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British PM Gordon Brown Hails UK's Armed Forces

British PM Gordon Brown Hails UK's Armed Forces

PM hails armed forces

The Prime Minister has given a special Christmas interview to British Forces Radio in which he thanked troops for their "special contribution".

The equipment available to British troops in the field is better than it has been for years, he added.

In the interview with British Forces Broadcasting Service, Mr Brown said the UK's Armed Forces deserved "nothing but the best" in terms of kit, and said he wanted to make sure they got it.

He said that this year's Comprehensive Spending Review settlement meant the Ministry of Defence was guaranteed year-on-year real-terms increases in funding.

"I think the evidence on the ground is that the equipment people have is a lot better than it was a few years ago. Of course, we want it to be even better in future years as well."

Mr Brown said that Britain owed a "special debt of gratitude" over the Christmas period to armed forces personnel serving their country away from home and family.

He called on local communities to mark their appreciation with parades on their return from tours of duty. The PM said he believed the public were "starting to understand" that progress was being made in Iraq with the handover of security responsibility in Basra to local authorities this month.

In Afghanistan, he said it would be possible for the first time, in coming years, to extend ordinary Afghan people's control over their own affairs at a national and local level.

***

PM's Interview With British Forces Radio, 21 December 2007

The Prime Minister has given an interview to British Forces Radio in which he thanked troops for their "special contribution". Mr Brown also answered questions on funding, equipment, and operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

TRANSCRIPT:

Well Prime Minister first of all thank you very much for speaking to us and I know it is a busy time for you with Christmas and everything coming up.

Prime Minister: It is a privilege to be able to talk to our armed forces, to thank everybody for what they do and to say it has been a privilege over the course of the last few months to meet so many people who are serving our country, often risking their lives in the most difficult of circumstances and the whole country has nothing but praise and confidence in everything that our armed forces do.

Interviewer: I think this is probably the first time that you have spoken to the forces community via BFBS, so if it is possible just to ask you in very general terms about your attitudes and your feelings towards the forces. Because our politicians nowadays don't usually serve in the armed forces, so what are your links and attitudes towards the armed forces?

Prime Minister: Well I remember my mother telling me about being outside Buckingham Palace in 1945 and you know these great photographs we see of the celebrations on VE Day and Churchill and the Royal Family addressing the crowds, and I remember my mother saying that how it had been, having come from Scotland to serve in London and other places during the Second World War, and I think every family has someone whom they know or have known who has made a contribution to our armed forces. But I think particularly today when it is Christmas you remember men and women who are separated from their families, who are working in the most difficult of conditions, sometimes in the theatre of Iraq, sometimes in Afghanistan, sometimes of course in the Falklands, or in Northern Ireland or in other parts of the world where we still have a presence. And I think it is very important that whether you have the family connection directly or not you recognise just the sheer bravery, dedication, the professionalism and then the commitment to serve that I found when I visited the troops a few days ago in Iraq, in Basra and then in Afghanistan and I have always found when I have visited all the armed forces in different ways in every part of the country. And my own constituency has had within it for the first few years I was an MP the Rosythe dockyard and the Rosythe naval base, and so I had very close contact with all those people who served the country through the Navy. But of course in a constituency like mine there are many people serving in the armed forces, in the army and in the Air Force as well as in the Navy and there is a huge respect for everything that is done.

Interviewer: Some people in the forces community haven't known you so well, others like some of the former CDSs claim that they know you, and I raise this only because I think there is a lack of knowledge of your attitude towards the armed forces. Lord Guthrie famously said, or accused you of lacking interest in the MOD. Was he being fair when he said that?

Prime Minister: I think totally unfair. I was Chancellor of the Exchequer, we had obviously every two years to negotiate a defence settlement. You never get everything you want when you are negotiating on one side or the other and there always is an issue, could we do more, could we do more in future years than in present years, and these are all the issues that are dealt with in the defence settlement, and of course you have the discussions with the Defence Chiefs about that. I think over the last few years, despite the difficult circumstances and despite the fact that I acknowledge everybody will say there is more that we could do or should do. We have tried our best not only to give decent settlements so that there is the money to do the things that are necessary, but also where there is an urgent operational requirement, we changed the system a year or two ago so that equipment could get more quickly, new equipment I mean, Mastiffs, helicopters, all the different sort of vehicles that are needed, and equipment, night vision equipment, you know all the different equipment that could be of help so that we could provide it far more quickly. So I have tried when I have been Chancellor of the Exchequer to develop a system that gets the money as quickly as possible to build what is necessary, and get the equipment when it is necessary. And I think the evidence on the ground is that the equipment that people have is a lot better than it was a few years ago and of course we want it to be even better in future years as well.

Question: And I think that is accepted within the forces community and I think that people like the Defence Committee have recognised that urgent operational requirements have been very successful.

Prime Minister: It is a good system because basically it gets the money quickly for the equipment that is needed. And of course I was out in Afghanistan and Iraq a few days ago and we were able to say that we will get more specially protected vehicles because these are the vehicles that are necessary when dealing with land mines. We have also ordered more helicopters because we know that is a weakness. But of course we have got this huge programme for the future, you know the aircraft carriers as well as everything else to actually build the resources and if you like the infrastructure we need to serve men and women that are so dedicated that they deserve nothing but the best and I want it to be the best that they have in terms of equipment.

Question: These are very difficult issues, these major projects that are looking way ahead and I think there is a recognition that there have been real term increases in the budget. But nevertheless we are seeing in the press and we are hearing retired officers talking about cuts to the Navy and so on and so forth. Are these signals that things are going wrong or is this just the way things are?

