British Armed Forces: Global Britain

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Excerpts
Thursday 21st January 2021

(3 years, 1 month ago)

Grand Committee
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Asked by
Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what role the British Armed Forces are playing in support of the “Global Britain” agenda.

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my interest as a member of the Army Reserve. On 19 November, the Prime Minister said:

“Everything we do in this country—every job, every business, even how we shop and what we eat—depends on a basic minimum of global security.”


Our people are sustained by

“a web of feed pipes, of oxygen pipes, that must be kept open: shipping lanes, a functioning internet, safe air corridors, reliable undersea cables, and tranquillity in distant straits.”—[Official Report, Commons, 19/11/20; col. 488.]

This, in a nutshell, sums up defence’s contribution to global Britain. But global Britain is also about reinvesting in our relationships, championing the rules-based international order and demonstrating that the UK is open, outward-looking and confident on the world stage. As we await the publication of the integrated review, a subject to which I will return in a moment, I want to start by highlighting just some of the contributions our Armed Forces have made in recent times.

Our Armed Forces are a force for good in the world, providing international security, coming to the aid of the most vulnerable, providing direct humanitarian assistance, delivering aid and peacekeeping. The UK has a proud track record of being on the front line of every major international humanitarian disaster of the last decade. But with a spate of emergencies in the Caribbean in recent years, our ability to respond has been helped by the fact that the Royal Navy maintains a forward presence in central America to ensure that we can always be on hand whenever disaster strikes, particularly in the hurricane season.

In November 2020, more than 80 personnel assisted Belize with disaster relief in the wake of Storm Eta by providing planning and medical advice, moving vulnerable people to safety, distributing food and water and building flood defences. The year before, RFA Mounts Bay delivered essential aid to the Bahamas, which had been devastated by Hurricane Dorian, and in 2017 more than 2,000 Armed Forces personnel provided humanitarian and disaster relief to the Caribbean islands left devasted by Hurricane Irma. They distributed 135 tonnes of aid, provided 10 million gallons of safe water and supplied 500,000 water purification tablets, as well as sharing skills and lending equipment to repair infrastructure.

But it is not just in the Caribbean that UK military forces have been providing support. In west Africa, since June 2020 we have transported vital supplies to communities struggling against Covid-19, through RAF transport flights. In particular, we delivered the components for a field hospital to Ghana to treat victims of Covid-19.

Our reputation in the region as a partner of choice has grown following our provision of long-term support on the ground during the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, where we built new medical facilities and provided additional medical support. In the Mediterranean last summer, the UK deployed HMS “Enterprise” to Beirut to deliver supplies and provide vital survey data that allowed the port to return to normal operations after the explosion. We also provided supplies to house and feed up to 500 soldiers from the Lebanese Armed Forces who were working on the relief operation. Even further afield, in the last few years we have delivered support such as shelter kits, solar lanterns and water purifiers to Indonesia and Vanuatu in the South Pacific, following natural disasters, and deployed teams from the Queen’s Gurkha Engineers to help support their fellow nationals in Nepal in the aftermath of devastating earthquakes.

In 2021, as we become a truly global nation, I seek the Minister’s assurance that with such a strong track record of humanitarian support, we will continue to prioritise our defence assets to support the safety of communities around the world. Of course, the principal role of the military is to deliver security, and I am pleased that recent years have witnessed an increase in the UK contribution to international peacekeeping. I have been part of NATO missions in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan, so the subject is close to my heart.

I have been fortunate to visit two recent success stories. First was the deployment of personnel to support UN, African Union and EU peacekeeping missions to counter al-Shabaab in Somalia. Indeed, in March last year, the first 400 Somali National Army soldiers graduated from a new UK-supported training facility in Baidoa. The second was equally impressive: our contribution to the UN mission in South Sudan, where we have deployed a regiment of Royal Engineers and, for a period, a field hospital. UK service personnel also undertook a wide range of educational support to civilians, including English language and computer training, as well as practical skills such as carpentry and mechanics.

Bringing us completely up to date, the recent deployment of 300 UK military personnel to the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, where they will help to promote peace and counter instability, is in addition to the three RAF Chinooks and their teams that have been supporting the French counterinsurgency operations in the region since 2018. As we look forward to an ever increasingly global Britain with trade at its heart, it is worth recognising that, since the 1980s, we have maintained a long-standing maritime presence in the Gulf and Indian Ocean, now known as Operation Kipion, to ensure the safe flow of trade and oil, while also promoting peace and stability in the region. While not wishing to be fixed in any particular mission, can my noble friend the Minister reassure us that the overall recent increase in support to UN missions will persist?

In addition to humanitarian relief and security, the other key element of defence’s potential contribution to delivering a global Britain will undoubtedly be our ability to assist our allies with training. Training support comes in two forms. Examples of international training are the UK’s ongoing contribution to peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where we are providing training on human security, including gender advisory work to promote stabilisation, and in Iraq, where over 6,000 members of the Iraqi security forces have now been trained by UK soldiers. Training is also delivered here in the UK through a variety of courses for all ranks, from junior commanders to the world-famous Royal College of Defence Studies, aimed at nations’ future leaders. I highlight the MoD’s internationally renowned defence human security advisor course, which covers topics including women, peace and security and has trained 20 international personnel a year since November 2018. One often-overlooked fact, however, is that the extensive network of defence attachés and regional-based training teams means that the MoD has a larger international footprint that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

I have always been deeply impressed by the MoD’s defence engagement strategy and am delighted that this is now firmly a mainstream career option for our service personnel. It is also a key component of the UK’s soft power along with, for example, the BBC World Service. Can the Minister tell us what plans there are to have a genuinely comprehensive cross-government approach to prioritising and delivering soft power influence?

Looking to the future, we await the publication next month of the integrated review, which should deliver, in the language of the grand strategic approach, the ends, ways and means of the Government’s future ambitions. However, it is worth noting that the MoD has already quietly published some of the detail of the ways, or how, it intends to operate, in the Integrated Operating Concept 2025—the IOpC—last September. This sets out a new approach to how we will use our armed forces in an era of persistent competition and the rapidly changing nature of warfare. Representing the most significant evolution of UK military thought in several generations, it will lead to a fundamental transformation not only of the UK military, but how we use it.

