Anne-Marie Trevelyan debates with Ministry of Defence

There have been 18 exchanges between Anne-Marie Trevelyan and Ministry of Defence

Mon 21st October 2019 Oral Answers to Questions 28 interactions (844 words)
Mon 8th July 2019 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (61 words)
Thu 27th June 2019 Combat Air Strategy (Westminster Hall) 3 interactions (2,173 words)
Wed 26th June 2019 Armed Forces Day 3 interactions (132 words)
Mon 20th May 2019 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (130 words)
Wed 10th April 2019 Continuous At-Sea Deterrent 7 interactions (1,489 words)
Mon 25th March 2019 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (91 words)
Mon 18th February 2019 Oral Answers to Questions 7 interactions (96 words)
Mon 18th February 2019 Defence 13 interactions (1,404 words)
Tue 5th February 2019 RAF Scampton and the Red Arrows (Westminster Hall) 3 interactions (56 words)
Mon 14th January 2019 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (49 words)
Tue 18th December 2018 Modernising Defence Programme 3 interactions (60 words)
Thu 22nd November 2018 Armed Forces Covenant 9 interactions (1,484 words)
Tue 20th November 2018 UK Sovereign Capability (Westminster Hall) 3 interactions (72 words)
Thu 15th November 2018 Veterans Strategy 7 interactions (2,908 words)
Mon 22nd October 2018 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (49 words)
Tue 16th October 2018 Closures of RAF Scampton and RAF Linton-on-Ouse (Westminster Hall) 13 interactions (970 words)
Thu 23rd November 2017 Air Force (Constitution) Act 1917 (Westminster Hall) 3 interactions (2 words)

Oral Answers to Questions

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Excerpts
Monday 21st October 2019

(9 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate
Ministry of Defence
Bambos Charalambous Portrait Bambos Charalambous (Enfield, Southgate) (Lab) - Hansard

6. What recent assessment he has made of the quality of service provided under contracts outsourced by his Department. [900005]

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Anne-Marie Trevelyan) - Hansard
21 Oct 2019, 2:58 p.m.

The Ministry of Defence routinely monitors the performance of all contractors, including those who provide outsourced services. Performance against contract targets is regularly scrutinised and officials take appropriate action when standards are not met.

Bambos Charalambous Portrait Bambos Charalambous - Parliament Live - Hansard
21 Oct 2019, 2:58 p.m.

Latest figures show that the Army is currently more than 9% under strength, and that the full-time trade trained strength is now well below the Government’s stated target. It beggars belief that Capita still holds the contract for recruitment. Have the Government just given up trying to hold Capita to account?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan - Parliament Live - Hansard
21 Oct 2019, 2:58 p.m.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the multiple answers that my colleague has just given.

James Gray Portrait James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard

I warmly welcome my hon. Friend to her new post, which is very well deserved. She is a graduate of the armed forces parliamentary scheme—that is where she learned everything—so I am glad that she is now at the Dispatch Box. I very much welcome the fact that the new Type 31s are to be built in Rosyth, which should be a very good contract indeed, but what evidence can she bring forward that the contract will be delivered on time and within budget?

Mr Speaker Parliament Live - Hansard

For the benefit of those observing our proceedings, so that they are intelligible, it ought to be explained that the hon. Gentleman is what might be described as the overlord, or the Gandalf figure, who oversees the armed forces parliamentary scheme.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan - Parliament Live - Hansard

You know that your comments may go to my hon. Friend’s head, don’t you, Mr Speaker? I thank him for his question. Indeed, one of the most exciting things that I have had the opportunity to do in this role so far has been to set running the new Type 31 class of general purpose frigate. It will be built in Rosyth under Babcock’s guidance. At the moment, the contract is being drawn through to the final details so that we can hopefully get cracking early in the new year.

Nia Griffith Portrait Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
21 Oct 2019, 2:59 p.m.

I welcome the new Minister to her post. A report in the Financial Times today demonstrates that botched public sector outsourcing contracts wasted more than £14 billion-worth of taxpayers’ money just in the last three years, with the MOD found to be the biggest culprit, accounting for £4 billion-worth of the extra cost. At a time when our defences are badly in need of investment after nine years of Tory cuts, does the Minister accept that this Government’s ideological obsession with outsourcing is failing our armed forces and the taxpayer alike?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan - Hansard
21 Oct 2019, 2:59 p.m.

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I have had a chance to look a little at the Reform think tank’s paper, which highlights some issues. All of us would agree that contracts have not always been managed as tightly as possible. I direct her, most importantly, to the outsourcing review that was done by the Cabinet Office and was set in place by the former Prime Minister in February this year. It has been very clear and set some really good guidelines for all Government Departments on thinking more proactively about early market engagement, in particular—I think that has been a weakness historically—and being much more active in the management of contracts, so that when we have great contracts, such as with Leidos and a new contract that I have just signed with Atos, we make sure that we are responsible in the governance of those contracts so that we get the best for our money and that the contractors provide the service that we need.

David Linden Portrait David Linden (Glasgow East) (SNP) - Hansard

19. Capita’s record of success in engaging with potential recruits has been particularly bad, as we see with the bureaucratic aspects of the recruitment process and the difficulty with the call centres. Does the Minister think that this is the appropriate way to go forward if we are serious about getting more folk into the armed forces? [900019]

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan - Hansard
21 Oct 2019, 2:59 p.m.

I am sorry, but I did not quite catch the start of the hon. Gentleman’s question. In relation to call centres and Capita, we have to remember that those who are applying, who are 16 and upwards, live in a digital world. They live on apps and dealing with those systems is very much part of that. The call centre is one part of the whole. That service ensures that young people can really ask those questions and get to grips with their initial questions about whether joining the armed forces is for them. How that follows on from that is something that, as I think we would all agree, my colleague the Minister for the Armed Forces has spoken about at length this afternoon. We are making huge progress in making sure that we get the numbers that we need in the armed forces.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab) - Hansard

7. What steps he is taking to support the UK defence industry. [900007]

Break in Debate

Harriett Baldwin Portrait Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con) - Hansard

14. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for International Trade on potential defence exports after the UK leaves the EU. [900014]

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Anne-Marie Trevelyan) - Hansard
21 Oct 2019, 3:26 p.m.

Defence exports will continue to be supported, not just by the Ministry of Defence but by other Government Departments including the Department for International Trade, after the UK leaves the EU. Work is ongoing to explore how to strengthen the competitiveness of UK industry and to support exports, both to the EU and globally. My right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary has regular conversations with the Secretary of State for International Trade, including through the defence security and exports working group.

Harriett Baldwin Portrait Harriett Baldwin - Hansard
21 Oct 2019, 3:20 p.m.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on her appointment. I know that she is a fervent champion of the tremendous exporters that we have in the defence sector. She will know that they often face non-tariff barriers when they export to the United States. Can she reassure me that she will be championing their cause and ensuring that those non-tariff barriers are broken down when we have a new trade deal?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan - Hansard

I thank my hon. Friend for her kind words. I reassure her that, through our long-standing bilateral relationship with the US, we work closely across the full spectrum of defence, including on issues of shared economic interests such as reducing barriers. Free trade agreements are not used as a means of increasing defence exports. For non-sensitive and non-warlike defence goods and services, the UK may pursue greater access to US public procurement opportunities through the free trade agreement.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab/Co-op) - Hansard
21 Oct 2019, 3:20 p.m.

The 13 old nuclear submarines tied up alongside Devonport provide a really important case not only for generating jobs in Devonport but for exporting skills and technology around the world. Will the Minister put forward a strategy for how we are going to recycle those old nuclear submarines within the next year?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan - Hansard
21 Oct 2019, 3:20 p.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his optimism that anything so big as that project could be done in a year, but I will certainly take up the challenge. I have been described by some in the Department as a poacher turned gamekeeper on this particular subject, especially as I have made it a priority to move this forward. I saw the work being done on the Resolution project up in Rosyth a couple of weeks ago, and I have been encouraged by the progress being made there. We are starting to see a structured framework that will enable us to move this project forward and move our way right through our elderly submarines that are now in need of retirement.

Vicky Ford Portrait Vicky Ford (Chelmsford) (Con) - Hansard

T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [900025]

Break in Debate

David Mundell Portrait David Mundell (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale) (Con) - Hansard

T2. Will the relevant Minister meet me as a matter of urgency to discuss the interminable delay in agreeing a lease for the Eastriggs site of MOD Longtown? This delay is causing a threat to important investment and job creation in my constituency. [900026]

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Anne-Marie Trevelyan) - Hansard
21 Oct 2019, 3:24 p.m.

I welcome the opportunity to meet my right hon. Friend to discuss the Eastriggs site in his constituency. I am aware of the aspiration of Rail Sidings Ltd to develop its railway rolling stock storage business at MOD Eastriggs. Defence Medical Services continues to manage the site and may support initiatives to commercially exploit the rail infrastructure, provided that any increase in use does not conflict with the primary demands of defence.

Stewart Malcolm McDonald Portrait Stewart Malcolm McDonald (Glasgow South) (SNP) - Hansard
21 Oct 2019, 3:24 p.m.

Will the Secretary of State commit to publishing his Department’s analysis of leaving the European Union as far as forfeiting our rights and responsibilities under article 42.7 of the Lisbon treaty is concerned?

Break in Debate

Emma Dent Coad (Kensington) (Lab) Hansard

T10. We heard earlier about Capita’s failures in Army recruitment and Carillion’s failures in Army accommodation. Is it not time to review the costly procurement process, under which the Government just last month signed a £1.6 billion contract to decommission Sellafield with Morgan Sindall Group, which was responsible for the Faslane leisure centre super-mess? [900034]

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan - Hansard

Sadly, I cannot speak about the procurement of other Departments, but I can reassure the hon. Lady that, in my new role, I take how we do procurement, who we do it with, and how contracts are managed extremely seriously.

Mary Robinson Portrait Mary Robinson (Cheadle) (Con) - Hansard

T5. In London, some veterans are eligible for free travel under the veterans concessionary travel scheme, but Greater Manchester’s veterans do not have the benefit of year-round free travel on public transport. Transport is a devolved matter, and our veterans should be afforded gold-standard treatment on our transport network after years of service. What discussions has the Minister had with the Mayor of Greater Manchester? [900029]

Oral Answers to Questions

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Excerpts
Monday 8th July 2019

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ministry of Defence
Mr Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Ellwood - Parliament Live - Hansard
8 Jul 2019, 2:43 p.m.

When those who have served in uniform depart for civilian street it is very important that they are aware of the benefits for which they may or may not be eligible. Our transition programme now includes making sure that we improve the understanding of what armed forces personnel veterans can receive. I am pleased to say that the Secretary of State is working with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to make very clear that universal credit is available for those who are eligible.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
8 Jul 2019, 2:44 p.m.

Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss further how we can create the position of an armed forces covenant ombudsman, who would be an advocate for those who, like the constituent of the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham), cannot get the resources they need from our public services and whose MPs are also unable to make progress?

Mr Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Ellwood - Parliament Live - Hansard
8 Jul 2019, 2:44 p.m.

I am aware that my hon. Friend has done a huge amount of work on this important matter, not least by lobbying me many times. She will be aware that the armed forces covenant is growing—we now have almost 4,000 signatories—but it is important that if somebody signs the covenant it meets their expectations. If it fails or falls foul of that, we need a system to recognise that. She raises a very interesting idea. I have spoken to the Secretary of State about it and we would be delighted to meet her to discuss it further.

Combat Air Strategy

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Excerpts
Thursday 27th June 2019

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Westminster Hall
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Ministry of Defence
Ruth Smeeth Hansard
27 Jun 2019, 2:03 p.m.

I am not sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) has ever spoken on defence industrial strategy—well, she has now—but it would be very helpful if I had a clone so that I could be in both Chambers at once today. I thank the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) for highlighting that point.

Tempest has 1,000 people and £2 billion already invested and committed, both from the sector and from the Government. Moving forward, that will lead to potentially 22,000 jobs in the wider supply chain. When we talk about sovereign skills and investing in UK plc, that is exactly what we mean.

As the hon. Member for Witney highlighted, we asked for a strategy, not a platform. We asked how the Government would look at our combat air strategy in the round, and what the defence aerospace plan was for the next 30 years. I am delighted with what we have—but, as ever, Minister, it is not enough. We have seen recently how difficult it is to train new pilots and how long the waiting times are. In no small part, that is because of the delay in replacing the Hawk training platform.

The Hawk has done our country a huge service for many years and is still flown by the Red Arrows—although I think they could do with an upgrade, too. However, the Hawk is probably coming to the end of its natural life, and there are competitors that have positioned themselves, even to provide training for the F-35. We need to talk about what replacement aircraft we will need for the F-35 and what Tempest will finally look like. We need to talk about all this in the round, not just for a single platform.

The very talented men and women at Brough need some guarantees about their future. They need to know—as does the whole wider supply chain, not just BAE Systems—what we are talking about for the sector’s future, so I have specific questions for the Minister about plans for a training platform. What conversations is he having with the wider industry about what we will do to develop a new platform? If we are not going to do that, are we really talking about buying something off the shelf? That will be no good for sovereign skills as we seek to leave the European Union.

My other question to the Minister is about Brexit—sorry, I mean Tempest, although I have many questions about Brexit. There are currently four significant players involved in the design process. We have a huge opportunity with Tempest that we have not had before, because it is a blank piece of paper. Our weapons systems can be built into the platform, not added to it; the way the ejector seats operate can be included at the beginning, rather than the end; and the way we refuel can also be included at the development of the new platform. As we saw with the Rafale, not only does adding an in-air refuelling system make the product ugly, but—not that I am partisan—it adds challenges to stealth capability and the ability to be located on radar. We have an opportunity to do this all at the beginning, so we should be talking not just about the four companies, but about how we work with our small and medium-sized enterprises and the extraordinary companies driving change, and how they can access the programme with the four main partners.

With the Select Committee on Defence—our Chair, the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) is in his place—I had the privilege of visiting the Paris air show last week, as did the Minister. We saw the opportunities available for UK plc, and we also saw where our international allies are looking to fill gaps in areas that we are not ready to participate in. Can the Minister share with us what conversations he is having with our international allies about working collaboratively?

We are leaving the European Union, I hope, at the end of the year, but that does not mean that we are leaving the continent of Europe. Continuing to work with our allies to develop a platform over which we can be in more control than we have been with the F-35 gives us the opportunity to build our security and financial relationships with allies by which we are currently challenged. Will the Minister inform us what we are doing?

It is a great thing to be able to talk about defence, work on a cross-party basis with so many colleagues, and continue to work with the hon. Member for Witney on the issue. We are grateful for what has happened so far—we just want more.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (Con) - Hansard
27 Jun 2019, 2:09 p.m.

It is a pleasure to speak in this important debate after my great friend the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth), and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts) on securing it. It could be described as a continuity debate, because it gives us the chance to review progress on the combat air strategy, for which the hon. Lady and my hon. Friend both pushed the Ministry of Defence so successfully two years ago.

The strategy document published last year sets out a clear industry relationship proposition. It even committed funding for development—always an exciting thing to see in the military space—and committed to trying to keep sovereign capability in the UK as far as possible. This is clearly important and part of the MOD’s commitment to the UK prosperity agenda. The strategic defence and security review clearly sets out clearly that we have three key objectives: to protect, to project and to promote. Our armed forces personnel do all three in all that we ask of them, and the reach of UK military plc through the soft power of global industry leadership from UK defence businesses is without question.

The combat air strategy’s focus on the issue of industry sustainability, through the commitment to British defence companies and the opportunities for export and economic outputs from technological developments, is to be welcomed. Following on from the comments by my hon. Friend the Member for Witney, I will share most proudly the story of the production of a very small but critical part of the Typhoon wing, which is made in a small business in Alnwick. It has always made fishing rods, but it has a particular turning machine that makes this very fine and critical piece of the Typhoon wing. Across the UK we are all connected, in ways that may be unexpected for many colleagues, to the extraordinary defence industry that we are so proud of.

