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5.58 pm

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test): What a glorious year and a half we have had in the United Kingdom. We have celebrated the 50th anniversaries of the Normandy landings, VE day and VJ day. If any Members attended any of the parades, I am sure that they would have had great respect for the Old Contemptibles. They were still military in their mode; they were able to turn out in any weather--I remember getting drenched just viewing them at Portsmouth one morning. It was a glorious time for the old soldiers.

The Normandy landings thrilled me most of all. I have in mind the scaling of the cliffs. It could be said that the Americans had the worst part of the beaches. The men were tied down for many a long hour and there were considerable losses.

It is said now, unfortunately, that we have no rapport with the United States and there is no longer any special feeling. Surely that is wrong. We have had tremendous rapport with the United States over the past 100 years. Whatever we say in this place will not change that. Our people have tremendous affection for United States service men and they treasure everything that they did during that almost impossible time when we had our backs to the wall. The Normandy landings presented us with a wonderful vista of the true world. We were shown that people were prepared to give their lives for a cause.

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We celebrated VE day, which was spectacular. There were various celebratory functions. When we reached VJ day, we were deeply in sorrow. We thought of the people on the Burma railway who were treated so abominably by the Japanese. There was a massive number of deaths as a result of fevers such as malaria and beriberi. Those people experienced all the dreadful illnesses that result from an inadequate diet.

A friend of mine in Southampton, Fred Gilley--he is dead now--contracted leukaemia during the building of the Burma railway. I have talked to the old boys who were with him and in other areas. It is clear that they carried on in spite of all their difficulties. I was shocked when they told me that they had been compensated by the Japanese Government to the tune of £74 for everything that they had suffered while in prisoner of war camps. Not many of them recovered from the experience. My friend, Fred, had leukaemia for the rest of his life. He had to go to hospital regularly to have a complete blood change.

If we are to be friendly with the Japanese, I hope that we can find a way of resurrecting the issue of compensation for those who were treated so badly in the Burma campaign. There cannot be many victims alive now. Cabinet Ministers and perhaps Back-Bench committees should raise the issue again. To be awarded £74 in full settlement is not good compensation.

In Southampton, at Marchwood, we have the Royal Fleet Auxiliary--in other words, supply ships. Hardly anyone ever hears of them. We see aircraft carriers and battle cruisers, which small and underarmed ships must follow to refuel or restock, or even to provide with NAAFI stores. By and large, they are stationed at Marchwood.

Mr. Colvin: In my constituency.

Mr. Hill: Indeed, but more facilities must be provided. There is the quaint idea that we cannot build a port at Marchwood Wood because the vergers of the New Forest may not agree. We are stifled when it comes to expanding Marchwood.

Mr. Colvin: The Marchwood military port has been substantially enlarged. It is probably the most comprehensive and modern military port in the world, and certainly in Europe. The problem is that a short distance along the coast at Dibden bay--an area that has been formed from the dredgings of the Solent over the years to enable vessels to sail to and from my hon. Friend's constituency--dredgings have been dumped and 700 to 800 acres of wasteland have been created. Controversy now rages. Should the port of Southampton, which following the abolition of the national dock labour scheme is becoming an outstanding financial success, extend to the other side of the Solent?

Mr. Hill: That is illuminating. My hon. Friend is talking about a commercial project. I do not associate Marchwood or the Royal Fleet Auxiliary with anything that is commercial. It is--[Interruption.] My hon. Friend has outlined a battle that must be fought between the various local councils. As he says, the port of Southampton is doing extremely well. It can handle the largest container ships in the world. We know-- [Interruption.] Of course, dredging must take place if those vessels are to reach container ports. Without being fanciful, I believe that the area could become a mini-Hong Kong in handling container traffic.

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I am talking about Marchwood and not the port of Southampton. We know that the Royal Fleet Auxiliary has grown and must grow--[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Geoffrey Lofthouse): Order. The conversation between the hon. Members for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) and for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) has continued for too long. It is interesting, but we are talking about foreign affairs and defence.

Mr. Hill: I apologise on behalf of my hon. Friend for his interruptions. The stage was reached when I had to give way.

I shall return immediately to our forces. I do not know whether anyone in the Chamber remembers that there used to be a Hampshire regiment. It became the regiment of the Princess of Wales. We are all aware of the difficulty in that area. I think that there is a roving role for the Princess of Wales as an ambassador. This might give my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary something to think about. A job must be found for her. After all, she has a wonderful personality. She would be invaluable in terms of trade with the eastern world.

Sir Patrick Cormack: Does my hon. Friend agree that the Princess of Wales might enhance her chances of being given such a role if she decided not to go forward with a certain programme on Monday next week?

Mr. Hill rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Southampton, Test would be wise not to respond to that question.

Mr. Hill: I would merely say that no one has seen the programme to which my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) refers.

We should return to the debate. I often say that in Committee. I support the impassioned plea of my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) on behalf of Vosper Thornycroft. Some of its employees who live in his constituency may become unemployed. That, too, would be the position in my constituency. We need a type 23 contract. Vosper Thornycroft is geared up for it. Possibly it did not win as many contracts as it should have in the past, but it is now highly specialised. I have been around the shipyard several times, and there is not a better yard for building naval vessels in the whole of the European Union. It is waiting anxiously for a contract from the Ministry of Defence.

Mr. Colvin: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, and I promise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, not to start indulging in a corner conversation this time.

Does my hon. Friend not believe that, in a debate on a matter that is so crucial to the area that we both represent, the hon. Members for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) and for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey), who are not here, should be present in the Chamber, as this is the last opportunity that the House will have to debate the matter, and we are told that the Ministry of Defence is likely to reach a decision on the contract before Christmas?

Mr. Hill: I shall be guided by you again, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will obviously say that it would not be proper to say anything at this stage. The hon. Members

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concerned obviously have extremely important engagements somewhere, but it is a missed opportunity for both of them--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I always wonder what use such points are in a debate. Sometimes they are of very little use.

Mr. Hill: One of the little jobs that I have done in the House of Commons for many years is to be a member of the Council of Europe and the Western European Union. It was only a few weeks ago that Herr Kohl came to Strasbourg to make a speech, in which, to my amazement, he said that whereas five years ago there were only 24 member states of the Council of Europe, there are now 42. It is getting a bit out of hand. Everyone wants to join--the functionaries of the Council of Europe want them to join--but I wonder whether the facilities are there for such a number.

The WEU is heading precisely the same way. There will be many more applications to become members, as more and more people join the Council of Europe as the first step, but then wish to come to the WEU. The highlight of the WEU was when it put forward a defence plan in the Persian gulf--as I still call it--with minesweepers and finance before the war with Iraq took place. There was almost a perfect plan for co-operation among the nine members. I heard earlier that France may have to be excluded from the WEU if it does not join NATO. That is a very strong statement, because France, for years, has said that it would not join NATO. Indeed, to my knowledge it still has not done so. But it is there, probably in an advisory capacity.

At a working level, we have had a very able president of the WEU for the past two years. The WEU is sometimes overlooked in the House. It seems as if no papers over here report anything. No hon. Members seem to come back and push the word around. We do not all succeed in alerting our fellow colleagues to the importance of the WEU. I am pleased to see that, at long last, the Government are beginning to observe.

I heard earlier that it is hoped that there will be a smooth transfer of power in Hong Kong. We all hope that. Are the signs good? They seem to vary from day to day. The whole House should do its best to ensure that, in Hong Kong, and in our relations with China, we do not make ridiculously strong statements that could affect the Chinese. There is some good will to work on that. It really is up to the Government to promote a smooth transition in 1997.


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