Labour hold the Government to account over the National Shipbuilding Strategy.

Labour hold the Government to account over the National Shipbuilding Strategy.
Yesterday in Parliament, Shadow Labour Defence Minister for Procurement, Wayne David MP, challenged the Government on the lack of strategy for Naval Shipbuilding. Speaking in the 90 minute Westminster Hall Debate, David criticised the delayed delivery of Government plans for the building of future war ships.

You can read the full text of David’s Speech below:

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I congratulate the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Douglas Chapman) on securing this debate; it is on a very important subject and, as has been said, it has given us a first opportunity to discuss Sir John Parker’s important report.

I welcome the contributions of Scottish National party colleagues, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), who showed his expertise in this area. However, it is a great shame—a crying shame—that there are no Conservative Members of Parliament present, apart from the Minister and, rather belatedly, somebody else who I think has come in for another debate.

It is a great shame that we have not had a full Chamber and that we have not all been able to debate collectively what is a fundamentally important issue for this country.

I will focus my comments on the situation regarding the strategy from the Ministry of Defence. My starting point, of course, is what the Government themselves declared in 2015 in their strategic defence and security review. They said that they were committed to maintaining a fleet of 19 frigates and destroyers, and that they intended to complement that force with a new class of lighter and flexible general purpose frigates.wayne

At that time, they correctly made the link between the need to develop our national security and the promotion of our domestic prosperity. The Government proudly announced then that a new national shipbuilding strategy
“will lay the foundations for a modern and efficient sector capable of meeting the country’s future defence and security needs.”

In the Budget of 2016, the Government proudly announced that they had appointed the eminent Sir John Parker to lead and write a national shipbuilding strategy, and it was promised that a report would be prepared and presented to this House in 2016.

However, there has been genuine confusion and I hope that the Minister will take this opportunity to clarify the situation. On 29 November 2016, we had a report from Sir John Parker, but it was not, as we had been promised, the Government’s national shipbuilding strategy. Many people thought that it was—some Ministers thought that it was—but it was not. Instead, we had an “independent report” on the UK’s national shipbuilding strategy from Sir John Parker.

My questions are quite simple. How did that metamorphosis take place; why did it take place; why is there confusion; what contact was there between the different Departments; and who is taking the lead on this issue? Those are very important questions about something as fundamental as the strategy for our future warships, which is not an issue that can be lightly dismissed. I echo what other Members have said: we would all like answers from the Minister about what on earth has happened and what on earth is going on.

Of course, Sir John’s report is very radical and extremely scathing about how things work, or rather do not work, within the Ministry of Defence regarding Royal Navy programmes. The report has a very interesting, informative and worrying chart about the length of time it takes for projects to develop to fruition. For example, Sir John points out that it was in 1967 that the conceptual start of the Type 21 frigates began and they were delivered nine years later. As for the Type 23 frigates, the conceptual start date was in 1978, but it took 17 years for that project to come to fruition. Goodness knows how long it will take for the Type 26 frigates.

Sir John asks why there have been such long delays. Why has this process taken such a long period of time? In some ways, the demands upon the frigates have changed. The world has changed and defence requirements have changed, but there is still that laborious project time before us. Why has that happened?

Sir John gives a number of reasons why the long delays have occurred. He makes 11 points. I will not go through all of them, but will just pick out some of the reasons he suggests. He says that there has been “A lack of assured Capital budget per RN ship series, subject to annual arbitrary change, with accumulative negative impact on time and cost with accompanying increased risk of obsolescence”.

That is very worrying. He also says that there have been “Poor linkages across the ‘Total Enterprise’ including industrial capability and capacity”.

He goes on to say: “Senior decision-makers have, previously, been engaged too late in the process and not always with high quality information and costing data”.

He adds:“The MOD has lost expertise in both design and project contract management”.

He says that there has been “Inadequate evaluation of risk contingency in each project”.

Those are some of the damning reasons why Sir John says there have been delays. I suggest that they are an indictment of the MOD, which really must sort things out once and for all regarding its procurement and governance strategy for warships.

Once the strategy has been written by the Government, when will it be published? I will not ask for the exact day or week, but will it be published in March, April, May, or whenever? We would like some sort of indication. Once it is published, we would like to know what sort of consultation there will be and how long it will last. I ask that because we want to have a full debate on every dot and comma of that important policy document.

I recognise that the Minister will not say very much about what might or might not be in that report. Nevertheless, I have a number of questions for her. First, will the Government sort out, once and for all, their procurement and governance systems for warship construction in this country?

There really ought to be a masterplan that should be reviewed at each SDSR, and as part of that approach there should be a partnership with both the industry and the trade unions. As Sir John has suggested, a shipyard trade union representative ought to be appointed to attend regular meetings, to enhance the transparency and efficiency of the processes that are under way.

Secondly, will the Government commit to working with their industry partners and trade unions to enhance the training and educational capabilities and facilities, so that there is the correct mix of skills and competence, particularly with regard to the new digital systems that are coming on stream?
Thirdly, will the Government commit to having a small but highly specialised virtual innovation centre to force through, among other things, advances in design, new materials and productivity improvements? As Sir John has argued, such an innovation centre is necessary if we are to oversee the new “global competitiveness plans”, which I believe the Government want to see being created.

Finally, will the Government commit to placing a greater emphasis on the exporting of British-built ships, as well as British project management, design, equipment and sub-systems? Will they not only engage in general rhetoric, but commit to specifics, as part of a great national effort to ensure not just that British-built ships are used for British defence, but that the expertise in this country is sold for the benefit of navies throughout the world?

You can the extracts of the full debate here.

