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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 718: debated on Monday 18 July 2022


The Secretary of State was asked—

Defence Jobs

Not in the Defence team, Mr Speaker. We shall leave that to others.

The Ministry of Defence’s sustained investment in industries across the UK supports over 200,000 jobs. Continued high and focused defence spending, supported by the changes we are making as part of the defence and security industrial strategy, will contribute to further economic growth and prosperity across the Union.

It is good to see that you are in fine, typical wit despite the heat, Mr Speaker.

As my right hon. Friend said, the UK defence sector is vital for jobs, the defence of this country and our allies, such as the Ukrainians, against Russian aggression. I am very proud of the contribution of Thales, which is located in my constituency. What is his Department doing to encourage defence contractors such as Thales to expand to meet this country’s increasing defence needs?

My hon. Friend asks an important question. Last week, I met the Defence Suppliers Forum, which includes Thales. We work closely together not only to indicate potential investments by defence in what we would need, but to make sure that we both meet our future requirements. Thales UK is one of Britain’s biggest and most advanced defence companies. Its NLAW—next generation light anti-tank weapon—systems are being used in Ukraine. I congratulate him on posing a question on Thales.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that procurement rules in the UK should recognise the socioeconomic benefit of investment as well as value for money in defence spending? To that end, will his Department ensure that more defence contracts are given to businesses based in Britain, such as our fantastic manufacturers in Teesside?

Yes, the defence industrial strategy embraces the social value model from the Treasury in competitive procurement and ensures that tackling economic inequality and equal opportunity are factors that are taken into consideration in procurement. Under my direction and that of the Minister for Defence Procurement, the Ministry of Defence always has regard for onshore sovereign capability and industrial skills.

Scottish businesses receive more investment than average across the UK from defence procurement, so how will my right hon. Friend continue to encourage the building of the skills that we need to help Scottish businesses to continue doing their bit in defence of our United Kingdom?

Our investment in Scotland was £1.99 billion last year, on projects such as the Type 26 in Govan, the Type 31 in Rosyth, airborne radars and advanced laser munitions in Edinburgh, which all help to sustain the skills base. It is incredibly important that the Scottish Government and the UK Government work with the further education colleges and the manufacturers to make sure that they invest in the skills that we so vitally need.

The Boxer programme in Telford has a positive effect throughout the midlands, with over 60% of its value flowing into UK supply chains. Can my right hon. Friend confirm how certain we can be of future jobs and investment from defence land equipment?

Yes, the fact that the Army will invest £41.3 billion in new capabilities over the next decade—including the likes of Boxer, Challenger 3 and two new major programmes that will develop in the near future, such as deep fires—will increase production and the employment base, which is also why it is so important that we invest in the skills at the same time. That will put UK land manufacturing back at the forefront of the international defence sector. It is a part of the sector that has lagged behind air and sea for too long.

May I make it simple for the Secretary of State? Defence jobs depend on orders, principally from his Department, and even export orders depend on British validation. He referred earlier to his support for the British defence industry, so why will he not now commit to ordering the fleet solid support ships to be built in British yards?

They will certainly be integrated in British yards, and a significant proportion will be built there. Let us have a look at what the bidders say; I have not yet seen the bids. As the right hon. Gentleman absolutely points out, British defence is dependent on British manufacturing, but British manufacturing is dependent on exports. If we are going to export our defence, as with Typhoon aircraft, Boxer and many of our exports, we often have to collaborate with international partners, because if we close the door on them, they are not going to buy British kit.

The Defence Secretary has just said that social value will be taken into consideration when awarding contracts. I have asked numerous parliamentary questions of the Department to try to quantify that; I have had no answer. I have asked the National Audit Office this question; it does not seem to know what is being used by the Department. Could the Defence Secretary clarify exactly what social value means, in quantifiable terms, when awarding contracts? It was clearly laid out in the excellent report that the right hon. Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne) did a few years ago.

In strategy documents such as the national shipbuilding strategy, we pledged a minimum 20% weighting for social value with naval ships. Social value is one of the weightings that we put on the contract. All contracts are obviously different from what we are seeking to buy, but within the weighting for social value, on which 20% of the total award is based, we can consider inequalities or the economic factors that I referred to earlier. I make sure that those factors are in there, and that they are adhered to. It is incredibly important.

The hostelries of east Fife benefit hugely from having Leuchars in east Fife. Similarly, when Joint Warrior comes to the north-west of my constituency, brisk trade is done. Does the Secretary of State accept that there are spin-off jobs that benefit from MOD expenditure the length and breadth of the UK?

Yes. I am delighted that military activity in the north-west and the east of Scotland brings in not just investment and industry—the £1.99 billion that I have talked about—but economic engagement with the community, which helps to sustain jobs, often in low season rather than the tourist season. It is Britain’s armed forces and British defence that help to keep us all safe, from the very tip of the hon. Gentleman’s constituency right down to the south-west.

But the defence jobs that the Defence Secretary is cutting are those of our armed forces personnel. There are 40,000 less than when Labour left office, and right now we are cutting another 10,000 jobs. At a time when there is greater global instability, we could be utilising these vital armed forces personnel to de-escalate risk using soft power, which our armed forces are so good at. Could the Defence Secretary tell the House whether this determination is driven by him, by the former Chancellor or by the professional leadership of our armed forces?

