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Nominations open for Chair of Defence Committee

18 September 2023

The Speaker has announced the timetable for the election of the Chair of the Defence Select Committee following the resignation of Tobias Ellwood.

Nominations close at noon on Tuesday 24 October. If there is more than one candidate, a ballot will take place on Wednesday 25 October between 11am and 2.30pm.

Under the standing orders of the House, the Chair of the Defence Committee is allocated to the Conservative Party. Candidates require the support of 15 fellow Conservative MPs for their nomination to be valid.

If only one MP is nominated for the role, they are elected unopposed. If two or more MPs stand, there follows a ballot where MPs vote by ranking candidates in order of preference. Votes are later counted under the Alternative Vote system. The result is expected to be announced in the Chamber later that day.

Valid nominations received on sitting days will be printed in the next day’s House business papers. They will also be published on the Parliament website along with the candidate’s supporting statement, signatories and any declared interests. They will also be published below.


Sarah Atherton

MP for Wrexham

Nominated by (own party)

Nicola Richards, Paul Holmes, Chris Loder, Selaine Saxby, Virginia Crosbie, Robin Millar, Alicia Kearns, Sally-Ann Hart, Greg Smith, Caroline Nokes, Siobhan Baillie, Dr Caroline Johnson, Tom Randall, Jo Gideon, Elliot Colburn

Nominated by (other parties or no party)

Tonia Antoniazzi, Carol Monaghan, Jim Shannon, Jess Phillips, Khalid Mahmood

Interests declared

Chair of the OVA Advisory Board for Women Veterans’ Strategy; Chair of the Women in Defence APPG; Vice-chair of the Veterans APPG; Vice-chair of the Armed Forces Covenant APPG.

Supporting statement

The House should select the best candidate for this role which should sit above Party Politics. Our military deserves nothing less.

After encouragement from many members of both houses, across all parties, I believe I am the best placed of all candidates to continue the excellent work the Defence Committee has done to date. I have served on the committee throughout this Parliamentary Term, so I truly understand the way it works and the issues that our military face.  I am the only female MP with regular military experience having served as a soldier, a military spouse and veteran.

I am putting myself forward because:

  1. I not only have a reputation for delivering - but I also have a track record for creating real change on the ground where it matters - e.g. updated Army Body Armour and the creation of the Serious Defence Crimes Unit.  
  2. I have demonstrated by chairing the sub-committee on ‘Women in the Armed Forces’ that I can lead in a collegiate and inclusive manner, with a unifying voice. I will be balanced and fair and allow individual committee members from all parties to express their views.    
  3. During the past three years I have gained a granular understanding of the issues within the Defence Sector.  As part of the committee, I have scrutinised a wide variety of fields ranging from 5G security, Armoured Fighting Vehicles, Space, Maritime and Air domains, Russia / Ukraine war, climate change and foreign involvement in the supply chain. I have been actively involved in all of these inquiries, so my military knowledge is broad and current.  
  4. During my time as Defence Minister, I built a good reputation within the Ministry of Defence (MoD) whilst striving for change and improvements. I know how the MoD works and thus have a unique insight and experience to bring as Chair.   
  5. We live in a very volatile world.  We have a demoralised workforce and the smallest army since Napoleonic times, with recruitment and retention remaining poor.  There are capability and equipment gaps whilst our military modernises.  At the same time, we are asking our military to support British interests around the globe. The incoming Chair will need to have the understanding and knowledge of both the committee, our military, and the MoD so they can hit the ground running.  I am that person. 

I believe all my colleagues here in Parliament and on the committee know that I am passionate, true to my word and will chair the committee fairly and without favour.  I will continue to question and challenge our military and the MoD - particularly our procurement process to ensure the taxpayer is getting value for money. 

I feel both honoured and enthusiastic to be standing for this role.  

Robert Courts

MP for Witney

Nominated by (own party)

Dr Ben Spencer, Mr William Wragg, Royston Smith, Priti Patel, Mrs Natalie Elphicke, Harriet Baldwin, Sir Robert Syms, Sir Simon Clarke, Henry Smith, Dr Liam Fox, Andrew Lewer, Saqib Bhatti, Mark Garnier, Justin Tomlinson, Angela Richardson

Nominated by (other parties or no party)

Sir Chris Bryant, Luke Pollard, Wera Hobhouse, Alex Davies-Jones, Dave Doogan

Interests declared

Chair of the Aviation APPG; Chair of the Maritime and Ports APPG; Honorary Vice-President of the Merchant Navy Welfare Board; Chair of the Royal Air Force Association Lords and Commons Branch; Associate Member of the Royal British Legion; Associate Member of the Royal Air Force Association

Supporting statement

We face the most challenging defence picture for many years. The asymmetric challenges that have faced us since 9/11 have not disappeared: those who wish to challenge our way of life are as active as they have ever been. Yet we have seen the era of great power rivalry return in the shape of China, and further, with Russia not just establishing a new Cold War but bringing mechanised warfare back to the continent of Europe in a way that many felt had been left behind.

