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Naval Funding

8. Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): How much funding his Department has allocated to naval operations this year. [127263]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): Responsibility for routine operations lies with the Commander-in-Chief Fleet. His cash budget is some £1.1 billion this year. Additionally, the Second Sea Lord and the Defence Logistics Organisation, which are funded separately, provide support and maintenance to the fleet.

Mr. Evans: I thank the Secretary of State for that response but--without blaming the previous Government, as this Government have been in power for three long

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years--can he say something, if not apologise, for the fact that the Navy has had to borrow submarines from Turkey and Germany for training purposes because it has insufficient submarines for its own needs, and that sailors at the HMS Cambridge gunnery school have been told that to save money, instead of firing live rounds when practising, they should shout "Bang!" into a microphone? That may be the Secretary of State's idea of megaphone diplomacy, but what does he believe it does for the morale of our sailors and our Navy?

Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman needs to get serious. He will know that such training exercises have always been conducted in that way at the very lowest levels in the armed forces. Raising such matters in that way simply cheapens his party's attitude to them. If he complains that such activities are the result of cuts, let me make it clear that his party was responsible for cutting the Navy over a long period from the mid-1980s onwards. The annual budget for the Ministry of Defence was cut each year from 1995-96 to 1997. If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about cuts in the Navy, he should know that his party halved the number of destroyers and frigates, and cut Navy numbers by some 27,000 in that period; given that history, he should not make too many complaints.

Instead, this country's shipbuilding industry can now look forward to the largest programme of new warship construction since the second world war. We plan to procure two new aircraft carriers. We are investing in new type 45 destroyers, new submarines, new ro-ro ferries and new amphibious shipping. We have just ordered two new survey vessels for the Royal Navy--an order that will be worth £130 million for the Appledore shipyard in Devon. That is a programme to be proud of, unlike the series of cuts over which he and his party long presided.

Ms Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West): With regard to naval operations support, will my right hon. Friend confirm that regular discussions take place with defence manufacturers not only on ship maintenance, refitting and repair facilities, but on promoting defence diversification? Given the job losses that were announced at Rosyth dockyard on Friday--a direct result of the previous Government's decision to remove submarine work from Rosyth--will he reassure my constituents about the Government's commitment to maintaining ship repair and refitting facilities, and promoting defence diversification, in areas still heavily dependent on defence work?

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the measured way in which she asked her question. Certainly, the Government are concerned about the redundancies that have taken place. They are not connected with any work to consider the problem of overcapacity in warship maintenance and support; that is a matter for Babcock Rosyth Defence Ltd.--the owner of Rosyth dockyard. I understand that its announcement reflects its determination to improve efficiency and restructure its operation, but the Government certainly maintain their commitment to warship refitting, and we want to maintain in an efficient way the facilities that we have available. The key for the future of Rosyth lies in establishing its position as a fully competitive surface shipyard.

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South): Will the Secretary of State give a similar assurance that Fleet

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Support Ltd. in Portsmouth dockyard will maintain its share of naval repair and maintenance work? Also, if the headquarters of naval operations, at Northwood, is to close and may move to Portsmouth, will some of the savings go into putting more and better crewed ships at sea and providing more operational time?

Mr. Hoon: I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the precise assurance that he requests, because clearly those are commercial matters involving private sector companies, which have to ensure that they are efficient and effective, and secure the work that provides appropriate levels of employment for their employees. However, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the level of work presently available will continue. Indeed, with the programme that the Government anticipate, I expect there to be work in the long term. However, that depends on each yard being efficient and commercially able to attract the kind of work that it needs to secure employment for its employees.

Former Prisoners of War

9. Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): When he will make a statement on compensation for former British prisoners of war held by the Japanese. [127264]

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. John Spellar): As I explained to my hon. Friend during the debate on 6 June, we expect to make a decision soon on the matter of further compensation for former British prisoners of war held by the Japanese.

Mr. Winnick: In view of what the Prime Minister has already told the House, can we expect that statement before the House rises for the summer recess? Bearing in mind the terrible brutality that prisoners held by the Japanese suffered, and the fact that 25 per cent. of them never returned, does my hon. Friend accept that there is much support, both in the House and in the country, for adequate compensation? I hope that a favourable decision will be made very shortly. Let us follow what the Canadians have done.

Mr. Spellar: As my hon. Friend knows from several debates and questions on the subject, the Government fully recognise the bravery of those who were held as prisoners of war in the far east, and elsewhere, during the second world war and in subsequent conflicts. From meetings with the Royal British Legion, the Prime Minister and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, he also knows of our great sympathy for their suffering and that of their families. From previous replies, he is aware that the matter is still under consideration by the Government. No conclusions have yet been reached, and we are therefore unable to give a date on which an announcement will be made.

Mr. Martin Bell (Tatton): Does the Minister accept that this is a matter not of money but of honour, and of giving recognition to people who made sacrifices and endured ordeals that we cannot begin to imagine? That takes time, granted--but surely too much time has already passed. How can the Government say no?

