There have been 7 exchanges between Mr Ben Wallace and Ministry of Defence
|Wed 22nd July 2020||Counter-Daesh Update||57 interactions (5,762 words)|
|Mon 6th July 2020||Oral Answers to Questions||62 interactions (2,140 words)|
|Mon 16th March 2020||Oral Answers to Questions||58 interactions (1,951 words)|
|Mon 3rd February 2020||Oral Answers to Questions||79 interactions (2,565 words)|
|Tue 7th January 2020||Middle East: Security||101 interactions (7,176 words)|
|Thu 24th October 2019||Defence (Ministerial Corrections)||3 interactions (177 words)|
|Mon 21st October 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||71 interactions (2,167 words)|
I thank the Secretary of State for making this statement and for advance sight of it. I hope that this marks the return to Ministers fulfilling the Government’s commitment to provide the House with quarterly updates on Daesh. It has been a year and 20 days since the last statement and a lot has happened since, including that the last Secretary of State to make this statement is no longer a Member of this House or, indeed, the Conservative party.
I begin by paying tribute to the dedication of our armed forces and those from the multinational coalition, who continue the fight to counter the deadly threat of Daesh. I also salute the service of Lance Corporal Brodie Gillon. Her death is the toughest possible reminder that our troops, both full-time and reservists, put their lives on the line to defend us. Today, I want to reaffirm the strength of the commitment of my party for the UN-sanctioned global coalition and the comprehensive international approach against Daesh.
The coalition’s success so far is clear. Daesh no longer controls any territory, compared with its height six years ago, when it had sway over 8 million people and a land area the size of our own UK. However, it is also clear that Daesh is stepping up its insurgent attacks and must be at risk of gaining a foothold south of the Euphrates in the area controlled by the Syrian regime, backed by Iranian and Russian allies. The Secretary of State said this afternoon that the RAF has conducted 16 air attacks since July last year. Half of those have been in the past two months alone, so can the Secretary of State confirm how many air strikes have been carried out by the global coalition as a whole in the past two months, and is the number of such attacks rising?
In April, NATO agreed to an enhanced role against Daesh. Will the Secretary of State explain what this role will be, what additional activity will be conducted by NATO and what the UK contribution will be through NATO? In particular, will more NATO mean less US in Iraq and Syria?
A special concern arises from reports that Daesh foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq are relocating to join other jihadist frontlines around the world. Others—the Secretary of State’s 40%—are detained in poorly defended prisons and detention centres in the region. With coalition Ministers set to discuss the emerging threat posed by Daesh and ISIS affiliates in west Africa and the Sahel, what role and commitment is the UK willing to consider as part of any coalition action?
Earlier, I talked about the Labour party’s support for the comprehensive international approach against Daesh. With 1.6 million people still displaced within Iraq and 6.6 million within Syria, the need for substantial humanitarian and development aid is acute. The Government’s Iraq stabilisation and resilience programme was set to end in March 2020. Will the Secretary of State confirm whether it has indeed ended and whether such support will be extended beyond this year, especially in the light of the abolition of the Department for International Development?
More than 3 million of those displaced in the region are refugee children, the blameless victims of conflict. Since the Government voted against the Dubs amendment, what steps have they taken to allow unaccompanied refugee children in Europe to be reunited with their families in the UK?
Finally, the protection of civilians and the upholding of international law through implementation of UN resolutions remain the foundation for the global coalition’s actions further to degrade and ultimately defeat Daesh. Our challenge, as the Secretary of State said, is now indeed to see this through, so that the Iraqi people and the Syrian people may rebuild their lives and their country in peace.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement to the House. The Kurdish peshmerga and the Iraqi army united with the global coalition to help destroy the brutal Daesh caliphate, but Daesh is now regrouping in territories disputed between the Kurds and the Iraqis. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this underlines the vital importance of our actively helping Baghdad and Irbil resolve their differences in military and political matters?
