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Infantry Deployment

8. Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, what assessment he has made of the adequacy and availability of British infantry to fulfil additional urgent deployments. [44075]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): Our plans ensure that we have forces of appropriately high readiness, including the infantry, in place to meet urgent contingent operations.

Mr. Evennett: Has the Minister seen the article in The Daily Telegraph today entitled, "Manning Crisis for Paras", which states that the Parachute regiment is suffering severe manpower shortage and is about 10 per cent. down on full manning levels? Can it really be true that the problem is so bad that a battalion being sent to Afghanistan will need

What is the Minister doing to get the regiment up to full strength—

Mr. Speaker: Order. There should be only one supplementary, and I counted two.

Mr. Ingram: I do not know which two you counted, Mr. Speaker, but I shall try to answer one of them. I did see the article and I saw other articles today, including one in The Herald that said that the Black Watch were going, but they are not. If I were to respond to every hare set running by a journalist, we would be here all day answering questions to no avail, because they have to be built on reality. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has indicated the issues that we have with recruitment and retention. We are aware of those issues. It is probably true to say that most battalions are under strength when deployed and have to be strengthened by drawing in support from other battalions. That has been the case for a long time and sophisticated military knowledge is brought to bear to ensure that those people who are put in have all the necessary training and the appropriate equipment so that they can deliver on the task that we have set them.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): There should be a 24-month gap between operations, and it is the Scots Guards who are reportedly going back to Basra after only eight months—of course, we wish them well and our thoughts are with their families. How small does the tour interval need to be before the Ministry of Defence concedes that there is overstretch?

Mr. Ingram: I apologise, because I said the Black Watch when I should have said the Scots Guards, but they are not going either. The hon. Gentleman is right about tour intervals. We set the interval at 24 months between each six-month operational tour, which equates to one tour in each 30-month period. The average tour interval for the infantry at 1 January was 21.1 months. Clearly, there are pressures on some of our troops and some of the key enablers, but the hon. Gentleman's position on this interests me. I do not think that he would deploy troops anywhere, be it in
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Afghanistan, Iraq or anywhere else, without his party saying that they were operating under the butcher's apron, which is what they have called the Union flag.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): May I welcome the fact that the most recent deployment of territorial infantry has been in formed companies or platoons, including a company of Paras that is just going out? I urge the Minister of State to look again at the mostly Regular Army-driven paper, which proposes converting TA infantry companies into little more than recruiting organisations and squaring the circle by expanding the number of full-time instructors who are non-deployable. That is not what the Territorial Army at the working level wants.

Mr. Ingram: As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are looking at restructuring and the best usability and deployability of the TA and the reserves, which—as discussed earlier—is part of the original construct, post-SDR. We take into account the views of serving members of the TA, but we have to balance those views with what we believe to be right and appropriate. All views will be taken into account to ensure that we are moving forward with the right construct, the right purpose and the right numbers, if that can be achieved through progressive recruiting.

Single Living Accommodation

9. Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Devonport) (Lab): To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, what plans
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his      Department has to improve single living accommodation for members of the armed forces. [44076]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Don Touhig): We value our service personnel and we believe that they deserve the best accommodation. The Defence Estates project SLAM—single living accommodation modernisation—aims to deliver around 22,000 bed spaces by 2013 at a cost of £1   billion. The project has already delivered about 4,000 new bed spaces.

In addition, other projects, including private finance initiatives, will deliver a further 3,340 bed spaces in this financial year. This will give a total of 10,000 bed spaces delivered by those projects since financial year 2003–04. A further 47,000 are planned to be delivered by 2013.

Alison Seabeck: I thank the Minister for his response. He is clearly aware of the problem of the conditions in which many single people serving in the armed forces live. Improvements have been made to officers' quarters already at Plymouth, Devonport, but when can we expect the bulk of the improvements to living conditions for other service personnel to begin? At the moment, they are living in conditions that are not fit for purpose for the 21st century.

Mr. Touhig: We fully appreciate how important this work is, and I can tell my hon. Friend that project Armada is seeking to improve single living accommodation at Devonport and runs parallel with project SLAM. On completion, project Armada will provide high-quality single living accommodation and associated support services for 1,500 service personnel. We intend to continue this work and accelerate it right across the country.

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Points of Order

3.31 pm

Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wish to raise the issue of Ministers' relations with individual Members. The generation company, nPower Renewables, has made an application to the Department of Trade and Industry for consent to develop a very large wind farm off the coast of my constituency and the neighbouring constituency of Conwy.

On 1 December, I wrote to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry asking if I could see him to relate to him the concerns of a large number of my constituents. On 21 December, I received a letter from the Minister for Energy informing me that

I was therefore surprised to read on 20 January an article written by the hon. Member for Conwy (Mrs. Williams) in The Pioneer (North Wales) in which she said:

The position is therefore that although neither the Secretary of State nor his Energy Minister are willing to meet me and hear my constituents' concerns, the Secretary of State has apparently been quite happy to conduct a meeting with the hon. Member for Conwy and to hear her constituents' concerns. Is it right that the Secretary of State and his Energy Minister should behave with such an apparent lack of even-handedness?

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let me answer and perhaps the hon. Gentleman will not need to come in on a point of order. [Interruption.] Order. There is no need to give notice of a point of order. [Interruption.] Order. Let me answer.

I say to the hon. Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Jones) that I will not get drawn into the specific case, but I, like every Member in the House, have a constituency. One of the things that helps me immensely is the fact that I am able to tell my constituents that I will seek a meeting with a Minister. That is a very good facility, and it is something that constituents like their Member of Parliament to do. So, without getting drawn into the
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specific case, all I would say is that when Ministers receive a request from an hon. Member, I hope that they take it very seriously and have a meeting with the Back Bencher concerned. That is very important, particularly for constituents.

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