50 Robert Courts debates involving the Ministry of Defence

Middle East: UK Military Deployments

Robert Courts Excerpts
Tuesday 5th December 2023

(4 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

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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I call the Chair of the Defence Committee.

Robert Courts Portrait Robert Courts (Witney) (Con)
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I welcome the Secretary of State’s answers, including his confirmation that, as has been reported, the Shadow R1 is being deployed. I note that the intention is to use a range of surveillance aircraft. Will the Secretary of State tell us what other assets he is intending to use? Given the significant tasking, the threats to shipping and the ongoing commitments to, for example, Operation Shader, will he comment on what is being deprioritised to allow this mission to take place? Finally, in view of the recent threats to the Rivet Joint aircraft—I know that there are defensive aid suites on board—will he confirm that due consideration is being given to the protection of crews, given all the likely threats in the area and the presence of Iran?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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My hon. Friend will know that we have a number of capabilities for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. The Rivet Joint, which he mentioned, has been involved in carrying out missions elsewhere, and—as I think he hinted—has attracted unprofessional behaviour from other air forces. We have the P-8 available as well, along with the Shadow R1 and others. Exactly which aircraft and machinery perform these roles will depend on operational circumstances, but I can confirm that we have not had to pull resources away from other urgent work to provide this cover.

Oral Answers to Questions

Robert Courts Excerpts
Monday 20th November 2023

(5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. I call the Chair of the Select Committee, Robert Courts.

Robert Courts Portrait Robert Courts (Witney) (Con)
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May I take this opportunity to formally welcome the Secretary of State to his position? I am grateful for his comments on military accommodation being a priority for him. The Select Committee is undertaking an inquiry into that as well. One of the issues that has come up is the absence of a military uniformed accommodation officer who is responsible for continually inspecting accommodation and then liaising with the contractors to ensure that the repairs take place. Is that something my hon. Friend the Minister will consider?

James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge
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I strongly congratulate my hon. Friend on becoming Chair of the Defence Committee and I look forward to working with him. I know that, predating his appointment, he had a strong interest in accommodation, and I enjoyed visiting his constituency to look at the accommodation for Brize Norton. I will consider his point and write to him.

War in Ukraine

Robert Courts Excerpts
Tuesday 24th October 2023

(5 months, 4 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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The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that there are significant casualties on the Ukrainian side, though it is important to note that they are less than those suffered on the Russian side. Those are both military and civilian. On the military side, there is a coalition of nations, just as there is with all other types of capability to provide military aid. There are UK medics based in Lviv as part of that. When I was Rzeszów in Poland just two weeks ago, my plane pulled up alongside a Swedish air force plane that was about to evacuate Ukrainian troops back to Sweden. In addition, the UK is rehabilitating some troops injured on the Ukrainian side to our rehabilitation facilities here. In addition to that, as part of the wider support that the UK Government provide to Ukraine, we are of course always looking for opportunities to support the wider humanitarian and civilian medical services, too.

Robert Courts Portrait Robert Courts (Witney) (Con)
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May I return to stockpiles and supply chains? The Minister is right that the UK has provided a great deal of matériel, but we need a steady supply of orders to restock our own cupboards and to supply the Ukrainians. Will he outline what he is doing to make sure that we have supply chain resilience? Could he reassure me that he will keep a laser-like focus on the logistics capacity needed to get kit from here to there?

James Heappey Portrait James Heappey
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My hon. Friend is right on both counts. First, the industrial capacity needs to be re-established not just to replenish our supply chain, which is an important point. The Department is not seeking simply to make a single order to replace whatever has been gifted to the Ukrainians. Instead, we are looking to create orders that run on and on so that the industrial capacity can be maintained. Those contracts are being placed as the industrial capacity comes online. In the meantime, other contracts are being placed that allow more like-for-like replacement from stockpiles elsewhere in the world. He is right that having all the industrial capacity and the fighting echelon works only if we have the logistic enablers to match it all up. We are making investment in that, as was set out in the defence Command Paper refresh.

Oral Answers to Questions

Robert Courts Excerpts
Monday 11th September 2023

(7 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Andrew Murrison Portrait Dr Murrison
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The hon. Gentleman has ignored what I have been saying. He also did not make reference to the freezing of charges for accommodation and food, wraparound childcare and a whole raft of measures that we have introduced to help with the cost of living crisis.

Robert Courts Portrait Robert Courts (Witney) (Con)
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2. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the RAF quick reaction alert stations.

James Heappey Portrait The Minister for Armed Forces (James Heappey)
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Royal Air Force pilots and ground crew are poised on quick reaction alert 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all year round, ready to scramble within minutes. My hon. Friend would point out quickly that it would be remiss of me to say that that is solely the endeavour of fast jet pilots. Equally poised are those in his constituency who crew the tankers that must also deploy rapidly to support. QRA has been launched on five occasions in 2023 with every incident resolved successfully.