It is currently driven by an estimation of threat. As I have said a number of times at the Dispatch Box, if the threat changes, so must we. I do not call an increase of £24 billion in spending on defence a cut, in anybody’s book. However, what I do believe is that as the threat changes, so must we. We will continue to review that and, if the threat changes, I will be back.

May I congratulate the Defence Secretary and his team on ensuring that there has been continuity in defence while the rest of the Conservative Government have collapsed in chaos? Let me also say, lest this prove to be their last session of oral questions in their current jobs, that whatever our other disagreements, the Secretary of State’s cross-party working on Ukraine has helped to ensure that the UK has strong, unified support for the Ukrainians.

The right hon. Gentleman has been Defence Secretary since the Prime Minister, nearly two years ago, boosted defence spending and boasted that that would create 10,000 jobs every year. Only 800 new defence jobs have been created since then. Why the failure?

I should be happy for the right hon. Gentleman to show me that 800 figure, but, first and foremost, we have started to invest that £43.1 billion, or £41.3 billion, in the land scheme, a huge amount of which will be spent on Boxer and Challenger 3. That will generate an enormous number of jobs. Obviously, replenishing some of our ammunition stocks, many of which are made up and down the United Kingdom, will result in more jobs, and indeed the increased skills base for our work on the Dreadnought submarine.

Let me thank the right hon. Gentleman—my opposite number on the Front Bench—and, indeed, the whole House for the cross-party support on Ukraine. I also thank my team, my hon. Friends the Members for Wells (James Heappey), for Horsham (Jeremy Quin), for Aldershot (Leo Docherty) and for Stourbridge (Suzanne Webb), Baroness Goldie, and my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth Valley (Ian Levy). It is not often that a team stick together in Parliament or indeed in Government and, whatever happens over the next few months, it has been a privilege for me to work with all of them.

We will continue to invest in the jobs—over 200,000. No doubt the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) will be attending Farnborough air show this week; it is an incredibly important event to showcase British industry.

The answer is simple: direct British defence contracts first to British firms and British jobs, starting with the Navy’s new support ships.

The right hon. Gentleman has been Defence Secretary since the Prime Minister also pledged, at the last election:

“We will not be cutting our armed services in any form.”

However, he then launched plans to cut the British Army by a further 10,000 troops. He uses the words “when the threats change”. With Ukraine, the threats that we face are greater and our obligations to NATO are greater, so will he now do what Labour has been urging the Government to do for more than a year, and rethink these cuts in the strength of the British Army?

As I have also said over the year to those on the Labour Front Bench, we have already reduced the original cut by 500 so that the numbers are increased from 72,500 to 73,000. As for the changing threats, the right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the defence command paper was written and delivered before the actual Russian invasion of Ukraine. I have said continually that we will review it, and we will obviously review the threat as it changes. That review of the threat is ongoing, which is why Defence Intelligence gives regular briefings, and next year, or the year after, is the Department’s spending moment.

Defence Technology

Underpinned by a ringfenced £6.6 billion commitment to defence research and development, we are determined to innovate effectively and at scale. In addition to the well-established Defence and Security Accelerator programme this summer, we are launching the Defence Technology Exploitation programme, geared to supporting small and medium-sized enterprises and their innovative role in defence.

As my hon. Friend will know, we face a continued and substantial increase in attacks from cyber-technology. It is important to note that that is happening every single day that our defences are being probed. What further efforts will my hon. Friend make to ensure that our defences are secure and those attacks are rebuffed?

My hon. Friend is right about that threat, and he is right to suggest that we need to be absolutely on our toes in dealing with it. The Department continuously integrates leading-edge innovative cyber-technologies into military operations, including intelligence agents for autonomous resilience cyber-defence and cyber-deception technologies, through the National Cyber Deception Laboratory. In doing so, we make active use of DASA funding and the excellent expertise that we have in the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory.

As we see in the tragedy that is happening to Ukraine, the normal boundaries of warfare are being ignored, with increasing risks of the employment of biological or viral warfare strategies. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need to be at the forefront of innovation and research to deliver the best possible platforms to defend against these abhorrent strategies, and that the work that companies such as Kromek in Sedgefield are doing in collaboration with others deserves full support and indeed acceleration?

I am familiar with Kromek and its capabilities, and my hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that it is often SMEs that produce the most brilliant ideas, often working with excellent British universities. DASA finds and supports new ideas within defence, and I am delighted that SMEs make up some two thirds of the projects that DASA supports. Funding is also available for specialist innovative projects through Defence Science and Technology.

Building on the comments about SMEs, the conflict in Ukraine has shown the benefits of technical innovation, particularly in the area of drones, and we have great SMEs in this country that are keen to help, so could my hon. Friend explain a bit more about how he is engaging with that sector?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question, not least because it gives me the opportunity to say how keen the entire defence sector is to support our friends in Ukraine in every way we can. We recently completed the application phase of our Ukrainian innovation fund competition, and no fewer than 295 proposals designed to deliver capability to our friends in the Ukraine in the very short term were submitted from 205 different companies. Many are being closely scrutinised, including 17 that have been shortlisted for immediate attention, and I am proud to say that the majority of contributors were SMEs.

As we have seen from recent events in Ukraine, air combat is incredibly important to maintaining our national security and also, as has been mentioned, to maintaining our economic security-supporting businesses, such as Middleton-based MSM in my constituency. Can my hon. Friend tell me what is being done to ensure that the RAF retains its cutting-edge capabilities?

