|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): NATO support for Iraq's future security was raised at the NATO defence ministerial meeting on 1 December. The alliance continues to support Poland in its leadership of a multi-national division in Iraq and will review NATO's contribution to the stabilisation efforts on a regular basis.
In addition, the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting on 4 December confirmed the alliance's commitment to the full implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1511 to restore conditions of stability and security in the country and return governing responsibilities and authorities to the people of Iraq.
Mr. Watts: Many Labour Members were very reluctant to support military action without the full support of the United Nations. That was not possible, but will my right hon. Friend assure me now that he will do all he can to secure maximum support for the peacekeeping process from the UN and from NATO members?
Mr. Hoon: As I have said, UN Security Council resolution 1511, adopted unanimously on 16 October, gives UN authorisation to a multinational force and a unified command. Some 30 countries are already contributing military forces, and it is entirely right for the coalition to explore all the options for broadening the overall force. As was stated in the United States-United Kingdom declaration of 20 November, we hope that international partners will participate increasingly in the multinational force, regardless of earlier differences.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): When the Secretary of State briefs his opposite numbers among our NATO allies, will he explain to them something of the contradiction between the supplies of equipment furnished to British troops in Iraq and the assurances he has given to the House and the Select Committee on Defence? In particular, will he explain why the NAO found that 200,000 sets of body armour had gone missing, having been issued during the years since 1999? Will he also explain why it is not enough to say
The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): Type 45 will be the biggest and most capable class of air defence destroyers ever built for the Royal Navy, and will be equipped to carry out a range of other tasks. Six ships are on order with the prime contractor BAE Systems, providing stability for the shipbuilding work force on the Clyde and at the new Vosper Thornycroft facility at Portsmouth for the remainder of the decade. The programme is in full production against a mature designa first for a United Kingdom warship project at this stage of its development.
John Robertson : I thank my right hon. Friend, but that is not quite the full answer that I wanted. Another six type 45 destroyers will be coming along following a second order, but rumours abound on the Clydeespecially in my local yard, Scotstounthat there is to be a cut of a further six, down to only two. Could my right hon. Friend comment on that? The ships that are, we hope, to be built will mean an awful lot to people on the Clyde.
Mr. Ingram: My hon. Friend should encourage the Clyde work force. I am prepared to meet the trade unions if necessary, to dissuade them from listening to rumours and urge them to concentrate on what the project holds for them.
This is a major shipbuilding programme for the Clyde, involving not just the Type 45 but the aircraft carrier and, perhaps, other ships at a later stage. The workers should look to what they must do now, and not listen to those who are trying to destabilise things. I repeat that the programme is in full production against a mature design, and that this is a first for a UK warship project at such a stage of its development. That is due to the good quality of the workmanship on the Clyde. The workers should keep their eye on the ball and go on building the ships, for that is where their future lies.
Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport) (Con): One problem with a defence White Paper that is virtually a fact-free zone is that speculation can flourish. There is speculation that the number of Type 45 orders will be well below the original concept of 12, and that the Government are actively considering phasing out several surface ships in the near future. Can the Minister quell that speculation now?
Mr. Ingram: There are two speculations there. The decommissioning of ships is always part of the ongoing process of any re-examination of future needs; the hon. Gentleman, and the House, will have to wait for our conclusions.
As the White Paper points out, and as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State pointed out last Thursday, all this is happening against a background of change. The ocean war-fighting capability of the Royal Navy is being replaced by a different role. It is necessary to budget for that. We are looking at long-term horizons, as it were, although some are more immediate than
The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): The current requirement for the Army is 106,730 personnel. The Department's target is to achieve manning balance by the end of 2005 and to maintain it thereafter.
Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the targets will be easier to achieve if we avoid the sort of false rumour that spread in the run-up to the White Paper's publication? Does he agree that such rumours about the future of the Army, especially our regiments, damage recruitment and morale?
Mr. Ingram: I could not agree more. Recruitment is proving difficult in some areas of the country. That is not because of lack of determination by Army recruiters or the recruitment teams in other parts of the armed forces. We are keen to build our strength in all areas. That is why I answered the earlier question about recruitment by saying that there was no freeze.
We are determined to build our strengths because we have to maintain our manning balance and the required strength that I outlined. My hon. Friend is rightevery time someone mentions that a regiment is under threat, that could affect its recruitment. I ask hon. Members who wish to participate in the debate to bear that in mind. We are trying to maintain regiments' strengths, not undermine them.
Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): Does the Minister agree that the public would not understand how one could possibly afford to have fewer regular soldiers while regularly having to call up reservists?
Mr. Ingram: Is the hon. Gentleman looking for a compliment? I thought that he would have prefaced his question with "Sir" because I am used to being called that by members of our armed forces. It is a mark of respect, but I acknowledge that that is not forthcoming from him today.
Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan) (Lab): In the light of the Minister's reply and the statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, does the Minister anticipate a further broadening of the military footprint, especially as regards the Army? That would almost certainly help with recruitment and maintaining personnel targets. In the light of the highly successful relocation of the 1st Battalion the Welsh Guards to RAF St. Athan, will he shortly make an announcement on further units coming to that site?
If we consider the future of Northern Ireland and we reach a position whereby the numbers that are deployed there have to decline sharply, what will happen? Clearly, we have to develop an approach to the basing of troops, and the relevant issues are being considered. I cannot give the answer that my hon. Friend seeks today, but I am sure that he will continue to campaign fiercely for the basing of additional troops not only at St. Athan, but elsewhere in south Walesperhaps even in north Wales, too.
Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): The whole House will wish to commiserate with the 3rd Battalion the Liberal Democrats, commanded by the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell), who arrived just too late to ask his question. In military matters, that can be disastrous.
Last Thursday, in his statement to this House on the defence White Paper, the Secretary of State emphasised the need for change and the opportunities that are offered to increase capability through technology. Several hon. Membersand, in another place, Lords Inge, Guthrie and Boycementioned the importance of our forces personnel both in the war against terrorism and in peace support operations, graphically described by Lord Inge as "boots on the ground". As hon. Members know, the reality is that the Army is short of 4,700 personnel. No amount of spin, fiddled figures or warm words will alter that fact. How will the Minister man today's commitments, let alone those of the defence White Paper? Will he cut regiments and the overall size of the Army to fit the available manpower?
The question of "boots on the ground", as the hon. Gentleman and Lord Inge put it, is mentioned in the White Paper and is clearly understood. As I said, we plan to continue to grow to meet the figure of 106,730 personnel: that is what we are seeking to achieve. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman heard my comments about people who are speculating, thereby perhaps creating unrest and affecting morale unnecessarily. The armed forces will not be used as a political football by Labour Members, because that diminishes those who do it.