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Harry Cohen: The hon. Gentleman is coming from the wrong direction. The effect of the bomblets in cluster bombs is the same as that of land mines. There is a clear record of enormous damage to civilians, and to British soldiers. That was acknowledged by the Secretary of State on 1 November.
We will continue the important debate on cluster bombs in due course, but I now want to say something about prisoners of war. Thankfully no British soldiers have been taken prisoner by any of the factions involved in the war in Afghanistan, but if there were any British prisoners we would want to ensure that they were treated with due care and respect. That is one of the key reasons why I believe it is important for rules relating to prisoners of war taken by British troops to be published. One of the protections that we can provide for our troops is transparency in the rules that we apply to our prisoners.
I accept that certain details should not be made public, such as contingency plans as regards the location of holding centres, but some features should be made clear. Through parliamentary questions, I have been able to establish that there are no standard guidelines for coalition partners; and that the UK guidelines comply with the 1977 additional protocols to the 1949 Geneva conventionsthe second additional protocol applies the conventions to military actions that are not taking place between states, although I am not sure that the United States accepts that. I also established that the guidelines were not updated after the uprising at Qala-i-Jhangi fort, near Mazar- e-Sharif, where all the prisoners were killed.
The "Manual of Military Law" gives a large amount of detail. The manual is a public document about the treatment of prisoners of war. Presumably, the guidance for Afghanistan complies with the manual, but I ask the Minister to state that clearly. It seems strangeindeed, alarmingthat the guidance is kept secret. Even stranger is the refusal, under exemption 1(a) of the code of practice on access to public information, of my request that the guidance be placed in the Library.
Perhaps we have merely fallen in with the more barbaric US treatment of prisoners. We need answers. At least the main guidance for the UK treatment of prisoners should be published. This new secrecy has, in effect, wiped out hard-won humanitarian rules for dealing with prisoners of war, painstakingly built up during the second half of the last century.
That is a serious matter for our troops. For example, the UK and the US have taken military action that was not declared as war. The US has recently diminished the importance of the Geneva conventions and the rulesif any existfor dealing with prisoners are kept secret. If a prisoner is insolent or sullen, can he be shot?
What would we say if Saddam Hussein used that precedent in any future war in Iraq? That is why the matter is so important for our troops. Let us deal with the problem seriously and openly, and publish the general principles and guidelines for coping with prisoners of war.
Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Derek Conway), who pointed out that he was somewhat older than me when we joined the Fusiliers. However, the name of that regiment has changed four times since 1967. It is now the Tyne Tees Regimentthat sounds like a margarine spreadand is an amalgamation of three regiments. Therein lies the problem.
We have heard an enormous amount about the future of the military. We have a two-tier military. Until the SDR, there was a two-year training cycle; our armed forces were either preparing to go into action or they were in action. There is now a three-year training cycle: a training year; a year building up to deployment; and a deployment year. The problem is that that does not work.
Up to 28 per cent. of the military are now totally committed. I was horrified to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) that the Royal Anglian Regiment is having to take people from other regiments to keep up the numbers, and it is a well-recruited regiment. The 3rd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers in the Gulfhon. Members may remember the friendly fire incidentwas made up of five different regiments to get the numbers to a level at which they were operationally effective. That was 10 years ago.
Our problem is that the military is not being given the time and the training to do the job that it is so willing to do. As a result, it is losing people. We cannot expect personnel to go from one operation to another. They physically cannot do it, especially in this day and age.
I joined the Territorial Army in 1980, at the very start of the big exercises that took place every two years. My first one was Crusader, and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) was an infantry officer, like me. In those days, we had a defensive role. We knew that we were going to the River Wiese to hold the bridge and when the friendly forces had crossed, we blew the bridge up and disappeared back to Dunkirk. Now, there is no role for the TA. In the old days we fought as formed units; one fought as a Fusilier or an Anglian. Now the role is either home defence, or as part of a battlefield replacement programme, not as members of formed units.
Why should a recruit join the TA? What is his incentive? He comes out of basic training and does his "boot camp"an American termand then what? What hope does he have? What does he have to look forward to? There is not the equipment, the mandate or the money. I was talking to a TA unit and was told that it had been to Gibraltar. I remember going to Germany and America to do the job that we were supposed to do, which was to hold or defend areas. We trained with the army with which we were most likely to work. We understood the job that they were trying to do, and vice versa.
One of the biggest problems for the TA is getting equipment that works. The SA80 apparently has had more than 100 modifications since it first came into service. I believe that it now works; my hon. Friend the Member for Newark can tell me if I am wrong. The Army needs decent equipment. If it does not have it, the Army will not function. I was watching the Marines getting out of their aircraft in Afghanistan, and one could see that they were still using the old equipment, such as webbing and Bergens. Why are they not being upgraded for a potential action situation? Interestingly, the Anglians seemed to have updated equipment.
Yesterday we had a debate about ordnance. At present we are looking to move the production of our ordnance elsewhere. Our personnel want ordnance that works and on which they can rely. If we do not have continuity of supply in this country, we will not be in a position to support our own troops. In the long term, we must encourage the people whom we want to come in.
The turnover of the TA is 33 per cent., much of which is due to people disappearing after basic training. They have nothing to look forward to. If the Minister wants to continue to use these people, he should give them the chance to do the job that they set out to do. A Royal Marine from Minehead in my constituency stated that he signed up to do a job, and knew that the Marines would take casualties. However, they did not mind because that is what they set out to do. Any soldier feels that. I remember sitting on the Wiese, wondering how long we would last. Our life expectancy in those days was 24 hours if the Russians came over to say hello. That is not good. The situation is now a lot better, yet we still have problems with retention, and they are getting worse. As that is the case, surely incentives must be considered.
The Territorial Army has a system of bonusesbountieswhich one works up to throughout training. Could it not be extended? If we want to keep personnel such as the thrusting captains, majors, sergeant-majors and sergeants whom my hon. Friend the Member for Newark mentioned, as we need them for the future, we must give them some sort of golden handcuff. It happens in industry, so why can it not apply to military life too?
Another problem is maintaining cadet numbers. Cadet trainers are not paid, so what is their incentive to do the job? At present there are 60 sea cadets in Bridgwater, but their numbers fluctuate greatly because when a good trainer goes, he cannot be replaced. Where can a replacement be found? Service personnel are no longer able to do the job. Eventually, people are recruited from the British Legion. There is no doubt that their ideas about training are well out of date.
I do not agree that cadets can supply the needs of the military. Hopefully, they will go on to join the Territorial Army or the regulars. However, an enormous amount of good is done by getting youngsters into something that gives them a structured life. Military personnel realise that, as it is the reason why many people join the military in the first place.
We are debating the retention of military personnel. Unless we give them incentives, we will not manage that. The training cycle is too tight and the military cannot cope with it because the commitments are too high. If the Minister can give military personnel some assurance that they will have a home life and a family life in a training cycle that works, long-term retention will become much easier.