Debates between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie during the 2019 Parliament

Tue 23rd Nov 2021
Wed 27th Oct 2021
Tue 19th Oct 2021
Thu 16th Sep 2021
Tue 13th Jul 2021
Wed 21st Apr 2021
Wed 25th Nov 2020

Defence Spending Priorities: NATO Summit

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Wednesday 6th July 2022

(1 day, 8 hours ago)

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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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As the noble Lord is aware, people will have varying views on the appropriate percentage of GDP to spend on defence. We have laid down a clearly structured plan based on the integrated review and the defence Command Paper, and we regularly make available progress reports—for example, our annual review of the equipment plan—on where we are in the delivery of all that. We constantly assess need and identify and assess threat. We try to make sure that the two are aligned and that we meet the one with the other, and that is a sensible way to proceed.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, there is a theme on all sides of your Lordships’ House that perhaps 2.5% is insufficient—or at least can be overtaken by inflation, which is looking to move to double digits, and the exchange rate, which has gone down yet again today. What work are Her Majesty’s Government doing to ensure that the 2.5%, or whatever is spent on defence, will be adequate for everything the Government claim they will achieve?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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As I have indicated to the Chamber, there is a regular assessment by the MoD of both the threat we have to meet and the means by which we meet it. For example, the equipment plan—a massive plan—is kept under constant review to ensure that it is delivering the capabilities required to let us deliver our strategic outcomes. Major changes are normally undertaken as part of a formal government-led review process, but the MoD conducts an annual review to ensure that capabilities are not just being delivered but are still the right ones to meet the evolving threat.

Ukraine: UK Military Support

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Wednesday 11th May 2022

(1 month, 3 weeks ago)

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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord. I indicated in the Statement some of the equipment that is going out; I understand that this will include UAV systems to provide logistical support to isolated forces and that new, specialised Toyota Land Cruisers will be going out. I offer to write to the noble Lord with a more specific list of information. In relation to the use of equipment, we supply it to Ukraine and it is for the Ukrainian armed forces to then determine how they deploy and use it. However, our supply of that equipment is to enable Ukraine to defend itself.

On the size of the military, I refer the noble Lord to the integrated review, the comprehensive spending review and, importantly, Future Soldier, which detailed how we envisage the shape of the military in forthcoming years and was signed off at the highest levels in the MoD. It is interesting to reflect on how the conflict in Ukraine has unfolded. It has been clear that the might of Russia in terms of numbers of soldiers has actually been of questionable effect when, in Ukraine, an ably trained, very professional, well-equipped force, armed with intelligence, has been able to be very effective in its defence. These are complicated matters but it is perfectly clear that mere numbers are not sufficient.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, these Benches also support the action that the Government have taken so far and regret the size of the army and wish that it could be increased—although we may regret the bidding war that sometimes seems to go on between the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence, which seems to be slightly more about domestic than international politics. Can the Minister tell the House whether the medical equipment and other supplies that are being sent to Ukraine are being adequately replaced so that we can ensure security of supply at this end? Will she be able to make a Statement at some point on the security arrangements which the Prime Minister has just agreed with Sweden?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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As the noble Baroness will be aware, extensive supplies of medical equipment have been dispatched and I understand that these are proving of huge support and assistance to the Ukrainian armed forces. As to what is currently in the system and what is still to come, I have no detail before me but I undertake to write to the noble Baroness with more specific information.

National Shipbuilding Strategy

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Tuesday 15th March 2022

(3 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, I agree with many of the comments and questions from the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe. It is obviously welcome to have this refreshed National Shipbuilding Strategy, but one might wonder what has happened to the ships.

We recently looked at the Type 45s. Before we get to the actual shipbuilding, ship maintenance and repair perhaps need to be thought about, so I have one very direct question for the Minister. How many of our Type 45s are currently at sea? How many are in dock? How many are seaworthy? It is surely important for the UK’s position in the world that we have ships available now, not in many years’ time.

In particular, I wonder whether this shipbuilding strategy is as ambitious as it needs to be. The Statement says:

“We have committed to procuring a formidable future fleet including up to five Type 32 frigates”—


as the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, asked, how many are envisaged?—

“alongside the Type 31 and Type 26 programmes. We will be growing our fleet of frigates and destroyers over the current number of 19 by the end of the decade.”—[Official Report, Commons, 10/3/22; col. 505.]

What does that actually mean? Will we have 20 ships by the end of the decade—an additional one? What sort of message do the Government think that sends to the international community? The Prime Minister currently says that he will lead activity against Russia. If we have only 20 ships by 2029—or does that mean 2030?—I am not sure that is terribly credible.

We have a quotation in the strategy from the Prime Minister:

“If there was one policy which strengthens the UK in every possible sense, it is building more ships for the Royal Navy.”


That is clearly welcome—as would be increasing the number of our troops—but, realistically, what are the projections for the size of the Royal Navy? How far do the Government plan for these to be British-made ships with British steel? How far do they really think any defence expenditure settlements will enable us to deliver on time? As the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, pointed out, it is very rare for defence procurement to arrive on time and on budget. With the current rates of inflation, given that defence inflation normally rises much faster than ordinary inflation, what is the realistic prospect of our increasing the number of ships and doing so on time?

Baroness Goldie Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Goldie) (Con)
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My Lords, I first thank the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, for their observations. Although their questions, quite rightly, are penetrating, I think there is an understanding that this is an exciting document. It is not empty, vacuous flim-flam, but a very serious, holistic approach to how within the United Kingdom we sustain and grow a prosperous indigenous shipbuilding industry. I remember that one of the first tasks I had as a Defence Minister, back in 2019, was to present to your Lordships the review by Sir John Parker of the 2017 shipbuilding strategy. I remember thinking at the time that the review document was exciting and visionary.

Coming from Glasgow—or coming from Renfrewshire, near Glasgow—and having personally visited Upper Clyde shipbuilding yards when they were on the brink, I do wish to pay tribute to the trade union movement operational at the time for its assiduous work in making sure that politicians understood what the threats and challenges were. They were well informed and persuasive and I thought they did a splendid job in persuading the political process that, back then in the early 2000s, we had to make a better job of how we approached shipbuilding. I know noble Lords will remember Kvaerner on the Clyde, which was completing one order when there was no certainty about where the rest of the work was coming from. As I say, I pay tribute to the trade union movement for its determined and resolute work to try to get greater sense to prevail.

That is why, stepping forward to what Sir John Parker did in 2019, I drew a deep breath of fresh air and thought that this was really going somewhere. I have to say to your Lordships that I think this shipbuilding strategy really does pick up the baton and run with it. What I see in here are the components for a serious, well-funded, well-researched, well-supported, buoyant, competitive shipbuilding industry within the UK, and we should all be heartened and encouraged by that.

The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, echoed by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked about the size of the Navy. As they are both aware, there are good things happening. For the first time in 30 years, unbelievably, we have two different types of frigate being built simultaneously. We are satisfied that the number of Royal Navy frigates will be sufficient, and we do not anticipate that number dropping below 10 this decade. That is because, in addition to the Type 23s currently serving, we will have the first Type 26s coming in, and we will start to see the Type 31s being delivered, which will all be delivered by 2028. I would observe to your Lordships that the level of shipbuilding investment by the MoD is hugely significant and puts flesh on the bones of this strategy. MoD shipbuilding will double over the life of this Parliament and rise to over £1.7 billion a year. That will certainly allow us to increase the number of frigates and destroyers beyond the 19 we currently have by the end of the decade.

The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, asked specifically about the Type 32. That is an exciting project. It is at the moment still at the concept stage, but it will be the first of a new generation of warships, with a focus on hosting and operating autonomous offboard systems. So that is a really innovatory, visionary concept. The early preconcept phase has commenced; the focus is now on developing the operational concept, and the procurement programme strategy will be decided following the concept phase, which has not yet been launched. I can confirm these ships will be UK-built, with the exact shipyard, obviously, still to be determined—that will be subject to commercial competition.

The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, also asked about the Fleet Solid Support. It is an interesting concept. It will be either a sole British build or a consortium, but the predominant interest will be British. The noble Lord asked how that fitted in with levelling up and the union. I would say to the noble Lord that I was very interested to see the graphic depiction of the map in the document itself, because it gave one of the most visual confirmations of just how critical, right across the United Kingdom, shipbuilding is. It is not just the yards building the ships; it is the huge number of small and medium-sized enterprises that are in the supply chain for that activity. All that plays its role in levelling up and in adding value to communities, which can all expect benefit from the fruits of this strategy rolling out.

The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, asked about the role that the private sector will play. As he will be aware from the strategy, there has been close consultation with the industry, as is absolutely right. We will establish a shipbuilding enterprise for growth, which will be an industry-based organisation, and we will learn from similar approaches taken in sectors such as the automotive, aerospace and space industries how to take that forward. The private sector has an important role to play in this but, as I say, it has been engaged throughout the refresh of the National Shipbuilding Strategy and is absolutely engaged on the vision contained in it.

It is also interesting to look at the definition of “shipbuilding enterprise” because it gives a good encapsulation of what we are talking about. For the purposes of the refresh:

“The term includes the design; build; integration; test and evaluation; repair; refit; conversion; and support of warships; commercial vessels; workboats; leisure vessels; systems and sub-systems.”


That is a huge range of activity, which, as I said earlier, reaches out right across the United Kingdom.

The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, asked about exports, which are an important component. As he is aware, in relation to the Type 26, we have had an export of design to Canada and Australia. It is important to acknowledge that this is an important departure from the old concept, where you designed a ship and built it so it was solely British and everything remained in the control of the British shipbuilder. The shipbuilding industry has recognised—Sir John Parker identified this back in 2019—that to have resilience and appeal to all sorts of markets, whether they are indigenous markets here or export markets abroad, we need to be able to create things that other people have an interest in acquiring. That is a really exciting development.

The Type 31 has already seen export success, with the announcement in September last year that Indonesia has selected the Arrowhead 140 design for its programme. The UK Government are working closely with Babcock on a number of other export opportunities for the Arrowhead 140; of course, the results of the Miecznik frigate programme in Poland were recently announced, so there is activity there. It is an exciting reflection of what shipbuilding is currently achieving and what the strategy recognises and can build on.

I referred to the defence funding settlement. Both the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, were interested in what lies ahead for defence. We have had the integrated review, the defence Command Paper and what most people regard as a very significant financial settlement for defence. We take nothing for granted. We live in the business of identifying and addressing threat. We have a very engaged Secretary of State who will, I am sure, be alert to how we do that and ensure that the funding is appropriate to whatever we need to deploy to address threat in future.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked whether the strategy is ambitious. Again, I was struck by a section in the document on our ambitions for the shipbuilding sector. I will not read it all out but, when I read through it, I felt as though I had had a good glass of gin—I felt uplifted. Look at the headings: “green technology”; “productivity”; “skills”; “autonomy” —developing a domestic regulatory framework for maritime autonomy so that we can lead the way on international maritime organisation—and “exports”. There are a lot of ambitions in here. Perhaps the more pertinent question is: how do we know that we are achieving them? Again, I will not bore your Lordships with the detail but there is a series of metrics which would be a useful device in measuring how we are getting on.

The noble Baroness asked particularly about Type 45s. The power improvement project has been applied to HMS “Dauntless”. She has moved into the test and commissioning phase of her programme. All three new diesel generators have been run. Initial load trials have been completed successfully, and that is a precursor to the rigorous trials programme in harbour before returning to sea later this year for sea trials.

HMS “Daring” has moved to Cammell Laird. It arrived there in September in readiness for commencement of her PIP conversion, which will be carried out during this year. This is a process whereby, as each ship is done, we learn. The other Type 45s will come in depending on operational activities and commitments. They are hugely capable, much-admired ships and are regarded as significant members of the Royal Navy fleet. I think that is a positive picture, and I am satisfied that there will be a good story to tell.

I hope that I have answered all the questions that the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, raised.

Defence: Type 45 Destroyers

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Wednesday 23rd February 2022

(4 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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Yes, as I have already indicated to my noble friend, the programme for the Type 45s is established, it is encouraging and the improvements will be made. As to the Type 26 frigates which are being produced in Glasgow, they will be muscular, they will be equipped with a Sea Ceptor anti-air missile defence system. They have been fitted with the Mark 41 vertical launch silo to allow future flexibility and they will also be capable of embarking a Merlin anti-submarine warfare helicopter or a Wildcat maritime attack helicopter, which will be able to apply Sea Venom and market variants of the future anti-surface guided weapon.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, the original PIP was supposed to refit between 2019 and 2021. The Minister for Defence Procurement then said the estimated date for the PIP to be completed was the mid-2020s; 2028, which the Minister mentioned earlier, is surely the late 2020s. Can she say whether she has any confidence in the figures that she has been given, and can she tell us how much of the £189 million budget for the PIP has been spent and whether she anticipates it going over budget?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I say to the noble Baroness that the programme is under way; it is scheduled, and the other Type 45s will be going in subject to their operational obligations and their availability for the refit. I think the noble Baroness should understand that the conversion is a complex engineering project. The noble Lord, Lord West, and I may disagree on many things, but I think we are both agreed on the technical complexity of this and it is being delivered against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic. There has been a significant challenge that has tested industry and it has impacted the schedule, but we continue to monitor and review the programme.

Ukraine: Military and Non-military Support

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Tuesday 25th January 2022

(5 months, 1 week ago)

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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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The noble Lord will understand that there has been a range of diplomatic and military engagement by the United Kingdom Government, not least by my right honourable friends the Secretary of State for Defence and the Foreign Secretary. As to whether that extends to speaking to the men—or, may I say, women—in the United Nations, I do not have specific information, but I can assure him that the widest possible diplomatic activity has been embarked upon.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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The noble Lord, Lord Walney, suggested that we should be thinking about direct support for Ukraine, but what support are we also giving to our allies in NATO, particularly in the Baltic states? We obviously have a presence in Estonia—are we increasing our support there? What conversations have Her Majesty’s Government had with Bulgaria and Romania, whose position in NATO has been challenged by Russia?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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Obviously, the noble Baroness will realise that the focus of attention at the moment is on the aggressive and unacceptable behaviour of President Putin in relation to a particular state: Ukraine. We continue as members of NATO to make our full contribution to the forward presence in the Baltic. That has been a very well received initiative which we continue to support.

Migrant Crossings: Role of the Military

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Thursday 20th January 2022

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Baroness Goldie Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Goldie) (Con)
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I am very proud to stand at this Dispatch Box once again on behalf of the MoD to say that, once again, the MoD is going to contribute to dealing with a crisis that has perplexed not just the Government and the Opposition but the public: the danger being encountered by migrants who seek to come to this country and have been enduring appalling experiences while trying to cross the channel. That is why the MoD’s primary role will be to ensure that all vessels transporting illegal migrants across the channel are intercepted before or as they land, preventing the uncontrolled arrival of migrants on UK shores. The Armed Forces will not be engaged in turnaround tactics.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, the Minister was asked if she could say where the ships were coming from. Could she answer that question and say whether the MoD will be funding this new activity or whether the Home Office will pick up the tab, and whether there are not also diplomatic routes to try to ensure that, instead of stopping boats landing, the boats never leave the departing shores?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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The noble Baroness makes an important series of points. She is right, for example, that the Home Office and the FCDO will continue the primary discussion with France on the diplomatic front. I reassure her that Defence has a very strong relationship with France, and we regularly speak to our counterparts on matters of mutual interest. Funding will be required for this, and the Ministry of Defence is currently computing costs with a view to informing discussions with the Treasury. On the assets, we are dealing with a domestic situation in largely indigenous waters, and therefore the capabilities that Defence makes available for this task will be assets already permanently assigned and committed to operations in home waters, including offshore patrol vessels, P2000s and RHIBs.

Ukraine: Military Equipment

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Monday 29th November 2021

(7 months, 1 week ago)

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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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My noble friend is quite right in that Operation Orbital was conceived and has been delivered as a training mission, again with the objective of building Ukraine’s military capacity. As I said earlier to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, this is part of a chain of events—and this is why we are moving on to assist Ukraine with acquiring other support for its military and naval capability. We wish to support an ally and a friend and partner, and make sure that we can use our expertise and skill to enable it to be stronger—that is what this composite package of measures is about.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, capacity building is obviously important, but last week the Daily Telegraph reported the defence intelligence chief of Ukraine as saying that there were 92,000 soldiers massing towards Ukraine’s borders. Can the UK Government really help capacity building to the extent that that can be offset? If not, as the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, said, can some other action not be taken so we can begin to look at diplomacy rather than military capacity building?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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Operation Orbital, the training arm of what the UK has been doing with Ukraine since 2015, has actually trained around 22,000 Ukrainian troops to date. Operation Orbital delivers tactically focused training to the Armed Forces, such as medical logistics, counter-improvised explosive device training and maritime and air domain training. We have other training initiatives as well. In addition, we support Ukraine in the defence reform space, and we do that with our allies, so a great deal of support is being given to Ukraine. We regret the attitude and posture adopted by Russia and urge it to de-escalate pressure and help to stabilise the region.

