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We recognise that the restructuring of the armed forces has not been welcomed by everyone, but we believe that it is necessary to ensure that our forces can meet the challenges that they will face tomorrow in the same way as they are succeeding in the challenges that they face today. Let me spend a few moments on those challenges. We currently have some 32,000 personnel deployed in 10 countries around the world.
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for that. In view of his answer to my hon. Friend
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the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith), would he and his team in the Ministry of Defence be prepared to meet a delegation from the parliamentary side? He will be aware of the considerable disquiet in Wales concerning the proposals for restructuring.
Mr. Ingram: Throughout the whole process, the Secretary of State, the Under-Secretary and I have met interested parties extensively across the board. My answer to my hon. Friend's request is yes. I understand that a letter from hon. Members based in Wales is on its way. I have not yet received it, but I have been notified of it.
Mr. Ingram: Let me say to the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) that he will have an opportunity to enter the debate later and I suggest that he does so. As to the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock), I know that he is a member of the Select Committee and that he has been highly critical about the subject that we are discussing now. I was rather surprised that he did not attend the meeting to put me on the rack. That is what Select Committees are for, so I do not know why he was not there. He has had plenty of opportunities to raise issues with me. If he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, perhaps he can enter the debate later.
Since the tragic Indian ocean tsunami, UK personnel have acted quickly and effectively to provide assistance to those affected. Working closely with the Department for International Development in support of the UN, our personnel have provided much-needed skill, expertise and equipment. A C-17, TriStar and five C-130 air transport planes have been made available to DFID to assist in delivering new UN aid and heavy equipment to the region. I visited Brize Norton earlier this week to thank the air crew, ground crew and planning staff for all their efforts over recent weeks.
In addition to the RAF contribution, HMS Chatham, which has two Lynx helicopters, and Royal Fleet Auxiliary Diligence, which is co-operating closely with a reconnaissance team on the ground, are providing assistance in restoring livelihoods, schools and medical facilities to villages on the east coast of Sri Lanka. Engineering support has also been deployed to the Maldives to assist in repairs to generators and desalination equipment. Instrumental in co-ordinating the military response with DFID and regional government and military representatives have been the three military observation, liaison and reconnaissance teams deployed to the region. I know that the whole House will pay tribute to all of those engaged in the massive humanitarian effort and to those members of the armed forces who have made such an invaluable contribution.
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More than 8,000 personnel are deployed on Operation Telic. In difficult conditions, they are successfully providing direct security assistance to the Iraqi authorities and building the capacity of Iraqi security forces to take on that role. The relatively stable security environment in our area of operations is a testament, I believe, to our armed forces' achievement. It has enabled progress to be made on the reconstruction of schools and hospitals and the restoration of water and power. Our people are making a vital contribution to building a peaceful, stable and democratic Iraq. We should take pride in what they have achieved to date.
Mr. Robathan: I am most grateful. I want to bring the Minister back to the tsunami. He is right that HMS Chatham and RFA Diligence are doing excellent work. However, will he confirm that the Diligence is, unfortunately, to be scrapped next year rather than replaced, and that the Chatham is one of 31 frigates and destroyers that are to be reduced to 25 over the next few years? That will lead to a considerable shortage of ships to assist in future disasters.
Mr. Ingram: That does not necessarily follow. I am conscious that the Conservative party has recently announced its back-of-a-fag-packet approach to defence expenditure. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could tell us in his winding-up speech
Mr. Ingram: Oh good. I look forward the analysis of the way in which the Conservatives will keep every legacy system at the same time as continuing with expensive procurement streams. The scale of the spend on all that could mean that the hon. Gentleman might have to tackle some matters later. He also claims that he would keep all the regiments. I believe that he intends to achieve all that through cutting 25,000 extra personnel from overall staff in the Ministry of Defence. That is on top of the 20,000 that we announced and towards which we are progressively working. I shall certainly return for the winding-up speeches if I am going to hear all that detail, but I doubt whether I shall hear it. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will give way to me when he starts looking at the back of that fag packet.
Afghanistan has already made huge progress. President Karzai's victory in a free and fair election last autumn is testament to that. Our forces, currently some 800 strong, contributed to that success. Whether serving with the international security assistance force in Kabul in the north or with the coalition, our forces have made a genuine impact, helping the Afghan people to bring greater peace and stability to their country.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab):
Did my right hon. Friend see the headline in today's Daily Express about the Queen's being angry about the treatment of the wounded? Is that not clearly unfair to Ministers? Is it not extremely doubtful whether the Queen expressed any view at all on the matter? Does he have any figures
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about the number of wounded who have returned from Afghanistan and Iraq? I ask for only a rough figure, because the report was outrageous.
Mr. Ingram: I am grateful for that ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was going to comment accordingly. I do not always believe what I read in the newspapers and I believe some newspapers even less than others, although I had better not rank them. When I read glaring and lurid headlines, I sometimes wonder why newspapers report in that manner.
My hon. Friend asks an important question, however, because there is a charge that we have somehow been hiding the figures, and that is not the case. The figures are not currently available but such information can readily be made available to the House. I shall write to my hon. Friend and place the content in the Library. Of course, he could have asked a parliamentary question to ascertain the information.
When we talk about the injured, we must acknowledge that, sadly, some people are seriously injured but that injuries can be caused in many different ways. For example, road traffic accidents are sometimes serious; some people become ill through picking up a bug, and injuries can even occur in training in theatre. We must balance all that. I am happy to help my hon. Friend to gain a better understanding of what we have published not only for Iraq but for Afghanistan and perhaps other theatres.
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): On the deployment of our forces in Afghanistan, will my right hon. Friend update us on the international contribution alongside our forces? The Secretary-General of NATO has made strong pleas in recent months for larger contributions to assist the ISAF. Does my right hon. Friend believe that other countries are doing enough to assist the Secretary-General and stability and progress in Afghanistan?
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