Earlier this month, I visited British forces in Oman who are taking part in Saif Sareea 3, the largest western exercise this year, involving 70,000 personnel. As part of the same visit, I had the opportunity to visit HMS Albion, the Royal Navy’s flagship, and to meet the crew, who have completed a 10-month mission. That crew and all those I met who were taking part in Saif Sareea 3 are an example of the hard work and determination of our armed forces, representing Britain around the globe.
In response to a freedom of information request, the Ministry of Defence revealed that as of 2 November 2018, 223 civilian MOD employees based in Scotland were receiving less than £8.75 an hour. Some 81.6% of Scottish workers earn the real living wage—now £9 an hour—which is the highest proportion in the UK. Would not an impartial observer ask why these 223 civilian staff are being treated differently?
As a Department, we pay above the national minimum wage, and I am particularly proud of the fact that we are the largest employer of apprentices out of all organisations in the United Kingdom, employing more than 20,000 apprentices. I will certainly look into the matter that the hon. Gentleman raises and write back to him.
Brief questions, please. A sentence will suffice, I am sure.
The UK remains unconditionally committed to European security by playing a leading role in NATO and maintaining our strong transatlantic links. The UK will retain sovereign control over its armed forces. The agreement simply allows us to work together when we think that is in our best interests. That will only be as a third-party relationship, respecting the UK’s sovereignty and the EU’s autonomy.
A short sentence, please.
As the UK is a signatory to the Budapest memorandum, what options are the Government considering in response to yesterday’s aggressive actions by Russia against Ukraine in the sea of Azov?
I think that I speak on behalf of the whole House when I say how shocked we were to see Russia’s aggressive actions towards the Ukrainian navy. Just last week, I signed an agreement with my Ukrainian opposite number on how we can work closer together, and we will be having direct talks to discuss how we can offer assistance.
Mr Speaker, I did not actually hear the question, but, unless my hon. Friend is able to repeat it, I would be delighted to meet her afterwards to discuss the matter further. All I heard was a reference to the Falkland Islands.
I am sorry, but there is probably a lesson there. It is quite a crowded House, so Members need to speak up a bit.
I half agree with the hon. Lady. We do need to improve standards. It is so important that we think about our armed forces. We should not only equip them well and train them well, but make sure that we house them well, and that is something towards which I shall continue to work.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his visit to the frontline in Donbass recently. In the light of the illegal seizure of the Ukrainian vessels yesterday, will he look to see what further support we can give to Ukraine?
The whole world is in shock about what has happened, and I very much hope that this is something that can be looked at by the United Nations in terms of what action can be taken against Russia for displaying such aggressive behaviour against its neighbour.
The national shipbuilding strategy is there so that we do everything we can to make sure that we have an industry that is competitive not just in this country, but across the globe, and that is exactly what we are trying to do. By getting the fleet solid support ships through international competition, we can secure a good price for the British taxpayer, too.
The Poppy Appeal raised £49.2 million in 2017. Will the Minister take this opportunity to thank the hard-working poppy sellers up and down the country, including the incredible Gale Wood at the Morley branch in my constituency?
We are all incredibly grateful to the many tens of thousands of volunteers up and down the country who give so much of their time for this great cause. The Royal British Legion has been doing it for generations now, and it will certainly always have our full support in what it does and the impact that it has on service personnel and veterans’ lives.
Obviously, it is disappointing to see that there is industrial action, and we are also concerned about job losses. This is why we were pleased to announce that £619 million contract as part of a number of ongoing contracts that we have been giving to UK shipyards around the country.
The Secretary of State will be aware of the case of Gus Hales who has been on hunger strike outside Combat Stress in my constituency. What more can the Ministry of Defence do to work with Combat Stress to get Gus the help that he so badly needs?
I have spoken to Gus Hales. I am very sorry about what has happened to him. I have also spoken to Combat Stress. We need to make sure that people such as Gus who have served this country are looked after. I will make sure that this is not repeated and, working with Combat Stress, make sure that his needs are looked after.
The Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), has met workers there. We had a very productive meeting with BAE Systems and the Qataris regarding the roll-out of the Hawk orders. I will write to the hon. Lady to update her.
My right hon. Friend will know that two years ago this month the MOD announced plans to close Royal Marines Barracks Chivenor. Will he come to the base with me to see for himself why it should remain open?
My hon. Friend has been lobbying on behalf of RMB Chivenor over the last year. I will meet him to discuss this further, as he has been fighting a particularly strong campaign on the matter.
The Secretary of State said that he recently visited the Royal Navy’s flagship, HMS Albion. Why is it that the Ministry of Defence defined it as a warship in 2009, but it is no longer defined as a warship in the 2017 national shipbuilding strategy?
Excuse me a moment; I will try to answer the hon. Gentleman’s question—[Interruption.]
It might not happen again, so I must advise the Minister that the Chief Whip is sitting underneath him and looking up at him.
As I have said before, we now have a national shipbuilding strategy that is ensuring that our shipbuilding industry knows exactly what the MOD will be building over the next 30 years so that it can plan accordingly and be competitive in the world market. Surely, we should be welcoming that.
May I give the Minister a second chance to answer the question that he could not hear earlier about veterans being given the opportunity to revisit the battlefields on which they have fought?
It is important that we give veterans the opportunity to return to the battlefields. I think that my right hon. Friend is referring to a return to the Falklands. I will endeavour to see what can be done, and whether we can use the air bridge to allow veterans to return to that battle place.