Robert Courts Portrait Robert Courts
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I thank the Minister for his kind words about my constituents. He will no doubt have read the report from the Select Committee on Defence, “Aviation Procurement: Winging it?”, which warns of an unacceptable gap in combat air mass. With the retirement of the Hercules placing even more demands on the air mobility force, and the Voyagers—to which he rightly pays tribute—being asked to do more and more each month, what confidence does he have that, if required to do so, those forces have enough men, women and machines to defend the UK in a peer conflict?

James Heappey Portrait James Heappey
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I have complete confidence that quick reaction alert will be resourced. The highest priority of the air force is to defend the homeland. I also have complete confidence that the combat air force, as currently structured, is capable of performing a very wide range of duties around the world. I pay tribute to the work of the Air and Space Commander and his team, who, through work on agile deployment, are finding that we can deploy Typhoon and F-35 ever more quickly to ever more austere operating environments. That drives the productivity of the force even further.

Global Military Operations

Robert Courts Excerpts
Wednesday 14th June 2023

(10 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Robert Courts Portrait Robert Courts (Witney) (Con)
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It is a great pleasure and honour to speak in this timely debate. We probably all agree that we face perhaps the most dangerous and concerning time for global security since the end of the cold war. There is a period of extreme danger coming up, with the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and the possibility of Chinese action in Taiwan, and the west’s attention is split between those two theatres.

This means that we in Europe have to take a very close look at our capabilities. The fundamental point, looking at what has changed over the last year or so, is that the big assumption under which we operated for 20 or 30 years has now gone. Peer-on-peer conflict and great power rivalry are back, and the assumption that our forces will be able to operate under an umbrella of air supremacy, without fear of substantial attack from the air, is now over.

This means we have to take a close look at how our Air Force and the air forces of our NATO allies are set up. For years we have engaged in operations in low-intensity conflicts, doing air policing or close air support operations without an air-to-air or significant surface-to-air threat. That will now change, of course, which means the Air Force will have to do a number of things, such as building up the number of spares.

Secondly, training will have to change. The training necessary for high intensity peer-on-peer conflict is much different from that required for air policing operations, and personnel can get only a limited amount from sims. Sims are useful because they can engage in scenarios they cannot do for real, but nothing can recreate the psychological and physical stresses of operating multiple aircraft in complex air scenarios.

Much as the Air Force will be thinking about these things and adjusting its training accordingly, it is relevant for us in terms of policy because, if we are looking at the need to build up spares and to fulfil a much more intense training requirement, space is needed to do that. We need to have enough aircraft and enough pilots to make sure the Air Force is not constantly stretched. If the Air Force is stretched all the time, we will not be able to build up either of those things.

That is before I even start talking about the simple factor of mass. As can be seen with the conflict in Ukraine, we can expect that any peer-on-peer conflict will need mass because of the inevitable attrition. For years we have operated in a world in which we could do more with less. Each fast jet we have now is incomparably more capable than what existed during the cold war, and they are light years ahead of anything that existed during the second world war, but we still need the number of platforms to be able to cope with attrition and the training requirement.

Fundamentally, this means either we will have to start doing less discretionary conflict and more high-end training to face the threat, or we will have to scale up the number of people and aircraft to be able to do both. I suspect that the House, the Government and the country will want to do the latter, because we will probably want to take part in the discretionary operations that are so important to the rules-based order and how we see ourselves as a country, but that has a cost.

I have mainly spoken about fast jets, and much of it also applies to air mobility, which is based at RAF Brize Norton in my constituency, so I have a particular interest, but some of the points are common. For example, the concept of main operating bases, in which all our assets are concentrated in two or three large bases, has cost savings. In peacetime, that is of course helpful, but it is a danger when we face a peer adversary. Perhaps the Minister will elaborate in due course as to what consideration is being given to the dispersal of forces, to ensure there is resilience in the event of a peer-on-peer conflict.

We have touched on the C-130 today, so I will not go into that in great detail. I know the Minister will say that the A400M Atlas can fly twice as much, twice as far and twice as fast, which is true, as it is generationally significant; it is a step change as an aircraft. However, concerns remain, first, about its reliability and whether it is where we need to be. Secondly, not all of the capabilities from the Hercules have yet been transferred and they need to be. Thirdly, and above all else, however capable an aircraft, it cannot be in two places at once. We cannot expect the limited number of crews and platforms to be able to do everything if the number of airframes available is decreasing. The important thing that the House must consider is the availability of task lines. Perhaps the Minister will address that in due course, but there is a capability gap there and we are going to have to address it. On air mobility, the other lesson from Ukraine is that no matter how important our capability, we have to get it there. So the logistics are essential and important as never before.

In the last few seconds I have, I shall talk about housing. Our armed forces do crucial work, but it is no good telling them that their work is crucial and that we will rely on them if their showers are cold and there is mould on their walls. We have to make sure that we have the homes we need if we want to be able to undertake global military operations. The sun is outside but the skies are darkening, and we need to remember that.

