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11 Dec 2006 : Column 565

Mr. Flello: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that response. Does he agree that the critics of our intervention in the Balkans and Kosovo were totally wrong and that there are many Muslims and others alive today as a direct result of British, US, NATO and European Union forces bringing peace and stability to that region?

Mr. Ingram: I do. That is a good point. I was in Bosnia about two weeks ago with the Bosnian Defence Minister, on the very day when Bosnia was granted partnership for peace involvement with NATO. That shows an amazing step forward in a short time. When one considers what is happening in that country, and looks around and sees the developments that have taken place—not just in terms of defence restructuring, but across society—we should congratulate ourselves as a nation on what we did in the Balkans, not just in Bosnia, but in Kosovo. We can take great pride in it and that is how they view our contribution. Those who criticised us at the time should say sorry.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): Does the Minister acknowledge that a significant number of people deployed in the Balkans are, and have been, members of the Territorial Army? The answer to the previous question was curiously complacent. The fact is that of the 42,000 people in the strategic defence review supposedly in the TA, currently 36,000 of them—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot go back to a previous question. That is out of order.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): May I remind the Minister that I strongly supported the interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo? Does he agree, for once, with General Sir Mike Jackson, who has pointed out that NATO has not had anything like the credit that it deserves for supporting Muslim rights, human rights and lives in those two parts of the world? Does he accept that there is a real danger that NATO may have to enforce any settlement after the results of the elections are known in January? Where are the troops going to come from to do that, given our commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Mr. Ingram: I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s opening sentiment. I pointed out that there are currently 16,500 NATO troops in Kosovo. Recently, there has been significant unrest on the street. All that has been dealt with well and contained. Clearly, judgments have to be made as we move towards that final status and those final negotiations. Given the strength and capabilities of that force of 16,500 in Kosovo—it would be a matter of military judgment whether that was sufficient—up until now, it has shown that it is able to stabilise that region and to deliver. Of course, increasingly we are getting more buy-in from the wider community in Kosovo. They want what everybody else wants in the Balkans: peace and security. They have it in their own hands to deliver it, but we will make sure that we continue to help them to achieve that. If it becomes difficult, as ever we will make sure that we succeed and those who are trying to destroy peace and stability will fail.

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Arctic Star

5. Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): How many Arctic convoy veterans have received the Arctic Star; and if he will make a statement. [105376]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Derek Twigg): To date, more than 6,500 applications for the new Arctic emblem have been processed and passed to the Veterans Agency for dispatch. As a result of the publicity from the many launch events that were held around the country—including, I understand, a successful one arranged by my hon. Friend in Nottingham—several hundred new applications have been received in recent weeks. Officials are working hard to process those applications, but the volume received means that it will take a few weeks to dispatch some of the emblems.

Mr. Allen: On behalf of Members of all parties who have campaigned for years to bring this injustice to an end and to get the Arctic convoy veterans properly recognised, may I put on record my thanks to the Minister and his predecessors for the effort that they put in to ensure that this injustice was righted? May I also put on record my thanks to the Secretary of State, who has clearly brought about a different attitude in the Department on these matters, particularly in the recognition of the people who were shot for desertion in the first world war and of the Arctic convoy veterans? The fact that the Secretary of State and his team have taken an interest in this makes a great difference.

Derek Twigg: First, may I praise the work that my hon. Friend has done over the years in campaigning on this matter? I cannot take any credit, because things were all done and dusted as I came into my post, so credit must go to my predecessors for the work that they had done. As he will recall, the launch event on HMS Belfast was a moving experience, because we met those veterans and listened to the stories of bravery, courage and the pure hardship that they had to go through. I am pleased that this news has been well received by those veterans.

Anne Main (St. Albans) (Con): Of course, we should recognise injustices in terms of campaign medals. Will the Minister consider rectifying a similar injustice in respect of those in Bomber Command who have not received a medal for their participation?

Derek Twigg: They did receive an operational medal for what they did. I want to put on record my recognition of the courage, perseverance and professionalism that they showed, but I cannot agree to what the hon. Lady is requesting.

Mr. Don Touhig (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): May I tell my hon. Friend that I and a great many others were encouraged by a letter that he sent me on 24 November, in which he made it clear that he intends to be the veterans’ champion and to press the Committee on the Grant of Honours, Decorations and Medals to allow our servicemen who fought in Malaysia the right to wear the Pingat Jasa Malaysia medal? In making those representations, would it assist him if more right hon.
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and hon. Members on both sides of the House were to sign early-day motion 356, which is in my name, and early-day motion 375, which stands in the name of the right hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates)?

Derek Twigg: I am aware of the work that my right hon. Friend has been doing on this issue and of the early-day motion that he tabled. He has made many representations to me. He will be aware, as I think he confirmed just now, that I have made clear what the veterans’ views and wishes on this issue are. I am sure that there will be ongoing discussions, but the Foreign Office takes the lead on this.


6. Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): What recent representations he has received on military equipment in Afghanistan. [105377]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): I regularly receive representations on military equipment in Afghanistan from a wide range of sources, including hon. and right hon. Members of this House. We keep our deployment in Afghanistan under constant review to ensure that our armed forces have the equipment that they need.

Mr. Bellingham: The current Chief of the General Staff, Sir Richard Dannatt, his immediate predecessor, Sir Mike Jackson, and Brigadier John Lorimer, who is due to take up command in Afghanistan next year, have all said that the Government are not providing sufficient armoured vehicles and helicopters for the operations in Helmand province. Those grave concerns have been dismissed by Ministers. I have constituents who have sons and daughters in Afghanistan. Whom should they trust—senior soldiers who have been in the military all their lives and who understand leadership, or Ministers, who know very little about the military and even less about leadership?

Des Browne: The hon. Gentleman’s constituents should trust a process that reviews not only the force strength but the equipment that our soldiers have in theatre. It has served this country well for decades. All senior members of the military, including all those who were and are Chiefs of the Defence Staff, make a contribution to and are involved in the decision-making process.

On the specifics of the hon. Gentleman’s question, Brigadier Lorimer has made it publicly clear that he has not made any request for any equipment for Afghanistan that has been turned down. He and others know that a process is ongoing to review our deployment, force strength and equipment in Afghanistan. It is not yet concluded, and no decisions have yet been made.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex) (Con): The Secretary of State should know that these processes can be hurried up—they should be hurried up—and that there is a serious shortage of helicopter load and
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personnel carrying capacity in Afghanistan and Iraq. Will he take steps immediately to find out what helicopters could be leased at short notice from the Americans, who have plenty of them and would be glad to let us have them?

Des Browne: We have already increased the size of the support helicopter force in Afghanistan, sending another two Chinooks since July, and we have increased flying hours. I have met the current commander of the UK taskforce, Brigadier Jerry Thomas, twice in recent months and he has confirmed to me that he has sufficient helicopter availability.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Speaking as a Conservative Member, let me tell the Secretary of State that we understand the difficulty and sensitivity of these matters. However, will he give the House an assurance this afternoon that there will be adequate armoured personnel carrying equipment in Afghanistan? I believe that we are asking our forces to put their lives at risk travelling in some of the vehicles that are currently used. Will he give the undertaking that I have requested to protect the lives of our personnel?

Des Browne: The hon. Gentleman knows that I directed an urgent review of the protected patrol vehicles in response to concerns relating to the evolving threat in Iraq and Afghanistan. He will recollect that on 24 July I announced that we were to invest more than £70 million additional resources in approximately 270 new vehicles for both theatres; they are all on track to be delivered as I announced. They include Vector vehicles, which are Pinzgauer vehicles; Mastiff vehicles, which are Cougar vehicles specially purchased from the United States of America; and Bulldog vehicles. I can give the hon. Gentleman an unequivocal assurance that if the process, properly staffed up, as the phrase is, comes to me with a recommendation for additional armoured vehicles in Iraq or Afghanistan, I will respond to that request.

Mr. Adam Holloway (Gravesham) (Con): Is the Secretary of State seriously saying that senior officers, both those deploying imminently to Afghanistan and those in deployments to come, are not complaining about the lack of helicopter assets?

Des Browne: What I am saying to the House is that I have spoken twice to the current commander of our forces in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan about that very issue and twice put the question directly to him, and he has given me that assurance. I have no knowledge of the view on helicopter lift of any prospective commander of those forces. If such a prospective commander wants additional helicopters, he will, no doubt, make that request properly through the chain of command and it will come to me.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): That is a most inadequate answer. As General Jackson put it last week,

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Today, the Secretary of State has hidden behind his commanders who say that they do not need anything, but he must know otherwise from speaking to people in the field. Today, I spoke to somebody who tells me that there are not adequate Apache spares. When will the Secretary of State invite the armed forces not to trust the process, but to trust him to deliver that which they need to do the job that the Prime Minister has given them?

Des Browne: In his speech, General Sir Mike Jackson used the adjective “Kafka-esque”. What is Kafka-esque about this situation is that the hon. Gentleman comes to the Dispatch Box against the background of having supported a Government who cut support to our armed forces in real terms by £500 million a year, but then complains that a Government who have provided £1 billion a year more progressively over their time in office are providing inadequate support to our troops. [Hon. Members: “Answer the question!”] On the hon. Gentleman’s specific question, he knows that if he wants a specific matter to be dealt with, there is a way to do that. I have no knowledge of the matter that he has raised today having, he says, spoken to someone this morning. If he provides me with detailed information, I shall correct the inadequacy.


7. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): By what means he will evaluate public responses to the White Paper on the future of Trident. [105378]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): The Government have published a White Paper setting out our decisions and the arguments behind them. In the coming months, we are committed to supporting an informed debate on those decisions in public and in Parliament, including by the Select Committee on Defence. All of us will have the opportunity to evaluate the various contributions to that debate before Parliament considers and votes on the matter in spring.