The combat air strategy is an important part of the sustainability discussion, and the MOD has begun to adopt a more focused and joined-up approach. We saw that first with the shipbuilding strategy, which was published by Sir John Parker at the end of 2016. As one of the members of the all-party parliamentary group on shipbuilding and ship repair—I am the only woman and the only Conservative in that group, of which I am proud to be a part—I am pleased that the MOD has welcomed our review of that strategy. Much of our focus was on the question of sustainability for industry, since new classes of ship only come along every 30 years, but they have such high capabilities that we now only build a few of them. For far too long we have failed to consider export markets for those models or similar ones to ensure that the yards remain open, expert shipbuilding skills are maintained and new generations of shipbuilders are brought on.

The current feast-or-famine nature of military demand threatens our ability to maintain the sovereign capability to produce warships, and the national shipbuilding strategy significantly reduces the scope of ships that the UK is qualified to build. That could threaten the long-term viability of those fragile shipyards. The very shape of today’s UK shipbuilding industry is the result of rationalisation, following a period of policies that urged shipbuilders to compete with each other, with the result that some yards went bust.

Furthermore, the Government’s inability to provide certainty for industry through a secure timeline of contracts endangers the UK’s position as a world leader in shipbuilding. When it comes to future orders, driving the industrial drumbeat would enable private sector shipbuilders and the wider supply chain—always a critical part of the industry—to invest in infrastructure, facilities and emerging naval technologies, and renew the UK’s competitive advantage.

The secondary economic impact and tax returns to the Exchequer would provide further benefit to the UK as a whole. I reiterate what my hon. Friend the Member for Witney said earlier: to get the best value and the most effective outcomes, the Treasury models absolutely need to adapt and change to ensure that there is understanding across the whole of Government. I know that the Minister is at one with the Secretary of State, who is trying to pitch that battle in a new way.

The argument goes so much further, because one could confront the combat air industry with the same challenges. A new aircraft carrier costs £3 billion—there are two of them—but each F-35 that will travel in her costs around £100 million; the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North regularly picks fights with me about this, but the cost is around £100 million. Those jets are only such good value because we buy them from the USA, from a programme that produces thousands of them, in order to get some benefit in relation to the enormous development cost of the F-35.

The combat air strategy already asserts that sovereign capability for a sixth-generation combat aircraft just is not going to be realistic as a UK-only proposition, and that we will end up working in partnership with our allies to develop and build such a plane. I reiterate my hon. Friend’s comment about wanting to make sure that we are a lead partner in that development. Although we see a level of work sharing on the F-35, there are risks to creating a big gap in our capability and production by buying in from the USA. In so doing, are we all working to the same basic principles and seeking similar freedom of action? That is the really challenging part of the military question. Will we all be working together in NATO against a common enemy, or should we be considering that the question of being able to fight alone must never be ignored? The eye-watering costs of such technologically extraordinary planes means that we need to consider honestly the sort of warfare we could conduct if needed.

In the maritime space, the Royal Navy is looking once again at the question of quantity, as well as technological quality and advantage. For some challenges, high-end war-fighting kit is not the necessary weapon. Of course, the simpler and cheaper warship also has value as an export commodity for smaller countries whose defence budgets will never reach those of the top 10 spending nations.

What is the answer to that question in the combat air space? Eurofighter Typhoons, which came into operational service in 2003, are now expected, with a bit of a stretch, to stay in service until 2040. The F-35s are coming on stream as the Tornado is retired, and I imagine that we can expect them to have a life span of at least 30 years. However, with this strategy we are simply considering a sixth-generation replacement for Typhoon in 20 years’ time. Typhoon’s gestation to service has taken longer than that, thanks to the vagaries of multinational partnership.

If historical timelines are anything to go by, we are certainly cutting it fine, and the nature of international co-operation also risks slowing progress. However, my central concern is that technology and the nature of warfare are changing so fast; and the nature of airspace, its congestion, and the rapidly improving reach and resilience of unmanned drones make me wonder whether a manned sixth-generation fighter jet is where we should invest all our thinking and cash.

If the Navy cover on and below the sea, and the Army cover all that is land, the Royal Air Force must cover air and space. There is an excellent nascent and growing team of people in the space division within the RAF, but space does not seem to feature in the strategic thinking at all. Perhaps the Minister will reassure me that a space strategy will come to us soon, but even if he does so, it would somewhat miss the point. For me, “combat air” means combat activities above ground and sea. That will, without doubt, be more than 33,000 feet up in the decades ahead.

My hon. Friend the Member for Witney and the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North first called for a defence aerospace strategy, and that is what we need. The threats to UK plc, to our economy and to the direct safety of our citizens are as likely to come from those Russian bears trundling over the horizon and into Scottish airspace—our quick reaction alert pilots at RAF Lossiemouth are ready to go and politely escort them away—as from attacks on our satellite systems or long-range targeted disruption using the space above us, in ways that mean that a manned fighter jet is simply not the answer.

If the roles of air power are to incorporate intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance—or ISR, which is so much easier to say—and control of the air and up into space with cyber-technologies that we have not yet dreamed up, we must consider how we invest UK taxpayers’ cash into an industrial base that can be flexible, creative and adaptable at pace, and that can be sustainable for our sovereign capability needs.

Back in 1940, my great-grandfather—a mathematician, a vicar and a schoolmaster—was asked to expand his wartime role as an RAF padre to set up and run a training school to provide maths lessons for the young men who needed to understand and be able to use trigonometry in order to navigate a Spitfire. They were sent to the school before reporting to their squadrons. This training was not a particularly high-tech activity, but it was vital to enable those young airmen to fly their planes safely and use the tools at their disposal effectively against the enemy. I set the Department the challenge of telling us how it proposes to empower the RAF to plan for, maintain and build up skillsets—as yet, they are unknown—in the men and women who will be flying or controlling future combat air technology.

The strategy document has nothing at all on training, maintenance and development of present-day pilot skills. In the House in recent weeks, we have discussed with Ministers the lack of trainers for our pilots, who have to use private training facilities and displace private training programmes, thereby stunting wider civilian flying training business models.

Surely the Minister agrees that if we are to prepare for the unexpected—the as-yet unthought-of—we must ensure that we are planning flexible training programmes for this generation of our serving RAF personnel and for the generations to come. They may well not be pilots, as we consider that word now—the strutting pilot walking confidently to his or her cockpit to take to the skies to battle an enemy, or to use firepower to provide air cover for ground or maritime forces—because that role may be in its last throes. Unmanned equipment and war-fighting far from battle zones may become the norm.

My concern with all these strategies—do not get me wrong; they are a great step forward—is that they do not address the changing nature of war and persistent conflict, or the question of what tools, weapons and skills we need to plan for in order to maintain our operational advantage over enemies unknown and as yet unidentifiable. We are really talking about a weapons system and how we plan to get to its birth, rather than wider strategic questions.

The textbook consideration of strategy challenges us to consider the ends, ways and means of our plans. It seems that in our strategic documents, we are discussing the means of fulfilling a strategic intent, with some discussion about the ways in which we will do so. However, we are fundamentally ignoring part of that equation—I do not doubt that it is the most difficult—in our discussions. Surely, a strategic document from the Ministry of Defence, which is one of the world’s leading defence organisations and has the best service personnel in the world working for it, ought to be setting out in a broad-brush manner, at least, what ends we should be considering. That is not just a new, faster, whizzier, cleverer and more tech-filled piece of kit—designed in the UK, I hope, and made or at least built in part here—but the big questions of what our intent and reach will be.

I ask the Minister to come back to the House with the next phase of the combat air strategy—perhaps, as he keeps being reminded, with its new title. That strategy should help parliamentarians to gain confidence that there is clear thinking and planning about more than just the next generation of a fighter jet to replace Typhoon, since that may not be the sort of warfare we need in 20 years’ time, and that the Department is not acting in a piecemeal way on technology or its commitment to the UK defence industry, but is thinking in the coherent, long-term way that, for too many decades, we have not had. It should build into the strategic statements for land, sea and air—they are most welcome—a clearer indication that the Department is working to draw together and support our strategic thinking. We look forward to the full aerospace strategy in due course.

Dr Julian Lewis Portrait Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con) - Hansard
27 Jun 2019, 2:29 p.m.

It is a pleasure to make a brief contribution to this debate under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. All three previous speakers have shown absolute mastery of the detail, which I cannot hope to match in this context, so I intend to draw out some of the broader issues and seize a particular current opportunity: the forthcoming election of a new leader of the Conservative party and Prime Minister.

Occasionally in politics, a window of opportunity opens, usually when aspiring leaders of the nation wish to generate support from those whom they presume to lead. We on the Select Committee on Defence met on Tuesday and decided that we would write to both of the final candidates in the leadership election. I have in front of me the text of the similar letters sent to each, picking up on the Foreign Secretary’s bid for the support of defence-minded MPs. In those letters, we spell out the fact that the Defence Committee, whose members represent four different parties, has for several years been absolutely united about the fact that we need to be spending more on defence.

In particular, the Committee believes that we ought to have as our target figure not the bare 2% of GDP that we currently just about manage to spend, but a figure approaching 3% of GDP, the proportion of gross domestic product that used to be spent by the United Kingdom—not during the cold war, when that figure was 4.5% to 5%, but as late as the mid-1990s, several years after the cold war had come to an end.

The complexity of weapons systems in any of the dimensions that we might care to identify—land, sea, air, cyber-space, or space itself—is increasing. If we do not have an adequate financial base for defence, it is difficult to see how any of those projects can hope to be brought to fruition. That applies as much to what from this moment onwards I will call “the Tempest strategy” as it does to every other system.

In a few moments, I will come back to the terms of the letter that I sent. However. I want to emphasise what my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan) has just said by noting that as these advanced weapons systems get more complex, their numbers get fewer, and they have to be planned longer and longer in advance. Needless to say, they also cost a great deal more. I am a little more familiar with the cycle involving warships than I am with aircraft, but we can see the same pattern. For example, there are two types of submarines: nuclear-powered attack submarines and ballistic missile submarines. No sooner have we completed the construction of a class of one of those vessels than we have to construct a class of the other.

Armed Forces Day

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Excerpts
Wednesday 26th June 2019

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ministry of Defence
Ruth Smeeth Hansard
26 Jun 2019, 5:35 p.m.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention and more importantly, I thank his father for his service.

Not only have we had the opportunity to celebrate our D-day veterans, but next year, we as a country will be able to enjoy VE-day. This gives the whole country the opportunity to thank everybody who served then, who serves and who will serve, as well as their families and everybody involved. It annoys many of us that we focus on our veterans’ community only on Remembrance weekend and that we are able to ignore them for the rest of the year. We should not. They need our support day in, day out, because let us be honest: they earned it. Many of us in this Chamber believe that we act in public service every day, but the hours that we are away from our families and that we commit to our constituents are nothing compared with what we ask our armed services to do for us in every corner of the planet, without hesitation. If they dare to say, “No,” they are no longer in the armed forces. We thank them and their families, which is why I am adamant that this House should become a covenant employer, as should every Department. They should not just be covered by the Government saying, “But the Government signed up to the covenant.” Every employer in this country should turn that into a reality.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (Con) - Hansard
26 Jun 2019, 5:37 p.m.

One of the challenges we have with the covenant and Government Departments is to see in a practical way the well meant and written covenant pledges. An issue being raised with me relates to the Treasury, and the MOD has had to help those serving in Scottish parts with changes to taxation through the Scottish legal system to make sure that they are not disadvantaged by location. Another issue that has appeared is stamp duty tax. For a short time, serving personnel have the ownership of two homes and the Treasury models are not working to support them. Again, that challenge is for the family as much as for the serving personnel. Does the hon. Lady agree that the Treasury perhaps needs to focus a little more closely on its covenant commitment?

Ruth Smeeth Hansard

I could not agree with the hon. Lady more, as I do on most, if not all, issues. One thing that we miss with those who are currently serving is the burden that is placed on their families, who have to deal with not only the tax burden and costs associated with moving up and down the country, but whether they have the right qualifications—if a teacher is suddenly deployed to Lossiemouth, for example, they might not be able to teach. If a member of our serving personnel gets a traffic ticket, their family has to sort it out if they have been deployed. The responsibility for all the small, day-to-day things of living fall on the families who are left behind, male or female, which is why we need to make the covenant real.

My concern about the covenant is that so many people say that they support it but do not know what it means. My wonderful city became a signatory to the covenant five years ago, but none of the people who signed it still holds the post that they held then. Unfortunately, my city has decided that its version of supporting the covenant is resending an RBL email once a quarter. That is not delivering the covenant—yet there are many places that do even worse. We have to make the covenant real. We need an ombudsman—I know that the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan) supports that—and we need to ensure that the covenant means something to everybody.

Among those who do not understand what the covenant is are those who would be its beneficiaries. They do not know how or when to access help, and do not come to us and ask for it. One of the issues in this House is that too many of our teams do not know how much support is out there for serving personnel. That is why the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed and I organised an event in this place two weeks ago, so that our staff could meet people from veterans charities to learn how to get support for our constituents who are veterans when they need it. There are two questions that all of us should ask our constituents when they come to us for help: “Have you ever served in the armed forces?” and “Are you a member of a trade union or trade body?”. We can help them in a way that no one else can if we know those two pieces of information. We have to make sure that they can get the right support, from places as diverse as the charity SSAFA, Veterans UK and even the right part of the NHS. Obviously, in all our constituencies, there are many small veterans charities that can also assist.

I appreciate that many other people wish to speak, but I want to point out that this week is the centenary of the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund, a wonderful charity that has supported hundreds of thousands of people across the country over the last century. It has chosen to launch a wonderful campaign this week to mark its centenary. It is asking the wider community to identify RAF veterans, because it believes that more than 100,000 RAF veterans are not getting the support that they need, warrant or could do with. It is asking all of us to put those veterans back on the radar, which is appropriate for the RAF. I have today tabled an early-day motion on the subject; I hope that everybody in the Chamber will sign it.

There is nothing more important than ensuring that the people who serve, and served, our country get support from everyone in this place. I thank everybody for their support today.

Oral Answers to Questions

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Excerpts
Monday 20th May 2019

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate
Ministry of Defence
Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew - Parliament Live - Hansard
20 May 2019, 2:58 p.m.

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s kind comments. It was a pleasure to meet a number of businesses in his constituency. We have been engaging a lot with the small and medium-sized enterprise supply chain. In fact, on 9 May, I held a roundtable with small businesses in north Wales, and they felt very optimistic about the future. Through our equipment plan, we are actively engaging with the supply chain to ensure that the opportunities in each of our projects will maximise the input that they can have.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard

I welcome the Secretary of State to her place. It is a pleasure to see such an amazing woman on the Front Bench, standing up for defence.

Last Thursday, myself and colleagues from across the House on the all-party parliamentary group on shipbuilding and ship repair launched our report on the national shipbuilding strategy. We have real concerns that competition, particularly for naval shipbuilding, is based on a model that does not include the economic benefits to the UK being recycled back in when we spend UK taxpayers’ money. Can the Minister give me an assurance that the Ministry is looking at that and will work with the Treasury to change our model, so that we can get the best value and ensure that our shipbuilding pipeline lasts in the UK?

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew - Parliament Live - Hansard
20 May 2019, 2:58 p.m.

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. She will be aware that Sir John Parker is currently doing a review of his initial report. International competition is also about encouraging UK industry and UK shipyards to be as competitive as possible, so that they can not only maximise the opportunities that UK defence offers, but take advantage of competition around the globe, too.

Continuous At-Sea Deterrent

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Excerpts
Wednesday 10th April 2019

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate
Ministry of Defence
Stewart Malcolm McDonald Portrait Stewart Malcolm McDonald - Parliament Live - Hansard
10 Apr 2019, 3:55 p.m.

I am now going to come on to the economic case. It ought to be the case, for sure—and on this I am sure we do agree with others—that the Government carry out a threat analysis and, subsequent to that, get what they need to meet that threat and to keep people safe. But we do not believe, quite simply, that Trident complements that effort. The total cost of Trident, from design through to life support, ran into many, many billions of pounds—estimated by some to be as high as £200 billion. We know for sure that the current renewal project is already woefully out of control. Indeed, over £1 billion of the £10 billion contingency that was set aside by the Ministry of Defence has already been tapped into, and of the extra £1 billion announced by the Chancellor, £400 million is exclusively for the nuclear renewal project. The most recent House of Commons Library figures tell us that the £2.2 billion per year spent on maintaining the deterrent is roughly equivalent to £42 million each week. That is about the same as we spend on income support, statutory maternity pay, carer’s allowance or winter fuel payments.

