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Derek Twigg: The hon. Gentleman makes a vital point about education for the children of our service families. As he will know from his time on the Defence Committee, our Children’s Education Advisory Service is working hard on the issue, as the Committee has acknowledged. We continue to talk to our colleagues in the Department for Children, Schools and Families
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and local authorities to ensure that proper support is given. As I am sure that he recognises, the advisory service that we have is first-class and works hard to ensure that support is put in place.

Mr. David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab): My hon. Friend is aware that the Defence Committee drew attention to the fact that while a lot of good work is being done throughout the UK, we must distinguish between different areas: Scotland, for example, has a different education system from England. In evidence sessions, we found that that was not adequately recognised. When children come from abroad to the UK, it is important that they are made aware of the different education systems. It might be an idea for the education authorities of each of the countries to meet perhaps on a six-monthly basis under the auspices of the Ministry of Defence, to try to collate some of the work that might be done.

Derek Twigg: My hon. Friend will know that our officials meet with the different Executives and the Assembly Government, and with local authorities, on issues across education. He makes an important point, and I shall consider it and write to him.

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): The Minister will understand how important it is, in fulfilling our obligations under the military covenant, to ensure that service children are educated as well as possible. Does he agree that it would be helpful if the pupil level annual school census were able to identify service children? What measures is he taking to ensure that service children who join and leave within the academic year, and are therefore not counted, are enumerated for funding purposes?

Derek Twigg: The Government have introduced a service indicator in the annual school census to gather evidence of any further issues and to fine-tune support for children, which is important. Our Children’s Education Advisory Service is considering the issues of funding and service personnel moving around, and I continue to discuss those issues with colleagues throughout Government. The Command Paper that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced recently will consider what more can be done on a range of issues, including education.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): The development of super-garrisons will provide great opportunities for stability for service families, and for stability in the education of their children. In response to the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell), the Minister told the House that his officials have meetings with local authorities about education. Will he assure me, however, that those meetings are meaningful, and that the necessary planning is taking place not just of what is needed for those super-garrisons, but of the funding that local authorities will need to ensure that education is provided around those new super-garrisons?

Derek Twigg: My hon. Friend has identified the importance of stability for service families, and one of the benefits of the super-garrisons is that they will increase that stability. A key problem experienced by service personnel is the number of times they have to move, and the effect of that on their children’s
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education. I have given officials a clear direction that planning must include real involvement and detailed discussions about the impact of super-garrisons on a range of services, including health and, in particular, education. I can give my hon. Friend an absolute assurance that we take the issue very seriously and will continue to focus on it strongly.


7. John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): What changes he expects to make to the numbers of ships and submarines in the Royal Navy in the next three years. [180008]

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): While the defence programme is kept under regular review, the only planned change in the number of major surface warships in the Royal Navy over the next three years will be the reduction to two aircraft carriers when HMS Invincible is finally withdrawn from service in 2010. However, the number of destroyers in service at any one time may vary as the Type 45 destroyer steadily replaces the Type 42. As previously announced, our fleet of attack submarines will be reduced from nine to eight at the end of this year.

John Bercow: Given the great reluctance with which the Royal Navy accepted the cut in frigate and destroyer totals from 35 to 32 in 1998, and the fact that the Government subsequently cut the number from 32 to 25, will the Minister guarantee that there will be no further cuts?

Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman tries desperately—as do some of his hon. Friends—to give the impression that the Royal Navy is losing capability, although he knows that the new aircraft carriers that have been ordered will be the biggest ships ever run by the Navy, and that the Type 45 destroyer has a capability well beyond that of the ships that it is replacing. We intend to maintain the Royal Navy as one of the most powerful navies in the world, just as we intend to maintain the capability to build those ships for the Royal Navy.

Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): That reply, and the earlier replies, will interest people who work in the dockyard and the naval base in Plymouth. I thank my right hon. Friend for agreeing to meet a delegation of trade unionists later this week to discuss the work that will be available to the dockyard in the next few years particularly, but may I ask him to tell the House, for the record, of the importance that he attaches to Plymouth dockyard’s ability to carry out not just submarine work but refitting and maintenance of surface ships?

Mr. Ainsworth: My hon. Friend continues to be assiduous in the interests of her constituency, but she will know that the naval base review has decided that all three naval bases will continue to be needed. We must not only commit ourselves to the continuing use of those bases, but ensure that we preserve the skill base in the areas involved. That applies to Plymouth, as it applies to the Clyde and to Portsmouth. I am pleased to be able to meet my hon. Friend and her delegation—tomorrow, I believe.

