Oral Answers to Questions

John Spellar Excerpts
Monday 10th January 2022

(2 weeks, 5 days ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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The 2017 national shipbuilding strategy has been highly successful at supporting our UK naval shipbuilding industry. I wish to reassure my hon. Friend that the Government are working hard to ensure that the UK producers of steel, and the wider UK shipbuilding supply chain, have the best possible chance of competing for contracts—including General Electric, from his constituency. The refresh of the national shipbuilding strategy is due for publication—we hope that this will be by the end of this month.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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Can I bring the Secretary of State back to planet Earth—or planet MOD? He has just mentioned GE at Rugby, but the MOD took no interest when its American parent company in Philadelphia wanted to move production to France; similarly, there was no interest in ensuring that the fleet solid support ships are built in the UK using British steel. Every other major industrial country and major defence country looks after their own industry. Why will he not throw off the blinkers and actually do the same here in the UK?

Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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Oh dear. I think the right hon. Gentleman has not even read the defence industrial strategy, where it is very clear that we have committed to enhancing sovereignty. He will know, because he has watched the solid support ship contract with great interest, that we have also classified those ships as warships and started that competition. It is incredibly important that we recognise that, first and foremost, this Government are going to do more, and have done more, to enhance British shipbuilding than any other Government for many, many years, including the one he was a member of.

Ajax Noise and Vibration Review

John Spellar Excerpts
Wednesday 15th December 2021

(1 month, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jeremy Quin Portrait Jeremy Quin
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To confuse the right hon. Member for Warley (John Spellar) with my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) is not a mistake that I would dare to make, Madam Deputy Speaker.

My right hon. Friend is right: this is a £5.5 billion firm-priced contract. I am very clear that we have a contract that says that 589 vehicles will be delivered that will meet our requirements for a price of £5.5 billion. That contract is very, very clear. I see no reason why this House or the taxpayer should pay more money to General Dynamics to produce 589 vehicles, when we have a contract for it to produce 589 vehicles to our requirements for £5.5 billion.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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The Minister is to be congratulated on honestly identifying departmental failings. We all welcome that. It therefore seems almost churlish to criticise, but we have to, because the report skirts the core issue. Its conclusion admits that the vehicle

“is not fit for purpose”,

but nowhere that I can see does it state the deadline for deciding whether the project can ever succeed; if it cannot, whether the Department has to terminate the contract; and if so, what contingency plans it has. Or will the project just limp on, burning cash and putting our troops at risk with a dangerous capability gap?

Jeremy Quin Portrait Jeremy Quin
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The right hon. Gentleman raises good questions, but I hope that I can reassure him in part. The conclusion does say that the vehicle is not fit for purpose. Of course it is not fit for purpose now, because anything that does not meet our requirements is not fit for purpose. We cannot put personnel at risk, so absolutely it is not a vehicle that we can take on now, and we are not prepared to. We will only take into service a vehicle that actually works for our purposes and meets our requirements.

There is work to be done, but the decision point on whether that can be achieved with this vehicle is not now. A huge amount of work is being done. The time to take those decisions is after the root cause analysis has been concluded. As I said, GD has its own theories and has done its own work, and it believes that it has design modifications that could well fit the bill, but I am not going to take a decision on that until we have examined them and it is more confident of their grounds.

Oral Answers to Questions

John Spellar Excerpts
Monday 20th September 2021

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jeremy Quin Portrait Jeremy Quin
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It is absolutely on track. Further progress was made last week with our international partners Italy and Sweden, both of which I have been in discussions with over the summer, and it is on my agenda for my meeting tomorrow with the Defence Secretary in Japan. Our £2 billion investment in the future combat air system is benefiting from the co-investment of hundreds of millions of pounds from our industrial partners.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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Of course, jobs in the defence industry depend on contracts, so may I come back to the question about the fleet solid support ships posed directly by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), which the Minister has tried to slide by? Why does the Minister not give a clear message to the industry and the workforce that the Government will prioritise British jobs and the design contracts will clearly go to a British firm? Why not make a proper decision and send that message, which should also go to the steel industry?

Jeremy Quin Portrait Jeremy Quin
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I am hoping to send an exact message. I reassure the right hon. Gentleman that, as I have said, we have made it absolutely clear that the contract will go to a British company, solely or as part of a consortium. We have introduced the social-value model, which is included in the defence and security industrial strategy, and it will play a significant part in the overall assessment phase. The right hon. Gentleman has pushed for this competition for a long time; it is ongoing and is going to happen, and I am looking forward to it. I am certain that British companies will be absolutely embedded throughout the process.

Ajax Armoured Vehicle Procurement

John Spellar Excerpts
Thursday 9th September 2021

(4 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jeremy Quin Portrait Jeremy Quin
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Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I was smiling merely at the sporting analogy, which I do not think is appropriate. I have already mentioned the MPA’s valuable role, and I am grateful for the work that the IPA is doing in assisting us by looking at the project and how its management can be improved. It has a series of traffic light systems, and my right hon. Friend is right that two of our projects are rated red. There is a whole series of colours; from memory, three projects are green-amber. None is green, which would signal that there are no problems. However, in fairness, if we look at every major country acquiring major defence assets, we see that these are complex and difficult programmes. The importance of the MPA is that it draws attention to problems and to the issues that need to be undertaken and achieved to hit programme targets. A red rating does not mean that it is wholly unachievable; it does mean that there are very serious issues to be addressed, as is patently the case with Ajax, and as I would be the very first to admit that.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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We have learnt some things today. Unachievable does not actually mean unachievable. The Minister also said that if eventually the programme ends, the liability lies with General Dynamics. What does that mean for the £3.5 billion that has already been paid for the delivery of only 14 vehicles? Will we get that back? Following the Chair of the Defence Committee, the right hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), and my right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), the most important question is: what are the timescales for the tests and for the re-engineering? What is the end date? At what stage—roughly what month, or even which quarter—will the Minister decide whether the project is still viable or when it is time to draw stumps and start again?

Jeremy Quin Portrait Jeremy Quin
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What we have with General Dynamics is a firm price contract. That means that it has undertaken to deliver 589 vehicles for a set specification, and we have undertaken to pay it £5.5 billion for that number of vehicles, at that specification. There is clarity on the contract. It is a strong, firm contract on which GD is determined to deliver, and we are working closely with it. I am afraid, however, that I cannot give a firm date. I know that the right hon. Gentleman, like other hon. Members, would like me to do so—and I would, too. The reality is that we need to get those trials done and the tests analysed, and then we need to find out whether the proposed engineering solutions will work. The right hon. Gentleman is generous and would not wish me to provide alarm and concern to the employees and firms that are doing the work. I know that he appreciates that we need to do the work and ensure that we do our utmost to make the programme work.

