Skip to main content

Commons Chamber

Volume 627: debated on Monday 10 July 2017

House of Commons

Monday 10 July 2017

The House met at half-past Two o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Reserve Centres

1. What discussions he has had with local authorities and the devolved Administrations on reserve centre closures; and if he will make a statement. (900293)

At the first Defence questions of the new Parliament, may I remind the House of my interest, namely that I am in my 29th year of service in the Army Reserve?

The Ministry of Defence regularly holds discussions with local authorities and the devolved Administrations on reserves. That includes engaging with all stakeholders on sites that are earmarked for closure or for the establishment of new reserve units. The release of sites no longer required by the Ministry of Defence will free up land for new housing and raise money to reinvest in our armed forces.

Like the Minister, my father was a Territorial Army reservist, so I know the importance of the reserve. Would it not make more sense, rather than jumping to a closure and then contacting the devolved Administrations, to have a pre-consultation to make sure that where facilities are being reviewed across the board—ambulance stations, fire stations and so on—we have a single estates strategy for public sector assets?

Of course, we do engage with local authorities to the best of our ability, but no final decisions have been made in the Army Reserve Refine programme. It would therefore be premature to engage with local authorities to say which, if any, Army Reserve centres are closing. However, that piece of work on the reserves brings good news as well, so I am delighted to take this opportunity to announce the creation of two new infantry battalions as a result of it: 4th Battalion the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, whose headquarters will be at Redhill, and 8 Rifles Battalion, whose headquarters will be at Bishop Auckland.

May I offer my hon. Friend very warm congratulations on his promotion to Minister for the armed forces? As a distinguished and senior officer in the reserve, is he not perfectly placed to make decisions on reserve centre closures?

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for his warm words. As his former Parliamentary Private Secretary at the Department for International Development, I know only too well of his contribution to the comprehensive approach during his tenure there. It is rare as a Minister to be appointed to a Department one actually knows something about. On that basis, I am delighted to be here. It is great to be in this position and I hope to use any experience I have.

May I, too, congratulate the Minister on seemingly knowing what he is talking about?

In recent days I became aware, via the office of the deputy lord lieutenant of the county of Dunbartonshire that he had informed the provost of West Dunbartonshire, as the local government’s civic leader, that armed forces veterans’ day would not take place due to there being no capacity in the armed forces to deliver it. As the Member of Parliament for West Dunbartonshire, it gives me grave cause for concern that veterans in local families in West Dunbartonshire, including those in my own family who have served, will not be given the appropriate thanks by their local community. Will the Minister, on behalf of the Ministry of Defence, advise me and other Members of the House whose local communities may have been unable to hold veterans’ day that this will not happen again?

Armed Forces Day has become quite a success, so I am disappointed to hear what the hon. Gentleman says. I visited Bangor in Northern Ireland and my colleagues have visited other places in the United Kingdom. The Armed Forces Day centring on Liverpool this year was a particular success. However, I am concerned by what he says and would like to think that all our units, whether Army Reserve units, Regular units or cadet forces, will do whatever they can to support Armed Forces Day. I will certainly look into what he has said.

Does the Minister agree that a crucial criterion when considering dismissing or abandoning reserve centres is to ensure that our reserve centres are as close as possible to the reserve soldiers who will man them, so that they do not have to travel far?

Of course, our reserves have become very much a success over recent years. Over the last year, some 5,000 extra reserves were recruited—an increase of some 5% on the Army Reserve of 2016. One of the great challenges we face is to ensure that the footprint is equal across the country. That is why the Army Reserve Refine piece of work that is going on is so important. One of the principal aims is to ensure that the footprint is even across the country.

Abertillery in my constituency is home to the 211 Battery, which has the reserve’s only unmanned air systems operators. I understand that the Department is scrapping the Black Hornet unmanned aerial vehicle, but is still using the Desert Hawk model. Will that have an impact on the successful and popular Blaenau Gwent-based unit?

As I said earlier, I think that the reserves Refine piece is overwhelmingly a success story. I am sorry that I am not currently in a position to give the House the final details, but I will go out of my way to ensure that all Members are informed in advance of any changes in their local units.

My hon. and gallant Friend has referred to a footprint for the reserve forces. That is terribly important, because, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), they have to live near their bases. Reserve centres are also very useful as the outward face of the British Army throughout the nation where there is not otherwise any military presence. They are often co-located with, for instance, cadet battalions, and they have a huge usefulness quite apart from their military usefulness. Does it not concern my hon. Friend that what he described as a footprint may become a toehold?

I am quite confident that at the end of the reserves Refine process, the footprint will still be substantial across the United Kingdom. We are not considering major closures across the UK, and I would hate to imply that that is the correct impression. Indeed, today I announced the creation of two new reserve units. I think that, as we continue to increase the size of our reserves, the story is a positive one.

NATO: Estonia and Poland

The United Kingdom is supporting NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence, which is designed to defend our allies and deter our adversaries. About 800 UK personnel based on armoured infantry form the core of our battlegroup in Estonia. In Poland, a British reconnaissance squadron is part of the US-led battlegroup. Both deployments are defensive but combat-capable.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend welcomed, as I did, the congressional vote that renewed the United States’ commitment to article 5. Will my right hon. Friend say a little about Britain’s commitment to it, particularly in relation to units such as the Estonian armed forces, alongside whom I—and many other Members—had the privilege to serve in, for instance, Afghanistan?

It is good that both Congress and, now, the President have committed themselves to article 5, the most important principle of NATO. In Washington on Friday, Secretary Mattis and I agreed to continue our work together to modernise NATO and give it more focus on counter-terrorism and hybrid warfare. As my hon. Friend has said, one of the reasons that our contribution to the enhanced Forward Presence is based in Estonia is indeed our good experience of working with Estonian forces in Helmand, Afghanistan.

Joint military exercises in the Suwalki gap are obviously very welcome, as are rotational deployments of troops in Poland, but when will the United Kingdom use its senior position in NATO to press that organisation for a permanent NATO base in eastern Poland?

Our defence relationship with Poland is close. Since the beginning of 2016 I have met Minister Macierewicz at least five times, and we aim to sign a defence treaty with Poland later this year. NATO, of course, already has a small permanent base in Poland, the Multinational Corps Northeast headquarters in Szczecin, to which the United Kingdom contributes personnel.

I very much support what the Defence Secretary has said about the contribution that we are making in respect of NATO in Estonia and Poland, but having spoken to a couple of constituents at the weekend, I believe that the Government, and all of us, have a job of work to do to explain to the British public the importance of NATO and the continuing need for us to be vigilant in eastern Europe.

I absolutely agree. We need to keep restating the case for NATO, and it is sometimes sad to see the case for it being questioned. We must restate its importance. It was good to hear the President reinforce that in his speech in Warsaw on Friday, but I think that all of us in the House have a responsibility to explain why our troops are being deployed to Poland and Estonia, why our Typhoons are based in Romania this summer, and why we are committing Royal Navy ships to the standing maritime groups this year.

One of the biggest threats facing all NATO member states is the growing sophistication and volume of cyber-attacks. What collective action are the Secretary of State and his colleagues taking to counter that threat?

As I said, Secretary Mattis and I have agreed that NATO needs to prioritise its work on cyber and other forms of hybrid warfare, which is just as important as its conventional deployments. We are now doing that; that work was agreed in principle at the Warsaw summit a year ago, and we continue to urge other members to do that, too. In addition, we have offered to put Britain’s offensive cyber capabilities at the service of NATO, if required.

These deployments are certainly defensive, as the Secretary of State stated, but they will be represented as offensive by the Russians. What measures are the Government taking to keep open a line of communication with the Russians, to make it absolutely clear to them that this would not be happening but for their own conduct in Ukraine and elsewhere?

NATO is, as my right hon. Friend knows, a defensive alliance and these deployments are defensive in nature. It is important in respect of Russia that we explain these deployments and the purpose of them, and we are transparent about the number of personnel and the units involved. To that end, we already have machinery in place whereby our vice-chief of the defence staff has regular discussions with his opposite number to explain the deployments and ensure that there is no misunderstanding about them.

As this is the first Defence questions of the new Parliament, may I begin by putting on record the Scottish National party’s welcome for the announcement on Type 26s, and also welcome the fact that Scotland is, of course, the only part of the UK that can build these complex ships?

