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House of Commons Hansard
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Oral Answers to Questions
09 July 2018
Volume 644

Defence

The Secretary of State was asked—

Armed Forces Veterans: Historic Allegations

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1. If he will bring forward legislative proposals for a statute of limitations to protect British armed forces veterans from prosecution for historic allegations. [906312]

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Before I answer my hon. Friend’s question, I think it is right to record our deepest sympathy to the family and friends of Dawn Sturgess. Our thoughts and prayers are very much with them, as well as with the recovery of Mr Rowley. Our armed forces continue to provide support to the police investigation, including through the safe removal of vehicles, and they will help with any further requests.

With reference to my hon. Friend’s question, I understand the concerns over whether serving and former personnel are receiving the legal protection and certainty that they deserve. I am therefore pleased to announce that I have established a dedicated team within the Ministry of Defence to consider this issue and to advise on the way forward. This work will be complementary to the work of the Defence Committee, which is looking at the specific question of how to protect our service personnel and veterans against historic allegations as part of its inquiry into this important topic.

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I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that reply. Obviously, many veterans will listen carefully to what he has said, particularly Dennis Hutchings, a Northern Ireland veteran who was arrested in a dawn raid and charged with attempted murder in respect of an allegation from 1974 which had already been fully investigated four times and completely closed—

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Order. The hon. Gentleman must not go into detail about that case, which is sub judice. I know that he is concluding his question.

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I would just suggest to the Secretary of State that we need to look at the situation regarding all veterans, so that veterans from all campaigns can have a statute of limitations.

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that we should be looking at this not in isolation but right across the piece. That is why we have set up the dedicated team, but it is also important to look at the evidence and information collected by the Select Committee.

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I completely agree that we have to ensure that our armed forces personnel are protected from vexatious and ludicrous legal claims from the past, but do we not also need to ensure that we can pursue international war crimes and criminals all around the world and that we do not renege on those promises?

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The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Our armed forces have the very highest standards, and our ability to pursue people right around the world who have done some very bad things is absolutely the right stance to have. That is what we will continue to do.

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The Defence Committee will warmly welcome the setting up of the dedicated team. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 means that soldiers and terrorists alike cannot be sentenced to more than two years in jail, of which they will probably serve only half, and that in those circumstances, it is right that we should move to a statute of limitations so that we do not have an unfair imbalance where some are prosecuted and others are not?

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My right hon. Friend is correct in his analysis of the current situation. We are keen to find a long-term solution to help all service personnel, from conflicts not only in Northern Ireland but in Afghanistan and Iraq, to ensure that vexatious claims are eliminated.

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After the Good Friday agreement, a political decision was made to give letters of comfort to terrorists. Can we not make a political decision to give letters of comfort to our soldiers?

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The reason that we are setting up the dedicated team is to look at all the options. That is why it is so important to work with the Select Committee to try to find solutions to this problem, which has been going on for far too long.

Daesh: Syria and Iraq

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2. What recent assessment he has made of the strength of the UK’s continued commitment to tackle Daesh in Syria and Iraq. [906313]

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The UK is as committed as ever to working through the global coalition to eliminate the danger posed by Daesh. We continue to undertake air strikes against Daesh targets, and we have been building the capacity of the Iraqi security forces, including the peshmerga, to deal with a potential insurgency. For as long as they want and need our support, we will continue to train Iraq’s security forces, enhancing their ability to respond to the threat and carrying out security sector reform in Iraq.

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Apart from military action, what steps are being taken to help to tackle the sectarian tension in Syria and Iraq, and in the wider region, which in part led to the rise of Daesh?

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My hon. Friend highlights an important element. This is not just about support through the military; it is also about international development support and about building civil law enforcement, which involves the police and, equally importantly, the courts, in order to give people confidence that the courts are fair and just.

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Daesh still has a strong online presence. What is being done to combat that?

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As has been mentioned in the House, the British Government and the Ministry of Defence have been using offensive cyber in Iraq for the first time to counter the messages that Daesh puts out. We will continue to do that.

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As we train up personnel in Iraq, can I assume that the Secretary of State will ensure that the knowledge gained and the contacts made will be banked for the future for our own defence purposes, not least intelligence?

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Yes, the hon. Gentleman can have that assurance.

Royal Fleet Auxiliary: Fleet Support Ships

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3. What recent progress he has made on procuring fleet support ships for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary; and if he will make a statement. [906314]

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Since entering a four-year assessment phase in April 2016, the project has held three industry days. We have also undertaken a period of market engagement with UK and international shipbuilders. We formally launched the international competition on 5 June. Subject to normal approvals, our current intent is to award the contract in 2020.

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Will the Minister finally give us a reason why the ships are being put out to international competition? Would it not be better if UK shipyards were block building the ships?

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I am surprised by the hon. Gentleman’s question. I have explained several times at the Dispatch Box that we have adopted the shipbuilding strategy in full. The strategy is clear about defining warships as a capability that will be built in the UK and non-warships as a capability that will be subject to international competition.

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Will the Minister confirm that any weaponry installed on the fleet support ships will be procured from British companies?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The weapons element of any ship that is not designated as a warship will be procured from the United Kingdom and fixed on to the platforms in the United Kingdom.[Official Report, 12 July 2018, Vol. 644, c. 7MC.]

