Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Spellar: We recognise the considerable pressures in terms of the number of hours, particularly on those who work in management, which is having an effect on the reserve forces. We need to consider both our work and the need for discussions with employers. There is a considerable role for the infantry, a number of whom I met in Kosovo and Bosnia. In addition, there are heavy demands on our specialist reserve forces, particularly, as I have mentioned a number of times in the House,

2 Nov 2000 : Column 875

on signals. We must consider the difficulties arising from the number of signallers in the regular forces, as a result of their attractiveness because of the excellent training that we provide, and the explosion in the communications industry, which has led to the industry poaching them from us. We recognise those pressures. We do not say that there are no difficulties, but we are providing more equipment for many of those reserve forces, making them more usable in the sort of operations that the hon. Gentleman described.

The cadet organisations continue to go from strength to strength, providing more than 128,000 young people with opportunities to participate in military, sporting, adventurous and community-based activities, developing their social and personal skills, giving them the opportunity to mix regularly with service personnel and gain an insight into the realities of service life.

In several areas of the country, adult instructors from the Army cadet force have also been involved in a programme under which they provide supervised activities for young people from their local communities who are deemed to be at risk of offending or have committed minor crimes. Exposure to the Army cadet force assists such young people with their personal development. We owe a great deal to the adult instructors involved with the cadet organisations--some 23,000 in all. We have underlined our commitment to their work by investing £3 million of new money in the cadets. That is good value for the armed forces and for the community.

Mr. Evans: We all want to see more young people being attracted into the armed forces, but will the Minister comment on the article in today's Daily Mail under the banner headlines "Navy's symbol of shame" and "Our crumbling defences . . . the catalogue of calamity". Does the Minister think that when young people read such stories they will be attracted to the British armed forces?

Mr. Spellar: That is an interesting comment. The hon. Gentleman is saying that such smear campaigns, by newspapers such as the Daily Mail, may have an impact on young people and their view of the armed forces. I agree with the hon. Gentleman in his criticism of the outrageous behaviour of the Daily Mail.

Let us deal with the question of the German submarine. Every week, off Plymouth, we conduct naval exercises that are so good that navies from all over Europe and other parts of the world want to participate. I have participated in one myself, as have other hon. Members, including Front-Bench Opposition Members, under the armed forces parliamentary scheme. Those exercises are excellent. As the hon. Gentleman knows, as a result of a decision taken by the previous Conservative Government, we no longer have conventional diesel submarines. I make no complaint about this, but our submarines are configured for a different and much larger role; they are nuclear submarines. Therefore, as part of those exercises, other navies provide submarines, and have been doing so for a considerable time. A figure is worked out for the daily use of the submarine as part of those exercises, and we charge a largely theoretical figure for participation in the exercises and the training that we provide. That has been going on for a considerable time and it works effectively. To suggest that U-boats are guarding Britain,

2 Nov 2000 : Column 876

as was portrayed in articles such as the one that the hon. Gentleman mentioned is deplorable. But he is right to say that if people believe that rubbish, they might be deterred. Those who write it should be ashamed of themselves.

Mr. Duncan Smith: I associate the Opposition with the Minister's comments about the cadet force. It is hugely important and we definitely want to see it enhanced and rebuilt, which seems to be a view shared by the Government. The hon. Gentleman referred to the number of reservists serving in Kosovo and Bosnia, but is it not the case that, of those available in the Territorial Army, about one third are available for such postings? If one reduces the global ceiling of the number available, one also reduces the ceiling of those available for such postings. Does not that suggest that the cut of 18,000 was a mistake, and that in all honesty, it is time to review it?

Mr. Spellar: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman did not, in one preliminary sentence, join me in condemning the sort of campaign to which the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) referred. I should have thought that he would deplore such attacks on our armed forces--but he has never said what he would do about the submarines; he simply makes gratuitous comments. There is a need for a balance, but there has been a significant shift in what we require of reserve forces from the traditional role of the reinforcement of UK forces engaged in major conflict on the north German plain and the guarding of strategic facilities in the UK--the cold war configuration. Therefore there has been a reshaping of our reserves towards the specialised arms.

