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9 Dec 2002 : Column 10—continued


6. Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon): When the Typhoon will enter service. [83960]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): As was made clear in the written statement last week, we do not now expect Typhoon to enter service until the end of June next year. This schedule takes account of the disruption to test flying following the unfortunate loss of a development aircraft in Spain last month, but, until the causes and implications of the crash are fully understood, we cannot rule out further delay. I can assure the House that we will do everything possible to prevent any delay to the aircraft's operational employment date scheduled for the second half of the decade.

Mr. Djanogly : I hear what the Minister has to say, but whereas the Eurofighter project will be delivered some four and a half years late, I read at the weekend that the German and Italian air forces are taking delivery of their planes in the next few weeks. Why is that the case? Is it another example of how the Government are undermining British forces' equipment?

Mr. Ingram: The best advice that I could give the hon. Gentleman is that he should not believe everything that he reads in The Sunday Telegraph, because the article in question was wholly inaccurate. The position was made clear in last Thursday's written ministerial statement. None of the four nations involved in the Typhoon programme can take delivery of the aircraft before the type acceptance and associated commercial process is complete. All four nations are unanimous in the view that the aircraft must meet the agreed specification before acceptance of the weapon system can take place. So the hon. Gentleman should not believe what appears in the press the day before Defence questions because it is usually spin from someone and, in this case, it was wholly wrong.

Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead): What is the Government's policy towards the sale of such aircraft to countries in the middle east? Does the aerospace industry need bribery, corruption and excessive secrecy to sell such aircraft? What about the reports of the #7 million slush fund—

Mr. Speaker: Order. That is far too wide.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): The fact is that the Government announced only in February this year that this aircraft would enter service in June this year, yet we are now told, XFor June 2002, read June 2003." It looks as though the Government are losing their grip on this programme. Although we understand that there are some technical difficulties with the aircraft, I suspect that the Minister has not been entirely correct in what he

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has just told the House about the crash influencing the programme, because his written statement on Thursday said:

He went on to say:

that is to say beyond 2003—

Does the Minister not owe it to the House to tell us whether June 2003 is now a realistic prospect? Bearing in mind that 5 Squadron, with its Tornados, is about to be disbanded, we will not be prepared for the possible attacks on this country, about which the Government know only too well.

Mr. Ingram: Of course the hon. Gentleman indicated in his question his knowledge that technical matters are associated with the delay. They may well be minor, but, cumulatively, they still have to be resolved. We have a duty of care to those who will fly the aircraft and all four partner nations have to operate under the same strictures to ensure that what we have is fit for purpose. The unfortunate accident involving the loss of the development aircraft now has to be studied. With that in mind, based on the other reasons for slippage in some of the technical and design issues that have had to be resolved, we have said that by March the company has to give us indications, which then have to be verified, and we are working to June next year. That commitment is as firm as it can be given the complex nature of the platform.


7. Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe): If he will make a statement on military support for the Government of Afghanistan. [83962]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): The international security assistance force, mandated by the United Nations, provides support to the transitional Administration of President Karzai in Kabul and the immediate surroundings. The United Kingdom was the initial lead ISAF nation, and continues to be a major troop contributor. The Germans and Dutch have offered to assume the joint role of lead nation after Turkey's successful time in command. The United Kingdom anticipates remaining a significant contributor to ISAF, at about the current levels, through the current mandate.

Dr. Palmer: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. During the intervention in Afghanistan, which I strongly supported, the Prime Minister stressed that we would not let Afghanistan down later. I am concerned to read reports that the writ of the Government in Afghanistan still does not reach much further than the area around Kabul, and that Mr. Karzai is forced to negotiate with warlords on

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quite small matters. Does the Minister feel that we are doing enough to reinforce the Government of Afghanistan in asserting their rule over the country?

Mr. Ingram: The UK has pledged some #200 million over the next five years to help rebuild a country that has been divided by conflict for a generation. We are only one of the contributor nations to that process. Clearly, in terms of expanding our areas of activity outside Kabul, those matters must be considered with other coalition partners to see what can reasonably be done and to give best effect. We are not unmindful of the issues that have been raised. As with everything relating to the initial deployment in that country, however, we must build that coalition of the willing. A change to any posture must be carefully balanced, and we must make sure that anything that is done has proper and full effect.

Patrick Mercer (Newark): I am grateful to the Minister for his earlier answer. There are 300 or so staff officers and specialists tied up in Afghanistan at the moment. May I congratulate the Minister on the deployment of 40 or so territorials? What further plans does he have to increase the territorial commitment to Afghanistan, thus easing our overstretched regulars, and, to paraphrase Sir Michael Boyce, helping not to get our hands stuck in the mangle any further?

Mr. Ingram: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is asking for more activity in Afghanistan or less. I am not clear where he is coming from. I think that I said earlier that we have a firm commitment to help rebuild that country. Every rebuilding exercise, as I also explained, must be done in partnership with other nations to be fully effective. Our approach to those issues must be built over time with the right depth and breadth.