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Given that every other European country that has shipyards and procures such vessels builds them in their own shipyards, why will the Minister not accept that the problem is not with Brussels or with European regulations but with Whitehall and its refusal to back British industry, British workers and British steel?

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I reject the right hon. Gentleman’s comments. This Department and this Government have supported our shipbuilding industry to such an extent that for the first time in 40 years we have actually secured significant orders for the export of British-designed warships to Australia. The right hon. Gentleman should recognise that the shipbuilding strategy is working by ensuring that our yards are competitive internationally. Protectionism is never a friend to a long-standing, secure industry.

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I agree with the Minister that the superb recent news of the deal with Australia shows that we can compete internationally in this area. Does he agree that it is still important that local yards get the chance to bid and show that we are still at the cutting edge in this area?

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My hon. Friend makes an important point. Our shipbuilding industry, our businesses and our yards are fully engaged with the process, and they are confident that they can bring forward a successful bid. The key thing is that they will be bringing bids forward knowing that they are competitive on the world stage, not just being protected due to a “Britain First” policy.

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I have just attended a good briefing by the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne), whose report is called “Growing the contribution of defence to UK prosperity”. On shipbuilding, will the Minister take the report’s recommendations seriously to help retain jobs in Rosyth in my constituency? My constituents need to know that prosperity means prosperity and that the contracts are coming home.

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First, I extend my thanks to the workers of the Rosyth yard for their fantastic work on our carriers. Secondly, the report that has been produced about the contribution of defence to the prosperity of the UK is important, but I return to the point I made earlier: we have adopted all the recommendations of the shipbuilding strategy, and we are already seeing the results.

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We on the Opposition Benches join the Secretary of State in offering our deep condolences to the family of Dawn Sturgess and express our full support for the police as they investigate this appalling incident.

This morning, the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne) published an important review titled “Growing the contribution of defence to UK prosperity”. The review was commissioned by the Secretary of State for Defence. It cites the new Type 31e frigate as an example of how the MOD has started to take the prosperity of the British economy into account in procurement. If that can be done with the new frigates, why on earth can it not be done for the fleet solid support ships?

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question but, once again, I refer him back to the shipbuilding strategy, which was endorsed on a cross-party basis. The key thing is that the Type 31e is a frigate and, as such, is designated as a warship. The fleet solid support ships are not designated as warships. We are very clearly following through the shipbuilding strategy, which we think will clearly improve the productivity of our yards and contribute to UK prosperity. The hon. Gentleman should do likewise.

NATO Summit

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4. What his priorities are for the NATO summit in Brussels on 11 and 12 July 2018. [906316]

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Our objective for the summit is a modern, unified NATO that is fit to face current and future global challenges and that is delivering against the commitments that allies have made.

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Given that the NATO defence budget will be under discussion, does the Secretary of State agree that President Trump has a point when he criticises the lack of commitment on behalf of some member states towards our collective security?

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I think it is right to expect every single European country to contribute to the defence of Europe. All European countries need to step up their defence spending.

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Does the Secretary of State agree that American Presidents come and go but the alliance we have through NATO is the foundation stone of our security and our international effectiveness? Will he work to overcome resistance and to keep NATO strong, with America in it?

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We are rapidly approaching the 70th year of NATO, and this alliance has kept Europe at peace with itself and has delivered our security. I will do everything, as will the Government and, I am sure, the Opposition, to ensure that that endures and will last another 70 years.

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Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is the 70th anniversary year of the most successful defence alliance the world has ever seen? Does he agree that, after President Trump has rightly been accorded the respect that is his due for his views on the enlargement of spending on NATO, the most pressing object of the meeting should be the continuation of transformation? Without transformation, NATO cannot give a full account of itself on the battlefield.

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My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct in his analysis. We have to make sure that NATO has the ability to respond to the challenges of the future, which is why we are investing more in NATO’s command structure to make sure it can act more speedily against emerging threats.

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What message does the Secretary of State believe President Trump should take from the NATO summit to President Putin the following day?

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I was hoping President Trump would come to visit Britain before going to visit President Putin, but he should take a message of unity, of European nations and our north Atlantic partners standing shoulder to shoulder to make sure that Europe and the north Atlantic remain safe.

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I am delighted to hear the Secretary of State say that. Does he agree that it is totally and utterly unacceptable for a British citizen to be murdered by a foreign force on British soil, as happened in my neighbouring constituency of Salisbury? That will, of course, form a central part of discussions at NATO. Does he agree that it is surely right that we should show Russia a strong hand and say to it that this kind of behaviour is totally and utterly unacceptable?

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That is absolutely correct. We need to stand together with our allies, and we have had an unprecedented amount of support from countries right across the NATO alliance saying that the behaviour of Russia is completely and utterly unacceptable and is taking that country down the route of pariah status.

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The Secretary of State has repeatedly said that the conclusions of the modernising defence programme will be published in time for the NATO summit. I would never suggest that the Government are in the grip of complete chaos and, even if all those around him were to lose their head, I know the Defence Secretary, of all people, will keep his. Can he now assure the House that the promise to publish before Wednesday’s summit still stands?

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What we are aiming to do is introduce the headline findings of the modernising defence programme before the summer recess.