It articulates a clear distinction between operating and warfighting, and reasons that while ultimately we need a contingent capability for our military to defend the nation and fight a war, our military should also be out and about in the world, operating—namely doing useful things, helping to build alliances and responding to crisis—rather than simply training as a contingent force. This is good news, as it implies that the MoD will be encouraged to do even more of the sorts of tasks with partner nations that I have highlighted in support of global Britain. Can the Minister confirm that this will be the case?

The IOpC also makes clear that we must be prepared to be enduring in our commitment and forward deploy our Armed Forces. There is no better example of this than the recent forward deployment of HMS “Montrose” to Bahrain. I hope that in the coming years, further Royal Naval assets, including offshore patrol vessels, frigates and future commando elements, will also be persistently forward deployed. I was fortunate, as Minister for the Armed Forces, to travel to 58 partnering nations. The one consistent message that I received was that, while the training and support that we offered were viewed as some of the best in the world, we would be there one minute and gone the next, which is why this move to persistent engagement will be the key for defence’s contribution to global Britain.

I end by highlighting that, in May, a carrier strike group led by HMS “Queen Elizabeth” will undertake our most ambitious deployment for two decades, encompassing the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean and east Asia. If the security of our nation is where defence meets prosperity meets global influence, then this deployment, and those global deployments that will follow, will be flagship events for defence’s contribution to global Britain.

Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Excerpts
Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my interest as a serving member of the Army Reserve.

I support the Bill, which in my mind is long overdue. But I recognise that it seeks to walk a tightrope between giving reassurance to members of the Armed Forces and veterans that they will not be unfairly pursued or suffer repeated investigation and that they will be prosecuted only in exceptional circumstances for historic events, while maintaining our standing in the international community by not seeming to countenance criminal behaviour within our military or by disrespecting international humanitarian law or organisations such as the International Criminal Court.

Nobody is suggesting that a tiny minority of members of our Armed Forces have not committed crimes while on operations; the examples are there for us all to see. But these rare events must not be allowed to overshadow the facts that, despite often being under the most extraordinary pressure, the overwhelming majority of our Armed Forces behave impeccably on operations; and that their professionalism and high moral standards in ensuring that the rules of war are observed are second to none.

This is because of not only the quality of the individuals but the quality of the mandatory annual training and—as I experienced myself before deploying to Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan—the operational pre-deployment training they undertake. This training ensures that the high values and standards of the British military and our respect for international law are ingrained in our service personnel. I know that they would be the first to say that it is imperative that any legislation Parliament passes must not undermine their sense that they deploy on operations firmly on the moral high ground.

Aspects of the Bill are certainly open to criticism but, in reading much of the commentary, I have been struck by how little of it actually relates to the words written on the face of the Bill. What is clear is that the Bill does not create, nor come close to creating, “de facto immunity” for serving or former service personnel, even in respect of offences that are not excluded by Schedule 1. This is for several reasons.

First, the Bill at most creates a test of exceptionality for prosecution only after the period of five years has expired. Although the clause heading is “Presumption against prosecution”, what is being provided for is an exceptionality test and what is “exceptional” will be provided for by an independent prosecutor and the Attorney-General. Secondly, nothing in the Bill limits the investigation of offences. While some have questioned, probably fairly, the effectiveness of MoD investigations in the past, I must say that during my time at the MoD I witnessed a considerable improvement in the quality of investigations, from the IHAT investigations in Iraq to the Op Northmoor investigations relating to Afghanistan. That said, I too am pleased that the eminent retired judge Sir Richard Henriques has been appointed by Ben Wallace to conduct a review of MoD investigations; this is a most welcome move. Thirdly, nothing in the Bill limits the determination by prosecutors of whether in any case the evidential test has been met.

But taken together, the Bill’s provisions constitute what could be described as an enhanced filter on prosecution after the lapse of five years. The purpose of this filter is clearly that service personnel should have some assurance that they are much less likely to face prosecution once five years have passed from the events in question. Having received many letters from distressed veterans living in fear of the uncertainty of prosecution, I can say that it is the lack of finality of investigation that has caused so much stress for so many. The Bill’s requirement for prosecutors to take into account the public interest in finality, where there has been an investigation and no new evidence found, and to take due consideration of the challenging circumstances to which UK forces are subject while on overseas deployment seem to me perfectly sensible.

If—and it is a big if—the Bill delivers what it seeks to achieve, the positive impact on veterans’ mental health should not be underestimated. But let us be clear: it is not preventing anyone from being prosecuted for a crime they have committed. No person is above the law and, unlike a civilian, UK forces rightly are also subject to service law and the law of armed conflict. It would be a cause for justified alarm if the Bill were to seek to permit UK forces to breach this legal regime with impunity, but it does not.

Time does not allow me to comment in detail on all aspects of the Bill today, but there are several areas I look forward to exploring in Committee—for example, in Schedule 1, under excluded offences, why sexual offences are specifically excluded but torture is not, as many other noble Lords have highlighted; in Part 2, the circumstances under which the Secretary of State would consider derogating from the European Convention on Human Rights regarding future overseas operations; why the Bill treats overseas territories differently from how they are treated in the Armed Forces Act; and, finally, exploring the Government’s view towards some of the points raised by Judge Jeff Blackett during his evidence session to the committee.

As other noble Lords have said, this Bill needs work, but I will support it at Second Reading.

UN Mission in Mali: Armed Forces Deployment

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Excerpts
Monday 14th December 2020

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton (Con)
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I declare my interest as a member of the Army Reserve. I would like to explore the Government’s attitude to risk. After years of campaigning in Iraq and Afghanistan, risk was mitigated through a sophisticated use of ISTAR, enhanced medical capabilities and air cover operations to name but a few. But these mitigations are unlikely to be as sophisticated or mature in Mali. Are the Government prepared to take more risk, as many in the military would like them to do, or are we going to have to limit the scale of our operations in Mali, even if, ultimately, that means we will limit the impact the UK can have?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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We take assessment of risk extremely seriously and we will keep mitigation and management of risk under continuous review. On the specific issue of medevac capability, as in all United Nations missions, United Nations member states are relied on to provide the nations’ capabilities, including helicopters and aeromedical evacuation teams for the benefit of all United Nations troops on MINUSMA. The facility is there. It is the collective responsibility of the United Nations to provide that. We constantly assess risk and keep mitigation and management of risk under review.

