|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op):
I very much welcome the statement, and anyone who has visited Bosnia will know how highly people there regard the British troops. However, will my right hon. Friend the Minister say how our forces will help the Bosnian
police, whose actions in the build-up to the conflict were a huge problem? Although one would like to think that they have a positive role to play now, they still need support.
Mr. Ingram: My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I refer him to what I said earlier about the need to encourage countries to move towards normal civil standards, especially in respect of their civilian police forces. There will be an EU police mission of about 170 officers, and Britain will supply 16 representatives. They will not be military police, but civilian officers on secondment. I am sure that they will do a tremendous job, just as they do elsewhere.
Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): Having served in Bosnia and Kosovo before being elected to Parliament, I obviously have an interest in this subject. May I ask a practical question? In recent years, troop numbers have been drawn down by making some troops pan-Balkan, covering both theatres. Will the reduction in the number of troops in Bosnia mean that troop numbers have to go up slightly in Kosovo to make some deployments, such as of engineers, sustainable?
Mr. Ingram: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is offering to volunteer for that role. I know that he has particular skills, for which I constantly pay tribute to him. It is an important issue. There is a sizeable NATO force in the area, some 17,000 strong. We have a number of people serving in the Balkans. It is not our intention to increase our presence and, given the size of that NATO force, I do not think that we should do so. Although we will contribute to the reserve forces, which have been deployed on two occasions2004 and 2005we have made it clear that there is a mismatch when there are 17,000 personnel in a country and we have to send a battalion to sort out problems on the street. NATO has now addressed that and it has a better operational approach. Circumstances on the ground will dictate whether the reserve force is used.
Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): I agree with the comments about Srebrenica. I hope that one day the Ministers responsible for Britains washing its hands of combating that evil crime will apologise to the nation.
I visited the Bosnian units of the Army to be with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers unit from my constituency of Rotherham. No one has mentioned the Territorial Army, but it has been rotated through Bosnia and has contributed enormously to the work of the British Army. May I invite my right hon. Friend to comment, on St. Davids day of all days, on the ludicrous proposition that the Welsh Guards should stay there in some kind of perpetuity, as the shadow defence spokesman seemed to suggest? It shows how out of touch the Opposition are with the real needs and wishes of our soldiers on the ground.
I think that we can say that our Welsh friends in Bosnia will be celebrating today. They have a lot of reason to celebratenot just their national day
but the fact of this announcement. They can take great credit for what they have done.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I had the privilege of leading the international election- monitoring mission to Bosnia at the recent elections, and I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for quoting my positive assessment on behalf of that mission. Whatever the political difficulties that undoubtedly persist in that country, I do not recognise the assessment of the security situation given by the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox).
There is one outstanding issuemine and explosive clearance along the old front line that runs close to Sarajevoand I wonder whether British troops will still be involved in it. About two miles outside the town, huge areas of land still cannot be visited because of the presence of unexploded devices. Will the British Army contribute to that mine clearance operation?
Mr. Ingram: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution. I am sure that he recognises that, if his assessment and that of the monitoring team had been that the elections were not free and fair, it would have been an indication of some security problems, which would then have adversely impacted on the reduction to which we were moving. So the hon. Gentleman has made a good assessment and has a good feel for the situation.
I was asked about mine clearance. We will have a 50-strong residual presencesome staff officers and others in a training role. We approach the problem by training people to do the job themselves. We have a key support operations centre based there and we will continue to contribute to it. Increasingly, the defence forces of Bosnia will have to take on that role themselves, and they will do so because they have to remove the poisonous remnants of war if they want to return those bits of the country so affected to some normality.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): I, too, welcome the statement made by the Minister today, not least because he said in October last year that he hoped to make a statement some time in March, and he has managed to do it on the first day. I wholeheartedly congratulate him.
There is one outstanding issue. Many British troops who have served in Bosnia have not been able to wear a medal associated with their tour of duty. Has that yet been agreed, and can the delay that often occurs in allowing our troops to wear medals for a tour of duty that comes under a European force be removed?
Mr. Ingram: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for recognising that I am a Minister who keeps my promises. I am sure that he recognises that all Ministers in this Government keep their promises, not just me.
