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NATO Reorganisation

7. Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport): If he will make a statement on NATO reorganisation. [105454]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): At the NATO summit in Prague last November, alliance leaders agreed a comprehensive set of proposals to improve NATO's organisation. They include a streamlined command structure; the creation of the NATO response force; a new capabilities initiative; invitations to seven nations to join the alliance; and the modernisation of NATO's internal structures and processes. The United Kingdom has been working with our NATO allies to ensure that these initiatives are delivered.

Mr. Viggers : Does the Secretary of State agree that the enlargement and restructuring of NATO will enable it to remain relevant and effective as a military alliance and, equally important, as a political forum enabling us to engage with the United States and other allies? Does he also agree that the European defence identity is increasingly being seen as at best irrelevant and at worst a serious threat that might undermine NATO?

Mr. Hoon: I agree that it is clearly necessary for NATO to reform, not least to take account of a new military situation in the world, but also to take account of a much larger membership. The reason why we believe that it is essential for NATO to link itself with the European defence identity is the need to improve NATO's and Europe's military capabilities consistently. We aim to ensure that European nations can make a still

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more effective contribution both to their own defence and to defence through NATO. That is the test that I am sure the United States wants to see met as it considers NATO and NATO's future development.

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde): Does my right hon. Friend know of any NATO member countries that want to withdraw from the alliance altogether? If not, what advice can he give to the people of Scotland, who will shortly face an election in which the principal Opposition party will advance just such a policy? In view of that, and given the loss of Scotland's permanent place on the Security Council, might not Scotland be left completely defenceless and irrelevant in the world?

Mr. Hoon: Given the number of countries queuing up to join NATO, and the enthusiasm with which invitations to join are received by candidates for membership, I should be astonished if any part of the United Kingdom contemplated withdrawal, indeed, it seems to me that the people of Scotland, in particular, are far too sensible to fall for such a suggestion.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): Does the Secretary of State agree that the United States-European common strategic policy has been of immense benefit to the security and defence of the west? Now that NATO no longer has to worry so much about east versus west, and more about a world of order rather than disorder, and is increasingly concerned with operations to the south rather than the north and the west, does the Secretary of State agree that, as those fundamental changes are approached, there should be no rush towards early decision making? As in the transatlantic relationship during the cold war, a serious amount of thought and time should go into thinking about the correct strategic composition of NATO, especially given the serious new challenges that it faces.

Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman makes his observations with his customary expertise and thoughtfulness about the issues. The real issue for NATO is that it needs to reform its own internal structures and processes to deal with the changed military reality, as well as effectively to persuade its members—certainly those other than the United Kingdom and the United States—to reorganise their armed forces in order to deal with that new military reality. Unless both occur within a reasonable time frame, the danger is that the military capabilities available to Europe will not match the military realities that they have to confront. That is why NATO must reform internally as well as encouraging reform of its members' military capabilities.

Aircraft Carriers

8. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South): What progress is being made in developing the proposed new aircraft carriers. [105455]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): The two new aircraft carriers will represent a quantum step up in the UK's military capability when they enter service in 2012 and 2015. Design activity is continuing in parallel with our discussions with BAE

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Systems and Thales UK on the structure of the alliance, which will take forward the programme. We expect to be in a position formally to commence the next phase of assessment work shortly and intend to award the main build contract for the carriers in spring 2004.

Richard Ottaway : I refer to the decision to use French contractors for the construction of those ships. Does it occur to the Minister that, when those vessels are launched, if the French Government disagree with their deployment, they could pose all sorts of problems over the supply of equipment and logistical services? Under those circumstances, if the Minister insists that Britain is incapable of building those ships on its own, might it not be better to look around for more suitable partners?

Mr. Ingram: I really think that the hon. Gentleman has not followed the detail of the matter. These ships will be designed and built within the United Kingdom. No final decision has been taken about the armaments that will go on board, but we have a highly capable UK defence sector, which will make a bid. The hon. Gentleman's question is based on a nonsensical premise. The answer is that those ships are part of the Royal Navy and will be deployed accordingly.

