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Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): May I say to the right hon. Gentleman that it is very important that whenever Royal Navy personnel are deployed they are deployed in appropriately armoured vehicles? The Minister for the Armed Forces really should avoid suggesting that serious casualties have
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been caused by officers on the ground choosing wrong vehicles. That is inaccurate, untrue, deeply offensive to their commanders, and damaging to morale.

Mr. Hutton: I think that my right hon. Friend the Minister made our position clear in relation to all these points. I simply re-emphasise the point that he made to the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox), which is very important. Because of the additional resources that we have made available to support our deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, some 1,200 new, better-protected armoured vehicles will be available to support our front-line operations. I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would want to welcome that additional procurement.

Advanced Research and Assessment Group

4. Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): What work is being undertaken by the advanced research and assessment group at the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom; and how many of its reports have been published. [232050]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Kevan Jones): The advanced research and assessment group conducts research and analysis on a range of geo-strategic and operational issues to influence the development of defence and security capability. During the financial year 2007-08, the group published 91 papers.

Robert Key: The Minister knows that we all support the excellent work of ARAG at the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom. Will he ensure that that the excellent work undertaken at that establishment is better understood across Government, and that wherever possible it is shared not only with Government Departments but with the civil community—for example, through the publication of the excellent Shrivenham papers?

Mr. Jones: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. I know that he and other members of the Defence Committee met members of ARAG when they were at Shrivenham on 16 October, and I will pass on their thanks to the staff there. The papers that they produce are already shared across Government where appropriate, but his highlighting of the issue will give them a wider circulation.

Mr. David Crausby (Bolton, North-East) (Lab): My hon. Friend mentioned that the Defence Committee recently visited the Defence Academy, and saw its excellent facilities. However, we were concerned that those world-beating facilities could be even better used. Does my hon. Friend have any plans to extend the work being done in the Defence Academy to utilise those facilities fully?

Mr. Jones: As my hon. Friend knows, in a previous life I visited Shrivenham with him, and I pay tribute to the work done there, not just in support of UK forces, but in supporting international links and many students from a variety of nations. I am due to visit Shrivenham, and I will take back my hon. Friend’s message.

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Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that not only the work of the advanced research and assessment group, but that of many other groups, is extremely important in the promotion of defence diplomacy? Would he agree that that is an important part of defence policy, and one that in different days will become even more important?

Mr. Jones: I will break the habit of a lifetime and agree with the hon. Gentleman. The work conducted at Shrivenham and the diplomacy that it does on behalf of the Ministry of Defence, and UK plc in general, is very important. It is also important to ensure that its work is recognised in Government, and that its reports influence policy—and not just in the MOD.


5. Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): What estimate he has made of the area of territory in Afghanistan under the control of (a) the Afghan Government, (b) the Taliban and (c) warlords in each of the last three years. [232051]

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): The deployment of additional forces under NATO in 2006 in support of the Government of Afghanistan has led to a significant expansion of the area under their control. UK forces have enabled the Government of Afghanistan to expand control across eight districts in Helmand province, from Kajaki in the north to Garmsir in the south. We should remember, though, that the key to success is winning the allegiance of the Afghan people.

Paul Flynn: I am not grateful for that evasive answer—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman will withdraw that remark. No Minister would be evasive on the Floor of the House. He should be a little more temperate.

Paul Flynn: I withdraw that remark, but American intelligence tells us that after a war that has lasted longer than either of the two world wars, we are now in a position where the Taliban and the warlords control far more territory than the elected Government. More of our brave British soldiers have died in Afghanistan than were killed in the charge of the Light Brigade. Is it not true that the only way to consolidate the gains made would be to admit that a military victory is unattainable, and seek a negotiated peace settlement?

Mr. Ainsworth: My hon. Friend and I have talked about this subject before, and I know how upset he gets at my views. Reconciliation is an important part of what is needed in Afghanistan, but we can only reconcile the reconcilable. Nobody has ever suggested that it is a purely military matter, or that there is no political part to be played in any settlement in Afghanistan, and it is plainly wrong for my hon. Friend to suggest that we think that there is.

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): I thank the Minister for his response, and I disassociate myself from the remarks of the hon. Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn). Does the Minister agree that the reconstruction work that Her Majesty’s armed forces are carrying out,
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particularly in Helmand province, means that for the first time in 30 years, the people of that province at least have the chance of a future in a democratic society?

Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. In February, I saw at first hand some of the work that our troops were doing in Musa Qala, and some of the thinking going into their operational planning. It was not about killing the Taliban, but about rebuilding the town and building schools—only seven weeks after the town had been taken. That is what is in the minds of our forces. At every level, they know that it is a matter of winning over the people and making progress in Afghanistan. It is not purely a matter of the military effect, although in dangerous environments that effect is absolutely vital.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): I would never make such a base suggestion as that Ministers are evasive—but bewildered, they are. When I tabled a parliamentary question asking how many of the 13 districts of Helmand are controlled by NATO and the Afghan Government, the Minister’s reply referred to the “presence” of British troops. There is a world of difference between presence and having control. Which districts of Helmand are controlled by the Afghan Government and British or NATO forces, which are held and controlled by the Taliban, and which are indeterminate?

Mr. Ainsworth: I must say to my hon. Friend that we are running a counter-insurgency operation in Afghanistan, not a straightforward war in the traditional sense. It is about winning the hearts and minds of the people, and controlling territory is only part of that. We have a significant presence the length and breadth of Helmand province. That is not to say that the Taliban are incapable of operating in those areas: they are an insurgent force, and there are no straightforward front lines.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): Does the Minister of State accept that the welcome news that he announced on better armoured vehicles for protecting conventional forces are no substitute for ensuring that all our special forces have proper cross-country vehicles? Will he take the opportunity to offer the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) the chance to apologise at the Dispatch Box to Major Morley for his remarks at the weekend?

Mr. Ainsworth: What we must try to do—my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary was trying to say this, as I think the hon. Gentleman knows—is to provide a full suite of vehicles for our commanders in Afghanistan so that they can use the most appropriate vehicle at the most appropriate time for the job in hand. My hon. Friend was trying to explain that, and we will do that—more so with the new vehicles that we plan to provide for Afghanistan.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): The Minister referred to winning the hearts and minds of the people of Afghanistan. Afghanistan is more than Helmand province, and there has been increased control by the Taliban in the past six months. Will my right hon. Friend therefore work a bit more closely with troops from the Gulf states, because it seems clear that working with only the US and NATO is not sufficient to win the hearts of the people of Afghanistan?

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Mr. Ainsworth: There are contributions from non-NATO members—my hon. Friend may know that the United Arab Emirates provides some support for our forces in Afghanistan. Of course, we welcome any assistance that people are prepared to provide. I do not accept my hon. Friend’s assertion that the Taliban are developing increased control over Afghanistan as a whole.

Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): How secure does the Minister believe that the area around the Kajaki dam is, and will be when the third turbine produces electricity? It is one thing to produce electricity and another to ensure its safe transmission over 150 miles through rough terrain, where it would be open to attack from terrorists and terrorist organisations. Are we making progress on that?

Mr. Ainsworth: I think that the hon. Lady would agree that the operation to get the new turbine up to Kajaki was a fantastic achievement by our troops, but the Taliban know how important it is to stifle development and prevent us from being able to provide the improvements that ordinary Afghans want. It is therefore vital that, having got the new turbines to Kajaki, we protect the capability and the ability to supply electricity to Helmand that the new turbines will give us in generation capacity.


6. Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): What rehabilitation services his Department provides for service personnel. [232052]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Kevan Jones): Service personnel requiring rehabilitation may be referred either to the defence medical rehabilitation centre at Headley Court, or, for personnel with less serious musculo-skeletal injuries, to one of 15 regional rehabilitation units in the UK and Germany.

Mr. Kidney: We in Staffordshire are very pleased to be hosting the new headquarters for the entire defence medical training service. As more than 1,000 doctors, nurses and other staff make their homes in Staffordshire, can we start as we mean to go on and train them all in looking after and rehabilitating our injured service personnel holistically, whether through medical services, therapies or reablement?

Mr. Jones: I thank my hon. Friend for his question and thank his constituents who will be involved in supporting our injured servicemen and women. The Government are investing in the scheme, and we must ensure that people are looked after both when they are in service and once they leave.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): On the broad issue of rehabilitation, the Minister will know that I have been raising the question of ex-service personnel currently behind bars, who constitute 10 per cent. of the entire prison population, or more than 8,500 people. Having raised the issue with the Prime Minister a fortnight ago and in debate a week before that, may I ask the Minister what progress is being made on precisely quantifying the problem, so that we can look into precisely the answers that we require?