UK Defence Spending

John Spellar Excerpts
Thursday 24th June 2021

(7 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Kevan Jones Portrait Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered UK defence spending.

I begin by thanking the Backbench Business Committee and those colleagues who supported the application by my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) for the debate. It would be remiss of me not to recognise the members of our armed forces this week. Armed Forces Day is coming up this weekend when we will think about the work they do on our behalf, but we should, as I said yesterday, think about it every single day of the year.

Yesterday’s events in the Black sea showed how fragile is the world in which we live, with the threat from Russia and developments and increasing threats in China. The domain of defence has changed in terms of, for example, cyber, space, information technology, the asymmetric threats from hostile states, and the determination of some to tear up the international rules-based order which we have come to accept since the second world war.

On 19 November, the Prime Minister announced that the defence budget would increase by £16.5 billion over the next four years. Anyone who knows me will know that, for my part, any increase in defence expenditure is welcome. The Government committed to that increase over and above the 0.5% that the Conservatives had agreed to in their election manifesto. However, the 2020 spending review funding settlement described it as an increase in defence spending of £24 billion in cash over the next four years—something that has been repeated often by the Prime Minister.

I thank the Institute for Fiscal Studies for pointing out that that is rather misleading. It believes that it would be more accurate to say that by 2024-25 the defence budget will have risen in real terms from 2019-20 by £7.5 billion. It seems that the Government have got the £24 billion figure by taking the cumulative increase each year. I do not think that helps the debate on defence expenditure, because clearly that methodology is not one that most people recognise. What clearly is the case is that, by the conventional method by which it is measured, by 2024-25 the defence budget will be £47.4 billion in real terms, which is a 7.5% increase.

Another thing that seems very strange—this was very helpfully pointed out by the House of Commons Library—is that if we look at the way the Government have profiled expenditure, we see that most of it is in the first three years, from 2020-21 to 2022-23. No doubt a general election has been pencilled in for somewhere around then, because after that it drops from 5.6% in 2022-23 to 0.4% in 2023-24 and 2024-25, so in terms of the way in which this has been explained, some of the claims that have been made should come with a health warning.

I would also point out, thanks again to the House of Commons Library, that the defence budget will still be smaller in real terms than it was in 2019. As people know, I am a little bit of an anorak about following the defence budget and reading National Audit Office reports. If we look at what happened, we see that from 2010 the defence budget dropped in real terms by £9 billion. It is worth exploring the history of the defence budget over the last 10 years as a comparison with what we have today. We all remember that in 2010 the Conservative coalition Government took office saying that the Labour party had left the defence budget with a £38 billion black hole. I tried on numerous occasions to find out where that figure came from. The only way I could get it was from the NAO’s 2009 major projects report, which said that on the equipment side there would be a gap in the defence budget of £6 billion over 10 years if the defence budget only rose by 2.7%. It then went on to say, strangely, that if there was no increase over the next 10 years it would be £36 billion. Clearly, the spin doctors in the Conservative party added an extra £2 billion for good measure.

Over the period of the last Labour Government, there was a real increase in the defence budget of 5.5%. If we want to question whether the £38 billion was just rhetoric we can, because within two years of the coalition Government coming in it had been completely wiped out. Clearly, the individuals who were Defence Secretaries then should be brought back to field the fiscal crisis we face today. However, the reality is that that covered up what the Government were actually doing, which was slashing the defence budget from 2010 onwards. For six of those 10 years, we had a reduction in the defence budget, including an actual reduction of 9.7% in 2012-13. When the Government were arguing that they were standing up for defence, they were doing exactly the opposite, slashing it throughout that period by over £8 billion, and we all know the consequences of that. We cannot start today’s debate with the idea that this is somehow new money; it is not even catch-up for what was cut throughout that period.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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Was not one of the really detrimental outcomes of that that the services and the Ministry of Defence were pushing programmes to the right and therefore extending them out, adding to costs and disrupting those programmes, and that our troops then did not have the equipment that they needed?

Kevan Jones Portrait Mr Jones
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My right hon. Friend is right, and those chickens are now coming home to roost with some of those programmes. That adds cost, but the main effect was that we saw a 45,000 cut to the Army. Despite the fact that the Conservative party in opposition, when I was a Defence Minister, called for an increase in the Army and an increase in the defence budget—an increase in everything—the first thing it did in government, under the smokescreen of this fictitious £38 billion black hole, was to cut the defence budget. Now we have a situation in which the Army is going to be reduced by another 10,000. Alongside that, we had compulsory redundancies, in-year budgets cut at short notice, and ridiculous decisions taken, for example on Nimrod and Harrier, which were scrapped at a moment’s notice. That had a real effect on the capabilities of our armed forces, as my right hon. Friend has just outlined.

Then we come to the equipment plan. Again, I suggest that anyone who wants to understand the defence budget should always read the NAO reports. The NAO is very clear that the equipment plan, as outlined at the moment, is unaffordable. It has been like that for the last four years, and there is no sign that it is going to improve. According to the last report—these are the MOD’s figures, I hasten to add; I am not adding to the fiction—there is a £13 billion black hole in the current equipment plan. The security and defence review—the integrated review—was supposed to look at that. The one thing I was calling for from that, as I think a lot of people were, was some reality: “What are you going to cancel out of the budget to get it back in balance? Will you actually say what you will do?” It did not take the opportunity to do that. The other startling thing from the most recent report is that the efficiencies that were supposedly built in to make the equipment plan affordable have been completely ignored by the Ministry of Defence.

How did we get to this place? Again, we have to look at the history of what the Government have done over the last 10 years. They introduced the Levene review, which pushed the top-level budget holders back to the military and reduced control at the centre. The latest report shows that nearly a third of the accountancy positions in the top-level budgets in the RAF, Army and Royal Navy are vacant, so there is not that control. I said at the time that I thought the Levene review was misguided. It has left the centre with very little control over some of these issues.

We then had the ludicrous decision, thanks to the Liberal Democrats in the coalition Government, to delay the ordering of the Successor class for the nuclear deterrent, which has led to our existing deterrent having to be extended, at huge cost. Without the ability to look in detail at driving down some of these costs, even with the increase that has been made, I do not think that the equipment budget will be affordable. The way the MOD does its budgets needs fundamental reform.

