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Defence Questions

30th January 2017

Harriett Baldwin answers MPs’ questions on defence procurement.

Defence Suppliers: Innovation

Mary Robinson (Cheadle) (Con)

5. What steps he is taking to encourage innovation by defence suppliers. [908442]

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

14. What steps he is taking to encourage innovation by defence suppliers. [908451]

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

With a rising defence budget and equipment plan worth £178 billion over 10 years, there are great opportunities to encourage innovation. We are spending up to 20% of our science and technology budget on research, creating an £800 million innovation fund and launching a defence and security accelerator to fund great innovative ideas fast.

Mary Robinson

Thales in Cheadle is a global centre for innovation and excellence in underwater combat systems and sonar. The delivery of that technology relies on the retention of high-tech skills. What steps is the Ministry of Defence taking to ensure that we continue to encourage the right environment for firms such as Thales and for smaller firms in my constituency by investing in complex engineering skills training and development to support innovation?

Harriett Baldwin

I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to the recently launched skills strategy, which is called “Securing Defence Skills for the Future”. The Ministry of Defence and the armed forces are already the biggest provider of apprenticeships in the UK. I know that Thales also runs highly competitive apprenticeships and graduate training programmes, and that it is particularly committed to increasing the number of women with these skills.

John Howell

How can small firms in my constituency that have great, innovative ideas bring them to the MOD without getting caught up in a bureaucratic procurement process?

Harriett Baldwin

I am sure that my hon. Friend noticed that, on Thursday, I launched the Enduring Challenge, which is run by the defence and security accelerator. It is designed to be a simple front door allowing anyone with a great idea that could benefit UK defence and security to enter into defence. The funding for that will be available throughout the year. On the other side of that door are helpful innovation partners who will guide small firms through a simplified procurement process, and I encourage firms from across the UK to visit the accelerator website on gov.uk to see how they can develop the next world-beating idea.

Mr John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)

But in order to innovate, companies must have markets and customers. President Trump has clearly proclaimed that he intends to buy American, so will the Minister assure us that, whether it is high-tech equipment, cars or supplies, her Department will actually start to buy British?

Harriett Baldwin

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we are of course the industry’s biggest customer. He will also know that there are great examples of international collaboration. For example, we are purchasing 138 planes from the 3,000 in the F-35 programme, and 15% of each of those 3,000 planes is being built in the north-west of England. We have also been selected as the global hub for the repair and maintenance of those planes.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD)

How are the UK Government helping defence suppliers to innovate and secure part of the £1.4 billion that is spent on repairing the UK’s nuclear weapons systems? Does the Minister agree that it would help those suppliers if there was transparency and accountability about the weapons not working effectively?

Harriett Baldwin

That is another example of where we work closely with companies in the defence supply chain on a range of ways in which they can innovate. We put a premium on innovation right across the defence industrial base, and the right hon. Gentleman draws attention to one of the areas where human innovation has been outstanding.

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Royal Navy: Size and Capability

Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab)

10. What recent assessment he has made of the (a) adequacy of the size of the Royal Navy’s fleet and (b) capability of that fleet to respond to global threats. [908447]

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

The Royal Navy is growing for the first time in a generation, with new aircraft carriers, submarines, frigates, patrol vessels and aircraft all on their way; 2017 is the start of a new era of maritime power, projecting Britain’s influence globally and delivering security at home. [Interruption.]

Ian Mearns

Sorry, it is my back, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker

The hon. Gentleman may ask his question from a sedentary position if he wishes. I am sorry that he is in discomfort. The House will want to hear from him.

Ian Mearns

Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Select Committee on Defence recently said, in a fairly damning report, that the Royal Navy’s fleet of just 17 usable frigates and destroyers is

“way below the critical mass required”.

Does the Minister agree with the many former Sea Lords who gave evidence to the Committee that the number of vessels is just not sufficient, given that we are island nations, to protect our interests on the high seas?

Harriett Baldwin

My sympathies to the hon. Gentleman. I wish to emphasise that the 2015 SDSR announced that we will maintain our fleet of 19 frigates and destroyers, and committed to eight Type 26 global combat ships, three new solid support ships and two new offshore patrol vessels. That is in addition, of course, to the two new aircraft carriers, which, as he knows, are well on their way.