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Mr. Jones: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his interest in the subject. The figure of 10 per cent. is not correct, but the Department is conducting a study with the Ministry of Justice to quantify it. I know that he takes a keen interest in the subject and cares about it deeply, so if he would like to contact my office for a meeting, I should be more than willing to talk to him about it.

Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend give me an assurance that he is satisfied that when injured personnel leave such establishments as Headley Court and return home, their homes have been adapted, so that they fit easily and readily back into their home environment, and that we are prepared to step in where necessary and do the job before they return home, so that it is not left to the local authority?

Mr. Jones: The Secretary of State and I have visited Headley Court in the past few weeks, where there are first-rate teams of welfare officers, whose job it is to ensure that that transition is as smooth as possible. My hon. Friend will also be aware of the Command Paper published earlier this year, which raised the issue of adaptation and ensuring that servicemen and women who require adaptations at home following injuries are made a priority.

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): Units returning from theatre report that up to one third of their manpower have defects in hearing acuity or tinnitus, much of which is severely disabling, leading to personal hardship, significant force attrition and compensation claims running into millions. British troops have to put up with poorer hearing protection and rehabilitation than the Americans, whose Government have been far more proactive in that regard. Is there any risk of the Minister taking the issue seriously?

Mr. Jones: I will ignore the churlish comments at the end of the hon. Gentleman’s question. I had a meeting last week with the Surgeon General and General Baxter, the head of Defence Medical Services, about that exact subject. Since 2007, additional double-ended plug devices have been given to all those in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Surgeon General has been proactive in setting up a group in the Ministry of Defence to look specifically into hearing loss. If the hon. Gentleman had done a bit of research, he might also have been aware of Project PECOC, which will introduce new devices from as early as April next year that not only stop hearing damage, but allow individuals to hear commands.


7. Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): What assessment he has made of the military implications for NATO of recent developments in Russian security policy. [232053]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. John Hutton): NATO Defence Ministers have met twice since the conflict between Russia and Georgia to consider the evolving security challenges facing the alliance. NATO will continue to provide collective defence for the territory of its allies. The flexible military capabilities and structure that NATO is pursuing are the right ones to enable it to respond to any security threats, wherever they arise.

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Mr. Vara: How does the Secretary of State rank Russia in terms of the threat that it poses to British national security?

Mr. Hutton: The Russian action in Georgia was totally unacceptable and disproportionate, so there cannot be any question of relations as normal as long as the Russians fail to implement the understandings reached in August and September, which they have not yet done. NATO continues to conduct effective and proper contingency planning to deal with a range of different security scenarios, but we have also made it very clear that Ukraine and Georgia will become members of NATO. NATO presents no security threat to the Russian Federation; it is a purely defensive alliance. Who is, and who is not, a member of NATO is a matter for NATO members and no one else.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): In view of Russia’s massive rearmament programme and its naked invasion of Georgia, will the Secretary of State assure the House that Britain retains the ability to conduct key tasks such as anti-submarine warfare and Arctic warfare, and that other NATO members are also being pressed to maintain these skills? Will he also assure us that those skills have not been neglected in favour of meeting the immediate requirements of Afghanistan and Iraq?

Mr. Hutton: I can absolutely give the hon. Gentleman, and the House, the assurance that he is seeking.

Royal Air Force

8. Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): If he will make a statement on the future strike capability of the Royal Air Force. [232054]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Quentin Davies): The Government’s plans to equip the RAF with Typhoon and joint combat aircraft will give it the most powerful strike capability in its history.

Andrew Rosindell: Will the Minister assure the House that the Government are committed to, and will order, the joint strike fighter?

Mr. Davies: As the hon. Member knows, the joint strike fighter is in its development phase, and we will need to take the decision next year about purchasing the first two development aircraft. We have to take this stage by stage, and I shall be going to America to talk to the major manufacturer fairly shortly. This programme is essential to our plans, and we remain absolutely committed to it.

Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): On the subject of procurement, the Government promised in the last strategic defence review to purchase 10 Astute class submarines. By 2004, they had reduced the number to eight, and I do not know what the figure is today. What has changed—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is asking about the Navy. As a former Territorial in the Army, I know that there is a difference between the RAF and the Navy. I call Mr. David Taylor.

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