Jeremy Corbyn: Will the Secretary of State tell us by what means he intends the public to be informed about the legality, cost and operating costs of the Trident replacement? If there is huge public opposition to the expenditure and the proposal, how will he take that into account in any proposals that the Government introduce, and when does he expect his Department to bring the subject back before the House?

Des Browne: My hon. Friend is aware that the Government communicated their position on all the matters that he raises in the White Paper published last Monday; all those issues were dealt with in it. If he or other hon. Members, or any other person who wants to take part in the debate, needs additional information on any part of that White Paper, I will be happy for that information to be provided. My view, which is borne out in any measurement of public opinion, is that the public support the decision that the Government have indicated that they are prepared to take. As for the determination of the debate, my hon. Friend is aware that there will be a debate and a vote in the House in the spring.

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Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): What alternative systems of deterrence, whether nuclear or non-nuclear, did the Secretary of State and his Department consider before advising the Government to commit themselves to the next generation of Trident?

Des Browne: The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that we considered all alternatives. However, given the strategic threat that the deterrent is designed to deal with, the Government decided that a credible deterrent, able to face down that threat, would need to be of the nuclear variety, and would need invulnerability, so that it could continue as a sea deterrence. Such a threat could not be faced down by conventional forces.

Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend will be aware that one of the issues that people will be interested in is how the plans comply with our obligations under the non-proliferation treaty. Will he tell the House what the Government’s position is on meeting those obligations?

Des Browne: The Government’s position is that the maintenance of our nuclear deterrent is fully consistent with our commitments under the non-proliferation treaty. The arguments to that effect are spelled out in the White Paper, and they were repeated by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at the Dispatch Box last week. The article of the NPT that causes the most concern to people is article 6, but the Government have shown more of a commitment to the maintenance of their position and the fulfilment of their requirements under that treaty than any other Government in the United Kingdom, or indeed the world, have done. That is why, over the years, we have progressively been able to announce disarmament steps to minimise our deterrent until it reached its current position, and that is why we were able to announce a proposed further cut in warheads last week.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): If the Scottish Parliament, clearly expressing the majority view of the Scottish people, votes against the stationing of Trident or any other nuclear weapons on Scottish soil, will the Secretary of State and the Government respect that decision?

Des Browne: I am tempted to ask the hon. Gentleman what his party’s position on the deterrent would be if the Scottish Parliament and Scottish people voted in the opposite way. Would his party continue to present the Scottish people with the alternative of a Government who would take them out of NATO, which has provided security for them for in excess of five decades? He is aware that the Scottish Parliament has determined that the matter should be reserved to this Parliament—although aspects of the subject, particularly those relating to the 11,000 jobs that the deterrent provides in the west of Scotland, are rightly matters for the Scottish Parliament. I look forward to the Scottish Parliament reflecting the view of the Scottish people, which is one of support for the maintenance of the deterrent.

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Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware that whatever the issue, the people who are against shout the loudest, so how will we evaluate the public response? Public opinion polls will recently have fallen out of favour with him, as they have done with me, so is it not a good idea to encourage Members to survey people in their local newspaper, as I intend to do in the Tamworth Herald, to gauge public response and feed it into the debate?

Des Browne: My hon. Friend is free to gauge his constituents’ views using any method that he thinks is indicative. I have a particular point of view, so it is not for me to determine how other people should contribute to the debate. However, I encourage all methods of contributing to the debate, which should be as wide and as detailed as possible. I am struck by the fact that most people who oppose the decision that the Government have put forward for debate are more interested in discussing the process than the details of the debate.


8. Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): What (a) operational and (b) overseas sales factors will determine the final production numbers of the Eurofighter Typhoon; and if he will make a statement. [105379]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): The partner nations have undertaken, through international memorandums of understanding, to buy 620 aircraft in three tranches. That undertaking remains extant. The success of overseas sales campaigns undertaken by the partner nations will clearly have an impact on the final production numbers of Eurofighter Typhoon.

Mr. Jack: The Minister of State will understand that recent press reports commenting on the state of discussions between the United Kingdom Government and Saudi Arabia have caused concern among aerospace workers on the Eurofighter project, especially in the light of the comment by the chief executive of BAE Systems that discussions had “stalled”. Now that Ramadan has concluded, what specific steps will be taken by the Department, as the representative of the UK Government, to restart those talks so they that achieve a successful conclusion on a vital order?

Mr. Ingram: I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is well aware of Lord Drayson’s active work, not just in the country that he mentioned but in wider markets. My noble Friend is in the United States looking at the joint strike fighter, and emphasising the importance of ensuring that we gain the proper understanding from the US, to take that project forward. The right hon. Gentleman cannot criticise what the Government have done to continue to market that plane and to extol its virtues wherever we find interest in it.

Mr. David Crausby (Bolton, North-East) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend accept that he would be wise to keep his options open on final production numbers for the Eurofighter Typhoon? If the Americans do not deliver the required technology transfer for the joint strike fighter, we should urgently consider flying the Typhoon off our new aircraft carriers.

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