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Lord Bramall: My Lords, perhaps the Minister will give way for one moment. I quite understand that on the general question of Gurkhas he would want to write to me. The last time I made an observation I received an answer from the Minister with responsibility for defence 18 months later. However, I am sure this Government will write much earlier than that.

Can the Minister say something specifically about the companies which were to be taken on until the year 2000? I thought it might have been in his brief and that he could have given an assurance about that. If not, I shall await the letter, whenever it comes.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, perhaps I may also intervene with regard to the Minister's statement that he will write to the noble and gallant Lord. It would be extremely useful to your Lordships if the letter could be included in Hansard as if it were a Written Question.

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, it is for noble Lords whether they put down a Question to me. I shall be happy to put a copy of any letter in the Library and if a noble Lord wishes to put down a Question I shall be happy to answer it in the normal way.

I now come to the important points first raised by the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, about times between postings and cannibalisation. I am not aware of any cannibalisation for Bosnia or Kosovo. That does not mean it has not taken place; it is quite possible that it has. I set myself the task when I first arrived in this post in May 1997 to try to ensure that we never again found ourselves in the situation we encountered in 1991 where we were cannibalising tanks and planes in Germany in order to have those in the Middle East fully operational.

It is an important part of the smart procurement initiative that we say to manufacturers that they will be responsible for the supply of spare parts for the equipment they sell us right through the life of the equipment so that we share the risk. They are responsible and there are financial penalties attached to any failure on their part to match up to their responsibilities. These will be

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contractual obligations. Of course, it will take some time to move fully into that situation, but at least we have initiated what I hope the noble Lord will agree are important first steps in that direction.

The noble Lord asked about shortfalls in the Royal Armoured Corps and infantry. I have some figures here but, given the time, perhaps the noble Lord will find it acceptable if I send them to him. With respect to harmony guidelines in general--this question was raised by many noble Lords--it is perfectly true that they are not as satisfactory as they should be. I am briefed to say that the Army's harmony guidelines are still being met in most cases but there is a serious problem with combat support services and the infantry in particular.

Noble Lords will be aware that many units undertake operations with gaps of only 18 months or even shorter, and individuals can be even more adversely affected. I am informed that most Royal Air Force personnel are within their harmony guidelines and serve no more than 140 days a year in Germany or away from their UK or German base. But some Tornado and Harrier crews (air and ground) spent over 70 per cent. of 1998 preparing for, conducting, or recovering from, operations. The Navy generally meets its harmony guideline that personnel shall spend 40 per cent. of their time averaged over two years in their base port. But from time to time individuals whose skills are particularly valuable may find that their ship comes into port and they are whisked away again quite quickly. The Government do not dispute that there is serious overstretch.

I turn now to some of the points raised by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley. I also thank him for giving me notice of the questions he intended to ask. I should like to deal particularly with questions to do with quality of life. I am sure he will be glad to know that this very afternoon I raised questions in the Ministry of Defence as to the facilities that would be available to our troops in Kosovo or Macedonia, particularly given the extremely harsh climatic conditions in which they will find themselves which are rather different from those experienced by our troops in the Gulf. Troops have already been issued with additional cold weather kit: boots, mittens and hats. They will be served fresh food. The toilet facilities there are a mixture of chemical and purpose-built ones. Accommodation is a mixture of buildings and tents.

I asked particularly as to the availability of chip machines and mobile phones. I can inform the House that private telephone facilities will be available using the military system at present until a commercial facility can be established. I have inquired as to whether or not UK mobile phones can operate in that part of the world. The news is not very encouraging. We have already authorised free newspapers, a British Forces Post Office mail service with free aerograms, and concessionary parcel rates in both directions, library services and the provision of British Forces Broadcasting Service radio and television units. We are doing what we can in short order.

With respect to the generality of what we are doing to improve the quality of life of our services, I can best answer the noble and gallant Lord's question by rattling through some of the titles of the units we have created.

