Debates between Ben Wallace and Lindsay Hoyle during the 2019 Parliament

Mon 25th Apr 2022
Mon 21st Feb 2022

Veterans Update

Debate between Ben Wallace and Lindsay Hoyle
Wednesday 19th July 2023

(9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ben Wallace Portrait The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Ben Wallace)
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With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like expand on the apology delivered by the Prime Minister this afternoon for the unacceptable hurt caused to LGBT members of our nation’s armed forces by the 1967 to 2000 ban on homosexuality. It was not acceptable and it was not what the brave men and women it affected deserved. For that, on behalf of the Government and the armed forces, I am deeply sorry.

For hundreds of years, joining the British armed forces has been a career choice full of opportunity, adventure and self-improvement; one of the most fulfilling and stimulating occupations a young person can choose. But it is also one of self-sacrifice and bravery. This morning, we published the independent review into the service and experience of LGBT veterans who served prior to 2000. It makes for miserable and distressing reading. It is only right that the House takes the time to acknowledge and reflect on those veterans who have shared their experiences with the review.

I, along with a number of colleagues in the House, served in our armed forces when the ban was in place. I cannot imagine what it must have been like for someone to join the armed forces, buoyed up by that great spirit of service, only to discover, to their horror, that many believed they did not fit. I cannot imagine what it must have felt like to be hounded out of a job they loved simply on account of their sexuality. Nor can I imagine what it must have been like to lose their livelihood, their family and their home simply because of the person they chose to love, yet that was the experience of many sailors, soldiers and aviators over decades, and it happened here—in this country—little over 20 years ago. The report published today brings the experience to life for us and spotlights the hurt felt by those affected. For that, I am truly grateful.

The ban was introduced in 1967—unbelievably, after the Sexual Offences Act 1967 decriminalised same-sex sexual acts in private between consenting adults. To add to the injustice, when the ban ended at the beginning of the millennium, the stories of those who suffered were forgotten and their records were buried. Additionally, in 2010 and 2011, in line with Government policy agreed by the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Ministry of Defence enacted a policy to destroy legacy police investigation records concerning decriminalised sexual offences, so that historical decriminalised convictions could not show up on criminal record checks of service personnel. I assure veterans that this was not a cover-up and does not mean that their wider service records have been destroyed.

I want to place on the record my thanks and gratitude to Lord Etherton and his team for compiling this comprehensive report. It was commissioned in January 2022 and, since, 1,128 people have responded with their experiences, many in substantial detail. I pay particular tribute to all those who came forward. They have shown tremendous courage in chronicling traumatic experiences, which for many had been causing grief and groundless shame for decades. I also place on record my admiration and thanks to Fighting With Pride, and especially Craig and Caroline, who have held the baton for so long.

The testimonies make truly harrowing reading. They paint a shocking and shameful picture of a Defence that is hard to comprehend. The enforcement of the ban became something of a witch hunt. The testimonies detail investigations, invasive searches and examinations, degrading tests, brutal bullying and, in some cases, sexual abuse. One doctor who joined in 1984 describes how he had to perform a test for which there was no medical or clinical basis. Some who thought they could confide in their chaplains were stunned to find their details were passed to their superiors.

For those affected, the hardships impacted every aspect of their lives. Reputations were demeaned and defamed. Commissions were surrendered and officers demoted by multiple ranks. Veterans who served with distinction, awarded medals in famous campaigns from the Falklands to the Gulf, were stripped of their medals.

We cannot turn back the clock, but we can make amends and take action. This report makes 49 recommendations. My Department, alongside the Office for Veterans’ Affairs, the Department for Health and Social Care and others across Government, in partnership with the devolved Administrations and the charity sector, all have a role in delivering the report’s recommendations. Many in the LGBT veteran community have been eagerly awaiting the publication of this report, and rightly so—they have been waiting for decades to be heard. I am pleased to say that, since we received this report at the end of May, multiple Government Departments have been busy working through the recommendations to ensure that we come to the House today accepting, in principle, the vast majority of the report’s recommendations. While we agree with the intent behind them, we may deliver a number in different ways from that described in the report.

We will set out those differences when we publish the Government’s full response to the review after the summer recess, but I assure the House: that will be the time when we can not only deliver restitution and redress to the LGBT veteran community, but make sure that the House properly debates the report and the Government’s response to it and its recommendations. This of course is a statement today. While I welcome all colleagues’ challenges and requests on it, I have decided specifically that a debate in the House should take place to give a chance to debate the Government’s recommendations. That is the right thing to do. Although that may take the summer, it is important that both Opposition and our colleagues can hold me or my successor to account. In fact, we have already delivered six of the recommendations today; the Prime Minister delivered the first this morning at the Dispatch Box.

Importantly, we have set up a digital front door, which went live today at midday, to offer information on veterans’ services, support and restorative measures to those affected by the ban. I encourage LGBT veterans to visit it to see what support is available to them now, and to stay informed as our delivery of the recommendations is rolled out. I am happy to be drawn on further details on the recommendations during today’s questions but, as I said, the House should have proper time to debate and scrutinise them.

I am glad that today’s MOD is a very different place today from the Defence of the late ’60s to ’90s. Our LGBT colleagues are an integral and undifferentiated part of the Defence family, making a fantastic difference all over the world. At the start of this month, the Minister for Defence People, Veterans and Service Families, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison), met LGBT members of our armed forces and veterans before they marched at London Pride. The occasion has become a celebrated part of our military calendar. Today’s MOD policies are geared towards LGBT issues. There is training for LGBT allies and thriving LGBT staff networks.

There is no place for prejudice in the modern armed forces. However, things are by no means perfect, which is why we continue to improve on our zero-tolerance policy towards discrimination. We should not forget that we could not have reached this point were it not for some incredibly brave people. I pay tribute to those who have campaigned for justice over the decades, including Fighting With Pride, Rank Outsiders and the Armed Forces Legal Action Group.

Cultural change takes time, particularly in such large organisations as our armed forces. But it can only really begin when individuals are prepared to stand up and be counted. This Government have shown they care about righting historic wrongs. That is why we brought forward this review. Once we have taken the time needed to fully work out how to deliver recompense for this community, we look forward to being back at the Dispatch Box to outline those details.

In his preface to the report, Lord Etherton notes:

“The survivors have waited for at least 23 years for acknowledgment of what they have suffered, and for justice and restitution.”

Today is about that acknowledgment. It is about recognising the saddening personal accounts and the deep traumatic hurt that the historic ban has caused. It is about acknowledging the adversity they overcame. It is about celebrating the spirit of service they displayed. And it is about taking the time to acknowledge their importance within our Defence family, serving or veteran.

I was struck by one particular quote in the report from a veteran:

“I don’t feel I am a veteran. I have never asked for help. I don’t feel like my service was recognised.”

Today, we want to say to all those ex-soldiers, sailors and aviators, many of whom are in retirement: you are one of us, you belong to our community and, in choosing to put yourself in harm’s way for the good of your colleagues, your community and your country, you have proven yourselves the best of us.

I say again to the veteran community—I am deeply sorry for what happened to you. The very tolerance and values of a western democracy that we expected you to fight for we denied to you. It was profoundly wrong. I am determined as Defence Secretary, and as a veteran, to do all I can today to right those historic wrongs, so that you can once again take pride in your service and inspire future generations to follow in your footsteps.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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I am grateful to the hon. Lady for what she has said. I think that all of us—the Opposition and those of us on this side of the House—share not only a desire to honour those veterans and make our apology, but a recognition that we must work to deliver recommendations that will make that difference. There is no delay and we are not avoiding the question: when I said that “we may” apply some recommendations in a different way from that described in the report, I was alluding to simple issues relating to the general data protection regulation and to differences of opinion in the same community.

Let me give an example: the veterans badge. Some members of the LGBT community would say that they are veterans, full stop. They do not want to be differentiated; they want the same badge as all other veterans. There are others, however, who want a separate badge. There is no easy answer to that, which is why we will be working on the issue with organisations such as Fighting With Pride. The same goes for financial provision or recognition of the harm done. We must arrive at an elegant solution that matches the needs and requirements of those individuals, rather than coming to the House in haste and making a statement. As we have seen with the infected blood scheme, for instance, when schemes are not thought through, more problems are caused and lawyers seem to take more money than the victims who deserve to be compensated or supported.

We will be very happy to work with the Opposition in advance of any debate to discuss our thinking on the recommendations. We have no qualms about that: the whole House has a role to play in valuing these veterans. People in my age group served in the old Army, and I say “old Army” because what the report says about institutional homophobia is true, and Members should read it. I was part of that Army, and I was determined to make this statement today—rather than its being made by my excellent colleague the Minister—because I wanted to acknowledge that I had been part of that Army and that thinking, which I deeply regret.

We should get these recommendations right, but some elements are less straightforward than others. Where we have been able to get on with them, we have done so, with, for instance, the apology. “LGBT veterans: support and next steps” went live today on gov.uk. It refers to the process of helping to restore medals, which we have done, and helping to inform the veterans communities about, for example, the fact that their pension rights were not abolished. Many, as they left, were misinformed or bullied, and told all sorts of things—for example, that their records would disappear completely, and that they would have no pension. That is not true. There are some pensions still to be claimed, and we should do everything we can to help the people concerned.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Let us hear from the hon. and gallant Gentleman, Crispin Blunt.

Crispin Blunt Portrait Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con)
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I found a way of accommodating myself to the laws and to the rules of society of the time. I then overtly followed a successful journey through my life and career. This report—an outstanding piece of work—is causing me to re-evaluate the damage done to me, and the price paid by those closest to me, as a result of having to make that accommodation. I am profoundly grateful that I now live in a society, and under laws, that allow me to be myself. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that all 49 recommendations are delivered in a spirit that meets the author’s intention?

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Ben Wallace and Lindsay Hoyle
Monday 26th June 2023

(9 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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It is interesting, because of course it was Labour that cut 19 battalions from the Army when I was serving under the hon. Member’s Government. What is important is not just that the Army is the right size but that it is an Army that is properly equipped and able to do its job. Having just numbers and non-equipment leads to the place where we had Snatch Land Rovers in Afghanistan under her Government.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Chair of the Defence Committee.

Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con)
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I endorse the words of my Defence Committee colleague, the hon. Member for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck). The Secretary of State himself has used the words

“the hollowing out of our Armed Forces”.

Today, the Head of the Army said at the Royal United Services Institute’s land warfare conference that our world is heading back into the 1930s with growing threats. Does the Secretary of State agree that the Treasury’s argument for increasing Defence spending to 2.5% of GDP when the economics improve is not only naive but illogical, because our economy and our national security are one and the same thing? We need to invest in our Army, Air Force and Navy now, not when Britain’s economy improves.

Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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My right hon. Friend makes an important point about levels of Defence spending. First, spend on the Army is 20% higher since I started as Defence Secretary, and I have made sure that a greater proportion of that spend is on catching up and modernising the armed forces, which had been neglected all the way back to Afghanistan and Iraq, where we were spending money on urgent operational requirements rather than the core budget to modernise that equipment.

On my right hon. Friend’s point about the Treasury, it has accepted—the Chancellor did so at the Dispatch Box—that Defence will require a greater share of public spending. Part of the big challenge is recognition across Government and in Whitehall that the culture has changed, with Defence requiring a greater proportion of spend if it is to defend these shores and indeed our people. That is how it used to be. I am confident that the Prime Minister’s support for 2.5% and the Chancellor’s position puts us on the right path, and of course that could not be needed quicker.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Secretary of State.

John Healey Portrait John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab)
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In January, the Defence Secretary admitted that his Government have “hollowed out and underfunded” our armed forces and, in the past week, a string of senior military figures have agreed. NATO’s second-in-command said that the British Army is “too small”, a former Chief of the Defence Staff said

“The Army is now too weak”,

and another ex-CDS said:

“The hollowing out of warfighting resilience within the Armed Forces has been the single most obvious shortfall…since 2010”.

Will the Defence Secretary halt this hollowing out in his new Defence Command Paper? Will it be published this month, as he has promised?

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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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As the Vilnius summit approaches, it is very important that we recommit, and get other nations to recommit, to the targets and to make sure that 2% is viewed as a floor, not a ceiling. It is regrettable that only seven to eight nations in NATO are reaching that target. Britain is, of course, above the 2%. This is very important, because freedom is not free; we have to pay for it in the end.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Secretary of State.

John Healey Portrait John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab)
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The Prime Minister told last week’s Ukraine recovery conference that

“we will maintain our support for Ukraine’s defence and for the counter offensive”.

With the developments in recent days, surely now is the time to accelerate, not just maintain, our military support for Ukraine?