Army Restructuring: Future Soldier

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Thursday 25th November 2021

(7 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement and am glad we have gone back to having Statements repeated, rather than them being assumed to have been read. I have just come straight from the debate on genocide, led by the noble Lord, Lord Alton; I was trying to read the Statement during that debate, but it was such an important debate that it was quite difficult to read anything. It has been very helpful to hear the Minister, but this is also important to get a sense of the Chamber. When something is read out, you can see reactions.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, I pay tribute to our Armed Forces. Sadly, I was not in Westminster yesterday, so was not able to help welcome back those from Op Pitting, but obviously the whole nation pays tribute to our Armed Forces, everything they have done in that operation, and the many things done in the 18 months to two years in which we have been dealing with Covid.

As the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, pointed out, we are now using our Armed Forces very extensively, yet we seem to think we can have them ever reducing in size. I am a bit worried about this idea of the “future soldier”; I am hoping there will be more than one of them and that this is not a Matchbox idea of an identikit soldier, but rather a strange, generic name meaning the 73,000 personnel that I think we will have as full-time regulars.

I found the Statement extremely confusing, and I do not think it was the way the Minister read it or my inability to read the statistics at short notice. As the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, pointed out, we had a headline goal of 82,000 personnel, which was going to be reduced; at the moment, we are on only about 76,000 anyway. We are now told that another 500 soldiers means an increase to 73,000, but that is still fewer than we have at the moment, so will we see cuts or increases and is this anything more than hypothetical?

At one point, we were given the figure of over 100,000 personnel, including the reserves. Could the Minister clarify what assessment the Government have made about the actual number of personnel needed in an integrated force of regulars and reserves? What will the total target number be and is 500 actually an addition or not?

The second area where there is something a little misleading is the fact that one of the five points we are supposed to take away from this Statement is that there are benefits for the

“whole of our union, with an increased proportion of the Army based in each of the devolved nations”.

That sounds wonderful, but then you look at the detail and realise that that means a larger proportion of a smaller force, so that, with the exception of Wales, the devolved nations will have not actually more personnel serving but just a larger proportion. I am not sure that will feel like a real bonus in Scotland or Northern Ireland. Could the Minister explain how the devolved nations will actually benefit, in a tangible way?

Finally, on capabilities—sorry, it is not finally, I have two more points. On capabilities, the Statement says:

“We are resolving development issues with the, nonetheless technically capable, Ajax armoured reconnaissance vehicle.”


Can the Minister reassure us that this vehicle will ever come into service? Is it really fit for purpose?

My final point is that we have had the Armed Forces Bill going through this place. We are almost at the final stages, but we have talked a lot about AI. That is touched on in the report. Will there be enhanced training for our future soldiers in artificial intelligence and machine learning, and how will that be brought it into the reduced size of the Armed Forces?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, for their comments. A number of interesting points have been raised. I welcome the noble Lord’s acknowledgement of living in a world of new threats requiring new technologies and capabilities. That absolutely is what Future Soldier is all about. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, used the rather provocative phrase “identikit soldier”. No, this means the absolute opposite; it means a flexible, fluid, resilient force in which we need people of talent and of disparate attributes and qualifications, who will all be able to find a place.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked a number of specific questions, not least on redundancies. I can say to him that there will be no Armed Forces redundancies as part of any restructuring. He was also interested in the timing in relation to the 73,000. My information is that the reduction of the Army will take place over the next four years, so we aim to reach that figure by 2025.

The noble Lord also asked a question about bases. I have very detailed information about that, and it is, generally speaking, good news. It is a mixture of bases which will stay where they are—some that were threatened with closure have now been reprieved, while others have closure dates that have been deferred. The easiest thing I can offer to do is to write to the noble Lord, because there is a picture pan the UK, so I hope he will forgive me if I do that.

The noble Lord spoke in a slightly bilious tone about equipment. I look through a glass half full rather than a glass half empty, because there is a very good story to tell. With the new shape of the Army, we are recognising that innovation, technology and digital transformation all have a role to play. Part of it is recognising sunset capabilities, which will be phased out, but, as I mentioned when I repeated the Statement, there are really exciting prospects, whether with Boxer, the Challenger 3 version of the tank or some of our new technical innovations.

The noble Lord asked specifically about Ajax. That remains at the heart of the Army’s plans for a modernised fleet of armoured vehicles for the future. We are not underestimating the challenges which have emerged in the developmental stage, but that is not in any way to diminish the potential of what will be a hugely important addition to our capability. As the noble Lord knows, the MoD and General Dynamics are currently working on and committed to identifying the root causes of the noise and vibration issues, and want to deliver a safe solution. So, rather than being pessimistic about equipment, I think that we can be very optimistic. It is part of a conjunction: not only do we have to get the correct configuration of the Army but we have to make sure, as I said in repeating the Statement, that it has the equipment that it needs.

The noble Lord raised an important point about Covid support and the extent to which we have been deploying our Armed Forces—I think that we would all want to thank them for this—in responding to the challenge of Covid. They have made a vital contribution on behalf of the country to supporting us all as we come through this pandemic.

The noble Lord hit on a very important point. One of the most exciting features of this Statement is that at long last it not only gives the reservists recognition and definition but acknowledges that they are an essential part of a whole-force approach. The reservists can offer us additional skills, expertise and talents that we may not readily have to hand within our Regular Forces. The recognition that the reservists have a tremendous potential to support us in a lot of the resilience work—hence the new unit in York—is an important development on that front. So I wish to reassure the noble Lord that, far from depleting availability of resource, the new proposals augment and sustain that facility.

The noble Lord asked rather mischievously whether this was the last major Command Paper and whether we could expect another one. I am old enough and long enough in the tooth to say sagely that we do not know what is around the corner. We make decisions for the best of reasons at the times that we make them. These decisions are based on a robust assessment of what threats are and where we are in relation to responding to them in the world we live in, where we now have technologies that we did not dream of 10 years ago. I think that the noble Lord will understand that we are responding to that as a Government innovatively, imaginatively and positively, and this is a very positive development for the Army.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked about the 73,000 figure and the extra 500. I reassure her that these 500 people are not imaginary; they already exist. They are already budgeted for under our existing structures. They are people of particular skill and talent who have been identified and who can be deployed to these specific technical areas. Yes, inclusive of the reservists, we expect a total force of more than 100,000, and that is a very impressive capability.

The noble Baroness asked about benefits to the union and whether, at the end of the day, we are not giving the different countries within the union a rather poor deal if we are reducing the overall size of the cake. I absolutely disagree with that. I think, as we know, Wales in particular will see an increase. In Northern Ireland and certainly in Scotland, we will see a sustained commitment to the presence in those two parts of the United Kingdom, and that is very healthy. In the case of Scotland, we will see an additional unit, retention of premises that some people were very speculative about and thought would be closed—they are not going to be closed—and a major increase in the presence over and above the Army. In Scotland, if we take into account the submarine headquarters now based in Clyde, HM Naval Base Clyde, and the huge expansion at RAF Lossiemouth to accommodate Poseidon, which has been a big development, with the intention that Wedgetail will go there as well, we have an overall figure for regulars and reserves across the three forces of approximately 14,500 people. That is a very significant presence, and I know that it is a presence that is considered very positive by people in Scotland.

The noble Baroness asked basically whether the Army was fit for purpose. The answer is yes, but, without this, it might not have been. We will be able to field a fighting division in the future; we will be able to respond to our allies and supporters. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, raised a point in relation to NATO. He is quite correct: we will honour our obligations to NATO. It means that our Army will be better connected, faster and pound for pound more lethal than ever before. It will be integrated across domains with allies in NATO and beyond.

The noble Baroness’s final point was about artificial intelligence, and she had a pertinent question about whether we were sure we were getting the people in that we will need. That is a very relevant and important question. The answer is that we will continue to recruit great people—we have great people, but we will continue to recruit them. There is a need for a broader range of skills, including digital and cyber experts, so the Army will transform the way in which it identifies talent and how it trains its people. There will also be a step change in Army education and professional upskilling, all of which is relevant to what we are trying to do. As I said in the Statement, this is an investment in the human element of the Army, not just an investment in structure, buildings and equipment. We are investing in our people to give the Army the intellectual edge that it needs. I hope that that reassures the noble Baroness.

I think that I have dealt with the questions that were raised, but I shall look at Hansard and, if I have missed anything out, I shall undertake to write to the noble Lord and the noble Baroness.

Armed Forces Bill

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, from these Benches, I echo the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe. The amendments that have been brought forward all seem sensible and, as the Minister said, we owe a debt of gratitude to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee for looking in such detail at this legislation, as in so many cases, and particularly for being glad, as always, to have any changes made with affirmative assent rather than negative approval. There is little to add at this stage. We look forward to the Minister moving these amendments and then moving to other groups that might be a little more contentious.

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham. We are working with our stake- holders over the course of this year to develop the accompanying statutory guidance document. Their views are essential to ensure that the guidance is practical, useful and robust. We are also engaging with a wide range of stakeholders, including devolved Administrations, covenant partners across government, the Armed Forces community, local authorities, relevant ombudsmen and the service charity and welfare sectors. As I indicated, the Secretary of State is required to consult the devolved Administrations and other stakeholders whom he considers appropriate before the guidance can be published. Once it is, the document will remain subject to periodic update to ensure that it continues to remain up to date. I hope that answers the points that the noble Lord was interested in.

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Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, which I and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, have signed.

In the first group of amendments this evening, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, pointed out that she was the only female Peer speaking in that group. At that stage, I did not speak, not because I did not think it was important to speak on service justice but because we felt from these Benches that it was appropriate to have one person speaking, and that person was my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford. He is rather more expert on the military justice side of things than I am. I would like to add my support to tackling the range of issues that are faced by women in the military.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, pointed out that this is a probing amendment, but it is an important amendment because the report that was done for the House of Commons Defence Sub-Committee, brought forward by Sarah Atherton, was a very revealing one. I know that the Minister is aware of the report, not just from iterations in this Chamber but because, at some point during the Summer Recess, I happened to turn on “Woman’s Hour”, and I heard none other than the Minister and Sarah Atherton MP talking about the report.

These are issues of concern not only within the Armed Forces and the Palace of Westminster; they are issues that have traction much more broadly. They are important issues and, while it might not be necessary to include this amendment in the Bill, it is vital that the Government take notice of the issues that have been raised by serving female personnel and veterans.

As the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, pointed out, there is a set of issues that needs to be thought about. Bullying and harassment have no place in the Armed Forces. Some of the issues that have been revealed, as mentioned in the previous group of amendments by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, are actually very damaging to public understanding of the Armed Forces. We need to be very careful to make sure that, if discipline is not maintained and there are issues affecting people in the Armed Forces—particularly women—they are looked into. If the Minister is not able to accept the language of this amendment, we would be grateful if she would explain a little bit more about what the Ministry of Defence is doing to help bring about behavioural change.

Statements from the Secretary of State might be of interest, but the current Secretary of State seems to talk to the media an awful lot. Sometimes it feels as if he is rather shooting from the hip. It would be nice to know that some of these comments are actually based on practice and ways of effecting change. Can the Minister give us some comfort in this regard?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for tabling this amendment. He is quite right: it raises issues that all of us care about very deeply, as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, so eloquently described.

In essence, the amendment proposes a new clause requiring the Secretary of State to review whether an independent defence authority is desirable. It might be helpful to your Lordships if I try to set a little bit of context for this, and then try to address the specific questions that the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, raised.

First, we believe that the vision of a central defence authority, as it was foreseen in the Wigston review, is being delivered through the diversity and inclusion directorate. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, specifically raised this point, so let me try to address these issues and reassure him. Eleven out of the 12 Wigston recommendations relating to the authority have now been achieved. They have been delivered. Your Lordships may remember that Danuta Gray was ordered to carry out a progress assessment one year after the Wigston review to see how it was getting on. She is independent of the MoD, and she concluded that a new diversity and inclusion directorate would, in effect, fulfil the functions of a central defence authority.

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Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, I do not quite support this amendment but will speak in rather the same spirit as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. From the Liberal Democrat Front Bench, in Committee, I also spoke against raising the age of recruitment, but of course that is not what this amendment seeks to do.

The debate has focused on three issues: first, the age of recruitment, which is not formally the subject of this amendment; secondly, the question of the minimum term for service, which is, officially, what is in the amendment; and, thirdly, the issue of Harrogate, which has been discussed at some length. The noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, suggested that everyone spoke in laudatory terms about Harrogate in Committee; while the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, spoke in laudatory terms, I think the rest of us were very much looking forward to the Minister facilitating a visit, so that we could understand what happened at Harrogate a little better—although I think the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, might have visited.

There is clearly a need to separate three different issues here, one of which is how the current facility works. The sorts of cases that the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, mentioned clearly need to be looked into. It would be very helpful if the Minister could explain what the MoD is doing to investigate the sorts of cases that are currently hitting the headlines and reassure the House that appropriate action is being taken. That needs to be separate from whether or not we believe that the age of recruitment is actually right.

However, it is important to consider the age of recruitment and what happens to 16 and 17 year-olds when we look at what is in this amendment. It may be only a probing amendment, but it is nevertheless one where we need to look at what is actually understood by “service”. It is very clear that there is a difference in the language that is used by those who oppose recruitment at 16 and the arguments against child soldiers, for example, which seems to suggest that, somehow, 16 year- olds are being allowed to go off to the front line—they are not; you cannot go to the front line until you are 18, and then only if you have been trained.

What do the Government understand by “service”? Is it that 16 and 17 year-olds can be recruited and trained, but that somehow that does not count as service for the purposes of the minimum service requirement? If that is the case, could the Government make it very clear? If Harrogate, or whatever an appropriate equivalent might be, is about training, is it seen as an appropriate alternative to continuing education in school or a further education college, which, as some of us believe and as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, argued in Committee, can be very relevant for some 16 and 17 year-olds who want not to go back to mainstream education but to do something different? Clearly, if that is the case, what is happening for 16 and 17 year-olds needs to be appropriate.

All of us must surely agree with the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Russell, that we need to craft a recruitment policy fit for the 21st century and not the 19th century. Could the Minister reassure us that what is available is fit for the 21st century, and that what is happening at Harrogate has been investigated and we do not have anything to worry about? Can she explain to us the Government’s understanding of service that is accrued from the age of 16 to 18, inclusive?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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My Lords, I know that you are all waiting agog for my response to what has been a wide-ranging and very interesting debate, but I am required to make a correction in relation to our previous debate on Amendment 26. I have been informed that the process that I described is slightly different. The precise fees payable are made through both the affirmative and the negative resolution procedure, which is different from what I may have read out from the speaking notes. I am pleased to put that correction on the record.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Russell, for raising this issue, which is important and which we are all interested in. Clearly, some of your Lordships have concerns about it. As I said, it led to a very interesting debate. The essence of the amendment is that your Lordships are concerned that those who join the Armed Forces before their 18th birthday are obliged to serve longer than those who join after it.

Obviously, this is a bit of reprise of what I said in Committee, but I clarify that this is a matter not of length of service but of discharge. The statutory “discharge as of right” rules allow all new recruits, regardless of age, to discharge within their first three to six months of service, depending on their service, if they decide that the Armed Forces is not a career for them. In addition, service personnel have a statutory right to claim discharge up to their 18th birthday, subject to a maximum three-month cooling-off period. These rights are made clear to all on enlistment. Ultimately, all service personnel under the age of 18 have a statutory right to leave the Armed Forces up until their 18th birthday, without the liability to serve in the reserves, which would be the obligation on an adult aged over 18 who was leaving the services.

The noble Lord, Lord Russell, referred to a specific example, and I confess that I was not familiar with it. I understood that he referred to the RAF, but if he would care to write to me with the details, I will certainly look at that in detail.

The noble Lord, Lord Russell, was specifically concerned about the perceived unfairness to the under-18 group who serve longer than a new start of 18 years or over if they pursue a career in the Armed Forces. The noble Lord, Lord Browne, alluded to some extent to the letter I sent him in an endeavour to explain what these arrangements are about and the rationale behind them. I reiterate for the benefit of the Chamber that the policies in place covering the recruitment of young people below the age of 18 are designed carefully to be lawful, fair and fit for purpose, both for the individual and the service they volunteer to join.

The primary reason for the minimum period of service in the Army for those under 18 is that the Army must ensure that it maintains the right workforce levels to enable it to deploy personnel over the age of 18 on operations at home and abroad. Recruits under the age of 18 are not fully deployable on operations, and their notice period therefore runs from the point at which they become fully deployable alongside those who enlist after their 18th birthday. This minimum period of service for those under 18 also allows the Armed Forces to provide our young people with world-class training. It develops well-rounded junior personnel, both morally and conceptually, and, in turn, all this quite simply brings huge benefit to the individual, the Armed Forces and wider society. I feel that is positive and something that we should celebrate.

