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Topical Questions

Volume 637: debated on Monday 5 March 2018

I thank our armed forces for doing an incredible job to support those affected by the recent treacherous weather across the United Kingdom. From Devon to Scotland, 328 service personnel, 124 vehicles and a Chinook helicopter, which is currently operating in Cumbria, have transported staff delivering critical care and services to and from hospitals, delivered medicines to vulnerable people in the community and assisted police in evacuating members of the public stranded in vehicles. My Department and the armed forces stand ready to assist with any further calls for support.

I would like to put on record my thanks to the armed forces who came out in Lincolnshire over the past few days to support us.

The physical fitness of our servicemen and servicewomen is extremely important, yet sports facilities at RAF Cranwell, used by the military and local communities alike, are currently in a poor state of repair. I have received correspondence from constituents with particular regard to the lights for the astroturf. Will my right hon. Friend confirm when they will be repaired, and will he ask the Minister responsible for the Defence Infrastructure Organisation to come and see for himself the fitness training and other facilities at RAF Cranwell that require repair?

Order. I gently remind colleagues that topical questions must be shorter. Forgive me. I am sure it was a very good question, but if people are going to have a script it needs to be much shorter. We have a lot to get through.

I can absolutely promise that the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) is going to visit and take part in the assault course. Let me make it clear to Hansard that we are talking about my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East doing the assault course, not the right hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Gavin Williamson).

T2. After the Secretary of State’s statement that terrorists cannot harm us and his ministry was forced to admit that its drone policy was misleading and erroneously drafted, will the Secretary of State tell the House whether it is the policy of the UK Government to kill people outside warzones? (904177)

Our Department and our armed forces always operate within the letter of UK and international law. Do our armed forces step up to keep our country safe from terrorist threats? Yes they do, and they will continue to do so. I am very proud of the amazing work they do to keep this country safe. I hope the right hon. Gentleman is also proud.

T6. Will my right hon. Friend congratulate the British Army for all the work it has done, in conjunction with the Malawi Government, to protect elephants in Malawi? The ivory trade has seen a reduction in the number of elephants from 4,000 10 years ago to 2,000 now. Something must be done and thankfully the British Army is helping. (904181)

Our armed forces play an incredibly important role in training rangers to stop the vile trade of ivory poaching. I am very pleased that we have been able to extend the scheme and continue the amazing work with Governments across Africa to ensure that majestic animals such as elephants are protected.

T3. Uniformed cadets, like 241 Squadron air cadets in my constituency, do an amazing job of producing well-rounded, empowered young people. I invite the Minister to look at the funding provided across government to our uniformed cadets, which clearly offer much better value for money than some other Government-funded youth programmes. (904178)

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in paying tribute to the 126,000 cadets that we have in this country. Being a cadet provides a wonderful introduction to our armed forces and what they can do, giving confidence to youngsters. I will certainly look at that individual case. Charities are involved in different ways in supporting our cadets and I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman afterwards.

T7. I look forward to hearing the details this week of the new scheme offering £40,000-worth of bursaries to military veterans to retrain as teachers. Does the Minister agree that focusing on priority subjects is another example of how we are trying to plug the STEM skills gap? (904182)

We have the most amazing resource in the armed forces—our people—and we want to give them the very best opportunities as they leave the armed forces. The bursary scheme offering up to £40,000 for them to train as teachers is a great opportunity. Our armed forces often have some amazing technical expertise that they will be able to bring straight to schools to benefit future generations.

T4. Under “A Better Defence Estate,” the Secretary of State plans to close the state-of-the-art medical facilities in York and the upgraded First Division headquarters. Can he say how much this is costing the taxpayer? (904179)

The hon. Lady will be aware that the MOD owns 2% of the land in the United Kingdom. There is a rationalisation programme to make sure that we can provide the housing for the future, and therefore, bases are being closed. Others are being opened and being invested in as well. I am happy to look at the individual case and discuss what can be done for the future.

There is a contingency plan, which we are looking at very closely, where we will be moving probably about 150 personnel to act as role models on the frontline for recruiting.

T5. There is a still a great deal of confusion and concern around the future basing arrangements for the Army Reserve. Could the Minister tell us when we might expect more information to be published on this important matter? (904180)

One of the complexities of the Reserve estate is that much of it is owned not by the Ministry of Defence, but by the Reserve forces themselves. This is adding some complexity, but we hope to be able to update the House in due course.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the further set of defence commitments reached by the Prime Minister and President Macron at the summit in January represents not just the deepening of this important bilateral relationship, but a strengthening of NATO?

