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Volume 400: debated on Monday 3 March 2003

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The Secretary of State for Defence was asked—

Armed Forces Deployment (Gull)

What the level of preparedness is of British armed forces deployed in the Gulf region. [99846]

If he will make a statement on the deployment of troops in the Gulf. [99847]

In three previous statements I have detailed the composition and deployment of United Kingdom forces from all three services to the Gulf region, presenting a significant and credible threat of force in support of United Nations Security Council resolution 1441 and the disarmament of Iraq.

In addition, our forces continue to enforce the no-fly zones, which has lately involved more frequent patrols and a broader range of aircraft.

Detailed planning will continue to evolve, but we currently envisage the total deployment of around 45,000 armed forces personnel. The UK presence in theatre is rapidly building to form a highly capable force. Approaching 30,000 UK armed forces personnel are now deployed in theatre, making a significant contribution to the flexible and balanced range of coalition capabilities that would be used in the event of military action.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. He will be aware of various accusations, not least in the press, about the alleged inadequacies of the clothing, food and equipment that is being provided to our forces in the Gulf. Can he give a commitment that the necessary logistical support is being given so that any problems may be ironed out? Moreover, can he give a cast-iron commitment that our troops will be fully equipped and ready to meet any action that they have to take in the Gulf?

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. There have been a number of particularly ill-informed media reports, including, in one newspaper yesterday, the complaint that our soldiers were getting three meals a day. I assure my hon. Friend and other hon. Members who may he concerned that our forces are being properly supported. The deployment and sustained supply of our forces in the Gulf is a vast undertaking. The Defence Logistics Organisation estimates that the same volume of equipment and stores has been deployed in half the time that was taken in the 1990–91 Gulf conflict. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the thousands of personnel, military as well as civilian, who have accomplished that.

Is there any reason why the Secretary of State cannot confirm that the command and control arrangements for British forces will be the same as they were during the Gulf war, and can he confirm reports this morning that American marines may be placed under British command?

The command and control arrangements will not differ significantly from those that operated in the course of the Gulf war. It is not sensible to talk at this stage about who may be commanding which different forces in the Gulf, but this is certainly a significant coalition operation.

Have contingency plans been made for the stationing of our troops over the next few months if it is decided to continue with intrusive inspections, or were the repeated promises by the Prime Minister that war would be regarded only as a last resort worthless?

I have made it clear to the House on several occasions that the size and composition of the forces that are being deployed to the Gulf are flexible to allow for any number of eventualities. Clearly, that involves the continuing possibility that Saddam Hussein might, even at this late stage, accept the will of the international community and disarm in accordance with resolution 1441.

Would it not assist the British troops enormously in their preparedness if the Secretary of State had some clear idea of what weapons they are likely to face? Can he say, in view of the excellent new relationship with the United States, whether the Americans are prepared to make public to him, or indeed to the general public, the extent and the size of the weapons of mass destruction that were provided to Iraq at the time when it was a friend of the United States?

The US Defence Secretary has categorically denied making those kinds of equipment available to Iraq. I underscore the fact that it is for this House to judge the contents of the dossier that the Government published as long ago as last September, which clearly set out the details of the weapons of mass destruction that we judge that Iraq has continued to develop and continues to possess.

Will my right hon. Friend provide some reassurance in responding to today's press coverage suggesting that the increased activities in the no-fly zones are a precursor to, or a beginning of, action in the Gulf? Will he comment on that?

As I said a few moments ago, our forces have been undertaking more frequent patrols in the no-fly zones with a broader range of aircraft. However, I assure my hon. Friend that they do that in response to efforts to attack them and act entirely in self-defence, in accordance with international law.

I join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to forces that have been involved in logistics. I am sure that all hon. Members, regardless of our anxieties about the conflict, would tell him that if he can sort out the supply problems about which our constituents tell us, he will have the support of the House and the country.

I want to ask about the RAF. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned northern and southern no-fly zones. Have United Kingdom aircraft been involved in recent weeks in targeting Iraqi ground positions that posed no threat to the northern or southern no-fly zones? When I asked him in February whether the United Kingdom had changed the rules of engagement for our aircraft, he declined to comment. Will he answer that question today?

On the hon. Gentleman's first observation, may I just say in passing that several comments have been made about the way in which he has "unreasonably fuelled" the criticism of the logistics arrangements? I simply report that to hon. Members. Perhaps if the hon. Gentleman concentrated on the generality rather than the occasional difficulty that inevitably arises in such an operation, we might all be better off today.

