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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie): The Government are determined that our military personnel will have good living accommodation. Last week, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced a major new initiative for improving service single living accommodation in the United Kingdom. We also plan upgrade programmes for both single living and family accommodation overseas. Significant projects are already in hand, such as the rebuilding and refurbishing of all accommodation in Cyprus. The new money made available to the defence budget in the 2000 spending review has allowed us to increase the investment in upgrade programmes elsewhere.
Ms Squire: I welcome the announcement on improving the standard of service accommodation made last week by my right hon. Friend. On a recent visit to Episkopi barracks in Cyprus, I was impressed by the professionalism of the 1st battalion, the King's Own Scottish Borderers, but appalled by the standard of single living accommodation that it has endured during its two-year tour of duty, so I welcome the Minister's assurance that it will be improved. Can he also assure me that, as the first battalion should have transferred to Catterick by now, the standard of accommodation there will represent an improvement? Does he agree that one can only ask what the previous Government were doing for 18 years to allow such substandard accommodation to be provided for our armed services personnel?
Dr. Moonie: My hon. Friend will be well aware that the history of the previous Government was one of a steady and slow decline in the overall quality of accommodation. I have visited many sites in the United Kingdom and Germany and I have made it clear that I find them unacceptable. She will be glad to know that our additional money for overseas investment is projected to build up to £55 million a year over the next few years. That will go a long way to remedying the deficits.
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): I do not want to be churlish, so I am bound to say that I welcomethe investment in accommodation, especially that for Aldershot, because the Minister knows that the accommodation in Montgomery lines is particularly poor. However, it is appalling that, five days after the Secretary of State for Defence smuggled out the information by way of a written answer and despite my representations to his office, I have still not been told what investment will be made in Aldershot. I learned from the Minister for the Armed Forces, speaking on Southern Counties Radio, that there would be £3 million of investment for Aldershot, but will the Under-Secretary tell us precisely what that means for my constituents, or whether it is just money for the future and another Labour mirage?
Dr. Moonie: The hon. Gentleman may not have wanted to be churlish, but he certainly made a dashed good stab at it. Given the many sites that need upgrading, it has sadly not been possible to notify every right hon. and hon. Member about our plans. However, when we have specific proposals, they will be informed about them. Late last year, I saw the situation at Montgomery lines at first hand and we have managed to identify separate moneys that will go towards the temporary upgrading of the accommodation on that site. However, we recognise that we cannot replace all the substandard accommodation overnight.
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): I last met Alain Richard on 9 February this year at Cahors to discuss a range of defence issues of mutual interest, including European security.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): If it was necessary to have a common European security policy with the United States to stop the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo--a policy that I urged and fully supported--is it not now necessary to have again a common European security policy to stop Albanian extremists, who are not representative of the Albanian people, undermining the peace and security that have come to the Balkans?
Mr. Hoon: I made it clear in response to an earlier question that NATO capitals are looking carefully at the situation on the border with Macedonia. We regard the matter with grave concern and, certainly, we are taking appropriate action to deal with any kind of extremism from any ethic community.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Given that the European rapid reaction force will draw on the same forces as NATO, how will it be able to engage in an operation in which, by definition, NATO does not wish to engage, without reducing NATO's capabilities for the operations in which it does wish to participate? Have the French, for example, said that they intend to allocate a single extra soldier, sailor or airman to the defence of Europe, or will they simply raid the forces allocated to NATO?
Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. We have made it clear that we would distinguish between the war-fighting activity in which we would expect NATO to be involved, for which forces that have been allocated to it are properly and suitably trained, and the peacekeeping Petersberg tasks, in which we would expect the European Union to engage. That is why there is no inconsistency between our efforts with NATO and the EU to improve military capability.
Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield): Given the many statements made in Washington and London about the importance of NATO and Europe working side by side, why were the French Government not informed by the Americans when they bombed Baghdad?
Mr. Hoon: I shall try to deal with a number of factual errors that my right hon. Friend has set out. In the first instance, the so-called bombing of Baghdad was a self-defence operation, conducted by the coalition forces in defence of their aircraft. Although some targets were near Baghdad, it is stretching the facts to suggest thatthey were in Baghdad. As for information that is communicated to the French, it is for the coalition to determine the appropriate time when allies are informed. I am sure that they were informed at an appropriate stage.
Mr. Hoon: I have already answered that; I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman was not paying attention. Perhaps he was also not paying attention when the previous Government set out and signed up to a common European defence policy at Maastricht. Certainly, the great majority of Conservative Members supported that, although I suppose that I should excuse him because he opposed it. Does the Conservative party oppose everything to do with the EU instinctively, even when it is clearly in Britain's best interests to participate? Has its loose coalition on Europe broken down?
Mr. Duncan Smith: Yet again, it is quite clear that the Prime Minister did not tell the Secretary of State about those people who will be destroying NATO, because he has not got a brief to that effect. The reality is simple. As ever, the Government are facing in two directions at once. On the one hand, they are telling the Americans, "Don't worry. Trust us"; on the other, they are saying to the people who will destroy NATO, "Don't worry. You can trust us, too. We're all in this together." Is it not the reality that since St. Malo, they have colluded in a process that will deliver the destruction of NATO? In addition, the Prime Minister said in the interview that he was a great believer in natural law--we now know that the Government spend all their time flying by the seat of their pants.
Mr. Hoon: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman finds the world such a confusing and difficult place. I am sure that it would be simpler for all of us if, like the modern Conservative party, we simply turned our back on any sort of international development, irrespective of whether it was in Britain's interest, as well as on any sort of European development. The position that the hon. Gentleman sets out is that it is all very complicated and too difficult for us, so it is far easier to stick our head firmly in the sand and leave it there.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Does my right hon. Friend recall that many years ago at Labour party conferences there used to be long resolutions from the constituency parties that advocated the withdrawal from NATO? I and one or two of my hon. Friends used to support that proposition, and I am not a supporter of the Common Market either. I get my cake and eat it too--I am quite enjoying this little spat and I hope that it will go on for a long time.
Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend will recall that in those days, I was sometimes required to appear before the Bolsover general management committee. It is fair to say that on those occasions, although I was a minority of one,