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Regimental Museums

3. Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): What level of financial support his Department allocated to regimental museums in the last three financial years; and what plans he has to increase such support. [156731]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Ivor Caplin): The Ministry of Defence funds staff costs of those military museums that are associated with the regiments and corps of the Army. In addition, we provide property maintenance, rates and utility costs for museums within MOD premises. As those costs are not separately identified, I am not in a position to provide a figure for the overall level of financial support. There are, however, no current plans to increase the funding for regimental museums.

Mr. Chaytor : I should like to tell the Minister about the excellent work done by everyone associated with the Lancashire Fusiliers regimental museum in my constituency. I should also like to mention the museum's ambitious expansion plans. It is due to move to more central and more accessible premises in the near future. I ask him, as we move to the difficult and final stage of the negotiations, to take a personal interest in the project, so that the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers and the people of Bury can have a museum of which they can be proud.

Mr. Caplin: I am pleased to congratulate my hon. Friend on his efforts to ensure that that museum is developed. I understand that a grant of £50,000 has been provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund in anticipation

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of a larger grant. I am always interested to know about the progress that we are making on regimental museums, and when I am next in the north-west, I shall give him the chance to show me around the museum in his constituency.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park) (LD): The Minister might remember that I wrote to him recently about the Medloc train, which was used to transport soldiers going home on leave across Europe during the second world war, and which many of them remember very fondly. Will he reconsider his decision not to provide funds for the National Army Museum to preserve a small part of that train, perhaps its restaurant car, as a memorial of that splendid effort during the second world war?

Mr. Caplin: The National Army Museum, as the hon. Lady well knows, is a royal charter body and a registered charity that already receives the bulk of its running costs, including a purchase grant, via a grant in aid from the Ministry of Defence. Collections policy, however, is a matter for and responsibility of the museum's council. From the number of letters that I have signed on the matter, I am aware of the Medloc campaign on that carriage, in which hon. Members of both Houses have been involved. I have spoken to the museum, which advises me that it has done its best to respond constructively, but that it does not want to acquire the carriage for its collection or to display it in the National Army Museum.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate the Minister on his superb answers, not only on museums but on anniversaries and Arctic convoys. I know that he and I would be ruled out of order if we were to discuss Tory policies, but let us just suppose that our Chancellor contemplated adopting the policies of the shadow Chancellor. Would all these matters not be put in jeopardy?

Mr. Caplin: I always welcome my right hon. Friend's contribution, and I certainly share his views on the shadow Chancellor's policies.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): The museum of the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment, the finest regimental museum in the country, receives no direct financial assistance from the Ministry of Defence but has benefited from the Treasury's gift aid scheme. However, that is about to be removed from museums, including regimental museums. What representations has the Minister made to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the impact on regimental museums of that mingy treatment? If he has made none, will he do so?

Mr. Caplin: I thought that gift aid was a policy of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, introduced by the Labour Government. However, I shall certainly look at the point that the hon. Gentleman makes on regimental museums.

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4. Claire Ward (Watford) (Lab): What recent steps the Department has taken to assist the post-war reconstruction of Iraq. [156732]

10. Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood) (Lab): What steps the Department has taken to assist the post-war reconstruction of Iraq. [156738]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): Our principal role in Iraq is to help to provide the conditions for reconstruction. A crucial aspect of that involves developing Iraq's own security capabilities. That is why I announced last December the deployment of an additional infantry battalion and two additional platoons of Royal Military Police to Iraq. They and other experts are helping to train Iraqis in modern, accountable security methods that respect human rights and international law. We aim to give the Iraqis the ability to defend their country against terror, violence and crime. Over 100,000 Iraqi security personnel are now operating across the country.

We also contribute directly to reconstruction. The armed forces, working with the Department for International Development, with the coalition provisional authority and with Iraqis, have opened supply routes such as the rail link between Basra and Umm Qasr, repaired key bridges and strengthened vital transport links. They have restored clean water provision to Umm Qasr and most of Basra, and helped to refurbish infrastructure, hospitals and schools.

Claire Ward: Can my right hon. Friend reassure the House that he has no proposals to reduce the funding available to our military while they are in Iraq reconstructing essential facilities? Will he prioritise the reconnection of electricity and water supplies, which are essential for the Iraqi people?

Mr. Hoon: I can give my hon. Friend that assurance, and I look forward to the Conservatives offering a similar assurance. This Government's current budget for defence represents the largest planned increase in defence spending in more than 20 years, in stark contrast to the cuts proposed by the shadow Chancellor, of which the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) apparently had no notice at all. So far as other reconstruction projects are concerned, I expect the British armed forces to continue their excellent work in providing basic essentials to the people of southern Iraq. They do that job with extreme professionalism—a professionalism that would be likely to be damaged by the cuts proposed by the Conservatives.

Mrs. Humble: Is my right hon. Friend aware that, along with other Lancashire Members, I met representatives of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment when it returned from Basra last year? We learned that it had been involved in reconstructing 30 local schools and two orphanages, that it had worked to train the local police support unit in Basra, that it had maintained fuel supplies and much more. Will he therefore join me

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in congratulating the Queen's Lancashire Regiment, in particular, and the other units that have been doing such vital work in reconstructing Iraq?

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question. I was able to see for myself the excellent work done by the Queen's Lancashire Regiment. It has made a significant contribution to the stability of Basra, where it is involved in patrolling the city as well as planning and organising the training of the Basra police support unit, as my hon. Friend mentioned. It is also practically engaged in a number of reconstruction projects on the ground.

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford) (LD): While I of course acknowledge the excellent work done by our forces in the reconstruction of Iraq, does the Secretary of State agree that continuing concerns at home about the legality of the action in Iraq must be affecting the morale of the forces involved in that work? Will he tell the House precisely whether he knew of the anxieties of the chiefs of staff about the legality of the conflict before it began? Did he pass those concerns on to the Prime Minister?

Mr. Hoon: Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I much prefer to rely on the words of the then Chief of the Defence Staff, Lord Boyce—as he is now—when he made it plain over the weekend that he had had none of the doubts apparently reported in the newspapers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Liberal Democrats prefer to believe the bad news that they read in the newspapers rather than the good news from members of our armed forces.

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): The whole House appreciates the heroic work of British personnel engaged in the post-war reconstruction of Iraq. Nevertheless, the Government have some questions to answer about the slow preparation for such an eventuality. Does the Secretary of State believe that the failure in planning was due to the delay in obtaining a definitive opinion on the legality of war from the Attorney-General? The Ministry of Defence had to work closely with the Department for International Development, and it still does. Does the Secretary of State believe that the then Secretary of State for International Development, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short), was dilatory in her preparations for the post-war reconstruction of Iraq because of her doubts about the Attorney-General's opinion?

Mr. Hoon: I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman believes that cutting £1.5 billion from the defence budget would help preparations, because that is his policy—[Interruption.] That is what he comes to the House believing in. As recently as 6 January, the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex said:

He also said that he would be "lobbying hard" to secure more funds for defence. We now know the result of his lobbying. We know that he has lobbied so successfully that the shadow Chancellor proposes to cut £1.5 billion from defence—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I call Shona McIsaac.

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