Topical Questions

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th June 2016.

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Photo of Ronnie Cowan Ronnie Cowan Scottish National Party, Inverclyde 12:00 am, 27th June 2016

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Photo of Michael Fallon Michael Fallon The Secretary of State for Defence

My immediate priorities remain success in our operations against Daesh, and implementing our strategic defence and security review commitments. On Friday week, I will join the Prime Minister for the NATO summit in Warsaw, where we will review progress since the Wales summit, agree further reassurance to our eastern allies, and take further steps to demonstrate the alliance’s strength and unity.

Photo of Ronnie Cowan Ronnie Cowan Scottish National Party, Inverclyde

Given the unfortunate success of the Brexit campaign and the subsequent downward spiral of the value of the pound, which now sits at a 31-year low, will the Minister tell me the additional cost of the Trident renewal programme on top of the current estimate of £205 billion?

Photo of Michael Fallon Michael Fallon The Secretary of State for Defence

In the strategic defence and security review, we published our most up-to-date assessment of the cost of the Trident replacement programme at £31 billion, plus a contingency of a further £10 billion.

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Conservative, Calder Valley

In the light of the momentous decision taken by the nation last Thursday, will the Minister explain to the House what implications that decision will have on working with military intelligence from not only European countries but other countries around the world?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Minister for the Armed Forces)

Defence in the UK is grounded on the strength of our relationships with our closest allies and partners. We work extensively with them, principally through NATO but also bilaterally. The UK’s decision to leave the European Union does not change that approach.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Defence), Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

In the first year of this Government, over 1,800 properties within the married quarters estate were left empty for the majority of the year. Since then, the number has more than quadrupled. Can the Minister explain why that has been allowed to happen and why the properties are not being used?

Photo of Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

My understanding is that there are just over 10,000 void properties at the moment under the service family accommodation estate. We need to have void properties to ensure that when people trickle post they have a property to go to. Equally, the hon. Lady will be aware that we are moving the Army back from Germany at the moment so we need spare properties, but up to half of those properties are currently up for disposal.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Defence), Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The fact is that departmental policy is for about 10% of such properties to remain vacant. In fact, there are more than 20%. The reality is that there is such a high proportion of empty properties because they are not in a fit state for people to live in. They cannot be released for sale by the leaseholder, Annington Homes, because it would cost too much for the Government to repair. The taxpayer is having to spend more than £30 million every year for the MOD to rent these properties. Will the Minister explain why his Department is wasting £30 million?

Photo of Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

I am not sure whether the hon. Lady heard my answer. It is not every year that we seek to bring back the Army from Germany, which is why we need extra properties. However, more than half the properties are currently up for disposal and we have also invested more than £200 million in building 1,200 new service family accommodation units to ensure that we get the best quality accommodation for our troops.

Photo of Karl McCartney Karl McCartney Conservative, Lincoln

While I welcome the recent announcement that Lincolnshire will still have an air show—now at RAF Scampton—what steps is my hon. Friend taking to increase home ownership among members of the armed forces?

Photo of Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

I am delighted to say that since the forces’ Help to Buy scheme was introduced, more than 7,260 service families have taken up the opportunity to buy their own home.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

Will the Minister undertake an urgent review of the awards of the Légion d’Honneur? I have many constituents who were awarded the Légion d’Honneur by the French authorities and who notified the Ministry of Defence more than a year ago, but have still not received their medals. Will the Minister look at that urgently?

Photo of Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

I am more than happy to do so. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that there was a review. It is fair to say that the French authorities have simply been overwhelmed by the number of applications, but we have a system in place now whereby 200 are sent each week to the French. Of the original applications that were made, I understand that all have now been awarded.[This section has been corrected on 28 June 2016, column 1MC — read correction]

Photo of Stephen Phillips Stephen Phillips Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

My hon. Friend will be aware of the valuable and essential work done by African Union troops to prevent and ameliorate conflicts all over Africa—work that is also essential for this country. Will she update the House on the support being provided to the AU by the UK to assist with its peacekeeping role?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Minister for the Armed Forces)

My hon. and learned Friend affords me the opportunity to pay tribute to our armed forces who are training the Rwandan defence force as well as the African Union’s Eastern Africa Standby Force. The training that we are providing is there to help security sector reform and enhance their capabilities for peace operations and disaster relief.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Scottish Parliament/Scottish Government Liaison), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Devolved Government Relations)

Following the questioning of Ministry of Defence officials at the Public Accounts Committee on infantry management, will the Minister tell us about the current state of the logistics commodities and services’ transformation programme? Is the super shed built, and how confident are the Government that the privatisation of logistics to support our armed services will not result in equipment shortages on the ground?

Photo of Philip Dunne Philip Dunne Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Defence Procurement)

I can confirm that the new MOD Donnington facility will be completed on schedule before the end of the year.

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer Assistant Whip (HM Treasury)

Will the Department update the House on the progress being made in increasing the number of cadet units in state schools so that more young people can benefit from the skills and experiences of those cadet units?

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

We are receiving a healthy number of applications to set up new units. These are processed through a six-monthly run. Twenty five new state school units have been approved since last November, and 350 school cadet units are currently parading. The programme is on track to achieve its target of 500 in schools by 2020.

