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Commons Chamber

Volume 724: debated on Monday 12 December 2022

 House of Commons

Monday 12 December 2022

The House met at half-past Two o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Defence Jobs

The most recent estimate shows that Ministry of Defence investment supports 219,000 jobs in industries across the United Kingdom. Continued high and focused investment in defence, along with the changes that we continue to make as part of our defence and security industrial strategy, will contribute to further economic growth and prosperity across the Union.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Ahead of Armistice Day last month, I was contacted by Northwood military headquarters in my constituency to help organise a tour of this place for the submarine service. I thank Captain James Clark and Conservative Friends of the Armed Forces for their help in making that happen. Does the Minister agree that during this time of global turbulence we should do all we can to support and champion the members of our armed forces?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I pay tribute to him for taking the time to visit the Northwood military headquarters. There are 1,600 active service personnel at Northwood HQ, and their work is crucial to protecting our people, territories, values and interests at home and overseas. He is right to pay tribute to them, and I join him in that.

Thanks to this Secretary of State for Defence, Lancashire is home to the newest part of the armed forces, the National Cyber Force. That brings huge opportunities to our county, not only through the thousands of armed forces personnel who will eventually be stationed there, but with the cyber-security companies that we hope will cluster around the site in the years ahead. To really seize the opportunity, however, we need to ensure that we give local people the skills they need to join the NCF or other cyber-security businesses. Will the Minister meet me to discuss what steps we can take to ensure that the MOD supports the growth of its cyber-cluster, centred on the NCF, and the links between the NCF and local education providers?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for the close interest he has taken in the establishment of the National Cyber Force in Samlesbury, which has cemented the north-west’s position as a key UK cyber-cluster. He will be aware that last week we announced the trilateral international partnership between the UK, Japan and Italy to develop next-generation Tempest fighters, which will also benefit the north-west. He is absolutely right that, with regard to skills, we need to encourage the creation of local partnerships between Government, industry and universities. I am pleased to note that Lancaster University has announced a £19 million investment in data and cyber-security research, teaching and innovation. I would, of course, be delighted to meet him.

The Defence Committee recently had before us representatives from Boeing, which has been awarded some £6 billion-worth of contracts in recent years. A representative confirmed that Boeing directly employs only 1,600 people in the UK. Does the Minister not agree that that is a pretty poor return on the investment and that it certainly would not be the case in the United States?

I met Boeing recently, and we are always keen to see investment in the UK. We are absolutely delighted that, because of the pipeline of investment that the Government have commissioned—from ships to cyber to space—we are investing in jobs and capability, and we are ensuring that we take expertise from wherever it is in the world, securing jobs in this country.

We welcome the Government’s commitment to job creation; the problem is that they are creating jobs abroad, including in Spain. The Defence Secretary has just picked a Spanish firm to build the Royal Navy’s three new fleet support ships. At least 40% of that work will go abroad and the best that the Defence Secretary could tell the Scottish Affairs Committee the other day was that the contractor will

“fully assemble the final ship in a UK yard.”

As a result of the Defence Secretary’s decision, how many jobs will be created in Spain and not in the UK?

Respectfully, I completely reject the tenor of that question. We should be celebrating the fact that, as a result of the commitment that we are making to UK shipbuilding, there will be 2,000 jobs in the UK and there will be shipbuilding industries in Appledore and in Northern Ireland. That comes on top of the 1,700 jobs secured as a result of the Type 26, the 3,000 jobs as a result of cyber investment and further jobs in respect of the future combat air system. This Government are investing in defence, in shipbuilding, in land, in sea and in air. We will continue to do exactly that.

Well, the Minister told me in answer to a parliamentary question that the

“number of jobs sustained in Spain…is a matter for the contractor”.

We could have had 100% of the jobs in Britain. This is a dodgy decision, whichever way we view it. On 21 November, I received confirmation in a written answer that the prime contractor for this £1.6 billion contract will be a company that was registered only in May, with no trading history, with capital of just £10,000 and with two directors, both living in Spain. What guarantees can the Minister give the British taxpayer and the Royal Navy that this contract will not betray British jobs and UK industry?

What I genuinely do not understand is why the Opposition are not welcoming a deal that is bringing more than £70 million into Belfast, securing jobs in the shipbuilding industry in this country and ensuring, by the way, that the base of industrial support goes beyond the traditional Scottish yards to include yards in Belfast and, indeed, in Appledore. That is good news. As for the right hon. Gentleman’s point about other countries playing a role, let us not forget that one of the great successful procurements is the F-35. That is an American plane—of course it is—but who produces 15% of the components? The United Kingdom does. That is exactly what happens in these sorts of contracts, and it gets value for money for taxpayers.

All credit to Babcock—maybe the Minister will join me in congratulating it—for securing the Natural Environmental Research Council’s £45 million fleet renewal programme. Of course, Babcock and BAE should be gearing up to do 100% of the fleet solid support ships in a distributed model across the UK, but they are not, because this Tory Government have awarded a £1.6 billion contract for three ships to Navantia in Spain. When Sir John Parker, in his national shipbuilding strategy—[Interruption]—maybe the Secretary of State could pipe down a second. When Sir John Parker stressed that the Ministry of Defence should embrace smart procurement, invest in yards and apprenticeships, and commission ships with an eye to export, did the Government realise that he was talking about yards in the UK, not in Spain?

I listened very carefully to that question but, with respect, we will not take lectures from an SNP Government who put a ship in the water in 2017—a ferry that has now failed to be developed. We are proud that we have got behind the Type 26, which is benefiting the Scottish economy, and indeed the British economy, with an additional 2,000 jobs as a result of the five vessels that we have continued to commission. This Government are investing in broad-based maritime capacity in this country, now and in the future, and developing our capability here in Britain.

We hear all the time about the strength of the Union for orders into Scottish yards, but Scotland, still stuck in this necrotic Union, loses out no matter what happens, when this Secretary of State awards work to Cádiz that should have gone to the UK—it’s heads, the UK wins; tails, Scotland loses. I wish Appledore in Devon and Harland and Wolff in Belfast all the best, but without the requisite workforce or skills, they are simply the Union flag gift-wrapping that this Defence Secretary has given to the Spanish shipbuilding industry. I ask the Government and the increasingly ridiculously titled shipbuilding tsar: contrary to his own claims, when the bulk of this work is delivered in Spain, will this Secretary of State and his ministerial team resign?

It is very important that the House is not misled in any way. It is not the case that the bulk will be built in Spain. Quite the opposite: the majority will be built in the United Kingdom. All the assembly and all the integration will happen here in the United Kingdom. I hope the hon. Gentleman will celebrate the fact that the Type 26, built in Scotland, secures 1,700 jobs and includes the potential for exports. Govan, Rosyth, Scotstoun—all those yards are being nurtured and supported by the power and might of the UK Union. That means that Scotland’s place is better in the Union, and the British Union is advantaged as well.

Africa: Tackling Violent Extremist Organisations

We are concerned by the growth of Daesh and the continued presence of al-Shabaab and Boko Haram across Africa. We are working closely with our partners across the continent, as well as with our international allies, to ensure that we counter the shared threats of violent extremism and terrorism. Obviously we are supportive of the missions led by the United Nations and the African Union, but we are also increasingly looking at how the UK can support regional solutions for regional problems, and how the UK works with friends such as Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria to support their leadership in the Sahel, the Lake Chad basin, the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia.

The Minister talks about recognised current terrorist organisations, but what assessment has he made of the Wagner Group in Africa, and would he recommend its proscription as a terrorist organisation?

Wagner’s presence in Africa is obviously deeply unhelpful, and it is cynical and opportunistic. It has no interest in the countries in which it operates; it is simply there to extract the maximum value for Russia, and potentially to cause as much chaos as it can for those of us who are trying to help on the continent. However, the Government do not routinely comment on whether an organisation is being considered for proscription.

Defence Sector: Support for UK Companies

The defence and security industrial strategy is helping to retain onshore critical industries for our national security and our future. The Ministry of Defence supports the development of a more productive and competitive UK defence sector. With a significant footprint across the UK and the procurement pipeline, the MOD is well placed to contribute to economic growth and levelling up.

May I take the Minister back to the subject of the fleet solid support ships? I realise that he is new to the job, but he has been ducking and diving during earlier exchanges. The prime contractor, as Ministers have admitted, is Navantia. What guarantees have they obtained that the boats will be built in the United Kingdom—especially the first in class—and in respect of the numbers of apprenticeships that would ensure capacity for the future?

As is always the case, the precise details of the contract will be set out in due course, but these facts are absolutely clear: the award is of £1.6 billion to deliver three vessels, and this will be a British ship built to a British design in a British dockyard, mostly with British steel. I hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would support this development, because it strengthens British shipbuilding—and, by the way, it also means £70 million for a British dockyard, which he should certainly support.

I welcome recent developments in the Tempest programme. Having our own combat air industrial capabilities is incredibly important, and ensures that we are not dependent on the Americans, but what is the MOD doing to ensure that all the enablers for modern combat are built here and bring real industrial value to the UK?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising such an important point. He is absolutely right; this provides a capability that will ensure that we stay one step ahead of our adversaries, and it will be a collaboration. If ever there was a symbol of global Britain, this is it: us working with the Japanese and the Italians to produce something that is cutting-edge. If I may say so, that is a message that I hope his colleagues will understand as well. It is by working with other countries to share and develop expertise that we can make all the free world that bit freer and safer.

I welcome Friday’s announcement about the UK, Italy and Japan working closely together on the next generation of combat aircraft. This, of course, sits alongside the partnership of the UK, the United States and Australia—AUKUS—and shows that such partnerships are important not only for our national security and the security of the Indo-Pacific, but for UK companies and UK jobs. Does my hon. and learned Friend agree?

My hon. Friend makes the point brilliantly. This is about investing in capability to ensure that expertise remains in the UK, and that we learn and collaborate in developing the next generation of expertise, but there is also the potential to export. Previous examples of our successful collaboration include Typhoon, with more than 600 units sold overseas. If we get this right—and there is every reason to think we will—there will be such opportunities in the future as well.

Does the Minister agree that, contrary to the Opposition’s claim, supporting UK companies in the defence sector not only makes good economic sense, but is critical to ensuring that the sector is aligned with the Department’s national security objectives?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. So many of these collaborations lead to direct investment into British shipyards—for example, the over £70 million that we were just talking about. But what does this mean in pounds, shillings and pence? It means that those defence jobs are paid, on average, 15% higher than the average wage, and that is just one reason why we need to keep them in the UK.