Why does this matter at the end of the day? It matters for two reasons. First, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (John Spellar) has just said, it leads to a situation in which the men and women of our armed forces do not have the right equipment. It is also inefficient, because it pushes things to the right, and we end up with those us who argue for more money for defence facing people who say, “Why should we give it, if you have this chaotic system?”

However, it is even worse than that. This relates to the equipment we are ordering. A very good report was written by the right hon. Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne) on prosperity. I am a believer. The Prime Minister thinks that now in this golden age after Brexit we should buy British—but the MOD is doing completely the opposite. It seems to buy American. Recently, we have had Wedgetail, the maritime patrol aircraft and Apache helicopters all purchased from the United States in a Government-to-Government contract.

People ask, “Why does that matter?” It does matter. First, because we are not supporting British jobs. Unlike other nations that insist on a work share, as the Indians did with their P-8s, we do nothing at all, so we are left completely wide open not just to our industrial base being denuded, but to foreign exchange fluctuations. That is of huge interest in terms of the defence budget. If we look at it as a whole, US content is 31% now—it was 10% in 2006—and we are opening ourselves up to the fluctuations of the currency markets. That is money that should be going into our frontline services, but it will not be.

No explanation has been given to me as to why we have suddenly gone down that path, and why we have not insisted that the US companies we buy from have to work in the UK. That is inexcusable, but it is a clear decision taken by the MOD that exports British jobs to the United States but also makes our defence budget very vulnerable to currency fluctuations.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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Is it not worse than that? Whereas the United States air force wanted to buy Brimstone and was prevented by congressional pressure—they knew it was a superior product—the MOD has now dumped Brimstone and is buying Hellfire from the United States.

Kevan Jones Portrait Mr Jones
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My right hon. Friend must be reading over my shoulder because I was about to come on to the latest decision by the Ministry of Defence.

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Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Ellwood
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Yes, the hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The burden placed on the existing armed forces when their numbers are reduced overstretches them. That means that the harmony guidelines will not be followed as they should be or welfare programmes adhered to. It is a valid point, particularly in the advent of global Britain. We saw, thanks to the successful G7 summit, recognition that the world is changing fast and we need to do something about it. I would argue that what we choose to do over the next few years in recalibrating, defending and reinvigorating our global order will determine what happens over the next few decades, given the rise of China. It is therefore absolutely important that our armed forces—our hard power—are able to play their role.

In that light, I encourage the MOD to continue in the spirit of what happened in the Black sea yesterday when it chose to send HMS Defender from Odessa to Georgia. I am picking up that perhaps not everybody in Whitehall was of the view that HMS Defender should have taken that path. May I congratulate the MOD on being firm with its commitment to say, “This is how we uphold the international freedom of the seas”? We must not kowtow to adversaries that choose to push forward and demand that other nations are unable to enter these seas. We thought that actually the Black sea would be pretty benign and that it would be the south China sea where things would get a little spicy. What happened yesterday has been a good warm-up. I absolutely encourage the MOD to continue in that vein and not to shy away because of any other voices in Government that might want us to take a more subservient route.

In ending—I am conscious in raising this subject that the Minister was kind in responding to my urgent question yesterday—I reiterate my request for the vaccination of our deployed troops. I am grateful to the Minister for coming to the House yesterday. He made it very clear that the MOD must abide by the national standards of vaccination roll-out.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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Why? Why can we not make an exemption and show preference for our troops who we are sending on deployment overseas, rather than just sticking to the rigid, dogmatic guidelines or strictures of the Department of Health and Social Care officials and, frankly, their hopeless Ministers?

Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Ellwood
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I partially agree with my Committee colleague. The point that is being made, though—the MOD and, indeed, the Ministers understand it—is that there is a very powerful case for giving keyworker status to our overseas deployed personnel. Quite simply, that is what we are asking Ministers to consider. They should take this issue away. They should heed the tone of yesterday’s debate, which has been echoed today. We owe those personnel a huge debt of gratitude for what they did in this country to tackle covid: driving ambulances, building the Nightingales, and running testing stations and vaccination centres. When we ask them to do their day job, we must honour the armed forces covenant. We have a duty of care. I know from my experience in Bosnia, Kuwait, and even Cyprus and Kenya: I got vaccinated again and again to protect me from the diseases that I might encounter. We have the ability to vaccinate here. Please Minister, can we make sure that that happens? Let us give our deployed troops keyworker status.

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John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I think the previous speech, by the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr Fysh), reveals why we need to get back into this Chamber, where we could have made a few interventions on how the Government are letting down Yeovil, as they are letting down so much of the rest of the country.

I was going to start by asking what defence is for, and I was helpfully pre-empted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), who talked about a study of history. A study of history would show that after the second world war NATO had to be founded, by a Labour Government and by the Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, in response to Soviet aggression and also to subversion of the countries of eastern Europe. We had to respond to that, and to subversion at home as well. In the same way, Ernest Bevin also played a prominent part in framing not just Labour policy but national policy before the second world war. Although, to his credit, George Lansbury, the Jeremy Corbyn of his time, had run a London borough, at that conference Ernest Bevin demolished the Lansbury argument for appeasement and pacifism and made it absolutely clear that authoritarianism—totalitarianism—had to be confronted, and confronted robustly.

Interestingly enough, that was emphasised very strongly only last month by President Biden in a speech at the National Memorial Day observance, which I commend to colleagues. He said very clearly that

“democracy must be defended at all costs, for democracy makes all this possible.”

He was talking about equal rights, respect and decency in the way countries treat their citizens and the way they treat other countries and their citizens. That is why we need collective defence. Rather than just talking about the League of Nations or the United Nations, important roles though the United Nations plays, we need collective defence.

Pat Moynihan, the famous American politician and diplomat, wrote a book arguing that the world is “A Dangerous Place”, the strapline of which was, “But a lot of people don’t understand that”. The world is a considerably more dangerous place now than it has been for a while. We have a revisionist China, a revanchist Russia, a subversive Iran, a terror-ridden Sahel—and those are just the main headlines. That is why we need defence, and that is why we need defence spending. A critical part of that for the United Kingdom and, indeed, the countries of western Europe is our transatlantic alliance with the United States, protecting democracy and freedom in Europe and keeping the Atlantic open as the great connecting sea lane between us. We ought to face up to that and support it.

That, of course, has consequences. Having decided that fundamental purpose, what is the structure that we put on top of it, and what role do we play in that? Are we going to play a leading and prominent role, or a very supportive but maybe less prominent role? We have to have—this is where a number of Members, including the right hon. Member for Islington North, are right—a national debate on that.

