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Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): I am pleased to able to take part in the debate. Unfortunately, the Minister of State would not give way to me earlier when I tried to intervene about human resources. I wanted to make the point that when there are media stories and court cases concerning appalling harassment of certain individualswomen and gay and lesbian officersin the armed forces, there has at the very least to be the most rigorous examination of the facts, but there also has to be action to ensure that the culture does not continue. It would be helpful if the entire report on Deepcut were made available, so that we could all be assured that no residual culture of harassment remained in the armed forces. Such reports and stories must have an effect on recruitment, and therefore have to be dealt with.
The right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) raised several issues about recruitment; clearly there is an enormous problem. Part of that problem is the question of rights within the service, but the disenchantment of many members of the public with the policies in Iraq is part of it, too. I have met the families of some of the soldiers who laid down their life in Iraq. Some feel very angry, some feel very bitter and some feel that the soldiers were misled into going to war. The atmosphere surrounding the question of Iraq has had a huge effect on recruitment. Clearly, many people do not want to face up to that, but they will have to face up to the sense of disillusionment with the policies in Iraq.
I shall make a couple of brief points about Iraq and then talk mainly about nuclear weapons and the Trident replacement. In 2003 the House voted to go to war in Iraq to support the Government's strategy there. We still have 8,000 troops in Iraq, and have lost nearly
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100 British troops. Nearly 2,000 US soldiers have laid down their lives, and an unknown number of Iraqi soldiers and civilians have died. According to The Lancet, as many as 100,000 may have died in the conflict. It is perfectly reasonable to ask how much longer troops will be there, and whether the mere presence of British and American forces has not become part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. They may be attracting insurgent attacks, rather than achieving a solution to the obvious problems. While we are fed a diet of news about the problems in Iraq, we are not necessarily told that a significant number of Iraqi politicians, including those elected to the Iraqi Parliament who strongly oppose
Jeremy Corbyn: I do not want to challenge your ruling, Madam Deputy Speaker, but if it is about defence in the UK it is perfectly obvious that the presence of British troops in Iraq is part of the debate. Other Members have mentioned the presence of British troops in the Falklands, Gibraltar, Brunei, Cyprus and Germany, so why can we not mention Iraq?
Jeremy Corbyn: I have no intention of turning it into a debate on Iraq, but Iraq is an important factor in British military expenditure and the approach taken by the Ministry of Defence. It is clearly central to the Ministry's policy making. When the Secretary of State replies to the debate, as I am sure he will, I hope that he will tell us when those 8,000 troops will come home. At the moment, it appears that it will be December 2006 at the earliest. In view of the disturbing news earlier this week about the use of phosphorus by United States and British forces, we want an assurance that chemical weapons will not be used in any form, even as an incendiary device to guide others into an attack, because of the danger of their use against civilians, which is illegal under the 1925 convention on chemical warfare.
I am a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, as is well known, and I chair the parliamentary CND group. The arguments against the nuclear deterrent are very strong, and we need to have a serious public debate about it. I therefore welcome what a number of hon. Members have said, particularly the right hon. Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot), who chairs the Select Committee on Defence and said that it may be prepared to undertake an investigation or inquiry into the matter. I repeat what I said in my intervention, when he kindly gave way to me. The Defence Committee ought to be joined by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. The Defence Committee has responsibility for defence matters, but it does not have responsibility for disarmament policy nor, indeed, for the operation of the non-proliferation treaty, which is clearly relevant. I therefore hope that
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that suggestion will be considered seriously by both Committees, because it would make an important contribution to the public debate.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) talked about US strategy, which includes full-spectrum dominance and thus the development of a new generation of nuclear weapons. Indeed, there are many signs that the US is already spending very large sums on preparing for a post-Trident world, but that does not mean that the UK should do so. We must consider two things: first, our existing expenditure; and, secondly, what happens afterwards. I recently asked the Secretary of State about the cost of running AWE Aldermaston and capital investment in the base. I was astonished to learn that over the past five years, AWE Aldermaston has cost £1.5 billion of the defence budget, of which almost £100 million has been spent on capital investment in the past year. I would be interested to know what that capital investment was. I hope the money was not spent on preparation for, or manufacture of, a new generation of nuclear weapons to succeed Trident. We have been told, and I accept that we were told in good faith, that no decision has been made on a post-Trident world through the refurbishment of Trident or some new nuclear weapons system.