Trident Nuclear Programme

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Excerpts
Monday 7th December 2020

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con) [V]
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I thank the noble Baroness for making a very important point. She is correct that the Trident missile system is essential to our deterrent. That is why we work closely with the United States in that respect. She is also correct to point out the significance of defence to the United Kingdom. Faslane, where the deterrent is located, is now the UK’s submarine headquarters. That is part of a general pattern of vital defence activity which is spread throughout the United Kingdom and which Scotland benefits from significantly.

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton (Con)
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My Lords, as a timely reminder, the House of Commons voted relatively recently by a majority of 355 to effectively renew Parliament’s commitment to the nuclear deterrent by authorising the Dreadnought programme. With that in mind, the announcement of some £24.1 billion of extra funding for the MoD is most welcome, but can my noble friend confirm that there has been no Treasury sleight of hand and a corresponding—or even any—reduction in the Dreadnought contingency fund?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con) [V]
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I reassure my noble friend that the Dreadnought programme continues to run to schedule. As he will be aware, an overall budget of £31 billion, with the £10 billion contingency fund, has been allocated to it. The remaining allocation of funding is still to be determined within the MoD following the recent settlement.

Armed Forces: Covid-19 Deployment

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Excerpts
Thursday 12th November 2020

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con) [V]
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In relation to our current obligations, we have conducted prudent planning against a range of potential risks facing the nation over winter. We have a package of 7,500 personnel placed at heightened readiness to enable rapid response to HMG requests at this time of national crisis. Clearly the pandemic has disrupted some activity, but the MoD is endeavouring to ensure that we return to normal, in so far as that is consistent with the safety of our personnel. We ensure that whatever our personnel are asked to do is compliant with Public Health England.

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton (Con)
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I declare an interest as a member of the Army Reserve. Living and working in the local community and with a host of civilian skills, reservists are ideally suited to MACA tasks, but are underutilised because there is a perception that, while cheap to hold, they are expensive to use. Can my noble friend look at ways to incentivise the single services to make better use of reserves?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con) [V]
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With their unique skills, the reservists have played a pivotal role in the response to Covid-19. They have been part of that response at every level. At one point, we had 2,300 Army reservists mobilised as part of Operation Rescript and the MoD’s contribution to the Covid-19 response. Currently, 340 reservists are mobilised to that operation and we have 100 additional reservists to support wider defence recovery. I pay tribute to their contribution.

Defence and Security Public Contracts (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Excerpts
Tuesday 3rd November 2020

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton (Con)
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My Lords, I rise to add my support to this amendment to the regulations. I am conscious that I am simply a poor warm-up act before the noble Lord, Lord Dodds of Duncairn, gives his maiden speech, so fear not: I shall be brief.

Turning to the regulations, it is important that we ensure that our legislation continues to operate effectively beyond the transition period and procuring our defence needs in a way that is legally sound is vital. The instrument we are debating today is necessary as it will ensure just that. I recognise that the challenges being debated today are just the first step towards developing a procurement regime that better meets the UK’s requirements. I am heartened to hear that the Ministry of Defence is grasping the opportunities offered by our departure from the EU and that work has already begun to simplify and modernise the legislation and, crucially, improve the pace and agility of procurement activity. Reducing unnecessary regulatory burdens on government buyers and suppliers alike is one of the opportunities that EU exit has opened up for us and one it is important to exploit.

Looking further ahead, I take this opportunity to draw noble Lords’ attention to the excellent Dunne report, written by my former ministerial colleague Philip Dunne, which seeks to plot a pathway for defence to make a growing contribution to UK prosperity. As we leave the EU, we now have the opportunity to buy British and support UK industry. For example, under EU regulations, while warships could be procured solely from UK yards, non-combatant vessels, even those of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, had to be put out to international tender. Equally, defence has been restricted from supporting local communities by offering food contracts exclusively to local suppliers. Can my noble friend assure me that, as the Dunne report recommends, due weighting is attached to the prosperity impact in the UK for future government tenders?

Secondly, I highlight the need for agility and pace in our procurement process, perhaps by adopting a culture focused more on finding the right procurement solutions and less on defining and avoiding obstacles at the outset. This requires the MoD to develop its skills base as a client, while better understanding how defence and market interactions shape each other. Building the quantity and quality of skills across defence is an important part of this work.

Finally, in reminding the House of my interest as chairman of the 2030 Reserve Forces review, I make a plug for the greater use of sponsored reserves. Supplied as part of a commercial contract with the MoD, they offer an assured supply of uniformed skills to defence. Despite being identified as a vital asset to defence over 10 years ago, their numbers have stagnated at just over 2,000 and they remain, in my opinion at least, an underutilised resource.

Oral Answers to Questions

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Excerpts
Monday 21st October 2019

(4 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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David Drew Portrait Dr David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op)
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1. What recent assessment he has made of trends in the number of Army personnel.

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mark Lancaster)
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Halfway through the recruiting year, approximately 70% of the Army’s regular soldier requirement have either started training or are due to do so. In addition, direct entry officer and reserve recruitment targets are all expected to be achieved.

David Drew Portrait Dr Drew
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I thank the Minister for that answer, but he must be aware that since 2010 the number of service people has declined each year. The latest figures, which I believe are from 1 July 2019, show that the Army has 74,440 personnel against a target of 82,000; the Royal Air Force has 29,930 against a target of 31,750; and the Royal Navy and Marines have 29,090 against a target of 30,450. What will the Government do to address the shortfall?

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait Mark Lancaster
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I think we are doing a lot, actually. As I said, we need only look at this year, where all the signs are very positive. The real challenge we have faced recently has been in the other ranks in the Army. Officer entry is full, and the Army reserve is growing. The target for other ranks in the Army is 9,404. We have already achieved 70% of that target in the first six months. The second we get to 80%, Army numbers, assuming that outflow remains constant, will remain the same and will not fall. In every single other rank where we manage to recruit over 80%, that will mean an increase in Army numbers. Within the first six months, we have already achieved 70%, so we have 10% more to do within the next six months to maintain numbers, and everyone after that will represent an increase in Army numbers.

Bob Stewart Portrait Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con)
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What progress has the Army made towards getting female soldiers into frontline units such as rifle platoons in an infantry battalion?