I acknowledge the recent reports of entirely unacceptable behaviour at the foundation college resulting in the conviction of an instructor, and the noble Lords, Lord Russell, Lord Browne and Lord Coaker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, referred to this. That is something we all deplore. It indicates to me that there is a system which works: that if somebody behaves absolutely unacceptably in a criminal fashion, they are dealt with within the system. I do not think we should be complacent about this in any way. I was as disturbed to read that report as anyone, but it suggested to me that there are systems in place.

I think the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, particularly sought reassurance about this. I want to reassure her and your Lordships that for under-18s any reports of bullying are taken extremely seriously, and tough action is taken against those who fall short of the Army’s high standards. The duty of care for all our recruits, particularly those aged under 18, is of the utmost importance, and we recognise the need to treat under-18s differently.

The Armed Forces foundation college—

Armed Forces Bill

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Monday 8th November 2021

(8 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, I support these amendments, to which I have added my name. As the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, pointed out, they very much draw on the House of Commons Defence Select Committee’s report. In a sense, that was a cross-party report. The signatories in this place come from the Labour and Liberal Democrat Benches, although of course Sarah Atherton, the MP for Wrexham, who was the force behind the report, is a Conservative. We potentially have cross-party and cross-Chamber support for a range of issues brought forward in these amendments.

If these amendments are not necessary, we would be delighted to hear the Minister say, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, invited her to do, that whatever the Secretary of State has been doing today in bringing the service chiefs together will somehow deal with all the issues. That would be fantastic, but the evidence seems rather concerning, to put it at its mildest. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, talked about the number of female service personnel and veterans who had come forward. The report also talks about delays in the complaints procedure. It says that the performance target for the Armed Forces is apparently that

“90% of service complaints should be resolved within 24 weeks. This target has not been met by any of the services in recent years, and the pandemic has increased delays in the system.”

Maybe the pandemic has made it even worse, but in 2020 only 24% of the complaints brought in the Royal Navy were dealt with within 24 weeks, although it had a much better record in previous years. In 2019, before the pandemic, the Army’s statistics were only 32%. Those figures seem entirely inappropriate.

Could the Minister tell the Committee what is being done to try to resolve the complaints system? It does not seem to be working at the moment. What is even more shocking, in addition to the delays, is that the people who have brought complaints have been extremely dissatisfied with the outcomes and the way they were kept informed about progress. What is going on? If the Minister and her team are unable to give the Committee good answers, these amendments seem the very minimum of the recommendations that came forward from HCDC that we would want to see in the Bill to ensure that the service complaints system is improved.

Noble and gallant Lords raised concerns about the chain of command under the Armed Forces federation proposals in an earlier amendment. I understand that. I do not think that anything in these amendments would undermine the chain of command, but there are suggestions in the House of Commons Defence Select Committee’s report and in Amendment 66B that say essentially that if service personnel bring cases against somebody in the chain of command, that has to be looked into. It is hugely important to acknowledge that the argument about the chain of command cannot be used in any way to negate the complaints that have been brought by service personnel, particularly women. I hope the Minister will take these amendments in the spirit in which they are brought, which is in no way to criticise the MoD specifically but to say that these issues need to be explored and that the service complaints procedures need to be speeded up if that is possible, which we hope it is.

I will say a brief word about Amendment 55, in case the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Houghton of Richmond, feels the need to say that we should not be talking down veterans or the experience. I do not believe that the intention of the previous set of amendments on universal credit was to say that there is particular problem and somehow veterans are coming out as being poorly treated; rather, it was to understand the situation for veterans. Again, the House of Commons Defence Committee report seems to suggest that there are some problems for women transitioning out of the Armed Forces that may be a little bit different from those experienced by the men. If we can understand the experience of veterans and have a report on that, we can try to improve the situation for all veterans.

These amendments are intended to be positive and constructive, and I hope the Minister takes them in that light.

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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One would think that one would get into a routine of “Off with the mask, slug of the water, stand at the Dispatch Box”, but it still comes as a ritual.

Amendments 53 to 55 and 66B in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and promoted so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, cover four strands: promoting flexible service, making binding the recommendations of the Service Complaints Ombudsman, monitoring the experience of veterans with protected characteristics, and considering whether to establish an independent defence authority. These are important amendments, and I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, that the Government understand that Members are trying to make constructive contributions.

The amendments concern a broad range of topics but, as has been identified, each is based on recommendations of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee report, Protecting Those Who Protect Us: Women in the Armed Forces from Recruitment to Civilian Life. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, was interested in what happened at the convened meeting of the Army Board this morning. I think he will understand that I am constrained in what I can say, because these proceedings are confidential. I hope he realises that the Secretary of State, his Ministers and the Army do want to be sure that they are proactive in addressing issues which, as noble Lords have indicated, can be upsetting when they surface in the media and can cause concern. Without being able to impart any specific details, I reassure your Lordships that this morning’s meeting was very constructive, with what I thought were some excellent suggestions coming forward.

I believe that the motive behind the amendments is driven by a subject which I am deeply passionate about and wholeheartedly supportive of: women in the Armed Forces and, indeed, women in defence. To that end, I want to say a few words about that Select Committee inquiry and to thank the committee for its thorough work and report. That work has been enhanced by the testimony of current and former servicewomen, whose experiences have greatly assisted the inquiry. Their courage and fortitude were not just admirable but inspiring, and I extend my thanks to all those women who came forward to such positive effect. I acknowledge that, on too many occasions in the past, Defence has failed to provide women with adequate support. It will not surprise your Lordships to hear me say that.

We have examined the Defence Committee’s report in minute detail. We want to use it to build on our improvements and to ensure that our response is substantial and informed. We recognise that the lived experience for many women is not yet good enough, and this has to change.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, rightly identified the report as pivotal. I assure the Committee that the Secretary of State is absolutely committed to delivering against its findings. Indeed, he intends to go further. The Secretary of State has personally discussed the initial draft of our response to the report with members of the servicewomen’s networks, and this has led to additional work.

I know that your Lordships are keen to see a response to the Defence Committee’s report and I acknowledge that it is taking a little longer than expected, but that is for good reason. The Secretary of State has kept the inquiry chairwoman, Sarah Atherton, fully informed. She is in the picture. I think that we all agree that we would much rather produce something meaningful and substantial that provides hope and concrete direction for the way forward than just cobble together something to produce it within a time limit.

Defence Ministers and service chiefs are adamant that the important issues in the report are addressed comprehensively and that no opportunity is missed to bring about meaningful and enduring change. We are all taking an active role in ensuring that our response to the report is comprehensive and well informed to deliver positive outcomes. We are in the process of finalising that and anticipate submitting our response “in due course”, as it says here. I say to your Lordships to read that as “sooner rather later”.

I wish to be clear that many changes have already been introduced to improve the experience for women in the Armed Forces and military service remains a fantastic career opportunity for men and women alike. It is important to remind your Lordships that nearly 90% of the women giving evidence to the committee would recommend a career in the Armed Forces to female relatives and friends. We should not underestimate the importance of that. Yes, there are matters to be addressed. Yes, there are improvements to be made. Yes, there were areas overdue for investigation, for being addressed and for being rectified. But that sort of testament shows that many women have confidence in a career in the Armed Forces. We are delighted about that and proud of it. We owe it to them and everyone else in the Armed Forces to make sure that the response to this report has clout and impact.

Before speaking to Amendment 53, I first remind this Committee that the Armed Forces launched flexible service on 1 April 2019. The policy allows all regular personnel to apply to serve part-time and/or to restrict the amount of time that they are away from the home base, for a temporary period, subject to defence need. Flexible service is part of a suite of flexible working opportunities that we offer our people, which include remote working, variable start and finish times and compressed working. Between its introduction in April 2019 and September 2021, more than 355 service personnel and their families have benefited from flexible service. This level of uptake is in line both with the MoD’s forecast and with the experience of other nations’ Armed Forces that have introduced similar measures. Defence is ensuring that as many service personnel as possible can benefit from these measures by keeping flexible service under constant review.

We have an ongoing communications campaign aimed at encouraging uptake and improving awareness of flexible service and the wider flexible working opportunities that it offers its people. For example, this autumn, Defence is releasing a series of podcasts that explore service personnel’s experience of flexible working. On completion, the campaign’s impacts will be evaluated to inform communications for 2022.

Our previous communications have led to a high awareness of flexible service. The Armed Forces continuous attitude survey for 2021 shows that 82% of service personnel have heard of the policy. Notable campaigns have included video case studies of service personnel on flexible service in summer 2020, which attracted over 270,000 impressions on social media and nearly 10,000 engagements, and promoting Defence’s full flexible working offer to the Armed Forces through a digital booklet Flexible Working and You: A Guide for Service Personnel, which was published in January 2021. The booklet was viewed 17,000 times on the GOV.UK website and 12,850 copies were distributed to Armed Forces information centres and military units during June and July this year.

Ownership and development of flexible service policy is overseen by the Minister for Defence People and Veterans and, as such, he, too, is committed to ensuring that all service personnel can benefit from the policy. Defence already has several initiatives in place to measure and report on its awareness and uptake. These include annual reporting of flexible service’s developments, uptake and usage in the Armed Forces continuous attitude survey’s background quality reports.

Armed Forces Bill

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Tuesday 2nd November 2021

(8 months, 1 week ago)

Grand Committee
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Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, I support both amendments. I added my name to Amendment 49; it was merely an omission not to have added my name to Amendment 63 since both amendments, as we have heard, are important. At Second Reading, I spoke about the situation with the Gurkhas; my only experience of them is visiting once while on the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme, so I have no interest to declare in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, has.

However, like other noble Lords, I am deeply aware of the importance of the Gurkhas and the service they give. We need to think what signals we send if we say, “You can work with us; you can put your life on the line and die for us. But if you wish to have indefinite leave to remain, we will charge you huge sums of money, as if you were simply coming as a third-country national with no relationship to our country.” People who have been serving with us, such as the Gurkhas and Commonwealth citizens working within our Armed Forces, should be given the opportunity to have indefinite leave to remain on an at-cost basis, as we ourselves would when we sign up for a passport. We do not get our passports free but we pay the cost.

Earlier on, the Minister suggested that the MoD has certain duties, but this is not currently a duty. The MoD and the Home Office could do something relatively straightforward about this and make a huge difference in the message that we send to service personnel from Commonwealth countries.

Finally, I add a word in support of the comments of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, about Hong Kong. This is partly because my noble friend Lord Alton of Liverpool was hoping to speak on this amendment in support of the service personnel from Hong Kong; he sat through the first group and most of our next debate but has had to leave for another meeting. It is very important that we think again about the commitments to Hong Kong. As the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, said, it is slightly an issue of history and timing that the withdrawal from Afghanistan has happened in the middle of the passage of the Bill, and it sends certain messages. However, that withdrawal and the situation in Hong Kong again mean that we have certain duties. It would behove the MoD and the Home Office to look generously also on service personnel from Hong Kong.

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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My Lords, I thank your Lordships for their contributions on an issue that might look fairly contained but is, none the less, important. I will look first at Amendment 49, on fees for indefinite leave to remain, which was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and supported by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham. I make clear immediately that the Government highly value the service of all members of the Armed Forces, including Commonwealth nationals, and Gurkhas from Nepal, who have a long and distinguished history of service to the UK, both here and overseas.

Your Lordships will be aware that the Home Office, not the MoD, has a specific set of Immigration Rules for Armed Forces personnel and their dependants, the Appendix Armed Forces. Under these rules, non-UK service personnel enlisted in the regular Armed Forces, including Commonwealth citizens, and Gurkhas from Nepal, are granted an exemption from immigration status for the duration of their service to allow them to come and go without restriction. They are therefore free from any requirements to make visa applications or pay any fees while they serve, unlike almost every other category of migrant coming to work in the UK.

Non-UK service personnel who have served at least four years or been medically discharged as a result of their service can choose to settle in the UK after their service and pay the relevant fee. As my noble friend Lord Lancaster indicated, the time before discharge when such settlement applications can be submitted has been extended this year from 10 to 18 weeks. Those applying for themselves do not have to meet an income requirement, be sponsored by an employer or meet any requirements regarding their skills or knowledge of the English language or of life in the UK. That again puts them in a favourable position compared with other migrants wishing to settle here.

The noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, asked specifically about the situation of Afghan interpreters and sought to draw an analogy between them and the group that we are discussing under these amendments. ARAP and the ex-gratia scheme before it were set up in recognition of something very simple: the serious and immediate danger locally engaged staff would face, were they to remain in Afghanistan. The unique and perilous situation that this group of Afghans faced, because of their support for Her Majesty’s Government, required a bespoke solution to meet that immediate and extreme need.

I can tell the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, that specific Immigration Rules are already in place for our non-UK service personnel and veterans, as I have outlined, to ensure that those who choose to can remain in the UK after service. Some choose to take up that offer, while others return to their original nation, but that personal choice is not overshadowed by risk of persecution or even death, such as would be faced by Afghan citizens if they returned to Afghanistan.

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Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, I rise briefly merely to add the support of the Liberal Democrat Benches to the three amendments. I completely understand that, if there are discussions between the Home Office, the MoD and the noble Lords, Lord Lexden and Lord Cashman, about Amendments 57 and 58, I will take that as read and assume that we do not need to discuss them further at this stage. Obviously, we on these Benches support the amendments.

As the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, said in his opening remarks, there is a set of issues that we clearly still need to think and talk about, and injustices that need to be righted. So, while Amendments 57 and 58 may not come back to us, I assume that the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, will come back in some form. We will support it.

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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My Lords, this may have been a short debate but I do not think that any of us can doubt the passion and commitment that have been evident in the contributing speeches.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for moving Amendment 50 and the noble Lords, Lord Cashman and Lord Lexden, for tabling Amendments 57 and 58. All three amendments have undoubtedly been tabled with deep compassion and humanity, with the intent of righting a past wrong. They are all concerned about the historical effect of the criminalisation of homosexual behaviour in the Armed Forces. As the Minister in the defence department responsible for diversity and inclusion, I feel a personal commitment to deliver improvement; I say that in a manner that I hope reassures noble Lords.

Amendment 50 seeks to place an obligation on the defence department to commission a comprehensive report on the number of service personnel who were dismissed, discharged or charged with disciplinary offences due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, and to make recommendations for compensation and restoration. I am pleased to remind the Committee that the Government accept entirely that the historical policy prohibiting homosexuality in the Armed Forces was absolutely wrong. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, is right: there is a sense of shame. We recognise this and are looking, where appropriate, to address the historical injustice suffered by members of the LGBT+ community as a consequence.

Our priority is effectively to look at what the Government can do to better understand the impact of pre-2000 practices on LGBT+ veterans and swiftly put in place a series of steps to address past wrongs. We acknowledge that many individuals, including the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, would like to understand how many people were affected by past practices. This is not a straightforward task. I must say, focusing solely on it would detract from our primary goal of righting historical failures, which is what we are engaged in doing and, I hope, what the Bill reflects.

While we agree that identifying how many people were affected has value, this must not overtake our efforts to find further tangible ways to do right by those who were treated unjustly. We therefore resist the amendment because it will constrain the work already under way now. Having said that, the MoD is working at pace to identify the cohort of individuals affected due to this policy. This will not be a quick process; it will take time.

We are also investigating historical records to see whether we can establish members of the Armed Forces who were encouraged to leave the Armed Forces due to their sexual orientation and gender identity. However, this latter cohort, as your Lordships will understand, will be much harder to identify, given that their personal files may not explicitly link their departure to their sexual orientation and gender identity.

In February this year, we announced the restoration of military medals to Armed Forces personnel discharged on the basis of their sexuality. Since February, we have received a number of applications in response to that well-publicised announcement. These are being actively considered.

On the scope of current legal disregards, as the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, indicated, the Home Office and the MoD are working together to consider whether any further services offences can be brought within the scope of the disregards scheme. The current legislation—the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012—is very specific as to the offences that can be considered for a disregard, with the scope being limited to offences that have since been abolished or repealed and that criminalised homosexual activity. I am sure that many of your Lordships will be aware that our decision to address this issue has drawn the support of organisations such as Fighting With Pride and Stonewall, and we continue to engage with these and other stakeholders as we work together to make it clear that the military is a positive place to work for all who choose to serve.

As noble Lords have heard, there is a significant amount of cross-government activity, which includes, but is not limited to, working with the Cabinet Office, the Office for Veterans’ Affairs, the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office. I thank the noble Lord for attending the meetings, which I attended with my colleague and noble friend Lady Williams of Trafford. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, is reassured by what I have been able to say today, and will agree to withdraw his amendment.

As we know, Amendments 57 and 58 seek to extend the disregard and pardon schemes to include all service discipline offences, whether repealed or not, for which gay service personnel were convicted or cautioned. They also seek, where applicable, to provide posthumous pardons to deceased service personnel. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, for indicating that he will not press these amendments. As I just said, on the scope of current legal disregards and pardons, the Home Office and the MoD are working together to consider whether any further services offences can be brought within the scope of these schemes.

