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31 Mar 2003 : Column 664—continued

Royal Navy/Royal Fleet Auxiliary (Gulf)

19. Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): If he will make a statement on the role of the Royal Navy and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary in the Gulf region. [105466]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): The Royal Navy and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary have many years of experience of operating in the Gulf region. Since 1980, Armilla patrols, currently undertaken by HMS Richmond and her supporting tanker, RFA Brambleleaf, have maintained a presence in the region.

The maritime presence currently in theatre consists of 30 Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships and two Tomahawk cruise missile-capable submarines. Those are based around a carrier group led by HMS Ark Royal, an amphibious task group and associated air group, led by HMS Ocean, a mine countermeasures group led by HMS Brocklesby, and include the primary casualty receiving facility, RFA Argus.

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Operation Telic has involved all units in the naval taskforce across the full spectrum of maritime operations, including force protection, naval gunfire support to the land contingent, tactical lift, search and rescue, medical evacuation, mine clearance, tanker and logistics support, and afloat hospital treatment to allied and Iraqi casualties. In addition, RFA Sir Galahad is delivering humanitarian aid into the port of Umm Qasr— [Hon. Members: "Give way."] There is more.

The Royal Marines, a significant part of the Royal Navy assets in theatre, continue to play a leading part in the campaign, and 3 Commando Brigade provides a vital force element to the land component. The capability of the commandos provides a high degree of operational flexibility, allied to significant firepower, which has proved overwhelmingly successful in the initial stages of this campaign—

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Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mr. Heath: I thank the Minister for quite the most comprehensive reply that I have ever received. He will recognise that in my constituency our thoughts are with the men and women of the Fleet Air Arm and the Royal Navy service fleet, but may I ask a question about the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service? It has been mentioned several times that RFA Sir Galahad has entered Umm Qasr; does he expect any ships of the RFAS, or merchant ships chartered to the Ministry of Defence, with greater carrying capacity to use those port facilities for humanitarian aid in the near future?

Mr. Ingram: The hon. Gentleman should be aware that Australian grain ships are on the way. We shall continue to examine what other use can be made of RFA vessels, because humanitarian aid will build up. All of that is being considered.

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Points of Order

3.31 pm

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During business questions on Thursday, the acting Leader of the House indicated that he was confident that the Prime Minister would want to make a statement to the House about his conversations in America with President Bush and the Secretary-General of the United Nations. I gave the Secretary of State for Defence an opportunity to confirm that when I questioned him this afternoon, but he ignored that part of my question. Do you know whether the Prime Minister intends to come to the House tomorrow? If there is some doubt about that, could the matter be clarified later today?

Mr. Speaker: I have no knowledge that the Prime Minister is to come here tomorrow.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You, with your eagle eye, will have noticed that 14 written statements from Ministers are listed on today's Order Paper. You will also be aware that we currently do not have a Leader of the House. Given that these are fraught and important times, am I, a trusting creature, wrong to suspect that large amounts of information are coming from the Executive to the House of Commons not in the form of statements, on which there can be questions, but increasingly via written ministerial statements? May we hope that the practice will be drawn to Ministers' attention as not being helpful?

Mr. Speaker: I will look into the matter and report back to the hon. Lady.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sure that you, like the rest of use, have noticed the current horse-trading over the future of Iraq and its people. It is daily reported that five large United States companies have been invited to reconstruct—indeed, one of them, Kellogg Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, has already been given the port of Umm Qasr to oversee. Does that not expose the real reasons for this illegal and immoral invasion—that it is about oil and resources? Have you

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had any indication from the Government that they will provide a debate so that we can discuss the real reasons for what is happening?

Mr. Speaker: That is not a matter for me.

Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead): Further to the point of order raised by the distinguished hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), Mr. Speaker. I agree with what I think he was suggesting, which is that the Prime Minister's not making a statement to the House today is rather poor form. A great deal has been happening that the House should be informed about—not only the war itself, but the Prime Minister's statements about British troops being executed and his meetings in the United States and at the United Nations. Will you ensure that, when he makes that statement—whenever he does so, whether tomorrow or the day after—you will allow every Member of Parliament who wants to question him to do so and not cut that process short?

Mr. Speaker: I think that the hon. Gentleman is still disappointed that I did not call him during the last Prime Minister's statement.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen) and by the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), Mr. Speaker, will you indicate what the normal procedure is for the Prime Minister to make statements when he has had meetings with other Heads of Government or, in the case of the United States, Heads of State? The Prime Minister travels a great deal and sometimes makes a statement when he returns, and sometimes not. If he is meeting any other Head of Government or Head of State, can there not be an understanding that he should make a statement to the House on the nature of those discussions?

Mr. Speaker: I will not be drawn into that argument.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. On Thursday, we were given a clear indication by the acting Leader of the House when he said:

The Prime Minister may not have informed you, Mr. Speaker, but I think that following that comment we had the right to expect a statement from the Prime Minister.

Mr. Speaker: I did note what was said last Thursday.

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31 Mar 2003 : Column 669

Orders of the Day

Railways and Transport Safety Bill

As amended in the Standing Committee, considered.

New Clause 6

Annual report

'(1) The Secretary of State shall make regulations requiring the Chief Inspector of Rail Accidents to produce once in each calendar year a report in connection with the activities of the Rail Accident Investigation Branch.
(2) Regulations under subsection (1) may, in particular, make provision about—
(a) timing of reports;
(b) content of reports;
(c) publication and other treatment of reports.'.—[Mr. Jamieson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

3.36 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Speaker : With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: (b), at end insert—

'(d) those bodies and individuals with whom the Railways Accident Investigation Branch must consult in the preparation of a report.'.

(a), at end insert—

'(3) Regulations under subsection (1) shall, in particular, make provision about the rail industry's progress in implementing the recommendations which the Rail Accident Investigation Branch makes.'.

New clause 12—Rail Accident Investigation Branch: Subcontracting—

'.—The Rail Accident Investigation Branch shall not use in an investigation contractors or subcontractors whose actions prior to that investigation could reasonably be expected to be referred to in the conclusions of that investigation.'.

Government amendments Nos. 11 to 15.

Amendment No.2, in

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