Mr Ben Wallace debates with Ministry of Defence

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)

Counter-Daesh Update

Mr Ben Wallace Excerpts
Wednesday 22nd July 2020

(2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ministry of Defence
Mr Ben Wallace Portrait The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Ben Wallace) - Parliament Live - Hansard

With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to give a counter-Daesh update.

I should like to begin my statement by paying tribute to the commitment and professionalism of our armed forces. They operate in a world of constant conflict in which the dangers posed by the likes of Daesh and rogue states are ever-present, but we sleep more soundly in our beds thanks to their tireless dedication and sacrifice.

Since the House was last updated on the campaign against Daesh in July 2019, RAF aircraft have continued to patrol the skies on an almost daily basis, conducting attacks on some 16 occasions, striking 40 terrorist targets. Those targets range from caves occupied by Daesh terrorists in remote areas of northern Iraq to weapons caches, bunkers and training camps, and included the destruction of two Daesh strongpoints engaged in close combat with Iraqi security forces.

With that in mind, I would like to salute the service of Lance Corporal Brodie Gillon, who was tragically killed in a rocket strike on Camp Taji on March 11 this year. Lance Corporal Gillon’s entire career was dedicated to helping and saving lives. A sports physiotherapist in her civilian life, she joined the Reserves in 2015 and volunteered to be part of the Irish Guards battle group as a class one combat medical technician. At just 26 years of age, she was fulfilling a lifelong ambition to serve her country, and her commanding officer believes she was destined for great things. Lance Corporal Gillon remains a shining example of what our armed forces and Reserves stand for. Our thoughts are with her family, and I am sure the whole House will join me in remembering her exceptional life and condemning the cowardly attack that cut it short.

When the former Secretary of State for International Development last spoke to the House on this subject, he was able to report that Daesh had lost control of the territory they once held. Thanks to the continued pressure of the 82-member coalition and partner forces in Iraq and Syria, that remains the case, but the hard fight against Daesh is by no means done. Indeed, yesterday was the third anniversary of the liberation of Mosul from its grip. Its black flag no longer flies over the great cities of Iraq and Syria. Its leader, al-Baghdadi, no longer rallies his followers with calls to war. But the threat from Daesh, I am afraid, remains. Its poisonous ideology endures, and its pernicious influence continues to spread. Conflict, economic collapse and inequality are creating new opportunities that it will continue to exploit to grow and recruit. The prospect of its resurgence should concern us all. As long as it is able to operate over there, it can hit our citizens over here. Daesh retains its intent to carry out and inspire attacks against us and remains the most significant terrorist threat to the United Kingdom and our interests.

That is why our commitment to the Global Coalition against Daesh remains unwavering. The UK will continue to play a leading role in the coalition in the often unseen fight against Daesh’s insidious propaganda. Our military support has proven highly effective, and I would like in particular to recognise the work of the Iraqi security forces. They have made huge sacrifices in the fight against Daesh and become a capable and robust fighting force. With support and training from the UK and our coalition partners, they are increasingly able to conduct independent operations. Last year more than 50,000 personnel from the Iraqi army, federal police, border guard, Kurdistan security forces and emergency response battalions completed training delivered by coalition troop-contributing countries. In 2020 so far, the ISF have conducted more than 1,200 missions to defeat Daesh.

But, as the ISF themselves acknowledge, they still require our enduring assistance to defeat the threat. That is why the UK will continue to provide training, mentoring and professional military education to the Iraqis through the coalition, NATO Mission Iraq and bilateral initiatives. That is also why we will continue to provide essential air support. The terrorists have nowhere to hide. We have destroyed bunkers and hidden bases. This is a long-running effort. Indeed, since the beginning of this year, I have authorised 10 strikes on Daesh.

As the Daesh threat changes, so the coalition response evolves. The campaign has now entered a new phase, with greater emphasis on helping the Iraqi Government to develop a strong security apparatus. The UK’s commitment to Iraq’s stability and sovereignty is for the long term. That is why I signed a memorandum of understanding on our future defence relationship with the Iraqi Defence Minister last year—the first such agreement with a western power since the territorial defeat of Daesh. I look forward to building on that work. It is also why the UK seeks to support Iraq to minimise the destabilising effects of economic crisis, which could provide an opportunity for Daesh to re-emerge. Through our funding and leadership alongside the World Bank’s Iraq reform, recovery and reconstruction fund, we have managed to help build the Iraqi economy.

But, even as we seek to strengthen Iraq, there are others who seek to destabilise it. As I made clear to the House in the days following the US drone strike against General Soleimani on 2 January, malign activity by Iranian-aligned proxies only furthers the instability in which insurgents thrive. Meanwhile, rogue militia groups continue to conduct reprehensible attacks on diplomatic premises and bases hosting coalition personnel. We urge the Iraqi Government to protect coalition forces and foreign missions and to prosecute those responsible for the attacks. The coalition is in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi Government, to help defend Iraqis and others against the very real shared threat from Daesh. Without their efforts, Daesh will only be emboldened. The US and Iraq are engaged in an ongoing strategic dialogue to shape the coalition’s future support to the Iraqis in continuing to degrade Daesh—efforts that the UK sincerely supports. The collective mission to crush Daesh remains paramount.

We should not forget that Daesh respects no borders, and as it moves between Iraq and Syria, so must our response. In Syria, Daesh continues to take advantage of a fractured and unstable country. Like the ISF in Iraq, the Syrian Democratic Forces have made huge sacrifices in the fight against Daesh, and we are deeply grateful to them. The coalition continues to support this fight through aerial missions, seeking out Daesh locations and striking when necessary.