Contrary to the drivel we have just been listening to, there are absolutely no guarantees about British jobs and British apprenticeships in British yards. At what point are Ministers going to stop talking about it and actually use procurement to deliver and secure the future of British yards?

With great respect, that is completely wrong and risks being misleading. What has been made crystal clear is that these ships will be built, integrated and assembled in the United Kingdom. Appledore will get work; Harland and Wolff will get work—there will be investment and jobs in those shipyards. That is good news and surely something we should be welcoming.

Ascent Flight Training at RAF Valley on Ynys Môn has been awarded a £175 million contract to expand pilot training, with four new Texan T6 aircraft, a new simulator, 11 additional flying instructors and nine new engineering roles. From 2024, RAF Valley will be responsible for training 53 student pilots, up from 36. Will the Minister pay tribute to Ascent Flight Training, to the whole force and to all those who support RAF Valley for playing their part in keeping us safe?

My hon. Friend is such a champion of defence on Ynys Môn, and yes, I absolutely pay tribute to them. It is only through their fantastic work that we can come together as a nation, develop the capabilities that we need and keep us and the next generation safe.

The National Audit Office has found the defence equipment plan to be already outdated on its publication and based on optimistic assumptions. With inflation out of control and with foreign currency fluctuations, does the Minister expect defence companies to bear the brunt of this turmoil, and if so, will this ultimately lead to the loss of British jobs?

No, I do not. I am new to this Department, as the hon. Member indicates, but one of the things I am really pleased about is to see the ambition that exists within this Government to develop the capabilities we need. I was also pleased to see that, notwithstanding the difficult circumstances that we and the whole world are in because of inflation, this Government are committed to ensuring that those capabilities remain, that those critical developments—Type 26, Type 31, the future combat air system, Poseidon and so much other equipment —remain in the pipeline, and that we do what we properly should to lead the world in supporting our friends in Ukraine.

Support for NATO Allies

5. What steps his Department is taking to support NATO allies following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (902711)

This year has been extraordinarily busy, as the alliance has moved to respond to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. The Royal Navy has been deployed in the Black sea, the Baltic sea, the eastern Mediterranean and the north Atlantic; the Army has been deployed in Bulgaria, Poland, Lithuania and Estonia; and the Royal Air Force has been deployed in Lithuania and Romania, as well as in patrols over the Black sea, the Baltic sea and the High North. We have also been engaging with the armed forces of both Finland and Sweden in anticipation of their accession to NATO.

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. I have had the privilege of travelling to Poland and Finland in recent months to see how we are working with those allies. The UK must support Ukraine for the long term, and it must move beyond ad hoc donations of weapons and lay out a long-term strategy for military, economic, humanitarian and diplomatic support throughout 2023 and beyond. In the summer, the Defence Secretary promised that the UK and its allies would begin to establish a plan of action to support Ukraine into 2023. Can the Minister tell us where that is? The Defence Secretary also endorsed updating the integrated review in response to Ukraine during the summer. Where is that plan?

The hon. Gentleman is right, to a point. There is a need to gift in kind or to find international donations that meet an immediate need because an opportunity has arisen in the conflict, but he is right to suggest that there is also a sort of “business as usual” drumbeat that we must, as an international group of supporters, seek to deliver on. The problem is—I apologise to the House that this is the case—that Putin would like to see that plan as much as he would, and for that reason I can assure him that there is a good supply of ammunition and matériel going into Ukraine over the course of the next 12 months, but from where, when and what, I will not be able to share.

The UK has led by example with its military assistance to Ukraine, but may I invite the UK to step forward again? Until now, the west has publicly stated that it is for Ukraine to determine on what terms Russia is defeated. It is their country and, of course, Ukraine’s objectives are fundamental, but this approach effectively outsources our Russia foreign policy and ignores the wider long-term threat Moscow now poses to all of Europe. Do we accept that this is no isolated invasion? Russia is returning to type by expanding its influence across Europe, by weaponising oil, gas and grain, and by increasingly drawing Iran and Belarus into the fight. This is a European war and it is in our economic and security interests to put out this fire. Our Russia foreign policy should reflect that.

I agree, but I do not think the response to Ukraine is the totality of the UK’s foreign policy on Russia. Russia is a challenge not only across the European continent but beyond. My right hon. Friend is right that Russia is using grain as a weapon and as leverage across the global south, so the UK must seek to address Russia’s malign activity globally while continuing to do everything we are doing to ensure that the war in Ukraine ends on terms acceptable to President Zelensky.

Cost of Living: Armed Forces Personnel

6. What recent assessment his Department has made of the potential impact of the rise in the cost of living on armed forces personnel. (902712)

The Ministry of Defence has introduced a series of measures to support our people to cope with the cost of living, including: implementing the independent Armed Forces Pay Review Body’s 2022 pay award recommendations in full; capping subsidised accommodation charges at 1%; freezing food charges; and increasing travel allowances by 7%. More than 32,000 service personnel have received a £150 contribution in lieu of the council tax rebate, families can save around £3,400 per child per year through our wraparound childcare, and our people in service family accommodation are receiving a £400 non-repayable discount to help with energy costs.

I thank the Minister for his response, but nearly 3,000 personnel are already claiming universal credit, and food and heating costs are soaring for everyone. In addition to what he has already said, what discussions is he having with the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that all personnel who are entitled to claim universal credit are doing so? What discussions is he having with the Treasury to ensure that personnel are further supported where required?

The hon. Lady will know that universal credit is an in-work benefit and is dependent on income, family size, type of accommodation and a raft of other issues. She will probably be interested to know about the further investment we are putting into family accommodation, which will help with many of the problems that have been reported to me in relation to heating and the cost of energy, especially through insulation. I suspect her constituents will probably be most appreciative of that.

The cost of living crisis is no doubt affecting all those in the armed forces, and so, too, will the call on them to help out during all these strikes. Will the Government reward those who so generously give of their time? I know they are assigned to work over Christmas and new year, but are there any signs of some sort of reward or thank you to those who, yet again, have been called on to fill a hole?

My hon. Friend takes a close interest in the armed forces, and I think I can assure him that conversations on this subject are happening across Whitehall.

The Army’s most senior soldier says personnel are turning to food banks and second jobs this Christmas, just to make ends meet. Six months ago, I raised the alarm that some troops are having to take second jobs at McDonald’s because of the cost of living crisis. I know the Minister says he is supporting our armed forces during the cost of living crisis, but why is the Ministry of Defence still not collecting data on the number of service personnel using food vouchers and food banks or taking second jobs?

I visited the food bank in my own constituency and discussed the reasons that people use them, which are often complicated. The hon. Gentleman will know that we have accepted the Armed Forces Pay Review Body’s recommendation in full, in recognition of the work that men and women of our armed forces do. He will be aware of the very real big incentives to remain within the armed forces, including a generous non-contributory pension, subsidised accommodation and all the rest of it. He will also be aware of the Haythornthwaite review, which I hope will report soon on what more we can do to incentivise people not only to join but to stay.

Cost of Living: Veterans

8. What steps (a) Veterans UK and (b) the Veterans Welfare Service have taken to help support veterans during the cost of living crisis. (902714)

13. What steps (a) Veterans UK and (b) the Veterans Welfare Service have taken to help support veterans during the cost of living crisis. (902719)

14. What steps (a) Veterans UK and (b) the Veterans Welfare Service have taken to help support veterans during the cost of living crisis. (902720)

As of 30 November 2022, Veterans UK has paid a total of 5,323 disability cost of living payments of £150 to veterans who are in receipt of a qualifying Ministry of Defence disability benefit. Over the past six months, the Veterans Welfare Service has assisted a total of 6,363 veterans with claims. The Veterans UK helpline has answered a total of 29,922 calls. To be clear, veterans—as civilians—are entitled to the same cost of living support offered by national, local and devolved Governments wherever they reside, in common with the general public.

The Royal British Legion has issued 20% more basic support grants in the last year. Help for Heroes reports that requests for help are up by 28%, confirmed by what Ealing Ex-Servicemen’s Club tells me, which also covers mental health issues. Why is the MOD not allocating specific funding for veterans’ cost of living and associated issues this year? When will it match Labour’s promise to increase veterans’ mental health support by £55 million, to protect those who protected us?

I am pleased that the hon. Lady raises mental health, which is a passion of mine, particularly in relation to the armed forces. I hope she will welcome the ongoing work of Op Courage to help our veterans who run into difficulties. It is only reasonable to point out that most of our service community are very well both in mind and in body. However, Op Courage was designed to look after those who are not. I hope she will welcome the extra £2.7 million to expand Op Courage services to better help those to whom we owe so much.

Some 90% of veterans who try to claim the personal independence payment for post-traumatic stress disorder are rejected, according to armed forces charities. It can make up to 50% of their income, and the rejections have left veterans attempting suicide, facing homelessness or becoming reliant on food banks. Why is it always veterans who are left until last and have to rely on charity for assistance?

I hope the hon. Gentleman was listening to and approved of my earlier answers on the support that Government are giving to our armed forces community. I hope he will take note, because it is important to understand the facts around suicide and mental health in the armed forces community. If he is not familiar with the recent Manchester University study on suicide, he may be interested to read it. I will be more than happy to send him a copy or arrange a briefing.

Veterans charities are reporting huge increases in demand for basic support grants. Indeed, a recent survey by Help for Heroes found that 82% of respondents were worried about the cost of living, with one in eight having to use a food bank in the past 12 months. The Royal British Legion reports that 14% of veterans aged 65 or over have turned off their heating to save money even when it is too cold. Can the Minister assure me that he is providing support to those services delivered by veterans charities to ensure that veterans and their families across the country can access cost of living support?

The hon. Lady takes a very close interest in these matters, for which I am grateful. Of course the MOD works closely with service charities, with whom we have an almost constant dialogue in terms of their caseload to ensure that we do the best we can for our veterans. It is worth bearing in mind that veterans are civilians and are entitled to the same Government initiatives to ease their position in the current crisis as any other member of general public, as I said in my earlier remarks.

Veterans and their families have made immense sacrifices for our country’s safety, but, in the run-up to Christmas, we have veterans hit by increased mortgage costs and rising bills, tens of thousands of veterans claiming universal credit and many reliant on charitable grants just to get by. It is not good enough. How can the Minister expect us to believe that his Government will make the UK the best place in the world in which to be a veteran when they are leaving many veterans and their families to struggle this Christmas?

