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Volume 407: debated on Monday 23 June 2003

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The Secretary of State was asked

Gulf War Syndrome


If he will make a statement on the Government's policy on Gulf war syndrome. [120541]

The Government continue to accept that some veterans of the 1990–91 Gulf conflict have become ill, and that many believe that that ill health is unusual and is related to their Gulf experience. The Government's policy is to ensure that Gulf veterans have ready access to medical advice and all relevant information, while continuing to pursue appropriate research into the subject.

I welcome my hon. Friend to his new position and congratulate him on it. He will be aware of the recent ruling of the High Court on Mr. Shaun Rusling, which determined that he was suffering from a range of symptoms directly attributed to his Gulf war service. Although that does not provide evidence of the existence of Gulf war syndrome as a single disease entity, it certainly provides recognition that people have suffered from a range of debilitating symptoms as a result of serving in the Gulf. Whether or not one accepts that Gulf war syndrome is a single entity, is it not the case that veterans suffering from such symptoms, so attributed, should be compensated appropriately without having to resort to the High Court?

I thank my hon. Friend for his welcoming words. I am very pleased to be here this afternoon—[Interruption.] I told the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) that I would say that.

Some commentators have suggested, since the High Court ruling, that the judgment will pave the way for thousands of new war pension claims. I must tell the House that that is wrong. In response to my hon. Friend's further question, compensation is provided by the war pensions scheme, and I can tell the House that, as at 31 December 2002—the latest date on which statistics were published—approximately 2,330 Gulf veterans were in receipt of a war disablement pension.

How many veterans with Gulf war-related illness have fallen victim to so-called manning control by the Armed Forces Personnel Administration Agency, and what will the Minister do to remedy the injustice that they have suffered?

I thought that we were having questions on the Government's policy on Gulf war syndrome. Let me say, however, that manning control points are an essential tool for controlling the manning structure of the Army, as the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends will know.

May I welcome my hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box, and in doing so pay a compliment to his predecessor, who dealt with this subject very conscientiously? If what the press reports say is true and people are already admitting that they are suffering illnesses as a result of the second conflict, will he assure the House that those will be studied carefully in comparison with the previous cohort, so that we can narrow down the possible causes of those illnesses?

I reassure my hon. Friend that those involved in the recent conflict will of course be treated in exactly the same way.

May I, too, warmly welcome the hon. Gentleman to his post as Under-Secretary of State for Defence? He is a great asset to the Department, and it is far better that he is in the Ministry of Defence than in a jobsworthy place such as the Department for Constitutional Affairs. May I also thank his predecessor and pay tribute to him for all the hard work that he did in that post? We are also grateful that the Secretary of State for Defence is still in place and not at the Department of Trade and Industry, where, as I understand it, a press release that was not released was going to put him.

Will the Under-Secretary confirm that it is still the view of the Ministry of Defence that there is no such thing as Gulf war syndrome? Will he provide an estimate of the amount of compensation so far paid out? In addition, how much has research into Gulf war illness cost the Ministry of Defence?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome. May I say, as I said earlier, how pleased I am to be in the Ministry of Defence? My right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Minister of State are also very pleased to be in the Ministry of Defence and not in any other Department.

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's initial question is yes. I want to go further by saying that the judge in the Shaun Rusling case was very clear about the matter. He did not rule on whether Gulf war syndrome exists; his judgment was very clear about that when he said:

"This court is not in a position to express any views on the merits of the dispute as to whether, according to current medical research, Gulf War Syndrome is or is not a 'single medical entity'. It has not done so by this judgement."
On the hon. Gentleman's other question about the amount spent on medical research, I do not know the exact details but I undertake to write to him in due course.

Weapons Of Mass Destruction (Iraq)


What progress has been made by British troops in Iraq in finding weapons of mass destruction. [120543]

I begin by welcoming my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Caplin) to his new responsibilities at the same time as thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie), both personally and on behalf of the Ministry of Defence, for his excellent work as a Minister, especially his work as the first Minister with overall responsibility for veterans.

There are some 54 United Kingdom servicemen and women attached to the Iraq survey group. Over the next few weeks, the UK's contribution of military and civilian personnel will increase—[HON. MEMBERS: "Wrong question."] I thought that the House would like to know, in terms of the progress being made—the subject of Question 3—the number of United Kingdom personnel attached to the Iraq survey group. By coincidence, that is the subject matter of Question 2.

Investigation into Iraq's programmes to develop weapons of mass destruction remains a high priority for all coalition forces in Iraq. Elements of British forces are committed to this task as part of the Iraq survey group. Their priority—between 90 and 100 personnel—will be the search for weapons of mass destruction.