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait Mark Lancaster
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I am very proud that there are now no roles in the British Army that are not open to women, so all ground and close combat roles are open. We have seen the first women join the Royal Armoured Corps. We also have women in training to join the infantry. I cannot give my hon. Friend an exact number, but I will write to him with that detail.

Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)
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Is the Minister aware that in 1982, at the time of the Falklands conflict, we had 327,000 people in the armed services and now we are below 100,000? Is it not a fact that if Mr Putin came steaming towards us tomorrow we would not be able to defend this country?

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait Mark Lancaster
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No, that is certainly not the case. It is certainly true, to quote Stalin, that:

“Quantity has a quality all its own.”

However, the modern armed forces are very different from those of the 1980s. We need only look at the Queen Elizabeth, our new carrier, which, compared with Ark Royal, her predecessor, has a complement that requires just one quarter of the number of crew.

Tracey Crouch Portrait Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford) (Con)
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Kent is proud to host a number of Gurkhas across the country, including within the Queen’s Gurkha Engineers, currently located at Invicta Park barracks just outside my constituency. Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the number of personnel in the Brigade of Gurkhas, which has increased by 25% in the past four years?

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait Mark Lancaster
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I have to declare my interest: the first Army unit I joined was the Queen’s Gurkha Engineers back in 1988 in Hong Kong. I am delighted that, speaking off the top of my head, we currently have 69 and 70 Gurkha Field Squadrons serving in Invicta barracks in Maidstone. I am also pleased to be able to announce that the aspiration is to create 67 Squadron from 2021, and a second further Gurkha engineers squadron, 68 Squadron, from 2023, so the Brigade of Gurkhas continues to grow.

Fabian Hamilton Portrait Fabian Hamilton (Leeds North East) (Lab)
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We all know about the Government’s disastrous record on recruitment of UK personnel, with the fully trained size of the Army, as we have already heard, having now just fallen to 74,000 personnel. But the Government are failing to recruit enough Commonwealth troops, too, and we now hear that they are cancelling plans to proactively recruit from overseas. Can the Minister explain how this decision guarantees sufficient recruitment to our armed forces, and how on earth he plans to meet the stated target of 82,000 soldiers?

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait Mark Lancaster
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I have already explained part of what we are doing. I sense that the hon. Gentleman wrote his question before listening to my answers and has not been able to adapt it, which is a shame but often the case in this House. Equally, I think he has fallen into the trap of reading a Daily Express or Sunday Express article which states what is factually not the case. We have always recruited from the Commonwealth, and over the last two years we have been increasing our recruitment from the Commonwealth.

David Davis Portrait Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con)
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I have listened to the Minister’s answers, and he intimated that we are replacing quantity with quality. Much of this problem goes back to the Capita contract for recruiting soldiers, sailors and airmen, which was massively criticised in a Public Accounts Committee report earlier this year in terms of both quantity and quality. Today, 10% of our troops are incapable of deployment abroad for medical reasons. What can he do to fix those problems?

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait Mark Lancaster
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Let us be clear: the House is absolutely right to scrutinise this Government over recruiting into our armed forces. I welcome that, because it enables me to put pressure on our service chiefs. While there were, without doubt, challenges with that Capita contract, I have explained today how we have already reached 70% of our target within the first six months of this year. That contract is now performing in a way that it was not before. My right hon. Friend is right about medical standards, which is why there is a series of reviews at the moment of how we can prevent those injuries from happening in the first place.

John Baron Portrait Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con)
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2. What steps his Department is taking to protect UK shipping in the strait of Hormuz.

--- Later in debate ---
Giles Watling Portrait Giles Watling (Clacton) (Con)
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24. What steps his Department is taking to (a) recruit and (b) retain service personnel.

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mark Lancaster)
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We remain committed to maintaining the overall size of the armed forces, and we have a range of measures under way to improve recruitment and retention. Those measures are kept under constant review. Importantly, the services continue to meet all their current operational commitments, keeping the country and its interests safe.

Andrew Jones Portrait Andrew Jones
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The Harrogate and Knaresborough constituency is proud home to the Army Foundation College, which has 1,100 junior soldiers in training. Last year, the college received an “outstanding” classification from Ofsted. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the educational excellence on offer is a key part of the recruitment package for the college, and that the qualifications the junior soldiers receive set them up not just for their careers in the Army, but for the whole of their lives?

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait Mark Lancaster
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I thank my hon. Friend for being such a champion of this outstanding college, and he is absolutely correct. There are a multitude of excellent opportunities, of which the Ministry of Defence and the Army are extremely proud. These are reflected not just in the formal qualifications and apprenticeships but in the self-esteem, confidence and leadership skills the junior soldiers gain.

Robert Halfon Portrait Robert Halfon
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In Harlow, we have outstanding cadet forces and outstanding cadet leadership. They provide the training that young people need and they develop qualities of leadership. May I ask my right hon. Friend: what more can we be doing to support our cadet forces in Harlow and elsewhere to encourage young people into the services, and will he come and visit one of our great Harlow cadet forces?

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait Mark Lancaster
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How could I resist such a kind invitation? I should be delighted to visit. Indeed, I started life as a cadet, so I know the value of it. In accordance with the UN convention on the rights of the child, that is not a conduit for entry into the armed forces. However, it is a fact that while just 4% of cadet forces joined the armed forces, 20% of the armed forces were once cadets.

Vicky Ford Portrait Vicky Ford
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Our cadet organisations give young people an invaluable insight into the potential of a career in the armed forces, but they need places in which to meet. I understand that the Ministry of Defence will help to give financial support to buildings and other facilities for Army and air cadets, but not for sea cadets. Given that today is Trafalgar day, will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss how we can help to raise money for a new home for Chelmsford’s excellent sea cadets?

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait Mark Lancaster
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A training ship, Upholder, in Chelmsford is indeed an excellent base for the Chelmsford Sea Cadets. It is right that the sea cadets have a different funding formula from the other two services. They receive a mix of funding from the MOD and other sources. Each sea cadet unit is an individual charity. There has been much debate over the years as to whether or not that is the right way to move forward, but I should be delighted to meet my hon. Friend.

Robert Syms Portrait Sir Robert Syms
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In the past, the MOD has offered a number of bespoke packages to recruit people whose skills they need—for example, qualified doctors when the medical services have been short. Does the MOD intend to offer more bespoke packages to get people with a range of skills into the armed services?

