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Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): The Minister is going on about the industrial strategy, but I should tell him that a hole has already been blown in it, thanks to our inability to produce bullets, artillery shells or bombs independently , as a result of the transfer of boxer caps and initiators to Germany, France and
Switzerland. What message does he have for those loyal workers at Royal Ordnance who have lost their jobs?
Mr. Ingram: I sometimes wonder whether my hon. Friend ever reflects on the fact that Britain is also an exporting nation. Is he saying that those countries should not purchase our equipment or take on board some of our technologies? On munitions supply [Interruption.] My hon. Friend knows some of the reasons why the factory closed. An industrial accident resulted in [Interruption.] He knows the background. The company that owns that supply chain is looking at this issue very closely with the Ministry of Defence, to ensure that we get guaranteed supplies in those critical areas.
Mr. Ingram: My hon. Friend keeps on hectoring about Germany and other countries. They are our alliesdoes he want Britain to stand alone? Does he think that we should have no allies and not trade? That would not help this country at all.
Mr. Gerald Howarth: It is extraordinary that, at a time of unprecedented military activity, the Minister comes to the Dispatch Box to accept that under this Government, essential expenditure on R and D has halved. In addition, he will know that the head of the European Defence Agency has called for 20 per cent. of the EU nations defence research spending to be spent collectively. How much of the UKs already reduced research budget does the MOD intend to spend in this way? Who will own the resulting intellectual property? Will this move not endanger our relationship with the United States? Will it not serve, moreover, to undermine a key principle of the defence industrial strategy to which the Secretary of State put his namethat we need to maintain certain key capabilities in the United Kingdomor is the real truth that this is just further evidence that defence policy is now seen by the federalists as the best vehicle for securing the united states of Europe?
Mr. Ingram: Every sector involved in defence and procurement has welcomed the defence industrial strategy. That is not to say that it is completely fixed or that everyone is in total agreement, but trade unions and industry have welcomed it, because we have not previously had a clear exposition of the way forward. What are our future horizons? What type of equipment are we likely to need, and what are the industrys core capabilities to provide it? What research do we need to undertake to underpin all this? We have embarked on a close examination of these issues, and as I said to the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mrs. Dorries) in answer to her original question, there are some very tight timelines to work to. We have to get this right, but such carping from the sidelines does not accord with the view of industry or the trade unions, and it certainly is not in line with what we believe to be right for defence.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Tom Watson): There are no centrally held records that identify the town or region of origin of those personnel who have applied for discharge; however, I will make available those records that specify the nationality of such applicants. We are constantly seeking to improve our information systems, and I have asked officials to explore whether we can offer such a level of detail in future.
Mr. Cunningham: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer and I welcome him to the Dispatch Box. What is he doing about recruitment and retention in some of the famous west midlands regiments, such as the Royal Warwickshire Fusiliers?
Mr. Watson: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I know that he has been a campaigner on behalf of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, which has recently been given an additional grant to run a marketing campaign locally to help to make good the shortfall in recruits across two of its battalions. We all know that if we want the best armed forces in the world, we have to recruit the best people.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Is it not the case that our armed forces are now overstretched as never before and that applications for discharge are likely to increase, not fall? What steps are the Government taking to pre-empt the situation?
Mr. Watson: I do not accept the premise of the hon. Gentlemans question. For example, the outflow from the Territorial Army was 16,000 for 1999-2000 and last year it was only 8,000. We are working on the issue. Times are challenging, but we have to find innovative ways to recruit and retain military personnel, and we continue to do so.
The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): The situation across Afghanistan is broadly stable, but in the south it has deteriorated in recent weeks. This is not a surprise. The arrival of international troops and additional Afghan forces into an area that was largely ungoverned was always likely to create some response. Those elements who stand to lose out as the Government of Afghanistan spread their authority will try to disrupt our efforts early. But we have always anticipated that and planned accordingly.
Dr. Kumar: I welcome my right hon. Friend to his new post and praise our forces for taking on the Taliban. My right hon. Friend has my strong support for all the effort that we are making to remove the Taliban, and we should not move a millimetre from that policy. What support are we getting from the Government of Pakistan, especially on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, in our efforts to remove the Taliban?