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Ben Wallace and Lindsay Hoyle
Monday 15th May 2023

(11 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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First, some of the most formidable subsurface boats in the world are based at Faslane. That does make the Russians calculate. Of course, the SNP wants to get rid of that, make tens of thousands of people redundant and fantasise about what that will do. Secondly, a warship is best used at sea, not at port. That is how to deter Russia. Tying it up alongside, empty, no doubt as part of the Scottish “navy” under an independent Scotland, will hardly frighten anyone.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Secretary of State.

John Healey Portrait John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab)
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The Defence Secretary is right, of course, that for strong maritime security, we need our Navy ships at sea, not in dock for repairs. For the last two years, he has been telling us that we are

“on track to deliver more days at sea for ships.”

Yet in last year’s data, eight of the Navy’s active warships never went to sea at all, and the new Prince of Wales carrier has, since it entered service, spent just 267 days at sea and 411 days in dock for repeated repairs. Why is he still failing to get more of our ships at sea more of the time to keep Britain safe?

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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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The right hon. Gentleman will know that getting sign-off on a project such as this involves engagement across Government, including getting the Treasury’s buy-in. Once that has been locked in, we can progress. I am confident that the whole of Government stand behind the project, which is important not just to regenerate places such as Cumbria and the north-west but to lock in the skills base that we need for our future. This is a very exciting project. It will be building long after the right hon. Gentleman and I have probably left this House, in many decades to come. Britain has been at this game—nuclear submarines—for 70 years, and it is not something that one commits to and then backs out of. We expect Australia, alongside the United States and ourselves, to be doing this for a very long time to the benefit of British jobs.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Chris Evans Portrait Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op)
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I welcome the new Minister, the hon. Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge), to his place; I got on with all his predecessors and I look forward to our exchanges in future. As has been said, the AUKUS agreement is a game changer not only for our forces but for British industry. The Government have promised a jobs bonanza for generations to come in places such as Derby, Barrow-in-Furness and Devonport in the constituency of my fellow shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard). Will the promise be underwritten by contractual guarantees to ensure that future generations are trained in the skills that we need for this vital programme?

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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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The hon. Lady makes an important point that is common not just to the United Kingdom but across Europe. Ukraine has woken everyone up to issues such as ammunition stocks. The first challenge was to wake up that supply chain. Many of the orders we had placed were filled, and the supply chain went on to do something else. We have now placed orders for new NLAWs. Let us remember the anti-tank weapons and new anti-aircraft missiles from Thales in Northern Ireland in conjunction with our Swedish and, I think, Finnish colleagues. We are in the process of, hopefully, awarding a contract to replenish 155 mm shells. At the same time, I have worked across the international community to make sure that we stimulate those supply chains and to make sure that Ukraine does, as well.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Chair of the Defence Committee.

Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con)
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I welcome President Zelensky’s visit to the UK. Clearly, a warm relationship is developing between the President and our Prime Minister. We have a proud track record of being the first to provide those NLAWs, and of providing training on Salisbury plain, those main battle tanks and the long-range weapons systems. What next? Perhaps fast jets.

There is much talk of a counter-offensive, but I want to ask the Secretary of State about the comments of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner Group. He openly criticised President Putin for the absence of ammunition and battlefield tactics. Is the Secretary of State concerned that if the counter-offensive is successful and terrain is gained, Putin will turn ugly and resort to non-conventional chemical and biological weapons, as he did in Syria?

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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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This is like “Through the Looking Glass”, Mr Speaker. The reality is that as Defence Secretary I have achieved an increase of over £24 billion, both in resource departmental expenditure limit, in parts, and also in capital spend. It is important that the House understands that the world and the battlefield are changing. If we simply go to a numbers game, we will head back to a first world war. What we need is to learn the lessons and equip and support people properly. I have still not heard from the Opposition a single mention of their defence budget. Reversing the cuts, of course, will cost billions of pounds. I have heard nothing so far.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I do not think they have any responsibility today, so let us go to Dr Luke Evans.

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Mark Francois Portrait Mr Mark Francois (Rayleigh and Wickford) (Con)
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T6. Clive Sheldon KC, of 11 King’s Bench Walk chambers, submitted his Lessons Learned report on the AJAX programme to the Ministry of Defence some four months ago. We are told that it is still undergoing a “fact-checking” process, but there are growing rumours that some people who are adversely implicated in the report are trying to water it down or even suppress its publication. As the Secretary of State personally commissioned the report, and as it is his birthday today, and as this is, I think, my fourth time of asking, will he please give us all a birthday present and tell us when the report will actually be published?

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Happy birthday.

Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. What a birthday.

My right hon. Friend is entirely right. I have not yet seen the draft, and I have asked to see it as well as the final report so that, on the basis of what I have seen with my own eyes, I can decide whether or not it is appropriate to change it. I have been told, after raising the issue recently, that its arrival is imminent, and it is extremely important to ensure that it does reach me. My right hon. Friend has a real point here: namely, that I am not in the business of shielding people from their errors; I am interested in learning lessons.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Ben Wallace and Lindsay Hoyle
Monday 13th March 2023

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ben Wallace Portrait The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Ben Wallace)
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The armed forces’ capabilities allow the Ministry of Defence to meet a range of domestic and global commitments. Defence is reorganising and re-equipping to face future threats. However, as I have previously stated, as the threats change, we need to change with them. Any specific changes related to personnel numbers or military equipment capabilities will be determined once the update to the Defence Command Paper has concluded, which I expect to happen in June.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call John Baron—good to see you back.

John Baron Portrait Mr Baron
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While I am conscious that my right hon. Friend has accepted the conclusions of last year’s 1922 defence committee report in drafting his Command Paper, I am also conscious of the fact that there is real concern, as we are about to hear, about the integrated review and, indeed, one-off increases. What does he think it will take for this House to sustainably increase defence spending, given geopolitical events?

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Ben Wallace and Lindsay Hoyle
Monday 30th January 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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The second pillar of AUKUS includes things such as artificial intelligence, hypersonics, cyber and all sorts of other technologies that are critical not only to complement the deployment of submarines, but to further engage our collective security. Those are technologies that are rarely shared between nations, but the United States recognises that, in order to face up to the challenges till the end of this decade, we need to make sure that we both share our industries and that we have protection from each other’s markets to make sure that we not only share, but get to sell into them as well, which is quite important.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Secretary of State.

John Healey Portrait John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab)
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This week, like the Secretary of State, I will be meeting the Australian Defence Minister and discussing AUKUS with him. I want him to know that, while there may be a change of UK Government at the next election, there will be no change in Britain’s commitment to AUKUS. If done well, this pact could deepen our closest alliances, strengthen security in the Indo-Pacific and bring game-changing investment to Britain. What priority has the Defence Secretary given to building the first subs here, and when will the build plan be announced?

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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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I really urge the hon. Gentleman not to listen to the propaganda and claptrap of the union leadership. I recently went to Belfast and to Appledore and met the local unions and do you know what? They do not agree with their leadership’s statements and rather bizarre propaganda. Fundamentally, the fleet solid support ships will be entirely put together, and nearly two thirds built or supplied, through the UK. At the same time, we are getting £77 million of investment into the yards to modernise them so that they can compete. For too long, our yards have not won contracts, whether Government or private, because we have found that the big prime contractors have not invested in modernising the skills in the yards. When I meet the workforce, whether in Govan or elsewhere, they say that they want to be invested in.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Secretary of State, we have got to get through all the questions, not just the first ones.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. I am sorry, it is not fair to everybody else. I am bringing you in on a supplementary; it does not mean you can take all day. Try to answer it, Secretary of State.

Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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I can guess the memo that was sent from the union to the hon. Lady about what to ask. The reality is that unless we invest in our shipbuilding industry and unless we collaborate internationally, we will not have a shipbuilding industry. We tried it the other way, and it did not work. We have to build collaboratively. In the aerospace industry, including in Lancashire, where you and I are from, Mr Speaker, we have the Typhoon aircraft, which is an international collaboration and a world-beating success, employing tens of thousands British people.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Opposition spokesperson.

Chris Evans Portrait Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op)
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In an answer to my written parliamentary question on 26 January 2023, the Minister for Defence Procurement, the hon. and learned Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) said that the Type 32 frigates are

“a key part of the future fleet”.

In the National Audit Office report on the equipment plan, it reported that

“Navy Command withdrew its plans for Type 32 frigates…because of concerns about unaffordability.”

How can Type 32 frigates be a key part of the future fleet if there are question marks around their affordability?

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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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It is a timely question from the hon. Gentleman. This weekend, I looked at the different options for finding compensation or recompense from the providers in the first place. I get a weekly update on individual cases and how many cases are in the queues. In some areas, they have made progress and their progress is comparable or better than the private sector, but there is still work to be done. I am most concerned about mould and dampness; we have seen some success around heating. We expect a better service, however, and the Minister for Defence Procurement meets the providers regularly. It is important to note that we will keep their contracts under review and, if we do not get a better standard, I will take other steps.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab/Co-op)
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The question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) is a good one, because the Government’s failure on defence procurement is not limited to weapons and ammunition. We need only to speak to people in defence housing with leaky roofs, black mould and broken boilers to realise that defence procurement is failing the people who serve in our military and their families. Last year the MOD paid £144 million to private contractors to maintain service families’ accommodation, yet many homes are still awaiting repairs and not getting the service that they deserve. One of the Secretary of State’s Ministers has admitted that these contracts do not represent value for taxpayer money, so why did the MOD sign them in the first place, and when will he be able to tell all our troops that they have a home fit for heroes?

Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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We always want our homes to be fit for the men and women of our armed forces. I distinctly remember my time in Germany, and indeed in the UK, when the service was in-house, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there were issues with living under a standard of home then, which in some cases were worse. We have been monitoring to make sure that we get these reports answered. It was interesting that the start point of some of the problems was a lack of manning of the helpline at the very beginning—people were ringing up at Christmas and almost no one was there—and then having to work through the whole process. We are trying to do more. We will hold the providers to account and take financial action or whatever against them if we have to do so; I am not shy about doing that. We will try to seek compensation for the people suffering and to improve what is happening. However, in some areas, waits over five days are getting better. That is the first point; we are getting closer.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Scottish National party spokesperson.

Dave Doogan Portrait Dave Doogan (Angus) (SNP)
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Multiple major procurement projects for which the Submarine Delivery Agency is responsible are late or over budget, or often both. Taxpayers are used to the concept of bonuses, but in the real world these bonuses are linked to performance. Those same taxpayers are haemorrhaging billions of their hard-earned taxes on the demonstrable failures of the MOD, not least those of the SDA. How can the Secretary of State justify giving six-figure bonuses to executives of failing MOD agencies? On the eminently reasonable supposition that he cannot defend the indefensible, what will he do to rectify those incoherent remuneration packages going forward?

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Ben Wallace and Lindsay Hoyle
Monday 12th December 2022

(1 year, 4 months ago)

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

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call Geraint Davies.

Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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The only penny that drops for the Labour party—

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

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

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

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

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

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Ben Wallace and Lindsay Hoyle
Monday 7th November 2022

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Mark Francois Portrait Mr Mark Francois (Rayleigh and Wickford) (Con)
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The Type 26 frigate is literally a world-beating design, which we have exported to both Canada and Australia, and we all want to see it in service as soon as possible. So it is doubly disappointing that, last week, the Department issued a written ministerial statement to say her entry into service is now delayed a further year from October 2027 to October 2028 and the lifetime cost to the programme will be over a quarter of a billion pounds more of taxpayers’ money. Given the defence budget is likely to come under great pressure, why does it take BAE Systems 11 years to build a ship the Japs can build in four?

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Just before the Secretary of State answers, may I say that we even have the Speaker of Canada here, which is very appropriate.

Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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First, just like in Canada, industrial complexes are facing post-covid skills challenges and indeed supply chain challenges—because our ships, just like everybody else’s ships, use international supply chains—and that has got involved in the timetable, which obviously has a knock-on effect on cost. However, where there have been supply chain problems, my team and I have personally made sure I have not only visited the manufacturer to grip the situation, but discussed it with the prime. It is incredibly important when we place these contracts, and the contracts are for billions of pounds, that the prime contractors, be they British or foreign, deliver in accordance with them. That is why, in future contracts, I have made sure not only that we do as much as we can to build in Britain, but that we get the primes to invest in the infrastructure of British yards and the skills base of British people to ensure this does not happen again.

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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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When we published the defence Command Paper, we committed to invest £23 billion in our land capabilities over the next 10 years—a significant investment in land. That was accompanied by a land industrial strategy. It has also been accompanied by a defence and security industrial strategy that puts a lot of weight on ensuring that we support a sovereign supply chain where possible, and that we invest in skills. A number of working groups in Government are designed to do just that, and to both improve the skills base, but also to ensure that, where possible, we get the best social value and indeed a British supply chain.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Secretary of State.