On the rules of engagement, the hon. Gentleman is again somewhat misleading. He knows full well that Ministers never comment on them in detail. I assure him that the arrangements for patrolling the southern and northern no-fly zones remain unchanged. As he would expect, our forces are authorised to deal with any threats that Iraqi forces pose to them.

In the event of hostilities breaking out, does my right hon. Friend anticipate that Iraq will use chemical, biological and nuclear weapons?

That must be one of the factors that military planners take into account when preparing for any military conflict, not least in this case because continued development of those appalling weapons forms the essence of our complaint against Iraq.

Having returned this morning from Kuwait with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, I join the Secretary of State in congratulating all those involved with the British military build-up there. Although there are inevitably some short-term frustrations for our soldiers, sailors and air men, we found them well prepared, in good spirits, with high morale and fully deserving much wider recognition for the success of a major deployment over a great distance so quickly.

I take issue with the Secretary of State's insistence that nothing has changed in the no-fly zone operations over southern Iraq. Is it not clear that US and UK aircraft are now pre-empting threats to allied ground forces in Kuwait that are preparing to invade? Although we continue to hope that diplomacy will avoid the need for the last resort of war, have we not already seen the opening shots of the second Gulf war?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his observations, especially those about our forces and civilians who are engaged in logistics. Although it is not always the most glamorous part of armed forces' activity, it is indispensable. Without the superb work of those forces and civilians, the fighting forces would not be able to get into and remain in position.

I repeat the point that there has been no substantial change in the arrangements for the northern and southern no-fly zones. Clearly, those forces have always been entitled to deal with any threats, whether directly to aircraft that fly above the northern and southern no-fly zones or to forces on the ground in places such as Kuwait.

But the tactics are no longer simply to enforce the no-fly zones. They reflect the Government's decision to help clear the way for the invasion of Iraq, which requires the protection of British and American ground forces that are now massing to cross the Iraqi border. The B-52s that arrived at Fairford this morning are not intended to support enforcement of the no-fly zones. We are on the cusp of great events. Would not Ministers' honesty and openness about what is going on help to win the hearts and minds of the British people?

I am sorry about the hon. Gentleman's final observation—Ministers have been as honest and open as is consistent, clearly, with the security requirements of the situation. I emphasise to the House that no decision has been taken about the use of military force, and I repeat that there is no substantial change in the operation of the northern or southern no-fly zones.

Since the hon. Gentleman has mentioned this—I intended to deal with it later in questions—may I tell the House that I have agreed to a United States request to deploy 14 US Air Force B-52 bomber aircraft to RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, together with their extra support personnel? Those aircraft began to arrive at the base today. That is part of our continuing contingency preparations—no decision to commence military action has been made.

We cannot keep 30,000 troops in the desert indefinitely, so will the Secretary of State tell the House what arrangements are being made to rotate the troops?

My hon. Friend is right to the extent that, obviously, the same forces cannot be kept indefinitely in the desert or, indeed, in any other theatre. That is certainly not part of our intention and, as is happening already with some United States forces, arrangements will be made to rotate them when and if that is necessary.

Ministerial Meetings

What recent meetings he has had with central and eastern European Defence Ministers to discuss developments in the middle east.[99848]

Since 24 September last year, I have had meetings with my counterparts from Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Estonia, Albania, Macedonia and Ukraine. Those meetings addressed a range of topics of mutual interest, including, where appropriate, developments in the middle east.

In the light of President Chirac's deeply unpleasant threat to those central and eastern European Governments who signed the Iraq letter that he would try to ensure that they did not become members of the European Union, was the Secretary of State satisfied or happy with the comments of his French opposite number when she visited Warsaw last week and told the Poles it was better

"to keep silent when you do not know what is going on"?
Is it not time that we told our French allies that they are behaving disgracefully, particularly towards our new friends in NATO, whom the right hon. Gentleman has been visiting in the past year?

We have made it absolutely clear to candidate countries that there will be no change whatever in British Government policy; we welcome the enlargement of NATO, as we welcome the enlargement of the European Union. That will continue to be absolutely central to the Government's policy.

In any of the discussions that my right hon. Friend has had in the past couple of months, have the Poles or the Czech Republic had a good word to say for the French position; or have they been pointing out that it was France that not only systematically and deliberately supported and strengthened Saddam Hussein, but armed him?

If my hon. Friend will forgive me, may I assure him that we do not spend our time in such bilateral discussions considering the respective position of any other country, other than the relations that exist between this country and the country in question? So I am sorry to disappoint him: we have not had that kind of conversation.