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It is very troubling indeed that the UK risks going to this NATO summit without being able to offer certainty to allies about our future defence capabilities. The past few months have seen unprecedented leaks from the MDP, speculation about cuts, outlandish briefings to the media and even a reported threat to bring down the Prime Minister, although I gather the Defence Secretary may now have to join a queue for that. The MDP review will ultimately be a futile exercise, however, unless it is properly funded. Can he tell us what assurances he has had from the Chancellor that the Treasury will provide additional funds, as required?

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What we see is a Conservative Government who this year committed an extra £800 million over the budget that was going to go to the Ministry of Defence to support our armed forces. We are undertaking the modernising defence programme to look at the threats this nation faces and to make sure we have the best equipped and best trained armed forces to deal with those threats. The Government have committed money to our armed forces; we have a rising defence budget. We are a very proud nation in the sense that we can see we have been hitting 2% in the past and will continue to do so going forward.

Former Service Personnel: Amputees

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5. What support his Department provides to former service personnel who have had limbs amputated as a result of their military service. [906317]

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I am sure you will be familiar, Mr Speaker, with the significance of the battle of Solferino in 1859 when it comes to looking after our casualties. Tens of thousands of casualties were left for dead there and that was observed by Jean-Henri Dunant, who went on to form the international Red Cross. Today, we do provide support for those who are injured on the battlefield, but even faster we move them into state-of-the-art hospitals, such as we saw in Helmand province. Some of them end up losing a limb or more, and we need to make sure that we look after these brave veterans for the rest of their lives.

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In 2011, Paul lost his left arm when injured by an improvised explosive device. He wrote about how he did not know how to go forward and did not want to leave the house, but he got everything back that the military offered him: confidence, camaraderie, teamwork and the chance to compete through an inspirational golfing charity, the On Course Foundation. Will the Minister agree to visit that charity and accept an invitation to see the American and British ex-servicemen compete for the Simpson cup, which is named after the founder John Simpson and will be played next year at the Royal & Ancient golf club between 19 and 22 May?

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I endorse absolutely the On Course Foundation and what it does. Such organisations and the Invictus games have shown us that there is a new chapter to be had and a new direction for those who have been injured in terms of what they can do through sport. Prince Harry is very involved in that. I would be more than delighted to accept my right hon. Friend’s invitation and I pay tribute to the work that has been done by John Simpson.

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We know how important it is to link up the armed forces with the NHS, particularly for personnel who have suffered life-changing injuries. What steps has the Minister taken to strengthen those links?

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The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. Not only the Ministry of Defence, but other Departments have a responsibility in this regard. That is why we have set up the veterans board, but for those who have lost limbs or who have had severe injuries there is integrated personal commissioning for veterans. That makes sure that all the agencies that are required to support and individual through their life provide better access to help our brave veterans.

British Armed Forces: Knowledge and Experience

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6. What steps he is taking to ensure that knowledge and experience are retained in each rank of the British armed forces. [906318]

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The threats Britain faces are getting complex and more diverse. We are entering a phenomenon of constant confrontation by state and non-state actors. We are not at war but we are not at peace. If we are to continue to play a role on the international stage, we need to advance our defence posture, which involves investing in our three services and at all ranks.

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I thank the Minister for that reply, but my question was really about the retention of skilled personnel. Like many right hon. and hon. Members, I was proud to attend the armed forces celebrations in my constituency, where I chatted to a number of former and current service personnel about the consequences of accelerated promotion within the armed forces. I am told that service personnel are being pushed through the ranks to cover gaps created by a retention crisis, which in turn is placing other pressures on recruitment. What is the average length of service today compared with what it was 10 years ago?

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First, let me join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to Armed Forces Day, which is growing in status. It is important that we strengthen the bond between society and the armed forces, as it is from society that we recruit. The challenge we face is in recruiting people—we need to recruit 18, 19 and 20-year-olds who are fit and able then to meet the criteria.

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The quality of service housing and the cost of private sector housing around RAF Brize Norton in west Oxfordshire are major factors affecting retention. What are Ministers doing to address those two factors?

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I have visited Brize Norton—I was trying to weave that into the end of my answer to the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris)—and with the future accommodation model, we are trying to provide greater opportunity for those who want to live on the base, rent accommodation or, indeed, live outside and get on the housing ladder. I hope that that will lead to greater retention and recruitment.

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I acknowledge Ministers’ work to retain knowledge and skill in the ranks of our defence forces; it is just a pity that they do not apply the same effort to our defence industry, instead of giving a billion-pound taxpayers’ order to improve skills and jobs in Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.

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As I said, the art of war is changing, and we need to diversify, which means recruiting a wider range of skillsets. Not everybody can come up through the ranks with all the capabilities that we need. We need to be cleverer at inviting people in at a higher rank, which is part of our enterprise approach to bringing in skillsets from civilian street at a much higher level.

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One factor that affects retention is esprit de corps. The Royal Marines have a unique training system whereby officers and those of other ranks train together on their core programme. What consideration has my right hon. Friend given to other branches of the armed forces doing that?

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I have visited Lympstone and the operation there is fantastic for recruiting some of the brightest, the best and the fittest. My hon. Friend puts a question for my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces, who I am sure would be delighted to have a cup of tea with him in the Tea Room.

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rose—

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In calling the hon. Gentleman, I welcome him back after a brief absence.

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Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.

