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Lynx Helicopter

13. Jim Knight (South Dorset) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the future requirement by the armed forces for the Lynx helicopter. [214094]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): At present, we expect the Lynx mark 7 and mark 9 to have an out-of-service date with the Army of 2012, and the Lynx mark 3 and mark 8 to have out-of-service dates with the Royal Navy of 2012 and 2014 respectively. No decisions have yet been taken on the shape of our future rotorcraft capability programme, or on the individual components within it.

Jim Knight: I am grateful to the Minister for his response. He will know that, a week last Friday, workers at Westland celebrated President Bush's decision to procure the US101 for his presidential fleet. The following Monday, however, a large-scale redundancy programme was announced at Yeovil. Those workers desperately need a decision on the future of Lynx, as do other companies in the supply chain, including South Dorset Engineering in my constituency. Why the delay?

Mr. Ingram: My hon. Friend has been very active in putting forward his constituents' concerns on this matter. He is right to highlight the great success in achieving the US101 contract, which will give that aircraft much greater export potential. It is undoubtedly a success. We have procured from AgustaWestland the Merlin mark 3 for £750 million, and the Apache in a £4.1 billion project. We are therefore giving our support, but the important aspect of this is to ensure that we understand precisely what we need for our future capabilities. Therefore, rather than rushing into decisions, we must ensure that the £3 billion that we have allocated for rotorcraft capability is wisely spent in a way that will have the maximum impact, one hopes in the UK sector.
 
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Lloyd Inquiry

14. Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the material that his Department provided to the inquiry by Lord Lloyd into Gulf war syndrome. [214095]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Ivor Caplin): In order to assist Lord Lloyd's investigation into Gulf veterans' illnesses, the Ministry of Defence provided the noble Lord with a pack containing more than 80 documents that were considered essential background to Ministry of Defence policy on Gulf veterans' illnesses. The pack also provided full details of our findings to date, and set out the key issues involved. In line with this Government's consistent policy of openness and transparency, the documents had already been made publicly available.

Mr. Prentice: But does the Minister recall telling my friend the Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe) on 13 December 2004 that Lord Lloyd's report

Why would an eminent retired Law Lord simply cast aside the 80 volumes that the Minister has just mentioned? Does the Minister acknowledge that there is continuing public disquiet on this issue? Does he agree with the Public Administration Select Committee's report, published last week, which urged Parliament to reassert itself and to initiate public inquiries in circumstances in which the Government refuse to do so?

Mr. Caplin: I stand by what I told our hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe) during the Adjournment debate. That debate was useful, in that it put on record the Government's overall response to Lord Lloyd's inquiry. I must say that his four recommendations were disappointing. I did, in fact, respond to one of them on 29 November, during Defence questions.

We have been open and transparent with Gulf war veterans since 1997. Lord Lloyd has consistently refused to say where the funds for the inquiry came from, and that is not open and transparent.

Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall) (LD): In 1997 I accompanied my constituent Major Christine Lloyd, herself a Gulf war veteran suffering from a Gulf war illness. She was in the medical corps, and gave and received injections. She was promised in 1997 that the Government would undertake a full inquiry, and that it would be open and transparent. Nearly eight years later, she has received no further support and her health has deteriorated significantly. She and many others now look to the Government to honour their promises and hold a full public inquiry.

Mr. Caplin: I am not sure that that would necessarily help the hon. Gentleman's constituent.

About 2,800 Gulf war veterans are receiving war disablement pensions, and if memory serves me aright some 50,000 troops went to the Gulf. The way to resolve
 
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the issue is to do so properly, as we are doing, through medical research. That research is under way, at a cost of £8.5 million, and I think it is the best way to find out why some Gulf war veterans are ill.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): When the Government have accumulated all the research—for which I am very grateful—will they commit themselves to a public inquiry, so that they can draw a line under this very difficult matter?

Mr. Caplin: I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that today would be the wrong time to give such a commitment. We should wait and see what the medical research shows, and then consider the matter further. I have made clear before that a public inquiry has not been ruled out, but we need to research the medical background to the Gulf war veterans' illnesses before making further decisions.