I understand that what my hon. Friend believes to be the case about medals is not the case. I will make sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, who has responsibility for the matter, writes to him with full information so that he can respond to those who are raising this issue with him.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): I congratulate the Minister of State on his encouraging statement. I spent a period in Bosnia-Herzegovina, including in Mrkonjic-Grad and Banja Luka, as part of my armed forces parliamentary scheme. Will the Minister pay tribute to the huge contribution that UK forces played in restructuring the country, especially in rural areas, and assisting, including financially and manually, in the re-establishment of commercial and enterprise businesses?
Mr. Ingram: The hon. Gentleman is correct. It is interesting that those who have knowledge of the country welcome the statement. The armed forces parliamentary scheme gives good insight. The hon. Gentleman is also right about the way in which we and the other international missions have recently been out in small numbers in the country in what are called liaison and observation team houses, working with the local community, ensuring that those who wish to return home can do so, and trying to encourage through other agencies the type of economic development that is essential. What is going in is very encouraging. Anyone who has any doubts should visit the country, as the hon. Gentleman has done. I am sure that they will come back with the same positive message.
Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent) (Con): As someone who commanded the then pretty small British detachment in Sarajevo in 1994 during the siege, may I say how much I welcome the progress that has been made, even though concerns remain. One of the regrettable features of that period was the considerable number of war crimes perpetrated by members of both sides of the conflict in Sarajevo. Much of the attention has concentrated on the Bosnian Serbs, but is the Minister convinced that all the members of the Bosnian Government side who were responsible for war crimes have been properly pursued and brought to justice?
Mr. Ingram: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution. Although it was some time ago, I recognise that he also understands and welcomes the developments that have taken place. He may have thought that they would happen sooner rather than later, but the very fact that it has taken us 15 years to get to this point shows how difficult the issue is.
There are residual issues. It is not just the two major war criminals. There are a whole lot of other remnants of the problem. I do not want to draw a direct relationship with Northern Ireland, but this is what happens when a country, part of a country or a region has such tensions, whether they are based on ethnicity or other aspects. One then has to deal with the scale of what is left by seeking reconciliation and building for peace in the future. That is a matter in which the
international community can assist, but only the people of that country can find the answers to the problem.
Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset) (Con): The EU mission has been conducted under the Berlin-plus arrangements, whereby the operational commander is the deputy supreme commander Europe NATO, General Sir John Reitha British general. Given that the Minister said that this was a model operation and given that the new head of the EU military staff as of yesterday is General David Leakey, another British general, will the Minister reaffirm the Governments view that Berlin-plus is a model and that it is unnecessary to create a separate military operations and command centre in Brussels?
Mr. Ingram: Berlin-plus has proved successful. The international community will always look at what it is doing and ask, Do we have success? Can we build on that success? Can we improve on it? This EU mission, which has been a success, will teach us a lot for the future. There were those who argued against the EUsome within NATO and some in the Housebecause they believed that the EU could not deliver. The EU did deliver and we are where we are today because of that.
Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): I join in the comments about Rifleman Coffey. I was the platoon commander of his unit in the Royal Green Jackets and his loss will be felt across the regiment. As someone who also served in Bosnia, in Sanski Most and Banja Luka, I cautiously welcome todays statement, but there are lessons to be learned, including those from the break-up of Yugoslavia after the death of the dictator. I believe that avoided a massive civil war in the Balkans, and is something to which we should pay heed with regard to Iraq. There are also lessons in respect of troop numbers. In Bosnia, we had one NATO soldier for every square kilometre; in Afghanistan we have one NATO soldier for every 600 sq km. Does the Minister agree that that is one of the reasons we face so many challenges in Afghanistan?
Mr. Ingram: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution to getting us to the position we are in today. Everyone who served made that individual and collective contribution. My understanding is that he advocates the fragmentation and break-up of Iraq, yet he also points out the effects of that and the problems that follow. He needs to square his logic. There is no simple solution that one can lift from the shelf because it worked, or did not work, in a particular place. As I said earlier, we have to learn lessons and to do so we must be realistic and honest. We need to ask whether we can do things better and, if we can, we should do so.
Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Earlier, the Leader of the House yet again deprecated announcements being made to the press before they are made to the House. However, this morning we read in the newspapers that the Government are to make their response to the Armed Forces Pay Review Body today, so, as the Secretary of State for Defence is in the Chamber, may I ask for your assurance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that a written statement will be given to the House of Commons before any announcement is made to the press today?
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): The Chair is not in a position to give assurances about how the Government communicate with the House, but Mr. Speaker is on record time and again urging the fullest and highest standard of communication by the Government. I am sure that the Secretary of State heard what the hon. Gentleman said.
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): I wish you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and the whole House a happy St. Davids day, and I am sorry that I shall be unable to attend the end of the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Watson) has called for a St. Georges day debate, and I shall be happy to wish him a happy St. Georges day on the appropriate day.
This September will mark the 10th anniversary of the momentous night when the people of Wales voted to create a democratically elected National Assembly for Wales, placing decision making in the hands of the people of Wales. The margin of the victory that evening was narrow, but that has not held Wales or the Assembly back. Ten years on, the Assembly has firmly established itself as the voice of the people in Wales. It has earned respect as a centre of innovative policy making, and as it has grown in strength, stature and self-confidence, so, too, has Wales as a whole.
There can be no doubt that Wales is going in the right direction, with a record number of jobs, massive investment in schools and hospitals and a successful Welsh economy. Yes, there are challenges ahead, but the choice facing Wales is how we build on the success of the past 10 years, rather than going back to the failure before then.
The challenge facing Wales is increasingly global. The enlargement of the European Union and the dramatic growth of emerging economies such as China and India is leading to rapid and sometimes unnerving changes in the world economy, but it is creating opportunities, too.
China and India are producing more university graduates each year than the whole of Europe, so competition is increasingly coming not just from low wage costs in their manufacturing industries but from the higher tech, knowledge-based sectors. It is, therefore, more important than ever to harness and build on the huge talents of the people of Wales and to place an ever greater focus on quality and excellence, with everyone who is able to work being assisted with the skills upgrading and training they need to work.
Boosting skills is the key. It means more than simply ensuring that a higher proportion of our young people go into further and higher education. That is only the bare minimum. How can we compete with countries such as South Korea, where 40 per cent. of 25 to 34-year-olds have a degree or equivalent?
Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con): The Secretary of State makes an important point. Has he had the chance to read The Western Mail this morning? It states that more than half all adults in Wales have poor numeracy skills and one in four has a reading and writing age of 11 or below. Does not that highlight the scale of the challenge facing Wales and the poor performance of the past 10 years, not success, as the Secretary of State likes to think?
Mr. Hain: It highlights the fact that there is still a gap to be bridged. The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the challenge ahead, but the way to bridge that gap and improve on the improvements of the past 10 years, when there have been considerable increases in numeracy and literacy rates and in educational standards generally, is to invest more in education. The only way to invest more in education is by re-electing Labour in Westminster and in Cardiff Bay.
When the hon. Gentleman referred to The Western Mail, I thought he would tell me that the Welsh Conservatives are changing their policy in favour of proportional representation in local government, as they are now proposing. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) agrees with the Welsh Conservative leader, Nick Bourne, who advocates that policy. It is an interesting part of their preparation for coalition, as the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru already favour that policy.
David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Does the Secretary of State recall writing an excellent book advancing the case against proportional representation? I have read it and I can commend it to the House. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman, too, will commend that to colleagues on both sides of the Welsh Assembly.
Mr. Hain: It is a brilliant bookI am glad that it is on the hon. Gentlemans reading list and I hope he keeps it by his bedand that is why we shall not be going down that road in local government. Our Welsh manifesto will contain a commitment not to introduce proportional representation in local government.
I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the Welsh Conservative manifesto has not yet been published, so any leaks are not worth the paper they are written on. Furthermore, he is on dangerous ground, as from time to time documents that he claims are inaccurate are leaked from his office. If they are inaccurate, so, too, are those published in The Western Mail today.
a draft of the manifesto, which is understood to contain a commitment to PR in local government.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|