Des Browne: I thank my hon. Friend for his welcome and his support for the work that we are doing in Afghanistan, and especially for those whom we have charged with that responsibility. Because of the geography, the border with Pakistan is porous and difficult to control, but the Pakistani authorities have made extensive efforts to improve the rule of law along their border with Afghanistan and, as a consequence, have suffered significant loss of life on occasions. We will continue to work with the Pakistan authorities to make certain that appropriate action is taken to ensure that the border area does not become a safe haven for the Taliban.
Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): May I put it to the Secretary of State that to anybody who has served in the armed forces in Islamic countries, or who knows Afghanistan, ministerial repliesI do not blame him particularly, but the whole Governmentseem totally unrealistic? Vietnam has been mentioned, but the Americans had half a million troops there. A shortage of helicopters has been mentioned, but the Russians lost 60 of them, and they had 300,000 troops there. The idea that our gallant group of 5,000 people will make any useful impact is sheer madness.
Des Browne: In anticipation of being asked that very question at some stage, I asked some very experienced currently serving officers of the highest rank of the British armed forces. They said to me in terms that those who make that point do not, unfortunately, have a proper understanding of the modern Army and the contribution that it can make in such circumstances. Those officers pointed out to me that the most significant difference between what we seek to do in Afghanistan and what others tried to do in the past is that we do it in the context of a democratically elected Afghanistan Government, who have a capacity to bring to bear on their own citizens, and with a significant level of international support. While I recognise that the hon. Gentleman has experience in his past that I do not have in mine, he will forgive me if in this matter I depend on the advice of those currently serving.
Martin Linton: Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the 202 members of the London Regiment who served in Basra, and does he agree that the greater age, experience, maturity and diversity of members of the Territorial Army has been a great asset to the coalition forces in Basra in establishing better relations with the local population? Does he agree that that proves the value of reserve forces in peacebuilding and peacekeeping roles in the future?
Mr. Ingram: I agree entirely with the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend and, like him, pay particular tribute to the London Regiment. I recently visited 7 Brigade, the Desert Rats, which has just returned from Iraq, and I was very struck, as I have been for many years, by how integrated the TA is with the regular forces. It is impossible to tell them apart in terms of training, commitment, professionalism, dedication to task and their willingness to defend the interests of this country. The TA is a formidable body of men and women no matter where it serveswhether in Basra, which my hon. Friend mentioned, in Kosovo, Bosnia, Afghanistan or elsewhere. Wherever we post the TA, its members serve with the highest distinction. By rebalancing the TA, we have tried to give it a new focus and structure that will make it even better, which would be a big achievement.
Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): I was very interested to hear the Minister talking about the integration of the Territorials and reservists with the regular Army. The fact remains, however, that many wounded reservists and Territorials are treated disgracefully when they take off their uniforms and finish active operations. Can the Minister assure me that our brave Territorials and reservists will be treated properly in future and not have to depend just on local NHS facilities?
Mr. Ingram: I agree with the general sentiments that the hon. Gentleman expresses, but it has been ever thus, and we have to address some of the issues. One of the early lessons we learned from Operation Telic and from Afghanistan was that individual specialists were returning not to a unit, base or barracks but to their normal jobor sometimes notand isolation was causing them problems. We have embarked on a complete examination of the provision of that support. I mentioned my visit to the Desert Rats; they operate a system known as home rat for families left at home, not just in Germany but for TA families too. The proposals for our new mental health care initiative offer another good example of how we are addressing the issue. We have learned some valuable lessons about something that was not new for this Government, and we are addressing it.
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you may know, all 12 Members of Parliament in StaffordshireLabour and Conservativeoppose the merger of the Staffordshire ambulance service with the West Midlands ambulance service. Last week, the Secretary of State for Health wrote to all Members of Parliament. In her note, she said that the Staffordshire ambulance service would be reprieved from the merger for up to 24 months. When the Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), made his statement in the House he was questioned closely about the matter, but he neither confirmed nor denied that the merger would take place within 24 months. Now we hear that there may have been a drafting error in the written statement, which is causing great confusion among Members and people who work in the ambulance service. There is more of a shambles than at the Home Office, and that is saying something.
