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The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): Ministry of Defence civil servants have been supporting United Kingdom forces in Iraq since the beginning of Operation Telic. They fulfil a number of roles ranging from providing policy advice to military commanders to finance and contracts work. Scientific staff are also attached to the Iraq survey group. All civilians deployed are volunteers.
In addition, seven MOD civil servants are currently seconded to the coalition provisional authority. As I said earlier, I am delighted that a number of MOD civil servants had their contribution recognised in the Operation Telic honours list.
Mr. Amess : Have British civil servants in the Iraq survey group discovered anything of significant note that could possibly justify the alleged reasons for British troops being involved in the invasion of Iraq and for many of our troops remaining there?
Mr. Hoon: British civil servants work alongside their American counterparts, and those of other nations, so I cannot single out their contribution. I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman studies carefully the interim report made available by the Iraq survey group, he will see a number of significant elements that point to programmes of Saddam Hussein's regime developing weapons of mass destruction.
Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): The death of American troops over the weekend has increased the domestic pressure on President Bush to reduce the civilian and military commitment by the United States to post-war Iraq. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is very important that the United States and Britain resist that pressure? What we started in Iraq, with my support, we should now finish.
Mr. Hoon: I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. Indeed, I see no evidence that either Administration is lessening its commitment to ensure that Iraq is rebuilt, restored and becomes a rightful member of the international community with a democratic Government who are capable of providing a proper standard of security for their people.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): As announced in my right hon. Friend's written statement on 30 June, Typhoon achieved type acceptance on that day. Following type acceptance, individual aircraft were due to be accepted off-contract, the first of which was expected in October. That process has been interrupted by a problem with the landing gear, and as a precaution all Typhoon flying has temporarily been suspended while the problem is investigated and resolved. Progress is being made with the investigation and we hope to be able to resume flying and the entry-to-service process shortly.
Miss McIntosh : Can the Minister confirm to the House that he will be able to sign off tranche 2 of the Typhoon programme by the December deadline, or is he going to tell us that the Typhoon will not enter into service at the prescribed time or to the prescribed budget? How does the right hon. Gentleman respond to newspaper reports that he is being asked to make a 20 per cent. cut in the budget?
Mr. Ingram: I thought that it was the Conservatives who were announcing 20 per cent. cuts across their programme. I also thought that their potential new leaderthey may have changed again; I do not know whether they have kept this onewas indicating that he wishes to make massive cuts in programmes.
The United Kingdom is party to international arrangements under which we are set to order a total of 232 Typhoons. Of those, 55 aircraft are already on order, and we are working towards an order for the second tranche of 89. The third and final order is not due to be placed before 2007, and we shall keep our requirements under continual review. We are working towards meeting those deadlines.
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): On Monday 27 October, I set out the Government's detailed position on the European security and defence policy, when the House debated NATO and European defence policy.
For the European Union to play its full part in international affairs, it must have the capacity to support its common foreign and security policy objectives with an effective European security and defence policy, including the ability to undertake operations where NATO as a whole is not engaged. That involves European nations developing effective and deployable military capabilities both to undertake the full range of the Petersberg tasks and as a contribution to strengthening NATO.
Sir Sydney Chapman : Preciselythat is what the Secretary of State said in the debate last week. As it is now almost five years since the St. Malo declaration, which spawned the European security and defence policy, will the Secretary of State say which European country has increased its defence expenditure; or is it more likely that none has?
Mr. Hoon: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the United Kingdom has, and that is the responsibility that I have. I am grateful to him for indicating that the Government have been consistent on this issue, and it is right that I should take this opportunity to congratulate the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) on his consistency: he has been consistently opposed to any
The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): The Ministry of Defence is currently engaged in a comprehensive exercise to capture and analyse lessons from the operations in Iraq. That will include a full assessment of our equipment and any lessons that can be extracted for our future programmes. Some early indicators were identified in our "First Reflections" report, published in July, and I expect a final report on that process to be published by the end of this year.
Mr. Crausby : I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Given that British forces used a full spectrum of war-fighting equipment in Iraq from SA80 rifles to Challenger 2 tanks, will he ensure that the lessons learned report examines the relationship between different types of equipment and forces? In particular, will he assure the House that, as we invest more time and money in network-enabled capability, lessons will be learned to ensure that our existing excellent equipment remains fully integrated into the network?
Mr. Ingram: Those are two interesting questions. I can give my hon. Friend the first assurance that he seeks on the lessons learned about the balance of forces, because Operation Telic showed the importance of ensuring that we have the right capabilities in strength and depth that enable us to work alongside our alliesthe United States, those in Europe, or whoever we may find ourselves working alongside. So, yes, those lessons will be learned.
On investing extra money, as we move forward into the future, it is important that any investment that we make ensures that existing capable equipment can be connected to future platforms and that there is overall interoperability between platforms; otherwise, there would be weaknesses in the delivery systems. We are seeking to achieve that objective, and all investment strategies will be driven towards it.
Angus Robertson (Moray): Does the Minister agree that the military's ability to act and deliver in Iraq would have been severely impaired if the defence fire service had been privatised and been unable or unwilling to deliver under fire? Why has an announcement of the defence fire service privatisation been put back, and when will it take place?
Mr. Ingram: I shall ponder the question again: where would an independent Scotland have been in relation to any conflict and what role would it have played in seeking to secure stability and world peace?
Mr. Ingram: The hon. Gentleman asks a question about the defence fire service. An examination is currently taking place and a level playing field is in place. The public sector comparator is already showing its worth in all this, and we work closely with the trade unions as we make comparisons with the maturing bids from the consortiums that have expressed interest in a private finance initiative or public-private partnership solution. I do not have a firm date at this stage, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that delays have occurred because we are seeking to ensure best value for money for the defence budget, and I would have hoped that he agreed with that.