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We have already created a service families task force, a veterans' advice unit, which has been extremely well received and used, and a career transition partnership. We are also introducing an Armed Forces overarching personnel strategy. We are extremely seized of the importance of the quality of life in order to improve the retention rate in our Armed Services. We are not too proud to consider what our American friends have done under the GI Bill of Rights to see what we can make available in practical terms to our people along those lines, within the limits of resources.

I turn to the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Park. I am delighted to see her skipping up and down the steps after her operation. We have missed her badly for the past two months and I hope that it will not be too long before we see her on the tennis courts, the ski slopes and possibly going to ballet classes. It is wonderful to see her again. The noble Baroness startled me, as did the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, with some reference to East Timor. It was news to me that we were expecting to send troops to East Timor. Having consulted rapidly, I am told that no such indication has been given by Her Majesty's Government. I think that that is probably a hobgoblin that we can put behind us for the indefinite future.

I normally agree with almost everything the noble Baroness says. However, in this case--I think I have her words correctly--she spoke about our committing forces to a debilitating war in the Balkans. I think I know what she is saying: that she is afraid that if our forces go into Kosovo they may be subject to perpetual attrition and attacks. We shall not go into Kosovo unless there is agreement by all the forces involved there, as my noble friend Lady Symons said today: the various groupings of Albanians and the government of whatever is left of Yugoslavia. We shall certainly not fight our way into Kosovo. We shall go in there by agreement with our allies. So I think that I can set the noble Baroness's fears at rest.

The noble Baroness wanted us to reward success and give opportunities for the ambitious to advance. On the other hand, the noble Earl, Lord Carlisle, was worried about the introduction of performance related pay. I cannot satisfy the noble Earl and the noble Baroness at the same time. In this case, I think that the noble Baroness will win. We are intending to introduce performance related pay, I think, in the year 2000.

The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, rightly drew attention to the need for the sustainability of our forces in Kosovo. This is a matter of considerable anxiety for us, mainly because of the difficulties of physical access. There are not many roads and railway lines from the Thessalonica part of Greece through Macedonia and into Kosovo. If we are talking about a total land force of 25,000 troops with heavy equipment, this will be a massive problem. With the Ministry of Defence in the lead, we shall be well placed to see that arrangements are as efficient as they possibly could be if we have to set up an armed headquarters there.

I am aware that I have gone over the time allotted. I hope that various noble Lords will not accuse me of discourtesy if I have not dealt with all the points they raised. I shall undertake to write to them.

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I say this to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. It is the policy of Her Majesty's Government not to take on more commitments than we can handle. It is easy for me to say that, but I can assure him that it is a matter that has the attention of the Secretary of State on a regular basis.

I cannot get into debate with the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, or the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, on the merits of candidates for the Astor procurement, the competition for which will shortly come before Ministers. I have been lobbied by about 65 different people now for the three different solutions. Unfortunately only one will win; and I shall have unhappy friends all around me. But there will be a winner and two losers. I think that we shall know the answer to that conundrum within a very few weeks.

I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, about different retention payments. I was not aware of that. I shall look into the issue to see whether I can advise him why the present pattern exists or whether we might be considering having it changed.

I was fascinated by the tutorial of the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, on the Ottoman Empire. One of the most marvellous things about this place is that you learn something new every day. I must study Hansard to obtain full benefit from her remarks.

I hope that the noble Lords, Lord Wallace and Lord Burnham, will acquit me of discourtesy, but I do not believe that they made a point which I have not already dealt with. I shall study Hansard and respond to them in writing as soon as may be.

10.50 p.m.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords and the two noble Baronesses who have taken part in the debate. We have had a most useful and interesting discussion. I am particularly grateful to the Minister for his comprehensive and helpful reply and for his coming to answer the debate at all. I know that it was arranged at short notice and that he had to rearrange his diary. I am greatly obliged. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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