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The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): The UK contribution to the NATO KFOR mission continues to be around 200 troops, providing a highly effective force element able to deploy across the whole of Kosovo. In addition, around 70 Ministry of Defence police officers are stationed in Kosovo, working with the UN interim administrative mission and the Kosovo police service on a wide range of international policing tasks.
As the Minister knows, later this summer there will be high-level talks about the final status of Kosovo. That is bound to lead to greater tension in the area and may possibly lead to calls for increased British military presence in Kosovo. If that does follow, where will the troops come from?
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Mr. Ingram: From the resources that have been allocated for that purpose. In 2004, notwithstanding the fact that there were 17,500 NATO troops based there, we had to strengthen the resolve on the streets to ensure that the growing tension at that time did not come to anything. We were very successful on that occasion. We had the same stand-by facility in 2005, although the situation did not materialise on this occasion, and we will stand ready to provide whatever assistance is required if the circumstances demand it.
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to congratulate the British forces who are in Kosovo on the excellent job that they are doing to protect the minority there against attacks such as we saw in 2004? Can he assure the House that there will be close co-ordination with the British-led EUFOR force in Bosnia with regard to rapid deployment if it becomes necessary as a result of a breakdown of this process, which I hope will succeed, but am not very optimistic about, in the next few months?
The final-status negotiations clearly have the potential to create problems, and we must be ready to deal with them, not just in Kosovo but elsewhere in the region. As for the specific question about where the troops will come from, there isas I have saida significant force presence in any event, in the form of NATO. We are building capabilities nationally as well to deal with some of the domestic issues that could arise, but we have invested a great deal in the region, and we want to ensure that it is a success. The flexibility of the forces is something to which we are used in the United Kingdom, and if there is a need to do as my hon. Friend suggests, it will of course be taken into consideration.
Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): Bearing in mind our commitment to Kosovo and, indeed, the troop deployments that we have around the globe, is the Secretary of State satisfied that we have sufficient forces to deal with any resurgent Argentine claim over the Falkland Islands?
Mr. Ingram: First, I am not the Secretary of State, although I may speak with the same accent. Secondly, perhaps the hon. Gentleman could spell out his great fears. If we chased newspaper headlines, we would be deploying troops all over the globe; but yes, if a real threat arises, we will stand resolute to defend our interests in the Falklands.
Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)
(Lab): By what method do the Government intend to ascertain the view of the House of Commons about the future status of Kosovo, given that no Select Committees are sitting, that none are likely to sit for many weeks, and that the long summer recess will follow? What discussions has the Minister had with his friends in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to establish how it will be possible to gauge the view of the House of Commonsor, indeed, inform the House of Commons of Her Majesty's Government's view on the final status of Kosovo, as we do not know what it is?
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Mr. Ingram: I am sure that my hon. Friend will be able to ask that question of the lead Department, but I suspect that he has embarked on one of his campaigns involving asking every Minister in every Department about the Select Committee issue. I well understand his concern about the need for scrutiny in the House, and will convey it to my colleagues who are responsible for such matters.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): The future aircraft carrier programme is in the assessment phase. To ensure that we provide the best long-term value for money and deliver the carriers to time and cost, work continues to mature our cost, schedule, risk and design information in preparation for the main investment decision.
Stephen Hammond: Following the 100-day review of the carrier programme, which I believe is due to conclude this Friday, can the Minister confirm that cost, size and in-time date have not changed? Can he also confirm that the plans for the two 50,000-tonne carriers due to be delivered in 2012 and 2015 have not changed, and that the carriers will not be behind time, above budget and built in French dockyards?
Mr. Ingram: The hon. Gentleman has demonstrated his knowledge up to a point. A review is under way, and is due to report soonpossibly by the end of the week. The purpose of the 100-day action or assessment plan was to consider a range of issues such as size, shape, design, cost and timing, and their implications. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should wait for the report, which has been subject to intensive discussions/negotiations with the companies involved.
I hope that, new Member as he is, the hon. Gentleman will also recognise that we must learn the lessons of past Tory Administrations, under which many projects were over cost and over time. We have introduced new measures to try to ensure maximum efficiency, and to de-risk the early stages of any procurement stream.
Mr. David Crausby (Bolton, North-East) (Lab): Can my right hon. Friend assure me that newspaper reports that French shipyards could play a part in building our new aircraft carriers are misleading? Will he fiercely resist any such schemes by ensuring that he is as much inclined towards British defence manufacturing as the French are towards theirs?
My hon. Friend has knowledge of this matter from his membership of the previous Defence Select Committee and from his own constituency interests. I am sure that he recognises the advantages of sharing benefits with one of our allies, in terms of their needs as well as ours. There might well be opportunities for increased build at British shipyards. It is right that we continue to discuss this with our French allies. They have a need, and we have a need, so let us see if there can be some mutual benefit in this.