All of that represents a drain on conventional defence, which has always been the priority of the SNP. This is at a time when the Department has enormous funding gaps in its equipment plan, estimated by the National Audit Office to be well over £10 billion, and big gaps in the funding of the defence estate, which is draining money as though it were going out of fashion. It is at a time when the Ministry of Defence continues with the bizarre fetish of privatising and outsourcing things that do not need to be privatised or outsourced: the defence fire and rescue service, the war pension scheme, the armed forces compensation scheme and even the medals office. Those things must remain in the hands of the MOD in their entirety. In the armed forces, it is not uncommon for serving members to have to buy substitute kit because the money is not there to get it through the Department’s budget.

Far from enhancing our national security and providing the necessary capability to keep us safe, Trident is a drain on conventional defence, particularly as the Government keep it as part of the overall defence budget, to the point that it diminishes our conventional defence and security posture, which is in need of proper investment and oversight.

To make one last point, it can be concluded that this country is now an irresponsible nuclear power. The timing of this debate could not be more breathtaking if the Government had tried. We sit here today to mark 50 years as a maritime nuclear power, but just last week the National Audit Office told us that hundreds of millions of pounds are being wasted by the Government on storing obsolete nuclear submarines and their utter failure to decommission them properly and responsibly. The independent NAO—this is not me—has said that it puts the UK’s reputation as a responsible nuclear power at risk.

The MOD has not decommissioned a single submarine successfully since 1980, twice as many are currently in storage as are in service, nine still contain radioactive fuel, seven have been in storage for longer than they were in service and no submarines have been defuelled in the last 15 years. It is a total failure, and the liability costs estimated by the Secretary of State’s own Department run to £7.5 billion. We can be sure, as night follows day, that that figure will get higher. The auditors said that the MOD did not have a fully developed plan to dispose of operational Vanguard and Astute submarines or its future Dreadnought-class vessels, which have different nuclear reactors.

Here the House sits with the iron-clad consensus that we must renew a nuclear submarine programme that the Government do not even have plans to decommission in the future, even though the National Audit Office has just outlined what a costly farce that has become. This cannot just be shrugged off as though it is business as usual. The public expect us to get to the bottom of it. I ask the Secretary of State—perhaps the Minister will say when he sums up—whether he will set up a public inquiry into the farce of nuclear submarine decommissioning.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (Con) - Hansard
10 Apr 2019, 3:58 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman will know that his colleague the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Douglas Chapman), the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) and I are working with the Department to make progress on this matter. Will he and the SNP support us because, despite their position, we need to find the line of credit for nuclear decommissioning, which is an enormous one across the board? Rather than bashing the Government on a question that is long and historic, will they help us to move forward and get the Treasury to support that decommissioning line?

Sir Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Lindsay Hoyle) - Hansard
10 Apr 2019, 3:59 p.m.

Order. I am sure the hon. Lady wants to catch my eye to speak. I do not want her to use up her speech just yet. I am bothered that, with 19 speakers, there will now be less than 10 minutes each.

Break in Debate

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O’Hara - Hansard
10 Apr 2019, 4:54 p.m.

No, I will move on.

It remains the case that an astronomical financial commitment is required to pay for these weapons, and the detrimental effect that is having on the UK’s conventional capability is being overlooked. The UK is choosing to pour billions of pounds into having nuclear weapons, which is akin to a mad dad selling off the family silverware and remortgaging the family home so that he can have the Aston Martin he has always fantasised about when all the family needs is a Ford Mondeo. That is the situation we are in.

We are here today to mark 50 years of the United Kingdom’s continuous at-sea deterrent. The world has changed beyond recognition over those 50 years, and all the old certainties of the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s have moved on. The threats we face today are more complex and far more nuanced than they have ever been, yet we are being asked to believe that the solution remains the same: a nuclear-armed submarine patrolling the seas 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year. It is not the case.

Finally, this is one issue on which the Scottish Government, the Scottish Parliament, the SNP, the Labour party in Scotland, the Greens, the TUC, the Church of Scotland and the Roman Catholic Church are all agreed. We oppose nuclear weapons and having them foisted upon us, because Scotland knows that there is absolutely no moral, economic or military case for the United Kingdom possessing nuclear weapons.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
10 Apr 2019, 4:55 p.m.

It is a great honour to speak in this debate and to have the opportunity to share with the House and all those who follow our proceedings a little of the unique and extraordinary commitment and sacrifice of those who serve in our Royal Navy’s submarine service, delivering our continuous at-sea deterrent—our silent service.

In the late 1950s it became clear to the US and UK Governments that in order to ensure that those infamous words of Sir Winston Churchill,

“Indestructible retaliation…is the secret”,

could be credible, nuclear deterrence needed to go out to sea, where, as Admiral Arleigh Burke, the then chief of naval operations of the US navy, said

“the real estate is free and where they are far away from me.”

The creation of Polaris meant a deterrent system that could be effective because it was capable, reliable, available and invulnerable, and, most importantly, because there was the political will to use it in extremis. I always describe our nuclear deterrent as the most effective weapon of peace ever created, because by its existence and invulnerability it fulfils the modern function of military force to prevent war. Once the power and destructive force of nuclear weapons had been created, and demonstrated, those charged with trying to maintain global order and peace after two world wars had to find a way to harness the awesome and terrifying power of these weapons to reduce future risks to populations around the world.

We have been running CASD for 50 years, and it happens, at the sharp end, because the submariners who man our strategic deterrent agree to go to sea, below the waves, for 100 days or more at a time, in the harshest of watery environments in the depths of our seas and oceans, in a long metal tube reminiscent of a caravan with no windows. It is cold and pitch black, the sea is unforgiving and corrosive, and there are inordinate pressures on the submarine hull.

I ask Members to consider for a moment that, when the sailor closes the hatches as he enters his vessel, he will not be physically able to open them again until they resurface. The pressure of the water at depth means that once he is in, there is no getting out again until he resurfaces. That happens for months at a time.

What submariners at sea most fear, however, is not the external pressure on their metal tube, the lack of fresh food or milk, the lack of internet or the inability to get Amazon to deliver. What any submariner fears most is fire. The whole submarine will fill instantly with smoke—noxious smoke, creating zero visibility, so they cannot see their hand in front of their face; choking, acrid smoke from burning oil or plastic. The relationship and interdependency between every member of a submarine crew is like that of no other team on earth—or indeed on sea.

They have only themselves to rely on. They eat four meals a day together—frozen, dried or tinned food after using up all the fresh milk, fruit and vegetables over the first few days. They work six hours on, six hours off—every day—and getting into a warm bed for four hours’ sleep is normal, since the previous occupant will have just got out to go back on duty. It is not your average work routine.

We take completely for granted our ability to keep in touch with family and friends, more so than ever nowadays, through text, WhatsApp, email, a quick phone call, popping next door for a coffee with neighbours or nipping to the shops for that thing you ran out of. None of that is possible for those serving in our Royal Navy’s submarine service. They and their family can send and receive one message a week—short, read by the commanding officer and potentially censored. They will not be given the message if someone is ill, or has died, until they get back from the three-month patrol. Lovers develop codes to share their affection, away from prying eyes, with ploys that Alan Turing might have been proud of. Fundamentally, however, submariners on duty on HMS Vengeance, Vanguard, Vigilant or Victorious are out of contact with the rest of the world they are protecting.

For the past 50 years, the greatest unsung heroes of CASD have been and remain, in my humble opinion, the families of those who serve. Being the wife or child of a submariner is a job that most of us will never fully understand or appreciate. These sons and daughters, wives and lovers, parent and grandparents have to be stoic and as committed to their submariner’s service as the sailor himself or, since 2011, herself.

Imagine celebrating children’s birthdays or Christmas without dad and having to remember to plan to celebrate them at another time. For children that represents a displacement of normal routines, which makes no sense to their friends at school, and for partners there are the logistics of thinking about how to include their sailor in the special events of life that happen without them when they are deployed, such as the first day at school, the first tooth, the birth of a baby, parents’ evenings, broken bones from sports matches not cheered on, school plays missed, family events, weddings, funerals, and a child’s first steps and first words.

The sailor misses them, but the partner not only has to experience them without being able to share the joy, the anxiety, the sadness and the grief, but has to remember that when their husband or wife, son or daughter, returns from their tour that these events have happened and need to be shared and re-experienced. The spouse also has to deal with life’s challenges, which cannot be shared because of the silence in communications—things such as broken washing machines, insurance problems, money worries and decisions, problems with the in-laws and family discipline decisions. It is a strange and unique continuous stress, because it is single parenthood some of the time and then not. The spouse has to keep their children’s world stable in a profoundly unstable environment; be able to remain strong alone, going to sleep every night not knowing where their sailor is or being able to tell them that they love them.

For the sailor who has been isolated from all these ordinary normal day-to-day activities, it is a real challenge to return to normal life after 100 days underwater in a pressured tube, living with a nuclear reactor and fellow sailors in very close proximity. Normal life is noisy, full of confusion and complexity, and full of events, news, gossip and change of which they have no knowledge. It falls to their spouse or parent to try to help them adjust back to shore life just for a while before they deploy again.

Submariners man our bombers—the SSBN, or sub-surface ballistic nuclear vessel, as NATO describes it—tour after tour, with some serving below the waves for 20 years. That is extraordinary commitment not only by those who serve, but by their families who silently wait for their return and keep their world going while they are away.

The continuity of delivering our strategic deterrent is critical to doing all we can as key NATO allies to maintain global peace. In the past 50 years, whether the world has been more or less stable, the white ensign has commanded respect and admiration around the globe. The challenge of delivering the continuous strategic deterrent—one achieved by the Royal Navy since HMS Resolution began this continuous deployment rotation— continues to elude many nations’ navies. It requires a commitment from our manpower, from industry’s ability to provide engineering resilience, a political strength in the national psyche and the sheer will to meet all those challenges—every second, of every minute, of every hour, of every day, of every week, of every month, of every year since April 1969, which is when I was born.

For the whole of my life there have been submariners willing to serve under the sea, and families willing patiently to wait for their return in order to deliver the continuous at- sea deterrent on our behalf. I pay tribute to every single one of them and thank them for their service to our nation’s security over the past 50 years, as well as to all those who are yet to join the extraordinary ranks of our exceptional, world-class, silent service.

John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Ind) Parliament Live - Hansard
10 Apr 2019, 5:02 p.m.

It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan). I am grateful to her for how she entered into what I think should be the spirit of this debate, by giving us such a vivid account of a submariner’s life underneath the waves and of their families. It was a particularly nice touch that she was dressed as a submariner for the occasion. It is also extraordinary and almost unbelievable that she herself is practically exactly the same age as the practice of continuous at-sea deterrence.

I am glad that she struck that tone, because the SNP spokesman, whom I respect and really quite like, which will probably be to his detriment, suggested that it was misguided of the House to take this time to honour the service and the sacrifice principally of the submariners, but also of their families and many others, in maintaining this policy of continuous at-sea deterrence. This is not the House slapping itself on the back; this is the House paying tribute to this extraordinary service. It does not matter whether one agrees with the policy of nuclear deterrence, it is right that we all say thank you to everyone who has served.

Oral Answers to Questions

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Excerpts
Monday 25th March 2019

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate
Ministry of Defence
Mr Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Ellwood - Parliament Live - Hansard
25 Mar 2019, 3:07 p.m.

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for the personal interest that he takes in this issue. He is absolutely right: people need signposts so that they know where to go. We are working far more closely with NHS England and the devolved Administrations to understand where the complex treatment services are, and to ensure that when people make the transition, they are handed across to the civilian agency that will look after them.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
25 Mar 2019, 3:08 p.m.

It is wonderful for me, as the founder of the all-party parliamentary group on the armed forces covenant, to see an Order Paper that is full of those three words, which did not exist a few years ago. This is a conversation that is critical to the House. Will the Minister meet me to move forward the discussion about the creation of an armed forces covenant ombudsman, so that when the issues raised by colleagues get stuck and we cannot find a solution, we have a real authority to fix things?

Mr Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Ellwood - Parliament Live - Hansard
25 Mar 2019, 3:08 p.m.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work that she has done on this issue as chair of the APPG. I should be more than delighted to meet her. It is important that we carry out the necessary scrutiny and are seen to be doing so, and that we do what is best for our veterans.

Oral Answers to Questions

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Excerpts
Monday 18th February 2019

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate
Ministry of Defence
Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson - Hansard
18 Feb 2019, midnight

As I touched on in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti), most of our defence procurement and most opportunities in the defence industry are not through the European Union. We will continue to work with the European Union to have access to programmes. That is not only important for UK business; if the European Union wants to succeed in developing a defence sector, it needs countries such as Britain and the United States to be able to participate in these schemes.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (Con) - Hansard

Mr Speaker, I associate myself with your eloquent words about Paul Flynn, whom we will all miss very much and whose book I read before becoming a Back Bencher, which I may remain.

Will the Secretary of State expand on how, in our future defence relationship with the EU in the north Atlantic, we will invest in and show continued commitment to protecting that northern flank of Europe?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson - Hansard
18 Feb 2019, midnight

The high north is an important part of the development of our strategy. At the weekend, I had the opportunity to see our Royal Marines in Norway and what they are doing to support the Norwegian armed forces. We will be deploying our P-8s in 2020, along with Norway and the United States, to deal with the increased threat that we face from Russian submarines in the north Atlantic.

Break in Debate

Mark Lancaster Hansard
18 Feb 2019, 3:33 p.m.

I feel this is a monthly exchange between the hon. Gentleman and me. All I can do is refer him to the answers I gave earlier in this session. The visible signs of progress are now there for all to see.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
18 Feb 2019, 3:33 p.m.

Will the Secretary of State update the House on how the carrier strike strategy is coming along in terms of the relationship on building it together with other Departments?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson - Parliament Live - Hansard
18 Feb 2019, 3:34 p.m.

As I am sure my hon. Friend is aware, when we make major announcements, including on the delivery of carrier strike, they are shared across the Government. The deployment of the Queen Elizabeth and the carrier group to the Mediterranean, the middle east and the Pacific is an important sign that Britain is a global nation and a nation that wishes to play its role in upholding our interests and, of course, our values. As we have invested so much in our global carrier forces, it is important that we put them to sea and demonstrate Britain’s global presence, our involvement and our ability to act when required.

Defence

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Excerpts
Monday 18th February 2019

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate
Ministry of Defence
Dame Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton) - Hansard

Order. This is a fairly short debate—it needs to finish at 6.38 pm—and the Minister will want to make a short winding-up speech. If colleagues stick to about six minutes, we should get everyone in.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
18 Feb 2019, 5:48 p.m.

This statutory instrument is vital and not Brexit-related. It is an annual requirement that Parliament restate its approval for the raising of our standing Army, Navy and Air Force in the modern world. Without it, we could not defend our citizens from enemies or send our armed forces to assist our allies around the globe.

We have many dedicated and highly skilled armed forces personnel. Our Royal Marines are working with allies to train in the toughest conditions on the planet hundreds of miles north of the Arctic circle, as our Secretary of State for Defence discovered for himself this weekend—we are all grateful that he did not die plunging into the frozen ice. As the House knows, I have visited twice to learn about the survival training that our young commandos undergo in order to take on some of the most challenging military tests. We are also training US marines up there and working closely with Dutch forces to build this uniquely challenging skillset. Furthermore, with the approval of this statutory instrument, we hope this year to see the development of the littoral strike group to allow the Royal Marines to go back to sea—back to their roots.

As the defence lead on the Public Accounts Committee, I hope to see the MOD making efficient and value-for-money purchasing decisions for the ships they will be using. Getting the right kit—not necessarily gold-plated—is so important if we are to offer our exceptional Royal Marines the skills that will enable them to cross the globe to where they are needed, whether for military or humanitarian intervention.

