Does the Minister agree that no matter what the advances of technology on the battlefield, only humans can effectively hold ground, deterring enemy activity and winning the hearts and minds of local communities, and that we will therefore always need an Army of about the current size or larger?

National Security Capability Review

With threats intensifying around the world, it is vital that our armed forces have the right capabilities in order to defend global security. We are making good progress: evidence has been reviewed, analysis conducted and options developed. I very much look forward to working with my hon. Friend and listening to his comments on how best to take this forward.

I very much welcome the Secretary of State to his new job because, given his background, he is ideally suited to fighting the corner in the upcoming reviews. Will he please speak to the Prime Minister and remind her that the primary duty of any Government is the defence of the realm? Will he speak to the National Security Adviser, and indeed the Minister for the Cabinet Office, and remind them that they must not use this review as some sort of camouflage to cut our services? Will he speak to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and ensure that he digs deep in his pockets to produce the money we need? Above all, will he speak to his right hon. Friend the Chief Whip and remind him that, if the Chancellor does not do so, he will be facing a very substantial rebellion?

I thank my hon. Friend. I can assure him that I will speak to every single one of the people he has mentioned. As he rightly points out, the defence of our nation is the primary responsibility of every Government, and it is one that I take exceptionally seriously. When we see our armed forces and everything they do, and the commitment with which they give themselves to it, we cannot be anything but awed by it. I will do everything I can to deliver for them.

15. I welcome the confirmation —a long-known position in Devonport—that the towed array Type 23 frigates will now be based in Devonport, but it is abundantly clear that a cross-party majority of this House is opposed to the Government’s plans to scrap HMS Albion, HMS Bulwark and our Royal Marines. Will the new Secretary of State now abandon those plans and confirm that we will protect our amphibious capabilities? (902563)

Order. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman got the word “capabilities” in, therefore making his question relevant to the question on the Order Paper.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer), who has continuously lobbied me on the importance of the Type 23 frigate to the Plymouth Devonport dockyard. When I visited the dockyard, I was very impressed to see all the work being done there. I will be looking at all the capability within all our forces to ensure that we get the very best out of everything we do and every pound we spend.

I, too, welcome the Secretary of State to his new role and wish him all the best for the future, whatever challenges may now await him. I reiterate the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (James Gray), and echoed by the Secretary of State, that the defence of the realm is the first duty of Government, above all others. Does he agree that our history as a nation teaches us that lesson again and again?

My right hon. Friend always speaks with a high degree of common sense and truth. I pay tribute to him for the work he has done for the Ministry of Defence. I agree with his assessment, because ultimately a Government will be judged on how they defend the nation.

Maintaining capabilities is as important as creating them, so how much will it cost to upgrade the nation’s docking facilities now that it is necessary to refuel all the Vanguard submarines, which was not originally planned, alongside deep maintenance to the Astute class? Who will pay for that?

We are working with our industrial partners on that, including Babcock, and looking closely at what the costs will be. I am unable to reveal those costs to the House at this moment, but that body of work is continuing.

Defence Suppliers: Innovation

The £800 million defence innovation fund provides great opportunities for innovative suppliers. For example, I can today announce that the defence, science and technology laboratories, working with industry and academia, have developed a cutting-edge new chemical process to recover fingerprints, making it harder for terrorists and criminals to escape justice.

The Minister identifies great innovation within our suppliers, but does she also agree that an example is shown by the advanced induction motor technology—the most power-dense electric motors available anywhere—that have been installed on the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier, which were manufactured by GE in my constituency?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to speak up for the amazing work being done in his constituency, not only for the carrier programme, but for the long-lead items for the Type 26 frigates.

The Government talk about wanting to increase the role of small and medium-sized enterprises in MOD procurement. Can the Minister tell us what steps have been taken to facilitate that?

A range of steps have been taken to facilitate that. For example, we have a single website, which is meant to be an easy portal into what we are procuring at the MOD. We have shortened the contract we require small businesses to sign, from 18 pages down to three. We also have a system of people within the organisation who can help new businesses find their way around the intricacies of the MOD.

Service Families

13. What steps he is taking to improve support for the families of deployed servicemen and women. (902561)

Personnel deployed on operations must have confidence that their families at home are able to access the support they need. Our welfare support is provided to families before, during and after deployment.

The tri-service families continuous attitude survey 2017 found that one in three spouses did not even know where to go for services that provide welfare support while their partner is deployed. Does the Minister agree it is vital that service families know where help is available? What steps are the Department taking to ensure that that is the case?

