Topical Questions

Defence – in the House of Commons am ar 20 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Ceidwadwyr, Kettering

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Photo of Grant Shapps Grant Shapps The Secretary of State for Defence

We are very mindful of the situation in Ukraine, particularly in Kharkiv where Russia is making, or trying to make, inroads. This is an existential battle for all civilised countries that believe in democracy and freedom, and it is the case that we must ensure that the world continues to keep up the efforts. It is not right for there to be pauses in our support and, when there are, the sort of losses we have seen on—I hope and believe—a temporary basis in Kharkiv around the villages to the north are an inevitable consequence of inaction.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Ceidwadwyr, Kettering

Lieutenant General Pavliuk, Ukraine’s commander of ground forces, recently confirmed that medium and short-range strike drones now kill more soldiers on both sides of the conflict than any other weapon. Is that not both a grim milestone in the history of warfare and the strongest possible signal that His Majesty’s armed forces must master that developing technology if they are to preserve and enhance their combat effectiveness?

Photo of Grant Shapps Grant Shapps The Secretary of State for Defence

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is one reason why this country has been at the forefront of providing drones. Indeed, we have made an enormous £325 million contribution to the drones coalition and provided 4,000 drones in the latest package, and there is a lot more to come for Ukraine. This bloody war is now killing, or causing casualties to, up to 1,000 Russians a day, and it needs to come to a stop.

Photo of John Healey John Healey Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

The Government’s increase in military aid to Ukraine for this year and the years ahead has Labour’s fullest support. Weekend newspapers reported that D-day celebrations are at risk from RAF cuts, and the latest MOD figures confirm that nearly 50,000 full-time forces personnel have been cut since 2010. The Defence Secretary’s predecessor, Mr Wallace, admitted that this Government have “hollowed out and underfunded” the forces. He is right, isn’t he?

Photo of Grant Shapps Grant Shapps The Secretary of State for Defence

I very much appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s support for the ongoing support to Ukraine of £3 billion a year. I gently say to him that it is not possible to provide that support without a route to getting there, with the 2.5%; otherwise, it will come out of the rest of the budget. I, too, read the story over the weekend, and it is simply not the case. We will have, in fact, 181 parachuters—exactly the same number as those who jumped in that location on D-day.

Photo of John Healey John Healey Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

We will also raise defence spending to 2.5% of GDP to meet increasing threats, but this is not the magic wand that will fix 14 years of Tory failure: the Army, cut; the Navy, cut; the RAF, cut. Even defence spending—at 2.5% under Labour in 2010—has been cut by £80 billion since. Is it not clear that the armed forces cannot afford another five years of Conservative Government?

Photo of Grant Shapps Grant Shapps The Secretary of State for Defence

The armed forces cannot afford a Labour Government if Labour cannot answer one simple question: when?

Photo of Paul Howell Paul Howell Ceidwadwyr, Sedgefield

I and other colleagues, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) and the hon. Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden), would like to follow up on the Minister’s comments to the House in March regarding the tragic sinking of RFA Sir Galahad in the Falklands war? Does the Minister have any update on the release of further files regarding that case?

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

Following meetings with colleagues and veterans, having personally reviewed the files at the National Archives, and in the interests of transparency, I am placing copies of two recently reviewed extracts from the 1982 board of inquiry report on the loss of RFA Sir Galahad in the Library of the House. Those extracts are drawn from different sections of the inquiry and have been returned to the National Archives within the main report, which will be publicly available.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Llafur, Easington

Yesterday, hundreds of RMT members at the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service took industrial action over their pay, which has fallen behind by 36% in real terms, allowing for inflation, since 2010. Earlier, the Minister for Armed Forces commended RFA crews for the work they are doing, particularly off the coast of Gaza. Will the Minister for Defence People and Families agree to meet RMT officials to ensure that RFA seafarers are paid fairly for the vital work they do supporting the Royal Navy?

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

As the grandson of an RFA officer, I defer to nobody in my admiration for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. I commend the RFA for maintaining its operational commitments, in particular in relation to Gaza. Clearly, we listen to what Nautilus has to say with a great deal of interest and I hope the dispute will be ended as soon as possible.

Photo of Virginia Crosbie Virginia Crosbie Ceidwadwyr, Ynys Môn

RAF Valley is the largest employer of skilled workers on Ynys Môn. The UK Government have cemented their commitment to RAF Valley with £175 million for a new flying school, £600 million for Hawk engineering support and £44 million to improve the second runway. What assurance can the Minister give to engineers and those who work on the Hawk T2 maintenance contract that there will be well paid, local jobs for them post-2040?

Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I very much enjoyed my visit to RAF Valley in February. I can confirm that the RAF has already started its standard capability investigation process into the future of combat aircrew training. The comprehensive review will include the procurement of the replacement of the current advanced jet trainer capability. The investigation will consider options for aircraft, simulators and associated combined live and virtual training, such that we can continue to deliver world-class training capability for UK armed forces. It will provide evidence on likely cost and timing of the replacement training solution to the Hawk T2.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

I am sorry, Mr Speaker, I was thinking of an even better question—

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

Indeed.

As you know, Mr Speaker, my family comes from a military background, although I am not a military expert. Time and again, my constituents say they have heard about a shortage of shells, ammunition and others things that we cannot supply to the Ukrainians. What is the hold-up? Why are we not working 24/7 to produce the tools that our Ukrainian allies want?

Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

The hon. Gentleman asks about the supply of shells. I am delighted to tell to him that we previously confirmed the provision of 300,000 artillery shells to Ukraine. The latest figure is that this country has procured 400,000 artillery shells directly into Ukraine.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Ceidwadwyr, Rayleigh and Wickford

That is a smart tie you are wearing, Mr Speaker.

How can it be that despite spending billions of pounds on 22 A400M aircraft, we have only one available for D-Day 80? If there are more, let us hear about it. Why did we retire a highly reliable aircraft in the Hercules, for a highly unreliable one in the A400M? Have we sold the Hercules aircraft? If we have not, can we put them back in service?

Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

As the Secretary of State confirmed, we will have two A400M aircraft available for D-Day 80 on 5 June. The number of people who will be dropped will be 181, for the very good reason that that is the number of paratroopers who, at sixteen minutes past midnight on D-Day itself, landed and took the bridge that we named Pegasus.

Photo of Alistair Strathern Alistair Strathern Llafur, Mid Bedfordshire

In my Westminster Hall debate last year, the Minister for Defence Procurement announced plans to close the Chicksands base in my constituency, and pledged to write with further detail. I am yet to hear more from the Minister, but my constituents are, understandably, becoming deeply concerned. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the issue further and what more we can do in the meantime to address the shocking state of accommodation on the base?

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Ceidwadwyr, Harrow East

I warmly welcome the Government’s commitment to spend 2.5% of GDP on defence spending, but after we have won the next general election, growth will come to the economy and there will be much more money to be spent on defence? How would my right hon. Friends spend that money in the defence of the realm?

Photo of Grant Shapps Grant Shapps The Secretary of State for Defence

My hon. Friend is right to point that out, because some assumptions have been a little misplaced in this House until now. We will ensure that we can do a whole range of things that will help to make this country stronger and more secure. On that, he has my word.

Photo of Jessica Morden Jessica Morden Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee), Shadow Minister (Wales)

I thank the Minister for Defence People and Families on behalf of Falklands veterans and their families, including Mike Hermanis, who brought the issue to me, for releasing the documents relating to the bombing of the Sir Galahad in 1982, which exonerate the Welsh Guards. I know that the campaign, which includes my hon. Friend Stephen Doughty, will continue to seek the full truth, but does the Minister agree that instead of being blamed the Welsh Guards are owed our thanks for their service?

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

I agree with the hon. Lady. As the Government have made clear consistently throughout, no blame is attached in particular to the Welsh Guards. They committed themselves heroically on that day, and I join her in saluting them, in particular those who died.

Photo of Miriam Cates Miriam Cates Ceidwadwyr, Penistone and Stocksbridge

It is of huge strategic interest to Britain and the west that Israel prevails against Hamas and their funders in Iran. The Foreign Secretary was right to state last week that ending military exports to Israel would embolden Hamas and Iran. Does my hon. Friend agree that such a move would both harm UK defence interests and disadvantage our own armed forces, who rely on Israeli-made battlefield equipment?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Minister for the Armed Forces)

My hon. Friend is correct in her analysis. We are particularly focused on ensuring that our assets in the region contribute to the release of the hostages.

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe)

What is the policy of His Majesty’s Government on defence deals and arms sales to countries whose head of armed forces is under arrest warrant for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity?

