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I can tell my hon. Friend that in the next three financial years the funding will be £5.6 million, £5.7 million and £5.9 million. He can take some credit
for putting pressure on us to ensure that increase in the budget. Of course, there are other associated costs, too. The Red Arrows are not under threat; it does not matter what newspapers say or what criticisms people concoct. They are not under threatend of story.
Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): The citizens of Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire take huge pride in what the Red Arrows do, and I am glad to hear from the Minister that their budget will not be cut. However, we should not consider them to be purely a flag-flying operation, as they clearly provide crucial battle flying skills for the RAF. Will the Minister please assure me that crew will continue to be trained regularly, and that the expense will be borne, so that the skills that they acquire can be spread throughout the Royal Air Force?
Mr. Ingram: I do not think that we can keep the Red Arrows flying without meeting that commitment, because it takes the highest skill to fly those aircraft, no matter what colour the smoke coming out of the back. I am sure that the fact that we are retaining the Red Arrows means that the element of the requirement that the hon. Gentleman mentions will be retained.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): As an east midlands MP I am pleased that the Red Arrows are based at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire. I am sure that the Minister will agree that the Red Arrows are a public display of the pride, talent and professionalism of our armed forces. Will he confirm that the figures that he has just announced to the House, which represent barely half a days worth of the annual defence budget of £32 billion, will be protected in the medium and long term?
Mr. Ingram: The original question was about the commitment over the next three years, and I have given that firm commitment. It would be very easy for me to say, after all the plaudits that I have given, that I do not see any chance of the situation altering, and I do not, but I cannot make commitments for what my hon. Friend calls the medium and long term, and that would apply to any part of defence expenditure. I have given a firm commitment: there is no threat to the Red Arrows and the budget is increasing over the next three years.
5. Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): What steps he is taking to combat harassment, discrimination and bullying in the armed forces relating to gender, race and ethnicity; and if he will make a statement. 
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Derek Twigg): In 2006 the Ministry of Defence published an overarching equality and diversity scheme that sets out our approach to equality and diversity. Measures that we intend to undertake are set out in our annual action plan, published in conjunction with the scheme. The armed forces have entered into formal agreements with the Commission for Racial Equality to promote racial equality and take action to prevent racial harassment and discrimination, and with the Equal Opportunities Commission to prevent and deal with sexual harassment.
Lorely Burt: In the light of recent comments that again highlighted the continuing existence of racism in the armed forces, will the Secretary of State guarantee that he will address any forms of latent or overt racism in the armed forces by developing measures to tackle the problem head-onfor example by developing an independent military complaints body to give voice to those who have experienced any form of discrimination and bullying?
Derek Twigg: On the point about an independent military complaints authority, we set up an independent complaints system as part of a Bill that recently went through Parliament. There is no place at all for discrimination or harassment in the armed forces, and I can tell the hon. Lady that from the very highest levels downward, there is clear commitment to making sure that they do not take place and to dealing with them when they do. For instance, we ensure that progress reports are made to the Equal Opportunities Commission, and we have a new complaints procedure in place. Of course, training and education are key, and above all else, it is leadership that delivers that. That is why I am confident that the armed forces are clearly moving forward on the issue. Any discrimination or harassment is just not acceptable.
Sarah McCarthy-Fry (Portsmouth, North) (Lab/Co-op): Last Thursday and Friday, I visited Her Majestys naval base Clyde at Faslane, and I was impressed by the quality of the new single living accommodation for new recruits to the Navy. There was slight concern that because the new accommodation is en suite, there is a danger that the young ratings will just go to their rooms of an evening, so bullying and harassment may go undetected. Does my hon. Friend agree that commanding officers will have to take on board and recognise that? Although the new accommodation is much better for the ratings, commanding officers have to recognise that such a problem could occur.
Derek Twigg: Like my hon. Friend, I have visited a number of single living accommodation units in recent months, and I was very impressed by their quality and standard. I have also talked through the issue with commanding officers. For instance, I have discussed with regimental sergeant majors how we can ensure that protection, advice and training are given to look after our young recruits. She may have noticed that the adult learning inspectorate recently concluded that substantial improvements had been made everywhere, and that there were some marked achievements. It described our achievements as
something of a triumph of focused effort to resolve serious problems.
