The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Ivor Caplin): I am pleased to say that recruitment to the Defence Medical Services remains in line with our expectations, and with anticipated better retention than for some years. Over the next four years, an increasing number of consultants and nurses will complete training, which will help to alleviate some of the shortages that have been experienced in the past. Retention of experienced medical personnel, especially in key specialist areas, remains the focus of management action, and we recognise that both pay and non-pay measures have a part to play in supporting the future development of the Defence Medical Services, which did, and continue to do, a first-class job in the Gulf for our armed forces.
Mr. Viggers : Will the Minister confirm that the main conclusion of the Lawrence committee in 1998 was that the Defence Medical Services should move from the Royal Hospital Haslar to a new centre that was later identified as a 22-acre site at Selly Oak, Birmingham? Will he confirm that £200 million was allocated to fund the new centre, but that has now been withdrawn? Does that not effectively mean the collapse of the strategy set out by the Lawrence committee? Will he review that committee's decision, because my constituents and many others in the Defence Medical Services cannot believe that the Government intend to close the superb facilities at the Royal Hospital Haslar?
Mr. Caplin: I know that the hon. Gentleman takes considerable interest in these matters. In fact, I think that he was a member of the Select Committee in the 1992 to 1997 Parliament that dealt with many of the defence medical issues of the time. I know that he recently visited the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine in Birmingham. We remain absolutely committed to delivering a military medical centre of excellence at that establishment in Birmingham. We are pursuing a number of options to ensure that the centre continues to develop to meet the needs of the Defence Medical Services in the future.
Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend will know that a recent report from the Armed Forces Pay Review Body recognised certain shortages in nursing. How does the Department intend to tackle that? Will he join me in recognising the contribution made by staff at establishments such as the Royal Naval hospital not only to our forces in the Iraq conflict but to our local communities?
Mr. Caplin: I certainly join my hon. Friend in welcoming the key contribution that defence medical staff makeboth abroad and here at home. I very much enjoyed meeting recently some of the members of the Defence Medical Services at Devonport in her constituency. We are going to introduce golden hellos for nurses, especially in specific areas in response to the Armed Forces Pay Review Body's recommendations. Those categories are: operating theatre nurses; accident and emergency; orthopaedic; intensive care nurses; burns; registered mental nurses; and registered general nurses. I believe that that will be an important contribution to the ongoing success of the Defence Medical Services.
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): No changes have been introduced to the implementation of the Helsinki headline goal. A successor to the headline goal with a target date of 2010 is now under discussion. This will capture continued progress on the European capabilities action plan, the development of European rapid response capabilities, and the European security strategy. This goal will place a new emphasis on interoperability, deployability and sustainability as its major themes. We anticipate an announcement being made at the European Council in June.
Mr. Swayne : I draw the House's attention to my entry in the Register of Members' Interests. What assurance can the Secretary of State give the House regarding any commitment that we might make to the European rapid reaction forces given that defence statistics published last year show a fall in our trained strength of some 12,000, despite increased commitments? Will the reserves make up the gap?
Mr. Hoon: I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is not coming to the House to support enthusiastically our efforts to improve European military capabilities, not least because of the cuts in military capabilities that would have to be carried through in the unlikely event of his party being elected to power. Not least of those would be the equivalent of a 40,000 cut in armed forces personnel if a £1.5 billion cut in the defence budget were made. That is a matter that our European
Mike Gapes: The Secretary of State referred to the importance of interoperability. In that context, when SFOR in Bosnia is handed over to the EUFOR before the end of this year, will he assure us that that will be able to operate as effectively as SFOR, and that national caveats, which are currently taken by some of our European NATO alliesespecially Germanywill not impair the work of our forces and the important security role that they currently play, and will continue to play, in Bosnia?
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Will the Secretary of State give me a proper answer? Will he make it absolutely clear that there will not be any wasteful duplication and that there will be no common control of any nuclear assets?
Mr. Hoon: I can give that assurance. That is precisely why the Government have consistently supported the development of European military capability on a European scale and why it is so difficult for us to understand why the hon. Gentleman's party has so consistently opposed that. It is to avoid the duplication of military capabilities that such a coherent strategy is required.
Mr. Nigel Beard (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend comment on the warning given by President Putin's special envoy last week against NATO stationing forces in the Baltic states, despite the recent accession of those countries to NATO? Is it likely that that is linked to Russian unwillingness to ratify the conventional armed forces in Europe treaty?
Mr. Hoon: It is important to emphasise that once the Baltic states fully become members of NATO, they will be in exactly the same position as any other member of NATO as far as the deployment of NATO forces is concerned.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): The UK defence industry is a major contributor to the economic well-being of the UK, employing directly and indirectly around 300,000 people and turning over some £15 billion per annum. It also, of course, plays a vital role in providing our armed forces with the equipment that they need.
David Cairns: My right hon. Friend will be aware that in my constituency the defence sector is incredibly important, both in terms of those providing capability at Coulport, Faslane and the Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service Clyde, and for those who work in defence manufacturing in the upper Clyde shipyards, among other places. Does that not demonstrate the importance of defence spending throughout the country, and highlight the fact that any reduction in that spending would not only put the defence of the realm at risk but have a devastating effect on UK plc?
Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): As there is a need to maintain an absolutely clear distinction between our competitive, efficient defence producers and the consumerthat is, the taxpayerwhy have the Government given permission for the retiring head of defence procurement to work, within months, for one of the leading defence contractors?