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Army Deployments

3. Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): If he will list the five largest deployments of the British Army abroad. [1185]

The Minister of State for Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): We have sizeable numbers of British Army personnel permanently based in Germany and deployed on operations in Northern Ireland. The five largest operational deployments of the British Army outside the United Kingdom are in Kosovo, Bosnia, Sierra Leone, the United Nations peacekeeping force in Cyprus and in support of coalition operations in the Gulf.

Chris Grayling: The Minister will be aware of the significant operational difficulties that the Army faces owing to the Government's failure to meet their targets for recruitment and retention. Against that background, will he tell the House what contingency arrangements he has been able to make should British forces have to be deployed in Macedonia? Should such an eventuality arise, what form might such a deployment take?

Mr. Ingram: I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's premise that we have been unsuccessful; although there are difficulties in recruitment and retention right across the armed forces, there are many successful schemes to tackle them all. The current deployment level is 20 per cent., which is consistent with the level that operational commanders believe is necessary to maintain the Army's operational readiness to tackle any development such as Macedonia. Of course, no detailed decision has yet been taken on a deployment in Macedonia because all the

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ingredients are not yet in place to achieve that objective. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that, if those conditions apply, we would want the British Army to be deployed in sufficient strength alongside NATO forces to achieve the objective of disarming the National Liberation Army.

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford): Liberal Democrat Members have always supported British and NATO deployment in the Balkans, which is the principal deployment area. As we will be the spearhead nation in Macedonia, can the Minister tell us what regiments have been earmarked to go there if necessary? Will that affect our continued commitment in Kosovo and Bosnia? Can he also tell us the exit strategy from Macedonia? Although we believe that any NATO force should be supported by other NATO members, we also believe that it must be a force that can move out as well as it moves in.

Mr. Ingram: I am surprised at the latter part of that question.

The hon. Gentleman asked which forces we had decided to send to Macedonia. As I said earlier, we are not yet at the stage of deployment. If we made a decision today, it would be a certain configuration, but if we made it three or six months hence it would be a different configuration, so it would be wrong to make a pronouncement now. The United Kingdom has offered a brigade headquarters as part of our contribution should NATO deploy to disarm the NLA, as part of the peace agreement for which we all hope.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): I welcome the Minister to the Defence portfolio, and I hope that he will enjoy what is the second best job in the British Government, after that of Secretary of State for Defence. I hope that he does not occupy the position for too long.

A direct consequence of overstretch and shortened tour intervals is huge strain on Army families. Will the Minister investigate why the 3 per cent. efficiency savings continue to apply to Army welfare services—in effect, another 3 per cent. cut in those services this year—with the direct consequence, in the garrison towns around Salisbury plain, that the county council social services have to find another £400,000 to support military families? That should be the job of the Ministry of Defence, and it would not even need to be done if the Ministry matched its resources with its commitments.

Mr. Ingram: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome to me in my new portfolio. I do not know who he wished to remain in his post for a short duration, myself or my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I look forward to this portfolio, having served in another difficult job on behalf of the Government, in the Northern Ireland Office. I will try to be gracious to the hon. Gentleman as often as he is gracious to me.

The impact on military families around Salisbury plain that the hon. Gentleman describes is precisely the reason for our having set up a joint services taskforce, which I chair, to examine how we can begin to deal with some of the issues. Contrary to what he says, there have not been cuts. It is a matter of trying to ensure that all arms of Government service delivery, including social security, best meet the needs of our armed forces. That is not an easy task, but we have begun to tackle it, unlike the

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previous Administration. If the hon. Gentleman's wish for me to have a short duration in post was a wish for his party, rather than mine, to be in power, I am sure that many people in the armed forces would wish otherwise.


4. Mr. David Borrow (South Ribble): What changes there have been in the global security environment and the role of the UK's defence forces with respect to peacekeeping since the 1998 strategic defence review. [1186]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): In February, the Ministry of Defence published its reappraisal of the future strategic context for defence, which reaffirmed the assessments made in the strategic defence review of a rapidly changing security environment. It confirmed the lack of an immediate and direct military threat to the United Kingdom but forecast a continuing need for our armed forces to engage in preventing conflict and restoring and maintaining peace.

