House of Commons
Monday 8 July 2019
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
My Department commemorates the contribution and sacrifices of our armed forces veterans through occasions such as D-day and Armed Forces Day. We keep such events under review and ensure that veterans are properly considered and represented.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that response. Next year, the early May bank holiday will move to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day. Does she agree with me that we should do much more to recognise the service and sacrifices of our veterans and that it would be a fitting tribute permanently to rename one of our existing UK bank holidays Veterans Day?
We should always look to do more to honour the sacrifices that individuals have made. Armed Forces Day is supposed to be the day that we do that, and I have asked my officials to undertake some work so we can ensure that Armed Forces Day is a day for them, not just about them. It is incredibly important that we ensure that our veterans, our service personnel and their families can really enjoy the day, not have to do extra shifts. On that point, I would praise Salisbury, which held Armed Forces Day this year for the nation. It arranged some amazing events for the public and also put on some spectacular events for serving personnel, families and veterans, including free concerts.
I know the Secretary of State would agree that there is a real need for a permanent memorial for veterans who have fallen in the two world wars and in all the wars that have followed. Will she join me in praising the communities of Evanstown and Gilfach Goch in my constituency, which have spent the last 18 months refurbishing the memorial and tracing veterans from the Gilfach valley? Will she ensure, where memorials have fallen into disrepair, as some have, that the MOD has funding to help refurbish them?
I certainly join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating that organisation and all the organisations across the country that are not just looking after historic monuments to and commemorations of our armed forces, but ensuring that the history of those individuals is properly recorded. Support for different memorials is split across Departments, and local government is involved, as obviously is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for certain memorials. If he writes to me about the specifics, I will ensure that the relevant Department hears his plea.
One group of veterans who undoubtedly deserve our respect are the veterans of Northern Ireland who served for years on Operation Banner to uphold the rule of law against the IRA, yet some of them now face subsequent investigation—even up to 50 years on, even including Chelsea Pensioners—while those in the IRA are off scot-free with letters of comfort from Tony Blair. Does the Secretary of State agree with me that, as some have recently suggested, to
“treat both sides the same”
is not only patently ludicrous, but a deep insult to all those veterans without whose courage there would never have been a Good Friday agreement in the first place?
My right hon. Friend will know my views on this matter. Although we have obligations under the Stormont House agreement and have to approach these things in different ways, our obligations to our veterans—whether they have served in an operation on UK soil or overseas—are the same.
Throughout his brave service in our forces in Northern Ireland, Germany and Kenya, my constituent Tony Pitt was exposed to asbestos that led to a cancer diagnosis in 2017. He is now in the impossible position that he has just six months before the immunotherapy treatment that is keeping him going runs out. Will the relevant Minister meet Tony and me to discuss his case, as surely the high standards set by the armed forces covenant do not envisage our veterans crowdfunding to stay alive?
That sounds like an appalling situation, and I thank the hon. Lady for raising it. The Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), will be very happy to meet Tony, and I will get my officials to talk to the hon. Lady after this session.
May I ask my right hon. Friend to ensure that, all these years later, someone in the Ministry of Defence checks on veterans from Northern Ireland who were grievously hurt there—such as Lance Corporal William Bell and Private Mark Young from my own company, when 17 people were killed—to make sure that they are having a good life, or as good a life as possible?
I would be very happy to look at the cases of those two individuals. It is vital that we have a clear line of sight on what is happening with individual cases. We still need to make improvements to veterans support, and part of the problem relates to the need for continuity and to ensure proactively that people are getting the care they need.
The best way to recognise our veterans is to ensure that they are well served today, yet SSAFA research shows that only 16% of veterans believe they are well served by the armed forces covenant. How is the Secretary of State auditing the armed forces covenant, to ensure that local authorities are applying it proactively?
The whole of Wiltshire was delighted to welcome the Secretary of State, together with the Princess Royal and a whole host of other luminaries, to Salisbury last Saturday to celebrate Armed Forces Day. Of course, it is right that we think very carefully about veterans and their needs, particularly those suffering from the physical or mental after-effects of warfare. None the less, does the Secretary of State agree that the purpose of Armed Forces Day is to think very carefully about the 200,000 fit, healthy and committed young men and women who are today serving our armed forces, to celebrate their commitment to their duties and to wish them well as they do it?
I agree with my hon. Friend and again praise Salisbury for its work in ensuring that service personnel and their families had an amazing few days. As we take the event forward, however, we need to ensure that, as an additional Saturday on which to work, it does not put a burden on our armed forces. We should be doing more free events, and businesses across the land should consider how they can contribute to making that day special.
The Secretary of State will know that one way to honour our veterans population is by fully implementing the armed forces covenant in Northern Ireland. She will also know that the reason why our Departments do not adhere to the spirit of the covenant is the sectarian intransigence of Sinn Féin. Is it not wrong that the people from whom our armed forces community protected us are precluding our offering service to our armed forces in return? Will she take steps to ensure full implementation?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman completely. We are talking about the armed forces of the United Kingdom. Wherever they are serving, wherever they are based and wherever they are from, I want them to be able to take part in events, and I also want to ensure that the public services provided to them are as they should be.
The importance of support for veterans should unite the whole House. Given the appalling track record of outsourcing, will the Secretary of State explain why her Government have invited private contractors to bid to run the medal office and certain veterans services?
I acknowledge the work that the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) has done on veterans support, including through the gateway and the veterans strategy, on which we are currently consulting. I have also been doing work in the Department, looking at our obligations and how we are constituted.
Veterans: Universal Credit
As veterans are civilians, the majority of care comes from other Departments and devolved Administrations. The Ministry of Defence works closely with other stakeholders to target and improve veterans’ access to services, including those who are eligible for universal credit.
The Minister has just spoken about the relationship between the MOD and other Departments. A study by the Forces in Mind Trust charity has found that ex-service personnel have an overwhelmingly negative experience of universal credit and the fit for work test. What is he going to do about that?
When those who have served in uniform depart for civilian street, it is very important that they are aware of the benefits for which they may or may not be eligible. Our transition programme now includes making sure that we improve the understanding of what armed forces personnel veterans can receive. I am pleased to say that the Secretary of State is working with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to make very clear that universal credit is available for those who are eligible.
Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss further how we can create the position of an armed forces covenant ombudsman, who would be an advocate for those who, like the constituent of the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham), cannot get the resources they need from our public services and whose MPs are also unable to make progress?
I am aware that my hon. Friend has done a huge amount of work on this important matter, not least by lobbying me many times. She will be aware that the armed forces covenant is growing—we now have almost 4,000 signatories—but it is important that if somebody signs the covenant it meets their expectations. If it fails or falls foul of that, we need a system to recognise that. She raises a very interesting idea. I have spoken to the Secretary of State about it and we would be delighted to meet her to discuss it further.
Does the Minister recognise that the question raised by the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) is an addition to the litany of failures for those leaving the armed forces trying to access universal credit? Let us bring this issue to a head. Does he not now agree that it is time to support my Armed Forces Representative Body Bill to ensure that the armed forces can speak with one strong voice when they leave the armed forces as veterans?
The hon. Gentleman raises this matter almost weekly, but he misses the point. We ensure that we look after our veterans and they know whether they are eligible for universal credit. We do that by ensuring synergy and joint working between the Department for Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Defence, not just in this area but in health and education and right across the piece. The armed forces can push these issues forward. We need to hold Departments to account, and we do that through the Veterans Board.
For the benefit of people observing our proceedings who are not Members of the House I would simply add, non-pejoratively, that raising something weekly in the Chamber is a very modest effort. Raising things daily, or in some cases several times a day, is by no means unknown in, or condemned by, the House of Commons. It is perfectly normal.
Has the Minister had the opportunity to discuss with the Department for Work and Pensions the symptoms and expectations relating to post-traumatic stress disorder and how it impacts on veterans applying for benefits and occasionally having to visit offices to receive the benefits they deserve?
I am grateful for that question. It has been raised many times and it is important to put it in context and in perspective. Not everybody who joins the armed forces will be affected—just two in every 1,000 people —but they need the attention and support that they absolutely deserve. The Secretary of State is meeting the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to discuss that very matter.
The Ministry of Defence regularly monitors the performance of all contractors, including outsourced key services. This is done via the use of contract performance indicators and action is taken when standards are not met.
Capita has completely failed to fulfil its contract for Army recruitment. This service should now be brought back in-house. When will the Government accept that their dogmatic insistence on outsourcing everything imaginable to the private sector is failing our armed forces and the taxpayer?
I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman’s assessment. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces, may have the opportunity to speak on this matter in a little bit more detail in a later question, but we are seeing a change in the trend. More people are showing an indication of interest in the armed forces. It is important we translate that into ensuring they actually sign up, but last year alone we had 77,000 applications of interest for the armed forces. I think that is a good step forward.
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. It is not just the big companies—aerospace and defence companies—we must look to support, but the SMEs, which are in every one of our constituencies. I am assured by the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), the Minister with responsibility for procurement, that that is exactly what is happening.
It was good to see members of the armed forces and the Secretary of State herself at the Pride event in London at the weekend.
Last year, a departmental assessment of the privatisation of the fire and rescue service at the Ministry of Defence gave Capita the highest possible risk rate. Two months ago, following a court challenge and an £80,000 payment to Serco, the lead competitor, Capita was finally given a contract worth millions to deliver services all over the world, despite the huge financial risk. Why was £80,000 paid to Serco to allow that to go ahead? Does that not show up the whole problem with privatisation at the Ministry of Defence?
I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman’s assessment; it is important that we provide value for money. The defence budget is under pressure, as are all other Departments. He is absolutely right to say that Capita was going to be given the contract. It is subject to a legal challenge and we have to wait to see that mature, but let us not forget that even on Labour’s watch we had the outsourcing of fire contracts to other organisations, not least in Cyprus as well as at other bases including Aldermaston. This is not new; it is something that we have to advance.
A recent report by the Public Accounts Committee found that less than half of personnel would recommend the housing maintenance service provided by the company, Amey. Amey’s performance is so bad that the MOD has introduced a compensation scheme for maintenance issues, but unbelievably, the Department pays even when Amey is at fault. Will the Minister outline why hard-working taxpayers are expected to foot the bill when the MOD’s contract has failed to deliver?
The issue is to do with the key performance indicators, as I think the hon. Gentleman will agree. According to the standards that we see, 97% meet the requirements. We find that those indicators are set too low, and the Secretary of State is very conscious of that and of the need to raise them. We are reconciling the defence real estate to make sure that we improve accommodation, but I will not hide away from the fact that this has been very difficult, and we owe our armed forces personnel much, much better.
Veterans: Monitoring Schemes
Our resettlement programmes continue to develop to ensure that the transition from service to civilian life for all personnel is conducted as smoothly as possible. I am sure that my hon. Friend will join me in welcoming the fact that 95% of personnel who participate in our career transition programme are in work or education within six months of departure.
I am grateful to the Minister for that encouraging reply. What case will he be making, as part of the forthcoming comprehensive spending review, to increase support for charities that provide mentoring for veterans, including particularly those in the criminal justice system, such as Care after Combat, which does brilliant work in that area?
My hon. Friend raises two issues. I join him in paying tribute to Care after Combat; what it does to provide support for those who find themselves imprisoned or on the wrong side of the law is absolutely brilliant, and we should all tip our hats to that. However, we must also recognise that the defence budget is under strain. It was affected by the spending review and austerity measures. In 2011 and 2016, we were obliged to find £5 billion-worth of efficiencies, which we did. We have subsequently been asked to find another £7 billion-worth of efficiencies. There is only so long that we can do this before it starts having an impact, and that is why it is important that we argue now, with the next spending review coming up, that we need more money for defence.
If we are to get this resettlement programme right for all our veterans, do we not need to make sure that we have properly assessed the medical injuries that they sustained during their period of service? In that light, is it not a shame that while the United States of America makes sure that every single person in the perimeter of a bomb blast is assessed for brain injury, we are not yet able to do that? We may still be misdiagnosing people who are suffering from PTSD when they have actually had a brain injury.