We are also determined that those individuals who have fought for or supported Daesh, whatever their nationality, should pay for their crimes. This should occur under the most appropriate jurisdiction, often in the region where the crimes were committed. At the height of the conflict, over 30,000 foreign terrorist fighters answered Daesh’s call and travelled to the region. Around 900 of those came from the United Kingdom. Of these, approximately 20% have been killed; 40% have returned to the United Kingdom, where they have been investigated, and the majority have been assessed now to pose no risk or a low security risk; and some 40% remain in the region, either at large or in facilities managed by the Syrian Democratic Forces or others.

We are working closely with international partners to establish an effective justice mechanism to make sure that all those who fought under Daesh’s black flag are brought to justice. As part of this, we continue our strong support for the UN investigation teams, UNITAD and the IIIM, building evidence of Daesh crimes in Iraq and Syria.

Syria is one of the world’s largest humanitarian catastrophes, and the UK remains at the forefront of the response. The International Development Secretary has committed to at least £300 million of aid to Syria and neighbouring countries for 2020, bringing our aid spend more than £3 billion since 2012 in the region. We are alleviating the burden of millions of people who have been displaced. We are providing food, water and healthcare. We are supporting the education and mental health of children scarred by Daesh occupation. We are providing grants for businesses to help them to grow and crops to farmers to restore their livelihoods.

In Iraq, 7.7 million Iraqi citizens were liberated from Daesh rule, but the damage inflicted by Daesh remains. Since 2014, the UK has committed £272 million in humanitarian support, providing millions of Iraqis with shelter, medical care and clean water. We have also provided £110 million putting basic utilities in education in place and enabling Iraqis to return to their homes.

We should take immense pride in our role as a leading member of the global coalition against Daesh—a coalition that has managed to degrade and bring this terrorist organisation to the point of weakness. Our challenge is now to hold our course, strengthening the grand and unprecedented coalition, denying Daesh every inch of comfort and every ounce of hope, addressing the poverty and lack of opportunities in communities that has helped Daesh to build its ranks, and finally, giving the Iraqi and Syrian people the security they deserve to rebuild their lives in peace. I commend this statement to the House.

John Healey Portrait John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, 12:04 a.m.

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.

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Parliament Live - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, 12:02 a.m.

I will do my best to answer all the questions. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his support of the counter-Daesh actions.

The right hon. Gentleman asks whether the number of strikes has increased. I can write to him with the details of the total global coalition strikes, but I can say that United Kingdom strikes have increased in the past few months, although that is mainly a reflection of the functioning Government of Iraq and a better outcome that they are requiring and requesting in support. He might remember that the previous Government were in a state of paralysis and then on a number of occasions not functioning. The increase in strikes is mainly a reflection of what we have seen since then, but I am happy to write to him and clarify more the overall coalition responses.

On NATO and training, NATO has sought to see where it can step in and support specifically in the areas of training, security improvements, nation building and so on. It has not progressed as fast as needed, because of covid and the quietness at the beginning of the year, from both the threat and everything else. Also, many of the traditional partners we work with feel that their training has been completed. Therefore, we are working with NATO and the Iraqis to see where else we can assist. We stand ready to do more, and we are exploring more.

At the same time, in answer to the question whether more NATO means less US, the outcome of the US security dialogue will, I think, be the next stage where we will be able to understand what more we can do. We all recognise that the previous Iraqi Parliament passed a non-binding resolution asking the United States forces to leave. That only becomes binding if the Iraqi Government act on it. The new Iraqi Government have said they continue to require coalition support, and that is why the security dialogue is ongoing at the moment.

The right hon. Gentleman also asks about the dispersal of Daesh into other safe spaces. It is absolutely the case, as he rightly points out, that safe spaces have been identified by Daesh, such as the Chad basin in west Africa, and indeed we see Daesh active in Afghanistan and Somalia. There is definitely a terrorist threat in west Africa—not all Daesh, but certainly an extremist, radical, militant, Salafi-type threat. That is why the French mission in Mali is supported by a squadron of our Chinook helicopters. At the end of this year, 250 British soldiers will deploy as part of the UN multidimensional integrated stabilisation mission in Mali—MINUSMA—to improve the security situation in that part of the country. For us, it is not only about helping our allies, the French and other European nations there, but about ensuring that the knock-on effect of a destabilised west Africa does not end up on the shores of the Mediterranean and cause another immigration crisis, as we have seen in the past, and that is something we are working towards.

On the repatriation of child refugees, as the right hon. Gentleman will know, we took the path of identifying the most vulnerable in refugee camps—either surrounding Syria or where they were—and bringing them back and repatriating them to this country to give them the support they need. It is my understanding that we have done that for over 20,000 of them. As for his comments about Syrian children in Europe, I will have to get back to him about that. However, the Government have made our position clear that we felt the best way to help in that situation was to take refugees from in-theatre, and other European countries should stand by their obligations towards refugees and asylum seekers. In addition, the Foreign Secretary has made it very clear that if children are identified in Syria, for example, who are vulnerable or orphaned and so on, we will explore in every case, on a case-by-case basis, what we can do to help those children as well—whether by bringing them back to this country or making sure they get the help they need.

Jack Lopresti Portrait Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard

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?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Parliament Live - Hansard

It is vital, for all the people of Iraq and Syria, that we get as much stability as possible. It is incredibly important that we work with the Kurds and the Iraqis to ensure that, where there are differences, they are sorted out or negotiated. Indeed, we should work with both Turkey and Kurdish forces to make sure that they both accommodate each other and that they understand there is often a common need for them to work together, or certainly that it is in their common interest to defeat Daesh and al-Qaeda.

