10 Greg Smith debates involving the Ministry of Defence

Oral Answers to Questions

Greg Smith Excerpts
Monday 25th March 2024

(3 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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James Heappey Portrait The Minister for Armed Forces (James Heappey)
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We do not comment on operational matters of that sort.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham)  (Con)
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T4. Qatar hosts Hamas’s most senior leaders in Doha, and should have been applying far more pressure on the terror group to release the Israeli hostages and to surrender. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Qatar’s malign activities bolster our adversaries and therefore weaken our own defence?

James Heappey Portrait James Heappey
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I am not entirely sure that I do agree. I will leave the Foreign Office to talk about the diplomatic angles that it is pursuing, but in my experience, Qatar has been an incredibly helpful partner across a whole load of things over the past few years. We enjoy the opportunity to strengthen that partnership, both through the sale of UK-built defence capabilities and through increasingly operating together in areas of mutual concern. It is a relationship on which the UK can build further, and has great potential.

Situation in the Red Sea

Greg Smith Excerpts
Monday 26th February 2024

(4 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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I will certainly look into that for the hon. Member, but I would have thought that Israel uses UK airports for the purposes of flying El Al and other airlines to this country.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, and I support the necessary actions of self-defence to secure freedom of navigation in the Red sea. However, to keep the whole country on the same page and to understand the importance of this, I note that while the purpose of the actions is first and foremost to protect the people—the seafarers and the military personnel—on those vessels, the economic impact globally is huge, as has been referenced. Businesses are reporting to me a threefold or fourfold increase in shipping costs, which of course we will all pay for at the tills. In conjunction with the Treasury and the Department for Business and Trade, has my right hon. Friend made an assessment of the magnitude of the figure that the challenge to freedom of navigation in the Red sea is causing to our economy and the global economy?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right that this has a cost not just to business or industry, but to households in this country. It will come straight through to the bill for the weekly shop, which is why it is so important that we do not allow these attacks to go unchallenged and that we make sure we degrade the ability for them take place. He asked about the ongoing assessments by the Department for Business and Trade and the Treasury, and provided some data from his own knowledge about the increased shipping costs. Shipping is typically not an enormous part of the cost of each individual item people buy in the supermarket, but of course over a period time, that will have a negative impact, which is why it is important to make it clear that freedom of navigation is sacrosanct and that we will always take action if it is affected in any way, shape or form.

Oral Answers to Questions

Greg Smith Excerpts
Monday 19th February 2024

(5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge
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I agree 100% with my hon. Friend.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Grant Shapps Portrait The Secretary of State for Defence (Grant Shapps)
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This year I visited the United States—the White House and Capitol Hill—to lobby on behalf of Ukraine, as discussed today; Saudi Arabia and Egypt, given the crisis in the middle east; HMS Diamond, to thank the ship’s crew; and our sovereign base at Akrotiri, to thank the Typhoon pilots. Cyprus itself was also visited. Last week I was in Brussels for the NATO meeting and in Munich for the security conference. The whole House will know that defence never sleeps and will wish to join me in thanking the brave men and women who make that possible.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith
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Will my right hon. Friend update the House on progress made at the NATO Defence Ministers meeting, particularly with regard to support for Ukraine?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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Alongside the NATO meeting, there was the Ukraine defence contact group—a group of 52 countries, all of which support Ukraine. The big concern, of course, is ensuring that Ukraine has the things that it needs now and the planning to ensure that it can sustain the fight and push back against the enemy in 2024. That is why I have announced £200 million for drones, and why we have a 15-nation coalition for MPI—the multinational procurement initiative. At my request, we have also welcomed Australia to the international fund for Ukraine, with its commitment of 50 million Australian dollars to a fund that is now worth £900 million.