If we decide that Britain is going to play a significant and prominent role in the defence of freedom around the world, the resources have to follow—not short-changing the armed forces, not cutting the Army’s numbers, not shifting procurement requirements continuously to the right, greatly adding to the expense of each unit and gradually under-capitalising the armed forces; we need to make sure that they are properly funded. The Government talk the talk, often for political purposes—that was quite easy in the last general election against the right hon. Member for Islington North—but they must do more than that. They actually have to walk the walk and make the resources available.

Let us just have a look at the figures for spending on defence. Under the last Labour Government, in 2007-08, it increased by 6.8%. In 2008-09, which of course was a rather difficult year, as people remember, with the global financial crisis, it still increased by 0.5%. It recovered a bit in 2009-10, to plus 2.7%. Then in came the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition and, sadly, the figures were—I will just read the first years—minus 3.7% in 2010, minus 7.2% in 2011, and minus 9.7% in 2012. It went on, some years going down, some years going up slightly. That has always been the history, by the way; we remember “Options for Change” at the end of the cold war.

Jack Lopresti Portrait Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con)
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I greatly respect the right hon. Member for his expertise in and passion for defence matters, but he has conveniently left out the context in which we had to attack and deal with the financial mess we inherited in 2010. We cannot defend our country if we are broke. The right hon. Member talked about history and I enjoyed the beginning of his speech, but every Labour Government in history have left a mess to be cleared up.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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Interestingly, in 2008, when the global financial crisis hit, the ratio of debt to national product was less than it was when we came to office in 1997, and in the meantime we built the schools, the hospitals and the infrastructure that the Conservative Government had lamentably failed to build.

Kevan Jones Portrait Mr Kevan Jones
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Does my right hon. Friend also remember that during those years, up until the crash of 2008, the then Conservative Opposition not only argued for matching our spending targets, but called for more expenditure on defence?

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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I hope the Whips have taken note and that the hon. Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) will get a job after his intervention. By the way, what was the debt to national product ratio when we left office and what is it now? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could tell us that, but he should not bother to interrupt at this moment to do so.

It is not just what we spend but where we spend it. We have had that argument continually in the Chamber. Why are we buying ships from Korea? Why, even when we are going to have the fleet solid support ships armed, does the Secretary of State still talk about only joining them up, not building and procuring all their equipment, here? Why are we buying so many planes from the United States? My right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) pointed out to me that our dollar purchases in 2016 accounted for 10% of equipment. That has now increased to 31%. The hon. Member for Yeovil pointed out that the Yeovil factory is under threat basically because contracts have been given to Boeing, as they have for several other projects. Even when we have a superior product such as Brimstone, the Ministry of Defence cravenly gives in, keeps handing out those contracts and gets nothing in return.

As I said in the earlier debate on trade, no other country in the world behaves like that. I do not understand why Ministers do not stand up for Britain and for defence and get a grip. Otherwise, what is the point of them?

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James Sunderland Portrait James Sunderland
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Again, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. My clear understanding as someone who has spent time working in Defence Equipment and Support and in the MOD is that European Union legislation prevented this country from preferring UK industry. We are now not beholden to the European Union. We can place contracts with whom we want, and we are seeing it right now with our new strategy.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

James Sunderland Portrait James Sunderland
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I will not give way, sorry.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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Go on, give way.

James Sunderland Portrait James Sunderland
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Go on then, if the right hon. Gentleman insists.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, because he said something very significant—about his understanding when working at DE&S. He was saying that the culture there was to embody in their thinking the idea that they could not do it. In fact, that was totally untrue, and every other European country looked after its own industry. He has, very helpfully, exposed the deeply rotten culture inside the Ministry of Defence.

James Sunderland Portrait James Sunderland
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My clear view is that the Ministry of Defence has the ability in law to extend contracts to whom it wants. We are no longer beholden to the European Union.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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We never were.

James Sunderland Portrait James Sunderland
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Yes, we were. I rest my case.

Let us look at what we have right now. We have Lightning II.

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James Heappey Portrait The Minister for the Armed Forces (James Heappey)
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What a treat it has been for the MOD to have had the opportunity to debate defence matters so many times in Armed Forces Week. Of course urgent questions are not necessarily of our choosing, but it is important that those who serve our nation have seen the matters that concern them, their careers and their families debated so keenly in this week of all weeks. I thank also the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) who I believe was assisted by my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) in securing today’s debate, and I thank them, too, for their contributions. Listening to the right hon. Gentleman’s speech and his many interventions thereafter, it was almost as if my Minister’s box had become an audio book as the parliamentary questions were all read out loud. The only problem is that all his PQs will be waiting for me in my actual box when I get back to it later today. I make light of this, but as other Front-Bench spokespeople have rightly said, the forensic way in which he holds us and our Department to account makes us better, and we are grateful. [Interruption.] Well, we are being nice to each other.

My right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East gave us a tour de force on the importance of maintaining our nuclear deterrent. I started today at 3 am in the former bunker in Corsham, where constituents of the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and many other of his countrymen were fighting their way through the mine system as part of their final exercise. The importance of that deterrent was made vividly clear to me, as was the tremendous warrior spirit of the Ulster fighter. My right hon. Friend will appreciate that I cannot say which if any of the first three hypotheses he offered are the right ones for changing our stockpile, but I can absolutely confirm, as he suspected, that the fourth of his hypotheses is not the case.

The Chairman of the Select Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), eloquently paid tribute to our armed forces in his speech. Of course, it will come as no surprise to anybody in the House that Defence Ministers will always take more money for defence, but we cannot ignore the fact that the settlement that the MOD received from the Prime Minister—a multi-year settlement, which we have been asking for for many years and have now got—is a big deal. It puts the MOD finances into a place that they have not been for a long time, and while of course tough decisions remain, the reality is that for the first time the budget looks like it can be balanced and choices can be made based on military need, not because of accounting issues.

I commend to my right hon. Friend the experience of the 3rd Division, who have recently returned from the United States where they have been participating in Exercise Warfighter. The feedback from that exercise is a powerful demonstration of how the land battle is changing and has validated many of the decisions in the integrated review around trading mass in the close fight for more capability with precision deep fires.

My hon. Friends the Members for Yeovil (Mr Fysh) and for West Dorset (Chris Loder) extolled the quality of helicopters made in Somerset. They will get no argument from the MP for Wells. My hon. Friends the Members for Bracknell (James Sunderland) and for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) made fine speeches on the benefit of the generous defence settlement and extolled the virtues of the new technologies that area emerging and the requirement to employ them in our armed forces. Like so many hon. Members across the House, they also rightly championed the UK defence industry.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
- Hansard - -

The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr Fysh) would have difficulty intervening because of the current arrangements. If the Minister thinks the products from Yeovil are so worthy, why are they not being bought?

