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31 Mar 2003 : Column 658—continued

Private Security Companies

10. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): If he will make a statement on his policy on co-operation between UK armed forces and private security companies working overseas. [105457]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): All members of United Kingdom armed forces are required to notify their commanding officer of any contact with companies that supply, or offer to supply, military services, and to make a written record of any such contact.

A copy of the detailed guidance covering contact between all Ministry of Defence employees and private military companies is available in the Library.

Andrew Mackinlay: Yes—but what is the policy? The Government produced a Green Paper two years ago on the regulation of private military companies—companies that, to me, are mercenaries. The Green Paper has never been discussed in the House of Commons and I understand that other Government Departments—such as the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to which the Minister needs to talk—are contemplating hiring private mercenary companies. The Government have to consider this whole policy and bring it before the Chamber of the House of Commons so that we can decide whether we want to have any truck with outfits such as Sandline, which are not only bad performers but have caused acute embarrassment to the Government.

Mr. Ingram: That question would more properly be addressed to the Departments that may be considering the matters that my hon. Friend mentions. There is a need for debate, and the Green Paper was published to allow consideration of the breadth of that debate. It did not lead to any conclusions, but the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs—which examined the issue following

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the report of Sir Thomas Legg and Sir Robin Ibbs in 1998 on Sandline's involvement with arms in Sierra Leone—concluded that private military companies should not be banned.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Has the Minister examined cases in which other private firms, and not only private security firms, have been mobilised to go overseas with their armed forces—from, for example, an RAF base in this country? Are their rules of engagement precisely set out in documentation? Is the Minister convinced that those rules of engagement are perfectly clear?

Mr. Ingram: We never discuss rules of engagement in detail but, yes, we ensure that all such issues are perfectly clear to our forces if they are working alongside other nations—including the relationships that they may have with their rules of engagement.

Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead): What does the Minister make of the United States' proposal to privatise the police in Iraq after the war? Surely even the Minister must know that that is a euphemism for death squads. What part is there for such a proposal in the reconstruction of Iraq?

Mr. Ingram: What we will seek to do in Iraq is what we seek to do elsewhere in our peacekeeping role: we want to get a civil society together so that the Iraqi people can administer their society right across the range of responsibilities. At the end of the day, it will be for the Iraqis to decide how they want to run their society. Part of the reason that we are there is to ensure that Iraq is returned to the Iraqi people.

Police Centre (Winterbourne Gunner)

11. Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): In what ways his Department supports the police national chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear centre at Winterbourne Gunner; and if he will make a statement. [105458]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): The Ministry of Defence provides training at the police chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear centre based at Winterbourne Gunner for their instructors. Office and educational accommodation and other administrative support are also provided. That support began in 2001 and has since evolved as the police developed their own training system and services.

Mr. Key : The centre has been a great success, and locally we are very grateful for the relationship between the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office police forces. Nearly 3,000 police officers from all over the country have now passed through the centre at Winterbourne Gunner. A problem, however, is that police courses have to fit in with military courses and there is a shortage of domestic accommodation. The huts that people live in are world war one huts. Are there

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proposals under project Allenby to upgrade the huts, because we hope that the throughput of civilian police forces through Winterbourne Gunner will double?

Mr. Ingram: I welcome the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question and his recognition that the centre is a great success. We now have to deal with new problems, for which we will have to plan accordingly. Project Allenby is a major investment in infrastructure, much of which should have been made in previous years—perhaps even when the hon. Gentleman was in government.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): May I offer my sympathies to all who have been killed or injured in the invasion—especially to those who have seen their children killed? On the subject of the gases and chemicals used at that establishment, which are available to the police, what exactly did a military spokesman mean today when he said in Iraq that non-lethal chemical weapons might be made available to US and UK—

Mr. Speaker: Order. That question is out of order.

Territorial Army

12. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): How many members of the Territorial Army have been mobilised for the Iraq conflict. [105459]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie): As at 25 March, 3,416 members of the Territorial Army have been mobilised for the Iraq conflict.

Mr. Swayne : I have an interest as a Territorial Army officer.

At about Christmas time, a number of TA personnel were advised that they would be mobilised, and they made the necessary personal arrangements. They were subsequently stood down, allegedly on the grounds that the administrative procedures for mobilising them would be too long and the units with which they habitually train needed immediately to begin work-up training in the Gulf. Once the war is over, will the Minister examine those administrative mobilisation procedures and, if and where necessary, overhaul them?