I know that the hon. Gentleman knows a lot about this issue. He is absolutely right to say that the advancement in the science now reflects the fact that even if someone can walk away from a blast, they can be affected long term by what has happened, and we are learning from the Americans on that. We have our transition programme, which can last up to two years to make sure that we manage the transition from the world of the armed forces to civilian life, but I absolutely agree with him that more can be done in this area.
Armed Services: Optimal Size
This Government have invested heavily in strengthening the UK’s armed forces so that we can deliver the tasks that we require of them, from maintaining the nuclear deterrent to defending against threats in airspace, and from supporting the police in counter-terrorism to providing disaster relief. We are committed to maintaining the size of the armed forces and Joint Force 2025 will offer us choice, agility and global reach.
The Secretary of State might be aware that my father and two brothers served in the British Army, and I am very concerned at the moment should we be threatened with invasion. Our Army is down to 82,000 men and women, yet the Russians have 1 million in their army and 1.5 million in reserves. Could we really defend this country if push came to shove?
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s family members who have served, but yes we could defend ourselves. Just the other week, I was with HMS Albion and others from the nine Joint Expeditionary Force nations. There were 44 ships and submarines. It was the largest Royal Navy deployment in that region—just off Lithuania—for 100 years. Yes, we could defend ourselves, and the size of our trained and untrained strength is growing.
It is positive policies that this Conservative Government have implemented, such as the armed forces income tax compensation for those serving in Scotland and the decision to secure the long-term future of my base, RM Condor in Angus, that mean we can continue to recruit in Scotland. Will the Secretary of State commit to visiting RM Condor to see at first hand the Government’s great work in Angus?
With Devonport-based HMS Montrose forward deployed, we now need to consider how we can rotate crews effectively, not just on the Type 23s, but on the Type 31s, which hopefully will also be Devonport based. What advances and learnings have arisen from the forward deployment of HMS Montrose that could be applied elsewhere?
The hon. Gentleman is right. We can ensure that we are much more operationally effective and that people have a better quality of life while serving in the armed forces by enabling crews to be sent out and rotations to happen without their having to come back to base port. We continually learn from those exercises. It is another example of how the fleet is changing, and I think it suits everyone that it does.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
I am pleased that the Secretary of State mentioned HMS Albion in an earlier answer. Does she recall that it is not that many months since her predecessor had to fend off moves to scrap HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark and to reduce the size of the Army by 11,000, the Royal Marines by 2,000 and the RAF by 1,250? Does she accept that there is a fight to be had with the real enemy here, and that is the Treasury?
I should declare an interest, as HMS Bulwark was the last ship I served on. I am very glad that she and Albion are still going. We are approaching a spending review, and I think we need to do more to tell the Treasury and the nation how much defence brings to this country—to the prosperity agenda, social mobility, research and development, innovation, and many other things. We need to tell that story because we need to keep our armed forces strong.
Not only have RAF personnel numbers fallen by more than a quarter since 2010, but the Government are consistently failing to train enough pilots. Some 350 are currently on the waiting list, and the problem is going from bad to worse, the backlog having doubled in the past year. When will the Secretary of State get a grip on this situation and ensure that things are put right?
The pipeline for our pilots is one of the first things I asked about when I entered the Department. The numbers are improving, but it is an area where we are fragile; it is probably one of the areas where we are most fragile. That said, I would gently point out to the hon. Lady and the Opposition Front-Bench team that last I heard the leader of her party wished to reduce the headcount of our armed forces to zero.
UK Personnel: Local Support Services
Every local authority has signed the armed forces covenant, and the MOD works with local authorities and partner organisations to ensure that there is fair access to local support services.
MPs provide a valuable local service, not least for our military personnel, and I am grateful to Lieutenant Colonel Fraser McLeman and his team at Leuchars for the help that they have given me in that regard. The MOD recently sought to cancel one of my surgeries before the decision was overturned at the last minute. Will the Minister explain why there is a four-week wait following requests for surgeries by military families, and will he ensure that surgeries are cancelled only in exceptional circumstances—not least when they are held in local community facilities, where surgeries such as my own have been held in the past?
Armed Forces Personnel
We remain committed to maintaining the overall size of the armed forces, including the Army. A range of measures are under way to improve recruitment and retention, and those measures are kept under constant review. Importantly, the services continue to meet all their current commitments, keeping the country and its interests safe.
The Minister, along with every other Conservative Member of Parliament who was elected or re-elected in 2015, was elected on a manifesto promise that there would be a standing Army of 82,000. That has never been achieved since 2015, and, indeed, on 1 April the size of the fully trained Army was down to 75,000. The Minister may claim that the Government are meeting their commitments, but one commitment that they are not meeting is the commitment to an Army of the size that they promised in their manifesto. Is that still their policy, and, if not, can the Minister tell us at what point the policy was dropped?
Let us just see whether we can debunk this myth that Army numbers are somehow in freefall. On 1 May, the total size of the British Army, including the Brigade of Gurkhas, both trained and untrained, was 85,430. As of 1 June, one month later, according to the most recent figures that we have, the total size of the British Army, including the Brigade of Gurkhas, both trained and untrained, was 85,730. That is an increase of 300.
As we enter the 21st century, we must accept that the armed forces are about more than simply mass. That is precisely why we are investing in technology, and it is why the battlefield of the 21st century will be a very different beast from that of the 20th. I am concerned about the drop below that figure that we have seen in recent years, but, as I have just demonstrated, we are turning the supertanker around. The size of the trained strength of the British Army can only be increased if it has untrained recruits. As I have demonstrated, we are now seeing an increase in the number of people joining the Army, and that is a positive development.
I am not going to predict exactly what that date will be. We are seeing an increase month on month, but that does not apply to all establishments: for example, Sandhurst has only three intakes per year and Harrogate has only one. I cannot give the exact date when the target will be hit, and I do not think that the hon. Gentleman would really expect me to, but I believe that we are now heading firmly in the right direction.
I visited Carterton Community College last week and observed the striking success of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics programme set up there by RAF Brize Norton. Does the Minister agree that such programmes not only teach young people important life skills, but provide the inspiration that may lead them to take up careers in the Royal Air Force or other armed forces, which will help to increase service numbers?
