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Defence Diversification Agency

8. Mrs. Mahon: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the Government's plans to establish a defence diversification agency.[2047]

Mr. Spellar: The Government will be making proposals in the autumn on how best to give effect to the objectives for defence diversification as outlined in our manifesto. They will include how best to harness the contribution of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency to those objectives.

Mrs. Mahon: Does the Minister agree that the success of any defence diversification agency would depend on

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the defence industry extending its expertise to civilian industry? Would that not help British industry to take advantage of commercial opportunities in future?

Mr. Spellar: Very much so. The objective of defence diversification is to widen the contribution made by the UK defence industrial base to Britain's economic performance by diversifying some of its technological processes and manufacturing skills into new markets and to ensure better co-ordination between Government Departments on issues such as regional policy, training and business planning in order to develop a positive strategy for industrial regeneration. However, we also have to stress that it is not a one-way street: the Ministry of Defence and the forces would also benefit from having a broader, more resilient supplier base for the future.

Mr. Burns: Is the Minister aware that my constituency has paid a very high price for the peace dividend because of our reliance on defence-related industries and that, only last week, there were 535 redundancies at GEC Marconi Communications? Given that such companies have, over the past eight years or so, actively and positively sought to broaden their manufacturing base by diversifying, what practical help can be given in advance of any review because, sadly, redundancies cannot wait until the result of that review?

Mr. Spellar: I very much take the hon. Gentleman's point and fully understand the difficulties that his constituency has faced, especially in recent weeks as a result of the closures. That is why we would very much welcome approaches from companies and from the hon. Gentleman himself as to means by which we can take the process forward and examine defence diversification. The fact that we are looking at a mechanism being announced in the autumn does not mean that we have to stand still at the moment and ignore sensible proposals made to us. I would greatly welcome such proposals from the hon. Gentleman.

Service Pensions

9. Mr. Gray: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if the defence review will include a comprehensive review of service pensions.[2048]

Dr. John Reid: The strategic defence review will deal with many aspects of defence policy, but it is not expected to cover service pensions. The Government will, however, keep personnel issues relating to the armed forces, including pensions, under full consideration.

Mr. Gray: In that case, will the Minister take urgent steps to examine the case of British prisoners of war from the second world war whose pay, as he will know, was cut by a half from the day they were captured until the day they were released? Will he take that fact into account when he considers their pensions and their widows' pensions?

Dr. Reid: Although it is not related to service pensions, I understand the problem to which the hon. Gentleman refers. It is being considered at present, and I thank him for

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the representations that he has made. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will be bringing news of any decision to the House in due course, and in the not too distant future.

Mr. MacShane: The Minister will be aware of the deplorable indifference of the Conservative party when in government to the problem of war veterans, their pensions and so on. He will also know of the calls from the Labour party when in opposition for a Minister to be responsible for veterans' issues. Can the Minister say which of his distinguished colleagues is the point of contact when we want to take up matters concerning veterans who served, in one way or another, in the armed forces?

Dr. Reid: I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. He will be aware that many of the issues, including some of those relating to pensions, are under the control and administration of the Department of Social Security. However, he is right to refer to the deplorable record of the last Government and their treatment of personnel issues and of service men and women before, during and after their service to this country. We shall be considering how best to meet the requirement for a veterans' unit in the Ministry of Defence, and I can tell him that the distinguished member of the defence team to whom he referred will be me.

Nuclear Test Veterans

11. Mr. Rowlands: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the claims of the British nuclear test veterans.[2051]

Mr. Spellar: Under the provisions of the war pensions scheme administered by the Department of Social Security, a war pension may be awarded in respect of any death or disablement which is due to service in the armed forces. Claims for war pensions have been received from ex-service personnel who participated in the nuclear tests and awards have been made where there is reliable evidence to raise a reasonable doubt that the death or disablement is due to service.

Mr. Rowlands: Are there not many outstanding claims? Is it not true that the United States Government have settled all the claims of men affected by nuclear tests? Could we not follow their example and be rather more generous in responding to the many veterans who have suffered illness consequent on their service?