I detect a theme in the line of questioning. I have to draw the hon. Lady’s attention to the remarks that I made earlier and to the package of assistance that the Government have provided for all citizens. The focus of defence, of course, in accordance with the military covenant, must be to ease the condition of people who have suffered specifically as a result of their service in the armed forces, which, although most members of our armed forces community are robust mentally and physically, means that particular attention must be paid to those who may have been damaged in some way physically or mentally by virtue of their service. That is what we are resolved to do, and hence, in particular, our support for Op Courage.

Ukraine: Defence Support

9. How many (a) armoured vehicles, (b) anti-tank weapons and (c) multiple-launch rocket systems his Department has donated to Ukraine for use against Russian forces in that country. (902715)

The UK is the second largest donor in military aid to Ukraine. We have gifted almost 200 armoured vehicles and more than 10,000 anti-tank missiles to Ukraine. We have also delivered a number of multiple launch rocket systems to counter Putin’s brutal use of long-range artillery, but, for reasons of operational security, I am unable to give a precise quantity.

His Majesty’s Government have led Europe in arming Ukraine against Russian aggression. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the equipment and personnel losses incurred by the Russian armed forces as a result of the deployment of British weaponry in theatre?

Although we do not specifically collect data on UK use of weapons, we can say that we estimate that more than 100,000 Russians are either dead, injured or have deserted. Russia has also lost 4,500 armoured vehicles, 63 fixed-wing aircraft, 70 helicopters, 150 unmanned aerial vehicles, 12 naval vessels and more than 600 artillery systems, and failed to capture a single one of its major objectives from day one. President Putin’s three-day war, or special operation, turns out to have been a disaster for him and his army.

Ukrainians have been buying Mitsubishi L200 pick-up trucks from west country farmers to adapt them for use as impromptu fighting vehicles. As the first Boxer armoured vehicles arrive with the British Army in the coming months, what consideration are the Government giving to passing some of the retiring Warrior infantry fighting vehicles to Ukraine?

First and foremost, the type of weaponry and vehicles that the Ukrainians are buying off the shelf like that is not necessarily because of a lack of need elsewhere, but because of the speed and innovation that they require. When we transfer something like a Warrior armoured personnel carrier, it is tracked, it is—if my memory serves me right—28 tonnes, and it comes with a huge long logistical supply chain. We are very interested in making sure that we keep them supplied with equipment that they can use almost immediately rather than having to deal with the huge logistical tail that will come with it. We focus on giving them what we can. We have obviously supported the renovation of armoured vehicles and we will continue to do so.

The House will know that supplies of British, American and other western equipment have been vital in helping our Ukrainian friends to protect themselves against the continuing and merciless Russian attacks, and I thank my right hon. Friend and the Government for all that they have done and continue to do. Does he agree that we and our allies must help our Ukrainian friends not just to take out the drones and missiles, which means supplying them with anti-aircraft systems and fixed-wing aircraft to help shoot them down, but to take out the launch sites of those missiles and drones by supplying the Ukrainians with the use of longer-range missile systems, such as army tactical missile systems? That is the way, truly, to protect our Ukrainian friends and to bring the war to an end as soon as possible.

Without my right hon. Friend’s support of me and Ukraine, none of this would have been possible. I place on record my great appreciation of his support through that process. He is right that the Russians are taking advantage of the short-range capability of the Ukrainian armed forces by using Iranian kamikaze drones and, against all the rules of law, including the Geneva conventions, by the mass targeting of critical civilian infrastructure. That is not only a war crime, but a war crime that we must see does not go unpunished. I constantly review the weapons systems we could provide; I hear his call for ATACMS from the United States, but we too have in our armoury potential weapon systems that are longer range and, should the Russians continue to target civilian areas and break those Geneva conventions, I will be open-minded about what we do next.

At a recent event in Monkstown Boxing Club in my constituency, which was arranged to show support for Ukrainians located in the greater Belfast area, there was huge support and thanks for the work our Government have done to help Ukrainians to defend themselves against Russians. The question is this: we are supplying equipment, but there is talk now that we are only supplying very limited ammunition for that equipment. Is the Secretary of State convinced, first, that we are supplying what is needed and, secondly, that we have the capacity to supply what is needed in the future?

We are providing ammunition, although some of it is in the form not necessarily of mass shells, but of more sophisticated weapons systems such as Brimstone missiles or Saab Thales next generation light anti-tank weapons, made in Belfast. We continue to supply those and indeed resupply ourselves. For the areas where we do not have something, we have set up an international fund with the Danish, which has so far raised €600 million, and we will be announcing the first block of purchases from the international community or from production lines to make sure we help Ukraine to get through 2023.

Women in the Armed Forces

10. What recent assessment his Department has made of the adequacy of progress towards creating a more inclusive environment for women in the armed forces. (902716)

This is an important question and I thank my hon. Friend for it. Defence continues to improve the experiences of Defence women by introducing flexible service, working to improve health, instigating zero-tolerance policies on unacceptable sexual behaviours, launching the Defence Serious Crime Unit on 5 December and creating an independent bullying and harassment helpline. Defence Ministers and officials meet the servicewomen’s networks regularly. We have made progress, but we know that we must do more and continue to press ahead to make the armed forces the best place to work for women.

Next year, Falmouth in my constituency will host national Armed Forces Day. Following the success of last year’s G7, we hope that it will be yet another momentous occasion for Cornwall and that one of its lasting legacies will be that women and girls across Cornwall will be inspired to join the armed forces. I thank the Minister for his answer, but can he tell me to what extent the focus on inclusivity is resulting in better retention of women in the armed forces?

I agree with my hon. Friend and look forward to Armed Forces Day in Falmouth. Women are, of course, an integral part of our armed forces and Defence remains committed to improving their lived experience. In a competitive age, our advantage derives from the talent and skills of our people. We really must attract, recruit and retain people from the broadest base possible. Not only is that the right thing to do, but it is mission-critical to our operational effectiveness. We are committed to making the changes required to create a more inclusive environment for all women to pursue long and successful careers—including my two serving daughters.

Defence Relationships with European Allies

The UK works bilaterally and multilaterally through NATO and other groupings, including the Joint Expeditionary Force, the Northern Group and the Combined Joint Expeditionary Force with France to advance interoperability and develop a common understanding of the threats we face. I recently met the new Italian Defence Minister to discuss Tempest and the security of the Mediterranean, and later today I will host the Hungarian Defence Minister as we seek to progress Sweden and Finland’s accession to NATO.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the joint venture between the United Kingdom, Italy and Japan in the Tempest programme for the new fighter jet is a great example of Brexit Britain? Will he also support ensuring that the supply chain that it will ultimately use is country-wide, including my Dudley constituency?

Funnily enough, international consortiums and working together with other countries unlock not only expert markets such as for the Type-26, but investment in defence jobs here in the UK, which somehow the Labour party never seems to work out in its simpleton level of economic understanding. Perhaps the penny will one day drop for the Labour party that if we invest in defence here and work with international partners, we will get tens of thousands of jobs and tens of thousands of pounds out of customers around the world—

Order. Sit down, Secretary of State! Can I just say to everybody that there are preliminaries then questions, and we are going on very long? I want to get as many Members in as possible, and we have only got to question 11.

Vladimir Putin clearly plans to starve and freeze Ukraine this winter as he replenishes his own armaments ahead of a spring offensive. What is the Secretary of State doing to increase the number of armaments—not just from the UK but from across Europe—so that Ukraine can gain ground now, not later, and why does he not get on with it?

We are incredibly alert to that real challenge, which is why in August we set up that fund, which has now accrued €600 million, including donations from Norway and the Netherlands, to purchase from ongoing production lines even Soviet-era-type calibres. It is also why we constantly help with the training of our Ukrainian friends up and down the UK, to make sure that they are using our weapons systems in the best way possible, and to make sure that we have the impact they need on the ground. We will continue to work alongside our international partners to deliver that throughout next year.

Defence Business Services

15. Whether his Department has made an impact assessment of the planned closure of Defence Business Services offices in the North West. (902721)

A regional economic impact assessment was undertaken during downselection but did not form part of the decision-making criteria. The consolidation into the Blackpool site meets key user requirements, is an opportunity to bring 700 posts to Blackpool from our other north-west sites, and contributes to the redevelopment at Talbot Gateway through the building of the new Government hub.

I thank the Minister for that answer, but I have had many constituents contact me about the planned closure of the Ministry of Defence Business Services office in Liverpool. The movement of jobs will affect them and their families. The new commute of more than two hours—especially with the train service at the moment—will be completely unworkable for many staff, particularly those with caring responsibilities or disabilities. Will the Minister meet me as soon as possible to discuss this situation so that I can share the deep concerns of my constituents with him?

Yes, of course, I will meet the hon. Gentleman. But there have actually been some good and constructive conversations with the unions, I am pleased to say, about trying to assist individuals who may want to go—we will try to assist and provide expenses. For those who do not, there is lots of work going on to ensure alternatives should they want to take them. But let us discuss it further—I would be very happy to do so.

Topical Questions

May I place on the record my thanks to the outgoing SNP Front Bencher, the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), for his service and constructive work in this House, and I welcome the hon. Member for Angus (Dave Doogan) to his new post on the Front Bench.

As we approach the festive season, can I also put on the record my personal thanks to the personnel deployed on various operations and peacekeeping missions around the world, many of whom will be separated from loved ones over the Christmas period? On Christmas Day this year, approximately 6,300 sailors, marines, soldiers and aviators will be deployed around the world, serving on 33 operations in 28 countries. On behalf of the House, I would like to thank them for their sacrifices and wish them and their families, wherever they may be, a very happy and safe Christmas and new year.

In recent weeks, I have had several conversations with senior military officers who, like me, are becoming increasingly concerned by what they regard as unnecessary distraction within the armed forces. Could the Minister please tell me what is more important: unlawful recruitment policy, identity politics and pronouns, or operation capability?

I hear my hon. Friend. Our advantage derives from our people. We must attract, recruit and retain the best people, drawn from the broadest diversity of thought, skills and backgrounds to ensure that we meet the threats we face. That is how we make them the most operationally capable armed forces of today, in the 21st century. We must therefore recognise that diversity and inclusion is not just morally right, but vital to that capability. We can debate how we do that, but it is still vital.