That is quite a complicated question, particularly when we get into the question of readiness and the ability to hold people at the appropriate readiness for the threat that we face. As I have said, technology has changed significantly; for example, not every aircraft we have in the air is now manned by a pilot. We are investing in a number of things which mean that we require less overall manpower to deliver the effect we require in the 21st century.
When armed forces personnel put their hand up and decide to leave the armed forces, most of them participate in a transition programme, and that includes the opportunity to complete examinations such as A-levels and GCSEs—or O-levels in our old language—as well as tertiary education. It is very important to give them the best opportunity once they depart into civilian street.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that veterans having better access to education could be of huge benefit to them and upskill them so that they are ready to get back into the workforce? Furthermore, it would help reduce the barriers many veterans face on their return to civilian life.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. As the Secretary of State said, one of the advantages of having an armed force is that personnel provide such important skill sets while serving, but they can all be translated back into civilian street. It is important that we make people and society in general aware of the skill sets that are available—grip, tenacity, leadership and determination—and we must also make sure we translate military qualifications into civilian ones, to give personnel the best opportunity in life.
Mental Health Provision
We can be proud of the changes we have introduced through the armed forces mental health and wellbeing strategy—which I inherited when I came into this job from my predecessor as Armed Forces Minister. Of all the things we have been involved in, we can be particularly proud of changing the stigma associated with mental health issues in the armed forces, getting more people to talk about it and moving it towards parity with physical injury. There is still much work to do, but we are heading in the right direction.
The challenge we faced was that people were reluctant to come forward. They thought that if they put their hand up and said there was something wrong with their mind, that would somehow impact on their ability to be promoted or hold them back in some way. They would keep their problems to themselves, which would then incubate and eventually they would have to quit the very thing they loved: the armed forces. We have changed that with our focus on promoting better resilience, prevention to stop these things happening, and earlier detection and treatment. From putting that all together we are seeing far better results with people staying in the armed forces and not being hindered or affected by mental health issues.
According to the Centre for Mental Health, there is not a greater likelihood of veterans experiencing mental ill health than the rest of the population, but there is a significant increase in the likelihood of their having problems with alcohol, so can the Minister tell us what he is doing specifically on the issue of alcohol misuse among veterans, which is something I see in my community?
I am really pleased that the hon. Lady has put this in context because a myth is perpetuated that those who join the armed forces will be affected by mental challenges, but she is right that there are other challenges that we face, not least with alcoholism. We work closely with a number of charities, and we are also doing work as part of the transition services so that people are aware of where they can get treatment early on.
Fleet Solid Support Ships
Subject to normal approvals, we anticipate that a design and build contract will be awarded in 2020.
This has been a shambolic process in which overseas bidders have dropped out and the Government have begged them to rejoin the bidding process. Have Ministers not read the report by the right hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne) on the importance of defence spending to the UK economy? Is it not about time that the Government stopped this whole process and started offering the bids to UK-based shipyards, so that we can get the benefits of this major Government contract?
I remind the hon. Gentleman that we do have a team UK bid in there, and I am pleased to see that. As I have said on many occasions, we are trying to ensure that we get the very best price for all the capability we need. If we were to cancel this competition now, we would put at risk the services that we need for the carrier. That being said, we have been listening to all the debates and the many questions on this matter, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has written to the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union stating that the option to support onshore defence funding for shipbuilding should be a red line in our future relationship with the EU. Of course, that will apply only to future programmes.
Other countries such as France and Italy classify these vessels as warships, meaning that they have to be built in domestic yards. Why will the Minister not just guarantee that a UK contractor will be the successful bidder and give a much-needed boost to UK industry?
All of us on the Opposition Benches were heartened to hear the Defence Secretary say recently of the Ministry of Defence that
“we can and we must buy British”.
That would represent a welcome shift from her predecessor’s tendency to simply buy off the shelf from abroad, but the British shipbuilding industry needs action, not just warm words. So will the Minister now reconsider the Government’s short-sighted decision to put these ships out to international tender, and build them here instead?
As I have just announced, my right hon. Friend has made that policy decision. I also remind the hon. Gentleman that we have significant orders in UK shipyards. There is 20 years of work on the Clyde, for example. I cannot think of any other industry in the UK that can say that it has 20 years of work on its order books.
VE and VJ Days: Anniversary
The nation will be forever grateful to the greatest generation, who lived and fought through the second world war. The Government will provide opportunities to mark the 75th anniversaries of both VE and VJ Days next year. The move of the May bank holiday to Friday 8 May has already been announced, and planning is under way for the commemorative events. Details will follow very soon.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. My father is a veteran of the second world war; he served in India and Burma. Like many other veterans, he will be unable to get to any of the national VE Day celebrations due to his fragility. What more can be done to ensure that all our brave veterans feel part of these important commemorations?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s father for his service. Those who have served in our armed forces must be able to take part in those commemorative events. Indeed, they make those events; it is their stories and their presence that make them what they are. My Department will be writing to local government, and particularly to the armed forces covenant champions, to remind them that events must be accessible and that we must think about how to include in those events veterans who are too frail to travel.
I am absolutely delighted with my right hon. Friend’s announcement, but will she please reassure me that equal expenditure and prominence will be given to VJ Day? These heroes have been forgotten for too long, as the late Lord Louis Mountbatten said, and they suffered terrible atrocities in the Japanese prisoner of war camps.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. The events are tailored in regard to their tone and scale and the number of people attending them, and we might not be able to guarantee that the cost will be split exactly between the two events. That might differ, but the prominence of the events will not differ. That will be the same.
Defence Procurement: Jobs
MOD official statistics show that our spending with UK industry in 2017-18 directly supported 115,000 jobs across the country.
I thank the Minister for his work to ensure that the propulsion systems for the Navy’s Type 26 frigates will continue to be built in Rugby and for the security and future opportunities that that will give much of the workforce. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that we train up the next generation of skilled engineers to continue that vital work?
