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Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): To help us to answer that question, will the right hon. Gentleman provide us with the detailed information that we require in the White Paper, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) suggested, or will there be merely a long essay?
Mr. Hoon: I shall deal with the White Paper shortly and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will read it with interest in due course. White Papers are always designed to set out the principles of Government policy. I am sure that if he consults all the White Papers published while the Conservative Government were in officeI accept that that Government are fading a little in the memory, but nevertheless they published White Papershe will see that they adopted the same practice, which this Government will follow.
British forces have conducted a series of successful combat and stabilisation operations in recent years. They fought against international terrorism and its supporters in Afghanistan, achieved peace and greater stability in Sierra Leone, East Timor, the Balkans and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and most recently, of course, undertook high-intensity combat in Iraq, where they are currently engaged in stabilisation operations. Those successes are in no small part due to the excellence of the brave men and women who serve in the United Kingdom's armed forces. We owe them and their families a debt of gratitude.
Jeremy Corbyn: Will the Secretary of State confirm how many troops are still in the Congo and tell us his plans for their future? Will they be joined by further UN staff and what hopes does he have for a solution?
Donald Anderson: Will my right hon. Friend say more about peacekeeping and peacemaking in Africa? From time to time, the point is made that Africa should provide its own peacekeeping forces, albeit trained by outsiders such as the US, the UK and the French. South Africa already plays a part in the DRC. Surely, with the African Union, there should be greater efforts to help Africa to help itself across the board politically and economically, but ultimately with military forces.
Mr. Hoon: My right hon. Friend is right. He refers to the training efforts under way on behalf of the South African Government. He will be aware that the British Government support those efforts not only financially, but by providing people to work with members of South Africa's armed forces to give the training that he describes. In addition, British forces intervened to stabilise the situation in Sierra Leone after a ruthless and bloody uprising. They are still there, training its armed forces. I have been privileged to visit Sierra Leone a number of times and have seen their excellent work. Our armed forces also appreciate that work. They get enormous satisfaction from providing the high-quality training that they enjoy and from extending the benefit of that to Sierra Leone. Stability for its armed forces is crucial to the country's future.
Mr. Dismore: Before my right hon. Friend leaves the continent of Africa, will he comment on the situation in northern Uganda, which many constituents have raised with me? The civil war has caused serious humanitarian problems there. Is there anything we can do to help?
Mr. Hoon: The Foreign Secretary extended his apologies to the House for not being here at the end of the debate. Unfortunately, he did not leave his notes behind. However, I do not anticipate that in each and every country of the African continent there is necessarily a military solution. That point is well taken by the Opposition Front Bench in relation to our geography tour of the African continent. I am sure that my observations will be noted by those who are here representing the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. No doubt they will write to my hon. Friend.
The Government plan to introduce a Bill to provide enabling powers to bring in new pension and compensation arrangements for the armed forces. The new pension scheme will continue to be based on defined benefits at a time when such schemes are under increasing pressure in the private sector. It will provide equal terms for officers and other ranks, and benefits for spouses will be extended to include unmarried partners in a substantial relationship. The new arrangements will offer a high level of assurance for service personnel appropriate to the demands of military service.
The White Paper will set out the need for flexible armed forces that are structured and equipped to deploy globally and rapidly on a small and medium scale, able to link up with our allies quickly and effectively when they arrive in theatre. Future priority will be given to meeting a wider range of expeditionary tasks at a greater range from the UK and with increased strategic, operational and tactical tempo.
The White Paper will also set out the case for change to exploit new technologies while restructuring those force elements that are less relevant and less useful in meeting future challenges. The focus will be on capabilities rather than on volume or numbers of platforms, with the emphasis on the delivery of military effect. I assure the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex and the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) that contrary to speculation about cuts in the Army, no decisions have been made on numbers or regiments. The same point was made by the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell), who is also back from the Chingford chill but double-hatted now, being on both the Opposition Front Bench and the Opposition Back Benches. I am delighted that he participated in the debate.
I shall address some of the other issues raised during the debate. Right hon. and hon. Members rightly referred to the arrangements for commemorating the 60th anniversary of D-day next June. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced on Monday 24 November during the British-French summit, Her Majesty the Queen and he have been invited to lead the United Kingdom's participation in the commemorations next June. A programme for parades and services are planned in Normandy. A number of units are planning to attend, although it is too early as yet to provide precise details.