James Heappey Portrait James Heappey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I expect the right hon. Gentleman knows that he puts me in a tricky situation as an MP from Somerset and a Minister in the MOD. You will not be surprised to hear, Mr Deputy Speaker, that such decisions are ultimately not for me. However, we can all be clear that the options for a helicopter made in the UK are keenly in the minds of Ministers.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Rob Butler) spoke up strongly for the Royal Air Force and the amazing transformation we have had in our combat air forces. The hon. Member for Strangford asked a number of questions seeking reassurance about the shape and size of the Army and, therefore, its resilience going forward.

At the Army board yesterday, many innovative ideas were brought forward by the Chief of the General Staff for how we can get combat personnel from the back office and into the frontline. He asked me specifically to confirm that 72,500 is for trade-trained strength, and that is indeed the case. He is absolutely right that we must get after chronic undermanning and lack of deployability. That challenge has been set to the Army. This is a moment to get those things right.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I am not sure whether you were in the Chamber for the joy of the speech of the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). I am afraid that it was remarkable only in that it stood out from the sensible and balanced contributions from everybody else who participated in the debate. Rather unsurprisingly, he was unwilling to support freedom of navigation in the south China sea or freedom of navigation in the Black sea; indeed, he was critical of the UK and our allies for seeking that. Of course, he was entirely mute on the Russian build-up of troops, combat aircraft and warships in the Black sea earlier this year. Unfortunately, his contribution was typically tone deaf in what was otherwise an excellent debate.

A number of issues have been raised, but first I want to say that the first duty of any Government is the defence of the realm and I know that Governments of all colours ensure that that is their priority. We may disagree on how it is done, but I do not doubt the motives of those who served in the Ministry of Defence before us, and those who will serve after us will always be keen to ensure that our brave armed forces have the resources that they need to do increasingly demanding jobs. However, with the constraints on resources growing, not least due to the pandemic, it is imperative that we deliver more punch for our pound and, indeed, that we become more relevant in an ever-changing battlespace. Even casual observers of defence will know that previous Governments of all colours have not necessarily always got that right. Our integrated review and the Command Paper that followed represent a radically different way of dealing with the defence budget and I welcome the opportunity to explain our thinking in more detail.

The approach is threefold. First, in the short term, it is about upping our spending. The threats to our nation are growing and they come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from a resurgent and increasingly more malign Russia to a rising China, and from global terror to the acceleration of a whole range of threats through climate change. Our adversaries are operating below the threshold of conflict and taking advantage of exponential advances in new technologies. We must invest to stay ahead of the curve. Recognition of the dangers that our nation faces prompted the Prime Minister last November to announce the biggest investment in the UK’s armed forces since the end of the cold war. In the next four years, we will inject more than £24 billion into defence. In total, we will spend in excess of £190 billion on equipment and equipment support in the next decade, including at least £6.6 billion on research and development.

I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East thinks that the ratio between defence spending and health spending is out of kilter—especially now that we are in the company of the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. However, I know he will agree with me that the contribution the Prime Minister has made to the defence budget is none the less hugely significant and to be welcomed.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
- Hansard - -

Will the Minister give way?

James Heappey Portrait James Heappey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If the right hon. Gentleman will indulge me, I will make some progress, not least because he has intervened quite a few times in the debate already, but I will come back to him, I promise.

As I was saying, our defence spending will enable us to continue to meet our international obligations and remain a leader in NATO. Notably, we are one of 10 nations not just meeting but exceeding the alliance’s 2% target, reaffirmed at the recent Brussels summit. Separately, the International Institute for Strategic Studies places the UK fourth in the table of strongest military capabilities and defence economies, behind the USA, China, and India, but ahead of France, Japan, Germany, Saudi Arabia and Russia. Thanks to our boosted budget, we have been able to plug a potential black hole of some £7 billion on projected equipment spend. Some Members have already pointed out that last year’s National Audit Office report suggested the deficit could be deeper still, but that reflected the situation as it was then, not as it is now, following a multi-year settlement, new investment and the defence Command Paper. Together, those have allowed us to redress the imbalance of previous spending reviews.

That brings me to my second point. We have achieved this outcome only by taking tough choices, by refocusing defence on the threats, by honestly assessing what we can and will do, and by retiring legacy capabilities—our ageing tanks, oldest frigates and dated early-warning aircraft—to make way for new systems and approaches. I say in all honesty to colleagues across the House, as somebody who has knowingly served on operations on an outdated platform, that you take no solace from how many of them are in the MOD inventory if you know that they are out of date, you are not properly protected and they lack the lethality for the modern battle space. Coincidentally, there often appear to be the same voices criticising us for retiring legacy platforms as saying we are not doing enough to balance the books or eliminate the so-called “black hole”. You can’t have it both ways. President Eisenhower, no stranger to the military, put it well when he said there is

“one sure way to overspend. That is by overindulging sentimental attachments to outmoded military machines and concepts.”

So, yes, we have taken hard decisions, but they will enable our armed forces to make that rapid transition from mass mobilisation to information-age speed, readiness and relevance.

Those decisions will give us a force fit for the future, equipped with an advanced arsenal of capabilities across sea, land, air, space, and cyber. On the ground, our Army will be leaner but it will be more integrated, active and lethal. It will have revamped attack helicopters, brand new Boxer armoured fighting vehicles, state-of-the-art air defence, long-range precision artillery and new electronic warfare capabilities. At sea, our Royal Navy’s fleet is growing for the first time in years. It will have world-class general purpose frigates—to add to the Type 26 world-beating anti-submarine frigate—air defence destroyers, hunter-killer submarines and a new multi-role ocean surveillance capacity to safeguard our underwater cables in the north Atlantic. In the air, our RAF will benefit from updated Typhoons, brand new F-35 Lightning stealth fighters, new unmanned systems capable of striking remotely and a massive investment in next generation fighter jets and swarming drones. Meanwhile, our growing National Cyber Force will blend the cyber skills of the MOD and GCHQ to counter terror plots, disrupt hostile states or criminals, and support military operations, and our new Space Command will be able to defend our interests beyond our atmosphere.

