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Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. I have allowed the hon. Gentleman some latitude, but his remarks should now relate more to British armed forces personnel.

Tony Worthington: With all the respect in the world, Madam Deputy Speaker, they do apply to the British armed forces because Iraqi soldiers will be released in Basra. If they are released in Basra, they could be a threat to our soldiers there. We need to consider whether it is possible for our forces in Basra to deal with those discharged army people in a way that makes sense. What ability do we have to operate separately?

Another concern, about which the Under-Secretary must know, is the confusion of roles in Iraq between the civilian and military aspects. A great deal of effort is going into trying to combine two separate elements. Let us consider what UNICEF said in its evidence to the Select Committee. It stated:

What, therefore, is our stance? Are we seeking military withdrawal and the maximum possible deployment of UN and civilian staff?

Finally, what sign is there that UN Security Council resolution 1483 is beginning to have a beneficial impact? Are there signs that the former ORHA is moving over and allowing the UN bodies to operate effectively? What is our role in that? What are we doing to overcome the American antagonism to the UN and to do what almost everybody in the world recognises must be done: to invite in the UN and restrict the role of our military, and everybody else's in a coalition war, to that for which

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they are trained and which they are good at? We must not to continue with the situation laid down by the Pentagon whereby the peace will also be run by the armed forces, rather than by those who are better at it.

Mr. Francois: The hon. Gentleman made considerable play of the pressure that the Army is under because of our continuing commitment in Iraq. One of the reasons why it is under such pressure is that great demand exists for British troops, particularly infantry units, in exactly such situations, because, bluntly, they are so good at that kind of work. If the hon. Gentleman agrees with that, as I think he does, does he also agree that, logically, the last thing any Government would want to do in such circumstances would be to reduce the number of infantry units available for such work, bearing it in mind that they are already under tremendous pressure?

Tony Worthington: I think that I said that. I did not say that the last thing we should do is reduce the number of infantry units, but the fact is that highly-skilled infantry men and women, because of the training and tradition in the British Army, have an immense contribution to make. Let us face it: in relation to the Congo, which we were discussing earlier, no one can tell me that our contribution would have been so restricted had we not heavily deployed our forces in other places, overwhelmingly in Iraq.

4.28 pm

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Tony Worthington). I shall endeavour to keep on the straight and narrow, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to confine my remarks to armed forces personnel. My remarks will be reasonably partisan, as I spent a considerable time as a medical officer in the Royal Navy and am currently a reservist in the Royal Navy Reserve. Clearly, my interest is registered in the appropriate place.

First, I want to talk about the Defence Medical Services, which, as the Under-Secretary will know, are in a truly parlous state. There are historical reasons for that, but the situation is not getting any better. We need 120 anaesthetists, but we have only 23. We have 18 of the 43 general surgeons that we need. Of the 10 vital burns specialists that we need, we have only three. We need 800 nurses, 1,900 more medics and 415 general practitioners.

The Defence Medical Services have been engaged in a number of theatres of operations recently: in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, and more recently in the Gulf. They are an integral part of our defensive capability. However, if we survey the responsibilities of the Under-Secretary and his fellow Ministers, the Defence Medical Services are in the most difficult situation. In the MOD's DMS attitude survey in 2001, 82 per cent. of respondents felt that the DMS was over-committed, including 94 per cent. of hospital consultants—nearly all of them. Has the Under-Secretary thought of repeating that survey in light of Operation Telic? If he did, the results would be even more salutary. I would be grateful if he addressed that in his concluding remarks.

I am sure that the Minister has been busy over the past six years trying to improve the situation. We must look specifically at the initiatives that have been undertaken.

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I recall that golden hellos were introduced about nine months ago, and were well, and I suspect expensively, advertised. I looked at whether that initiative had resulted in any of my ex-colleagues returning to the DMS or becoming members for the first time. I found that in February not one recruit was attracted by a golden hello to join the DMS. Earlier this week, I spoke to the British Medical Association, which reckons that 14 have joined. That is laudable, but it is only a pinprick, given the shortfalls that I have identified. It would be superb if the Minister could give us an update on how successful the golden hello scheme has been, and how he intends to develop it.

