The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): I explained to Parliament on 1 April 2008 (Official Report, columns 628 - 630) that, in the light of the operations launched by the Government of Iraq in Basra on 25 March, we would maintain our force levels in southern Iraq at around 4,000 while we worked with the Iraqis and our coalition partners to review the implications for our own plans. I undertook to provide a further update on our plans this month.
The Iraqi security forces' (ISF) operation to enforce the rule of law in Basraknown as Operation Charge of the Knightsis continuing, with support from coalition forces. We welcome the willingness of the Government of Iraq to take responsibility for delivering security in Basra province and the progress of the ISF operations to date. We have been pressing for firm action since responsibility for Basras security was transferred to the Iraqis in December.
The coalitions strategy in the area has been to encourage Iraqi solutions to Iraqi problems, and through outreach and reconciliation to isolate those people in Basra who refuse to follow a democratic road. This has helped to set the context for the recent successes, and it is evident that the ISF action against criminals and militia elements operating outside the law has the firm backing of the people of Basra. In the initial phases of operations, the ISF have consolidated control over all key routes in and out of the city and over large parts of the city itself. The ISF are continuing to locate and remove significant numbers of illegal weapons, in many cases thanks to information received from local residents. Further phases of operations are planned.
As I said in my statement on 1 April, it remains our clear direction of travel and our plan to reduce our force levels, as and when conditions allow, from the current number of around 4,000 for the next roulement, known as Operation TELIC 12. But while the situation on the ground continues to evolve rapidly, and while military commanders continue to assess the changing environment in Basra, it remains prudent that we take time to fully consider further reductions.
The focus of UK forces is on completing the task of training and mentoring 14th (Iraqi Army) Division in Basra so that it develops into an effective force, able to ensure security without the need for our assistance. 14 Division is still months away from becoming fully operational. We will continue to ensure that our support is tailored as effectively as possible to meeting its needs. Already, we have enhanced our advisory and operational support by embedding teams of UK
personnel with headquarters and operational planning staff in Basra. Sustained improvements in security will also provide a sound basis for further economic development and political progress, including through provincial elections scheduled to take place in the autumn.
The TELIC 12 force package will see the lead formation, currently 4 Mechanised Brigade, replaced by 7 Armoured Brigade, which will provide the majority of the units serving in Iraq. 7 Armoured Brigade will take over the command of UK forces in early June. The forces deploying include soldiers from the following units:
Members of the reserve forces will continue to deploy to Iraq as part of this force package, and we expect to
issue around 290 call-out notices in order to fill some 220 posts during the TELIC 12 roulement period. Prior to their deployment and on completion of their mobilisation procedures, the reservists will undertake a period of training and integration with their respective units. For the majority, their deployment to theatre will commence in May and most will serve on operations for six to seven months, although some may have shorter tours. The reservists will predominantly reinforce regular units and perform a wide range of activities including force protection duties, intelligence and logistic tasks. As part of this commitment, we also expect up to 50 members of the sponsored reserves to be in theatre at any one time.
Force levels will be kept under review, and we will look to make further reductions over the course of the TELIC 12 deployment if conditions allow and on the advice of commanders on the ground. I will, of course, keep Parliament informed of developments.
As part of our longer-term planning, we have decided to relocate 230 Squadron RAF, currently based at RAF Aldergrove and equipped with Puma helicopters, to RAF Benson. This will establish a coherent Puma force on a single site, enabling the improvement of Puma force capability. It will also entail the relocation of RAF support personnel and a reduction in the civilian personnel required at Aldergrove. We expect the relocation to be completed by the end of 2010.
The relocation of 230 Squadron will free up significant facilities at Aldergrove. It is therefore our intention to relocate 38 Engineer Regiment, who will move into Massereene Barracks, Antrim later this year, to Aldergrove as soon as practicable following the departure of 230 Squadron and to dispose of Masserene Barracks thereafter. A number of civilians will be offered the opportunity to relocate with the unit, but there will be a reduction in civilian personnel associated with site-specific activities.
