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Pre-deployment Training

Volume 498: debated on Monday 2 November 2009

12. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of availability of equipment for pre-deployment training in the UK. (296692)

The balance of equipment between operational theatres and training is kept under constant review. The training requirement is dynamic, as new pieces of equipment are brought into service and as changes are made to the size and composition of deployed forces. In general, the quantity of equipment available for pre-deployment training is increasing.

Where pre-deployment training is inadequate due to a lack of equipment, what extra training takes place in the field of operations before our troops are put into harm’s way, particularly in the use of vehicles and electronic counter-measure devices on vehicles?

Let me be very clear: we do not deploy troops where there is an unacceptable balance of risk. Rightly, our priority—I think that Members throughout the House will agree with this—is to get the best possible equipment into theatre, but we are certainly increasing the availability of equipment for training. For example, between July and October we achieved a 50 per cent. increase in the number of Ridgback and Jackal vehicles available for pre-deployment training. However, wherever there is a gap, that is addressed so that we do not deploy troops in circumstances where there is an unacceptable balance of risk.

Is the Minister not aware of the National Audit Office report earlier this year that said that there is

“a shortage of appropriate theatre-specific equipment to train on”?

I can confirm from my knowledge of the Welsh Guards, who have just returned from theatre to Aldershot, that they did not have sufficient quantities of Mastiff equipment to train on here, with the result that they had to train in-theatre, did not understand the maintenance of the equipment and as a consequence suffered more maintenance problems. Will the Minister address the issue more urgently, and provide more equipment if it is required so that the guys who are going out on operations are properly trained before they get there?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, in the past three years we have spent an additional £10 billion on new equipment. He also knows that he and his colleagues are not proposing one penny more in additional defence expenditure than this Government are. In the current circumstances, the priority has to be the delivery of equipment to theatre. That is what we are doing, but we do not do that, and we do not deploy troops, where there is an unacceptable balance of risk.