Mr Speaker

We all wish the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) well. Knowing what a robust character he is, perhaps I can say that no injury will dare to get him down for long.

Mrs Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (Con)

Question 17.

Mr Speaker

No, the hon. Lady should come in on this question, to which her own Question 17 is similar; she should piggy-back on this question.

Mrs Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (Con)

17. There is a thought for a Monday afternoon. What percentage of the Royal Navy is now female? How does that compare with other NATO countries? What is the MOD doing to ensure that women who are joining up can have a long and fulfilling career in our world-class Royal Navy, alongside their family responsibilities? [908454]

Harriett Baldwin

I can confirm that as of 1 October 2016, some 9% of the naval service strength was female—the departmental recruitment target is 15% by 2020. The Royal Navy has a number of initiatives to encourage recruitment and address the retention of female officers, including having more focused career management and increased access to flexible ways of working.

Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab)

In the 2015 SDSR, and again last December in the first annual report on the SDSR, the Government were very clear that the sea trials for HMS Queen Elizabeth would begin this spring, but in response to a parliamentary question last week, the Minister informed me that the trials would now take place this summer. What are the reasons for that? What will the operational service date be for HMS Queen Elizabeth?

Harriett Baldwin

I can confirm that she will commence her sea trials this summer and enter into the same programme so that she can sail into Portsmouth later this year.

Mrs Flick Drummond (Portsmouth South) (Con)

Will the Minister join me in wishing Godspeed to HMS Diamond, which is shortly to leave from Portsmouth to lead the NATO taskforce in the Black sea?

Harriett Baldwin

I certainly will join my hon. Friend in wishing Godspeed to NHS Diamond and, indeed, to all our destroyers that are currently on a range of different tasks around the globe.

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Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP)

12. What recent assessment he has made of the security situation in Yemen. [908449]

Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP)

16. What recent assessment he has made of the security situation in Yemen. [908453]

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

The security situation in Yemen has been concerning since 2014, when Houthi forces and those loyal to former President Saleh took over the capital Sana’a and forced out the legitimate Government of President Hadi.

Hannah Bardell

As the suffering in Yemen unfolds, the world watches in horror. Nearly 2.2 million people are internally displaced, half of them women and girls. Evidence from Amnesty International shows that partially exploded, UK-manufactured BL755 cluster bombs are lying unexploded, injuring and maiming many people. Despite the Foreign Office Minister denying their existence, the UK Government’s own investigations back up media reports that such cluster bombs have been deployed in the war in Yemen, so when will this heartless Tory Government wake up, do a proper investigation, take on Saudi Arabia and stop the sale and deployment of these bombs?

Harriett Baldwin

I think the hon. Lady must have missed the statement that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave on this issue in December. I can ​confirm that the humanitarian situation is extremely serious. As a result, the UK is the fourth largest donor to Yemen and is committing more than £100 million this year.

Peter Grant

The single biggest contributor to the humanitarian disaster in Yemen is the Royal Saudi air force, which has systematically destroyed almost the entire infrastructure of the country, leaving 7 million people in danger of starvation because food cannot be got to them. How much worse does the humanitarian crisis have to get before the United Kingdom stops selling £2 billion-worth of weapons per year to a Government who are accused of 250 different war crimes in Yemen?

Harriett Baldwin

The UK position is of course that a political solution is the best way forward to bring long-term stability to Yemen and end the conflict there. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the coalition in Yemen is supported by United Nations resolution 2216. He will also be aware that there are regular incursions into Saudi territory, and I am sure he will recognise the legitimate self-defence of the Saudi-led coalition under United Nations resolution 2216.

Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab)

24. There was widespread concern at the Secretary of State’s disclosure in December that UK-made cluster bombs had been used by Saudi Arabia in Yemen. The Saudi Government have since said that they will not continue their use, but there is no way of enforcing that commitment. Will the Minister tell us whether the Secretary of State has personally urged the Saudi Government to sign the cluster munitions convention, which implements a complete ban on this most destructive of weapons? [908461]

Harriett Baldwin

Yes, I can confirm that the Government regularly urge Saudi Arabia to sign the cluster munitions convention. I can also confirm that, in his statement in December, the Secretary of State welcomed the announcement that UK munitions would no longer be used.

Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (SNP)

20. We know that the UK sold 500 BL755 cluster munitions to Saudi Arabia, but the Ministry is keen to give the impression that only one of them has been dropped in Yemen. Will the Secretary of State commit to demanding a full current inventory, including serial numbers, of the remaining munitions stockpiled in Saudi Arabia, as well as records for those no longer in the Saudi’s possession? [908457]

Harriett Baldwin

I draw the hon. Lady’s attention to my previous answer about how we welcomed the Saudi Government’s commitment. We do not routinely hold records of other nations’ use, storage or location of UK-manufactured equipment, particularly items that were supplied decades ago under previous Governments.

Fabian Hamilton (Leeds North East) (Lab)

As the Minister knows, there are serious allegations that both sides in the conflict in Yemen have broken international humanitarian law. Those claims are particularly worrying to us in this country because we now know that United Kingdom-supplied cluster munitions have been used in ​Yemen. What action are the Government taking to push for a full, independent, United Nations-led investigation into the alleged violations of international law in Yemen?

Harriett Baldwin

We do not oppose calls for an international independent investigation into these incidents but, first and foremost, we want the coalition to investigate allegations of breaches of international humanitarian law attributed to those groups and for the investigations to be thorough and conclusive.

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Royal Navy: Size and Capability

Sir David Amess (Southend West) (Con)

15. What funding he has allocated to increase the size and capability of the Royal Navy. [908452]

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

This Government are committed to increasing our maritime power to project our influence across the world and to promote our prosperity. Over the next decade, we will spend £63 billion on new ships and submarines. The Royal Navy will have two new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, new submarines, frigates, aircraft, patrol vessels, support ships and tankers.

Sir David Amess

When the Queen Elizabeth sets sail, does my hon. Friend agree, that it will be testament to the skill of British workers and our superb Navy? It will show Britain as a global force, so will she make sure that Portsmouth gives the ship a wonderful welcome?

Harriett Baldwin

It will be a moment of enormous pride this year when the Queen Elizabeth sails into Portsmouth harbour. I am sure that my hon. Friend will join many people on the pier at Southend, hoping for a glimpse and waving as she sails past.

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Topical Questions

Tom Pursglove (Corby) (Con)

T3. What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of Trident renewal on associated supply-chain jobs in the United Kingdom? [908430]

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

I can confirm that the Dreadnought submarine programme is a major national investment programme that will sustain thousands of jobs across the UK. The benefit will extend well beyond the major companies leading the programme.

Marcus Fysh (Yeovil) (Con)

T7. I welcome the visit to Yeovil earlier this year of the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin), and the investment in Crowsnest fleet protection to be provided by our Merlin helicopters. What is she doing to ensure that Boeing works with Leonardo in Yeovil on the UK’s Apache helicopters, and to encourage Boeing further to build capability in the strategic aerospace cluster in Yeovil? [908435]

Harriett Baldwin

I was very impressed when I visited my hon. Friend’s constituency earlier this month. Of course, Leonardo helicopters will support our existing Apache Mk1 helicopters until they are retired from service. I am delighted that Boeing announced last week that it will make the UK its European base for training, maintenance, repair and overhaul across its defence platforms. I am sure it will want to discuss that with Leonardo, which is well placed to secure subcontract work on the next generation Apaches.

Jake Berry (Rossendale and Darwen) (Con)

I am sure that the whole House will have heard with some joy that the MOD’s procurement process is to be simplified and diversified. To help us to judge the success of this, will the Minister say how many people currently work in procurement at the MOD and whether that number will go up or down between now and the end of the Parliament?

Harriett Baldwin

I can provide in writing the exact number of people, as of today, who work there. As this is a bespoke trading entity, the aspiration is that we do not manage the head count in terms of our procurement but manage down the cost of procurement.

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con)

Will Ministers take action to make sure that more of the new light tanks we buy are made in Britain?

Harriett Baldwin

I am not sure whether my right hon. Friend is referring to the Ajax programme, but I can confirm that we have taken extensive steps to ensure that a significant portion of the manufacturing processes of the Ajax vehicles takes place in south Wales, and we will continue to work with our suppliers to ensure that we get significant UK content in all our procurement.

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