As the pattern of coalition operations in Iraq changes, it will be possible for a number of units to proceed with other tasking or return to the United Kingdom.I am delighted to confirm our participation in Exercise Flying Fish under the Five Power Defence Arrangements with forces from Australia, Malaysia, Singapore and New Zealand. HMS Marlborough and HMS Liverpool together with RFA Grey Rover have been released from operations in the Middle East and will now proceed to the Far East. The Government attache great importance to this long-planned deployment which sends a clear signal demonstrating our continuing commitment to the FPDA and the wider security of the region as a whole.Other maritime assets will be released as appropriate, for return to the UK or onward deployment. On current plans, HMS Ark Royal with elements of her Group will shortly leave the Joint Operations Area and start their return passage to the UK. Significant maritime forces will remain in the Gulf to continue important continuing tasks, including mine clearance operations, logistic support and force protection.We also continue to keep our requirements in the land and air environments under review. We envisage that a number of fixed wing and rotary aircraft can be withdrawn in the near future, starting with the return of Tornado F3 aircraft over the next few days. In the near term, the medical capacity in the region means that we can now withdraw 33 Field Hospital and RFA Argus. 34 Field Hospital and 202 Field Hospital (Volunteer) will remain in the Gulf region for the time being.It is our policy to deploy personnel on operations for no longer than is necessary to achieve our military objectives. We will therefore continue to adjust our forces deployed to the Gulf as appropriate, withdrawing units whose tasks are complete, and in due course replacing those whose tasks continue. For example, elements of 101 Logistics Brigade will replace their counterparts in 102 Logistics Brigade during early May. We will inform the House of any major roulements. As previously stated, we have no plans to deploy significant additional forces.
The Secretary of State for Defence
(Mr. Geoffrey Hoon)