Armed Forces Deployment (Gull)

What percentage of the Army is deployed to the Gulf region.[99849]

As of 25 February 2003, 11.5 per cent, of the trained strength of the Army was deployed to the Gulf region. That number is increasing on a weekly basis, as we continue to deploy those forces previously announced to Parliament. When all the previously announced forces are deployed, approximately 25 per cent, of the trained strength of the Army will be deployed to the Gulf region.

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. I am also grateful to the ministerial team for assuring the House that the Army is properly equipped. What percentage of the Army so far deployed has been issued with nuclear, biological and chemical kits? Will he confirm that the required respirators and canisters have not passed their life expectancy? Will he also confirm that the MOD has not extended the relevant warranties on that kit?

We have a wide-ranging support mechanism for all our troops who are deployed on the basis of the perceived and possible real threat that may arise from NBC attack. As for the respirators and the other equipment that the hon. Gentleman mentions, on the basis of the advice that we, as Ministers, have been given, we are wholly satisfied that the equipment being deployed is satisfactory, and the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), who recently visited the troops, will be able to give an equal assurance if he spoke to our people in theatre about it.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of issues that we are told may be debated by this House on many occasions, the fact is that the Prime Minister has so squandered his inheritance of trust that large numbers of people in the United Kingdom still do not believe that our troops should be in the Gulf. Many men and women with family members in the armed services are very concerned about the provision for their clothing, accommodation, and, most importantly, equipment. What practical steps is the Minister taking to reassure the families of those who may be required to sacrifice everything on our behalf?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. It is not just the welfare of the deployed forces and the dangers that they may face that we must consider but the families back home, who, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier, have to listen to some of the silly comments made in the press. Clearly, certain shortfalls exist, but there is a very big logistics chain in which thousands of people are employed in moving a wide range of equipment into theatre. It is a huge logistical exercise. In practical terms, much of the communication is done by people in bases, at barracks and at stations, where our service personnel are clustered, as well as by Ministers. We must address any concerns as best we can. We should not minimise the scale of this logistical exercise. We must, however, give the assurance that the equipment and supplies being put into theatre meet the needs of the many thousands of troops who will be deployed, and that we respect the concerns of families in all those regards.

Does the Minister agree that the deployment of tens of thousands of our troops, particularly soldiers, to the Gulf—and the fact that they may be committed to combat shortly—means that their morale and that of their families is crucial? Both my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) and the Secretary of State have emphasised what an important job they are doing, with little practical acknowledgement of that from the media so far. In the last Gulf war, I remember how important it was for the MOD to have a coherent media strategy. One veteran reptile cynically said to me the other day that he believes that the MOD's media strategy is not to have one. Will the Minister tell the House how many journalists are now accredited to UK forces in theatre, and what arrangements have been made for them to accompany UK forces into combat?

I will not descend to the type of language that the hon. Gentleman used to describe the press. [HON. MEMBERS: "Go on."] No, I won't. I am always conscious of how the press report some of my comments, so I shall try to be nice, although I must be truthful, too. There are silly stories out there, but some of them are coming back from theatre, because open and transparent lines of communication exist between the front line and families back home. We must examine each and every comment that has substance to see whether we can address it meaningfully, arid, I hope, correct the problem. Alternatively, we must see whether such comments are based on misunderstandings and, subsequently, misreporting and falsehoods by the media.

We are dealing with a difficult media climate. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a figure on the precise number of journalists, because, if I gave him a figure today, it would probably increase by tomorrow, and it would probably increase in future. That is not the issue we must deal with. Perhaps the particular journalist whom he says is criticising our media strategy should write to tell me where his criticism lies and where the shortfalls are. If we can correct them, we will. We put a lot of effort into handling the media because of the point that he and the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) mentioned about the importance of making sure that the families back home are not being fed lies and distortions.

Iraqi Armed Forces

What assessment he has made of the morale of the Iraqi armed forces. [99850]

Given the nature of the Iraqi regime and the lack of information available, it is not easy to make these assessments. However, from what information we have, we judge that the morale of the regular Iraqi armed forces is low.

In 1991, Iraqi conscripts surrendered in their thousands. They were badly led, cold, wet, demoralised and terrified. When they discovered that we were not going to murder them, they actually rather enjoyed being in prison camps, because we fed, watered and sheltered them, and gave them clothing. We saved many lives among those who were threatened by dehydration.