John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland): Does my right hon. Friend agree that partnership is the most important consideration in the building of the carriers between BAE Systems and Thales? Does he agree that the sort of partnership that we are talking about is that put together between Vosper Thorneycroft and BAE Systems in the design office in my constituency in Scotstoun? The yard is an important part of the process and I hope that my right hon. Friend will help to send some of the design work there. Will he join me in congratulating the work force in the Scotstoun and Govan yards for cutting the first steel for the type 45 destroyers last Friday?

Mr. Ingram: There are two good news messages in my hon. Friend's question. He is right—he has been a strong advocate of the Clyde yards in the whole process—that partnership is a key element. The Ministry of Defence is part of that partnership, so Thales UK, BAE Systems and the Ministry will work as a triumvirate on how best to take matters forward. Yes, I would congratulate the Scotstoun and Govan yards on their achievement in cutting the first steel, as announced last Friday.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): Will the Minister accept the verdict of industry and commentators alike that this is a fudge, guaranteed to produce a turf war between the two major companies concerned? Can the Minister explain exactly what is the role of the Ministry of Defence? In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham), he said that it would be an alliance involving BAE Systems, Thales and the MOD. How much of the risk is his Department taking and is it not in danger of having to hold the ring in resolving disputes between Thales and BAE?

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Furthermore, how realistic now is the intention declared by the Prime Minister and President Chirac at Le Touquet last month to harmonise activity cycles and training between British and French aircraft carriers?

Mr. Ingram: On the latter point, I should have hoped that the hon. Gentleman would welcome the work that goes on between allies to ensure that we get the maximum benefit from capabilities. He may have missed part of this, but we are trying to lift capabilities right across NATO and within Europe. We are making up a very significant part of that, the French are doing likewise, and we encourage other nations to lift their capability levels as well.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned people making comments about turf wars. In my previous answer I referred to the partnership nature of this action. The actual percentage make-up in terms of the precise level of MOD involvement has not yet been determined. That is part of the ongoing work.

Cluster Bombs

9. Norman Lamb (North Norfolk): If he will make a statement on use of cluster bombs by the UK. [105456]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): The cluster bomb is a legal weapon that fulfils a legitimate military role that cannot be effectively performed by other means. We reserve the right to use the most suitable lawful weapon available in the proportionate manner required by international law.

Norman Lamb : I thank the Minister for that answer, but may I ask him to confirm the extent of the use of cluster munitions, including ground-launch munitions, in Iraq? Given the absolute importance of protecting the civilian population from the deadly aftermath of the use of those weapons, can the Minister confirm that he will implement the proposals of Landmine Action and others concerning the user's paying for the clear-up of the aftermath of the use of such weapons and providing full information to the civilian population so as to avoid any risk to that population?

Mr. Ingram: There is another imperative in the use of weapons, which is of course to try to minimise casualties among our own troops. That is the purpose of having the range of ammunition and equipment that is available to our troops in the Gulf. I would hope that the hon. Gentleman shares that objective, including the use of cluster bombs.

We have a very good record on clear-up, and we will always seek to proceed on that basis. Wherever we have been involved in conflicts involving the use of weapons, we have sought to clear up after ourselves.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the UK forces deployed in the Gulf need the best possible weaponry for the job that

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they are trying to do, and will he therefore pay tribute to the work force at Royal Ordnance Birtley in the north-east, who have done sterling work on Storm Shadow?

Mr. Ingram: The answer is yes. Storm Shadow has already proved to be a highly effective armament, and the lessons learned in the aftermath of this conflict will prove that conclusively.

Tony Baldry (Banbury): Does not the question demonstrate the almost superhuman task that the armed forces are having to undertake in prosecuting a war with a range of weapons, while simultaneously having increasingly to deliver huge amounts of humanitarian aid? What estimate have Ministers made of the number of troops that will be required to deliver humanitarian aid, and how will it be delivered in disputed territory? The Sir Galahad carried 70,000 tonnes of grain as against a monthly requirement in Iraq of 460,000 tonnes. That is a welcome contribution, but not very much.

Mr. Speaker: Order. That is rather wide of the question before us.

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