I, too, am grateful to the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. Like him, I would like to put on record our condolences to the family, friends and colleagues in uniform of the late Lance Corporal Brodie Gillon. He is right to say that she was identified as having had a stunning career so far, and it is sad that her best days in that career will no longer be realised.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to ask a few questions, if I may. First, is it the Government’s intention, at some point after the recess, to lay before the House an updated threat assessment, following the statement that the Secretary of State came to give in January, after the drone strike by the United States that killed General Qasem Soleimani?
On cyber-recruitment, which has affected my own constituency, and Daesh funding, I appreciate that this setting is not the place for it, but, similarly, can we get a bit more information for the House—I am not sure, but perhaps through the Defence Committee—on exactly what the Government are doing to tackle online recruitment and to strangle off the funding mechanisms that keep them going? The whole House will be concerned to hear what the Secretary of State had to say about attacks on diplomatic personnel and diplomatic infrastructure. Again, at some point, it would be useful to get more information on that.
More broadly, on Syria, which of course continues to break all our hearts when we see the ongoing war there, I have asked the Government previously why they have not taken action to remove British citizenship from the first lady of Syria and members of the Assad family, some of whom are living here in the city of London. I know the Secretary of the State will get up at the Dispatch Box and say he cannot discuss individual cases—that is entirely right—but can he at least tell us if, within the Government, serious consideration has been given to removing their British citizenship? I appreciate that that is not always simple, because sometimes having that citizenship can give us a judicial angle to pursue them in the courts.
Lastly—this is a more broad question—are we to take it that the integrated review is now fully back up and running, and when can we expect its publication?
I, too, salute the service of Lance Corporal Brodie Gillon. May I also pay tribute to the commitment and professionalism of all our armed forces? Will the Secretary of State confirm that this Government will continue to provide our armed forces with all the support they need, not only when they are overseas but here at home?
As a former physiotherapist myself, may I pass on my condolences to the family of Lance-Corporal Brodie Gillon? Their tragic loss is a loss to us all. Since 2010, the Government have presided over a sharp decline in our regular armed forces. For example, the Regular Army has fallen from 102,000 to just 73,750—a 28% drop in personnel—and the number continues to fall. In light of the fact that NATO has agreed to enhance its role against Daesh, can the Secretary of State say how the UK will continue to play its part with such depleted armed forces?
As somebody who, while in the Royal Air Force, served on Operation Warden, the no-fly zone over northern Iraq, may I acknowledge the RAF’s operations—40 strikes against terrorist targets—in the past year?
On the Integrated Review, may I just confirm again with the Secretary of State that we will look at having well-equipped armed forces with the right numbers of personnel, because the threats are still out there, and the last thing that we want to do in this dangerous world is to reduce our military capabilities?
It feels like distant history now, but the vote in December 2015 on the subject of deploying airstrikes in Syria was one of the most difficult that I faced in my time in the House. I was eventually persuaded to support that, and I think that the situation that the Secretary of State describes today is one that justifies the decision that the House took in 2015, but the assurances that I and others were given by the then Prime Minister were around what would happen in addition to the military solution. It was about the reconstruction phase and the aid effort that would be made. What assessment has the Secretary of State for Defence made of the changes to the Department for International Development now being folded into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office? Will we have an overseas development operation that can meet the obligations that were taken on by the Government in December 2015?
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the primary role of British forces in the middle east will remain one of training, rather than of direct action, and that we will not be drawn into further significant land engagements?
I echo the Secretary of State’s tribute to the professionalism and commitment of our armed forces. I also wish to reinforce the point made by the hon. Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) about our historical allies in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, who not only feel that threat from Daesh, but feel that there is sometimes a difficult relationship with those in Baghdad. Will the Secretary of State tell us more about what we can do and what he can do to amplify the commitment of this House to our friends in Kurdistan, and about the work we can do to make that region not only safe, but prosperous in the future?