Order. Work with me, Secretary of State; I want to work with you. You have given very long answers during questions, and we are now into topicals. We have to be short and sweet. Lots of Members on both sides wanted to get in earlier but failed to because of the long answer. Please, let us work together. I call John Healey—briefly, please.

At today’s Cobra meeting, will the Defence Secretary tell Ministers in other Departments that too often they use our armed forces to bail out their Departments’ failings, especially when he is making further deep cuts to the Army? In addition to those deployed on overseas operations, whom he has mentioned, how many of our forces will be deployed or on standby over Christmas in response to requests for military assistance to which he has already agreed?

I will do the right hon. Gentleman a deal: I will raise that at Cobra if he tells his union paymasters not to go on strike over Christmas and not to ruin the lives of our soldiers and sailors.

T3. I welcome the Government’s steps to support the British shipbuilding industry. Those ships will require a lot of steel. Does the Secretary of State agree that, wherever possible, we should use the world-class steel we make in this country in such projects? (902735)

My hon. Friend is a fantastic champion of steel. I agree with her. The support ship competition winner has indicated that it intends to use UK-sourced steel whenever practical and, in any event, for the majority of the build.

T2.   Over the summer, much noise was made about the Government’s raising the defence budget to 3% of GDP. That has now transformed into the Secretary of State’s accepting a £2.3 billion real-terms cut to the defence budget. Do Ministers accept that that cut will have a negative impact on recruitment, training, family support and pay for our armed forces personnel? (902734)

First, I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s figures. Secondly, between now and next year’s Budget, I have been given enough to insulate us from the effects of inflation, and we can continue within our current comprehensive spending review envelope. We can discuss the next one when it comes up.

T5. Does my right hon. Friend agree that our different cadet groups do great work in inspiring the next generation? Will he join me in congratulating PO Mack on his work with the excellent Ilfracombe sea cadets? (902737)

T4. Last year, during a British Army exercise at the Lolldaiga training camp in Kenya, a fire was caused, which has led to 6,000 Kenyans seeking compensation. I appreciate that the Minister may not be sighted on that, but will he ensure that the Army’s investigation into it is made public, especially if firearms, explosives or drugs are involved? (902736)

T9. I welcome the fact that air defence equipment is already being supplied to Ukraine, but does my right hon. Friend agree that Ukraine also needs to strengthen its air force, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) suggested? Will he consider extending the security agreement with Sweden to allow it to supply its Gripen aircraft to Ukraine and to train Ukrainians in its use? (902741)

We are grateful to Sweden. Swedish personnel are here in the UK training Ukrainian ground forces with us in the north of England. Sweden is one of the contributing countries. Whether Sweden wishes to donate aeroplanes is genuinely a matter for the Swedish armed forces, but I understand the need that my right hon. Friend is trying to tap into. We are doing everything we can to solve that.

T6. Earlier, the Secretary of State mentioned the lack of long-range missiles in Ukraine. What drone capability has Ukraine got to take out missile sites from Belarus that illegally target civilians in Ukraine? (902738)

Ukraine has shown itself to be a master of innovation and has already developed several long-range drones that are having an effect. The real question here is scale and numbers, compared with the numbers that Russia is buying from Iran. We need to ensure that that is overmatched.

Defence accommodation maintenance contracts that work on a fix-it-when-it-breaks basis ignore preventive maintenance, create perverse incentives—the longer a repair is left, the greater the damage and the bigger the cost—and too often remove the ability of accommodation users to look after their homes. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is time we looked at those contracts again?

I am sympathetic to what my hon. Friend says and he can be sure that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Defence Procurement and I are looking closely at the FDIS—future defence infrastructure services—contract right now.

T7. Charities, such as the excellent Forces Employment Charity through to brilliant sector specialists, such as Veterans into Logistics are stepping up to provide structured career paths for ex-military personnel. However, they lack consistent national funding. How will the Minister address the funding support that they require? (902739)

I hope that the hon. Lady will be aware of the career transition pathway, an innovation that eases people’s passage from the armed forces into the veteran community. Let us be clear: most members of our armed forces transition perfectly well. Some need help, and the career transition pathway is designed to provide that.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, and may I compliment you on your military grade haircut, and also refer Members to my entry in the register of interests? Just cheering you up, Mr Speaker; it is Christmas.

Lincoln is a city—including Lincoln College and its RAF linked academy—with a concentration of innovative defence technology firms. That is due in no small part to RAF Waddington being located in my constituency and the historical links with the military, particularly the RAF, across the county. What steps has the MOD taken, or will it take soon, to allow those industries, in some cases small businesses, to survive, grow and thrive in this competitive arena?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Innovation is essential and we are supporting it through initiatives such as the defence and security accelerator and the defence technology exploitation programme. We have all the plans we need to give us a competitive edge and ensure we stay one step ahead of our opponents.

According to the Department’s own figures 45% of military personnel in single accommodation in Cheshire are living in substandard accommodation, and that is 4,000 families nationally. That is appalling; are these really homes fit for heroes and what is the Minister going to do about it?

I do not recognise those figures but I do recognise the fact that 90% of people living in service family accommodation live in homes that are at or above the Government’s decent homes standards. The MOD aspires to decent homes plus and, this year alone, is investing £176 million in upgrading service family accommodation.

My constituency has welcomed Ukrainian families with open arms. What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the effectiveness of Ukrainian defence against the evil Russian forces invading the country?

I read out earlier the losses inflicted on the Russian army by a much smaller army that is defending against an aggression that does not have any basis in international law or respect for human rights, and that is an extraordinary feat by those brave men and women. We will continue to support all the way through the next year, as will the international community, It is vital that Putin fails in Ukraine.

Christmas leave is precious, so can the Secretary of State or one of his Ministers confirm that any serving personnel losing their leave over the Christmas period in order to support MACA—military aid to the civil authorities—commitments will be properly compensated?

The hon. Gentleman will know about this because, I am afraid that, under Governments of both parties, we have been involved as former soldiers in meeting the consequences of strikes, whether the tanker strikes, fire strikes or ambulance strikes, which are potentially approaching. Yes, soldiers and sailors would prefer to be doing their day job of defending their country, but sometimes they are called upon when the unions put at risk the safety of parts of this country and do so over a festive period. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can have a word with his hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench and ask them to get his unions to desist.

Is it not impossible for us to supply ever increasing amounts of munitions to Ukraine and also to replenish our own munitions stocks without a significant increase in our current peacetime defence budget?

I was pleased to note an additional £560 million provided from the recent settlement to replenish precisely those stocks. Also, the production lines to re-procure some of the very weapons that are going to go back on to British shelves are already running, and we will continue on that path.

I welcome the recent changes to the service complaints system, including separating alleged victims from perpetrators during criminal investigations, but can the Minister explain how he plans to implement the latter in restrictive services such as the submarine service?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend who has done so much to advance the cause of women in the armed forces. She will be aware of the two current inquiries into behaviour on submarines and I am not going to prejudice their outcomes. I expect them to make their recommendations and will report on them to the House as soon as I can.

The Secretary of State will be aware of a resolution recently passed by the Russian Duma that no vessel whether merchant or Royal Navy should pass through the waters to the north of Russia without both permission from the Russians and Russian personnel on board. Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to reassure me that if a Royal Navy vessel of any kind wants to transit through the northern sea route, either above the water or beneath it, we will do so without let or hindrance from the Russian Federation?

One of the international treaties with the most signatures on it is on freedom of navigation across all seas. The United Kingdom stands strongly behind that and will uphold it wherever we can, hence our transit of HMS Defender in the Black sea. We will do that wherever we are able to do so in accordance with international law, and we will not be intimidated by Russia or any other nation.

It is clear to me that the armed forces will achieve their full potential only if they are as attractive as possible to neurodiverse thinkers, particularly in cyber. The need for unconventional thinkers has perhaps never been greater than it is now, but there can be challenges for them in meeting the core competencies of “soldier first” as well as in physical tasks, as I recently found out when it took me 25 minutes to put on a belt at Sandhurst as a neurodiverse individual. Will the Secretary of State outline what is being done to better attract the talents of neurodiverse individuals into the armed forces?

The services are leading in trying to look at exactly that unconventional route in. If we are to attract people to the National Cyber Force and to cyber, we are going to have to think in different terms from 20 or 30 years ago. That is incredibly important. We need to be flexible, we need to be innovative and we need to be modern.

The Secretary of State mentioned a Ukrainian innovation in the use of drones. Are Ministers confident that in this country we have the right resources and regulatory framework in place to ensure that our forces can also benefit?

No, I am not. We need to look at some of those regulations, because one of the things that holds us back too much in innovation, development and deployment is our own regulation. Too much of that holds us back. The Ukrainians obviously do not have that consideration, and they are making amazing steps forward.

NHS Industrial Action: Government Preparations

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care if he will make a statement on Government preparations for industrial action in the NHS.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for his question, which I am taking on behalf of the Department as the Secretary of State is attending a Cobra meeting on contingency planning for industrial action in the NHS. He also came before the House on the subject twice last week: at departmental questions and for the Opposition day debate.

We are all hugely grateful for the hard work and dedication of NHS staff, so we deeply regret that some union members have voted for industrial action. Our priority must be to keep patients safe. That begins with keeping the door open. The Secretary of State wrote to the Royal College of Nursing on Saturday asking for further discussions as a matter of urgency. At the same time, we are working with the NHS to minimise the disruption to patients if the strikes do go ahead. We are engaged with providers, professional bodies and trade unions to agree safe levels of cover should any action take place.

In addition, this afternoon, Ministers—including the Secretary of State—are attending a Cobra meeting focused on our contingency plans. Our plans draw on extra support from a range of places, including service personnel and the private sector. While we aim to minimise disruption, with the NHS already under significant pressure from the covid pandemic and winter pressures, we remain deeply concerned about the risk that strikes pose to patients.

I want to be clear that, even at this moment of uncertainty, people must keep coming forward to get the care that they need. People should continue to use NHS 111 if they need medical help and dial 999 in the event of an emergency. For more routine treatment, hospitals will do everything they can to ensure that planned procedures go ahead, but it is inevitable that any strike would mean some patients would have their treatment delayed. People will be contacted if their appointments need to be changed.