An unfortunate aspect of the modernising defence programme debate is that we focus so much on kit and platforms and not enough on our real deterrent: the men and women of the armed forces. When the document eventually sees the light of day, will the Minister confirm at the Dispatch Box that it will allow the Ministry of Defence to lift the 1% pay cap?

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The lifting of the 1% pay cap has already advanced because the Chief Secretary to the Treasury liberated that ceiling last year when she made her statement. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is pushing forward with the MDP. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that this is not just about equipment and training; it is about the people. It is the people who make our armed forces the most professional in the world.

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Thinking of the defence community in the round, which is of course the Minister’s brief, perhaps he can tell us why the Government are pressing ahead with the privatisation of the defence fire and rescue service. It is another windfall for the cowboys at Capita, despite the fact that the Ministry of Defence’s internal documents have given it the highest possible risk assessment. Why on earth is he going ahead with it?

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I made a full statement to the House on this issue. Capita won the contract fairly and squarely. This is not the first time that the private sector has been used. A number of airfields already have a set up in place. We need to make sure that we provide the best safety for airfields, and I think that Capita will be able to provide that.

Leaving the EU: Defence and Military Aerospace Industry

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7. What assessment he has made of the effect on the UK defence and military aerospace industry of the UK leaving the EU. [906319]

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11. What assessment he has made of the effect on the UK defence and military aerospace industry of the UK leaving the EU. [906323]

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24. What assessment he has made of the effect on the UK defence and military aerospace industry of the UK leaving the EU. [906336]

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The Ministry of Defence is working closely with the defence industry to understand the implications and opportunities presented by our departure from the EU. We will continue to work with our allies and partners on the development of the capability that we need to keep us safe, and much of this already takes place outside an EU framework. The UK defence industry is globally competitive and I am confident it will continue to thrive in the future.

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The EU Galileo satellite navigation system is vital for Britain’s future defence capacity. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the finances required for an independent system in the event of a post-Brexit exclusion from this EU project?

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I am glad to say to the hon. Gentleman that a cross-governmental group is looking into this issue to ensure that we are prepared for the possibility of having to build an independent system for the United Kingdom, but I repeat from the Dispatch Box what I have said previously: our preference is to remain involved in the Galileo project. To exclude the United Kingdom from the project would harm the project and do nothing to enhance the defence of Europe or the United Kingdom.

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People in Bristol working in the defence and aerospace industry and its supply chain are worried sick about their future if Airbus leaves because of Brexit. The industry supports thousands of jobs across the country, so why can the Government not reassure trade unions and the employers that there is a clear plan for this sector? What have they got against people in the aerospace and defence industry?

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I do not think that this Government have anything against the aerospace industry. Indeed, the combat air strategy, which was announced by this Department recently, is a sign of our confidence in a world-beating aerospace sector. I will be very pleased when the completion of that work on our new combat air strategy is announced, as it will highlight what this country has to offer. I can assure the hon. Lady that other countries in Europe are very keen to work with us on that combat air strategy.

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Given the importance of future co-operation with the EU on a multitude of defence and security issues, will the Minister confirm when the Secretary of State intends to hold a bilateral meeting with Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative?

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I will write to the hon. Gentleman about the meeting between the Secretary of State and the individual from the Commission whom he named. I have to say that I have also been in Brussels recently with regard to this issue. It is clear from our perspective that we want to be involved with European defence firms. We would also like to be involved with the European Defence Agency, but the way in which this has been put together by the Commission makes that very difficult, because the third-country offer being made to the United Kingdom would not be beneficial to our position at this point, so there is still a lot of negotiation to be done. None the less, we are very, very clear that we would like to be involved in these projects.

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Does my hon. Friend agree that the £20 billion Australian frigate order is yet another example of the confidence that there is in the UK defence industry as we leave the European Union?

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It is, undoubtedly, a fantastic good news story for the United Kingdom. As I have said, it is the first time that we have exported a warship design in more than 40 years, and great credit should be offered to the teams at BAE and across Government who have worked so hard to ensure that that happens. It is a great success story for our industry and for the United Kingdom.

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Major defence companies are clearly deeply concerned about the effect of this Government’s Brexit policy on their operations in the UK. Rolls-Royce has started to move some functions to Germany while the chief executive of Airbus has said that the Government have

“no clue on how to execute Brexit without severe harm.”

Given that the man who was meant to be leading the UK’s approach to Brexit has now resigned because he has no confidence in his own Government’s approach, how on earth can business trust that this divided Government will deliver a Brexit deal that protects jobs and the economy?

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The chief executive of Airbus made very similar comments back in January, but he would also be very pleased with the plans that were announced by the Prime Minister at the Chequers meeting. The key thing is that defence industries in the United Kingdom are confident—they have larger order books and they are winning contracts for the first time in generations in some countries. On top of that, I am also in regular discussions with defence companies in other parts of the world, which are very keen to invest in the United Kingdom.

Amphibious Capability

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8. What recent assessment has he made of the UK armed forces’ amphibious capability. [906320]

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The Royal Navy and Royal Marines are integral to the UK’s global reputation in amphibious warfare. That is why the Government remain committed to ensuring the future of the amphibious warfare capability within our future force structures.

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I thank the Minister for that answer. Can he give me an assurance that Royal Marine numbers will not be cut in the foreseeable future and that there will be more joint exercises with our Polish and Baltic states allies?

