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Bill Rammell: I assure the hon. Gentleman that everything is done to ensure that our service personnel receive adequate training both before they leave theatre and when they are in theatre. The safety and security of our servicemen is our highest priority.

Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): The mentoring service must also be available for the young men who do not make it through their initial training. Earlier this year, Professor Nav Kapur published his study of more than 230,000 young people who left the service over a 10-year period, and discovered that those most vulnerable, particularly to suicide, were those who had not finished their initial training or had served only for a very short period. Can we be assured that within initial training and within the mentoring service there will be a focus on advising young men, especially, of the need to seek help, advice and support should they suffer any mental health problems?

Bill Rammell: Certainly through our recruitment and training procedures we seek to ensure that all the appropriate advice, support and training are available. The pilot scheme is targeting service personnel who leave early and who are deemed to be vulnerable, and the initial indications are that it is proving successful. We need to get the end of the pilot scheme and see how it could be rolled forward.


4. James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): What recent estimate he has made of the projected costs of military operations in Afghanistan in each of the next three years. [285624]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): The estimated financial cost of operations in Afghanistan for this financial year is £3.5 billion, as recently published for the first time in the MOD's main estimates. The cost of military operations is dependent on a number of variable factors that are difficult to predict, including changes to operational tempo and the conditions in theatre at the time. We do not, therefore, attempt to project costs for the subsequent two years.

James Duddridge: Following the Chancellor's pledge over the weekend that our forces will have whatever they need, how does the Secretary of State anticipate funding future operational requirements, given that in future years his ministry will have to pay back every penny over £635 million that it spends on urgent operational requirements? Is that not a case of robbing the future to pay for the military today?

Mr. Ainsworth: We have not gone over those limits, and therefore there is no need for a repayment. I have just announced to the House that the £635 million limit has been raised by a further £101 million; that is some indication that the Chancellor is trying to assist.

Mr. Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow) (Lab): But in assessing those costs, does the Minister acknowledge that there are real, understandable doubts among the general public, not about our being in Afghanistan but about whether we have the required number of troops and the right sort of equipment to let them carry out their tasks? Could he respond to the public's concerns?

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Mr. Ainsworth: My hon. Friend will recognise that the number of troops and the costs of the Afghan mission have gone up considerably in the past three years. However, I get the opportunity, which many others in the House do not, to go out to theatre on a regular basis, and I meet troops back here, and I hear repeatedly that the equipment that they have has been improved massively over the past couple of years.

Mr. David Laws (Yeovil) (LD): The Secretary of State said a moment ago that Merlin and Lynx Mk 9 helicopters are being prepared for use in Afghanistan, but what further steps is the Department considering to ensure that helicopter needs in Afghanistan are met in future?

Mr. Ainsworth: We are planning a spend of about £6 billion on helicopters over the coming years. We need to try to spend that as wisely as we can to ensure that we have no capability gap, particularly when our people are involved in the operations that they are today.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): The Secretary of State rightly says that it is difficult to anticipate the precise costs, but airlift is clearly one of the areas where we have capacity constraint. Given that Germany currently provides 70 per cent. of ISAF's airlift capacity but is severely constrained by the national caveats, is he having discussions with the Germans to try to lift them?

Mr. Ainsworth: We try on every occasion to encourage our NATO allies to do the absolute maximum. There is little doubt that we are pulling our weight in the Afghan theatre or that the operation is absolutely vital to our safety back here in the UK and to NATO's credibility, so we hope and press all the time for our allies to do whatever they can to ensure success.

Mental Health

5. Nadine Dorries (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con): What recent estimate he has made of the number of current and former armed forces personnel likely to experience mental illness during the next 10 years as a result of their military service. [285625]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Kevan Jones): Some 0.1 per cent. of regular service personnel are discharged annually for mental health reasons of whatever cause. The King's Centre for Military Health Research is undertaking an MOD-funded study of mental health disorders in both the serving and veteran community. The results will be available towards the beginning of next year and will inform mental health policies. In addition, evaluation of the six community-based NHS mental health pilot schemes will help to define the population at risk, the levels of need and the support required for those communities.

Nadine Dorries: As the Minister is aware, post-traumatic stress disorder is as debilitating and as distressing as any physical injury, and many of our troops are returning with PTSD. According to a recent survey, only 71 per cent. of GPs are even aware of the MOD's medical assessment programme. What are the Government doing to improve on that shocking statistic?

