HC Deb 17 May 2004 vol 421 cc670-2
10. Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con)

How many British armed forces personnel are deployed to the Gulf region. [173158]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram)>

There are some 10,000 British armed forces personnel deployed to the Gulf region.

Patrick Mercer

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer, but may I refer him to the reply that the Secretary of State gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson)? Despite what the Government say, a number of units have received unofficial warning orders to go to the Gulf as reinforcements. One of those units is that fine regiment, the Black Watch, which neither I nor any of my colleagues would dream of talking down. The fact remains that colleagues and friends of mine in that regiment tell me that, because of Government indecision, they are having to train almost in secret for these operations and they are making very unfavourable comparisons with precisely the same level of Government dithering that went on before the war started last year. Will the Minister now come clean and give our soldiers the warning orders that they require so that they can be launched properly prepared and properly trained into dangerous circumstances?

Mr. Ingram

I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman, given his experience of the Army—if certainly not of government. If he is alleging that we do not properly train our service personnel and that we put untrained personnel in harm's way, he has forgotten everything that he knew when he was in the armed forces. I do not know whom he has spoken to who says that that is now our approach. We will always train our personnel to the best of our ability and their abilities. Once any decision is taken to deploy our troops, the best and most available troops will be ready and trained to take on whatever tasks are available. We saw that to great effect in the recent deployment to Kosovo.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op)

The House would agree that the breathtaking incompetence verging on treachery that was displayed by certain sacked newspaper editors has imperilled large numbers of British troops not only in the Queen's Lancashire Regiment but elsewhere and has, therefore, made greater deployments to southern Iraq more likely. Specifically, will the Minister comment on the suggestions that, as Spanish troops are withdrawn, the sphere of responsibility of British forces will be widened to include Najaf province and Najaf city? What would the implications of that be?

Mr. Ingram

We have made it clear all along that an issue has to be dealt with because of the withdrawal of Spanish forces. That area is now covered by US forces, and we have said that how we deal with the issue in the longer term must be the subject of discussions within the coalition. I am sure that my hon. Friend understands the reasons for that. If and when we announce any change to our posture, the House will be duly notified, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said.

12. Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con)

What(a) special and(b) specific training has been given to non-Royal Military Police soldiers who are being employed as guards in detention camps in Iraq. [173160]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence Mr. Adam Ingram)

Specialist handling of detainees by non-Royal Military Police soldiers is provided by members of the Adjutant-General's Corps (Military Provost Staff)—the AGC (MPS)—who receive training relevant to their role running the military corrective training centre in Colchester. The expertise of the AGC (MPS) is in the field of custodial care.

The United Kingdom is bound by military law to include the law of armed conflict in military training programmes, which includes the handling and treatment of prisoners of war. All personnel are trained to observe the values and standards expected of the British Army, which includes the concepts of decency and respect for others. During pre-deployment training all units are briefed on procedures for dealing with prisoners of war and, since October 2003, each combat unit is mandated to have eight to 10 senior non-commissioned officers trained in the handling of prisoners of war.

Mr. Robathan

Up to a point, that is a good answer, but can I probe a little further? As I understand it, a large number of people employed as prison guards in the detention camps, who are guarding not prisoners of war but civilian detainees, are not from the Adjutant-General's Corps. For how long is the ordinary infantry soldier, who did not join to be a prison guard, trained? How many ordinary infantry soldiers are acting as prison guards? For how long are they expected to act as prison guards?

Mr. Ingram

The hon. Gentleman asks some impossible questions—I mean, how long is a piece of string? On the basis of what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said about the new provisions post-30 June, we will, of course, alter some of the characteristics on which his questions are based.

On the extent of the training, the hon. Gentleman will know from his experience that the training process runs right through from phase 1 to when people may be required to undertake that custodial role. They are made aware of the culture into which they are going and the nature of the approach that they have to adopt towards anyone who is in their custody, which is to accord them the highest respect, both in human rights terms and in other ways.

Our detention centre has an extensive programme that takes account of all that. It is why the ICRC's second report, which has been mentioned, said after that inspection that the conditions are fairly good. We cannot go further than that because we do not discuss the detail of ICRC reports, but I am confident that we are putting in a lot of effort. That is why we have put an additional resource in the hands of combat units that may arrest people by giving each combat unit senior non-commissioned officers who have specialist knowledge and skills

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