Those conscripts believed that we were bringing them freedom; but it is rumoured that, after the Gulf war, when many of them were returned to Iraq, a great many were butchered by the regime. This time round, they will be worse equipped and they will be similarly demoralised. What plans do the Government have to use any prisoners that may be taken—in conjunction with Iraqi opposition groups, or, perhaps, in information programmes, during the occupation of Baghdad or the reconstruction of Iraq—should there be conflict?

I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman's expertise in this area. I know that he served in the Gulf war and was responsible for dealing with prisoners of war.

The judgment that I make on the morale of Iraq's armed forces depends on the extent to which they have a stake in the survival of the regime. For example, organisations that are more closely associated with the regime—such as the special republican guard and Saddam Hussein's personal security apparatus—are much more under the regime's control and therefore much more likely to continue the fight. However, I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about the position of conscripts. I understand that the majority of the members of the regular forces are Shi'as and that they have no particular enthusiasm for the regime in Iraq—although they undoubtedly feel fear because of the kind of action that Saddam Hussein has taken against their people over many years.

In the planning that is under way for any post-conflict situation in Iraq, it is important to take account of a range of factors—including how to deal with potentially a large number of prisoners, and how to ensure that basic steps are taken to provide initial security leading to the reconstruction of the country. I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that a great deal of thinking is under way along those lines.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be a big mistake to talk down the war-fighting capability of the Iraqi army even if it does lack morale and is motivated by the fear of retribution from its leadership? Our soldiers will face a grave challenge going into battle.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Because I was asked a specific question about morale, I gave the best assessment that is currently available to the Ministry of Defence. However, that does not mean that we in any way underestimate the threat that our forces face. All our planning is based on the highest level of resistance that we might anticipate, in order that our forces may be properly protected in the job that they may have to do.

It is to be hoped that the increasing and continued deployment of United States and British armed forces in the Gulf will have an adverse effect on the morale of Iraq's armed forces. Can the Secretary of State persuade me that having about 64 per cent, of the British Army deployed on active service throughout the world is not having an adverse effect on the sustainability of the effectiveness of our armed forces in the Gulf and elsewhere? Can he assure me that the effectiveness of our armed forces—in the Army, the Air Force or the Navy—is not affected by the huge number of tasks that he rightly imposes on them?

The hon. and learned Gentleman is right to raise that issue. Previously, I have responded to questions about stretch and about the impact that our various commitments have on our armed forces. There is no doubt that our armed forces are busy right around the world. The commitment in the Gulf is part of the challenge that they face. However, I rely on the military advice and judgment of the chiefs of staff and they assure me that they are perfectly capable of undertaking this particular deployment at this time.

The answer that my right hon. Friend gave to the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) indicated to me at least that, in practice, the state of the Iraqi military poses no threat. If it is so weak, why do we have to have a proposed military invasion of Iraq?

I did not say that at all. Indeed, I want to make it clear to my hon. Friend and to the House that no one should assume that there is not a direct threat from Saddam Hussein's forces. I have already dealt today with the risk that will undoubtedly be faced if Saddam Hussein authorises the use of chemical or biological weapons against our forces. That is a significant threat that we might have to deal with in the event of military action being necessary. There is a range of threats and no one should underestimate the ruthlessness that Saddam Hussein has shown over the years in the use of his armed forces and in putting down a series of insurrections inside Iraq and in attacking two of his neighbouring countries.

During its recent visit to Washington, the Defence Committee was briefed by senior US officials about the extensive contingency arrangements currently under consideration for any post-war reconstruction of Iraq. Are the British Government being consulted on that, as we were led to believe? If so, why will Ministers not share with the House these plans which involve extensive assistance to the Iraqi people to ensure that they have supplies of food and water and medical facilities?

I am afraid to say that the Secretary of State's reaction to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) illustrates my point. My hon. Friend made a very serious point about the possible use of Iraqi soldiers in any post-conflict reconstruction of Iraq. Can the Secretary of State not be more forthcoming or will we have to go back to Washington to get the answers?

I am slightly surprised by the hon. Gentleman's question, because the Defence Committee has been briefed on these matters. That information is not such that I am not willing to share it with the House. I, too, have recently visited Washington where we had detailed discussions about the arrangements in hand for preparing Iraq for a return to the international community and for the reconstruction of that country. A senior British military officer is engaged day to day in this work in Washington and, during my recent visit to the Gulf, I saw that a great effort is also being made in British headquarters to prepare for what might happen to Iraq thereafter in the event of there being a conflict. A great deal of work is being done and I would be delighted to continue the briefing of right hon. and hon. Members that is already under way.

