My immediate priorities are our operations against ISIL and the strategic defence and security review. Last week’s welcome announcement that the defence budget will increase every year and that we will continue to meet NATO’s 2% target means that we can now decide the capabilities and force structure that we need to keep Britain safe.
The Ministry of Defence does not collect figures on homelessness. However, it is a matter that we take very seriously, and I would be delighted to look into the matter and get back to the hon. Gentleman.
The Gloucestershire-based, UK-led Allied Rapid Reaction Corps is deploying on NATO exercises later this year. I am sure that the Defence Secretary will join me in wishing everyone involved, including my constituents, a successful exercise at this sensitive time. Will he confirm both that the NATO mutual military support clause is sacrosanct and never to be diluted and that this Government take a cautious approach to any suggested proposal of expansion?
Our commitment to European security, including to article 5, remains unwavering. We stand by the open-door policy, which allows any European state in a position to contribute to the alliance to apply to join. That process requires consensus among all 28 existing allies, and there can be no short cuts to membership.
Further to the question from my hon. Friend Diana Johnson, will the Defence Secretary confirm that, according to the NATO definition, only intelligence operations in support of the military can be used to contribute to the 2% figure? Do the Government use that correct definition, and how much is it?
I welcome the additional training that my right hon. Friend announced last month for the Ukrainian armed forces. Will he tell the House what further support the UK is offering? Following the news that plucky Lithuania will become the first country openly to arm the Ukrainians, will he now consider providing anti-tank weapons, drones and other technology that the Ukrainian armed forces desperately require?
I can today update the House by saying that the RAF has now delivered more than 3,000 combat helmets, goggles and first aid kits to Ukrainian troops. We have already trained some 850 personnel. We will step up our training over the summer and we will be providing further equipment, although not of the lethal variety. We stand firm with Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression, and we continue to assist its defence of its sovereignty, independence and territory.
The Minister will be aware of concern in my constituency about the implications of the expansion of the British Underwater Test and Evaluation Centre, particularly the threat of the closing off of the fishing grounds which would threaten the livelihoods of 70 fishing boats and 120 families in my constituency. Will the Minister tell us when the consultation exercise that we have long been promised will begin?
I am slightly surprised that the hon. Gentleman feels the need to raise this matter again, three weeks after his Adjournment debate in which I addressed those questions very directly. The consultation exercise is part of 200 defence establishments’ bylaws being consulted on—we will be beginning that later this summer. There is a separate exercise with the fishermen, who will not lose their livelihoods as he is suggesting, and that will be undertaken by QinetiQ shortly.
Of course, repetition is not a novel phenomenon in the House of Commons.
Does my right hon. Friend agree with my analysis that the very welcome investment in both Typhoon and the joint strike fighter to provide the Royal Air Force with the best aircraft possible is a direct result of, first, a growing economy and, secondly, sorting out the basket case of an MOD budget that we inherited?
My hon. Friend lights on a very important point—that defence plays a part in the prosperity of this nation. ADS, the trade association, has estimated that some £22 billion of economic activity is attributable to the defence industry and it employs some 200,000 people in this country. The combat jet component of that is significant.
I believe that our contribution in Libya to preventing an imminent massacre in Benghazi, the work that we have done in Afghanistan, which my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces described, and our support for the legitimate democratically elected Government of Iraq have all been worthwhile endeavours.
My hon. Friend is right. As the only tier 1 partner in the F35 programme, the United Kingdom is playing a very significant role. Every aft section of every F35 is manufactured at Samlesbury in his constituency, providing high- skill jobs to many of his constituents. I am quite certain that I or one of my ministerial colleagues will have the pleasure of visiting his constituency soon.
The Government have given a commitment to implement my party’s policy and spend at least 2% of GDP on defence. This target has been achieved by including the single intelligence account as defence spending. When might the Government meet the 2% target without cooking the books?
I have already made it very clear that no books are going to be cooked. Anything that is included has to meet the NATO guidelines. Where there is expenditure on defence intelligence which comes out of the defence budget, it is right that that should be included in our defence totals. The NATO figures will be there for everybody to see.
Does the Minister share my concerns that a number of our ex-servicemen and women, having served our country with distinction, end up suffering from mental health issues, family breakdown and homelessness —yes, even on the streets of Dorset? What steps can be taken to help to prevent this?