On the issue of cyber, what is the Secretary of State’s assessment of what the President of America tweeted at the weekend on the idea of an impenetrable cyber security unit? What would that mean for a country such as Estonia, for NATO, and for the United Kingdom?

I will take for what it is the hon. Gentleman’s welcome for Type 26, on which there is a later question on the Order Paper. Of course, if the SNP had had its way on the nuclear deterrent we would not be needing the Type 26 frigates at all, because they are designed to protect a deterrent that the SNP voted against.

We have cyber expertise in this country, as do Estonia and other countries inside the alliance; we now need to bring that expertise together to counter the cyber-attacks made by our adversaries.

Former Military Personnel: Depression and Suicide

3. What steps he is taking to reduce rates of depression and suicide among former British military personnel. (900295)

We ask much of our brave service personnel and recognise that service life can cause stress, so we are absolutely committed to providing the necessary mental health and welfare support both during the time of service and on retirement.

I thank the Minister for his reply, but can he tell us more about the Veterans’ Gateway and how it will work alongside the young royals’ charity, the Heads Together campaign, to support veterans with mental health problems?

There are 2.5 million veterans in this country and the majority make the transition to civilian life without a problem, but some do not, and that is no fault of their own. There are over 500 main charities providing support, including the one my hon. Friend mentions. The Veterans’ Gateway is that initial portal to avoid the confusion of where to turn to. So I welcome this initiative, and would love to take credit for it myself, but I cannot as it was down to my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster), who is now the armed forces Minister.

We all owe a great debt of gratitude to those armed forces charities that work so hard supporting former military personnel facing depression and other conditions, but why will the Government not commit to the Royal British Legion’s “Count Them In” campaign so that the charities, the statutory services and everyone else can know where former military personnel live?

This is down to a data issue. We are putting together a veterans register, but there is a Data Protection Act issue. We work with Cobseo—the confederation of service charities—and we will be establishing a veterans’ board as well, to make sure that we are meeting the needs of our veterans.

LIBOR funding has been a real lifeline for many charities across the UK, including in Plymouth, where we recently secured £80,000 for a veterans care navigation service. Beyond 2018 that LIBOR funding dries up, however; what thought has the Minister given to getting veterans care on to a sustainable model, so that we can do our duty by those who serve?

I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend has done in this area. He is right to say that the LIBOR funding has been so useful in providing sources of revenue for a number of key projects, and we need to ensure that that continues. I would like to highlight one of those projects, Combat Stress, whose 24/7 phone line has been paid for by LIBOR funds, providing an important service.

Following the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) about voluntary groups, I would like to mention two wonderful groups in my constituency—the Veterans Association UK and Veterans in Communities—that do wonderful work with ex-service personnel. What guarantee can the Government give that they will support such organisations in the future?

These organisations play an important part in looking after not only the transition but the veterans themselves, who have given so much during their service life. This is part of our covenant commitment, as the hon. Gentleman will be aware, and I am grateful that he has mentioned those charities. The veterans board will also help with that. All our commitments to do with the covenant are important, but the Veterans’ Gateway programme will ensure that such small charities get the publicity they deserve.

The role of all three services of the British armed forces in the liberation of Mosul in Iraq in recent days must be commended. Will the Secretary of State tell me what plans we have for further involvement in Iraq and whether he agrees that the British Army has a crucial role in mentoring and training the Iraqi forces, who are a hugely important ally?

I am a Minister in the Ministry of Defence rather than the Secretary of State, but I am glad that my hon. Friend has such confidence in me. I welcome him to his place. It was a pleasure to join him on the 35th anniversary of the Falklands conflict. He is right to ask what should happen next. As we have seen so many times in various conflicts, there has not been that important transition from war-fighting to peacekeeping, but I know that the Secretary of State is involved in this matter.

Common Defence and Security Policy

4. What discussions he has had with his European counterparts on the effect of the UK leaving the EU on the UK’s participation in the Common Defence and Security Policy. (900296)

While still an EU member, we will maintain our contributions to CSDP missions and operations. The Prime Minister has made it clear that after Brexit we want a deep and special partnership with the European Union that encompasses economic and security co-operation. Europe remains our continent, and we will continue to play our part in its security, through NATO, through our bilateral relationships and through collaboration on defence and research programmes.

I thank the Secretary of State for that response. Last week, giving evidence in the Lords, Baroness Ashton, Lord Robertson and Lord Hague all expressed concern about the impact of Brexit on our influence in the world. Does the Secretary of State agree with Lord Hague that we should be seeking permanent membership of the EU’s Political and Security Committee to ensure that we can lead a united response on issues such as sanctions on Iran and that we have a united voice on the Falklands?

After Brexit, we will still have the largest defence budget and the largest navy in Europe. We have a range of assets and capabilities on which other countries in Europe will want to continue to work with us. So far as foreign policy is concerned, we have not yet got to the point in the negotiations of sorting out exactly what the relationship will be, but let me assure the hon. Lady that I expect to continue our co-operation with my fellow Defence Ministers.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be far better for our European friends to focus on their NATO membership and their commitment to defence spending of 2% of their GDP, rather than trying to create some sort of bogus EU defence force?

We all agreed—it was not just Britain—at the time of the Warsaw summit that the European Union and NATO needed to work together to avoid unnecessary duplication. We agreed to co-operate in areas where both could add value but to avoid the need to set up fancy new headquarters and duplicate what was already being done in NATO.

The European Defence Agency supports the improvement of defence capabilities and provides a forum for European co-operation on research and development. Will the Secretary of State be recommending that we remain a member of the EDA? If not, will he explain what our relationship with it will be, post-Brexit?

The European Defence Agency is an important forum, but it is not the only forum in which collaboration takes place. Some of that collaboration is outside the treaty, including some of the work that we have done together on Typhoon and on other major equipment projects. Obviously we expect to have some kind of relationship with the European Defence Agency after Brexit, and that will be discussed in the negotiating process that awaits us.

I am pleased to hear my right hon. Friend state that NATO is the cornerstone of our defence alliance. Will he assure me that the pan-European co-operation of defence contractors, such as Thales in my constituency, will continue?

Yes. Several important companies, such as Thales, Leonardo, Airbus and so on, are based both in Europe and in the United Kingdom, and it is important to ensure that their investment and employment here is fully taken into account after Brexit.

Service Accommodation

5. What discussions he had with contractors on their delivery of service accommodation; and if he will make a statement. (900297)

The national housing prime contractor is CarillionAmey and, with support from the MOD, performance levels for service accommodation have been met and sustained. Both organisations meet monthly to review performance, and the Department will penalise poor performance where necessary.

I thank the Secretary of State for his response. What estimate has he made of the impact of renegotiating the lease in 2021? Will the costs fall on service families?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for calling me the Secretary of State; I hope that if enough people say that, it will actually—[Interruption.] I should not say that. I will say, however, that the hon. Lady raises the important issue of ensuring that service family accommodation is up to par. That forms part of our armed forces people proposals, which I will be speaking more about in the House. I hope that we will have the opportunity to review the contract in 2021, but I hope the hon. Lady understands that negotiations will take place and that we will we keep the House updated.

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that there are no plans to eradicate single-living accommodation for service personnel?

As far as I understand it, there are no plans to remove single-living accommodation, which forms part of the complex offering of service family accommodation. As we have heard, we need to rationalise the defence estate across the country, and we are returning officers and personnel from the Rhine, which will require building projects, including single-living accommodation.

As we have heard, the Armed Forces Pay Review Body’s 46th report found that there was an

“overwhelming view that the maintenance service provided by CarillionAmey was continuing to fall well short of the needs of Service personnel and their families.”

Service families are tired of Government platitudes, so how bad do things have to get before the Government get a grip on the issue?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place and to the Dispatch Box. He is right to raise that issue. I have just inherited this brief, and there has been concern about standards, in which the Secretary of State has taken a personal interest. We are ensuring that performance levels are up to par, and there will be an opportunity to renegotiate the contract in 2021.