It is not just about money, however. It is also about morale and esprit de corps. In the past six years, Ministers have been responsible for the institution of the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine, in which I have an interest, as I used to work at the Royal Naval Hospital Haslar, which became the Royal Hospital Haslar but has now closed its doors as a military unit. I was saddened when Haslar ceased to be a military hospital, and was baffled and bewildered at the decision to set up the Centre for Defence Medicine in Birmingham. Our armed forces are scattered throughout the United Kingdom, but they are heavily concentrated in Wiltshire and Hampshire. It would therefore make sense to have a centre for defence medicine, a college of knowledge for the DMS, close to the front line. Men and women join the DMS because they want to be with front-line units. To move them to a place without such units makes no sense.

One thing sticks in my mind as a cause for the reduction in the morale and esprit de corps of the DMS over the past few years—the creation of the Centre for Defence Medicine in Birmingham and the closure of the Royal Hospital Haslar. I was delighted that in April the shadow Defence Secretary said that a Conservative Government would revise the decision on Haslar, which is very good news. I am sure that that single change would do a great deal to improve morale in the DMS and, I very much hope, to improve recruitment and retention.

The siting of the Centre for Defence Medicine in Birmingham, and not somewhere slightly more rational such as Southampton—one of the options considered when the changes were taking place—shows a lack of joined-up government. Despite the advent of foundation hospitals, we still have a command-and-control health service. I would not have thought that it was beyond the wit of Health and Defence Secretaries to collaborate on the formation of a centre for defence medicine with a rational location. Southampton was such an option, as it lies in close proximity to Haslar. It would be great if that could be revisited by an incoming Conservative Administration. The only recent example of joined-up government in which the MOD is involved has been Operation Fresco, in which our servicemen and women become the flexible friend of everybody else. It is a great shame that that flexibility does not extend to other Departments and we do not have more evidence of joined-up government that benefits the MOD.

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I turn briefly, in the time available to me, to the reserve forces. Operation Telic has been a watershed in the deployment of reserve forces. Of course, they have been involved in non-territorial duties before, notably in the Balkans, but it was Operation Telic that brought the reserve forces to public attention. The description "territorial" no longer applies, because they are no longer involved exclusively in the defence of the UK's territorial integrity. Rather, they are an integral arm of the armed forces—an arm of Government, if you will.

The Reserve Forces Act 1996 was the prelude to that. The employment of reservists on the international stage was cemented in the strategic defence review. One assumes that the pattern will continue. It may surprise some hon. Members to hear that reserve forces continue to be mobilised. Many of us think the middle east is all done and dusted, in terms of the conflict there. Last Tuesday, after leaving this place, I spent two hours doing medicals on reservists who had been mobilised. They continue to be mobilised to serve in the Gulf and in support of regulars elsewhere.

Reservist numbers are down by a half on a decade ago, however, despite the expanded role envisaged by the Reserve Forces Act and SDR. Ministers say that recruitment is bullish, but retention, it seems, is not. That represents an inefficient use of manpower. It is all very well recruiting people, but the armed forces must invest heavily in them. We have moved on a long way from the old days when squaddies were recruited one day, and handed a rifle and told to get on with it the next. Our present armed forces are highly skilled and a huge amount of training is needed to bring them up to speed. To lose them at the crucial point where they are just becoming useful to the armed forces is a tragedy, both for them and for the MOD and the public that it serves.

I recently asked a series of questions of the Under-Secretary of State, to which I received very prompt answers. I commend him for that. I was particularly exercised by the number of resignations that we have had from our reserve forces. I asked the Under-Secretary what I thought was a straightforward question about

The hon. Gentleman can be forgiven for not knowing the answer to the first part of my question, but I was surprised, I confess, that he did not have an answer to the second part. The answer that came back was:

I probed the Minister a little more and asked him


The response was slightly fuller, but not much. It was:

That is extraordinary. If we are looking at a retention crisis in our forces, one would have thought that Ministers would get a grip on how many—

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