Mr. Spellar: My hon. Friend is right in that the United States has made a decision to pay compensation to the Marshall islanders who were near the tests. It will, no doubt, have taken account of the facts of the specific case, as we are doing in the case of British nuclear test veterans. We are having to work on the basis of scientific evidence and the facts made available to us by the National Radiological Protection Board. We shall continue to work on that. As my hon. Friend will know, in the related issue of workers in Chatham dockyard who were exposed to radiation, we are making major efforts to improve access to records to enable them best to pursue their case and interests.

Mrs. Ewing: I welcome the Front-Bench Members to their duties in the Ministry of Defence.

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Will serious consideration be given to the ruling on the breach of articles 6 and 8 of the convention? Will it therefore be possible for the Government to ensure that more veterans who were subjected to nuclear testing have access to their own war records, which always seems to be a problem for those individuals? As it was ruled that there appeared to be a lack of candour from the last Government, can we have candour from this Government and, I hope, action for those people?

Mr. Spellar: Many of the records on the atmospheric nuclear tests have already been released to the public and, as the hon. Lady knows, veterans have drawn on those records in making their case to the European Court of Human Rights. Other records are currently being reviewed for release. However, some will need to remain classified if they contain details of weapons design, as the release of such information would breach the Government's obligations under the non-proliferation treaty. The Government do not accept the conclusion of the European Court of Human Rights that lack of access to unspecified contemporary yield and radiation records prevented the veterans from getting a fair hearing before the pensions appeal tribunal.

Mr. McWilliam: Does my hon. Friend understand that the records that have been released and some that have not were looked at by the Select Committee on Defence in the previous Parliament? Does he realise how conflicting some of the evidence is and will he undertake to revisit that evidence in detail, particularly in respect of the Bikini atoll tests?

Mr. Spellar: The study that was undertaken by Sir Richard Doll and the National Radiological Protection Board has been widely publicised and subjected to scientific review. We are not aware of any substantial scientific criticisms of that study, but if such criticisms exist, we are prepared to examine them.

Defence Review

12. Mr. Keith Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will issue a mission statement for his Department before the defence review.[2052]

Dr. John Reid: Yes.

Mr. Simpson: Like my colleagues, I welcome the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen to their new positions--Scotland's loss is defence's gain.

In an earlier answer, the Secretary of State said that the strategic defence review was going to be Foreign Office led; but in the Foreign Office mission statement, which was released after 10 days by the Foreign Secretary, there is barely any mention of security or defence matters. Will the hon. Gentleman tell us the exact benchmarks that will be established in the defence mission statement, especially those relating to the size of the defence budget?

Dr. Reid: I thank the hon. Gentleman, but have to tell him that my right hon. Friend did not say that the review would be Foreign Office led--he said that it would be foreign policy led. The aim of the Ministry of Defence is to provide the defence capabilities needed to ensure the security and defence of the United Kingdom and

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our dependent territories and to help discharge our international responsibilities by supporting the Government's foreign policy objectives and contributing to wider international peace and security. We intend to issue shortly revised aims and objectives for my Department in the form of a mission statement.

Mr. Miller: In such a mission statement, will my hon. Friend consider including some of the activities of Her Majesty's forces that are less understood by the public? I am thinking particularly of the Royal Navy, where our forces are engaged in anti-drugs activities and support Customs and Excise and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Dr. Reid: I very much take the point made by my hon. Friend, who I know has been a great supporter of the forces. Indeed, my hon. Friend is a member of the armed forces parliamentary scheme, which I recommend to all hon. Members who have not yet completed it, including, I understand, the Opposition Front-Bench team. As for the mission statement, we shall certainly look not only at our basic aims--defending our country, and its dependent territories' freedoms and interests, and discharging our international responsibilities--but at the wider themes outlined by my right hon. Friend. the Secretary of State for Defence. Those themes involve caring for our people, contributing to our community, and establishing good communications in order to ensure the widest participation in, and support for, our defence policies and priorities.

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