Stewart Malcolm McDonald Portrait Stewart Malcolm McDonald (Glasgow South) (SNP) - Parliament Live - Hansard

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?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Parliament Live - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, 2:30 p.m.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I am happy to publish, probably in the autumn, a threat assessment—I will probably put it out as a written ministerial statement in the Library—to give him an update. If that is all right, I will do it for Iraq and the region as well, because I think it is in everyone’s interests to get a sense of the threat that our allies, and also our troops, face.

On cyber and recruitment, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. This is the age when a terrorist in Syria can reach out to his constituents, radicalise them in their own bedrooms, and target them with everything from glamorous glossies to how to make bombs. We have, unfortunately, seen that unfold on our streets. That is why—this comes from my old days as Security Minister, so it many have changed its name; if so, I shall write to him—we set up RICU, or the research, information and communications unit, in the Home Office. Its job is potentially to spot this type of publication, working alongside the police and the counter-terrorism internet referral unit, and then go directly to the internet service providers and ask them to take down the material. If memory serves me right, it has taken down hundreds of thousands of pieces of material.

Daesh is definitely very, very clever at using that medium. That is why, some two to three years ago, one of the methods of the counter-Daesh military response that we were using in Iraq and Syria was to target the media operations as much as some of the actual fighters, because those media operations are used to radicalise people who have never been to Syria. It is also appalling that Daesh now often targets those who are the most vulnerable in our homes and our societies because they are all it can recruit. We see too many people who are displaying mental health issues as well.

On diplomatic infrastructure, it is no secret that forces linked to Iran are interested in destabilising Iraq and effectively poking the stick as provocation. That is why the Government believe that the best solution is absolutely to de-escalate the situation. We do not work with the Iraqi Government to try to escalate the problem; we work with them to try to bring people to justice. Only recently, the Iraqi Government did indeed follow up work that we had been doing, and the Americans had been doing, on some suspects, and made a considerable number of arrests. It is not straightforward for the Iraqi Government sometimes, but we do not blame them for that—we recognise that this is a difficult area. Certainly, our messaging to the wider regional actors is that destabilisation helps no one. We would definitely condemn any attacks on our diplomatic infrastructure, which is of course the same infrastructure that delivers international and foreign aid.

On the issue of Syria and citizenship, in every case that I ever dealt with in taking away citizenships, I found, first of all, that it is nearly always a last resort. It is done where we cannot find another way of bringing someone to justice, or where they pose such a threat at a certain threshold. Every case is looked at based on a whole combination of factors, including the intelligence case, the threat and so on. In a sense we are agnostic. It would not just be about people posing a threat from Daesh, but people who pose a threat around a range of characters. Sometimes it is possible to keep them out of the country through an immigration bar—by just saying, “You can’t come here.” It is sometimes necessary to strip someone of their citizenship in order to keep us safe. I can give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that when I was in the Home Office, it was, in effect, based purely on the threat that appeared before us, whether or not it was from a regime or from a terrorist organisation. The factors in that were balanced.

Jo Gideon Portrait Jo Gideon (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, 2:34 p.m.

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?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Parliament Live - Hansard

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance and that prompts me to answer one of the other questions. The Integrated Review is back up and running. Part of the purpose of that review is to ensure that we have the right ambition funded to the right level with the right equipment. That is the best service that we can offer to our men and women of the armed forces, and that is what we are determined to do through this review.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op) [V] - Parliament Live - Hansard

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?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Parliament Live - Hansard

It was going so well until the very last comment. If we stuck all our planning for the armed forces on numbers, we would end up back in the first world war. Modern armed forces need the right equipment and to be doing the right task. It is no good fighting the last war, the war before that, or the war before that. What is important is that we provide the right equipment, that we meet today’s threat—not yesterday’s threat—and that we plan for tomorrow’s threat as well. That is why this Integrated Review has started not with a discussion on the number of troops, or the numbers on the budget, but with threat, the doctrine of our adversaries and then what we need to do that job. On the point about the reduction of the regular armed forces, that was done because we recognised then that reserves, as Lance-Corporal Gillon has shown, are incredibly important in today’s world. We need specialists—specialists who do not grow on trees, specialists whom we use depending on the fight or indeed the need that we have to attend to—and reserves are playing a stronger and greater part in our armed forces and are absolutely key in being able to meet the modern hybrid threat that we face every day. I do not apologise that we have lost some regulars, but have increased our reserves. That is really important because that is why our troops remain among the best in the world.

Jason McCartney Portrait Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, 12:05 a.m.

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?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Parliament Live - Hansard

We have been clear that we are not in the business of reducing the potency and capability of our armed forces. We are in the business of making sure that we are modernising to meet tomorrow’s fight. The worst thing that we can do is modernise—actually not really modernise, but equip ourselves—for what happened 10, 15, or 20 years ago. That is why we are determined to invest more in autonomous areas, in new domains, such as space and cyber, which are really important. The threat against space is, regrettably, real. Our adversaries are weaponising space and we are deeply vulnerable in the west to such actions because we rely so much on space assets.

Mr Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD) - Parliament Live - Hansard

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?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Parliament Live - Hansard

I know that the right hon. Gentleman is a thoughtful colleague and, indeed, at the time I think we were in the same Government. We should be proud that we spent £3 billion of aid in reconstruction and investment in that region and in protecting people from the effects of poverty. That is the other half of that reconstruction that he was worried about, and I think that that is incredibly important. On the other part of his question, which related to—[Interruption.] It has slipped my mind.

Mr Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Carmichael - Parliament Live - Hansard

DFID.

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Parliament Live - Hansard

DFID. We often talk about organisations and machinery of Governments—they come around, and come and go—but the key here is the sense of purpose and the mission. The mission has not changed; the mission to invest and to help provide security and stability in Iraq and Syria has not changed and will not change. We all have an obligation to that part of the world because of events that happened perhaps 20 years ago or more, and that is not going to change. Whatever badge we put on the front of a door and whatever office someone sits in, that is not the fact; what matters to the people of Iraq and Syria is whether they are getting the aid, support, stability and security they need. I believe we are providing that, and we will continue to do that.