The Secretary of State may know that I considered the action in Iraq to be justified on the grounds that the regime of Saddam Hussein was both illegitimate and barbaric. However, it was the Government who made weapons of mass destruction such a central plank of their policy. Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that he has undermined the success in Iraq due to the lack of discovery of weapons of mass destruction? Those of us who want the action to be vindicated ask him to instigate a full judicial inquiry so that we may be quite certain that British troops were not sent to their deaths on a false premise.

I can assure the hon. Gentleman and the House of that fact. He implies that we are somehow responsible for our failure to find weapons of mass destruction. As I said in my answer a few moments ago, coalition forces are making a determined effort. I remind him that even by September 2002, having had many years in which to hide weapons of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein rather surprisingly—as far as the international community was concerned—indicated that he would allow UN inspectors back into Iraq. There were approximately seven months between then and the start of hostilities during which he had plenty of opportunity to hide weapons of mass destruction. Since that time, about two and half months have elapsed, much of which has obviously been devoted to the initial aftermath of the conflict.

Significant coalition forces are now in Iraq with a specific responsibility to investigate evidence of weapons of mass destruction. The hon. Gentleman would only be fair by recognising that Saddam Hussein had many more months in which to hide weapons of mass destruction—in an country with which he was familiar, after all—compared with the situation faced by coalition forces.

Does the Secretary of State not recognise that that argument is losing credibility very quickly and that many people wonder why the UN weapons inspection team was not allowed back into Iraq at the end of hostilities and must be run by the United States and Britain? They also wonder why, if there were all these weapons of mass destruction, the Iraqi regime never used them.

On my hon. Friend's last observation, clearly one of the reasons why the Iraqi regime did not use its weapons of mass destruction was that it was not given the opportunity owing to the excellent and rapid advance of coalition forces. I am slightly surprised to hear his observations because he is someone who, to his credit, consistently criticised Saddam Hussein's regime. I assume that he is not saying that the weapons did not exist and did not provide a threat to the security of the region and the wider world. That remains the reason why action was taken in support of the United Nations efforts.

Does the Secretary of State accept that those of us who regret that Saddam Hussein has not yet been found believe he exists?

I am always pleased to hear a quotation from my friend the Secretary of Defence for the United States.

Does my right hon. Friend sometimes get the impression from the critics that because weapons of mass destruction have not yet been found, we should apologise to Saddam and ask him to come back and rule the country again? There are those of us who believe that what was done was absolutely justified, and evidence of terrible atrocities has now been found. Is it not time for both Britain and America to get a firmer grip on the situation in Iraq, ensure that essential services are restored and tell the people of Iraq—after all, it is their country—what we intend to do in the immediate future?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. His approach to Saddam Hussein and the regime in Iraq is always forthright and robust. He is right that we need not only to continue the process of rebuilding that country but to make determined efforts, as we are doing, to restore that country to the control of its own people.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is the potential for far quicker discovery of weapons of mass destruction if many of the troops currently deployed by the coalition, and by us in particular, are replaced to some extent by civilians? I have just returned from the Basra region in southern Iraq, which is largely safe. Does right hon. Gentleman regret the lack of progress made by, for example, the Department for International Development in deploying people there? Does he regret the failure of the Secretary of State for International Development to go there? I appreciate that I may be more expendable than a Secretary of State—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It's the way I tell them. Does the Secretary of State not think that the civilian side of our Government should approach the work that it should he doing in southern Iraq with a little more urgency to free up military personnel to do military jobs?

I am delighted that the hon. and learned Gentleman attracts so much support on the Opposition Benches. It might be regarded as yet another leadership bid.

On the suggestion of changing coalition forces, had I been given a greater opportunity earlier, I would have said not only that the Iraq survey group is a military group, but that it consists of a number of civilians with particular investigative skills. In a sense, therefore, the process that the hon. and learned Gentleman outlines is occurring as we reduce the number of military personnel in Iraq, especially those who have had recent combat experience, and replace them with fresh troops and, in particular, civilians who are dedicated to the task of reconstruction, as he advocates.

Does my right hon. Friend give any credence to the suggestions of President Bush about weapons of mass destruction and looters? If he does, should we not, at least in British-controlled areas, be urgently seeking the assistance of the UN inspectors to try to reduce the risk of black market sales to terrorists?

I am aware of at least one incident in which equipment thought to contain the elements of a biological or chemical weapon was looted, although the looters were clearly more interested in the fridge than in its contents. So there is some evidence for what the President has set out, but such incidents largely relate to the early days and the immediate aftermath of the conflict. As hon. Members said, the situation in the southern area in particular, for which the United Kingdom has responsibility, is largely calm at present.