International Security Assistance Force

15. Ross Cranston (Dudley, North) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the UK contribution to the international security assistance force in Afghanistan. [214096]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): Around 740 United Kingdom personnel are currently serving with the international security assistance force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. Some 550 of them are deployed to Kabul, where they are assisting the Government of Afghanistan to maintain security. The balance of 190 personnel are serving in the UK-led multinational provincial reconstruction teams in Mazar-e Sharif and Meymaneh, and the associated forward support base in northern Afghanistan.

Ross Cranston: I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer, and I am sure that the whole House wishes to pay tribute to our troops in Afghanistan.

I welcome the progress in ISAF's work, but it would be useful to have an idea of when stage two will begin. May I also ask whether ISAF's remit still includes disposing of munitions, and in particular anti-personnel mines?

Mr. Ingram: Stage two is an important next step. It will be discussed at this week's NATO ministerials, and we hope that progress will be made then. We hope to announce later this week our decision, following those discussions, on the form that stage two will take. That, I think, gives a clear indication that we are moving forward.

We plan to move beyond stage two to stage three, and the United Kingdom plans to make the headquarters of the allied rapid reaction corps ISAF's headquarters next year. This is a developing process, which is gaining momentum. As for the details of ISAF's current roles, it is probably best for me to write to my hon. and learned Friend so that he has a full picture of all the tasks that it undertakes. I appreciate his warm support for the work that is being done in Afghanistan.
 
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Recruitment

18. Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): How much was spent on army recruitment in each of the past seven years. (214099)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Ivor Caplin): Headquarters Recruiting Group, a part of the Army Training and Recruiting Agency, is responsible for the Army's recruitment budget. In financial year 1998–99, the Army spent £50.1 million on recruiting. In the following four financial years, spending was as follows: in 1999–2000, £56.4 million; in 2000–01, £55.5 million; in 2002–03, £68.4 million and in 2003–04, £71.4 million. I regret that the figures for financial year 1997–98 are not currently available.

Mr. Swire: I am grateful to the Minister for those figures, which record an increase, but anyone with a morsel of practical understanding of the military will realise the importance of local regiments for local recruitment. What does he say, therefore, about the wilful emasculation of the county regimental system and the effects that that will have on recruitment to the armed forces?

Mr. Caplin: The hon. Gentleman suffers a bit from not having heard previous answers to questions today. Nevertheless, he is entitled to come here to ask his question. There is no emasculation of regiments. As I said earlier to the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch), the purpose of the changes that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced on 16 December and of the ending of the arms plot is to ensure that the Army is more able and more nimble in responding to the threats of today and tomorrow. The Conservative party, which the hon. Member for East Devon supports, is interested only in the battles of yesterday.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): It is important to recognise that more money will have to be spent following the announcement in terms of what came out of the merging of regiments. In Lancashire, it is not necessary to spend that money because people wish to join their own county regiment, so I wonder whether my hon. Friend would reconsider the new name that the regiment has been given. It is now called the King's Lancashire Border regiment but the three regiments recommended that it be called the Royal Lancashire regiment; it is a true county regiment and covers the old county palatine. I wonder whether I can save him money by getting him to reconsider that change and to give the regiment the name that the three regiments want. I emphasise that the Royal Lancashire regiment is what we want.

Mr. Caplin: My hon. Friend is an assiduous campaigner for all matters Lancashire, and has been so many times over the years. The changes have been the subject of lengthy consultation and my hon. Friend, other hon. Friends and hon. Members have been able to lobby the Secretary of State directly. The Army Board itself made those recommendations.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): That is all very well, but can the Minister name a
 
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single former serving officer, or does he know of a single present serving officer, who welcomes the cut in the infantry?

Mr. Caplin: Many current serving officers welcome the changes that were announced on 16 December. I do not think that there is much doubt about that. Indeed, many people may wish that they had made the changes in the past. For example, ending the arms plot was first raised at the Army Board in 1962. It has taken over 40 years but this Army Board, together with this Government, have finally ended it.


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