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Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): Last night, while answering questions on his helpful and welcome statement, the Secretary of State told the House that about 10 per cent. of the forces now deployed in Bosnia come from the Territorial Army. Has he now an open mind about the extent to which he should reconsider the assumptions in the strategic defence review about the Territorial Army, especially the assumptions about its numbers? If, as most people now accept, we are in for a long haul in Kosovo, is there not likely to be a requirement for more extensive use than expected of soldiers from the TA to ensure that our presence in Kosovo is maintained at proper strength?

Mr. Robertson: We are always looking to see where the reserve forces can help the regular forces. That is why, alongside the increase in the regular strength of the Army, we reshaped and restructured the Territorial Army so that in circumstances such as those that we now face, it will be more relevant and useful.

I wish that those who speak out about the Territorial Army would recognise that the reforms that we put in place have now been accepted by the Territorial, Auxiliary and Volunteer Reserve Association and the TA and are being implemented with enthusiasm. We are already hearing strong messages from the TA that it has got precisely what it asked for. The training time has been increased, better equipment is now available, and the TA is being directed towards more relevant functions. All that is designed specifically to make it more usable, more integrated and more deployable, so that, when their country needs them, the TA's forces will be available.

There is little or nothing left of the grumbling now. People are getting on with the job that they have been set and making it work. They are content that the right decision was taken at the right time, and that the Territorial Army has a considerable future role to play within the forces. I hope that people with genuine concerns will recognise that our purpose was to prepare for the sort of conditions that exist now, rather than having large numbers of people in the Territorial Army trained up for functions completely irrelevant to the present moment.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): The right hon. Gentleman suggested that his increase in the regular Army would meet the needs of the commitments already under way. However, the additional troops are not expected to be fully in place until 2004. In the meantime, what percentage of Land Command is committed to operations?

Does the right hon. Gentleman not understand that, if I may say as much to him, he is giving a slight impression of complacency? He has great ambitions for Britain to play a role in the world, yet he seems not to will the means by which those ambitions can be fulfilled. As I said to him last night, it is likely that our troops will be heavily committed for a long time in Kosovo.

Mr. Robertson: I certainly do not feel complacent. Yes, I feel fatigue that is tinged with elements of relief

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and pride, but not complacent when so many of our troops are engaged in what, over the next few days, will be dangerous activity by any standards.

When I say that we produced a strategic defence review and that I intend to have it implemented, I am talking not from complacency but from a driving ambition that we shall match our ambitions as a nation with our capabilities. I shall not be partisan because I know that most people have forgotten that there was a Government before the Labour Government. However, we inherited--[Interruption.] The Opposition are trying to forget that more than the country is. We are not even allowed to mention the Conservative Government any more.

We inherited a very serious manning situation. That was especially so in the Army but it applied in the other two arms as well. It is a problem that we are addressing. My hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces who, because of a family bereavement, unfortunately cannot be in the Chamber, has done sterling work. I believe that the figures for Army recruitment are up by 17 per cent. on last year's. We are also addressing the problems of retention, which will make up the balance. There is no complacency about our determination to ensure that we have and retain the best armed forces. As for the specific question about the number of troops who are on operations, I shall give the House the latest figures in a moment.

The House might like to be informed of the situation in the outside world. I understand that the latest information from NATO is that Supreme Allied Commander Europe is unlikely to be in a position to verify the withdrawal of Serb forces by 3 pm, as was earlier anticipated. This will inevitably delay somewhat the passing of the Security Council resolution. We have always made it clear that the withdrawal of Serb troops, which we are confident will take place, must be proven and verifiable before we move into the next stages. When we receive information, I shall ensure that the House is kept informed.

Defence and security policy is much more than large-scale multinational operations and sweeping diplomatic initiatives.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden): A propos the right hon. Gentleman's comment about there being no signal that Serb forces have begun withdrawal, how long are we prepared to wait until we get this signal? Was there not a statement made at some time during the past few days that, if they did not comply with what they had agreed, bombing would be restarted? Am I correct in that?

Mr. Robertson: Yes. It has been made clear that, if there was any non-compliance with the agreement that has been arrived at, the air assaults will recommence. We mean that; we mean business. I did not say that there had been no withdrawals. I said that SACEUR was not yet in a position to verify withdrawals. There were certainly signs this morning that some troop formations, which could well have been preparations for movement, were taking place. It is only when we are certain that there have been withdrawals that we shall pause from the bombing campaign. We are still hopeful that that will be done, but our patience is not endless.