It is worth thinking for a moment about the costs involved. They are huge, as my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (David Wright) pointed out. The original cost of Trident was £12.52 billion and the annual running costs are about £1.5 billion. Trident's lifespan was predicted to be 30 years. The Trident refit that is taking place at Devonport docks in Plymouth was estimated in 1997 to cost £650 million, but it is already running at almost £1 billionabout a third more than the original estimate. It is not a cheap system, even with the current refit. A replacement of Trident would cost around £25 billion. There is a great deal else that one could spend such a sum onnot least, it would allow us to meet the UN millennium development goals every year for the next six years. It is important that in the debate we throw all these factors into the equation.
The wider question is how secure the world is with nuclear weapons or with Trident. If we replace Trident nuclear missiles, we will be running contrary to the rule and expectation of the non-proliferation treaty. Although it puts the five declared nuclear weapons states in a special position, it does not allow them to develop new generations of nuclear weapons while at the same time saying that the signatory nations to the non-proliferation treaty cannot develop their own nuclear weapons. If we do not want proliferation, a good example must be set by the five declared nuclear weapons states. I hope the UK does not develop a new generation of nuclear weapons. I do not believe them to bring security. I believe them to be immoral and dangerous, and to encourage others to develop nuclear weapons.
The Secretary of State said that there must be a public debate on the matter. We all welcome that. It would be helpful if, in his reply, he could set out the options, the cost of the existing system, the cost of replacement and the legal opinion with respect to the non-proliferation treaty, so that there can be a serious, informed public
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debate about it. That debate will take place anyway in the public arena. It is extremely important that it also takes place in the Chamber and in the Committees of the House.
We are debating defence. The world is obviously not a simple or a stable place. We must ask ourselves whether such fantastic levels of expenditure on defence make the world a safer place, or whether we would be better off spending a little more energy addressing issues of inequality, poverty and instability around the world, rather than assuming that there is a military solution to every problem. I say that because I want to see a more peaceful world, as does the entire House, I am sure. The possession or development of nuclear weapons does not bring that about.
Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): I welcome the opportunity to speak briefly in this important and wide-ranging debate on defence in the United Kingdom. I begin by paying tribute to the members of the armed services who serve this country so well. We are very proud of them, of the standards that they set and of what they achieve.
I shall also pay a brief tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), who this afternoon made his last appearance at the Dispatch Box. He has given long and distinguished service in the House, and perhaps he will feel happier at laying down the burdens that that has placed upon his shoulders. He will be much missed, but I can assure him that in stepping down, he will rediscover the freedom and independence that Members on the Back Benches are allowed in some small measure from time to time.
The Minister has made it clear in numerous written answers that the final structure of the Territorial Army will be confirmed by the end of the year. That announcement about the future is vital, because the TA is in dire straitsone might say meltdown. All we have to go on is the announcement made on 16 December last year by the Chief of the General Staff to the Army chain of command on the "Future Army Structure ReservesStructural Changes", which will take place around 200708 following the planned amalgamation and disbandment of regular infantry regiments, I presume.
In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the replies given by the Minister at Defence questions on Monday to two of my hon. Friends who asked about TA recruitment, I want briefly to pursue the issue. It is all very well stating that reserve forces will carry out certain tasks and specialist activities to supplement the regular forces, but that surely depends on available manpower. It will be interesting to learn the actual size of TA that the MOD is seeking. At present, the TA is 15 per cent. under strength and overall numbers are falling. As has been said, the current requirement for TA personnel is 41,610, but the actual figure is 35,560, which is the lowest since the TA was founded in 1907.
The Minister asserted on Monday that the fall in TA manning has already been reversed. However, I understand that the number of resignations exceeds the number of people who have passed basic training and are fit for deployment, which is a direct consequence of the Iraq war. For the first six months of the war, resignations stood at an average of 162 people a month.
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From September 2003 until August this year, the average jumped up to 540 resignations a month. That point was highlighted in The Guardian this weekI hasten to add that I do not read that newspaper regularlyin an article based on parliamentary questions entitled, "Civilians who signed up to serve in the TA speak for the first time about why they have handed in their kit for good", which is a matter of great concern for everyone.
A tremendous physical and financial effort has gone into recruitment, which has fallen by 35 per cent. in the past eight financial years. In 199798, there were 10,400 recruits; in 200405, that figure decreased to 6,900 recruits, with the costs of recruitment doubling. In 200102, expenditure on recruitment was £5 million, increasing to £10.5 million in 200405. Those recruitment figures require further study because from 1 March 2003 to 30 June 2005, some 3,800 people were recruited as infantry TA privates, yet only 1,300 of them completed phases 1 and 2 of basic training, and 1,960 privates left the TA in the same period.
More than 35 per cent. of the TA have not collected their financial bounty. That figure of 12,010 individuals is, coincidentally, exactly the same as the number of individuals whom the MOD claims are still available for deployment. I respectfully suggest that that might not be true.
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