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6 Feb 2003 : Column 460—continued

Mr. Hoon: I appreciate the point that the hon. Gentleman quite properly raises. We shall consider the matter carefully as part of the overall welfare arrangements. Those arrangements are still evolving, as they depend on the length and circumstances of any deployment. However, the hon. Gentleman has made his point well. I am aware of the matter, and it will certainly be taken into account.

Diana Organ (Forest of Dean): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that no members of our armed services are having to purchase their own items of equipment?

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Constituents of mine with relatives in the services have told me that their relatives are having to purchase their own boots and mosquito nets. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the 7,000 RAF personnel being sent to the Gulf will not have to do that?

Mr. Hoon: I can confirm that no members of the armed forces are having to purchase equipment. However, it has long been the practice of armed forces personnel to prefer to purchase certain items or equipment for their own use. That has gone on for a very long time, and the matter has been brought to my attention regularly by the personnel whom I have had the opportunity of meeting.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport): The Secretary of State must know that the essentials of military planning are to know the contingency against which the plans are being made, and the troops that will be available. Does he realise that, by dribbling out news about deployments as he has done, he has made life much more difficult for military planners? The way that he has handled the matter smacks more of political expedience than military leadership.

Mr. Hoon: I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that he is quite wrong. These announcements are made precisely in response to the deliberations of military planners, who prepared the material at the appropriate stage, given the notice requirements—as I implied in my observations about the timing of any deployment of air forces. The announcements are made specifically as a result of military planning and are in no way inconsistent with that military planning.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington): Is the Secretary of State aware that, given the size of the US and British deployment in the region and the hundreds of thousands of forces massing on the borders of Iraq, the likelihood of any allied attack being a surprise is remote? He will have to come up with something better than that to explain to the British people why the US Congress can have a vote before US troops are sent into action but the British Parliament is denied such a vote.

Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend knows full well the very different constitutional arrangements that exist. The Government are following well-established procedures of the House and have clearly set out the arrangements; it is clear that the preference is for a vote before any deployment, but, in the circumstances, it may be necessary to delay that until shortly afterwards. That has always been the position for the House.

Angus Robertson (Moray): I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. Can he confirm that the majority of deployed personnel from Scotland are based in my constituency, at RAF Lossiemouth and RAF Kinloss, and that, like the majority of people in Moray, he wishes them well and hopes for their safe and speedy return? Together with other members of the armed forces parliamentary scheme, I visited airbases in the Gulf region and I have raised concerns with the MOD about communications so that service personnel can keep in touch with their families back home. Can the

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Secretary of State confirm that efforts will be undertaken to maintain the improvements in those vital phone and internet communication links?

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his observations and can confirm that the great majority of RAF personnel will be coming from his constituency. I note his support for that deployment. As I indicated in response to an earlier question, detailed work is being undertaken on the welfare package and I can certainly assure the hon. Gentleman that every effort will be made to ensure the most effective package possible.

David Winnick (Walsall, North): Is not the choice simple? One accepts either the denials of the Iraqi dictator in answer to those searching and difficult questions that were put to him, or the compelling evidence given yesterday to the United Nations by the US Secretary of State. Is it not clear that the regime is engaged in deception over weapons of mass destruction and that it cannot be trusted in any way? It is an unfortunate fact that too many people in this place are willing to give credibility to a murderous dictator.

Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend has always approached this issue with commendable consistency and absolute logic.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): Has the Secretary of State given any thought as to what he will do about keeping the public informed as the war progresses, if there is a war? Many of us were concerned about the amount of information in the media before part of a recent special forces operation in Afghanistan. That cannot be helpful. What thought has the right hon. Gentleman given to that issue?

Mr. Hoon: A great deal of effort goes into ensuring that the media are given accurate and up-to-date information, provided of course that it in no way compromises the safety and security of our forces. The hon. Lady is right however—there are lessons to be learned, not least by the prominent newspaper that published details of British forces' actions in Afghanistan long before they had even arrived in that country.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): How much is all this lot going to cost? Is it not a fact that in the Budget statement about £1 billion was set aside? Is the Budget being delayed because the Government are not sure of the costs if a war takes place? Will the Secretary of State confirm that it is all to satisfy the whims of a tin pot American president who had a lousier election result than Mugabe?

Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend is well known for his determination to do the right thing and to ensure that proper action is taken, irrespective of cost, and I assure him that that is the case for this deployment. We are doing the right thing. We are taking the right decision in support of the UN and the international community and we shall go on doing so, irrespective of the cost.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): May I join the Secretary of State in paying particular tribute to the air

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transport squadrons, a large part of which are based in my constituency at RAF Lyneham? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that not only C-130J but also C-130K Hercules will be deployed? Will he comment on local rumours that, as a result of that, he intends to make a substantial investment in upgrading the defensive aid sweeps of the C-130K? I certainly hope that he will.

Mr. Hoon: I can confirm that both types of aircraft will be deploying and that part of our efforts will indeed be to improve the protection available to at least some of those aircraft in appropriate circumstances.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): As we discovered during the Suez invasion, we cannot act irrespective of cost. If these contingency measures and the ones already in place are acted on, what will be the consequences for our economy, the lives of the Iraqi people and the stability of the Arab world?

Mr. Hoon: I should be happier with my hon. Friend's question if he had also addressed the costs of inaction. What are the risks faced by the international community of leaving Saddam Hussein to continue to develop weapons of mass destruction, including his efforts to develop a nuclear weapon? What are the costs to the immediate region of a country such as Iraq, which should be wealthy, successful, prosperous and an effective participant in the international community? That is not the case and the situation cannot continue indefinitely.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham): After the compelling demonstration yesterday by Colin Powell of the extent and range of chemical and biological weapons in Iraq, can the Secretary of State give us an assurance that all British armed forces personnel will be fully protected when those weapons are fired at them, not just when they are in the front line but when they are within range of medium-range ballistic weapons?

Mr. Hoon: I have given that assurance in the past and I repeat it: we are taking the necessary steps to provide our troops with appropriate protection against a nuclear, chemical or biological threat.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside): What are the implications for the contingency preparations now under way of Saddam Hussein's refusal to allow scientists to be interviewed privately by the inspectors, with their families being taken to a place of safety?

Mr. Hoon: It simply demonstrates that the international community and the UN are not receiving the full and effective co-operation that was clearly specified by resolution 1441. Above all else, it is an indication of the determination of the Iraqi regime to avoid its international obligations and to avoid implementing the resolution as required.

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