Armed Forces Deployment (Gulf)


If he will make a statement on the role of the Territorial Army in the deployment of forces to Iraq. [99852]

The Territorial Army provides individuals for specific roles in our armed forces and also some specialist units in areas such as logistics, signals, medicine and engineering. My hon. Friend will appreciate that I cannot discuss the specific details of our military planning and of the possible roles that might be undertaken by individuals or units in the event of military action against Iraq.

I pay tribute to the vital role that the men and women of all the reserve forces play in the defence of this country and in serving our interests with such dedication and skill.

Many of my constituents believe that the case for war against Iraq is yet unproven, and that is why I voted accordingly last week. Can he assure me that, if members of the Territorial Army are deployed in Iraq, that will be done with the further endorsement of the United Nations?

If my hon. Friend had listened carefully to the debate last week, he would have found that that was the position of the British Government. I certainly have nothing to add to that.

The Government have already acknowledged that the review that they carried out of the Territorial Army was not necessarily entirely wise. Will Ministers now consider the fact that, by stripping the Territorial Army of most of its combat areas, they have lost most of the surge capability that enables a small professional army to expand? Are the Government willing to consider the lessons after this conflict—we hope that it will be over quickly and soon—as to whether we need a larger reserve capability so that we can expand our very fine but very small professional Army if we face a major threat again?

The hon. Gentleman's interest in this issue is well known. Defence planning assumptions are merely that—assumptions. Clearly, if the facts change, the assumptions will change with them. However, he is wrong. Surge capability has increased, and not decreased, as a result of our refocusing defence forces. Having large numbers of ill-trained and ill-equipped units was not the way in which to operate our reserve forces. They now operate much more closely to our front-line troops, as is seen by the number of people who we are calling up and who are ready to serve in Iraq.

What contribution has been made by the new Territorial Army medical training establishment at Strensall near York? In particular, what contribution will be made by medical members of the reserve forces, and will they be equipped to deal with casualties, both military and civilian, of chemical and biological weapons, should the need arise?

The new set-up is proving very successful. Reserves have to be well prepared for the roles that they may have to play, and that preparation is much more effective than it was at the time of the last Gulf conflict. Units will play a major part, and I can tell my hon. Friend that they have received the training and equipment that they need to discharge their duties effectively.

Armed Forces Deployment (Gulf)


How many reservists have been called up to participate in Operation Telic. [99853]

As the Secretary of State for Defence announced in a written ministerial statement on 30 January, it is our intention to serve enough call-out notices to secure a total of around 6,000 reservists to support Operation Telic. As at 25 February, 7,804 call-out notices had been issued and 3,316 reservists had been accepted into service.

It is becoming increasingly clear that a great deal of planning is going on in Washington, if not in London, for changing the regime in Baghdad and running Iraq after a successful war. The commitment on behalf of our Army and our reservists may be very long term. What discussions have military authorities had with Territorial and reserve forces about the time commitment that they may have to make to this operation? How many reservists have applied for exemption from service?

Up to now, roughly 15 per cent, of those called up have applied for deferment of one sort or another. Clearly, the numbers that we call out reflect the need to secure the numbers that we require in service, so we call out many more than will be ultimately needed. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the procedure is going well.

As my hon. Friend will know, one of the changes made in recent years was to establish a national reserve mobilisation centre at Chetwynd barracks in my constituency. Will he pay tribute to the staff working on that complex operation, and is he satisfied with their work so far?

Yes, I certainly pay tribute to the dedication of the staff. The mustering centre at Chilwell is operating very well; staff are putting in long hours to carry out an enormous amount of work to ensure that reservists are properly equipped, briefed and prepared for any role that they may have.

Armed Forces Recruitment


If he will make a statement on recruitment to the armed forces since January. [99854]

Audited recruitment figures since 1 January 2003 are not yet available. However, armed forces recruitment is progressing well, and the early indications are that the level of interest being shown by young people in pursuing an armed forces career reflects no discernible difference when compared to the same period last year.

Is it not odd that at this of all times, and when recruitment shows encouraging signs of increasing,Soldier magazine has confirmed the fears of many of us that some recruits

"are to have their initial training courses deferred because recruiting has exceeded current funding levels"?
Are the Department's finances so dire that such deferment has to take place, and do not the Minister and his colleagues appreciate that invaluable training momentum is being thrown away?

