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The Secretary of State was asked-
Military Co-operation (European Forces)
1. Angela Watkinson (Upminster): What recent training the armed forces have received to prepare them for co-operation with European armed forces outside the NATO system. [135543]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): Our armed forces conduct a wide range of training with our European partners. Such training assists in preparing forces for multinational operations, whether they are led by NATO, the European Union or the United Nations, or undertaken as part of an ad hoc coalition.

Angela Watkinson : Has the Secretary of State consulted the Bosnian Government as to whether they would prefer NATO or the European Union to continue in charge of peacekeeping operations after next spring? The Bosnian Government may not have spoken publicly because of their financial dependence on the EU, but would it not be infinitely preferable for NATO to be the umbrella organisation in charge of peacekeeping even if the United States is not involved?

Mr. Hoon: May I make it clear to the House that no decision has yet been taken to end NATO’s operation in Bosnia? There are discussions about the possibility of follow-on operations. As the hon. Lady implies, the EU could lead such follow-on operations, although, again, no decision has been taken. We will certainly consult the Bosnian Government before any such decisions are taken.

Mr. Frank Roy (Motherwell and Wishaw): One area of European co-operation is the international security assistance force in Afghanistan. Last week, members of Select Committee on Defence, including me, were privileged to visit Kabul and, in particular, see the work being carried out by the civil and military co-operation teams. Those teams rebuild hospitals, roads and schools, but they are unfortunately still vastly underfunded. Will the Secretary of State examine ways to fund that vital service in Afghanistan?

Mr. Hoon: I thank my hon. Friend. I know that he and his colleagues had an interesting visit to Afghanistan, and I will certainly take full account of their views about it. We want to ensure that all such activities in Afghanistan are properly and adequately funded.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex): I am interested that the Secretary of State says that no decision has been taken about Bosnian peacekeeping when it was announced at the Copenhagen summit, which I believe the Prime Minister attended last December, that the EU would be taking over peacekeeping in Bosnia last spring.

I want to ask the Secretary of State about exercises and training. How can he pretend that exercises will not continue to be cancelled when the average gap between operational tours for the infantry is not 24 months, which was promised in the strategic defence review in 1998, but just nine months? Does he realise that the Royal Scots went off to Northern Ireland after only six months and that 2 Para, which is off to Basra, will be spending its third Christmas in a row on operations? The King’s Own Scottish Borderers, which is coming back from Iraq, is going straight off to Northern Ireland with hardly any training and no post-operational leave whatsoever. Is it not clear that the armed forces are more overstretched than ever, that Labour does not care about them or their families and that the Ministry of Defence is dead in the water under a lame duck Secretary of State?

Mr. Hoon: If I may take the hon. Gentleman back to the question, he might have seen that it relates to training and co-operation with European armed forces. If his concern about the armed forces were sincere, he would recognise that the more training we do with other European forces, the more effective, and therefore less stretched, our armed forces become. I have never heard him congratulate the Ministry of Defence or the armed forces on

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