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I am second to none in my admiration for the Royal Marines. Indeed, one of the highlights of my time as Armed Forces Minister has been presenting the green berets to them. I can absolutely assure my hon. Friend that there is a strong future for the Royal Marines as part of our armed forces. Of course, they are currently serving on HMS Albion off the Korean peninsula.

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The Minister just mentioned HMS Albion. The sailors and the Royal Marines are serving with distinction in the far east, but their ship is under threat of being cut and they are watching decisions carefully. Can the Minister update us on when he expects to give them reassurance that their ship will not be cut, and can he give an assurance that the decision on Albion and Bulwark will be in the first tranche of decisions announced by his Department?

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Well, this seems to be a monthly exchange on the same subject, with the same question and, I fear, with same answer forthcoming: there are currently no plans to change the end-of-service dates for HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark, which are 2033 and 2034.

Tier 1 Status: Job Dependency

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9. What estimate he has made of the number of jobs that are dependent on the UK’s status as a tier 1 nation. [906321]

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The UK has always been and will always be a tier 1 military power, supported by a world-class defence industry. Last year, we spent £18.7 billion with UK industry and commerce, directly supporting 123,000 jobs throughout the United Kingdom. Through the modernising defence programme we are considering how to grow even further the already substantial contribution that defence makes to UK prosperity.

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Does the Minister agree that the excellent news of the BAE Systems contract to sell Type 26 frigates to Australia has come about in part because our Royal Navy has decided to buy them, and the rest of the world knows that, as a tier 1 military nation, we buy the best and most advanced equipment?

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My hon. Friend makes an important point. Quite clearly the capability of the Type 26 was understood and appreciated by our Australian counterparts, but the key element was the fact that the Royal Navy is committed to this platform as our future anti-submarine warfare frigate. There is no doubt that my hon. Friend is absolutely right that when the Royal Navy shows confidence in a piece of equipment, the rest of the world takes note.

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21. Now that the Foreign Secretary has resigned and the Prime Minister seems confused about what our tier 1 status is, what are we doing to ensure that we retain tier 1 military status? [906333]

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Well, I thank the hon. Lady for her question. It is important to understand that tier 1 is shorthand for the fact that we are a country that can reach globally in terms of our military capabilities. That has always been the case for the United Kingdom, and it shall remain the case for the United Kingdom under this Government.

Mental Health Support

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10. What steps he is taking to improve mental health support for members of the armed forces and veterans. [906322]

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22. What steps he is taking to improve mental health support for members of the armed forces and veterans. [906334]

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One third of us will suffer some form of mental health problem during our lifetime, and the same applies to those in the armed forces. It is very important that we challenge the stigma that surrounds mental health and ensure that we equate mental health with physical health. I am therefore pleased that we are moving forward with our mental health and wellbeing strategy, which encourages our service personnel to step up so that we can treat at an early stage.

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I am sure that my right hon. Friend values the work carried out by the charity sector in this field, with organisations such as Combat Stress, Change Step and Care after Combat conducting vital work in support of military veterans. Will the Government therefore consider funding these charities, or giving them further funding, so that they are able to do more?

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My hon. Friend gives me licence to thank all the service-facing charities for their work—there are more than 400 of them. I have had the honour of visiting Veterans’ Gateway, which is a simple online portal that brings together organisations, giving those who seek help one place to go to for support. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we need to ensure that these charities are funded. The MOD does not directly fund them, but we do fund individual projects. I would be more than delighted to meet him to discuss the matter further.

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I am sure that the Minister will agree that it is vital that the UK Government and devolved Administrations work together on this important issue of mental health. Will he assure me that he is working closely with the Scottish and Welsh Governments to ensure that all veterans and service personnel have access to the high-quality mental health support that they so richly deserve, irrespective of where in the United Kingdom they reside?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Wherever veterans are in the United Kingdom, we must ensure that every one receives the support that they deserve. That is why the Veterans Board brings together the devolved Administrations, and the MOD health partnership board brings together the health specialists from all the devolved nations and England.

Defence Exports

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12. What steps he is taking to encourage defence exports by UK companies. [906324]

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20. What steps he is taking to encourage defence exports by UK companies. [906332]

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The Ministry of Defence continues to lead strategic exports campaigns, working across Government and with industry to win business abroad. I am sure that hon. Members will join me in welcoming BAE Systems’ success in being selected as the preferred bidder in Australia’s SEA 5000 future frigate programme.

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What plans does the Secretary of State have for the next phase of exports for the Type 26 frigates?

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We have a world-leading product and want to sell it right across the world. The deal with Australia is a great success; it is the first major export of ships in more than 40 years. The next place that we will target is, of course, Canada. Working closely with our “Five Eyes” partners, it is important that we have capability so that we can work together, as well as build prosperity together.

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While we hear much about the physical exports manufactured by Chemring Defence in my constituency, among other companies, what more is being done to export British military skills and training, which are the envy of the world, so that we ensure that operational equipment that is exported from the UK is used in accordance with our specific aims?

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My hon. Friend raises a very important point. Our skills are in not just the development of technology and equipment, but people, as was touched on earlier. We have a lot of world-leading companies, such as Babcock, that export their services right around the world, but we also have people’s experience of serving in the armed forces and the way in which they help and support other countries right around the world after they leave service.

