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4 Nov 2002 : Column 19—continued

Army Weapons

16. Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon): What recent assessment he has made of the reliability of British Army weapons. [76709]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): All weapons are continually assessed to ensure that they meet set reliability standards. If or when problems are reported, they are investigated immediately and action is taken as necessary.

Mr. Streeter : I thank the Minister for his reply. Is he aware that on recent exercises in Canada it was discovered that the Challenger 2 tank consistently broke down and there were difficulties with getting repairs and supplies, and that many of the men who rely on it for their lives have now lost confidence in that piece of equipment? What will he do about that, and will he assure the House that, before our tank regiments are sent into Iraq or anywhere else, they will have equipment on which they can rely?

Mr. Ingram: I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave a few moments ago. We have to learn the lessons that may emerge from any given training scenario. Saif Sareea is an example of an exercise on which we learned some extremely valuable lessons. That is the purpose of training exercises, followed by the search for solutions, and it is the best way to build confidence. The SA80 is a good example of the process: we discovered issues relating to the rifle that needed to be dealt with, and that is what we did. We will apply that across the board to all pieces of equipment that are crucial to our front-line activities.

Reservists (Call-up)

17. Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): If he will make a statement on his plans for call-up of reservists. [76710]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): As I said earlier today in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen), a call-out order was made on 14 October 2002 in support of operations in Afghanistan and related operations against international terrorism. That was purely for the continuation of existing operations. In line with our policy since the strategic defence review, any substantial new operation would require support from reservists. That would be the subject of a separate call-out order at the appropriate time.

Mr. Dalyell : Given that this has been not exactly the most glorious week in the history of the royal prerogative, and given that for a precedent relating to my right hon. Friend's previous answer we have to go back to the Korean war, if there is to be a call-up of reservists would it not at least be wise to come to the House of Commons—regardless of the royal prerogative—to seek a substantive motion of agreement by the House to the call-up of reservists?

Mr. Hoon: As I said earlier when asked the same question, there is a well-established procedure in the

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House applying to the call-out of reserves, governed by an Act of Parliament. That requires the House to be informed in the usual way. My hon. Friend has long experience of the procedures of the House, so if he wants to debate the matter when the order is laid, he will, no doubt, find an opportunity to do so.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal): I wonder whether the Secretary of State will think again about his response. There is considerable doubt and concern about the possible purpose of recalling the reservists. The House needs to be properly informed and to have every opportunity to discuss any issue that might involve reserve personnel. I therefore ask the right hon. Gentleman to think again and to ensure that all of us have a proper chance to discuss that issue, which is not as open and closed as many in the past have been.

Mr. Hoon: To the best of my knowledge, the right hon. Gentleman was a member of the Cabinet when the relevant Act of Parliament passed through the House—off the top of my head, I believe it was in 1996. Existing procedures are therefore the responsibility not only of the current Government, but of that previous Government. That legislation, which builds on previous practice both of Governments and of the House, is something with which the right hon. Gentleman is entirely familiar. The procedure is well-established and does not require to be changed at this stage.


18. Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): If he will make a statement on operations in the Balkans. [76711]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): In response to the improved security situation in the Balkans, NATO is implementing significant changes to its peacekeeping forces. The United Kingdom will continue to play a significant part in peacekeeping operations through its contribution, which will include a battle group in Bosnia and a light-role battalion in Kosovo.

Mr. Randall : I thank the Minister for that reply.

As our commitment in the Balkans seems to be winding down in respect of regular forces, is the Minister's plan to use some of the reservists in a peacekeeping role?

Mr. Ingram: Already about 10 per cent. of those currently in use are reservists. The hon. Gentleman's question suggests that we are running down the numbers because of some other pressure point. That is not the case. It is sensible planning as we move the countries that make up the Balkans towards a more normal type of society. Clearly, the military presence would decline over time anyway, but use can be made of the Territorial Army in those circumstances. That is good for them and for the country.

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Points of Order

David Winnick (Walsall, North): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would it not be appropriate for the Solicitor-General to make a statement to the House about the case that collapsed last Friday? It is my view, shared by a number of colleagues, that there are relevant questions for Parliament to ask: why the case was started in the first place, why it collapsed and in what circumstances, and about all the costs involved. In all the circumstances, I should have hoped that the Solicitor-General would make a statement. I understand that the Prime Minister has answered questions outside Parliament. I do not criticise him for that, as he had a press conference. I hope, therefore, that the Solicitor-General will come to the House, if not today, then on Tuesday, to answer these relevant questions.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the fact that the case of Paul Burrell has collapsed, in view of the fact that the case should not have proceeded to court if certain people had opened their mouth a lot sooner—I refer to members of the royal family—and in view of the fact that it will cost #1.5 million, should not the Queen have to foot the bill?

Mr. Speaker: In answer to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), that is not a matter for me. On the point of order from the hon. Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick), the Solicitor-General is a Minister of the Crown, and she can choose to come to the House and make a statement if she so wishes.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We are about to move joyfully on to the Adoption and Children Bill. When that Bill was introduced to the House about a year ago, the Secretary of State for Health stated on the front of the Bill that it was compatible with the European convention on human rights. That Bill made no attempt to change the status of people eligible to adopt. Last week, the Joint Committee on Human Rights produced a report on the Bill that is coming back from the Lords today in its amended form, which we are about to debate. That amended Bill returns the Bill to its original form—that is, the status quo of people eligible to adopt. However, the report states that the Bill is now incompatible with the European convention on human rights. The Secretary of State and the Joint Committee cannot both be right. That casts a legal doubt on the compatibility of the Bill. Do you have a ruling on the subject, before we get into the nitty-gritty of the clauses that we shall be debating?

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance. Since the Joint Committee first considered the Bill as presented by the Secretary of State to the House on Second Reading, there has been a case in South Africa and there has also been European Court jurisprudence in the Fretté case, which was considered by the Joint Committee and which related to articles 8 and 14. If, following that jurisprudence, the Government now agree with the Joint Committee that the Bill in its current form is incompatible, is it not

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appropriate that there should be a Government amendment on the amendment paper making it compatible with the Human Rights Act, rather than the amendment before us, which is right and proper but relies on Back-Bench Members and Opposition parties to put the Bill in a human rights-compatible form?

Mr. Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) for giving me notice of his point of order. The House is indebted to him for drawing attention to this apparent conflict of opinion, but it is a matter for a debate and not one that I can resolve or rule on.

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