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Armed Forces: Covid-19 Response

Volume 685: debated on Monday 7 December 2020

What support the armed forces are providing during the covid-19 outbreak; and if he will make a statement. (909791)

What support the armed forces are providing during the covid-19 outbreak; and if he will make a statement. (909794)

What support the armed forces are providing during the covid-19 outbreak; and if he will make a statement. (909822)

As part of the national covid-19 response, the Ministry of Defence has, as we discussed earlier, 13,500 personnel to assist in winter resilience operations, including the response to the current pandemic crisis. The force capabilities include liaising and planning, logistical support, engineering and other specialist capabilities.

People in Chesterfield have had cause to be grateful to members of our armed forces, who helped to erect the coronavirus testing station at the Technique Stadium in Chesterfield. Of course, the armed forces would have been better placed to support the effort if we had not seen service numbers cut by 46,000 under this Government over the past 10 years, but can the Minister tell us whether the armed forces stand ready to offer mass testing in all tier 3 areas should the Health Secretary request that they do so?

First of all, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his kind words about the service personnel who have been at work in his constituency. Defence will generate as much as we can possibly generate to meet the needs of the Government. At the moment, 13,500 personnel are in readiness. We are looking at how we might generate more if required. No such demand signal has yet come from the Health Secretary, but if it did we would see what we could do. Of course, we have the opportunity, given that we have placed the mobilisation orders in the House, to look at how we might generate our reserves to participate in the response as well.

Our armed forces have helped to deliver successful whole-town testing in Liverpool, and we have heard today that the Ministry of Defence plans to use MACA—military aid to the civil authorities—support for more testing and preparations to roll out covid vaccines. Can the Minister indicate whether good quality local accommodation, together with extra funds, will be provided to the armed forces to help them with this vital work?

Clearly, these are matters for operational commanders, but my expectation would of course be that those we deploy to do this important work at such an important moment for our nation are properly accommodated and fed while doing those duties.

I commend our world-renowned armed forces on their much valued efforts in the fight against the pandemic, especially when they recently helped to deliver successful whole-area testing. Will the Minister explain exactly how the Government plan to use MACA support for other areas in tier 3, such as my Slough constituency?

The hon. Gentleman tempts me to give him a lecture on the intricacies of the MACA process, which I have come to love over the last nine months. The reality is that if he feels that his local authorities would benefit from military support, he should ask them to put in a MACA request, and the MOD would look to resource that, as we have done on hundreds of others over the course of the year thus far. If he feels that the chief executive of his local authority would benefit from assistance in generating that MACA request, he can write to me and I will be delighted to help.