John Healey Portrait John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab)
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It was an honour to join you, Mr Speaker, the Canadian Speaker, the Defence Secretary and other Members of the House earlier today for the opening of the constituency garden of remembrance. At last week’s Defence Committee, the Secretary of State was asked when the MOD would sign a contract to make the new next-generation light anti-tank weapons that are needed both for Ukraine and to restock the British Army. He said:

“We have signed the first contract for next year.”

If the Defence Secretary was correct, Saab would have notified the market, but it has not. Would the Defence Secretary like to correct the record, and will he confirm when the MOD will get its act together and get that contract in place for new UK production, as this is day 257 of Putin’s war on Ukraine?

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Sara Britcliffe Portrait Sara Britcliffe
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The battle of the Somme and the wider theatre of world war one were devastating for northern communities. I am sure that the Secretary of State will be aware of the Accrington Pals, the 700-plus strong battalion that was effectively wiped out on the first day in the Somme. I grew up at a time when living veterans still provided a direct link. As the younger generation today will not have that direct link, what can the Secretary of State do to ensure that the sacrifice and legacy of those brave men is remembered not just on Armistice Day, but more generally?

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I remind the Secretary of State that the Chorley Pals were part of that Accrington contingent.

Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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Never forget the Chorley Pals, Mr Speaker. The Accrington Pals played a hugely significant role on the frontline as part of the 94th Infantry Brigade. In many areas, they bore the brunt of the casualties that the British Army suffered. Of the 700-plus men who went over the top that morning, 585 became casualties, with 230 killed in the first 30 minutes. It is only right that that immense sacrifice continues to be remembered in communities across the United Kingdom. All of us have a role in doing that, whether that is through supporting our British Legion, buying a poppy or attending a parade, but it is also about recognising that we remember these people best by investing in today’s armed forces.

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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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I will certainly ignore the rewriting of history other than to say that we still take pride in the ships that we build in this country. Some of our ships are the very best in the world. We will continue that, unlike the Scottish Government, who seem to think that they cannot make their own ships in Scottish yards and make them in foreign yards.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister, Chris Evans.

Chris Evans Portrait Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op)
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I welcome the Minister for Defence Procurement, the hon. and learned Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) to his place. I know his constituency very well, having finished a distant third there in 2005. I have only warm memories of it. I pay tribute to him; we have worked together in the past on issues such as Down syndrome, which have affected us both. I look forward to continuing to work with him.

The fleet solid support contract presents a huge opportunity to the British shipbuilding industry, as well as providing a shot in the arm for British steel if the Government commit to building British by default. However, the GMB union has raised concerns that only significant parts of the build and assembly work will be carried out in this country rather than all the work. Will the Secretary of State address what “significant” means in the practical sense? If a foreign manufacturer wins the contract, how will our sovereign defence manufacturing capabilities be protected?

Ukraine Update

Debate between Ben Wallace and Lindsay Hoyle
Monday 5th September 2022

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ben Wallace Portrait The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Ben Wallace)
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It is good to be back after the summer recess, and it is good to see you in your place, Mr Speaker.

I want to update Members about progress in Ukraine and UK support to date since the House rose for the recess. On 29 August, Ukraine embarked on a counter-offensive in the south of the country, around the city of Kherson on the west bank of the Dnipro river. As part of the shaping fires, Ukraine has inflicted serious damage on a range of river crossings with the aim of restricting Russian logistical support. That has had considerable success. I can report to the House that the Ukrainian forces have made real progress, assaulting on three axes, and especially on the advance to the south of the city of Kryvyi Rih. The grinding fight in the Donbas continues, but with Russia making few substantive gains in the east over the past two months. Since June, Ukraine has struck more than 350 Russian command posts, ammo dumps, supply depots, and other high-value targets far back from the frontline. Many of those have been with longer-range weaponry supplied by international partners, including the United Kingdom.

As of today, the Ukrainian army is engaging with Russian forces using both artillery and brigade-level operations. It is making real gains, but understandably, as we have seen elsewhere in this conflict, the fighting is close and hard, and Ukraine is suffering losses associated with an attacking force. My thoughts, and the Government’s thoughts, are obviously with the men and women of the brave Ukrainian forces who are fighting to uphold our values as well as theirs, and to defend their land. However, Russia continues to lose significant equipment and personnel. It is estimated that to date more than 25,000 Russian soldiers have lost their lives, and that, in all, more than 80,000 have been killed, have been casualties, have been captured, or constitute the reported tens of thousands of deserters. This will have a long-lasting impact on Russia’s army and its future combat effectiveness. Russia has yet to achieve any of its strategic objectives, and we are now on day 194 of what was expected to be a month-long campaign.

I know that Members will be worried by reports about the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which is the biggest nuclear power station in Europe. On Friday 1 September, the United Nations International Atomic Energy Authority visited the plant accompanied by Russian media. No other international media were allowed to attend. Under the IAEA, an inspection was carried out, and the agency has left a team behind. It has already drawn attention to the violation of the plant’s “physical integrity”, and the United Nations remains gravely concerned about the dangerous situation in and around the plant. We will continue to monitor it, and ensure that we engage with Ukrainian partners to ensure that no one’s safety is put at risk.

Earlier in the month, Turkey, Russia and the United Nations came to an agreement on grain exports from Ukraine; the so called “Black sea initiative” was put in place. This has now seen over 2 million tonnes of grain exported, with another 100 ships waiting to embark with grain from Ukraine’s ports. I want to place on record the Government’s thanks to both the United Nations and the Turkish authorities for facilitating this—it was no mean feat. We have offered the Turkish military any support they require; to date, the Turkish Government have not requested any support, but we stand ready to do that. The United Kingdom continues to gift military aid to the Ukrainian armed forces to help resist the illegal invasion. Since the end of July, when this House rose, we have gifted a further three M270 guided multiple-launch rocket system platforms, and accompanying missiles. We are now working on an additional package of support. The total funding committed to this support is £2.3 billion.

In June, I recognised that training is as important as military hardware, which is why we embarked on establishing a network of training camps in the UK to train 10,000 Ukrainians. That was accompanied by specialist armed training across a number of countries in Europe. So far, we have trained 4,700, and I am delighted that over the summer we were joined by forces from Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Lithuania, Canada, Holland and New Zealand; they are all now in place alongside British military personnel delivering that training. The training cycle is now in its third iteration and, after lessons learned, we have now extended it to a five-week syllabus. We are already seeing this make a difference to the combat effectiveness of Ukraine, and we are evolving the course and feedback to make sure that the experiences do exactly what the Ukrainians need.

Support for Ukraine goes beyond the here and now. Being able to plan for the medium and long term requires international funding. So at the beginning of August, at the invitation of our Danish friends in the Danish Government, I co-chaired with them a conference in Copenhagen. So far, we have amassed pledges of up to €420 million of support, including through an international fund for Ukraine. We are working through the governance of the fund with our international partners and we hope to add to it when I present more details this week to the Ukraine defence contact group convened by the United States in Germany on Thursday. The fund will be used hopefully to support a range of measures, including ammunition production, to ensure that there is a sustainable supply over the long term in Ukraine.

I would like to place on record my appreciation of the Prime Minister’s enduring support for Ukraine throughout the process, without which a lot would not have been possible. I am grateful, too, for all the support of all the parties in this House for the action we have taken. That allows us to lead on the world stage with determination and a focus on all the things that are right about Ukraine’s defence from an illegal invasion and on the fact that we share such common values of freedom, and respect for sovereignty and the international rule of law. I hope all of us in this House do so—I know from experience that we do so. This Government’s commitment to Ukraine remains unwavering and enduring, and I commend this statement to the House.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Secretary of State, John Healey.

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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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On the latter point, in one sense it is sad, because it is people’s lives, but in Russia they cannot ignore the long and continued train of bodies to their loved ones and families. It was not missed by Soviets in the Afghan conflict. The terms “boys in zinc” and “load 200”, which are now in the Russian vocabulary, refer to the planes that brought back the dead bodies: zinc was what they used to wrap them. That is clearly before people in Russia. It is not helped by the misleading, dishonest and manipulative state information that tries to say that these people died fighting Nazis. The only people who are displaying a fascist tendency in Ukraine are the Russian regime; it is not in any way being extolled by the Ukrainians defending their soil. But we obviously do our best.

On the increase to defence funding, some of that £2.3 billion is replacing gifted equipment from our own stocks; that is already being done. We were able to release the GMLRS M270 because we received some others from another country, which we are refurbishing. We will continue to keep pace and make sure that we do not sacrifice too many of our own stocks. At some stages, there are also opportunities when our stocks come out of life or approach their sell-by date and are perfect for gifting, because they will be used. We have already planned to replace them. Some of the NLAW orders are actually quite old, because we knew anyhow that they were coming out of date; they were a 2003 weapon, so we had already started that process. I think it is NLAWs, but I can happily write to my right hon. Friend about the exact weapon system.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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We now come to the SNP spokesperson.

Stewart Malcolm McDonald Portrait Stewart Malcolm McDonald (Glasgow South) (SNP)
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I thank the Secretary of State for the update that he has given the House. Like many, we have been watching over the summer period as Ukrainian forces take back their territory. In one sense, although we would rather none of this were happening, it is heartening to see that weapons being supplied by this country are being used so successfully on the battlefield. Let us be clear about what that represents and what arming Ukraine’s armed forces represents: it is, by definition, an act against fascism and war to support those who are the victims of a campaign of genocide.

It is also heartening to hear of the training by UK armed forces and partnered armed forces that is taking place. I think my office is in the process of organising an opportunity for me and the leader of the SNP here, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), to witness it at first hand.

One thing that definitely worries me—we are starting to see it happen across Europe—is that the unity that we have all maintained over the past six months or so is starting to crack as winter arrives. We saw that in the massive demonstrations at the weekend in Prague and, I think I am right in saying, in Cologne. That is something that we must—absolutely must—stand against.

The single best way to end this war is for the Kremlin to recall every single Russian troop on Ukrainian soil. All the calls to end the sanctions now, as though that would somehow help to end the conflict in Ukraine, are a falsehood, but that takes us to another important aspect of the war, which is the information war. As winter bites, as bills go up, as the effects of the conflict start to appear in people’s bank accounts, and as an obvious information war from Russia takes place in that respect, can the Secretary of State assure the House, or outline to the House—this is similar to what the shadow Secretary of State asked—how he will ensure that we are fully equipped to withstand that information war? Standing with Ukrainians is the right thing to do, and that is something we need to communicate well.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Ben Wallace and Lindsay Hoyle
Monday 18th July 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ben Wallace Portrait The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Ben Wallace)
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I am sorry that I did not get the memo on dress and attire earlier, Mr Speaker. What next? Flip-flops in the House?

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Politicians already do that. [Laughter.]

Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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Not in the Defence team, Mr Speaker. We shall leave that to others.

The Ministry of Defence’s sustained investment in industries across the UK supports over 200,000 jobs. Continued high and focused defence spending, supported by the changes we are making as part of the defence and security industrial strategy, will contribute to further economic growth and prosperity across the Union.

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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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It is currently driven by an estimation of threat. As I have said a number of times at the Dispatch Box, if the threat changes, so must we. I do not call an increase of £24 billion in spending on defence a cut, in anybody’s book. However, what I do believe is that as the threat changes, so must we. We will continue to review that and, if the threat changes, I will be back.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Secretary of State.

John Healey Portrait John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

May I congratulate the Defence Secretary and his team on ensuring that there has been continuity in defence while the rest of the Conservative Government have collapsed in chaos? Let me also say, lest this prove to be their last session of oral questions in their current jobs, that whatever our other disagreements, the Secretary of State’s cross-party working on Ukraine has helped to ensure that the UK has strong, unified support for the Ukrainians.

The right hon. Gentleman has been Defence Secretary since the Prime Minister, nearly two years ago, boosted defence spending and boasted that that would create 10,000 jobs every year. Only 800 new defence jobs have been created since then. Why the failure?

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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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With all due respect to the hon. Gentleman, I will not categorise it in six-month blocks. As long as I am Defence Secretary, we will continue with the investment and the support to Ukraine, be it in hardware or software. Will it continue through third parties? Yes, it will. Obviously, I cannot speak for the next Prime Minister, but I can say that all the candidates have clearly made a statement to such effect. It is important that we do not give up on this and we carry on, whoever comes in the next Government and after the next election. Putin’s one calculation is that we will all get bored and go back to doing other things. That is how Russia wins, but we are not going to let it win; we must stick at it, for as long as it takes.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson, Stewart M. McDonald.

