Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Efficiency Savings

17. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): What recent submissions he has received about the potential for efficiency-driven savings in the defence budget; and if he will make a statement. [156745]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): As my hon. Friend will be aware, the Ministry of Defence spending review 2002 settlement represented the largest sustained increase in defence spending plans for 20 years. That means there will be year-on-year real increases in defence spending plans until at least 2005–06. Nevertheless, the MOD continuously seeks to increase its efficiency. We regularly receive advice, suggestions and submissions on how we might do that, from both within and outside Government.

David Taylor : When gimlet-eyed management consultants have been tasked by the Government to

1 Mar 2004 : Column 613

seek efficiency-driven savings elsewhere in the public sector, their recommendations have often been deeply harmful to the quality of service provided. Will the Minister reassure the House that he will never listen to the siren voices of those who would jeopardise the efficiency and quality of our armed forces by implementing cuts that would aggregate to more than £4 million a day?

Mr. Ingram: I echo that sentiment entirely.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley) (Lab): As an ex-Royal Marine, may I ask whether my hon. Friend agrees that multi-functional forces such as the Royal Marines provide best value and that their future will be safeguarded by this Government in the years ahead?

Mr. Ingram: Last week, I was with the Royal Marines in Norway and saw at first hand the tremendous cold-weather training undertaken by those exceptional soldiers. Some 2,300 Royal Marines are there, 1,500 of whom have never experienced cold-weather training. At the end of their eight-week training period, they will be fighting fit to carry on their tremendous recent work in Afghanistan and Iraq—there is no threat to their future.


18. Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of the security of British troops stationed in Iraq; and if he will make a statement. [156746]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): Force protection has the highest priority for UK forces. Commanders on the ground employ appropriate force protection measures in accordance with threat assessments. The security situation is under constant review and commanders adapt protection measures to reflect changing circumstances.

Alistair Burt : In order to reassure my constituents serving in Iraq and their relatives, it is surely necessary for the Secretary of State to clear up discrepancies about the recent past. Why did servicemen tell "Channel 4

1 Mar 2004 : Column 614

News" that, in the face of anticipated attacks from weapons of mass destruction they were given nuclear, biological and chemical protection kits that were routinely incomplete and gas mask filters that were out of date? As that is contrary to assurances that the Secretary of State gave to the House on 6 February 2003, will he clear up the discrepancy, and appreciate how such unresolved discrepancies affect current confidence?

Mr. Hoon: As the hon. Gentleman knows, there has been a series of investigations into the difficulties that certain individuals experienced in the course of operations in Iraq. They need to be put in the context of the overall success of the logistic effort found by the National Audit Office and in our own investigations, but obviously we take seriously any of the problems that were highlighted. If we had precise details of the particular circumstances of the individuals in question, we could investigate them properly.

Denison Barracks

20. Mr. David Rendel (Newbury) (LD): If he will make a statement on the future of the Denison barracks. [156748]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Ivor Caplin): A study of the future of the Defence Geographic and Imagery Intelligence Agency's estate, including Denison barracks, was initiated in 2003. As part of the wider examination of the defence estate, this study remains ongoing.

Mr. Rendel : Is the Minister aware that there have been a number of rumours flying around my constituency as to what would become of Denison barracks, were the current operations to cease there? Will he assure my constituents that a decision will be taken in the shortest possible time so that the rumours can be laid to rest?

Mr. Caplin: It may not surprise the hon. Gentleman to know that I am not aware of those rumours, but I can assure him that we will keep the matter under careful review. If there are to be any changes at Denison barracks, I will make sure that I come and speak to him.

1 Mar 2004 : Column 615

Points of Order

3.31 pm

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Last Wednesday, the First Minister in Scotland made a statement to the Scottish Parliament saying that he had reached an agreement with the Home Secretary that would enable overseas graduates at Scottish universities to be allowed to stay in Scotland longer under visa concessions designed to boost Scotland's dwindling population. The effect of that provision would be to introduce a system whereby there would be a change to the immigration rules in Scotland that would not apply across the rest of the United Kingdom. That proposal has not been put to the House in an oral or written statement. I seek your guidance as to the propriety of announcing such a major policy change without the House being informed in any way of what is going on. I may add that the First Minister went on to say that further such changes would be proposed in future, and again no reference has been made by the Home Secretary in the House or elsewhere to the proposals. I seek your guidance.

Mr. Speaker: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his point of order. It is not a matter for the Chair, but Home Office Ministers are present, and I am sure that the point of order will have been heard and note taken.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As chairman of the court of the university of Edinburgh, may I say that this is a very serious matter? With respect, it is not a matter for just one Department, but one that raises deep constitutional issues that must be hammered out in some forum, and not by just a single Minister.

Mr. Speaker: As I said to the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), this is not a matter for the Chair. The comments of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) will have been heard.

1 Mar 2004 : Column 616

Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, Etc.) Bill (Programme) (No. 2)

3.33 pm

The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Beverley Hughes): I beg to move,