Jerome Mayhew Portrait Jerome Mayhew (Broadland) (Con) - Hansard

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?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Parliament Live - Hansard

My hon. Friend is right always to talk about the fear of mission creep. I believe the best way to ensure that mission creep does not happen is by Secretaries of State and Ministers making sure that they have strong oversight and that they keep a close eye on the mission, making sure that the parameters are set and communicated. His point is right; the best way to avoid a fight is to avoid a conflict. Our armed forces, sub-threshold, have a very real role to play in preventing conflicts from happening by improving security and training, and in some cases improving infrastructure—for example, in Sudan, the Royal Engineers have helped put in those types of important measures—so that a nation is strong and confident and does not need to resort to conflict.

Mr Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab) - Hansard

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?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Parliament Live - Hansard

I can give the hon. Gentleman the commitment that we are absolutely determined to help those people who share our values and have a key part to play in the reconstruction of that region. He reminds me that we should not forget in this House the evil nature of the Assad regime, which rules Syria, where some of the Kurds are living. That is the regime that gassed its own people and disappeared people in the night. That has not gone away and it is currently focused on a direction towards Idlib, where the humanitarian catastrophe will only grow for as long as Assad and his regime continue.

Harriett Baldwin Portrait Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con) - Hansard

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?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Parliament Live - Hansard

When my hon. Friend was in the Foreign Office, she did an excellent job on crafting the Africa strategy, from which we still work. Just so that Members realise that I have not just announced a new troop deployment, let me say that the MINUSMA troop deployment was announced to the House some years ago. I fear it may have been so far away that people may have forgotten and thought I have suddenly announced a deployment. Africa is going to be key in the next 10, 15, 20 years. It always has been important, but the spread of Islamist terrorism, through al-Shabaab, Boko Haram and Islamists in west Africa, is a real, existing threat that we have to deal with. They undermine fragile democracies and fragile countries, often those that are very poor. We cannot turn our back on Africa on these issues. Where we can, we have to support those countries to see off the threat of Islamists and help them on the path to successful economies. I know that DFID and its strategies are working to do that, and at the MOD we are doing it through training and other such things. That is why we commit to countries such as Kenya and, indeed, now to Mali.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab) - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, midnight

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?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, 12:01 a.m.

I am fighting. I spoke to Lord Robertson of Port Ellen about his quite excellent defence review in 1998. We have all been around that block. It is important that we fight for the correct amount of resource. It is also important that we demonstrate, both to the taxpayer and the wider Government, the utility of defence, which is often sub-threshold in the area of training, nation building or intelligence gathering, so at the very least we can make sure we help our allies. In the integrated review, one of the arguments I will be using to the other Departments is that we help to stop conflicts. We are not there to start them, but to stop them, and in the long run that is how to save money.

Antony Higginbotham Portrait Antony Higginbotham (Burnley) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, 12:01 a.m.

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?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Parliament Live - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, 12:01 a.m.

The United Kingdom will follow international law and we will do whatever we have to do to keep our nation safe. Of course, it is always our preferred outcome to prevent people being radicalised, which is why I am a great supporter of the Government’s Prevent policy, and to work with our allies around the world to ensure we help them to deliver justice. Justice must be seen to be done, as well as be done, against those threats. That is why, across the world, we will examine every option we can. We will never forget that our job is to keep our citizens safe.

Alyn Smith Portrait Alyn Smith (Stirling) (SNP) - Parliament Live - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, 12:01 a.m.

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.

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Parliament Live - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, 12:01 a.m.

Yes, of course we should uphold that commitment. I will make sure that, subject to the covid interruption, we return to that. I put on the Government website every time a strike is authorised or happens, so that people can have an ongoing update about what we are doing in their name.

Mrs Flick Drummond Portrait Mrs Flick Drummond (Meon Valley) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, 12:01 a.m.

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?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Parliament Live - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, 12:01 a.m.

With our deployments in the Strait of Hormuz we participate in constabulary duties, including patrols and so on, and we work with our allies, such as the United States. Where we find intelligence or something suspicious, we try to help to ensure that that zone is not increased by weapons smuggling. Only recently, for example, the Saudis managed to interdict significant weapons supplies to the Houthi, which would have had only one effect—make the situation worse. Those supplies were interdicted and stopped.

Dan Jarvis Portrait Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central) (Lab) [V] - Parliament Live - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, 12:01 a.m.

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?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Parliament Live - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, 12:09 a.m.

When we are engaged in targeting, as the hon. Gentleman will probably know, we are very, very careful to make sure that we adhere not only to international law but all the safeguards we can to ensure innocent people are not killed or put in harm’s way. At the same time, after a strike is concluded there is a wash-up, a debrief and a check back, through different methods, of what exactly happened to make sure if there are any lessons to be learned. I take incredibly seriously anything that would lead to civilians being killed. We do not help the people of Iraq by poor use of our weapons. It is appalling, and if we want to deal with Daesh we have to show we are on the side of the community, not frighten the community or indeed make mistakes that cost lives among those very people we are there to help. That is the most important thing for me. I take a very, very detailed look at it. I made sure, right from the start of being in this job, that I reviewed all the rules that we had signed up to and followed, and indeed what tolerances there were, because that is a very important obligation to any elected Member.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing) - Hansard

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.