There is a significant amount of cross-government activity to resolve the issue of historic hurt. As the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, indicated, we are already in conversation with him—as well as with the Home Office and Professor Paul Johnson of York University—to find the best course of action to implement the necessary legislation to address this issue. It is complex; there are technical complications in understanding which Acts apply and how we must draft remedial provisions. We must be mindful to mitigate the potential risks that a whole-scale adoption of these amendments in both this Bill and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill may cause.

This will not be a straightforward task. We need to continue to develop cross-departmental policy and correctly identify the approach to be taken. We therefore resist the amendment because this Bill is not the most suitable place to make these amendments; rather, the proper legislative vehicle is the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, where the scheme can be properly and effectively extended and managed. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, will have gathered from the attitude of my noble friend Lady Williams of Trafford that he has a very willing pair of hands prepared to look at all aspects of this.

I remind noble Lords that Clause 18 of this Bill seeks to amend the pardons scheme to ensure that those who served in the Army and the Royal Marines before 1881 and were convicted of now-abolished service offences are posthumously pardoned. I suggest that these actions demonstrate the full commitment made by this Government to rectifying what I earlier called the shameful and wrongful treatment of those who have served. I therefore assure the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, and my noble friend Lord Lexden, that the Government are determined to redress this historic slight—“slight” seems an inadequate word; I think it is an historic injustice—against our brave and loyal servicepersons.

I hope that your Lordships have taken comfort from what I have said today: that far-reaching and consequential work is going on in this area. Naturally, the outcome of this work will never truly replace the hurt suffered by those affected. However, I hope that it will provide a degree of recompense and demonstrate that this House, this Government and this nation stand resolutely and proudly with both former and serving members of the Armed Forces who are drawn from across the LGBT+ community.

For these reasons, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, will agree to withdraw his amendment.

Autonomous Weapons Systems

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Monday 1st November 2021

(8 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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It is not possible to transfer accountability to a machine. Human responsibility for the use of a system to achieve an effect cannot be removed, irrespective of the level of autonomy in that system or the use of enabling technologies such as AI.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, I have been listening closely to the Minister and I am still not quite sure whether she has said that the Government will unequivocally state that no autonomous drone or other AI could take a life, and that every decision would have to have human engagement. Can she confirm that that is the case? I declare an interest as an officer of the APPG on Drones and Modern Conflict.

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I simply repeat to the noble Baroness what I said to my noble friend Lord Lancaster: that UK Armed Forces do not use systems that employ lethal force without context-appropriate human involvement.

Armed Forces Bill

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, I shall be extremely brief because we have had contributions from all parts of the House—Labour, Liberal Democrat, Conservative and Cross Bench—supporting this amendment. I should be very grateful if the Minister answered the question I asked at Second Reading, which was:

“What assessment have the Government made of creating a duty for themselves to pay due regard to the Armed Forces covenant?”—[Official Report, 7/9/21; col. 766.]


Has the Minister had a chance to think about that so far? If not, would the Government like to think about it ahead of Report?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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My Lords, again this has been a fascinating debate and I arise with trepidation when one of the contributors is my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern. A number of significant points have been made and I will try to address them as best I can.

Amendment 9, as has been discussed, centres on the desire to make central government departments subject to the duty of due regard. Again, to provide some context, we designed the new duty to initially focus on the three core functions of healthcare, education and housing because, as I indicated in debating a previous amendment, these are prominent among the concerns of both Armed Forces personnel in service and veterans. They not only reflect issues that are already in statute, but also address the most commonly raised issues affecting the day-to-day lives of our Armed Forces community.

As our Armed Forces are a very mobile population, frequently moving from local authority to local authority, it is often the variation of service delivery across local areas that can inadvertently cause disadvantage. Consequently, it is vital that those delivering these key public services are sufficiently aware of the challenges faced by the Armed Forces community when accessing these services. It is right that we look at this area first.

We also took into account that central Government are responsible for the overall strategic direction for national policy and for delivering on the manifesto on which they were elected. However, the responsibility for the delivery of these functions and their impact rests at more local level. I would argue that Governments are answerable, ultimately, to an electorate when a general election comes round and, before that point, they are most certainly accountable to Parliament, and that is an accountability no Government would ever take lightly.

Senior engagement regularly takes place between the MoD, the Cabinet Office, other government departments and the devolved Administrations to drive an increase in covenant awareness across national healthcare, and housing and education policy to improve the lives of the Armed Forces community. Additionally, the Government’s delivery of the covenant is, as we all know, subject to parliamentary scrutiny through the existing annual legal obligation to report progress delivering the covenant across the UK to Parliament. This is in addition to regular parliamentary scrutiny through other channels, such as Parliamentary Questions, reviews by the House of Commons Defence Select Committee and debates called by Members with a particular interest in certain aspects of defence.

My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern raised in support of his argument the certainly interesting event that occurred during the first Gulf War. As he explained, in anticipation that troops might be exposed to gas issues and had to be protected against that, protective equipment was handed out. As he indicated, people then suffered from a neurological type of disease on their return and tried to identify where it had come from. As my noble and learned friend said, they had not actually been exposed to any toxic gas, so the suspicion was that it was from the protective equipment. He adduced this instance in support of his argument that central government should be brought in.

I have two observations on that analogy. The emphasis on what the Government are doing in this Bill and what we have endeavoured to make possible is, first, to give the covenant a statutory impact, which is innovatory and very important; and secondly, to try to make it much clearer across the United Kingdom, for the whole panoply of services being delivered in respect of housing, education and health, how there needs to be greater awareness and understanding, and a much more universal approach to delivering these services to personnel who may be in service in the Armed Forces or veterans. That is about ensuring that, when they need services, they can access them.

The question that my noble and learned friend poses about the instance that he describes, with the reference to the first Gulf War and the particular situation that developed there, is a legitimate illustration to give the Committee. I accept that that was a serious situation, but the question running through my mind as he spoke was that surely the important thing there was remedy. This is not about people needing something, not being able to get it, and making sure that the providers of that service are much more alert to providing it; it is about a situation where, under orders of government, Armed Forces were sent abroad and then apparently—I do not know the facts myself—experienced neurological disorders when they returned, and considered that was attributable to protective equipment that was defective, with which they had been issued.

That is not a complete analogy with what the Bill is trying to do. If you ask what solution was needed, the answer, quite simply, is that those people who suffered in that way needed to be given advice and helped, and needed to find a legal solution, if that was what was available to them. I do not know what happened to that particular group of people, but I imagine that the first thing they needed was medical support, which I hope that they got. I imagine that, within the Armed Forces, there would be a concern about the manifestation of that situation and a desire to support, but the bottom line is that, if the culpable body were the Government and the MoD, if these individuals sought and obtained good legal advice the MoD would find itself, quite properly, the subject of litigation. That is how the solution would be sought. If the court was satisfied that the negligence alleged by those who had suffered was proved, remedies would follow.

I say with the greatest respect to my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay that I absolutely understand what he is driving at, but I still do not see a complete dovetail analogy with what we seek to deliver through the Bill. The situation that my noble and learned friend outlines is serious. It may very well happen in future, but the MoD is very vigilant and conscious that if it falls down on its duty to its own people it will expect to be sued—and it is. Not only is it sued and expected to provide redress but support is given to people who find themselves in that grouping. Including central government in the Bill is unnecessary. The Government are already subject to a legal obligation to report on the delivery of the covenant, and there are many and sufficient levels of public scrutiny.

Let us bear in mind that the Bill is about trying to improve the levels of awareness across the United Kingdom and a better and more universal provision of essential services for those members of our Armed Forces and veterans who need them. My problem with the amendment is that, were it accepted, we would create an obligation on central government. We cannot impose a comparable obligation on devolved Governments because that would be incompetent and not within the scope of the Bill. We would then once again create disparity rather than universality across the United Kingdom. We would have central government bound in one way but not devolved Administrations. That is not a desirable outcome.

I am not at all immune to the importance of the arguments advanced by my noble and learned friend. He makes an important point. The situation to which he refers was grave. I suggest that that can be addressed by existing means. It does not need the inclusion of central government in the covenant, which, indeed, would not necessarily have prevented the problem. The question is: how do we provide a remedy to people who have been affected by such an unfortunate development? My response would be: by providing support. Advice is available—legal advice if that is required—for people to follow through the remedies they seek. It is not necessary to bring central government into the legislation. It is much more important that we focus on what we are trying to do as a first step, make sure we get that working properly and then, as we have been discussing, consider whether there is a need to expand that provision of duty.

I am unable to agree that this amendment is either necessary or would help the situation; it could create a difficulty where one does not currently exist. In those circumstances, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I am very grateful to my noble and learned friend for expanding that further. I understand the point he is trying to make. I was making a distinction between areas where, if the MoD was culpable, it could expect a claim of negligence. My noble and learned friend outlines a situation where something happens and maybe no negligence can be established but people suffer. In that event, we would want to do two things: we would want to find out what happened and provide help to those affected. But is it not the case that the covenant already provides a route for question and accountability of the Government to Parliament? The annual report could be presented and Parliament could say, “We absolutely dismiss that report”, and ask why it has made no reference to the situation of the type my noble and learned friend referred to. I argue that there is accountability and, separate issues flowing from that, our support and solutions for those affected, but these could be provided in other ways. They do not require a covenant to secure that.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness’s thinking has not necessary moved on very much from Second Reading, when she said

“I would say that government is held to account by Parliament and the purpose of the covenant duty is to raise awareness among providers of these public services”.—[Official Report, 7/9/21; col. 770.]

Parliament can and should hold the Government to account but, if the legal duty to have due regard is put only on local authorities and certain other providers and not on the Government, yes, we can ask questions but we cannot actually hold the Government legally accountable. The points the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, made are surely right: if we want to think about aspects that go beyond the duties to local authorities, that duty needs to put on to central government, not just local government.

The Minister suggested there might be a problem that we as Parliament or Her Majesty’s Government cannot put duties on the devolved Administrations. Surely that is precisely because defence is a reserved matter so, if we are putting a duty on to anybody, apart from local authorities and local health authorities, it ought to be on to central government, not on to the Governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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With the greatest respect, that might seem a tempting analysis of the situation, but the bottom line is that an inequity and disparity would be immediately introduced in the United Kingdom, because a Government would be bound and other devolved Governments would not be. That is profoundly undesirable.

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Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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I have nothing to add.

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for tabling this amendment, and I understand his motivation for doing so. I want to develop this a little further because he has raised some interesting arguments. He has described how the amendment seeks to give the Secretary of State for Defence the power to amend the scope of the Veterans Advisory and Pensions Committees’ statutory functions by regulations in the future.

My noble friend has described extensively what the VAPCs do across the UK. They are established under the Social Security Act 1989, with their functions set out in the War Pensions Committees Regulations 2000. Indeed, they used to be known as War Pensions Committees and their original role was expressly to raise awareness of the War Pension Scheme and latterly, the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme, and to make representations to the MoD on behalf of recipients. For that reason, the enabling Act for the VAPCs, the Social Security Act, sets out that their statutory functions are limited to the cohort of veterans and their families who are claiming for or in receipt of one of the two compensation schemes. It is that limitation that my noble friend’s amendment seeks to remedy.

In practice, as my noble friend knows—he alluded to this—members of the VAPCs have for many years performed activities that go above and beyond that scope. For example, many members have taken on a role promoting the Armed Forces covenant locally to all those who might have an interest in it. They have done that on a non-statutory basis and there have been no substantive issues with them doing so. I therefore suggest that in this respect my noble friend’s amendment is not necessary to achieve the outcome that he seeks.

However, there is a desire on all sides for greater clarity on the role that VAPCs have. My honourable friend the Minister for Defence People and Veterans joined a conference with the VAPCs yesterday and confirmed that he had signed off on a new set of terms of reference agreed by both the VAPC chairs and officials in the MoD and the Office for Veterans’ Affairs. The terms set out two new specific principles: first, to set out the activities that members of VAPCs as individuals and as members of informal regional groups are asked to carry out relating to all veterans and their families and, secondly, to provide direction relating to their performance for an initial period of 12 months beginning from 26 October, in order that we give the chairs a sensible period of time to adopt the new terms of reference and show how they can deliver against them. Following that initial 12-month period, the Minister for Defence People and Veterans will review the terms of reference and performance against the activities set out and will then make a determination on the next steps.

I say to my noble friend that the Government have a clear way forward over the next 12 months that has been agreed with the VAPCs themselves. We want to give them the chance to perform under the new terms of reference before we take any decisions about their longer-term future. We want to use the next 12 months to gather the evidence that we need to take an informed decision.

That is why I feel that my noble friend’s amendment is premature at this stage. To pass it now would put the cart before the horse. It would give the Secretary of State a power that we do not yet know if he would need or use. It would pre-empt the outcome of our work over the next 12 months and would imply that a change to the VAPCs’ statutory role was required when we have not yet actually come to any decision about that. It would provide only for a specific and rather limited adjustment to their statutory role when we might instead wish to consider more fundamental changes.

France: AUKUS

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Tuesday 19th October 2021

(8 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I simply respond to the noble Lord by observing that the instigator of this new arrangement was actually Australia: it was Australia that decided that it wished to change its model of submarine. That is why it approached both the United Kingdom and the United States. As the noble Lord will understand, there are clearly issues of profound commercial sensitivity inherent within that, and that inhibited our ability to be more public or widespread in our consultations.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, when the Minister repeated the Prime Minister’s Statement on AUKUS in September, I asked what conversations the Prime Minister had had with President Macron before the announcement; answer came there none. Can the Minister please tell the House whether the Prime Minister and the Government understand the importance of the UK’s relations with France, that it remains our closest neighbour and that we should be working much more effectively to ensure that our bilateral relations and our relations within NATO are secure, because that is where our security lies?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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The noble Baroness is correct about our relationship with NATO and the significance of NATO to Euro-Atlantic security; I entirely agree with that assessment. She is also correct that France is a very important partner and ally, as I indicated to the noble Lord, Lord Liddle; nobody disputes that. We continue to engage and consult at macro level. We have shared common interests, and they are best prosecuted when we work together on them. That is our agenda and our endeavour, and I am absolutely certain that it is also the French objective.

Royal Navy: Ships and Frigates

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Thursday 14th October 2021

(8 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I know that the noble Lord and I can have our civilised and courteous differences of opinion, but I am absolutely at one with the sentiments which he expresses. I see at first hand exactly what the MoD means to the union, not least Scotland. I also see the significant contribution made by the union to the MoD. It is a mutually beneficial relationship. The security of the United Kingdom would be gravely prejudiced if Scotland were to leave and that union were fractured. I hope it never will be.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, also coming from Benches where we support the union, I ask the Minister: how many jobs does she think might be secured in shipbuilding as a result of AUKUS? Does the Minister think there will be sufficient members of the Navy to man the new ships, if and when they are built? I assume the noble Lord, Lord West, will not be available to captain them.

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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If I may answer the last part of the noble Baroness’s question first: yes, there will be. That is a logistical calculation that we constantly make and review. We are going to have people to man these ships—disappointed though I shall be not to see the heroic form of the noble Lord, Lord West, at the helm of something that is floating.

Afghanistan: British Equipment and Training

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Thursday 16th September 2021

(9 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I do not share the noble Lord’s analysis, and I do not share his conclusion based on his analysis. As I said earlier, a very small amount of equipment was left behind. Some of that was gifted to partner nations and therefore is under their control. Anything else that was left—and it was a very small amount—was of no military use whatsoever.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, the Question on the Order Paper refers to British-trained soldiers who might have defected to the Taliban. Can I ask the noble Baroness about those trained by the United Kingdom who might now be in hiding? Operation Pitting was very effective, but there are still many people in hiding. What is the MoD doing to expedite their extradition?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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The noble Baroness raises an important point. As she will be aware, we have made it clear that ARAP extends to all who worked with us. It is a scheme without a time limit, and we invite people to continue applying. In so far as British nationals are concerned, we have endeavoured to find where they are and maintain contact with them. We are doing our level best to support that. As the noble Baroness will understand, this is a difficult situation. The advice we have given to anyone wanting to try and get out who is either a British national or eligible under ARAP is to try and make their way to a neighbouring country. That is the best advice we can give. I reassure the House that we are supporting that advice by providing additional staff in neighbouring countries.

AUKUS

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Thursday 16th September 2021

(9 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, my welcome to the AUKUS announcement is possibly slightly more muted than that of the other noble Baroness, Lady Smith. Clearly, co-operation with the United States and Australia is important and, as the Statement said, clearly this is supposed to be part of global Britain and the tilt to the Indo-Pacific. However, could the Minister explain to the House how security concerns in the Indo-Pacific are more relevant and important to the United Kingdom than security concerns in our own region? We need to pay particular attention to the question of our relationship with our European partners, in particular with France. Could the Minister tell the House what conversations the Prime Minister might have had with President Macron, or what conversations the Foreign Secretary—if there was one in post at the right time—might have had with the French Foreign Minister ahead of this announcement?

