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Mr. Ingram: In the current financial year the armed forces aim to recruit in excess of 24,800 young people. In order to achieve this, all three services are undertaking many initiatives both at national level and at local level. Included among the initiatives are: the use of multi-media advertising campaigns; attendance by services' recruiting teams at schools, youth clubs, careers fairs and graduate recruitment seminars; work experience placements within service establishments; personal development courses and look at life courses for people who express an interest in the armed forces; taster day visits to HM ships and service establishments; a dedicated careers website for each of the services; introduction by the Army of an on-line recruiting office, with plans for this concept to be replicated by the other services; specialist ethnic minority recruiting and diversity action teams aimed at promoting armed forces careers to ethnic minority communities; and a partnership with the Employment Service, making use of its local outlets Jobcentre Plus.
Mr. Ingram: We remain committed to delivering the military capability required of the Army in the Strategic Defence Review. This will require an increase in its strength from current levels, which we are tackling in a number of different ways. We are focusing on attracting more high quality potential recruits into the training organisations while reducing wastage. Measures introduced already, both regionally and nationally, have helped to hold retention levels steady and reduce the numbers of recruits dropping out of training.
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Mr. Hoon: As was announced on 18 December 2001, it has been decided to maintain the current military presence in Sierra Leone of 360 shore-based personnel over the period of presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for May 2002. The military training and assistance programme continues to make good progress towards its goal of developing a professional, accountable and effective Sierra Leone Army, able to protect the security and integrity of Sierra Leone on its own. The International Military Advisory and Training Team in Sierra Leone, which Britain leads and to which we are the major contributors, will continue the task of developing the capacity of the Sierra Leone Armed Forces over the longer term.
Mr. Ingram: The armed forces have done much in recent years to promote racial equality and create an environment free from harassment and unlawful discrimination. This includes establishing confidential advice and support help lines; a network of equal opportunities advisers; equality training, focus groups and surveys; monitoring and evaluating ethnic minority recruitment, progression and retention; and a vigorous recruiting and outreach programme to encourage more ethnic minorities to join the armed forces.
Mr. Ingram: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence informed the House on 4 October that the Ministry of Defence would be conducting work designed to ensure that we have the right concepts, forces and capabilities to deal with the kind of asymmetric threat that we saw on 11 September.
This work is on-going and is addressing, among a wide range of issues, the balance between the contributions that the armed forces make to home defence and countering threats abroad. A key part of this work is exploring the role that the armed forces, including the reserves, have in defending and protecting the United Kingdom. But it should be recognised that the lead for domestic security lies with the civil authorities, and with the police in particular. The armed forces, of course, already provide assistance to the civil authorities in a range of ways.
We will need to examine fully the overall priorities for tackling terrorism through military and other means including intelligence, diplomacy, humanitarian and aid policies and domestic responses to the threat. Funding issues will be addressed during the spending review, which will conclude in the summer.
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Mr. Ingram: The Armed Forces Discipline Act 2000 introduced certain changes to the discipline system to meet our obligations under the Human Rights Act. These are assessed to have reinforced the authority of the discipline system without impact on operational effectiveness. The discipline and effectiveness of the armed forces continue to be of a high order, as recent operations have amply shown.
Under the terms of the Bonn Agreement of 5 December 2001, the ISAF will assist the Afghanistan Interim Administration to provide security and stability in Kabul. The ISAF will play a vital part in the international community's support to the Afghan people in the difficult task of rebuilding their country.
The UK will be lead nation of the ISAF for a limited period of three months. The UK will provide up to 1,800 personnel for the ISAF. In addition and in the short term, we are deploying nearly 300 Army and RAF personnel to help repair and operate Kabul International airport. As of today, we have some 600 troops in Kabul.
Mr. Hoon: UK forces are being deployed to Afghanistan as part of the International Security Assistance Force. The provision of humanitarian relief is outwith their mission of providing security assistance to the Afghanistan Interim Administration. They will, however, be in a position to identify potential humanitarian reconstruction projects.
Mr. Ingram [holding answer 11 January 2002]: As of 11 January, all UK units deployed in Afghanistan as part of the International Security Assistance Force have been re-equipped with modified SA80 rifles.
The programme of converting units to the modified SA80 is progressing very well. Every effort is being made to ensure that the rate of throughput of modified weapons is sufficient so that all UK service personnel deploying in
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future to Afghanistan, including engineer and logistic units, will have the upgraded weapon. However, a small number of individual augmentees in logistic and other support functions will not have received modified weapons prior to deployment.
Mr. Ingram: The RAF is in broad manning balance, albeit shortfalls continue to exist in a number of branches and trades. The RAF aims to achieve its Public Service Agreement target of full manning by March 2004.
Mr. Ingram: I last met the Transport and General Workers Union to discuss the airfield support services project on 19 September 2001. This project is looking at the viability of a PFI solution for the provision of airfield support services to the Ministry of Defence.
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