Mr. Spellar: At this stage I can only reiterate what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North

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(Mr. Winnick): those matters are still under consideration and no decision has yet been made. We hope to make an announcement soon, but I cannot put a time on that at the moment.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Does the Minister accept that the prisoners of the Japanese are in a separate category because they were the subject of war crimes? I am reading the autobiography of Mr. Bill Griffiths, who while a prisoner of the Japanese was subjected to a war crime that cost him both his eyes and both his hands. How does the Minister think Mr. Griffiths feels about the compensation culture in this country, which pays out huge awards to people whose feelings have been hurt by careless remarks made at work, to service women who have become pregnant and cannot fulfil their duties, and to policemen who suffer stress caused by doing their duty? How do the far east prisoners feel when such payouts are made for situations that do not begin to compare with what they suffered?

Mr. Spellar: Yes, I fully understand those sentiments. However, I should point out that many of the circumstances have existed for much of the time since 1955, when a previous Conservative Government decided not to proceed further. I should also point out that the Conservative party was in power for 18 years and chose not to make a decision. These are difficult issues--[Interruption.] It ill behoves Conservative Front Benchers who were Members of the House in that period, and did nothing, to shout out. These are complicated issues, which is why the discussions between Departments are taking some time--but we still hope to make an announcement soon.

Defence Medical Services

10. Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): How many extra personnel the Government aim to recruit to the defence medical services over the next three years. [127265]

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. John Spellar): We aim to recruit some 3,300 regular personnel into the defence medical services over the current financial year and the next two financial years. However, recruiting targets are dynamic and could be subject to change. The figure of 3,300 includes all trades and specialties within the medical and dental fields, and covers recruiting into training, as well as direct-entry qualified personnel.

Dr. Iddon: Will my hon. Friend confirm that by contrast, the Conservative Government had planned a massive £600 million cut in the defence medical services budget? Does that not illustrate their attitude towards not only the defence budget but the national health service? I say that because I am aware of the enormous amount of work carried out for the NHS by defence medical services staff in peacetime.

Mr. Spellar: I thank my hon. Friend; he is absolutely right. The real tragedy of the notorious defence costs study 15, which slashed the defence medical services, is that the long training times required for medical specialties mean that it takes an enormous amount of time and effort to retrieve the situation, particularly when the

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demand for health services elsewhere in the country is rising. I am pleased to say that in several areas, the number of people undergoing medical training has increased, and we shall work with the NHS in that regard.

There is also the question of reserve forces and reserve medical services. I am pleased to say that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has had a meeting with his opposite number in the Department of Health to ensure maximum co-operation between the NHS and the defence medical services, both regular and reserve.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport): It is easy for the Minister of State to say what he hopes for, but what are the facts? What has been the effect on recruitment and retention of the proposed closure of the only tri-service military hospital, at Haslar hospital in my constituency? Can he confirm or deny that that decision was so serious that our forces' ability to deploy overseas is now seriously constrained by a shortage of medical staff?

Mr. Spellar: The hon. Gentleman will be aware--he certainly should be from the number of parliamentary answers that I have given him on the subject--that the closure of Haslar was driven mainly by the difficulties in retaining training accreditation from the various royal colleges in their specialties, precisely because of the level and variety of throughput. Indeed, that has been the experience of other separate medical hospitals, including those that have now gone into national health service hospitals. I have spoken to the staff who have made that transfer and they say that, although in the medical units within the hospitals the work is harder, it is more fulfilling and professionally much more satisfying. That reflects the judgment of the medical colleges, from which we were in danger of steadily losing accreditation because of the level of throughput.

As I have told the House a number of times, many small hospitals face that problem, and it has affected those medical hospitals. Not only have those changes been welcomed, but there has been considerable interest in, and welcome for, the centre for defence medicine, based at Birmingham university, which will also provide an excellent facility.

Mrs. Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton): May I welcome my hon. Friend's statement? He will know of the vital and valued service provided by royal naval hospital staff at Plymouth Derriford. He will also probably know of the recent announcement that there is to be a new medical school, the Peninsula medical school, based in Plymouth and Exeter. Can he confirm that the co-operation with the NHS that he was talking about will extend to working with that new medical school? The extra investment will mean that 100 of the 1,000 extra doctors in training in the NHS will be trained in Plymouth and Exeter.

Mr. Spellar: I welcome not only that, but the expansion into East Anglia, which is another area that has not traditionally had a medical training facility. That is good news for the country because of the extra number of medics, and it is good news for those areas. There has also been an expansion into the black country, based on Birmingham university. Again, that means medical training in areas that had not previously experienced its benefits, and we shall work with the health service in that regard.

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When I was at Derriford a few months ago, I talked to our people on the naval side, and to people in the hospital administration. They were keen to have the medical training facility, and to work with our naval people in a combined operation. There were some initial teething troubles, but the two systems began to mesh, and they are now working extremely well, to the mutual benefit both of the people of Plymouth and of the Royal Navy. I am sure that that will be true in other centres as well.

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