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Radiation Workers

7. Mr. Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford): What steps he is taking to monitor the health of radiation workers. [8355]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie): In accordance with the Ionising Radiations Regulations 1999, the Ministry of Defence ensures that an appointed doctor reviews at least once every year the health of radiation workers over the age of 18 who are likely to exceed three-tenths of any statutory annual dose limit. Other radiation workers would be subject to a health review only if they exceeded a statutory dose limit, or worked with ionising radiations under conditions laid down by the appointed doctor. Although there is no legal requirement to review the health of former radiation workers, the MOD contributes to the National Registry of Radiation Workers, providing data for epidemiological studies.

Mr. Shaw: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Since 1984, when Chatham dockyard's nuclear refit facility closed, there has been concern in the Medway towns that many of the facility's former workers could have contracted cancer as a direct result of their work. Progress has been made in terms of compensation and information, and I am grateful for my hon. Friend's assistance on that. However, is he prepared to accept that, until there is further progress in assisting that group of workers, they should have access to the screening process to which he has just referred?

Dr. Moonie: I should explain that the health monitoring that workers undergo is a form of health promotion and would therefore be of little value to the people that my hon. Friend mentioned. They would be far better placed waiting to see whether they develop symptoms of any kind and going to their own doctor. However, I am well aware of the work that my hon. Friend has put in on behalf of his constituents with such concerns, and I shall be very happy to discuss the matter in depth with him if he so wishes.

Tactical Communications

8. Jane Griffiths (Reading, East): What progress has been made to improve tactical communications for the armed forces in the last 12 months. [8356]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie): Significant progress has been made in improving our tactical communications capabilities over the last 12 months. In March, a contract was placed for delivery next year of a new secure deployable communications system called Cormorant, which will improve the capability of the joint rapid reaction force to co-ordinate sea, land and air operations in operational theatres. Since then, we have also fitted NATO-compatible secure radios to aircraft to improve their effectiveness and interoperability with allies.

A contract for the Bowman secure radio for both voice and data was let on schedule last month and this programme is on track to start delivery in 2004. In addition, we are about to deliver a new communications system to the Royal Navy to improve operations with the small sea boats used for enforcing embargoes in the Gulf.

Jane Griffiths: My hon. Friend will know of my disappointment and that of my constituents at the fact that many of them lost their jobs as a result of the Bowman contract not being awarded to Thales. However, as the

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personal role radio was split from the Bowman contract, will he let me know what progress has been made in supplying those radios to operational forces—in particular, to the Royal Marines?

Dr. Moonie: We have trialled personal role radios with the Royal Marines on Exercise Saif Sareea 2 in Oman. All the feedback—both from maintainers and operators—has been highly positive and we look forward to the full delivery of personal role radios by March 2002.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): Now that the Bowman combat radio contract has been let, will the Minister assure me that the in-service date of early 2004 will be maintained?

Dr. Moonie: So far I am happy to say that the programme is well within the specified time. I certainly hope to meet that date.

David Burnside (South Antrim): Does the Secretary of State agree that aerial surveillance is one of the most important forms of intelligence for all the armed forces? I join my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) in sending my condolences to the family of the young member of the Royal Welch Fusiliers. Friday night's incident disgusted the people of Northern Ireland, and if it was carried out by loyalist terrorists we remain disgusted by it.

Does the Secretary of State realise that our community—the law-abiding community—is worried that the Weston Park objective, to cease using helicopters except for training purposes, will seriously jeopardise intelligence gathering in places such as north Belfast? It is only by helicopter surveillance that we will prevent dreadful incidents like the one in north Belfast from happening again.

Dr. Moonie: We have absolutely no worries about the security or value of our intelligence gathering in Northern Ireland.

Mr. David Crausby (Bolton, North-East): I met Royal Marines last week in Oman who were using the new personal radio and they spoke highly of it. Does not that compare favourably with the spectacular failure of the tactical communications programme under the previous Government?