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Peter Viggers (Gosport) (Con): Bearing in mind that the Ministry of Defence incurred a cost overrun of £127 million on a contract of £148 million with Swan Hunter for the construction of two vesselsa cost overrun that the Ministry initially deniedthat Swan Hunter was the largest single donor to the yes campaign for a north-east assembly, and that the only fixed star in this muddled contract seems to be that the carriers must be assembled in Rosyth, will the Minister give the House an undertaking that the carrier contract will be conducted in a manner that represents the best interests of the armed forces and the taxpayer, and not used as a job creation scheme for Labour constituencies?
Mr. Ingram: Given that the hon. Gentleman has been campaigning for the closure of Swan Hunter, I do not think that he has the interests of the shipbuilding industry at heart. We have a major commitment to shipbuilding in this country, in regard not only to the aircraft carriers but to the Type 45s and the Astute programme, which will ensure thousands of jobs. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman look at the history of previous Conservative Governments and the way in which they treated our shipbuilding industry.
Mr. Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, East and Wallsend) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend take a hard look at why the Conservatives are running a hate campaign against the shipbuilding industry on Tyneside? Will he also confirm that it is not the Government's intention to see a further loss of shipbuilding capacity in this country and then to cite loss of capacity as a reason for shipbuilding work for the Royal Navy being placed abroad?
Mr. Ingram: My right hon. Friend knows that we are closely engaged with all the players to try to determine the best configuration of our needs, relative to the demands involved. These are not easy equations, and there are only so many procurement streams in shipbuilding at any given time, even though they may span a number of years. We have to talk to the industry to determine what it is seeking to do, and how it can give the best support to the country. Those discussions will continue until we reach the best conclusion not only for the shipbuilding industry but for the Royal Navy and the British taxpayer.
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): There will be great alarm across the Royal Navy today when it hears that this essential project is continuing to be subject to such uncertainty. The assessment phase into which the carriers project has been placed has had a longer gestation period even than that of an elephant. Will the Minister confirm that the Ministry now accepts that the cost of the carriers will be £3.5 billion, not £2.9 billion? Given the reports of an £18 billion shortfall in funding for the procurement programme over the next 10 years, will he tell us where the axe is going to fall? Is it going to fall on these carriers? Will they be reduced in size? Will it fall on the joint combat aircraft, or on the future rapid effect system? The truth is that the right hon. Gentleman who speaks with the same accent as the Secretary of State has had to inherit the shambles created by his predecessor.
We are seeking to invest £68 billion in procurement over the next 10 years. How the
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hon. Gentleman can diminish that and say that the situation is a shambles and that we have no interest in a defence sector in this country is beyond me. This major procurement relates not only to the surface fleet but to the Royal Air Force and to our support for the British Army. It cannot all happen in year one, however; it has to be planned and funded. I would say that £68 billion is a considerable investment by the Government. It represents increased defence expenditure and the largest sustained increase for 20 years. We should recognise what the Government are doing to ensure that the British armed forces are given the essential equipment that they need to face the threats ahead.
Mr. Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow) (Lab): If the speculation is correct, and one of those ships is built in France, it would be a disgrace, and would have major implications for shipyards such as Swan Hunter's in the north-east. Will the Minister deny those rumours, about which there is great speculation in the press, and confirm that British ships built with taxpayers' money will be built by British workers in British shipyards?
Mr. Ingram: I have tried to express the point that this will give us greater opportunity[Interruption.] We are seeking to build two carriers, the French look as though they want to build one, which means that there are three orders, which could mean increased opportunities for British shipyards because of greater availability of work. It is therefore right that we continue to discuss the matter and examine what is the best fit for our two nations. I will not chase every comment and every lurid newspaper headline that suggest that these aircraft carriers will be built in France, as the opposite might be the casewe might have increased opportunities.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): The Minister of State knows that aircraft carriers can only be deployed into harm's way with a full escort to protect them against torpedoes, mines and so on. While he is havering about the design, time scale and everything else for our two aircraft carriers, can he tell us whether he really believes that we will have enough frigates, minesweepers and other ancillary vessels left to mount two taskforces?
Mr. Ingram: The answer to that is yes. Those implications have been taken into account in the strategic decisions. The reduction in the surface fleet, of course, is based on other considerations: the reduced submarine threat, as military experts examine it; the introduction of Type 45s with all the new equipment on board; and all the other capabilities available to give support to any embarked fleet, probably working with other nations. We would not put any of our aircraft carriers or other ships in a deployed fleet at risk.
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