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What discussions has the Defence Secretary had with the Foreign Secretary about defence exports by UK companies, and does he think that he might be Foreign Secretary by teatime?

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In answer to the last bit of that question, I am very confident that the answer is no. I had regular discussions with the former Foreign Secretary about exports, and I will continue to work very closely with the Foreign Office. I pay tribute to the way in which the Department for International Trade and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, especially the high commission in Canberra, have worked with the Ministry of Defence to land this vital order.

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What discussions has the Secretary of State had with Rolls-Royce regarding the shedding of power generation to other companies, because there could be jobs at stake?

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We have constant discussions with not just Rolls-Royce but many other companies because of the importance of our whole industrial partnership. We will continue to do so.

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Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the Premier of South Australia, who will be in the House in about four minutes and whom I will be taking to tea in the Pugin Room? I would be very grateful if my right hon. Friend would like to join us to congratulate him on buying the Type 26 and encourage his Canadian opposite numbers to do likewise. Does he agree that this offers an opportunity to build a Commonwealth of common law on our sea lanes and keep trade open for all of us?

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We will work ever more closely with our Commonwealth cousins in order to do that. The Royal Australian Navy’s making this investment is an absolutely vital step forward for our relationship with it. This is about more than just buying ships; it is also about the capability to operate together and keep world sea lanes safe.

Army Reserve Service: Prestatyn

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14. What plans he has for the Army reserve centre in Prestatyn. [906326]

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The future of the Prestatyn is yet to be finalised. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers regiment is doing a reorganisation of its assets. This is part of the rationalisation of real estate. However, there are no further announcements to be made at the moment.

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There has been an armed forces footprint in the Vale of Clwyd for over 100 years. I am opposed to 119 Recovery Company leaving Prestatyn and the disposal of that site. Will the Minister and his Department consult local stakeholders, including the town council, the county council and, especially, the Royal British Legion, before they make their decision?

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Well, HQ 160st Infantry Brigade and 38 (Irish) Brigade will continue to have a footprint in the area. I would be more than delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss this. I am always happy to meet any colleagues to discuss the real estate challenges that we face in any particular constituency.

UN Peacekeeping Missions

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15. What steps his Department is taking to increase the UK’s contribution to UN peacekeeping missions. [906327]

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The MOD has more than doubled the number of British forces on UN peacekeeping missions in the past three years in accordance with the commitment made in the strategic defence and security review in 2015. This is through new deployments to the UN missions in South Sudan and Somalia, in addition to our long-standing commitment to the UN mission in Cyprus. That means that we have increased numbers from some 300 to over 670 today.

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It is important that NATO works hand in hand with the UN and other bodies with regard to conflict prevention and peacekeeping. What steps are the Government taking to promote collaboration between NATO and the UN to make that as efficient as possible?

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I met the UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, in London last month, and that is just the sort of discussion we have with him. There are a number of areas where we think that closer co-operation between the UN and NATO can be of benefit, and that is precisely why we are increasing our commitment to the UN in practical terms.

Armed Forces: Scottish Taxation

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16. What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on supporting members of the armed forces posted to Scottish roles by mitigating the costs of additional taxation applied by the Scottish Government. [906328]

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I have regular discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on armed forces funding. Work to identify which Scottish taxpayer service personnel should benefit from any financial mitigation offered, how much that should be and how best it can be delivered through the payroll is almost complete. I hope to be able to update the House shortly, following final Government consultation, which is under way. I will update service personnel by the end of this month, after having informed the House.

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I am grateful to the Secretary of State for the progress he has made so far, following campaigning by myself, my hon. Friend the Member for Angus (Kirstene Hair) and the Scottish Conservative group, but can he outline when military personnel in Moray and across Scotland can expect those details? These men and women proudly serve the United Kingdom but are punished in the pocket by the SNP, which has made Scotland the highest taxed part of the United Kingdom.

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May I take this opportunity to pay tribute to my hon. Friend and his Conservative and Unionist colleagues from Scotland? If they had not been campaigning on this issue, a solution would not be being provided, because SNP Members were silent on it. We are going to deliver. Hopefully, if everything is agreed in terms of a write around and laying a written ministerial statement next week, we can inform service personnel about how we will help to protect them from the Nat tax before the end of this month.

Cyber-attacks

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17. What plans he has to strengthen the resilience of the UK’s critical infrastructure against cyber-attacks. [906329]

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Defence takes cyber-threats very seriously, and we regularly assess our ability to defend against them. We are strengthening our defences against increasingly sophisticated attacks through a wide range of technical, operational and administrative measures, including close co-operation with the National Cyber Security Centre.

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Can the Minister provide an update on whether the recruitment plan for reservists with cyber-specialisms is working?

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I am delighted to say that it is. My hon. Friend hits on a key issue. We have recognised that many of the skillsets we need sit in the private sector, which is why we have actively recruited reserves into this area, and I am delighted to say that the joint cyber reserve unit is now at 90% strength.

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Two weeks ago, a large Hyndburn company had 4,000 cyber-attacks from Russia in one day. What are the Government doing to protect UK companies?

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I can only update the hon. Gentleman about the opening of the National Cyber Security Centre just a mile down the road. That is precisely why the Government have invested some £1.9 billion in cyber over the past few years.

