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The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): I have regular discussions with my European counterparts on a variety of issues, including the international security assistance force. As I have already indicated to the House, any extension of the force beyond six months would require a decision by the United Nations Security Council.
Richard Ottaway: I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. In January, he indicated to the House that the bulk of the British troops would be deployed only for three months. In the circumstances, can he say which nations will make up the bulk of the six-month deployment and exactly what is the position with Turkey at the moment?
Mr. Hoon: I will make a statement to the House later this afternoon in which I will deal with those issues. However, I can say that discussions are continuing with Turkey, which has expressed an interest in taking on the leadership role in the ISAF. In recent discussions, we have felt more confident of its ability to do so.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie): The question of granting pardons to those executed during the first world war was the subject of a careful and detailed review by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, North and Bellshill (Dr. Reid), the then Minister for the Armed Forces. The legal difficulties in considering pardons were fully explained in his statement to the House on 24 July 1998.
The position has not changed but that should not obscure the important and very positive steps taken to recognise those men as victims of the war and to remember them among their fallen comrades. Their public commemoration in the new memorial in the national memorial arboretum is very fitting.
Vera Baird: I thank my hon. Friend for that helpful reply. I ask him to consider two factors that have reignited the issue for some of my Redcar constituents. The first is that New Zealand passed the Pardon for Soldiers of the Great War Act in 2000, which pardoned the few people that it had executed in the first world war, thus showing that it can still be done. The second is that the independent Criminal Cases Review Commission routinely reviews convictions that are more than 50 years old, including executions, and makes sensible suggestions. Do not those two factors together suggest that a short independent inquiry might be able to give at least some people more satisfaction?
Dr. Moonie: Again, I should refer my hon. Friend to the careful and well-researched statement that the Minister made in 1998. The whole subject has been considered with great sympathy and care. The review took a wide
We understand that many people still seek pardons for the executed men, but pardons are an exceptional legal remedy requiring a level of evidence that, particularly in relation to medical matters, no longer survives. However, the difficulties over considering pardons should not obscure the important measures that have been taken publicly to recognise those who were executed as victims of the war.
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): The Minister is right to say that this subject is far from simple. He may recall from the history books that when many of the executions took place there were mass desertions from the French army and that, rightly or wrongly, it was feared that similar events might occur in the British Army. He is also right to mention the national memorial arboretum at Alrewas in my constituency. If he has not already visited it, may I invite him and his colleagues to see that fitting memorial to those who tragically lost their lives?
Dr. Moonie: Yes. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I have every intention of visiting the national memorial arboretum in the near future, and I shall of course inform him, as a local Member, when that visit is to take place.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie): The revised procurement strategy announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in July 2001 on the type 45 provides better value for money to the taxpayer, secures welcome stability for our warship-building industry and preserves the possibility of future competition for a number of naval programmes. The £2 billion order for the first six ships was confirmed on 18 February 2002. Once completed and fully equipped with their principal anti-air missile system, the overall procurement cost for the six ships will be£4.3 billion.
Mr. Turner: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Can the good news that he has announced on savings be applied to future contracts to ensure that we get increased capability and best value for the taxpayer?
Dr. Moonie: My hon. Friend makes a good point. Value for money remains the cornerstone of our procurement policy, with competition a key means to achieve that. The revised type 45 strategy shows that, through smart acquisition, the Government, working with industry, can deliver key national defence industrial capability and ensure best value for money. In the type
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): May I remind the House that I served with the armed forces parliamentary scheme on HMS Cumberland, where we saw at first hand the work that the fleet is doing? In answer to a previous question, the Minister referred to Sea Harriers remaining in harness until the new aircraft come into operation. When will the type 45s be available for operations, and what is the deadline for the Sea Harriers to come out of action and the new aircraft to go into service?
The armed forces have carefully considered the implications for the next few years, and the type 45s will come into full service in 2007, with their armaments. Given that our procurement strategy is very successful, that date will be met. Until then, there is a perfectly adequate screen of protection available for our carriers and any forces that we send abroad. We have been guaranteed of that, and it was very relevant to the decision on the Sea Harriers.
John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland): My hon. Friend is aware that the type 45 contracts were signed in my constituency; may I thank him on behalf of the constituents and those who work in all the yards affected by the decision? Has the strategic review considered any future ships so that we can meet the needs of the coming century? The yards of Scotstoun and Govan will be only too happy to build any more ships that he wishes to announce.
Dr. Moonie: I am sure they are, and I await their bids with interest. In addition to the type 45, there will be work on future carriers to be considered. That will provide opportunities for shipyards and other companies to compete for further much-needed business.
Patrick Mercer (Newark): During a visit last week to the dockyards in Scotland with the Select Committee on Defence, we found HMS Monmouth lying untended in dry dock, where she had been since January. No work had been carried out on her, her crew is lying idle, and the workers who would normally work on her are unable to do so. Would the Minister care to comment on that?
Mr. Adam Ingram): As at July 2000, there were 1,904 service personnel based in the north-west. In addition, there are 2,128 civilian Ministry of Defence staff and more than 4,000 reserve forces based in the region.
Mr. Ingram: Undoubtedly. One of the characteristics that we are having to deal with is fuller employment in all the regions where before we would have had very good recruitment returns. Because of that, we have to renew our efforts and raise our game, so to speak, to ensure that we continue to attract the high-quality recruits that we need. The north-west is one of the areas in which we have a very good record of recruitmentone of the highest in the country.
Ms Coffey: I am pleased to learn that there are 4,000 reserves based in the north-west. As my right hon. Friend's Department is undertaking a new chapter in the strategic defence review to consider a greater role for the reserves in homeland defence, will he confirm that the north-west should see an increase in the number of reserves in future?
Mr. Ingram: That is an important question because the new chapter, which has been mentioned in responses to previous questions, will clearly have an important impact across the wide reach of our armed forces, not least in the reserves and the territorials. It is too soon to say precisely what the impact of any change in activity will be on the regional footprint, but I shall ensure that my hon. Friend is kept up to date with any changes in her area.