May I tell the Secretary of State that we believe that it is too early to say whether weapons of mass destruction will, or will not, be found? However, that search has exposed issues relating to the presentation of the Government's intelligence material on weapons of mass destruction that go to the heart of the debate about the integrity of Government. Now that we have seen a dramatic climbdown by the Government in this morning's announcement that Mr. Alastair Campbell will, after all, give evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee, does not that serve only to strengthen the case for the full and independent judicial inquiry that the Prime Minister continues to resist?

Moreover, in three weeks' time the House will rise for a two-month summer recess. Wi11 the Government come to the House before then to give a full account of progress in the search for Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction? If there is nothing to add by that time, will not the case for a full inquiry be even stronger? How else can the Government restore public faith in their handling of the security services now that no one believes a word they say?

I was curious about the hon. Gentleman's opening proposition that it is too early to say—perhaps it is too early to say what his policy is on these matters, as he seems to change it according to circumstance. I must tell the House, in case it escaped the hon. Gentleman's notice, that I do not have ministerial responsibility for Mr. Campbell, so I am not in a position to deal with that matter. As for the hon. Gentleman's final observation, I was slightly surprised by his suggestion that he would prefer a judicial inquiry to one conducted by right hon. and hon. Members in the House of Commons. If that really is his position, he needs to articulate it more clearly.

Us Defence Procurement Policy


If he will make a statement on the impact of US defence procurement policy on the UK defence industry. [120544)

The United States is the second largest market for United Kingdom defence products, and US defence procurement policy impacts very directly on the UK defence industry. At present, the US spends only about 2.5 per cent. of its procurement budget overseas, and UK industry has succeeded in securing half of that business, worth £1 billion a year. We are working with UK industry and the US Government to widen the scope for the involvement of our industry in American procurement, and we believe that that will be to the advantage of both. A more open and transparent defence market will serve our joint goals of better value for money and developing an efficient and innovative defence industry.

I thank the Minister for his expansive answer, but he will be aware that a Bill on defence authorisation is quietly slipping through Congress. Its provisions, the White House says, are

"burdensome, counterproductive, and have the potential to degrade U.S. military capabilities."
Moreover, it threatens the joint strike fighter programme if passed.n its current form, affecting £200 billion-worth of the programme and thousands of jobs both here and internationally. Will my right hon. Friend make representations to the US Administration to make sure that that Bill is amended accordingly?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue. My earlier answer showed the importance of US defence procurement to UK industry, and we are always trying to improve our export capabilities, not just into that market but elsewhere. Because of those important considerations, we do make representations of the type that my hon. Friend asked about, but it is not just about selling equipment; it is about ensuring that there is interoperability between NATO's defence forces, and the open market is the best way to achieve that.

May we, too, add our welcome to the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Caplin), in his new ministerial post, and add our tribute to his predecessor for all his work? We also congratulate the Government on the progress that they have made with the US Administration on supporting defence sales between our countries. However, with only one major domestic defence contractor left, does the Minister agree that it is important that the Government ensure that BAE Systems continues to be independent and is not vulnerable to an international takeover or merger, thus ensuring that true international competition will continue?

It is not strictly true, whatever the hon. Gentleman says, that there is only one major defence company left, as 150,000 jobs in this country are tied up in defence. I do not know whether he was ruling out Rolls-Royce or whether it is the company that he was referring to. I do not know whether he was ruling out Thales, a major defence presence in this country. I do not know which major company he was referring to. However, I welcome his recognition of what we are doing to ensure that we fully exploit our relationship with the US in the marketplace to the best advantage of our economy and the US economy as well. However, we must also bear in mind the need to ensure that our equipment has an interoperative capability, which serves us all well in NATO and elsewhere.

One organisation that successfully secured American procurement work is the Defence Aviation Repair Agency, which repairs components for Apache helicopters. Will my right hon. Friend do all he can to ensure that that organisation attracts more work, especially in the run-up to the completion of the Red Dragon project, and will he agree to meet me to discuss ways of achieving that for DARA?

I fully recognise the strong role played by my hon. Friend in promoting the, cause of DARA. As the sole owner, in technical terms, of that organisation, I well understand the points that he makes. DARA has been successful in securing commercial contracts. The establishment of the trading fund provided that opportunity, and I pay tribute to the management and staff of DARA for all that they have achieved. The Red Dragon project represents a clear commitment to the future, and I was pleased to be able to agree to those proposals. Yes, I will meet my hon. Friend to discuss these matters, if he wishes, sooner rather than later.