Of course, we can have the best kit in the world but it counts for little unless we have the best people. Our military and civilian personnel have always been our finest asset and they must be looked after accordingly. That is why we are putting aside resource to help them, whether by investing around £1.5 billion in improving single living accommodation or by spending £1.4 billion over the next decade to provide wraparound childcare.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
- Hansard - -

The Minister has kindly drawn attention to the fact that he is sitting alongside the Health Secretary, so will he take the opportunity to get him to cut through all the bureaucratic nonsense and make sure that our troops on deployment get their jabs?

James Heappey Portrait James Heappey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As we heard at length when I was answering the urgent question yesterday, and as my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary said in the Select Committee meeting thereafter, when we made the case to my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary for jabs for missions that we felt could not be administered in line with age priorities, we were given them without question and we are grateful for that support. However, the judgment was made that we should not be prioritising fit, healthy young men and women in the armed forces at the expense of more elderly and vulnerable people and communities across the country. As I said many times yesterday, and as the Secretary of State said, we in the ministerial team stand behind that decision.

UK Military Personnel Serving Overseas: Vaccination

John Spellar Excerpts
Wednesday 23rd June 2021

(7 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

James Heappey Portrait James Heappey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is right of course that people in our armed forces do accept a heightened risk. However, the risk that they offer to accept is ordinarily one that is posed by the enemy, and we in the MOD certainly do not assume that they are willing and able to accept a higher risk of infection from a virus. The judgment that was made was not around their acceptance of risk; it was made around the fact that military personnel are invariably young, fit and healthy, so when decisions were made about the prioritisation of vaccine it felt correct—and I stand by this now—to prioritise the vaccination of those who were more elderly and vulnerable at home rather than those who were younger, fitter and healthier and serving overseas.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
- Hansard - -

We are all aware of the rigid, dogmatic vaccination policies of the Health Department bureaucrats and the utter failure of the Health Ministers to inject some common sense—they really are hopeless—but the Minister’s pitiful response today shows that Defence Ministers have meekly gone along with this. So the real question is why did our Defence Ministers not show some backbone by standing up for our troops and insisting on vaccines before deployment, if necessary forcing a decision for the Prime Minister? Can the Minister explain that failure?

James Heappey Portrait James Heappey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think I have answered the question already. We made the case for priority vaccination for those whom we felt needed to be vaccinated because it was unrealistic to vaccinate them other than as a priority right at the start of vaccination programmes—the nuclear deterrent quick reaction alert aircrew for example. Thereafter it was perfectly possible to safely vaccinate members of the armed forces in line with their age cohort, and the correct judgment was made in prioritising those who were more elderly and vulnerable at home.

Ajax Programme

John Spellar Excerpts
Tuesday 8th June 2021

(7 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jeremy Quin Portrait Jeremy Quin
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes, we can learn from all procurements. We learn something from everything that is done. I wish this was a totally smooth process. It has not been—from the recast in 2014, to the recast in 2019, the delay to IOC and the fact that here we are, at this point, with two significant issues that I still need to get to grips with and resolve. We will have points to learn from, but I gently say to the House that a demonstration phase is a demonstration phase. We need to learn through a demonstration phase and then apply what we have learned.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
- Hansard - -

The Minister seemed slightly hurt that the shadow Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), described him as complacent, and then he went on to confirm that description. He talked about vibration. He took the manufacturer’s word for it, even though the users found something different. Talk about shades of “dieselgate”. He said that the noise can be mechanical, but somehow, he does not seem to have got to the bottom of where it is coming from. He said that Ajax is capable of firing on the move, but somehow, it does not seem to be able to do so at the moment. Do the troops on the frontline not deserve something better, and does he not need to get a grip?

Jeremy Quin Portrait Jeremy Quin
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The right hon. Gentleman made a number of points. On the vibration, if I took the word of the supplier, we would have met IOC and we would not have issues. I take the word of our crews who have been training on the vehicle; that is why we have taken it so seriously, why we have commissioned the reports that we have commissioned and why the vehicles are currently at Millbrook being put through their paces. I absolutely reassure the House that we will not take the programme into IOC until we are confident that we have achieved what we need to achieve at this stage of the vehicle’s development. I absolutely stand by that.

The right hon. Gentleman also made points about firing on the move and the speed restrictions; there is a difference between the certification of rolling process, certification during a demonstration and future phases, and what the vehicle is capable of.

Strength of the UK’s Armed Forces

John Spellar Excerpts
Wednesday 14th April 2021

(9 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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John Healey Portrait John Healey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Sadly we are nowhere near another election at this point. We are at this stage in the parliamentary cycle with these plans on the table, and our interest is in the Government getting this right. The decisions taken now will set the shape of our defence forces for the next 10 years. The decisions taken now will be the framework with which a future Labour Government, after the next election, will have to live.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
- Hansard - -

Would my right hon. Friend care to remind the hon. Member for somewhere in Essex—the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin)—that one of the reasons there is a big gap is that a previous Conservative Government, in a fit of vandalism, sold off the married quarters estate, costing the Ministry of Defence billions?

John Healey Portrait John Healey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I would, but my right hon. Friend has just done so for me; I am pleased that it is on the record.

--- Later in debate ---
James Heappey Portrait James Heappey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As the shadow Secretary of State noted, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is not able to respond to this debate in person because he is at the meeting of the North Atlantic Council, along with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. The decisions on this are being taken this afternoon in Brussels. I hope that my right hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not pre-empt that, but I am certain that either the Defence Secretary or the Foreign Secretary will want to notify the House with appropriate urgency if and when such a decision has been made.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
- Hansard - -

The Minister was slightly dismissive of looking at the arrays of traditional vehicles. What does he think is now massing on the borders of Ukraine as a direct challenge to NATO?

James Heappey Portrait James Heappey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If the right hon. Gentleman will allow, I will make some progress with my speech, because I had foreseen that such challenge may come.

Over the past 20 years, as we have been engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan, our adversaries have been watching and learning from how insurgent forces, hopelessly over- matched in a conventional sense, have still been able to impose enormous costs on our military and the militaries of our allies. There has been no sentimentality in the way that they have accelerated into new domains and experimented with new technologies.

The Defence Command Paper captures that reality. Last November, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister laid the groundwork for the modernisation of our forces by granting defence the most generous settlement since the cold war, with a commitment to spend £188 billion on defence over the coming four years—an increase of £24 billion. Our Command Paper has taken that investment and used it to deliver a more technologically advanced, better integrated and therefore more deadly force that will underpin our nation’s firepower in this new age of systemic competition. Inevitably this has meant some hard choices, but it is worth reminding ourselves, especially given the rather pessimistic view of the inventory set out by the shadow Secretary of State, what is actually still in the inventory.

