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Residential Care Homes

3.32 pm

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to further regulate ownership, control and standards of private residential care homes; and for connected purposes.

I should like to ask the House to entertain the idea of a Bill which, even at this late stage, would enable us to amend the Registered Homes Act 1984 with certain specific changes. I want to introduce national standards for the care of all residents in private or local authority homes or receiving domiciliary or day care. I should like also to improve the registration of residential care homes, to extend the registration to domiciliary care and day units, and to set up an independent inspectorate with responsibility for inspecting all private and local authority homes at least four times a year. I want to specify the ratio of inspectors to beds, and to include all homes, irrespective of size, on the register. I want to stipulate the minimum requirements for the qualifications of staff and principals, and the ratio of trained staff to residents. It is not widely realised that this week the other place has taken decisions on part of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill which would have a direct effect upon residential care homes.

In the light of some of the dreadful cases that have recently come to our attention, the House has a special responsibility. We have only to consider the Frank Beck case and what happened to those in residential care homes in Buckinghamshire who were allegedly raped and subjected to the most appalling abuses, to realise that our legislation is far from perfect and that the sooner it is improved the better.

Nursing homes are currently registered differently from residential care homes. Under the Registered Homes Act residential care homes, whether private, voluntary or public sector, are registered and inspected by local authorities. But private, voluntary and a handful of NHS nursing homes are registered and inspected by health authorities.

Residential care homes are not required to employ nurses. By contrast, nursing homes must have in charge either a registered medical practitioner or a qualified nurse, and there should be sufficient staff on duty to provide skilled nursing to all residents.

Why am I asking for the minimum requirements of national standards? First, it is clear that there are great differences between one county and another in the interpretation of the existing law. Even on the simple business of inspectorates, a Royal College of Nursing survey found that in one health authority one full-time and two part-time inspectors were inspecting 167 homes with 4,110 beds. However, in another health authority that makes inspections a priority, a full-time and a part-time inspector were covering only seven premises with 269 beds.

As soon as we begin to read, even in the daily press, about the cases that consistently come to light, we realise why so many people are deeply concerned about what happens to some of the frailest and the most at risk in our population. Those who suffer from Alzheimer's disease, the mentally handicapped and those who, although

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retaining their mental faculties, are not able to care for themselves, must be protected whether they are cared for in residential care homes or even in their own homes.

There has been a call to Parliament to institute the same sort of protection for those who go into people's homes to care for them and we should include that in our legislation. It is extraordinary that we demand that those who work in local authority homes should be suitably checked by the police to make sure that they are fit and proper persons while we do nothing to make sure that private units and agencies carry out the same checks on their staff.

One of the difficulties is that private care homes do not have the right to ask the police for that information. If they do, they will discover that it takes anything up to six weeks before any kind of information is forthcoming. In that length of time many people can be quite badly injured through being treated in unsuitable circumstances by unsuitable staff.

The Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill that is going through the other place contains regulations about fire and the care of people in private homes. However, the Department of Trade and Industry has proposed that the registration and inspection process should be subject to review, presumably --because it is being discussed during proceedings on the deregulation Bill --with a view to removing the few current controls.

I have strong reservations about the idea that self-regulation will do in relation to the circumstances that are discussed time and again. Self- regulation would not protect the disoriented person who died when left alone in a bath while the care assistant went out for a cup of tea. Care for the mentally handicapped would not be sufficiently regulated by self- regulation as many people have been subjected to physical and mental abuse.

What is needed is a totally independent inspectorate which, above all, is properly funded. Inspectors must be properly trained and must have the right to investigate the circumstances that are brought to their attention. There must be a proper ratio of the numbers of beds to inspectors and inspectors must have the right to insist on nationally agreed standards that are not imposed, but agreed by all those who are directly involved. Those nationally agreed standards should be available to all and easily checked. Looking beyond the work of the inspectors, I believe that it is clear that many local authorities are failing fairly disastrously in the job that they have been called upon to undertake.