Clearly, the response from the other side of the channel has been one of deep frustration. While on a business level it might be entirely appropriate for us to work with the Australians to deliver the nuclear-powered submarines that they apparently want, if that means that we are damaging our long-standing and vital relationship with France, that is somewhat unfortunate. We might have left the European Union and changed some of our relationships with our European partners, but that does not change our own fundamental security concerns and questions. As the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, said, our other traditional alliances are important. Did the Government take them into consideration when making this announcement?

Beyond that, clearly it is important to look at our defence industry. I realise that the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, might raise her hands or look up in horror but I attended DSEI this week, where I had the opportunity to talk to some British businesses which are indeed absolutely passionate about being able to export. They are small and medium-sized enterprises for whom the opportunity to work with allies, whether from Europe, the USA and Australia, is important. I therefore pay tribute to those companies. In the original Statement the Prime Minister mentioned them; have the Government thought through how supply chain issues and working with SMEs might be supported by the initiative announced last night? Clearly, there are some areas where there are opportunities.

I have a final point of concern. The American approach to leaving Afghanistan left the United Kingdom unable to look after some of the people we might have wanted to repatriate. It seemed rather redolent of Suez, when we could not rely on the United States or the Commonwealth and we were closest to France. How has the world changed so that AUKUS is now the right answer to British security concerns?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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My Lords, I thank both noble Baronesses, Lady Smith, for their contributions—it is a pleasure to address both of them. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, that my noble friend Lady Evans is extremely sorry not to be here. She found it difficult to avoid an impossible diary conflict between times suitable for the usual channels and times suitable for the House. I realise that I am a very inadequate and poor substitute but I am pleased to be standing here with pride on behalf of the Government—or at least just now, which is the relevant phrase at the moment. I shall do my best to respond to the points raised.

First, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, for her welcome of the development. I think that, universally, this has been regarded as a positive development, for the United Kingdom, for the Indo-Pacific area and for our relationships, particularly with Australia, the United States and, of course, our regional partners in the area.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, asked me what this agreement means in practice, and I will do my best to slightly fill that out. It will strengthen our collective ability to ensure our security and defence interests. We will enhance the development of joint capabilities and technology sharing and will foster deeper integration of security and defence-related science, technology, industrial bases and supply chains, which I know the noble Baroness was concerned about. I can say that it was also anticipated that AUKUS—as a Scot, I keep thinking of, “Och, it’s great—it’ll be fine” but I know that is somewhat unclear for this Chamber. I can say that it will promote a significant increase in other aspects of Australia-UK-US defence collaboration, with early focus on artificial intelligence, cyber capabilities, quantum computing and additional undersea capabilities. This could create hundreds of additional highly skilled scientific and engineering roles across the UK and secure further investment in some of our most high-tech sectors. That was an area in which, rightly, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, expressed an interest.

The noble Baroness also raised our relationship with China and indicated that she felt there was a perception that there could be a conflict between our diplomatic and defence strategies. I humbly suggest that that is not the case, and it is important that we put all this in context. Yes, this is about the long-standing and deepening defence and security relationship between the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States. Both are trusted allies that share our vision of the world and the international order in which free societies can flourish, and Australia has one of the largest maritime domains in the world. However, that is not exclusive of or inimical to a good or a positive relationship with China. We have been very clear that we want our relationship with China to be mature, positive and based on mutual respect and trust. I suggest to the Chamber that there is considerable scope for constructive engagement and co-operation but, importantly, as we strive for that positive relationship, we will not sacrifice either our values or our security. So, on the one hand we have a defence partnership that we are discussing this afternoon, which is positive and helpful to the geopolitical character of the Indo-Pacific but, on the other, we recognise that China is an important member of the international community. Its size, rising economic power and influence make it an important partner in tackling the biggest global challenges, and this provides enormous scope for positive, constructive engagement. However, as I say, where we have concerns, we raise them, and where we need to intervene, we will do so.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, asked how this will help us to influence affairs in the Indo-Pacific. I suggest that it is reflective of the strength of partnership we have. Our record in the Indo-Pacific area is already proven; we recently had the carrier strike group in the area, which was very well received, and we have carried out joint exercises with a number of countries, not least Australia. That is all part of reassuring south-east Asia that our interest in and commitment to the region and the area are real—not in some provocative, bellicose fashion but in a genuinely constructive fashion where we want to influence. Interestingly, I detect that that is exactly how our friends and partners in that region see the United Kingdom and our role. It is worth remembering that the genesis of what we are discussing this afternoon was Australia extending an invitation to the United Kingdom and the United States; it is interesting that it felt confident and impelled to do that. That is a very positive reflection on the United Kingdom and that is why the United States and the United Kingdom responded to that invitation. All this is therefore part of a holistic approach to the region, which is certainly about helping to create stability and support values.

The noble Baroness mentioned the Sunday night drama “Vigil”, which has certainly gripped my attention, although I emphasise that I regard it as a drama with a degree of dramatic licence. Nonetheless, it has good acting but we can all understand that the reality is somewhat different. The noble Baroness asked whether we were confident about the partnership and what we brought to it—what are our skills and experience in this? I observe simply that we have built and operated world-class nuclear-powered submarine capability for more than 60 years. So we bring deep expertise and experience to this partnership, not least, for example, through the work carried out by Rolls-Royce near Derby and BAE Systems in Barrow.

The noble Baroness also raised the specific issue of skills and jobs, to which I have alluded briefly. We anticipate that this partnership, particularly in phase 1—what is to happen in trilateral discussions over the next 18 months—will be an important contributor to skills and jobs.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, echoed by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, also raised the role of NATO. That is a legitimate question. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, also asked: what about our regional partners in the area? These are important questions. I simply want to reaffirm that this is not about NATO operations but about enhancing the long-standing defence and security relationship between the UK, Australia and the US. NATO will continue to deploy and conduct operations as deemed appropriate by the organisation’s members.

Regional partners are important to us. I am pleased to say that we have strong relationships with a number of the countries within south-east Asia, not least Japan and the Republic of Korea. These relationships are cordial and constructive and those countries will see this partnership as an enhancement to what they all want—stability and an ability to trade effectively in that important part of the globe.

Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, asked about France. I reaffirm that France is an important friend and ally of the United Kingdom. We have a long-standing security and defence relationship with France that is underpinned by the Lancaster House treaty and is exemplified by our combined joint expeditionary force. We are close NATO allies and we have co-operated in areas from the Sahel to the Baltic. That is a measure of the strength of the relationship with France. We value and respect that relationship and would wish it to continue in a strong and sustainable fashion.

Ajax Armoured Cavalry Programme

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Monday 13th September 2021

(9 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, the Minister in the other place said

“I have previously described Ajax as a troubled programme.” —[Official Report, Commons, 9/9/21; col. 487.]


I could not have put that better myself.

One of the changes since Covid is that Ministers are no longer required to read out Statements from the other place, which might be a great relief to the Minister concerned, but perhaps means that noble Lords do not always hear the detail which is enshrined in the Statements we are debating.

The devil very much is in the detail here. As the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, has pointed out, a few details need to be explored in some depth. So far, £3.5 billion has been spent, and the Minister has said that the upper limit is still £5.5 billion. Defence procurement has long been a troubled area, with projects going overtime and overbudget. The Minister in the other place has said very clearly that this project will not go overbudget; it is very clearly going to go overtime. Can the Minister tell us whether she believes that the project is actually achievable at all?

The Minister in the other place said that the problems are not “irresolvable”, but how do we know? The problems are apparently electrical and mechanical. Do we know if there is a solution to them and, if so, what that solution might be? Has General Dynamics been given any timeline for resolving these problems, or is it just being left for it to come back at some vague date in the future to tell us there are going to be yet more trials? What assessment have the Government made of the gaps in our own capabilities if the Ajax programme is not delivered in a timely fashion—indeed, if it will not be delivered at all?

Beyond that, we have already heard that 310 people are deemed to be in need of urgent assessment. Is that the total number of people who have been involved in the trials, or are there more people? Do we have any sense of the duty of care we should be thinking about when we consider who we are asking to be part of these trials, particularly given that some of the concerns about noise appear to have arisen before the trials started? If the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, were here, he would probably jump up later to explain that, actually, during trials you have teething problems. That is fine, but in this case we knew there were problems before the trials started. Can the Minister give us some indication of when the Government knew of the problems? What action are the Government planning to take to ensure that the 310, or however many people have so far been involved in trials, are not put further at risk? This procurement project seems at the moment to be a failing project, and that is clearly to the great detriment of this country.

Baroness Goldie Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Goldie) (Con)
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My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, for their questions. To put this in context, the Chamber will understand that Ajax is a complex, fully digitised land vehicle project delivering transformational change to the Army’s armoured vehicle fleet. It is providing a step change in capability to the British Army and is a core part of our future soldier vision. But, yes, the noble Lord and the noble Baroness are absolutely correct: this has not been straightforward. I am not going to stand at this Dispatch Box and pretend otherwise, but I shall try to deal with the points that have been raised.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, alluded to the problems and asked, effectively: where are we going and what are we doing? As he is aware, a safety panel has been appointed. It was established to oversee Ajax and, following its approval, trials have now restarted at the independent Millbrook Proving Ground. To reassure the Chamber, the panel consists of expert representatives drawn from the Defence Equipment & Support organisation, General Dynamics itself, Millbrook Proving Ground, an independent safety and environmental auditor and the MoD’s director for health and safety. I have to make clear that the panel must be left to do its work. I know that the noble Lord and the noble Baroness were anxious to draw me on a time but, quite simply, whatever the panel needs to do at the proving ground with Millbrook to test what is causing the noise and vibration, it must be left to do. I cannot be drawn further on that.

The noble Lord and the noble Baroness also asked about personnel. Three hundred and ten personnel have been identified as requiring hearing assessments. Of these, 304 have been contacted successfully and the remaining six are UK service personnel who recently left service. I may be able to provide an update on the figure, and I undertake to write to the noble Lord and the noble Baroness about that. So far, 248 people have been assessed and, naturally, the noble Lord and the noble Baroness wanted to ascertain what is happening to them. I wish to reassure them both that we will update the House on the number of personnel affected by noise and vibration in due course, including if any trends become apparent once the data has been analysed, but we are absolutely clear about our support for those who have been affected, and that support will provide whatever is necessary to address any issues which they are experiencing.

I think it was the noble Lord who asked about the review publication date. I am unable to give him a precise date for that, for reasons that he will understand, but I can reassure him that the review is very extensive. He is probably aware of what it is looking at: the whole history of this difficult period for the MoD. It wants to do that objectively and analytically, so that it can come back with a meaningful report, and it is looking at a number of issues.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked me about the timeline and when we knew that there was a problem. I would ask her to be patient about all these issues because I do not want to pre-empt the health and safety review. It is doing excellent work and is well ahead with that. We have undertaken to publish the reports of the health and safety department within the MoD when we have that information, and we shall do that.

The noble Baroness and the noble Lord asked about the contract itself. As I think they will both be aware, it is what we call a firm price contract. That means that the price of £5.2 billion is to buy and support 589 Ajax vehicles in six variants. As of June 2021, we have spent £3,167,000. I reiterate that the focus of the MoD and General Dynamics is on resolving the problems. That is what we are focused on doing; no one is denying that issues arose with noise and vibration, but excellent engineering minds are now being directed to these matters. We await the outcome of the safety panel’s tests and trials to inform further on what is happening.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked whether we can achieve progress. We are certainly all focused on doing that; we want to resolve these issues. I said earlier that Ajax is a complex but very important part of our future capability. It will be an asset for the military and make a singular difference to our capability. We want that to succeed and to be able to take delivery of these vehicles. But again, to reassure the Chamber, I wish to make it crystal clear that we will not take delivery of anything not fit for purpose.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked about capability gaps. Again, I wish to reassure her that we do not anticipate any compromise on capability. A range of capabilities can be flexed to meet the required operational scenario as we know it now, and there will be a range of choices available to meet defence needs. I think the final thing that she asked was: when did problems emerge, and when were matters referred to the health and safety review? That is all within the broad umbrella of everything that the health and safety review is looking at. As I say, in due course we will publish the outcome of its inquiry. We hope that will better inform the Chamber and provide fuller information on exactly what the history of this matter is.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked whether we have a plan for the future. It is rather a reprise to say to him that because the focus is on sorting this and getting it fixed, that is a plan for the future and we know that there is a sense of urgency and purpose. All those deployed to address this challenge are working hard to resolve the difficulties.

Sheffield Forgemasters

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Wednesday 8th September 2021

(10 months ago)

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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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Yes, I am happy to give my noble friend that assurance. It is demonstrated by our commitment to provide up to £400 million of funding to the company over the next 10 years. Some of the defence programmes that Sheffield Forgemasters is a unique supplier to will in fact stretch beyond that period, so we have acted to ensure that the company continues to be able to meet these long-term requirements.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, the cost of Sheffield Forgemasters was £2.56 million and there is already an agreement to have another £400 million of expenditure. To what extent is that coming from existing defence budgets and to what extent is that additional expenditure? Is this because, yet again, a defence procurement has not been fully thought through?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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As I think is universally understood, this was really a stand-alone case and a matter for essential intervention to preserve critical national infrastructure. The financial undertakings to which the MoD has committed itself include the share capital purchase, as the noble Baroness has indicated. It also includes taking on and refinancing the current indebtedness, which is approximately £19 million, and the capital investment that we have just been discussing. I say to the noble Baroness, as I observed earlier to the noble Lord, Lord Walney, that this is a company with an exciting commercial future. This is an ongoing enterprise and defence’s role is to ensure, as my noble friend inquired about in the previous question, that this company has a secure future—a sufficiently secure future that we can return it to the private sector.

Royal Yacht

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Tuesday 13th July 2021

(11 months, 4 weeks ago)

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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con) [V]
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The duty of government is to make decisions and judgments. It is the judgment of this Government that the creation of and investment in the new national flagship is a very substantial means of enhancing global engagement, with the specific intention of improving trade relations and identifying and inviting potential global customers to invest in the UK, create jobs and thereby create the wealth and expenditure for the very worthy purposes to which he has referred.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, there might be all sorts of very good reasons to have a national flagship, but will the Minister tell the House what the benefit of this to defence is going to be? How does she envisage naval staff being available to equip the ship?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con) [V]
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In common with all government departments, the MoD wishes to play its role in supporting the Government. The noble Baroness will be aware that the carrier strike group is currently conducting an important mission overseas, and that is attracting interest from a variety of sources, not least those who wish to engage with us globally with a view to looking at trade opportunities. This proposal complements that approach. Manning the flagship will be a Royal Navy responsibility, but that will be factored into our existing commitments.

Afghan Interpreters: UK Relocation

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Tuesday 6th July 2021

(1 year ago)

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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I would say to the noble Lord, in alignment with my answer to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, that the UK has very much proceeded on the basis of what it considered its obligation as a sovereign state to be. That is why we have proceeded with our particular scheme. I understand that the United States has a scheme. I am not privy to the details of that scheme but we are in close contact with our US colleagues. We understand that they are not only running a similar relocation programme but doing so under their special immigration visa scheme.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, the relocation and assistance policy came in on 1 April, and is expected to speed up alongside the withdrawal of NATO troops. In light of the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, does the Minister believe that there will be sufficient funding, and that the policy is sufficiently wide to support all the people to whom we owe a duty —including interpreters, but also other local supporters?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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As the noble Baroness will be aware, the scheme under discussion will remain in force indefinitely, because we consider it our obligation to identify those who are at threat and to act appropriately. We remain committed to working with the United States, and our NATO allies and international partners, to support Afghanistan, and to the ongoing training and mentoring of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces. We will continue to provide the ANDSF with financial sustainment support until at least 2024.

Military Personnel Overseas: Vaccinations

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Thursday 1st July 2021

(1 year ago)

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Baroness Goldie Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Goldie) (Con)
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The noble Lord is absolutely right that the safety and well-being of our Armed Forces personnel is paramount. Indeed, that was recognised from the start of the pandemic, when the priority was to keep our Armed Forces safe. There were robust safety measures and regimes in place, and that included isolation prior to deployment.

I reassure the noble Lord that when the commencement of the impressively successful vaccination programme began in December 2020, it allowed the MoD to plan and work in tandem with our domestic vaccination programme. Sometimes we were ahead of that, for good operational reasons. The priority for government has been to save the lives of those most at risk. It is right that we followed the advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which was to prioritise those older age groups and the most at risk first, rather than prioritise by occupation.

The noble Lord asked me about Covid cases among UK Armed Forces on operations. The figures I have been given are current as at 28 June this year, and are that the percentage of UK Armed Forces registering positive for Covid is: in the Persian Gulf, 0.4%; in Iraq, 0.3%; in Mali, 1.4%; in Afghanistan, 1%; and in Estonia, 13.2%. He will be aware that there was a higher case rate in Estonia due to a significant changeover of personnel at the time.