Given British Aerospace's view that the Government's defence industrial policy does it few favours, and last week's warning from the Society of British Aerospace Companies that that world-beating industry faces a further 15,000 job losses on top of the 20,000 that it suffered last year, what has the Prime Minister done to use his influence to secure a dividend from the United States for British support for the US on Iraq, by obtaining better access for British defence exports to the US? Is not the least that we can expect that he should resist the legislation mentioned by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies)? While we are speaking of defence procurement, can the Minister tell us what the Government will do in the event that British Aerospace decides that its only future is to be swallowed up by a US company?

We shall have to take each step as it comes in responding to any change in the defence marketplace in terms of individual companies and possible amalgamations. The national interest would, of course, be uppermost in our mind in any future restructuring. That must be considered when assessing any future relationship. The hon. Gentleman should know that the measure to which he referred is known as the ITAR—international trade and arms regulations—waiver. Considerable progress has been made on that, but not as much as we would have liked, because matters intervened: first, the change of Administration and the need to build new relationships; secondly, the Afghanistan conflict; and then the Iraq conflict, which tied up a significant number of people. However, four of the seven key principles have now been signed off, and I have no doubt that the Prime Minister will continue to bring whatever influence he can to bear with the US Administration to ensure the future of the British economy.

Shoeburyness Ranges


If he will make a statement on the future use of the new ranges in Shoeburyness. [120545]

The Shoeburyness ranges are included in the long-term partnering agreement that has been negotiated with QinetiQ for the delivery of a long-term test and evaluation capability to the Ministry of Defence.

I offer my congratulations to the hon. Gentleman on his appointment. Has he had time to consider the impact of the many changes that have occurred in Shoeburyness recently, including the privatisation of the range facilities, the removal of MOD police from Foulness and the proposed house building on part of the site? Would he consider making time available in his busy diary to meet the military and civil defence staff there, and also representatives of the local community, in what I think he will appreciate is one of the most unique and significant MOD sites in the country?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcoming words. I can tell him that QinetiQ security service now oversees site security and may work, where necessary, in conjunction with both Essex police and Ministry of Defence police. As for a meeting, I shall be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and his constituents, but I cannot undertake to do so in the immediate future because of the pressures on my diary in these first few days.

Territorial Army


How many Territorial Army soldiers were deployed on Operation Telic; and how many are still in Iraq. [120546]

A total of 4,592 Territorial Army personnel have been deployed on Operation Telic, both at home bases in the United Kingdom and in the Gulf region. Currently 1,400 TA personnel remain in the Gulf region.

I am sure the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the outstanding contribution that the Territorial Army made to Operation Telic—a contribution that can only be enhanced by the arrival of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne), who was called out today.

When I was in the region last week, one brigade commander told me that during Operation Telic 14 per cent. of his troops had been TA troops. That level has now risen to 25 per cent., which must be evidence for the fact that TA soldiers are being kept out there for longer than their regular counterparts. The Secretary of State will know that, under the Reserve Forces Act 1996, if a TA soldier has been called up for six months or longer, he may not be called up again for a further three years. Given that that is the case, what will he do if he requires those soldiers' skills again before 2006?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his generous and appropriate tribute to members of the TA, who made an outstanding contribution in Iraq and continue to do so. We anticipated that contribution in the strategic defence review and it has fully vindicated the policy that it set out.

As to the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that TA personnel were remaining in theatre for longer than their regular counterparts, with one or two notable exceptions, that is simply not the case. The exceptions are largely in the medical field. When regular forces have returned to the United Kingdom, the associated TA soldiers have done so as well. As to the future, we obviously did not call out all members of the TA for the operation. Should there be a requirement for a major operation in future, we will obviously have plenty of people to call upon should it be necessary to do so.

I have a constituent who was called up by the TA on 21 January and is currently serving in the Gulf. He has yet to receive his £1,200 annual bounty and neither he nor apparently any of his regiment have received their £150-a-month separation allowance. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is an unacceptable way of treating our troops, and that it is bringing undue financial pressure on their families? I have passed on the individual details and I hope that he will investigate the matter urgently, but can he inform the House whether it is a general problem?

I am not aware that it is a general problem, but if my hon. Friend lets me have the particular details, I shall ensure that they are investigated as a matter of urgency.

In praising my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne), who is on his way to the Gulf, I should declare an interest to the House, as I shall be eating a dinner on his behalf in October.

Following the question asked by the hon. Member for Ayr (Sandra Osborne), does the Secretary of State accept that the best way of ensuring healthy reserve forces is for the Ministry of Defence to deal with the units concerned in organising its call-out arrangements, rather than sending out central memorandums like some sort of credit agency? Does he accept that, in organising those arrangements, there is a huge difference in standards between different parts of the Army and the other two forces? For example, the Royal Marines and Royal Engineers get it right, while the infantry directorate is arguably the worst.