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Willie Rennie (Dunfermline and West Fife) (LD): We welcome the new aircraft carriers that are due to be commissioned from Rosyth dockyard, but does the Minister understand the frustration felt by my constituents and those of the Prime Minister over constant reports of delays? Can he make a clear statement that there will be no delays, or, if there are to be delays, can he explain how the skills will be maintained in yards throughout the country in the meantime?

Mr. Ainsworth: There are always rumours in these circumstances, but there is no delay to the in-service dates of the aircraft carriers. We are working with the companies, and progress is being made in establishing the joint venture that is needed to ensure their timely build for the Royal Navy.

Sarah McCarthy-Fry (Portsmouth, North) (Lab/Co-op): I thank the Minister for his responses so far, but for the benefit of this House and of the Opposition party, who are sending out their leaflets in my constituency, will he—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Please just put a supplementary question to the Minister. Do not mention the Opposition party; it can take care of itself.

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: Will the Minister confirm that the Government’s commitment to building new, modern ships with a modern capability enables the Royal Navy to discharge its operations both at home and overseas and has contributed to securing Portsmouth naval base’s future?

Mr. Ainsworth: As my hon. Friend knows, I have visited Portsmouth and seen the good work going on there and its warship build capability. The naval base review is complete and Portsmouth’s position is secure within that. Of course we must look at how we maintain that capability and I am sure my hon. Friend will continue to represent her constituency as she has done over the past year during the review. Portsmouth has not only a fantastic Royal Navy history, but a fantastic Navy future as well.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex) (Con): As the Minister knows, however heroically the Navy tries—it does try heroically—its capabilities have been degraded because of the number of its ships and its inevitable inability to carry out the declared tasks that it handled when it had many more ships. How many escorts does the Minister anticipate one of the new carriers will require when it goes to sea?

Mr. Ainsworth: There will be sufficient escorts for the carrier task fleets and that will be in line with the defence strategy as laid out to the House. We will make sure that the task fleets are fully capable in every aspect of the work that they need to do in order to give the Royal Navy the kind of power projection it must continue to have in future generations.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): I shall resist the temptation to describe the Minister’s reply to the very specific questions of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) in the terms that he has recently made famous, although I point out
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that the price of the Hansard on eBay is currently £77. Instead, I remind him that it was made clear in written answers on 9 and 29 October that, on current plans, the amount of attack submarines will go down to seven and the number of frigates and destroyers will go down to 23 unless more orders are placed. Will he now give us a guarantee that the orders will be placed, so that we do not have fewer than the eight attack submarines and the 25 frigates and destroyers promised by the Government in 2004?

Mr. Ainsworth: We will make announcements to the House as and when we are ready to do so. The hon. Gentleman continues to try to say that the Royal Navy’s capability is not as is needed when he knows that the situation is otherwise. The Type 45 destroyer is one of the most powerful ships afloat, and the carriers will be the biggest ships afloat. The Government have put a considerable amount of shipbuilding into our yards over recent years and will continue to do so in the future. The hon. Gentleman knows that to be the case.

Patrol Vehicles

8. Mr. Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent, South) (Lab): What steps he is taking to increase the operational range of protected patrol vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan; and if he will make a statement. [180010]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): We take the protection of our servicemen and women very seriously. Since 2003, we have approved over £2 billion of spending on force protection and have delivered Mastiff heavy-protected patrol vehicles to Iraq and Mastiff and Vector light-protected patrol vehicles to Afghanistan. In addition, we are procuring 150 Ridgback medium-protected patrol vehicles, which will be available for deployment to Afghanistan.

Mr. Flello: Will my right hon. Friend tell us what progress has been made on the wider aspects of force protection for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Des Browne: My hon. Friend is right to say that protected patrol vehicles, which have, rightly, gained a lot of attention, are at the limit of what we need to provide to protect our troops. Over the spending period that I addressed in my original answer, we have developed and improved a range of capabilities: not only protected patrol vehicles; but new body armour, which we continue to develop and consider how it can be improved; communications and surveillance equipment, particularly unmanned aerial vehicles; night-vision equipment, which has been improved significantly; electronic countermeasures for our vehicles and other transport; and, of course, base security. I am sure that the House will understand that I do not want to go into the details of the security measures because I do not want our enemies to know them. I repeat the offer that I consistently make in this House; if Members wish to receive a confidential briefing on those issues, I am happy to give one in the Ministry of Defence.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): Given the Secretary of State’s remarks to the Sunday Mail a couple of Sundays ago, and those of Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles about the length of time that our forces are likely to
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remain in Afghanistan, should not our procurement policy now be carried out on the assumption that we are there until further notice?

