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Mr. Nicholas Winterton: I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. He will know that I asked the Secretary of State a question about the accommodation for our troops in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Having inspected Bourlon barracks in Catterick--the regiment's home barracks-- I was appalled that in the new millennium, we expect soldiers to live in those conditions and to stay in the Army. How is the Army supposed to recruit new people? Something needs to be done, and should have been done years ago.

Mr. Hancock: I agree entirely. [Interruption.] The Minister, from a sedentary position, is blaming the Tories. Of course they are partly responsible. However, the Government have had three and a half years, and we were told by the adjutant-general today that it would take 10 years to put right the accommodation in Aldershot alone, let alone Catterick. Navy accommodation in Portsmouth still causes problems for single sailors living in barracks when they are not on board ship.

The Army has a number of problems to do with the accommodation that soldiers are expected to live in at home and abroad. The RAF has the continuing problem of keeping its pilots together. It was suggested today to Defence Committee members that senior pilots who leave the RAF will be brought back as civilian instructors for two days a week, while employed elsewhere. That is how desperate we are for front-line pilots. Those issues are serious and must be addressed.

We are taking on long-term commitments in the Balkans. No one with any knowledge of the Balkans, and no one who has visited the area in the past five years, would suggest that the Bosnian situation will get any better soon. I have been there recently, and I suggest that improvement is a generation away at least. [Interruption.] It will take longer than 10 years, sadly. It needs a new generation of people who have grown up together and are prepared to work together.

At present, there is no interface between the communities. What exists is purely artificial. There is no cross-fertilisation of industry and investment, education and culture. Everything that is there is artificial, and things are held in check simply by the presence of an enormous number of soldiers, many from the United Kingdom.

The situation in Kosovo is much the same. Sadly, I do not share the views of the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith). I am not optimistic that the election has moved us in the right direction. I have spoken to Kosovars who fought for the UCK--the Kosovo Liberation Army--and still believe that they are on active service. They will not relinquish their campaign until they have a free Kosovo. I fear that they have used the result of the election as a referendum on an independent state in Kosovo. They have put down a marker to that effect. Many of the Kosovars living in the United Kingdom-- I have many in my constituency--believe that too. None of them would willingly return to Kosovo until it is a

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free independent state, not simply an add-on to Serbia or Montenegro. Yet no politicians in this country, and very few in Europe, have cautioned the Kosovars about the way in which they have misinterpreted the election.

The situation in Montenegro is very volatile and open to all sorts of abuses by the President, who will, I am sure, make his move to free his country from the yoke of Serbia. I do not believe that his long-term interests, or those of his country, are linked to Serbia. So we have long-term commitments in the Balkans, which puts stress on the men and women who serve there and on the resources of this country.

As for the European defence identity initiative, I do not believe that the Prime Minister's vision was clear when it came to St. Malo. He has since then hedged his bets one way and then the other in his journey to other European capitals, trying to sell that concept. I have not heard Lord Robertson give a clear indication of how he sees NATO's role in the future with a European defence initiative. I have listened to him on nearly a dozen occasions since he became Secretary-General of NATO. I have listened to European Union politicians and commissioners talk about it. I have listened to Mr. Solana talk about it. They are unclear about their role and about the political dimension.

Some hon. Members, myself included, have views about whether a European rapid reaction force is a feasible proposition. Some have talked about Britain, France and Germany joining together. I am not sure whether the Germans could provide 10,000 men for any long-term deployment. I am certain that most of the other European countries in NATO could not produce anything like that number of personnel for any length of time. Norway, for example, cannot deploy any service men unless they volunteer to go. No service men from Norway who serve in the Balkans are there for any other reason.

Other countries have conscription that lasts for less than a year. So how can countries reasonably be expected to play an active part in a rapid reaction force of 60,000 men if some of them will not even have trained people with the necessary skills to be part of that operation?

Mr. Keetch: Although it is true that conscription in some countries is for less than a year, that is not to say that their armed forces are wholly manned by conscripts. Some forces from those countries consist of professional soldiers who could be equipped in those circumstances.

Mr. Hancock: Yes, of course, but they are the same troops who serve on behalf of their countries in Bosnia and Kosovo. They cannot be in three places. Unlike the United Kingdom, those countries do not have the resources to deploy 1,000 men in three different locations. The problem has not been thought through.

The Defence Committee report produced an interesting graph about the make-up of countries in NATO and the EU regarding the single defence initiative. It shows the countries in the EU but not in NATO, those in NATO but not in the EU, and those that have a policy of non-intervention. However, the rules are that unless all 15 countries sign up to a European initiative from the EU, they cannot act as a European force. Any one has a veto, but at least three--possibly four--will never put troops into any such action force. They have the right of veto but they do not under any circumstances intend to participate. How can it possibly work when countries such

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as Turkey, which would commit themselves to troops--and have done so--are not allowed round the table? These questions have not been answered.

The right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery) talked about the future of the Western European Union parliamentary assembly. Many hon. Members have raised that point time and again to the Prime Minister, to two Secretaries of State for Defence and to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. They have simply been told, "We don't know the answer." However, a European defence identity has to have parliamentary scrutiny. The EU and the European Parliament cannot provide it because that would mean a major amendment to the treaty of Rome, to which some countries would not agree. We have to create oversight at parliamentary level. Yet Ministers have given no indication of where that will come from. We need answers to those questions.

Let me say in conclusion that I, and the other hon. Members who represent constituencies in south Hampshire, are grateful for the good news about the contracts awarded to Vosper Thornycroft for the Royal Navy's new ships. However, the way in which the contract for the second ship is given and agreed is vital. The Secretary of State said that he sticks by what he said, and that there will be an equitable split--50:50--of the work content for that second ship between BAE Systems and Vosper Thornycroft.

I hope that the Secretary of State will insist on that split being agreed, and on the contract being signed sooner rather than later. The contract is good news for shipbuilding in the south of England, and in particular for my constituency, of which the dockyard forms a significant part. It will also safeguard many existing jobs at Vosper Thornycroft. In the long term, it will open up greater potential for shipbuilding at the Portsmouth naval base.

The contract will improve Vosper Thornycroft's potential to build bigger ships, and that is good news. However, that potential will not be fulfilled unless the Secretary of State steps in to bring people together to agree how the contract will be managed and implemented.

My final point concerns service men and their families. I agree with the hon. Members who have asked about married quarters. I have lost count of the number of times that service men and their families have confronted me with the problems that they have experienced with their homes. The hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan did not exaggerate when he spoke of the number of moves that his constituent had had to make, nor when he said that the final gift from the armed forces to some service men was a notice to quit their married quarters. Sadly, that happens all too often. We as a nation should be ashamed of that.

I am grateful that from time to time the Ministry of Defence shows a good face to the people who serve it so well, but it is disappointing that so many feel so let down, as they do with regard to accommodation and the treatment of their families.

Two pages in the Royal Navy mission statement presented to the Defence Committee were devoted to communication. There was no mention of the need to communicate with the families of service men, whether they are married or living with partners. I know that the Minister for the Armed Forces has tried, as did his predecessor, to do something to boost family welfare in the armed forces. Significant changes have been made,

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but they are no means sufficient. More still has to be done: the morale of service men returning home, and the difficulties experienced by their families, remain big problems when it comes to retention of personnel in the armed forces. I hope that the Minister will take seriously the comments that have been made about such matters.

Finally, I want to express my appreciation and respect for those men and women who continue to do their best for the people of this country.


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