Situation in the Red Sea

Greg Smith Excerpts
Monday 5th February 2024

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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I think the hon. Gentleman will detect that the House has not followed the logic of his argument. There is a difference between this absolutely not being inextricably linked to Gaza, apart from when Opposition Members might try to link it, and the Houthis claiming that it is somehow linked as a badge of convenience—as a way of trying to muscle in on that action. I am very, very sorry that the hon. Gentleman chooses to repeat their propaganda.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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In addition to the IRGC deployment on the coastline of Yemen that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton North (Sir Michael Ellis) referenced, Tehran has deployed its Alborz warship to the Red sea. We also know that two US Navy SEALs have died after attempting to seize Iranian weapons bound for the Houthis, yet Iran continues to evade any meaningful deterrence. Does the Secretary of State agree that Iran must not be allowed to outsource the responsibility for its regional escalation to its proxies and must be deterred directly?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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My hon. Friend makes an excellent point about the link between the Iranian ships that loiter in the region and the items that are shipped to the Houthis, which we know come from Iran, because of the interdictions that we have made previously. It is probably wise if I do not go into too much detail, but to say that we are aware of this is absolutely correct, and the whole world needs to carry on piling the pressure on Iran to cease and desist from this behaviour.

Middle East: UK Military Deployments

Greg Smith Excerpts
Tuesday 5th December 2023

(7 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

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

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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The hon. Lady will know that the RAF bases in Cyprus are a very useful asset. They are being used, for example, to provide support to our military in the area. To answer her specific question, I can assure her that we have provided no offensive military weapons to Israel during this conflict. In fact, our military exports to Israel are quite low. Last year’s figure was something like £48 million, which is not a very significant amount of money. During the conflict, we would provide only defensive matériel, or matériel that might help with the recovery of hostages.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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I applaud the decisive actions of my right hon. Friend and the Government to defend our strategic ally, Israel, against Hamas, but the grim reality on the ground right now is that Hamas continue to fire dozens of rockets at Israeli towns and cities. The Iran-backed terror group have fired more than 10,000 rockets since 7 October and show no sign of stopping their violent attacks against Israel. Will my right hon. Friend not only commit to continuing his support for Israel in defending itself against Hamas, but reassure the House that every possible step is being taken to counter Iran’s links across the region, which are causing instability?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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My hon. Friend makes an excellent point that the conflict would be over immediately if hostages were released and Hamas stopped firing rockets into Israel—there would not be a cause for conflict. Indeed, that is the policy Israel followed for many years, hoping that, even though rocket attacks continued, Hamas would not take advantage of their own population by using them as human shields and building infrastructure under hospitals, schools and homes. Unfortunately, that is not the Hamas way. That is what they have done, and my hon. Friend is absolutely right to identify Iran as being behind this whole evil business.

Ukraine

Greg Smith Excerpts
Tuesday 28th November 2023

(7 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

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

James Heappey Portrait James Heappey
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I make those representations now.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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I welcome the continued work that my right hon. Friend and the whole Government do to support our friends in Ukraine.

May I return to the question of grain exports? Just a couple of days ago at a food security summit, President Zelensky was clear that he believes air defences are the missing link to secure those exports. Does my right hon. Friend share that assessment? If he does, how can we help make those air defences a reality?

James Heappey Portrait James Heappey
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Air defences have been an important part of the Ukrainian response to Russia’s belligerence from the very beginning. Air defences are necessary to protect critical national infrastructure, the Ukrainian frontline and ports and other key economic infrastructure, as well as the sea lanes through which ships travel. The reality is that we are doing our best to source as much air defence globally as we can, and we will continue to do so.

Veterans Advisory and Pensions Committees Bill

Greg Smith Excerpts
Robin Millar Portrait Robin Millar (Aberconwy) (Con)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I cannot help but observe that today is 12 months since Putin invaded Ukraine, which we marked in the Chamber earlier today. I make clear my admiration and support for the stubborn resistance of the people of Ukraine, which has inspired all in the free world and put fear in the hearts of their would-be conquerors. This grim spectacle of the return of war to Europe must serve as a reminder, if one were needed, that the privileges and freedoms we enjoy have been hard won and, in many ways, are a gift offered by those willing to stand guard over our nation and democracy and, when required, to fight to protect it. It is their interests that this Bill seeks to promote.

I start by thanking Members on both sides of the House who have supported the Bill to this stage, many of whom have a service background. In particular, I thank Lord Lancaster, whose work on an amendment to the Armed Forces Act 2021 was the forerunner to this Bill. I also thank those across the veterans community, including many of my constituents, and the supportive charities and organisations for their feedback and thoughts.