No, it is not. As a former Minister, the hon. Gentleman will know that Departments always make certain planning assumptions for the year. To ensure that the training pipeline is able to cope with the number of recruits, some training periods are being deferred from March to April or May, which hardly amounts to much in the great scheme of things. I should have thought that it would be a matter of joy, rather than condemnation, in the House that recruitment levels are exceeding expectations.

Is the Minister aware that since 1997 recruitment to the armed forces in south Tyneside has more than halved? Does he have any observations on that dramatic decline? More importantly, what measures does he intend to introduce to make recruitment to the armed forces more attractive to young people?

I should like to say that it is a tribute to the Government's economic policies that job opportunities in the north-east of England are looking up. Without appearing facetious, however, I am concerned when areas show a diminution in recruitment. I will consider that with those responsible to see what can be done to improve the situation.

I am sure that the Minister would agree that an important part of the appeal of the recruitment package is the armed forces pension scheme. Will he take the opportunity to quash rumours expressed to the Commander-in-Chief of Strike Command at RAF Lossiemouth last week that under Government plans, any length of service that terminates before an individual reaches 55 would result in a deferred pension to a new public sector retirement age of 65?

Until the report is received and published, I cannot give that confirmation. However, those who complete their service, according to the rules, will suffer no deferment of their pension.

:Is the Minister on target for the recruitment of more black and Asian people into the armed forces? Is he as concerned as I am about the number of claims of racial discrimination that have been made against the armed forces? If he is, what practical steps are he and his colleagues taking to ensure that racism is eradicated from our armed services?

We show zero tolerance to racism in the armed forces. The figures have increased dramatically over the past year, which shows that our policies on the recruitment of ethnic minorities are paying off and that those within our ethnic minorities are beginning to realise that they have nothing to fear from racism in the armed forces.

Given the evident problems with recruitment and manpower generally, why does the Ministry of Defence believe that our armed forces should be 4,000 fewer in personnel now than just two years ago?

As I think I explained in an earlier answer, defence planning assumptions are not set in stone and vary according to the requirements that the armed forces tell us about. We are not the experts in that; they are. If the experts whom we employ, and our service personnel in particular, tell us what the requirements are, naturally we pay heed to them. What on earth would the hon. Gentleman do in the same circumstances?



If he will make a statement on the time taken for UK aerospace companies to be paid for the work they carry out on the Eurofighter project. [99855]

All contracts for work on the Eurofighter Typhoon project placed by the Ministry of Defence or the NATO Eurofighter management agency are subject to national legislation regarding payment times. This legislation will apply equally to subcontracts placed on United Kingdom aerospace companies.

I thank the Minister for that answer, but he knows that that system often does not work. One company in my constituency, which does not want to be named, has waited a long time for a tremendous amount of money for working on Eurofighter and has been rebuked by Eurofighter when it has tried to chase the money. On speaking to the company, it stressed that it does not blame the Government, but it does want them to introduce a new system that enables it to get paid at least in the same year as it carries out such a large amount of work.

The hon. Gentleman has been very active on behalf of that company and he is right not to name it. Indeed, it would be wrong to name any company that might be experiencing similar difficulties. We are concerned about that company and try to help British companies as much as we can. However, most of the Ministry of Defence's UK requirements for Typhoon are contracted by the NATO European Typhoon management agency on Eurofighter GmbH. We have no direct contractual relationship with either ACMA, GmbH or the company to which the hon. Gentleman refers. However, the Ministry has written to the agency, requesting that Eurofighter GmbH reminds its partner companies and suppliers of the importance that we attach to prompt payment when contractual obligations have been met. Lord Bach, who has ministerial responsibility for defence procurement, is actively dealing with the representation made by the company to which the hon. Gentleman referred, and other concerns have also been raised.

Will the Minister confirm that over the past six years the project has cost the British taxpayer £4 billion? Does that sum include the moneys outstanding mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson)? What are the implications of the recent unfortunate aeroplane crash in Spain for the cost of the project and the delay to it?

There has to be a full assessment following any incident of that nature such as a crash or equipment malfunction. If modifications are required, that has to be costed into the programme. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a figure at this stage. The project is a sizeable one, and the British defence sector, which is contributing expertise and technological input, is without doubt also gaining considerably from it. It is good for the 0British economy, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman supports that.

Ministerial Meetings


When he last held discussions with the US Defence Secretary on Iraq. [99856]

I have regular discussions with the US Defence Secretary. I last met him on 12 February in Washington.