It is our hope that patients can be spared from unnecessary and unjustified strikes. Industrial action is in no one’s best interests, especially in this difficult winter. We have had constructive meetings with the leadership of several unions, including the RCN, Unison, Unite and the GMB, and we look forward to further discussions to find a way forward together that is in the best interests of the patients we all serve.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. The power to stop these strikes likes squarely with the Government and the Secretary of State. The Royal College of Nursing and Unison have said that they will call off strikes this week if the Government are willing to negotiate with them seriously on pay. That reasonable offer of compromise is surely too good to refuse, so what on earth are the Government playing at? After 12 years of Conservative government, patients can no longer get seen on time and staff have been pushed to breaking point—and the Government cannot even be bothered to try to negotiate to prevent strikes from going ahead, at the worst possible time for patients and the NHS. The Government should ask themselves why, under a Conservative Government, nurses feel they have to take industrial action for the first time in more than 100 years and why ambulance workers are set to follow them for the first time since 1989.

It should be obvious by now what the Conservative agenda is. The Government know that patients are going to suffer this winter and they have no plan to fix the problems of their own making, so instead of taking responsibility for their failure they want to use nurses and paramedics as scapegoats to avoid the blame. It is a disgusting plan, it is a dangerous plan, and it is a plan that will not work. The public know that the power to stop these strikes is in the Government’s hands. If they fail to act now, patients will never forgive them.

How many operations have already been cancelled? How does the Minister expect those on the waiting list to feel if their operations are cancelled because of the Government’s gross negligence? Can he tell patients which services will be impacted if these strikes go ahead? Is the Secretary of State not embarrassed at Cobra today, asking the Army to come in to clean up the Government’s mess?

Even at this last minute, it is not too late to prevent strikes from going ahead. Perhaps the Minister can tell us whether the meeting with the RCN later today will involve discussions on pay. And if not, why not? Because that is all it takes: just a few minutes or a few hours of talk can avoid strike action. Why will they not do it?

The fact is that Labour is all over the place when it comes to strikes. They criticise Ministers while admitting that the unions’ pay demands are unaffordable. The hon. Gentleman and his party leader are too tied to their union paymasters to be on the side of patients. He knows that we have an independent pay review body, and is important that both sides respect that independent body. We accepted the independent body’s recommendations for this year’s increase in full, meaning that over 1 million NHS staff have been given at least a £1,400 increase in their pay. That is on top of a 3% pay rise last year at a time when pay was frozen across the wider public sector. The RCN, one of the unions taking action, is asking for an increase that is 5% above the retail prices index. Based on latest figures, that is an increase of 19.2%, or the equivalent of 6.5% of the NHS budget. To meet such demands, we would have to take money away from clearing the elective backlog that the hon. Gentleman referred to, something no responsible Government would wish to do.

Throughout this period, we have always sought to have a balanced process. Those in the private sector will not be getting a 19% uplift, and there is a clear need to be fair to the wider economy. We have to avoid inflationary pressures that would make us all poorer in the end.

We will continue to listen to colleagues’ concerns, not just about pay but many other issues affecting the working lives of those in the NHS. We will work with them to make improvements in a range of areas, from working conditions to patient safety, because we believe there is so much that we can agree on. Strike action is in no one’s best interest. We will keep working so that the NHS continues to be there for those who need it most.

With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, may I send our heartfelt sympathies to the parents of the little boys who have lost their lives in the west midlands overnight and say thank you to the emergency service workers, many of whom will have been from the NHS? I am sure they have done their best for those they pulled out and those they were unable to save.

The Minister is right that we have an independent pay review process, but it seems that we are coming to an interesting junction point: either we believe in an independent pay review process, or we do not. We cannot be in a situation where everything is agreed until it is simply not, and then Ministers are negotiating pay. That is not what Ministers do.

I am glad the Minister mentioned patients them at the end of his remarks. We must keep them as our focus. I have more information about my train services over the next few weeks than I do about health services. Is the Minister satisfied that patients have enough information about what is being affected and when, and how much it will impact on the backlog? I suspect none of this will help the workload pressures that are impacting our NHS.

I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and I echo his comments on the tragic events in Solihull, the boys who lost their lives and the heroic actions of those in the emergency services.

My hon. Friend is also right to say that we have an independent pay review body, and we either agree and accept that that is the process, or we do not.

On advice to the public, my hon. Friend is right that we have more to do in this space. Derogations are still being worked through with both individual unions and trusts. Patients should continue to call 999 as normal if it is an emergency and someone is seriously ill or injured. If they do not have life-threatening conditions, they should use NHS 111. Ambulances will still be responding to 999 calls. If patients have appointments, they should please turn up unless advised not to do so. He is right to make the point about communications, and I will be ramping this up when we know more about derogations.

Scotland’s First Minister has managed in one day to do what the Tory Government could not—agree with the nursing unions to call off strikes planned for this month. NHS workers are the backbone of these countries. If they do not work, the country does not work, and if the country is not working, it is broken. Britain is broken, is it not? And Brexit has broken Britain, has it not? The Tories will not negotiate and the Labour Opposition spokesperson has branded the British Medical Association as “hostile”, while in Scotland the strikes are off, and they are off permanently. An offer of 7.5% has been negotiated and agreed, with an 11.24% pay rise for the lowest paid across the board in NHS Scotland. Why are the UK Government refusing to give public servants a decent pay increase when they have all the financial power to do so?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. My understanding is that the industrial action in Scotland has been suspended, not cancelled, as the hon. Gentleman suggested. The Scottish Government have made a considerably higher offer, partly because a politician has got involved in pay negotiations, directly in contrast to the independent pay review body, and it will be interesting to see whether the First Minister of Scotland is going to do this every single year and go against the recommendations of their pay review body.

Would the hon. Gentleman like to confirm—I appreciate he cannot do it now—whether the Scottish Government have also looked at things such as leave and working times? I think it is important to stress that every 1% increase for the “Agenda for Change” workforce equates to about £750 million. That is £750 million that will come out of the NHS budget and that we will not be able to spend on things such as tackling the elective backlog, which is so important to people up and down the country.

Our military actually enjoy stepping in when a Government Department occasionally cannot manage, such as with flooding and so forth, or on rare occasions when a strike takes place. However, what we are seeing this month is unprecedented, with so many sectors choosing to strike exactly at the same time, and this places a huge burden on our armed forces. Could I ask the Minister, first, whether all the units that may be required to mobilise have been informed already, and whether, if we are going to see strikes at this level, it is now time for Departments to introduce minimum service levels to make sure that our armed forces are not overwhelmed?

Representing the garrison city of Colchester, I have nothing but the utmost respect for our armed forces. It has not escaped my notice that many of them are on lower pay than NHS staff and will be giving up their time over Christmas to cover strike action. My right hon. Friend is right that to mitigate the impact of planned industrial action in the ambulance sector, NHS England has explored a range of measures, which include engaging with the Ministry of Defence on military support. As a contingency, a MACA request—a request for military aid to civil authorities—for a limited number of personnel has been submitted to the MOD. It was submitted at the end of last week, and the plan is that MOD personnel will be trained to drive ambulances, but only deployed where they are needed across the country.

The Government need to stop hiding behind the pay review body. The pay review body sorts out the distribution of the funding, while it is the Government who determine the size of the envelope, and it is the envelope that is in dispute. Why will the Minister not get a Treasury Minister alongside him and make sure they negotiate on the size of the envelope? If they can afford the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), they can afford a nurse.

The average pay settlements in the private sector range between 4% and 6%, and we want to have a fair deal for both NHS staff and the taxpayer. The hon. Lady makes reference to the pay review bodies, but it is important to stress that they are made up of independent experts. They recommended the uplifts for NHS staff, and in formulating their recommendations, the review bodies carefully considered evidence from a wide range of stakeholders, including NHS system partners and trade unions. The independent pay review body is a respected mechanism, and we should accept its recommendations, which we have.

May I commend my hon. Friend on his response to the urgent question, and say how much I agree with him? Can he set out his thoughts on how things would be likely to proceed in the NHS if we ended up in the scenario which the shadow Secretary of State appears to want, in which Ministers negotiate directly with unions on pay every winter? Does he think that that would lead to upward pressure on pay at the expense, crucially, of the public, whom we serve and who need those operations and the elective care for which we have budgeted, and that that should not be eroded by unrealistic pay demands of 19%?

My right hon. Friend is right. We have an independent pay review body mechanism for a reason, and it has worked for a number of years. That is why I made reference to the First Minister in Scotland. Is this a procedure we are going to go through every single year when a pay review body recommendation is made and unions do not like it, and politicians have to get involved? The point of the independent pay review body is that it depoliticises the issue, and Ministers do not negotiate directly with unions. The independent pay review body looks at the issue in the round, along with the wider economy and a number of other factors, then forms a recommendation which the Government can choose to accept or refuse. It is important to stress that in this case the Government accepted the recommendations in full.

I was a nurse for 25 years. Nurses work long hours, day in, day out, to support people all over the country, often on very low pay. I know from experience how tough it can be, and it is shameful that many hospitals have opened food banks specially to feed their staff. Let us be absolutely clear: the power to stop these strikes, which nurses themselves do not really want, lies squarely with the Government. How can Ministers justify refusing to talk to the unions?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question and for her service as a nurse. We value hugely and appreciate all our NHS staff. We have given them a pay rise this year, on top of 3% last year, when pay was frozen in the wider public sector. As I have said a handful of times, we accepted in full the recommendations from the independent pay review body. Of course, I do not want to see anybody needing to use a food bank, let alone a member of our NHS. That is exactly why the Government have a broader package of support in place.

I have to take issue with one of the hon. Lady’s comments. She asked who held the power to call off these strikes. There is only one answer: the unions.

I have been out on shift with my local ambulance service, and have seen how hard it works and how important that work is. We are really grateful for what it does, and my constituents are worried. If the ambulance strikes go ahead, will the Minister explain which categories of call we will ensure are responded to?

We are currently having those derogation discussions with the unions, and they will also happen at an individual trust level. As my hon. Friend will know, having been out with her trust, 999 calls are triaged and categorised from category 1 to category 4, and on days of ambulance strike action it is likely that category 1 and category 2 calls, where there is an immediate threat to life, will be responded to. We are looking at ways in which we can provide additional support for category 3 and category 4, including things such as block-booking taxis and support through community healthcare, local authority fall services and community support.

What we have got is a Government who refuse to govern. Retention and sickness rates were reported to the Health and Social Care Committee in June 2019 as higher than average by Health Education England, and if retention rates were kept at 2012 levels we would have 16,000 more nurses in the system. The Minister has talked about safe levels of cover during the strike, but the unions have told us that when they look at staffing levels, in some places, they are currently below what is safe. The issue for us as Members of Parliament and for our constituents is that none of us knows whether our local systems are safe or not. Can he tell us which hospitals across the country are currently operating at safe staffing levels, and which are below those levels, before the strike even starts?

