Armed Forces Morale

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 3rd November 2008.

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Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee 2:30 pm, 3rd November 2008

What recent steps he has taken to maintain and enhance morale in the armed forces.

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Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

We are removing disadvantage from service life and enhancing educational opportunity through the service personnel Command Paper. We have encouraged understanding and appreciation of our armed forces by commissioning the national recognition study. We have implemented above average pay increases, particularly for lower ranks, and vastly improved the operational welfare package. We have massively improved equipment and will continue to do so—for example, by investing £680 million in new protected vehicles, as announced by the Prime Minister last Wednesday.

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Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

I thank the Minister for that reply, which goes some way to addressing the concerns, but will he explain the effect on the morale of our troops when the Government can find money for new nuclear warheads for a new tranche of the Eurofighter and yet have consistently failed to provide the troops with the equipment that they need for the task that they face? Will he now undertake to ensure that they are provided with the armoured cars, armoured equipment, helicopters and everything else that they need to do the job that they are being asked to do on the ground?

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Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

There has been a 60 per cent. uplift in helicopter numbers in Afghanistan in the recent past, and the right hon. Gentleman must accept that we have to provide not only for the current threat but for the many eventualities that will face our country. We must have a balanced defence policy, and the kind of fighting that our people are doing in Afghanistan and Iraq is not necessarily the only threat that they might face in the near future.

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Photo of Adrian Bailey Adrian Bailey PPS (Rt Hon Bob Ainsworth, Minister of State), Ministry of Defence

I welcome the Minister's comments on improving conditions for our armed forces, but what assessment has he made of the impact of that on recruitment?

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Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

Recruitment has been challenging in some of the pinch-point areas, as my hon. Friend knows, but, generally speaking, it is holding up, and there have recently been signs that it has improved, as was reported at the weekend in the national newspapers.

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Photo of Patrick Mercer Patrick Mercer Conservative, Newark

Last year, my old battalion had to patrol in Snatch vehicles, and it has been told that when it goes back again in the spring of next year, it will have to continue patrolling in Snatch vehicles. It refers to them as coffins. Will the Minister comment on the effect that that will have on morale, please?

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Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

The hon. Gentleman repeatedly adds his weight to the call for Snatch to be removed from operational theatres, but we are advised that commanders need a range of vehicles, that Mastiff and vehicles like it cannot do every job that they are called upon to do, and that Snatch is therefore still required. We are now procuring Snatch Vixen, which will be a higher-powered version, able to carry more armour—but the threat will change, and we can rest assured that that vehicle will be overpowered by some of the new explosives, some of the new formed charges, that our people will face in the future. And you can bet your life that some hon. Members will then say that the new Snatch Vixen should not be deployed in theatre. We will never be able to remove the risk entirely from operational theatre.

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R

No Time frame as usual . all these vehicles can be bought off the shelf . Usual government excuses . our militaty personnel mean nothing to them but a tool to enhance ego`s of ministers

Submitted by Robert Horner

Photo of Madeleine Moon Madeleine Moon PPS (Jim Knight, Minister of State), Department for Children, Schools and Families

One way to raise the morale of our troops is to help them to realise how much the work that they do is appreciated in their local towns and communities. The Regiment of Wales was given the freedom of the borough in my constituency of Bridgend, and that hugely raised the morale of the troops and of the local community. Should that not be one of the ways to demonstrate that we are keen to raise morale and to demonstrate ordinary people's recognition of the dedication of our service people?

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Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. When people return from dangerous operational theatres they need to know that those back home understand what they have been through; the kind of work that they have to do and the kind of dangers that they have had to face. We have seen a huge improvement in the level of recognition and appreciation afforded to our armed forces over the last year, and I pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend Mr. Davies, for his work in the national recognition study, which helped in some way to improve that situation.

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Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Opposition Whip (Commons)

What effect does it have on morale when the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, Mr. Davies, blames the commanders for their choice of vehicle, saying:

"in retrospect, a commander chose the wrong piece of equipment, the wrong vehicle, for the particular threat that the patrol or whatever it was encountered and we had some casualties as a result"?

For the commanders on the spot, frequently those choices were certainly not available, as has been made clear by my hon. Friend Patrick Mercer. Surely it is simply unsustainable for a Minister to say these things.

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Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My hon. Friend was trying to explain to people that a range of vehicles is needed in theatre. Hon. Friends of Mr. Blunt often say different things from what commanders tell us about Snatch. They tell us that Snatch is needed as part of the suite of vehicles required in theatre. We have spent more than £1 billion on new vehicles already, and we will continue to spend, but commanders will still need a range of vehicles to do the various jobs required of them in our operational theatres.

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Photo of Claire Curtis-Thomas Claire Curtis-Thomas Labour, Crosby

I am acutely aware that a significant amount of time elapses between a requirement being made known by operational forces on the ground, and the development of the engineering capacity needed to produce the required improvements. What can my right hon. Friend the Minister do to ensure that the lead time between vehicle aspirations and vehicle delivery to meet operational demand, which is unique in every context, is reduced?

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Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is vital that we react to the changing threats as quickly as we can. With regard to Mastiff, we managed to bring in that vehicle, from first announcement to first showing in theatre, in only 23 weeks. We need to try to match that in the future and on every occasion.

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Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

Does the Minister accept that saving the lives of service personnel is a very good way of enhancing their morale? Will he therefore see what he can do to bring forward into operation the latest high technology Nimrod MRA4, the spy in the sky, which could give our armed services in both Iraq and, particularly, Afghanistan notice of when they are likely to encounter the enemy?

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Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

The current Nimrod fulfils that role, as the hon. Gentleman knows. It is a life-saving platform, operating in Afghanistan and doing exactly as he proposes. We are working with BAE Systems to try to bring forward the Nimrod MRA4.

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Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

When a loyal and committed officer resigns and cites a specific reason, he should be treated with the utmost seriousness. When, instead, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, Mr. Davies says that it was

"such a travesty of reality that it is actually quite difficult to take this at first face value," it is not only damaging to morale but, frankly, a disgrace.

And, when the Under-Secretary said that there were

"a couple of odd things about this resignation", what exactly did he mean, and when will he apologise?

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Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

We do take the complaint seriously; we do take the resignation seriously. We do not accept that we are in any way cavalier with our people's safety. We put that at the absolute top of our priorities, and all of us in the ministerial team will continue to do so.

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R

MMM Not cavalier?????? ") 20 + airmen unlawfully killed in a nimrod . Lets not lie here mr Fox Your government was found guilty of exactly that ,having a cavalier...

Submitted by Robert Horner Continue reading

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

Still no apology—yet the Under-Secretary's offence went beyond damaging morale and his own arrogant dismissal of a loyal and committed officer. As my hon. Friend Mr. Blunt said, the Under-Secretary said:

"there may be occasions when in retrospect, a commander chose the wrong piece of equipment".

Yet is it not increasingly clear that, on the occasion in question, commanders had no choice but to use Snatch Land Rovers? How can it be that after six years and more than £10 billion in spending, we still do not have the armoured vehicles that we require? And, why did the Under-Secretary not take time to discover the facts before opening his mouth and bad-mouthing our commanders?

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Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My hon. Friend meant no offence. He was trying to explain to people that we need a suite of vehicles in theatre. That was all he was trying to do, and he did not mean to cause any offence to anyone at all.

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G

Being an ex-soldier i would like to meet Mr Ainsworth around the back of the House and knock some respect into him!

Submitted by George W. Wood