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Eurofighter Typhoon

3. Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): How many Eurofighter Typhoons his Department plans to purchase for the Royal Air Force. [97411]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): The United Kingdom has to date contracted for 144 Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft for the Royal Air Force. A decision on the third production buy of the aircraft, known as tranche 3, has still to be taken and is not required until at least 2007.

Mr. Jack: I thank the Minister for the update on those numbers. I remind him that the Government have remained consistent to a commitment to buy 232 Eurofighter Typhoons. Given that 72 of those aircraft have already been sold, on a Government-to-Government basis, to Saudi Arabia, may I conclude that the number that the RAF will eventually be given is 160?

Mr. Ingram: The Saudi Arabian export order is completely separate from the UK’s commitments under the international memorandum of understanding signed by the Typhoon partner nations. The answer I gave to the right hon. Gentleman’s original question still stands.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is aware of how important the orders are to the north-west and its skills base. Can he ensure that we will look for the third tranche? I know that it is earlier than he expects, but some argue that joint strike fighter technology transfer may not go ahead, so will he be aware that we may have to use Typhoons off the carriers?

Mr. Ingram: I know that there are those who argue for the marinisation of the Typhoon, but there are no plans to do so. Sometimes that is promoted by those in industry, and their spokespersons elsewhere, as plan B. I wish to make it clear, with regard to our intentions for the carriers, that plan A remains plan A. Those who campaign for plan B usually want it to be plan A, if the House understands me—[Hon. Members: “We don’t.”] Well, hon. Members should read Hansard. This is an important issue. We have a major investment commitment across the whole defence sector. The defence industrial strategy sharpens that and gives us a better approach to look forward, with industry, to ensuring that all our procurement requirements can be met within the resources that are allocated to us. That applies to Typhoon as it does to every other procurement buy. We have an ambitious programme and we hope to meet all those ambitions.

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Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): May I say, in the nicest possible way, that the Minister did his reputation for straight speaking less than his usual justice in the answer that he just gave to the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle)? Let me give the Minister a second chance. Will he guarantee that however many of the Typhoons eventually come to the United Kingdom, none of them will be used fromthe two aircraft carriers that one assumes he and the Government will eventually get round to ordering?

Mr. Ingram: I have given two very straight answers, and I do not think that I have anything to add to them. I talked about the Saudi Arabian export order, which has still to be concluded, and the way in which thatis separate from our own memorandum of understanding. I have indicated our plans in regard to the two aircraft carriers and what will fly off those two platforms. The hon. Gentleman fully understood the point that I made about plans A and B, and I assume that he supports that.

Regiments (Yorkshire)

4. Mrs. Linda Riordan (Halifax) (Lab/Co-op): If he will take steps to ensure that the merger of Army regiments will preserve historic links with Yorkshire towns and cities. [97412]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): Connections with Yorkshire will be maintained through the presence of a permanent regimental headquarters in York, with outstations in Richmond and Halifax. In order to carry forward the historic links of the antecedent regiments with the towns and cities of Yorkshire, the Yorkshire regiment undertook a series of marches through the county over the summer.

Mrs. Riordan: I thank the Minister for that reply. Although I congratulate the Government on retaining the name of the Halifax regiment, may I press my right hon. Friend to confirm that the links will continue by giving a funding boost to the Army’s Bankfield museum in Halifax? That will ensure that the historic links with the town are maintained.

Mr. Ingram: I am not aware that there is an issue with the museum. My understanding was that museums would continue, but I shall certainly look into the specific point that my hon. Friend raised. On behalf of the new Yorkshire regiment, I ask her to work in the county and in her constituency to ensure that the regiment is fully recognised and supported by all the community.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): Does the Minister agree that old regiments, such as the Green Howards and many others, had recognised historical links with cities such as York and towns such as Thirsk and Bedale, which helped with recruitment? He must ensure that those links are recognised under the new set-up; otherwise this Government and the next Government will have enormous problems with recruitment and retention.

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Mr. Ingram: I agree that trying to maintain recruitment is an issue across the whole Army, although, as it happens, recruitment in Yorkshire is strong and we do not believe that it has been affected by the formation of the new regiment. As of today, recruitment figures are actually better than they were for the previous two years, which tends to go against some of the views that have been expressed, but we have to maintain that activity to ensure that we retain that high level of recruitment. That is why recruiting activities will continue throughout Yorkshire; and I know that the hon. Lady will be supportive and will make sure that people interested in an Army career choose the Yorkshire regiment, as other Members will want to do for regiments in their constituencies. We are conscious of the issue, although we have not seen the adverse effect that the hon. Lady seemed to imply, and we shall continue all our efforts to maintain recruitment.