I am sorry to hear that the hon. Gentleman has an example of where the system has perhaps not worked as it should. It is very important, if we are to have the most professional armed forces in the world, that those deployed know that their loved ones are looked after back home. I am happy to meet him to discuss in more detail the particular issue he raises.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating Newport County football club and Newport Live on recently joining the armed forces covenant? Does he agree that the only adequate way we can deal fairly with those who have been injured in body or mind by their service is to provide them with facilities and benefits that will leave them in a position where they do not have to rely on charities?

The hon. Gentleman makes reference to the armed forces covenant. It is probably the single biggest change in support and recognises that no member of the armed forces or veteran should be somehow disadvantaged because of their service. He is right to pay tribute to that, and I encourage all hon. Members to visit their local authorities and ask what is being done to ensure that they are living up to the requirements of the armed forces covenant.

One of the most important things for deployed servicemen is to know that their families back home are in safe, secure and high-quality accommodation. The need for the redevelopment of the REEMA sites in Carterton, outside RAF Brize Norton in my constituency, is now acute. Will the Minister please tell me what hope the future accommodation will provide to those servicemen living in my constituency?

I was hoping to share with the House the importance of the future accommodation model, which is ensuring that we update the accommodation available to armed forces personnel. Some want to rent and some want to live outside—that is what the accommodation model is all about. If I may, Mr Speaker, I would like to pay tribute to the work of the Families Federations in supporting our armed forces personnel and their families when personnel are on operations.

Operation Sophia

The UK has been involved in the European Union’s Operation Sophia in the central Mediterranean since its start in June 2015. Since then, Royal Navy vessels have saved over 12,500 lives and over 500 smuggling vessels have been destroyed.

I thank the Minister for that response. It is welcome that Operation Sophia has saved so many lives, but it is clearly failing to disrupt human trafficking in the way that was intended. Will he talk to our European partners to ensure that it can be recalibrated to achieve that goal?

We routinely assess our contribution against the operation’s core objectives. We recognise that it has not prevented the flow of migrants, but it has lessened the ability of smugglers to operate in international waters, and forms just one part of a wider Government strategy.

Topical Questions

I start by paying tribute to my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir Michael Fallon), who has done so much for our armed services and was one of our longest-serving Secretaries of State for Defence. It is a true honour to be Defence Secretary, and I am proud to represent some of the finest armed forces in the world.

I also thank those involved in the UK contribution to the rescue operations for the Argentinian submarine San Juan. The UK contribution to the search includes HMS Protector, HMS Clyde, a C-130 and the Royal Navy’s submarine parachute assistance group. I also thank the volunteers and service personnel who did so much to raise money for the poppy day appeal. The appeal, which is valued by so many, has raised tens of millions of pounds and will make a difference to many lives. I also thank the Chancellor of the Exchequer for his kindness and generosity in the allocation of LIBOR fines. I hope that such generosity will continue into the future.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will join me in paying tribute to the 150 British troops sent to north-east Poland, to the Suwalki Gap, on rotational deployment. What steps will he take to ensure that we increase those numbers and continue to support our Polish allies in a post-Brexit world through our NATO alliance?

I have already had a great opportunity to meet my Polish opposite number, who is incredibly grateful for our commitment to the defence of Poland. We constantly review troop numbers and are committed to the current rotation, but we are always open to the idea of committing more. We must not underestimate the threat that Russia continues to pose and must be ready to step up to such a threat. Although we are leaving the EU, our commitment to the collective defence of Europe is not diminished.

It is alarming that one of the scant references to defence in the Budget is to forces families in the private rented sector—a less than subtle hint that the future accommodation model threatens to fragment our forces communities. With the private sector characterised by high rents and variable landlord performance, what guarantees can the Minister give that under the future accommodation model, no service personnel will be forced out of service accommodation and scattered into the private rented sector?

I think the hon. Lady would agree that we need to provide an offering that attracts new recruits and retains those serving. We also have to recognise the competition we now face from within the private sector and the jobs sector. That is why we have an armed forces people programme looking not just at accommodation but at the offering right across the board. It is important that we roll out the new accommodation model. A pilot scheme will be introduced at the end of next year. It will provide an offering that gives people the choice between staying on the garrison, renting and owning their own property.

T2. Prince Harry has done tireless work to improve mental health support for our armed forces and veterans. Will the Minister update the House on what the Department is doing in that respect? Like all colleagues, I congratulate Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on their great news today. (902573)

Mr Speaker, I join you and the Secretary of State in congratulating Prince Harry and Meghan on the announcement of their engagement. I had the privilege of working with Prince Harry in Toronto this year. The Invictus games are absolutely his project. They started in London and continue next year in Sydney. They give those who perhaps have given up on life a new chapter through sport. Prince Harry is to be hugely commended for the work he does, along with the rest of the royal family, in supporting our brave armed forces personnel and their families.