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait Mark Lancaster
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My hon. Friend makes a really interesting point. As we move forward there are different specialist skill sets that we need—cyber is an example, as well as medical services—and have to consider whether or not we should look at different models for joining the armed forces. One area that we are looking at is greater use of the reserves for those specialist skills and, equally, whether or not we should have some form of lateral entry, as we do with medical services.

Giles Watling Portrait Giles Watling
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For the past two years, I have been honoured to be part of the wonderful armed forces parliamentary scheme. I graduated only last week. I have visited all three services, which are engaging people with amazing work to keep the peace and keep us safe. Overwhelmingly, they get great satisfaction and lead interesting lives, but I was shocked to hear that some universities are resistant to those terrific people visiting and advertising that unique career path to students. I should like to ask my right hon. Friend what more can be done to get our young people to engage with an armed forces career?

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait Mark Lancaster
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I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s comments about the Armed Forces Parliamentary Trust. Indeed, that is a scheme from which many hon. and right hon. Members have benefited. When it comes to young people, we are the largest provider of apprenticeships in the UK, and when it comes to encouraging university students to join, we have a bursary scheme as well as an undergraduate scheme. There is also the university officer training corps, the university air squadrons and university Royal Navy units, in which undergraduates can participate.

Emma Dent Coad Portrait Emma Dent Coad (Kensington) (Lab)
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12. My question relates to the quality of living accommodation and local facilities that make Army family life attractive. Will the Minister update the House on the new £125 million leisure complex at Faslane nuclear base, dubbed the “supermess”, which is being dismantled to remove combustible materials?

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait Mark Lancaster
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It is normally family pressures that are the No. 1 reason cited by members of the armed forces for leaving the armed forces, which is why it is absolutely right that we get this whole package correct. Faslane, as the hon. Lady knows, will soon be the home of the entire submarine force for the Royal Navy. It has been subject to large amounts of investment, and it has some of the best accommodation for the armed forces. The mess itself has faced challenges, and I will happily write to her to update her on exactly where we are on that issue.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Madeleine Moon Portrait Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab)
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During visits with the NATO PA and, indeed, the Select Committee on Defence to Finland, Norway and Sweden, I have noted their highly selective and competitive attempts to recruit young people to national service schemes, to the armed forces, and Government defence agencies. Those are much sought-after schemes in all those countries, and are highly effective not only in recruiting young people but in retaining them in the reserves. May I ask the Minister to look at Elizabeth Braw’s excellent article on this in The RUSI Journal, and will he look at that as an example for the UK?

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait Mark Lancaster
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I am grateful to the hon. Lady—Madam President—for those words of advice, and indeed for that constructive suggestion. I am more than happy to consider any way we can encourage more people to join and, crucially—this is the other side of the coin—remain in the armed forces.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The north-east has traditionally provided a higher proportion of armed services personnel than any other region in England. Can the Minister confirm whether that is still the case following the recruitment shambles, and can he set out the improvements to pay and housing that he will make so that the sacrifices of our armed forces are in the interests of the country, not austerity?

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait Mark Lancaster
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The hon. Lady rightly highlights the important contribution that the north-east and the north-west have made to recruitment to all three services over many years. I am determined that our armed forces should reflect modern Britain, which is why we are trying to encourage more members from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities to join the armed forces and, equally, more women—currently we are achieving 7.3% for the former and 12.2% for the latter. Last year we saw a decent pay increase of some 2.9%, and we continue to invest an awful lot of money in improving accommodation standards for our armed forces.

Lord Coaker Portrait Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

May I first declare an interest, as my son-in-law will soon be going on active deployment with the reserves? I also wish to point out the magnificent contribution made by the Carlton reserve base in my constituency. I want to ask the Minister a simple but really important question. The reserves are a crucial part of our armed forces—I know he knows that—but there are really significant problems in recruiting and retaining reserve personnel and integrating them into our armed forces, so can he say a little more about what the Government are doing about that?

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait Mark Lancaster
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The hon. Gentleman makes a really important point. It will come as no surprise to him that, having been a serving member of the reserves for 31 years, I take reserve service very seriously. I think that maintaining that offer is absolutely key, which is one of the reasons why I have imposed a target to ensure that at least 5% of our reserve community have the opportunity to go on operations, as his son-in-law is doing. It is that offer that is so key.

Stewart Malcolm McDonald Portrait Stewart Malcolm McDonald (Glasgow South) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I congratulate the Minister on holding his post, and I welcome the new team to the Government Front Bench. His boss is, of course, a Scot, and he will tell him that Scots do not take kindly to broken promises from Tory Governments. At the Scottish independence referendum we were promised that there would be 12,500 personnel in Scotland by 2020, but at the last count the figure stands south of 10,000, so will that not be another broken promise from this Tory Government?

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait Mark Lancaster
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I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman does not seem to welcome the fact that Scotland will soon be home to all Royal Navy submarine personnel. I am sorry that he does not seem to recognise that there will continue to be an Army brigade based in Scotland. I am sorry that he does not seem to recognise the important investment in Lossiemouth, as the P-8 is soon to be based there.

Bambos Charalambous Portrait Bambos Charalambous (Enfield, Southgate) (Lab)
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6. What recent assessment he has made of the quality of service provided under contracts outsourced by his Department.

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Tom Tugendhat Portrait Tom Tugendhat (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con)
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T3. Given the surprise at the speed with which the Americans fled from the scene in Syria, what preparations are Ministers making for greater logistical independence for Her Majesty’s armed forces so that they do not feel abandoned?

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mark Lancaster)
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The UK remains fully committed to the long-term security of the region and to the counter-Daesh coalition. We continually assess UK and coalition logistical capability to ensure that we are well placed to continue to contribute to the counter-Daesh effort, and we remain at the forefront of the coalition’s air campaign.

Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Jenny Chapman (Darlington) (Lab)
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T6. It is just not possible to recognise the sacrifice and service of our armed forces in pay alone, but it is wrong that the salary of a new recruit is now worth over £1,000 a year less than it was 10 years ago. What is the Minister going to do? When will a new recruit’s pay match what it was 10 years ago in real terms?

