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Mr. Speaker: No, I have received no such approach.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It relates to your statement.

In the past, various Speakers have come down on me like the proverbial ton of bricks for infringing a sub judice rule. I think I understand your reasons for telling me yesterday that it was not your business, Mr. Speaker, but could we clarify the distinction between "sub judice" as recognised by the House of Commons and the sub judice rule that has apparently been infringed by the press in recent days?

Mr. Speaker: What I say to the hon. Gentleman is that the question he asked yesterday was not about the sub judice rule. What I say about the press report is that we in the House of Commons have higher standards than the press.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, further to your ruling. This morning I studied the rules on the treatment of prisoners of war, and I was proposing, if called, to speak about their treatment in general terms—without, of course, referring to any current cases. Can you confirm that that would be in order?

Mr. Speaker: I can tell the hon. Gentleman, whose standards are very high indeed, that that would be perfectly in order. My concern is for Members not to be drawn into a discussion or debate about any court martial or civil action that may currently be under way.

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Armed Forces Personnel

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Ainger.]

1.24 pm

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): This debate on personnel issues takes place against a backdrop of intense public scrutiny of the alleged misconduct of some soldiers in Iraq. I am sure the House will appreciate—this is in line with your ruling, Mr. Speaker—that it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the current case, or on other ongoing investigations.

The Prime Minister was right yesterday to draw a distinction between tyranny and democracy and to speak of the way in which we in this country seek at all times to bring wrongdoers to justice. He was also right to echo views expressed by the Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Mike Jackson, drawing attention to the fact that some 65,000 British soldiers have served in Iraq with distinction. They have done so with courage, exhibiting the highest levels of professionalism in helping to deliver the peace and stability so earnestly sought by the Iraqi people.

Another issue is currently exciting the minds of some hon. Members and the media. It relates, of course, to the accusation that Ministers are indifferent to our serving soldiers and other personnel who have been injured in conflict. The charge that Ministers are uncaring and unmindful of the needs of personnel as they recuperate is, in my view, an unwarranted slur that could not be further from the truth. I have personally met soldiers, both in theatre and back at their home bases, who were recovering from their injuries. I have also visited field hospitals to pay tribute to the sterling efforts of our medical personnel, who work in what are sometimes difficult circumstances but still deliver the highest level of care to our injured troops—and, on occasion, provide medical care for injured civilians.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has visited the Ministry of Defence hospital unit at Selly Oak hospital, and the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Caplin), is due to go there shortly. The visit was planned some time ago, well before the recent furore.

I intend to deal later with the general issues relating to the Defence Medical Services, but I want to make it clear at the outset that the consequences of conflict, whether death or injury, weigh heavily on the minds of those who commit the armed forces to action. To suggest otherwise is ill-judged, misplaced and, not to put too fine a point on it, offensive. Having said that, I should add that today's personnel debate is timely.

The pace of change across the globe is clear for all to see and shows no sign of slowing down. That offers special challenges to our armed forces—challenges to which they have risen magnificently—and places a special responsibility on the Government to ensure that our services are properly structured to face the world of tomorrow. The focus of our people policies is on providing better trained and more flexibly deployable forces. Together with our continuing investment in new platforms and technology, they will deliver the military capability that we need today and in the foreseeable future.
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Current threats to international peace and security are obvious to us all. In recent years, terrorist groups who respect neither international borders nor the sanctity of human life have aspired to inflict even greater levels of destruction to achieve their warped objectives. In weak and failing states, mismanagement and corruption can lead to poverty, hunger, disease and the collapse of law and order. They pose significant challenges for the international community. In some cases, they provide safe havens from which terrorist groups and those involved in organised crime can easily operate and recruit. The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction remains a serious concern and a serious threat to international security.

With our allies and partners, we must confront and tackle the causes of instability in the world, as well as its consequences. That means working with our European, NATO and United Nations partners to resolve conflict, build peace and lay foundations for democracy. That is what we have been doing in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq.

To ensure that we are best placed to meet those challenges, the Ministry of Defence has embarked on an ambitious modernisation and rebalancing of the armed forces. Each of our services needs to prepare its men and women to meet changing security challenges in less predictable and more complex operational environments. We need the right number of people available in the right place and at the right time, equipped with the right skills. That is how we will deliver military effect.

Pete Wishart (North Tayside) (SNP): What support has the Minister received for his proposals to restructure the Scottish infantry—apart, perhaps, from that of General Sir Mike Jackson—from veterans, regimental associations and forces families?

Mr. Ingram: I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman and his party do not support our proposals. Indeed, they have called the Union flag "the butcher's apron", and I have not heard that being repudiated from the nationalist Benches. We are not hiding from that fact that what we have sought to achieve has created considerable debate. We must take account of the needs of the future, however, as well as trying to understand the sensitivities of the past. The hon. Gentleman, who is perhaps a bit of a specialist on one particular regiment, should also recognise that we have been through these iterations before in Scotland. Regiments have been amalgamated before and they are, of course, subject to further changes.

I have met some of the associations involved and I have to respond to many inquiries from members of the public who are genuinely interested in this issue—people who really have the interests of the regiment at heart, rather than those who are interested only in political point scoring. We try to get across that the demographics in Scotland present difficulties for recruitment. I have explained before, from the Dispatch Box and elsewhere, that those demographics are such that it is not only the armed forces that come under pressure when recruiting—this applies right across the public services and certain parts of the private sector.
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We have to deal with that, look to the future and decide how best we can marshal the available resources, in people terms, to leave us best placed to deal with any future threats. I am also conscious that the hon. Gentleman, in opposing what we are doing with the armed forces, does not actually want to use them. Perhaps he just wants them to stand outside castles and be a tourist attraction, but that is a matter for his party and its supporters.

Annabelle Ewing (Perth) (SNP): On recruitment, I have here an answer given by the Under-Secretary on 18 November to a question from the hon. Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton), in which she asked whether there had been a cap on recruitment for the infantry in the last three years. The Minister answered:

Does that not suggest that there was a recruitment freeze in place, and would not such a freeze have had an impact on recruitment?

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