Rob Butler Portrait Rob Butler (Aylesbury) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard

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?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Parliament Live - Hansard

My hon. Friend asks a really important question. There are two areas: first, working with international partners through the UN and this investigation team to see what cases can be generated and what justice can be delivered to people either in the region or elsewhere. We are leaning into that and giving the support. In the area of intelligence collection, we collect intelligence, work with our partners and share that intelligence to make sure that we are, I hope, ahead of those people when they are choosing certain routes to where they would like to go. That is incredibly important. We do it successfully, but of course I cannot comment on the individual intelligence that we do.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP) - Parliament Live - Hansard

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?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Parliament Live - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, 12:01 a.m.

I regularly speak with my Turkish counterpart and make my views known to him about what I think is the most appropriate response in that region. I understand, on the one hand, Turkey’s desire to make sure that its border security is intact. The Turks are the ones on the border of that awful war; they have lost thousands of people to the PKK, which is a proscribed terrorist organisation in this country. Therefore, from the Turkish point of view, they are deeply concerned about some of the Turkish terrorist groups. In that area, we in the United Kingdom definitely support Turkey in countering the terrorist threat, but on the non-terrorist threat, or the other threat, we make it quite clear that, in Syria, the Kurds are a key part of bringing stability to that country. It is stability in that country that will prevent further refugee flows and the unstable borders, and it is in everybody’s interest to work together, once they have got rid of Daesh and al-Qaeda, to make sure that that stability is returned.

I should also point out that there are over 3.5 million refugees from Syria in Turkey. I went to visit a refugee camp on the Turkish-Syrian border before the covid lockdown, and I heard from the head of the UN, who said very clearly that the Turks had done an outstanding job looking after their refugees. We should recognise that this is not straightforward, but the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) is absolutely right that some of those Kurds are our allies and have helped us. We need to make sure we help them.

Marco Longhi Portrait Marco Longhi (Dudley North) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard

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?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Parliament Live - Hansard

Fortunately, the flow of foreign fighters into Syria has almost dried up, but it is the case that in the United Kingdom and elsewhere we see people still aspiring to travel. When we see them, either we use the Prevent scheme to try to divert them away from that course or, if we have to, we disrupt them through other methods. The message has to be that there is no glory in going to Syria; it makes things worse. We all need to work together to prevent extreme radicalisation.

Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck Portrait Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard

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?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Parliament Live - Hansard

The hon. Lady is right to identify the concerns that we all have, but it is not as straightforward as she might think. If I were to go to Syria and take people against their will, I would be guilty of rendition. Funnily enough, the people who can be put on trial and convicted are the ones who do not want to come back. We have all suffered in this House—I am afraid I have spent money paying for the rendition that went on when her Government were in office. Millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money have been paid because of the illegal rendition of citizens. That is something we have to be careful—

Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck Portrait Mrs Lewell-Buck - Hansard

indicated dissent.

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Parliament Live - Hansard

The hon. Lady cannot shake her head. She is part of the Labour party, and the Labour Government cost the taxpayer tens of millions of pounds paying compensation—predominately to terrorists—for people being rendered. It is not as straightforward as she thinks. That is why we are working with the UN and why we want it to be evidence based, and that is why I introduced, in the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019, the designated-area offence to make it easier to bring these people to justice in future.

Andy Carter Portrait Andy Carter (Warrington South) (Con) - Hansard

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?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Parliament Live - Hansard

Yes, I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. The assurance that I can give is that we tailor the size of our forces to the threat and the need. Currently, we have only 150 personnel in the country. We have 1,000 across the region who are engaged in providing air support and other support, but that is how far we have come down and still managed to make sure that we can support the Iraqis in dealing a blow to Daesh when they require it.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP) - Hansard

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?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Parliament Live - Hansard

On the hon. Gentleman’s last question, no one is scrapping the expertise in DFID—they are just merging the two Departments—so I think that expertise will remain. The aid is currently delivered directly into the camps through the UN and other agencies and they do, of course, have a covid response plan. I can write to the hon. Gentleman with the details of that response. We should pay tribute to the aid workers who are still delivering aid and support in both Iraq and Syria, often in a very hostile environment.

Brendan Clarke-Smith Portrait Brendan Clarke-Smith (Bassetlaw) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard

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?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Parliament Live - Hansard

Yes, it does. It is in the departmental name: Defence. We have to do it and keep ourselves safe, but never forget that our allies are part of that process.

Dame Diana Johnson Portrait Dame Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab) [V] - Parliament Live - Hansard

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?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Hansard

The hon. Lady makes a really good suggestion. I am no longer the security Minister, but I think that it is something that we should definitely look at. We changed the law to make it much easier to convict people if they go to a designated area, to make sure that if they are there and do not have a reasonable excuse such as working for a UN aid agency and so on, they could be convicted. That is one of the measures that we have taken, but I like the hon. Lady’s suggestion, and it is certainly something we should look at.

Miss Sarah Dines Portrait Miss Sarah Dines (Derbyshire Dales) (Con) - Hansard

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?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Hansard

As long as the Iraqi Government wish us to be there, to support them and help them in their defence against Daesh, we will be there.

Martyn Day Portrait Martyn Day (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (SNP) [V] - Hansard

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?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Hansard

The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government published an online harms White Paper about a year ago. It is really important that we encourage or make internet service providers and internet companies take a slice of responsibility. They cannot be agnostic on some of the poison that is spread on the internet, whether by cyber-bullying, sexual exploitation or, indeed, radicalisation. That is where we all need to go next.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing) - Hansard

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.

Bill Presented

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).

Oral Answers to Questions

Mr Ben Wallace Excerpts
Monday 6th July 2020

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Ministry of Defence
Judith Cummins Portrait Judith Cummins (Bradford South) (Lab) - Hansard

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. [904235]

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Ben Wallace) - Hansard
6 Jul 2020, 12:03 a.m.