I reassure the noble Lord that second doses will be offered in line with clinical advice and the exact circumstances of the deployment. Our target within defence is four to eight weeks after the first dose, although, where there is an operational requirement, such as overseas deployment, we may accelerate second doses, subject to clinical guidance on the recommended gaps between doses. The only prioritisation that was effected was, as he will be aware, in respect of the nuclear deterrent, the carrier strike group and the rapid response Typhoon force.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD) [V]
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My Lords, this Urgent Question repeat goes back to 23 June. Can the Minister update the House on the figures? We were told that 61% of those on overseas operations had had a second dose of vaccine. What is the percentage now, eight days later? Noting that the Minister for the Armed Forces stated in the other place that by 19 July every member of personnel across defence would have been vaccinated, can she reassure us that that includes junior soldiers at the Army Foundation College in Harrogate, who will be under 18?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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To come to the noble Baroness’s last question first, my understanding is that the Ministry of Defence will ensure that every adult is offered their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine by 19 July, in line with HMG’s accelerated vaccination timelines. Indeed, by that date, many will have completed both doses. I am unaware of the situation in relation to the cohort to which she refers. I undertake to inquire into that and, if I can ascertain further information, I shall write to her.

The noble Baroness asked an important question about percentages of vaccinations given. The figures I have—again, these are as at 28 June 2021—are that: for UK Armed Forces personnel on active operations, 95% have received the first dose, 74% have received the second dose and 2% have refused a dose. As at 28 June for Armed Forces personnel based overseas, excluding operations, my information is that 73% have had a first dose and 35% have had a second dose.

Defence: Continuous At-sea Deterrence

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Wednesday 23rd June 2021

(1 year ago)

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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I refer my noble friend to the non-proliferation treaty, which the UK regards as a cornerstone of the international multilateral architecture on nuclear issues. Over 50 years on, that treaty continues to be a success. It has created the framework to reduce tensions and arms stockpiles. The UK will continue to work for a successful NPT review conference later this year. Our core objective is to demonstrate international unity behind the treaty and strengthen its implementation.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, clearly, the nuclear deterrent contributes to the defence of the realm, and its cost to the MoD makes sense. What does the Minister make of the proposals to have a new royal yacht, which, whatever benefits it might bring to trade or global Britain, would appear to bring very little to defence? Why should the MoD be funding it?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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It is not a new royal yacht; it is a new national flagship. I think that is a very good thing, if I must make my opinion clear. The noble Baroness is correct that the MoD will be responsible for the initial cost of taking the flagship through the procurement process, but the source of government funding for the rest of the project is still to be determined. To the cynics I would say: this ship will have an important national security and foreign policy function. It is not a warship, and its primary role will be to promote trade and protect the nation’s economic security.

Carrier Strike Group Deployment

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Wednesday 28th April 2021

(1 year, 2 months ago)

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Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD) [V]
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My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, I welcome the fact that HMS “Queen Elizabeth” is now ready to lead the carrier strike group. Clearly, we are in a new phase of British maritime history. We are obviously in a phase in which the Government are seeking to “go global”, as the Prime Minister has put it on so many occasions, and to do so with a ship that is extraordinary in many ways. The Secretary of State, in his Statement, pointed out that it was truly a step change in capability and that to appreciate the enormity of the vessel, you must stand on its vast deck.

I have not stood on the HMS “Queen Elizabeth” but I did have the opportunity to visit HMS “Prince of Wales” in dock when it was under construction. It is a most incredible ship. However, when the ships were being announced, Russia was very scathing about the size and visibility of the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers. I am sure that the Minister will be very quick to say that this is nonsense and that the ships are very well defended, but can she give us some indication of the way in which HMS “Queen Elizabeth” is being supported? It is very clear that this carrier strike group, as laid out in the Secretary of State’s Statement, has, as is suggested, a ring of capability. Most of the ships—the destroyers and the anti-submarine frigates—are British vessels, but how far into the future have the Government thought and planned about the support that can be given?

There is a great deal of emphasis on the work with the Dutch and the Americans. To what extent do the Government see this carrier strike group as being a way of having more multilateral deployments, or is HMS “Queen Elizabeth” intended to be part of a solely British force in future? It is obviously important that bilateral training is going on. Can the Minister tell the House a little more about what is envisaged with our European allies? There is a very clear statement that the carrier strike group will demonstrate our enduring commitment to NATO, but a little more about the links with Europe would be very welcome.

The Statement talks about this being sovereign territory. Clearly it is important in terms of many of our international commitments that the Queen Elizabeth class carriers are indeed able to travel to the Pacific. We have recently seen issues of navigability, with the problems in Suez, and we know that shipping is so vital to trade. It is clearly welcome that HMS “Queen Elizabeth” is leading this carrier strike group, but can the Minister tell us a little bit more about its aims? The Secretary of State talked about being a projector of hard and soft power. Many people listening from outside the Chamber—who maybe do not have any defence experience—might wonder how on earth the Queen Elizabeth class carriers can project soft power. I suspect I know the answer but it would be interesting to hear the Government’s perspective on that.

This is an interesting deployment, but it is notable how important the UK says it is that we do not allow countries to breach international law. We note then that the carrier is going close to China but not seeking to be provocative. What signals do the Government wish to send to China with this deployment?

Baroness Goldie Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Goldie) (Con)
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My Lords, first, I genuinely thank the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, for their positive comments about the carrier and the carrier strike group. It is a moment for reflection and pride that we have been able to assemble such an impressive demonstration of our commitment to our global reach and global responsibilities. I can confirm to the noble Lord and the noble Baroness that the extent of the interest from across the globe has been very significant; this is clearly proving an exciting proposition to our friends and allies.

To deal with some of the specific points raised, the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, particularly asked about the crewing of the “Queen Elizabeth”. In December 2020, the carrier strike group declared that it had reached initial operating capability. It is about to embark on its final training in UK waters next month and exercise Strike Warrior will test the strike group through a range of operational scenarios. At the end of this period the operational commander, the chief of joint operations, will be presented with a declaration that the carrier strike group is ready to deploy on operations.

The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, asked about the use of UK-produced steel. That is an important issue and was raised in the other place. I reassure the noble Lord that we recognise the importance of the United Kingdom steel industry and, in fact, British steel has accounted for almost half of the steel by value in the build of the Type 26. As to the more detailed information he seeks, I should like to try to procure that and I propose that I write to the noble Lord. I hope that he will permit me to do that.

Among other issues, the noble Lord also raised the shipbuilding strategy, which the Government have pledged to publish. We are working at pace to refresh the national shipbuilding strategy and it will contain details of how we intend to monitor the success of the strategy. My understanding is that we hope to be able to provide further information on this in early summer.

The noble Lord also raised the issue of the sovereign core of the carrier group and whether there will be enough British warships to sail with our own British carriers. The sovereign core of the group are the Royal Navy frigates and destroyers, helicopters and submarine that will routinely deploy with the carrier. The United Kingdom has 18 F-35s, and we could now put all 18 on the aircraft carrier. We could deploy the aircraft carrier group alone or with allies.

This deployment is in fact about our strength compared with that of our adversaries. We have friends and alliances, and that is vital, because it means that, if there is any attack on us, it is an attack on NATO—to attack us is to attack our allies. That is our real strength globally so, as I said, we have a huge expression of interest from countries wanting to sail with us and stand up for our common values.

The noble Lord raised the issue of what happens when the “Queen Elizabeth” returns to military business. I think he was particularly interested in knowing whether it would involve patrolling the North Atlantic, the high north and the Mediterranean. NATO is obviously our cornerstone; our home beat is the Atlantic and that is where our most aggressive adversary is active. Only recently we saw it active in December when nine Russian ships were operating in the waters around the UK; the Russians have been assertive. That is why it is important that we are active and hold the Atlantic flank of NATO as well as using our convening ability to bring in the French, Germans and others who wish to patrol the seas alongside us. While the noble Lord will understand that I cannot comment on specific operational deployment, the carrier strike group is intended to have a holistic role in our defence activity.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, whom I thank for her positive comments, raised a number of important points. She asked particularly about the threat of Russia and the comments that it has made in relation to the carrier presence, asserting that it is vulnerable. I reassure her that our UK Armed Forces play a leading role in NATO’s enhanced forward presence in the Baltic states to enhance Euro-Atlantic security. In response to the comments about the carrier itself, we keep all threats under constant review, and we are confident that our new aircraft carrier is well protected thanks to defensive systems that we have invested in as part of our £178 billion equipment plan. The carrier will be robustly protected by air and sea assets against threats known and unknown.

The noble Baroness made an important point about our European allies. Again, we are very conscious that the security of Europe is pivotal to the security of the UK and vice versa. In the European context, we are one of the leading powers in NATO; we are the largest spender of the NATO European members and we have strong bilateral relationships with various European countries. Those are relationships that we value hugely, and our desire is to maintain a constructive and engaged dialogue with our friends in Europe. There is an awareness of the mutual interest and benefit to us all in doing that.

The noble Baroness commented on soft power. That is a very important aspect of the approach. The carrier strike group is in fact a manifestation of the objective of the integrated review, which was to look at defence, security, trade and diplomacy and to recognise that these are all interconnected and do not exist alone in silos. That is one reason why the carrier strike group not only has defence security significance but has the flexibility to afford the promotion of relationships with friends and allies in different parts of the world and particularly to facilitate discussions in relation, for example, to trade. A trade conference has been proposed that would be on board CSG21 units. The strike group will play an important role in relation to these issues.

The noble Baroness also raised the role of China. It is important to be clear about the objective of the strike group. The strike group is to represent the support and positive relationships with our friends and allies in the Indo-Pacific area. It is not intended to be confrontational and the group will obviously be visiting parts of the South China Seas. We have enduring interest in the region and are committed to maintaining regional security. Wherever the Royal Navy operates, it does so in full compliance with international laws and norms. That is why we are clear that this deployment is not to be regarded as provocative or confrontational. That is not why we are engaging on this important exercise; it is because we want to show to our friends and allies in the region that the area matters to us. Strategically, it is important because of trade and potential trade links. It is also important in relation to our existing defence relationships that we have in that area. We are therefore positive about the reasons for this exercise. From the reaction we are getting, our friends and allies in the area are positive about us coming.

I scribbled down something that the noble Baroness asked me and I am ashamed to say that I cannot remember what it was about. I wrote down “international” but cannot recall the context of her question. I apologise. I will look at Hansard and undertake to write to her.

Afghanistan

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Wednesday 21st April 2021

(1 year, 2 months ago)

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Baroness Goldie Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Goldie) (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for his tribute to our Armed Forces and particularly for his acknowledgement of those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. I entirely endorse his welcome and kind remarks. In response to his question, the United Kingdom has regular conversations with US counterparts on a range of issues, and we consult closely. As the noble Lord is aware, this is a NATO mission in Afghanistan and we were always clear that we would proceed in concert with our NATO allies and partners, which we have done. Regarding the noble Lord’s apprehensions, our support of the NATO mission has brought Afghanistan to a much better place than it was in 2001.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I too pay tribute to our service personnel who have served in Afghanistan, particularly those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. In his Answer, the Secretary of State said that we could not stay in Afghanistan indefinitely, but are there ways in which the MoD would envisage supporting the Afghan national security forces going forward, perhaps in the sense of training or other forms of co-operation?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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We are looking at the start of a new chapter for Afghanistan. We look forward to consulting closely our NATO allies and partners on the way forward. Afghanistan is now shifting the focus to the political process, which is an important component in its journey forwards, hopefully towards peace.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, I support both amendments, but in particular Amendment 6 in the name of my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford. Both seek to focus on prosecution, but also deal with the issue that the Government stated at the outset that they wanted to deal with; that is, as my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford pointed out, vexatious claims. The way the Bill is presently drafted does little to deal with repeated investigations. These amendments, in particular Amendment 6, are intended to deal with precisely the problem that the Government say that they wish to deal with. I would be grateful if the Minister could explain to us how she feels that the Bill, as drafted, is going to do what the Government claim that they want to do, because nothing in the Bill is going to stop vexatious investigations.

These amendments are not intended to undermine the Bill. In moving Amendment 1, the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, said that the Government would perhaps think that it would rip the heart out of the Bill. Neither is intended to do that; they are intended to be helpful and ensure that vexatious and unnecessary prosecutions cease and that prosecutions are dealt with expeditiously, where appropriate. Unlike the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, these Benches do not think that prosecutors will find it too difficult to do the job outlined for them in Amendment 1. I support the amendments, and we will call a vote on Amendment 6, as my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford pointed out earlier.

Baroness Goldie Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Goldie) (Con)
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My Lords, first, I thank your Lordships for your contributions. As has been indicated, Amendment 1 seeks to replace the presumption against prosecution with a requirement that the prosecutor, when deciding whether or not to prosecute a case, should consider only whether the passage of time has materially prejudiced the prospective defendant’s chance of a fair trial.

I say as a general comment that my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern and the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, dwelled at length on the important matter of support for our Armed Forces, as covered by the Written Ministerial Statement tabled today. The noble Baroness raised specific issues which, with her indulgence, I propose to deal with when we debate Amendment 14 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt.

I will explain why the Government are resisting Amendment 1. In doing so, I will cover much of what I said on this in Committee. First, we are not suggesting that service personnel or veterans have been subject to unfair trials. Our concerns have always been about the difficulties and adverse impacts on our personnel from pursuing allegations of historical criminal offences. Your Lordships are familiar with the character of such difficulties and adverse impacts—repeated inquiries and uncertainty hanging over the heads of our personnel for years as to whether any prosecution is to be brought.

Secondly, we are reassured that a person’s right to a fair trial—the nub of this amendment—is already protected in law by, among other safeguards, the Human Rights Act 1998 and Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Thirdly, the amendment would remove the high threshold of the presumption against prosecution. We have specifically introduced this measure to provide the additional and overdue protection that we believe our service personnel and veterans so rightly deserve, while ensuring that, in exceptional circumstances, individuals who have done wrong can still be prosecuted for alleged offences.

Fourthly and lastly, Part 1 of the Bill already addresses the potentially negative effects of the passage of time, by requiring a prosecutor to give particular weight to the public interest in finality in Clause 3(2)(b).

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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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My Lords, we come to what some might argue is the least thrilling and interesting part of Report stage, but I hope I can conclude our proceedings on Report with something slightly positive and welcome.

These amendments are minor and technical. They are being brought forward to improve the drafting of the Bill. Amendment 20 corrects the scope of paragraph 14 of Schedule 1 so that it refers only to the offences listed in paragraphs 2 to 13 of Schedule 1 and not to Section 42 of the Armed Forces Act 2006. This is not required because Section 42 does not create any new offences in addition to those listed.

Amendments 23 and 25 correct errors in the Bill and omit paragraphs 23 and 30 of Schedule 1 because neither is necessary. Paragraph 23 is unnecessary because Section 65 of the International Criminal Court Act 2001—referred to in paragraph 23—does not establish an offence separate from those already mentioned in paragraphs 17 to 22 of Schedule 1 to the Bill. Similarly, paragraph 30 is unnecessary because Section 5 of the International Criminal Court (Scotland) Act 2001—referred to in paragraph 30—does not establish an offence separate from those already mentioned in paragraphs 27 to 29 of Schedule 1 to the Bill. I beg to move.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, this might be the shortest intervention of the evening. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for saying that there are errors in the Bill and removing the relevant paragraphs. I do not think anybody will be too sad to lose certain paragraphs from this Bill. There may be clauses that we would have preferred to lose, but I do not think that there will be any objections from these Benches.

Defence and Security Industrial Strategy

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Wednesday 24th March 2021

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD) [V]
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My Lords, another day, another defence Statement repeat, and an opportunity for us to probe the Government’s thinking about wider issues of the integrated review in terms of security, defence and, on this occasion, the defence industrial base.

Like the Labour Front Bench, we broadly welcome this paper. However, I would be a bit more cautious than the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and I have a few more questions that might sound a little more concerned about the Government’s thinking in terms of the future. As the foreword to the report states

“our forces require equipment which is state of the art. Just as we are refreshing what we require of our Armed Forces, we are reviewing the equipment they will need to face tomorrow’s threats and setting out a path for innovation for the future.”

That is absolutely right. However, should we be thinking about tomorrow or more about the day after tomorrow? I ask that in particular because yesterday’s Statement in the Commons reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to spending another £85 billion over the next four years on equipment and support for our Armed Forces. That spending is clearly very welcome, but it essentially takes us to the end of this Parliament. What is the longer-term thinking? Research and development is clearly important, but there is a danger that the Government are still thinking in parliamentary cycles and not necessarily about the wider defence procurement situation, which is very different and runs into decades, not merely two or three years. What thinking is going into longer-term planning? The Statement that has been repeated today gives some important insights, but it gives us tomorrow, not the day after tomorrow.

Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, I have a slight concern that the new approach signals a shift away from global competition by default. It is right that the UK is resilient, that it has a secure industrial base, that we are able to engage in research and development and that we should be able to have first-class building of ships and other equipment, as stated, right across the United Kingdom. The defence industrial base is clearly very important.

The Statement talks about exports. If the UK is saying that it is no longer going for global competition by default, what work are Her Majesty’s Government doing to persuade our partners and allies, and others who might consider purchasing from the UK, that they should not also pursue a domestically focused agenda? While it is clearly important that we develop things domestically, that export market is flagged up, so there are some questions that may need further exploration.

I ask the Minister to give us a bit more information about the proposals on procurement. Over the past decades—this is not a problem of any individual Government; it is systematic—there have been issues about major capital projects being prone to overspend and overrun, with knock-on effects on the defence budget. How will the changes to procurement affect this? Will we not have so many bespoke projects? How does that fit with the discussions that the Government are having with our defence industry? Can the Minister reassure us that the proposals put forward in the Statement and the strategy document are led by defence needs, not defence industry priorities?

Baroness Goldie Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Goldie) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, for their comments. I think I feel a bit like the musical song, “Getting to Know You”. I never seem to be quite away from this Dispatch Box on defence matters, but that is a privilege. I thank the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their generally positive response to the strategy. I understand that the noble Baroness had some reservations and I shall try to assuage her concerns.

Frankly, I think this new defence, security and industrial strategy marks a watershed for the MoD. It is a substantial document. It is the first time in a long time that we have had true analytical discernment of what the challenges are. We need to understand not only what the threats are but how we are going to respond to them and then recognise that we actually need to be able to respond to them when they arise rather than thinking about the response and hoping to find the technology or the equipment some way down the line. The strategy completely turns on its head the whole pace and depth of the co-operation and collaboration with industry in a very positive manner.

The noble Lord raised the issue of jobs. As he is aware, the defence and security industry in this country is one of the major job providers. We think that over 200,000 jobs across the UK are sustained by these industries, which are globally recognised and renowned. The whole essence of the strategy is not only to secure the defence equipment support and technology that we need when we need it but also to ensure that there is an input to the economy and there is an export potential, so I think his reservation about the job situation is perhaps unfounded. We can look to the strategy to make a singular improvement in how we relate defence investment activity to a broader benefit to the economy and to our exports.

The noble Lord narrated a number of aspirations. I largely agree with them and I suggest that those are in essence met by the paper. He wanted to know how individual parts of the intelligence would join up, and he was interested in some of the specifics about acquisition and procurement.

In the section devoted to that, there are some very reassuring statements, including the proposed reform of the defence and security public contracts regulations, reforming the single-source contracts regulations, and publishing afresh the MoD SME Action Plan; I reassure him that is to be published later this year. In that connection, I mention the successful and effective investments of DASA, the defence and security accelerator, which has done pivotal work since it was introduced. It is an essential support, not least to SMEs and start-ups. That is conducive to a more diverse and innovative market.

The noble Lord particularly mentioned the artificial intelligence strategy. That will be in conjunction with the new defence artificial intelligence centre, which is hoping to accelerate the adoption of this transformative technology across the full spectrum of our capabilities and activities.

The noble Lord also raised the very important matter of measuring delivery against the laudable intentions and objectives of the strategy document. I say to him that, yes, this is recognised and that, because a lot of this is not just MoD but across government, Ministers across government, led by the Secretary of State for Defence, will regularly review progress against the strategy.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, was perhaps a little less warm in her reception of the document, although I detected that she is broadly in approval. She asked the pertinent question: is this about today or the day after tomorrow? I suggest that it is about both because, given how the strategy is structured, it recognises and continues much of the good work that has emerged in recent years. It is knitting that together, as I said, based on analysis of the threats we face and how we must respond. There are certain strategic imperatives and areas of independence of operation where we will want that to happen from providers in the UK. I say to her very strongly that this is a strong signpost of the direction of travel for both the MoD and our industry partners.

The noble Baroness asked a pertinent question, which was well justified, about the international community because, as the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, identified, we have departed from the former premise of “global by default”. She is quite right because, although there will be a premise on which we operate for our strategic imperatives and areas where independence of operation is absolutely critical—it will fall to our UK providers to assist with that—we also recognise of course the importance of the international community.

Our global alliances and partnerships are of strategic importance and, as a leading advocate for the development of innovative, adaptive capabilities, the UK will invest in emerging technologies, using the strength of the UK’s world-class industrial and technological base. We will be open to working with allies and partners through international programmes, and these existing initiatives will continue. There is clearly an opportunity to work closely with our partners and other industry providers abroad. The noble Baroness will be aware that the UK will work internationally to develop key military capabilities, such as developing our future combat air system.

So I reassure the noble Baroness that, although we understand that this Statement gives a clear direction of travel to encourage and support our United Kingdom-based defence and security industry partners, it is not to the exclusion of international provision, where we consider that that does not compromise our security but offers an attractive proposition.

The noble Baroness spoke about overrunning budgets in the past. That is a very legitimate reservation to mention. There have been procurement issues in the past and these have not been proud moments for the MoD. But the way in which the strategy is constructed and conceived, which is about engaging with industry from the earliest moment, identifying what we need, discussing with industry how that might be provided and then being sure that there is a constant monitoring process of how that develops as orders are placed, means that many issues that used to obstruct the smooth progress of our procurement contracts are now being ironed out. In some cases, they are actually being eradicated, because of the much more innovative and intelligent approach to how we liaise with our industry and security partners.

I have tried to answer the principal points the noble Lord and the noble Baroness raised. I hope I have addressed them adequately.

Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Thursday 11th March 2021

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD) [V]
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My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, suggested that this Bill divides your Lordships’ House into two parts: those who wish to see the Bill disappear in its entirety and those who wish to amend it substantially. I think that the situation might be a little more nuanced than that, but like the noble Baroness, I would place myself in the camp who believe that the Bill should probably go through, but heavily amended.

On this occasion, I want to associate myself with the suggestion that Clause 12 should not stand part. Obviously, my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford has signed that he will suggest that it should not stand part, alongside the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead. On Tuesday, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, rather hoped to kill the Bill. I think that removing this clause is important. It is neither necessary nor desirable, as almost all noble and noble and learned Lords who have spoken already have pointed out.

Some severe issues are raised by this clause, in part about what message we are sending internationally. The United Kingdom left the European Union last year. We have said that, as a country, we still respect human rights and the rule of law and that we wish to play a global role. We are still an active player in NATO and in the United Nations, but what message are we sending if we say, “We might want to derogate from the European Convention on Human Rights”? Do we really want to derogate from human rights laws? Is this not a siren call? Is there not a danger that this is trying to speak to a domestic audience? I know that the Minister does not like the concept of lawfare and that she does not care for the term. However, in some ways, the clause as it stands and the amendment tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, and the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, seem to suggest that this is about speaking to an audience that wants to say, “We should not be too worried about human rights. Let us strike down some of these rules.” Surely our role in the international arena should be precisely that of supporting human rights. We will not do that by derogating from the European Convention on Human Rights.

As various noble and noble and learned Lords have already pointed out, in particular the noble and learned Lords, Lord Falconer of Thoroton and Lord Hope of Craighead, this clause is unnecessary because it is already possible to derogate. Can the Minister explain why she feels that it is necessary? If there is no good reason, the Liberal Democrat Benches will certainly not support the clause.

However, there is always a danger that, however much we might want to remove a clause, it cannot be done and amendment to it might be more appropriate or feasible. To that end, it is clear that Amendment 26 tabled by the noble and learned Lords, Lord Falconer and Lord Hope, my noble friend Lord Thomas and the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, is important. If derogations were to be proposed, it is clear that the appropriate people to make that decision are parliamentarians. It is hugely important that the Government should remember the appropriate relations between the institutions of the Executive, the legislature and the judiciary. At times over recent months and years, it has appeared that Her Majesty’s Government seem to think that only the Government should make decisions. If any derogations were to take place, they should be brought forward for a decision on an affirmative vote by both Houses of Parliament. I strongly support Amendment 26.

Baroness Goldie Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Goldie) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, for the informed proposal in his amendment and other noble Lords for their genuinely thought-provoking contributions. I will try to address them in detail, although I realise that to the perception of some I may do so inadequately.

Amendment 26 would require designated derogation orders proposed by the Government in relation to overseas operations to be approved by Parliament before being made. It is important to begin by repeating the fact that, as some noble Lords have noted, the Government already have the power to derogate some aspects of the ECHR without reference to this Bill, and the Bill will not change that. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, is correct that the bar is set high to justify derogation, but it can still be done. It is important to remind noble Lords that Parliament already has a crucial role in approving any derogation decision. It is not the intention of this Bill to change the existing robust processes which the Government and Parliament follow if and when a decision to derogate has been made.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and my noble friend Lord Faulks asked why we have Clause 12. The clause merely ensures that all future Governments will be compelled to consider derogating from the ECHR for the purpose of a specific military operation. There is no sinister or malign agenda here, as was implied by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. This does not create new law in relation to the ECHR or the procedures for designating a derogation order. In effect, it puts the intent of the 2016 Written Ministerial Statement on to a statutory footing and it will ensure that operational effectiveness can be maintained, for example, by enabling detention where appropriate for imperative reasons of security in a time of war or other public emergency threatening the life of the nations.

It is worth reflecting on the procedure that attends a derogation from the ECHR. If such a decision is ever made, the Human Rights Act requires that the Secretary of State must make an order designating any derogation by the UK from an article or a protocol of the ECHR. The Secretary of State must also make an order amending Schedule 3 to the Human Rights Act to reflect the designation order or any amendment to, replacement of or withdrawal from that order. Crucially, for those concerned that Parliament does not have a say in the process, I would remind noble Lords of the procedures that are already in place. A designation order to derogate ceases to have effect—it evaporates effectively—if a resolution approving the order is not passed by each House of Parliament within 40 days of the order being made. This means that both Houses will always be able to approve or reject any derogation order within 40 days of a decision. That is the process and these are the procedures.

In addition to the requirements laid out in the Human Rights Act 1998, the Government must also communicate a decision to derogate to the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe. This should include details of the measures taken and the reasons for taking them. The Secretary-General should also be informed when derogations have ceased. These existing measures provide for the appropriate level of parliamentary debate and approval of a decision to derogate. To the best of my knowledge, successive Governments have not sought to change that. I am sure that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, will correct me if I am mistaken.

However, requiring a parliamentary debate on a decision to derogate ahead of time, instead of after it is made, as Amendment 26 proposes, could undermine the operational effectiveness of MoD activity or compromise covert activity that we would not wish hostile operators to be aware of. It is generally accepted, without reference to derogation powers, that military action must at times be taken without gaining the prior consent of Parliament—for example, in situations where the Government’s ability to protect the security interests of the UK must be maintained, and in instances when prior debate and disclosure of information could compromise the effectiveness of our operations and the safety of British service personnel. I submit that the same principles apply here: requiring a debate before an order is made could, similarly, have a detrimental impact upon operational effectiveness. It would effectively shackle the MoD, preventing it from doing what it needs to do, when it needs to do it. It would defeat the purpose of derogation in relation to overseas military operations, which should enhance operational effectiveness. I cannot believe that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, would wish to impose that stricture. I therefore urge him to withdraw his amendment.

Although I have argued against the proposal from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, that Clause 12 should not stand part of the Bill, it has more logic than Amendment 26. I wonder if it is a mischievous stratagem to make the Government look at Clause 12 again. I listened to the noble and learned Lord with great care and I will look at his arguments again. When they are advanced with the lucidity with which he is rightly associated, they have an allure.

Amendment 27, in the name of my noble friend Lord Faulks, is intended to prevent claims connected with overseas operations being brought in England and Wales under the Human Rights Act, whether from service personnel, local nationals or any other claimant. I thank my noble friend for an incisive analysis of the ECHR and the Human Rights Act. He rightly identified the need to bring clarity to an issue that has been dogged by uncertainty and the divided opinion of senior legal personnel. His analysis and conclusions richly inform the debate around the ECHR and the Human Rights Act, but I will comment on his amendment, which I thought was unfairly characterised by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, was a little more charitable. I detect that she is warming to the Bill, albeit with reservations.

In relation to Amendment 27, the Human Rights Act’s extraterritorial application mirrors the scope of extraterritorial jurisdiction under the European Convention on Human Rights. Therefore, it is important to note that, whatever the position under domestic legislation, as a signatory to the ECHR, to which the UK remains committed, we would still be under an obligation to ensure compatibility with the convention. My noble friend acknowledged that. We would still need to provide an effective route for people to bring claims in the United Kingdom in relation to any alleged breach of their convention rights. This was recognised by Professor Ekins during the House of Commons committee’s evidence-gathering session for this Bill.

Integrated Review: New Ships

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Monday 25th January 2021

(1 year, 5 months ago)

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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con) [V]
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My Lords, the scale of the shipbuilding capacity contemplated for the next decade and beyond is a very positive message for jobs. We all acknowledge that when shipbuilding orders are placed, the companies and communities around them benefit. We have seen that to good effect on the Clyde, the Forth and other shipyard locations south of the border, and that is very welcome. The estimate of jobs for the new craft is difficult to determine at the moment. There is an estimate that the Type 32, for example, represents an investment in UK shipbuilding of over £1.5 billion for the next decade and that would create and sustain roughly 1,040 jobs.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD) [V]
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My Lords, defence is a reserved matter; shipbuilding is not. Will the Minister tell the House what is the likely impact on shipbuilding procurement on the Clyde and the Forth if Scotland were to become independent?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con) [V]
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My Lords, our industrial partners in Scotland, principally BAE and Babcock, are trusted industrial partners doing what is acknowledged to be tremendous work in shipbuilding the Type 26 frigates on the Clyde and the Type 31 at Rosyth on the Forth. The plans for independence at the last referendum were shrouded in total uncertainty by those who advocated independence. The noble Baroness is right to raise the concern, because it is pretty clear that an independent Scotland would not be able to commission work to the scale that we currently see placed with yards in Scotland.

UN Mission in Mali: Armed Forces Deployment

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Monday 14th December 2020

(1 year, 6 months ago)

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Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I start by echoing the words of the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, and the Secretary of State in expressing my gratitude to our service men and women. In particular at this time we send our thanks and best wishes to those serving in Mali and deployed anywhere else in the world in the run-up to Christmas. In particular, we send our thanks and gratitude to the families of our service men and women, without whom they would find doing their job serving our nation so much harder.

The deployment to Mali is, as the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, said, to be welcomed. It is one that the previous Secretary of State for Defence flagged up in the middle of 2019, so it is not a surprise; it is part of an international UN mission, and clearly something that our service men and women are trained for. It is precisely the sort of mission that is to be welcomed but, as the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, pointed out, it is in one of the most dangerous parts of the world. In his Statement, the Secretary of State suggested that our service men and women were well trained and equipped for the mission and have the right training, equipment and preparation to succeed in a complex operating environment. Could the Minister confirm that she believes that those deployed to Mali are appropriately kitted out and that they are not placed in any greater danger than is inevitably the case in such a deployment?

As the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, also pointed out, Mali is a country where it is extremely dangerous, because of terrorist activities, but particularly difficult to be a woman—or a girl being educated. To what extent will the change to humanitarian aid impact on Mali? The Minister is clearly responding primarily for the MoD but she is replying for the Government, so can she confirm that the Government remain committed to supporting women and girls?

In particular, what is the Government’s wider approach to sub-Saharan Africa? I note that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, will speak later. She admirably chaired the committee of your Lordships’ House on which I sit, and which produced a report on sub-Saharan Africa in July. We have not yet had the opportunity as a House to debate that report, but one issue that the committee kept coming across was a difficulty in understanding whether the Government actually had a strategy for Africa. It would be helpful to understand from the Minister how far Mali fits into such a strategy. Clearly, the UK is playing an important role here as part of a UN mission, but does that fit as part of the Government’s wider strategy?

Overall, this is clearly a welcome mission, even if it is very unfortunate that Mali requires such intervention. It is welcome that the UK continues to play a global role. It is also notable that so much of that role is with our allies, including France and Sweden. Can the Minister reassure the House that, as we move forward, such security relationships will continue to be as deep and fully fledged as they have been? Those relations matter, regardless of the UK’s relations with the European Union. If the deployment to Mali fully reflects what our service men and women should be doing, sending the Navy to deal with French fishermen is perhaps not the best use of our resources.

Baroness Goldie Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Goldie) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, very much for their helpful and constructive comments. On behalf of the Government, I also thank them for their tribute to our Armed Forces personnel and, as the noble Baroness so rightly pointed out, their families. Our thoughts are certainly always with our Armed Forces personnel and their families when there is any deployment at all. The noble Lord and the noble Baroness raised a number of points, which I shall try to deal with as comprehensively as I can.