Armed Forces Pay

7. What recent discussions he has had with the Armed Forces Pay Review Body on levels of pay for the armed forces. (900299)

Ministers are in regular contact with the Armed Forces Pay Review Body as part of the annual pay round process. I gave oral evidence to the review body last November prior to its 2017 report, and I expect to meet it again prior to its 2018 report.

Given that every Minister, including the Defence Secretary, voted against lifting the pay cap, does that not prove that their praise is more hollow words than good deeds?

We all want to see people in public service, including in the armed forces, properly remunerated for what they do, but any pay settlement must obviously take account of taxpayers’ interests and be fair to our need to get our deficit under control. We are advised by an independent pay review body that, unlike some other pay review bodies, it is specifically required to look at comparability with the civilian sector and to take account of any evidence regarding recruitment and retention.

At times when general employment levels rise and unemployment levels fall, and with the continued strength of our economy, it gets more and more difficult to recruit and retain armed forces personnel. Will those be key factors in the consideration of this issue?

My hon. Friend is right. We are competing for the best of every generation against other sectors of the economy, which of course are growing. The Armed Forces Pay Review Body, in recommending a 1% pay rise in its last report, said:

“We believe that…an increase of one per cent in base pay…will broadly maintain pay comparability with the civilian sector.”

Further to that last question, figures released to me last week by the Secretary of State’s Department in a written answer show that recruitment to our infantry fell by 18% in the last year alone. Does he not accept that not giving a fair pay rise is having a direct impact on recruitment?

That is not the view of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body. As I have just indicated to the House, the pay review body believes that its settlement, recommended last year, does maintain pay comparability with the civilian sector. Some 8,000 people joined the armed forces in the last 12 months, but when the pay review body comes to make its recommendation for next year, it will of course look specifically at the evidence on recruitment and retention—and it does that in a way that some other review bodies are not able to do.

After losing her majority at the general election, the Prime Minister has now signalled that she is prepared to work across the House with other parties on areas of agreement. In that spirit, I make a constructive offer. The Government have just introduced the Armed Forces (Flexible Working) Bill in the other place. If the Government agree to amend the Bill to include a real-terms pay rise for our armed forces personnel, they can count on Labour’s support, so will they agree to work with us to give our armed forces the pay award they deserve?

We all want to see our armed forces properly remunerated for the service they give us, but it is also incumbent on the hon. Lady to make it very clear how any increase she favours would be properly paid for. That is something she has not done and her party has not done—it certainly did not do it at the last election. The pay review body system is beyond party politics in this House. It is an independent pay review body that looks at comparability with the civilian sector, looks at the issue of retention and recruitment and makes its recommendation, which last year we accepted in full.

On the contrary, our manifesto was fully funded, and the Government know that. They know how to raise taxes if they need them. The fact is that the Armed Forces Pay Review Body is severely constrained by the overall 1% cap on public sector pay that the Government have imposed. If the Government will not legislate for a pay rise, will the Secretary of State at least allow the pay review body to carry out a mid-year review and report on what our armed forces should be receiving if the cap were not in place?

I am staggered that the hon. Lady thinks her manifesto was fully costed or, indeed, fully funded. There were billions in that manifesto that were due to be borrowed and paid for by future generations. We have implemented the pay review body’s recommendation in full for this financial year and, for next year, evidence is already being acquired by the pay review body. I will give my evidence to the pay review body later in the year, and we will see what it recommends.

Royal Navy: Personnel

8. What assessment he has made of whether the Royal Navy has sufficient personnel to operate (a) all vessels and (b) the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers. (900300)

The Royal Navy is growing, with 400 more personnel, more ships and new submarines. The Royal Navy remains on track to achieve its manning levels for 2020 and will have sufficient manpower to continue to meet all its operational requirements. That includes ensuring that the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers can always operate safely and effectively.

Given concerns that we are hollowing out our armed forces’ manpower in favour of big-ticket items, what is the Minister, and indeed the Government, doing to ensure that we not only have the manpower to operate those big-ticket items but the ships to protect them when at sea? Global uncertainties abound, and over 90% of our trade is maritime borne.

My hon. Friend highlights the challenges we face in recruiting in our growing economy, and I am pleased that the Navy’s efforts to address shortages of engineers are beginning to show dividends, through the personnel recovery programme. He will also be aware of our investment in offshore patrol vessels, five of which are currently under construction, and in the new Type 26s—we will cut steel later this month.

In March 2017, total Royal Navy numbers were 710 below their liability, and it is reported that currently only six of our service escort platforms are at sea or fully operational. Given that last year we had a net manpower loss of 750, how can we be assured that we have the right retention policies to operate all of our platforms, when they are so desperately needed?

The Royal Navy is growing; I am pleased that for the first time in a generation the establishment of the Royal Navy will grow, by 400, as I said. I have mentioned the personnel recovery programme, an excellent programme that has sought to address the shortages of engineers through apprenticeships and through affiliation with university technical colleges. It is a long-term programme, but it is working.

The truth is that the Royal Navy has experienced catastrophic cuts in personnel over the past seven years and now the chickens are coming home to roost; the Navy is even asking 55 to 60-year-olds to rejoin on short-term contracts. Will the Government now recognise the error of their ways and recruit, on good wages, the personnel we need? The Prime Minister has asked for ideas from the Opposition, so will the Minister pass my suggestion on to the Prime Minister?

With the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman, this seems to be a common theme when we come to the Dispatch Box: he is always terribly negative. I am determined to try to support our serving personnel and, as I have tried to explain, an awful lot of effort is going in at the moment. This really is the year of the Navy, with more than £3 billion invested in the Royal Navy. We are seeing two new carriers; the fourth Astute class was launched recently; and we are seeing the contract launch for three Type 26s. The future is bright for the Royal Navy and I wish he would stop talking it down.

There is no doubting the comprehensiveness of the replies, but if we could make slightly more timely progress, that would be appreciated by Back Benchers.

Armed Forces Covenant

The Government are committed to ensuring that service personnel, veterans and their families are not disadvantaged, and that special provision is made for those who have sacrificed the most. We will continue to use the £10 million annual covenant fund to build partnerships that support our military and wider society, including the recently launched veterans gateway, which was mentioned earlier.

Some councils are much more proactive than others in supporting the armed forces covenant and in marking Armed Forces Day. Telford’s Labour-run council has more work to do in ensuring that warm words on a website translate into action. What does he suggest can be done to encourage increased participation in future?

I am really upset to hear that Telford did not join the hundreds of local authorities across the country on 24 June to pay tribute to our armed forces. I was in Plymouth; as we have heard, the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster) was in Northern Ireland; the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin) was in Woolwich; and the Secretary of State was with the Prime Minister in Liverpool. I am not sure whether the Leader of the Opposition was on that day. We are putting a package of measures together to be given to all hon. Members, so that they can talk to their local authorities and so that next year Telford’s council will join others around the country in paying tribute to our armed forces.

The armed forces covenant is a covenant between those who serve on the frontline and the Government. Those serving on the frontline have over the past six years experienced a real-terms pay cut of about 10%, so does the Minister not agree that that bond of trust is wearing a little thin?

The Secretary of State has already answered the question on the pay itself, but the hon. Lady is absolutely right in what she implies: we have to make sure that we look after our service personnel. We put them in danger and in harm’s way, and we must look after them. Armed Forces Day is one opportunity for the nation to show its appreciation.

The armed forces covenant covers equal access to healthcare. While on the armed forces parliamentary scheme, I met many veterans and serving personnel who have issues relating to stigma and mental health. What more is being done about that?

I am pleased to be launching the new mental health strategy at the end of the month. We are bringing together the “Five Eyes”—New Zealand, Australia, the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom—to share best practice on how best to look after our armed forces when they move, retire and become veterans.

I am a proud patron of the veterans charity Forward Assist. Back in March, it was promised just under £200,000 from the tampon tax fund to help its work with female veterans, but the money has yet to materialise. Will the Minister say why there has been a delay and when the money will be released?

I hope the hon. Lady will understand that I am not armed with that information, but I would be more than delighted to meet her to discuss the matter. I pay tribute to her for the work she does to support that important charity.

Armed Forces: Life Satisfaction

10. What steps his Department is taking to improve service life satisfaction rates in the Armed Forces. (900302)

The experience and morale of service personnel are central to defence. Both the Department and the new single services place the management of this as a high priority. As such, we have put in place a large number of programmes, namely the flexible engagement system—a Bill on which will come to the House shortly—the future accommodation model, the new joiners offer and the armed forces family strategy.

