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The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): The United States is the second largest market for United Kingdom defence products, and US defence procurement policy impacts very directly on the UK defence industry. At present, the US spends only about 2.5 per cent. of its procurement budget overseas, and UK industry has succeeded in securing half of that business, worth £1 billion a year. We are working with UK industry and the US Government to widen the scope for the involvement of our industry in American procurement, and we believe that that will be to the advantage of both. A more open and transparent defence market will serve our joint goals of better value for money and developing an efficient and innovative defence industry.
Huw Irranca-Davies: I thank the Minister for his expansive answer, but he will be aware that a Bill on defence authorisation is quietly slipping through Congress. Its provisions, the White House says, are
Mr. Ingram: My hon. Friend raises an important issue. My earlier answer showed the importance of US defence procurement to UK industry, and we are always trying to improve our export capabilities, not just into that market but elsewhere. Because of those important considerations, we do make representations of the type that my hon. Friend asked about, but it is not just about
Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall): May we, too, add our welcome to the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Caplin), in his new ministerial post, and add our tribute to his predecessor for all his work? We also congratulate the Government on the progress that they have made with the US Administration on supporting defence sales between our countries. However, with only one major domestic defence contractor left, does the Minister agree that it is important that the Government ensure that BAE Systems continues to be independent and is not vulnerable to an international takeover or merger, thus ensuring that true international competition will continue?
Mr. Ingram: It is not strictly true, whatever the hon. Gentleman says, that there is only one major defence company left, as 150,000 jobs in this country are tied up in defence. I do not know whether he was ruling out Rolls-Royce or whether it is the company that he was referring to. I do not know whether he was ruling out Thales, a major defence presence in this country. I do not know which major company he was referring to. However, I welcome his recognition of what we are doing to ensure that we fully exploit our relationship with the US in the marketplace to the best advantage of our economy and the US economy as well. However, we must also bear in mind the need to ensure that our equipment has an interoperative capability, which serves us all well in NATO and elsewhere.
Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan): One organisation that successfully secured American procurement work is the Defence Aviation Repair Agency, which repairs components for Apache helicopters. Will my right hon. Friend do all he can to ensure that that organisation attracts more work, especially in the run-up to the completion of the Red Dragon project, and will he agree to meet me to discuss ways of achieving that for DARA?
Mr. Ingram: I fully recognise the strong role played by my hon. Friend in promoting the cause of DARA. As the sole owner, in technical terms, of that organisation, I well understand the points that he makes. DARA has been successful in securing commercial contracts. The establishment of the trading fund provided that opportunity, and I pay tribute to the management and staff of DARA for all that they have achieved. The Red Dragon project represents a clear commitment to the future, and I was pleased to be able to agree to those proposals. Yes, I will meet my hon. Friend to discuss these matters, if he wishes, sooner rather than later.
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): Given British Aerospace's view that the Government's defence industrial policy does it few favours, and last week's warning from the Society of British Aerospace Companies that that world-beating industry faces a further 15,000 job losses on top of the 20,000 that it suffered last year, what has the Prime Minister done to use his influence to secure a dividend from the United
Mr. Ingram: We shall have to take each step as it comes in responding to any change in the defence marketplace in terms of individual companies and possible amalgamations. The national interest would, of course, be uppermost in our mind in any future restructuring. That must be considered when assessing any future relationship. The hon. Gentleman should know that the measure to which he referred is known as the ITARinternational trade and arms regulationswaiver. Considerable progress has been made on that, but not as much as we would have liked, because matters intervened: first, the change of Administration and the need to build new relationships; secondly, the Afghanistan conflict; and then the Iraq conflict, which tied up a significant number of people. However, four of the seven key principles have now been signed off, and I have no doubt that the Prime Minister will continue to bring whatever influence he can to bear with the US Administration to ensure the future of the British economy.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Ivor Caplin): The Shoeburyness ranges are included in the long-term partnering agreement that has been negotiated with QinetiQ for the delivery of a long-term test and evaluation capability to the Ministry of Defence.
Sir Teddy Taylor : I offer my congratulations to the hon. Gentleman on his appointment. Has he had time to consider the impact of the many changes that have occurred in Shoeburyness recently, including the privatisation of the range facilities, the removal of MOD police from Foulness and the proposed house building on part of the site? Would he consider making time available in his busy diary to meet the military and civil defence staff there, and also representatives of the local community, in what I think he will appreciate is one of the most unique and significant MOD sites in the country?
Mr. Caplin: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcoming words. I can tell him that QinetiQ security service now oversees site security and may work, where necessary, in conjunction with both Essex police and Ministry of Defence police. As for a meeting, I shall be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and his constituents, but I cannot undertake to do so in the immediate future because of the pressures on my diary in these first few days.
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): A total of 4,592 Territorial Army personnel have been deployed on Operation Telic, both at home bases in the United Kingdom and in the Gulf region. Currently 1,400 TA personnel remain in the Gulf region.
Mr. Gray : I am sure the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the outstanding contribution that the Territorial Army made to Operation Telica contribution that can only be enhanced by the arrival of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne), who was called out today.
When I was in the region last week, one brigade commander told me that during Operation Telic 14 per cent. of his troops had been TA troops. That level has now risen to 25 per cent., which must be evidence for the fact that TA soldiers are being kept out there for longer than their regular counterparts. The Secretary of State will know that, under the Reserve Forces Act 1996, if a TA soldier has been called up for six months or longer, he may not be called up again for a further three years. Given that that is the case, what will he do if he requires those soldiers' skills again before 2006?
Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his generous and appropriate tribute to members of the TA, who made an outstanding contribution in Iraq and continue to do so. We anticipated that contribution in the strategic defence review and it has fully vindicated the policy that it set out.
As to the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that TA personnel were remaining in theatre for longer than their regular counterparts, with one or two notable exceptions, that is simply not the case. The exceptions are largely in the medical field. When regular forces have returned to the United Kingdom, the associated TA soldiers have done so as well. As to the future, we obviously did not call out all members of the TA for the operation. Should there be a requirement for a major operation in future, we will obviously have plenty of people to call upon should it be necessary to do so.
Sandra Osborne (Ayr): I have a constituent who was called up by the TA on 21 January and is currently serving in the Gulf. He has yet to receive his £1,200 annual bounty and neither he nor apparently any of his regiment have received their £150-a-month separation allowance. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is an unacceptable way of treating our troops, and that it is bringing undue financial pressure on their families? I have passed on the individual details and I hope that he will investigate the matter urgently, but can he inform the House whether it is a general problem?
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): In praising my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne), who is on his way to the Gulf, I should declare an interest to the House, as I shall be eating a dinner on his behalf in October.
Following the question asked by the hon. Member for Ayr (Sandra Osborne), does the Secretary of State accept that the best way of ensuring healthy reserve forces is for the Ministry of Defence to deal with the units concerned in organising its call-out arrangements, rather than sending out central memorandums like some sort of credit agency? Does he accept that, in organising those arrangements, there is a huge difference in standards between different parts of the Army and the other two forces? For example, the Royal Marines and Royal Engineers get it right, while the infantry directorate is arguably the worst.
Mr. Hoon: I am certainly willing to consider those arrangements. If the hon. Gentleman has specific details about where he believes there were problems, they will be investigated as part of the process that we are undertaking to learn lessons from this deployment. In preparing for the conflict in the Gulf, I had the opportunity to visit Chilwell, the centre for call-out. In speaking to a great number of people from the Territorial Army and the reservists, I did not come across the sort of complaints that he mentions. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work done by Chilwell on behalf of the TA and reservists. I look to the future and to ensuring that, if there are problems with the arrangements, we get them right.
Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead): Will the Secretary of State consider sending some of the Territorials to look at the mobile labs in the form of two trailers in northern Iraq? A report in The Observer on 15 June said that the system was originally sold by a British company, Marconi, as a command and control system. If any Territorials investigated the trailers, would they find a "Made in Britain" stamp on them? If this is a smoking gun in terms of weapons of mass destruction, why did we apparently sell them?
Mr. Hoon: I do not think that anyone suggested that this was an example of a smoking gun. It has rightly been suggested that this was a gun and that the mobile laboratories were wholly consistent with the description of mobile laboratories given by Secretary of State Colin Powell in his evidence to the United Nations Security Council. That remains the position as far as coalition forces are concerned.
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): May I warmly endorse the words of the Secretary of State and my hon. Friends about the distinguished and admirable service of which the TA have yet again proved themselves capable in the Gulf? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that however good the TA and the rest of our soldiers are, unless there is a very significant improvement in the internal security situation in Iraq, all the hopes we have for the improvement of the lives of ordinary people living in Iraq will come to naught? Must we not reassess whether there are enough troops on the ground; whether we need to put some more troops into
Mr. Hoon: As I understand it, Lord Ashdown is to meet Paul Bremer in due course, and no doubt they will have some interesting conversations about the similarities between the situation in the early days in Bosnia and the current situation in Iraq. I counsel the hon. Gentleman against assuming that the isolated incidents in certain parts of the suburbs of Baghdad mean that there is widespread disorder right across Iraq. That is simply not the case. There are obviously elements who are continuing to resist coalition forces, and they are being dealt with, but it is by no means a generalised problem across Iraq. Indeed, the security situation in Iraq is largely good and improving.
Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): How many members of the Territorial Army are engaged in the search for weapons of mass destruction? If it is the Government's case that those weapons have been hidden, have they engaged in any estimate of the number and type of vehicles necessary to transport such massive armaments?
Mr. Hoon: I do not have the figures on whether any members of the Territorial Army are currently engaged in the search for weapons of mass destruction, but if so they will be very small in number. Nevertheless, it is important that we continue that search.
I would counsel my hon. Friend against the suggestion that we are necessarily looking for a massive stock of, for example, chemical or biological weapons. A very small quantity of a biological agent could easily destroy the population of a major city. We are searching not for a large weapon, but for an enormously dangerous one. I am sure that my hon. Friend appreciates that.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex): I join in the tributes paid to the Territorial Army, especially to the TA call-out centre at Chilwell. I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree that there were many problems with the call-out, and that he will wish to address them rather than to dismiss them.
Last week, a TA commanding officer told me that one third of his battalion would remain fully mobilised for the foreseeable future. That perhaps reflects the comments by Major General Freddie Viggersthe senior officer serving in the US military command headquarters in Baghdadwho said that British forces would be in Iraq for at least another four years. Given that, and the increased demands on the TA for security measures at home, has not the Government's decision to cut the TA by 18,000 soldiers in 1998 turned out to be reckless, short-sighted and irresponsible, as we warned at the time?
Mr. Hoon: Not only did I not dismiss the suggestions made by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) earlier: I said that I would consider them. It is important to get it right. As for the suggestion that British forces will be there for as long as four years, various people have made various estimates, but the Government's ambition is to be able to remove British forces from Iraq