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

Thank you, Mr Speaker. May I, too, say that no matter what might happen in the reshuffle following the summer, the Ministry of Defence has worked co-operatively, particularly on Ukraine, during these past months? Whoever takes over or stays in place, it is to the benefit of all of us that that continues, whoever the new Prime Minister might be. Who knows, that job in Brussels might be what is waiting for the Secretary of State later this year. The situation in south and eastern Ukraine is getting much worse. Indeed, just in the past few days the Russian Defence Minister Shoigu has ordered an intensification of attacks on those parts of the country. With winter just around the corner, that is the point where there is the potential for allies to be picked off, although I do not lay that accusation at the Secretary of State’s door. Will he ensure that the training being given by the UK keeps pace with what is needed for that intensification and helps get the armed forces of Ukraine through the winter?

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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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I reassure my hon. Friend that he will have plenty of opportunity to lobby on behalf of his constituents and others in the south-west. The new medium helicopter competition will align with the defence and security industrial strategy; the competition’s contract notice and dynamic pre-qualification questionnaire were released on 18 May this year and responses are now being evaluated to determine a shortlist of credible suppliers. The second half of the competition, in which we will ask the selected suppliers to provide more detailed responses, is due to be launched later this year.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call John Healey, the shadow Secretary of State.

John Healey Portrait John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

When the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Wells (James Heappey), answered my urgent question on Thursday about new public allegations about British special forces in Afghanistan, he said that,

“the Secretary of State is clear that he rules nothing out”.

He also said:

“I am certain that the House will hear from him in the near future.”—[Official Report, 14 July 2022; Vol. 718, c. 494.]

With the summer recess starting on Thursday, when will the Secretary of State make a statement to the House on this?

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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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Our plans are to keep Scotland within the United Kingdom, because it is in the best interests of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales to all be part of a greater Union providing security for each other. We are better together.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call SNP spokesperson Stewart Malcom McDonald.

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

I want to return to the issue that the shadow Secretary of State raised—not the individual allegations or even the “Panorama” programme, but the wider issue of the unanswerable case for democratic oversight of special forces. When will the Department devise proposals, bring them to the House, and allow us to debate and legislate on that issue? Surely that does not require anything at all from the courts.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Ben Wallace and Lindsay Hoyle
Monday 13th June 2022

(1 year, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

The Ajax programme is a troubled programme. We agree with many of the recommendations in the Public Accounts Committee’s report. We are independently testing a number of the issues arising with that programme and we must ensure that, when we take another step, it is evidence based. As I said, we are clear to make sure that we bring it into service. In the meantime, we have withheld payment—a considerable amount of money—since December 2020. That is really important. General Dynamics wants this resolved, and we want it resolved.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Chris Evans Portrait Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am glad that the Secretary of State mentioned that the MOD did not pay General Dynamics throughout 2021; by December 2021, it had paid £1.1 billion less than scheduled. However, the position is not sustainable in the local economy or in the Welsh economy as it is causing real anxiety among the workers, the wider economy and the local supply chain. When will the Government give an answer on what they will do about Ajax? I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (John Spellar), who mentioned the report by the PAC. Anybody who has had anything to do with Ajax will say that, after 12 years, enough is enough and a decision must be taken.

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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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My hon. Friend makes a strong point on behalf of the Welsh soldier, the Welsh airman—RAF Valley is on Anglesey—and the Welsh Navy. The Welsh are at the forefront of our responses around the world: not only did the Queen’s Dragoon Guards, the Welsh cavalry, recently return from Mali, but the 1st Battalion the Royal Welsh is one of the main battle groups in Estonia enhancing the forward presence. Wales adds a lot to the United Kingdom and to the British Army. Without a Welshman in your platoon, you are not doing very well, in my experience.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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We now come to the shadow Secretary of State.

John Healey Portrait John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

On the eve of the 40th anniversary, we remember the sacrifice in liberating the Falklands and we reaffirm the significance of the islands to our future security.

During the Defence Secretary’s visit to Kyiv in recent days, two Brits fighting with the Ukrainians have faced a Russian show trial and another has been reported killed. How many former British forces personnel are fighting in Ukraine?

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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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I was there only a few weeks ago. I think the whole House would like to give our thanks to the armed forces for the work they did over that weekend and for all the hours of rehearsal they do, sometimes in the middle of the night, which none of us ever see, to make things very special. From Trooping the Colour on the Thursday all the way through to the pageant, our armed forces did us proud, as did a number of the armed forces from the Commonwealth, which were also in attendance and on parade that day. Our armed forces are absolutely part of the fabric of our society and part of the greatness of the United Kingdom. I am delighted not only that they were there on parade, but that it was a privilege for us to see the royal family so held in high regard by those men and women of the armed forces.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

After returning from the Falklands, I must congratulate those who continue to serve down in the south Atlantic, 7,000 miles from home. It would be really helpful if the Secretary of State reinstated the Chinook for them.

Ukraine Update

Debate between Ben Wallace and Lindsay Hoyle
Monday 25th April 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ben Wallace Portrait The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Ben Wallace)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

It is 61 days since Russia invaded Ukraine, and 74 days since my Russian counterpart assured me that the Russian army would not be invading. As the invasion approaches its ninth week, I want to update the House on the current situation and the steps that we are taking to further our support for the Ukrainian people.

It is our assessment that approximately 15,000 Russian personnel have been killed during their offensive. Alongside the death toll are the equipment losses. A number of sources suggest that, to date, over 2,000 armoured vehicles have been destroyed or captured. That includes at least 530 tanks, 530 armoured personnel carriers, and 560 infantry fighting vehicles. Russia has also lost more than 60 helicopters and fighter jets. The offensive that was supposed to take a maximum of a week has now taken weeks. Last week Russia admitted that the Slava-class cruiser Moskva had sunk. That is the second key naval asset that the Russians have lost since invading, and its loss has significantly weakened their ability to bring their maritime assets to bear from the Black sea.

As I said in my last statement, Russia has so far failed in nearly every one of its objectives. In recognition of that failure, the Russian high command has regrouped, reinforced and changed its focus to securing the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. A failure of the Russia Ministry of Defence command and control at all levels has meant that it has now appointed one overall commander, General Dvornikov. At the start of this conflict, Russia had committed more than 120 battalion tactical groups, approximately 65% of its entire ground combat strength. According to our current assessment, about 25% of those have been rendered not combat-effective.

Ukraine is an inspiration to us all. Its brave people have never stopped fighting for their lands. They have endured indiscriminate bombardment, war crimes and overwhelming military aggression, but they have stood firm, galvanised the international community, and beaten back the army of Russia in the north and the north-east.

We anticipate that this next phase of the invasion will be an attempt by Russia to occupy further the Donbas and connect with Crimea via Mariupol. It is therefore urgent that we in the international community ensure that Ukraine gets the aid and weapons that it needs so much.

As Defence Secretary, I have ensured that at each step of the way the UK’s support is tailored to the anticipated actions of Russia. To date we have provided more than 5,000 anti-tank missiles, five air defence systems with more than 100 missiles, 1,360 anti-structure munitions, and 4.5 tonnes of plastic explosive. On 9 March, in response to indiscriminate bombing from the air and escalation by President Putin’s forces, I announced that the UK would supply Starstreak high-velocity and low-velocity anti-air missiles. I am now able to report that these have been in theatre for more than three weeks, and have been deployed and used by Ukrainian forces to defend themselves and their territory.

Over the recess, my ministerial team hosted a Ukrainian Government delegation at Salisbury plain training area to explore further equipment options. That was quickly followed by the Prime Minister’s announcement of a further £100 million-worth of high-grade military equipment, 120 armoured vehicles, sourcing anti-ship missile systems, and high-tech loitering munitions for precision strikes.

However, as we can see from Ukrainian requests, more still needs to be done. For that reason, I can now announce to the House that we shall be gifting a small number of armoured vehicles fitted with launchers for those anti-air missiles. Those Stormer vehicles will give Ukrainian forces enhanced short-range anti-air capabilities, day and night. Since my last statement, more countries have answered the call and more have stepped up to support. The Czech Republic has supplied T-72 tanks and BMP fighting vehicles, and Poland has also pledged T-72 tanks.

The quickest route to help Ukraine is with equipment and ammunition similar to what they already use. The UK Government obviously do not hold Russian equipment, but in order to help where we do not have such stock, we have enabled others to donate. Alongside Canada and Poland, the Royal Air Force has been busy moving equipment from donor countries to Ukraine. At the same time, if no donor can be found, we are purchasing equipment from the open market. On 31 March, I held my second international donor conference, with an increase in the number of countries involved to 35, including representatives from the European Union and NATO. So far these efforts have yielded some 2.5 million items of equipment, worth more than £1.5 billion.

The next three weeks are key. Ukraine needs more long-range artillery and ammunition, and both Russian and NATO calibre types to accompany them. It also seeks anti-ship missiles to counter Russian ships that are able to bombard Ukrainian cities. It is therefore important to say that, if possible, the UK will seek to enable or supply such weapons. I shall keep the House and Members on each Front Bench up to date as we proceed.

The MOD is working day and night, alongside the US, Canada and the EU, to support continued logistical supplies, but not all the aid is lethal. We have also sent significant quantities of non-lethal equipment to Ukraine. To date, we have sent more than 90,000 ration packs, more than 10 pallets of medical equipment, more than 3,000 pieces of body armour, nearly 77,000 helmets, 3,000 pairs of boots and much more, including communications equipment and ear defence.

On top of our military aid to Ukraine, we contribute to strengthening NATO’s collective security, both for the immediate challenge and for the long term. We have temporarily doubled the number of defensive personnel in Estonia. We have sent military personnel to support Lithuanian intelligence, resilience and reconnaissance efforts. We have deployed hundreds of Royal Marines to Poland, and sent offshore vessels and Navy destroyers to the eastern Mediterranean. We have also increased our presence in the skies over south-eastern Europe with four additional Typhoons based in Romania. That means that we now have a full squadron of RAF fighter jets in southern Europe, ready to support NATO tasking. As the Prime Minister announced on Friday, we are also offering a deployment of British Challenger 2 tanks to Poland, to bridge the gap between Poland donating tanks to Ukraine and their replacements arriving from a third country.

Looking further ahead, NATO is reassessing its posture and the UK is leading conversations at NATO about how best the alliance can deter and defend against threats. My NATO colleagues and I tasked the alliance to report to leaders at the summit in June with proposals for concrete, long-term and sustainable changes. Some of us in this House knew that, behind the mask, the Kremlin was not the international statesman it pretended to be. With this invasion of Ukraine, all of Europe can now see the true face of President Putin and his inner circle. His intention is only to destroy, crush and rub out the free peoples of Ukraine. He does not want to preserve. He must not be allowed to prevail. Ukrainians are fighting for their very lives and for our freedoms. The President of Ukraine himself said as much: if Russia stops fighting, there will be peace; if Ukraine stops fighting, there will be no more Ukraine.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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We now come to the shadow Secretary of State, John Healey.

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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. We spoke last week about the timing of this statement, which I had hoped to make tomorrow, but the United States has called a 40-nation meeting in Germany and I will therefore not be here. I took the opportunity to make this statement when I could. I am sorry if he has cut short his trip, and I would be delighted to arrange with the Navy for him to return to the headquarters, without his phone, for longer in custody.

As I said, I promised to keep the House updated, and I have not only briefed a number of colleagues from this House, from across parties, on a number of occasions, but given Members access to our intelligence officials and senior generals in order that they can get the latest throughout. My hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces has responded to two debates and answered one urgent question—I will not take the credit for the UQ; Governments get asked UQs, but they provide an opportunity. We will continue to update all Members, and I am happy to have another cross-House dial-in for all Members on the subject—it is incredibly important that we do so. Just as it is important that we calibrate our response to Russia, it is important that the Government calibrate their response within the House, so that we make sure that everything is not a surprise to Members and that we consult as we go along.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about NLAWs and Starstreaks. We have an ongoing relationship with the industry, and we will be replacing them or are replacing them. Not surprisingly, there is now a lot of interest in those British-made products, but it is very important that we replenish our stocks. Obviously, we are in that line to do so. The Treasury has agreed to fund the new-for-old replacement of those, but it is very important, given the state of the Russian Government, that we make sure we replenish as soon as we can. There is a daily relationship with our industry; the Minister for Defence Procurement speaks to those in the industry at least once a week, and the Prime Minister will soon convene a meeting with all the leads to make sure that we are doing everything we can, not just for ourselves but for Ukraine and others. Sometimes there is a bit of juggling whereby I release something that we do not yet need, so that another country can have it first or it goes to where the threat is more pressing, or we persuade a friendly country to divert its order so that it can come to us or to Ukraine. We are often involved in that basic defence diplomacy, whereby we know a country is buying something such as an NLAW, it does not need it right now and we see whether we can take it off its hands and it then delays its order. We try to make sure we do that as much as possible.

