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Defence Questions

7th November 2016

Harriett Baldwin answers MPs’ questions on defence procurement.

Procurement Programmes: Supply Chain

Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con)

1. What steps he is taking to ensure that SMEs are included in the supply chain for defence procurement programmes. [907088]

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

May I add my congratulations to Andy Murray? Having said those remarks, I am sure that Mr Speaker will be able to watch many more matches played by the world’s No. 1 tennis player. It is absolutely fantastic news.

Small businesses are vital for growth and innovation, whether they work directly with the Ministry of Defence or through our prime contractors. We have committed to increase our direct and indirect procurement spending with small and medium-sized enterprises from 19% to 25% by 2020.

Mark Pawsey

It is good to hear from the Minister that our armed forces can benefit from the innovation and entrepreneurship of small businesses. However, one such business in my constituency tells me that dealing with the Department can sometimes be overly bureaucratic, ​including the need to apply to remain on a list of approved suppliers. Can the Minister take any steps to simplify the process and encourage even more small businesses to come forward?

Harriett Baldwin

We recognise that processes are overly bureaucratic. We have got rid of the idea of an approved suppliers list, and we are working hard to reduce red tape. We are introducing a shorter contract and a network of supply chain advocates. May I suggest that any businesses in my hon. Friend’s constituency or any other contact the relevant supply chain advocate? I look forward to sending my hon. Friend those details later today.

Mr John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)

Will the Minister outline what steps are being taken to help British businesses? In that context, will she tell us why the Department decided to procure combat garments for the Army from a Spanish company rather than a Scottish one?

Harriett Baldwin

We welcome competition in procurement for all our contracts. We also recognise that our £178 billion equipment budget is being spent with more than 5,000 businesses here in the UK.

Marcus Fysh (Yeovil) (Con)

SMEs make up a large part of the helicopter manufacturing industry in my constituency and they are worried that the potential local closure of GKN foreshadows an erosion of that. What support can my hon. Friend provide to keep a full helicopter manufacturing capability in the Yeovil area?

Harriett Baldwin

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s fantastic work representing his constituents in Yeovil and the magnificent work that they do. We took delivery of the most recent Wildcat helicopter just in the last month. We look forward to working with Leonardo in Yeovil as part of a major strategic partnership agreement. It is important that my hon. Friend puts such issues about helicopter manufacturing forward as part of the industrial Green Paper that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will produce later this year.

Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab)

Last week’s announcement on the Type 26 frigate was good news for Scotland. What steps have been put in place to ensure that UK SMEs and larger companies, for example those based in the north-east of England, will gain work from this contract?

Harriett Baldwin

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight this fantastic news for companies up and down the country, including our shipbuilders on the Clyde. We have already announced contracts worth some £1.9 billion which are related to this programme right across the UK. Importantly, we will be publishing, alongside our prime contractor, the opportunities for the British steel industry to bid into this manufacturing opportunity.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con)

One reason we have bureaucracy, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey), is to ensure that SMEs stay in business during the whole course of a contract. The biggest enemy of any SME is a poor cash flow. What is the Department doing to ensure that SMEs are paid promptly?

Harriett Baldwin

My hon. Friend is right to highlight that this is an important issue, which is why the Ministry of Defence is so committed to being able to pay our invoices promptly. We give that guidance to our prime contractors, and I would certainly like to hear of any examples from Members of where prime contractors are not passing on that prompt payment from the MOD to their suppliers.

Douglas Chapman (Dunfermline and West Fife) (SNP)

The Minister will be aware of the fabulous job being done by SMEs and large companies to deliver the Royal Navy carriers at Rosyth, both of which are on time and on budget. How does she plan to reward Rosyth and its highly skilled workforce after the carriers are gone? What good news has she got for Rosyth today?

Harriett Baldwin

I would have thought the hon. Gentleman might have started by welcoming Friday’s announcement about the shipbuilding jobs on the Clyde, but he is absolutely right that it is a wonderful national moment as we complete these two fantastic carriers at Rosyth. I am sure he and I are both looking forward to seeing the Queen Elizabeth sail down the Forth some time next year. Given the ambitious shipbuilding strategy that we have and the national shipbuilding strategy that will be announced nearer to the autumn statement, I am sure that there will be great news for shipbuilding across Scotland and the whole of the UK.

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Dr Philippa Whitford (Central Ayrshire) (SNP)

4. What recent support the armed forces have provided to the military campaign of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. [907092]

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

The UK is not a member of the Saudi Arabian-led coalition. British armed forces personnel are therefore not involved in selecting targets, carrying out strikes, or directing or conducting operations in Yemen.