T5. The Secretary of State might be aware that in 2009 the terms of business agreement signed between the MOD and BAE Systems secured the future of complex naval shipbuilding in this country by ensuring a commitment to invest to create a shipbuilding infrastructure in the top quarter of all shipbuilding capabilities world wide. In the recently published national shipbuilding strategy, that commitment is no longer given. Will he confirm that the commitment in the terms of business agreement to creating a world-class shipbuilding industry remains? (902576)

Of course I can confirm that we have a commitment to a world-class shipbuilding industry. Indeed, the shipbuilding industry in Scotland has a pipeline of work going out two decades.

T3. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment. Will he confirm that he is committed to the development of the Dreadnought style of submarines, and reaffirm his commitment to ensuring that we retain our independent nuclear deterrent? (902574)

My hon. Friend has raised a valid point. Of the three major parties—us, the Labour party and the Scottish National party—the only one that can guarantee that we will have an independent nuclear deterrent is the Conservative party. Let no one forget that.

T8. Britain’s defence industry supports hundreds of jobs in the South Wales valleys. Will the Government support our armoured fighting vehicle industry and allow it to compete for the prime contract for the Boxer armoured vehicle? (902579)

The hon. Gentleman’s question gives me an opportunity to pay tribute to the fantastic work that is being done on the 589 Ajax vehicles. This is the largest contract for military vehicles that has been awarded in the country for 30 years, and it involves a lot of work for the South Wales workforce.

T4. I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State express his steadfast support for NATO. What further steps will we be taking to support our NATO allies in Estonia in the face of increased Russian aggression? (902575)

My hon. Friend will be aware that at the Warsaw summit in 2016, NATO committed itself to responding to Russian belligerence through enhanced defence, deterrence and dialogue. I am delighted to have been able to visit our armoured battlegroup in Estonia this summer. About 800 personnel are delivering the enhanced forward presence, together with the Royal Air Force, which has already supported that operation on two occasions.

T10. Will the new Secretary of State get off to a better start than his predecessor by confirming that the new Royal Fleet Auxiliary orders will come to the Clyde, and that those vessels will not be built abroad? (902581)

I can confirm that—exactly as outlined in the recommendations of the national shipbuilding strategy, and as has been stated before in the House—that particular part of our shipbuilding programme will be open to international competition, including shipyards on the Clyde.

T6. Does the Secretary of State agree that as we leave the EU we must remain committed to all our European allies, and will he update the House on what we are doing through NATO to support our allies in Romania? (902577)

Having had the opportunity to meet my opposite number from Romania, I am aware that one of the real threats that it continues to face is increasing pressure from Russia. Britain has a long and proud tradition of locating troops and resources in Romania, and we are continuing to do so with Typhoons operating in Romanian skies. Our commitment to that, along with the standing NATO naval task group, is an important bulwark against increasing Russian aggression on the eastern flank.

This coming Thursday marks the 36th anniversary of the disappearance of a young toddler, Katrice Leigh, from a NAAFI complex in west Germany. As the Royal Military Police’s Operation Bute is still live, will the Secretary of State agree to review the case and meet me, and my constituent Mr Richard Lee, Katrice’s father, to discuss the matter?

I should be more than happy to review the case and meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss it in greater detail.

T7. Last year it was announced that Royal Marines Base Chivenor, in my constituency, would be closing. The previous Secretary of State visited it subsequently, at my invitation, and announced a review of the decision. Will the Minister please update me on the progress of the review, and indicate when a final decision might be made? (902578)

I am aware that 24 Commando Engineer Regiment is based at Chivenor, and that the location has historical importance. As my hon. Friend will know, it is due to close in 2027 as part of the rationalisation programme, but I should be more than happy to sit down with him and discuss the situation a bit further.

The Minister has already spoken about the important trade role that the Red Arrows play as ambassadors for great British aeronautical engineering. Will the Secretary of State, who knows East Yorkshire well and knows how important those skilled jobs are to Brough, look again at the request from 142 Members on both sides of the House for renewal of the fleet for the Red Arrows?

I am glad that the hon. Lady pays tribute to the Red Arrows’ amazing trade promotion role. She will know as well as anyone that the current Red Arrows will be in service until 2030, so a decision to replace them will not need to be made until after the end of this Parliament.