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Mr. Jones: I am very grateful for that question. I stress that the number of individuals suffering from PTSD is very small, but I am on record as saying that each case is a personal tragedy for that individual. I am working on two levels, first to ensure that GPs know about the mental health pilots and secondly, with the Department of Health, to consider a veterans tracking system so that we can track veterans through the health system. If the hon. Lady or any other Members would like to visit one of the mental health pilots or the medical assessment programme at St. Thomas's hospital, I would be quite willing to arrange that.

Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth) (Lab): My hon. Friend is aware that it often takes ex-service personnel up to 13 years to present themselves for treatment under a mental health programme. What can we do to take away the attitude, which is not unusual among the military in this country, that presenting themselves for some form of mental health treatment is in some way a disgrace? Every single military serviceman who needs our help should present themselves and have a check before they go into civilian life.

Mr. Jones: My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Unfortunately men, especially young men, are terrible at recognising mental health problems. I pay tribute, however, to all three services for raising the matter of mental health in-service. TRiM-trauma risk management-is a system of self-assessment pioneered by the Royal Marines, and it is ensuring that mental health problems do not carry a stigma and that people are not ashamed of reporting them. Working with veterans organisations and the NHS on six mental health pilots, we can ensure that there is help for veterans whenever mental health affects individuals.

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): The US Administration have put in place a $900 million PTSD programme, including comprehensive mental health screening for the operational military. Our Government have not. One could be forgiven for supposing that British combat stress and American combat stress were completely different disorders. Can the Minister say how much we have spent on PTSD, why clinical awareness of it continues to flatline and why there is no mental health screening programme for our returning veterans?

Mr. Jones: I do not accept that there is no mental health screening for our returning veterans. It is important to recognise that the King's Centre has undertaken much research, as have the Americans. One thing that it indicates is that mental health screening pre-deployment is not effective and may actually cause more problems than it solves in the population in question. That goes right back to the second world war.

A small number present with PTSD. On the number who present with it in the US, there are question marks over how the operational tempo of the United States is different from ours. I know that our US counterparts and the Surgeon General are working together to examine comparative data. Recently, a team was over from the US to look at how we treat mental health in the armed forces and in our veterans community.

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Nuclear Deterrent

6. Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): What progress his Department has made towards procurement of the next generation of the nuclear deterrent; and if he will make a statement. [285626]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): The Government are committed to the current nuclear deterrent and to the development of a replacement system. Good progress is being made in completing the actions set out in the 2006 White Paper "The Future of the United Kingdom's Nuclear Deterrent".

Mr. Hands: The Secretary of State mentions the 2006 White Paper, but Tony Blair told the House in December 2006 that Britain could maintain its minimum strategic deterrent while reducing the number of warheads from 200 to 160. Less than three years later, the current Prime Minister seems to be offering to reduce that number to below 160 warheads. How can he do that while maintaining a minimum level of deterrence?

Mr. Ainsworth: The Prime Minister also made it clear that he was committed to maintaining the nuclear deterrent. We need to try to make an appropriate contribution to any multilateral nuclear proposition, while at the same time ensuring that we have a credible minimum nuclear deterrent. The entire Government-not only the defence team-are committed to doing that.

Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): In view of the impact of the recession and of President Obama's meeting last week with the President of Russia, when they committed themselves to reducing their nuclear warheads by 500 each, is it not about time we publicly stated that we are not going to upgrade Trident?

Mr. Ainsworth: No, it is not. If my hon. Friend wants to look at the record since we came to power, he will see that we have made significant reductions in our deployable nuclear capability. We have made a significant contribution to the reduction of nuclear weapons and we will obviously seek to be constructive when any propositions are made, but within the parameters of maintaining the British nuclear deterrent.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Can the Secretary of State confirm whether any future nuclear deterrent that involved reliance on nuclear-armed Cruise missiles, as some recommend, would be compatible with the provisions of the 1987 intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty?

Mr. Ainsworth: As the hon. Gentleman knows, we considered different methods of maintaining the nuclear deterrent during the White Paper process. We decided-I think for good reasons of invulnerability-to stick with the ballistic missile system based on submarines. That is what we intend to do.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): Does the Secretary of State think it a good idea to commit ourselves to expenditure, during the lifetime of a new Trident, of £76 billion, ahead of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty review conference next year and in
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the face of a declared aspiration by President Obama, which is shared by the Government, of a nuclear-free world? Would not a better contribution be not replacing Trident?