Why do I ask for a minimum of four inspections a year? The simple reason is that members of the press told us that when they asked local authorities how many homes in their care had been inspected, they discovered not only that many of them were inspected only once during the year, but that many authorities were unable to provide accurate information and had no idea which of those homes were to be visited only on a biannual basis. That is not only frightening but it is very distressing for the people concerned and for their families. Independent inspectors should have the right not just to look at what is happening in our homes, but to publish that information and to make sure that it is available to the families of anyone requiring care for their loved ones.

It is quite horrifying that the Government are suggesting in their new guidelines for the national health service that in future people can be moved automatically

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from the NHS into private care homes without their agreement, yet their relatives would not have an automatic or simple way of checking up on the quality of care within the homes that their own relatives were in.

Inevitably, when one considers what a battle it is for many parents of mentally handicapped people or those who have elderly and frail relatives to deal with the problems of bureaucracy and the day-by-day problems that they encounter in the safe management of their own families, it is essential that the House should regulate not only private and residential care homes, but the way in which independent private agencies work.

There are no names on the Bill other than mine for a particular reason. I hope that the whole House will associate itself with it and that all hon. Members will take it as their Bill. I beg leave to ask for it to be considered.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody.

Residential Care Homes

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody accordingly presented a Bill to further regulate ownership, control and standards of private residential care homes; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 21 October 1994, and to be printed. [Bill 162.]

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Orders of the Day

Defence Estimates

[Second Day]

[Relevant documents: The Defence Committee has reported on the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1994 in its Sixth Report of Session 1993-94, HC 68. The First Report from the Defence Committee on the Programme to Replace or Refurbish the Hercules Transport Aircraft, HC 118; the Third Special Report containing the Government's Reply thereto, HC 511; the Second Report on the Progress of the Trident Programme, HC 297; the Third Report on the Progress of the Eurofighter 2000 Programme, HC 222; the Fourth Report on RAF Commitments and Resources, HC 252; the Fifth Report on the Implementation of Lessons Learned from Operation Granby, HC 43; the Fourth Special Report containing the Government's replies to the Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Reports, HC 660; and the Eighth Report on the Defence Costs Study, HC 655.]

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [ 17 October ], That this House approves the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1994 contained in Cm. 2550.-- [ Mr. Rifkind. ]

3.44 pm

Madam Speaker: Before I call the Minister, I have to inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. I must also inform the House that a great many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate. I am therefore putting a 10-minute time limit on speeches between the hours of 6 pm and 8 pm. I appeal to those hon. Members who speak outside those hours voluntarily to limit their speeches so that we can have a good exchange and I can call as many hon. Members as possible.

The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Nicholas Soames): I am very proud to stand at the Dispatch Box to open the debate on behalf of the Government today and to make my first full speech as the Armed Forces Minister. I believe it to be a great honour to have been entrusted with such a high responsibility and to have the chance to work with such exceptional and outstanding people.

In briefly replying to the debate last night, I attempted to deal with most of the points raised. I hope to deal with more of them today. I shall ensure that those points that I do not deal with in any detail during my speech will receive a full written reply. I should first declare an interest. For a short but very happy period of my life I was a serving soldier. I have always been a great admirer of our armed forces and the ethos and culture that has brought them and us such distinction and honour over so many generations.

In the 12 short weeks that I have served at the Ministry of Defence, I have been deeply impressed by two particular things--first, the great scale and diversity of tasks and operations upon which our armed forces are engaged; and secondly, what I believe to be the unequalled dedication and skill of the men and women who so ably guard the life of Britain and play such a crucial role in promoting our interests overseas.

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The scale of tasks is, frankly, quite breathtaking. I want to try today to give the House a flavour of the breadth of that work. As this debate takes place, the Queen's ships are on operational patrols in the Adriatic, the Gulf, the Caribbean, the South Atlantic and in Hong Kong. Elsewhere, HMS Glasgow and the royal yacht Britannia are supporting the state visit by Her Majesty the Queen to Russia; HMS Middleton is in Poland as part of NATO's standing naval mine countermeasures force; HMS Hecla is engaged on a hydrographic survey in the Indian ocean; and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary tanker Brambleleaf is on her way to the West Indies in support of the West Indies guardship HMS Broadsword.