Dr Whitford

The UK continues to supply arms to Saudi Arabia, despite repeated bombing of civilian targets and non-governmental organisation hospitals in Yemen. The most conservative figures from the United Nations Human Rights Council demonstrate that there have been at least 10,000 casualties and 4,000 confirmed dead in a country facing humanitarian disaster. Will the Minister and the Secretary of State heed the previous call by the Business, Innovation and Skills and the International Development Committees to end export licences for these arms, or are these casualties just considered a fair price to pay?

Harriett Baldwin

We will be responding to those reports imminently, but I want to put on record that we have one of the most robust arms export control regimes in the world. We are aware of the alleged violations that the hon. Lady mentions and we take alleged violations in this conflict extremely seriously.

Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con)

I am sure the Minister will agree that in this situation we have to be careful what we wish for, given the alternatives. Will she outline what support the UK Government are giving to the parties involved to ensure compliance with international humanitarian law?

Harriett Baldwin

My hon. Friend is right to say that in this situation the UK particularly supports a political solution. We believe that this is the best way to bring long-term stability to Yemen and to end the conflict. With respect to ongoing support, the UK backed UN resolution 2216, as my hon. Friend knows, and we have an ongoing defence engagement relationship with the Saudi Arabian Government.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab)

Last Monday, the Security Council discussed Yemen for the first time in six months. I observed the proceedings. There was unanimous support for an immediate ceasefire and the four-point plan put forward by Matthew Rycroft, our ambassador. Will the Minister speak to the Foreign Secretary in person or through the Defence Secretary to ensure that a new resolution is tabled as soon as possible so that it can be discussed and passed, and the humanitarian and military crisis can be dealt with?

Harriett Baldwin

The right hon. Gentleman, who pays such close interest to this subject, will be aware that the UK continues strongly to support the work of the UN special envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, and we strongly support a political solution. I will certainly pass on the sentiments he has just expressed to colleagues in the Foreign Office.

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Defence Spending

Karl MᶜCartney (Lincoln) (Con)

7. What estimate he has made of the increase in defence spending over the course of this Parliament. [907096]

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

This Government put our security first. The spending review confirmed that the Ministry of Defence’s budget will rise by 0.5% above inflation in every year to 2020. We will spend 2% of GDP on defence each year, and the defence budget will rise to almost £40 billion by the end of the decade.

Karl MᶜCartney

Sentinel aircraft based at RAF Waddington in my constituency play a vital role in the fight against Daesh, so may I welcome the Department’s announcement of £130 million support contract funding from our growing defence budget? Will the Minister confirm how many jobs that will sustain?

Harriett Baldwin

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the important role played by Sentinel aircraft based in his constituency. The contract is good news for the UK defence industry and it will sustain about 120 jobs at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire, and about 40 jobs at Hawarden airfield in Broughton in north Wales.

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab)

The pound has dropped nearly 20% in value and the price of vital military kit that we buy abroad is set to sky-rocket, ​so will the Minister confirm that we have enough contingency to pay for the F-35 fighters planned for the new aircraft carriers?

Harriett Baldwin

The hon. Gentleman will know that there is a double lock in terms of the budget and that it is based not just on 2% of our economy, which I am pleased to say grew again in the third quarter. There is also a lock in terms of a rise of 0.5% above inflation every year to 2020.

Mr Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con)

Will my hon. Friend confirm that this issue arose from the first review for about 30 years to result in an increase, rather than a reduction, in the size of the armed forces? Does she agree that, as the world gets more dangerous, it is all the more important that we get more bang for the buck from every pound spent?

Harriett Baldwin

May I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his efforts during his time at the Department? They resulted in the settlement in the 2015 autumn statement, which I mentioned earlier. He is absolutely right to say that defence spending is going up every year, and that is so that we can invest in the new Type 26 frigates, aircraft carriers, attack helicopters, fast jets, armoured vehicles and, as we heard last week, our cyber-defences.

Brendan O'Hara (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)

May I begin by sending my condolences to the family and friends of Lance Corporal Joe Spencer, who was tragically killed at RAF Tain last week?

On Friday, I warmly welcomed the announcement that steel would be cut on the Type 26 frigates in summer 2017. However, I repeat my point that the contract remains unsigned, so will the Secretary of State get a move on and sign it? The defence procurement Minister said last year that Type 23s would be replaced by Type 26s on a like-for-like basis. Is that still the case?

Harriett Baldwin

I think I detected in that question a slight sliver of a welcome for the fact that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced on Friday two decades’ worth of shipbuilding work on Type 26 frigates in Scotland. I remind the hon. Gentleman that none of that shipbuilding would have happened if he had achieved his desired outcome in the Scottish referendum.

Brendan O'Hara

Is it not the case that only the original order for 13 Type 26s would have kept the yards working until 2035? Now that there are only eight and there is no confirmation of the general purpose frigates, how can an order for just eight Type 26s secure two decades’ worth of work on the Clyde?