As part of our world-class and worldwide-respected Royal Navy, our Royal Marines will also be an element of the carrier strike group which we hope will develop in the coming year. The new carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, are world-leading national assets. I look forward to hearing Ministers set out more fully the Government’s strategy for our aircraft carriers. For all the young sailors who are already serving on HMS Queen Elizabeth, it is an exciting and challenging posting, and many will look forward to serving on her in the years ahead. The last commanding officer of HMS Prince of Wales has probably not been born yet, so we will need many more before that last posting is required.

Our Royal Navy reaches across the globe to deter enemies, above and below the oceans, and to keep our sea routes safe for civilian trading traffic. Below the surface, quietly, members of our submarine service are out and about 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. For 50 years this April they have provided a continuous at-sea deterrent to protect our nation, support our allies and ensure that enemies are deterred from taking us on. That is a terribly important part of military procedure, because the nuclear threat is so great. It is, in my view, the greatest weapon of peace that man has ever invented, because it deters—forever, we hope—those who would start world wars.

Those submariners are often forgotten, because they are not seen and we do not generally talk about them, although I do occasionally. We forget, so often, the important and continuous work that they do. While they are under the oceans and the Navy is on the oceans, our own islands are kept safe 24/7, thanks in great part to the quiet but critical work that is done at RAF Boulmer in my constituency. The air defence that is provided by the aerospace surveillance and control system force commander—I had to read that out, because I would never get it right otherwise—is crucial work. It takes place, unseen, in a bunker deep below ground, with remote radar heads across our far northern borders watching the skies.

From RAF Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides—which I was privileged to visit a couple of years ago—to RAF Brizlee Wood, which is in my constituency, to RAF Buchan and the new RAF Saxa Vord on Unst, the most northern of the Shetland Islands, RAF personnel who live in my constituency watch and manage all the data provided by the radar heads, watching for enemy aircraft and so much else. I had the privilege of visiting the bunker recently, and was taught how to identify space junk, the international space station—which comes round twice a day—and much else besides. Extraordinary technicians have learnt to identify those who enter our airspace illegally, and, if necessary, are able to call RAF pilots to challenge them. All that happens quietly underground at RAF Boulmer.

Bob Stewart Portrait Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con) - Hansard
18 Feb 2019, 5:52 p.m.

Space junk intrigues me. Does the hon. Lady think that a piece of nut—that big—can be identified from her constituency?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan - Parliament Live - Hansard
18 Feb 2019, 5:53 p.m.

I was not given that much training, but I think it is safe to say that one of the most extraordinary things that was explained to me is that there is now so much space junk—objects that have broken up over the years—that it is incredibly difficult to find a clear route in order to launch any new satellite into space. The ability of our RAF personnel to understand what is there, and to recognise it as it comes round on the radar screens again and again, means that they are vital components, understanding and supporting the civilians who want to work in space and the military who continue to view it as one of the new potential areas of combat. I am enormously proud to represent that team of exceptional RAF personnel, and also to represent their families.

I set up the all-party parliamentary group on the armed forces covenant when I was first elected, because I was shocked by some of the poor housing in which RAF families have to live. I was confused by the fact that the Government had not done more to act on the multiplicity of evidence that clearly exists to show that family comfort is critical to our retention of the highly trained personnel, in whom we have invested so heavily, to serve their country for as long as they want to do so. When the families are unhappy and feel that they cannot cope with the challenges that military life brings, we lose some of our most wonderful personnel. Moreover, they have cost us a fortune: we have invested millions of pounds in some of our most sophisticated and highly trained RAF pilots, for instance. To lose them because family housing is too much of a problem is a bad investment decision, quite apart from the human cost.

In the knowledge that the Minister is passionate about getting this right, let me ask again whether the Government will consider changing their financial models so that we can make joined-up decisions on, for instance, housing investment and how the Defence Infrastructure Organisation spends its money. We do not want to find that commanding officers cannot secure the decisions that they need in order to keep the personnel they want. We should be able to make joined-up decisions on access to schools, so that the Department for Education understands that if a family is moving outside the normal cycle there must be a framework to ensure that the children get into the right schools, and on access to healthcare when families are suddenly posted elsewhere and are no longer able to be on the same waiting list. The theory is there, but the practice does not always work. Our military families, who support the extraordinary people who have chosen a career which, as part of their contract, means that they agree to put their lives on the line for us all, can know that Parliament values them if it demonstrates that through policies that work.

Martin Docherty-Hughes Portrait Martin Docherty-Hughes (West Dunbartonshire) (SNP) - Parliament Live - Hansard
18 Feb 2019, 5:55 p.m.

It is always a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan), whose constituency is just across the border from mine.

This is a very important debate, although it may not seem so to some Members who are watching it outside the Chamber. Two members of the Defence Committee are present: its Chair, the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) and the hon. Member for Aldershot (Leo Docherty). He and I have similar surnames; I will leave it at that.

The Minister set out the requirements for our armed forces, although I wish he had faced the Chamber while he was making his speech; that would have made things a wee bit easier. He told us what was required for the systems of command, discipline and justice, as well as designating the remit of the services police for the jurisdiction of the powers of commanding officers and the military. On a personal level, I fundamentally get that. I have a brother who served both in Iraq and twice in Afghanistan, and I know that the husband of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) is a submariner. As was mentioned by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, submariners constitute a section of the armed forces that is seldom mentioned. Many elements of the armed forces do not have a voice, including the medical element, which provides services on the battlefield that save lives—not just those of our own wounded, but even those of adversaries.

I will be brief, because I know that others want to speak. The Minister said that members of the armed forces were not employees. I think that, in the 21st century, that is a dreadful situation. We hear a lot about the state of housing for members of the armed forces and their families, and we hear a lot about pay, which the Minister also mentioned, but where is the voice of the armed forces when it comes to improving those elements?

We are told about the service families who do such a fantastic job—some of them recently gave evidence to the Defence Committee—but when it comes to employee rights, we need a armed forces representative body. That is what my hon. Friends, at least, believe, and indeed, during Defence questions, not only my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North West but a Labour Member called for it. It would not have the ability to strike—no one would call for that—but it should be possible, in the 21st century, for members of the armed forces to be able to call themselves employees and to enter into negotiations with their employer. That is possible in many of our NATO allied armed forces systems. It is disappointing that that is not mentioned in the statutory instrument—but of course it would not be, because it is an element that has to be gone through every couple of years—but I hope that the Minister and some of his team, and perhaps Labour Members as well, will be in the Chamber on 8 March, when I will present a private Member’s Bill on the establishment of a representative body, thus making a commitment to my party’s manifesto.

I think it important that we recognise the service given by members of the armed forces. As was pointed out by both the Minister and the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith), we should recognise that service not only in the context of military capability, but in the context of the assistance that they provide through peacekeeping. I often reminded myself of these words:

“Nothing is lost by peace; everything may be lost by war.”

Break in Debate

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Parliament Live - Hansard
18 Feb 2019, 6:05 p.m.

I think it safe to say that one thing that has been consistent since the armed forces were formed is that there have always been gripes and comments put up by those who serve, and rightly so, but we would expect them to be dealt with by chains of command and in appropriate areas. Having a separate representative body of the military would not be the best way forward, and I do not see that as the solution.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan - Hansard
18 Feb 2019, 6:05 p.m.

Does my hon. Gentleman agree that military families sometimes do not feel that they can, as civilians, contact their own MPs to raise concerns—not about military matters their partners might be involved in, but about matters for the family unit? There is often a real lack of confidence that families can talk to Members of Parliament, and we should be doing much more to help them in that regard.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
18 Feb 2019, 6:05 p.m.

No one should feel afraid to contact their Member of Parliament in any scenario. At the end of the day, we are here to act as our constituents’ advocates and champions, and ultimately, if necessary, to do so confidentially. I am always clear that my surgeries are open.

Break in Debate

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly - Hansard
18 Feb 2019, 6:22 p.m.

I have, and I do not like it.

Also inherent in this SI are provisions for enlistment, pay and the redress of complaints, and all those things at heart are J1 considerations, so I intend to restrict my short speech to the people carrying out the J1 function—the men and women who serve in our armed forces—and our responsibility and, as the Minister mentioned during his opening speech, our offer to them.

The armed forces currently face a challenge with regard to recruitment and retention. Ironically, it is a challenge that has been brought about through good news. The British economy currently has record low levels of unemployment, including record low levels of youth unemployment. It is the sad truth that it is a lot easier to recruit into the armed forces when there are few jobs available in the civilian world. Therefore, because actually unemployment is at a record low, the talented young men and women that we seek to recruit into our armed forces have other credible options.

The shadow Minister mentioned that the delay in the processing of recruitment applications through Capita has had a detrimental effect on our ability to recruit the brightest and best young people whom we need and want in our armed forces. People who are credible—people who have other employment options—are exactly the people we want to recruit and exactly the people who will be snapped up by civilian employers, who are currently competing with our armed forces to recruit them. We have a duty to improve and speed up the recruitment process—not just a duty, but a self-interest.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan - Parliament Live - Hansard

Does my hon. Friend agree that we must ensure that we change part of the medical assessment program for recruitment? Those who are diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder—often Asperger’s—should not automatically be disbarred from applying. We are looking to select young men and women who have that sort of skill set—that particular unique kind of mind—and we need to find a way to ensure that the system is changed so that those people make it through the system.

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly - Parliament Live - Hansard
18 Feb 2019, 6:25 p.m.

My hon. Friend makes an important point—one that I will touch upon briefly later in my speech—about the changing nature of conflict and the skills mix that we require from young people coming into the armed forces. We need to ensure that we are able to be a meaningful and relevant set of armed forces in the here and now, rather than think about the conflicts that we have had in the past.

RAF Scampton and the Red Arrows

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Excerpts
Tuesday 5th February 2019

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Ministry of Defence
Mr Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Ellwood - Hansard
5 Feb 2019, 4:22 p.m.

I will finish this point.

We must invest heavily in the core sites where our personnel will be based. That is the focal point. As we reduce the size of all three services of our armed forces, we are building up super-garrisons where we can invest in the long term to improve the accommodation and training facilities, but that means that we must take difficult decisions to close bases.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (Con) - Hansard
5 Feb 2019, 4:23 p.m.

Has the MOD had any discussions with other Departments about whether it should be funding the cost of the Red Arrows, given that their great value is not to war fighting and defence, but to UK plc’s influence around the globe? Scampton is now a historic education centre, and that is not the MOD’s core business.

Mr Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Ellwood - Hansard
5 Feb 2019, 4:24 p.m.

No. We are jumping into discussing one of the assets that is based at RAF Scampton. Given the time, I might as well throw away my speech and just go for it, because I will not be able to get through the points. The RAF Red Arrows are critical to our capabilities in a number of ways. They allow our pilots to develop skillsets that they would not get in any other forums. They do much to promote Britain’s activity, soft power and so forth. They do outreach—for example, at Scampton and the Bournemouth air show. They reach out to youngsters and invigorate them to think about potentially serving in the armed forces, or at least to support and have reverence and respect for what our armed forces do.

There is no threat to the Red Arrows, but we must ask two questions. First, where can they be based? The RAF itself must make a judgment call on that operational decision.

Oral Answers to Questions

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Excerpts
Monday 14th January 2019

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ministry of Defence
Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson - Parliament Live - Hansard
14 Jan 2019, 2:37 p.m.

When I look around this Chamber, I see many Members on both sides of the House who are absolute supporters of the importance of the continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent and understand how vital it is to keeping Britain safe. That unites both the main parties, and will continue to do so in the long term when we deliver Dreadnought.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
14 Jan 2019, 2:38 p.m.

Does the Secretary of State agree that Vanguard—and indeed Dreadnought, the next generation of our CASD programme—is probably the best weapon for peace the world has ever had? Will he update the House on plans to celebrate CASD’s 50th anniversary, which will be my birthday, too—we are almost twins?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson - Parliament Live - Hansard
14 Jan 2019, 2:38 p.m.

I cannot imagine either CASD or my hon. Friend reaching 50, and I think we should put my hon. Friend on one of the submarines as part of that celebration. The anniversary shows that our nuclear deterrent has kept Britain, and also our NATO partners, safe over 50 years.

Modernising Defence Programme

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Excerpts
Tuesday 18th December 2018

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ministry of Defence
Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson - Parliament Live - Hansard

As I have pointed out, we are seeing an increasing budget. What we are doing, as we have outlined, is investing in those capabilities to make sure that we have better availability of assets, whether that means ships, armoured vehicles, submarines or aircraft. We are also investing in stockpiles to make sure that we have the depth of stockpiles that we need in order to deal with the increasing threats around the globe.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
18 Dec 2018, 1:33 p.m.

It is excellent news to hear that the transformation fund will be set up, because that will ensure that the Department can really start to prioritise how that key funding is spent effectively. Will the Secretary of State tell us how he intends to prioritise that funding, and does he have three top priorities that he can share with us?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson - Parliament Live - Hansard

The first is to make sure that we develop both the technologies and capabilities where we see our adversaries moving so quickly. That may be artificial intelligence or autonomous vehicles. Secondly, it is to make sure that our forces are properly ready and able to have a much better forward presence right around the globe. We want to use our armed forces as a deterrent against our adversaries so they can see that we are willing and able to act if and when it is required. Thirdly, it is to make sure that we look after the service personnel who make up our armed forces and that we put in the right investment to make sure that they are properly supported in doing the amazing job that they do in defending our country.

Armed Forces Covenant

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Excerpts
Thursday 22nd November 2018

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ministry of Defence
Alex Sobel Portrait Alex Sobel (Leeds North West) (Lab/Co-op) - Parliament Live - Hansard
22 Nov 2018, 2:12 p.m.

The armed forces covenant is an extremely important document not just because it recognises the value that armed forces personnel have in public life, but because it recognises our duty of care to servicemen and women and their families. It is that duty of care that has motivated me to address this debate on the subject of service family accommodation.

A life in the military is transient and uncertain. It means moving across the country and, in some cases, across borders. For service personnel, it means setting up a home and a life in a place, with the knowledge that they may have to repeat the process again very soon. It means them having little or no choice about their location and type of accommodation. Given this sacrifice, as well as the other sacrifices that our servicemen and women make every day, it is reasonable for all service families to expect that, wherever they are stationed, they are guaranteed a secure, affordable and comfortable home in which to live and raise their children. As a nation, to meet our obligations enshrined in the armed forces covenant, we need to do all in our power to see that this very practical and important need is met.

The armed forces covenant states that service accommodation should be

“good quality, affordable and suitably located.”

I attest that this component of the covenant not only is unmet, but has been categorically failed. In 1996, the Ministry of Defence sold off 57,400 service family homes to Annington, a subsidiary of the Japanese bank, Nomura. Annington has since been sold to private equity firm Terra Firma for a profit—thought to be in the region of £2 billion. This has caused not only a serious black hole in the MOD’s finances, but great concern among armed forces families about their financial future. The ripple effect of the decision is significant. Annington has sold off 20,000 homes over the past two decades. Many forces families who are living in those houses were told that they could not stay—even if they had the means to buy those houses—as they were contractually obliged to return them to their original state. For many, their only option was to queue in a field for hours without any guarantee over what house they would get.

The contract agreed by the Government in 1996 allowed a rent review in 2021—just three years from now. There is nothing to stop Annington from charging market rent. Although we know that the MOD would like rents to fall, Annington expects them to rise significantly from 2021. The MOD could hand back the cost, but that would be very expensive. There are very few cards to play. Annington holds the monopoly. Indeed, rents are already rising significantly and new service families are already paying 2020 rents.

In 2016, Annington put 147 houses in Hawe barracks up for auction on 25-year short leases. Councils, desperate for housing stock to reduce waiting lists, bid at an auction and an out-of-area council won. These are state entities using state funds to bid on housing stock, which was owned by the state in 1996. The profits from this have filled the pockets of a private equity firm. That is a failure and a disgrace.

The result is far-reaching. There are very few houses left for armed forces families. In my most local garrison in Catterick, there are no houses at all for new postings to move into. Planned additional housing is yet to materialise and there are strong suspicions about whether the new super-garrison will be delivered on time. When it is delivered, it will be one of only three super-garrisons in the UK. Many regiments plan to move there. Can the Minister guarantee enough housing for service families in Yorkshire even after that is delivered?