The greater part of the Royal Marines spearhead battalion is now fully deployed in Kuwait. The House will be pleased to hear that 45 Commando group are undertaking reconnaissance patrols and already exercising their very considerable skills. At the same time, soldiers of the British Army are training in difficult conditions in the jungles of Brunei, exercising in Jordan, manning observation posts in Hong Kong and along the green line in Cyprus, and playing a leading role in the formation of the new South African army, and more than 600 troops are currently in Rwanda providing the most remarkable humanitarian aid and assistance. Since their deployment, the British contingent in Rwanda has delivered about 1,500 tonnes of aid and treated in excess of 50,000 casualties. That is a truly remarkable achievement.

There are also 1,500 British soldiers exercising currently on the Suffield plains of Canada, training very hard indeed to maintain our absolutely essential ability still to be able to prosecute a high-intensity conflict. All that is in addition to major operational deployments in the former Yugoslavia, Northern Ireland and the Falklands.

The House will not forget the Tornados, Harriers and Jaguars of the Royal Air Force, and the Navy Sea Harriers, which are flying hourly in support of no-fly zones over both the former republic of Yugoslavia and Iraq. At the same time, the Hercules force continues the task that commenced on 2 July 1992 to resupply Sarajevo. That is an extremely demanding and very hazardous operation requiring quite exceptional skills and it is conducted by a few, specially trained and very brave crews.

Indeed, it is perhaps worth noting that every operational front-line aircraft type of the Royal Air Force is now committed to tasks somewhere around the world with aircraft being operated from a total of 12 deployed bases.

That is the backdrop against which my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, in his speech yesterday, drew attention to Britain's place as a major player on the world stage. It is clear that one of the main reasons that that remains the case is that our armed forces and defence capabilities give us the capability to operate around the world. Their outstanding abilities are rightly held in the very highest regard. Their work should be the cause of the greatest pride for everyone in Britain.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish): The Minister is setting out a formidable record, but does he agree that it is important that military standards are at least as high as civil standards? Is not he therefore worried about the Health and Safety Executive's report yesterday

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about the weapons establishment at Aldermaston saying that had it to meet civil requirements it would have to be closed down as a result of its poor safety standards?

Mr. Soames: The particular point that the hon. Gentleman raised will be dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement tonight, but as to the main part of his question, I have generally found standards in the military to be far higher than those in civilian life.

I have already given a snapshot of the scale of our activities, and I should like now to mention some of the achievements of our armed forces during the past year.

The Royal Navy plays a full part in developing important bilateral relations. This year, contacts with Russia and other central and east European nations have continued to have a high priority.

Earlier this month, the first joint maritime exercise under NATO's "Partnership for Peace" initiative, Exercise Co-operative Venture, took place in the North sea and Baltic approaches. The destroyer, HMS Newcastle, and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, Olna, participated alongside ships from Russia, Poland, Lithuania and Sweden, as well as with NATO allies.

This year also saw the renewal of the Royal Navy's close ties with South Africa, which included a marvellously successful visit to Cape Town by the frigate, HMS Norfolk, and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, Grey Rover, when some 69,000 people visited the ships during their two-day visit.

The Royal Navy also plays a leading role in a number of other activities. That includes providing assistance in the important fight to counter drug- trafficking. While that is not a dedicated defence task, the services possess specialised equipment and capabilities, which can be and are of great assistance to the civil authorities. They have, in the past year, scored some remarkable successes in that area, helping to recover drugs with a value of more than £30 million.