Across Government, a range of measures have been agreed to support the celebrations, including the provision of free one-year passports for veterans who wish to attend second world war commemorations. A 50 per cent. discount has been generously offered by P&O Ferries for veterans' groups travelling to Normandy in 2004.
Mr. Dismore: There is some other unfinished business arising from the second world war, and that is the question of the civilian prisoners of the Japanese. My right hon. Friend knows that the Government introduced a generous compensation scheme. Unfortunately, some people were omitted from the scheme because their grandparents were not born in
Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the issue, which has been a difficult one. A great deal of detailed consideration was given to eligibility issues when the initial scheme was devised. As he said, that scheme was the subject of litigation. In accepting the judgment of the courts, the Government sought to extend that scheme as fairly and consistently as we could, without necessarily opening it up to all-comers. I invite him to recognise that for every extension of the scheme, we would bring in not only his worthy constituents, but the worthy constituents of all other right hon. and hon. Members. That is not something that we can accept. If he writes to me about the particular case, I will ensure that it is considered carefully in the context of the revised scheme as currently operating.
The right hon. and learned Member for Devizes sought clarification of the Government's intentions to support the celebrations to mark the 300th anniversary of our association with the people of Gibraltar. We intend to play a full part in celebrating the warm relationship that we have enjoyed with the people of Gibraltar for the past 300 years. There is an extensive programme of commemorative events to take place in Gibraltar next year, in which I certainly intend to take part.
The bands of the Royal Marines, the Royal Engineers and the Royal Air Force, and the pipes and drums of the Royal Irish Regiment, are planning to participate in four major events. The Royal Gibraltar Regiment and military units from the United Kingdom, including Royal Navy ships and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary will take part in a total of more than 20 events throughout the year. I hope that that more than satisfies the right hon. and learned Gentleman's ambition in terms of the UK's involvement.
As for the provision of support for our troops in Iraq, I remind the House that the operation to support more than 40,000 members of the armed forces in Iraq was the biggest logistical effort undertaken by the armed forces for more than a decade. I recognise, and have told the House before, that while there were some individual shortfalls, the overall effort was a considerable success. The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife raised the case of Sergeant Roberts. I have met Mrs. Roberts and members of the family to discuss their case. I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the House will understand that, as the death of Mrs. Roberts's husband is currently the subject of a detailed investigation, it would be inappropriate for me to comment at this stage.
I shall deal with the observations about NATO made by the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes. It is increasingly clear that our response to the security threats that we face needs to be taken in conjunction with our allies and partners, whether it be diplomatic and economic engagement or the deployment of
Some commentators have in recent times predicted the end of NATO, questioning its relevance. In fact, the alliance has made itself still more necessary. While fighting was continuing in Iraq, NATO agreed to take over the international security assistance force in Afghanistan, its first operation outside the traditional Euro-Atlantic area. NATO's June ministerials reaffirmed the unity of the alliance and its commitment to implement the Prague agenda. Since then the alliance has made progress on its transformation agenda, with agreement on a newly streamlined command structure. The interim operating capability of the NATO response force has been established ahead of schedule. NATO continues to be relevant and to develop in ways that are relevant to today's security challenges.
As the House will know, the UK is also a strong supporter of developing EU military capabilities on a basis that complements NATO. The EU has now established an operational security and defence policy with the military structures needed to support it, though recognised shortfalls remain to be met before the Helsinki headline goal is achieved in full. One of those is, indeed, strategic heavy lift, as the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson) identified. Howeverand I hope that he gives us credit for thisthe UK has made a significant contribution in that respect and intends to go on doing so.
The successful EU-led action in Macedonia and the Democratic Republic of Congo provides evidence that an EU crisis management capability is now a reality. Those operations illustrate the complementary role that the European security and defence policy plays, where NATO as a whole is not engaged, as a means of supporting the EU's common foreign and security policy. It is vital that, in the process of engagement with the EU that the Government are setting out, we are capable of improving European military contributions. Without that, NATO itself will be weakened.
I simply invite Opposition Members who have criticised the EU's involvement to recognise the need to engage European nations, through whatever mechanism is appropriate, in the improvement of their military capabilities. [Interruption.] I hear the suggestion from those on the Opposition Front Bench that this is about money. It is about increasing the amount spent by European nations in their own defence, but it is also, crucially, about encouraging those nations to spend that money more effectively.