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait Mark Lancaster
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I am delighted to say that my understanding is that, as a result of the recent pay review, the starting salary of a private soldier has risen to over £20,000 a year.

Maria Caulfield Portrait Maria Caulfield (Lewes) (Con)
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T4. What steps are being taken to protect veterans who served in Northern Ireland?

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Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes (Walsall North) (Con)
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T7. The recent attack on a Saudi oil facility was carried out using small pilotless drones capable of flying hundreds of miles. Will the Minister tell the House what defence the UK has against similar attacks?

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait Mark Lancaster
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The Home Office has responsibility for counter-drone activity within the United Kingdom. The MOD has a layered air defence capability, and we are happy to allow other Departments to use that capability when they specifically request it.

Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) (Lab)
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Ministers will be aware that Hawk manufacturing at Brough is due to end in 2020 after more than 100 years of aircraft manufacture. I thank the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan), for agreeing to meet me on Wednesday, but ahead of that meeting will she please consider all suitable BAE MOD contracts and what pressure can be put on BAE to ensure that some of them are manufactured in Brough?

Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con)
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T8. My hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford) mentioned cadets in the community, but the cadet expansion programme is about establishing 500 new cadet units in state schools. What assessment has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made of the value of cadet units to some of our most disadvantaged children in some of our most challenging schools?

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait Mark Lancaster
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The University of Northampton’s research into the social impact of cadet forces, including those in state schools, suggests that membership can increase social mobility and help children reach their potential because of the activities they undertake. That is precisely why this has been such a successful process.

Battle of Arnhem: 75th Anniversary

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Excerpts
Monday 14th October 2019

(4 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mark Lancaster)
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Thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing us to have this debate this evening.

I start, of course, by congratulating the hon. and gallant Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) on securing this debate on the famous Battle of Arnhem as we mark its 75th anniversary this year. As a former paratrooper, his passion for this subject is unsurprising. I know he worked tirelessly to champion those heroes in his own constituency who took part in that brutal conflict. None of us can truly know what it must have been like to have been a British airborne soldier dropping into the danger zone amid a hail of anti-aircraft fire, but the hon. and gallant Gentleman is one of the few Members of this House with the experience to offer us a window into that world. For my own part, having once dropped out of an aircraft—

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Leo Docherty.)
Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait Mark Lancaster
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I can only say that I found the whole experience utterly terrifying and vowed never to repeat it. And that was without a single shot being fired at me.

I doubt that even the most starry-eyed historian would recall the Battle of Arnhem as an unmitigated success. Indeed, it is a curious quirk of British history that we tend to memorialise our defeats as much as our victories, from the charge of the Light Brigade to Dunkirk. But as we have heard, there are strong reasons why Operation Market Garden merits such an important place in our modern history.

First and foremost, Arnhem has become a byword for bravery. An extraordinary 59 decorations were handed out to the men who escaped from the carnage, while, as we have heard, five incredible individuals received the Victoria Cross. My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) made the point earlier that maybe it should have been six. Among them was Major Robert Henry Cain, from the Isle of Man, who, on more than one occasion, single-handedly faced down enemy tanks, immobilising one vehicle and forcing others into retreat despite sustaining multiple wounds. But, in a battle where conditions were horrendous, where the food first ran out followed swiftly by the ammunition, all were heroes. We can only imagine what it must have been like for men such as Major Tony Hibbert watching in horror as German tanks roamed

“up and down the street, firing high explosive into the side of the building, to create the gap, and then firing smoke shells...as the phosphorus from the smoke shells”

burnt his comrades out of their positions. Yet still allied fighters persevered. In the words of veteran Tom Hicks—a constituent of the hon. and gallant Member for Barnsley Central and, I am very proud to say, a fellow sapper—they

“fought until they had nothing left”.

We are privileged that some of these hardy souls are still with us today. We should cherish them while we can, just as we should continue paying our respects to all the troops on both sides who fell.

Next, Arnhem is remembered because of the boldness of the enterprise. This was the largest airborne operation in history, with some 35,000 troops dropped behind enemy lines. Indeed, it was the biggest military operation on Dutch soil in world war two. Yet its ambition was greater still: to use paratroopers and glider-borne infantry to seize a series of nine river and canal crossings between the Dutch-Belgian border at Eindhoven, Nijmegen and Arnhem, then to employ allied tanks and troops to secure the great road bridge over the lower Rhine at Arnhem, and from there to drive straight into Germany. That was Field Marshall Montgomery’s plan. Had it worked, Arnhem would have shortened the war.

Jeremy Lefroy Portrait Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con)
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I am most grateful to my right hon. and gallant Friend. Does he agree that what is even more remarkable is that for many of the units—I include 2nd Battalion South Staffordshire—this came after they had been involved in the invasion of Sicily and Italy? Now they were involved in this tremendous operation. Many of these people had seen action almost continuously for several years.

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait Mark Lancaster
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My hon. Friend makes the very powerful point that for many this was not a one-off operation, but the culmination of what had been an incredibly long and tough war. By the standards of today we can only begin to think about the mental impact on so many of those who had served for such a long period of time. We deal with exactly the same mental health issues today, but I hope we are in a much better position to be able to support our veterans today.

Even though Operation Market Garden proved a “bridge too far”, there is a third reason why it has passed into legend: it earned the UK the admiration of its allies. It set the stage for an unparalleled example of international partnerships as British forces worked hand in glove with their Polish and US counterparts. I absolutely agree with the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) about highlighting the role that the Polish armed forces played in this operation. Even today, as we continue to have a UK battle group as part of the enhanced forward presence in Poland, that relationship continues.

Eisenhower wrote:

“In this war there has been no single performance by any unit that has more greatly inspired me or more highly excited my admiration, than the nine days action of your division between 17 and 26 September”.

The hon. and gallant Member for Barnsley Central also highlighted the most poignant legacy of the friendships forged during those times. That can be found in the Netherlands, where local “flower children” gather each year, laying bouquets of flowers at more than 1,500 graves at Oosterbeek cemetery. He did not say, however, that in 1969, 25 years after Arnhem, some suggested that the ceremony should be cancelled. So vociferously was the proposal rejected that it continues unabated today.