At sea, we have the best carriers, air defence destroyers and hunter-killer submarines in the world, and our Navy will be enhanced further by the best anti-submarine warships and new general purpose frigates already under construction at Rosyth and on the Clyde. The Royal Navy’s fleet is growing for the first time since the cold war and, with the renewal of our continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent, makes us the foremost naval power in Europe.

In the air, we will have updated Typhoons, brand-new F-35 Lightning stealth fighters, new unmanned systems capable of striking remotely and massive investment in the next generation of fighter jets and swarming drones.

On the ground, while our Army will be leaner, it will also be more integrated, more active and more lethal—pound-for-pound the most innovative and effective in the world, able to make the most of new Ajax vehicles, revamped attack helicopters, brand-new Boxer armoured fighting vehicles, state-of-the-art air defence, long-range precision artillery and new electronic warfare capabilities. It has taken far too long to get these updates, but we are going to have the best-equipped Army in Europe by the end of the decade.

--- Later in debate ---
John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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First, may we record that on this day 70 years ago the great trade union leader, Labour Foreign Secretary and patriot Ernest Bevin died? Along with Prime Minister Clement Attlee, he created NATO, the Marshall plan and Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent—all, of course, opposed at the time by the ultra-left, in and out of the Labour party. That is why it was so welcome today that the speech introducing the motion was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), getting back to those Labour values, not ultra-left communist and Trotskyist delusions but real Labour values—supporting the defence of our country, demanding proper wages, conditions and equipment for our brave men and women in our armed forces, and supporting our own defence industry.

It is a shame that the Secretary of State is not here today, because frankly, his response to some of the criticisms recently has been rather petulant, and I was hoping we were going to get a reset back to a more reasoned debate. We do, of course, understand why he is not here—because of the crisis in Ukraine. Russia, in full soviet mode, is massing armour on the borders of Ukraine, having previously undertaken similar exercises on the frontiers with the Baltic states, and a massive re-equipment and militarisation of Kaliningrad. We also have to recognise, in some of those esoteric arguments that take place about quality versus quantity—we had some of that from the Minister—that mass has a quality of its own, and therefore we undermine that at our peril.

Yet in the face of this, the Government are running down our defences, both in armour and by cutting the number of troops, and also in other platforms, as was rightly identified by the right hon. Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox). At the same time, we have to recognise that previous Conservative Governments have had form in this respect. In the interwar period, the 10-year rule of anticipating no conflict in 10 years, driven by the Treasury, ran down our defences. That not only reduced our equipment and the number of troops, but sent a message that we lacked resolve, so we were lacking resources and resolve. Under Options for Change, we had a massive rundown of our forces. Soldiers were actually made redundant—an appalling problem, which took a long while to redress.

The removal of HMS Endurance from the Falklands—the withdrawal of resources—sent a very clear signal to the Argentine junta that we lacked resolve, and we know the consequences of that. We had the withdrawal from Germany. My right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) and I pointed out to Ministers at the time that they would not save any money, and now they are having to go back there. They are taking the forces for granted and running down their facilities.

We all recognise the need to review the increasing requirements for operating in the grey zone and for tackling challenges in cyber-space, but in the earlier stages of the review it was posited that changes had to be cash-neutral, so that dealing with those problems had to be at the expense of conventional military capability and of upgrading. That was a mistake and it should be redressed now.

Bernard Jenkin Portrait Sir Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I very much share the concerns expressed by the right hon. Member for Warley (John Spellar), but I very much hope that we maintain minimum recoverable capability in all these fields, because the new capabilities that have been brought in by the integrated review are equally or more important than the reductions in the overall size of the armed forces that we have seen. The big surprise in the review was the announcement of the increase in the warhead cap.

I want to reply very directly to the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). May I remind him that, on 18 July 2016, when he was leader of the Labour party, the Government got through the House the maingate of the renewal of the Trident submarines on a vote of 472 to 117? There is no doubt, therefore, that the strength of consensus in this House does not reflect the views of the then leader of the Labour party.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
- Hansard - -

The hon. Gentleman will recall that that vote was taken about five years later than it should have been because of dithering by his own Government.

Bernard Jenkin Portrait Sir Bernard Jenkin
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think the coalition had something to do with that. I warned David Cameron about that before we even went into that coalition.

The right hon. Member for Islington North accuses his own country of proliferating weapons of mass destruction, and suggests that we are somehow escalating our numbers, but he does not even mention the fact that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) said, Russia has—what was it?—6,800 nuclear warheads. They are modernising every single weapons system that they have got. They are in breach of the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty. That is escalation, and the right hon. Member for Islington North has nothing to say about that whatsoever.

We all know that the British people will support the United Kingdom’s continuous at-sea deterrent for as long as other nuclear weapons states are keeping their weapons and there are other proliferators around. We just need to remind ourselves what extraordinarily good value the continuous at-sea deterrent system actually is. The Library produced a report last month, pointing out that the annual cost of our continuous at-sea deterrent is just 1% of the cost of social security and tax credits—just 1%. So the idea that this is a Rolls-Royce system that we cannot afford is mythical. Nothing could buy us the security and influence that the continuous at-sea deterrent gives us.

The doctrine of deterrence is just as valid as it ever was. Has the right hon. Member for Islington North ever asked himself why major state-on-state warfare stopped in 1945? Well, I can tell him why: it was because nuclear weapons were invented and that kind of warfare became too costly, too destructive, to contemplate. Does he want to go back to that world by getting rid of nuclear weapons altogether? I hope not.

We just need to remind ourselves that our continuous at-sea deterrent can attack any target at any time, so it is always ready to respond to threats. Its location is unknown so it cannot be pre-empted. It does not require to be deployed at a time of international tension and crisis. The technology is tried and tested. It is not in breach of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty; it is completely compliant. It is a sovereign capability, which, if we had to use it, we would. No alternative system could possibly provide all these benefits at such good value, and that is why we should reaffirm our commitment to our nuclear deterrent.

--- Later in debate ---
Johnny Mercer Portrait The Minister for Defence People and Veterans (Johnny Mercer)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It has been an interesting debate. As you well know, Mr Deputy Speaker, I thoroughly enjoy any debates in the House on military or veterans matters, and today has been another one. There have been some enthusiastic contributions, which is fantastic to see. Some of them were slightly light on detail and facts, but I am not going to work through correcting all of those because I understand the premise of the debate and I will respond to a couple of the points that have been made.