Since 1998, our armed forces have been involved in a number of peacekeeping operations, including those in the Balkans, Sierra Leone and East Timor. Those recent experiences have demonstrated the excellence of our armed forces in a peacekeeping role and their valuable contribution to Britain's role as a force for good in the world.

We are not complacent, however, about the burden that peacekeeping operations place on our armed forces. That is why we continually reassess the levels of commitment, reducing numbers as soon as is realistic.

Mr. Borrow: When the strategic defence review was published in July 1998, it anticipated a greater peacekeeping role for our service men and women, and in fact the increase in that role has been greater than many of us then anticipated. What actions is the Ministry taking to ensure that that is recognised in the structures of our services, and how does the Minister anticipate that role will change—does he foresee an increase or a decrease?

Mr. Hoon: We have always recognised that the armed forces need to be trained to fulfil the most demanding of tasks—fighting wars—but it is the case around the world that those armed forces that are best trained for war fighting also happen to be the ones that are best suited to peacekeeping, because of the demands on them made in areas such as the Balkans. That is why we have kept careful control over the number and quantity of deployments. As was said earlier, it is important when considering a new deployment that we anticipate its end, perhaps by reducing force levels as the deployment continues. Since I became Secretary of State, we have certainly sought to reduce numbers deployed where we can, both in Bosnia and in Kosovo. We try to minimise our involvement, consistent with our obligations to the international community.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): I warmly endorse the Secretary of State's comments about the absolute requirement for troops to be trained for the most demanding levels of warfare, but does he acknowledge that because of the extensive and, in many cases, welcome deployments of our forces, the intervals between

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deployments and the amount of high-quality training available to troops are becoming increasingly limited? That, in turn, could lead to a degrading of the truly exceptional capabilities of the British armed forces. Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that he will ensure—as much as he is able, given the demands made of our soldiers, sailors and airmen—that training time will be kept sacrosanct?

Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman is right, and it is often overlooked, in the enthusiasm and, perhaps, the excitement of a deployment, that if forces are to remain in a theatre for any length of time, the personnel must be replaced. Other forces that have had appropriate training have to replace them, and those who have been deployed in a particular theatre must maintain the level of their training for the future. We keep that need in mind, although I do not pretend that it is always easy, given our present range of deployments. The chiefs advise me on the issue, and I certainly take that advice into account.

Royal Navy

5. Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): If he will make a statement on policy priorities for the Royal Navy; and how they have changed since the publication of the strategic defence review. [1187]

The Minister of State for Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): Policy priorities for the Royal Navy have not changed since the strategic defence review. The strategic direction and development of the Royal Navy was set out by the Admiralty Board in November 2000 in a paper entitled "The Future Navy". Copies of this paper have been placed in the Library of the House. As it makes clear, the key policy priority for the Royal Navy is to retain its core emphasis on war fighting and the ability to operate and sustain forces worldwide, achieved through the continued development of a versatile maritime force.

In that light, I have today approved the plan of the Commander-in-Chief, Fleet to streamline and relocate key elements of his headquarters to Whale Island in Portsmouth. That will bring together, in a single modern headquarters, the key defence and management expertise needed to allow him to continue to deliver a world class navy, fit for its wide range of key operational tasks in the 21st century. The organisational restructuring will be in place by April 2002, and the new headquarters building will be available from late 2003.

Mr. Miller: My right hon. Friend's announcement will be welcomed by many people, but will he assure the House that the proposals are driven by the need for greater effectiveness, rather than for cost savings? Will he also assure the House that proper steps have been taken to protect the interests of civilian staff?