I am delighted to place in the House the international update on how much has been donated. Obviously, some countries are more open than others about what they have done, so I will place in the Library a table showing those things. It is not for me to let another country’s identity be known if it wishes to keep that secret, but what we can publish, we shall.

I can inform the House that in the past week alone we have supplied 1,000 anti-tank weapons, 14 Wolfhound armoured vehicles and 4,000 night-vision goggles. I can update further that to date we have also supplied 5,361 NLAWs—up from the original 2,000; more than 200 Javelins; and 104 high-velocity and low-velocity anti-air missiles—this will grow to more than 250. Obviously, if we supply any more new weapon types, I will inform the House as we do so.

On NATO, one of the discussions we will have on the sidelines tomorrow is, obviously, the future for NATO. A few weeks ago in Brussels, NATO Defence Ministers tasked NATO to go away and come back with its long-term plans. The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that we are in crisis management and the short-term response, but we need a long-term plan. We need to know what NATO will look like and how western Europe—or Europe, including many of its new members—will contain Putin after all this has passed. We are dealing with a man who has clearly been involved in an illegal invasion of a country and war crimes against the Ukrainian people. We need to know how we are going to live with that neighbour in Europe, should he still remain. That is an important consideration for all of us and it goes to the heart of defence reform and our spending. Of course, as I have always said, as the threat changes, so must our defence posture, which includes funding. As I have said publicly, in the here and now we are getting the spending we need, but he is right to raise the issue of medium-term and long-term funding, which we will definitely be looking at.

The right hon. Gentleman made a point about how we are now “the only country”, but that is because we were the first country; when we had our £24 billion settlement, no one else in NATO had yet gone there. Sweden had gone there but it was not in NATO, and so had Australia. So his comments are slightly punishing Britain for being the first, because we did this way before the invasion of Ukraine and a lot of the increases he is talking about have been afterwards. That is not to say that we should not look at what more we can all do and how that knocks into other areas.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Chair of the Defence Committee.

Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

You heard it here first, Mr Speaker: there was a request for more urgent questions that I am happy to oblige.

I very much welcome the statement, which focused on the operational. However, the reality is now dawning not only that this conflict could last for months—indeed, years—but, more widely, that Europe has entered a new and dangerous era of insecurity. I therefore pose two fundamental questions to the Secretary of State. First, what does success in Ukraine look like? Are we doing enough to prevent Ukraine from losing but not enough to make sure that it wins? What is our strategy? Is it to push Russia back to the pre-February lines or, indeed, to liberate the entire Donbas region? If it is in Europe’s wider security interest to see Putin humiliated in Ukraine, the entire mainland must be liberated. That must be our strategic aim.

The second fundamental issue, on which the Secretary of State touched, is our defence posture. Threats are increasing, but pressures on our armed forces and equipment are growing. Is it not now time to increase defence spending to 3% of GDP?

Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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My right hon. Friend is a doughty campaigner for spending 3% and I consider him my long-range artillery when it comes to the lobbying in the long term, whatever we see as a result of the situation in Ukraine. Our strategic aim is twofold: first, Putin must fail in Ukraine—he must fail in his invasion—and I think he is on course to do that; and he must fail in his occupation of Ukraine, and I think he has definitely failed to achieve that. The fine tuning of that is as much a matter of Ukraine’s choice as it is anybody else’s. Ukraine gets to choose where it wishes to settle for peace. We will do everything we can to support it.

For my part, I want Putin not only beyond the pre-February boundaries; he invaded Crimea illegally and Donetsk illegally, and he should comply with international law and, in the long run, leave Ukraine. Overall, Putin needs to wear the cost and the consequence of what he has done on his shoulders.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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We now come to the SNP spokesperson.

Dave Doogan Portrait Dave Doogan (Angus) (SNP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. We on the SNP Benches welcome the additional measures that the United Kingdom is taking to support Ukraine, and we also welcome the Secretary of State’s engagement with the SNP leadership in this place.

The statement highlighted the bravery of Ukraine’s defence forces, but I am sure the Secretary of State also acknowledges that alongside that bravery is an exceptional tactical efficacy, in stark contrast to the Russian invaders. I am sure he would have no hesitation in agreeing with that observation.

The Secretary of State highlighted in his statement Russia’s apparently reduced ambition to consolidate in the east of Ukraine, around Donbas, and to try to secure a land bridge to Crimea through Mariupol. Will he reassure the House that enduring economic pressure and further military support will continue to frustrate Russian ambition and aggression?

It was a great pleasure for me to meet in Warsaw earlier this month the Royal Marine commandos from 45 Commando in Arbroath. What more can NATO allies do to ensure that our partners on NATO’s eastern flank are further reassured of NATO’s determination to stand firm against any and all aggression towards our allies?

Finally, I welcome the details of the £100 million for higher-grade equipment, including anti-ship missiles, but the Secretary of State will be all too well aware that we cannot get an awful lot of higher-grade equipment for £100 million. I would welcome any further advice he can give the House on that. On the anti-ship role specifically, will the Secretary of State confirm that Brimstone missiles will have no role in that application? If possible, will he discuss with us what role the UK’s Harpoon missiles will have in that application? If we are not donating UK stocks of Harpoon missiles, is that because we do not have enough ourselves?

Ukraine Update

Debate between Ben Wallace and Lindsay Hoyle
Wednesday 9th March 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I am going to make mention of this important issue: Front Benchers have to be in line with the rules, and I have to enforce the rules. The rule says five minutes, but that was seven. If you want me to grant urgent questions and if you want me to support statements, you have to work with me to ensure that we do not take the time from other agendas. I do keep clock of the time, and I do not want to get into an argument about it—the Labour Front-Bench spokesman took a lot longer. This is an important matter and I want to keep it on the agenda, but you need to work with me. Or change the rules and make my life easier!

Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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Maybe I should apologise, Mr Speaker. I did not give the Labour Front Benchers long enough to examine the statement; it was fairly short notice for them. I think we hear you on both sides of the House, and you would not like me to take too long either—[Interruption.] Certainly those on the Labour Back Benches would not like that.

The right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) asked some important questions. I am grateful for Labour’s support for the position that the Government have taken on Ukraine. Our position mirrors that of the international community—not just NATO members but nations outside NATO such as Sweden and Finland. In answer to his question on the stockpile, we will currently take the supplies from our stockpile and we will backfill them from the manufacturer when and where we can. We already have some on order, so I can give him that assurance. I also ensure that we keep a basic level to ensure that we cover our own force protection as required. We will not leave our soldiers at risk in somewhere such as Estonia, specifically. Nevertheless, we will ensure that we calibrate that correctly.

On the MOD’s assessment of the Russian forces, over 90% of those forces on the border have now been committed to Ukraine and inside Ukraine. We also see media reports about Belorussian forces maybe, or maybe not, being primed. This has had an interesting effect on Belorussian forces, with reports of desertions and senior officers refusing to join the fight. There is also something very telling about Russia’s desperation at the moment. We have seen significant amounts of effort to try to bring the Wagner Group into Ukraine. The Wagner Group is the wholly unacceptable mercenary company responsible for all sorts of atrocities in Africa and the middle east. The fact that Russia is now trying to encourage the Wagner Group to take part in Ukraine is a telling sign. It does not give us any comfort but, nevertheless, it is a sign.

I went to Copenhagen last week to meet my Swedish, Lithuanian and Danish counterparts as they set off to join our enhanced forward presence in Estonia. The Danish sent a company of armoured infantry, which was escorted across the sea by a Swedish and Danish ship with air cover from Sweden. That JEF deployment is a good example of how, in the neighbourhood of the Nordics, we come together either bilaterally or multilaterally to make sure we provide greater defence.

After our meeting in Rutland a few weeks ago, we determined to have a longer programme of joint planning to make sure we maximise our capabilities, exercises and activity. We will see more of the JEF, and I am happy to continue keeping the House informed.

I am grateful for the reminder of Bevin’s birthday. As a Conservative, I will be forgiven for not knowing that date, but I always welcome being educated. I have some Labour supporters in my family, but I am not sure they would know he was born in 1881 either. Nevertheless, the commitment to article 5 is important. Yesterday I met my counterpart from North Macedonia, the newest member of NATO. Importantly, Britain is in NATO not for what we can get out of it but because we fundamentally believe in defending each other. Whether we are big or small, we all stand for the same values.

I promised to keep Members informed on Ukraine, no matter what happens. My team is available, as is the Chief of Defence Intelligence. I will happily do dial-ins and as many briefings as possible at both Privy Council and non-Privy Council level.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the Home Office, and the offer has been accepted in principle. There is a meeting straight after this statement between Defence Ministers, Home Office Ministers and Foreign Office Ministers to make sure we co-ordinate our assistance in speeding up the visa process, which is incredibly important.

It is important not to mischaracterise the IR. The right hon. Gentleman has said this before, but the actual quote from the IR is that Russia is

“the greatest nuclear, conventional military and sub-threshold threat to European security.”

Strengthening Europe is critical to preserving our security and prosperity in the north Atlantic. The IR did not miss Russia. In fact, it squarely identified Russia as our main adversary. It would be wrong to characterise it as everyone going off to the Pacific. Looking at the balance of my investments as Defence Secretary, including in basing and expeditionary forces such as JEF, they are in Europe, and in northern Europe, too. That is incredibly important.

The Cabinet Office is in charge of the national resilience strategy, and I will pass on the details to the relevant Minister. Like the right hon. Gentleman, I look forward to reading that strategy.

Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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I thank my hon. Friend for his kind comments. It is incredibly important that we recognise that this is not just a military response. The scale of the humanitarian crisis, which will only grow as Russia seeks to punish the innocent for having the temerity to stand up to it, means we all have to lean in as an international community. We have all received emails from constituents who want to help, and I urge colleagues to channel them in the right direction. Some of us are old enough to remember the Bosnia war, and I know from soldiers who were on the ground that lots of well-meaning people drove out there and put at risk both themselves and the forces whose job it was to protect them. We need to make sure the work is properly co-ordinated, and I will get details to hon. and right hon. Members so that they can point their constituents in the right direction.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson, Stewart Malcolm McDonald.

Stewart Malcolm McDonald Portrait Stewart Malcolm McDonald (Glasgow South) (SNP)
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I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. Like the shadow Secretary of State and the Secretary of State, I put on record how grateful we are to President Zelensky for taking the time to talk to the House yesterday. It is a moment that I am sure will stay with us all for a long time.

The statement says that the Secretary of State and the Ministry of Defence will explore the donation of new anti-air missiles. We urge them to conclude that as swiftly as possible and to ensure the missiles get to Ukraine as swiftly as possible. As the conflict continues, and it is now going into its third week, Ukraine’s needs will adapt and the support we give has to adapt, too. We have previously talked to the Minister for the Armed Forces about supplying satellite phones, which Ukraine identified as an urgent need two weeks ago.

As I understand it, the United States has declined to be involved in supplying jets from Poland, but the Department of Defence has said it will keep that under review. Is the Secretary of State part of that discussion? Given the new security and defence arrangements that were announced six or seven weeks ago involving Poland and Ukraine, how might we expect that to develop in the coming days?

Time is not on Ukraine’s side, and I appreciate the immense sensitivities around this. Like many others, I welcome the additional military aid, non-lethal aid, and humanitarian support. Of course, I also welcome all the efforts of our constituents up and down the land in supporting Ukrainians in their time of need.

What sort of changes can we expect to see in the forthcoming NATO strategic concept? For example, will the air policing mission be reprofiled as an air defence mission? Can the Secretary of State talk a bit more about what the House can expect?

We have tried to support the Government on Ukraine and in many other areas, and the Government have made that easy in many ways, but on refugees we stand out in Europe for all the wrong reasons. Although the Secretary of State’s Department is not responsible for refugees, I plead with him to fix it, and to fix it soon.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Ben Wallace and Lindsay Hoyle
Monday 21st February 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
- Hansard - -

I regret to say there was absolutely not a slither of difference between the President and General Gerasimov and Minister Shoigu when I met them a few weeks ago; they are some of his closest advisers and supporters and it is clear that their vision of Russia matches that of their President. The hon. Gentleman is also right to point out that they claim the Ukrainians are their brothers—in fact they are their “kin”, rather than brothers—to launch attacks on people who were part of the Soviet Union for decades together has a retrograde effect. As we know now, Ukrainians who probably were not that bothered 10 years ago about which way they faced are absolutely determined that they are going to stand for Ukraine and fight for their freedom.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Chair of the Defence Committee, Tobias Ellwood.