The prominence given in recent years to the Army's operational commitments, both overseas and in Northern Ireland, makes it easy to lose sight of its presence as part of the mainstream of our life on the British mainland. But we all saw last winter how quickly it was able to respond to local requests for help in the face of extreme weather conditions, notably in January when the Royal Engineers built Bailey bridges to counter the flooding around Chichester. The Army also plays a leading role in a task that receives little prominence at home, but does a huge amount to cement the most crucial and valuable relationships with other countries and their armed forces, which are extremely important to our national interests--the provision of military assistance to a large number of foreign countries.

That is an activity which we do extremely well across all three services, and our reputation for professional excellence is unrivalled, especially in Africa and the middle east. We currently have eight permanent training teams established in eight African countries.

An outstanding example of that work is South Africa's request for help with the amalgamation of the South African defence force with the armed wing of the African National Congress and other South African forces. To that end we have sent a 34-man team to oversee the integration

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and training of the new national defence force. The primary role of the team is to validate selection criteria and training standards, to monitor training across all four arms of the South African national defence force--army, navy, air force and medical services- -and to act as an honest broker in any cases where disagreements arise between the various services.

Short-term teams are also much in demand to meet specific training requirements. For example, a small contingent of Royal Engineers was in Ghana for 11 weeks last spring to train members of the Ghanaian and Sierra Leone armies in minefield detection and clearance skills. Also, a 10-man team has been in Mozambique since February to validate the training of its unified national army.

On the other side of the Atlantic, following the withdrawal of the Belize garrison, we continue to help train the Belize defence force, besides maintaining a substantial unit to provide training support to our own Army combat groups which will be undergoing jungle training there.

Most recently, a short-term training team based in Puerto Rico played a major part in the Americans' pre-deployment training package for elements of the multinational force for Haiti. The 13-man team were involved in training the combined Caribbean Community and Common Market--CARICOM-- contingent currently deployed in Haiti. That has been an outstanding success and greatly valued.

Referring now to the Royal Air Force, Tornado and Harrier detachments have now flown a total of nearly 5,000 sorties to date in support of coalition air policing operations in northern and southern Iraq, and their numbers have of course recently been reinforced in response to the recent build-up of Iraqi forces near the Kuwaiti border.

Royal Air Force transport aircraft also continue to provide aid and assistance to the United Nations. For example, 10 Hercules aircraft assisted in the initial deployment, at extremely short notice, of British troops to Rwanda; Royal Air Force Tristars continue to supply those forces. In May this year, two Hercules aircraft assisted in the evacuation of 154 civilians from the Yemen.

Earlier this month, a Royal Air Force helicopter crew received the Shipwrecked Mariners Society's top air-sea rescue trophy, in recognition of their role in the rescue of 13 crewmen from a junk off Hong Kong during typhoon Becky on 17 September last year. That rescue took place in winds of more than 100 mph and 40 ft waves, and well demonstrates the almost unbelievable courage and skill of our search and rescue crews.

In the first eight months of this year, the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy search and rescue helicopters and the Royal Air Force mountain rescue teams have been called out to 1,397 incidents, in which 1,095 people were either rescued or rendered assistance.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North): As my hon. Friend is talking about the activities of the Royal Air Force, will he congratulate the officers and men, the ground crew and

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the air crew who spend up to six months of every year overseas on duty? Will my hon. Friend consider the impact on family life and the dedication that is required?

Mr. Soames: I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. I am delighted to pay tribute to the Royal Air Force in particular, but the same tribute should be paid to the Army and the Navy. I intend to say a little about that matter.

Mr. Nick Ainger (Pembroke): On search and rescue, the Minister knows that I have a particular interest in my constituency and that I have written to him about the matter. Does he accept, however, that recent incidents, particularly in the English channel, have shown that the removal of search and rescue facilities from RAF Manston has significantly increased response times and that it is likely that lives will be lost as a direct result in what is, after all, the busiest shipping channel in the world?