I am certainly willing to consider those arrangements. If the hon. Gentleman has specific details about where he believes there were problems, they will be investigated as part of the process that we are undertaking to learn lessons from this deployment. In preparing for the conflict in the Gulf, I had the opportunity to visit Chilwell, the centre for call-out. In speaking to a great number of people from the Territorial Army and the reservists, I did not come across the sort of complaints that he mentions. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work done by Chilwell on behalf of the TA and reservists. I look to the future and to ensuring that, if there are problems with the arrangements, we get them right.

Will the Secretary of State consider sending some of the Territorials to look at the mobile labs in the form of two trailers in northern Iraq? A report in The Observer on 15 June said that the system was originally sold by a British company, Marconi, as a command and control system. If any Territorials investigated the trailers, would they find a "Made in Britain" stamp on them? If this is a smoking gun in terms of weapons of mass destruction, why did we apparently sell them?

I do not think that anyone suggested that this was an example of a smoking gun. It has rightly been suggested that this was a gun and that the mobile laboratories were wholly consistent with the description of mobile laboratories given by Secretary of State Colin Powell in his evidence to the United Nations Security Council. That remains the position as far as coalition forces are concerned.

May I warmly endorse the words of the Secretary of State and my hon. Friends about the distinguished and admirable service of which the TA have yet again proved themselves capable in the Gulf? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that however good the TA and the rest of our soldiers are, unless there is a very significant improvement in the internal security situation in Iraq, all the hopes we have for the improvement of the lives of ordinary people living in Iraq will come to naught? Must we not reassess whether there are enough troops on the ground; whether we need to put some more troops into Baghdad; and whether we should call Lord Ashdown back from Bosnia and ask him to sit alongside Paul Bremer to see what he can do to help?

As I understand it, Lord Ashdown is to meet Paul Bremer in due course, and no doubt they will have some interesting conversations about the similarities between the situation in the early days in Bosnia and the current situation in Iraq. I counsel the hon. Gentleman against assuming that the isolated incidents in certain parts of the suburbs of Baghdad mean that there is widespread disorder right across Iraq. That is simply not the case. There are obviously elements who are continuing to resist coalition forces, and they are being dealt with, but it is by no means a generalised problem across Iraq. Indeed, the security situation in Iraq is largely good and improving.

How many members of the Territorial Army are engaged in the search for weapons of mass destruction? If it is the Government's case that those weapons have been hidden, have they engaged in any estimate of the number and type of vehicles necessary to transport such massive armaments?

I do not have the figures on whether any members of the Territorial Army a re currently engaged in the search for weapons of mass destruction, but if so they will be very small in number. Nevertheless, it is important that we continue that search.

I would counsel my hon. Friend against the suggestion that we are necessarily looking for a massive stock of, for example, chemical or biological weapons. A very small quantity of a biological agent could easily destroy the population of a major city. We are searching not for a large weapon, but for an enormously dangerous one. I am sure that my hon. Friend appreciates that.

I join in the tributes paid to the Territorial Army, especially to the TA call-out centre at Chilwell. I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree that there were many problems with the call-out, and that he will wish to address them rather than to dismiss them.

Last week, a TA commanding officer told me that one third of his battalion would remain fully mobilised for the foreseeable future. That perhaps reflects the comments by Major General Freddie Viggers—the senior officer serving in the US military command headquarters in Baghdad—who said that British forces would be in Iraq for at least another four years. Given that, and the increased demands on the TA for security measures at home, has not the Government's decision to cut the TA by 18,000 soldiers in 1998 turned out to be reckless, short-sighted and irresponsible, as we warned at the time?

Not only did I not dismiss the suggestions made by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) earlier: I said that I would consider them. It is important to get it right. As for the suggestion that British forces will be there for as long as four years, various people have made various estimates, but the Government's ambition is to be able to remove British forces from Iraq as soon as the security situation allows it and as soon as the Iraqi people can take responsibility for their own affairs. I paid my tribute to the TA, and I want an expanding TA to continue to provide that kind of contribution to our regular forces.

Missile Defence


What recent discussions he has had with the Governments of (a) Canada and (b) Denmark about UK policy on strategic missile defence. [120547]

I discussed a number of issues, including missile defence, with my Danish counterpart in Copenhagen on 8 April. I have had no recent discussions on missile defence with my Canadian counterpart.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the concern that is being expressed by people in Denmark and around RAF Fylingdales in North Yorkshire about the environmental consequences of missile defence, especially the medical consequences of phased-array radar, which have been widely reported in the local media in Yorkshire and on the BBC's "Look North"? Can my right hon. Friend tell me what advice he has sought from the National Radiological Protection Board about those risks and what advice he can give to people in North Yorkshire about their nature?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue. I am aware of the claims to which he refers. We have not seen any evidence that phased-array radar emissions at levels below those considered safe by the relevant scientific and medical authorities can harm the health of human beings or livestock. The claims are apparently based on material emanating from the United States, and we await the results of studies being made there. However, the weight of current scientific and medical evidence does not in any way support those claims.