Although the Bill contains provisions of particular interest to veterans and their families, it is clear from my conversations with Members from all walks of life and all political leanings that a desire to support our services community is widespread across the House, which should not be a surprise. After all, British forces were deployed to conflict zones in every year from 1945 to 2021. For service personnel, the last 25 years have been defined by relentless conflict, with deployments to wars in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Mali. These former servicemen and women, to whom we owe so much, represent about one in 25 of our fellow citizens—1.9 million people. Since world war two, they have seen their colleagues fall in 29 conflict zones across the world. They have provided vital aid, disaster relief and peacekeeping in dozens more.

As I stand here today, British forces are deployed to support our allies across 17 nations. They continue to ensure safe passage on the world’s oceans and, of course, they watch and stand ready in defence of our borders. They are the vital deterrent against those who would threaten our freedoms, our borders and our way of life. I know the whole House will agree that we owe a great debt to these men and women.

Conwy has the highest proportion of veterans of any county in Wales and, when I have met them, it has been a privilege to discuss life after service and, on occasion, their time in the armed forces. I have also had the privilege of meeting many serving men and women through the armed forces parliamentary scheme. The opportunity to discuss their lives and mission today has been incredibly insightful and humbling, a feeling that I know is shared by many colleagues here this afternoon. It is one of my key motivations in introducing this Bill.

Most veterans will speak of the benefits of fulfilling careers and excellent training. They will live long, happy and fulfilled lives after leaving service. Indeed, many make an invaluable contribution to our life in Aberconwy, to their family, their community and wider society. For some, however, the transition to the civilian world is a challenge. Their struggle to deal with the practicalities of everyday life is very real. They may require help to access services, tailored mental and physical healthcare, appropriate housing, opportunities for employment, simply adjusting to the conventions of civilian life, timely financial support or, indeed, some combination of these. These stresses point to a clear duty owed by us and society to veterans, one that this Bill aims to further in a modest but important way.

In Aberconwy, I have been impressed by the work of established institutions such as Blind Veterans, which operates its principal facilities, serving veterans from across the UK and beyond, from its hospital overlooking Llandudno. I have been moved by the spontaneous emergence of groups and initiatives from within the community in Aberconwy, such as Military Minds football club and the Troop Café. These are the organic and dynamic organisations—the network of Burke’s “little platoons”—that need encouragement and enabling in their work of support for veterans more than they need any direction or regulation. It is that spirit of enabling volunteers that the Bill is intended to promote.

The Government, of course, have the first responsibility in the care and support of our veterans, and I have been proud of this Government’s pursuit of making the UK the most supportive society in the world for veterans and their families. Among other changes, we have enshrined the armed forces covenant as a statutory duty at all levels of public service. Last year, that helped 13,000 veterans’ families improve their accommodation, supported the education of 80,000 service family children, and brought into operation the veterans’ mental health high intensity service.

It would, however, be disingenuous not to recognise the long-standing concerns over the delivery of support services to veterans and their families. That can at times be disjointed, uneven and even untimely. It can also be over-bureaucratic, fostering a complexity that both prevents access and creates gaps through which the deserving and needy may fall. By way of example, just three weeks ago my office was contacted by an RAF veteran in need of a hip replacement. He was aware of the veterans orthopaedic centre in Gobowen and the services it offers, but neither he nor his GP knew how to access that referral process, despite the presence in the local health board of an armed forces champion tasked with disseminating information about working with veterans to relevant organisations such as councils and GPs.

You will be pleased to know, Mr Deputy Speaker, that this brings me to the substance of the Bill. The pressing issues of co-ordination and consistency in support for veterans point to the need for scrutiny, feedback and support at a local level. VAPCs are a less well known part of Government support for veterans. Formed as war pensions committees almost a century ago, they advise and liaise with veterans, their families and relevant organisations about their needs, issues and concerns. The VAPCs—or veterans advisory and pensions committees, to give them their full name—aim to assist, raise awareness, act as advocates and provide governance to the veterans community, and to champion the rights of veterans and their families where there is injustice, inequality or a lack of fairness.