Mr. Soames: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He and I have indulged in prolonged correspondence. I find myself unable to agree with the view that he expresses. I am quite sure that he does not really believe that the Government would have made any such changes unless they were completely satisfactory. I am completely satisfied that the changes that have been made fully provide for safety. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State touched yesterday on our contribution to the process of extending security to the east, and I should like to elaborate for a moment on that. As a member of NATO, we are playing a prominent role in promoting the "Partnership for Peace" initiative. So far, 23 countries have signed, including Russia and almost all countries of central and eastern Europe. "Partnership for Peace" is designed to expand and intensify political and military co-operation throughout Europe, and it allows partner countries to decide their own level of involvement.

One aspect of co-operation already under way is that of combined exercising. So far, there have been two PFP exercises, one land-based in Poland and one maritime exercise. A third is due to begin this Friday in the Netherlands. All three exercises involve participation by NATO allies, including the United Kingdom and states of central and eastern Europe, and are seen as tangible demonstrations of the very real partnership envisaged by PFP.

Independently of PFP, the United Kingdom has made extensive efforts to establish bilateral defence relations with the countries of central and eastern Europe, and memoranda of understanding covering formal contact programmes have so far been signed with 12 countries. So far, we have jointly exercised, on a bilateral basis, with Poland--twice--and Hungary, and are examining the feasibility of exercising with the Czech Republic and Romania. We also have plans to exercise with Russia, and trilaterally with Hungary and Germany. Other areas of co-operation include assistance to Russia in the form of nuclear weapon super-containers to improve the safety and security of strategic disarmament, and the provision of expert advice on military resettlement.

The United Kingdom is also playing an active role in the formation and training of the joint Baltic peacekeeping battalion. More generally, we attach the greatest importance to assisting with English language training for

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military and MOD personnel in the central and eastern European states, and are actively examining ways of promoting democratic accountability and civilian involvement in their Ministries of Defence. All that amounts to a demanding programme, but I believe it to be well worth the investment in time and effort as a thoroughly worthwhile contribution to the peace and stability of Europe. As I have said, in the 12 weeks for which I have been at the Ministry of Defence, I have been fortunate enough to have already seen a good cross-section of the services in Bosnia, Germany, Hong Kong and the middle east, and here at home-- particularly, of course, in Northern Ireland. Let me give the House some impression of what I have seen.

One of the first visits that I made was to our troops in Northern Ireland. As the House well knows, the provision of support for the Royal Ulster Constabulary remains our largest and most important continuing peacetime commitment. I was therefore delighted to spend two days in the Province last month. The House will not be surprised to learn that, like everyone else who has visited the armed forces in Northern Ireland over the years-- indeed, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State paid his own moving tribute yesterday--I was profoundly impressed by the supreme levels of skills, commitment and motivation that I found among the forces at every level and in every arm.

Over the past 25 years, those forces have done a truly remarkable job under the most onerous and difficult conditions. They are very highly trained and very well led, and they carry out their duties not only to the very highest standards of professionalism, but with much good humour, enthusiasm and complete dedication. No praise is too high for them.

I was particularly delighted to have the opportunity to visit my old regiment, the King's Royal Hussars, and to join its members on the streets in Belfast. I was thrilled to find a very fine regiment indeed, which has adapted readily to a new but temporary dismounted role during a most distinguished and successful tour.

My right hon. and learned Friend paid tribute yesterday to the outstanding job being undertaken by Britfor in the former Yugoslavia. I spent three days visiting the services in Bosnia at the end of September, and saw for myself the truly exceptional work that they have done in their peacekeeping role.

I visited the Royal Air Force detachments deployed at a number of bases throughout Italy. I went from Aviano--where I saw the airborne warning and communication system detachment, which is making an extremely important contribution to deterring and detecting violations of the no-fly zone--to visit the Hercules detachment at Ancona. As I have said, the Hercules airlift--often in dangerous conditions--has made a truly vital difference to the humanitarian operation in Bosnia. It is no exaggeration to say that, without those sometimes hazardous flights into Sarajevo, thousands of people would have died of starvation and cold.

My next stop was Gioia del Colle, the base from which the Tornados and Jaguars fly. The timing of my visit was auspicious; only the day before, the RAF had dropped its first bomb in anger in Europe since the end of the second world war. The House will not be surprised to hear that the operation was entirely successful. I was glad to have

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the chance to meet not only the flight crews but the ground crews, without whose dedication and hard work such successes simply would not be possible.