Does the Secretary of State agree that it makes better sense to have a missile defence system in place in an era in which we are concerned about rogue regimes with potentially small numbers of missiles than it might have done during a cold war confrontation when we were dealing with a superpower with very large numbers of missiles? When he discusses these important issues with our NATO allies, what consideration does he give to the financing of any such project in the future? Is it a question of discussing with them how best to co-operate with our American allies on a project that they will finance, or would we have to make a significant financial contribution—and if so, could we afford to do so?

We have not come to any specific decisions on whether to pursue missile defence for the United Kingdom, but at the Prague summit last November, all our NATO allies clearly demonstrated that we were committed to examining options to address the increasing missile threat. The question of finance has not yet been specifically addressed, and it need not be until there is agreement as to how to go forward in this area. We have, however, been able to agree a framework memorandum of understanding with the United States, which sets out the guiding principles governing co-operation between the United States and the United Kingdom on missile defence. Obviously, one of the aspects that we have to consider further is the cost, and who should meet that cost.

Machrihanish Raf Base


If he will make a statement on his Department's plans for the former RAF base at Machrihanish. [120548]

The base is being retained on a care and maintenance basis, pending a review of possible military requirements for the site.

I thank the Minister for that answer and congratulate him on his appointment. May I draw to his attention the fact that, if the plans to cease to support military training at Machrihanish in September go ahead, high-quality training facilities will be lost? As Kintyre is a remote peninsula with high unemployment, it would be very difficult for the civilian workers who would be made redundant to find alternative employment. In view of these factors, will the Minister reconsider the penny-pinching decision to stop the training at Machrihanish? Will he, for example, discuss with the local enterprise company the possibility of putting together a financial package to save the training facilities? I noticed the Minister's willingness to meet people from Shoeburyness; may I invite him to make the trip to Machrihanish to see for himself the excellent facilities there?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcoming remarks. He will be aware that the Ministry of Defence is continuing to work closely with the local authority and the local enterprise company to develop the capacity that might become surplus to requirements at Machrihanish, including any land or buildings, for alternative uses. The site was originally declared surplus to military requirements and transferred to Defence Estates for disposal on 1 April 2000, but a decision on whether the site is surplus to future requirements remains some way off; it is too early to say.



If he will make a statement on the contribution which the armed services based in the south-west of England (a) made and (b) continue to make to coalition operations in Iraq. [120549]

I thank my hon. Friend for drawing the attention of the House to the good work that was and continues to be done in Iraq by armed forces personnel based in the south-west of England, and by all our servicemen and women.

From Plymouth, HMS Ocean, with supporting vessels from the amphibious task group, was instrumental in supporting the crucial early landing of 3 Commando Brigade on the al-Faw peninsula. In addition, Royal Marine commandos were involved in securing the port of Umm Qasr, through which all subsequent seaborne aid has been channelled. HMS Chatham remains in the Gulf. Other units based in the south-west of England also played an important role in Iraq, including Royal Marines from Taunton, and Royal Naval air squadrons from Culdrose and Yeovilton.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. He describes a number of roles of which the service personnel and their families can rightly be proud. In respect of those families, he might recollect that, during questions on the statement to the House on Iraq on 21 March, I raised a question about media intrusion at the time of the first casualties arising from the conflict.

I wonder whether my right hon. Friend has had time to note that the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport published its report last week on its investigation into privacy and media intrusion. The recommendation at paragraph 72 says:
"We recommend that the PCC, under its new Chairman, considers the case for taking a more consistent approach to foreseeable events that herald intense media activity and people in grief and shock; and for acting as soon as possible after unexpected disasters have occurred."
Will my right hon. Friend ensure that he plays his part in ensuring that that recommendation is fully followed through?

I do indeed recollect my hon. Friend raising that particular matter. A number of servicemen connected to the south-west lost their lives or were injured while deployed on operations in Iraq. Our thoughts remain with them and their families. Sadly, there were too many examples of the press stepping over lines of common decency, or failing to respect the feelings of those who had just lost loved ones. I have read the recommendations in the Culture, Media and Sport Committee report published last Monday. That is an interesting comment. It is also interesting that Christopher Meyer, the new chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, has indicated that that is the type of case that he would be open to dealing with. If anything can be done to ensure that the press act responsibly at all times when they deal with victims and those who may lose their lives in conflict, I think we will all applaud it.