Naturally, I want the very best for our entire armed forces community and I must emphasise that the vast majority of our service leavers make a smooth transition into civilian life. The Government have put in place a great deal of support for those who find the process difficult, including the allocation of £40 million to a veterans accommodation fund. The best evidence available suggests that the mental health of veterans is as good as that of the civilian population, but where problems do occur the highest standard of support is made available, and over £13 million from the LIBOR fund has been awarded to programmes.
A coalition of some 60 countries has come together to tackle ISIL in Iraq and in Syria, but the hon. Gentleman is right: ISIL is directing or inspiring terrorist activity in many other countries outside. That is why it is all the more important to ensure that it is degraded and ultimately defeated in both Iraq and Syria.
Many of us in the House will welcome the commitment that the UK will meet the NATO defence spending target, but what assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the impact that this will have on our defence capabilities?
Defence capabilities will be determined in the strategic defence and security review, which is now under way, in the context of the threats we face at the moment and an assessment of the threats we may face in future. Those choices will now be framed and made easier by the Chancellor’s welcome announcement that the defence budget will grow for the rest of this decade by 0.5% ahead of inflation.
I trust that the Secretary of State was impressed by the extraordinary engineering he saw in Barrow shipyard last week. Will the delay in Artful’s exit have any impact on Successor? Will he join the shadow Secretary of State here on
I think I attended that event last year, and I look forward to attending it this year if I am invited. I was extremely impressed by my visit to Barrow to see HMS Artful, the latest of our super submarines, as she prepares to sail. She will join Astute and Ambush to help to keep the sea lanes open and contribute where necessary to the fight against terrorism. I hope the whole House will wish her well. We expect her to sail in the next few weeks.
I call the Chair of the Defence Committee, Dr Julian Lewis.
As I have made clear, it is ultimately for NATO to classify from each member’s return what properly counts as defence expenditure in the table that is published each year. As far as the Type 26 programme is concerned, my right hon. Friend will know that we have already committed nearly £1 billion to the design phase and to the purchase of some of the long-lead items for the first three frigates in the series.
Bidders in my constituency report a worrying picture of the Crown Commercial Service’s handling of defence procurement contracts, with unreasonable timescales, inappropriate specification, and tenders being issued and then withdrawn. What steps are being taken to improve matters, especially for SME bidders?
The Crown Commercial Service is run through the Cabinet Office, and we are in a long series of discussions with it about transferring commodity-type procurement from Defence Equipment and Support to the CCS. I believe it currently has nine separate categories of activity accounting for over £1 billion of our spend. We are regularly in discussion with it to ensure that its processes are as smooth and efficient for the supply to our armed forces as they are for the contractors involved.
The Secretary of State will be aware that hundreds of Syriac Christians have been murdered by ISIL in Syria. What discussions could he have with the Kurds to see what non-lethal assistance could be given to the Syriacs? Certainly, the Syriac Military Council has four battalions of men who are prepared to fight ISIL in Syria.
Syria is already the focus of our largest humanitarian aid programme. I have had regular discussions with the authorities in the Kurdish areas about what more assistance we could provide in training and equipment to the peshmerga, who are taking on ISIL in the north of Syria. Of course, our RAF surveillance aircraft continue to fly intelligence missions in that area.
What assurances can the Secretary of State give that military spending in Scotland will increase proportionally following the departmental increase outlined in the Budget? Between 2007 and 2012, Scotland received £1.9 billion less than its population share of Government defence spending on major projects. Perhaps he should stop paying lip service and take the opportunity to put things right.
With respect, I do not think it is lip service that, as I said, we have committed nearly £1 billion to building the next generation of frigates in Scotland. We are already building offshore patrol vessels in Scotland. Scotland is getting the bulk of the work on the two aircraft carriers. It will be home to one of our three fastjet fleets, and it will constitute the entire home submarine base of the Royal Navy. Scotland does very well out of the defence budget inside a United Kingdom.
Order. I am very grateful for the Secretary of State’s reply, but we are pressed for time.
While I warmly welcome the 2% of GDP we have committed to spending on defence, which is excellent news, we must not be complacent, because although the quality of what we are ordering is brilliant, for future events—perhaps, God forbid, a serious and more widespread conflict—we are still down on the quantity.
My hon. Friend is right. The SDSR that is now under way has to evaluate not merely the current threats to our country but the future threats that may emerge over the next few years. It is only by sorting out the defence budget—the mess that we inherited—and putting it on a proper footing that we are now able to increase it and to spend on the equipment that our armed forces need.