Dr. Moonie: I entirely agree with what the hon. Gentleman says. It is clearly very important for us to learn any lesson that may occur. I recognise that, where people are called up but not used, it is extremely disturbing to them. We will certainly look at anything like that once the conflict has finished—and his letter will probably be in the post tomorrow.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell): Is the Minister aware that relatives of members of the Territorial Army and other members of the armed forces serving in the Iraq war will have been somewhat confused and disappointed by his earlier answer to the question asked by the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), as they perceive that the Government have indicated that post and packaging will be sent free of charge to the

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Gulf? In my constituency last Thursday, people were charged the full amount at post offices. They were also told that, on Government instructions, the weight limit had been reduced to 2 kg. Can that be right? Is that helping the morale of the relatives?

Dr. Moonie: We have to make it clear that there was never any statement by a member of the Government that the entire postal service to the Gulf would be free. What we have said is that we are considering ways to institute a surface postal service, which can only come in later—it cannot come in at this moment because of the importance of getting supplies out there. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is considering the possibility of providing a free service in addition to the present service, not as a substitute.

Mr. Mackay: What about the weight limit?

Dr. Moonie: As far as I know, the weight limit remains unchanged. The weight limit for a mail package has always been, I think, 2.2 kg.


13. Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South): Whether he expects more UK troops to be deployed to Iraq. [105460]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): As I indicated to the House earlier, we have no current plans to announce significant additional deployments of United Kingdom forces to the Gulf region, but there are provisional plans for sub-units and individuals who have been in the middle east since late last year to be replaced shortly.

Mr. Cunningham : May I offer my condolences to the families of all those who have lost their lives? Having said that, may I ask the Secretary of State whether he has sufficient troops to ensure that humanitarian aid will get through to the people of Iraq in the various centres outside the major cities? Will he also convey the fact that many British people are concerned about the welfare of the people of Iraq?

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his observations. In previous statements to the House, I have set out the deployment of a balanced and flexible force to the Gulf. Deploying and now sustaining that force is a very significant logistical achievement, not least because, as other right hon. and hon. Members have said, it is engaged not only in intense war fighting, but at the same time in supplying significant humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people.

I specifically draw attention to the logistics contribution that has been made. I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the hard work of our logistics organisations. They do not always get the recognition that they deserve, and they are bearing the burden not only of deploying a substantial force, but of

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sustaining it in theatre, as well as making a significant contribution to relieving a very difficult humanitarian situation in Iraq.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): No plan survives contact with the enemy and, as the Secretary of State has just made clear, our troops are now engaged in conventional warfare, counter-insurgency operations and bringing humanitarian aid. It would appear from the outside that that is much more manpower intensive than one might have assumed before operations began. While keeping his options open for the reinforcement of British troops in theatre, will the Secretary of State assure the House that he will make the necessary notice-to-move decisions in order to trigger the necessary expenditure on, and preparation of, the units that might be sent? Will he undertake not to leave them sitting there on peacetime establishments and on peacetime processes before he makes that decision?

Mr. Hoon: Those decisions are consequential upon an assessment that the extra forces are required. As I have indicated consistently to the House today, I do not judge that those forces are, at present, required. Should we reach that decision, the decisions that the hon. Gentleman calls for will certainly be made in time.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton): Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State accept from us that humanitarian aspects of our troops' work are extremely important and that they could take place over a long period—years, in fact? Does he accept that proposition and that time and resources will be required? Will he assure us that the Government will not flinch from that?

Mr. Hoon: The Government will take all the decisions that are necessary. I do not think that it is particularly helpful at this stage to put a limit on the amount of time that will be required. The Government's objective is to restore Iraq to its own people. The country has great resources of intelligence and education and natural resources of oil, which should allow it to be reconstructed and to play its rightful role in the international community. I see no reason why Iraq should not have that opportunity once Saddam Hussein's regime is removed.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): When our troops are deployed to a war zone, are they not entitled to believe that, if anything serious happens to them, their families will be the first to know? Does the Secretary of State recall that, on 22 March, the BBC announced the collision of two helicopters from HMS Ark Royal with a consequent loss of life? My constituent, Peter Scott, is the father of a helicopter pilot on HMS Ark Royal, and he has written to me as follows:

What steps can the Secretary of State take to ensure that reporters do not identify units or formations in such a way that this could ever happen again?

