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Pete Wishart (North Tayside): Will the Secretary of State please explain how putting the defence fire service in the private sector will improve the effectiveness and security of our defence personnel? He is of course aware that when the Minister of State for Defence was asked on Monday how many positive representations he has had on

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the issue, he candidly and honestly replied none. In the light of what has been said today, will the Secretary of State reconsider this daft privatisation?

Mr. Hoon: No decision has been taken on that, and an announcement will be made once a decision has been taken. Certainly, I have taken the hon. Gentleman's representations into account and, indeed, those made by others on the subject.

Patrick Mercer (Newark): Whatever Army numbers are—we can argue about what they should be—the fact remains that they are still about 7,000 short. Indeed, the document says that

The fact also remains, however, that certain regiments and battalions are overmanned and fully sustainable. Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that those units will be used in the roles fulfilled by the Parachute Regiment and the Royal Marines so that a two-tier Army does not emerge and dwindling morale is restored?

Mr. Hoon: We have had this conversation before. I do not accept that there is dwindling morale, but I certainly assure the hon. Gentleman that part of the implication of what I have said is that we must ensure that there is a wider, rapidly deployable capability available to us. By implication, therefore, I agree with at least part of what he says. We have made no secret of the need to make up that shortfall, but he knows from his considerable experience that the real pressures on the armed forces are in those areas that I mentioned—key enablers and the kind of people that we have to deploy time after time when we are engaged in a series of operations around the world. We need to devote specific resources to that area to improve our capabilities.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): Will the Secretary of State confirm that nothing in this welcome new chapter will change his commitment to buying all 232 Eurofighters? Will he also tell me whether the European-based successor to the future offensive air system programme will be fully engaged in developing unmanned air vehicle technology to the advantage of our British aerospace industry?

Mr. Hoon: I can absolutely confirm to the right hon. Gentleman that nothing in the new chapter will affect our commitment in relation to the Eurofighter. The Prime Minister made that clear to him very recently, I believe, and I am happy to repeat it. Certainly, our work on UAVs will inform considerably our thoughts on FOAS and how we take it forward. This and many other countries must have that important discussion on the aircraft that we shall have in future, and I am delighted to say that we are leading the way with that.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): I welcome most of today's announcement, including consideration of the volunteer reserves, but has the Secretary of State at all examined the model of the American air national guard? It provides all America's continental air defence, and did so effectively when patrolling after 11 September, although our own Air Force has just withdrawn its last regular squadron from the London area.

Mr. Hoon: The issue is obviously to ensure that we have the right capabilities available to deal with potential

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threats. As I said in my statement, we have quick-reaction aircraft available. The statement set out the circumstances in which we intend to extend the availability of airfields for that purpose and ensure that we have appropriate protection in place across the country. That has undoubtedly been improved since 11 September and we must continue that improvement.

Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent): In his statement, the Secretary of State trailed the development of a new air-transportable medium-weight armoured vehicle. Presumably, it will fall mid-way between the current main battle tank and the light armoured CVR(T), or combat vehicle reconnaissance (tracked). That is much to be welcomed, but given that the Ministry of Defence has clearly identified it as a gap in our capability, will he tell the House when it might come on stream and what we are doing to plug that gap in the meantime?

Mr. Hoon: As a consequence of the events of 11 September and, specifically, the operations that we have had to conduct at a great distance, we recognise that there may be a greater need for air-transportable medium- weight equipment. We are working on that. I do not anticipate a gap today, but we recognise that there may be such a requirement for the future.

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Points of Order

3.28 pm

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I rarely raise points of order, but I must seek your guidance. Several issues were covered in this afternoon's statement by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, but empty houses and the Pathfinder project, which are crucial to my constituency and the constituencies of many of my hon. Friends, were not dealt with, although they formed an important part of the statement. Is there any way for us to indicate our concerns to the Chair during statements? I realise that those in the Chair always have a difficult job and that not everyone can be called, but can we ensure that all parts of statements are covered?

Mr. Neil Turner (Wigan): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Only two Members representing constituencies in the north-west were called to ask questions, although we have a huge problem in the north-west. I think that the Chamber should be seen to reflect the whole nation, not just parts of the south-east and East Anglia. I realise that you are in a difficult position in having to ensure that all points are covered properly, but I would be grateful if you could tell us how those of us who represent areas beyond the south-east can make our points in regard to a statement by the Deputy Prime Minister that covers the whole of England.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Experience teaches that Members must always be extremely selective in making points relating to a statement of that kind, but I think I heard the Deputy Prime Minister describe his statement almost as an interim statement, suggesting that there was more to come. Even between today's statement and the statement that is promised, there may be plenty of opportunities for Members who are concerned about the subject to seek Mr. Speaker's approval for Adjournment debates. Several more hours are now available for such debates in the calendar of the House.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, of which I have given notice to Mr. Speaker.

Item 6 in the section of the Order Paper entitled "Remaining Orders and Notices" mentions a statutory instrument,

At the start of business today, that statutory instrument had not even been printed, and it was not on the internet. It was not on the departmental internet, or on HMSO's website.

The statutory instrument is not a matter of urgency, yet it has been selected for debate in the Second Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation at 4.30 pm on Monday. We, the official Opposition, still have no idea of its contents. Indeed, had it not been for the excellent Order Paper of the House, we would not even have known of its existence. Given that it concerns putting Government information online, it seems something of a mistake not to put it on the internet.

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I must add that this is not the first time we have had this problem with the Deputy Prime Minister's Department. When discussing numerous statutory instruments, we have found that vital information on, for example, environmental impact and on important maps has not been placed in the Library.

I have raised these points consistently in the relevant Committee. We expect better from it—or is this an attempt to stop Government information being disseminated and, above all, to stop the House performing its scrutiny role properly? I consider it a gross discourtesy to the House.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving notice of his important point of order. I note that the statutory instrument was laid before the House on 9 July. It follows that there should be at least one copy in the Library. If, as the hon. Gentleman says, a supply of fully printed copies is not yet available in the Vote Office nine days after the laying of the document, that is indeed most regrettable. I hope that the hon. Gentleman's point will be noted, and that action will be taken as quickly as possible to resolve the problem.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance on a matter relating to the Home Energy Conservation Bill, which, as Mr. Speaker's Office will be well aware, was pulled suddenly. It was due to be debated tomorrow.

There is massive interest in the Bill out in the country. By sheer coincidence, a Conservative Member has tabled an identical Bill—the Home Energy Conservation (No. 2) Bill—which is rather low in the batting order for tomorrow. Can you advise the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and advise all who are so concerned about the fact that the Labour Member has pulled his Bill, whether the Conservative version of what is in effect the same Bill could be moved up the batting order, and whether the Government have notified you that they would be willing for that to be done?

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