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Defence Questions

13th March 2017

Harriett Baldwin answers MPs’ questions about defence procurement.

NATO Spending Target

Nigel Huddleston (Mid Worcestershire) (Con)

6. What recent discussions he has had with his international counterparts on NATO’s 2% GDP spending target. [909191]

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

Ministers have regular discussions with international counterparts on NATO’s 2% of GDP spending target. It is important that all NATO allies meet the 2% commitment they made at the Wales summit in 2014.

Nigel Huddleston

Will the Minister name which NATO allies do not currently spend 2% of GDP on defence? What reasons or excuses have they given for that?

Mr Speaker

Subject to the constraints of brevity, Minister.

Harriett Baldwin

Listing the 23 that do not spend 2% would take too long, but I reassure my hon. Friend that the five that do meet the target are the United States, the UK, Poland, Greece and Estonia. I am sure he can deduce from that the absentees.

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab)

23. Germany currently spends 1.23% of GDP—€36 billion —on defence and to spend 2% it would need almost to double that, to €60 billion. Does the Minister appreciate that a rearmed Germany would give concern not only to some of its neighbours, but to Russia, thus potentially increasing the difficulties we face with tensions on the Russian border? [909208]

Harriett Baldwin

With the greatest respect, we think it is incredibly important that all NATO members, who share joint responsibility for the defence of the alliance, committed at the NATO conference in Wales in 2014 to spend 2% of GDP. We welcome the fact that eight further countries are now on a clear trajectory to meet that target, and Ministers from across all Departments continue to have discussions to encourage them to reach it.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con)

25. I dissociate myself from the remarks made by the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon); that was an extraordinary statement about Germany.Since you have been here, Mr Speaker, how many Ministers have come to the Dispatch Box to say exactly the same thing—that we are encouraging other NATO members to meet the target? Some of our European partners take the whole thing for granted in the knowledge that we and the Americans pick up the bill. What are we actually going to do about it to get them to pay what they should pay? [909210]

Harriett Baldwin

I reassure my hon. Friend that there has been progress. Five countries now meet the 2% target, up from three in 2014; 10 countries now meet the 20% pledge on major equipment and research; and the ​cuts to defence spending overall have been halted. I am sure, though, that everyone would agree with the sentiment he expressed: we cannot reiterate too often that we hope everyone will reach the 2% pledge soon.

Fabian Hamilton (Leeds North East) (Lab)

Last month, the International Institute for Strategic Studies concluded that the Government have in fact missed the 2% NATO defence spending target, and that they would have missed it by even more had they not included budgetary headings, such as pensions, which do not contribute to our defence capabilities and were not included when Labour was in government. Is it not time that we went back to the criteria used for defence spending when the Labour party was in power so that we may give our armed forces the resources they need?

Harriett Baldwin

Well, honestly, I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has read the Defence Committee’s report, which

“commends the UK Government’s commitment to UK defence and finds that its accounting criteria fall firmly within existing NATO guidelines”—

as does NATO itself. It would be worrying if we were to follow his party leader, who wants to see cuts to defence spending, the abandonment of our NATO allies and the scrapping of the nuclear deterrent.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con)

May I helpfully suggest to the Minister that one way she could avoid these arguments about whether we have or have not scraped over the 2% line is to recognise that the last time we faced threats like those we face today was the 1980s, when we used to spend between 4.5% and 5% of GDP on defence? Let us settle for 3% so that we can avoid this sort of argument.

Harriett Baldwin

I appreciate my right hon. Friend’s campaign. We are proud of the fact that we are spending substantially more than the 2% target; that we have a growing defence budget for the first time in many years; and that we are on track to have a £178 billion equipment plan over the next decade.

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Royal Navy: UK Economic Interests

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con)

8. What international operations the Royal Navy is conducting in support of UK economic interests and the Global Britain campaign; and if he will make a statement. [909193]

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

The 2015 national security strategy strengthens the historic role of the Royal Navy in promoting our national prosperity. Royal Navy ships ​are deployed today around the globe, from the Falklands to the Gulf and the Caribbean, supporting the UK’s economic interests.

Michael Fabricant

I thank my hon. Friend for her answer. I believe that she was waving the flag for Britain and our exports with HMS Penzance in Abu Dhabi recently. Does she agree that it is about not just protecting our seaways, but waving the flag and promoting Britain and our exports, particularly those from the west midlands?

Harriett Baldwin

Indeed, I was delighted to be welcomed on board HMS Penzance in Abu Dhabi and to thank the crew for the valuable contribution they are making in mine counter-measures. The Royal Navy will deploy ships to various ports throughout 2017. Only last week, HMS Ocean visited Beirut where the ship acted as a showcase for British industry—indeed midlands industry—including Jaguar Land Rover and Aston Martin.

Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con)

When the United Kingdom leaves the EU in two years’ time, our military commitments are likely to increase. Will my hon. Friend assure me that we will have enough Royal Navy ships to ensure that our commitments on our shores, on our trade routes, to our dependants and to NATO are met?

Harriett Baldwin

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the importance of the Royal Navy. Of course, 2017 is the year of the Royal Navy as it prepares to welcome the new aircraft carriers, submarines, frigates, offshore patrol vessels and the aircrafts from which to fly.

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Topical Questions

Gill Furniss (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough) (Lab)

T3. Toolmakers in my constituency such as J. Adams Ltd have made high-quality military knives for the defence sector for six generations. The UK’s manufacturing industry is more than capable of supplying the sector, but new Royal Navy Trident submarines and offshore patrol vessels are being built using foreign steel. When is the Ministry of Defence going to publish a proper defence industrial strategy so that we can start supporting UK steel and manufacturing instead of buying off the shelf from abroad? [909213]

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

Of course we want UK steel to be used wherever possible. That is why last year we published the full pipeline of steel that we will need across the whole of Government. We work with our suppliers to encourage them to use British steel producers, where available, in that pipeline.

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Jake Berry (Rossendale and Darwen) (Con)

At Defence questions on 30 January, I asked the Minister how many people were currently working in defence procurement and what plans the Government have to reduce that number. She subsequently wrote to me to say that 11,500 people are currently working in procurement. Given that this equates to 149 people per ship in the Royal Navy, 14 people per aircraft in the Royal Air Force and one person per seven soldiers, will she now say what steps the Government are going to take to reduce this extremely large number?

Harriett Baldwin

I would like to emphasise to my hon. Friend that a lot of those people will in fact be uniformed. What often happens is that they rotate through the teams that are involved in procurement because there is no one better than our uniformed personnel to decide on the requirements that are needed. However, he is absolutely right that they are not immune to the need, across the whole of defence, to continue to find ways to spend more efficiently.

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Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab)

T7. Following on from the answer that the Minister gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Gill Furniss), can she name the projects in which British steel is actually being used to safeguard British steelworkers jobs? [909218]

Harriett Baldwin

We are committed to building Type 26 frigates, and that forms part of the pipeline of defence procurement where we are going to need steel. Our main supplier is running a competition in which I believe five UK firms are participating.

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George Kerevan (East Lothian) (SNP)

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the deep maintenance and repair of the engines of all British F-35 fighters will be done in Turkey, and what, if any, security issues arise from this rather strange decision?

Harriett Baldwin

I will follow this up with the hon. Gentleman, but I can confirm—I am sure he shares my delight—that north Wales has been selected for the global hub outside the US for all the maintenance and repair of the avionics.

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