Derek Conway (Old Bexley and Sidcup) (Con): Is the Minister aware that the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, which was merged just over four years ago into the Light Infantry, is to be merged in February into the Rifles? Will he assure the House that his Department will do everything it can to maintain the historic links with significant historical regiments, such as those for Yorkshire, which are so important for recruitment, and to encourage the regimental associations, when the mergers take place in February, to keep alive that distinguished history?

Mr. Ingram: We are very conscious of the golden thread, as it is called. It is for the Army itself, as well as the regimental associations, to keep that light burning. Throughout its history, the British Army has undergone many, many changes, with regiments amalgamated and some disbanded, yet it is still revered as among the best, if not the best, in the world today. If we do not adapt to change and continue to make sure that our people have the best structure and the best support, that golden thread will be challenged, but we have it very much in mind.

Mr. David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab): Although many predicted a doomsday scenario when amalgamations took place, is not it the case that because of the historic links, especially with Scottish regiments, recruitment is up?

Mr. Ingram: Recruitment is doing well, although there are good and less good areas, but a lot of effort goes into maintaining it. There was cataclysmic phraseology around, to the effect that the process would be the end of the British Army as we know it, but that has simply not been the case. I am conscious, too, of the fact that 100,000 people marched through Glasgow in 1957 campaigning against the amalgamation of the Highland Light Infantry, yet the then Conservative Government proceeded with the amalgamation and the British Army is still strong. That amalgamation and subsequent ones proved successful. We have to make sure that this is as successful and I have every confidence that it will be.

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Cluster Munitions

5. Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD): What assessment he has made of the effect of the proliferation of cluster munitions and their use by non-state actors. [97413]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): We constantly assess threats to our deployed forces, including the security environment in which they operate. To date, that has not required specific assessments of the effects of the proliferation of cluster munitions and their use by non-state actors.

Tim Farron: I thank the Minister for his reply. As the conflict in Lebanon shows, cluster munitions have a widespread and damaging impact on innocent civilians, both during and after conflict, so why are the Government refusing to support an international ban on the use of those manifestly indiscriminate weapons?

Mr. Ingram: There was, of course, evidence that Hezbollah used such weapons. Clearly, the Israelis did as well, and we have raised that with the Israeli Government. Why are we opposed to a ban? This subject has been looked at across the range of nations that have an interest in it. If properly used, such weapons are consistent with international humanitarian law. The matter is constantly reviewed. The hon. Gentleman is saying that we should take a capability out of the hands of our forces which could result in a situation in which, if they were deployed, British soldiers’ lives could be lost. If that is what he is advocating and we ban such weapons, what is the next thing that he will want us to ban? Will he want our soldiers to have no weapons at all?

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): Has my right hon. Friend seen the report by Human Rights Watch that condemned the use of cluster bombs against Jews in Israel as a war crime? Has he further seen the Amnesty International report that said that the indiscriminate use of rockets and their bombs on, again, Jews in northern Israel was also a war crime? Does he share the assessment of those two organisations that the actions of Hezbollah, with regard to cluster bombs and the indiscriminate rocket attacks on Jews in Israel, constitute a war crime?

Mr. Ingram: It is not for me to judge what is, and what is not, a war crime; that is best left to those who have judicial responsibility for such matters. I know that my right hon. Friend is only too well aware of the role of non-state actors and how ruthless they are—of what global terrorism does. There are no controls on such actors. They do not need to observe any law—international or any other—and they have total disregard for the lives of civilians. That is not the case in respect of the United Kingdom. We go to extraordinary lengths to make sure that, when we deploy forces and they are in conflict situations, every effort is made to minimise civilian casualties, if that is possible. That is not the case with regard to non-state actors, and I think that we shall see more brutal use of weapons of very evil choice by global terrorists in the years ahead. They are the ones whom we should be targeting it is they whom we are trying to deal with in Iraq, Afghanistan and wherever else they might manifest themselves.

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Armed Forces (Resourcing)

6. Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): What assessment he has made of the extent to which the armed forces have sufficient resources to meet their commitments; and if he will make a statement. [97414]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): As Members are aware, we have two major commitments—those in Iraq and Afghanistan—plus significant enduring commitments in Northern Ireland, the Balkans and elsewhere. We accept those challenges because we cannot afford not to. The job that our forces are doing, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, is vital, and I am grateful for the support of the hon. Gentleman’s party for both of those missions. We continually review our force levels in each theatre, and I assure the House that the current levels are manageable, and that they give our commanders what they need to do the job.

Mr. Jenkin: Although we have supported the Secretary of State in those two missions, ever since the publication of the strategic defence review before the millennium, when Lord Guthrie went to see the Prime Minister to complain about underfunding of the armed forces, we have consistently pointed out and complained about overstretch and underfunding, and this Government’s failure to match the commitments that they have taken on with the necessary resources to meet those commitments. If the Prime Minister is continually to say, “Whatever the commanders on the ground want, we will give them”, whose fault is it if he cannot deliver what they want, such as more helicopters and armoured vehicles?

