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House of Commons

Monday 17 June 2002

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Military Police (Aldermaston)

1. Mr. David Rendel (Newbury): If he will make a statement on levels of overtime working by military police officers at AWE Aldermaston in the last 12 months. [58670]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie): There are no military police officers stationed at AWE Aldermaston. However, Ministry of Defence police are stationed there, and during the calendar month of May 2002, 9,837 overtime hours were worked.

Mr. Rendel: I hope that the Minister agrees that an excessive amount of overtime seems to have been worked at Aldermaston in recent years. Given what happened on 11 September last year and the extra concerns that people living around Aldermaston have that a similar attack might be launched against the site, I hope that the hon.

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Gentleman will also agree that it is important that we reduce the amount of overtime being worked. If not, some of the people there, who are working almost double time in the most excessive cases, will not be fit to do the job of carrying a gun and guarding such an important site.

Dr. Moonie: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that excessive overtime is undesirable. Overtime hours at AWE Aldermaston have traditionally been higher than the force average because of the underbearing of officers at that establishment. However, I am sure that he will pleased to know that I plan to post 31 recruits into that station, effective from 9 September 2002, joining four who were posted in recently. A further intake of recruits is scheduled for September 2002 and a number of those probationers are expected to be posted to AWE Aldermaston.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): Has the Minister been able to make any assessment of the likely costs of overtime at the establishment if stories in The Observer yesterday are correct that a nuclear weapons factory is to be established at Aldermaston in the near future? If that is so, will there be a statement and debate in the House before such an important decision is taken?

Dr. Moonie: I am happy to say that the statements were incorrect. Work is going on at Aldermaston, of which we have made no secret, to maintain the reliability of our nuclear deterrent, as we are faced with the fact that we no longer test these weapons. Anything else in the story was, I am afraid, entirely fanciful.

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford): Given the concerns raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury(Mr. Rendel) about security at Aldermaston, can the Minister confirm that the reports raised in The Observer yesterday were not new but simply a rehash of what was already known? Given that the Government's current policy on the security of bases is to parcel out security away from the military police such as those who guard Aldermaston either to the military provost guard service

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or private security companies, does the hon. Gentleman agree that that policy is now untenable? Is it not the case that the British people might begin to question the commitment of troops overseas in the war against terrorism if we cannot guarantee security at our own nuclear installations?

Dr. Moonie: It is interesting that a party that gave us precious little help when we were trying to extend the powers of the Ministry of Defence police should now attempt to criticise us—on entirely spurious grounds,I may add—for the way in which they work. We need no lessons from the Liberal Democrat party nor, for that matter, from Greenpeace on the level of security that we maintain at our establishments—which, I can assure the hon. Gentleman, are robust.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley): Does my hon. Friend appreciate that many Labour Members will be disappointed by his comment regarding Aldermaston and further developments of nuclear weapons? Does he also appreciate that this is hardly the right message to send to Pakistan and India at the moment?

Dr. Moonie: I point out again that there is nonew development of nuclear weapons going on at Aldermaston. We are ensuring that our nuclear deterrent is reliable and capable of being deployed. That involves a great deal of careful work to ensure that there is no chance of having to go back to testing the weapons physically. I should have thought that my hon. Friend would agree with us on that point.


2. Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton): What discussions he had with the Prime Minister of Nepal on his recent visit to the UK on the question of military help to Nepal; and if he will make a statement. [58671]

The Minister of State for Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): Prime Minister Deuba of Nepal called on my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for International Development and myself on13 May. Mr. Deuba outlined the current situation in Nepal and said that poverty reduction was their overall priority, including health, education, and provision of water. He stated that Nepal needed assistance in three areas: economic development, security and the mobilisation of international support for Nepal. On the security front, it was acknowledged that Nepal needed help in logistics and communications.

The Nepalese Prime Minister was advised that the United Kingdom will be hosting a conference in London this month, with the aim of bringing together the international community to agree a common strategy of support for Nepal. This will address security concerns as well as the political and developmental challenges facing Nepal.

Mr. O'Brien: I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Nepal is a good ally of the United Kingdom—for many years, the sons of Nepal have been recruited into the Gurkha regiment and are now recognised as the finest fighters in the world. Nepal re-established its democracy in 1990. Does my right hon. Friend acknowledge that

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during his visit to the UK, Prime Minister Deuba outlined the internal problems that Nepal is having with the Maoist terrorists and requested help in the form of training their forces as well as providing helicopters and other technical equipment? Does my right hon. Friend accept that much more needs to be done if we are to help Nepal defend its villages from terrorists? What more help can we give to ensure that democracy and freedom apply in all the villages in Nepal?

Mr. Ingram: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He is right to highlight the good support that we have received from Nepal and our good relationship with that country over many, many years. The Gurkha regiments have served with distinction in every theatre in which they have been involved, from the Falkland Islands to current operations in Bosnia.

My hon. Friend asks what more can be done: in my answer, I set out the range of efforts that we are making. The intergovernmental and international conference later this month will consider additional ways in which we can give assistance to that troubled country in its efforts to take on the insurgents to whom he referred.

Patrick Mercer (Newark): May I join the Minister in paying tribute to the record of Gurkha soldiers, in particular the Gurkha Rifles, especially in the light of the recent anniversaries of the triumphs in the Falklands? However, when Nepal is in such need of our help, will the Minister tell us why the first Gurkha reinforcement company has been disbanded, why the second one will be disbanded next year and why the third and final Gurkha reinforcement company will be disbanded the year after next?

Mr. Ingram: I have set out all the areas in which we seek to give assistance to Nepal and, in terms of the strength of the British Army, they are kept constantly under review. I am happy to set out at length for the hon. Gentleman the reasons why those changes have taken place.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): In the Minister's discussions with the Prime Minister of Nepal about possible military assistance to help to defeat the Maoist guerrilla campaign that seeks to destroy democracy in Nepal, did the Government again raise the question of the welfare of ex-British Army Gurkhas in Nepal? For example, did the right hon. Gentleman discuss how Britain might help to end the intimidation and extortion to which some of those loyal former servants of the Crown havebeen subjected by the Gurkha Army Ex-Servicemen's Association—a Marxist-Leninist organisation which speaks only for a small minority of former British Army soldiers and whose claim against the British Government for discrimination is being advocated by the wife of our Prime Minister?

Mr. Ingram: On the latter point, the hon. Gentleman will be aware of the way in which members of this country's legal profession are allocated work. If he is asking for a change in that, he should be raising the matter with a different Minister—if that is his point of view—although I suspect that some of his hon. Friends may be somewhat reluctant to make a change.

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In respect of the kernel of the hon. Gentleman's argument, that point diminished a good question. There are serious and important issues that we have to address and, yes, in passing, some of them were touched on by the Prime Minister—in relation to the in-country issues in respect of the Gurkhas who served with us with distinction. In my earlier response, I set out the various ways in which we are taking forward those matters and they may, of course, be raised at the intergovernmental international conference later this month.

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