I thank the Defence Secretary for the update on Daesh, but he will know that the world’s fastest growing Islamist insurgency is in the Sahel and west Africa. I welcome the commitment to send UK troops to be part of MINUSMA—the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali—the most dangerous peacekeeping mission in the world. Will he reassure the House that the National Security Council is looking across government at how the UK can address the sources of conflict in the Sahel and west Africa?
The hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin) made a point about foreign and defence policy in west Africa. Is not the crucial part of that whether the Secretary of State wins his own battle with the Treasury in autumn?
I warmly welcome the Secretary of State’s statement that Daesh is now a shadow of its former self thanks to the courage and professionalism of our armed forces. It is clear that Daesh and other terror groups know no borders, so can he reassure me and all my constituents that wherever the security threat comes from we will respond to protect our citizens?
I am glad of today’s statement as well. I revisit a point that has been made, but not answered. Daesh is an evil that we must unite against, but the last statement to the House on these matters was in July 2019. There was a commitment in 2016 for a quarterly update on these matters. I urge the Secretary of State, given the gravity of our ongoing commitment, to make good on that commitment to provide a quarterly update to the House.
I also pay tribute to Lance-Corporal Gillon, a very brave soldier. My heart goes out to her family.
The growth of Daesh and its offshoots in Yemen depend on smuggling by sea along the Red sea and, specifically, through the port of Hodeidah. What can the Government do to ensure that the sea routes are closed to Daesh to help to bring peace to Yemen?
I join with others in paying tribute to the extraordinary professionalism and dedication of our armed forces. I also pay tribute to Lance-Corporal Brodie Gillon. She will be very deeply missed and we will always remember her.
As the Secretary of State said in his statement, the recent increase in its co-ordinated bloody attacks shows that the fight with Daesh is not yet over. For our part, the UK must continue to set an example as a world leader in protecting civilians in conflict. What steps is his Department taking, as part of the integrated review, to update its protection of civilians strategy?
Order. I hope we can go just a little faster. I appreciate these are important matters—I am not trying to hurry them—but if we go a little faster, we can have proceedings concluded by 3 o’clock.
I welcome the Defence Secretary’s statement and particularly the progress that has been made on degrading Daesh. Can my right hon. Friend update the House on what steps the international coalition is taking to ensure that foreign terrorist fighters do not simply move their fighting elsewhere to locations beyond Syria and Iraq?
May I welcome the financial support that the Secretary of State mentioned in his statement in relation to Syria and the Syrian Democratic Forces, which, as he has acknowledged, are at the forefront of defeating Daesh? He will also be aware that the Syrian Democratic Forces are looking after thousands of fighters and their families while being attacked by Turkish forces and associated militias. Does he believe that these actions are counterproductive and should be condemned? Will he say what representations have been made to the Government in Turkey to put an end to these actions, which are putting the security of the region at great risk?
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement to the House. Can he provide an update, please, on the number of people who are joining Daesh as foreign fighters and what he might be doing to reduce the number of British citizens, or indeed prevent them from, joining such an evil force?
A recent King’s College report found that inaction from western Governments in dealing with their own citizens who affiliated to Daesh and who are detainees in Syria and Iraq is providing an ideal breeding ground for a revival of the terrorist caliphate. With reports of escapes from inadequately guarded detention facilities, the authors warned that this is posing a significant, long-term and strategic risk to the United Kingdom. What is the Secretary of State going to do to address this?
I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for his statement. I particularly welcome the contribution that British forces have made and pay particular tribute to service personnel from my constituency, Warrington South. As my right hon. Friend will know, British forces made the second largest overall contribution to the fight against Daesh, after the US: we led a 1,000-strong force. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that the UK will remain at the forefront of the response to Daesh and, of course, the rebuilding efforts that really need to follow?
Of course, any rebuilding effort now faces the double whammy of the coronavirus pandemic, which the Disasters Emergency Committee says is at risk of spreading like wildfire in refugee camps in Syria and elsewhere. The Secretary of State spoke of the aid money that is going in, but will he say specifically what the UK Government are doing to tackle the pandemic among people displaced by the activities of Daesh? As the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) asked, what impact will scrapping DFID have on the Government’s specialist expertise in responding to this situation?