A brilliantly topical question, if I may say so, with Farnborough taking place this very week. I was delighted to announce last Friday at the Royal International Air Tattoo our £2.3 billion investment in ECRS mark 2 radar. This British-made world-leading electronic warfare capability will transform our combat air. It is just one example of how we will continue to invest in combat air as we develop our next generation future combat air system programme. We are currently investing some £2 billion into FCAS, with industry and international partners likewise investing in what will be an extraordinary combat capability.

A few moments ago, the Defence Secretary mentioned Typhoon and the advantages of international co-operation. Is this Government, post Brexit, prepared to have a clear strategy to say that co-operation across Europe is in the interests of defence jobs here in the United Kingdom?

It is absolutely the case that co-operation across Europe is helpful to our own defence sector and to the capabilities of the entire western alliance. A couple of weeks ago, I was there to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Organisation for Joint Armament Co-operation, a major procurement hub that we do jointly with the Germans, the Belgians, the Spanish and the Italians. There are umpteen programmes, including Typhoon, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, and Boxer, on which we work very closely. Indeed, the ECRS mark 2 programme to which I have just referred will be integrated by a P4E integration programme across our Typhoon partners. It is absolutely right that we work with all our allies across NATO and they include many of our European friends.

If this is indeed the last Defence questions for the present Defence team, I would like to place on record my thanks to the Minister for Defence Procurement for his kindness and generosity since I started shadowing him over a year ago. He is well known in the House for his attention to detail and he has been a formidable opponent for me.

“Complacent”, “too traditional”, and “resistant to change or criticism” are some of the words used to describe the Department by the Public Accounts Committee. With a new urgency for innovation due to the clear and present danger created by the war in Ukraine, and with deep concerns that the Department cannot manage large projects such as Dreadnought, is the Minister confident that the Department can deliver the new battle-winning capabilities this country needs, on time and in budget?

I very much thank the hon. Gentleman, my shadow, for his question, which started so well. I am very grateful and I hope that we continue our ongoing relationship across the Dispatch Box. I understand his concerns. They have been voiced by the PAC and we have responded to the concerns raised. I am afraid that I am a details bore, and we do go through the projects project by project. Defence procurement is never easy—it is a tough thing to get right—and I have not yet found a state anywhere on earth that can really deliver to the kind of standards that I am sure the hon. Gentleman would wish to see. What I do know is that, in Defence Equipment and Support and throughout the MOD, we have people who are doing a great job. They are becoming more professional, and senior responsible owners are spending more time on the projects. We are making sure that projects are properly set up to succeed at the start and ensuring that they are properly funded. It is that combination, along with working through the defence and security industrial strategy with British companies, that will get us the results we all wish to see.

China: Countering Threats

6. What steps his Department plans to take to counter threats originating in China in the context of the 2022 NATO Strategic Concept and joint address from the heads of MI5 and the FBI. (901118)

I hope you will indulge me, Mr Speaker, as I recognise my counterpart Volodymyr Havrylov, the Ukrainian deputy Defence Minister, who joined us in the UK this week as we went to see the Ukrainian troops and sailors in training.

The Ministry of Defence and the whole of Government are taking active steps to counter state threats from China. In line with the NATO strategic concept, we are working with allies to increase our shared understanding and to protect against China’s coercive tactics. Together with other Departments, we have strengthened investment screening, the academic technology approval scheme and our export control regimes.

The director general of MI5 has said:

“The most game-changing challenge we face comes from the Chinese Communist Party.”

At the last count, the UK Foreign Office had some 63 Mandarin speakers. Can the Minister tell us how many the Ministry of Defence has?

Does my hon. Friend agree that the emerging threats from China show NATO was right to make cyber and space among the key frontiers, along with the traditional three, and that, when looking at defence procurement and how money is spent, we are world leading in these vital areas of defence?

I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend, but we should not think that our competition with China is exclusively concentrated on the high-end warfighting capabilities that may or may not be required in the first and second island chains. Every single week, we compete with China for influence around the world. Maintaining the defence effort across the global south to protect our interests around the Commonwealth is every bit as important as preparing to stand alongside the US in anything that might happen in the Pacific.

Ukrainian Resistance to Russian Aggression

7. What assessment his Department has made of the effectiveness of Ukrainian resistance to Russian aggression. (901119)

There have been multiple reports of Ukrainian resistance and partisan activity in areas under Russian control, particularly in the south of the country. This has likely forced Russia to dedicate additional security personnel to areas it has occupied. Russia has deported 2.5 million people from Ukraine to Russia through filtration camps, and it has also likely detained and interrogated thousands of Ukrainians to try to quell the resistance. Such action will not deter Ukraine, and it will not deter the United Kingdom from continuing to support Ukraine in her fight.

Following the Prime Minister’s generous offer to train up to 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers here in the UK, I was delighted to see the first cohort arrive earlier this month. How does the Defence Secretary assess the success of this programme so far, and how does he see it evolving over the summer?

I am not sure whether my hon. Friend has visited the sites, but I am delighted to have visited one of the sites twice. The first course completes this week, and it has been a learning experience for both sides. We will continue to invest in improving the course, and I am delighted that the international community has now joined us. The Dutch have declared that they will send people to support the training, and the New Zealanders were already here to help the Ukrainians on 105-mm artillery. We are talking with a number of other international partners about delivery.