Des Browne: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I have consistently said in this House—before the Defence Committee and from this Dispatch Box—and on other opportunities for communication beyond the House that our commitment to Afghanistan is a long-term one. I do not believe that we will be war fighting in the long term, but I do believe that deployable forces requiring the sort of protection and equipment that we have been developing and deploying over the past few years in particular will be the norm for our forces in the future. We intend to take just that approach. We have made progress in readjusting our procurement processes so that they have the agility and ability to respond to the changing environments in which we deploy our troops. We have had considerable success in that regard, particularly over the past couple of years.

European Security and Defence Policy

9. Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on developments in the European security and defence policy. [180011]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): I meet my European defence ministerial colleagues regularly, both bilaterally and at meetings of EU Defence Ministers. The most recent meeting of EU Defence Ministers was held in Brussels on 19 November, when we discussed a range of issues including Operation Althea and military capabilities, Chad and the European Defence Agency.

Mr. Hands: The new Lisbon treaty contains various unhelpful developments on defence and security policy. For example, the new high representative for the common foreign and security policy will become a vice-chairman of the Commission and will chair the foreign policy aspect of the Council of Ministers; the EU Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry; is calling for a single market in the defence industry and the new solidarity clause has emerged. Will the Secretary of State tell us specifically what assessment he has made of new treaty provisions that are judiciable by the European Court of Justice?

Des Browne: First, the House should know that the new reform treaty text states that NATO

—the members’—

My assessment of the treaty—I understand that it is widely held to be the correct interpretation, including by some eminent legal authorities—is that it in no way affects current UK military operations. Such operations will not be affected, and decisions about troop deployment will still need to be made unanimously. For the first time, the Lisbon treaty expressly excludes jurisdiction from common foreign and security policy provisions and the Acts adopted under them. So the answer to his question is none.

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Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab): During those discussions, was there any talk about what might be required on Kosovo? Should time be given for a consensual agreement or arrangement to be reached on Kosovo’s status?

Des Browne: Kosovo engages the discussions of European Defence Ministers every time we meet and has done so consistently in my experience. The EU stands ready to provide, and is providing, support for training in Kosovo, particularly for the police. The EU’s assessment has to be on the basis of what is realistically likely to happen in Kosovo and it is commonly viewed that something approaching the Ahtisaari recommendations is likely to be what will happen on the ground in Kosovo. When that happens—because it is on our doorstep—the EU is required to stand ready to support peace and stability in the country, and will do so.

Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring) (Con): Because of our high level of commitment to Iraq and to NATO in Afghanistan, the Government told us that we would have minimal commitment to the French-inspired EU military mission to Chad. We are sending only two officers to Chad, yet we are spending £5.9 million on the mission. Can the Secretary of State tell us what on earth we are spending that money on?

Des Browne: We are making a contribution to stability in that important part of Africa, and the hon. Gentleman should welcome that. He knows that although the mission is to Chad, it is important to try to sustain some degree of stability in Sudan to support peace and the peace talks there. That is our contribution. Other parts of Government are making significant contributions to that part of Africa and it would seem distinctly inappropriate were we not to make a contribution that reinforces those wider and greater contributions, financial and otherwise.

Dr. Fox: Is not the truth that under Athena we are required to make a financial commitment to the EU operation, and that some of our EU and NATO partners are more willing to fund their EU commitments than their NATO commitments? The UK, the US, the Dutch and the Canadians carry the bulk of the military and financial burden in southern Afghanistan. The US has 15,000 troops and we have almost 8,000, but Spain, for example, has fewer than 800 and Portugal has 163. Is not it clear that the EU’s drive towards a common security policy threatens to undermine NATO? With defence, Britain cannot have two best friends; it cannot be both the EU and the United States through NATO.

Des Browne: The hon. Gentleman asked what the money was for and I told him. He may have been disappointed that the answer was so specific. The mechanism by which the money is paid is not what the money is for, and he asked what the money was for. He tempts me to agree that the EU has no contribution to make to nation building and stability across the world. I do not agree. What NATO offers ought to be at the heart of our military alliance and commitment to peace and security across the world, and our own security. But working with our EU partners comprehensively, we have an opportunity to bring to bear capabilities that NATO does not have and is unlikely ever to have.

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