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. Those who have assisted Daesh should feel the full force of the law. Does the Secretary of State agree that our duty to protect our troops, our citizens and other innocent civilians precedes all other considerations?
The Secretary of State has referred to UK citizens who have returned having fought alongside Daesh. Does he feel that there needs to be a change in the law to ensure that those who have offered moral support—I am thinking of women who have travelled to become wives of Daesh fighters—are dealt with in our justice system?
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. Syria is one of the world’s largest catastrophes. Millions of Iraqis were held at the hands of Daesh, and we have worked hard to clear up the mess that it left behind. The job is not over. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he will continue to help to rebuild and assist in tackling the poverty that has been left in Daesh’s wake?
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, reminding us that Daesh has not gone away, with the insurgency continuing. In March, Daesh temporarily suspended its operations in Europe due to covid-19, warning its followers to
“stay away from the land of the epidemic.”
Like everyone else, it has continued to operate online, so what more can the Government do to eliminate that online presence and tackle the radicalisation or recruitment of terrorists among UK citizens?
I do not think it necessary to suspend the sitting. As long as hon. Members leave in a careful, spread-out fashion, that would suffice. I thank them for leaving so gracefully.
Coronavirus Inquiry Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Sir Edward Davey presented a Bill to require the Prime Minister to establish a public inquiry into the Government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 11 September, and to be printed (Bill 168).
What steps his Department has taken to maintain the overall size of the armed forces as set out in the 2015 strategic defence and security review. 
The Army’s strength, though, is still woefully short of the Government’s target. Those wanting to join our Army were faced with Capita’s bureaucratic processes, which could take up to 52 months. So will the Secretary of State tell us what is the average length of time taken to get through the Army recruitment processes now?
Can the Secretary of State categorically deny reports that No. 10 wishes to slash the size of the Army from 74,000 to 55,000 personnel? If he cannot do that, will he at least confirm to this House that he personally opposes any plan to reduce the size of the armed forces?
Will the Secretary of State bring forward the integrated review? He is aware of the importance of this in confirming our capabilities, but also in terms of existing emerging threats, not least, Britain’s ambitions and place in the world. We are witnessing a seismic shift in power from the east to the west. Is it not time for us to recalibrate our foreign policy in order to recognise this changing threat, and the fact that China is rewriting the international global rules?
I would like to start by commending our excellent armed forces for their exemplary service to the public during the covid-19 period.
Over the past decade, this Government have severely cut the size of our armed forces. We have had three very good questions from my hon. Friends the Members for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) and for Bradford South (Judith Cummins), and from the Chair of the Defence Committee, the right hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), yet the Secretary of State has refused to answer the real question, which is this: will he increase the recruitment and retention of armed forces personnel—yes or no?
What recent estimate he has made of the number of British armed forces personnel stationed abroad who have contracted covid-19. 
Break in Debate
What recent representations he has made to his counterpart in the US Administration on President Trump’s proposal to reduce the number of US troops deployed in Germany. 
I am glad that the Secretary of State has been making representations to the US about the importance of not cutting conventional forces in Europe, but can we make such representations if we ourselves have any intention to do what is reported in the press—namely to inflict swingeing cuts on the Army and to revisit the argument we won two years ago about the Royal Marines’ amphibious capabilities? Does he accept that, although we have 21st century threats to meet, that is additional to, not a substitute for, the conventional preparedness we need to maintain?
What assessment his Department has made of trends in the level of demand for tracked vehicles in the armed forces. 
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What steps he is taking to develop a defence industrial strategy to support the armed forces. 
I am very pleased to hear my right hon. Friend’s commitment to the defence industry in that answer. Investment by Defence in innovation often stimulates dual-use commercial opportunities. The Prime Minister is clear that he wants the UK to be a science superpower, so will the defence industrial strategy make the case that a great place to start would be to double Defence investment in innovation?