Many service families have been pushed into the private rented sector. Indeed, the future accommodation model has set out the option for the introduction of a rental allowance to allow families to rent privately. A survey carried out by the Army Families Federation, a fantastic organisation that gives a voice to service families, looked closely at this matter. There was great concern over affordability, access to schools, the difficulty in obtaining housing, the lack of time to look and the security of tenure. One of the starkest observations was the loss of the support networks and the understanding that comes from living in a military community. Some 59% said that a loss of a military community was a negative or very negative aspect of renting privately. They also cited the difficulty of establishing themselves in an existing community with the transient nature of a service family’s life.

One person who had lived outside of the military community said:

“It was difficult to integrate into an already established community, there was a feeling of detachment from the unit when my spouse was deployed. They made many efforts for which I was grateful, but the geographical distance establishes an automatic sense of isolation.”

This loss of community is happening within existing barracks, too. In a parliamentary question last year, I asked how many civilians, not including reservists or civil servants—so these are civilians unattached to the military—are subletting service family accommodation. The number for 2017-18 had more than doubled from the previous year and tripled from the year before that. The figures included sublets only and did not include the former SFAs in Army garrisons that have been taken into the private sector. This practice raises all kinds of security issues, causes a strain on resources designed and built for military life and does nothing to foster the community that is so vital to service family life.

All these problems can be traced back to that single act of selling military housing to Nomura. This sale, like much of the privatisation projects of the past few decades, was sweetened with the promise of quality and an end to the dilapidation of the past. However, the standard of these houses is far from satisfactory for many of the service personnel. Fewer than half of regular personnel are happy with their accommodation, and the Army Families Federation says that accommodation is by far the top issue reported to them by personnel.

One member of a service family, who very understandably asked not to be named, said:

“The single soldier’s accommodation facilities are dire. There are 4 men sharing rooms as standard. These have not been updated in line with new regulations about single soldiers having single rooms with en suite facilities”—

these do not even have en suite facilities—

“and it’s like a permanent sleepover that nobody wanted to go to.”

If the armed forces covenant is to be honoured, we must see to our end of the bargain. We must ensure that we have homes fit for heroes. Anyone who risks life and limb in service to this country deserves to live in the knowledge that they and their families will be taken care of and that they will have a home to come back to. Ending the scandal that has caused this crisis in military housing must be a top priority for us all.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
22 Nov 2018, 2:19 p.m.

It is an absolute pleasure to speak in this debate. I set up the all-party parliamentary group on the armed forces covenant when I was first elected in 2015, and found that the covenant had been published for five years, but had never been discussed in the House. It was a great pleasure to persuade the Backbench Business Committee to give colleagues and me time to do so. Two years on, it is even more exciting to see the Government bringing the matter forward themselves. I commend the Minister because I know that it is down to his efforts that this is now part of the national conversation. That is, of course, what the covenant is and should be—part of the national conversation. It is also a moral obligation that is practically delivered, and it is thought about by everybody who lives and works in our great country.

I will cover a few areas today. The report is extensive and shows the real depth of work that is beginning to emerge in this area, and that is fantastic to see. I would like to raise just a few issues that are brought to me most often by serving families and, indeed, veterans.

The first is education for the children of service personnel. It is fantastic that the Department has agreed to finance the education support fund for another two years. This is used by those who are doing research and helping us to understand, in particular by data collection, much more about the impacts on service family children. That is incredibly welcome, because it is very difficult for Ministers to make decisions that will genuinely be effective if they do not understand the realities of the situation.

I introduced a ten-minute rule Bill some 18 months ago asking the Department for Education to change the status of military children when they have to move to the same as that of looked-after children. The Minister said that it can sometimes be a four-month wait, but several families have come to me for whom it was six or eight weeks to deployment. In those cases, there is not only no time to get their lives in order and sort themselves out, but invariably the wife was doing most of the work because her husband was serving, although in one case the wife was a serving member of the armed forces. It is incredibly difficult, and the challenge with civilian schools is that people cannot apply for a school unless they have a house, and they cannot get a house until they know where they are going, and the Department can only move them so fast when they have a six-week window to go from one deployment to another.

There is progress, but I urge the Minister to push the Department for Education further to take this on. It involves a change of regulations, not primary legislation, and it would make a dramatic difference to a very small number of families who get very short-term deployments in the middle of the school year and whose children are just left out in the cold. Not this September but last, there was a statistic that showed that more than 70 children were still not in school in November because they had special needs and a place could not be found for them in the new location.

Mrs Moon Hansard
22 Nov 2018, 2:21 p.m.

One of the other issues is the lack of understanding when families are not in community-based schools with a lot of military families but are isolated. Schools do not necessarily understand the additional stressors and tensions in families where the father, mother, or sometimes both, is on deployment. Is there not also work to do with schools to understand the additional tensions and problems of our young children when their families are away and to help them, particularly at times of stress such as during exams, to ensure that their education does not suffer?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan - Hansard
22 Nov 2018, 2:22 p.m.

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. It is great to see in this year’s report that more guidance is going to schools with the service pupil premium funding to help teachers understand some of the particular needs of those children. I am lucky enough to have an RAF base in my constituency, and Longhoughton school, the local school next to the base at RAF Boulmer, has an extraordinary cohort of teachers. Military children make up 80% of the school, so teachers’ knowledge, understanding and ability to spot a child under stress because their parents are having to move—a lot of them deploy out to the Falklands for six months—are extraordinary. When there are schools that understand because they see a lot of these children, we need to draw out that knowledge and share it. The hon. Lady is right, these children can land anywhere in the country at any point.

The hon. Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) talked with great insight about accommodation and how DIO is making progress. This year has seen a fantastic investment of £68 million in housing, which is incredibly welcome, but for me the missing link is still the fact that DIO is working in a silo. The body that looks after the housing should have an understanding of the retention problems and the realities that a wife will run out of steam and her husband will leave service because the house is just too difficult to live in. That understanding should be linked directly to DIO’s thinking patterns so that it invests, because the loss of the incredibly expensive investment in personnel is a bad swap for a £10,000 kitchen or fixing a leaking window or one that does not lock. Those are the frustrations that drive retention problems, and they could be resolved if DIO had much more direct contact at a practical level that it was expected to follow up with investment. I encourage the Minister to keep pushing at that door. It will require a change in DIO’s terms of reference to achieve the change.

Colleagues have spoken at length about mental ill health, and the challenges we face. The trick to help this unravel and help the NHS to make progress is identifying the markers of veterans. Medical records are working much better.

James Heappey Portrait James Heappey - Hansard
22 Nov 2018, 2:24 p.m.

Before my hon. Friend moves on to veterans, let me say that she has been an amazing champion for armed forces families during her time in this place. May I add to the list of challenges for armed forces families that she has so brilliantly explained? Spousal employment, and the role the military can play in helping spouses to find employment as their other halves are being posted, are key factors in the morale of armed forces families.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan - Hansard
22 Nov 2018, 2:25 p.m.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Businesses underestimate the value of the incredible workforce that can be provided by a military base close by, the effort that these extraordinary people, mostly women, will put in and their commitment to anything. An Army wife is a committed person who will work as hard as she can, even if she is going to be there for only two years. I have met many for whom it has been a frustration, and they take jobs at a lower level than their qualifications afford because they will only be there two years. Businesses fail to take the most advantage of the incredible resource that is on their doorstep. I know that the Department is looking to work on that in the coming year, and that it is one of its targets. I will be encouraging the Department in that, and I urge my hon. Friend to do the same.

We talk about ill health and veterans, and about the charities that support veterans’ needs. It is great to see the covenant fund being invested in and having a more open perspective than it has had in the past, but the challenge is for those small charities and social enterprises that do great work in the local community. I have two. Forward Assist, in the north-east, is wonderful, and helps with isolation and bringing veterans back into the workplace. Another wonderful charity is Forgotten Veterans UK, set up by an amazing veteran, Gary Weaving. It will formally open its new project at Fort Cumberland down in Portsmouth next week, and I am honoured to be a part of that. The charities help veterans with very simple tools, but they cannot access funding. They are sent the veterans who need that on the ground, day-to-day, gritty support, but they are not really getting any funding to help. We need to look at that more closely.

Bob Stewart Portrait Bob Stewart - Hansard
22 Nov 2018, 2:26 p.m.

PTSD Resolution is a very small charity that has an incredible impact. It does not pay anyone anything, and any money it receives it uses for treatment. It is run by Colonel Tony Gauvain, my old commanding officer, so I declare an interest, but I ask the House to please support PTSD Resolution. It does great work.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan - Hansard
22 Nov 2018, 2:28 p.m.

There are many such charities that do specific, targeted work, and we need to try to chip away to give them the support they need to provide that.

In all these things, the question is carrot and stick. The covenant was set up to drive forward this moral obligation for all the organisations and for all of us to pick up. However, as I said to the Minister last week, I question whether the carrot is enough, and ask whether we need a stick. Do we need to create some sort of covenant ombudsman, so that if someone is having NHS issues and cannot find a solution there is always someone with an independent voice to go to? It is not only unfair to ask the MOD to pick up a lot of the stuff and try to sort it out. Is marking one’s own homework the right solution if we believe in our veterans and military families? They do not have unions. They serve our country selflessly and put their lives on the line, and they do not have an independent voice. They rely on us as MPs, and often that does not fit the problem. I call on the Minister to continue the conversation about how to create an independent ombudsman for those who find that the system does not support them as it should.

Gavin Robinson Portrait Gavin Robinson (Belfast East) (DUP) - Parliament Live - Hansard
22 Nov 2018, 2:28 p.m.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak and to follow the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan), who is an admirable champion for armed forces personnel, veterans and their families. It is a privilege to have shared in a small way in the work she has done on this issue.

We will have to constrain our contributions this afternoon for reasons outside your control, Madam Deputy Speaker, and outside the Minister’s and mine. I fully appreciate the opportunity to put forward a voice for Northern Ireland at a time when we give a disproportionately higher percentage of our population to the armed forces—higher than anywhere else in this United Kingdom—but are so disproportionately poorly served by the implementation of the armed forces covenant. That is why it is important for me to contribute to the debate.

I accept fully the sincere commitment the Minister has given and is giving to the implementation of the armed forces covenant in Northern Ireland. It is a genuinely felt belief of mine that the Minister sincerely wishes to resolve some of the outstanding and ongoing issues about full implementation in Northern Ireland.

This is such an important issue that we included it within the confidence and supply agreement. However, when we look through this armed forces covenant report, and consider through-life support for armed forces veterans, we see on page 98 reference to the support we give veterans in England; on page 101, reference to the support we give veterans in Scotland; and on page 102, reference to the support we give veterans in Wales. Where is the page on Northern Ireland? Where is the part of this document about the support we give veterans in Northern Ireland? It is not there.

I have raised on the Floor of this House before the Border Force—or border farce—issue that has affected veterans seeking to serve their country in that regard. Anywhere else in the United Kingdom, someone can satisfy the eligibility criteria through their military service; in Northern Ireland, Border Force scrapped that proposal. It did so on the basis of an erroneous understanding of advice given by the Equality Commission. The Equality Commission merely said, “You have to justify your actions if it disproportionately impacts one side of the community or another.” Border Force—an agency of our Government, responsible to a Whitehall Department —decided not to justify why someone’s service within our armed forces should satisfy eligibility criteria. In the thrust and the vein of the armed forces covenant, that is a disgrace. Now Border Force is facing legal challenge from a former member of the armed forces who happens to come from the Roman Catholic community but is being denied the chance to serve his country because of his religion. Border Force cited protections for him and his community, yet it is using those very protections to frustrate that gentleman’s ability to serve his country. That is not okay.

On two separate occasions, for two years in a row, I have had to challenge veterans Ministers in the Defence Committee and say, “It’s great that we have armed forces champions in local government, but, our local government in Northern Ireland has no role or responsibility in housing or in health, or any of the issues through which the champion process makes a big difference.” In October 2016, I brought correspondence to the Defence Committee that stated, up-front and full-square, that the armed forces covenant does not apply in Northern Ireland. That was wrong, but it was the policy direction being set by the Minister of Health at that time, Michelle O’Neill. It was a disgrace. That is why it is crucial that when we consider the implementation of the armed forces covenant, the Minister has to consider placing a statutory duty on Departments and our public services throughout this United Kingdom. This cannot rest at the will or the whim of any Minister in charge at any given time, because to allow it to be within their grip, poisoned by their political ideology at any given time, is a true disservice to service personnel who served us so well.

The Minister has mentioned the veterans support officer who has been appointed. I know that the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association for Northern Ireland is doing tremendous work to try to navigate its way behind the scenes through the labyrinthine problems that we have in Northern Ireland. I am concerned that the funding that has been made available to them comes from LIBOR, that there is no sustainability of funding, that they are only just getting going, and that they are trying to work without full political support—the full intervention and the full weight of Government behind them. Yet they continue admirably.

I hope that in the coming months the Minister will be able to take the opportunity to think about how he profiles resource properly for veterans’ support in Northern Ireland, including extending it further. How does he recognise that we as a country still owe a duty to the significant number of service personnel who we get from the Irish Republic? The armed forces covenant does not apply at all to those in the Republic of Ireland, and why should it? Yet those veterans who have served this country and have returned to their home nation have to pay for themselves to travel into the UK to avail themselves of these services. Their service was exactly the same; the sacrifice they were prepared to make was exactly the same. We are going to have to consider that in the months to come.

These progress reports, I accept entirely, show a continual development of the covenant commitment to our service personnel. It is a continually improving picture. But until we grasp the nettle of section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998—until national Government believe that we need to and should amend section 75 to include veterans as a specific classification of individuals who should be protected in equality law—we will never fully realise the commitment that we have made.

I was going to talk about war widows, but the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) has admirably delivered all the points that needed to be made on that subject, save to say that the principle of the argument has been won with regard to those who have not had their pensions reinstated as a consequence of marriage. The way they are treated is a stain on how we treat the honour and the valour of their former loved ones. I hope that the Minister will turn his attention to resolving and removing that stain in the weeks to come.

UK Sovereign Capability

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Excerpts
Tuesday 20th November 2018

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Westminster Hall
Read Full debate
Ministry of Defence
Mr Sweeney Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 4:34 p.m.

In Birkenhead, as my right hon. Friend says. We also had Vosper Thornycroft in Southampton, and Harland and Wolff in Belfast, to name just a few, but today the landscape is much diminished. The Clyde is the only UK location capable of building complex warships, and even its capabilities have been significantly downsized. In 2013, when I was working in that very shipyard, more than 1,500 jobs in the shipbuilding industry were lost, and the BAE Systems shipyard in Portsmouth—formerly Vosper Thornycroft—closed.

Some 75% of shipbuilding jobs in the UK have been lost since the 1980s. That downsizing was predicated on a realisation that Britain did not have a naval fleet big enough to sustain the industrial base that existed at the time. Rather than drip-feeding orders to yards that would never be at full enough capacity to invest in world-class infrastructure, the idea was to cut our cloth accordingly, so in 2009 the then Labour Government signed a terms of business agreement with BAE Systems. The concept was to introduce a proper and rigorous strategy for shipbuilding in the UK. In return for rationalisation and transformation, the industry would be guaranteed a certain drumbeat of industrial capacity that would give it the confidence to invest in reaching the upper quartile of the world.

When I started working in the shipyards as a young graduate, one of my jobs was to study every other shipyard in the world that was building complex warships, benchmark us against them, determine what they were doing right and develop a prescription that would allow us to design a world-class shipyard in the UK. That seemed a laudable aspiration, because if we could build an infrastructure in the certainty of a pipeline of orders, we could build ships that achieved world-class performance, saving the taxpayer money. It was such a great idea that other countries followed the same model—most notably Canada, which developed its own national shipbuilding strategy and, indeed, employed the very same person from the Royal Navy who developed our strategy under the terms of business agreement.

Sadly, when I corresponded with the Minister for defence people and veterans last November, he informed me that the terms of business agreement had been extinguished in return for the signature of the Type 26 manufacture phase 1 contract. It was then superseded by the national shipbuilding strategy, which in the meantime was used as cover to significantly reduce the scope of ships that the UK had been qualified to build and that had given certainty to UK industry. The very first page of the strategy document states:

“It is only by building ships that we will once again become good at building ships”.