A tremendous amount of effort and time have gone into ensuring that we deal with bullying and look after our new recruits. The living accommodation in the new facilities that we have put in place is one way of doing so.
Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con):
This evening, Panorama will show a programme about a huge increase in soldiers going absent without leave from active service. If that is the case, does it have
something to do with bullying, or are our servicemen being stretched too far and not receiving the medical back-up that they need?
Derek Twigg: I totally rebut any such allegations. In fact, there has been a decrease in the past few years in the number of people going absent without leave. The latest figures are lower than they were seven years ago, and there is strong support for people who have developed mental health problems in the armed forces, on the bases and elsewhere. Some of the evidence shows that a key reason for members of the armed forces going absent without leave is relationship issues. In my surgery on Saturday, I met someone who had been in that position and wants to rejoin the Armythat was exactly the position in which they found themselves. That is how many of the issues arise. The support is there, and there is a welfare line that people can contact, so I reject and rebut the allegations completely.
Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): The hon. Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt) is clearly not aware of the excellent provision for a service complaints commissioner in the Armed Forces Act 2006. Will my hon. Friend the Minister tell me when that office will be set up? I have tabled written questions on the issue, but because of the snails pace at which the Department answers questions, I have yet to receive a reply.
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that while of course there is no place for bullying and discrimination, it is nevertheless a fact that those young men and women, who are covering themselves in immense distinction under circumstances of great difficulty in Iraq and Afghanistan, can do so because they go through a very tough and robust training programme, which is designed to prepare them for what they are likely to meet if they have to go on active service? Will he therefore be very careful, and not be seduced in any way by the siren voice of the hon. Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt), whose talk is of a kind unknown to the armed forces, which want to get on with it and do the job that they know they need to do, and be trained to do it.
Derek Twigg: The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. Clearly, we have to have robust and challenging training, because of the nature of operations and service that our armed forces have to undertake. Again, I have visited a number of training establishments in the six months I have been in this job. I have been impressed both by the robustness and the challenges of the training for recruits, and by welfare support and support generally, given the issues that recruits may encounter. I completely accept the point made by the hon. Gentlemanwe need robust and challenging training, but we must put procedures in place to make sure any complaints can be dealt with and that people are comfortable, if they suffer any difficulties, with the system for making a complaint.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): Building peace support capacity will remain a high priority for the MOD in support of the UKs overall approach to conflict prevention across sub-Saharan Africa during 2007 and 2008. In South Africa, the nine-man British peace support team, which is 50 per cent. funded by the South Africa national defence force, will continue to provide training and advisory support in the areas of military education, peacekeeping, doctrine development, training and sustainment. In addition, the team co-ordinates UK-funded attendance of South African personnel on related courses in the UK and across Africa. We have allocated £1.3 million to support this effort in 2007-08.
Mary Creagh: I congratulate the armed forces on the vital work that they are doing in that area. Does my right hon. Friend agree that military capacity must be aligned to political will in South Africa? As Zimbabwe spirals ever closer to anarchy, does he agree that South Africa must provide regional leadership for intervention and conflict prevention in that country?
Mr. Ingram: My hon. Friend asks about a very important aspect. With international allies, we have been trying to get regional groupings together, with the support of the African nations. In the west of Africa there is a well functioning organisation in place, ECOWASthe Economic Community of West African States. SADCthe Southern African Development Communityin the south is somewhat limited because of Zimbabwes presence within it. There is a similar initiative in the east of Africa. My hon. Friend is right. It is about building not just the military capacity of the African nations, but their capacity to govern outwith their own area. As ever, there is the strapline of African solutions to African problems. We will continue to help wherever we can to meet those problems as they arise, as part of international coalitions in friendship with those African nations.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Derek Twigg): The Department has increased the support available to regional veterans day events for 2007. Organisers can bid for up to £10,000 for their individual regional events. Officials have also provided advice to all 65 bids so far received on conveying effectively the key messages and on the presentation of veterans badges by leading members of the community as a central feature of the day.