On the question of the Territorial Army, I do not accept that its deployment is for the reasons that the hon. Gentleman gave. It is appropriate to use the TA in circumstances in which that can be done. That is a useful development, and I know that the TA will seize the opportunity and perform magnificently in that area and in that theatre, as it would anywhere else.

Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley): My right hon. Friend will be aware of the numerous appeals from the President of the transitional Administration and key Ministers in Afghanistan for an expansion of ISAF. Certainly, when I went to Afghanistan recently on an International Development Committee visit, numerous representations were made to members of the Committee on this issue, particularly in relation to an expansion to key cities outside Kabul. It was suggested to us that if defence remains purely in the Kabul area, there was a danger that the President would be seen merely as the mayor of Kabul, which was the description given. That would not be helpful in terms of support for the new Administration in Afghanistan. Will the Minister assure the House that that will be given careful consideration?

Mr. Ingram: I can give that assurance, and I think that my earlier answer indicated that we are considering a number of ways of doing that. Ultimately, it is for the Government of Afghanistan to begin to address their

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territorial issues. We can assist, but we cannot be the army of that nation for ever. That must come from the people of that country. We help in the training of the army there, too, so that it can take on an increasing role in relation to an ongoing problem that my hon. Friend was right to highlight.


8. Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): What requests he has received from the United States Government for the use of British military facilities in respect of preparations for military action in Iraq. [83963]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): As I told the House on 25 November, the United States approached a number of countries, including the United Kingdom, seeking support in the event that military action against Iraq proves necessary. Although no decision has been taken to commit UK forces to military action, we have responded to this approach and discussions with the US will continue so that an appropriate British contribution can be identified should it prove necessary. As the House would expect, we will continue to prepare our forces so that they will be able to participate in military action should that be required.

Mr. Chaytor: Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is still an amount of uncertainty about both the objectives and the consequences of a war in Iraq? Is it solely about weapons of mass destruction? Is it about human rights? Is it about democracy in the middle east? Is it about regime change? Is it part of the war against terror and, if so, is it likely to increase or decrease the terrorist threat?

Mr. Hoon: I do not agree with my hon. Friend about uncertainty. The Government have made it absolutely clear over a long period that we want to ensure that the will of the United Nations is enforced and that UN Security Council resolution 1441 is implemented. That is the Government's position, and it is a very clear one.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): The Secretary of State has rightly acknowledged that, if there is military action against Iraq, British military facilities will be made available to our American allies. However, we have also heard in answer to questions by my hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench that the civil contingencies reaction force will not be available until the end of 2003 to deal with a terrorist attack on this country, that the Typhoon aircraft will not be available until well into 2003 to deal with, among other things, a terrorist attack on this country and that there appear to be no anti-missile defences around nuclear power stations to deal with a terrorist attack on this country. Will appropriate measures be taken at least to protect British military facilities, which may soon be in a state of war, against a terrorist attack against this country?

Mr. Hoon: I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new responsibilities on the Opposition Front Bench.

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I cannot help but observe that the Opposition Front-Bench team requires more by way of numbers than the Government team. The Opposition obviously required reinforcements from the rear.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the capabilities of the United Kingdom's armed forces will be prepared and available to deal with any military contingency however it should arise. It is not appropriate for me to go into the precise detail of confidential exchanges between Governments, but I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that appropriate protective measures will be in place should military action be decided on.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): Does the Secretary of State not recognise that there is in this country enormous public opposition to the preparations for war against Iraq and to the use of British bases for it? The feeling is that a war against Iraq will result in a large number of civilian and military casualties in Iraq and in military casualties on all sides. It will do nothing to bring long-term peace to the region and do nothing to solve the Palestinian crisis but will ultimately work in the interests of American global and military power and American commercial power in the region. Does my right hon. Friend not think that it is time to stop and think a bit more about this?

Mr. Hoon: I assure my hon. Friend that the Government are very cautious and careful in their approach to these issues and that, notwithstanding what he says, my experience is that, after having travelled around the United Kingdom and participating in a number of meetings where the issue has arisen, there is absolute unanimity that it is necessary that the will of the United Nations should be enforced. That is the clarity of the Government's position as set out in my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor), and it continues to be the position. It is crucial that Saddam Hussein should be left in no doubt that the international community is absolutely determined that he should comply with UN Security Council resolution 1441. I have not heard anyone argue against that position.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): Are there any circumstances in which further American military action would not be accompanied by British forces?

Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman would not expect me to give such an open-ended commitment. I can say that the United States is the closest ally of the United Kingdom, and we work extremely closely with it on the planning and preparation of all military operations.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): Do we have any special forces operating in Iraq at the moment? Is it true that some minesweepers are on their way to the Gulf? If so, for what purpose?

Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend is an experienced Member of the House and will know that no member of the Government ever comments on the deployment of special forces. I assure her that no military decisions whatsoever have been taken on military action against Iraq. That situation will be reported to the House should it change.

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