Dr. Moonie: My hon. Friend will be well aware that I am rarely dilatory in claiming successes for smart procurement. I am happy to say that so far the procurement of personal radios and procurement under the Bowman contract appear to be well on target, which is exactly the result that we predicted that smart procurement would have.

Missile Defence

11. Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East): What discussions he has had with his Russian counterpart on the missile defence of Europe; and if he will make a statement. [8361]

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The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): I met my Russian counterpart, Sergei Ivanov, most recently on 9 October. We discussed a number of issues of mutual concern, including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery. There is a continuous dialogue between NATO and Russia on the scope for increased co-operation in tackling proliferation and on theatre missile defences. We welcome this.

Mr. Atkinson: As Europe remains defenceless against ballistic missile attack, and the events of 11 September must make us more vigilant, what detailed consideration have NATO and the Western European Union given to Russia's proposals for theatre missile defence of Europe, in addition to discussions between Presidents Putin and Bush? When does the Secretary of State expect decisions to be made on the outcome of that?

Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that Russia's proposals are being carefully considered in NATO and by the WEU. NATO will discuss their implications in due course. However, I cannot put a timetable on that because it depends on NATO's internal deliberations.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): Would not this proposal constitute nuclear proliferation? If national missile defence goes ahead, would not Europe be America's first line of defence? If indeed we are engaged in a new struggle against international terrorism and in the creation of a new world order, should we not turn away from the excessive sums that are put into such developments and try to find a new way to tackle the problem?

Mr. Hoon: I am afraid that I do not accept my hon. Friend's reasoning. As part of its approach to the development of missile defence, the United States has indicated a willingness to contemplate deep cuts in its nuclear arsenal. Rather than contributing to nuclear proliferation, missile defence would substantially reduce the number of missiles, probably in both the United States and, we hope, Russia.


12. Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): Which nations have committed their armed forces for combat deployment in fighting the war against terrorism. [8362]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): As well as the United Kingdom, we understand that direct military support is being offered to the United States by countries including Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, the Republic of Korea, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Romania, Singapore, Spain, Turkey and Ukraine. NATO has also deployed forces in support of the coalition.

Mrs. Browning: While the global alliance to fight terrorism, which was brought about by diplomatic effort before any military deployment in Afghanistan, is very important, does the Secretary of State accept that if this is to be a protracted campaign, it is important also that

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the United States and the United Kingdom do not become isolated in global opinion? Given the long list of countries that he has just read to the House, will he ensure that, in deployment, this does not simply become an Anglo- American operation; otherwise there is a danger that over a long period the international coalition could fragment?

Mr. Hoon: I agree with the hon. Lady. It is important that those countries should not only commit themselves to providing members of their armed forces but do so when the operational circumstances are right. I can demonstrate why that is so important by reference to the deployment of AWACS aircrews, because some 12 nationalities are represented among those crews, and they are actively participating in the campaign today. It is therefore important that we continue to maintain international solidarity in our response to the appalling events in the United States on 11 September.

Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush): In view of the impressive list of countries which he has just read out, does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a good time to remind some of the commentators from whom we heard over the weekend that a core aim of the international community is to have a Government in Afghanistan who do not allow their territory to be used to train people on suicide missions to fly passenger aircraft into buildings? That is why there is such an impressive list of countries offering military support. It would be helpful if some outside commentators remembered that a core aim is to deal with the establishment and maintenance of training camps in countries such as Afghanistan.

Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend is right, and indeed one of the military aims that has been achieved is the destruction of a number of terrorist training facilities in Afghanistan. They have been rendered incapable of being used for terrorist purposes, certainly in the near future. That is why it is important that we maintain the unity of the coalition to deal with threats to our security, particularly those arising in Afghanistan.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): Does the Secretary of State accept that the only realistic prospect for replacing the Taliban as the Government of Afghanistan is the land victory of the Northern Alliance forces? Would it therefore be appropriate for other nations' combat forces directly to contribute to that objective now?