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I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to use the reserve forces as a way to get cyber-experts into the field, metaphorically. Will he ensure that they have a career path through the reserve forces that does not cap them because of their niche specialisations?

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My hon. Friend raises an important point. That is precisely why I was honoured to open the new Defence Cyber School at Shrivenham in March. We recognise that basic cyber-skills will be vital in our armed forces. This will become a separate career branch in time, but we hope that every member of the armed forces will have cyber-skills.

Shipbuilding Contracts: Scottish Yards

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18. What steps the Government are taking to secure shipbuilding contracts from other countries for Scottish yards. [906330]

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The national shipbuilding strategy seeks the long-term growth of UK shipbuilding, including Scottish yards. The Ministry of Defence works closely with industry and the Department for International Trade on export campaigns for platforms, sub-systems and support. We seek to build on our recent success in the Australian SEA 5000 competition—for example, through our Type 31e frigate programme, which considers exports from the outset.

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Part of BAE Systems’s bid to win the order to build ships for the Australian navy was the promise that workers on the Clyde would have already ironed out any problems with the ships because they were being built for the Royal Navy first. Is it not the case that the expertise and craft of Clyde ship workers allow BAE to make huge profits by building those ships in Adelaide, but there will be no benefit for the Scottish yards at all? Is it not the case that Scotland’s shipbuilders have been sold down the river?

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With supporters such as the hon. Lady, I shudder about the future of the Scottish shipbuilding sector. The yards on the Clyde will benefit immensely from this vote of confidence in their design capability. The supply chain will benefit immensely from opportunities that come from this contract, and other export opportunities are available for both the Type 26 and Type 31, which will be built in the United Kingdom. She speaks ill of her own constituency in Scotland with such a negative attitude.

Threat Environment

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19. What recent discussions he has had with the National Security Adviser on the existing and changing intensity of the threat environment. [906331]

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As the House is aware, my Department is currently conducting the modernising defence programme. I meet the National Security Adviser on a regular basis to discuss key issues, including Russia’s increasingly destabilising behaviour; conflict and tension in Syria and the wider middle east; the spread of violent extremism and organised crime in ungoverned spaces; and of course the situation on the Korean peninsula.

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Will my right hon. Friend update the House about the threat to British citizens from the Russian state following the tragic announcement of the death of Dawn Sturgess in Wiltshire?

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We continue to work incredibly closely with the police on the investigation, as well as on the clear-up effort; 175 armed forces personnel are currently working with them. The simple reality is that Russia has committed an attack on British soil that has seen the death of a British citizen, and that is something I think the world will unite with us in condemning.

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I am just seeking to recover from seeing the sartorial magnificence of the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson)—quite remarkable.

UK Prosperity

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23. What steps his Department is taking to promote UK prosperity. [906335]

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In line with the Government’s industrial strategy, the Department is committed to supporting UK prosperity through the contribution it makes to our stability and security, and through growing the economic value generated by defence activities. My hon. Friend has today published an independent report, with recommendations to enhance the contribution defence makes to UK prosperity. I would like to thank him for his work, which we will be considering very closely.

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I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for the opportunity to produce this report. I have to say that I was surprised but encouraged to see Opposition Front Benchers attending the launch earlier today, and given their contributions in the Chamber, they are clearly learning something from it. Does my right hon. Friend agree with my recommendation that we should take advantage, as we come out of the EU, and look at how the MOD can take account of the UK economic impact in its major procurements?

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Leaving the European Union presents this country with one of its greatest opportunities in a generation, and we must use every opportunity we have to leverage prosperity for the United Kingdom. Let us not forget that for every single pound spent on defence, £4 is generated in our economy, so investing in defence is investing in Britain’s prosperity.

Topical Questions

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T2. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [906338]

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I would like to pay tribute to all service personnel who took part in Armed Forces Day last week and to the members of the public who went out to support them. The fantastic events up and down the country showcased the very best of our armed forces, and I was delighted to be able to attend the main event at Llandudno. I also want to thank the personnel recently involved in fighting the fires on Saddleworth moor.

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I welcome the intervention, as I know the Secretary of State does, of the British Army in tackling the illegal wildlife trade in places such as Kenya, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Ethiopia. This is a global problem, so what answers—multinational answers—do this Government have for the global problem of the illegal wildlife trade and the protection of our planet?

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The hon. Gentleman outlines a number of examples of where we are doing so much. Personally, I have become slightly cautious of dealing with elephants since my recent involvement with them. We have to do more and more to provide protection and counter the illegal wildlife trade. So much of the money from the illegal wildlife trade goes to fund terrorism and organised crime, and that is why the armed forces are working more closely with organisations involved in countering poaching.

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T3. I very much welcome the Secretary of State’s recent re-confirmation that we are and will remain a tier 1 defence nation—that is very good news, although one or two other people did not recognise that description—but if that is to be the case, will he reconfirm how much more money we need every year even to stand still? [906339]

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Britain always has been and always will be a tier 1 nation. SDSR ’15 set out clearly what we would expect from a tier 1 nation. We are very much looking at the evolving threats to this country to ensure we are best placed to deal with them.

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Capita’s recruiting partnership project is failing on every measure. It has missed the MOD target for savings by more than £100 million in the past six years and the latest figures show that the number of personnel in the Army has fallen yet again. Does the Minister agree with Labour that it is time to take this failing contract back in-house?