We need to recognise the fact that the scene is darkening. We need to address the lack of mass across all armed services that is a major source of concern for the entire West, to consider afresh how we work with our allies both within and outside NATO, be prepared to rebuild our defence industrial base and supply chains to ensure we have access to the equipment and supplies that we need. But above all, we must ensure that our people - the best of our country - are given the quality of service life that they deserve and which ensures that they remain in military service. Training must remain world-class, with deployments providing career stimulation but not so frequent - under pressure of smaller armed forces - as to threaten family life. Homes must be a significant, positive part of the service life “offer” to ensure that we attract - and keep - the next generation of soldiers, sailors and airmen, never forgetting that retention of highly-trained personnel is every much an imperative as recruiting them. We will have to accept that we need to spend significantly more on defence, to rebuild mass and combat power, as well as invest in the new technologies - AI, electronic warfare, uncrewed - of the future, as well as our world-class intelligence and the logistics without which no armed effect is possible. And of course, we need to learn the lessons of Ukraine and the Middle East as our adversaries will most certainly be. All of these “front line” level factors must be supported by a serious look at deterrence and strategy - understanding what it is we want to achieve, and why - before we consider how we ensure that we do it.

With these imperatives comes a need for robust scrutiny. I would aim to be a strong and unifying chair, providing collegiate stability as we scrutinise the challenges that face us. I am well-placed to do so, not only already serving on the committee, but chairing a sub-committee inquiry into military accommodation. I have substantial ministerial experience as Minister for Aviation, Maritime & Security during the COVID pandemic, with significant experience of working cross-party both in Government and from the back benches. With RAF Brize Norton, the largest base in the Royal Air Force, at the centre of my constituency, I have a major military presence that underpins my detailed understanding of defence. I wish to serve our country, the House and the committee - and would be deeply honoured to have that responsibility.

Mr Mark Francois 

MP for Rayleigh and Wickford

Nominated by (own party)

Anna Firth, Mr Laurence Robertson, Mr David Jones, Jack Lopresti, Sir James Duddridge, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, John Redwood, Bob Stewart, Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Anne Marie Morris, Mr Jonathan Djanogly, Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, Sir Desmond Swayne, Kelly Tolhurst, Giles Watling

Nominated by (other parties or no party)

Sir Jeffrey M Donaldson, Dame Meg Hillier, Sammy Wilson, Ben Lake, Gregory Campbell

Registered interests

Patron of the Rayleigh Branch of the Royal British Legion; Honorary Member of the Rayleigh Branch of the Royal Naval Association (by virtue of my late father’s naval service)

Supporting statement

Dear Colleague,

As events of the last few years have unfortunately demonstrated, we live in an increasingly dangerous and volatile world. Our great friend Sir David Amess was murdered by a terrorist and further afield, from Ukraine, through the Middle East to the South China Sea, we see threats to our national security - and that of our allies - intensifying. In this context, the work of the House of Commons Defence Committee is now arguably more important than ever.

Given this, whilst there are other strong candidates in this race, I hope and believe I am the most experienced candidate for this important position. I have served on the Committee since 2017 and participated in numerous highly detailed inquiries. Earlier this year, I chaired a well-received report by our Defence Sub Committee entitled: "It is broke - and it's time to fix it" into our troubled defence procurement system.

Buying and sustaining often highly complex military equipment now accounts for almost half of the entire circa £50 billion Defence Budget and, as the recent debacle of the "Ajax" reconnaissance vehicle showed, this system is now crying out for fundamental reform, something I would strongly encourage as the Committee Chair. In this regard, I am grateful to have also been nominated by the Chair and Deputy Chair of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which has also conducted lots of good work on this subject.

Regarding Defence more widely, having served for three years as an MoD Minister, firstly as Veterans Minister and thereafter as Minister of State for The Armed Forces, I believe I have a good, detailed, working knowledge of the Department, which it is the Committee's vital duty to scrutinise.

In addition, as anyone who has witnessed our hearings can tell you, I have been prepared to ask probing and challenging questions of witnesses, including Ministers and MoD senior officials, whether helpful to the Government or not. I would aim to lead the Committee with this same sense of dedication to the subject matter, as its Chair.

Prior to entering Parliament, I previously served as an infantry officer in the Territorial Army during the Cold War and my late father served on a minesweeper, HMS Bressay on D-Day. He taught his son that we should never weaken our defences, something I have always sought to bear in mind during my twenty-two years in Parliament, including in my six years on the Defence Committee, to date.

In summary, Defence is probably one of the most complex Departments in Government. With a newly appointed Defence Secretary and potential threats to our security now multiplying rapidly, I believe it is even more important to have an experienced, former MoD Minister leading Parliament's work in holding the Department and its current Ministers and civil servants to account.

I hope and believe I am that person and I humbly ask for your support.

Yours ever,

Rt Hon Mark Francois MP

Further information

Header image credit: UK Parliament/Elspeth Keep