The noble Lord, Lord Touhig, raised the issue of encouraging political dialogue and how we might contribute to the need for construction and engineering skills. I say to him that the whole reason that the United Kingdom is contributing to this United Nations mission in Mali is that the underlying instability means that it is very difficult, in the face of that turbulence, to move on to the more positive and constructive issues to which he refers. We recognise that while our contribution to the security response is important, security interventions alone will not address the instability in the Sahel. We continue to advocate for state-led progress on the peace process in Mali, and for political and institutional reform in the wider region, with greater ownership and leadership of reform efforts by G5 Governments. I reassure the noble Lord that he raises an important point, but the priority at the moment is trying to address the issues of instability and lack of security.

The noble Lord and the noble Baroness also raised the issue of women. It is the case that women have been badly impacted by the consequences of the instability and turmoil. However, it is also the case that there is some cause for optimism. Over the past five years, we have seen progress. Widespread fighting between the parties has not returned, the reconstitution of a national army from members of the former armed groups and—this is the important point—the inclusion of women in the peace process, including MINUSMA’s role as mediator, have been critical to this relative stability. Important points were made about the position of women, how such civil unrest can impact on them and how we can do our best, as a contributing country, to encourage a more enhanced role for women.

The noble Lord and the noble Baroness asked what our objectives are. The Foreign Secretary recently chaired a review process looking at all the strands of the UK ODA budget. The review safeguarded support for five ODA priorities: the very poorest—that is, poverty reduction for the bottom billion; climate change; girls’ education, which will, I hope, reassure the noble Lord and the noble Baroness; Covid-19; and the role of Britain globally as a force for good.

The noble Lord also raised the important issue of how we work with other forces from contributing countries and allies. Indeed, the noble Baroness also talked about that and about our security relationships. I commend them both: they have touched on something really significant. At the heart of this is the fact that we are part of a United Nations mission and we are proud to play our role. We want to be a positive influence to help those countries that have suffered such insurgency and insurrection, particularly Mali, to move on to a better and more stable course. We want that because it is good not just for Mali but for the broader security of the region and the world at large. As the noble Lord alluded to, if we can bring greater stability to that area, we can begin to introduce more robust political processes. If we look at the country’s infrastructure, a great deal of progress has been made in taking the country forward.

The noble Lord and the noble Baroness will be aware that we work closely with France in particular. We are part of the Operation Barkhane mission, which is operative in the Sahel. Unlike MINUSMA, Barkhane is a counterterrorism mission, of course. It has a different purpose but it is an example of the importance of working with allies whom we know well, with whom we get on and with whom we are very proud to work in partnership to improve the overall situation.

I think that I have managed to cover the points made by the noble Lord and the noble Baroness. If I have omitted anything, I shall have a look at Hansard and undertake to rectify it. Again, I express to both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness my appreciation of their constructive comments, particularly their recognition of the tremendous role that our Armed Forces are asked to play.

Trident Nuclear Programme

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Monday 7th December 2020

(1 year, 7 months ago)

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Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, the extension of the Trident programme is clear and, as the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, pointed out, it has recently been reaffirmed by the other place. Could the noble Baroness tell us how Her Majesty’s Government view the extension of Trident in terms of their priorities for the RevCon of the NPT?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con) [V]
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I did not quite get the last bit of that question but, perhaps instead of the noble Baroness repeating it, I will undertake to look at Hansard and give her a full reply.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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I asked about priorities for the NPT; if we are extending Trident, how do we fit that with the NPT commitments?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con) [V]
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I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the question. The Government take the view that, under the non-proliferation treaty, we remain compliant with international law and in compliance with Article VI of that treaty. We have a very good record of contributing to nuclear disarmament; we have managed to reduce stocks by about 50% from their Cold War peak and we are the only recognised nuclear weapons state to have reduced our deterrent capability to a single nuclear weapons system.

Nuclear Weapons

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Wednesday 25th November 2020

(1 year, 7 months ago)

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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I simply observe that the commitment to the deterrent is very significant in terms of defence capability, planning and cost, and is a long-term commitment. We deploy our best scientific and technical skills to that programme, and there is no proposal to distract from that activity.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD) [V]
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My Lords, the Minister suggested that there is probably a different philosophy between those who believe in a non-proliferation regime and those who believe in a prohibition regime. Can she tell the House what work the Government are doing to take us down the nuclear ladder and reduce the amount of nuclear capabilities, because surely the aim we all have is a multilateral solution to ending nuclear weapons?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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Let me offer some cheer to the noble Baroness by agreeing with her last point. The difficulty lies not so much in the objective, which is shared by many people, but in the journey to reach it. That is why the United Kingdom believes that the non-proliferation treaty not only offers focus but is a treaty entered into by all the nuclear states. I am not aware of any nuclear state joining the prohibition treaty. It is entered into because those nuclear states believe that the non-proliferation treaty provides focus and verification, and that it has a record of delivering.

Armed Forces: Covid-19 Deployment

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Thursday 12th November 2020

(1 year, 7 months ago)

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Baroness Goldie Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Goldie) (Con) [V]
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I thank the noble Lord very much for his tribute to the Armed Forces, which I am sure is endorsed throughout the Chamber. In 2020, there were 420 MACA requests, 341 of which were Covid-related. The MoD is currently supporting 41. As to future projections, we stand ready to offer support, but are awaiting invitations to provide it. On the important matter of the vaccine, I confirm that the Ministry of Defence has already deployed military personnel to the Vaccine Taskforce, supporting the central organisation and exploring how Defence could bring logistical support to the national rollout of a future vaccine.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, I similarly pay tribute to the Armed Forces in this week of remembrance. Could the Minister say what impact work on Covid might have on the other activities of the Armed Forces and whether training is carrying on as normal? Clearly other threats will not decline.

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con) [V]
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In relation to our current obligations, we have conducted prudent planning against a range of potential risks facing the nation over winter. We have a package of 7,500 personnel placed at heightened readiness to enable rapid response to HMG requests at this time of national crisis. Clearly the pandemic has disrupted some activity, but the MoD is endeavouring to ensure that we return to normal, in so far as that is consistent with the safety of our personnel. We ensure that whatever our personnel are asked to do is compliant with Public Health England.

HMS “Queen Elizabeth”

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Wednesday 4th November 2020

(1 year, 8 months ago)

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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I reassure the noble Lord that the deployment of the carrier strike group 21 does not leave the Navy short-handed for other priorities. The Royal Navy has sufficient ships and submarines to meet its global commitments.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, the Minister’s predecessor, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, in his inimitable reassuring way used to suggest that the support vessels would come not necessarily from the Royal Navy but from our allies. Have the Government assessed whether the support will be there from our allies in the context of the likely or possible outcomes of the American elections?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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The noble Baroness’s crystal ball must be bigger than mine, because the answer to the outcome of the United States presidential election is unclear to me. As she will be aware, the United States is of course a very important ally. It is very significant to our defence relationships across the world. We work with Administrations of whatever hue. That is what we have done in the past and will do in the future.

Armed Forces Personnel from Commonwealth Countries

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Tuesday 20th October 2020

(1 year, 8 months ago)

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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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Let me reassure the noble Lord that the contribution made by service personnel from the Commonwealth and from Nepal is certainly never forgotten or overlooked. As I said earlier to the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, the issue is technically complex. I cannot comment on the specific case that the noble Lord mentions of Mr Ratucaucau. That is a sad and unfortunate case, but it is currently the subject of legal proceedings and it would be inappropriate for me to comment further. However, I reassure the noble Lord that it is recognised that there is an issue, the department is cognisant of that and the matter is being actively investigated.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD) [V]
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My Lords, the Minister has used the word “flexibility”, but that almost implies that visa fees could be paid on the never-never. Does she not agree that the best form of flexibility, and that the best way to support the Commonwealth veterans who wish to remain here, is to waive the visa fees entirely?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I was not aware that I had used the word “flexibility”, but I defer to the noble Baroness. What I did indicate was that there is a range of measures available at the time of recruitment to inform and educate those who seek a career in the Armed Forces as to what lies ahead if they then wish to be discharged and to reside in this country. As I have indicated, it is recognised that there are sensitivities and the department is actively investigating the position.

Fleet Solid Support Ships

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Wednesday 7th October 2020

(1 year, 9 months ago)

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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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My noble friend will be aware that the integrated review, which I think is the review to which he refers, is concerned with the broad and difficult question of what threats we face and whether we have the capability to meet them. That is the question which has to be resolved by the review process. The Government are acutely aware of the significance of defence to the United Kingdom. He is absolutely right: the MoD has played a proud and effective role in supporting our public agencies and other entities during the pandemic.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD) [V]
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My Lords, the Minister has twice referred to the Treasury guidelines on procurement, but the other area where the Treasury is hugely important is in agreeing the size of the defence budget. We have had a Budget postponed this year. Is she confident that the resources will be there for three support ships?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie
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I reassure the noble Baroness by reminding her that this Government have a proud record in relation to our commitments for budget to the MoD. We had a clear manifesto commitment to continue to exceed the NATO target of spending 2% of GDP on defence as well as to increase the budget by at least 0.5% above inflation every year of this Parliament. As she is aware, we are the largest defence spenders in Europe and the second-largest in NATO.

Afghanistan: Locally Employed Civilians

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Tuesday 22nd September 2020

(1 year, 9 months ago)

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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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The noble Lord will be aware that the Government are offering a great deal of support to our veterans. We want to do that because it is the right thing to do, and that would be the context in which my honourable friend made his observation. Our interpreters, as I indicated to the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, were an invaluable support. They were courageous and it would have been virtually impossible for us to do our job without their contribution. We have recognised that in a number of ways, which I think is very clear from the conditions that operated when they were employed by us. It is also clear from the ex-gratia scheme that we have now made available. Of course, for those who are fearful or apprehensive of intimidation, the noble Lord will be aware that we have provided support through the intimidation scheme in Afghanistan. We are the only country to offer in-house support, which is based in Kabul.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD) [V]
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My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, I welcome the extension of the ex-gratia scheme. The Minister referred at least twice to the Home Office. There is a concern that the extension might not have much effect if those interpreters who have already felt the need to leave Afghanistan cannot make use of the scheme here. Can the Minister take back to the Home Office the need to look again at the administrative hurdles which seem to have been put in the way of the effective expansion of the scheme?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I wish to reassure the noble Baroness that the expansion of the scheme is clear and the criteria surrounding it equally so. It is anticipated that there are interpreters in Afghanistan who will want to avail themselves of these expanded provisions. That is to be welcomed and it is a positive development. I explained in an earlier response the practical difficulties that surround validating entitlement and claims from those now resident in a third country. The reason that this is not an MoD responsibility is that it lies fairly and squarely within the responsibilities of the Home Office. I have undertaken to seek clarification, but at the end of the day, it is for the Home Office to deal with people making applications from outwith Afghanistan.

Covid-19: Military Operations and Support

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Thursday 10th September 2020

(1 year, 10 months ago)

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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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Because of Covid-19, now more than ever we must be mindful of the long-term consequences of the decisions we take and of how the crisis could shift the context in which we operate domestically and internationally. The review will still be radical in its reassessment of the nation’s place in the world, and that will include accounting for the implications of Covid-19.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD) [V]
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My Lords, at the height of the pandemic, the Armed Forces had 20,000 people at readiness to deal with Covid and up to 4,000 people deployed at any one time. If we are assuming a second peak and activity going through next winter, are the Armed Forces manned to deal with the crisis on an ongoing basis?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I reassure the noble Baroness that we are preparing for whatever scenarios unfold as we approach winter. We will use the Cabinet Office-endorsed reasonable worst-case scenario, produced by SAGE, to inform departmental planning activities for the winter months.

British Overseas Troops: Civil Liability Claims

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Monday 20th July 2020

(1 year, 11 months ago)

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Baroness Goldie Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Goldie) (Con) [V]
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I thank the noble Lord for his question. The Government are committed to introducing these protections to provide greater certainty for our service personnel and veterans. The other side of the coin to which the noble Lord refers is that, for too long, many of our service personnel and veterans have lived under the shadow of endless investigations and vexatious claims for increasingly historical events that occurred in the uniquely complex environment of armed conflict. We regard that as unfair and we regard the Bill as a proportionate response to that challenge.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD) [V]
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My Lords, building on the question from the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, I want to press the Minister a little further. This is not about vexatious claims; it is about claims that service personnel, veterans and their families may be able to bring. What assessment have the Government made of the changes to cap it at a six-year long-stop?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie [V]
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I reassure the noble Baroness that this Bill will not abolish the right of people to make claims. It puts into context that a time limit will now surround when those claims can be brought. As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, that is fair and proportionate. It is fair to our service men and women, to victims and to potential claimants.

Armed Forces: Racism and Diversity

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Wednesday 17th June 2020

(2 years ago)

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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie [V]
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First, I commend the Royal Navy for the fine example that it has been giving. I say to the noble Lord that, in pursuance of the diversity and inclusion strategy, to which I referred, numerous procedures are now afoot to advance awareness, to educate, to audit and to monitor performance. As the Minister with responsibility for this issue, I am certainly very clear that I shall be driving forward these checks, tests and examinations, and progress.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD) [V]
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My Lords, the Minister rightly said that the culture needs to institutionalise anti-racism, but what can she offer in terms of a more immediate response to service men and women who are suffering from racism and bullying? At the end of last year, the Services Complaints Ombudsman said that racism was on the rise in the UK’s Armed Forces and that incidents of racism were occurring with “increasing and depressing frequency”. Changing the culture is necessary, but we need to have results sooner than that might entail.

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie [V]
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The noble Baroness is correct to focus on results. I share her interest in doing that and, within my ministerial role, I will endeavour to ensure that that happens. I reassure her by saying that just this week departmental-wide communications have been released by the Permanent Secretary and the Chief Operating Officer. Indeed, the Chief Operating Officer proposed a step-by-step plan to diversify the organisation, starting immediately. On Monday this week, I briefed my Secretary of State and ministerial colleagues on diversity and inclusion, and this very afternoon I shall be part of the MoD all-staff dial-in in respect of diversity and inclusion. I shall certainly reiterate the message of inclusion, try to reassure staff that concerns will be listened to and, in particular, invite the input of staff from minority backgrounds to get involved. I want to hear from them.

Covid-19: Security Risks

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Tuesday 19th May 2020

(2 years, 1 month ago)

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Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, the global pandemic highlights the biological threats and the sense that the United Kingdom, NATO and our allies could be vulnerable to terrorism in the form of biosecurity threats. What work has the United Kingdom done with our NATO allies to look at biosecurity threats?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie
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I do not have specific information on that topic for the noble Baroness. As she is aware, general work is done with NATO across a range of sectors and activities, but I shall make further inquiries and undertake to write to her.

Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy: Integrated Review

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Wednesday 4th March 2020

(2 years, 4 months ago)

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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie
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I am grateful to the noble Lord; he gets to the nub of the issue. The review will indeed develop global Britain’s foreign policy. It will focus on our alliances and diplomacy, look at the trends and shifts in power and wealth to which I referred, and then determine how best we can use our international development resource.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, I share the concerns of the noble Lords, Lord West of Spithead and Lord Ricketts; we need to be realistic about what the United Kingdom is trying to achieve. Apparently, this review of policy is supposed to be the most fundamental since the end of the Cold War. That sounds fine, but can we be reassured that, if it takes place alongside the comprehensive spending review, it will not be an excuse for the newly integrated No. 10 and Treasury spads to find ways of ensuring that the cloth is cut according to what the Treasury thinks? Will we have the resources that our place in the world and our defence needs require?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie
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The noble Baroness asks a serious question. In an endeavour to reassure her, let me say that the review is a serious, substantive proposition. As I have indicated, it examines areas of policy, defence strategy, alliances, international partnerships and so forth. The review is deliberately wide-ranging, as it has to be, but it will be underpinned by our existing commitments to contributing 2% of our GDP to NATO and 0.7% of GNI to development and, of course, to maintaining our nuclear deterrent, which will be a core part of the review.

Defence: Type 45 Destroyers

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Baroness Goldie
Tuesday 21st January 2020

(2 years, 5 months ago)

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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie
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The answer is yes. The innovation of unmanned equipment is important. My noble friend will be aware that we deploy both unarmed and armed aerial equipment, and these operate according to very strict protocols. As to the evolving face of defence and the tasks which lie ahead, we shall always be imaginative and responsive to what we see as the challenges. We shall do everything we can to respond to these challenges and to defend the interests of the United Kingdom.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, the Minister talked about the Type 31 coming on stream in 2028 as an exciting development, but the defence of the realm matters not in 2028 but in 2020. Can she tell us how many of the Type 45s are operational at present? Do we have sufficient ships to defend our aircraft carrier? Is she satisfied that the number of ships planned will meet British needs, particularly if Mr Dominic Cummings is involved in the next security and defence review?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie
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Put simply, the Royal Navy continues to meet its operational commitments.