I recognise the important role that my hon. Friend played in ensuring that the GE facilities were maintained in Rugby. I agree that it is absolutely vital to ensure that the defence sector has the right skills to meet all our needs. Many of our suppliers have well established programmes and schemes to ensure that that happens, and we continue to work through the Defence Suppliers Forum and the Defence Growth Partnership to ensure that those skills and training are maintained.
The Secretary of State highlighted in an earlier answer the importance of the prosperity agenda for defence contracts. I know that the Minister has read the recent report on shipbuilding and ship procurement in the UK by the all-party parliamentary group on shipbuilding. Will he tell the House what weighting will be given to prosperity in awarding the fleet solid support contracts?
I was looking at the two right hon. Gentlemen and wondering whether it was more like Waldorf and Statler, but I will not be so rude—although I have just have been. The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: when we look at the contracts, not just for the shipbuilding but for the content within, there are huge opportunities for the UK supply chain, where much more of the value exists. I recognised that in his all-party group’s recent report, and his and other right hon. and hon. Members’ work will inform much of the decision making on our future policy.
I hope that the Minister will also acknowledge the great role of the Defence Committee, under the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) as Chairman, and the trade unions in maintaining the facility at GE Rugby and seeing off GE’s attempts to close it. May I bring the Minister back to the solid support ship contract and ask him to answer the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones)? What weighting is given to prosperity? Will he please stop blaming the European Union, when every other country in the European Union looks after its own industry and supports its own yards and its own steel industry? Why will he not show some gumption and do the same?
I have just explained that the timelines are critical in the current competition, because the existing fleet that will offer support to the carrier will be coming to the end of its life. We have to have that capability. Surely he thinks that is more important than just trying to score a political point.
Royal Fleet Auxiliary
Members of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary are MOD civil servants. Their terms and conditions, including their pay, are subject to civilian rules for the wider public sector. As such, pay is subject to HM Treasury civil servant pay guidance. The Royal Fleet Auxiliary continues to engage with the maritime trade unions and has further meetings planned to discuss pay.
I point out to the Minister that in 2018 the Royal Fleet Auxiliary carried out about 64% of the tasks credited to the Royal Navy. Nevertheless, the pay cap, which has been lifted for Royal Navy personnel, is being maintained for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. We in this House value the contribution and dedication of the seafarers who keep our Royal Navy at sea. What steps has the Minister taken to resolve the current dispute?
I think it is fair to say that the whole House values the role of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. Indeed, last summer I spent the most fascinating week on board RFA Mounts Bay in the Caribbean to see the work being done in preparation for the hurricane season. I have explained the conditions under which the Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s pay is reviewed, as civil servants, but I reassure the House that of course we would like to see a constructive end to this dispute, and I am confident that that will be the case.
I welcome The Sun’s campaign. We will shortly bring forward the first stage to legislate on closing down litigation against our armed forces for historical allegations. Although we hold our armed forces to the highest standards, we have seen that so much litigation against them has not been in the pursuit of justice. Although I note and pay tribute to the work of the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), on the veterans strategy and the veterans gateway, the MOD is not constitutionally responsible for veterans. The MOD, as a consequence, has not directly commissioned services and support for veterans, which has meant that some services we provide for serving members of the armed forces that could benefit veterans have not been available to them. I believe that needs to change, so we are consulting partners on changing the MOD’s constitutional role with regard to veterans.
Defence engagement, in all its forms, is vital to promoting the UK’s influence, values and intentions around the world, whether it is promoting stability and prosperity, tackling environmental challenges or responding to natural disasters and humanitarian need. Our strongest relationships with some nations are military to military, and we need to make sure that the contribution of defence to the objectives of One HMG is really understood.
At a time when Army numbers are consistently falling, it is all the more important that we draw on the widest possible pool of recruits. Why, then, has there been a 45% increase in the number of officer cadets admitted to Sandhurst from independent schools, compared with just a 7% increase from state schools? I know the Secretary of State is personally committed to creating a level playing field, so could she set out what she will do to seek out the brightest and best from all backgrounds?
If the hon. Lady had listened to my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces earlier, she would know that our trained and untrained strength is actually not decreasing. The number of recruits coming in is actually going up, but social mobility is important. Of course the MOD can always do more, but our armed forces are one of the greatest agents for social mobility in this country. They are one of the largest education providers in this country, and we ought to continue encouraging them to do more.
I am a little disappointed by that answer because when it comes to officers, there is a lot more that can be done. It is not just those from state schools who face barriers: just 10 of this year’s 600-strong cadet intake to Sandhurst are from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds—just 10. According to the MOD’s own statistics, the regulars and the reserves are also missing the Government’s 2020 target for BAME representation.
Will the Secretary of State now commit to a root-and-branch review of recruitment barriers to ensure that we have properly staffed and fully representative armed forces?
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in thanking everyone who took part in Armed Forces Day at Queen’s Park. I understand that regular personnel, veterans, reservists and cadets were all represented in that celebration, and I applaud the county, too, for its work on several events held across Staffordshire.
I agree that more needs to be done, and indeed Members of this House can help us do this as well. Community engagement is vital—[Interruption.] Indeed, I understand that the hon. Gentleman is doing his bit to ensure that that happens. We have to ensure that our armed forces look like the individuals they are there to defend and protect. They are there for us all; they are our armed forces, and that must be the view and sentiment in every community in the UK.
My hon. Friend raises an important point, and the MOD takes the threat of the nefarious use of drones very seriously. Using the defence transformation fund, we are working with the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, international partners and industry to further develop our counter-drone capabilities, and of course they will be used to protect defence infrastructure wherever they are needed. More broadly, a lot of the responsibility for protecting other sites in the UK lies with the police, but we will always be there to help if needed.
The last time the Secretary of State was at the Dispatch Box, we discussed an internal MOD policy on torture that contravenes domestic and international law. She promised a review. Has the review happened? Has the policy been dumped?
There is something unique about our armed forces: the sense of belonging, duty and pride one has in working in such a collegiate operation. Leaving that armed forces environment and going into the civilian world can be a culture shock, which is why we have our transition programme, which can last up to two years, to support people. Occasionally, however, extra help is needed, and I pay tribute to Combat Stress for the work it does in providing that support if it is required.