I believe that the VAPCs have enormous potential. There are currently 12 across the UK and they are distinctive, identifiable and independent points of reference for veterans. They are staffed by volunteers. It has been my privilege to meet some of the current and former volunteers in preparing this Bill, and I would like to recognise their contribution to it. Their clear commitment, considerable efforts on behalf of veterans and, dare I say, their forthright opinions on these matters have been striking. They are a credit to their cause. They have spoken to me candidly about their desire to do more and about their frustration at the current legislative constraints. At present, VAPCs are limited in the services they can offer. They lack a clearly defined remit; as a result, their relationships with other stakeholders can be frustrated.

I hope that this Bill will start to address these concerns. First, it would move the statutory powers of the advisory committees into the Armed Forces Act. That is fitting, given the proximity of VAPCs to the implementation of the armed forces covenant. The Bill would also allow Ministers greater flexibility to amend the functions of the committees over time so that they can best serve the needs of veterans and their families. That should enable greater ministerial responsiveness to the challenges that have been highlighted by volunteers, veterans and families, and to recommendations arising from periodic reviews—notably the quinquennial review now under way, which will report in the coming weeks.

Secondly, the Bill would widen the scope of the VAPCs’ role and responsibilities. Monitoring and advising on the war pension scheme and the armed forces compensation scheme is an important but essentially limited function. A much broader range of support is now available to veterans, and there is a real opportunity to make a difference by linking and co-ordinating services on behalf of individuals. Broadening the role of the VAPCs will enable them to better identify gaps in provision and co-ordination. Such scrutiny, as all politicians know, has the potential to provide further helpful incentives for action. The groups who have spoken to me are hopeful that this reform can improve feedback from veterans on important issues, such as Ministry of Defence services to veterans, and can raise awareness of the armed forces covenant within the local community. Again, that will give decision makers an incentive to action.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. I absolutely support the aims of his Bill, which, as he says, will give the committees greater powers and greater clarity about their role. Beyond MOD oversight, will it cover certain charities, such as one that operated in my constituency and—I have to say—let veterans down badly? Will it make it possible to intervene to fix the problems facing veterans who are let down by other bodies?

Robin Millar Portrait Robin Millar
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My hon. Friend makes a very good point. This is a complex landscape. As well as the statutory bodies, there are institutions and individuals who are keen and motivated to help; I am thinking of Military Minds football club, which was started by family members who recognised the impact of service on veterans and sought to help them to accommodate and cope with everything they had to deal with. However, it makes for a congested and, at times, overlapping and complex landscape. There are also organisations—the little platoons to which I referred.

My hon. Friend is right to mention clarification. In clarifying the role of the VAPCs and the link to Government, the Bill seeks to bring further clarity to the space so that better relationships can be formed. My hope is that, with better relationships, more effective functioning will follow and there will ultimately be a better outcome for veterans.

Thirdly, the Bill would widen the cohort of veterans and families who can access support. Currently, only those who are in receipt of funds from the war pension scheme or the armed forces compensation scheme are guaranteed help from the VAPCs. That hinders the committees’ ability to attend to the broad range of social support that families and ex-servicepeople often need. As my hon. Friend points out, it also limits their ability to communicate with the wider service community, which in turn limits their ability to advocate for veterans and provide representative feedback. By widening the remit of the advisory committees to include all veterans and their families, regardless of length of service and compensation entitlement, the Bill would strengthen support services and provide all veterans with a clear means of having their voice heard in Government.

By making provision to enlarge the veterans community cohort eligible for support, widen the scope of statutory functions and increase ministerial flexibility in response to veteran needs, the Bill will offer the opportunity for dialogue, comment and even advice, rooted in ground truth—a phrase that I have heard a lot in preparing the Bill—for Ministers from the VAPCs. Although this is not explicit in the legislation, I ask the Minister for a commitment that the MOD will respond in writing to the VAPCs when they make representations to the Government.

I am pleased to say that the Bill has received support from stakeholders across the veterans community, as well as from veterans charities and from Cobseo, the umbrella Confederation of Service Charities. All that remains is for me to encourage colleagues to support the Bill so that we can take another step towards achieving our ambition for the UK to be the best place in the world to be a veteran. We also acknowledge our debt to those who have already served and, most important, we make a promise to current and future servicemen and women: “This nation and its Parliament will support you.”