Oral Answers to Questions

Robert Courts Excerpts
Monday 15th May 2023

(11 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge
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I am glad that the hon. Lady recognises that these have been constructive negotiations. She mentioned the offer of flexible working and, as she knows, there have to date been no compulsory redundancies. I would just stress that, even with the £30 million cost of the new site, there will be a total £40 million saving, so this is good value for taxpayers as well as a good deal for the workforce.

Robert Courts Portrait Robert Courts (Witney) (Con)
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I welcome the new Minister to his place. It was great of him to make his first visit to Carterton recently, where we discussed the upgrading of existing MOD housing and the purchase of new housing. I look forward to discussing that with him further following the Defence sub-Committee report that will be produced shortly. He also saw the large brownfield site known as REEMA North, where MOD housing has been demolished and not yet replaced because the money has not been found to do it. We always talk about prioritising brownfield land. This is a prime site where housing is much needed but the money has not yet been found. Will he work with me to ensure that we not only use this brownfield land but protect West Oxfordshire’s land supply and give the RAF the homes that it needs?

James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge
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I very much enjoyed my visit to Brize Norton. It was actually my second visit after Abbey Wood. Just to be clear, we remain fully committed to the development of new housing for service personnel at the REEMA site. We are in discussions with industry partners to facilitate this, but given the time that has elapsed, I am happy to continue to engage with my hon. Friend, who I know is a champion of his local service personnel, many of whom serve in the RAF. I am more than happy to stay engaged with him.

Oral Answers to Questions

Robert Courts Excerpts
Monday 13th March 2023

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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James Heappey Portrait James Heappey
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It may do. The reality is that we are still providing a large number of frontline units to NATO, particularly in the maritime and air domains, but my hon. and gallant Friend’s principal concern will be about land forces. Even there, the UK continues to provide the most credible high readiness formations to the alliance. He made an important point that we can have as many fighting units as we wish, but without the logistics and the strategic enablers that get them to the front line, they are not worth having. The Secretary of State, Front-Bench colleagues and I have been clear for years that what urgently needs reinvestment is not a regrowth of our fighting echelon but a re-fleshing out of the logistics and the enablers, which—for good reasons—over the last 20 years have not been needed, but now so desperately are.

Robert Courts Portrait Robert Courts (Witney) (Con)
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On the point about logistics and enablers mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), when we look at our obligations to NATO and to Ukraine, particularly on stockpiling and ammunition, are Ministers looking at what procurement can be done commonly with NATO allies?

James Heappey Portrait James Heappey
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Absolutely. As the House might imagine, the UK is not alone in rediscovering the importance of stockpiles and strategic enablers over the last year. It is also not alone in finding out that industrial capacity cannot be turned on just like that, so working with allies around the alliance, both through the alliance itself and bilaterally, is clearly a very attractive option.

Oral Answers to Questions

Robert Courts Excerpts
Monday 30th January 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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I would be delighted to meet the hon. Lady to discuss the case.

Robert Courts Portrait Robert Courts (Witney) (Con)
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T5. I have recently been to see some of the RAF housing in Carterton. Given the mould in homes with children present and the fact that requested repairs are left uncompleted, it sems that the Pinnacle-VIVO partnership is failing military families. What are Ministers doing to hold those companies to account?

Oral Answers to Questions

Robert Courts Excerpts
Monday 12th December 2022

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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The services are leading in trying to look at exactly that unconventional route in. If we are to attract people to the National Cyber Force and to cyber, we are going to have to think in different terms from 20 or 30 years ago. That is incredibly important. We need to be flexible, we need to be innovative and we need to be modern.

Robert Courts Portrait Robert Courts (Witney) (Con)
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The Secretary of State mentioned a Ukrainian innovation in the use of drones. Are Ministers confident that in this country we have the right resources and regulatory framework in place to ensure that our forces can also benefit?

Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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No, I am not. We need to look at some of those regulations, because one of the things that holds us back too much in innovation, development and deployment is our own regulation. Too much of that holds us back. The Ukrainians obviously do not have that consideration, and they are making amazing steps forward.

Oral Answers to Questions

Robert Courts Excerpts
Monday 7th November 2022

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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The marrying-up over the years between the MOD, the health service and the charities has gone from strength to strength. The example that the hon. Lady has used is something that we should embrace and do more of.

Robert Courts Portrait Robert Courts (Witney) (Con)
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Will the integrated review refresh include consideration of the resilience of the RAF’s main operating bases, particularly when it comes to dispersal?

James Heappey Portrait James Heappey
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As my hon. Friend knows well, although the RAF’s main operating bases are incredible centres of excellence for the aircraft they operate, there do indeed need to be well rehearsed plans for dispersing the Air Force across civilian airfields around the country. The RAF is developing and refining those plans as we speak.