Well, quite. That seems like a laudable aspiration and exactly what we all want to achieve, but unfortunately the strategy itself undermines that effort, restricting the scope of orders that can go through UK shipyards by limiting the exclusivity of UK build to frigates, destroyers and aircraft carriers.

The 2009 terms of business agreement made very clear the range of ships that were to be built exclusively in the UK without competition, including aircraft carriers; amphibious vessels; all forms of frigates and destroyers; mine countermeasure vessels, including all design and major subcontracted work; all minor naval vessels, including patrol ships; and complex auxiliary ships, which at the time meant the vessels for joint sea-based logistics and joint casualty treatment. That certainty would have enabled British industry to invest in world-class facilities that delivered world-class performance for UK shipyards, achieving the competitive advantage that we had so long striven for. Given that other countries are successfully employing the very same model—Canada now plans to build 15 Type 26 frigates, as opposed to Britain’s much diminished effort of just eight, if we even get them—it is self-evident that we are doing something very wrong by undermining that effort.

It seems to me that the national shipbuilding strategy, particularly the Type 31e frigate project, is a classic example of the Government misidentifying the root cause of the problem that they are trying to solve. The UK prosperity agenda and the effort to make our industry better would be much better served by providing certainty for industry to invest in being world class. That would achieve the opening gambit set out in the strategy document.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (Con) - Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 4:36 p.m.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the challenges for the prosperity agenda, and for the Royal Navy’s aspiration to be part of making us a global maritime nation again post Brexit, is that the Treasury does not have a model that helps the Ministry of Defence to plan for that or values the impact that building in the UK rather than abroad would have on the coffers of UK plc?

Mr Sweeney Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 4:37 p.m.

I thank the hon. Lady for that pertinent intervention, which drives home the point that I am trying to make. I am highlighting the landscape as I see it now, which is not what we want to achieve and is not optimal. That is not necessarily the fault of the Ministry of Defence, but of what Sir John Parker’s report refers to as the “total enterprise” of shipbuilding, which very much includes the Treasury as financial controller.

Veterans Strategy

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Excerpts
Thursday 15th November 2018

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate
Ministry of Defence
Stewart Malcolm McDonald Portrait Stewart Malcolm McDonald - Hansard
15 Nov 2018, 3:25 p.m.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that case. I encourage her to write, if she has not already done so, to the armed forces and veterans Minister, whom I have certainly found to be attentive in dealing with such cases.

We all have to realise the vast change that will happen in the veterans community over the next 10, 15 and 20 years. There is a whole generation associated with the second world war—we are very low on numbers associated with the first world war—who will be dead in a few years’ time. Our veterans community will be younger and more diverse in terms of men and women and its ethnic make-up at time goes by. Any new strategy we implement has to take cognisance of those changes. The expectations of veterans and ex-forces personnel will change as well. They will expect more from the Government and more from local government. They will expect better, joined-up service delivery from local and national Government.

There are different models around the world that we can learn from, and we should not be afraid to ask some pretty big questions. For example, does it need to be the Ministry of Defence that is responsible for veterans’ services? In the United States, there is an entirely separate Government Department for veterans’ services. New Zealand has a separate Government Department. In South Korea, a veterans council is responsible for the implementation of veterans’ services and strategies. We know—let us be charitable— how stretched the Ministry of Defence is at this particular juncture, so perhaps we could be asking these types of big questions and question whether the models and the set-up we have really will serve people best in the future. We could learn from the Danish model when it comes to supporting serving members of the armed forces who go on to become veterans and ex-forces.

Most of the Members here in the Chamber regularly attend debates on defence. They will know that the Scottish National party has called for the establishment of an armed forces federation. In fact, we introduced a Bill to that effect. I know many Members do not agree with that, but I am not convinced we are serving them well at the moment. Members of the armed forces do not have a statutory body to advocate on their behalf. They really just rely on Members of Parliament. I hate to point it out, but when one looks at the numbers who are here today less than a week on from Remembrance Sunday, we have to think that perhaps Members of Parliament are not the best ones to always rely on—exceptional circumstances do exist, of course. But why can veterans not have a body, similar to the Police Federation, which has a role in statute to argue for better terms and conditions for them and their families while they are in the armed forces, when they leave the armed forces, and, as others have mentioned, for that crucial transition phase.

We need to better codify the role of the veterans champion. Sadly, about 10 minutes after the Minister got to his feet, Glasgow’s veterans champion, who was in the Gallery, had to dash off to Euston to get his train back to Glasgow. In Scotland, we have 32 veterans champions, one of whom is the husband of my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron). There are 32 different people doing this across Scotland—I am not sure how many there are in the rest of the UK—and there is not any real code to say what their job is or what their responsibilities are. Someone might be in Glasgow, where we have a really active and excellent veterans champion who operates within the city council—within the local authority—but then they might cross the boundary into another local authority and find that that is not the case.

I get the feeling that part of why we do not codify this is that it will end up costing more money, but that cannot be a reason not to do so. I speak to veterans champions who are full of the best will in the world but who are not entirely sure where their role fits within the council. In Glasgow, for example, our veterans champion is not an elected member of the council, which I think is a good thing. It gives them freer rein, but in my understanding, in most local authorities they tend to be Lord Provosts—the Scottish equivalent of the town mayors that exist in England and other parts of the UK. It is absolutely a worthy role, but exactly what the role of a veterans champion is, and is not, needs to be tightened up.

I come to the issue of suicide among veterans. I agree with the Minister that we cannot allow the myth to be perpetuated of the broken warrior, as it were, but at the same time, we cannot ignore failings in the system. On the issue of suicide, it is my understanding—I think the Minister said this at the Dispatch Box and in comments to the media at the weekend—that there will be moves to start recording suicides among those who have served in the armed forces but who no longer serve.

Two weeks ago, I sent a letter to the Secretary of State for Justice and the Cabinet Secretary for Justice in the Scottish Government asking how this would work. My understanding of English law, limited though it is, is that this would have to happen through coroners in England—I think that coroners exist in Wales and Northern Ireland as well, but we do not have coroners in Scotland, so presumably it would fall to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service there. Where there are changes to that in England or Scotland, I hope that we can do this in a joined-up way and that we ultimately get to the place we all want to be, where we have proper figures so that we can better understand and tackle these issues.

In summing up—I am conscious that other Members want to get in—I welcome the publication of the strategy and the fact that we are having this debate in Government time. There is a debate next week on the armed forces covenant as well, and that is a good thing. It is good to see that there is now some pretty strong parliamentary impetus behind this, but I say to Members here and Ministers: let us not be beholden to any sacred cows. Let us think big. Let us be bold and let us all work together to make each of our communities the best place possible to be a veteran.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Mrs Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Nov 2018, 3:33 p.m.

It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald), and I thank him for his kind and generous words. He can be assured that while I may not be in government, I will continue to believe that defence has nothing to do with party and everything to do with the nation and those who have served us, and that all of us have a responsibility to them. It is a pleasure and a privilege to be their advocate when necessary—be that the families, those serving or those who have left the service—and to support them by lobbying Ministers in whichever Department we are required to.

It is a real pleasure to stand here in a debate in Government time about veterans—those who have served. When I arrived here in 2015, my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) helped me to understand that there had been a loss of impetus from the Government in speaking about military matters in the Chamber. A number of us have taken that as a challenge over the past three years, and it is fantastic that our incredibly passionate Minister, who took on this role last year, has driven forward the determination to have these conversations more widely and to push out there the issue of those who serve and have served.

I want to mention a very special remembrance event last weekend in Berwick—that most northern point of England. Twenty-five of the most northern parishes came together in Berwick parish church to lay wreaths. We held a vigil on Saturday night. The wreaths were placed in the shape of a cross in front of the altar, which was moving in itself, then four of my young cadets from the Army Cadet Force came and stood at each corner of the cross. They stood there from 7 pm until 11 pm, without moving, as the names of all those who had served in world war one and world war two were read out slowly by an extraordinary group of people, the representatives of each parish, old and young. There were many there who were new to their parishes, and many whose families had been part of that community for 100 years.

It was profoundly moving to see those young men and women, whom I know well because I spend a lot of time with them, standing to attention and respecting not only those who had died but the armed forces. I know that three of them want to enter the armed forces themselves and take on the extraordinary challenge that is faced by all members of the forces. It means a really exciting career and learning exceptional skills, but it also means a willingness to put their lives on the line if necessary to defend us and our nation. That will never cease to amaze me, and to fill me with the utmost respect for every single one of them.

When I set up the all-party parliamentary group on the armed forces covenant when I was first elected, I wanted it to speak up for armed forces families. The covenant put something very good into law, but I began to discover things accidentally, as so often happens when a person becomes an MP—we discover all sorts of subjects with which we have had no particular relationship before. Military families came and talked to me about their struggles and the issues in their lives, from school places to housing to medical assistance. You name it, they were all there: the challenges of moving around, the challenges of not having a base and the feeling that the system could not support them.

Three years on, it is really exciting to see a strategy for veterans that has a wrap-around effect on their families as well. I pay tribute to the Minister, who I know has battled with the system to get it to where it is now, and also to his team. I have worked with many of them over the past year, and I know that they have put in an enormous amount of work to reach the beginnings of a strategy that will be incredibly supportive to all the families.

I want to raise a number of issues about which my knowledge has grown over the last three years, and on which I think we can make progress in the years ahead. One of them is the question of money. Families who are seeking support in relation to a particular issue—as well as veterans, and, in some cases, those who are still serving—say, “It is so complicated. There are so many charities. I don’t know where to go. It is very difficult. How do I start?”

For a long time I worked in the north-east with a group called the Community Foundation. That extraordinary organisation, which has now spread across the country, originated in the United States. Regional charities’ finances are held together in a pot so that the money that they all hold can be used in a better way. Members of a central board can direct those who come seeking support to the right charity, so that an individual who is probably in distress, or is battling other issues, does not have to go hunting for the right support. There are more than 3,000 charities, many of which hold very small amounts of money and have a particular focus. A charity may have been set up by a family who had lost someone who served, for instance.

If we could draw charities together to work in a collaborative, central way so that people seeking support could go to a central point and a board would direct them, that would relieve them of a great deal of stress. There is so much support out there—it may not be in the part of the country where we live, but that does mean that it does not provide the right specialist care for the person we are seeking to support. I will leave that suggestion with the Minister, but I should be happy to follow it up and see whether we can have a more cohesive conversation with charities. I have spoken to some of them about that already.

The veterans gateway, which was set up last year, is a great start in that it provides people with an initial central point to go to. During its first year it has responded to many questions, from “Where can I get my medals replaced?” to “My husband is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and I do not know where to go.” An extraordinary range of questions have been sent down that telephone line. The team are working to build the network and signpost people in the right direction, but the question I would ask is, are we really tracking whether the right outcomes are achieved for those who call? I am not sure that we are there yet.

Sometimes there may be an easy question for which there is an easy answer—big tick, it is sorted. That is fantastic. But I remain concerned that people are signposted to a charity that ought to be able to help, but no one from the gateway is then checking that they have actually received that help. So they may end up back in the ether, still struggling to find the support that they need. I ask the Minister to set out—or to consider, if this is not being done—how we can have a real tracking system so that the outcome of the support the gateway is supposed to provide is actually achieved. Some of the cases will be difficult, and will not simply entail making a direct phone call to the next person, with the solution then being provided.

That brings us on to a wider question about the MOD’s responsibility to look after veterans. That question has frustrated me, because one reason why the covenant was such a great thing for David Cameron to put into law in 2011 was that that is not only the MOD’s responsibility. Although the MOD does of course have a duty of care to those who have served and have needs afterwards, that should be a cross-Government project. The veterans board was a great start, and I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir Michael Fallon) for battling to get it into the manifesto so that it could come to fruition at the end of last year, but I am not sure that every other Department understands the vital contribution that they each make, because veterans and their families are affected by their work just as everybody else is.

If the covenant is to be real, we must realise that we have committed as a nation to giving veterans and their families support without question. That is what the covenant means to me: it means that we value them for the rest of their lives. As the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) said, for many of our veterans now, that is going to be a very long time—they are going to live long lives with challenging issues and disabilities that will appear later down the line, especially mental health problems. We see Northern Ireland veterans now coming out with severe mental health problems, 20 or 30 years after they served.

As a public services community we must make sure we are ready to pick up these issues. I worry that we are always thinking, “They were soldiers once, so it’s the MOD’s responsibility.” That is not good enough; that is not what the covenant should be. I concur with the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) that we should consider taking the covenant to a higher statutory level, rather than simply having it setting out its vision. The MOD’s job is to defend us; that is its purpose—to be prepared for war, to have the deterrents to try to prevent war from happening, but to have soldiers, sailors and airmen ready to take us to war if necessary. That is the MOD’s job, whereas the job of the NHS is to look after us if we are sick, and the council’s job is to provide people who need a house with housing and to look after education services. All those issues affect veterans and their families, because they are participant members of our society for the rest of their lives. So we must continue to question whether we leave the responsibility for the covenant in statutory terms in the hands of the MOD, or whether the Government and Parliament should consider taking it to a higher level.

I receive many letters such as the following one, which is from a serviceman’s wife, because families contact me all the time. I apologise if my voice breaks while reading it, as it is not an easy letter to read. But I will read it anyway, because it illustrates the issues we are struggling with:

“I write to you to tell you of my experience of living with a husband who has PTSD following his tour in Afghanistan in 2010.

This weekend may have potentially seen the end of our marriage and there is a real risk my husband will self-harm to end his life. His behaviour has caused me to ask him to leave. He has gone to his Grandma’s and my understanding is his parents have contacted the correct health authorities to get the help that he needs. They have moved faster than any of our local authorities have here. He has previously presented at his local GP who told him to self-refer to a local mental health charity. I find it shocking that people have to “self-refer” when they have a mental health condition. The temptation is to just go home and do nothing, brush it under the carpet, do it another day, ultimately delaying treatment.

He has received community CBT and EMDR from people who have absolutely no experience in dealing with conflict trauma. The hospital he presented at yesterday said the treatment he has received has been a sticking-plaster no more, no less, and that he is seriously ill.

This has been ongoing for eight years. For eight years I have had to live with his financial mismanagement and deception, which has taken a sinister turn over the weekend. His actions are not compatible with a stable marriage and for the sake of my children and I, I have asked him to leave to seek treatment.

I have never received any support from the military as to how I deal/manage with my husband’s PTSD. My husband likewise hasn’t had any contact from the Army. I just cannot comprehend this lack, and total disregard, for their duty of care.

He was medically discharged for physical injuries he sustained during that tour in 2014. He served in Helmand as a platoon commander leading young men at a young age in an area that, without exception, was the most dangerous place in the world. How can the army not follow up with serving members of the forces to check they are ok when people have died on patrols that they have led? People have lost limbs, had spinal fractures, have been injured in an IED explosion themselves. How can they not check that the families have the support that they need? How can they risk more potential casualties in the form of suicide? I am alone in facing this. The government cannot delegate their duty of care to charities. Relying on people to approach them.

My husband talks a good game. On any vague assessment he would present as healthy. He hid his physical injuries for 2 years as he felt others had it worse. This ended his career. He will likely be wheelchair bound at 60. In terms of his physical injuries, his Regiment have utterly failed in their duty of care. He has never been treated at any of the army rehabilitation centres because a doctor only spotted the physical injuries 2 years post tour when he presented for something else. He didn’t fall into the category of ‘conflict wounded’. He has had to rely on community treatment and has always had to push for his own treatment, paying privately in each instance. It just baffles me how this can all happen. His Regiment, Army and the government have abandoned him and us. Our local mental health services are woefully inadequate to deal with such complex injuries and I am not a qualified mental health expert! My greatest fear is that this letter will be included one day as an exhibit in a bundle”—[Interruption.]

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon - Parliament Live - Hansard

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Mrs Trevelyan - Hansard
15 Nov 2018, 3:46 p.m.

Yes—thank you.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon - Hansard
15 Nov 2018, 3:46 p.m.