Bob Stewart Portrait Bob Stewart
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. and gallant Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) will agree with me on this point. Outside the Airborne Museum Hartenstein is probably the most poignant memorial of them all: a stone that thanks the people of Arnhem for their heroism and gallantry in looking after the people who were badly wounded, at great risk to themselves. That memorial was the one that really hit me hard.

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait Mark Lancaster
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My hon. and gallant Friend makes an incredibly important point. Indeed, this is about the contribution of so many who were involved in that operation on that day, both military and civilian, and because of that partnership we see that relationship continue today, as we have highlighted.

Despite the appalling deprivations suffered during that battle and after, the Dutch continue to see those British personnel as their liberators. They still talk in the Netherlands of the “Arnhem spirit”. It is no wonder that in the midst of last month’s commemorations, citizens from across the Netherlands made a pilgrimage to Arnhem and swelled the city centre.

Given the significance of Operation Market Garden, it was only right that the British Army played a prominent part in working with Dutch municipalities to mark the offensive, whether that was at Oosterbeek war cemetery, Ginkel Heath, one of the drop zones used during Operation Market Garden, or at the Airborneplein monument, where the 2nd Parachute Battalion held firm for three days and four nights, isolated and alone, under incessant enemy attack. Among the many highlights was a parachute drop performed in the presence of the Prince of Wales, featuring 1,500 British, Dutch, French, Belgian, German, Italian, Polish and US paratroopers. Among those descending into the drop zone, in tandem with a Red Devil, was Aberdeen’s Sandy Cortmann, just 75 years after his original descent, at a mere 97 years young—a testament to the boundless drive and energy of that remarkable wartime generation.

Yet this was not just an exercise in nostalgia. The descent was also the culmination of Exercise Falcon Leap, hosted by the Royal Netherlands Army, to train NATO airborne forces in planning and executing an airborne operation together. Many of the paratroopers used another country’s equipment and aircraft to earn that nation’s parachute wings. Significantly, the Royal Netherlands Army is part of our Joint Expeditionary Force of like-minded nations. Our historical closeness is strengthened by modern ties, proving in a more dangerous world that Britain will have the skills and the allies that give us the edge over our adversaries.

Mark Francois Portrait Mr Mark Francois (Rayleigh and Wickford) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

At Arnhem 70, five years ago, when I had the privilege of doing the job that my right hon. Friend now does better than I ever did, I attended the celebrations on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government. I well remember the Oosterbeek remembrance services when, as he says, young children came forward and laid flowers. As he also knows, families bequeath the responsibility for the graves to those who follow them to remember British soldiers. I confess, I welled up. Like the Minister, I have been to many remembrance services, but that was the most unique one I have ever attended. Does he agree that one of the fundamental points about Arnhem is that to this day the Dutch people go out of their way to honour the British and, indeed, the Polish troops who came to liberate them?

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait Mark Lancaster
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My right hon. Friend makes the point more powerfully than I could. He is right that it is those relationships that have been among the enduring benefits of what happened 75 years ago. There is no shame in welling up at these events. Indeed, it is important that we do, as it shows just how much we care and how big an impact those events continue to have on us.

Historians still debate the merits of Market Garden. Monty believed the operation was 90% successful. But even if his is an optimistic take, there is little doubt that the Battle of Arnhem signalled a turning point. It was the Nazis’ last roll of the dice. It drove a wedge into their positions, tied up their supply chains and stopped them counter-attacking. Thereafter they lost every battle they fought against the British, American and Canadian Armies.

Arnhem has rightly become a symbol of British bravery, boldness and partnership. The famous bridge is now named after John Frost, the legendary commander of the 2nd Parachute Battalion. The title of the famous film that told the tale of those events, “A Bridge Too Far”, has passed into the lexicon. Above all, the deeds of the previous generation continue to inspire our present brave forces to even greater heights as they defend our interests across the world. Monty famously said:

“In years to come it will be a great thing for a man to be able to say, ‘I fought at Arnhem’.”

History has proved his spinetingling words correct. But, as those nine days in September retreat further into the annals of history, the responsibility on all of us here today grows—a responsibility to keep telling their stories and to keep the “Arnhem spirit” alive far into the future.

Question put and agreed to.

Defence Spending

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Excerpts
Tuesday 16th July 2019

(4 years, 7 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Gerald Jones Portrait Gerald Jones (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I congratulate the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan) on securing this important debate and on setting out the case. She highlighted the fact that defence does not feature in our postbags, as we are all aware, and as a result it does not get the focus it needs. She also talked about the conscious choice by Government in recent years to reduce Government spending on defence, which, as she said, was based on a false premise.

There were some excellent contributions to the debate, from my right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), the right hon. Members for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) and for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois), my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) and for Glasgow North East (Mr Sweeney), as well as the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon), for St Ives (Derek Thomas), for Somerton and Frome (David Warburton), for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti), for Witney (Robert Courts) and for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant). One point of consensus that all the speakers highlighted in different ways was the need to increase defence spending.

Labour is committed to spending at least 2% of GDP on defence, in line with our NATO commitments. The last Labour Government consistently spent well above the 2% figure. Sadly, since then we have seen a sharp fall in the real-terms value of the defence budget. Independent analysis by the House of Commons Library has shown that defence spending in the last financial year was £9.3 billion lower in real terms than when Labour left office.

The debate is ongoing on the appropriate level of defence spending, with both candidates for the Conservative leadership adding their thoughts. That is particularly galling when both of them have consistently voted for budgets that have slashed defence spending to what it is today.

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mark Lancaster)
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In his haste to criticise the leadership candidates for their commitments to increase defence spending, can the hon. Gentleman point to a single speech where the Leader of the Labour party—not its defence spokesman—has indicated that he wishes to increase defence spending?

Gerald Jones Portrait Gerald Jones
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I was not attacking the comments of the candidates for the Conservative party—they are welcome. I was saying that it is galling that they voted for cuts. The Leader of the Opposition has highlighted, as did the last Labour party manifesto, our commitment to a 2% minimum for defence spending, in line with the NATO commitment. He has also said that we cannot do defence on the cheap. He is as committed as our party to spending on defence.