Does the Defence Secretary agree that behind some of the opposition to the Government's policy on Iraq is a caricature of US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, which is a gross distortion of the truth? Will he take the opportunity to set the record straight, as the Prime Minister helpfully did when I asked him to set the record straight about George W. Bush last week?

I certainly find working with the US Defence Secretary straightforward. He deals with issues in a clear and concise way, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that our discussions, although sometimes terse, are very effective.

If military action is taken, what discussions has my right hon. Friend had about the future, first and foremost the territorial integrity of Iraq, but also protecting the Kurds after Saddam; the start of democratic rule; and of course the necessity for an international presence apart from the United States and the United Kingdom? Is it not essential to make it clear to the people of Iraq that democracy is our first priority?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend who is absolutely right. Central to the Government's policy on Iraq is preserving that country's territorial integrity, which includes ensuring the safety and security of its population, not only the Kurds, but also the Shi'as and minority groups in the country. Clearly, there will be a need for a continuing international presence in the event of military conflict in and around Iraq. It is important that the international community uses its influence, ability and resources to start Iraq back on the process of becoming a fully integrated member of the international community. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has set out our policy objectives, including the idea of representative Government in Iraq, which seems to me a thoroughly worthwhile objective for the international community.

The Prime Minister has repeatedly stated that one purpose of any military action would be to prevent Saddam Hussein giving chemical or biological weapons to terrorists. Has the Defence Secretary discussed that with the Americans, and how could anyone ever have any assurance that no matter how much CBW material Saddam Hussein gave up he had not retained other material that could be given to terrorists? Is not the logic of the Government's position that that could be prevented only by removing Saddam Hussein from power once and for all?

That is why it is important that the regime in Iraq complies fully with the terms of Security Council resolution 1441, and does not simply play the games that it appears to be playing at present. I have told the House many times since 11 September 2001 that those appalling events threw into sharp focus our need to ensure that we are protected against threats wherever they may arise in the world. We should therefore concentrate, as we are doing, on not only the continuing terrorist threat, but the threat posed by Saddam Hussein both in his capacity as a leader of a state and his willingness to support terrorism. We are therefore right to have regard not only for the safety and security of the region, but of the wider world.

Has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State seen the authoritative report in yesterday'sIndependent on Sunday, which says that the United States is prepared to use toxic gases in Iraq that would be illegal within the terms of the chemical weapons convention, and that Britain would not use them and would not transport them on behalf of the United States? Given this report, what discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the US Secretary of State? Will he impress upon him that illegal action by anybody is illegal and should not even be contemplated?

I am confident that the United States, like the United Kingdom, will fully respect its obligations in international law.

As British troops mass alongside American troops in the Gulf, so both forces become vulnerable to chemical and biological attacks, which I believe that Saddam Hussein is capable of launching. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government have ruled out retaliating to such attacks with nuclear weapons?

The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that Governments do not comment on the use of nuclear deterrent. We foresee no circumstances at present where nuclear weapons would be required. They are a deterrent but they are not necessarily war-fighting weapons. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear, we see no circumstances in which they are likely to be used in the operation that we are discussing.

Will my right hon. Friend tell me what protection is being offered to the Kurds of northern Iraq in the event of Saddam Hussein using chemical weapons against them again? Does he know whether the UN inspectors have visited the border between Saddam Hussein's part of Iraq and the Kurdish part of northern Iraq, especially round Chamchamal, where the Kurds have seen rockets on the hillsides? They believe that there is the capability of firing chemical weapons at them all over again.

Given Saddam Hussein's track record, my hon. Friend is right to raise concern about the plight of the Kurdish people in northern Iraq. That is why over so many years Britain's forces, together with those from the United States, have been patrolling the no-fly zones. In a situation of military conflict, we will be concerned about the position of the Kurds and other groups inside Iraq. It is part of our thinking in relation to what we might find in the event of military conflict and thereafter that efforts will be made to protect the Kurds and others against the threat posed directly by Saddam Hussein's regime.

Troop Inoculation (Gulf)


If he will make a statement on the progress being made towards inoculating British forces in the Gulf against diseases which could be spread by weapons of mass destruction. [99857]

Immunisation is an important component of our armed forces' defences against biological weapons, alongside their detectors, training, warning and reporting systems, decontamination procedures, and other medical countermeasures such as antibiotics.

Anthrax used as a biological weapon represents a real threat to our armed forces, and independent expert advice confirms that immunisation offers safe and effective protection against it. We are expanding our programme of immunisation against anthrax for the armed forces in phases, and beginning with units held at the highest readiness, with the aim of making immunisation against anthrax routine for all service personnel. All United Kingdom units deployed or nominated to deploy in the Gulf have been included in the programme.

