The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): My Lords, since 1998 we have implemented over two-thirds of the key Strategic Defence Review (SDR) measures. We have made good progress towards more flexible and rapidly deployable expeditionary forces. The New Chapter work built on the Strategic Defence Review. It looked at countering international terrorism and asymmetric attack, and at building network-enabled capability. Our Armed Forces will need to continue to evolve to meet the needs of the 21st century. Next year's defence White Paper will set out how we plan to take this forward.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. In so doing, I remind the House that I have an interest in this area. The SDR is a very detailed, and, indeed, a very good defence plan. However, can the Minister say what progress is being made as regards the detail? For example, what progress is he making in establishingand, most importantly, equippinga Royal Logistics Corps water transport squadron?
Lord Redesdale: My Lords, the SDR expeditionary strategy relies heavily on aircraft carriers. In view of HMS "Ocean" being in refit for the foreseeable future, can the noble Lord say what measures the Government are taking to ensure that aircraft carriers are available?
Lord Bach: My Lords, aircraft carriers will be available if they are needed. There is no question of any shortage in that field. As the noble Lord will know, by 21st January of next year we intend to choose which of two competing companies will be responsible for the construction of two new aircraft carriers that emerge straight out of the Strategic Defence Review, the first one of which we hope will sail in 2012.
Lord Bach: My Lords, we have acknowledged the manning and equipment shortfalls in the DMS, and are addressing those matters. We are committed to manning the services fully. Recruitment into training is generally satisfactory. Retention of experienced personnel is the main problem facing the DMS. Improved retention is the key element in our plans. We recognise that both financial and non-financial measures have a part to play in the process. Up until now, the Defence Medical Services have met all the operational commitments placed upon them. I am sure that they will continue to do so in the future.
Viscount Slim: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House the current position in the Ministry of Defence regarding the sustainability of a force for a longish period of duty in the field? Is it not a fact that we are short of medium and heavy lift? Further, can the noble Lord say what we are doingand, if so, whereabout training the Armed Forces for war?
Lord Bach: My Lords, we believe that the capability and sustainability of UK Armed Forces to engage in expeditionary warfare on land was demonstrated most successfully during Exercise Saif Sareea II last year, as well as in operations in recent years; for example, in the Balkans, in East Timor, in Sierra Leone, and in and around Afghanistan. I can tell the House that the strategic sealift service will provide six ro-ro vessels for routine freighting, three of which are already in service with a fourth being not far away from that stage. As
Lord Bach: My Lords, we have led the ambitions for such a force. We have played an important role in ensuring that such a force becomes a central part of NATO policy. It follows, therefore, that we shall play an important part in such a force.
Lord Bach: My Lords, as to the noble Lord's first question, I cannot confirm, "or otherwise". The answer to his second question is, yes. It is true that work is being carried out on the Challenger 2 tank as we speak.
Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, in the event of a major conflict, to what extent will the Defence Medical Services be dependent on reserve personnel called up from the Territorial Army? What effect is that likely to have on an understaffed National Health Service?
Lord Bach: My Lords, if a medium-scale war-fighting force were needed to be deployed on operations, the Defence Medical Services would need to call out reservists in order to meet the operational commitment. As to the second part of the noble Lord's question, that is currently a matter for discussion between the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Health.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, the Government are implementing a range of measures to improve the recruitment, retention and return of staff in the NHS, including improved pay, more flexible and supportive family working conditions, greater access to childcare and more training.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Did he see the newspaper report of 27th November on the Secretary of State's speech to the CBI? It states that the Secretary of State said that,
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Generally, my Lords, in most of the professions, we are not aware of overt poaching by the private sector from the National Health Service. However, I am well aware of the issues which the noble Baroness raises in relation to dentists. I think that the number of dentists with GDS contracts with the NHS has in fact increased, although the amount that each does has probably decreased. I believe that the solution lies in the discussions between the department and the profession to look at the current contract and get dentists off what they feel is the treadmill of NHS work. We seek to give them a more rewarding career in NHS dentistry, and we are very keen to work with the profession on that.
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