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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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I fully agree with my right hon. Friend that Ukraine is part of Europe; Ukrainians consider themselves European, and it is absolutely the case that the ripples of anything that happens in Ukraine will be felt right across Europe whether it is in NATO or not. NATO is not preventing individual countries from strengthening Ukrainian security and capability through bilateral arrangements: the United Kingdom has done it, and so too has Sweden—it is not part of NATO but nevertheless stood up for its values and stood side by side.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call shadow the Secretary of State, John Healey.

John Healey Portrait John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab)
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Thank you, Mr Speaker, and may I extend a warm Labour welcome to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and her team this afternoon?

The Government have Labour’s full support in assisting Ukraine in confronting Russian aggression and pursuing diplomacy even at this eleventh hour, and we also fully support moves to reinforce the security of NATO allies, as the Labour leader and I told the Secretary-General at NATO HQ earlier this month. However, although the doubling of UK troops in Estonia is welcome it looks like an overlap in rotation, not a reinforcement; for how long will this double deployment last, and beyond the steps already announced what more is the Secretary of State willing to do to reinforce allies on NATO’s eastern flank?

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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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Contrary to the right hon. Member’s observation on the integrated review, I think that it has been proved correct. First, alliances—whether NATO, bilateral or trilateral, and whether in the Pacific or Europe—are the most important way in which we can defend ourselves. We are reinvesting in NATO and are now its second biggest spender. Yes, troop numbers are scheduled to reduce, but spending on defence is going up to a record amount, and an extra £24 billion over the comprehensive spending review period is not money to be sniffed at. The integrated review is also a demonstration that, with further defence engagement and investment in sub-threshold capabilities such as cyber through the National Cyber Force among other areas, we can improve the resilience of countries that get vulnerable to Russian sub-threshold actions.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, Dr Julian Lewis.

Julian Lewis Portrait Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What lessons have our Government drawn from the consequences for Ukraine of its decision in 1994 unilaterally to give up all the nuclear weapons that it had inherited from the Soviet Union in return for assurances on a piece of paper?

Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
- Hansard - -

That shows that we must ensure that the Budapest memorandum—the signature between Russia and Ukraine in 1994—is stuck to. Russia should honour all the treaties that it has signed as well as its statements to ensure that mutual recognition of each other’s security is upheld. If it does not do that, as my right hon. Friend rightly says, that opens up all sorts of questions about how much of Russia’s word we can trust. If we cannot trust its word, I am afraid that it is a dangerous place to be in Europe.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson, Stuart Malcolm McDonald.

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

On behalf of the Scottish National party, I welcome Speaker Pelosi and the American delegation to the Chamber. I also congratulate Team GB and yes, in particular, that fantastic curling team that so many of us have been enjoying in recent days.

As the Defence Secretary knows, we have supported the Government’s actions in helping Ukraine to defend itself against its neighbouring aggressor. Indeed, the Government’s actions in giving military support are an act against war. However, during my visit to the Ukrainian capital a couple of weeks ago, I heard concerns at Government and parliamentary level about them still missing some support that I understand they had discussed with his Department. Will he assure us that those discussions are ongoing or give us an update?

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Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. The hon. Lady knows that topical questions have to be short and punchy. You cannot make full speeches on a topical question.

Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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My hon. Friend highlights one of the big challenges in controlling the channel. I reassure her that is exactly the situation we are trying to deal with. We must ensure that we intercept each vessel so that they cannot arrive in this country on their own terms. Under Operation Isotrope, we are planning to take an enhanced role in controlling cross-Government assets to tackle such migration flows.

Ukraine

Debate between Ben Wallace and Lindsay Hoyle
Monday 21st February 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and the leader of the Alba party may like to reflect on his celebrity status on some of those channels.

The Government already have some considerable powers, and Magnitsky sanctions have been used against a number of Russian individuals after Salisbury. In fact, some of the people I met in the Russian Ministry of Defence were sanctioned under such measures. We continue to deliver on that.

More widely, the whole of Government will produce a response for this House in due course. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point about using sanctions now rather than waiting for something to happen. The key point here is that we must be in a position to threaten to deliver sanctions against Russia if it does something. Were we to unilaterally deliver them now, but America and the European Union did not, there is a danger that would play into President Putin’s attempted divide and rule narrative.

There are plenty of measures that we could take, and we are planning a serious set of sanctions. The question to President Putin is: “Do you actually care what is going to happen to your people, because it will be they who suffer the most as a result of the sanctions?” It will be interesting, as a responsible leader, whether he will listen to that.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Chair of the Defence Committee.

Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome this statement. The penny was dropping at the Munich security conference that this is about not just Ukraine, but a wider realignment of global power with the formation of a new Russia-China alliance that is fuelling Putin’s adventurism and, indeed, perhaps taking us towards another cold war. The money laundering issues aside, which absolutely must be addressed, I ask the Secretary of State to consider the sanctions. There is a concern that we are actually helping Putin with his intention of turning Russia away from the west and towards a new alliance with China in the long term.

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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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It is incredibly important that NATO seeks to use the extra troops to provide resilience, reassurance and containment. One reason why we have up to 400 Royal Marines in Poland is to assist Poland should a catastrophe happen and huge numbers of refugees pour across the border. I urge the European Commission to make deep plans about what it will do about potentially massive migrant flows, the like and scale of which we have not seen since the second world war.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Before we come to the statement on covid, I would like to point out that the British Sign Language interpretation of proceedings is available to watch on parliamentlive.tv.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Ben Wallace and Lindsay Hoyle
Monday 10th January 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

As I have said, there are observations about defence procurement in all the NAO reports and also in those of Select Committees of both Houses, and it has been a running sore for many years. We have to fix some of those issues. The Minister for Defence Procurement, my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Jeremy Quin), has come to the House time and again to talk about and expose the issues relating to Ajax, and has been honest and clear about the problems that we need to put right. I discussed with my right hon. Friend the need to ensure that our pricing estimates and the quality of our contracts are correct, so that risk is held in the right place. Both those issues are incredibly important. We also need a change in the culture of optimism bias: sometimes people want to gold-plate things when the good will do, rather than the perfect.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the Scottish National party spokesperson, Dave Doogan.

Dave Doogan Portrait Dave Doogan (Angus) (SNP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

In 2010, when this Government came to power, there were three main RAF bases in Scotland, at Kinloss, Lossiemouth and Leuchars. Now there is only one. Can the Secretary of State tell us how many jobs were lost to Scotland as a result of the RAF draw-downs inflicted on it by Westminster, and, two years on from the Government’s own target of 12,500 personnel to be stationed in Scotland by 2020, will he also tell us how much that target has been missed by, as of today?

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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his support. I will continue to work with him, and the Leader of the Opposition, to ensure that he is kept informed as much as we can on the situation. That goes for the Scottish National party as well. I have personally been to Ukraine five or six times in my time as Security Minister and Defence Secretary. The lessons of Afghanistan are that as we move together, whether as NATO or as a coalition, we will continue to work with—

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Order. Topicals are meant to be short, quick and effective. I cannot get through the list if we are going to take them as normal questions.

Army Restructuring: Future Soldier

Debate between Ben Wallace and Lindsay Hoyle
Thursday 25th November 2021

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ben Wallace Portrait The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Ben Wallace)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

With permission, Mr Speaker, I will update the House on the details and implementation of the Army’s future capabilities, structures and basing.

In March I came to the House to announce the outcome of the Defence Command Paper, part of our integrated review. I said that we must adapt to new threats, resist sentimentality, and match our ambitions to our resources if we are to field armed forces that remain relevant and credible for the challenges of the future. I also said that we owed it to our service personnel to ensure that we now turn that policy into reality and that the work to do so had only just begun.

The Army was tasked with undertaking the most significant modernisation in a generation and, after an intense period of planning—for which I am especially grateful to the Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith, Brigadier Clark and the rest of the team—I can now announce to Parliament the details of its plans, entitled “Future Soldier”.

Let me begin by paying tribute to those soldiers, the brave men and women of the British Army. To me, they are the finest in the world. Yesterday, we witnessed soldiers, alongside colleagues from other services, parade outside Parliament. It was an opportunity to pay tribute to their extraordinary endeavours during Operation Pitting, helping to evacuate some 15,000 people in a matter of weeks, and to thank them for their service and sacrifice throughout the decades-long Afghan campaign. It was also a reminder that the Army that departed Afghanistan was a very different one from that of 2001. But the Army of the future must adapt even more radically if it is to adapt to the threats of the future. Let us be clear: those are proliferating threats, from increasing humanitarian crises, to ever more capable and determined violent extremism and the use of proxy forces, to the ever present spectre of great power competition.

To keep pace with the changing character of warfare, our Army must be forward-looking, adaptable and embracing of new ways of working as much as new weapons and technologies. Not only must it have the best force structure to counter an ever growing range of threats to the UK, our people and interests, but it must achieve our ambitions on schedule and in budget. Thanks to the Prime Minister’s record settlement for defence announced at last year’s spending review, we have been given the time and resources to undertake the generational modernisation that defence needs.

Far from being deprived of investment as some claim, we are injecting £41.3 billion into Army equipment and support this decade. That is £8.6 billion more than had been planned prior to the integrated review. We are using those funds to create a modern, innovative and digitised Army. Our future Army will be leaner but more productive, prioritising speed and readiness over mass mobilisation, but still over 100,000 strong, integrating regulars and reserves, as well as all the civil servants and partners from the private sector. As the Chief of the General Staff has said, it must be an Army that places a premium

“not just on mass, but on critical mass; relevant, networked, deployable”.

The Army will now be reorganised to operate on a continuous basis, fielding all the relevant capabilities for this era of constant competition, and persistently engaged around the globe, supporting our partners and deterring our adversaries. Crucially, it will also be an Army that is designed for genuine warfighting credibility, as an expeditionary fighting force that will be both deployable and lethal when called on to fight and win. Since the publication of the defence Command Paper, my officials have worked hard to finalise a reform programme to deliver our priorities at home and abroad. Our future soldiers will find that tomorrow’s Army has six distinct elements.

First, it will be globally engaged, with more personnel deployed for more of the time, employed in a new network of regional hubs based on existing training locations in places such as Oman and Kenya.

Secondly, it will be a key contributor to NATO warfighting, capable of fielding a division throughout the decade, as we transition to the new capabilities for a fully modernised warfighting division by 2030.

Thirdly, it will be enhanced by state-of-the-art equipment, including upgraded tanks and digitally-networked armoured vehicles, as well as long-range precision strike, cyber and electromagnetic capabilities.

Fourthly, it will exploit innovation and experimentation to get ahead of the evolving threats. Not only will the Army share the £6.6 billion of defence’s increased research and development investment, but next year both the new British Army battle lab and a dedicated unit, the Army trials and experimentation group, will be established to stay at the cutting edge.

Fifthly, it will have integration at its heart, bringing together regulars, reserves and civil servants to form a more productive force with warfighting and resilience at its heart and cross-Government working in its DNA.

Sixthly and finally, it will be an Army that benefits the whole of our Union, with an increased proportion of the Army based in each of the devolved nations and expenditure contributing to prosperity throughout the United Kingdom under our upcoming land industrial strategy.

I am pleased to report that we have already made substantial progress. When it comes to global engagement, we have formed the new Army special operations brigade, in which the new ranger regiments will sit; established the security force assistance brigade; and set up a NATO holding area in Sennelager, Germany. In terms of warfighting, we have reinforced NATO’s Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, established new brigade combat teams and reinforced the Army’s global response force.

Over the next five years, implementation will continue apace. At the end of this year, our new ranger regiment will reach initial operating capability. By mid-2022 our new deep recce strike brigade combat team will be established, and by Autumn next year two battalions of the Mercian Regiment will merge to form a new Boxer-mounted battalion in one of our armoured combat teams. The recapitalisation of major equipment is already under way. I am determined to do everything within our means to accelerate the introduction of Challenger 3 tanks, with an ambition for their delivery to units starting from 2025 onwards. Likewise, we are transitioning to Boxer armoured personnel carriers from the retiring Warrior, with units starting to receive their first vehicles from 2023.

We are resolving development issues with the troubled but, none the less, technically capable Ajax armoured reconnaissance vehicle. We are also upgrading the battle-proven Apache attack helicopters while investing in everything from long-range precision strike, ground-based air defence, uncrewed aerial systems, electronic warfare and tactical cyber. These cutting-edge capabilities will be wielded by the newly restructured brigade combat teams—self-sufficient tactical formations with their own combat support and logistics. They will include 16 Air Assault Brigade Combat Team and a new aviation brigade combat team, which together will form our global response force, providing defence’s rapid response for crises overseas.