It is amazing to see men aged from 18 to 50—some women will soon be part of the deployment—who sometimes got on the plane in tracksuits, being trained in basic battlefield skills, the law of armed conflict and so on. It is quite sobering that they will go from here to a war zone, where many of them will tragically make the ultimate sacrifice.

Putin obviously thought the west would fracture at the beginning, and it is good that the west has not fractured so far. It is also good that lots of different countries in the western alliance are providing military hardware, some of it lethal, to Ukraine, but one problem Ukraine is facing is that each country has procured something slightly different, and Ukrainian personnel have to be trained in how to use each of those different pieces of equipment. If we really are to stay in this for the long haul, will we not have to start developing military equipment that we can all give together so that Ukrainian personnel need only one training session rather than 34?

Yes. One strength of NATO is its adherence to standards across all the nations in it. At the moment, Ukraine is transiting from using Soviet era calibres and so on to using western weapons systems, which is why it is important to help train Ukraine in their application; they are not one in, one out—they need to be used differently. Having helped establish the international donor co-ordination centre near Stuttgart, Britain has added training into that, so we co-ordinate that properly. Most countries use that and engage, so that this is co-ordinated: we do not double book and we get this in the right place. I urge any other international partner who is thinking of offering training to co-ordinate through that system.

The Ukrainians are putting up a valiant and skilful resistance against Russian aggression, but we understand that they are currently losing about 100 men a day, with many more wounded. Given that rate of casualties in modern warfare, and given that the integrated review was published long before the Russian invasion, does the Secretary of State agree with me and many other Conservative colleagues that the supposed 10,000 cuts in the Army, which the new Chief of the General Staff has called “perverse”, should not only be reviewed, but completely reversed?

As we can see from our Conservative colleagues, defence spending is a key priority in the leadership race, and I recommend to all leadership candidates who are wanting votes from Conservative Members that they recognise its importance. The threat has changed and it warrants more spending on defence, because the world is more dangerous and anxious than it was—not only when we had the defence Command Paper but before Putin invaded.

Will the Secretary of State today give an undertaking that the level of defence support to Ukraine in the next six months, both in value and in volume, will be as much as it was in the previous six months?

With all due respect to the hon. Gentleman, I will not categorise it in six-month blocks. As long as I am Defence Secretary, we will continue with the investment and the support to Ukraine, be it in hardware or software. Will it continue through third parties? Yes, it will. Obviously, I cannot speak for the next Prime Minister, but I can say that all the candidates have clearly made a statement to such effect. It is important that we do not give up on this and we carry on, whoever comes in the next Government and after the next election. Putin’s one calculation is that we will all get bored and go back to doing other things. That is how Russia wins, but we are not going to let it win; we must stick at it, for as long as it takes.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. May I, too, say that no matter what might happen in the reshuffle following the summer, the Ministry of Defence has worked co-operatively, particularly on Ukraine, during these past months? Whoever takes over or stays in place, it is to the benefit of all of us that that continues, whoever the new Prime Minister might be. Who knows, that job in Brussels might be what is waiting for the Secretary of State later this year. The situation in south and eastern Ukraine is getting much worse. Indeed, just in the past few days the Russian Defence Minister Shoigu has ordered an intensification of attacks on those parts of the country. With winter just around the corner, that is the point where there is the potential for allies to be picked off, although I do not lay that accusation at the Secretary of State’s door. Will he ensure that the training being given by the UK keeps pace with what is needed for that intensification and helps get the armed forces of Ukraine through the winter?

Let me thank the hon. Gentleman as well. I have never doubted the desire of anyone in this House to keep this country safe, no matter whether they are SNP, Labour, Liberal Democrat or anyone else, and I pay tribute to his constructive manner. We are learning as we go on the training. We started with a pledge to 10,000. As I said this morning in a meeting, I would be perfectly understanding if it ended up being 20,000 or if the Ukrainians sought to switch it at some stage to do something else. The casualties figures were given earlier by the former Armed Forces Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois), and they have dropped for now, which is a good thing. Russia is facing the consequences of the HIMARS–high mobility artillery rocket system—and I can confirm to the House that our guided multiple launch rocket system is now in country and active, delivering the same munitions. That is having a significant effect on the Russians’ ability to prosecute the war. As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, the key is to get through the summer and make sure Ukraine is ready for the winter, and then we can continue to start pushing back Russia’s aggressive invasion.

Armed Forces: Size Targets

8. What assessment he has made of the potential merits of maintaining current targets for the size of the armed forces in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (901120)

We continue to assess the threat posed by Russia and other competitors around the world. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has just said in response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois), we are, of course, excited to see defence spending play such a prominent role in the leadership debate. We look forward to working with the new Prime Minister to assess the threat and look at what changes to defence capability might be needed thereafter.

As has been said, cutting 10,000 troops came from the integrated review, which predates Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The outgoing Chief of the General Staff has said that he is

“not comfortable with an Army of just 73,000”,

and Lord Dannatt has stated that the capability of the fighting force is

“well below what it should be”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 27 June 2022; Vol. 823, c. 438.]

Given the answers we have heard from the Dispatch Box about increased spending, does that mean that Government Front Benchers agree that the cut of 10,000 should be reversed and that a much larger Army is required?

Nobody in the Ministry of Defence will ever argue against more money being spent on defence, but let us be clear: if more money were made available, there are other things that we would do more immediately than regrow the size of the Army. There are things that we would want to do about the lethality and deployability of the current force, to get more from what we have at the moment. If thereafter there is a discussion about regrowing, great, but there are other things that we would do first.