From Italy I flew on to HMS Invincible in the Adriatic and spent a fascinating night on board. She is a splendid ship, a supremely effective platform and a vital and considerable asset to Great Britain.

The following two days I spent in central Bosnia and Sarajevo. It brought for me a new perspective on the prospects for that war-torn but very beautiful country. Just a few months ago, central Bosnia was in flames and its people were suffering the grossest horrors of a bitter civil war. The change today is nothing less than dramatic. The fighting between Muslims and Croats has all but stopped and very real and tangible progress has been made.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North): I have listened intently to the Minister's speech so far and I am most impressed with his catalogue of exemplary achievements. They are remarkable. Our forces are so busy. Relentless pressure is placed upon them. Why is it then that we are cutting back so relentlessly?

Mr. Soames: I find that the most fatuous question. I do not propose to dignify it with an answer.

UNPROFOR's mission has moved on from creating the conditions to allow aid delivery to maintaining those conditions. For the most part, there is free movement of convoys and most are not escorted. Yes, incidents take place and the peace is fragile and needs nurturing. But it is there. In Gornji Vakuf, where every building in the town centre was utterly devastated by small arms fire, rebuilding work is in progress, schools are reopening and the local administration is tackling the many difficult problems.

Throughout central Bosnia, UNPROFOR, spearheaded by the British contingent, is not only keeping routes open and maintaining freedom of movement but persuading the locals to take control of their own lives and their communities.

In all this, I cannot sufficiently emphasise the credit due to British forces. It is clear that the British contingent is the key mover in taking forward initiatives, albeit very slowly, to get the various factions together to discuss and work out the future of their country. That is not something that can be imposed from outside by using military force; it needs patience and effort. Our soldiers are providing just that.

Therefore, it will come as no surprise to the House that the reputation of British troops has never stood higher in the United Nations--for their superb training, total reliability and great skill in peacekeeping, learnt over many years.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State yesterday rightly singled out the Royal Engineers for the exceptional work that they have done to restore the fabric of the country. But there are many other heros among British forces in Bosnia. For example, the statistics for the logistic battalion based at Split supporting the British forces are unbelievable. In only four months, they have covered almost 2.5 million km. The Army's DROPS vehicles are, in every two-month period, doing a normal two-year mileage. Despite that exceptional loading on vehicles, to say nothing on the men, a very impressive level of reliability has been achieved.That is a great credit to the logistic battalion, and the House will wish to pay it

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a warm tribute for its remarkable work. Finally, Sarajevo. Busy streets and a bustling marketplace, which only last February was the tragic scene of a grotesque and cowardly mortar attack. Electricity was on and the trams were running.

Of course, concerns, deep worries and anxieties remain. One only has to look up at the Bosnian Serb lines on the surrounding hills to understand why the people of Sarajevo are desperate for UNPROFOR to remain. Talking to some passers-by with General Rose, I was left in no doubt about the strength of their feelings on that matter and their deep sense of gratitude to General Rose personally. I wish to place on record in the House my profound admiration and respect for the remarkable job that General Rose is doing in the most difficult and trying circumstances. He has our full support. Much remains to be done. There will be no quick fix for the rebuilding of Bosnia, but I am confident that the United Nations approach of consensus is working and can continue to work.

I have also visited our forces in Germany, which despite their decreased presence continue to demonstrate our solid commitment to the North Atlantic alliance. While in Germany, I visited the headquarters of the Ace Rapid Reaction Corps. That was a valuable opportunity for me to have a detailed briefing on the role and responsibilities of the ARRC and the United Kingdom's central contribution to that organisation.

I was much impressed with what I saw. The United Kingdom commander of the ARRC, General Mackenzie, has done a splendid job in welding his team together and giving them a strong sense of purpose and common identity. It is no mean achievement and it is all the more impressive given the short amount of time that the headquarters has been established.

