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4 Nov 2002 : Column 8continued
The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): All three services have school presentation teams and careers advisers who, between them, last year undertook visits to over 4,600 schools. Their purpose is to raise awareness of, and provide information on, careers opportunities in the armed forces. In addition, a schools adviser team has been operating since November 2001, using a trial presentation to raise awareness among year 10 pupils of the role played by the armed forces and the Ministry of Defence at home and abroad.
Tony Cunningham : As a member of the armed forces parliamentary scheme linked with the RAFI know that other hon. Members involved are also in their placesI am very aware of the tremendous role that the armed forces play. What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the Department for Education and Skills to ensure that the initiatives that he mentions are linked to the national curriculum?
Mr. Ingram: As a graduate of the armed forces parliamentary scheme, I am always pleased to hear it getting a plug. I encourage more right hon. and hon. Members to participate in that excellent scheme.
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. It is important that our involvement in schools benefits both teachers and students. The schools presentation team has designed material to fit in around the national curriculum, using real-life experiences in the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces. We are developing that material with the DFES and its counterparts in Scotland and Wales, and working with teachers and schools to help ensure that it is useful and relevant to their needs. This is a very good example of Departments working
David Burnside (South Antrim): Will the Minister give us his experience of any similarities or differences in promoting the armed forces to students in schools in Northern Ireland, especially during the period when Martin McGuinness was Minister of Education?
Mr. Ingram: The hon. Gentleman is asking me to go back some time in my experience. I was not wholly conscious of such a process taking place in schools in Northern Ireland, but there is no reason why it should not. That would be a very good indication of the normalcy that we all hoped would apply in Northern Ireland. I shall consider the matter to see whether there are any differences in Northern Ireland and exactly what we are doing there.
Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West): In view of the significant under-representation of ethnic minorities in the armed forces, what special initiatives have been taken to recruit ethnic minority students into the armed forces, and what success has there been to date?
Mr. Ingram: A number of important initiatives have been taken to address this key issue. We are beginning to achieve a measure of success, although we are not achieving the percentage that we had hoped for in the overall numbers of ethnic community members joining the armed forces. None the less, we are beginning to see an upward trend. That is based on using good exemplars in key areas in London and other parts of England to look at areas where we can draw from those communities. Members of ethnic communities who join the armed forces give top-class service and become good exemplars in their communities.
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): We remain committed to purchasing 25 A400M aircraft. Belgium, France, Turkey and Spain also remain firmly committed to the programme. However, there is still uncertainty about the position of Portugal, and we still await resolution of the German funding issues. In the interim, we continue to work with all our partners to bring the signed contract into effect as soon as possible
Mr. Turner : I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. I am sure that he will be aware of the concern with which those in the aerospace industry view the A400M programme and the difficulties with our German partners. Can he confirm that there is a deadline for confirmation of this important programme, which will please so many of my constituents in East Cowes?
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): Is not the truth that this programme was always more political than military, and that it does not represent good value for money compared with the alternatives available? Should not the Government try to get out of this contract as soon as possible?
Mr. Hoon: I do not accept that for a moment. The A400M is the best deal for the Royal Air Force, the taxpayer and British industry. I am surprised to hear a senior and experienced Conservative Member make a suggestion that would clearly be extraordinarily detrimental to Britain's military capability and, crucially, to British jobs.
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): The Government are committed to encouraging and supporting legitimate United Kingdom defence exports. The Defence Export Services OrganisationDESOwithin the Ministry of Defence is responsible for co-ordinating such support. In line with that policy, DESO has provided varied assistance to BAE Systems during the past two years, across a number of potential overseas defence requirements.
Paul Farrelly : I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. He will be aware of the United Nations panel report, issued a fortnight ago, into illegal exploitation of resources in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The report had wide press coverage and alleged, in particular, the busting of EU sanctions by Mr. John Bredenkamp, a Berkshire-based arms dealer. It stated that, earlier this year, that gentleman had brokered the delivery for the Zimbabwean air force, either directly or via a third country, of spare parts for Hawk jets made by British Aerospace. Will the Secretary of State undertake to investigate those serious allegations with the Foreign Office and the Department of Trade and Industry, review any relationships between his Department and Mr. Bredenkamp, as well as any role anywhere in the export of Hawk spares by British Aerospace; and report back on his conclusions and thereby play his part
The Government certainly take seriously all credible reports of misuse or diversion of UK exported equipment. All our overseas missions have standing instructions to look into and report on any allegations of such misuse in the countries that they cover.
Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): The Secretary of State may remember that BAE Systems in Woodford, on the edge of my constituency, is a major employer of my constituents. Will he take this opportunity to remind the House that legitimate sales by BAE Systems are good for jobs and investment in this country?
Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton): Can the Secretary of State tell us whether BAE Systems provided any parts or equipment for the grounded fleet of Apache helicopters? If so, will he tell the House what were the principal contributions made by British Aerospace?
Mr. Hoon: Certainly, BAE Systems contributes to the Apache programme, but may I make it clear to my hon. Friend that the problems mentioned by the National Audit Office in no way relate to the viability of Apache as a piece of military equipment? Indeed, the report indicates that Apaches are being delivered broadly to time and to cost. The specific problem that we have to deal with arises from the difficulties of securing appropriate software for the training simulatora problem that would have arisen in any event, but one that we are obviously seeking urgently to resolve.