Oral Answers to Questions Debate

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Department: Ministry of Defence

Oral Answers to Questions

Lindsay Hoyle Excerpts
Monday 20th May 2024

(1 month, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge
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We are massively ramping up defence capacity. The right hon. Gentleman spoke about 155 mm shells; that issue is precisely why we have reached a contractual agreement with BAE Systems, and it will be ramping up production in Wales and north-east England. We are doing the same with ships, complex weapons and, as I said earlier, novel weapons and our science base. This is all about giving our armed forces the capability that will give them the cutting edge.

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

Jeremy Quin Portrait Sir Jeremy Quin (Horsham) (Con)
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The global combat air programme will be a terrific boost to our defence and aerospace industries. To maximise success, we must keep the Typhoon production lines going until it comes on board, so what are Ministers doing to ensure that we maintain exports?

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James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge
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The hon. Lady asks a good question. There was a previous question about defence capacity; a key part of that is not just industrial capacity and buildings, but people. She is absolutely right. I visited Yeovilton in Somerset, where I met apprentices who are involved in the programme for our helicopters. We saw a demo of artificial intelligence that is helping us to improve the availability of our helicopters. Work is happening across defence and across Government, but we want to do more to ensure that we have the necessary apprentices and key skills in our defence sector.

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

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James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge
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What a fantastic question. I can answer the hon. Gentleman simply. Just a few weeks ago, I was in Belfast at the Thales factory, which is manufacturing some of the best weapons available. It will be a key part of defence exports, and fundamentally a key part of future orders for the British Army. Northern Ireland is very much part of our defence industry.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call Chris Stephens. He is not here. Can the Front Bencher answer the question as though it had been asked?

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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3. What recent assessment his Department has made of trends in the level of harassment and bullying cases in the armed forces.

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Andrew Murrison Portrait Dr Murrison
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Obviously a hotline is no good if the individuals at the other end of it are not trained. I can give my hon. Friend the assurance he seeks. The most important thing is to ensure that people have confidence that if they come forward with complaints, they will be listened to and taken seriously.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Maria Eagle Portrait Maria Eagle (Garston and Halewood) (Lab)
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First, I thank the Minister for Defence People and Families for inviting me to visit the defence serious crime unit, which I did last Thursday. The people there are obviously doing good work focused on tackling serious sexual and violent crimes in the armed forces. Given the doubling of reports of bullying, discrimination and harassment in the Ministry of Defence since 2019, and some cases remaining unresolved for up to three years, what is the Minister doing to address the toxic culture in his Department? Why is it that such things seem to be worsening on this Government’s watch?

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James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge
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My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, which speaks to my previous career, running a small business that helped first-time buyers. Forces Help to Buy has been a great success, but we also recently confirmed support with conveyancing costs, because the cost of getting on the property ladder includes not just the purchase but all the ancillary costs. We are committed to supporting our armed forces personnel, whether that means investing in the accommodation of those in SFA or single living accommodation, or helping those who want to get on to the property ladder.

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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Everyone who serves our country should live in a decent home, but last month, the independent Kerslake commission’s report on armed forces housing found that the majority of service personnel are dissatisfied with housing conditions, and very dissatisfied with the maintenance and repair service. One in three service personnel still lives in the lowest-grade service accommodation. The Government’s words simply do not match their action. Can the Minister honestly look service families in the eye and say that military housing under this Government is good enough?

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Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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That is a very important point, and questions have already been raised today about the size of the Russian fleet, what it is doing and where it is active. I will have to check the date, rather than answer my hon. Friend from the Dispatch Box, but I am much predisposed to attend the symposium.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Steve McCabe Portrait Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab)
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We are warned by the Secretary of State that we are in a “pre-war world”, yet we do not have sufficient training and resources to undertake high-intensity warfighting, and we do not have the equipment and stockpiles for our forces to survive a prolonged campaign. It has been 14 years; when will this be put right?

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Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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We never announced that she was being mothballed, so I am very interested to hear about these artefacts. I was on HMS Albion the other week, so I will be very interested to engage on what has been removed.

Once again, I can clarify that both those ships—both used by our Royal Marines—will remain in active service. It is the case that more modern ships are being procured, which is possible only because we are prepared to put a date to spending 2.5% on defence.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

Dave Doogan Portrait Dave Doogan (Angus) (SNP)
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Increased defence spending is obviously only a means to an end. It is not an end in itself. The Treasury rightly takes a jaundiced view of the MOD’s ability to spend money wisely so, to that end, can the Secretary of State advise the House on how much taxpayers’ money and defence budget was spent refitting HMS Argyll, only for her to be paid off immediately after she came out of refit?

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

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

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

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call Barry Sheerman. [Interruption.] Barry Sheerman?

Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)
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T9. I am sorry, Mr Speaker, I was thinking of an even better question— Stick to the main one. Indeed. As you know, Mr Speaker, my family comes from a military background, although I am not a military expert. Time and again, my constituents say they have heard about a shortage of shells, ammunition and others things that we cannot supply to the Ukrainians. What is the hold-up? Why are we not working 24/7 to produce the tools that our Ukrainian allies want?

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

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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The good news is that that is a point of clarification, which have been resolved.