Topical Questions

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 14th July 2014.

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Photo of Karl McCartney Karl McCartney Conservative, Lincoln 2:30 pm, 14th July 2014

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond The Secretary of State for Defence

My first priority remains our operations in Afghanistan and the successful completion of the draw-down of our combat role by the end of this year. Beyond that, my priority is delivering Future Force 2020 by maintaining budgets in balance, building our reserve forces, reinforcing the armed forces covenant and reforming the defence procurement organisation so that our armed forces get the equipment they need at a price the taxpayer can afford.

Photo of Karl McCartney Karl McCartney Conservative, Lincoln

I recently attended the wonderful and much loved annual RAF Waddington international air show, but the Minister will know that next year’s show has been cancelled by the board of the RAF to accommodate refurbishment work to the runway. Although I am pleased that the work is taking place, the air show generates more than £12 million for the Lincolnshire economy and about £500,000 for forces charities, so can the Minister reassure me and my constituents that the air show will return to the base in “bomber county” north of London in 2016-17, and certainly in time for the 100-year anniversary of the RAF?

Photo of Philip Dunne Philip Dunne The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the great success of the air show at RAF Waddington, which I believe he attended the other day. He is also right to point out that the runway is in need of routine maintenance—essentially, it needs a new runway to be laid, which will take 59 weeks starting in September—and therefore it will not be available next year. The RAF is undertaking a review of all air show commitments for next year, so we will be in a better position to respond on 2016 when that review has been completed.

Photo of Alison Seabeck Alison Seabeck Shadow Minister (Defence)

The Government made a clear decision in the 2010 SDSR to withdraw the important Sentinel capability from service. There is now speculation that it is to be retained, although it is not named in the news release that has gone out—it sort of slipped under the media radar. Does the Secretary of State accept that, like the F-35 U-turn costing millions, this is another example of poor strategic decision making and more back peddling?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond The Secretary of State for Defence

No, and I think the hon. Lady will find that the capability was mentioned in the announcement that has been issued. The decision was made to take Sentinel out of service at the end of the campaign in Afghanistan, for reasons of affordability. I am pleased to be able to tell the House that, because of careful husbandry of the defence budget, we have now been able to take the decision to extend Sentinel once the Afghan campaign has ended, at least until 2018. That will allow us to look at the capabilities that Sentinel delivers—wide-area surveillance of fast-moving ground targets—in the context of our broader need for wide-area surveillance capability, both maritime and over land.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham

The F-35 Lightning II should be one of the world’s most advanced combat aircraft, not least thanks to British expertise at companies such as GE Aviation and Ultra Electronics, but it was sadly missed at Gloucestershire’s royal international air tattoo—a very exciting event this weekend. Can Ministers reassure the House that that has no implications for its service for the United Kingdom from 2018?

Photo of Philip Dunne Philip Dunne The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the importance of the F-35 programme to businesses up and down this country, including in Gloucestershire. Last year, the F-35 suffered an engine incident, which is being investigated. It is absolutely right that the safety of aircrew and aircraft are of paramount importance, rather than seeking to attend air shows around the world. Obviously, we would welcome the F-35 once it has been declared safe, and we are still hopeful that it will arrive at Farnborough before the air show finishes.

Photo of Julie Hilling Julie Hilling Opposition Whip (Commons)

Although today’s announcement is welcome for companies in my constituency such as MBDA, which is of course at Farnborough this week, does the Secretary of State think that announcing a re-spend on things that he cut in the first place will make up for the hundreds of millions of pounds wasted on botched decision making, bad equipment decisions, IT failure, a recruitment crisis and collapsed procurement reforms on his watch?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond The Secretary of State for Defence

I do not know who writes this stuff, but what has happened is very simple. We have got the defence budget under control. We have set up the armed forces committee, which comprises the chiefs of the individual services, and we have allowed them to set the priorities for requirements in the military equipment programme. As headroom becomes available, we accept their advice on the urgent priorities. They have identified a package of intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance measures, which they consider now to be the highest priority for defence expenditure, and that is what we have announced today.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick Conservative, Newark

British defence exporters, such as GDT in Newark, can take their stands at Farnborough today with renewed confidence as a growing part of our economy. GDT grew by 10% last year and the sector by 11%. What steps are the Government taking proactively with companies like GDT to ensure that this success continues?

