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Defence Questions

27th November 2017

Harriett Baldwin answers MPs’ questions to the Ministry of Defence.

Queen Elizabeth Aircraft Carrier

Tom Tugendhat (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con)

4. What progress he has made on bringing the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier into service. [902550]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Harriett Baldwin)

HMS Queen Elizabeth has returned to Portsmouth after a successful second set of sea trials. Her commissioning ceremony is planned for 7 December in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen. The handover to the Royal Navy from the contractor is planned for the end of the year.

Tom Tugendhat

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is now a sense of urgency? Not only are we planning a global future for ourselves, which will require a greater presence around the world, but with the royal wedding coming as early as next year, and with the absence of the yacht Britannia, is there not a possibility that the new prince and princess will require something to sail around the seas?

Harriett Baldwin

I certainly was not anticipating that line of questioning from my hon. Friend, the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, but he is absolutely right that this new class of aircraft carrier will give a powerful expression of national ambition and intent. They are versatile and agile ships and will be able to perform a wide range of maritime security roles.

Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab)

Will the Minister confirm that the Government see the future of the Queen Elizabeth, when it comes into service, as an aircraft carrier and not as meeting defence cuts by replacing amphibious landing craft such as HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion?

Harriett Baldwin

I am delighted to confirm that we have not only one aircraft carrier but a second aircraft carrier, which is now structurally complete, at Rosyth. Of course, there will be adaptations to ensure that the carriers are able to support the full range of helicopters in our fleet, but we have absolutely confirmed that we will have a full range of maritime capabilities from these two remarkable and adaptable ships.

Mr Simon Clarke (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Con)

It will be essential that we have sufficient surface fleet to provide escort capability for the carriers. Will the Minister confirm that we will indeed have sufficient of the Type 31s and that, where possible, they will be made from UK steel?

Harriett Baldwin

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. To give just one example, today in Portsmouth one of the new Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability tankers has been commissioned into the Navy. There are six Type 45 destroyers. We cut steel on the first of eight new anti-submarine frigates, and we are running the competition for the Type 31e global general purpose frigate.

Gerald Jones (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab)

HMS Diamond recently had to abandon its operations because of issues with its propeller. This means that none of the £1 billion Type 45 destroyers, which have been riddled with issues, is currently at sea. Given the important role that they will play in supporting the carriers, what urgent action are the Government taking to remedy these issues?

Harriett Baldwin

There is of course a limit to what we can comment on with regard to the specifics of the situation, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that as part of our regular force deployment we will be regenerating that capability, and the Royal Navy is able to meet all its operational capabilities around the world.

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Hawk Aircraft: Overseas Promotion

Wes Streeting (Ilford North) (Lab)

5. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for International Trade on promoting Hawk aircraft overseas. [902551]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Harriett Baldwin)

The Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Trade continue to work closely with BAE Systems to promote and secure sales of the world-leading Hawk advanced jet training aircraft.

Wes Streeting

I recently had the opportunity to talk to Unite and GMB members about the importance of a consistent flow of orders to maintain jobs throughout the supply chain for Hawk. In a recent debate on defence aerospace strategy, the Minister referred to 12 Hawk aircraft for Qatar. Has this figure changed from the six initially announced? Could she update us with progress on getting further orders on the books?

Harriett Baldwin

I can absolutely confirm that the Government are working wholeheartedly in every way they can to ensure that we put that order from the Government of Qatar on the order books by the end of the year. That includes—

Wes Streeting

Is it six or 12?

Harriett Baldwin

I can write to the hon. Gentleman if there is some confusion. I thought it was six.

Nigel Huddleston (Mid Worcestershire) (Con)

How important are these iconic aircraft to supporting and promoting the soft power of a global Britain?

Harriett Baldwin

My hon. Friend and constituency neighbour will know that the Red Arrows have just returned from a very successful tour of the Gulf. Part of what they do is support the wonderful export campaigns that the company is running.

Ruth Smeeth (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab)

There are 21 RAF officers sitting in the Gallery today who are due to be deployed on Op Shader in the new year. I am sure that the whole House wishes them well in their future deployment.

Ten days ago, we had a debate in this Chamber on a new defence industrial strategy. Given the jobs that are still vulnerable at Brough and the Qatar order that we still do not have the detail on, can we just have a defence industrial strategy, please?

Harriett Baldwin

I am happy to pay tribute to the people who are here in the Gallery today for everything that they do.