I think the figures I have quoted speak for themselves; we are now increasing the size of the British Army.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. We have a rebuild programme, whereby £4 billion is being put in to make sure we provide that state-of-the-art accommodation for our future defence capability. However, I agree with him that we need to do more to make sure we provide the type of housing that the recruits we want to bring in to the force deserve.
I should just clarify the difference between those who are serving and those who are veterans. In the case of veterans, each health authority now provides the transition, intervention and liaison service, to give veterans the mental health support that they deserve. In the case of those who are serving, as I touched on before, our mental health and wellbeing strategy is doing far more, which is why more people are putting their hand up to say, “I need help.” That is a good thing.
Having achieved initial operating capability from land in December 2018, and with the successful completion of its first operation, the Lightning programme is now focused on delivering initial operational capability for carrier strike, which is planned for December 2020.
Within four weeks of the Salisbury incident last year, Russia Today and Sputnik published 138 separate and contradictory narratives and 735 articles about the chemical weapons poisoning of the Skripals by Russian agents. There were dozens of different narratives on the rise of Novichok, its use, how it was not Russia’s fault and how Russia was the victim of a witch hunt. It is one of the examples that Russia is deploying in hybrid warfare. What plans does the Secretary of State have to announce the role of the cross-Government use of the Fusion doctrine? How able are the Government to expand the use of the 77 Brigade, if needed?
I declare my interest as deputy commander of the 77 Brigade, which means this is a subject close to my heart. Hybrid threats present themselves in many domains, so we utilise a whole-of-Government approach to protecting the UK against such activity. The MOD works collaboratively with other Departments, in line with the Fusion doctrine, to support that approach.
Just a couple of weeks ago, we saw the RAF livery on the first of the UK’s new Poseidon P-8 aircraft. Will the Secretary of State come up to RAF Lossiemouth to see how the base is preparing for the new aircraft and for hundreds of additional personnel? She will also be able to see the work done by Boeing and local firm Robertson to construct the Poseidon facility.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. We had that extra £1.8 billion in the most recent Budget because this is the exactly the sort of area we will look at. I assure him that I have regular meetings with industry and with the forces to talk about those very issues.
I am sure my right hon Friend the Secretary of State would agree that the reserve forces are a crucial component of our armed forces generally, so will she update the House on how retention and recruitment is going? Specifically, are we managing to get former regulars to rejoin as reserves and bring their expertise with them?
Defence Equipment and Support procures for the Ministry of Defence, but constituents who work there tell me that morale has plummeted since it became a bespoke trading entity, and it is now the joint worst-performing department in the civil service top people survey index. Will Ministers look into this?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. The staff survey results were frankly disappointing, but I assure her that a tremendous amount of work has been done with the workforce to improve the situation. We look forward to seeing improved results in the next survey.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. The A400M is an emerging procurement disaster. We have paid £2.6 billion for an aircraft with appalling reliability, bad engines, a virtually broken gearbox, problem propellers, massive vibration problems and an inability to deliver paratroops. There was recently a NATO ministerial meeting of the partner nations to decide what to do about the disaster. What was the outcome of that meeting?
My right hon. Friend is right to highlight the issues with the A400M. I can assure him that I attended that ministerial meeting: it was an extremely robust meeting with industry. The performance has been totally unacceptable. We are now expecting EuroProp International, the engine manufacturer, to be more empowered to negotiate the support solutions that we need. Airbus Defence and Space has also been held to account, but, following the problems with the engines and gear boxes, those parts will be replaced on each of the aircraft by the middle of next year.
As I have said on many occasions when answering these questions, we follow the Green Book rules with the Treasury, but we will continue to have those conversations with the Treasury about the wider prosperity agenda that our defence industry brings to the UK.
Rates of pay have an important role to play in retention and recruitment, particularly perhaps among the younger, newly recruited members. What consideration has my right hon. Friend given to introducing the concept of the living wage to our armed forces?
I think that that is what we should be doing. Our armed forces have been exempt from that, so I have said that we must do it. It would mean a pay increase of a couple of thousand pounds for the lowest paid soldiers, sailors, airmen and women, but I think that that is what we should be doing. That is certainly my policy.
The Canadians and Australians are applying to build more Type 26 frigates than the United Kingdom now is. Part of the reason is that they have invested in world-class purpose-built new shipyards whereas the UK has not. Will the Secretary of State review our 2015 decision to cancel the purpose-built shipyard for Type 26 and ensure that we get the investment needed to make our industry world class?
The hon. Gentleman will know that that was a decision made by BAE Systems, and it is ultimately responsible for it. The fact is, as I said earlier, that we have 20 years of work at those shipyards. I cannot remember them having such significant orders under the previous Government.
I thank my hon. Friend for the question. May I also thank him for inviting me to Armed Forces Day in Stirling last weekend? He was a wonderful host.
There has been a project to try to reduce what we call the time of flight. I am delighted to say that that has had good results, with the time of flight now being halved, and we are looking to roll that out across the whole of the recruiting programme.
The announcement on Fort George under the better defence estate strategy remains as it is, but the hon. Gentleman will know of our commitment to our armed forces personnel in Scotland. I am sure that he is delighted that he will shortly have the whole of the submarine fleet based in Scotland.
In a ministerial response to my hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes), the Minister stated a whole raft of subjects on which armed forces personnel need support and advice. Did he not make the case for a representative body for the armed forces?
Let me change the tone. A service is taking place in Tallinn today to commemorate the 107 members of the Royal Navy and the five members of the Royal Air Force who fought and died for the independence of Estonia and Latvia. I am sure that the Secretary of State wishes to come to the Dispatch Box to pay tribute to those who gave their lives and to reinforce the United Kingdom’s commitment to the Baltic states in their battles today.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to do exactly that. We owe those individuals a huge debt of gratitude. I was recently on board HMS Albion with the chiefs and Ministers of those nations and the other joint expeditionary force nations, discussing how we can take our partnership forward.
