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Chloe Smith: What plans does the Secretary of State have to assist, financially or otherwise, TA units such as mine in Norwich to re-book the training that has been cancelled due to the budgetary fiasco of this Government's making?
Mr. Ainsworth: We believe that it should be possible to recommence the training within the next couple of weeks. Obviously, that may be problematical for some people, but we hope that they will be able to recommence as soon as is practicable.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Bill Rammell): The balance of equipment between operational theatres and training is kept under constant review. The training requirement is dynamic, as new pieces of equipment are brought into service and as changes are made to the size and composition of deployed forces. In general, the quantity of equipment available for pre-deployment training is increasing.
James Duddridge: Where pre-deployment training is inadequate due to a lack of equipment, what extra training takes place in the field of operations before our troops are put into harm's way, particularly in the use of vehicles and electronic counter-measure devices on vehicles?
Bill Rammell: Let me be very clear: we do not deploy troops where there is an unacceptable balance of risk. Rightly, our priority-I think that Members throughout the House will agree with this-is to get the best possible equipment into theatre, but we are certainly increasing the availability of equipment for training. For example, between July and October we achieved a 50 per cent. increase in the number of Ridgback and Jackal vehicles available for pre-deployment training. However, wherever there is a gap, that is addressed so that we do not deploy troops in circumstances where there is an unacceptable balance of risk.
"a shortage of appropriate theatre-specific equipment to train on"?
I can confirm from my knowledge of the Welsh Guards, who have just returned from theatre to Aldershot, that they did not have sufficient quantities of Mastiff equipment to train on here, with the result that they had to train in-theatre, did not understand the maintenance of the equipment and as a consequence suffered more maintenance problems. Will the Minister address the issue more urgently, and provide more equipment if it is required so that the guys who are going out on operations are properly trained before they get there?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, in the past three years we have spent an additional £10 billion on new equipment. He also knows that he and his colleagues are not proposing one penny more in additional
defence expenditure than this Government are. In the current circumstances, the priority has to be the delivery of equipment to theatre. That is what we are doing, but we do not do that, and we do not deploy troops, where there is an unacceptable balance of risk.
Michael Fabricant: I am pleased to hear that it is making good progress, but the Secretary of State will know that both the Government and the Conservative party are committed to a nuclear deterrent, and yet this one is beginning to wear out. When will we have an announcement on when there will be a replacement?
Mr. Ainsworth: All our plans were laid out in the 2006 White Paper. The position has not changed on my side of the House; the only person who has brought the position into question is the shadow Chancellor, who appears to have waged-
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Since Britain launched its first nuclear-powered submarine, HMS Dreadnought, in 1960, 15 vessels have been taken out of service and defuelled, and 12 more are due for that before 2040. Will the Secretary of State say what the plans are for the dumping of dangerous radioactive waste? In this weekend's newspapers we saw details of 12 alleged sites from a Ministry of Defence "secret list".
Mr. Ainsworth: Plans will be drawn up for the disposal of nuclear submarines, and a proper consultation will take place as soon as is appropriate on any plans that we have, so my hon. Friend should not listen to scare stories that he reads in the newspapers.
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Bob Ainsworth):
The UK's nuclear deterrence policy remains as that set out in the 2006 White Paper and, as is clear in that paper, is kept under continuous review. The Prime Minister recently announced in New York that, subject to continued progress in multilateral negotiations and a report on technical feasibility, he would wish with the next class of deterrent submarines to deliver a posture of one on patrol at all times and a fleet of three, rather than four, submarines. He has directed the National Security
Committee to report by the end of the year on those two issues, and the MOD is closely involved in this work.
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: The Secretary of State talks entirely about a traditional submarine-based deterrent. Given that the future nuclear threat may well come not from established states but from irregular groups and organisations, will he consider other, more flexible deterrents that use new technologies, rather than big submarines that have big missiles on them?
Mr. Ainsworth: It is the Government's policy to maintain a minimum strategic nuclear deterrent; it is not our policy to develop a range of tactical nuclear weapons that can be used in the kind of circumstances that the right hon. Gentleman mentions. I do not believe that that is the policy of his party, which appears to be a bit flaky on the maintenance of the strategic deterrent.
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): As I have said to the House before, Afghanistan is the main effort of my Department for the near future, along with the preparation of a Green Paper that will lead up to a strategic defence review the other side of an election.
Mr. Crabb: On service mental health, what steps has the Secretary of State taken to address the problem, highlighted by the Royal British Legion, that up to 85 per cent. of GPs across England and Wales have no awareness of his Department's medical assessment programme or the reservists' mental health programme?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Kevan Jones): The Department has a good record on veterans' mental health: we have six veterans' health pilot schemes, as well as the medical assessment programme, to which the hon. Gentleman refers, at the hospital across the river. I shall also make an announcement later this year on how we can track veterans through the NHS system-that work will be done with the Department of Health.
T3. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Given the Haddon-Cave review's comprehensively damning indictment of QinetiQ's role in passing the fatally flawed Nimrod MR2 into service, will the Secretary of State commit to reviewing the defence training contract under which, as part of the Metrix consortium, that expensively privatised disaster, QinetiQ, again plans to use an integrated project team?