Let me now turn to our plans to streamline the Army force structures. For too long, historical infantry structures have inhibited our Army’s transformation. We cannot afford to be slaves to sentiment when the threat has moved on. Today I can therefore confirm a major reorganisation under four new administrative divisions of infantry: the Queen’s Division, the Union Division, the Light Division, and the Guards and Parachute Division. These divisions are designed to reflect historic ties, while balancing the numbers of battalions and unit roles, offering greater flexibility and opportunity to soldiers of all ranks.

As announced in March, these plans do not involve the deletion of any cap badges, further major unit changes or any military redundancies. Although we are significantly reducing the total number of Army personnel, we are not compromising our presence in and contribution to the devolved nations. The numbers will reduce slightly everywhere except Wales, but we are increasing the proportion of the Army based in each nation and investing millions in the defence industry and estate.

Northern Ireland will keep the same number of battalions, but host a greater proportion of the Army’s workforce and gain an additional reserve company of the Royal Irish. Scotland will be home to more battalions—going from six to seven units—and a greater proportion of the Army than today. We will be retaining Glencorse barracks and will grow in Kinloss and Leuchars, thanks to £355 million of investment in the Army estate.

Wales will see the return of the Welsh cavalry—the Queen’s Dragoon Guards—to Caerwent barracks and a new reserve company of 3rd Battalion, the Royal Welsh to be established in north Wales. The retention of the Brecon barracks and the growth of Wrexham are just part of a £320 million investment in the Army estate in Wales.

I know that colleagues will be enthusiastic to learn the basing implications for their own constituencies. The full breakdown of the Army’s new structure can be found on the Government website or by clicking on the link in the “Dear colleague” letter that will be distributed.

Our future Army will be as agile in the new domains of cyber and space as it is on the ground. It will contribute the most personnel of all the services to those enhanced information-age functions, such as the National Cyber Force and Defence Intelligence, which are so critical to our new integrated force. In practical terms, this amounts to an additional 500 regular personnel, taking the number from 72,500 to 73,000. Together with the more than 10,000 Army personnel who work in other parts of defence, we will now, as I said, have a figure of 73,000.

As I said back in March, the size and capabilities of our Army must be dictated by the threat. What we can show on paper or even muster on parade matters little if we cannot rely on those numbers when it counts, or deliver the relevant capabilities required. Unlike the purely financial or numerically driven reviews of the past, we have taken a positive, pragmatic approach, matching our size to the current security environment and the Government’s current ambition.

Every single unit will be affected in some way by this change, and transformation on this scale requires radical change at the top of the Army. By 2025, the Army’s headquarters will be reduced by 40% regular personnel, and reserves integration will be made more productive across the force. Notably, the covid pandemic underlined the need for resilience structures that can cope with crises on the home front, so a new reserve brigade based in York will ensure that we can provide forces at the point of need. Simultaneously, we will be strengthening our Army’s institutional foundation across the United Kingdom by establishing regional points of command.

Our Army has always been defined by its people and their adaptive, resilient, determined and diverse qualities, so this review puts investment in human capital first. The more we use our people, the more we must make sure they are properly supported. That is why we will be modernising individuals’ careers and family assistance, all of which will be consolidated in an Army people plan published early next year. Finally, in this more competitive age, we will ensure that equipping our people with the ability to understand, compete, and fight across all domains is firmly at the forefront of defence policy making.

This is an Army that we can remain proud of, not just for its historical achievements or the “Top Trumps” comparisons of numbers of tanks and people in its ranks, but because it is an honest force that is credible and relevant, relentlessly adapting to confront the threats to the nation and meet the challenges of the future, changing the way it operates as much as the equipment with which it does it, and evolving culturally as much as structurally to place our future soldier in the best possible position to compete in all domains, both old and new, to shape our world for the better. Like their forebears, I am certain they will grasp these opportunities with both hands. It is certainly an Army that I would have liked to serve in. I am certain that this modernisation programme will allow them to do just that and ensure the Army remains both relevant and credible, in support of our Prime Minister’s vision for a global Britain that is a safer, stronger and more prosperous place. I commend this statement to the House.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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This is a very important statement and that is why I have allowed it to run three minutes over, so Members also have the ability to run over because there is a lot to take in. I am sure that Fulwood barracks was missed out, but there we are—we will leave that for another time.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Ben Wallace and Lindsay Hoyle
Monday 15th November 2021

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

Thank you, Mr Speaker. It is the hon. Lady’s birthday, and I am not sure if she would think it a birthday present or not but I will be delighted to visit it with her.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Ben Wallace and Lindsay Hoyle
Monday 20th September 2021

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question. The Minister for Defence People and Veterans, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Leo Docherty), is leading the charge here. Some of those people who are arriving here are finding the outlook strange and confusing—they have literally taken off one uniform, got on a plane and arrived in the United Kingdom. We in the Defence Department felt that it was incredibly important that the veterans’ community, local government, the Home Office and so on reach out a hand of friendship and support them as they integrate into society. We are looking at those who have already qualified, including those who have been through Sandhurst into the armed forces, to see what we can do for them. All the way through, we shall mentor them and put our arm around them.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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We now come to the shadow Secretary of State, John Healey.

John Healey Portrait John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab)
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I want to ask the Defence Secretary about the Ajax armoured vehicle, the biggest defence procurement failure since the Nimrod. What did the Defence Secretary know about the Ajax flaws when he published the integrated review in his Defence White Paper in March, scrapping Warrior, scaling back Challenger and fully backing Ajax?

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Martin Docherty-Hughes Portrait Martin Docherty-Hughes (West Dunbartonshire) (SNP)
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On a point of order, Mr Speaker, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown), the Secretary of State stated that the fire services of the naval bases in Faslane and Coulport had been nationalised, yet Capita won the contract last year to provide the fire services for those naval bases. Would the Secretary of State like to come to the Dispatch Box, perhaps to rectify that anomaly?

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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We have a willing Secretary of State for the hon. Member.

Ben Wallace Portrait The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Ben Wallace)
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I think the best way to rectify this, Mr Speaker, is to read Hansard, where you will see very clearly, in black and white, that I referred to the Atomic Weapons Establishment.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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It is on the record and we are not going to continue the debate.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Ben Wallace and Lindsay Hoyle
Monday 5th July 2021

(2 years, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I join the right hon. Gentleman in his tribute to the men and women who fought, some of whom never came back, and contributed during the many years in Afghanistan. I have previously placed on the record the fact that in my view the United States leaving made it very difficult for us to continue that mission. It left many of us unable to continue that without a significant international uplift. That has not been forthcoming, and therefore we are in a position where we, too, are on the path of withdrawal, with all the risks that may leave in the future—in the next 10, 20 years—so we have to do our very best with what we have now. That means we will continue to work with the Afghan Government. We will continue to focus on the threats that emanate from Afghanistan and may grow towards the United Kingdom and our allies. We will do whatever we can. However, it is important, in forward presence, that we are always in such countries with the consent of those countries. There was a Doha peace agreement, and that means we have to consider what we are going to do next.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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These are topicals—short and sweet. I call the Chair of the Select Committee.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Can I just remind people—Front Benchers as well, and Chairs of Select Committees—that if they want a long question, they should go in questions earlier? These are short and punchy questions, and we have to keep it that way to get the rest in.

Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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I would say two things. First, my right hon. Friend, as I said earlier, has the means of his own salvation. He chairs the Select Committee, and if the Select Committee wishes to have an inquiry, I will be happy to make sure the Department services it.

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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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I will be delighted to ensure that either I or the Minister for Defence Procurement meets my hon. Friend.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I am suspending the House for three minutes to enable the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Ben Wallace and Lindsay Hoyle
Monday 24th May 2021

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

Yes, my hon. Friend makes an important point about small and medium-sized companies and their role in the supply chain; I see it as part of my job as Defence Secretary sometimes to protect them from the big primes and make sure that their voice is heard. As for the competition that he mentions, I obviously cannot pre-empt the results of the contract, but all bids will be properly considered. I know Kromek by reputation and congratulate my hon. Friend on being a champion of it.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Secretary of State.

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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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The Afghan forces have been fully responsible for the security of Afghanistan since 2015, and I want to place on record my admiration for their remarkable resilience and courage in meeting the challenges they face. The UK has an enduring commitment to Afghanistan. We plan to continue to provide financial sustainment support until at least 2024. It is in all our interests that the state of Afghanistan transitions through the peace deal as the state we envisage it to be, and I will explore all options, whether from inside the country or outside it, to continue to support those forces one way or the other.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Chair of the Defence Committee, Tobias Ellwood.

Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con)
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Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. Let me begin by wishing the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier battle group all the very best on her maiden voyage.

Operation Telic, the 2003 invasion of Iraq, cost the taxpayer £8 billion and the lives of 179 UK military personnel, and there was a full independent inquiry. Operation Herrick, the invasion of Afghanistan, cost the taxpayer £28 billion and resulted in some 450 UK military deaths, but to date the Government have not announced an inquiry. We now withdraw from Afghanistan just as the Taliban are on the ascent and another civil war looms. That cannot be the exit strategy that we ever envisaged, and we must understand what went wrong. For example, why did Donald Rumsfeld exclude the Taliban from the first peace talks in December 2001? If we do not understand and learn from the strategic errors of the past, this House will be hesitant to vote in favour of deploying our hard power in the future. Please, let us have that inquiry.

Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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I hear my right hon. Friend’s requests—I know he has recently written a letter to the Prime Minister making that request. First, there is a stark difference between Iraq and Afghanistan; the article 5 triggering of that deployment and the causes behind it were not in doubt. Secondly, as our former Speaker would have said, part of my right hon. Friend’s salvation is in his own hands: as Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, he obviously has significant capabilities and powers to bring forward an inquiry, if that is what he wishes. At present, the Government are reflecting on his letter and do not think there is a need for the same type of inquiry that we saw into what happened in Iraq. Of course, we do learn lessons; there have been a considerable amount of internal looks by military professionals at what is going on.

On Donald Rumsfeld and the United States Administration, that is a matter for the US Administration and not for me. I am not able to ask what lay behind their motives as to decisions they have made over the past 20 years and I cannot therefore venture into that space.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, Dr Julian Lewis.

Julian Lewis Portrait Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con)
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I hope we are not so naive as to believe that the Taliban will stick to any peace deal unless they recognise adverse consequences for breaking it. So will the Government take steps, in conjunction with the US and other NATO allies, to find a new strategy, possibly based on a strategic base in the region, to deter the Taliban and protect Afghanistan from a total Islamist takeover after our land forces have totally been withdrawn?

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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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I think the right hon. Member is looking at the special measure. The reason I am here as the Secretary of State for Defence is to get the record level of investment that will put right not only five years or 10 years, but 20 years of mismanagement of these programmes. Sometimes that means taking tough decisions, and the Warrior will be retired when it runs out in 2025; it is not just going to be cancelled as such. It was also important to make sure that we invested in parts of the land capability that I thought, and indeed that officers thought, were the right thing for the future of the Army—the Boxer armoured vehicle. For that investment, not only do we get a factory in Telford and hundreds of jobs, but we get one of the very best wheeled armed vehicles in the world. For his £3.3 billion on Ajax, he will get over 500 vehicles when they are delivered, and much of that money has already been committed. He will also get a factory in Wales, which I am sure he is pleased about. In both projects, we will get the intellectual property, so that when we export those vehicles around the world, not only will British defence profit, but so too will the people of the United Kingdom through their jobs.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Let me say to the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State that topicals are meant to be short and punchy, not lengthy debates. Can they both get it right for next time? I now come to Mr Metcalfe, who will definitely get it right.

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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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We will continue with the Astute programme. As the hon. Lady points out, there were some delays in some of that programme. We will continue to manage the programme. The Astute submarines will be delivered by BAE Systems in Barrow-in-Furness. I visit regularly to make sure we try to keep it on track.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call Richard Holden. Not here. We will go to Richard Thomson.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Ben Wallace and Lindsay Hoyle
Monday 15th March 2021

(3 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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I certainly hear what my hon. Friend says. As another Lancashire MP, I am conscious of the good news which the Prime Minister announced that the force will be based in the north of England. Obviously, we will go through the processes of selecting where it is to be based. I think of the lessons that we learned when Bletchley Park and its successors moved to Cheltenham, as opposed to a big city. The impact that that had in levelling up the area is something on which we should all reflect. It is incredibly important that, in our whole levelling-up agenda, we focus not just on cities but on towns as well.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Perhaps we could bring all Lancashire MPs together.