Photo of Ian Austin Ian Austin Labour, Dudley North

Thousands of Kurdish peshmerga killed or seriously injured fighting Daesh could have been helped by good front-line facilities. Can we now rush in a field hospital to reduce avoidable deaths and allow at least 100 of the most seriously injured to benefit from specialist beds here in the UK? It is the least we can do.

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Minister for the Armed Forces)

We have done a huge amount to support Kurdish fighters. To date, we have trained 3,900 and that includes not just dealing with improvised explosive devices, but providing first aid and that first-line medical support.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Conservative, Tamworth

On Saturday, I met my constituent Benjamin Greaves who was injured by a thunder flash in 1979, but whose injury was not diagnosed until 2011. Will Ministers look at his case to ensure that he is receiving all the compensation and pension that he deserves?

Photo of Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

I shall of course be delighted to look at the case and may I suggest that we meet?

Photo of Madeleine Moon Madeleine Moon Chair, Defence Sub-Committee

What percentage of the P-8 contracts will be offset to British companies and what maintenance work will take place in the UK? Will the Minister confirm that the sonobuoys and missiles will be procured from British companies?

Photo of Philip Dunne Philip Dunne Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Defence Procurement)

The P-8 contract has not yet been let. We announced at the time our intention to procure P-8, and some $4.5 million per aircraft is UK-sourced. The support contracts will be let in due course.

Photo of Jack Lopresti Jack Lopresti Conservative, Filton and Bradley Stoke

Will my hon. Friend assure us that, despite Airbus trying to bully its employees to vote remain in the referendum last week, the wings of the magnificent A400 aircraft will still be made in Filton?

Photo of Philip Dunne Philip Dunne Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Defence Procurement)

Airbus is an important defence contractor and a significant employer in my hon. Friend’s constituency for both civil and defence work. Where it chooses to locate wings in the civil contracts in the future will be a matter for Airbus.

Photo of Alison McGovern Alison McGovern Labour, Wirral South

Depressingly, UNICEF reported that 25 children were killed by airstrikes in Syria yesterday. Will the Secretary of State tell us what conversations he is having with our international partners to make sure that we take every necessary step to defend civilians?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Minister for the Armed Forces)

The hon. Lady raises an important point. On that operation to date, we know that UK strikes have produced no reports of civilian casualties. That is because of the care we take and the investigations we carry out after every strike. We are working with our allies to develop joint policy in this area.

Hear, hear.

Photo of Tania Mathias Tania Mathias Conservative, Twickenham

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

The Royal Military School of Music has been in Whitton for 150 years. Will the Minister work with me to ensure that the Ministry of Defence keeps a physical military presence “remaining” in Whitton?

Photo of Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

I commend my hon. Friend, whose constituents could not ask for a greater champion on this issue. Since last month’s Adjournment debate, the situation has not changed. However, I am convinced that we will continue to have military concerts there in the future.

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Labour, Cynon Valley

Exactly what actions are the Government taking to protest about the use of phosphorous bombs and barrel bombs against the people of Aleppo?

Photo of Philip Dunne Philip Dunne Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Defence Procurement)

We have a very clear policy in this country on the export of cluster munitions and the like. We have not sold cluster munitions since 1989. The right hon. Lady asks about phosphorous, and I will write to her about it later.

Photo of James Heappey James Heappey Conservative, Wells

I was grateful for the Minister’s earlier answer on the cadet expansion programme. Will he tell us at what point, if at all, expressions of interest from schools in non-priority areas will be accepted if insufficient applications are made from priority areas?

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

My hon. Friend reflects on the problems of success. We have many applications from priority areas, according to the three criteria that were set out a number of times. I cannot make any firm promises, I am afraid, for those who do not meet the priority criteria. We are firmly on track to deliver the schools we need.

Photo of Michael Dugher Michael Dugher Labour, Barnsley East

Last Friday, I was privileged to be invited to Burma company 4th Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment, based in Barnsley, to thank them for the service ahead of armed forces day. Will the Secretary of State join me in paying tribute to the superb men and women there, who are superbly led by Major Darren Schofield?

Photo of Michael Fallon Michael Fallon The Secretary of State for Defence

Let me congratulate all those from the armed forces, including those from reserve units, who participated in the key events in Cleethorpes, Plymouth, Glasgow, Woolwich and many other locations up and down the country. We are proud of them, and we gave the public the opportunity to show their support.

Photo of Andrew Bridgen Andrew Bridgen Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee

Will the Secretary of State reassure us that, by contrast with the Labour party, morale in our armed forces remains high and the desertion rate is very low?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Minister for the Armed Forces)

I am happy to confirm, on the basis of the attitude surveys that we conduct each year, that morale is high, and the armed forces appreciate that, given a defence budget that is growing every single year, they have much to look forward to.

Photo of Greg Mulholland Greg Mulholland Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Campaigns Chair

I thank the veterans Minister for taking account of the plight of war widows who have been penalised for remarrying. Can he give us some idea of how long his review of the matter will take?

Photo of Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

I hope to be able to get back to the House and the hon. Gentleman as soon as possible.