The hon. Lady talks about NHS staffing levels; we have 1.2 million staff within our NHS, and compared with last year, we have 3,700 more doctors and 9,100 more nurses, and compared with 2019, we have 29,000 more nurses and 2,200 more GPs, but we do have high vacancies. That is why it will not have escaped her notice that we have commissioned NHS England to publish a long-term workforce plan, and that will be independently verified as set out by the Chancellor in the autumn statement.

Inflation is the real enemy here, because it makes us all poorer. We have a political and economic choice: we either tackle it, or we give in to an inflation pay spiral. The Minister was right to mention that the Royal College of Nursing pay demands are in excess of three times greater than the average private sector payment at the moment. Does my hon. Friend agree that public sector pay demands of almost 20% would embed inflation for years to come and make us all poorer?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: granting double-digit pay rises would sustain higher levels of inflation and have a bigger impact on people’s income in the long term, as well as eroding the value of savings, which is important to many of our constituents.

These strikes are not just about pay levels; they are also about patient safety. NHS workers care deeply about their patients, and I stand in solidarity with them. Members of the Royal College of Nursing have told me how stressed and burned out they are because they do not have enough colleagues to work alongside them. That is dangerous and extremely unfair on both patients and staff, and it is the result of the failure of consecutive Conservative Governments to provide enough resources and training places and to carry out the necessary workforce planning. The Minister mentions the independent pay review body, but he knows full well that there is a role for Government in ending this dispute. Will his Government get around the table with the unions and avert the strike action?

The hon. Lady is right that this issue is about more than just pay. That is what the unions are telling us. It is about things such as staffing levels and working conditions. If that is indeed the case, let me repeat: my door is always open, and I would be happy, as would the Secretary of State, to discuss those issues with the unions at any point they would like.

Would there not be more money available for relatively poorly paid frontline NHS staff if there were fewer layers of management bureaucracy paid at substantially higher rates within the NHS?

I thank my right hon. Friend for that question. I am sometimes staggered by the number of people on six-figure salaries within our NHS, but in an organisation of its size, management is also important. It is about getting the balance right, but we always continue—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) chunters from a sedentary position. The balance may not be right, and we always continue to look at the ratio of management to frontline staff to make sure we are getting that right.

The Government will blame anybody and everybody for these avoidable strikes, but he knows full well that the RCN is not even affiliated to the TUC, let alone the Labour party. If these strikes go ahead, the Secretary of State is to blame, because he has the power to sort out this mess. Why does he not just get on with it?

The hon. Gentleman puts it in his usual blunt way. The pay review body process is the established mechanism for determining pay uplifts in the public sector, outside of negotiating multi-year pay and contract reform deals. Despite what he says, industrial action is a matter for the unions, and we urge them to carefully consider the potential impacts of industrial action. The Secretary of State and I have been clear that our door is open. We have already met with the unions, and we would be happy to do so again.

Now then. In 2014, the shadow Health Secretary said that he would support strikes within the NHS, even if there was a Labour Government in power, but he is remarkably quiet today about whether he actually supports the strikes—unlike the RMT strikes, which I am sure that he supports. Does the Minister think that the shadow Health Secretary and Opposition Front Benchers are playing politics with this issue?

I am not one to cast aspersions on the shadow Secretary of State, other than to say that I and the Secretary of State refuse to play politics with this issue. This is all about patient safety and ensuring that if industrial action goes ahead—[Interruption.] The shadow Secretary of State again shouts “Negotiate” from a sedentary position, but he knows that we have an independent pay review body, process and mechanism. It is important that we respect that.

We simply cannot afford to lose any more nurses and valued NHS staff. We already have huge workforce shortages—40,000 nurses resigned last year and there are more than 130,000 vacancies across the NHS—so cancelling Christmas for members of the armed forces will not fix these problems. Will the Minister explain how paying nurses insufficiently and drafting in military personnel over Christmas serves to attract new recruits to the NHS and the armed forces?

That is a bizarre question, because the only reason we have to put in a MACA—military aid to civil authorities—request is that the unions have called strike action over Christmas. As the hon. Member asks about recruitment and retention, let me cover off that issue. As I have set out, we are committed to publishing a comprehensive workforce strategy, which will be independently verified; we have set out new pension flexibilities; we have already recruited about 29,000 more nurses and are on track to meet our 50,000 target; and we plan to boost international recruitment. However, I hope that the hon. Member agrees—in the interests not only of our armed forces, many of whom will have to cancel their Christmas leave, but of patient safety—that we do not want industrial action to take place. I urge the unions to meet us to discuss a way forward.

I find it regrettable, as I think most people do, that Opposition Members continue to use the NHS as a political football. This is about the care of patients, and if Opposition Members do not think that Government Members care about patients, they are living in another world. My hon. Friend is doing a great job. We all accept—even the shadow Secretary of State does—that the NHS needs a radical reform. Surely it is time for an independent body to look at that argument and make the NHS run far more efficiently.

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. We are constantly looking at how we can improve productivity and increase efficiency in the NHS. We have an acute issue not just with winter, but with proposed strike action. The shadow Secretary of State mentioned that the NHS needs reform, and we are undertaking that. Will further reform need to be undertaken? Yes, and if my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) has particular ideas, I am very happy to meet him to discuss those further.

During the dark days of covid, it was the NHS that gave us hope, not Ministers partying in Downing Street. The Tories now seek to demonise the very NHS staff that we clapped from our doorsteps, because they have voted to strike. They are overworked, underpaid, without a proper workforce plan, concerned about the security and safety of patients, and forced to use food banks. Do our NHS staff not deserve at least a face-to-face meeting on pay negotiations with the Government?

I do not know where the hon. Lady got the impression that I or anybody else was demonising NHS staff—far from it. The unions have chosen to bring forward this action. As I said, I hugely value and appreciate all NHS staff. That is why we have given them a pay rise this year, on top of the 3% pay award last year, when pay across the wider public sector was frozen.

I think the Minister knows that there is no clinician in the land who really wants to go on strike. Many clinicians feel that the crisis has been coming for a long time because of the issues around morale and lack of workforce, which I have asked the Minister about on many occasions. He keeps saying that the workforce plan is imminent, but that will not solve the immediate problems.

One nurse said to me the other day that what worries her most is that at any one time, several hundred thousand people in the country are waiting for their test results, particularly in relation to cancer. How will the Minister ensure that people get their cancer results in time to meet all the other cancer plan deadlines?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question; I know that he has a particular interest in the matter. We are looking to ensure that as many NHS services as possible continue during strike days. On his broader point about pay settlements, the average pay settlements in the private sector are within the range of 4% to 6%.

Within the private sector it is 4% to 6%. The uplifts strike a careful balance in recognising the huge importance of public sector workers while minimising inflationary pressures and, of course, having an eye on managing the country’s debt.

The Minister challenged back on who had the power to avert these strikes. Let me reiterate what my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) said: trade unions have been clear that strikes can be averted if Ministers initiate face-to-face pay negotiations. So far, they have completely failed to do so. The power to stop these strikes lies squarely with the Secretary of State. How can the Government justify refusing to even talk?

We have already been clear that we would be very happy to meet the unions, and I understand that a meeting is being organised, but let me reiterate the point about what exactly the Royal College of Nursing is asking for: an uplift that is 5% above RPI inflation. Uplifting pay for all staff—this is based on 19.2%, within the agenda for change—would cost approximately an additional £10 billion. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) talked about things like test results; the £10 billion that we would spend on such an uplift is £10 billion that would come out of the NHS budget. That is £10 billion that we would not be able to spend on hugely important issues such as tackling the elective backlog.

I was on the picket line with NHS staff in Newtownards in my constituency this morning. I do not expect to be reprimanded for that, by the way—I am quite sure I will be okay.

I want to ask the Minister a positive, constructive question. All the men and women want who were on the picket line at Ards Community Hospital in Newtownards this morning is a wage that helps them to survive. The women and men I talked to this morning are not surviving; they are visiting food banks. It is not just the nurses: it is the porters, it is the ward staff, it is everyone. Will the Minister and the Government go just that wee bit further to get a settlement?

I understand why the hon. Gentleman is asking that question, and I am sorry to sound like a broken record, but we accepted the independent pay review body’s recommendations in full. As a result, more than 1 million NHS workers were given a pay rise of at least £1,400. For newly qualified nurses, it was a 5.5% increase. Those on the lowest salaries, whom the hon. Gentleman referred to, are seeing a pay rise of up to 9.3%. Again, that is on top of 3% last year, when public sector pay was frozen.

Nobody wants to see industrial action go ahead. My message to the unions is “It’s good to talk—let’s talk. I know the meeting is being set up. Let’s do all we possibly can to avoid industrial action this winter.”

British Council Contractors: Afghanistan

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs if he will make a statement on British Council contractors in Afghanistan.

The Minister who is responsible for Afghanistan—the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Leo Docherty)—is travelling. I am a poor substitute, but I am most grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) for raising this very important matter.

During Operation Pitting, nearly all British Council staff and some contractors were evacuated and offered resettlement through the Afghan relocations and assistance policy. Some British Council contractors, plus dependants, remain in Afghanistan and are eligible for consideration for resettlement under the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme. The scheme will see up to 20,000 people from Afghanistan and the region resettled in to the United Kingdom. It provides a safe and legal route for some of those affected by events in Afghanistan to come to the United Kingdom and rebuild their lives.

The first year of ACRS pathway 3 is focused on eligible at-risk British Council and GardaWorld contractors, as well as Chevening alumni, honouring the commitments made by the Government to those three groups. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office opened an online process on 20 June this year to seek expressions of interest in resettlement from those groups. They have played a key role in supporting the UK mission in Afghanistan, and it is right that we are honouring the commitments made during the evacuation to support those at risk. Up to 1,500 people from Afghanistan and the region will be referred for resettlement in the UK in the first year of pathway 3, including eligible family members.

The FCDO received more than 11,400 expressions of interest, which are being assessed in terms of eligibility. People are being notified of the outcome, and we are sending names to the Home Office for security checks. Once the checks have been completed, we will provide advice on the next steps for those who are being referred for a place on the ACRS. It remains a priority to honour the commitment made to eligible at-risk British Council contractors, and to offer a route for resettlement in the UK under the scheme. I want to thank the council for its excellent co-operation with the FCDO to date, as we work together to resettle eligible contractors under pathway 3.