We have announced plans to vaccinate a cohort of nuclear, biological and chemical specialists and frontline medical personnel against smallpox. This is not in response to any specific or immediate threat but a sensible precaution, against a potential global threat, which will enable our armed forces to mount an effective response in the event that smallpox is used as a biological weapon. A number of those personnel included in the cohort have deployed, are deploying, or will deploy on operations in the Gulf.

Can the Minister confirm that, because of fears of a repetition of Gulf war syndrome, more than half of all armed forces personnel have refused to have inoculations, and only one in five is inoculated? If, as the Minister says, the inoculations are harmless, how can he justify sending troops into action who are unprotected against the most lethal weapon in Saddam Hussein's germ armoury?

I assume the hon. Gentleman is talking about anthrax, rather than about routine public health inoculations. A pedant would tell him that he is wrong, and that about 51 per cent, of those who were offered the vaccination have taken it. The percentage rises in the forces that foresee themselves being most directly affected, with the result that the percentage among those likely to be deployed on land is between 65 and 70 per cent.

This morning in a written statement the Home Secretary made an important announcement regarding civil contingency planning to deal with a potential terrorist dirty bomb or biological attack on London. Can the Minister tell the House how many members of the armed forces are expected to take part in such a home exercise, and whether all those individuals. professionals and reservists, have been issued with NBC protective equipment and clothing and vaccinated against smallpox and anthrax?

I have made it clear with regard to smallpox that we are vaccinating the cohort of people who would then have to vaccinate others in the event the very unlikely event—of an attack taking place. I cannot comment in detail on planning provision for potential terrorist attacks, other than to say that our plans are robust and that they will, of course, include appropriate protection for those involved.

Armed Forces Deployment (Gulf)

If he will make a statement on the size of United Kingdom armed forces on duty in the Gulf.[99858]

How many British troops are stationed in the Gulf. [99863]

I refer the hon. Members to the answer that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave a few moments ago to my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. David) and the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman), and the answer that I gave to the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham).

With a quarter of the Army deployed to the Gulf, is the Minister confident that there would be enough troops to cover firefighting duties, should negotiations with the Fire Brigades Union break down and another strike be called?

What proportion of the troops deployed to the Gulf are earmarked for post-war reconstruction and peacekeeping roles? How long can we afford to keep them there, and what will be the impact on our other commitments? Does Telic really stand for "Tell everyone leave is cancelled"?

It is easy to be cynical about the deep and complex series of issues that we have to address. As regards aftermath planning—what is to happen in the event of hostilities—a considerable amount of work is going on, so that there is a flexible range of options, because the nature of the environment could range from benign to extremely hostile. We have to plan across a range of possibilities. It would be wrong to give a precise answer to the hon. Gentleman's question, and I am surprised that he asked it in the way that he did.

With the Turkish Parliament's decision not to allow American troops into Turkey, what assessment has the Department made of any increased risk to British ground forces who might have to fight the Iraqis on one front only?

We have to plan across a range of eventualities for the future deployment of forces. Again, it would be wrong to set out the detailed assessment of possible outcomes from the scenarios painted. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would understand that that is important for our own troops and because others could exploit any information that we give.

Suez Medal


When he will make an announcement on the award of a service medal for veterans of the Suez canal campaign in 1951–54. [99864]

A sub-committee of the HD Committee—the Committee on the Grant of Honours, Decorations and Medals—chaired by Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank, took evidence from canal zone veterans and the Ministry of Defence on 22 November last year. The recommendation regarding the possible case for a medal in respect of service in the canal zone between 1951 and 1954 was passed to the HD Committee for its consideration. Until the members have concluded their deliberations, the matter must remain under review, but I will make an announcement when their findings have been published.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer and hope that the announcement can be made soon. Does he agree that there are very special circumstances relating to the case for awarding a medal for the Suez veterans? In particular, the commander in chief at the time applied for a medal, but the claim was never properly considered by the HD Committee. Are these not unique circumstances that justify the award of a medal retrospectively?

I think that my hon. Friend is well aware of my views on this subject, but we must be very careful in this matter to ensure that, if retrospection is to be breached, there are very clear and watertight reasons for doing so. The confusion about what happened when the action took place is well documented. Clearly, that was behind the decision to refer the matter back through the HD Committee to a sub-Committee for its consideration. In the very near future, I hope to be able to tell him and others the results of the deliberations.