I would just gently say that we must never treat our service people in this country like they are stupid. For Members to claim that everything under a Labour Government has been okay and that the Conservative Government have slashed and burned the military is to treat people who serve and people in this country like they are stupid. It is fundamentally untrue. There have been challenges over the years, and the really uncomfortable and embarrassing truth for Opposition Members who are so loud is that I was actually fighting in the compounds in Afghanistan when the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) was a Minister in the Department, and I can tell the House that it was a deeply unpleasant experience that was made more unpleasant by the management and leadership of the Department at the time. So I will take no lessons in party politics when it comes to what has happened with defence.

We all agree that strong armed forces are essential to the wellbeing of our nation. As the Minister for the Armed Forces, my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (James Heappey), mentioned, the reforms we have set out in our integrated review and in the Defence Command Paper will enhance, rather than reduce, the strength of our military to meet future threats. One of my hon. Friends who is no longer in his place talked about the strength of the military and what that strength actually is. I think it was someone rather unpleasant who said that mass had a force of its own, and I am not going to deny that. To deny it would be to scream at the weather.

I have huge sympathy with my right hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), who I have had deep feeling for over a number of years. I have huge respect for his service and for what he did during his time, but it is a truth—a truism—that our people are now more capable and we can do more at reach for a longer period of time with greater strategic effect than we could 20 years ago. That is a truism of global conflict. I totally understand the frustrations, and I apologise to my right hon. Friend that nobody spoke to him before the decision was made on his sub-unit. I will go and investigate what happened there. But it is a truism that we can be more capable and achieve more with fewer individuals in uniform now.

As for the idea that the military is being cut, we have to be honest with the British people. Yes, there are going to be fewer people in the military, but we can now deploy at a far faster rate and at a far greater global reach, and that is what matters today. So yes, mass has a force all of its own, and you will find no Minister in the Defence Department who does not want more money for the Defence budget and more people in the military, but the reality is, as the Secretary of State has said a number of times, that we have to operate within the envelope of our ambition in this country when it comes to the military. In that context, it is a very good and exciting review, and I will come on to talk about the people, because I know that a number of Members raised issues around how people are treated.

I will, if I may, briefly pay tribute to some of the contributions. My right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) spoke on his traditional theme of CASD. The commitment of those who maintain the continuous at-sea deterrent is extraordinary, and it is a commitment not only from them, but from their families. If we think about what it means to go away on those boats for a prolonged period of time, we realise that separation without any contact is extraordinary, and their commitment endures year after year. We owe them a huge debt for the ongoing security they provide in this country.

The right hon. Member for Warley (John Spellar) again went on about all the mistakes Tory Governments have made over the years. I have addressed that. I think it is disingenuous, and I am not going to say any more on that. My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin) again talked about CASD and the commitment—

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
- Hansard - -

Will the Minister give way?

Johnny Mercer Portrait Johnny Mercer
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

No, I am not going to give way. [Interruption.] No, no, no.

Defence and Security Industrial Strategy

John Spellar Excerpts
Tuesday 23rd March 2021

(10 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jeremy Quin Portrait Jeremy Quin
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On my hon. Friend’s last point, we are very focused on increasing availability to make certain that our ships are where they should be—at sea, often present. The example we have set with HMS Montrose of having the crew going out to the ship rather than the ship endlessly coming to and from is a great example of how our ships can be more present and more persistent and have more influence around the world.

Yes, there will be more ships; we will set out more detail in the shipbuilding strategy, which will look not only at the Royal Navy but across the totality of Government expenditure on shipbuilding. There will be good news—more good news—on shipbuilding in the UK; of that I have absolutely no doubt. We have set out our numbers—eight Type 26s and five Type 31s—but in addition there will be more news on Type 32s and other vessels that we will be procuring, including the fleet solid support ships.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
- Hansard - -

On the fleet solid support ships, the announcement is of course enormously welcome, but why has it taken us—particularly my right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) and I—so long to persuade Ministers to designate them as naval vessels, as they have done today? Similarly, it is good that we are moving away from global by default, but why not behave like every other industrial country by looking after our own industry and making it clear to officials right the way down the line that the policy is now British by default?

Jeremy Quin Portrait Jeremy Quin
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I know that the right hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) have been assiduous. I once accused him of being a cracked record, but at least it was a very patriotic tune. I appreciate his campaign and that of the right hon. Member for North Durham. They were pushing on an open door. We wanted to make certain that FSS has a lot of value to the UK in broad terms, as well as to the Royal Navy. More information will be given on that in due course.

I can guarantee that we will have a good close working relationship with our naval shipbuilders. I look forward to more orders coming their way in the future as we see the full benefit of our national shipbuilding programme play out in the years and decades ahead. I have no doubt that this strategy will signal a renaissance in our relationship with onshore building in the UK, but it is a nuanced approach; we are making certain that we get the kit we need in the best way we possibly can.

Covid-19 Response: Defence Support

John Spellar Excerpts
Tuesday 12th January 2021

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation issued advice on priority groups for covid on 2 December. Prioritisation was governed by evidence on the risk of increased death rates from severe illness rather than occupational roles. With the exception of Defence Medical Services—frontline healthcare workers who are engaged in patient care for those with specific vulnerabilities—the majority of defence people are not expected to be included in the initial roll-out. However, as I said earlier, we are working with the rest of Government to try to make sure that people who have key defence tasks are given priority at some stage after the first cohorts have had their vaccinations.

I pay tribute to the men and women of the RAF at Valley. They have done an amazing job, and not only out of area in Derbyshire and so on where they have been helping. That shows that this effort is not just about the Army. Yesterday the Prime Minister met members of the Navy involved in the vaccinations, and the RAF has been helping in landlocked Derbyshire as well. That shows that this is a multi-domain, multi-service effort.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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I join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to the work of our military personnel—the frontline in this crisis—but what is their role, and that of Ministers, in setting the direction? How often does Cobra meet, and do they attend? He mentioned the constraint in stocks of vaccines. Is that not now the crux of the matter? What is holding us back, and what is being done about it?

Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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First, we are not being held back. I think we have injected more people than anywhere in Europe—in fact, not so long ago, it was more than in the whole of Europe put together. We are almost in the lead on the number of people being injected, on a like-for-like basis. Nothing is being held back. The Government have placed the orders for enough vaccines for all of us over the period. At the same time, we are absolutely keen to step up to the plate to make sure that we get ahead of the problem, if there is a problem, and to deliver so that we do not have a problem. That is what we are doing right now. I am confident that we will get there. I agitate most days to make sure that we are in the room, and we are in the room. My hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces attends Covid-O—effectively the standing Cobra for covid response—almost twice weekly, if not more. We are always engaged in making sure that there is a planned Government solution to this problem.