T2.  Mr. Edward Vaizey (Wantage) (Con):
With your indulgence, Mr. Speaker, may I just pass on my condolences to the friends and family of Staff Sergeant Olaf Schmid? Although not a constituent of
mine, he was based at 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Regiment, which is based at the Vauxhall barracks in my constituency. He was, sadly, killed in Afghanistan on Saturday, and that is a salutary reminder of the dangers that that regiment faces every day. To follow up on the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mr. Crabb), I should mention that a distinguished former serviceman in my constituency attempted to access NHS services recently and discovered that the John Radcliffe hospital, his local community hospital and his own GP's surgery were completely unaware of the protocol between the Veterans Agency and the NHS. It took him five months-
Mr. Vaizey: The question is: given that it took this man five months to see a consultant, will the Minister do the most that he can to ensure that all our GPs and hospitals are aware of this important protocol?
Mr. Kevan Jones: The commitment to priority access for veterans was part of last year's Command Paper. We have made great strides and will be producing the annual report shortly. I will also be announcing on Wednesday that the welfare pathway pilot will be conducted first in Kent, to ensure not only that local government takes the case of veteran servicemen and women as a top priority but that local NHS service providers do so too.
T5.  Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): Could my hon. Friend give me an update on the progress being made generally with the implementation of the Command Paper to which he has just referred and the work of the external reference group?
Mr. Kevan Jones: The annual report will be produced shortly but, as I have said, that is a first step. Building on that, I want to ensure that the service Command Paper is embedded at a local level so that local councils, the NHS and other providers think of veterans when they are formulating policy, and the commitments that we gave in the Command Paper are carried out in practice. Clearly, in some areas that is not happening.
Mr. Bob Ainsworth: As I have said, the Pakistanis should be congratulated on the efforts that they are making, but we should not underestimate the degree to which they have a problem. We have seen a concerted attack by terrorist organisations on the population centres in Pakistan over the past few months, so although the Pakistani military has made considerable progress, the terrorists are far from prepared to give in to the kind of assault to which they are being subjected.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab):
Is it not necessary, after eight years, to consider what precisely can be achieved by the British troops in Afghanistan? I
am against further troops being sent and I believe that a reappraisal of our entire position there is necessary and what the public want.
Mr. Ainsworth: Although we have been in Afghanistan for eight years, we have only been there in any numbers in the south of the country for the past three years. There has already been a very substantial troop uplift, largely as a result of American troop uplifts in the south in the past year or so. To retreat from a counter-insurgency operation at this point would, I think, be a big mistake.
T6.  Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): On Afghanistan, the Secretary of State has spoken about the inadequacies of the Afghan National police, the corruption of the Government, the difficulties in Pakistan and equipment deficiencies. Although our strategy might be broadly correct, after eight years, does he think that it is working?
Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman talks about equipment and does so within the frame of eight years. Enemy tactics change-they have changed considerably and massively in the past year- [ Interruption. ] Yes, ours must change too. To suggest that the equipment that we had eight years ago is applicable to the campaign as it is run today is nonsense.
Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): The Government's hope is that the endemically corrupt Karzai regime, which has already stolen $20 billion of international aid, will now eliminate corruption among the depraved, drug-addicted thieves of the Afghan police. How will it do that?
Mr. Ainsworth: My hon. Friend preaches a notion of despair as regards anything that can be done in Afghanistan. We need to accept, first-I am not sure that my hon. Friend does-that Afghanistan poses a direct threat to us in the United Kingdom and that something therefore needs to be done, and, secondly, that the entire region, and Pakistan in particular, is massively important to our security in the United Kingdom. I resile from the despair that he preaches.
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): Will the Secretary of State confirm that the money that was restored to the Territorial Army training budget last week will be committed beyond April next year into the following financial year? When he is looking forward to training budgets, will he bear in mind that units that are based in island communities have needs that relate to recruitment and retention because of geography?
Mr. Ainsworth: We are aware of the geographical needs of the island communities, and we showed that with regard to the decision that was taken on the ranges not so far away. We have not yet settled our budget for next year.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): Would my hon. Friend the Veterans Minister like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Royal British Legion on the 2009 poppy appeal and the benefits that we receive from it?
Mr. Kevan Jones: I certainly would, and I should like to draw the House's and public's attention not only to the poppy appeal, but to the work that the Royal British Legion and other service charities do throughout the year. I should also like to put on record and thank the army of volunteers who work for the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association and for the Royal British Legion who-week in, week out, without pay-assist and help service veterans.
T7.  Mr. Edward Timpson (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con): In Crewe and Nantwich, there are a number of veterans who were affected by the British testing of nuclear weapons in Australia and Christmas Island during the 1950s and 1960s. Will the Secretary of State tell the House what progress has been made, as part of the investigation into the health needs of those nuclear-test veterans, with the follow-up to the Rowland report on chromosomal damage, as the Ministry of Defence promised?
Mr. Jones: I announced in a written answer earlier this year that we would set up a study of the health effects and health needs of nuclear test veterans. The British Nuclear Test Veterans Association has been meeting my officials to scope the study. We are now putting it out to tender, to ensure that we get a competent organisation to undertake it, and I will keep the House informed as that work goes on.
Mr. David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab): I had the privilege of being in the Gulf with the Royal Navy during the summer recess. The temperature was about 90 to 100°, yet on level 2, naval personnel still have to wear heavy-duty gear all through the summer. Can we not talk to the Australians, Japanese or someone else to consider fireproof, lightweight uniforms, so that naval personnel can be not just comfortable but more effective?
The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Bill Rammell): We look at all those issues to ensure that we can do things most effectively, but there is no substitute, and we will not take shortcuts on the safety of our personnel in operation. We will keep looking, but we will not come up with a quick-fix solution that would put people at risk.
Mr. Bob Ainsworth: Representations have been made and discussions have been held across the piece, not only in NATO but in other ISAF-supporting nations. Some commitments have been made, although they are small at the moment. We await the outcome of President Obama's deliberations on the McChrystal review.
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