Harriett Baldwin

Did you, Mr Speaker, detect any mention there of the five offshore patrol vessels that are also being built on the River Clyde? The hon. Gentleman’s comments are absolutely extraordinary. I am reminded of the P.G. Wodehouse phrase—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker

Order. It is bad enough for the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O'Hara) to ask a question that is too long, but for him to rant for too long and then, when the Minister gets up to reply, to continue ranting is not statesmanlike behaviour by the hon. Gentleman, for whom I previously had high hopes.

Harriett Baldwin

As P.G. Wodehouse said:

“It is never difficult to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine.”

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con)

As the former Minister responsible for Type 26s, may I warmly welcome the order for them, although I and the nation could well do with more? I also welcome the decision to maintain defence expenditure at 2%, but may I remind my hon. Friend that last year that was done only by viring £1.2 billion of expenditure from the Department for Work and Pensions to the Minister of Defence? Why is it that I am hearing from senior officers that their budgets are being cut this year and that they are having to find in-year savings? Where is the extra cash?

Harriett Baldwin

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his enormous contribution. He has always made the case for a growing defence budget. I am sure that he, too, will welcome not only the announcement we made last week about the Type 26 frigates, but the announcement made at last year’s strategic defence and security review that we would develop a general purpose frigate and commit to at least five of those.

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab)

It is right that the Government are sticking to our NATO commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence, but as the Select Committee on Defence has noted, the Government are doing so only by including areas that were not previously counted. Can the Minister tell us what defence expenditure would be as a percentage of GDP if we used the accounting rules that were used in 2010?

Harriett Baldwin

We use exactly the methodology that NATO approves, and everything is consistent with NATO’s definition. I would like to take this opportunity to clarify whether the Labour party will also commit to spending 2% of the country’s GDP on defence.

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Departmental Funding

Chris Elmore (Ogmore) (Lab/Co-op)

11. What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the level of funding for his Department. [907102]

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

The Ministry of Defence meets the Treasury regularly as part of its routine business. The spending review set out the Ministry of Defence’s spending plans for the rest of this Parliament. The defence budget is growing at 0.5% above inflation each year until 2020. We also have access to the new joint security fund. These commitments mean that the defence budget will rise to almost £40 billion by the end of the decade.

Chris Elmore

I thank the Minister for her answer. I listened carefully to the answer she gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) on the cost of the pound and the purchasing power of the Ministry of Defence. The Royal United Services Institute has suggested that the purchasing power of the UK’s defence budget could be cut by 2% as a result of the fall in sterling. What plans do the Government have to offset that?

Harriett Baldwin

Again, I put on the record the fact that defence spending will go up regardless of currency fluctuations because of the double lock on the defence budget. As part of ongoing management of the budgets at the Ministry of Defence, we pay and have paid regard to the currency risk in terms of our procurement programme.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con)

When Ministers meet the Chancellor of the Exchequer will they remind him that although the defence budget is going up in absolute terms it is nevertheless at a lower proportion of GDP than ever before? We really ought to be looking at something approaching the 3% mark, bearing in mind the fact that the level of threat we face today is similar to that of the 1980s, when we regularly spent between 4.5% and 5% of GDP on defence.

Harriett Baldwin

My right hon. Friend was calling for 5% the other day—“Go for five and stay alive” was the catchphrase he came up with, I think. He is right that it is important that we continue to keep the Ministry of Defence’s budget under review, and we were very pleased that last year the spending review committed to a rise of 0.5% above inflation every year during this Parliament. Another spending review will have to look at the budget again in due course.

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Topical Questions

Wendy Morton (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con)

We have heard a lot this afternoon about the Type 26 frigate, but I should like to ask about our minesweeping capability. What progress and innovation in minesweeping technology has been made for the Navy?

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

I was delighted recently to announce, along with our French partners, an unmanned maritime minesweeping capability. We are building the demonstration phase, which will be an innovative and interesting investment in minesweeping technology.

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Roger Mullin (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) (SNP)

T5. Following publication of the highly critical marine accident investigation report into the collision between the stern trawler Karen and a dived Royal Navy submarine, and given the report’s urgent recommendations, what progress has been made on updating the Royal Navy fishing vessel code of practice? [907084]

Harriett Baldwin

I will look into the matter the hon. Gentleman raises and write to him.

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Mr John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)

T7. When the Department decided to purchase the P-8A maritime patrol aircraft from the United States without competition, what arrangements did the Minister make to secure work for British companies and British workers? [907086]

Harriett Baldwin

The right hon. Gentleman is very knowledgeable about these matters, so, again, I would have thought he would welcome the fact that we are acquiring this capability, which will be based at Lossiemouth in Scotland. Discussions with Boeing are ongoing in relation to the substantial inward investment it is making in the United Kingdom.

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