UK Ambassador to USA: Leaked Emails
Her Majesty’s Government utterly deplore the serious breach of classified information; it is totally unacceptable. As the Prime Minister has already said, we retain full confidence in the British ambassador to Washington, Sir Kim Darroch, for whom we have enormous respect as a distinguished and long-serving diplomat.
The Prime Minister and the British public expect our ambassadors to provide Ministers with an honest and unvarnished assessment of the politics in their country. We pay our ambassadors to be candid, just as the US ambassador here will send back his candid reading of Westminster politics and personalities. But it does not mean that this is the same as what the British Government think. A cross-Government investigation led by the Cabinet Office has been launched, which I can reassure the whole House will be thorough and wide-ranging.
I apologise for the slightly false start. I am extremely concerned, as I know many others in the House are, by the leaking of communications from the UK ambassador’s office in Washington that has been widely reported over the weekend. I fear that we are developing a culture of leaks, and that will be extremely detrimental to the UK because leaks damage our reputation, have an impact on our ability to function effectively and undermine our relationships with our allies.
Although I understand that the Foreign Office has opened an inquiry into this leak, I have today written to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police to ask that she also opens a criminal investigation into the leak. I have asked her for reassurance that all necessary resources will be made available to ensure that the source of the leak is determined, as a priority. I have also today asked the Foreign Secretary for details of the leak inquiry: who commissioned it; whom it will report to; whether it will be published; whether serving Ministers, officials and their predecessors will be compelled to participate, and what happens if they do not.
This leak is not just a problem for the Foreign Office; it affects the entire Government. I have heard already today reports of senior serving military officers who are increasingly concerned that the reports that they write may also not be kept secret. I have written to the Prime Minister to share this view and to ask her to ensure that all relevant parts of the Government are asked to help to investigate the leak and to urge her to respond robustly to prevent similar incidents from occurring. I want confirmation from the Minister that this issue is being treated with the seriousness it requires, at the heart of government. He has already spoken powerfully to condemn it. I would like him to treat the issue with the seriousness with which he has already begun and to order a criminal inquiry. Does he agree that whichever parts of the Government can help to look into the source of this leak—including the security services—should be asked to assist with the matter urgently and that any actions short of these steps will send out a dangerous message that the UK is reckless with information and cavalier with the trust placed in it?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments and supportive statements over the weekend. I share his deep concerns about this unacceptable leak for exactly the reasons that he has clearly set out, and I reassure him that it is being treated with the full seriousness that it deserves. There will be a cross-Government investigation, led by the Cabinet Office. Obviously, it is not for me to prejudge the inquiry, but I can assure him, and the House, that it will be comprehensive and that, as with all leak inquiries, it will endeavour to report its findings clearly—and if evidence of criminality is found, then yes, the police could be involved. The most important focus is to establish who is responsible for this despicable leak.
Again, I am grateful that my hon. Friend’s experience in the Army and in international affairs has been able to lend a voice of authority to the condemnation that we should all wish to express.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. I also thank the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee for securing it. We have already heard powerful statements from him, from the Minister of State, and indeed from the Minister’s current boss—the Foreign Secretary—and the Prime Minister denouncing the leak and the damage that it will do to the confidence of our civil servants working abroad to honestly feed back their insights and opinions on the situations that they are best placed to assess.
Let us remember why this is so important. Forty years ago, the Iranian revolution reached its climax. The Shah’s army withdrew to barracks rather than fight their fellow citizens in the streets of Tehran and effectively ceded control of the country to Ayatollah Khomeini. It was an event that sent shockwaves through the middle east and triggered deep soul searching at the Foreign Office: how had it failed to see this coming in a country that was regarded as such a close ally and such a vital trading partner? The concern was great enough that the Foreign Secretary, David Owen, commissioned an internal inquiry conducted by the late Sir Nicholas Browne into what had gone wrong.
The conclusions from Sir Nicholas became a cautionary tale for the entire diplomatic corps about the need for UK representatives abroad to keep making sound objective judgments about the countries in which they are based, oblivious to political bias or strategic interests. Kim Darroch was working in the Foreign Office when that report was published. He learned the lessons from it, and now he has been betrayed. He has been hung out to dry even though his only crime was to tell the truth. He told the truth about Donald Trump, and that was because it was his job.
I do not want to get into all the conspiracy theories as to where the leaks came from or whatever personal ambitions or rivalries have driven them. Instead, I have a simple question for the Minister: as well as the leak inquiry that the Government are now undertaking, will he also commit to providing an update of Nicholas Browne’s recommendations to reassure all our diplomats abroad that when they feed back their reports they do not need to fear politically motivated leaks and they can—as, for the good of our country, they must—keep telling the truth?
First, may I thank the right hon. Lady for her very measured response to this? I am very grateful, particularly as I know that she personally has some quite strong views about America and the current regime. She is absolutely right that the importance of candid advice is paramount. If that does not exist, our really wonderful diplomatic network is seriously diminished. Indeed, I remember—I am just old enough—the Iranian revolution and the conclusion reached that the then ambassador, Sir Anthony Parsons, had painted too rosy a picture, in his telegrams, of the Shah’s regime. Therefore, frank reporting is absolutely crucial.
I can give the right hon. Lady the assurance she seeks that we, as Ministers in the Foreign Office, can always reassure ambassadors that, if they speak truth unto power, they will never be personally criticised for doing so. Indeed, sometimes the more awkward it is, the more we respect and praise them for their honesty and their perceptions.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that all our ambassadors are expected to report frankly and privately, especially on the substance of incoming Administrations in the country to which they are accredited? Will he confirm that Sir Kim Darroch, who was only doing his job, should not be pilloried for that? Should not my right hon. Friend also send a message from this House that Sir Kim has not only the confidence of Her Majesty’s Government but the confidence of Parliament?
I think that the ambassador will be very heartened by the message that my right hon. Friend is asking the whole House to give him, and I hope that all in it share the view expressed by my right hon. Friend. Indeed, we do have full confidence in Sir Kim. He is expected to report, and it is unfair that little bits have been taken out of context, in some cases to sensationalise the contents of his diptels—diplomatic telegrams. Over the two and a half years of this Administration, his telegrams have been extremely balanced, and if they were ever to be seen in their entirety, which they might be in 30 years’ time, the picture painted of what he has been saying would be very different.