Currently, forces families are given special assistance by local authorities when they leave the Army. Is the Minister aware that, upon divorce or separation, an Army spouse is instantly no longer classed as part of an Army family and receives no such support? Will he look into this and consider amending the advice given to local authorities?

I am certainly happy to look into that, and I am grateful that the hon. Lady has taken the matter up. It is important that we get the package of measures right so that we can support our armed forces personnel and their families as they transition through their career.

A key part of improving service life satisfaction is ensuring that soldiers can get their children into a good school that understands military life. Will the Minister join me in congratulating Montgomery Infant School and Nursery and Montgomery Junior School, which are celebrating having served the military community in Colchester for 50 years?

I welcome my hon. Friend to his place. Those are two schools out of almost 500 around the country that are located near garrisons and that provide support for the children of armed forces personnel. It is important that that continues. The service pupil premium is important for making sure that we look after those pupils, particularly as they end up moving around because of their parents’ careers.

Would service life satisfaction rates be improved by job security? On that basis, will the Minister assure the House that the Army will be no smaller at the end of this Parliament than it is now?

That is absolutely the intention. The hon. Gentleman is right to look at the life satisfaction survey, which is one reason behind some of the initiatives that I have mentioned, including the various reviews that are taking place.

Defence Spending

Our defence budget for 2017-18 is £36 billion, and we are committed to increasing it by at least half a per cent above inflation every year of this Parliament. In addition, we are committed to continuing to meet the NATO guideline to spend at least 2% of our GDP on defence until 2022. Those two commitments will ensure that our armed forces can help to keep Britain safe.

The United Kingdom leads the way, with the biggest defence budget in Europe, but what more can be done to encourage other nations to play their part and increase their spending to protect our collective security?

Since the Wales summit in 2014, defence spending by our allies in Europe has been increasing. Three more countries now meet that 2% target and more than 20 are committed to meeting it by a particular date. We continue to press those allies that have not yet met or planned to meet the target to do so.

The Secretary of State will know that his Department recently stated that the trained strength of our armed forces is down below 140,000. If we are to keep people in our armed services satisfied, can we go back to what they were proud of—the tradition of taking in a lot of trainees and being one of the best trainers in the world?

We are one of the best trainers in the world, and our armed forces training is highly respected the world over. Other countries are constantly telling me that they want more places at Cranwell, Sandhurst and Dartmouth; they also want our armed forces to go out and train, as we are doing in Ukraine and Nigeria; and we have the largest apprenticeship programme in the country.

Dreadnought Submarines

Thanks to the vote a year ago, the Dreadnought programme to replace the four Vanguard-class nuclear-armed submarines is on schedule. Construction on Dreadnought, the first of her class, commenced as planned in October 2016 at the BAE Systems yard in Barrow-in-Furness.

Certainly if I and the 80% of people who took part in the vote a year ago have anything to do with it, it will be. I gently draw the House’s attention to the fact that both the shadow Defence Secretary and the Leader of the Opposition voted in the opposite Lobby on that day.

Perhaps the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) would be good enough to circulate to all parliamentary colleagues his textbook on succinct questions from which they would greatly benefit.

The Dreadnought submarine programme is important to my constituents, many of whom work at the Rolls-Royce Raynesway facility which is building the pressurised water reactors that will go into those submarines. Rolls-Royce has been investing very heavily in the new facility to meet the demands of this programme. When will the Government make a decision?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the fact that companies not just in Barrow-in-Furness but up and down this country are involved in carrying out highly skilled work in this incredibly elaborate programme. I had the pleasure of visiting Raynesway and her nearby constituency and I know how many people in Derby and in Derbyshire depend on that programme. I can assure her that we are making substantial investment in the site.

We were looking forward to discussing this very issue with the Minister during the general election campaign. I do not know what happened to her; perhaps she can come up to see us next time. Will she put the Government’s full support behind our campaign now to raise education standards in the Furness area where, for generations, school leavers have had below average English and maths results, which is simply not good enough if we are to remain on track for the Dreadnought programme?

The hon. Gentleman is very kind to invite me for another visit to his constituency. I shall look forward to it. He rightly raises the important issue of the skills that we need as a country for these highly skilled and important jobs. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), will be very happy to meet him to discuss what we are doing as we ensure that we put in place that pipeline of skills.

I welcome the investment in the Dreadnought-class submarines, which will bring investment to Devonport dockyard in my constituency. Does the Minister agree that we also need to deal with the legacy of current and previous submarines and accelerate the slow pace of the submarine dismantling programme?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman, who is the son of a submariner, on his arrival in this place. It is wonderful to have someone taking such a close interest in the matter. He will be aware that it is the subject of ongoing commercial negotiations. We will keep the House informed.

Defence Spending

13. What estimate he has made of the level of defence spending required over the course of this Parliament. (900305)

18. What estimate he has made of the level of defence spending required over the course of this Parliament. (900311)

The Government have committed to meeting the NATO guideline to spend at least 2% of our GDP on defence until the end of this Parliament, and to increase spending by at least half a per cent ahead of inflation every year of this Parliament.

Is it not the case that we only need a growing defence budget if we are committed to leading in NATO, investing in our armed forces and giving them the equipment they need and maintaining our nuclear deterrent? Is it also not the case that this party is the only one that is committed to all three?

My hon. Friend is spot on. We are leading by example in NATO. We are the second biggest defence spender in the alliance—one of only six members spending 2%—and we are committed to investing £178 billion in equipment between 2016 and 2026. Our growing defence budget means more ships, more planes, more armoured vehicles and more cutting-edge equipment for our forces.

Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming the Apache helicopter package worth £48 million to secure high-skilled jobs at Wattisham airfield in my constituency, and does he agree that that will help our armed forces to keep us safe, and that it is all due to a growing defence budget?

Yes, I was very pleased to announce this £48 million contract earlier this year, which will support jobs in my hon. Friend’s area and provide world-class Apache training for our personnel. The Apache is a vital part of the British Army’s fighting force and this investment is only possible thanks to a rising defence budget.

The UK was a central part of the European forces in Bosnia, Althea, and in the Mediterranean, Atalanta. Does this mean that the Government will be committing to remain part of such European forces in the future, after we have left the European Union?

That will become clearer after we leave, but we play an important part in Sophia, Althea and Atalanta not just because of our membership of the European Union but because it is in our national interest to help to deal with migration, to curb piracy off the horn of Africa and to help to stabilise the western Balkans.

15. The millions spent on technical innovation on bases around the UK is crucial, particularly on my own base of RAF Benson, where CAE is a big contributor. Does the Secretary of State agree with that and what will he do to continue it? (900307)

Yes, I do agree with that. That is why we have set aside a specific innovation fund to encourage more innovation in defence and to get more of our small and medium-sized businesses, of which I know there are a large number in and around my hon. Friend’s constituency, to help us find these cutting-edge solutions.

Defence Suppliers: Innovation

With an equipment plan worth £178 billion and a rising defence budget, there are great opportunities for innovative suppliers. The £800 million innovation fund will provide the Ministry of Defence with the freedom to pursue innovative solutions in an open, competitive process.

Will the Minister ensure that there is greater risk appetite in which projects are selected for funding to ensure that our armed forces have the best technology available to them?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight this issue. It is one of the things that we weight when we consider awards through the innovation fund to ensure that the projects with the highest risks but the biggest potential pay-off are the ones that are invested in.

Topical Questions

It is an honour to be reappointed as Defence Secretary. Our party has a proud record of supporting our armed forces and providing the budget to ensure that they have the capabilities they need. Since the election, our new carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, has sailed, Daesh has been defeated in Mosul with further RAF strikes in Syria and Iraq, and we have signed up Sweden and Finland to join our joint expeditionary force, demonstrating that Britain continues to step up in the world.

On that note, as the MP with RNAS Culdrose in my constituency, may I ask the Secretary of State for an update on airpower capability and training for the new Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier?

