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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Don Touhig): On 9 July, Her Majesty the Queen is unveiling a new memorial in Whitehall to all the women who served in the second world war, both in the armed forces and on the home front. I pay tribute to the work of Baroness Boothroyd and all those who have made a great effort to make this memorial a reality.
Ms Thornberry: Does my hon. Friend agree that women's contribution to the war effort was made in the way that women so often work, which is that we get on with the work quietly and let the men carry on and get the glory?
Mr. Touhig: The whole country appreciates and acknowledges the essential contribution made by women in the successful outcome of the second world war both at home and abroad. Without the hard work, courage and endurance of women working in armaments factories, at home and in the forces, we would not be commemorating the 60th anniversary of the end of the last war, a war that allowed us to remain a free people. We owe a great deal to the sacrifices of our forces and to the women of Britain who brought about that wonderful victory.
Mr. David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab): Will the Minister accept that there are many hundreds in the House who support the work of the unsung heroines throughout the war, and not just the ones who fought through the war but those who replaced the men to allow the men to go to war or, indeed, down the pits to work? After the women made their contributions, many were left to fend for themselves when their husbands did not come back again. Does my hon. Friend accept that there is great support in the House for this move?
I consider that one of my priorities as the Minister responsible for veterans is to look across the whole orbit of matters relating to veterans and their families. I have met veterans organisations and will continue to do so in the coming weeks, but I have no doubt of the huge contribution made by the women to
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whom my hon. Friend refers. Indeed, I opened an event in my constituency only last week and was told by a lady that her son had never known his father, who had been shot down in the last war. She had not heard of the veterans badge, but she was delighted to hear about it. She will now receive a veterans badge which, she says, is a small token and memorial to the sacrifice that her husband made and something that she can pass on to her son.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): Will the Minister join me in paying tribute to those who worked in the intelligence services across Europe and to many of the unsung heroes who work for the land army across the country and particularly in the north of England?
Mr. Touhig: Both will be represented at the living memorial that His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales opens today in the presence of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. Indeed, when my right hon. Friend launched the information for veterans awareness week, a number of veterans appeared. One lady said that she did not quite know what the fuss was about and that she had only been a typist, to which my right hon. Friend replied that that was like saying that Churchill only made speeches. She made a huge contribution, and we value that.
Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): May I thank the Minister for his tribute to my predecessor Baroness Boothroyd, but bring his attention to another very distinguished West Bromwich-born lady, the late Madeleine Carroll, the famous film actress from the 1930s and 1940s who gave up her lucrative and glorious film career to work in French and Italian field hospitals during the second world war? After the war, she worked with UNESCO on helping the children who had been damaged and displaced as a result of the war. She has received tributes and recognition from the United States and French Governments, but not from this Government. Will my hon. Friend look at doing something about that?
Mr. Touhig: I certainly endorse my hon. Friend's comments. There is no doubt that, during the last war, women were employed in a range of activities that greatly underpinned our efforts and led to our success. I am not aware of the particular issue that he raises, but I will reflect on his comments and be in touch with him.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Don Touhig): The Territorial Army is currently being rebalanced to align with changes to the regular Army under the future Army structures work. I do not anticipate that this will result in significant change to the existing TA establishment or estate.
I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, but does he accept that any national decline in recruitment to the Territorial Army is likely to threaten
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the future of local units, including that on the Isle of Wight? Given that double the Government's planned proportion of 25 per cent. of personnel are either deployed on, or recovering from, operations, what are the Government doing to counter the perception, which can lead to a decline in recruitment, that too great a share of the defence burden is currently being borne by the Territorial Army?
Mr. Touhig: I take note of the hon. Gentleman's point about the centre on the Isle of Wight. As I have said, discussions will take place about the future of such centres and I shall ensure that he is involved in discussions on that centre.
I pay tribute to the efforts of our reserve forces in all recent conflicts. They have made a considerable contribution and a huge difference. However, hon. Members on both sides of the House realise that reserve forces do and should play a key role, which is why we are investing in their training for the defence of Britain and to protect our interests throughout the world. I continue to encourage people to become active in the TA. It does an important job and we value its work, as I am sure does the country as a whole.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the three local detachments in Leicester and Leicestershire and the work that they do? Will he assure the House that if there are any reviews of the service, sufficient money will be ring-fenced for training?
Mr. Touhig: I am sure that my hon. Friend appreciates that the rebalancing of the Territorial Army will come to fruition later this year. It would not be right for me to comment at this stage on the possible outcomes of the rebalancing, but I certainly take his point on board and will ensure that it figures in any decision that we reach.
Peter Viggers (Gosport) (Con): Does the Minister agree that our reserve forces have always fulfilled two main roles? First, they provide reinforcement for our regular forces, which is being stressed by overuse. Secondly, and importantly, through having formed units, the Territorial Army and other reserves can provide the framework for the expansion of our armed forces. Does he accept that by weakening the Territorial Army and removing and reducing the number of formed units, he is weakening that role? Does he really feel confident that we will never again need to reinforce and expand our armed forces?
The difference between this Government and the Conservative Government is that we are committed to reshaping the TA, ensuring that it meets the changing defence environment and making it more capable and effective. That contrasts with a 20,000 cut to numbers in the TA in the 10 years leading up to 1997. The Conservative party made that cut not for military reasons, but because its failed and disastrous economic policies led to cuts in the Ministry of Defence. This Government are totally committed to providing proper and adequate resources for our armed forces, and we will continue to do so. I say honestly to the hon. Gentleman that we need no lessons from his failed party in that respect.
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The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): The Royal Air Force continues to meet its standing and contingent overseas operational and enduring home commitments, contributing forces to a number of theatres around the world, including the Gulf, Northern Ireland, the south Atlantic, Afghanistan and the Balkans. A combination of these ongoing commitments, equipment modifications and maintenance programmes has had a minor impact on planned peacetime readiness levels. Work is continuing to address these issues to ensure that the RAF continues to be ready to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.
Mr. Francois: I thank the Minister for that reply, but he will be aware that the Ministry of Defence has recently cut back fast-jet pilots' flying hours again to just 16.5 a month. Is there not a real danger that if Ministers keep salami-slicing the fast-jet training budget in this way, the readiness of our fast-jet pilots will become seriously degraded over time?
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): The Minister will be aware that the Red Arrows, whom I had the privilege of visiting earlier this year while they were training, train six times a day to achieve the superb level of display flying that we are proud to witnessindeed, I think he witnessed it over the streets of London this morning. By contrast, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) said, fast-jet pilots, on whom we depend for air superiority and supporting ground troops, have had their hours cut again to 16.5. Is the Minister aware that yesterday I talked to Chinook pilots, who said that their hours have been cut to 15 a month, and that is when they have enough spares to get the aircraft in the air? Is it not the truth that the recent National Audit Office report was right and that the Government risk gambling with the lives of our front-line pilots, whose essential combat skills can only be honed by adequate training in the air?
Mr. Ingram: I think the hon. Gentleman had written down his question before he heard my earlier answer. We obviously have to plan against a range of priorities, and to strike a balance. There is sensitivity about the level of cut. That is always under consideration, which is why we plan to increase the hours next year.
"the Royal Air Force had recuperated sufficiently by the summer of 2004 to be able to undertake a further medium scale operation and plans to be ready to undertake a large scale operation, if required, by the end of 2006."
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