|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): United Kingdom forces continue to provide an effective security capability in Iraq. Recent operations against smuggling, for example, have been a considerable success and were widely welcomed by the Iraqi people. Our forces are also closely engaged in developing Iraq's own security capabilities, so that Iraqis can increasingly take responsibility for their own security. Already, more than 10,500 Iraqi police are on patrol in the multinational division, south-east, and more are being trained. Other Iraqi security personnel are guarding vital infrastructure, key facilities and the coastline.
Mr. Jones : Although yesterday's announcement of the capture of Saddam Hussein was widely welcomed, it is recognised that attacks on coalition forces will continue. Many of those attacks will be organised by groups and individuals from outside Iraq. Can my right hon. Friend assure us that the utmost is being done to prevent those individuals from entering Iraq, and that British personnel in southern Iraq have the equipment that they need to protect themselves against such attacks?
Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his observations. Certainly, a vital part of the training for Iraqi security forces is the development of a dedicated border police forcesome 5,500 are now trained for that purpose. Their job is vital, as my right hon. Friend the Minister said. It is also important that we receive effective co-operation from the countries that neighbour Iraqindeed, we are continuing to press them for assistance.
Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): What impact has the withdrawal from Iraq of UN agencies and other humanitarian organisations had on the post-war reconstruction and development of the country? What conversations has my right hon. Friend had with the UN and other organisations about the security situation and when it will allow them to return?
Mr. Hoon: Not all non-governmental organisations have completely withdrawn from Iraq. Indeed, we continue to have conversations with the organisations and their representatives on the ground to try to ensure
The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): Operation Telic reinforced the requirement to be able to deploy and to sustain armed forces equipped and trained for both war fighting and peace support operations. Operations in Iraq have also demonstrated the importance of integrated joint capability. Those trends are reflected in the White Paper published last week.
Mr. Havard : I would like to ask my right hon. Friend two questions about future technology and proven technology. First, stand-off weapons, particularly precision guided munitions, seem to have been successful in Operation Telic. What is being done to build them into future programmes for development? Secondly, in relation to force protection, I was surprised to learn that there were no dedicated medical evacuation helicopters at work in Iraq. I would like such proven technologies to be available to protect troops, particularly in the golden hour following any injuries, and to be built into any future requirements.
Mr. Ingram: My hon. Friend raises two important points. While we look to the future, however, we must remember the impact of the present. We have recognised the importance of precision guided munitions for some time, and the planning and assessment relating to them were reflected in last week's White Paper. He rightly pointed to the successful use of weapons such as Paveway and Storm Shadow in the Iraq campaign, and we shall continue to make the acquisition of weapons of that capability a priority in our equipment programme.
In terms of force protection, we have consistently saidnot just during the present conflict but in a number of recent onesthat we are increasingly working in coalition with our allies. The issue applies across a range of equipment capability. Some countries have a specialist ability to put into areas of conflict, as well as into peacekeeping operations, a range of capabilities, including field hospitals, nuclear, biological and chemical regiments, and explosive ordnance disposal regiments. Increasingly, our relationship is developing in that way. Doing things on our own is unlikely to be the way of the future. We shall always do things on a combined basis, probably with the Americans but with other nations as well. Iraq shows just how closely we are working with nations other than the United States.
Mr. Ingram: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his general point. He correctly recognises that the logistics even of small-scale conflicts can sometimes go wrong, for a variety of reasons. We have to put in place a comprehensive and intensive analysis of the lessons learned, so that we can avoid those difficulties recurring. I would be grateful if he wrote to me on the specific issue that he raised, and I shall try to get him a more specific answer on it. I am concerned, as he is, about the nature of that matter, but I need to know more about it before I can answer his question.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): We have been working with the international community to extend the international security assistance force beyond Kabul and to widen the provincial reconstruction team programme. Our own team in Mazar-e-Sharif has been actively supporting United Nations and Afghan transitional authority initiatives to improve security, such as negotiating ceasefires between rival militia forces and placing their heavy weaponry under the control of the Afghan national army. Our contribution to ISAF continues to promote a safe and secure environment in Kabul. Finally, we remain active in our support for security sector reform.
Joan Ruddock : I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the activities of the British, especially in connection with the programme that he has just outlined. However, does he accept that, overall, there is a deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, with the targeted killings of 15 aid workers and attacks on the United Nations, which have rendered one third of that country out of bounds to both? In that context, what assistance in security is being given to the electoral registration office of the United Nations, which has to accomplish in just eight months an electoral registration process that took it eight years to achieve in Cambodia?
Mr. Ingram: I do not pretend that the security situation in Afghanistan is ideal, but we are making progress. That is why we have put in place the provincial reconstruction teams, why the UK has been so heavily engaged, and why we have encouraged the maturation of that process and encouraged other countries to take such initiatives. We must move beyond Kabul and try to extend the areas of relative calm, recognising at all times that there are clear threats out there. My hon. Friend asked about protection for a specific programme. I do not have that information to hand, but I will obtain it and write to her. If it is an area where we have direct
16. Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Education and Skills on the provision of good schools for forces families; and if he will make a statement. 
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Ivor Caplin): There is frequent contact between officials from the Department for Education and Skills and the Ministry of Defence in order to discuss the issues faced by schools with children from the service population, and to ensure that the provision meets their educational requirements. I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the supporting essay on people published in support of the White Paper last Thursday, which includes further comment on the ongoing discussions between the Departments at all levels of Government.
Mr. Cameron : Does the Minister agree that schools with a high proportion of children from forces families face particular pressures? Is he aware that, at the Gateway school in Carterton in my constituency, next to RAF Brize Norton, where about 80 per cent. of the children are from forces families, about 45 per cent. of those turned over to different schools last year? As the number of missions has increased and the number of personnel remains static, the position is likely to get worse. Will the Minister speak to the Department for Education and Skills about special funding for those schools? Surely that is the least our armed forces deserve.
Mr. Caplin: The Ministry of Defence has established a schools liaison policy in the area to which the hon. Gentleman refers. That is to ensure regular contact between the services, schools, parents and the local education authority. I expect that that would be the most appropriate forum for those discussions. I am, of course, aware of the changes coming to Brize Norton. They were the subject of an Adjournment debate initiated by the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) on 15 July, when we laid out the Government's policy on the matter.
Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): I agree with the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron). Is the Minister aware that discussions are one thing, and delivery is another? Earlier this year, the Secretary of State for Education and Skills visited Colchester and promised the head teachers of schools with a large component of children from military families that more money would be forthcoming. When will that be delivered?
Mr. Caplin: I was tempted to say, "Better late than never" to the hon. Gentleman. Following the visit of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, there have been more discussions about the matter in relation to the Colchester garrison.