The Queen Elizabeth is designed to operate the F-35B Lightning II aircraft. One hundred and twenty British pilots and aircrew are training on the first 10 of these aircraft in the United States ahead of their arrival in the UK next year. The carrier will also operate Royal Navy Merlin helicopters, specifically those based in my hon. Friend’s constituency at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose.

We welcome the fact that Iraqi forces, backed by the coalition air strikes, have managed to retake Mosul, with only a small section of the city still under Daesh control. This has been a challenging and complex operation, and we pay tribute to the personnel who have played a part in it, including our forces working on Operation Shader. We know that the battle against Daesh and its evil ideology is far from over, so will the Secretary of State update the House on what further support our armed forces will be providing as Iraq’s ground troops advance westwards towards Tal Afar?

It is good to be able to agree with the hon. Lady about something today, and I join her in paying tribute to our services—the RAF, which has carried out more than 1,400 strikes in just under three years; the Army, which has helped to train more than 50,000 Iraqi and peshmerga troops;, and the Royal Navy, which has helped to guard the American and French carriers when they have been striking from the Gulf. The military campaign is not over with the fall of Mosul. There remain other towns—Tal Afar, Hawija, in Nineveh province—and there are remnants of Daesh coalescing around the Middle Euphrates river valley, so there is still more work to be done, but there are 4 million fewer people living under Daesh rule since this House gave us permission to engage in this campaign.

T2. Further to the Secretary of State’s update on progress against Daesh, I know that he will be as concerned as I am that as we defeat Daesh militarily on the ground, its threat seems to be changing as it attacks in other ways in other places. Will he update the House on what his Department is doing to counter those emerging new threats? (900319)

My hon. Friend is right that the military campaign up the Tigris and along the Euphrates is just part of the strategy. We need to continue disrupting Daesh’s online propaganda. We need to target its senior leadership and undermine its finances. The military campaign has to be combined, and seen as part of a broader coalition campaign to undermine this evil organisation and make sure that it never comes back.

Both the Defence and Foreign Secretaries seem to have suggested that UK forces may target others in Syria beyond the mandate that was given in this House in December 2015—namely, the Assad regime. Will the Secretary of State confirm that if he is to deviate from that mandate, it will only happen after a full debate and vote in this House?

I can confirm that our target in Syria is Daesh. Our strikes are in and around Raqqa and other Daesh areas, including Deir ez-Zor, that Daesh continues to hold. It is not our aim to collaborate with either the regime or indeed its principal sponsor, Russia.

T7. The Royal Navy has rescued hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean and taken them to Italy, but has the time now come to consider taking them to North Africa in order to remove the incentive for people to risk their lives and to prevent money being made by people traffickers? (900324)

As part of Operation Sophia, the Royal Navy and UK assets have saved more than 12,500 lives, destroyed more than 170 smuggling boats and apprehended 23 suspected smugglers. We are the only country in Europe that has provided at least one ship at all times. It is UK Government policy to tackle migration at its source, and we are pursuing a comprehensive response including training coastguards, providing sustainable alternatives to unmanaged migration and disrupting criminal gangs.

T3. Given the delays in procuring the full order for Type 26 and Type 31 frigates, and given that HMS Ocean is to be paid off because of acute staffing shortages, just how does the Minister envisage that the Royal Navy will be capable of discharging its duties of protecting the UK at home and abroad? (900320)

I would have hoped for a few more words of welcome for the announcement of the Type 26 frigates, which will be ready for the out-of-service dates and replacement dates of the existing Type 23s. As the hon. Lady knows, HMS Ocean was always due to come out of service next year, and other amphibious capability will obviously be available.

I know from my constituency casework that access to appropriate housing is often a big challenge for those leaving the armed forces. What steps are being taken to ensure that armed forces veterans are prioritised on waiting lists, and that the appropriate help and support is properly being provided?

We have touched on the importance of the veterans gateway programme, which we hope will provide a connection between the charities and those seeking that help. I also reiterate the importance of local authorities, and encourage all hon. Members to ask their local authorities what more they can do to provide the support our veterans need.

T4. I declare an interest as a former serviceman who served in Afghanistan.The Secretary of State will have seen the recent coverage in The Sunday Times relating to alleged incidents that took place in Afghanistan and the subsequent Royal Military Police inquiry. Will he tell the House who took the decision to shut down Operation Northmoor? Why was that decision taken, when was it taken and was the Prime Minister kept informed? (900321)

Well, it will have to be a brief answer or it may need to be in writing. There are a lot of other questions to cover.

In answering, I have to declare the same interest, having served in Afghanistan.

Our armed forces are rightly held to the highest standards, and credible, serious allegations of criminal behaviour must be investigated. Op Northmoor has discontinued more than 90% of the 675 allegations received because there was no evidence of criminal or disciplinary offence. To date, no case has been referred to the Service Prosecuting Authority, but investigations continue.

Earlier, the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) referred to evidence that Lord Hague gave to the House of Lords EU External Affairs Sub-Committee about the European defence arrangements after Brexit. He said that the best proposal was a paper written by the former Chair of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. Has my right hon. Friend seen that paper or would he like to?

I have not actually seen that paper yet, but I am very happy to procure a copy and read it. I made the position clear about common foreign and defence policy. We participate in those missions and operations at the moment, and we continue to press for a partnership with the European Union that encompasses economic and security co-operation.

T5. Recently, I attended the Grimsby veterans breakfast, and I was told about the problems that former servicemen and women have in accessing local mental health services. What representations did the Defence Secretary make to the Health Secretary regarding the dropping of the promised new mental health Bill from the Queen’s Speech? (900322)

This goes into the new strategy that is being launched in a couple of weeks’ time, and I would be delighted to learn more about what the hon. Lady learned at her meetings, but I can say that regular meetings take place between the Secretary of State and the Health Secretary.

One of the major concerns of servicemen in Carterton, which surrounds Brize Norton in my constituency, is the quality of service housing. What steps is the Minister taking to provide high-quality housing for our service personnel?

This relates to one of the key initiatives we are putting forward—the future accommodation model—and I would be delighted to write to my hon. Friend with more details.

T6. At least 603 civilians have been killed by coalition air strikes in Iraq and Syria since the beginning of Operation Inherent Resolve, according to the coalition itself, but the UK has claimed responsibility for none of these incidents. Will the Secretary of State commit to greater scrutiny and transparency for civilian casualties caused by UK airstrikes in Iraq and Syria? (900323)

Let me emphasise to the hon. Gentleman that we carry out an assessment after each of the RAF strikes. We investigate any allegation that civilians may have been caught up in these strikes. So far, we have not seen any evidence that civilians have been killed by an RAF strike, but, obviously, every single allegation is carefully investigated.

I hope the point about a sentence has been captured by colleagues—preferably a short one without all sorts of subordinate clauses.

Will the Defence Secretary join me in welcoming the new Combined Cadet Force at the Newark Academy and the Magnus school in Newark, and agree to continue the roll-out of cadet forces in this Parliament, particularly in schools that have suffered from poor educational performance in the past?

T8. Given that the Royal British Legion set out in the armed forces covenant annual report of last year its concerns about the mental health needs of veterans not being met as they should be, does the Secretary of State agree that we need a comprehensive approach to veterans’ mental health, not just in the weeks after they leave the service but throughout their lives? (900325)

We are providing a comprehensive approach. There is work that takes place, first, with those who are serving, to provide that umbrella of support, and then as they make their transition and, indeed, become veterans. We will be launching the new strategy in two weeks, and I look forward to making announcements to the House.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the RAF will retain its existing surveillance capability—Sentinel—which proved so effective in Mali, and that the existing fleet will be maintained and continued?

I can confirm that. I had the pleasure of going to north Wales recently to extend the Sentinel contract to 2021.

T9. Will the Minister reverse the decision to shut down Operation Northmoor, given the recent report in The Sunday Times on possible criminal behaviour by an SAS unit in Afghanistan? (900326)

It would be absolutely wrong for there to be ministerial interference in that operation. I am quite confident that Op Northmoor is appropriately resourced, both through personnel and finances, and I can only refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave a few moments ago.

Will the Government consider reinstating ring-fenced funding for the BBC Monitoring Service, given that its absence is leading to the closure of Caversham Park and a considerable reduction in the service’s defensive potential?