More recently, I returned from a visit to Hong Kong and Brunei, where I was able to see in detail how our garrisons go about their business and get a feel for the reality of the tasks that they perform.

I am pleased to report that morale is high and one cannot fail to be struck by the energy and dedication on display. From the Royal Navy personnel manning the patrol craft in Hong Kong to the crews of the Royal Air Force Wessex helicopters, among Gurkhas in both Hong Kong and Brunei and in the logistic support regiment, which plays a crucial role in supporting the Hong Kong garrison, there is a very real sense of purpose and dedication.

I also want to pay tribute to the outstanding contribution made by civilian staff of the Ministry of Defence--both in support of the armed services and in the support that they provide to Ministers in the formulation and management of defence policy. They are employed in a wide variety of jobs that are essential to defence and to the working of the services at all levels.

Some are right at the sharp end. We have, for example, civilians providing us with essential back-up in Bosnia. Civilian engineers helped to keep our forces operational in the Gulf during the 1991 conflict. Behind the front line, our scientists work at the forefront of technology in the brilliant Defence Research Agency.

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Civilian seamen man the ships of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. Civilian cartographers provide expertise that is essential --indeed, crucial--to military operations. Civilian police and security guards help to ensure the security of military establishments. Civilians-- from storemen to engineers--play a central role in logistic support for the services.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Can the Minister explain why one civilian--the distinguished permanent secretary, Sir Clive Whitmore--found it necessary to go to the then Prime Minister to express the disquiet of the Ministry of Defence about Mark Thatcher's activities in relation to commercial operations with Saudi Arabia? The House of Commons is entitled to some comment. I do not suggest that the Minister should answer now, as one cannot do so off the top of one's head, but in the winding-up speech there should be some considered statement as to why the permanent secretary found it necessary to go to the Prime Minister about such a subject.

Mr. Soames: I thought that I saw the hon. Gentleman boiling up to a question. Sir Clive Whitmore has already denied the veracity of that story. Rather than the answer coming off the top of my head, the question came off the top of the hon. Gentleman's. Sir Clive Whitmore has clearly denied that such an event happened.

Many civilian staff work in agencies in a commercially competitive environment and all are at the forefront of radical change in the organisation and management of defence. A small minority work in the Ministry's headquarters, where they formulate policy advice to Ministers and carry out the functions that are utterly essential to a Department of State. I want to dispel any impression that our civilians are some kind of fourth arm. They are absolutely integral to our defence organisation, and about three quarters of them work in areas headed by senior military officers of all three services. Without them, the defence machine simply could not function.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): We have heard that the Minister has been on his travels in the past 12 weeks. The Secretary of State announced in July that 17 Ministry of Defence bases in this country were to close. How many of those bases has the Minister visited?

Mr. Soames: I have visited a number of bases not only in the United Kingdom but elsewhere, but I do not have the figures at my fingertips. I shall be visiting also a large number of bases in the future. The hon. Gentleman should consider carefully the sensible purpose of the debate which is to debate defence, and not try to make idiotic points.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): May I encourage the Minister to make an additional visit to the Rosehearty bombing range in my constituency where the villagers are anxious about a proposal to extend bombing times to between 10 pm and 12 midnight during the summer months? Will the Minister encourage the RAF to hold a public meeting in the village to explain the proposal in more detail to my constituents? Perhaps the

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Minister would like to attend such a meeting. Does he agree that it would be arrogant and insensitive of the RAF to refuse to have such a meeting?

Mr. Soames: I certainly would not agree with any such thing, but I should be very happy to receive the hon. Gentleman in my office--if he can spare the time to come and see me--to hear his views on the matter.

Perhaps this would be an appropriate time to mention an area that many hon. Members asked about yesterday--the arrangements for dealing with staff at locations affected by decisions arising from the defence costs study.

Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes): May I raise one area that my hon. Friend has not touched on in his review of the excellent performance of our forces everywhere--the Territorial Army and the reserve generally? I hope that he will say a word about that subject before he ends his speech.

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