No mention of the disproportionate part played by the armed forces in the south-west would be complete without acknowledging yet again the professionalism and dedication of the staff at commando training camp Lympstone. Equally important is an acknowledgment of the very important part played by the Royal Marines Reserve, 150 of whom were deployed recently in Iraq. However, there seems to be some discrepancy among public sector employers in releasing royal marine reservists for their annual training, which is critical if they are to play their part fully as we call on them to do from time to time. As part of his review following recent events in Iraq, will the Minister look carefully at how we can convince public sector employers throughout the country to approach the release of Royal Marine Reservists in the same way, without discriminating against some of them, which unfortunately has been the case in the past?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that matter. I was not aware of the specifics, but in the recent debate on personnel matters we dealt with the impact on individual reservists and those in the Territorial Army, and the relationship with their employers, and I stressed the importance of ensuring that employers are fully aware of the role that reservists play and engage with it. It is in their interests as well as in the national interest that those actions are taken. I will ensure that those sentiments are expressed to them. If there are any particular problems, I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman brought them to my attention and that of my hon. Friends. We will do what we can to ensure that that is fully complied with. I echo his sentiments about the crucial role played by training encampments and the Royal Marine Reserves.



If he will make a statement on the procurement orders for (a) tanks and (b) combat aircraft. [120551]

The Challenger 2 is a world-class battle-winning tank which performed successfully in operations in Iraq. It is planned to remain in service until at least 2025. No replacement programme is yet under consideration.

Current combat aircraft procurement programmes are those for the joint strike fighter, the Typhoon and the attack helicopter. While no final decisions have yet been taken, we expect to purchase 150 of the short takeoff and vertical landing variant of the JSF. The Typhoon is in production and the UK will receive 55 aircraft from the first tranche. Orders from the second or third tranches will be made in due course. There are 67 Apache attack helicopters on order. In addition, on 10 June, the Royal Air Force took delivery of the last of its 142 Tornado GR4s—a major upgrade programme—which performed extremely well in recent operations in Iraq.

In view of the need to reshape the armed forces to take account of the changing military and terrorist threat, and of the need to acquire new equipment such as the proposed two aircraft carriers and the joint strike fighter, how confident can we be that Government will continue with and complete the purchase of equipment originally planned for the defence of the central plain of Europe in the 1980s?

A White Paper will be published in the autumn. Of course, many of these issues have to be addressed as we look to the future, and I suggest that the hon. Gentleman await publication of that White Paper, which will undoubtedly spark his interest and that of many other Members.

Given the history of cost overruns on the helicopter contract and other contracts, why is the Department proposing to disregard the advice of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Treasury that it could save £1 billion if the forthcoming contract for training jets were opened up to international competitive tendering?

We recognise that the Hawk has an excellent track record and remains a world leader in its field. We have spent the past few weeks assessing the BAE Systems proposal and consulting others across government, including the Treasury. We need to determine whether the proposal meets our military requirements and offers value for money for the taxpayer. There is great awareness of the importance of our decision and its impact on jobs and manufacturing in the United Kingdom, but we have undertaken to reach a decision by the end of this month, which is not far away. That remains our intention.

Democratic Republic Of The Congo


What (a) inoculations and (b) preventive medicines have been given to UK troops deploying to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. [120552]

In my oral statement to the House on 12 June, I said that we would finalise the exact number of engineering personnel to be deployed to the Democratic Republic of the Congo on the basis of further detailed analysis of the engineering tasks required in Bunia. I can now tell the House that this work has been completed, and we intend to send about 70 Royal Engineers to assist in improving Bunia airfield. With support staff and headquarters-based officers, total deployment will be in the region of 85 personnel.

In answer to the hon. Gentleman's specific question, all troops deploying to the Democratic Republic of the Congo are to be inoculated against vaccine-preventable endemic diseases such as hepatitis A, tuberculosis and yellow fever. Appropriate anti-malaria tablets and any necessary booster vaccinations will be provided before deployment. In addition, deploying troops will be briefed on preventive measures that they should take when in theatre.

I thank the Minister for that answer, which he has clearly thought about very carefully since last week, when he was a little more vague in what he was telling us. Will he now make it very clear that he knows exactly what the troops' mission is?

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman thinks that I made my statement last week—I made it the week before. On the question of being vague, did tell the House that there was a requirement for a recce team to report back. It has now done so, and I have given a response. If the hon. Gentleman were truly interested in this issue, he would surely have read United Nations Security Council resolution 1484, which sets out the precise nature of the mission. It is

"to contribute to the stabilization of the security conditions and the improvement of the humanitarian situation in Bunia, to ensure the protection of the airport, the internally displaced persons in the camps in Bunia and, if the situation requires it to contribute to the safety of the civilian population, UN personnel and the humanitarian presence in the town".
That will be the role and the mission of the EU-led troops.