T10. Given that the UK claims to support multilateral nuclear disarmament, will the Secretary of State tell the House why the UK boycotted the UN’s nuclear ban treaty negotiations and how the UK Government will respond to the nuclear ban treaty? Can he understand the disappointment of so many of my constituents at the UK’s boycott of these negotiations? (900327)

I think the hon. Lady is in pursuit of an essay, but, sadly, time allows only for a short answer.

Let me be very clear: we do not support this treaty. We do not think it should apply to the United Kingdom, and if it is voted on we will not accept it.

What conversations has the Minister had with British steel producers to maximise the use of British steel in the new Type 26 frigates, and what percentage of the steel that will be used to build those frigates will be British steel?

Again, I am glad that the hon. Gentleman welcomes the news on the Type 26 frigates. He will be aware that we publish on the full pipeline in terms of our steel requirements. We do encourage our prime contractors to see where they can use British steel, and I am sure that in due course he will be pleased to see progress.


With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the G20 in Hamburg.

At this summit we showed how a global Britain can play a key role in shaping international responses to some of the biggest challenges of our time. On terrorism, trade, climate change, international development, migration, modern slavery and women’s economic empowerment, we made leading contributions on issues that critically affect our national interest but which can be addressed only by working together with our international partners.

First, on terrorism, as we have seen with the horrific attacks in Manchester and London, the nature of the threat we face is evolving, and our response must evolve to meet it. The UK is leading the way. At the G7, and subsequently through a detailed action plan with President Macron, I called for industry to take responsibility more to rapidly detect and report extremist content online—and industry has now announced the launch of a global forum to do just that. At this summit we set the agenda again, calling on our G20 partners to squeeze the lifeblood out of terrorist networks by making the global financial system an entirely hostile environment for terrorists—and we secured agreements on all our proposals.

We agreed to work together to ensure there are no safe spaces for terrorist financing by increasing capacity-building and raising standards worldwide, especially in terrorist finance hotspots. We agreed to bring industry and law enforcement together to develop new tools and technologies better to identify suspicious small flows of money being used to support low cost terrorist attacks, such as those we have seen in the UK. Just as Interior Ministers are following up on the online agenda we set at the G7, so Finance Ministers will follow through on these G20 commitments to cut off the funding that fuels the terrorist threat we face.

I also called for the G20 to come together better to manage the risk posed by foreign fighters as they disperse from the battlefield in Syria and Iraq, and we agreed we would work to improve international information-sharing on the movement of individuals known to have travelled to and from Daesh territory. By working together in these ways we can defeat this terrorist threat and ensure that our way of life will always prevail.

Turning to the global economy, we are seeing encouraging signs of recovery with the IMF forecasting that global GDP will rise by 3.5%. But many, both here in the UK and across the G20, are simply not sharing in the benefits of that growth. So we need to build a global economy that works for everyone by ensuring that trade is not just free but, crucially, fair for all. That means fair for all people here in the UK, which is why we are forging a modern industrial strategy that will help to bring the benefits of trade to every part of our country. It means fair terms of trade for the poorest countries, which is why we will protect their trade preferences as we leave the EU, and in time explore options to improve their trade access; and it means strengthening the international rules that make trade fair between countries. So at this summit I argued that we must reform the international trading system, especially the World Trade Organisation given its central role, so that it keeps pace with developments in key sectors like digital and services, and so it is better able to resolve disputes.

Some countries are not playing by the rules. They are not behaving responsibly and are creating risks to the global trading system. Nowhere is this clearer than in relation to the dumping of steel on global markets. The urgent need to act to remove excess capacity was recognised last year at the G20, but not enough has been done since. If we are to avoid unilateral action by nations seeking to protect themselves from unfairly priced steel, we need immediate collective action, so we agreed that the global forum established last year needs to be more effective and the pace of its work must quicken. In order to ensure its work gets the necessary attention and there is senior accountability, I have pressed for relevant Ministers from around the world to meet in this forum. The UK will play a leading role in championing all those reforms so that all citizens can share in the benefits of global growth.

As we leave the European Union, we will negotiate a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious free trade agreement with the EU, but we will also seize the exciting opportunities to strike deals with old friends and new partners. At this summit, I held a number of meetings with other world leaders, all of whom made clear their strong desire to forge ambitious new bilateral trading relationships with the UK after Brexit. This included America, Japan, China and India. This morning, I welcomed Australian Prime Minister Turnbull to Downing Street, where he also reiterated his desire for a bold new trading relationship. All those discussions are a clear and powerful vote of confidence in British goods, British services, the British economy and the British people, and I look forward to building on them in the months ahead.

On climate change, the UK reaffirmed our commitment to the Paris agreement, which is vital if we are to take responsibility for the world we pass on to our children and grandchildren. There is not a choice between decarbonisation and economic growth, as the UK’s own experience shows. We have reduced our emissions by around 40% over the last 16 years but grown our GDP by almost two thirds. So I, and my counterparts at the G20, are dismayed at America’s withdrawal from this agreement. I spoke personally to President Trump to encourage him to rejoin the Paris agreement, and I continue to hope that that is exactly what he will do.

On international development, we reaffirmed our commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on development assistance, and we set out plans for a new long-term approach to reduce Africa’s reliance on aid. That includes focusing on supporting African aspirations for trade and growth, creating millions of new jobs and harnessing the power of capital markets to generate trillions of new investment. We welcomed Germany’s new compact with Africa, which reflects those principles.

On migration, I expressed the UK’s continued support for the scale of the challenge facing Italy, and agreed with Prime Minister Gentiloni that a UK expert delegation from the Home Office and the Department for International Development will travel out to Italy to see how we can help further. That is yet further evidence that, while we are leaving the European Union, as a global Britain we will continue to work closely with all our European partners.

The G20 also agreed to use the upcoming negotiations on the UN global compacts to seek the comprehensive approach that the UK has been arguing for. That includes ensuring that refugees claim asylum in the first safe country they reach; improving the way we distinguish between refugees and economic migrants; and developing a better overall approach to managing economic migration. It also includes providing humanitarian and development assistance to refugees in their home region. At this summit, the UK committed £55 million to support the Government of Tanzania in managing their refugee and migrant populations and to support the further integration of new naturalised Burundian refugees.

Turning to modern slavery, it is hard to comprehend that in today’s world innocent and vulnerable men, women and children are being enslaved, forced into hard labour, raped, beaten and passed from abuser to abuser for profit. We cannot and will not ignore this dark and barbaric trade in human beings that is simply horrifying in its inhumanity. That is why I put this issue on the G20 agenda at my first summit a year ago, and at this summit I pushed for a global and co-ordinated approach to the complex business supply chains that can feed the demand for forced labour and child labour.

Our ground-breaking UK Modern Slavery Act 2015 requires companies to examine all aspects of their businesses, including their supply chains, and to publish their results. I called on my G20 partners to follow Britain’s lead. I welcomed Germany’s proposed vision zero fund, to which the UK is contributing, as an important part of helping to ensure the health and safety of workers in these global supply chains.

Finally, we agreed to create better job opportunities for women, to remove the legal barriers and end the discrimination and gender-based violence that restrict opportunities both at home and abroad. As part of this, the UK is contributing to the women entrepreneurs finance initiative, launched by the World Bank, which will provide more than $1 billion to support women in developing countries to start and grow businesses. This is not just morally right; it is economically essential. The UK will continue to play a leading role in driving forward women’s economic empowerment across the world.

Of course, we did not agree on everything at the summit, in particular on climate change. But when we have such disagreements, it is all the more important that we come together in forums such as the G20 to try to resolve them. As a global Britain, we will continue to work at bridging differences between nations and forging global responses to issues that are fundamental to our prosperity and security, and to that of our allies around the world. That is what we did at the summit, and that is what the Government will continue to do. I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Prime Minister for the advance copy of this statement. I am really surprised that she had much to contribute at the G20, given that there was barely a mention of international policy in her party’s election manifesto—or, indeed, of any policy, so much so that the Government are apparently now asking other parties for their policy ideas. If the Prime Minister would like it, I am very happy to furnish her with a copy of our election manifesto, or better still an early election in order that the people of this country can decide.