We are doing everything we can to bring the first British Council and other arrivals under pathway 3 to the United Kingdom as soon as possible, where we will help them to rebuild their lives. Anyone who is eligible and resettled through the ACRS will receive indefinite leave to remain in the UK, and, under existing rules, will be able to apply for British citizenship after five years in the UK. This is one of the most ambitious resettlement schemes in our country’s history, and we are proud to offer a safe and legal route to those affected by events in Afghanistan.

Thank you for granting the urgent question, Mr Speaker. Let me start by both welcoming the Foreign Secretary’s speech on foreign policy this morning, which called for a long-term, resilient approach that will build the long-term, trusting relationships that this country needs for the future, and underlining the fact that that is precisely the purpose of the British Council, which has been building connections for this country throughout the world, quietly, consistently and effectively, since the 1930s. I hope that the Minister sees, as I do, the key role that the British Council can play in helping to achieve those objectives.

I make no apologies for asking this urgent question, because people’s lives are at risk. I went through the regular channels a year ago, and was told that progress was being made, which is more or less what the Minister has just said. I raised it again in October/November, but there has been no response. The progress has not been made.

For more than 16 months since Operation Pitting and the fall of Kabul, about 200 British Council contractors and their families have been stuck in Afghanistan. As has recently been highlighted in the media, many of them are in hiding and in fear of their lives, unable to seek medical advice when it is necessary for themselves and their families, and family members have died as a consequence. As the Minister said, British Council contractors are eligible under ACRS pathway 3, but those 200 or so contractors remain stuck in Afghanistan because of a blockage of red tape here in the UK. Until that blockage is cleared they will remain in danger, possibly for a second Afghan winter. Since its launch in January, the scheme has not repatriated a single person from Afghanistan: I have received confirmation of that from the British Council. In July and August, an application window closed for the contractors to submit expressions of interest. British Council employees worked at pace with the FCDO to identify those who had actually worked with them, yet there has still been no progress whatsoever. Having used all the regular channels, I would now like to ask the Minister to do all he can before Christmas to clear these blockages and get these contractors back to the UK.

I thank my hon. Friend for what he has said. He eloquently extols the brilliance of the British Council. I had some responsibility for it 10 years ago, and I know very well that what he says about it is entirely correct. He is quite right about the eligibility, and we very much understand the urgency to which he refers. This particular pathway process started on 20 June and remained open for eight weeks. The Foreign Office has looked at every single one of the applicants, and the process is moving through. I would just say that, although it is taking a lot of time, it is right that officials should look carefully at each and every one of those cases. There is a balance to be struck, but I will ensure that my hon. Friend’s words and concerns are reflected across Government as a result of this urgent question.

I again thank the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) for securing this urgent question. He has been a great champion of the British Council in this place. We know that hundreds of British Council contractors are still stranded in Afghanistan following this Government’s botched evacuation from Kabul. Earlier this year, the Minister told the House that the Government were “supporting those in need” and that 50 British Council contractors had been evacuated. However, a recent report in The Guardian indicated that, as the hon. Gentleman said, the Government had not granted a single ACRS application since the programme was opened—not one. Furthermore, fewer than 10 staff are currently working on the scheme at the FCDO.

I am contacted frequently by British Council contractors who are suffering terribly, and I would be grateful if the Minister would allow me to raise these cases with him privately. Many of those that are still in Afghanistan are former security guards who protected British staff at the embassy, and they undertook an extremely difficult task during the evacuation in August last year. We owe so much to those courageous British Council contractors, and the fact that they are still in Afghanistan and facing daily violence and threats as a result of their co-operation with the UK is nothing short of a disgrace.

The last time I put these questions to the Government, answers were not forthcoming, so I am hopeful that this time I might be able to get some clarity. Can the Minister tell us how many former British Council contractors are still stuck in Afghanistan, what measures are being put in place to evacuate the rest of the British Council contractors still stranded in Afghanistan and what engagement he has had with regional partners to facilitate safe passage for British Council staff who attempt to leave? And message does it send to other British Council contractors who work in challenging environments around the world if the UK Government will leave these contractors stranded in this way?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments, and he is quite right to express deep concern about those who are caught in this way. He asks me whether he may raise cases privately with me, and of course the answer is yes. I will make arrangements for those meetings to take place straight after this urgent question is over. He asks a number of questions, and if I do not answer them fully, I will ensure that we write to him. He is right to say that we keep in very good contact with regional partners in countries to try to advance this issue. This particular stream only opened in June this year. The Foreign Office has processed and is informing something in the region of 200 of those who are eligible in principle, and if the dependants are added to that, it is something like 750. So those are proceeding, and it is of course up to the Home Office to procure the necessary security clearance prior to them securing entry clearance. So, the process is going on, but I fully accept his frustration—it is a frustration we all share in this matter—and as I say, perhaps we can proceed with a private meeting, as he has requested.

Is there not a fundamental problem with talking about safe and legal routes for people who, if they expose themselves to the Taliban, are at risk because of that very fact? Last Thursday evening, I was at the Last Supper gallery to attend a photographic exhibition organised by the Sulha Alliance on behalf of Afghan interpreters, several of whom were there, including one who had been shot and another whose brother had not got out and had been murdered. The photographer, Andy Barnham, felt it necessary to anonymise the photographs because of the risks of identification. Do the Government not have to come up with a better idea for how to extract people who are at risk as a result of helping us, without them having to declare themselves openly and thus put themselves in more peril?

My right hon. Friend, with great eloquence, makes a most important point. There are various ways in which we can deal with this, and which it would not be sensible to talk about on the Floor of the House. He makes one of the big difficulties very clear. If it would be helpful, I am happy to discuss this with him.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) on securing this important urgent question. It is morally indefensible that, more than a year after the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, there are still innocent Afghans who worked for the British Government and military who have received zero support from this Government and the Home Office. It is not acceptable to use terms such as “something like.” Exactly how many former British Council staff, including support staff, are still living in Afghanistan in fear of their lives and livelihoods? When the Government say they have brought 6,300 Afghans to “safety,” what exactly does that mean? How many of them are former British Council employees?

The Taliban’s so-called kill list is an active threat. Do the Government know how many of their former employees are on that list? Finally, it is appropriate that 540 staff are working on the Ukraine schemes but, if the Government are taking Afghanistan as seriously as they are supposed to be, why do the figures show a maximum of eight people working on the Afghan schemes?

The frustration expressed by the hon. Gentleman is shared by many of us. It is not possible to quantify the figures in precisely the way he requests, but I will ensure that we write to him with the closest possible approximation.

On 20 January 2022 there was an urgent question on British Council staff, at which I told the then Minister of State for Asia, the right hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling), that

“many of us have thousands of constituents—in my case, up to 150—who have relatives and friends who have worked for the British in Afghanistan and who are in terrible need of resettlement to this country. The ARAP scheme and the ACRS have done very little to bring many, if any, of my constituents’ relatives and friends away from the horror going on in Afghanistan.”

The Minister pointed out that the ACRS was open and

“will prioritise those who have assisted the UK efforts in Afghanistan and those who have stood up for values such as democracy, women’s rights, freedom of speech and the rule of law, as well as vulnerable people, including women and girls who are at risk and members of minority groups who are at risk.”—[Official Report, 20 January 2022; Vol. 707, c. 505-6.]

We have seen that pathway 3 was open not from January but from June. Six months later, not one person has been settled in this country.

The hon. Gentleman conflates the ARAP scheme with the ACRS. The prioritisation is precisely as my right hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling) set out. The pipeline is proceeding, and pathway 3 started in June and was open for eight weeks. The process is moving from the Foreign Office to the Home Office, and officials are handling these matters as fast as they can. It is very frustrating for all of us, but that is what is happening and we will get there.

The Minister knows that this Government have legislated to make it illegal for anyone seeking asylum to enter this country by any means apart from safe and legal routes. Indeed, the entire moral basis—such as it is—for the claim that this Government are meeting our international asylum obligations rests on safe and legal routes. Given that, how can the Minister speak of pride in a safe route that is so manifestly and entirely failing? It is failing those who are at risk of persecution for promoting British values through the British Council. What does he suggest they do?

There may or may not be validity in the political debate on safe and legal routes that the hon. Lady raises, but in this particular respect there is a safe and legal route. That is one we are expediting.

I disagree with the Minister that he is a poor replacement for his colleague at the Dispatch Box—I think he would bring a compassionate, informed and patriotic approach to this portfolio, if it were his. Perhaps he can explain why, instead of sending millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to Rwanda with nothing to show for it, the Government do not spend just a fraction of that money on expediting the safe evacuation of those who risked their lives to host and protect UK service personnel and civilians in Afghanistan.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. He is a distinguished soldier and brings that knowledge to the House. He has rightly championed Britain’s responsibilities in this matter. The Government are trying both to advance through our strong partnership with Rwanda and to meet the other objectives he has set out. I commend to him the Government’s approach in both respects.

The Minister is well known for his compassion and understanding of these issues in this House. I say that in all honesty; he knows it and everyone else knows it. How many people have begun the ACRS scheme, have been given their reference number and are on stand-by, and yet have heard nothing over the last year that the scheme has been operating? How can he change the message sent to those we asked to help us, because we made promises and then appeared to abandon them when our aims were met? It is very sad.

The hon. Gentleman is quite right to point out Britain’s responsibility in this matter. We are, I think, meeting that responsibility. As I mentioned to him, if we look at those processed by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and their dependents, who are equally eligible to come under this pathway, we get up to something like 750 who have been initially processed. That now moves to the Home Office. He will understand that that is nearly half of those who would be expected to arrive under this pathway. We must do better and we are doing everything we can to make sure that we do.

Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill: Programme (No. 3)


That the Order of 6 September 2022 (Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill: Programme), as varied by the Order of 22 September 2022 (Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill: Programme (No. 2)), be further varied as follows:

(1) Paragraphs (4) and (5) of the Order shall be omitted.

(2) Proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion two hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.

(3) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.—(Joy Morrissey)

Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill

Consideration of Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee.

[Relevant documents: Third Report of the Welsh Affairs Committee of Session 2021-22, Implications of the UK-Australia FTA for Wales, HC 481, and the Government Response, HC 895; e-petition 554372, Establish free movement and trade agreements with Canada, Australia and New Zealand.]