Mr. Brazier: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Spellar: No, we have been round that course a number of times.

I conclude by reminding the House of the huge range of activities that our forces undertake day in and day out. At this moment our armed forces are continuing their valuable work throughout the globe.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spoke about our forces' efforts on operational deployments in the varied and often challenging environments of Sierra Leone, the Balkans and the Gulf. The armed forces maintain a significant presence in Cyprus, Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands and Brunei. United Kingdom forces are also important contributors to a variety of United Nations operations, helping to build a safer and more secure environment in Georgia, East Timor, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, on the green line in Cyprus and on the border between Iraq and Kuwait.

We currently have two joint task groups in the Mediterranean, one based around the carrier Invincible and the other including the amphibious ships Fearless and Ocean. In all, we have 21 ships, 34 aircraft and almost 5,000 personnel from all three services with those task groups.

Seventeen ships are at sea in home waters, including four involved in fisheries protection. Two are in the Gulf, five are in the Atlantic and two are in the Caribbean. As ever, we have a Trident submarine on deterrent patrol. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State explained to hon. Members yesterday, those vessels have not been affected by the technical difficulties which are currently

2 Nov 2000 : Column 877

under investigation with our strategic submarine nuclear fleet. The Royal Marines are in Northern Ireland, in Kosovo and in the eastern Mediterranean as part of the amphibious group. All our dependent territories have been visited by a Royal Navy ship at least once this year. During 2000 our ships will visit, and in most cases train with, more than 100 different countries from Trinidad to Tokyo and from the Virgin Islands to Vladivostock.

We have more than 2,000 soldiers in Bosnia helping to provide the security conditions for the Bosnian people to rebuild their country, and we have 3,000 more in Kosovo. The Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment is in Sierra Leone providing training to the Sierra Leone army. A major armoured training exercise, Iron Eagle, is under way in Canada. A team of Army engineers is in Zambia helping to teach the Zambian army how to repair and maintain vehicles.

The Royal Air Force is deployed on operations in the Gulf and in the Balkans. It provides air defence and air transport support in the Falklands and supports the Army in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: I am conscious that the Minister is trying to set out the range of activities in which our armed forces are engaged. However, he will recall from last night that a number of points were raised. I raised some specific points about the cannon for the Eurofighter Typhoon, the type of training and the priority for spares. I also raised the issue of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, concern about which is shared by Labour councillors, including the Minister's close friend in Aldershot. Does the Minister intend to deal with those issues, or will the Under-Secretary deal with them?

Mr. Spellar: I thank the hon. Gentleman for the way in which he put that. I am pleased to side-foot that to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. It is called the division of labour--but the Opposition should know an awful lot about internal division. The hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green certainly knows about divisions, although I noticed that he kept out of the cannabis debate. I do not know whether he supports the shadow Home Secretary on that issue or whether he is just keeping out of it.

In addition, our aircraft are deployed widely, training with our allies to maintain operational effectiveness. This week, two Nimrod aircraft are exercising with the US Navy on the east coast of the USA, a flight of Harrier aircraft is flying across the Atlantic with a VC10 tanker and Nimrod support to train in Canada, and a joint exercise will start, bringing allied aircraft, ships and submarines together.

I have given just a snapshot of the huge range and scale of important activities which our forces get up to every day, helping to build a safer world and helping communities both at home and overseas. The Government are committed to ensuring that our armed forces become even more capable of carrying out those and other tasks, both at home and abroad. We have under way the best equipment programme in decades. We are committed to making things better for our people, providing better training and better support on operations, working with other Government Departments to bring better support at home, and looking at terms and conditions, and housing. Those are not just words and fine sentiments. Much of

2 Nov 2000 : Column 878

what I have described is already happening. We have already underwritten our plans with a significant real-terms increase in the defence budget under the spending review 2000. This is a Government who are serious about defence, serious about the future of defence, and proud to be working with our armed forces to achieve that.

Next Section

IndexHome Page