Mr. Hoon: The contribution of the Northern Alliance land forces is in relation to the continuing need to put pressure on the Taliban regime. That pressure comes, obviously, from the Northern Alliance, but equally from aerial attacks and operations such as those conducted by the United States recently on the ground in and around Kandahar. A range of means is being used to put pressure on the Taliban, and although the Northern Alliance is an important part of that, it is not the only part.

Clive Efford (Eltham): My right hon. Friend will be aware that aid agencies estimate that about 2.2 million more Afghan people are about to be made homeless as a result of the action that is being taken. What action is he taking to plan for the future and to increase aid to Afghanistan to meet the needs of those refugees?

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What consideration has been given to asking a country that is not directly involved in the conflict to try to broker an arrangement to deliver additional aid to areas away from the conflict, so that people will receive more aid at this crucial time?

Mr. Hoon: I do not accept that 2.2 million people have lost their homes as a result of any coalition activity. Many people had left their homes long before 11 September, and the refugee problem in Afghanistan has largely been caused by a lack of rainfall for several years. However, the international community has recognised a long-term responsibility to the people of Afghanistan. This country has provided more than £60 million of assistance, which continues to go to refugees in camps in Afghanistan. We continue to recognise our responsibility to ensure that there should not be suffering in that country. I have to say to my hon. Friend that that undertaking would be far easier to uphold if we did not suffer the interference and deliberate disruption of aid supplies by the Taliban regime.

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South): Given that we are at the forefront of our share of the campaign, will the Secretary of State confirm the role of the Royal Marines? Why was it decided to keep HMS Fearless, not HMS Ocean, on post? Will he confirm that technical or mechanical problems are not related to the return of HMS Ocean to the United Kingdom?

Mr. Hoon: HMS Ocean does not face the mechanical difficulties to which the hon. Gentleman refers. There is a routine programme of maintenance. The decision on which ship should remain in and around the theatre wholly reflected both existing plans and the need to ensure rotation of available equipment and the crews responsible for that equipment. It is necessary to take decisions for the longer term, not simply to decide which ship should remain. Had we chosen to place HMS Ocean rather than HMS Fearless on station, he could have asked the same question the other way round. HMS Ocean will play its part in the campaign in due course.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): As my right hon. Friend knows, there is considerable distaste in the House and outside about the use of cluster bombs in the war. What influence can he exert on the United States to persuade it not to use cluster bombs, given that we in this country fought so hard over the years to get rid of land mines?

Mr. Hoon: Cluster bombs are a weapon that was used in Kosovo and has been used on a limited number of occasions so far in Afghanistan to deal with a specific military threat—armoured vehicles. They are not used against civilian populations and the number of occasions on which they have been used in Afghanistan is, as I said, extremely limited. Cluster bombs are in no way comparable to land mines. They are not defined as land mines in any international agreement and their use is wholly lawful. Unless and until there is a better means of dealing with the threat posed by armoured vehicles, the UK and the US will continue to use them.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): There are service men and women now serving on Operation

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Veritas who had hoped to be at home this Christmas. The officer commanding B Company, 40 Commando has said:

Will the right hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to comment on the welfare package that is available to our service men, given that they undertake this mission on our behalf not as part of some clash of civilisations, but to liberate ordinary Muslims from abominable tyranny and to lift the threat of terror from the whole world?

Mr. Hoon: I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new responsibilities. I thank him for his thoughtful question, not least because when I was in Oman on Thursday, Friday and Saturday last week, I received a number of complaints from members of the armed forces about speculation in newspapers back here that was affecting them. The telephone calls element of the welfare package appears to have been working quite well because they were clearly concerned about the impact that some of those speculative headlines had had on their families. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise those questions. There are issues relating to the welfare package that we will need to address at the end of the exercise. Conversations with several members of the armed forces caused me to become concerned that—at least initially—the package had not worked as well as it should.

The hon. Gentleman is right to emphasise the importance of our action to maintain support for the wider Islamic community. Islam is a religion of tolerance, understanding and compassion, and it is important that we share that with members of the Islamic community who are equally committed to dealing with the threat of international terrorism.

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