The hon. Lady is very passionately telling the story of someone she knows very well. That example is replicated across the whole of the United Kingdom, and every one of us has encountered people that that has happened to. I want to support her in making her comments, and to reassure her that everyone in the House understands exactly what she is saying.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Mrs Trevelyan - Hansard
15 Nov 2018, 3:45 p.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman; he is very kind. This Chamber is the most wonderful thing when it works in a collegiate fashion.

The serviceman’s wife finishes by saying:

“My greatest fear is that this letter will be included one day as an exhibit in a bundle collated for the Coroner. I have no voice but I know that this cannot continue.”

I get far too many of those letters, and I imagine other colleagues do as well. We do our best, but the challenge is to provide these people with a voice. The Minister cannot independently battle his way through the system and make every Department suddenly behave as it should for these families. I have been raising this matter for a while, and he will not be surprised to hear it again.

The covenant cannot work solely by virtue of kindness, consideration and everybody out there saying that it is a good thing, perhaps without understanding exactly what that responsibility means or rising to the challenge of prioritising where it is required. At the moment, the covenant is a carrot. It is a positive, uplifting and encouraging message of support from the Government to those who have served, but that is not enough if families are having to experience years of frustration. The military do not ask for help—that is an extraordinary phenomenon. I have an RAF base and a large Army base in my patch, and no one there ever complains about anything. I hear about problems from a vicar or from a schoolteacher, and then I go looking to help to solve them. They never come to ask for help. They will battle on, because they are a can-do community that will try to find its own solutions. They have an extraordinary gift of resilience. As a community, they look after each other because that is what we ask them to do in times of war, but the families cannot always do that.

I believe that we need to create a system that involves some kind of covenant ombudsman. We have a parliamentary ombudsman to go to when nothing else has worked, and we need a covenant ombudsman as well. It should be an organisation that sits outside any Department and that is empowered by Parliament to have a voice and to fight wherever it is required for each family. It cannot be right that we receive letters such as the one I read, that we cannot solve those problems and that such families have had to wait so many years before they feel it is okay to stick their heads above the parapet and cry, “Help!”

I leave that with the Minister. It is not a new request, but it is one we need to drive forward. The carrot mentality is just not enough to ensure that families get the support they need when they need it.

Stephen Morgan Portrait Stephen Morgan (Portsmouth South) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Nov 2018, 3:50 p.m.

It is a real pleasure to follow the impassioned contribution from the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mrs Trevelyan), who is a huge advocate for veterans and, indeed, the Royal Marines. Commitment to and passion for those men and women serving in and leaving the world’s finest armed forces can surely be found on both sides of the House. As the Member of Parliament for the home of the Royal Navy, that is heartening for me to see.

I will keep my remarks brief this afternoon. Along with many Members of this House, I spent last week at remembrance services, selling poppies in my constituency. Needless to say, we in Portsmouth were again profoundly moved by and deeply proud of the bravery and sacrifice of service personnel past and present. Pride in our armed forces comes naturally to my city. As the home of the Royal Navy, we know personally of the remarkable courage and expertise in service of those generations that have fought for our country. That is why I am so passionate about ensuring that our Government, our public services and the economy work to support them during their service and beyond, during their transition back to civilian life. So I thank the Minster for his statement today; it was hugely helpful to hear.

This is not a party political issue. Personally, I could not care less from which party or place support for our veterans comes, so long as it is comprehensive and generous. This strategy is at least a good start—it certainly makes lighter reading than today’s withdrawal agreement. I await the results of the consultation with great interest, and I anticipate serious policy commitments. Specific and effective policy is needed because, as has been mentioned by my colleagues, the challenges facing veterans are serious and deserve a response of equal weight.

The Minister may recall from my correspondence with him my support for the armed forces covenant, and I am proud that Portsmouth City Council has recently received the gold award. Equally, however, he may recall my urging him to give some teeth to the covenant and for it to go further.

The same could be said about this strategy and the Government’s support for veterans generally. I wholeheartedly endorse each and every one of the key themes set out by the Minister’s Department. Co-ordination of services, data collection and proper recognition for our veterans—these are all things I have been campaigning for and absolutely support. However, to be realised, they require timely action from Government. That is especially true of the shocking lack of worth our veterans feel is placed in them by the wider population. According to a heart-breaking report by SSAFA, 62% feel undervalued by society. I was pleased to see that recognition of veterans was a key strand in the veterans strategy. I also greatly welcome plans to introduce an official veterans ID card, and perhaps the Minister could update the House later on progress on that.

It is clear that action to improve life for veterans does not have to be hugely costly or complex to be effective. I will confine my remarks to an issue that is not only particularly pertinent, but something whose treatment it would be simple to improve. That issue is mental health, and specifically data collection on suicide rates.

I should say from the start that we should in no way stigmatise our armed forces personnel. The majority of ex-servicemen and women adapt very well to civilian life. The skills required in the forces are unique and an extremely valuable addition to the existing talents that those in our services often hold. As the Minister and other Members of this place can attest, life in the forces can preface great success in civilian and even public life. That does not mean we can afford to lose sight of those in our armed forces who do need support and care.

The UK is almost unique in not requiring coroners to mark an individual as a veteran. As a result, only one of the 98 coroners in England and Wales does so. That is something almost all our allies do, including Canada, America and Australia, because it makes sense. This is important and useful data about and for the veteran community.

How can we possibly go about solving this issue if we do not know the scale of the problem? The Ministry of Defence currently puts the tri-services suicide rate at eight per 100,000, which is notably lower than the 15.5 per 100,000 rate that the Office for National Statistics reports among the general male population. I have no doubt that everyone in this House would welcome that state of affairs but, put simply, significant research from the Royal British Legion and my own conversations with the veteran community suggest that it does not reflect reality. The fact is that we do not know for sure, which is exactly my point.

In answer to my written question of 8 October on the plans that the MOD and the Ministry of Justice have for introducing such a recording duty on coroners, the Minister said he had had no such conversations with colleagues in the Ministry of Justice. Perhaps he could say today whether he might consider introducing a coroner recording duty as part of the veterans strategy. The move would fit well with the Government’s aim, as stated in yesterday’s document, of enhancing the collection, use and analysis of data across sectors to effectively address the needs of veterans. I believe the measure would have broad support from the public and the military, including from General Sir Dave Richards. I urge the Government to listen and to capitalise on this remarkably simple but invaluable step.

I also pay tribute to the campaigning of the Portsmouth News and the Sunday People, and specifically to the dedication of Portsmouth veteran Stephen James, who has developed a fantastic peer-to-peer chat app, All Call Signs, to connect former services personnel, allowing them to support each other directly when mental health difficulties arise.

We owe services personnel far better than to turn a blind eye. Inevitably, the data itself would not help us to reduce the number of tragic incidents, but it would be invaluable in bettering our understanding of the issue, which is crucial if we are to tackle it. Again, I encourage the Minister to incorporate this commitment to veterans.

Oral Answers to Questions

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Excerpts
Monday 22nd October 2018

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ministry of Defence
Mr Speaker Hansard
22 Oct 2018, 2:43 p.m.

I urge the Secretary of State to follow my very good example: I visited the Huddersfield constituency, and the hon. Gentleman who represents it is a very good host, as is the university to boot. It will widen the Secretary of State’s learning and cultural experience to go there.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Mrs Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
22 Oct 2018, 2:44 p.m.

The UK’s defence capability has been immeasurably enhanced by the arrival of HMS Queen Elizabeth. We saw her in New York this weekend. Will the Secretary of State consider putting together a national carrier strategy, so that for the next 50 years she has a real, important global purpose?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson - Parliament Live - Hansard

We do need to have a very clear national carrier strategy, because this is not just an important part of projecting power, but a key part of our national deterrence and of making sure that nations all around the globe understand that Britain has the capability to defend herself and to protect our international interests.

Closures of RAF Scampton and RAF Linton-on-Ouse

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Excerpts
Tuesday 16th October 2018

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Westminster Hall
Read Full debate
Ministry of Defence
Karen Lee (Lincoln) (Lab) Hansard
16 Oct 2018, 4:33 p.m.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the closures of RAF Scampton and RAF Linton-on-Ouse.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I am pleased to lead this debate on a vital national and local issue—the closures of RAF Scampton and RAF Linton-on-Ouse. I will focus on Scampton, as its closure has a major impact on my constituency, but other hon. Members may wish to give a more informed assessment of the closure of RAF Linton. I apologise in advance that I will not take too many interventions, but I have quite a lot to raise before I open the debate to other hon. Members.

I am pleased to say that I have a huge amount of local support in opposing Scampton’s closure. I have the backing of the Historic Lincoln Trust, which is chaired by Lord Cormack, and I have collected more than 5,000 signatures for my petition opposing the closure. Other local groups have collected signatures on petitions, and added to the signatures I have collected, that amounts to a huge public outcry against the decision.

There is a lot of local anger in Lincoln at the Ministry of Defence’s decision. There is real concern about the future of the Red Arrows in Lincolnshire and the potential loss of many local jobs. Since the decision, I have campaigned rigorously and gathered local momentum against it. This is one of the best-supported campaigns I have ever been involved in. People have signed my petition, regardless of their age or political persuasion. Never before have I had members of the public queuing down the high street to sign a petition about which they feel such passion. So far, it has reached 5,000 signatures. We are calling, first, for the Red Arrows to stay in Lincolnshire—that is an absolute must—secondly, for the rationale behind the closure and the impact it will have on the UK’s defences to be made public, which I have tried to do; thirdly, for a thorough consultation to be undertaken with all local and national stakeholders; and, finally, for a full impact assessment of the effect that the closure will have on the local economy and workers.

This year, we are celebrating 100 years of the Royal Air Force and 100 years since Air Station Brattleby Cliff was renamed RAF Scampton. The airbase is central to Lincolnshire’s past and present identity. Scampton was home to the legendary Dambusters, and since 2000 it has housed the world-renowned Red Arrows. For 100 years, Scampton has symbolised our Royal Air Force’s proud history, and it has received a lot of praise for its role. Recently, Air Marshal Sir Michael Graydon referred to it as a “very good base”, and the strategic defence review conducted in 2010 concluded that keeping the Red Arrows at Scampton was the best way to allow them to operate. However, the Ministry of Defence ploughed on and announced that RAF Scampton was to be closed and sold off. Although the MOD made that decision, it is ultimately Government cuts that forced that step to be taken. If budgets are cut, our communities suffer. Cuts have consequences.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Mrs Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (Con) - Hansard
16 Oct 2018, 4:33 p.m.

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Karen Lee Hansard
16 Oct 2018, 4:38 p.m.

I will not, I am sorry. I want to go on, because I am aware that we will have votes in the House.

Locally, in bomber county, there is incredulity that the Conservatives are effectively signing the death warrant of our local RAF base and taking away our Red Arrows, especially as, like Labour Members, only a very short time ago they welcomed the RAF to London and enjoyed the fly-past by the wonderful historic planes. The decision to close RAF Scampton has been very badly managed. There has not been a local transparent consultation. Although I am the local MP, I was not informed; I found out through the local and national press coverage when I turned on BBC news in the morning.

Although the Ministry of Defence statement asserted that it would engage with local stakeholders, that has been far from the reality. I have submitted a letter requesting a meeting and a freedom of information request. I acknowledge that this is a sensitive subject, but I submitted my FOI request on 30 July—78 days, or 11 weeks, ago—and, other than two holding replies, I have not had a proper response. The last thing I want to do is publish anything that would put our country’s safety at risk, but my request relates to my petition and to the effect that the closure will have on the surrounding area and the future of the Red Arrows. Rather than withhold the information for an extended length of time, the MOD should publish the impact assessments that informed the decision for the public to see.

From the information available to me locally, I feel confident in saying that the decision is highly flawed. The Minister noted in the initial announcement that

“The disposal of the site would offer better value for money and, crucially, better military capability by relocating the units based there.”

I cannot comment on military capability, as I am not privy to the details, but I dispute the idea that it was an effective “value for money” decision.

The argument for closing RAF Scampton is that the land can be sold and used for housing. That case has been proposed twice before—in 1994 and 2000. On both occasions, the financial case was flawed. The value of the land, particularly the assumed capital receipt and the expected value of the land per hectare, was overestimated. The previous decisions, and most likely this one, were based on an unrealistic view of land values. Other MOD site disposals were used as comparisons, but variations across the country were not considered. On that basis, I asked the Minister to release the forecast pricing of the land, as it has been miscalculated twice previously.

The land in question is also very likely contaminated, and any decision must take into account the cost of land remediation to ensure that it is of the necessary standard for residential development. I have been advised locally that there is an extensive underground fuel system, which is likely to have leaked over the years, leading to hydrocarbon contamination, so a major clean-up would be required before the land could be considered suitable for residential use. The environmental factors, alongside the cost of removing RAF infrastructure, may reduce the value of the land and result in a loss if it were sold. Will the Minister explain in detail the expected savings from closing Scampton, factoring in the cost of remediation work?

It is not just the cost of the land that means that Scampton should not be closed: It is what it and the Red Arrows provide to the local economy. Not only does Scampton provide 600 jobs, which enables spending in Lincoln and thus increases productivity in the local economy—we hear a lot from the Conservative Government about jobs—but Lincolnshire has a rich military history, and Scampton epitomises that and attracts tourists. I work closely with Visit Lincoln, which has stressed to me on numerous occasions the importance of the base and the Red Arrows. The heritage centre at Scampton is housed in one of the original world war two hangars. It holds more than 1,000 artefacts and contains the original office of Guy Gibson, commanding officer of 617 Squadron—the Dambusters. The Red Arrows are world renowned. Even though they tour the world, between November and March the public can visit them at Scampton. It is an exciting opportunity to visit the impressive Arrows up close. Aviation enthusiasts travel across the UK and from abroad to visit Scampton, but possibly not for much longer.

The selling of Scampton not only deprives the local economy and costs us jobs but wipes out the history of those who bravely fought against the fascist threat during world war two. Did the Minister and the Ministry of Defence consider the effect that the closure would have on the local economy when they decided to close Scampton and relocate the Arrows? Has the Ministry of Defence honestly given any consideration to the future of the heritage centre?

The leader of the Labour party has committed to save Scampton—I went straight up and bent his ear, and he agreed to that. He recognises its immense local and national significance, but the Prime Minister continues with an unpopular, short-sighted and misinformed policy. I have had more requests about this issue in the 16 months I have been an MP than about anything else—it is so vital locally in Lincoln.

I began this debate by asking the Minister questions about land value and the local economy. I hope that I get some kind of reply, because I have had nothing from the MOD. I would now like to open the debate to other Members.

Break in Debate

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab) Hansard
16 Oct 2018, 4:47 p.m.

As always, it is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Pritchard. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Karen Lee) on securing this timely and important debate. It is also a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake). Recently, I had the privilege to be on a parliamentary armed forces visit, and I take this opportunity to thank everyone at RAF Linton-on-Ouse for making us so welcome and giving us such an instructive, informative and excellent visit.

I want to focus in particular on RAF Kirton-in-Lindsey, which was closed in 2013. It is in my constituency. There is still an association with RAF Scampton in so far as there are assets in Kirton-in-Lindsey still being used by the Scampton base. The closure of RAF Scampton will have an impact on Kirton-in-Lindsey. Those are the assets that I am concerned about.

I have always found the military personnel—from the RAF and all the armed services—with whom I have come into contact to be excellent, but I found that dealing with the MOD was less than excellent when it was disposing of the site in Kirton-in-Lindsey. The MOD’s attitude of mind is very much focused on disposal and simple numbers. However, the impact on cost is not about simple numbers from a disposal—the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton touched on this, in some ways—but about community value and community assets.

In Lincolnshire—“bomber county”, as my colleague said—the disposal of assets has a history of being done in a way that has actually cost the public purse. The disposal might have got a little cash for the MOD at the time, but the cost to the public purse has been a lot more, because the disposal was not done effectively: the maintenance and support of often derelict sites has frequently fallen back on other parts of the public purse.

My plea is that the disposals of RAF Linton-on-Ouse and RAF Scampton are done in a way that engages fully with the local community and that looks for full community value, not simple pennies in the pot. That will much better serve the nation and the communities in which the bases have served for such a long while, giving better value for money to the public purse.