Prime Minister: It will always be the case. Look, if there is a discussion about more or less I would expect and respect people for saying look we need more, we need this, we need that. The question is given all the other responsibilities we have, the Health Service, education, and given the danger that our troops face, are we making the right provisions? And I think as far as equipment is concerned we have moved it a lot faster in getting the decisions that are necessary. As far as the payment and provision for the armed services, I have tried over the course of the last year with the allowance for the operational allowance for being in theatre, about £2,300, the reduction for the council tax we have done, more money put into accommodation for the future, £5 billion into building or improving the accommodation at home for our armed forces. And then we have done things that are appreciated but we should have done a long time ago of course but are being done: improved email service, improved computer access, improved telephone service, the postal service being free. All these things we have tried to do, and of course the pay settlement in some cases was a lot higher than for public sector pay at home, and rightly so. All these things we have tried to do bit by bit, but taking the issues that really people have raised with us. And I also want to say that when the troops come home and of course are in the towns and cities where they stay, I think it is also important that the whole of the community recognises everything that they have done.

Question: Do you think there needs to be a broader debate about defence, a better understanding amongst the British public about what our troops do in Iraq and Afghanistan? There have been indications that for example in Iraq they didn't understand, you know people were talking about cutting and running and I know you have ...

Prime Minister: I have tried to have that debate because look Iraq has been very controversial, as you know British public opinion, there have been many different points of view expressed on that. I have tried to get the message across that we are there to protect the democracy, the infant democracy of Iraq. We are there to make sure that terrorists do not control this country and we are there also to train up the Iraqi security forces. So this is not an endless situation, there is progress because there is help being given to train up the soldiers and to train up the police in the Iraqi security forces. And I think that we are actually making some advances in Basra itself with probably about 30,000 people being trained. And so we were able to move from what you might call the combat role to overwatch under provincial Iraqi control as a result of decisions that were made this month. Now that is important and I think the British people are starting to understand that we have made progress, and it is to the credit of our armed forces that what they have done, not just in military operations but civilian operations like helping build health centres and helping in the provision of infrastructure in the area is giving Iraqi people a greater stake in the future of Iraq and making for a more peaceful solution. Now it is dangerous and undoubtedly there are still major security questions to be resolved but our forces have made progress and I am proud of what they have achieved over the last few months as well as over the last few years.

Interviewer: I think what I meant by the public to date was that there was a lack of understanding, let's say in Afghanistan, about the difficult and the long term nature of the job, that this is going to take a considerable amount of time to do the good job.

Prime Minister: I think in Afghanistan what we are trying to do is to show both the British people and of course the Afghan government and people that there are certain things that can be done over the next few years that perhaps weren't possible in the initial stages after getting rid of the Taliban government, that is to give Afghan people themselves more control over their own affairs, that is to build the political structures that will enable Afghan people to play a part locally as well as nationally in their government. And you know we had this major set of manoeuvres and events at Musa Qala where we turned back the Taliban as a result of the bravery of our forces, but the Afghan new armed forces were also participating and they did the final venture into the area. And so we are training them up for the future in a way that I think shows that progress can be made over the next few years. Now this is a matter of explaining to the British public both the tremendous danger in this terrain that is the most difficult, perhaps one of the most difficult terrains in the world, but also the achievement, the progress that is being made by our forces. And I am very proud of what has been achieved over the last few days with Musa Qala but also what has been achieved over the last few years in very dangerous circumstances.

Interviewer: In the past when we have spoken to Prime Ministers and we spoke to Mr Blair a few years ago, he pledged to the troops that as far as equipment was concerned if they need it they will get it. And we have spoken about the good system of urgent operational requirements, are you willing as Prime Minister to renew that pledge?

Prime Minister: The urgent operational requirements pledge is something that I was involved in at the Treasury in making sure that the equipment got there quickly. It does raise the next issue, this is for equipment on the field, in the theatre, that we have we have also got to get the equipment for the training purposes and it is often being put to me that we need to do more on that front as well and I will certainly be discussing with the Defence Department how we can move that forward also. And as far as money is concerned, I just want people to understand that of course these are difficult decisions but every year the budget of the Ministry of Defence is going to go up over the next few years, and every year in real terms it will be worth more, and that is in contrast to what happened in the early '90s where there was a 20% cut in the defence budget and I think one that left the forces vulnerable. Now we have tried to build obviously in stretching circumstances with other economic pressures and everything else, we have tried to build the budget up and we will continue to do what we are doing on urgent operational requirements so that the forces have the equipment like the new specially protected vehicles and like the new helicopters that hopefully will come very soon.

Interviewer: A final question. People will be separated from their families over the Christmas period, do you have any message to our troops in places like Afghanistan and Iraq?

Prime Minister: It is one of the most important facts of the Christmas festival that where families are split up because people are serving the country in different parts of the world and are not with their loved ones at Christmas, we owe a special debt of gratitude to the armed forces in particular because the service that they are giving at a very difficult time is important in itself, but the fact that they are separated from loved ones at a time which is a family occasion is something that we should both respect and value and thank every member of the armed forces for. And when I was out in Iraq and Afghanistan I was saying to the men and women I met that we were very grateful to them because they were going to be there over Christmas while at the same time they were separated from their loved ones. I think it is important that we recognise this is a great sacrifice but it is also something that people do out of the professionalism that they show in signing up and in being part of the armed forces and I have got nothing but respect and gratitude for what is done. And when I speak to any television station or anything about Christmas, one of the things I will always remember is the special contribution that the armed forces make in circumstances when many of them are separated from their loved ones for quite a long period of time.

Interviewer: Prime Minister thank you very much. Merry Christmas.

Prime Minister: And to you.

ENDS

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