Autonomous weapons systems are likely to be force multipliers in the future. To what extent does that impact on the Minister’s assessment of manpower? What doctrine does he believe will be needed to govern their use, and how is he recruiting soldiers with the skillsets necessary to handle them effectively?

My right hon. Friend makes a really important point. Autonomy is increasingly the key to the successful generation of overwhelming force in the battle space. That is a key part of the integrated review and within the defence industrial strategy. It may well be that a more lethal force—even a bigger force—does not necessarily acquire more workforce in the future if that is the way in which the trend continues to go.

Cost of Living: Armed Forces Personnel

9. What recent assessment his Department has made of the impact of the rise in the cost of living on armed forces personnel. (901121)

16. What recent assessment his Department has made of the impact of the rise in the cost of living on armed forces personnel. (901129)

Our mitigating measures on the cost of living include a freeze of the daily food charge. We are limiting the increase in accommodation charges to 1%, and we are ensuring that the council tax rebate of £150 reaches more than 28,000 of our armed forces people. We are also, of course, bringing in wraparound childcare in time for the new school year.

Will the Minister confirm that the cost of a new £250 million royal yacht, whose principal use will be for champagne receptions, is not coming out of the Ministry of Defence budget during a cost of living crisis, when personnel have not received a real-terms rise for a number of years and while bases in Scotland have been closed and we have the smallest UK standing Army ever?

The hon. Lady makes a flippant point. The serious point is that this new vessel will deliver jobs right across the United Kingdom.

Notwithstanding the Government’s cuts to the armed forces footprint in Scotland, including at Redford barracks in my constituency, over the years Scots have played a very active role in the defence of their country. Yet despite being injured in service, many veterans over 65 in the lowest-income households miss out on pension credit because their war disablement pension is considered as normal income. What steps is the Minister taking to persuade his counterpart at the Department for Work and Pensions to address this anomaly, to help our veterans cope with the rise in the cost of living?

We take any potential anomaly extremely seriously, and I would be pleased to meet the hon. and learned Lady to discuss that specific case. If I may make a general point, it is a bit rich to be told to take lessons on the cost of living from the Scottish National party, given its tax hike on armed forces personnel. There are 7,000 personnel in Scotland who pay £850 more on average, thanks to the SNP tax hike, which should be reviewed. It is absolutely outrageous.

The Government’s own figures show that at least 33,000 veterans are on universal credit, and estimates suggest the actual figure could be double that, so why does the Government’s veterans strategy cut specialist employment support in jobcentres—which would help veterans on universal credit who are out of work get back into employment—by 50%?

We on the Conservative Benches will not perpetuate the myth that receiving universal credit is a bad thing. Many of these people are in high-paid and good jobs. It is a reflection of the fact that this Government support people into work and that military service gives them skills for life.

Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy

10. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the effectiveness of the Afghan relocations and assistance policy. (901122)

14. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the effectiveness of the Afghan relocations and assistance policy. (901127)

The Afghan relocations and assistance policy scheme has had more than 100,000 applications. Although I appreciation the desperation of many who apply, the reality is that staff numbers and even names of those who worked with us in Helmand are being shared, so it is hard to identify individual applicants. To that end—the entitlement is bound; we know who worked for us— last week, I engaged a number of non-governmental organisations and charities to help us find the people on the list of those who actually worked with us, so that we can bring them to the front of the queue and get them out as quickly as possible.

Ministers confirmed last month that around 8,000 Afghans and their families could still be eligible for relocation to the UK under the ARAP scheme. The Minister says that it is hard to identify those people, so what specifically are Ministers doing to identify them, to establish pathways to get them here, and to process their applications as quickly as possible?

I think the hon. Gentleman might realise that I have answered that question in my original answer. We think that there are about 2,000 principals—people who actually worked with us—yet to bring out. Rather than going through tens of thousands of applications, we are asking those with networks in-country to help us find those 2,000 people on the list. We have the capacity and the routes to bring them out. The challenge is finding them when a huge number of applications are gaming the system, with dozens of applications coming in on the same staff number, which should be the individual identifier.

I thank the MOD’s Afghan relocation team who are working tirelessly to identify and process the huge number of applications including friends and relatives of Carshalton and Wallington residents. How many individuals have made it to the UK under the ARAP scheme since Operation Pitting concluded?

A total of 9,962 people have come out under ARAP, 2,984 of whom have come out since Op Pitting.

We are now only a few weeks away from the one-year anniversary of the start of Operation Pitting, the evacuation from Kabul. A year on, thousands of Afghan citizens are still waiting for their applications to be properly processed, too many are still in temporary accommodation, and the promises made to many of them about relocation and family reunions have been left unhonoured. With the one-year anniversary a few weeks away, what will the Minister be doing to speed up this incredibly slow process, so the promises that this country made to those Afghans who worked with our armed forces can truly be honoured?

The hon. Gentleman probably just heard me answer the previous two questions. There are hundreds of thousands of applications, many of which are duplicates, and many of which are from people who have no eligibility under ARAP whatsoever. ARAP is a very tightly bound scheme. It is not the same as the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme or other mechanisms where each case might be judged on its merits. There is a list of people who worked with the British armed forces in Afghanistan, so our focus must be on finding the people on that list and bringing them out. We are doing so quickly.