Let us face it: the Government have run out of steam, at a pivotal moment for our country and the world. Amid the uncertainty of Brexit, conflict in the Gulf states, nuclear sabre-rattling over North Korea, refugees continuing to flee war and destruction, ongoing pandemics and cross-border terrorism, poverty, inequality and the impact of climate change are the core global challenges of our time. Just when we need strong government, we have weakness from this Government.

The US President attempts to pull the plug on the Paris climate change deal, and that gets only a belated informal mention in a brief meeting with him; there was no opportunity to sign a joint letter from European leaders at the time he made the announcement. The UK’s trade deficit is growing, at a time when we are negotiating our exit from the European Union. The UK-backed Saudi war in Yemen continues to kill, displace and injure thousands, and there have been 300,000 cases of cholera—this is a man-made catastrophe. Worse, the Government continue to sell arms to Saudi Arabia, one of the most repressive and brutal regimes, which finances terrorism and is breaching humanitarian law. The Court may have ruled that the Government acted legally, but they are certainly not acting ethically.

We welcome the ceasefire agreed between the US and Russia in south-west Syria. It is good news. Did the Prime Minister play any role in those negotiations? Will she commit to working with them to expand the ceasefire to the rest of that poor, benighted country?

The US President’s attempt to pull out of the Paris climate change deal is both reckless and very dangerous. The commitments made in Paris are a vital move to stop the world reaching the point of no return on climate change. Other G20 leaders have been unequivocal with the US President, but not our Prime Minister; apparently, she did not raise the issue in her bilateral meeting but later raised it informally. I do not quite know what that means, but perhaps the Prime Minister can tell us exactly what the nature of that meeting was. What a complete neglect of her duty both to our people and—equally importantly—to our planet.

We need a leader who is prepared to speak out and talk up values of international co-operation, human rights, social justice and respect for international law. The Prime Minister now needs to listen. Will she condemn attempts to undermine global co-operation on climate change? Will she take meaningful action against our country’s role in global tax avoidance, which starves many developing countries of funding for sustainable growth and which is sucking investment out of our public services?

Will the Prime Minister offer European Union nationals in Britain the same rights as they have now? What proposals does she have, and what discussions has she had, on Britain’s membership of Euratom? Will she halt the immoral arms sales to Saudi Arabia, as Germany has done, and back Germany’s call to end the bombing in Yemen?

We have heard the Prime Minister talk about “safe spaces” for terrorist finance, so why have her Government sat on the report on foreign funding of extremism and radicalisation in the UK? When will that report be released? What new regulations is the UK bringing forward for UK companies and banks as part of her new global accord on terrorist financing?

Keeping Britain global is one of our country’s most urgent tasks, but the truth is this country needs a new approach to foreign policy and global co-operation. The Conservative Government, in hock to vested interests, simply cannot deliver. Responding to the grotesque levels of inequality within countries and between them is important to the security and sustainability of our world. In a joint report published in April, the World Bank, the IMF and the World Trade Organisation recognised what they referred to as the

“long-lasting displacements as well as large earnings losses”

of workers, and that the negative experience of globalisation has informed the public’s rejection of the established political order. The Prime Minister talks of the dumping of steel on global markets, but why did her Government fail to take the action that other European nations took at the most acute time when our steel industry was suffering?

This Government are the architect of failed austerity policies, and now threaten to use Brexit to turn Britain into a low wage, deregulated tax haven on the shores of Europe—a narrow and hopeless vision of the potential of this country that would serve only an elite few, and one that would ruin industry, destroy innovation and hit people’s living standards.

Finally, the US President said a US-UK trade deal will happen quickly. Can the Prime Minister give any detail or timetable or any of the terms of this agreement—on environmental protections, workers’ rights, consumer rights, product safety or any of the issues that so concern so many people? The Prime Minister has lost her mandate at home, and now she is losing Britain her influence abroad.

On the issue of terrorist financing, I say to the right hon. Gentleman that it is in fact the United Kingdom that has not only been developing approaches within the UK, working with our financial sector, but is taking this internationally and, as I have said, has raised this at the G20 and has agreement from countries sitting around the G20 table that we are going to take this forward together. I think what was important was that we had a separate communiqué on counter-terrorism, which specifically identifies issues such as working with the financial sector to identify suspicious small flows of funding. This is what the UK has led on, it was the UK’s proposal and it was in the communiqué of the G20.

The right hon. Gentleman talks about global tax avoidance. It is the UK that has led on the issues of global tax avoidance. Global tax avoidance is on the agenda of these international meetings only because my predecessor, the right hon. David Cameron, put it there. It is the UK that has been leading on that.

The right hon. Gentleman talks about trade deals. I am very happy to tell him that we are already working with the Americans on what a trade deal might look like. We already have a working group with the Australians, and we have a working group with India as well. We are out there. He says that what Britain needs is somebody actually standing up and speaking about these things; what we need is somebody doing these things, and that is exactly what we are doing.

On the issue of climate change, this country has a proud record on climate change. We secured the first truly global, legally binding agreement on climate change in the Paris agreement. We are the third best country in the world for tackling climate change. We were at the leading edge in putting through our own legislation in relation to emissions, and this country will continue to lead on this issue.

The right hon. Gentleman refers to the question of the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia. I welcome the High Court judgment today—my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary will make a statement on this later this afternoon—but I think it shows that we in this country do indeed operate one of the most robust export control regimes in the world.

The right hon. Gentleman started off by talking about the issue of the Government’s agenda. This Government have an ambitious agenda to change this country. There are many issues—[Interruption.]

Order. Mr Ashworth, you are a cheeky and rather over-excitable whippersnapper. Calm yourself and, as I say, take some sort of soothing medicament. That is a repeated refrain of mine, but with good reason.

There are many issues on which, I would hope, we will be able to achieve consensus across this House: issues such as ensuring that our police and security agencies have the powers they need to deal with the terrorist threat we face; issues such as responding to the Matthew Taylor report, which I commissioned to ensure that, in the new gig economy, as we see the world of work changing, workers have their rights protected.

We talked about women’s empowerment at the G20 summit. One issue that I have been concerned about recently is the fact that many female candidates during the general election found themselves in receipt of bullying and harassment. I would have hoped that, as has been said by the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), every leader of a political party in this House would stand up and condemn such action. It is time that the Leader of the Opposition did so.

I congratulate the Prime Minister on her many successes at a productive summit, particularly on the trade front. Will she confirm that Ministers are working not just on trade deals with those countries we do not have one with at the moment but will have when we are outside the EU, but on making sure that we transfer the EU ones to the UK on exit?

I am happy to give that confirmation to my right hon. Friend. We are working on trade in three areas. Obviously, one area is looking ahead to the trade agreements we can have with those countries we do not currently have them with as a member of the European Union. The second is ensuring that, where there are trade agreements with the EU, we are able to roll those forward as we leave the EU. The third area is working with countries such as India and Australia to discuss what changes we can make now, before we leave the European Union, to improve our trade relationship.

The G20 summit was an eye-opening event: the UK is now floundering around on the global stage, desperately trying to win friends. A disastrous and unpredictable alliance was formed with the American President on trade. Goodness knows what a trade deal with America now would mean for our public services, for food quality and for workers’ rights. Indeed, talk about a UK-US trade deal was dealt a blow by the Prime Minister’s own Justice Secretary, who just hours after the summit said:

“It wouldn’t be enough on its own”.

The Prime Minister must come to her senses. A United Kingdom outside the single market would be ruinous. Our EU friends and partners are moving on without us, this year alone finalising trade deals with Japan and Canada, while the UK readily turns in on itself. Today’s Scottish Chambers of Commerce survey shows that 61% of Scottish businesses feel that the UK should remain in both the single market and the customs union. It is quite scandalous that the Prime Minister turns a blind eye to the economy in favour of her Eurosceptic colleagues’ reckless rhetoric.

I welcome the progress made at the G20 summit. I especially pay tribute to the work of the German Chancellor, who hosted and delivered a challenging agenda on global issues. The communiqué is clear that we must redouble our efforts in delivering the Paris agreement, calling it “irreversible”. I ask the Prime Minister to set out the next steps in delivering the Paris agreement outcomes in the UK.