Added to the squeeze on defence spending is the fact that the MOD’s purchasing power has suffered from the fall in the value of sterling after the Brexit vote. Of course, what matters is not just what is spent, but how it is spent. As we debated last Thursday in this Chamber, we need to use the defence pound to support UK prosperity and to back UK defence workers. Labour wants more MOD defence contracts to be awarded here in the UK, and we would like to start with UK-only competition for the fleet solid support ships. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (John Spellar) highlighted, that is a matter of political will. Not only is it vital that we support the UK defence industry to retain our sovereign capability; we also know that investing in the UK leads to additional revenue coming back to the Exchequer in taxation, higher national insurance contributions and lower social security payments—not to mention the value of apprenticeships and spending in the wider economy.

We know from reports by Oxford Economics that the UK defence industry has an output multiplier of 2.3, which means that a £100 million investment in the UK industry generates some £230 million to the UK economy. Its reports have also highlighted the fact that each additional job created in the manufacturing element of the defence industry results in a further 1.8 jobs being created in the wider economy. I am sure that the Minister will want to convey that message to the Treasury. Of course, sufficient levels of defence spending depend on an economy that is growing, so I hope that the Minister will join the Opposition in opposing a harmful no-deal Brexit, which would be damaging to our GDP and would therefore threaten all Government spending, including spending on defence.

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Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mark Lancaster)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan) on introducing the debate. There can be few in Parliament so passionate about the armed forces and I am not surprised that it is she who called the debate. It has been highly constructive and has demonstrated a gratifying commitment to the defence sector on both sides of the House. We should start on a note of agreement: clearly everyone in the Chamber wants the defence budget to continue to rise, and that is gratifying. It is tempting to pick up on another point where we all agree—that it is the Treasury that is the enemy; but I cannot possibly say that. With a reshuffle coming next week, I do not want to limit my options too far. They are already pretty narrow, so let us not go further.

Kevan Jones Portrait Mr Kevan Jones
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DEFRA beckons.

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait Mark Lancaster
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I doubt it.

As has been said, the first duty of any Government is the safety and security of the British people at home and abroad. I am proud that the Government have delivered on their NATO pledge to spend at least 2% of GDP on defence. They will be spending more than £186 billion on equipment and equipment support between 2018 and 2028. Aside from ensuring that our armed forces have the latest and best capability, our investment of around £19 billion a year underpins a world- class British industry, providing direct employment for 115,000 people and nearly 400,000 more across the wider supply chains. That substantial and sustained investment is not only vital to our national capability and prosperity and to supporting economic growth. It is also vital to our ability to counter the rising threats that menace us and all NATO members, including a resurgent and increasingly assertive Russia, and extremist terrorism across the world.

This year NATO celebrates 70 years as the foundation of our mutual security. The UK is one of very few NATO members that meet both their core spending guidelines by spending 2% of GDP on defence, of which 20% goes on major equipment and associated research and development. Defence spending in many NATO states is still too low, and although our allies are making progress on burden sharing, they must do more. The increase mirrors rising defence spending across the world, which makes it vital that the UK maintains its position as a leading player on the world stage.

The upcoming spending review is an opportunity to reprioritise our national investments across defence, ensuring that we can meet whatever the future may throw at us in an era of intensifying threats. The Department has done a great deal to drive out inefficiencies in defence, and there is more to be done, but we must also invest in new capabilities and in transforming the way defence operates, so that we can continue to defend the UK and project our influence.

First, we must mobilise defence to meet rising threats. The international situation is darkening. The rules-based order that has kept the peace for so long is under constant pressure and the external threats that confront us increasingly come from multiple directions. Despite the coalition’s success in degrading the power of Daesh, the threat of terrorism is still with us, while malign cyber-warfare and proxy warfare are rapidly changing the face of conflict. The nation’s approach to future spending decisions must reflect those new realities.

Secondly, we have to modernise and innovate—to embrace new technologies to ensure we have a competitive edge over our adversaries and to identify opportunities to sustainably reduce our cost base, which will require some up-front investment. The Department is investing about £800 million through the defence innovation fund to keep us ahead of the curve, and ring-fencing £160 million of its budget this year for the new transformation fund. Thirdly, on efficiencies, defence has to transform the way it does business by liberating new industry thinking and tackling the behaviours and practices that have racked up excessive costs in the past. That means tackling the mindset of short-term decision making that leads to poor value for money. We must invest in technology now for long-term savings.

I want to answer a couple of points raised in the debate. The MOD does not collate defence expenditure figures for regions, but the average spend per person in the UK was £290 in 2017-18, and the MOD spends some £19 billion a year supporting 115,000 jobs. That means that one in every 220 jobs in the UK is in defence. On the accusation that there have been cuts under the present Government, since 2014 defence spending has increased year on year and we now spend £39 billion—rising to £40 billion by 2020. [Interruption.] I would also say to the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), having served in Afghanistan in 2006, that the sort of commitment that we had, with so many of our troops serving on operations overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan, made for an environment very different from today’s. With the different threats we face at any one time, it is sometimes difficult to compare like with like. Our relationship with strategic suppliers in the UK defence and security sector is vital. The armed forces support an industrial base in the UK providing employment to about half a million people.

I was delighted that many Members raised the issue of mental health in the debate. In the autumn Budget the Chancellor announced £10 million to support veterans’ mental health and wellbeing needs, and in January the armed forces covenant fund opened a £3 million funding programme to fund innovations and improvements to veterans’ community centres. We are considering investing more in veterans’ mental health. Accommodation is another key issue for many service personnel. We are looking closely at the new accommodation model, which is aimed at giving choice to service personnel. Equally, on pay, the Armed Forces Pay Review Body has recently presented its latest findings, to which the Government will respond in due course.

I end on a note of consensus again. I am delighted that in this Chamber at least we are committed to armed forces personnel, and to a rising defence budget.

Chemical Weapons Convention: Declaration of Protective Programme

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Excerpts
Monday 15th July 2019

(4 years, 7 months ago)

Written Statements
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Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mark Lancaster)
- Hansard - -

My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence in the House of Lords (The Earl Howe) has made the following written ministerial statement.

The UK’s chemical protection programme is designed to protect against the use of chemical weapons. Such a programme is permitted by the Chemical Weapons Convention, with which the United Kingdom is fully compliant. Under the terms of the convention, we are required to provide information annually to the organisation for the prohibition of chemical weapons. In accordance with the Government’s commitment to openness, I am placing in the Library of the House a copy of the summary that has been provided to the organisation outlining the UK’s chemical protection programme in 2018.

[HCWS1718]