I return to Kirton-in-Lindsey, to read from the letter sent to me by the town council. It reminded me:

“Previously Kirton in Lindsey Town Council have submitted requests to North Lincolnshire Council for the registering of the tennis courts, gymnasium and surrounding leisure land off York Road, Kirton in Lindsey, as assets of community value which are now listed as such”—

under legislation brought in by the coalition Government, which is rightly being used by communities to benefit community interest. The letter continues:

“The Town Council has also proactively written to the MOD requesting that they consider selling the leisure land at RAF Kirton in Lindsey to the Town Council for the good of the community.”

I very much support the town council. Those are assets of community value that can benefit a significant community—or they can be sold to a slightly higher bidder for a bit of cash that would probably be spent fairly quickly by the Red Arrows and would not have the same community and public benefit of the more intelligent approach.

I hope that the Minister will do everything he can to look at the assets in the Kirton-in-Lindsey base and to ensure that the community interest is explored and delivered to the maximum extent possible. It is interesting that in the disposal of the base, North Lincolnshire Council, which is Conservative controlled—sadly, still Conservative controlled—put in a bid for the base land. I think that the numbers were probably fairly close to those of the successful bidder, but by now the council would have developed the base further than has been done.

Instead, the development of the base has been stalled, typically, although I hope it is now moving forward. With the best will in the world, a private developer, even though developing the base for very good business interests, is not making the same progress that might otherwise have been made. I hope that lessons have been learned to benefit both Linton-on-Ouse and Scampton, and that there is an opportunity to put the community value back into the community through the appropriate disposal of the community value assets that Kirton-in-Lindsey Town Council identified and registered—appropriately—with the Ministry of Defence and with North Lincolnshire Council. That is my plea. I cannot make that plea big enough, because this is a moment in time when the public good can be better delivered. If the opportunity is missed, the future will not benefit.

I cannot finish without mentioning the historic nature of the Scampton site. As everyone knows, it was the host of 617 Squadron, otherwise known as the Dambusters. That is rich within our heritage, and always will be—one of the big emblematic and triumphant missions of the second world war, to which we all owe a huge debt. In the 100th anniversary year of the RAF, it is something that we commemorate and remember. The Red Arrows maintain that historical tradition by flying out of RAF Scampton. Often, when I drive to Newark to catch a train down to London on a Monday morning, I see the Red Arrows above, in the Lincolnshire skies, doing their stuff. It is a sight to be seen—awesome, frankly. I share the feeling of my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln that it would be appropriate, if the changes go ahead, for the Red Arrows to remain in Lincolnshire, flying across the Lincolnshire skies.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Mrs Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (Con) - Hansard
16 Oct 2018, 4:55 p.m.

I may be cut off by the Division bell, but many might be grateful for that.

I want to emphasise that this is such an important issue. I am lucky because some of the air traffic control personnel in RAF Scampton at present will move up to RAF Boulmer in my constituency as a result of RAF decisions. The reality is, however, that the one group of people who are not ever able to speak for themselves, and who indeed colleagues have perhaps not mentioned much, is those in the RAF itself. This is very much their decision.

As ever, the RAF is in a state of continuous change and, although this year we have commemorated in extraordinary ways the RAF 100 and the exploits, bravery, and extraordinary and impossible challenges of our incredible airmen and women over the past 100 years, the reality is that those in the RAF look forward. While respecting history, we must allow those who are planning for the future—with technology and aircraft that are out of this world in terms of a normal human’s comprehension—to be in places that necessarily work for the RAF. We must respect the RAF’s decisions.

I completely respect the position of the hon. Member for Lincoln (Karen Lee) on the community, however, and I hope very much that the Minister and the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, which will be charged with finding new uses for the site, are mindful of history and the need to maintain the location whence extraordinary deeds were done.

I am no shrinking violet when it comes to criticising the way the DIO has managed housing challenges: the MOD was set the challenge of finding a huge amount of land to build housing on, as part of the Government’s big housing strategy, and I led the Public Accounts Committee’s inquiry into how that was going. I continue to say that much more needs to be done. I commend colleagues on encouraging the Minister to ensure that that relationship is stronger than it has been so that communities know the MOD understands the value of a community. This is not just about taking a piece of land and building houses on it.

We must remember that the RAF wants to move forward. It has a budget—everyone has a budget—and it wants its technological abilities to be honed in the right places. The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) mentioned the Russian threat, but the MOD’s investment in Lossiemouth, where the P-8 is coming in, will enable it to do so much more. Technology is constantly moving forward, and the RAF wants those centres of excellence and those training and base centres.

Mrs Moon Hansard
16 Oct 2018, 4:58 p.m.

The point I was making was not about meeting current capability; it was about having the capability to flex and expand. Once we build on an aerodrome, it is gone. We have to have the capacity to keep things operational, so that should the bases be needed, we can make them so.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Mrs Trevelyan - Hansard
16 Oct 2018, 4:59 p.m.

I entirely agree. During the second world war, we built hundreds of airfields in a hurry, so that we could move those brave young men in and out of the country to defend our shores, but they have not been used since. We always have to look forward. The reality is that we have no idea what the future warfare space might look like. The RAF is telling us constantly that it wants those centres of excellence where it can have the investment.

I am an east coast MP too, and we have long seen our potential enemies as coming from the east—that is why most of those airfields that are now redundant are on that side of the country. However, we must always look forward and support RAF decisions.

Break in Debate

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Mrs Trevelyan - Hansard
16 Oct 2018, 5:26 p.m.

I was given a great deal of leeway before the Division bell went, and I will not abuse the privilege.

One more thing I wanted to raise with the Minister was the value of our pilots. The RAF is making decisions that I entirely understand are difficult for those in the Lincolnshire area—in moving how it does training, and indeed in finding a new home for the Red Arrows. I know that RAF Leeming and the north of England would welcome them with open arms. It would be lovely to have a northern point where we have planes in Boulmer—we look after the air traffic control, but we do not have anything that flies.

Notwithstanding that, the key point is that these pilots are extraordinary people and one of the nation’s great assets—not only because of their own human endeavour and great bravery, but because we invest millions of pounds in each of them. It is so important that we consider them an asset rather than a cost. There is the wrap-around that goes with the pilots, and indeed the teams who work with them, and the pilots and their families need to be looked after. We come back to housing and how we invest the money in the MOD budget to ensure that we are not accidently failing to invest properly in the whole family around our pilots, with us losing the huge investment made by the MOD and the RAF through lack of consideration of that wider family support. I leave that for the Minister to consider.

The RAF can never speak for itself, and it is a great challenge for those who serve that their voice is silenced, but we can thank them for their extraordinary work on our behalf in defending us and our nation, while remembering that their decisions are made looking forwards to the fight that we do not yet know exists—preparing for the unknown and thinking strategically, so as to be able to adapt to whatever the future threats might be. I hope very much that the Minister will consider carefully how we look after all these pilots and engineers as we find a new home for them.

Gerald Jones Portrait Gerald Jones (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab) - Hansard
16 Oct 2018, 5:28 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Karen Lee) on securing the debate and the informative and passionate speech she made, outlining the impact and effect of any proposed closure for RAF Scampton and RAF Linton-on-Ouse.

We all recognise that the requirements of the defence estate will change over time and that there is a need to modernise to reflect that. However, any restructuring of the estate must enhance our military capability and deliver value for money for the British taxpayer while providing flexibility, as highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon). These two proposed closures are particularly disappointing, coming as they do in the RAF’s centenary year. The closure of either site would have a significant impact on the livelihoods of a large number of people, as we have heard: we know that 600 personnel are working at RAF Scampton and just under 300 at RAF Linton-on-Ouse. If those sites were to close, servicemen and women and their families would be required to move, and civilian staff would face redeployment.

Those closures would also affect the wider community. As Members are aware, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln and others highlighted, MOD sites are important to the local economies in which they are situated as well as the wider supply chains that support the work of the bases. In that vein, I ask the Minister what assessment the Department has made of the economic impact of closing the two sites. Will he also set out in as much detail as possible the discussions that have taken place with personnel at those bases and the options that have been made available to civilian staff? What help and support will be given to civilian employees who are unable to move?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Mrs Trevelyan - Hansard
16 Oct 2018, 5:29 p.m.

I know that the shadow Minister is passionate about his defence brief and we have spoken many times. Is there a Labour position on what would be done at RAF Scampton and RAF Linton-on-Ouse?

Gerald Jones Portrait Gerald Jones - Hansard
16 Oct 2018, 5:31 p.m.

I will address that later in my contribution.

It is important that we look at civilian employees who are not able to move and the impact any closure would have on them. They may have restrictions that perhaps Air Force personnel do not have.

RAF Scampton is known to many as the base for the world-famous Red Arrows, as well as having historic links to the Dambusters. As my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) has highlighted, there are historic links to RAF Scampton that we must consider. I ask the Minister to assure the House that any decision about the future of the site would take full account of those historic links.

To address the hon. Lady’s intervention, the Leader of the Opposition has made it clear that we want to see RAF Scampton continue as the home for the Red Arrows, for many years to come. It is a case of prioritising and taking into consideration my points about the links it has, as well as the economic impact of closures, not just on the RAF but on the wider economy and community.

Can the Minister outline what consideration has been given to preserving the heritage centre at RAF Scampton? We understand that the Government are considering other potential defence uses for the site at RAF Linton-on-Ouse, ahead of any potential closure. Can the Minister set out what possible uses there may be and what the timescale is for exploring those options? It is important, as we have said, to look at the wider impact and the community value of the sites.

The announcement of these two closures will undoubtedly raise concerns about other possible cuts and efficiencies that may come about as a result of the modernising defence programme. In light of this, can the Minister take the opportunity to update the House on the progress of that programme and, crucially, when he expects to be reporting on it?

Air Force (Constitution) Act 1917

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Excerpts
Thursday 23rd November 2017

(2 years, 8 months ago)

Westminster Hall
Read Full debate
Ministry of Defence
Fabian Hamilton Portrait Fabian Hamilton - Hansard
23 Nov 2017, 3:52 p.m.

That’s Virgin Trains for you. But I should not advertise.

On 1 April next year, we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Royal Air Force actually coming into existence. It was the threat of war with Germany in the 1930s that resulted in the rapid expansion of the RAF. New stations were built, new aircraft were ordered and the strength of the RAF increased from 31,275 personnel in 1933 to 264,346 by 1939. At the end of the second world war, the strength of the RAF stood at more than one million. By 1948, of course, that had dropped to less than 250,000, and two years later it was less than 200,000. By 1979, the strength of the RAF was just over 86,000 personnel. The end of the cold war and the reconfiguring of the RAF for expeditionary warfare saw a further reduction in manpower.

I will turn to one of the most important points that the hon. Member for Witney made in his opening remarks, which is the battle of Britain. As I said earlier, I am a child of the ’50s and ’60s—and probably one of the older Members in this room—and I remember many of the films of the period, such as “366 Squadron”. We were brought up on those movies. “The Dam Busters” was slightly before my time, being born in ’55, which was the year it was made, so I do not remember it opening.

Sir Henry, if you will permit me for one minute, I will share a couple of personal recollections. “The Dam Busters” was about Operation Chastise, on 16 to 17 May 1943. We all remember that it was Sir Barnes Wallis who invented the bouncing bomb, but how many of us remember some of the other people involved? I am very privileged to have as one of my closest friends the grandson of Sir Benjamin Lockspeiser, who was the co-inventor of the bouncing bomb, and who died just months before his 100th birthday in 1990. He was one of the most influential inventors of the time, and with Barnes Wallis he invented a weapon that brought the war to an earlier close than it might have had. These are the people who are often forgotten.

Benjamin Lockspeiser was honoured after the war for his role, but there are many like him who worked hard to ensure that we could win the war and stop Hitler’s Operation Sealion, which started in July 1940, from invading Britain and therefore removing the last democratic obstacle to his domination of Europe. In order to do that, he had to destroy the RAF’s ability to attack his forces. We should never forget that the RAF was outnumbered 5:1 by the Luftwaffe in both machines and men. It was the first significant strategic defeat suffered by the Nazis during the second world war. Of course, the war was to last another five years.

My late father was at that time a pupil at Brentwood School, in Essex. It was a boarding school; he had come to the country as a 12-year-old from continental Europe to escape the fascist persecution of the Jews. He was on fire duty one night in 1940 as the battle of Britain was taking place over Brentwood. Hon. Members present probably do not know that area of Essex; Brentwood School is on hill, and Warley barracks is on the next hill. The Luftwaffe used to bomb Warley barracks regularly, but sometimes it got confused and bombed the school instead. When they dropped a bomb on the cricket pavilion, the deputy headmaster said to my father, who was on duty at the time, “Let it burn; we need a new pavilion.” That was one of the stories I best remember from my father’s wartime exploits. He ended up in the RAF himself in 1945. He never told me exactly what his duties were, but I know that at one stage, after having volunteered, he was parachuted into occupied France. That is a direct, personal connection.

Many of us who are children of that era remember building the Airfix kits. I do not know how many hon. Members in this room remember those Airfix kits— I am looking round to the boys.

Fabian Hamilton Portrait Fabian Hamilton - Hansard
23 Nov 2017, 3:58 p.m.

And the girls. Surely, the hon. Lady is not old enough to remember such things. I remember building the kits of Spitfires, Hurricanes and Mosquitos out of balsa wood. I think the real aircraft were built out of balsa wood as well—those Mosquitos were very flammable, but they were extremely fast. The technologies of that time enabled the RAF to be so superior, in spite of the fact that it had fewer personnel and fewer machines —the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine was the engine that powered the Spitfire. Indeed, when the film the “Battle of Britain” was made in 1968, I think, they re-enacted with original Spitfires and Hurricanes the battle over Brentwood School, which I was a pupil at, too, during that period.

The RAF is an important strand in the lives of all of us who grew up after the war in the ’50s and ’60s, and subsequently. The cost of the battle of Britain was very high. Of the nearly 3,000 air crew who fought, 544 lost their lives and of the remainder, a further 814 died before the end of the war. We should remember that not all those fighters were British. Fighter Command was a cosmopolitan mix, and some reference has been made to that this afternoon. There were 141 Poles, 87 Czechs, 24 Belgians and 13 Free French killed, who swelled the ranks of those who died fighting in the RAF as pilots and other crew in the battle of Britain and throughout the second world war.

As of October 2017, the RAF consists of 30,560 full-time, trained personnel, against a 2020 target of 31,750. The RAF as we know it today—reference has been made to this already—is at the centre of the UK’s fight against Daesh. In fact, in March this year I was privileged to visit RAF Akrotiri and Dhekelia in Cyprus with the shadow Defence Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith). Akrotiri was the staging point for Operation Shader, the UK’s military campaign against Daesh. We saw just how brilliantly well the RAF works today in spite of the many pressures on it.

Another point I want to make is about equality, which other hon. Members have referred to. The Women’s Royal Air Force was formed in 1918. Although the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force was disbanded in the 1920s, it was reformed in June 1939 as a result of the outbreak of the second world war. On 1 February 1949, the permanent service came into being, under its old name of the Women’s Royal Air Force. The RAF has been at the very forefront, integrating its women’s service in a meaningful way. In 1994, the WRAF ceased to exist as a women’s service when it merged with the RAF and female personnel were fully integrated on the same rates of pay and subject to the same regulations as their male counterparts.

The RAF has been consistently praised as an excellent employer for women and has been named in The Times top 50 list of employers for women on more than one occasion. Not only that, but the RAF has the largest proportion of female officers: 16.9% of regular officers and 22.7% of reserve officers are women. The current target for women in the armed forces is 15% by 2020, but the RAF plans to raise its target to 20% by 2020. The RAF also created the first female two-star military officer. Air Vice-Marshal Elaine West was the first woman since the second world war to become a non-honorary air vice-marshal or equivalent in the British armed forces, and the first to achieve that rank in the regular forces. The RAF currently has three female officers of two-star rank, compared with one in the Army and none in the Royal Navy. In September, the RAF became the first service to accept women in all roles, including close combat roles.

We have had a very good debate, and I wait to hear what the Minister has to say in conclusion. I thank the hon. Member for Witney once again for bringing this important anniversary to public attention. I hope that this is the first of many celebrations.