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House of Commons Hansard
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Written Statements
29 June 2016
Volume 612

Written Statements

Wednesday 29 June 2016

Defence

Strategic Defence and Security Review: UK Resilience

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The strategic defence and security review (SDSR) 2015 set out the need to strengthen the armed forces contribution to UK resilience. To maximise the size of the force available to deliver this task, the Chief of the General Staff has today announced that the Army will in future plan to use regular and reserve phase 1 trained personnel in response to crises within the UK.

This change will increase the utility and the size of force available in the event of a national emergency. It will result in Army personnel contributing more, and earlier in their careers, and therefore feeling more motivated and more valued. For the Regular Army, this will mean the potential deployment of sub-units from training establishments led by their instructors; for reserves it will mean that they are able to participate in training and UK deployments with their units at an earlier stage than previously. To prepare for this, all Regular and reserve Army personnel will now complete the military annual training tests, which qualify them to assist in UK resilience tasks, during phase 1 training.

Planning routinely to use Army phase 1 trained personnel to provide additional support to UK resilience tasks such as flood response, or to backfill for others deployed on such tasks including responding to terrorist attacks, will increase the pool of trained and disciplined manpower available by around 3,000 to 5,000 regulars and 1,800 reserves.

To reflect this, the term “trained strength” will now include all armed forces personnel trained in the core function of their service. The Army will recognise the size of its additional available force by including personnel who have completed phase 1 training within the trained strength. This, however, will not change the manifesto commitment, confirmed in the SDSR, to a Regular Army of 82,000. This will result in the addition of around 1,800 reservists to the overall trained Army Reserve: we will now also increase the target for trained Army reserves to 32,000 by 2025.

This change does not affect the progress made in developing reserves phase 2 training. Each of the phase 2 training establishments will continue to deliver reserve focused phase 2 (and phase 3) training.

Trained strength numbers for the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force remain unaffected, reflecting the requirement for their personnel to complete phase 2 to be able to fulfil the core function of their respective services. This would not preclude Royal Navy or Royal Air Force phase 1 trained personnel contributing in the support of a UK resilience task in extreme circumstances.

A public consultation will be launched in due course on the inclusion of the revised trained strength figures within the monthly service personnel statistics publication. The revised Future Reserves 2020 strength growth profiles for the Army Reserve will be published following this consultation.

[HCWS49]

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Gifting of Equipment (Syria Civil Defence and Free Syrian Police)

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It is the normal practice when a Government Department proposes to make a gift of a value exceeding £300,000, for the Department concerned to present to the House of Commons a minute giving particulars of the gift and explaining the circumstances; and to refrain from making the gift until 14 parliamentary sitting days after the issue of the minute, except in cases of special urgency.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has today laid a departmental minute proposing the gifting of equipment to Syria Civil Defence and Free Syria Police teams.

The situation in Syria remains extremely fragile. An estimated 250,000 people have been killed since the war began five years ago, many of them innocent civilians. The Assad regime continues to use the most barbaric military methods and tactics available, including the use of indiscriminate artillery fire, chemical weapons and barrel bombs. The UK remains committed to doing all it can to promote a political settlement to end the conflict, to alleviate the humanitarian suffering, and to protect UK national security through countering terrorist and extremist threats.

In March 2015, I laid departmental minutes before the House and issued written statements setting out our plans to gift equipment to Syria Civil Defence and the Free Syrian Police teams operating in opposition-controlled areas of Syria. No objections were received to the gifts and the UK distributed the equipment to both sets of teams along with comprehensive training packages. Civil defence teams have now saved over 50,000 lives by rescuing civilians trapped in damaged buildings, fighting fires and providing emergency first aid. The Free Syrian Police continues its valuable work to keep traffic moving, prevent looting and to support the distribution of humanitarian aid. Other international donors have also contributed to both initiatives.

The UK intends to continue its support to these programmes by increasing their communications capability and mobility of the teams, providing more targeted operational equipment—whether for search and rescue, or tracing explosives—as well as build up the capacity of these organisations to deliver on the ground. The departmental minute laid today sets out our proposal to gift £4 million in equipment to Syria Civil Defence and £4 million in equipment to those operating within the Free Syrian Police. For Syria Civil Defence, the proposed list of equipment includes cutting and rescue tools, personal protective gear including helmets, uniforms, communications equipment, medical supplies, equipment for the disposal of unexploded ordinance, office supplies, vehicles and fire-fighting equipment. For the Free Syrian Police, the proposed list of equipment includes vehicles, communications kit, traffic signs and cones, uniforms and generators. We expect to spend £23.5 million this financial year on both programmes of support in total through the Government’s Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF).

The use of CSSF funds to cover the costs of the gift has been approved by members of the Middle East and North Africa strategic programme board. The gift is being scrutinised to ensure that the provision of this equipment is consistent with export controls and complies with our international obligations. Recipients have been carefully selected to prevent equipment being given to those involved in extremist activities or human rights violations. The risk of diversion is still a real possibility, but we assess that the considerable benefit this equipment would bring to the moderate opposition in Syria greatly outweigh this risk, which we have plans in place to mitigate. There is constant monitoring of the situation on ground, and all equipment transfers are approved by Her Majesty’s Government immediately before delivery. All our assistance is carefully calibrated and legal, is aimed at alleviating human suffering and supporting moderate groups and is regularly monitored and evaluated.

The Treasury has approved the proposal in principle. If, during the period of 14 parliamentary sitting days beginning on the date on which the departmental minute was laid before the House of Commons, a Member signifies an objection by giving notice of a parliamentary question or a motion relating to the minute, or by otherwise raising the matter in the House, final approval of the gift will be withheld pending an examination of the objection.

[HCWS48]