Oral Answers to Questions

Greg Smith Excerpts
Monday 30th January 2023

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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James Heappey Portrait James Heappey
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The presence of Wagner on the frontline in the Donbas is clearly a reflection of just how bad things have got for Putin and the Russian armed forces—so bad that a mercenary group that recruits from prisons is required. As for the substantive part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, it sounds like that might be a question for my Treasury colleagues; I will make sure that they write to him with an answer.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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12. What steps his Department is taking to develop innovative defence technology.

Gareth Davies Portrait Gareth Davies (Grantham and Stamford) (Con)
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18. What steps his Department is taking to develop innovative defence technology.

Alex Chalk Portrait The Minister for Defence Procurement (Alex Chalk)
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The Ministry of Defence works closely with British industry and academia, including small and medium-sized enterprises, to identify and invest in innovative technologies that address our most pressing capability challenges, as well as publishing our future priorities to incentivise investment. We are already testing and deploying these technologies.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith
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The best innovation is not necessarily the preserve of the giant players in the sector but can be found among smaller enterprises such as those at the Westcott Venture Park in my constituency, including Flare Bright’s development of autonomous drones for flight in global navigation satellite system-denied areas. Will my hon. and learned Friend assure me that when it comes to the development of new defence innovations, such smaller, dynamic enterprises are as valued to his Department as the more traditional big beasts?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right: a lot of innovation does indeed come from agile SMEs, which is why the MOD’s SME action plan is firmly aimed at improving access for SMEs to work right through the defence supply chain. Indeed, the MOD has a target that 25% of its procurement spend will go directly and indirectly to SMEs—that is up from around 16% in 2016. The latest figures I have seen show that we are at 23% already. We are on the right path but there is further to go.

Ukraine

Greg Smith Excerpts
Tuesday 20th December 2022

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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I do not know the company concerned. No doubt somebody I am supposed to know has shareholdings. What I would certainly say is that I take the view that I would not wish to take money from anyone connected with the Russian state or Russian activities. I just do not think that is the right way to go. Brands that seek to sell into Russia and allow normality to be accepted on the streets of Moscow should think again. What Russia wants is to get away with this and to be able to mix in civilised society. It should not be allowed to partake in luxury brands or other brands. It should realise that the consequences of its actions are greater isolation, not a broader coalition.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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The UK should be proud of its role in training 22,000 Ukrainian forces to get them ready to defend themselves and supplying defensive weaponry. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that our UK-led, and now internationally supported, training programme continues to adapt to give our Ukrainian friends the skills they need to take on Russian forces?

Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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Yes. The operation we run to teach Ukrainians, with bases in Cumbria, Yorkshire, Wiltshire and down at Lydd, started life as a three-week course. It is now over five weeks and is fully equipped. Our forces and international forces are now learning from Ukrainians, because a number of their directing staff who return have been on the frontline. I had a conversation with a platoon commander who had himself used British NLAWs to destroy two Russian tanks. We are learning from each other about what to do, which is incredibly important for our resilience and our future. It also helps to refine the course. We are now teaching Ukrainian non-commissioned officers: we are doing an NCO course to ensure that we develop their junior leadership, too.

National Shipbuilding Strategy

Greg Smith Excerpts
Thursday 10th March 2022

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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I warmly welcome my hon. Friend’s statement. I am sure he has been glued to the Transport Committee’s current inquiry into fuelling the future, where we have heard evidence about a plethora of new, cleaner fuels being developed for use across the transport sector. With the £206 million he has announced for the UK Shipping Office for Reducing Emissions, may I urge him to give as much regard to the cleaner fuels of the future as to the tech being developed on vessel?

Jeremy Quin Portrait Jeremy Quin
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Absolutely; I thank my hon. Friend and look forward to the conclusion of the Select Committee’s work. He is right about fuelling for the future, and I have no doubt that my colleagues in the Department for Transport will place a significant emphasis on exactly those issues. They certainly did in the first round, with the £23 million of the clean maritime demonstration competition, which had 55 awards and was oversubscribed. I know many of the R&D suggestions coming forward were in exactly that space, which offers a great opportunity for the future.