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The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): I have had no recent discussions with my Russian counterpart on European missile defence, but we regularly discuss ballistic missile defence during other consultations with the Russian Federation, and there has in recent months been discussion between NATO and Russia on the scope for co-operation on theatre missile defence and related issues. We want that dialogue to continue.
Mr. Atkinson: Does the Minister recall the offer that President Putin made to President Clinton last June for Russia to help to put in place a missile defence system for Europe? Did the Prime Minister discuss that offer with President Putin during his meetings with him in Moscow last week? Can he tell the House the nature and the source of the threat to Europe that could have motivated President Putin to make the offer in the first place?
Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the new United States Administration--whoever eventually wins--should take full account of both Russian and European concerns before taking any decision on national missile defence, and that they should pay heed to the report by our own Select Committee on Foreign Affairs?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie): The cadet organisations are primarily responsible for their own recruitment, but the Ministry of Defence provides practical support and funding. Between April 1999 and April 2000, the total number of cadets rose by more than 3,600, to 131,954. We hope to see a continuation of that very encouraging trend over the coming years, so that more young people can benefit from the personal development opportunities offered by cadet organisations. If the hon. Gentleman is not already aware of the fact, I am happy to inform him that the Army cadet force in his constituency is the largest in Sussex.
Mr. Waterson: I am grateful for that answer. People in Eastbourne and elsewhere take real pride in the obvious enthusiasm and commitment of the young people in the cadet forces, who go on to provide 35 per cent. of serving officers in our armed forces. That being the case, why are the Government putting some cadet forces at risk by cutting back Territorial Army facilities?
Dr. Moonie: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that, far from putting facilities at risk, we have guaranteed that whenever a TA hall is closed, funding will be provided to give cadets proper accommodation.
Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham): The cadet forces are warmly welcomed in Rotherham. I reached the highest rank of my life as company sergeant-major in my school's combined cadet force. That taught me quick thinking under pressure, the value of partnership and the need to accept discipline--which are all attributes of the parliamentary Labour party. Would my hon. Friend consider creating a special combined cadet force for the rabble on the Opposition Benches so that they can learn to march in step, speak in unison and stop accepting orders from extraneous people such as the editors of the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph?
Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire): Landlocked Bedfordshire is not normally associated with the Royal Navy. Nevertheless, there is a sea cadet corps unit in Flitwick, which is well supported by young people. For many years, that unit has requested affiliation to one of Her Majesty's warships. Will the Minister expedite that?
The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. John Spellar): British armed forces are deployed in Sierra Leone in accordance with the Government's policy to help build a lasting peace in that country. That policy was set out by the Foreign Secretary in the House of Commons on 6 June. At present, there are about 600 service personnel deployed in Sierra Leone, including the crew of RFA Sir Percivale. That is higher than usual, owing to the handover that is currently under way from the joint taskforce headquarters to 1 Mechanised Brigade headquarters, which is taking over the role of providing the operational HQ. Once that handover is complete, the numbers in theatre will be over 400, depending on the type of training that is being conducted.
Mr. Woolas: I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. Will he assure me that, contrary to the political sniping from the Opposition, the recent landings involving the Royal Marines, HMS Ocean and HMS Fearless show that, as a result of the reforms, our forces are more deployable and capable than they were before? Will my hon. Friend further assure me that, despite the success of the training that is being given to the Government forces in Sierra Leone, there are no plans to withdraw United Kingdom forces?
Mr. Spellar: I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the landing conducted by the amphibious group. It demonstrated once again the superb professionalism of our forces and, as he said, their deployability and flexibility. As my hon. Friend knows, we have been undertaking a considerable amount of training of the forces of the Government of Sierra Leone. However, there is still further work to be done, not only with troops, but with personnel at officer level. We will continue our work so that those forces can ensure peace and stability in their country.
Mr. Spellar: We are working with the United Nations to persuade other countries to make a significant contribution, and that work is starting to come to fruition. I would not say that our action was merely a show of strength. It was also a genuine exercise to demonstrate the deployability of our forces, not only in the situation in question, but in any comparable one. I do not want to give a defined time limit, not least because we do not want to provide an indication of termination to opposing people or forces who might take it the wrong way and be encouraged.
As I said, we are trying to ensure that the forces of the Government of Sierra Leone--the Sierra Leone army--are increasingly better trained, better equipped, better able to move forward, and thus able to secure their own country and establish peace and stability there. We are playing our part and United Nations mandated forces, with which we are working, are playing their part. That is enormously welcomed by the people of Sierra Leone and is appreciated in the wider world.
Dr. George Turner (North-West Norfolk): Will my hon. Friend say a little more about the tangible benefits of the training and explain whether the capability to deal with rebels is being significantly changed? Furthermore, does the training programme have a defined schedule and time scale to which we are working?
Mr. Spellar: It is interesting that the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) is now becoming anti- American as well as anti-European. That is an historical throwback--now it is foreigners whom the Conservatives do not like.
In response to my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Dr. Turner), we have a programme and we are also working with other agencies on the disarmament and reconstruction programme, to ensure that those who have been involved in rebel bands can be reintegrated into society--another important aspect of our activities. We have been enormously encouraged by the progress made by troops in the Sierra Leone army. As I said, we are now working on the structure of command and control in those forces and providing assistance in that respect. We are not working to an exact or predetermined time scale, but we are satisfied that we are making considerable progress with which the Sierra Leone forces are also very pleased.
Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford): The Secretary of State cannot be allowed to get away with blatantly inventing citations of Conservative policy. The Conservative party is utterly committed to the Eurofighter
On Sierra Leone, there have been stunning examples of military professionalism and courage since our forces were deployed there. There is no question of that. However, our forces and the public are surely entitled to what they have not received from the Government during their involvement for the past several months: a clear authoritative statement about our interests in Sierra Leone; about the criteria on which we decided to become involved there and not in any other nasty civil war elsewhere in Africa; about whether the Government have any clear idea about the maximum resources that we might utilise to restore peace; or about a deadline. Do they have any idea even in their own mind, or is their involvement simply an open-ended, undisciplined commitment?
Imposing a deadline or timetable on any operation would be the best encouragement to the Revolutionary United Front and others to hold out until such time as the deadline was reached. That would not help us to achieve the objectives that I am sure we all share.
On our reasons for intervening in Sierra Leone in the first place, there was a real risk of Freetown falling and of murder, massacre and mayhem taking place in the area. The British public understand very well, having seen on their televisions the appalling acts that were perpetrated on civilians during the war in Sierra Leone, exactly why we intervened--to try to bring peace and stability and the chance of a better life to those people. That is the right action; it is endorsed by the international community and I hope that it will be more generally supported.
On the previous aside of the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies), it is interesting that the Conservative party has come late in the day to the defence of Eurofighter. Perhaps it has decided that Lord Tebbit is dispensable and that his slurs on Eurofighter have to be taken on. Opposition Back Benchers and Front Benchers still refuse to commit themselves to the A400M, which will give us a considerable heavy lift capability and which is important for the European--and British--aerospace industry.