The hon. Gentleman says that it has been nearly a year. That is correct, Mr Speaker, but it is not as if we can just wander around in Afghanistan and find these people. It is not straightforward. A lot of them are undocumented. He may want to speak to some of the charities that are working on this, as I know that some of his colleagues on the Back Benches do. When I spoke to them last week, they realised that the situation was exactly as I have said: it is not easy; people do not have documents; and we are working fast to get people out. We think we have found of way of doing so quicker, and we will be getting on with it now.

Defence Business Services

The hon. Gentleman has raised this with me on more than one occasion previously. I know that it matters greatly to his constituents. As announced back in 2016, Defence Business Services will consolidate its north-west estate into a single location. Last year, a thorough multi-criteria decision analysis was undertaken, which considered a number of locations and recommended consolidation in Blackpool. The full business case is being considered within the approvals process. I expect to make an announcement soon, and will write to the Members representing the constituencies affected.

I thank the Minister for Defence Procurement for his answer, and for procuring some continuity in the Government, against the odds, by remaining in his post during this crucial time. Will he consider bringing the hubs in Liverpool and Manchester into the Defence Business Services workplace programme solution to avoid compulsory redundancies?

What I can say is that in locating to Blackpool, as was recommended, we will do our utmost to avoid compulsory redundancies. There is a good working relationship at a local level with the trade unions, which are doing well to represent their members. There is an absolute expectation on our part that we will maximise the ability to work flexibly, with things such as deferred moves and everything else we can do to support our employees. This move was designed not to cut posts, but as an estate rationalisation scheme. That is at the back and the front of our minds, and we will work with the trade unions and our employees to ensure as few redundancies as can possibly be managed.

I thank the Minister for moving so many of the jobs to Blackpool and to my constituency—yet one more to add to my list of wonderful things the Government have done for the town of Blackpool. Will he encourage all Government Departments, not just the MOD, to share his vision and his confidence in the people of my constituency?

I know we are not alone in putting Government jobs into Blackpool; it is a popular location, and it was entirely driven by the intensive work we did on finding the best location. I can reassure my hon. Friend and this House that we undertook a very serious bit of work looking at all available options, and the recommendation of Blackpool emerged as a result of that serious analysis.

Topical Questions

I would like to update the House on the exciting progress of the United Kingdom’s future combat air system programme, Tempest. At Farnborough international airshow this week, our industry and international partners are showcasing the new FCAS capabilities, demonstrating the momentum we have achieved. Today, I can announce that a flying demonstrator aircraft is being developed by the UK MOD and Italian industry. This piloted combat air demonstrator will fly for the first time within the next five years and is an important step in ensuring that our technology skills and industrial capability are ready for the future. I am delighted that the UK is working alongside Italy, Japan and Sweden on the same combat air journey. We intend to take collaborative decisions by the end of the year.

Will my right hon. Friend update the House on progress being made with the new medium-sized helicopter procurement, noting that Leonardo Helicopters in Yeovil is the only end-to-end helicopter manufacturer in the UK and supports hundreds of jobs in West Dorset? I would like to make the case again for the AW149.

I reassure my hon. Friend that he will have plenty of opportunity to lobby on behalf of his constituents and others in the south-west. The new medium helicopter competition will align with the defence and security industrial strategy; the competition’s contract notice and dynamic pre-qualification questionnaire were released on 18 May this year and responses are now being evaluated to determine a shortlist of credible suppliers. The second half of the competition, in which we will ask the selected suppliers to provide more detailed responses, is due to be launched later this year.

When the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Wells (James Heappey), answered my urgent question on Thursday about new public allegations about British special forces in Afghanistan, he said that,

“the Secretary of State is clear that he rules nothing out”.

He also said:

“I am certain that the House will hear from him in the near future.”—[Official Report, 14 July 2022; Vol. 718, c. 494.]

With the summer recess starting on Thursday, when will the Secretary of State make a statement to the House on this?

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s interest. It is an incredibly important allegation that has been made, which none of us takes lightly. Mr Speaker, you waived at the time the sub judice rule; as the right hon. Gentleman will know, there is a matter before the courts that may determine that timetable and precludes my guessing when I can make certain decisions. What I can say in the meantime is that I think the right hon. Gentleman is due for a briefing on this matter. We have a date for him on that, and I am happy to oblige the SNP Front Bench as well if they wish to get it. We take everything seriously. This is incredibly important, but we can only act on the evidence before us. People need to remember that we cannot act based on noises off. We will always act on the evidence put before us, but this is a matter for the independent police and prosecutor.

T2. I am a member of the Scottish Affairs Committee, which recently welcomed the increase in military capacity in Scotland, especially in the light of the Russian aggression. What plans do the Government have to ensure that Scotland remains at the heart of the United Kingdom’s defence capacity? (901139)

Our plans are to keep Scotland within the United Kingdom, because it is in the best interests of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales to all be part of a greater Union providing security for each other. We are better together.

I want to return to the issue that the shadow Secretary of State raised—not the individual allegations or even the “Panorama” programme, but the wider issue of the unanswerable case for democratic oversight of special forces. When will the Department devise proposals, bring them to the House, and allow us to debate and legislate on that issue? Surely that does not require anything at all from the courts.