I thank the Government for their establishment of and continued support for veterans day. The Minister is aware that last year the main celebration in Scotland took place in Dundee in my constituency and was a resounding success, thanks
mainly to Government funding and the hard work of the local combined ex-service association ably led by Bruce Kelly and Victor Herd. This year, however, there seems to be a problem with funding. Will the Minister agree to meet me so that we can ensure that the success of Dundees day last year will be repeated this year?
Derek Twigg: I will be happy to meet my hon. Friend. As he probably knows, we have increased the amount of funding available this year. Whereas last year we centred it on major cities, this year we are trying to involve many more towns and cities and therefore spreading the funding around. We have had an enormous number of bids. I am pleased to say that Birmingham has been agreed for a national event and of course there will be events in Greenwich in London as well. This is a great opportunity for us to celebrate and get across the importance of veterans, their contribution to our society and the services that are available for them.
Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): Will the Minister bear it in mind that veterans are increasingly young and that on the whole, when we celebrate Armistice day, we are celebrating an historic event, but when we celebrate veterans day, we are celebrating contemporary people who have served recently in the forces? We need to shift the focus of public understanding to the contribution made by the current generation to the armed services, which is in danger of being lost.
Derek Twigg: I entirely accept what the hon. Gentleman says. Veterans are of all ages. One whom I met a few weeks ago was 22, and a Normandy veteran was 86 or 87. At a veterans event that I attended recently in my constituency, I was struck by the ages of veterans. I met a number of young veterans and discussed the issues affecting them. It is right to get across the diversity of age and the important role that veterans of all ages and backgrounds have played in protecting the peace and representing this country as a force for good.
Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, South-West) (Lab/Co-op): Is the Minister aware that the Secretary of State for Defence himself recently came to present badges to veterans in my constituency? The event was a great success, even though we did not get the amount of money that Dundee did. We managed to raise the money ourselves. Will the Secretary of State visit my constituency again, and will he recognise that veterans in my constituency are very proud of the fact that they served with others from other parts of the United Kingdom, and that an artificial division between those who served from Scotland and those who served from other parts of the United Kingdom, as some would wish, would be absurd and obscene?
The veterans badge has been a widespread success. More than 400,000 badges have been issued, and there are more applications to come in. We are gradually increasing the time frame for applications. I recently announced that 1984 will be the next stage when people can apply for veterans badges, which will take the Falklands campaign into account. Feedback from
veterans indicates that they value the badge, and I would be more than happy to come to my hon. Friends constituency to present some badges.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): I wish the Minister well with this years veterans day. If we are to have the maximum public participation and recognition, should not we all be able to take part and should it not be a public holiday?
Derek Twigg: I will not go down the road of a public holiday at this point. It is important that we all take part. A number of hon. Members have said that they are involved in events that will take place in the week of veterans day. It is crucial that Members of Parliament give their supportmany have already done sowhich is increasing all the time. Any support or encouragement that Members of Parliament can give to their local events will be most welcome.
Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): The best way to support the splendid innovation of veterans day is to back the campaign by the loved ones of 98 of the soldiers who have fallen in Iraq to have the work Queen and Country by the official war artist, Steve McQueen, which includes photographs of those 98 fallen soldiers, produced in the form of a postage stamp by the Post Office as an act of commemoration.
Derek Twigg: I repeat my earlier comments about the importance of veterans day and of the various events and initiatives to raise the profile of veterans. I am happy to speak to my hon. Friend to discuss that issue, of which I have no knowledge at this time.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): I commend the Ministry of Defence on its work on veterans day. The Minister mentioned the Falkland Islands in an earlier answer to a supplementary question: is he placing any emphasis on the fact that this year is the 25th anniversary of the defeat of the Argentineans and their expulsion from the Falkland Islands? Is he allocating any particular resources to recognising the contributions that our veterans of the Army, Navy and Air Force played in that epic event in our history?
Derek Twigg: The hon. Gentleman has been supportive in maintaining the profile of the Falklands campaign. We pay tribute to all the veterans who took part in that campaign, some of whom are still serving today. Last week, I met some of them in Portsmouththey did a tremendous thing for this country. We are focusing on the Falklands this year, and commemorations and funding have been agreed. I am going out to the Falklands later this year with the veterans to visit the area and meet people. That is an important part of the focus of this years veterans day, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will play his part.
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