Mr. Hoon: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. As I have said previously, we have indicated to our broadcasters, in particular, that they should approach those issues

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with sensitivity and respect for the families of the armed forces here at home. However, a balance must be struck in terms of his question. For example, as a simple indication, if eight members of the armed forces had been killed, there is clearly a risk that every single family who has a member serving in the Gulf would be in the same position as that so rightly described by the hon. Gentleman on behalf of his constituent. The balance is a difficult one to strike, but we have appealed to the broadcasters to be sensitive and to have regard to the families. Because of modern technology and the way in which the conflict is often reported in real time back in the United Kingdom, people can often identify their loved ones from the material that is broadcast. Broadcasters should therefore exercise appropriate restraint.

15. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): What assessment he has made of the effects of the use of (a) cluster bombs and (b) depleted uranium weapons by UK forces in Iraq since the start of the current conflict. [105462]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): At this stage of the conflict in Iraq, it is not possible to make an accurate assessment of the effects of the use of cluster bombs or depleted uranium weapons. We recognise that unexploded cluster bombs and, indeed, all unexploded ordnance are a matter of humanitarian concern. As such, we are committed to working towards the clearance of explosive remnants of war as part of the renewal of Iraq.

Many independent reports have been produced that consider the battlefield effects of using DU munitions, but none has found widespread DU contamination sufficient to impact on the health of the general population or deployed personnel.The Royal Society reports on "The Health Hazards of Depleted Uranium Munitions" of 2001 and 2002 support the Ministry of Defence's view that risks to the health of soldiers on the battlefield are minimal except for a small number of extreme cases.

Jeremy Corbyn : In view of the record of the use of cluster bombs in other theatres of war and the fact that they remain in the ground for decades to come, maiming civilians and children, would the Minister support adding the use of cluster bombs to the Montreal convention on the banning of the use of land mines? The effect of a cluster bomb is very similar to that of a land mine.

Two weeks ago, the Secretary of State told me that there was no evidence of any danger from the use of DU weapons. Does the Minister care to comment on why the World Health Organisation and others have undertaken a study of cancer clusters in southern Iraq following the use of DU 10 years ago? Although I recognise that the military is in love with DU, does not the Minister recognise that many eminent people around the world have a view totally at variance with that of the MOD, believing that DU weapons leave behind a cancerous residue that kills civilians in the future, if not the military using them at the time?

Mr. Ingram: On the first part of my hon. Friend's question, we have no plans to so designate cluster

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bombs. I hope that he heard my earlier answer on the efficacy of their use. It is about saving the lives of our serving troops, and I hope that my hon. Friend shares my sentiment on that point.

On DU weapons, my hon. Friend did not name his source. He is usually quite well researched, so the fact that he did not do so could call into question the background of the research. There is still no reliable scientific or medical evidence to connect DU with ill health. More than 3,300 UK veterans of the 1990–91 Gulf conflict have been seen under the Gulf veterans medical assessment programme. Its physicians assess all those attending for signs of ill health that could be attributed to DU exposure. To date, no such evidence has been found.

The US Government have carefully monitored the health of 33 of their soldiers who were exposed to DU in extreme circumstances when DU rounds accidentally hit their vehicles during the Gulf conflict. Seventeen of them have had DU shrapnel embedded in their bodies for the past 12 years, yet they do not show signs of health problems attributable to DU. The offspring of those highly exposed US veterans, amounting to some 60 children, are all healthy.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): If cluster bombs were deployed, RAF Tornadoes would almost certainly deliver them. Does the Minister agree that it is vital to expedite the investigation of the tragic loss of a Tornado from RAF Marham to a Patriot missile? Does he agree that the accident is even more extraordinary given that not one Iraqi aircraft has left the ground during this conflict?

Mr. Ingram: The RAF has played a magnificent role, using not only Tornadoes but the range of capabilities that it has put into theatre. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary visited Marham on Thursday to talk to the families. All Ministers are engaged in a round of visits to bases to thank the families and the personnel who are still there, and in recognition of the magnificent task that has been carried out in pursuit of the coalition's aims.

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