T9. Will my right hon. Friend provide an update on the work being done by British servicemen and women to train local forces in Afghanistan? (902580)

We have already seen the announcement of an uplift of 85 personnel, who will be going to Afghanistan to support the work of the Afghan army. We will be supplementing that with an additional 60 service personnel, in order to continue the training and support that the Afghan army needs. While we have seen substantial progress made in Afghanistan, we cannot take that for granted. We must continue to support the Afghan Government as they continue to root out extremism.

Despite the dangerously depleted state of the service, the Royal Navy has for the first time ever been chosen to mount Queen’s Guard—and very smart and taut they looked too, in my opinion. Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Royal Navy—in fact, to the senior service?

It would be a great honour to pay tribute to the senior service. Having been on HMS Queen Elizabeth, HMS Westminster and HMS Sutherland and seen the work they do, one cannot help but feel proud. I am very tempted to give you an honorary captaincy of a ship—[Interruption.] Sorry, and you, Mr Speaker; I think I have handed out two already. To be honest, Mr Speaker, I thought of you more as an admiral than as a captain, and if that gets me out of a slightly difficult situation, I will make you an admiral of a fleet.

I now realise something I had never previously known: that charm is the middle name of the right hon. Gentleman.

RM Condor in my constituency of Angus has been home to the elite 45 Commando unit since 1971. Over the last 46 years it has been the lynchpin of the local community, and the base is one of Angus’s major employers. Will the Minister confirm that there are no plans to close RM Condor and that 45 Commando’s place in Angus is secure? Does he agree with me about the extremely reckless behaviour of nationalist politicians in scaremongering on this serious matter?

As I touched on earlier, there is a large area of Britain owned by the MOD. It is important that we rationalise this real estate, and that means looking at a number of locations. Ninety-one across the country have already been earmarked. If memory serves, I think it is just the airfield in this case that needs to be looked at—the remainder is staying in place—but I will be happy to sit down and discuss it with my hon. Friend.

Captain Speaker, the Secretary of State is fresh, new and busy, but can I beg him to read John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s little book “Why England Slept”? Does he not think that England has been sleeping while the world has become a much more dangerous place?

I think there has been a tendency since the early 1990s to think that the world is a much safer place than it actually is. There has been a tendency sometimes to sit back and believe that everything is just going to be safer and safer. The world is rapidly changing, and it is not just threats from terrorism; it is threats from peer enemies as well. We need to understand what those threats are and make sure that we are equipped to deal with them. I am looking forward to a Christmas break, as I am sure the whole House is, and if I get a few hours spare, I will be sure to read the book.

At the risk of being given an honorary captaincy, may I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his job? I am sure he will do it extremely well. In his ongoing and delicate discussions with the Treasury, will he remain aware, first, that there are those of us on this side of the House who believe that the defence budget has been pared back about as far as it can be, and secondly, that when it comes to Trident renewal many of us on this side of the House do not believe it should be part of the defence budget? Indeed, it distorts the defence budget, and if that is part of his argument, he will have considerably more support than perhaps he knows.

Everything that my right hon. Friend has raised will be part of the review. He has raised the important question of nuclear capability being part of the defence budget. It has traditionally not sat as part of the defence budget; that changed only post-2010. It is vital to look at all options as part of the national security and capability review, and I look forward to speaking to him and seeking his advice and thoughts on the issues that he has raised.

The Secretary of State began today by outlining the three places that he had visited in the early days of his appointment, on which I congratulate him. What reassurances can he give to the workers at Rosyth that their contracts will be secure following the departure of the Queen Elizabeth class carriers, and will he visit Rosyth?

I have already had the privilege of visiting Scotland, and I will be certain to visit Rosyth in the future. I am incredibly grateful for the amazing work that has been done on the construction of HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, and we look forward to working with all our industrial partners to ensure that we have a robust industrial defence sector. I very much hope that we will have the support of the hon. Gentleman’s party for that and for the defence of the whole of the United Kingdom.

The Secretary of State has had a foretaste from both sides of the House today of the furore that is likely to follow if HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark are deleted from the inventory. May I humbly suggest that, given the relatively small saving that that would represent, the game is simply not worth the candle?

Someone once said to me that there was no such thing as a former Chief Whip, and I always listen with great intent and interest to the views of all colleagues.

I will take this point of order, colleagues, as I understand that it flows directly from these exchanges. Points of order would otherwise come after statements.

Further to the question from the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), I should like to clarify that the statement of intent for Qatar is for six Hawks, which gives 12 months of work at Brough.

I am most grateful to the Minister for that clarification—[Interruption.] Somebody is wittering from a sedentary position that he knew that, but he might be in an exclusive category of one. For others, however, the information is useful and we are grateful to the Minister for taking this opportunity to provide it.