Mark Logan Portrait Mark Logan [V]
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Our Prime Minister and Secretary of State are backing the north by developing the National Cyber Force here. Some say that it should be in Manchester, but others say Lancashire. Surely Bolton is the place for it, with a foot in Greater Manchester, but our heart firmly in Lancashire.

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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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I hear what the right hon. Gentleman says, but I would take issue with it on one thing, and that is about us catching up. I was the cyber-security Minister—I was the Minister of State for Security—for a considerable period of time. Britain actually led the world both in NATO, where we were the first to offer cyber-offensive capability, but also through our programmes. The national cyber-security programme spent billions on enhancing capability right across not just military, but predominantly the civil sector. The National Cyber Security Centre is a first; there are almost none in Europe.

We are one of the first to have such a centre to be able to advise business, private individuals and the Government how to keep themselves strong and secure. There is always more to do and there are lessons to be learned around the world, but Britain has a lot of innovation and strengths in cyber-security. It is a dangerous world out there in cyber. I certainly agree with the right hon. Gentleman that one of the ways to deliver this is to ensure that we constantly work with our friends and allies.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Let us go to another expert—Dr Julian Lewis.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Ben Wallace and Lindsay Hoyle
Monday 1st February 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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John Healey Portrait John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab)
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The Secretary of State mentions nuclear proliferation in relation to Iran, but I am disappointed that he makes no mention of New START—strategic arms reduction treaty—which President Biden rescued last week, particularly as Britain is a beneficiary of the stability that it brings to Europe. He made no mention of New START when it collapsed with President Trump last year. He was also silent when the US pulled out of the 34-nation open skies treaty, so why has Britain become a bystander while the international rules-based order has been breaking down? While it remains essential to maintain our UK nuclear deterrent, will he also use the integrated review to reboot Britain’s commitment to help forge the next generation of necessary arms controls and security agreements?

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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May I just remind Front Benchers that topicals are meant to be short and punchy so that we get through the list?

Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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First, we did not necessarily write it, but I read the right hon. Gentleman’s good article over the weekend with the shadow Foreign Secretary, the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), calling for action on a number of these issues. It was not the case that the United Kingdom did not communicate to the United States Administration the importance of both the open skies treaty and the New START agreement. We welcome its return. Sometimes we do things in public; sometimes we do things in private. It is incredibly important, and we welcome the steps that are being taken, but we should not forget that Russia has consistently broken some of these treaties and played on loopholes, both on chemical weapons and nuclear weapons.

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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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I can give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that the current contract—which is obviously in the middle of a competition, so I have to be cautious in what I say—is not about driving down terms and conditions; it is about increasing the productivity around getting our boats and ships out on the water and making sure that our men and women of the armed forces are getting the maintenance and the turnaround that is required for taxpayers’ money. I have already met a number of stakeholders, including the leader of the trade union to discuss his concerns. My eyes and ears are wide open to the fears of the workforce, and I shall be working to make sure that whatever comes afterwards is not about driving down conditions, but about increasing and improving service.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Let us head up the stairs to Bedfordshire, with Richard Fuller.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Ben Wallace and Lindsay Hoyle
Monday 7th December 2020

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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If the hon. Member has been an avid attender of Defence questions, she will have heard me say on a number of occasions that the lessons of the past for both Governments—including Labour Governments; I refer her to the National Audit Office report of 2010—are that we should not over-promise, be over-ambitious or underfund, and that we should cut our cloth accordingly. I have read not only the 2010 report but all the successive NAO reports and SDSRs going back to 1998, to learn what mistakes should and could have been avoided. That is why we have had this review and this record funding, and it is why the Prime Minister made the exception for a multi-year spending decision not only in CDEL but in REDL. This gives us the space to put things right that have been wrong and to ensure that we make long-term investments that match our ambition. I am sure the whole House agrees with that. I am always happy to take suggestions from hon. Members from all around the House about what we could do even better.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Let’s fly over to Bob Blackman.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con) [V]
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Thank you, ground control. I understand that my right hon. Friend has, on behalf of the Ministry of Defence, agreed a new co-operation agreement with the Israeli defence force. Could he update the House on the impact of that agreement and tell us what benefits it will bring both to the United Kingdom and to the state of Israel?

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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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Only recently, I hosted my colleague, the Defence Minister of Qatar, who came to see the joint Typhoon squadron that we operate in the United Kingdom. That squadron, obviously, uses Typhoon, which is built in Lancashire and has a supply chain that reaches right across the north of England. That is why my hon. Friend, like many in this House, will welcome the announcement of the next generation of the future combat air system. Billions of pounds will be put into research and development for the next generation of fighter. This will mean lots of jobs for people in the United Kingdom—in the north, south and south-west of England, and in Scotland.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the House for three minutes.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Ben Wallace and Lindsay Hoyle
Monday 2nd November 2020

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ben Wallace Portrait The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Ben Wallace)
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The Ministry of Defence takes the threat posed by malicious disinformation campaigning by state and non-state actors very seriously. Working with allies and partners across Government collectively, we monitor such activity closely, assess the risk, and take action to counter it if appropriate.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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We now go up to Scotland with Owen Thompson.

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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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My hon. Friend will know that last year we did not have one either, but we got a generous settlement from the Treasury for that one year. It is of course the case that any Department that has a heavy reliance on capital spending prefers a long-term spending commitment from the Treasury. That was true a decade ago and it is true today. That is our preference. However, we are also living in a time of covid-19—a less than a once-in-a-generation challenge to both the coffers and indeed the conduct of this country. As a result, we will have to review each issue as it comes. As I have said, we are in the middle of a form of negotiation trying to see what the impacts of the announcement will be.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Can I just say that topicals are meant to be short and punchy? We have got to get into that habit.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. I say to the Front Benchers once again, if you are going to ask questions in topicals, they have got to be short and punchy. That is the idea of topicals. I call the Secretary of State.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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That’s the way to do it.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Ben Wallace and Lindsay Hoyle
Monday 21st September 2020

(3 years, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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On the timing of the review, it will hopefully report in the autumn—in October/November time. To ensure that our pockets match our ambitions, it is timed to coincide with the comprehensive spending review. Therefore, between the two, we have to make sure that we get the timing right.

On the issue of covid and Defence, we did a fantastic job in the first phase, in my view, through our men and women of the armed forces. We helped to thicken the response across government by command and control, with senior officers and middle-ranking officers going in and helping people. We strengthened the logistics supply chain in the NHS. We provided mobile testing to make sure that testing went to where people were rather than expecting them to get in cars and go up and down motorways. Our response was excellently positioned. Because we were able to make that response, we have already, backed up by people like those in Defence Intelligence, started planning for any second eventuality, either a second wave or not a wave but an alternative challenge, whether that is winter pressures, floods or Brexit. All that is ongoing. I am confident that our men and women will be able to deliver, whatever demands are put on government. I offer them to government on a regular basis. I know that the Prime Minister is incredibly supportive of taking up that offer when the needs fit.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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We are going to have to speed up the answers.

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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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On the first point from the shadow Defence Secretary, I will of course let him know and put in the Library of the House the terms of reference for the review and when we expect it to be completed.

On remembrance, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is the lead. However, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, it is an incredibly important for our Department and our men and women in the armed forces to contribute to it. I am working with the DDCMS to make sure we get that guidance. He is right to highlight the issue and I thank him for doing so. Of course, some in the veterans community are the most elderly and vulnerable at present, and we have to ensure that whatever we do we protect them in services of remembrance. I took part in VE Day by ringing a number of veterans who could not attend those events. Talking to numerous second world war veterans is quite a moving experience. One raised a problem about being able to get to an optician and it was useful to ring his local regimental association to try to get him that help. The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight this issue. As soon as we have worked out the plans, I will share them with the House.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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We have Bob Blackman with clearance to land a question.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con) [V]
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What else for Defence questions, Mr Speaker? My right hon. Friend has previously referred to Iran’s nefarious use of power via the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, including Hezbollah and the harassment of UK shipping in the strait of Hormuz. Does he agree that unless its influence is curtailed, the IRGC will continue to be a major threat to the safety and security of British forces, and will he address that in the upcoming integrated review?

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Ben Wallace and Lindsay Hoyle
Tuesday 12th May 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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Joint Military Command Wales has provided mobile decontamination teams and drivers to support the Welsh Ambulance Service Trust. It has also provided general duties personnel to unload PPE from aircraft at Cardiff Airport and transfer it to civilian trucks for onward distribution to Bridgend. As of 10 May, there are 30 military planners also embedded with the Welsh Government.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Let us head up to north of the border to David Duguid.

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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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Mobile testing is a capability developed between the Department of Health and Social Care and the Ministry of Defence under DHSC direction. NHS Scotland decides on the location to which each mobile testing unit will be deployed in Scotland. Peterhead, to which my hon. Friend refers, was an isolated incident in which the opening of the site was delayed due to capacity issues with central laboratories. Unfortunately, the site incorrectly remained open on the digital booking portal for a few hours longer. Such bookings were accepted when the site opened on 4 May. I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss further the use and deployment of mobile facilities throughout Scotland.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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In calling the new shadow Secretary of State, I welcome him to his post.

John Healey Portrait John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab)
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Thank you, Mr Speaker, and I thank the Secretary of State for his welcome, too. It is a privilege to take on this role, which has always been so important to the Labour party. We will do right by our armed forces and veterans and we will promote their role as a force for good at home and abroad. Like the Secretary of State, I pay tribute to our military’s essential role in helping the country to respond to the covid crisis. They are keeping us safe, and it is right that we do everything we can to keep them safe.

The US Defence Department has increased its testing capacity to 30,000 military personnel a week. It has set out a strategic testing plan and has now tested everyone deemed a priority for national security, including strategic deterrence, nuclear deterrence, anti-terror forces and healthcare as well as, of course, its entire covid support force. Has the Secretary of State done the same here in the UK?

Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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I am grateful to the right hon. Member. May I place on record a tribute to his predecessor, the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith), who did a great job as shadow Defence Secretary, sometimes in difficult circumstances? We have done it slightly differently from the United States with testing our personnel. We have no problems whatsoever testing whoever we want, when we want. The best example I can give is that, before embarkation, we tested all 799 of the crew of the Queen Elizabeth carrier. We will test them again throughout their period of sailing and when they return.

We have a strategy around protecting the national security-vital parts of our forces, which involves testing and quarantine. That is also being carried out in areas that I will not particularly comment on; nevertheless, the right hon. Member mentioned what the Americans view as strategically important. We do not have a mass programme; we have testing that is available—we do not have any problems acquiring it—and, as we bring forces up to either readiness or deployment, there is an opportunity if required, if quarantine has not done the job, to test them as well.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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We need to shorten the answers.

John Healey Portrait John Healey
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The Secretary of State talked about testing who we want when we want, but he gave no definition of that. The last published figures show that we had tested just 1% of our entire military personnel. This is about keeping our armed forces safe and safeguarding our national security. There is no fix for coronavirus without mass testing, and we really expect the Ministry of Defence to lead the way, not lag behind, so will he get a grip of this? Will he produce a plan for testing our military, set a target for the number of tests and publish the results, just as our allies in the US have done?

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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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As I have said, the armed forces have played a vital role in supporting the NHS and others to manage the situation, and I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to them. Defence remains ready to contribute, as requested, by any civil authorities through the MACA—military assistance to civilian authority—system. After this crisis started, as Defence Secretary, I took the decision very early on to devolve the power to grant military assistance right down to the regional commands—so it is not from my desk, from the bureaucracy of head office—and those regional commanders stand ready to call on the whole forces of the covid force for support as needed.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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We go up to Sunderland again—I welcome the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), to her new position.

Sharon Hodgson Portrait Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab) [V]
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Thank you, Mr Speaker. The armed forces are indeed playing a vital part in helping the country through this coronavirus crisis, as are our veterans, who, across the country, are volunteering to help their local community, and I commend them all for their contribution. Many are helping other veterans because the Government have closed the Veterans UK helpline. Will the Secretary of State set out why he decided to close the helpline in the midst of this crisis, when many veterans will need its help and support?

Middle East: Security

Debate between Ben Wallace and Lindsay Hoyle
Tuesday 7th January 2020

(4 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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There are many of us who should take tips about Twitter. The main point is that it was in response to a specific threat that the United States took an action. The hon. Gentleman can disagree on whether it should have done that, but after that action has taken place there is a duty on all of us to ensure that that single event does not lead to an escalation. The White House and the US Administration are on the same page; they are also keen to de-escalate the situation. The challenge for this Government, the Germans, the French and our allies is to ensure we convert those wishes of not wanting to escalate into action. That is what we are going to be doing over the next days and weeks.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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May I just say to those Members who did not get called that we do have a list of them and I would expect them to be taken very early in the next statement or next questions?