What steps his Department is taking to ensure that the capabilities of the armed forces are adequate to tackle future security threats. 
What steps his Department is taking to ensure that the capabilities of the armed forces are adequate to tackle future security threats. 
The UK has some of the most elite and specialist armed forces in the world. Bearing in mind that we cannot compete with the number of boots on the ground of, say, China or Russia, what steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that our armed forces are properly funded, that the very best people are recruited and that the very best training, skills and equipment are maintained?
The work on the review of our foreign policy and national security—the largest of its kind—has been paused during this pandemic. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that when it resumes, he will continue to ensure that we frame our thinking around threat at every stage of the review?
May I send the best wishes of the Scottish National party to the Veterans Minister on the birth of his new child?
Will the Secretary of State outline what assessment the MOD has made of the threat picture in the Arctic, the high north and the Greenland-Iceland-UK gap, and what capability will be needed to meet those future threats?
The Secretary of State is absolutely right. Let me be clear: I want him to get the review and the capability right, but I am concerned, following what I think might have been the Tower of London away day that he and other defence officials went on, that there is going to be a pivot to the eastern Pacific, which is again going to leave us weaker in an area closer to home where the threat picture is growing, and where bad actors and the activity of bad actors are certainly increasing. Can he assure us that we will not be spread so thinly as to be sent far abroad while we leave our own defences closer to home wanting?
What steps Defence Science and Technology is taking to help tackle the covid-19 outbreak. 
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What progress he has made on preventing vexatious claims against service personnel involved in the Northern Ireland campaign; and on what date he plans to complete that work. 
I rise as someone who has done seven tours in Northern Ireland and as a member of the Northern Ireland Veterans Association. The Prime Minister, on 23 July last year in the 1922 Committee, promised me that this matter would be a top priority for the Government. This promise was repeated in the Conservative manifesto, so I ask my right hon. Friend: when will our veterans from Northern Ireland be treated properly?
If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. 
Given the worrying cyber-activities of the Governments of countries such as Russia and Iran, will the Secretary of State ensure that cyber-security is at the heart of the forthcoming integrated defence review?
May I join the Secretary of State in paying full tribute to the military’s essential and continuing role in helping the country through this covid crisis? In the same spirit, he talked earlier of the lessons from covid for the integrated review. He is uniquely placed as the Defence Secretary and a former Security Minister to turn adversary into advantage, so will he use this period to consult widely in the armed forces and with the public, industry and experts, just as Labour did, on the challenges to creating a 21st-century armed forces? That is the way to banish any suspicion that this integrated review is driven from Downing Street, not by the MOD, or driven by financial pressures, not the best interests of Britain’s defence, security and leading place in the world.
With Scotland being the highest taxed part of the United Kingdom, what steps are the UK Government taking to protect our armed forces personnel who might be left out of pocket by any further tax increases in Scotland? 
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Further to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), legislation can have unintended consequences, and I am concerned that the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill could result in the MOD paying less compensation to servicemen and women. Will the Secretary of State therefore commit to publishing the likely impact of the legislation on the amount of compensation paid annually by the MOD? 
I have huge respect for my hon. Friend the Armed Forces Minister, who is a fellow rifleman. He mentioned that the Russia report cannot be produced because there is no Intelligence and Security Committee. Let us have that Intelligence and Security Committee. I hope you agree, Mr Speaker, that scrutiny by Parliament is very important indeed.The Defence Secretary is aware that lots of stories about 5G are kicking about. There has clearly been a change in approach because of sanctions by the United States. There are many security reasons why high-risk vendors should be removed from the UK’s telecom infrastructure, but there are also political ones. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is time to stand up to China’s competing geopolitical agenda? 
The RFA Fort Victoria will supply our carrier battle group until 2028. Most commentators say that that ship alone is not sufficient to support the carrier group. When will the Secretary of State bring forward the procurement of the fleet solid support ships? That would not only increase capability for the Royal Navy but be a big boost to UK plc, including the supply chain in the north-east of England, if that procurement were to be placed in UK yards. 