The communiqué also delivers the G20 Africa Partnership to boost growth and jobs across Africa, including an initiative on rural employment that will create 1.1 million new jobs by 2022. Will the Prime Minister explain the UK’s role in delivering the initiative and confirm whether that role will continue after the UK exits the EU?

The agreement to take further action to achieve gender equality is undoubtedly universally welcomed in this House. The conclusions also push the G20 to

“take immediate and effective measures to eliminate child labour by 2025, forced labour, human trafficking and all forms of modern slavery.”

That is a promising step indeed.

However, the Prime Minister went to Hamburg with an opening core message: she wanted the G20 to tackle terrorism. In particular, she wanted the G20 to tackle terrorist financing—what staggering hypocrisy! The Prime Minister who is sitting on a report commissioned by her predecessor, denying us all the truth about terrorist financing in the UK, had the brass neck to call on the G20 to do more. What an absolute outrage. Will she publish the Home Office extremism analysis report on terror funding in the UK and will she set up a public inquiry into questions around the funding of extremism?

Order. I am sure that the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) was not making a personal accusation against the Prime Minister. [Interruption.] Order. I know what I am doing in these matters.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman was not making a personal accusation of hypocrisy against the Prime Minister. I cannot believe that he would knowingly do so, because it is palpably disorderly, and he ought to be aware of that. If he is not aware of that, it is time that he was, but I think he ought to spring to his feet and clarify the position.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

The hon. Gentleman raised a number of issues. He asked about trade deals. As I said in my statement, we have indeed started discussions with a number of countries—yes, the United States, but also Japan, China and India—and I was able to speak to representatives of a number of other countries at the G20 about the possibility of future trade deals.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the compact with Africa. That is not a European Union initiative. It has been led by Chancellor Merkel under the G20, and, indeed, the United Kingdom is playing its role. The principles that underpin the compact are principles that we have been using in the assistance that we have already been giving in development aid to a variety of countries in Africa. We already have a compact with Ethiopia, which the United Kingdom has put forward and which will create 100,000 jobs, including jobs for refugees living in Ethiopia. So we have already shown a commitment to these issues by what we are actually out doing.

The hon. Gentleman talked about terrorist financing. Of course we discussed ensuring that we look across the board at all aspects of the issue, which means that, as we look at the changing nature of terrorism, we look not just at large-scale financing but at the small sums that are harder to trace—harder to identify—but that could underpin attacks that take place. The communiqué clearly put a focus on that new initiative.

It is important to eradicate modern slavery, which the hon. Gentleman also talked about. That was in the G20 agenda because I put it there, because modern slavery is an issue that this Government take very seriously. We introduced the Modern Slavery Act 2015, the first piece of legislation of its kind in the world, and we are working with others to ensure that we eradicate modern slavery.

I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that his portrayal of the UK’s position at the G20 was simply wrong, but then, he was not there and I was.

Order. If I am to accommodate the extensive interest of colleagues in this matter, there will be an imperative for great brevity—to be, I hope, spectacularly exemplified now by Anna Soubry.

The answer is that the right hon. Lady—[Interruption.] Order. I did not imagine it in my sleep. The right hon. Lady was standing. If she ceased to do so, I was not conscious of the fact; but she has leapt to her feet with alacrity, and the House is in a state of eager anticipation and bated breath.

I always take the opportunity to say something. [Laughter.]

I wonder whether my right hon. Friend could help us with the Modern Slavery Act. As she rightly said, we have led the world with that legislation, and many of us are hugely proud of the work that she did when she was Home Secretary. Is she finding that, throughout the world, there is now a desire for other countries to follow where she and this country have led?

I am very pleased to be able to say to my right hon. Friend that that is indeed the case. We are seeing a much greater awareness of the issue throughout the world, and a much greater willingness on the part of Governments to look at it. Governments are looking at the human trafficking aspect across borders, but as we know here in the UK, it is also important to look at what happens in-country—what happens to the citizens of one’s own country—and that is exactly what we are doing.

I am certain that the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) will be as brief as his surname.

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.

The G20 discussed energy security. The Prime Minister will no doubt be aware of growing anxiety on both sides of the House about her proposal to withdraw the UK from the Euratom treaty, despite concern about the implications for the movement of scientists, nuclear materials and life-saving radiotherapies. Can she explain what the UK nuclear industry will gain from such a policy?

I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will be aware from his chairing of the Select Committee that membership of Euratom is inextricably linked with membership of the European Union. As was signalled in the Queen’s Speech with reference to a future Bill on this issue, we want to ensure that we can maintain those relationships—that co-operation with Euratom which enables the exchange of scientists and material. Countries throughout the world that are not members of the EU have that relationship with Euratom, but we need to put that Bill in place, and I look forward to the right hon. Gentleman’s support for it.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that free trade will be one of the great Brexit dividends, and that it will provide cheaper food, clothing and footwear, to the greatest benefit of the poorest in our society?

I agree with my hon. Friend that it is free trade that enables us to grow economies, increase prosperity and provide jobs, and there will be benefits from the trade agreements that we want to negotiate throughout the world. But we also need as a country to defend the concept of free trade because, sadly, it is under too much attack from protectionists around the world.

When journalists and activists such as Anna Politkovskaya and Natalia Estemirova have been murdered in Putin’s Russia, does the Prime Minister share my anger at the chilling sight of Presidents Trump and Putin joking about the inconvenience of a free press, and will she commit to raising the importance of the independence of the media to both leaders when she next meets them?

We defend a free press. We think a free press is an essential underpinning of our democracy here, and we want to defend a free press around the world. I can assure the hon. Lady that we do regularly raise this issue with the Russian President and at all levels in Russian authorities.

I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for all the extraordinary work she has done on the issue of human trafficking and slavery, and commend her for raising that matter at the G20. However, with the world on the move, there are, unfortunately, opportunities for more, rather than less, of that. What can we do between the G20s to ensure that other countries take the issue as seriously as the UK does? We have set the bar on this and we need to raise others to it.

That is absolutely right, and we are taking action across a number of areas. As I said, the specific area we focused on at the G20 was the business supply chains, but one of the key ways of ensuring we can act against human trafficking and modern slavery is through the co-operation of the law enforcement agencies in the UK with others around the world. That is exactly what we are encouraging and what is happening—and, I am pleased to say, with some success.

A year ago, the then Financial Secretary, the right hon. Member for South West Hertfordshire (Mr Gauke), told the House that the Government supported a multilateral deal on public country-by-country reporting. He said that

“if we have not made progress by this time next year on reaching a multilateral agreement, we will need to look carefully at the issue once again.”—[Official Report, 28 June 2016; Vol. 612, c. 160.]

A year on, may I ask the Prime Minister to confirm what progress has been made, and what discussions she has had with G20 members to ensure that we can tackle corporate tax avoidance through open, public country-by-country reporting?

We regularly raise that issue, and we are disappointed at the lack of progress on it. We will continue to press on it, but of course if we are going to get that multilateral agreement, others have to agree to the concept as well. We will continue to press on the issue, however. It is on the agenda because the UK has been putting it there, and we will continue to do so.

On the new love-fest with Members on the Opposition Benches, given the record of the Leader of the Opposition on the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, does the Prime Minister possess a very long spoon?

I can say to my right hon. Friend that as Home Secretary I welcomed the co-operation which I had from the Labour Benches—not from the right hon. Gentleman who is currently Leader of the Opposition, but from others on his Benches, who have seen the need to ensure that our agencies have appropriate powers to deal with the terrorist threat that we face—and I look forward to Labour MPs, and indeed others on the Opposition Benches in this House, supporting those counter-terrorism measures when we bring them forward.

The G20 communiqué includes important references to investment in global education, including the Global Partnership for Education and Education Cannot Wait. The UK has a proud record of leading on global health. Will the Prime Minister join Argentina during its forthcoming G20 presidency to ensure that investment in global education is given the priority it deserves?

Indeed, this is not just about looking ahead to the agenda for the next G20 meeting. It is also about what the United Kingdom has been doing practically, through our international development budget. For example, a significant number of girls, in particular, around the world are now being educated as a result of our input. We think that the global education agenda is very important.

As the Prime Minister said in her statement, we are leaving the European Union but we are not leaving Europe. May I welcome her announcement that we will continue to work with our European friends and allies to develop a better overall approach to managing economic migration?