Indeed it does not, and the hon. Gentleman is perfectly at liberty to table a motion and have a debate in this House. [Interruption.] He says, “Come on!”, but I cannot remember one. The key is making sure that democratically elected Ministers in this House have oversight of our special forces, and we are also bound by law in the same way that anyone else is. There is no exception to the law, whether through investigational powers or the operational prerogative on which we deploy our forces.

T4. I have heard from a number of Ukrainians now resident in my constituency how much they value the work of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to support their armed forces. What lessons are we going to learn from our work to supply ordnance and equipment to the armed forces in Ukraine that will inform our future plans for maintaining appropriate stocks of weapons and equipment? (901141)

We learn an awful lot from watching the way that modern conflict is being prosecuted in Ukraine, and that is indeed shaping our analysis of the stockpiles we need to hold, particularly given the intensity of the modern artillery battle.

T3. This October will see the 70th anniversary of the British nuclear tests. What are Ministers doing to formally recognise our nuclear veterans ahead of that date? (901140)

I recently met the families, alongside the Prime Minister. I committed at that meeting to instruct the MOD to look afresh at the case to be made, and that work is ongoing.

T7. At the National Memorial Arboretum, 306 wooden stakes represent the 306 soldiers who were wrongly shot at dawn and subsequently pardoned. One of those is George Hunter from Stockton, who left behind a wife and two children to enlist in the Durham Light Infantry. Despite being pardoned in 2006, Private Hunter and his comrades have still not been posthumously awarded their medals. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss how we can get these heroes the medals and recognition that they deserve? (901144)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for the work he does for the armed forces in his constituency. Of course this a very serious matter, so I am happy to confirm that we will look at it and I will write to him.

T5. What steps are being taken to address the urgent shortage of translators for UK and Ukraine training exercises while ensuring that adequate proficiency in the language is a key requirement? Some concerns have been raised that the fluency level currently being accepted is not high enough. (901142)

Those are not concerns that I have heard reflected. I have visited the artillery training that was taking place at Rollestone camp, the Secretary of State has been to visit Warcop twice, and tomorrow I am going to Knook camp in Wiltshire with my Ukrainian counterpart. I can assure the hon. Lady that while my experience of the interpreters has been amazingly positive, if there are any shortcomings we will make sure they are rectified.

Bracknell constituency is very proud to have a new veterans’ hub at Crowthorne fire station, and my thanks go to the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service. What additional provision might be available for communities wanting to provide local support for veterans?

I put on record my thanks to my hon. Friend for his characteristic support for armed forces personnel and veterans in his constituency. The hub is clearly an important thing, and those people should be made aware of opportunities for support coming from the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust, which he will know well.

T6. If I gave the Secretary of State £250 million, would he invest it in another Type 31 frigate, in other defence capability we are missing out on, or in a royal yacht whose sole purpose is supposed to be for signing new trade deals? (901143)

I will invest in whatever furthers Britain’s national interest. I totally understand where the hon. Gentleman is coming from. He will understand, although perhaps not from the west coast of Scotland, the importance of the royal yacht, because the number of people who pay money to go and look at it in Edinburgh, where it is currently tied up, is incredible. It is very popular.

The two voluntary outflow reasons for personnel from the armed forces tend to be that there are greater opportunities outside the military and the impact on family life. The Minister has done extraordinary work, so what assessment has he made of the armed forces families strategy and how it will take account of those two issues?

The strategy is an important piece of work. We launched it in January, and we will keep the House up to date. We acknowledge that we recruit the armed forces personnel, but we retain the families. We want to give them flexibility and choice, and we look forward to reporting back.

T8. I have met Airspace Unlimited, which is creating an airspace optimisation tool for defence airspace, which will assist the RAF’s ambition to be net zero by 2040 with an added benefit of supporting vital defence training for fifth and sixth-generation combat aircraft. Does the Minister agree about the importance of that and of supporting such initiatives through a defence and security accelerator? (901145)

I do agree. I think there are huge opportunities, and the hon. Gentleman correctly points out that the RAF has an ambition of 2040 for net zero. We are investing a lot of money, including £2.35 billion into the European common radar system or ECRS Mark 2, a prime recipient of which will be Edinburgh. Scottish companies have a lot of other opportunities to bring to our attention, and we will happily look at them.

I think it was at his keynote speech to the land warfare conference that the Chief of the General Staff made his oft-quoted remarks that this was “our 1937 moment”, that it was “perverse” to cut 10,000 people from the Army and that we would be at risk of being “outnumbered” in the event of warfare. Can the Secretary of State tell me whether that speech was cleared through his office before CGS gave it?

Some of the characteristics that my hon. Friend mentions were not in the speech. The Chief of the General Staff did not say it was perverse to cut 10,000 troops—he did say it was a 1937 moment. The important thing about 1937 was not only that General Montgomery had talked about mobilisation, but that he had talked about ensuring that the force was relevant. If you have a big mass force that is irrelevant to modern technology, you end up like Russia, stuck on the road to Kyiv—wiped out.

T9. Mr Speaker, you will be pleased to know I have a very short question that could be answered with one word. Will serving personnel receive an above-inflation pay rise this year? (901146)

I start by congratulating my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Defence Front-Bench team for the competence, clarity and steadfastness they have shown, particularly in recent months in proposing the UK contribution to Ukraine. When my hon. Friend the Minister for Defence Procurement visits Farnborough, will he find time to attend the joint economic data hub hosted by the UK Defence Solutions Centre, which demonstrates to Her Majesty’s Treasury that £1 invested in defence has a multiplier of more than £1?