The co-operation that our country has with France is second to none. The Anglo-French summit signposts an important development in that relationship—not just in terms of operations going forward, but about how best we can collaborate in terms of our defence industries.

As I mentioned earlier, we have seen some improvement in recent weeks. The numbers are increasing and that is a positive sign.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Lockheed Martin, which is based in Havant, on having just been awarded the contract to build the new missile defence system for the Type 26 frigate?

I am very pleased to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the company. The Type 26 is a fantastic ship for the Navy, and I think the fact that, again, we see UK industry providing components for the Type 26 is an example of the way in which the Ministry of Defence is contributing to innovation and growth in the UK economy.

I call Carol Monaghan—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!] The hon. Lady just did not how popular she was.

T9. I am enjoying the recognition, Mr Speaker. The National Audit Office has revealed that the cost of the Dreadnought and Astute programmes has now risen by nearly £1 billion. Can the Secretary of State confirm that there will be no further cuts to conventional forces to meet the rising costs of Trident? (904184)

I can assure the hon. Lady that our at-sea continuous nuclear defence programme is within budget, and there will be no impact on the rest of the defence budget as a result of the work that we are doing in relation to our submarine capability.

Today’s Daily Telegraph continues to report grave concerns about the Iraq fatality investigations unit. Will the Minister agree to urgently review the case of Major Robert Campbell and offer reassurance to our service community that the bond of trust between soldiers and the Government remains intact?

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. This is not about process but about people and the Government’s obligation to look after them, and a balance needs to be struck between supporting our service personnel and veterans and the right of Iraqi families to find out what happened to their loved ones. I should add that an Iraq fatality investigation cannot lead to a criminal conviction, but I will look carefully at what he has said.

Can the Minister confirm that Carillion was the largest provider of facilities and management services for the MOD and whether there are any gaps in services at the 360 UK defence sites and establishments it reportedly had contracts for?

Our joint ventures included agreements put forward ahead of time to make sure that if one partner was to step back, the other would continue to work, and that is exactly what has happened right across the MOD.

I would very much like to pay tribute to the amazing peacekeeping work that our armed forces do in so many areas, South Sudan being a perfect example. It goes to show what an amazing impact our armed forces have in projecting Britain’s influence in all parts of the globe.

What assessment has the Secretary of State carried out of the preparedness of our armed forces for any expansion in the Syrian war, given the proxy conflict between Russia and America in that zone?

Conservative Members have always recognised the importance of being fully engaged in what is happening in Syria and Iraq, and we will continue to look at that exceptionally closely. I am incredibly honoured that our armed forces are playing a vital role in degrading the Daesh terror cult, and that is what we will continue to do going forward.

What assessment have Ministers made of the contribution of defence to UK plc in protecting the trade that forms such an important part of our economy?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight that issue. The MOD is one of the largest customers of UK plc and supports over 20,000 apprenticeships throughout the UK. It is clear that the MOD contributes significantly to the prosperity agenda across the UK.

The incidence of traumatic brain injury among the armed forces is much higher than it is even in the general population. How will we make sure that every single member of the armed forces who has such an injury gets the full rehabilitation they require?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We want to make sure we provide the necessary support to all those affected, although I would question whether the incidence is higher than among the general population. The new process we are putting forward, including the helpline launched last week by the Defence Secretary, will make sure that we can meet our covenant promise.

Reports suggest that of the near 100,000 who wanted to join the Army last year, only 7,500 actually made it, in part because of time delays. What can be done to streamline the recruitment process?

My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. We have identified as a key problem the time of flight between application and enlisting in the Army. Shortening this period and making sure we get the maximum number of people through the system is the main focus of our work at the moment.

Why has the mechanised infantry vehicle programme not got an acquisitions strategy—never mind that the contract has only three years to go—when it could bring mechanised vehicles back to Newcastle?

I can assure the hon. Lady that announcements will be made before the end of the financial year.

The parents of Corporal Simon Miller are yet to receive justice for their son, one of the Red Caps murdered in Iraq in 2003. I have written to Ministers over many years on this issue. Will the Minister agree to meet me and the Millers to find some justice for their son?

Will the Minister follow the Scottish Government’s lead and commit to lifting the public sector pay cap for armed forces workers?

We are looking at how to reduce the effect of the Scottish Government’s nat tax on all our service personnel. Some 70% of service personnel serving in Scotland are seeing their pay reduced because of the Scottish Government’s actions; we need to look at how to deal with that.