Mr. Ainsworth: My hon. Friend's views are well known and have been consistent over the years. I am glad they have not changed, but he knows that I disagree with him. I have done so in the past and I still do.


8. Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): What plans he has to improve procedures for major defence procurement projects. [285628]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Quentin Davies): We keep our procedures under constant review, and are currently introducing further improvements.

Angela Watkinson: I thank the Under-Secretary for his answer, but the main investment decisions on Terrier, Soothsayer and the new naval satellite communications terminals were made in 2001, on the introduction of smart acquisition, yet those very projects suffered the greatest slippage in 2007-08. Why?

Mr. Davies: As the hon. Lady knows, we have a substantial defence procurement programme, which we keep under constant review. One of the improvements to which I alluded is a more robust attitude to failure. The hon. Lady will see the results of that before too long.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) (Lab): Procuring the right up-to-date equipment is vital for our troops, but it can also provide skilled work for British workers, not least in my constituency at BAE Systems in Scotswood road in Newcastle. What prospect is there of an announcement early in 2010 on the future rapid effect system-FRES-the Warrior upgrade and the Scout and AFV support vehicles?

Mr. Davies: Just a week ago we issued draft invitations to tender for two important land vehicle projects. One is for the Scout vehicle and the other is for the Warrior upgrade. I remain hopeful that we can sign contracts for those two vehicles early next year, following the invitations to tender, the responses to those, which we have asked for by October, and our evaluation of those bids.

Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): Good procurement depends, of course, on maintaining the best test centres. Some 6,500 defence-related jobs have gone in Scotland since 1997. No other political party supports the Government's pondering of cutting 125 jobs at the Hebrides range in Uist. Will the Minister banish the uncertainty and tell us that those jobs, at Europe's best missile testing centre, are safe? This Government will not be forgiven in Scotland if they go.

Mr. Davies: There is no question of degrading our testing facilities. The issue is whether it is more efficient to control all those ranges from one place, which modern IT makes a feasible possibility, and we would be irresponsible not to consider that. I have received a number of representations from Scotland that I greatly
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respect, and I have agreed to look at them. I have also agreed to visit the sites and to talk to local employees. We will not take any decisions until that has been completed.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): Two years ago, the current Secretary of State said that all six ex-Danish Merlin helicopters would be operational by 2008, yet it now seems that they will not be available until the end of this year at the earliest. Given the widespread criticism of the Government's failure to provide sufficient helicopters, how does the Minister justify yet another 12-month delay in a critical programme?

Mr. Davies: I do not accept that we have failed in producing helicopter capability in Afghanistan. The Secretary- [ Interruption. ] No, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has just set out some of the figures, including an 80 per cent. increase in the availability of helicopter hours over the past two and a half years. We also have an enormous programme of procurement of new helicopters: there are the Danish Merlins and the- [ Interruption. ] I am coming to that in a second. There are the Merlins that are coming back from Iraq and being fitted up to theatre-entry standard for Afghanistan, as well as the prospect of the eight Mk 3 Chinooks, which will be available for operations again by the end of this year. There is also the re-engining of the Lynx helicopters and the prospect of Wildcat, which is being manufactured. That is a very good record. As for the Merlins from Denmark, they are being upgraded to theatre-entry standard as rapidly as possible. I cannot responsibly force through such procedures more rapidly than the experts can deliver them. Indeed, that would be an extremely dangerous thing to do.


9. Danny Alexander (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (LD): When he expects the initial gate decision on the planned replacement of the Trident nuclear deterrent to be made; and if he will make a statement. [285629]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): We currently expect to consider initial gate later this year.

Danny Alexander: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer. However, given that a number of people, including retired military officers, former Defence Secretaries and academics, are now saying that Trident is both irrelevant and unaffordable, will the Secretary of State defer the initial gate process and the hundreds of millions of pounds that it would commit us to spending until a further, full debate in this place that takes into account the new financial and strategic circumstances?

Mr. Ainsworth: Initial gate does not entail the commitments that the hon. Gentleman talks about, and the answer is no.

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