Is it possible, Mr. Speaker, for the Minister or the Secretary of State to make a written statement before the recess to clarify once and for all whether the Staffordshire ambulance service is to be merged with the West Midlands service?
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Following the many tributes to the late Eric Forth from both sides of the House last week, I seek your advice on a matter relating to the
hon. Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley), who wrote a piece headed Letter from Westminster, which I assume is a regular column in her local newspaper, The Romsey Advertiser, in which she referred to the Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill and her fear that the very obstructive actions of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) and Eric Forth would scupper the Bill. She continued:
In the end all was well. I dont know whether this had anything to do with the fact that Eric Forth could not turn up due to being under the weather. Very appropriate excuse for non attendance at a discussion on climate change.
The hon. Lady does mention in the article, which was published on Friday, that Eric Forth had died on Wednesday, but it was mentioned in parenthesis. Many hon. Members would find that very insensitive. I have spoken to the hon. Lady this morningshe is on a Select Committee visit to the United States. Although she had conveyed a message to the newspaper to withdraw the article, or at least to put it in some context, what advice can you give to Members about the importance of ensuring that that which appears above our own names in print is our responsibility? Will you caution us about being insensitive and about the fact that if we fear that something that we have committed to print may be insensitive and offend Membersand, indeed, the wider publicwe should ourselves take care to ensure that it does not appear in print?
Mr. Speaker: I can only say that hon. Members know that they have responsibility for their own wordswhether oral or in writingand they must take on that responsibility. It should not be for an editor to look after these matters; they are responsible for them. The matters that the hon. Gentleman mentions clearly took place outside the House and I have no control over them.
I can only end by saying that last Thursday hon. Members on both sides of the House paid great tribute to Eric Forth. Any member of the public is entitled to read in Hansard just how highly the House regarded Eric Forth, and I include myself in that.
Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): On a point of order, Mrs. Heal. We have some very quirky practices in the House, one of which has brought about the collapse of amendments to the Bill in Committee. A number of hon. Members wanted to table amendments, but because the House rose very early at about 1.30 pm on Thursday those amendments were not tabled and could not be selected.
I wanted to table amendments on the Wednesday, but they needed to be tidied up and put in the right place. I had constituency duties on the Thursday morning, and by 2 oclock, when I said that they were ready to be tabled, the House was not sitting so they could not be tabled. They are therefore not eligible to be considered, despite the fact that they are important amendments. I am particularly aggrieved by that, although I do not blame the Clerksit is because of the quirky nature of this muddle. My amendments would have been tabled as starred amendments, so they would not have been selected, but they would at least have appeared on the amendment paper. I had five amendments, and I would have very much appreciated their being recorded in the official record. One of them, for example, said:
Clause 50, page 22, line 7, at the end insert
The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Sylvia Heal): Order. I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, but I must remind him that the Bill was reported from the Select Committee at the end of April. Although the business finished early last Thursday, I would have thought that from the end of AprilI am not giving a precise dateuntil last week provided sufficient time for right hon. and hon. Members to table amendments to the Bill.
Harry Cohen: Further to that point of order, Mrs. Heal. The Bill was not timetabled. It is an incredibly complex Bill, with 378 detailed clauses and many aspects to it. I had to obtain quite a detailed briefing from the Library on several of those aspects. In those circumstances, it is reasonable to believe that even if such amendments are not taken because they are starred, they should appear somewhere on the official record. I want my amendments to be on the official record in some way because the issues that I attempted to raise are important. I ask you not to give me a negative answer, Mrs. Heal, but to find some arrangement whereby my amendments are on the official record, even if they cannot be taken. I wish to raise them as a point of order and mention them so that they are on the official record. Will you give me the opportunity to do that?
The First Deputy Chairman: I understand the hon. Gentlemans concern, but I am afraid that I cannot give him that permission. The Public Bill Office tabled all the amendments that were received in time. I understand the circumstances, but I regret to say that there is nothing that I can do at this stage to help him.
The First Deputy Chairman: Order. If the hon. Gentleman will take his seat, I think that I will be able to help him. If he cares to take his amendments to the Public Bill Office, we will make sure that they are put in the Vote Office for him. That is the best that I can do to help him.
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