Des Browne: The hon. Gentleman can point to no example where the Prime Minister or any Secretary of State for Defence, or the Ministry of Defence, in this Government has failed to deliver what our troops on the ground want and need. Of course, we are able to do that because, in cash terms, the annual budget for defence has increased by £5 billion in the past five years. We should compare and contrast that with the cuts of £2.5 billion in the last five years of the previous Government. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to make assertions about investment in our armed forces, he ought to do so on a proper, comparative basis.

Mr. Don Touhig (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): Resources, of course, can mean people as well as equipment, and if we are to maintain our defence capability, recruitment remains a challenge. I, and doubtless Members in all parts of the House, want more young people to learn about service in the forces, so that they might choose it as their career. Will my right hon. Friend therefore give the House a progress report on the pilot scheme to extend the combined cadet forces into state schools, and does he have any proposals to encourage more young people in state schools to join the cadets?

Des Browne: The pilot schemes are due to roll out shortly. Because they are still in the planning and negotiating stages with the individual schools concerned, I am not in a position to give him from the Dispatch Box the report that he would like, but I will write to him with the details of those discussions.
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However, we intend to ensure that the pilots are successful, so that they can be a forerunner of the development of cadet forces across the country.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): On resources and the recent tragic loss of an RAF Nimrod in Afghanistan, the Secretary of State wrote to me today in detail, saying that the investigation

which I welcome. Can he tell the House today how quickly he expects the board of inquiry to conclude its investigations?

Des Browne: As I said in my letter to the hon. Gentleman, the board of inquiry, which was set up to deal with such matters, is not in my control and nor is it accountable to me. It is entirely independent and its conduct is entirely a matter for itself, but it is inconceivable that it would not deal with the very issues that he raised with me in correspondence. For the very reason that it is independent, I am not in a position to say when I expect it to report, but I anticipate that it will do so as quickly as possible, in line with the thorough investigation of the circumstances surrounding the incident.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Experience of the armed forces parliamentary scheme suggests that the British armed forces will do their level best to meet every commitment that we throw at them. Although I disagree with the view that our armed forces are at overstretch, it seems clear that they are at stretch and have been for some considerable time. Would it not ease matters if we drew down our remaining troops in Bosnia, now that the majority of that task is complete, and if some of our European allies took a more forthright role—in particular, if German troops took on a combat role?

Des Browne: On Bosnia, we are looking at that very possibility in the context of EUFOR—the European force that is there—and its command and control. I am confident that, in or about next spring, we will be able to do just what he is urging upon me.

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): Has the right hon. Gentleman noted General Lord Guthrie’s description of the British Government’s military intervention in Afghanistan as “cuckoo”, which he gave for exactly the reasons that I have repeatedly put to the right hon. Gentleman and his two predecessors as Secretary of State for Defence?

Des Browne: I indeed noted the interview that Lord Guthrie gave, but it must have been only partly reported in the newspaper that claimed to have that interview. Although I could see the assertion that the deployment of our troops into Afghanistan and the operation there were “cuckoo”, I was unable to glean from the interview as reported exactly what the reasoning behind that assertion was, so I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pointing out that the assertion was made for the reasons that he has articulated, because that allows me to repeat that those reasons are wrong. The hon. Gentleman repeatedly misunderstands, as do others in the House, what we are doing in Afghanistan. We are not doing
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what the Soviets or anybody else sought to do, or even the British Army before them. We are there in partnership with the Government of Afghanistan, and in excess of 30,000 Afghan troops are now fighting with us in Afghanistan.

Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring) (Con): As the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig) correctly said, the ultimate resource for our armed forces is manpower, which is dependent on morale and motivation. The Secretary of State told us that he did not know about the planned changes to the separation allowance, which will mean cuts to the income of many of our front-line combat troops, when he announced the recent bonus payment. Can he now confirm that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have decided that those cuts will go ahead? That is a clear case yet again of this Government giving with one hand and taking with the other, and—what is worse—undermining the morale and motivation of our troops, to boot.

Des Browne: The hon. Gentleman repeatedly draws conclusions from facts that he does not understand, into which he does not inquire, or which he misrepresents. On this occasion, he is making suggestions about the reconfiguration of the separation allowance—an issue that was reported in the media. I confess that I did not know the detail of the subject, but given that the decision was made three years ago, and was agreed by the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, it is not surprising that it was not at the forefront of my mind. If he had made even the most cursory inquiry into the matter, he would have discovered that the reconfiguration of the allowances does not take one penny away from anybody or from the armed forces. It makes sure that the allowances are paid fairly across all the services. Money is not being taken away from anybody. Indeed, the operational allowance that I announced in the House two weeks ago is significant additional money for our armed forces. The total effect of the operational and the separation allowance is to give significant additional money to the armed forces, and, interestingly, it will result in more money for the lowest paid, which his proposal of a tax cut would not have achieved.

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