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No, I absolutely do not. The hon. Lady’s comments are slightly short-sighted. There have been challenges for the defence recruiting system in recent months, but I am confident that, because of some of the hypercare measures, we are firmly on the up.

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After Capita’s abysmal failure to deliver the recruitment project, many people would question its capacity to carry out any major MOD contracts, but the Government’s decision to outsource the Defence Fire and Rescue Service to Capita when the MOD has scored the company as 10 out of 10 for risk simply beggars belief. The Minister’s response to the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) suggested that the Government are ideologically obsessed with privatising key services without considering the consequences. Is it not surely time for an urgent rethink of this dangerously short-sighted policy?

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It took far too long for the contract to be awarded—I made that very clear during a statement a couple of weeks ago. However, I stand by what I said: it is important that we look after our airfields and get a good deal, which will be provided by Capita.

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T6. Horsham was among many UK towns to celebrate Armed Forces Day. Has my right hon. Friend considered celebrations on other days to prolong activities and coverage—for example, a day to celebrate our reserve forces? [906342]

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Indeed, as a serving reservist for some 30 years, I hope there is no greater champion of reserves in the House, but my hon. Friend makes an important point. We should celebrate reserves not just on Reserves Day, but almost every day of the year. To that end, we are looking carefully at other opportunities.

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T4. Much equipment is bought in dollars and the value of the pound has fallen since the EU referendum. How much less equipment have the Government been able to buy in dollars, and how will the shortfall be filled? [906340]

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The right hon. Gentleman should be aware that, like every other Department, the MOD hedges to ensure that we are not affected by currency fluctuations. Indeed, changes since the start of the year have been beneficial. At this point in time, the effect will be minimal.

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T7. Cyber-security is more important than ever and should be— [906343]

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Hear, hear!

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Order. The hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) is going to have to get used to her popularity. She should wear it lightly upon her shoulders.

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That is so true, Mr Speaker. Thank you.

Cyber-security is more important than ever and should be paramount for those who are in charge of our armed forces. Will the Secretary of State tell me whether it is true that when he threatened to bring down the Prime Minister, Siri replied: “I’m sorry. I don’t understand.”?

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I am sorry that the hon. Lady belittles cyber with such a cheap remark. If she were serious about the security of this country, she would recognise that the Government have invested more than £1.9 billion in cyber in recent years. We recently opened the Defence Cyber School to ensure that it is ingrained in the training of our armed forces.

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T9. Members of the all-party parliamentary group on Poland, including me, last week met British soldiers serving in the Suwalki gap, helping to defend Poland. What are the key aspects of our bilateral treaty agreement with Poland going forward? [906345]

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We will show the whole House the full treaty we concluded with Poland. One key element was not just military co-operation but how we can work closer together on an industrial basis. Recently, I was in Poland meeting my opposite number to discuss how we can develop new technologies together for the defence not just of Poland but all our NATO allies.

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T8. I recently recorded a welcome home message for members of the Royal Welsh battlegroup, who have been serving bravely on the frontline in Estonia, supporting the NATO alliance. This morning, President Trump yet again criticised our European NATO allies, saying that NATO does not do enough for America. When will the Defence Secretary and the Prime Minister explain to the President that security and co-operation across Europe are in America’s interests as well as Europe’s? [906344]

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Unity and the strong alliance between all NATO allies is absolutely critical. I join the hon. Member in paying tribute to the Royal Welsh, who have done such an amazing job in Estonia. We will continue to show that unity with our allies—the United States, Estonia and all NATO allies—not just this year but over the next 70 years.

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T10. Does the Minister agree that the Veterans’ Gateway, which is led by the Royal British Legion, is a huge boost to our amazing veterans? [906346]

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It was my honour to visit the Veterans’ Gateway last week. This is an incredible portal that allows the 400 or so service-facing charities to provide access for those who need help. I very much hope that this will advance and that more charities will join in and support it.

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Does the Secretary of State accept that existing black hole in the defence equipment budget cannot be filled by the small annual increase in that budget?

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This is why we are undertaking the modernising defence programme: to see how best we can change and respond to meet all the commitments this country has always met to keep Britain and our allies safe. That is what we will be doing to assess the threats Britain faces.

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The Reserve Forces and Cadets Associations want to dispose of Duncombe barracks in York. Will the Ministry of Defence ensure that they work with City of York Council and use the principles of One Public Estate, so that the land is developed in the housing interests of the city, rather than that of developers?

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The cadet programme is one of the huge success stories in Britain, with over 400 cadet units operating throughout the country. I join with the hon. Lady in paying tribute to what they do to advance an interest in the armed forces and the education of our young.

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I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for his personal support for the Year of Engineering and for all his Department is doing to create inspirational and exciting experiences that demonstrate what it is to be an engineer in the military. Will he pass on my thanks to all those involved in making that happen?

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I most certainly will. We celebrate 100 years of the Royal Air Force, which plays a key part in driving technological development and inspiring so many young people to enter a career in engineering. Seeing amazing aeroplanes designed and flown is an inspiration for many future generations.

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In this centenary year of the RAF, will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State join me in celebrating its extraordinary achievements and encourage as many people as possible to see the exhibition at Horse Guards and the fly-past tomorrow?

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Yes, I will.