Labour MP Stephen Doughty Secures Debate on Remembrance

On Tuesday 8th November, Stephen Doughty MP has secured a three hour Commons debate on the subject of “Rethink Remembrance” – the theme of this year’s 2016 Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal. The debate aims to raise awareness of the sacrifices made not just by the Armed Forces of the past, but by today’s generation too.

Whilst for many people, Remembrance is associated with the fallen of the First and Second World Wars – and of course we will always remember – the Legion wants to raise awareness of a new generation of veterans and Service personnel that need our support.calais-debate

The debate will be held in the House of Commons Chamber on Tuesday 8th November under the motion that ‘this House has considered raising awareness of a new generation of veterans and Service personnel’.

The application for the debate received more than forty signatures from all sides of the House.

Stephen said: “I am delighted to have secured this cross party debate on raising awareness of a new generation of veterans and Service personnel for next Tuesday.

“I have been deeply moved by this year’s Royal British Legion campaign, which challenges us to rethink the image we have of veterans.

“Whilst we will never forget the sacrifices made by those who served in both World Wars, almost 12,000 British service personnel have died in conflicts since then, with countless more injured or living with life changing physical and mental health conditions”

“I am glad we will have the opportunity to raise awareness in Parliament of issues affecting veterans of more recent conflicts, and challenge others to rethink remembrance.”

Shadow Minister for the Armed Forces Meets Veterans in Plymouth

 

Shadow Minister for the Armed Forces Toby Perkins MP met with Armed Forces Veterans from the Frontline Veterans Support group during a visit to Plymouth last week.

The group raised concerns over lack of Government funding for veteran support services and called for more joined up thinking between Government, Local Government and local organisations.

Toby Perkins MP said,

“Whilst some veterans require specialist support, a number of the issues veterans face are shared more widely with other vulnerable people in society. These include lack of access to mental health support, problems with housing and the bedroom tax.

The reality is that if we fail to intervene early in the rehabilitation of veterans we risk putting further pressures on an NHS which is already at stretched to breaking point.

“Aside from this, let’s remember that our armed forces put their lives on the line for this country. Whatever their situation when they leave the forces we owe our veterans a debt of gratitude. At the very least, one way in which we can repay that debt is to give our veterans the support they need.”IMG_1536

Join us at Labour Party Conference

Labour Friends of the Forces Reception at Party Conference
Sunday 27th September from 5-6:30pm at the Sandringham Room of the Hilton Brighton Metropole Hotel
Our servicemen and women, and our veterans, are the very best of Britain. I am proud that they are joining Labour in growing numbers and that they are helping to shape our future policies, with many standing as candidates in the General Election in May.

We’re planning a big presence at this year’s Party Conference and I would be delighted if you could join us, Labour’s Shadow Defence Ministers and guest speakers at a reception to celebrate our Armed Forces, past and present, and their families.

The event will be held on Sunday 27th September from 5pm at the Sandringham Room of the Hilton Brighton Metropole Hotel.

At the reception we’ll be looking for ideas to grow the organisation and formalise it with an AGM in coming months. It’d be great to hear your views and discuss how we can take LFOF forward.

Please let me office know if you wish to attend by emailing officeoflfof@gmail.com.

Unable to make the reception? Join us throughout the conference at our stall (Stand 68), why not bring along a plus 1 to sign up?

Vernon Coaker commenting on the Intelligence and Security Committee Announcement

Vernon Coaker, the Shadow Defence Secretary, commenting on the Intelligence and Security Committee announcement:

“I am pleased to see the Government have responded to our call and will set up the Intelligence and Security Committee today in the House of Commons.

“It will be able to scrutinise the decision-making process, the intelligence that led to the anti-terrorist action in Syria. It is vital that the Government’s actions are scrutinised independently so that they command public support.”

Strategic Defence and Security Review Submissions

The MoD recently invited suggestions for the Strategic Defence and Security Review however submissions were to be no longer than 1,500 characters, or around 200-300 words.

Former senior officers and academics have accused the Government of insulting defence experts by asking for their suggestions but limiting them to just a few hundred words.

Vernon Coaker, the Shadow Defence Secretary, said the Government’s “entire approach to the SDSR is wrong”. 

He said: “They promised an open process but instead have delivered a sham consultation where submissions can be no longer than 300 words. The MoD’s methodology is an insult to the wider defence community whose expertise should form the foundation of the Government’s review. The 2010 SDSR did not survive contact with reality and all the signs are that the Government will repeat the mistakes they made five years ago, leading to a further decline in Britain’s global influence.” 

Following pressure from Vernon Coaker and Defence Synergia, the website for submissions has recently been updated and no longer has a word limit. Here is the link to the consultation should you wish to be involved: SDSR & NSS Submission.

Vernon Coaker responding to conclusion of inquest into SAS deaths

Vernon Coaker MP, Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary, responding to the conclusion of the inquest into the deaths of three Army reservists on an SAS test march in 2013, said:

“The Coroner’s conclusion that neglect played a part in the deaths of Lance Corporal Edward Maher, Lance Corporal Craig Roberts and Corporal James Dunsby, who were taking part in a SAS test march in 2013, raises serious concerns about the effectiveness of Ministry of Defence procedures and their application on such exercises.

“The Coroner states that she does not believe that the MoD has a proper plan and guidance to deal with heat-related illness. This is unacceptable and a full review of how such exercises are organised needs to carried out immediately.

“Those who seek to meet the incredibly high standard set by our Special Forces are naturally driven and, in many cases, unwilling to countenance failure. The Coroner’s conclusion that had organisers strictly followed the MoD code of practice, the march should have been cancelled – following the withdrawal of two men from the exercise due to heat sickness – shows how important it is that MoD procedures for such exercises are overhauled without delay.

“The deaths of these three Army Reservists were a tragedy that should have been avoided. The Ministry of Defence needs to ensure that its guidance and their application addresses the concerns raised by the Coroner in this case straightaway.”