Since 2015 we have introduced many measures to respond to a difficult armed forces recruitment and retention climate. These include financial incentives, flexible service, the recruitment partnership project, the future accommodation model, and improved childcare. We saw improved recruitment figures of 31% from 2018-19. The size of the armed forces should always be dictated by the threat, UK global ambition, and modern technology.

Nick Smith Portrait Nick Smith - Hansard
6 Jul 2020, 12:03 a.m.

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?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Hansard
6 Jul 2020, 12:04 a.m.

The hon. Gentleman makes some valid points. However, due to the extra effort we have put into the Army recruiting process, the Army has now in fact hit its recruitment target, and was on target to do so even before covid broke, to have depots full and to deliver an armed forces at the right strength, growing the armed forces, not shrinking them.

Judith Cummins Portrait Judith Cummins - Hansard
6 Jul 2020, 12:04 a.m.

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?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Hansard
6 Jul 2020, 12:05 a.m.

I can confirm that there is no plan to slash the size of the armed forces. The reports in The Sunday Times were completely erroneous, as was made clear to the journalist at the time. Our armed forces should always be defined by the threat we face as a nation, the capabilities we have, and Britain’s global ambition. That is why, in the integrated review, we will deal with those processes rather than start the debate about numbers.

Mr Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con) - Hansard
6 Jul 2020, 12:05 a.m.

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?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Hansard
6 Jul 2020, 12:06 a.m.

I feel my right hon. Friend’s sense of urgency about getting this review done. He will also know that SDSR after SDSR, under Governments of both colours, often failed because they were never in step with the spending plans of the Government, and we ended up with SDSRs that were over-ambitious and underfunded. It is really important that the integrated review reports at the same time as the comprehensive spending review, which is due in the autumn. We must also learn the lessons from the recent covid outbreak, which shows how important resilience is, and feed that into the review to make sure that it is as up to date as possible.

Mr Khalid Mahmood Portrait Mr Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab) [V] - Hansard
6 Jul 2020, 12:07 a.m.

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?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Hansard

Recruitment is up, as is retention. That is the direction of travel. That is what we are delivering for our armed forces. It is very clear that our armed forces are growing, as is our defence spending, which is our commitment.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP) - Hansard

What recent estimate he has made of the number of British armed forces personnel stationed abroad who have contracted covid-19. [904212]

Break in Debate

Dr Julian Lewis Portrait Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con) - Hansard

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. [904222]

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Ben Wallace) - Hansard

I met with my NATO counterparts, including Secretary Esper, on 17 and 18 June to discuss the alliance’s enduring role in European security.

Dr Julian Lewis Portrait Dr Lewis - Hansard

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?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Hansard

My right hon. Friend has been in this House long enough to know that he should not believe everything he reads in the newspapers, especially around the time of an integrated review. We in the United Kingdom believe that, as the motto of Sandhurst says, we serve to lead. We lead by contributing and giving, which we have done over the history of NATO. We are the biggest contributor to NATO in Europe. We are the provider of NATO’s nuclear defence in Europe, and we will continue to be a main leader in NATO. That is how we believe we will see off the threats we face from the likes of Russia.

Mr Richard Holden Portrait Mr Richard Holden (North West Durham) (Con) - Hansard

What assessment his Department has made of trends in the level of demand for tracked vehicles in the armed forces. [904223]

Break in Debate

Philip Dunne Portrait Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con) - Hansard

What steps he is taking to develop a defence industrial strategy to support the armed forces. [904226]

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Ben Wallace) - Hansard

The Government are currently conducting work on the UK’s defence and security industrial strategy to identify the steps we should take to ensure a competitive, innovative and world-class industrial base. I will use this opportunity to ensure that, as well as delivering the best capabilities to the UK armed forces, we are driving investment, employment and prosperity across the whole of the United Kingdom.

Philip Dunne Portrait Philip Dunne [V] - Hansard
6 Jul 2020, 3:07 p.m.

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?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Hansard
6 Jul 2020, 3:07 p.m.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the fact that defence procurement and innovation should be linked and should link into prosperity and alternatives, using that technology to enhance prosperity across the United Kingdom. During the financial year 2018-19, Defence invested £1.65 billion in research and development, which included £580 million spent on cutting-edge science and technology. Without trying to pre-empt the integrated review, it is absolutely clear that at the heart of it will be not only innovation but a recognition that prosperity is what our taxpayers, at local and UK level, should expect for their money.

Sally-Ann Hart Portrait Sally-Ann Hart (Hastings and Rye) (Con) - Hansard

What steps his Department is taking to ensure that the capabilities of the armed forces are adequate to tackle future security threats. [904227]

Angela Richardson Portrait Angela Richardson (Guildford) (Con) - Hansard

What steps his Department is taking to ensure that the capabilities of the armed forces are adequate to tackle future security threats. [904230]

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Ben Wallace) - Hansard
6 Jul 2020, 3:08 p.m.

The Ministry of Defence has rigorous ongoing processes to test and develop our capabilities and force structure to ensure that they are robust against current and future threats. During the integrated review, the Department is focused on reassessing our plans to ensure that we are delivering the right capability to keep the country safe now and in the decades to come.

Sally-Ann Hart Portrait Sally-Ann Hart - Hansard
6 Jul 2020, 3:09 p.m.

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?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Hansard

We have the funds and plans in place to ensure that our armed forces are playing to their strengths. We are investing in the likes of the future combat air system technology initiative, in nuclear submarines and in cyber-technology to ensure that we are fighting the battle for tomorrow.