As I have said, defence and security policy is much more than large-scale multinational operations and huge diplomatic initiatives. It must embrace all activities that

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can contribute to stability and security, and hence to preventing crisis and conflict. The strategic defence review gave renewed impetus to defence diplomacy in activities of this kind.

In parallel with the grander initiatives, the armed forces make a contribution to humanitarian missions that all too often goes unrecognised. For example, in Sierra Leone, they have helped to deliver essential food and medical supplies, to clear wells contaminated by rebel forces and to re-open local schools that were damaged during the nightmare of fighting that took place in that country.

For the longer term, we are now helping to get Sierra Leone back on its feet by contributing training and advice for the creation of democratically accountable armed forces. Using the armed forces' skills for defence diplomacy and in operations of this kind is an investment in conflict prevention and crisis management that results in vital but often unquantifiable benefits.

The armed forces have also played an important role in the fight against the international drugs trade. Last week, HMS Marlborough seized 4 tonnes of cocaine in an operation in the Caribbean--its second seizure inside a week. That was an excellent example of co-operation between the United States and the United Kingdom in the fight against drugs activity in the Caribbean, which was highlighted in the strategic defence review.

The MOD takes seriously its commitment to the security of UK nationals overseas and can deploy effectively and at short notice when there is a possible threat to the lives of British citizens overseas. That commitment has been demonstrated most notably in response to conflicts in Africa over the past 12 months--in Sierra Leone, the Congo and Eritrea.

At the heart of the strategic defence review was the recognition that security depends upon our willingness and ability to deploy high-capability armed forces when diplomacy fails. Sadly, that has been underlined by recent events.

Our forces must be deployable at short notice and in difficult and inhospitable terrain. They must be sustainable, often with the minimum of host nation support, and in operations that will inevitably be prolonged. We are obliged to maintain concurrent commitments with separate lines of communication, as we see in Kosovo, Bosnia and the Gulf.

Operations are placing a premium on precision weapons and force protection. With 50 per cent. of the British Army now engaged in, preparing for, or recovering from, operations, we cannot afford the luxury of unusable forces. No one could have predicted precisely the nature of our commitment in Kosovo, but the strategic defence review provided a template that fits in most respects.

Indeed, the main problems that we face are in exactly those capability areas in which shortfalls were identified in the SDR but in which, barely a year after the publication of the report, implementation has not yet been completed. The strategic air and sea transport, additional soldiers to man the second line of logistic communications, and the extra deployable brigade for the Army, all of which are in the pipeline, would all have been welcome enhancements to our Kosovo commitment.

As I said, the high level of commitments leads to increased pressure on individuals, especially in some of the critical specialisations. Until the necessary

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restructuring identified by the strategic defence review is complete and full manning, particularly in the Army, is achieved, many of our people will be redeploying on operational commitments more often than is desirable for operational effectiveness or the health of family life for our armed forces.

Those who are affected are not only from the "teeth" arms, such as armoured infantry battalions and air crew, but from elements of the very important supporting arms, such as communications personnel. We are vigorously pushing ahead to achieve the restructuring and full manning to relieve pressure on our people and their families.

In opening the debate, I have inevitably concentrated to a large extent on Kosovo. It is right that we should focus on the greatest challenge to security and stability in Europe since the end of the cold war. However, it would be a mistake to treat the circumstances of Kosovo as unique. Milosevic, ethnic hatred and ethnic cleansing, the humanitarian crises in south-eastern Europe and more widely, the risks of overspill and destabilisation--all these carry powerful lessons for every one of us.

I spoke at the outset about keeping defence in the public eye. We must not cease to strive to ensure that defence in Britain is stronger and better integrated into society, so that the contribution made by our service men and women as a force for good in peacetime, crisis and conflict in the world will go on. We must be prepared to contribute as well.

Long after NATO has achieved its objectives in Kosovo, long after the headline writers have moved on to the next subject and the next crisis, a job of work will still be being done in that area, as it is in Kosovo today, by men and women who, supported by the civilians who back them up and by the families who are an integral part of that great team, have committed themselves to international law and order. Without them, it would be a much more dangerous world for future generations.


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