I am grateful to the Minister for his earlier reply and reference to the 70 or so Royal Engineers being deployed to the Congo. However, a cursory look at history shows what a hugely dangerous theatre this part of Africa is, particularly for British soldiers. Is it wise that our soldiers should be going without any combat elements themselves, particularly given that they have to depend on French forces to defend them?

I would not want to rise too readily to that last comment. Given the hon. Gentleman's military background, he surely ought to know just how highly our armed forces rate the French armed forces and their capabilities. This is a very specific mission for our Royal Engineers, who will have supporting troops; in any case, all are trained in self-defence and the use of their own weapons. The mission will take place over a specific time scale in order to achieve the objective of opening up the airfield, which will hopefully allow other support to come in from the United Nations. That will lead to what we all hope will prove to be the eventual stabilisation of an undoubtedly very troubled region.

Wind Farms


What assessment he has made of the impact of offshore wind farms on MOD radar systems; and if he will make a statement. [120553]

Ministry of Defence officials are involved with the Department of Trade and Industry, the Civil Aviation Authority, National Air Traffic Services and the British Wind Energy Association in a group that is addressing the effects on radar of both onshore and offshore wind turbines.

I thank the Minister for his reply, but how long is it likely to take before that group reaches a firm conclusion about the impact on radar of offshore wind farms, and why does it not seem to be a problem for other European countries? What is the difference between British radar systems and those of other European countries?

I know that my hon. Friend has a long history of asking questions on these matters. I can assure him and the House that every proposal received by the Ministry of Defence is given a full appraisal by at least seven separate technical advisers, each with their own specialism. The test is case-by-case consideration of the effect of proposed developments on the ability to train our pilots safely and also their effect on operational capability.

I congratulate the Minister on his appointment, but is he aware that both the Crown Estate and the Atomic Energy Authority have made applications for many offshore wind turbines on the Wash and off the Norfolk coast. What evaluations have been made of the potential impact of those turbines on Ministry of Defence radar and on the RAF bombing range in the Wash?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that all those matters are taken into consideration. That is why we are making assessments. I can also tell the House that, of the 200 applications for offshore wind farm proposals received between November 1996 and last month, the Ministry of Defence only objected to 37 on safety grounds.



If he will make a statement on the procurement of ordnance by the armed forces. [120554]

The majority of conventional ammunition is procured under a framework partnering agreement with Royal Ordnance Defence, which covers the supply of ordnance and ammunition sub-systems, including propellant. Other weapons are procured on the basis of smart acquisition procedures to obtain the best value for money for the taxpayer, meet the requirements of the armed forces, and ensure security of supply.

BAE Systems faces a situation in which General Dynamics and other companies are looking to acquire ordnance provision. What will the Minister do about the security of supply of the procurement of ordnance in this country, given that it could be owned in future by an American company? Are there any plans to deal with the problem if that were to happen?

I have given an earlier indication about how we would have to deal with such matters. We would have to look into the likely arrangements in the event of a merger, amalgamation or takeover and its consequent impact on the national interest. Matters would have to be dealt with at that time, based on the new relationships between the companies.

Strategic Technologies


If he will make a statement on the technologies which his Department has assessed as being of strategic importance to the future effectiveness of the UK's defence forces. [120555]

The Ministry of Defence has well-defined processes for identifying key technologies to support the United Kingdom's military capability. Examples of these have been enshrined in the defence technology centres, which involve collaboration with industry and will be used to bring technology forward. The MOD is continuously reviewing wider science and technology to assess the impact for defence.

May I express disappointment in the Minister's answer? He did not expressly state that the maintenance of a UK aerospace capability was central to our future defence needs. In the light of discussions said to be taking place about the future of BAE Systems and an American partner, what steps would the Department take, in the event of such a marriage occurring, to ensure that Britain maintained a proper military aerospace capability of its own?

That is the third time I have been asked that question, and I have nothing further to add to what I said earlier.

Security Threats


If he will make a statement on the armed forces' military preparedness to deal with security threats to the UK. [120556]

The involvement of the armed forces in counter-terrorism and civil protection was reviewed following the events of 11 September 2001 and enhanced as part of the development of the new chapter of the strategic defence review. Their role is to act in support of the police and other emergency services. A range of robust contingency plans for responding to a wide range of terrorist threats continues to be regularly exercised, tested, reviewed and refined in the light of changing domestic and international circumstances.

Reports in the press at the weekend suggest that we are not prepared to deal with the security threats. Would the Minister care to deny or confirm those reports?

I do not know which reports the hon. Lady is referring to, but if she cares to pass me copies, I shall be able to comment on their accuracy or otherwise.