I thank the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee for raising this issue and for the action that he has rightly taken. I also thank the Minister for making a strong statement; that is the correct thing to do. That said, there are Members in his own party for whom everyone else is collateral in this Brexit mess and the damaging infighting it has caused, which has nothing to do with the best interests of the citizens they are supposed to serve.
Officials, and especially ambassadors, must be able to provide frank advice to Ministers about foreign leaders. The Minister recognises the value of officials being open to Ministers without fear or favour, even if others in his party do not. Given the seriousness of this leak, what action does he feel should be taken? If an elected official is involved, does he feel that that person is worthy of ministerial office?
Furthermore, I have seen some reports that people think it is a good idea to have Mr Farage as the UK ambassador in Washington. He is leading his second party that has been overwhelmingly rejected both by the people of North East Fife and by Scotland as a whole, and it will be rejected again, should he stand. Does the Minister agree that Mr Farage, with his extreme views, is utterly unfit for the post of UK ambassador to the USA and should have no place in any Administration of which the Minister is a part?
This is not about Brexit. This is about an utterly disgraceful leak, and whoever is responsible needs to be traced and punished. We would make no distinction between a Member of Parliament, a Minister, an official or anybody else in trying to trace and punish who has leaked these documents. In respect of the hon. Gentleman’s comments about Nigel Farage, fortunately, for the good of our diplomatic reputation, he has ruled himself out of wanting to be ambassador to Washington.
Although Mr Farage has ruled himself out, the question still arises of what the effect would be if Sir Kim felt that his position had become untenable and, instead of retiring in a few months’ time as planned, he had to go earlier. One effect would surely be that an outgoing Prime Minister had a say in the replacement, rather than the new Prime Minister. Would it not be sensible for Sir Kim to be encouraged to stay in post, so that there is no temptation for an outgoing Prime Minister to appoint to a plum job one of her inner circle?
I have no wish whatsoever to comment on the process by which any future ambassador to Washington will be chosen. All I will say is what I said earlier: we have full confidence in Sir Kim Darroch, and he retains the entire confidence of the Government and all of us who serve as Ministers in the Foreign Office.
It is clear that whoever was responsible for this was not thinking of the national interest. The whole House supports Sir Kim Darroch in doing his job, which is to report home without fear or favour. Does the Minister think that the expression of support for the ambassador’s position from the Prime Minister and others has been slightly undermined by the Foreign Secretary saying that he did not agree with the ambassador’s assessment? It would be helpful to the House if the Minister could explain why that is the case, because it seems to many of us that Sir Kim was only reporting what lots of other people can see for themselves.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was making a distinction between what is analytical reporting and what is said to be the view of the Government. In that sense, he was absolutely right to try to draw that distinction and he, I and everybody else have full confidence in Sir Kim Darroch.
They are regarded by many people as completely unjustified. As Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, I was more than well aware of Sir Kim’s own prejudices in relation to the EU. Surely it is not his so-called frankness that should be the issue, but his lack of judgment that disqualifies him from his post.
I regret to have to say that I consider my hon. Friend’s intervention deeply unworthy. Sir Kim Darroch is a diplomat of calibre and of integrity. Nothing in his reporting from the embassy could ever be construed as an attack on the President of the United States. All of it was reporting of the highest quality, which we expect of our diplomats and diplomatic network.
May I commend the Minister and indeed the Secretary of State for International Trade for defending our ambassador? Will the Minister take this opportunity to guarantee that our need—our desperate need—for a trade deal with the US will not stop our ambassador from speaking frankly, and will he also take this opportunity to dismiss the idea of the conspiracy theorists that this is some deep-state, anti-Brexit plot by the establishment?
Rather, I would say that everything we are witnessing is a sign of a very deep and serious relationship between our two countries, in which so much between us is assumed, on so many layers in so many areas, on a basis of trust that nothing—incidents such as this could be listed among such things—will ever get between us in that way. So the relationship is solid and no conspiracies can be put forward to suggest that this is either a Brexit plot or a trade deal plot: this is straightforwardly a despicable leak and we will endeavour to find out who did it.
It is inconceivable that a leak intended to damage our serving ambassador in Washington came from a fellow civil servant, so will the Minister confirm that the telephone and email records of serving and former Ministers and special advisers in the Foreign Office will be part of the investigation? Given the close relationship between the journalist who received this leak and leading pro-Brexit politicians, what does he think was the motivation behind it?
I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that I have been rather puzzled over the weekend about what the motivation could be, because any kind of scenario I put into my head does not seem to add up. On his question, that will of course be for the inquiry. I would merely point out that one of the leaked documents was from two years ago and three were from about eight to 10 days ago.
Does my right hon. Friend share my confidence that this episode is most unlikely to have any lasting effect on our relationship either with this Administration or with the United States in general? May I commend the Government for taking the right tack, which is to condemn the leaker and to back our diplomat?
I certainly condemn the leaker, and I certainly back our ambassador and his entire team in what is an excellent embassy. I very much hope that this causes no upset. I imagine that some of the reports from the US embassy in London will be saying some quite interesting things about the state of our politics. That will not necessarily represent the view of the ambassador or the US Administration; it will be people reporting from post back to the capital about what they think is going on. That is what they are there to do.
The Foreign Office simply cannot function or do its job properly on behalf of all of us unless a confidentiality guarantee is written into the whole fundamental system. In the 1930s, the British ambassador in Berlin regularly reported back in a way that sought to please the Prime Minister here, as well as the Führer in Germany. Is it not absolutely vital that all our ambassadors and high commissioners around the world are certain that their job is to tell the truth, not only about the country in which they are resident, but to Ministers here, whatever those Ministers may think?
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who, of course, has experience as a Foreign Minister, so he knows this process very well. It is not the purpose of an ambassador to ingratiate themselves with anybody; they are there to tell the truth, and it benefits everybody when they do, but leaks of this sort make that more difficult. I very much hope that our ambassador to Washington will not in any way feel browbeaten by the media onslaught. He has the full support of every single person in this House of Commons.