Mr. Ingram: I can give my hon. Friend assurances on both counts. The changes were not driven by the need to make cost savings, although substantial savings will result from the rationalisation and relocation, to the extent of £10 million, which will be retained by the Navy for its use. It will be necessary to consult the trade unions and civilian staff affected by the changes. All staff at the sites

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that will no longer be used will be given the option to relocate to the new location or help in finding another post in the same area.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): While Ministers reorganise the organisation chart of the Royal Navy yet again, will the Minister confirm that today, compared with four years ago, we have fewer sailors, with a higher proportion of them medically unfit; fewer submarines, with a higher proportion on maintenance; and far fewer frigates? Will he also confirm that we are planning two enormous aircraft carriers for the distant future, while the number of fixed-wing, fast-jet pilots in the Navy has collapsed to an all-time low?

Mr. Ingram: In so far as there may be fewer personnel employed in some wings of the armed forces, that is about the most effective and efficient use of the armed personnel that we have. It is about ensuring that they have the best equipment. We are dealing with a completely changed world environment, which is why the strategic defence review was originally put in place. If we had continued with the previous Administration's policies, there would have been cut upon cut. That is not the future for the modern armed forces in this country.

Syd Rapson (Portsmouth, North): I welcome the Minister to his post and also thank his predecessor, who did a magnificent job for four years.

I welcome today's statement, particularly as Whale Island is in my constituency. It further consolidates an area that has HMS Excellent, as well as making the Navy much more secure in Portsmouth and providing more jobs. As the icing on the cake, is there any news on the type 45 destroyer contract? I understand that a statement should be imminent, but I need more information.

Mr. Ingram: On behalf of my predecessor, I thank my hon. Friend for his kind comments. I am sure that my predecessor will read avidly everything that is said today by his successor. He will keep a close watch on his previous brief, as all Ministers do with their former Departments. My hon. Friend's compliments will therefore not go amiss, but in case my predecessor does not read Hansard, I will make sure that they are brought to his attention.

I also thank my hon. Friend for his welcome for today's announcement which, as he says, will greatly benefit not only the Navy but his constituency. On the T45 programme, I think that he should wait. Christmas is coming, but there may be an announcement sooner than that.

Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh): On that point, the Minister will be aware that for the Royal Navy to meet its policy objectives, it needs these ships and the type 45 destroyer as soon as possible. This is already long delayed. I accept his point about making a statement later, but can he confirm that it will not be delayed any further than necessary, and that the Government's commitment

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to Vosper Thornycroft and BAE Marine that the work for construction will be shared fairly and equally will be maintained when that announcement is made?

Mr. Ingram: I think that the hon. Gentleman should await the announcement. I have not made it today, and I will not anticipate what it will say. However, the term "fair distribution" shows how we will approach the matter.

Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford): I warmly welcome the right hon. Gentleman to the Defence team. Has he yet had a chance to read Admiral Essenhigh's annexe to the fleet risk register? If he has, can he think when there has ever been such a devastating or authoritative indictment of the state of the Royal Navy and of Government neglect of it? Let me quote a very few of the charges:

premature voluntary release—

Of the attack helicopter, it says:

It goes on and on. Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate the seriousness of the situation described by Admiral Essenhigh, or does he simply think that the admiral does not know what he is talking about?

Mr. Ingram: From my experience during the short time I have spent in this post, I believe that Admiral Essenhigh does know what he is talking about. It is an important requirement that all senior commanders-in-chief look at the worst-case scenarios and take a proper view of all the risks that they have to deal with. Of course, the hon. Gentleman quotes from a leaked document, and we deplore the fact that it has been leaked. While it may allow some knockabout in the Chamber, it also provides people who may be hostile to this country with views about our planning scenarios, so we treat these issues with some sensitivity, which is why we do not put them into the public domain.

The hon. Gentleman has raised a number of points, and I cannot go into them all in detail. However, as he refers to the need to identify issues by means of a risk register, may I recommend the same approach to his party? The Conservatives may want to think about the worst-case scenario in respect of their procedures for the appointment of a new leader.

Mr. Davies: This is a serious matter.

Mr. Ingram: Of course it is; the real thrust is that the document is important. It should not have been leaked, and it should not have been exploited to the extent that it has. However, even more important is the fact that the Royal Navy continues to meet its operational commitments across a whole spectrum of defence missions. I hope that answers the hon. Gentleman's questions.

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