These changes will not impact on our commitments in support of the civil authorities in Northern Ireland. Aldergrove will remain a military flying station for the Army Air Corps for the foreseeable future. The RAF will continue to utilise Northern Ireland airspace for training and a limited number of RAF personnel will remain in joint or specialist appointments in units within Northern Ireland. The relocation of 38 Engineer Regiment demonstrates our longer-term commitment to retain a base at Aldergrove. The ongoing relocation of 19 Light Brigade to Northern Ireland, announced in January 2006, demonstrates our longer-term commitment to basing in Northern Ireland.
The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Liam Byrne):
As part of our programme of reform in 2008 to tighten Britains border security I am today revoking two pieces of guidance which could have helped a
handful of overstayerspeople here illegally in the United Kingdom (UK)to obtain limited leave to stay in the UK as the spouse or partner of a British citizen rather than go home and apply for a marriage visa.
These policies only applied to people facing enforced removal but gave an unfair advantage to those unlawfully in the UK compared to those who complied with the immigration rules in seeking a marriage visa before arrival. Withdrawing the policies will simplify the handling of marriage cases.
The fact that an individual is married to or is the civil partner of a British citizen or someone settled in the UK will continue to be a relevant factor to be taken into account when considering removal. Each case will be considered on its individual merits in line with the Human Rights Act and the immigration rules.
The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): In a written ministerial statement to the House on 7 February 2008 (Official Report Col. 83WS), I announced that I will be conducting a review into the operation of topical debates. The results of the review will be published before the House rises for the summer recess. Any Member wishing to submit their views is asked to do so by 23 May 2008.
I proposed a new system to publish, on a quarterly basis, a list of all subjects that have been proposed for debate, other than those discussed at weekly business questions, which are already a matter of public record. The attached table gives the second such set of information relating to the period of January to March 2008.
Note that the list includes all requests and whether they have been submitted by letter, e-mail or another method. The list does not include requests made during business questions, or otherwise on the floor of the House, and which are already a matter of public record. Weeks where there were no such requests are not included.
Gas and electricity prices (e-mail)
Kenya (asked for in person)
Public family law (letter)
Northern Rock and banking reform (letter)
Treatment of minorities in Iran (e-mail)
Womens representation (by telephone)
Women in prison (by telephone)
US missile defence (letter)
BERR Committee Report on Post Office Closures (letter and email)
DNA Information Society (Letter)
100th anniversary of the Territorial Army (letter)
National DNA database (letter)
The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): In my response to the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening), during business questions on 13 March 2008, I said (Official Report Vol. 473 Col. 419):
...all decisions on adding capacity at Heathrow will be taken independently by BAA
Further to my letters to the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) and the hon. Member for Uxbridge (John Randall) on 14 March 2008, I would like to clarify that all decisions on adding capacity at Heathrow will be taken independently of BAA.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): I, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, and my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary represented the UK at the summit meeting of NATO Heads of State and Government in Bucharest from 2 to 4 April 2008.
The meeting focused on Afghanistan, including a meeting involving President Hamid Karzai, contributors to the NATO-led military mission and our key international partners. The UK welcomed the clear and unambiguous reiteration by the representatives of the international community of their long-term commitment to work together with the Government of Afghanistan to build an enduring, stable, secure, prosperous and democratic state.
President Karzai demonstrated Afghanistans readiness to assume greater ownership of this process by announcing that Afghan forces would take responsibility for the security of Kabul by August this year and would gradually assume responsibility for other parts of the country.
The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, reaffirmed the shared determination of the international community to help the people and Government of Afghanistan. He committed to closer UN co-ordination with President Karzai and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), through his new special representative to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, whom I met again in London last week. I fully support him in his important work and the UK Government will do all they can to help.
a firm and shared long-term commitment to Afghanistan;
support for enhanced Afghan leadership and responsibility;
a comprehensive approach which combines civilian and military efforts; and
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