Angela Richardson Portrait Angela Richardson - Hansard

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?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Hansard

My hon. Friend is right—but the review was slowed down, not entirely paused, during the covid pandemic. We did continue to work on it in the Ministry of Defence. Last week I gathered the chiefs of all the services and the head of defence intelligence together to hear about the threat and the doctrine of our adversaries, and about how the chiefs are going to deliver a solution to that threat. That is my starting point for the integrated review. It is not the budget or the bureaucracy; it is the starting point for meeting the threat and the demand on our forces, and for ensuring that we give the men and women of the armed forces the best equipment and capability that they deserve.

Stewart Malcolm McDonald Portrait Stewart Malcolm McDonald (Glasgow South) (SNP) - Hansard

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?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Hansard

I fear that I have only a few seconds in which to answer that. I am very happy to meet the hon. Member to explore the last part of his question because it is significant and we are working on a strategy to reveal just how we are going to meet those threats. He is absolutely right that a number of nations including Russia —indeed, even China—are very keen on what they are going to do in the Arctic. The danger is that the environment is damaged and that we end up against traditional geographical rivalries that could tip conflict in that direction.

Stewart Malcolm McDonald Portrait Stewart Malcolm McDonald - Hansard

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?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Hansard

The hon. Member asks a logical and proper question. I can assure him that we will not abandon one threat to meet another. We work incredibly hard with our Scandinavian and Nordic colleagues—some in NATO, some not—through the joint expeditionary force. We regularly plan, and NATO itself acts, in that area. Only recently a US and UK naval flotilla went into the Barents sea—the first time for many years—to ensure that we dealt with the growing threat from that side of the Russian flank.

Dr Ben Spencer Portrait Dr Ben Spencer (Runnymede and Weybridge) (Con) - Hansard

What steps Defence Science and Technology is taking to help tackle the covid-19 outbreak. [904229]

Break in Debate

Bob Stewart Portrait Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con) - Hansard

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. [904233]

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Ben Wallace) - Hansard

This Government are committed to ending vexatious claims as quickly as possible. I am working closely with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland towards this objective. As set out in the written ministerial statement laid on 18 March, he has committed to bringing forward legacy legislation that will deliver for victims and ensure that Northern Ireland veterans are treated as fairly as those who served overseas. We will engage with colleagues from across the House as part of this process.

Bob Stewart Portrait Bob Stewart - Hansard
6 Jul 2020, midnight

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?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Hansard
6 Jul 2020, midnight

My hon. Friend, like me, has been a long campaigner on this—in fact, I went on my first Northern Ireland veterans campaign for just as much in 1998. I have fought for a very long time for veterans of Northern Ireland. As he will be aware, the Northern Ireland Office and the Northern Ireland Secretary of State are the lead in this. We have fed into the process. We are already committed to taking steps to protect our veterans. At the same time, my hon. Friend may not have missed this, but unfortunately, covid came along—a pandemic that no one predicted last year—and that has somehow certainly changed everything we are doing. It does not mean to say that the policy work has not been going on. We will deliver a policy that will get justice for veterans in Northern Ireland.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con) - Hansard

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [904270]

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Ben Wallace) - Hansard

Since the 2015 strategic defence and security review, the world has changed. Our adversaries have invested more in their armed forces and have constantly been updating their doctrines. The threats to our interests and way of life are real and we therefore owe it to the men and women of our armed forces to ensure that we have a modern, capable and effective defence, able to tackle the threats wherever they present themselves. Only a fool starts the debate with numbers rather than threat. History is littered with generals and Governments who kept fighting the last war rather than preparing for the next one. This Government are committed to growing defence spending and we will use that money to ensure that we have a 21st-century capability, a modern workforce and a defence that matches our global ambition.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard

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?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Hansard
6 Jul 2020, midnight

Absolutely. If I think back to the days when I was at Sandhurst, in defence, there were really three domains: air, sea and land. Cyber is very much a real and new domain that we must not only defend in, but master. That is why in 2016, the Government committed £1.9 billion to the national cyber-security strategy. That includes investment in offensive cyber, which I hope we can announce more details of later in the year.

John Healey Portrait John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab) - Hansard

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.

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Hansard

First, I can give the right hon. Gentleman the assurance that this is not driven by financial pressures; it is driven first and foremost by threat. As a former Security Minister, which he rightly referenced, I believe threat should define what we do and how we meet it. That is why, as I said, we gathered the chiefs together last week. It was not a financial discussion and, contrary to what was reported, it was not a numbers discussion, either. It was a discussion about how we meet the threat and deliver our future armed forces to match that, taking into account cyber and many other areas. The Government are determined to continue to do that. We stand by our pledge to increase defence spending in real terms, and we will use that money, spending it wisely to ensure we meet those very threats.

John Lamont Portrait John Lamont (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (Con) - Hansard

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? [904273]

Break in Debate

Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) (Lab) - Hansard

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? [904272]

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Hansard

An impact assessment will have been published with the Bill when it was brought to the House. We are hoping to get the Bill to Second Reading sooner rather than later, so the hon. Lady can see all those details and impact assessments. As my hon. Friend the Veterans Minister said, it is not the case that people will be prevented from seeking damages, through either tort—for damages against the MOD, rather than other people—or other processes. Obviously, from diagnosis is one of the key dates.

Mr Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con) - Hansard

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? [904275]

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Hansard

First, on the Intelligence and Security Committee, which is the Committee that would publish the report, I gave evidence for that report as Security Minister, and, in fact I have read the report. My right hon. Friend should not hold his breath for the great sensation he thinks it will be. However, as he has said and everyone else has noted, when the ISC is formed, it will be the body that will release the report. I think we are getting to a place where the Committee will come together, and then everyone can read it at leisure.