Will my right hon. Friend join me in praising the Army and air cadets in Clwyd South for their amazing work during the coronavirus crisis in helping the vulnerable and in keeping up their training and recruitment activities, with virtual physical training sessions with the Welsh Guards and other such initiatives? 
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A recent freedom of information request revealed that the Ministry of Defence was found to have wasted almost £9 million on “fruitless payments”, and that was before it was committed to spending £900,000 on a paint job for the Prime Minister’s plane. What steps is the MOD taking to restore public trust in the management of its finances? 
In the last few weeks, we have marked the 75th anniversary of VE Day and the 205th anniversary of the battle of Waterloo, just two of the many occasions on which Britain has led the fight against tyranny across the world. Labour-run Durham County Council has recently announced a review of all monuments and statues in the county, and my hon. Friends the Members for Sedgefield (Paul Howell) and for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison) have joined me in asking that statues and monuments to anyone who fought for Britain be excluded from this review. Durham County Council has yet to agree to this request. Will the Secretary of State join me in writing to Durham County Council to support our campaign? 
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The Secretary of State has recently said that the Ministry of Defence’s“greatest asset…is not our tanks or our aeroplanes, it’s people.”Will he therefore commit to reversing the cuts that his Government have made to the armed forces over the last 10 years? 
Earlier this year, Staffordshire and Stoke-on Trent’s clinical commissioning group was awarded a bronze award for its commitment to support veterans, serving members of the armed forces and their families. Will my hon. Friend commit to ensure that in Stoke-on-Trent, Kidsgrove and Talke our brave men and women have the same access to education, housing and healthcare as civvies like me? 
3. What steps his Department is taking to support veterans and their families. 
I join the Secretary of State and the whole House in those words.
The Government’s additional funding to eliminate rough sleeping is welcome. I would be grateful if the Secretary of State could outline what is being done to support veterans who find themselves without a roof over their heads.
There were some excellent measures in the Budget for veterans and veterans care. Will the Secretary of State elaborate on national insurance contributions for employers, and on how and when those plans might be rolled out?
May I start by joining the Secretary of State in paying tribute to Lance Corporal Brodie Gillon, who was tragically killed in Iraq last week? The Opposition pay tribute to her service, and send our thoughts and prayers to her family and friends.
A report by the charity Forward Assist found that over half of the women veterans that it interviewed had experienced sexual assault while serving, with one in four having been physically assaulted. Will the Secretary of State agree to the charity’s recommendations by establishing an independent reporting system for women veterans who wish to report historical abuse and creating a women’s veterans department in the Office for Veterans’ Affairs?
May I echo the Secretary of State’s remarks about Lance Corporal Gillon, and go a bit further and thank all the uniformed and non-uniformed staff serving in his Department? We lean on them quite a bit, but we will be leaning on them even more over the coming time. In that vein, when it comes to coronavirus, I am happy to set aside the political sparring that we would normally have. Given that many veterans will fall into the category of those most vulnerable and at risk of contracting coronavirus, can he update the House on his Department’s strategy for supporting them?
I welcome what the Minister has to say on that. Can he give the House an assurance that he will move every mountain in government to work in particular with the charitable sector that supports veterans and their families as coronavirus becomes a bigger issue? More broadly, as we approach the integrated defence review, will he assure us that this pandemic will lead to a broader, more total defence concept of thinking, so that, unlike with the 2015 strategic defence and security review, pandemics are seen not to be low-risk but higher-risk, and we should have better preparedness for them?
4. What steps his Department plans to take to tackle vexatious claims against armed forces personnel. 
17. What steps his Department plans to take to tackle vexatious claims against armed forces personnel. 
I thank the Secretary of State for his answer and welcome the introduction of the Bill to this place next week. The tabling of that legislation within 100 days of this new Parliament really does show the Government’s resolve to crack on and do the right thing. Will my right hon. Friend join me in asking the Opposition to put party politics to one side, support our troops a