Photo of Grant Shapps Grant Shapps The Secretary of State for Defence

As the Minister for Armed Forces pointed out, the licensing regime is entirely independent of that. We support the country. We support the only democracy in that part of the world. We do not support the individuals in that Government; we support the country itself.

Photo of Suella Braverman Suella Braverman Ceidwadwyr, Fareham

In Fareham, we are rightly proud of our world-class aircraft carriers docked in nearby Portsmouth, providing thousands of jobs and being a huge credit to our Royal Navy. However, we all know that neither the Queen Elizabeth nor the Prince of Wales has as many jets, small warships or submarines as originally planned. Will the Minister please tell me how further defence spending will be used to bring online the full complement of F-35 jets, for example, so that our carrier strike group has the full capability to meet the modern threats of today?

Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My right hon. and learned Friend asks an excellent question. She is right about the importance of the carrier strike group. On the key point about the F-35s, we have confirmed 48 aircraft by 2025 and a further 27 by 2033, but in addition to that it is about working with our allies so that our carriers are at the heart of NATO operations, and ensuring that we have the maintenance and crews in place. As we saw recently, when we needed to get the second ship active, she was ready in eight days. That was a phenomenal achievement. It shows how effective we are at getting our carriers in place when we need them.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (Justice)

The Minister for Veterans’ Affairs promised last year to end veterans homelessness by the end of that year. Instead, veterans homelessness rose by 14%. Are Ministers proud that their Government are failing to deliver on their promise to their veterans?

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

I say to the hon. Lady, who has been consistent in that line of questioning, that one person homeless is one person too many. It is important to emphasise that most people leave the armed forces in a very good position, with skills that will advance their careers in civilian life. I do not want her giving the impression that people are damaged as a result of the service that they have given; the very reverse of that is the case. We will of course continue to support veterans, charities and initiatives to ensure that, particularly in places such as naval base port areas and garrison towns, we house everybody who needs accommodation.

Photo of James Sunderland James Sunderland Chair, Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill

Britain’s world-leading motor sports industry is worth at least £10 billion annually to the UK economy. The sport’s governing body, Motorsport UK, has proudly sponsored access to military venues for many years, but despite recently signing the armed forces covenant, that access appears to be diminishing. Will the Minister please agree to meet me, and perhaps the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, to discuss better third-party revenue-generating opportunities for the MOD estate?

Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I would of course be delighted to meet my hon. Friend. On the subject of motorsport, I stress to him and the House that the MOD has a brilliant partnership with McLaren, jointly innovating to look at, for example, technology relating to electronic vehicles. I am more than happy to meet him and look into the matter further.

Photo of Sarah Dyke Sarah Dyke Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Somerton and Frome

A constituent of mine who rents his home from the Ministry of Defence has recently been given notice to quit within two months, without any reason. He has never missed any rent payments and he has been unable to contact his landlord with a query on the instruction. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the situation?

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

I am very happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss that; I have seen several cases of people having to leave their service accommodation. In general, the DIO and the Ministry of Defence will ensure that people have more than the minimum allowed by legislation, and we bend over backwards to ensure that people leaving service accommodation have somewhere to go to.

Photo of Jack Lopresti Jack Lopresti Ceidwadwyr, Filton and Bradley Stoke

My hon. Friend will appreciate the huge importance of what the UK defence industry is doing to help Ukraine get the equipment it needs. Can he update the House on what his Department is doing to increase the amount of ammunition getting to the front line in Ukraine?

Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My hon. Friend, who has Defence Equipment & Support in his constituency, has been a consistent champion of supporting Ukraine and he comes to every questions session to make that point. We are working hard to get more munitions in there; I mentioned 400,000 artillery shells, but I could list an enormous amount of ordnance. I can tell him and the House that we are not just doing everything possible ourselves, but cohering our allies and learning the lessons for our own armed forces. We have to be in this for the long haul, and the fight for Ukraine’s freedom is the right one.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Ceidwadwyr, Rayleigh and Wickford

On a point of order, Mr Speaker, I think my hon. Friend the Minister for Defence Procurement may have—inadvertently, I am sure—just misled the House of Commons. Pegasus bridge was captured in a glider-borne assault by the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, not a parachute assault. I know that because I was at the D-day 70 with the then Prime Minister David Cameron at 12.16 am to commemorate the assault. I am sure it was an error by my hon. Friend; no one will want to believe that an MOD Minister tried to change the history of D-day because the aircraft did not work.