In a packed programme, I will do my utmost to visit the JEDHub centre. My right hon. Friend is too modest to point out that that came out of a recommendation from the Dunne report. It was a valuable recommendation, and knowing exactly what defence investment means for our economy is very good news for defence and very good news for the United Kingdom.

T10. A couple of months ago I was delighted to spend an evening with some Fijian veterans, and a good fun evening was had by all. I was able to express to them my personal thanks for their services to the British armed forces. I recognise the progress that has been made on visa fees for Fijian veterans, but will the Minister look at cancelling the costs of visas for Fijian servicemen and women’s spouses as well? (901147)

The point is that it is all about fairness, and we must not disadvantage any comparable British soldier in the same circumstances, so currently there are no plans to extend that measure to family members.

It is thanks to the team on the Front Bench and the Prime Minister that I am still able to wear this badge showing the Ukrainian flag, because had it not been for the supply of next-generation light anti-tank weapons some three to four months before the invasion, the Russians would be in Kyiv now. May I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is satisfied that we will still be able to maintain the supply of ammunition that the Ukrainians naturally need?

We are able to do that, and where we do not have our own stocks, alongside international partners and donors we scour the world to find them and make sure that we have them. Ukraine and Russia are both discovering that a prolonged battle is very hard to manage with their own stocks. Russia is now using very old equipment, some of which came out in the 1950s, and using it incorrectly—for example, using equipment designed to kill a ship to hit a building.

Complaints about service accommodation have rocketed in the first four months of this year, and are 20% higher than last year. Can Ministers explain why, and say how they plan to rectify this urgently, given the already undue pressure experienced by families and those who are married to someone in the armed forces?

We take these issues extremely seriously. That is why we have invested more than £936 million in service family accommodation in the last seven years, and there is more coming. Under the future accommodation model, we want to give choice, flexibility, and accommodation of the highest possible standard to those living in service family accommodation.

British nuclear testing veterans and their families met the Prime Minister, Defence Ministers, the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) and me on 8 June. The veterans told me that they felt that the Prime Minister had listened to them, and they were hopeful that they would be formally recognised. Will the Secretary of State provide a progress report on the actions that he and the Prime Minister have taken since the meeting to secure the recognition that these veterans so deserve?

It was my great pleasure to be at that meeting, and I am happy to write to the hon. Lady with an update.

Despite stark warnings from successive Chiefs of the Defence Staff and others about the vulnerability of our undersea cables in the light of increased Russian submarine activity, it took until 2021 for the Government to announce that they would acquire a multi-role ocean surveillance ship to protect that critical infrastructure. It was recently reported that the Government still have not decided on the capability required, a procurement strategy, or an in-service date. Why is that?

We are looking closely at how we take forward MROSS. As the hon. Lady suggests, it was an important step to make that part of the defence Command Paper in spring ’21. We said that we would ensure that we brought that capability into service, but we need to get it right, and considerable work is continuing on what exactly that capability should look like.

“Meritorious” was the word that the Prime Minister used in this House to describe the application made under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy scheme by a former Supreme Court of Afghanistan judge who put hundreds of terrorists behind bars, undoubtedly saving British lives. I was promised a meeting with Ministers on the subject; that never materialised, and suddenly, out of the blue, his ARAP application was turned down last week because he was deemed to have not worked closely enough with the UK Government. I plead with Ministers to meet me to review this hero’s case, because I have no doubt that he will be hunted down and slaughtered by the Taliban if we do not bring him to safety.

The hon. Lady and I walked through the Lobby together the other week—it was one of the rare occasions on which we were in the same Lobby—and were able to discuss this case. I asked the team to look at it. ARAP is a very tightly bound scheme for those who worked with the British armed forces, and the person for whom she is advocating did not. There are other routes by which that person can come to this country, including through the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme, and I will make sure that she is connected with the appropriate Minister on that.

Will we be left without a low-level parachute capability when Hercules goes out of service? If so, can Ministers say how long our airborne forces will be grounded while Atlas is upgraded?

I took steps immediately to close the gap, if there was one, in that last year we purchased a significant number of new parachutes off the shelf. The hon. Gentleman will be aware, given his interest in airborne forces, that both the German and French air forces have on numerous occasions jumped out of A400s, and it is odd that we have not yet done that, so that is not the reason why this matter has not progressed. We are making sure that we have the right equipment and the right training for pilots. We are on track to do that, but I will give him an update. Just like him, I think it is incredibly important that the RAF gets on and does this.[Official Report, 2 November 2022, Vol. 721, c. 4MC.]

House of Commons Library analysis forecasts that Ministry of Defence day-to-day spending will be cut by 5.5% in real terms by 2024-25. Can the Secretary of State confirm that this amounts to a real-terms cut of £1.7 billion over the next three years?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the House. I would also like to pay tribute to his predecessor as the defence spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone). We served in the Scottish Parliament together, and he will be missed from this brief.

On the point made by the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Richard Foord), I think that is based on the new inflation rate. When we got our defence spending in the comprehensive spending review, the GDP deflator was at 1.5%. As a result, we have been compensated by the Treasury in the short term for inflationary pressures, but that will not show in the core budget until after the accounts are in. However, he is right to point out that inflationary pressures on a budget such as ours, with huge amounts of capital, will have an impact. We are taking steps to try to mitigate that, and I am looking forward to engaging with the new Prime Minister to make sure we get that mitigation.