Mr Kevan Jones Portrait Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab) - Hansard

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. [904281]

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Hansard

The right hon. Member often campaigns for shipbuilding in the UK and he has heard my answers. First, I am keen that it gets under way as soon as possible; indeed, I have asked officials to bring it forward from the proposed date. The plus side is that such ships are not highly complex, so once the competition happens and it is placed, I do not think it will take long to build them. I therefore do not anticipate a capability gap at all. He is right that British shipbuilding and British yards produce some of the best ships in the world and we should support them as best as we can and ensure our navy gets some great British-made kit.

Simon Baynes Portrait Simon Baynes (Clwyd South) (Con) - Hansard

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? [904278]

Break in Debate

Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (SNP) [V] - Hansard

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? [904286]

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Hansard

Only today, the permanent secretary and other officials attended the Public Accounts Committee to answer some of those questions, no doubt in detail. The point to be made is that the MOD spends £41 billion overall, and we make sure, where we can, that that is spent not only on the men and women of our armed forces, but on industry and equipment capability, such as, in Glasgow, buying two warships—both the Type 31 up at Rosyth and, indeed, the Type 26—which I never seem to hear the SNP ever really welcome.

Mr Richard Holden Portrait Mr Richard Holden (North West Durham) (Con) - Hansard

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? [904280]

Break in Debate

Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones (Pontypridd) (Lab) - Hansard

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? [904294]

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Hansard

Forgive me, but 2015 was the last time we set the numbers for the armed forces. What we will do is make sure we give those men and women the best equipment, the best kit, the best leadership and the best purpose for why they are there to defend this nation. That is what we do, and we do it to make sure we meet the threat, not just to start the conversation about numbers, which I know the hon. Lady will be desperate to do.

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Con) - Hansard

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? [904290]

Oral Answers to Questions

Mr Ben Wallace Excerpts
Monday 16th March 2020

(6 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Ministry of Defence
Scott Mann Portrait Scott Mann (North Cornwall) (Con) - Hansard

3. What steps his Department is taking to support veterans and their families. [901526]

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Ben Wallace) - Hansard

I would like to start by paying tribute to Lance Corporal Brodie Gillon, a reservist combat medic with the Scottish and North Irish Yeomanry, who was deployed to Iraq with the Irish Guards and was tragically killed when a coalition base was struck by indirect fire. It was a cowardly and retrograde attack on forces that are there to help Iraq. Lance Corporal Gillon’s death serves as a stark reminder of the dangers that our armed forces face on a daily basis, and of their extraordinary commitment and bravery as they continue to protect our interests and others overseas. My thoughts—and, I know, those of the whole House—will be with her family and loved ones at this difficult time.

Peter Aldous Portrait Peter Aldous - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 2:36 p.m.

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.

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Hansard

My hon. Friend asks an important question about many people who have served our country. I welcome the Government’s recent announcement of £112 million of additional funding to tackle rough sleeping. The Ministry of Defence works closely with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which leads on this issue. As well as the work that takes place across Whitehall, there are broad and deep networks of forces charities, regimental advisers and forces champions in local authority offices to offer support.

Scott Mann Portrait Scott Mann - Hansard

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?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Hansard

The Government will introduce a national insurance holiday for employers of veterans in their first year of civilian employment. A full digital service will be available to employers from April 2022. However, transitional arrangements will be in place in the 2021-22 tax year that will effectively enable employers of veterans to claim this holiday from April 2021. The holiday will exempt employers from any national insurance contribution liability on the veteran’s salary up to the upper earnings limit.

Gerald Jones Portrait Gerald Jones (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 2:38 p.m.

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?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Hansard

The hon. Member raises a really important point about how we treat allegations of sexual assault or misconduct in the armed forces. He will be aware of the Wigston report. We will look to do an independent review of that one year on, which I think will satisfy some of the recommendations of the charity he mentioned.

Stewart Malcolm McDonald Portrait Stewart Malcolm McDonald (Glasgow South) (SNP) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 2:44 p.m.

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?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 2:40 p.m.

Veterans, like the rest of the wider population, will of course come under the current central Government plans for dealing with coronavirus via the NHS. However, my Department—not only people working in the Department, but the serving personnel—will have its own measures in place to ensure that we perform our duty of care towards that workforce. As the hon. Member says, many in that workforce are the very people we will be relying on in future to deal with the coronavirus outbreak. Therefore, it is particularly important that our Ministers keep a close eye on their health.

Stewart Malcolm McDonald Portrait Stewart Malcolm McDonald - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 2:41 p.m.

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?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 2:41 p.m.

As to the hon. Member’s point about the veterans community and keeping an eye on them, my hon. Friend the Minister for Defence People and Veterans is engaged with a whole range of those stakeholders on a daily basis. I cannot recommend enough the work he does in that area. Like him, I am a president of a Scots Guards association and, through that, keep an eye on some of the veterans in Lancashire who we have to cover that area. On the hon. Member’s broader point about coronavirus, we have lots of work to do. We will assess what we can deliver on the ground as we go, and I assure the House that we will leave no stone unturned in making sure we mitigate the impact on society, using all defence assets.

Scott Benton Portrait Scott Benton (Blackpool South) (Con) - Hansard

4. What steps his Department plans to take to tackle vexatious claims against armed forces personnel. [901527]

James Daly Portrait James Daly (Bury North) (Con) - Hansard

17. What steps his Department plans to take to tackle vexatious claims against armed forces personnel. [901546]

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Ben Wallace) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 2:42 p.m.

We are unstinting in our gratitude to the armed forces, who perform exceptional feats to protect this country. We rightly hold our service personnel to the highest standards of behaviour, but we also owe them justice and fairness. The Government will shortly introduce a legislative package to tackle vexatious claims and end the cycle of reinvestigations against our armed forces personnel and veterans.

Scott Benton Portrait Scott Benton - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 2:42 p.m.

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