Photo of Philip Dunne Philip Dunne The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for referring to the Farnborough air show, which I attended this morning for the Prime Minister’s opening. He was highlighting at Farnborough, not just to the British defence supply chain, but to representatives of the international supply chain who were present and to the international delegations visiting from abroad, just what a high-quality defence industry we have in this country, and as he pointed out, we cannot have a secure economic growth plan without a secure national security plan.

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader

As we know from the recent services inquiry of the Military Aviation Authority, three of my constituents died aboard colliding Tornado jets above the Moray firth in 2012. Among the contributory factors may have been the absence of a collision warning system. When will we see a collision warning system installed in Typhoon aircraft?

Photo of Philip Dunne Philip Dunne The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

As the hon. Gentleman knows, because he called an Adjournment debate on this subject last week, at which he asked that very question and I gave him the answer, at present we are investigating the introduction of a system on Typhoon, and at this point it is not appropriate to give him a timetable or a cost for that introduction.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

If Pericles were alive today, I am sure he would have been at the Farnborough air show, looking at all the amazing equipment that is available to defend our freedoms. One piece of equipment is BAE Systems’ Taranis unmanned air vehicle. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that this Government will continue to support that technology to ensure that we have manufacturing and research and development capability for the future, both militarily and commercially?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond The Secretary of State for Defence

I am pleased to be able to tell my hon. Friend that I shall be signing with my French counterpart at Farnborough tomorrow the Anglo-French collaboration agreement on unmanned combat air vehicle research, which will support the programme in which BAE Systems is engaged.

Photo of John Cryer John Cryer Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

How many of the former soldiers sacked by the Secretary of State for Defence in historic acts of vandalism have found permanent employment—not employment on the basis of single-hours contracts or temporary employment, but permanent employment? Will he put the figures in the House of Commons Library?

Photo of Anna Soubry Anna Soubry The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

We find that, among those who leave our armed forces, an incredibly high proportion—some 86%—find employment within six months. That is because they are eminently employable by virtue of the service that they give to our country.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Commission

The Red Arrows based at Scampton in my constituency are one of the most popular public faces of the RAF, but unfortunately their Hawk T1 aircraft ends its service in 2018. Can the Secretary of State give me an assurance that RAF Scampton has a future with the Red Arrows and that they will be provided with suitable aircraft?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond The Secretary of State for Defence

The decision on replacement aircraft for the Red Arrows does not have to be made until 2018, but my hon. Friend will have heard the Prime Minister say that, so long as he is Prime Minister, the Red Arrows will continue to fly.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Labour, Bolsover

Now that the Secretary of State for Defence might be leaving, having cut to the bone the armed forces to the lowest figure ever, many of them to be thrown on the scrapheap, is he looking forward to trying to employ them when he is in charge of the Department for Work and Pensions, or will he enjoy sorting out universal credit?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond The Secretary of State for Defence

What I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that my Department has an excellent relationship with the DWP, looking at ways in which we can support those who are out of work and seeking to acquire the skills, soft and hard, necessary to get back into work, to get them into the reserve forces and trained in the reserve forces while looking for civilian employment at the same time. [Interruption.]

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. An hon. Gentleman should not be talking about kicking people in an unspecified location. It is rather unseemly. I think I heard what he was driving at, if I may put it that way.

Photo of John Glen John Glen Conservative, Salisbury

In view of the uncertainty about the future of Public Health England at Porton Down and the imminent submission of the outline business case to the Treasury, will the Minister confirm that the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory is ready and willing to work collaboratively on a Porton-based solution for the future of the PHE facility there?

Photo of Philip Dunne Philip Dunne The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

My hon. Friend is a valiant champion of all that goes on in and around Porton Down, and he is to be congratulated on the work he did in securing the science park funding last week. With regard to the CL4 facility at Porton Down, which is co-shared with Public Health England, the Ministry of Defence will be working with the Department of Health to ensure that the best solution is found for the country as a whole for the future of CL4 facilities.