The hon. Lady is right to keep raising these issues. I can assure her that the Government are focusing very fully on both the matters that she raises.

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab)

On the day that the Government are launching their industrial strategy, this country is in danger of losing its sovereign defence industrial capability, not least in aerospace. Will the Minister therefore be specific in telling us what efforts she is making to promote additional orders across the world?

Harriett Baldwin

Nonsense! We could not be working harder across the globe. We have not only the Department for International Trade but a fantastic network of defence attachés.

Wayne David

What are you doing?

Harriett Baldwin

I am working tirelessly on behalf of the Government, travelling around the world to support a range of different export campaigns, as is my colleague, the Secretary of State for International Trade.

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Defence Suppliers: Innovation

Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con)

11. What steps he is taking to encourage innovation by defence suppliers. [902557]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Harriett Baldwin)

The £800 million defence innovation fund provides great opportunities for innovative suppliers. For example, I can today announce that the defence, science and technology laboratories, working with industry and academia, have developed a cutting-edge new chemical process to recover fingerprints, making it harder for terrorists and criminals to escape justice.

Mark Pawsey

The Minister identifies great innovation within our suppliers, but does she also agree that an example is shown by the advanced induction motor technology—the most power-dense electric motors available anywhere—that have been installed on the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier, which were manufactured by GE in my constituency?

Harriett Baldwin

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to speak up for the amazing work being done in his constituency, not only for the carrier programme, but for the long-lead items for the Type 26 frigates.

Martin Whitfield (East Lothian) (Lab)

The Government talk about wanting to increase the role of small and medium-sized enterprises in MOD procurement. Can the Minister tell us what steps have been taken to facilitate that?

Harriett Baldwin

A range of steps have been taken to facilitate that. For example, we have a single website, which is meant to be an easy portal into what we are ​procuring at the MOD. We have shortened the contract we require small businesses to sign, from 18 pages down to three. We also have a system of people within the organisation who can help new businesses find their way around the intricacies of the MOD.

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Topical Questions

Mr Paul Sweeney (Glasgow North East) (Lab/Co-op)

T5. The Secretary of State might be aware that in 2009 the terms of business agreement signed between the MOD and BAE Systems secured the future of complex naval shipbuilding in this country by ensuring a commitment to invest to create a shipbuilding ​infrastructure in the top quarter of all shipbuilding capabilities world wide. In the recently published national shipbuilding strategy, that commitment is no longer given. Will he confirm that the commitment in the terms of business agreement to creating a world-class shipbuilding industry remains? [902576]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Harriett Baldwin)

Of course I can confirm that we have a commitment to a world-class shipbuilding industry. Indeed, the shipbuilding industry in Scotland has a pipeline of work going out two decades.

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Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab)

T8. Britain’s defence industry supports hundreds of jobs in the South Wales valleys. Will the Government support our armoured fighting vehicle industry and allow it to compete for the prime contract for the Boxer armoured vehicle? [902579]

Harriett Baldwin

The hon. Gentleman’s question gives me an opportunity to pay tribute to the fantastic work that is being done on the 589 Ajax vehicles. This is the largest contract for military vehicles that has been awarded in the country for 30 years, and it involves a lot of work for the South Wales workforce.

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David Linden (Glasgow East) (SNP)

T10. Will the new Secretary of State get off to a better start than his predecessor by confirming that the new Royal Fleet Auxiliary orders will come to the Clyde, and that those vessels will not be built abroad? [902581]

Harriett Baldwin

I can confirm that—exactly as outlined in the recommendations of the national shipbuilding strategy, and as has been stated before in the House—that ​particular part of our shipbuilding programme will be open to international competition, including shipyards on the Clyde.

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Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)

The Minister has already spoken about the important trade role that the Red Arrows play as ambassadors for great British aeronautical engineering. Will the Secretary of State, who knows East Yorkshire well and knows how important those skilled jobs are to Brough, look again at the request from 142 Members on both sides of the House for renewal of the fleet for the Red Arrows?

Harriett Baldwin

I am glad that the hon. Lady pays tribute to the Red Arrows’ amazing trade promotion role. She will know as well as anyone that the current Red Arrows will be in service until 2030, so a decision to replace them will not need to be made until after the end of this Parliament.

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Point of Order

Harriett Baldwin

Further to the question from the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), I should like to clarify that the statement of intent for Qatar is for six Hawks, which gives 12 months of work at Brough.

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