New Clause 1

Impact Assessment

“The Secretary of State must publish an assessment of the impact of the implementation of the procurement Chapters within twelve months of the coming into force of Regulations made under section 1 of this Act and every three years thereafter.”—(Gareth Thomas.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 2—Assessment of impact on farmers—

“At least three months, but not later than six months, after the coming into force of the government procurement Chapter of—

(1) the UK-Australia FTA, and

(2) the UK-New Zealand FTA,

a Minister of the Crown must lay before Parliament an assessment of the impact of the Chapter on farmers in—

(a) each region of England

(b) Scotland

(c) Wales, and

(d) Northern Ireland.”

New clause 3—Impact assessment: equality and human rights—

“The Secretary of State must publish an assessment of the impact of the implementation of the procurement Chapters on equality and human rights within three years of the coming into force of Regulations made under section 1 of this Act and every three years thereafter.”

New clause 4—Impact assessment (No. 2)—

“(1) The Secretary of State must publish an assessment of the impact of the implementation of the procurement Chapters within five years of the coming into force of Regulations made under section 1 of this Act and every five years thereafter.

(2) The impact assessment under subsection (1) must present an analysis of—

(a) the impact on each of the four nations of the United Kingdom; and

(b) social, economic and environmental impacts.”

New clause 5—Assessment of impact on hill farmers and crofters in Scotland—

“(1) The Secretary of State must publish an assessment of the impact of the implementation of the procurement Chapters on hill farmers and crofters in Scotland within six months of the coming into force of Regulations made under section 1 and every six months thereafter.

(2) The impact assessment under subsection (1) must be laid before both Houses of Parliament and before the Scottish Parliament.”

New clause 6—Assessment of impact on Geographical Indications in the United Kingdom—

“The Secretary of State must publish an assessment of the impact of the implementation of the procurement Chapters on the operation of Geographical Indications in the United Kingdom within two years of the coming into force of Regulations made under section 1 of this Act.”

New clause 7—Impact assessment: British farmers—

“(1) The Secretary of State must publish an assessment of the impact of the implementation of the procurement Chapters on—

(a) livestock farmers,

(b) arable farmers,

(c) upland farmers,

(d) tenant farmers, and

(e) family farmers.

(2) The impact assessment under subsection (1) must be published within six months of the date of Royal Assent to this Act.”

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to report on the impact of the procurement Chapters on British farmers.

New clause 8—Impact assessment: environmental standards etc—

“(1) The Secretary of State must publish an assessment of the impact of the implementation of the procurement Chapters on—

(a) environmental standards,

(b) food standards,

(c) animal welfare standards, and

(d) biodiversity.

(2) The impact assessment under subsection (1) must be published within six months of the date of Royal Assent to this Act.”

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to report on the impact of the procurement Chapters on environmental, food and animal welfare standards, and biodiversity.

New clause 9—Review of effect on small businesses—

“(1) Within six months of the passage of this Act, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament an assessment of the impact of the implementation of the procurement Chapters on small businesses.

(2) The assessment must consider in particular the impact of those Chapters on the ability of small businesses—

(a) to import goods,

(b) to export goods,

(c) to employ staff, and

(d) to remain solvent.

(3) In this section, “small businesses” means any business which has average headcount of staff of less than 50 in the tax year 2022-23.”

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to report on the impact of the procurement Chapters on small businesses.

New clause 10—Impact assessment: National Health Service—

“The Secretary of State must publish an assessment of the impact of the implementation of the procurement Chapters on the National Health Service within three years of the date of Royal Assent to this Act.”

New clause 11—Review of negotiation of procurement Chapters—

“Within one year of the date of Royal Assent to this Act, the Secretary of State must publish—

(a) a review of the lessons learned from the negotiation of the procurement Chapters, and

(b) an assessment of how this experience might inform negotiations of future free trade agreements.”

New clause 12—Super-affirmative procedure—

“(1) This section applies where an instrument is, or, as the case may be, regulations are, subject to the super-affirmative procedure.

(2) A draft of the instrument or regulations must be laid before the relevant institution.

(3) The appropriate authority must have regard to—

(a) any representations,

(b) any resolution of the relevant institution, and

(c) any recommendations of a committee of the relevant institution charged with reporting on the draft,

made during the 60-day period with regard to the draft.

(4) If after the expiry of the 60-day period the instrument is or, as the case may be, regulations are approved by a resolution of the relevant institution, the appropriate authority may make an instrument or statutory rule in the terms of the draft.

(5) If after the expiry of the 60-day period the appropriate authority wishes to proceed with the draft but with material changes, the authority may lay before the relevant institution—

(a) a revised draft, and

(b) a statement giving a summary of the changes proposed.

(6) If the revised draft is approved by a resolution of the relevant institution, the appropriate authority may make an instrument or, as the case may be, statutory rule in the terms of the revised draft.

(7) For the purposes of this section an instrument or statutory rule is made in the terms of a draft if it contains no material changes to its provisions.

(8) In this section, references to the “60-day” period in relation to any draft are to the period of 60 days beginning with the day on which the draft was laid before the relevant institution.

(9) For the purposes of subsection (8) no account is to be taken of any time during which—

(a) if the relevant institution is the Scottish Parliament, Senedd Cymru or the Northern Ireland Assembly, that institution is dissolved or is in recess for more than four days;

(b) if the relevant institution is both Houses of Parliament, Parliament is dissolved or prorogued, or either House of Parliament is adjourned for more than four days.

(10) In this section, “relevant institution” means—

(a) in the case of an instrument to be made by a Minister of the Crown—

(i) for the purposes of subsections (2), (5) and (8), both Houses of Parliament,

(ii) for the purposes of subsection (3), either House of Parliament,

(iii) for the purposes of subsections (4) and (6), each House of Parliament

(b) in the case of an instrument to be made by Scottish Ministers, the Scottish Parliament;

(c) in the case of an instrument to be made by Welsh Ministers, Senedd Cymru;

(d) in the case of regulations to be made by a Northern Ireland department, the Northern Ireland Assembly;

(e) in the case of an instrument to be made by appropriate authorities acting jointly—

(i) for the purposes of subsections (2), (5) and (8), both Houses of Parliament,

(ii) for the purposes of subsection (3), either House of Parliament,

(iii) for the purposes of subsections (4) and (6), each House of Parliament

and, as the case may be, the Scottish Parliament, Senedd Cymru or the Northern Ireland Assembly.”

New clause 13—Impact assessment: climate change—

“The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament an assessment of the impact of the implementation of the procurement Chapters on tackling climate change, not less than two years, but not more than three years, after the passage of this Act.”

New clause 14—Impact assessment: labour rights—

“The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament an assessment of the impact of the implementation of the procurement Chapters on labour rights, not less than two years, but not more than three years, after the passage of this Act.”

New clause 15—Welsh sectoral impact assessment—

“The Secretary of State must publish an assessment of the impact of the procurement Chapters on each economic sector in Wales within twelve months of the coming into force of regulations made under section 1 and every 12 months thereafter.”

This new clause would require the UK Government to publish Wales-specific impact assessments which include an assessment of the impacts on specific sectors.

Amendment 1, in clause 1, page 1, line 15, at end insert—

“(3A) Regulations under subsection (1) may not be made before completion of such public consultation as the appropriate authority considers appropriate with the relevant—

(a) Scottish ministers

(b) Welsh ministers,

(c) department of the Northern Ireland Executive, and

(d) representatives of the English Regions.”

Amendment 2, page 1, line 15, at end insert—

“(3A) Where the appropriate authority is a Minister of the Crown, regulations under subsection (1) may not be made until the appropriate authority has consulted the relevant Scottish ministers in relation to any matters affecting farming in Scotland.”

Amendment 3, page 1, line 15, at end insert—

“(3A) Where the appropriate authority is a Minister of the Crown, regulations under subsection (1) may not be made until the appropriate authority has consulted the relevant Scottish ministers in relation to any matters affecting Scotland.”

Amendment 4, page 1, line 15, at end insert—

“(3A) Regulations under subsection (1) may not come into force before the date on which the procurement Chapters come into force.”

Amendment 5, in clause 4, page 3, line 5, at end insert—

“(4) This Act expires on 31 December 2027.”

Amendment 6, in schedule 2, page 9, line 5, leave out from “to” to end of line 6 and insert “the super-affirmative procedure”.

Amendment 7, page 9, line 8, leave out from “to” to the end of line 9 and insert “the super-affirmative procedure”.

Amendment 17, page 9, line 8, leave out from first “the” to the end of line 9 and insert “affirmative procedure (see section 29 of the Interpretation and Legislative Reform (Scotland) Act 2010).”

Amendment 8, page 9, line 11, leave out from “to” to end of line 12 and insert “the super-affirmative procedure”.

Amendment 9, page 9, line 14, leave out from “to ” to end of line 16 and insert “the super-affirmative procedure”.

Amendment 10, page 9, line 20, leave out sub-paragraph (2).

Amendment 11, page 9, line 25, leave out from “to” to end of line 26 and insert “the super-affirmative procedure”.

Amendment 12, page 9, line 28, leave out “negative” and insert “super-affirmative”.

Amendment 13, page 9, line 29, leave out sub-paragraph (5).

Amendment 14, page 10, line 2, leave out from “to” to end of line 3 and insert “the super-affirmative procedure”.

Amendment 15, page 10, line 5, leave out from “to ” to end of line 7 and insert “the super-affirmative procedure”.

Amendment 16, page 10, line 8, leave out sub-paragraphs (9) to (13).

We made it clear on Second Reading that we want real and meaningful increases in trade, particularly with two of this country’s greatest friends and allies, Australia and New Zealand—both led so ably by progressive Labour Administrations. We therefore made it clear that we would not oppose the Bill. After all, trade is fundamental to this country; it is part of what being British means and it will be a vital weapon in our armoury to tackle the economic crisis that this country faces, which the incompetence of the governing party has so greatly deepened.

We also made it clear, as others have done on both sides of the House, that there are significant concerns about the consequences of the slapdash way in which these deals, especially the Australia deal, were negotiated by Ministers. I am told that Canada is already using the precedent of the Australia deal to press for similar access for its farmers. These amendments are needed to mitigate some of the impact of those mistakes that Ministers made to try to make the best of a bad job.

I am afraid that in Committee there was little attempt to acknowledge, or indeed apologise for, those failings. Nothing since suggests that Minis