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Topical Questions

Volume 644: debated on Monday 9 July 2018

I would like to pay tribute to all service personnel who took part in Armed Forces Day last week and to the members of the public who went out to support them. The fantastic events up and down the country showcased the very best of our armed forces, and I was delighted to be able to attend the main event at Llandudno. I also want to thank the personnel recently involved in fighting the fires on Saddleworth moor.

I welcome the intervention, as I know the Secretary of State does, of the British Army in tackling the illegal wildlife trade in places such as Kenya, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Ethiopia. This is a global problem, so what answers—multinational answers—do this Government have for the global problem of the illegal wildlife trade and the protection of our planet?

The hon. Gentleman outlines a number of examples of where we are doing so much. Personally, I have become slightly cautious of dealing with elephants since my recent involvement with them. We have to do more and more to provide protection and counter the illegal wildlife trade. So much of the money from the illegal wildlife trade goes to fund terrorism and organised crime, and that is why the armed forces are working more closely with organisations involved in countering poaching.

T3. I very much welcome the Secretary of State’s recent re-confirmation that we are and will remain a tier 1 defence nation—that is very good news, although one or two other people did not recognise that description—but if that is to be the case, will he reconfirm how much more money we need every year even to stand still? (906339)

Britain always has been and always will be a tier 1 nation. SDSR ’15 set out clearly what we would expect from a tier 1 nation. We are very much looking at the evolving threats to this country to ensure we are best placed to deal with them.

Capita’s recruiting partnership project is failing on every measure. It has missed the MOD target for savings by more than £100 million in the past six years and the latest figures show that the number of personnel in the Army has fallen yet again. Does the Minister agree with Labour that it is time to take this failing contract back in-house?

No, I absolutely do not. The hon. Lady’s comments are slightly short-sighted. There have been challenges for the defence recruiting system in recent months, but I am confident that, because of some of the hypercare measures, we are firmly on the up.

After Capita’s abysmal failure to deliver the recruitment project, many people would question its capacity to carry out any major MOD contracts, but the Government’s decision to outsource the Defence Fire and Rescue Service to Capita when the MOD has scored the company as 10 out of 10 for risk simply beggars belief. The Minister’s response to the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) suggested that the Government are ideologically obsessed with privatising key services without considering the consequences. Is it not surely time for an urgent rethink of this dangerously short-sighted policy?

It took far too long for the contract to be awarded—I made that very clear during a statement a couple of weeks ago. However, I stand by what I said: it is important that we look after our airfields and get a good deal, which will be provided by Capita.

T6. Horsham was among many UK towns to celebrate Armed Forces Day. Has my right hon. Friend considered celebrations on other days to prolong activities and coverage—for example, a day to celebrate our reserve forces? (906342)

Indeed, as a serving reservist for some 30 years, I hope there is no greater champion of reserves in the House, but my hon. Friend makes an important point. We should celebrate reserves not just on Reserves Day, but almost every day of the year. To that end, we are looking carefully at other opportunities.

T4. Much equipment is bought in dollars and the value of the pound has fallen since the EU referendum. How much less equipment have the Government been able to buy in dollars, and how will the shortfall be filled? (906340)

The right hon. Gentleman should be aware that, like every other Department, the MOD hedges to ensure that we are not affected by currency fluctuations. Indeed, changes since the start of the year have been beneficial. At this point in time, the effect will be minimal.

Order. The hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) is going to have to get used to her popularity. She should wear it lightly upon her shoulders.

That is so true, Mr Speaker. Thank you.

Cyber-security is more important than ever and should be paramount for those who are in charge of our armed forces. Will the Secretary of State tell me whether it is true that when he threatened to bring down the Prime Minister, Siri replied: “I’m sorry. I don’t understand.”?

I am sorry that the hon. Lady belittles cyber with such a cheap remark. If she were serious about the security of this country, she would recognise that the Government have invested more than £1.9 billion in cyber in recent years. We recently opened the Defence Cyber School to ensure that it is ingrained in the training of our armed forces.

T9. Members of the all-party parliamentary group on Poland, including me, last week met British soldiers serving in the Suwalki gap, helping to defend Poland. What are the key aspects of our bilateral treaty agreement with Poland going forward? (906345)

We will show the whole House the full treaty we concluded with Poland. One key element was not just military co-operation but how we can work closer together on an industrial basis. Recently, I was in Poland meeting my opposite number to discuss how we can develop new technologies together for the defence not just of Poland but all our NATO allies.

T8. I recently recorded a welcome home message for members of the Royal Welsh battlegroup, who have been serving bravely on the frontline in Estonia, supporting the NATO alliance. This morning, President Trump yet again criticised our European NATO allies, saying that NATO does not do enough for America. When will the Defence Secretary and the Prime Minister explain to the President that security and co-operation across Europe are in America’s interests as well as Europe’s? (906344)

Unity and the strong alliance between all NATO allies is absolutely critical. I join the hon. Member in paying tribute to the Royal Welsh, who have done such an amazing job in Estonia. We will continue to show that unity with our allies—the United States, Estonia and all NATO allies—not just this year but over the next 70 years.

T10. Does the Minister agree that the Veterans’ Gateway, which is led by the Royal British Legion, is a huge boost to our amazing veterans? (906346)

It was my honour to visit the Veterans’ Gateway last week. This is an incredible portal that allows the 400 or so service-facing charities to provide access for those who need help. I very much hope that this will advance and that more charities will join in and support it.

Does the Secretary of State accept that existing black hole in the defence equipment budget cannot be filled by the small annual increase in that budget?

This is why we are undertaking the modernising defence programme: to see how best we can change and respond to meet all the commitments this country has always met to keep Britain and our allies safe. That is what we will be doing to assess the threats Britain faces.

The Reserve Forces and Cadets Associations want to dispose of Duncombe barracks in York. Will the Ministry of Defence ensure that they work with City of York Council and use the principles of One Public Estate, so that the land is developed in the housing interests of the city, rather than that of developers?

The cadet programme is one of the huge success stories in Britain, with over 400 cadet units operating throughout the country. I join with the hon. Lady in paying tribute to what they do to advance an interest in the armed forces and the education of our young.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for his personal support for the Year of Engineering and for all his Department is doing to create inspirational and exciting experiences that demonstrate what it is to be an engineer in the military. Will he pass on my thanks to all those involved in making that happen?

I most certainly will. We celebrate 100 years of the Royal Air Force, which plays a key part in driving technological development and inspiring so many young people to enter a career in engineering. Seeing amazing aeroplanes designed and flown is an inspiration for many future generations.

In this centenary year of the RAF, will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State join me in celebrating its extraordinary achievements and encourage as many people as possible to see the exhibition at Horse Guards and the fly-past tomorrow?