Photo of Nicholas Dakin Nicholas Dakin Opposition Whip (Commons)

What discussions has the Ministry of Defence had with North Lincolnshire council in recent weeks to ensure that the disposal of the Kirton in Lindsey base benefits the local community rather than damages it?

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. As he knows—we have corresponded on the matter—discussions with the local authority are ongoing. Our intention is to ensure that the site has a use that accords with our need for disposals, but in a way that the local community will appreciate. I believe that we will end up in that position before very long.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Liberal Democrat, Somerton and Frome

The naming of HMS Queen Elizabeth is extremely welcome, and it will be even more so when we have some planes to fly off her decks. When the First Sea Lord says that

“continuous carrier availability… means having two carriers, not one… a modest extra premium to pay for an effective, a credible, an available, insurance policy”,

does the Secretary of State agree?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond The Secretary of State for Defence

The question of whether to bring the second carrier into service is a decision for the SDSR in 2015, as we have always been clear. Equally, I have always been clear that my personal view is that when one spends £6.4 billion of taxpayers’ money building two ships, one had better strain every possible sinew to operate them both.

Photo of Gisela Stuart Gisela Stuart Labour, Birmingham, Edgbaston

Before the Secretary of State finalises the agenda for the NATO summit, will he revisit his decision and stance on a statutory basis for spending 2% of GDP on defence? His hand would be infinitely strengthened if he could say to other NATO members that not only do we already spend 2%, but we are committed to continuing to do so on a statutory basis.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond The Secretary of State for Defence

It is for NATO as an organisation to set the agenda for the summit, not the UK; we merely host it and pick up the bill for doing so. We have been in the lead in seeking to agree across the member states a statement about the future financing of NATO, a statement that will answer the challenge—I referred to it earlier—that the United States has been persistently and quite legitimately raising over the past couple of years. I am confident that we will have a positive statement to make at the NATO summit.

Photo of Oliver Colvile Oliver Colvile Conservative, Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport

Given that Britain is an island state that is very dependent on our trade routes, has my right hon. Friend yet decided how many Type 26s we will need and where they might be base-ported?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond The Secretary of State for Defence

The programme for Type 26 envisaged 13 frigates being ordered. It is likely that the fleet will be split, as the current frigate fleet is split, but no final decision has yet been made.

Photo of Bob Russell Bob Russell Liberal Democrat, Colchester

When does the relevant Minister expect to announce a decision on the normal pension age for workers in the defence fire and rescue service?

Photo of Anna Soubry Anna Soubry The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

That is a long-running problem. As my hon. Friend will know, those in our defence fire and rescue service are actually employed as civil servants, so it is a difficult one, but we hope to make a decision as soon as possible.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Conservative, New Forest East

As Ministers cannot sign early-day motions, may I exceptionally ask the Secretary of State for a comment on EDM 252, which commemorates the sacrifice of 7,000 British soldiers in the Normandy battle for Hill 112? It was tabled by my hon. Friend Sir William Cash. What it does not say is that his father was one of those 7,000; Captain Paul Cash won the Military Cross a few days before he was killed 70 years ago yesterday.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond The Secretary of State for Defence

I was aware of the role our hon. Friend’s father played in that decisive engagement, and I am sure that the whole House will join the sentiment expressed in the EDM. It is one of a number of EDMs that Government Front Benchers regularly regret being unable, by convention, to sign, but I am very happy to have this opportunity to indicate my strong support for it.

Photo of Alan Reid Alan Reid Liberal Democrat, Argyll and Bute

When the Minister is taking a decision on the retirement age for defence, police and fire personnel, will she take into account the fact that the strenuous activity demanded by this job is more in line with the other uniformed services than with the majority of civil servants, and that I believe that a retirement age of 60 is appropriate?

Photo of Anna Soubry Anna Soubry The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

Yes, indeed. Having been to see the work of the fire service myself, I am fully aware of all these arguments. As I say, I very much hope that we will be able to make a decision sooner rather than later.