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Cadet Units

5. Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne): What proposals he has to encourage cadet units. [55881]

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. Doug Henderson): The Government recognise the value of cadet forces to both civilian and military communities. As a further demonstration of our commitment to encouraging cadet units, we intend to make a modest increase in their funding.

Mr. Waterson: Does the Minister share my pride that, this Sunday, many of the Remembrance Sunday services that I and hon. Members will attend will have present not only regular and Territorial Army units but local cadet units? Has he estimated the cost of providing alternative accommodation for cadet units that use TA centres that are to be closed?

Mr. Henderson: I very much share the hon. Gentleman's pride in the way in which our cadet forces

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attend our various commemoration services, including the commemoration of Armistice day this Sunday. I took great pleasure in attending the Trafalgar day celebrations a couple of weeks ago with them. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will announce, a statement will be made to the House on the Territorial Army. It will include mention of the provision made for cadets. The costings on that are not yet finalised, but we gave a commitment in the debate on the strategic defence review that any cadet unit that was displaced would be reallocated to a location at least as good as the one that it left.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): Although I welcome the increase in resources for the cadets, may I raise the case of the redundant minesweepers Kellington, Pagham and Iveston, the last of which is in my constituency in Tilbury dock, and is looked after by the training ship Boxer? I understand that the Ministry of Defence wishes not to renew the leases on the vessels to the cadets but to sell them to the cadets. I urge my hon. Friend to use his good offices to ensure that any sale price is a token one, bearing in mind the invaluable benefit that countless youngsters have received from the opportunity of spending time on the vessels, which would otherwise have to be towed away because they are totally redundant. They are looked after proudly by the naval cadets. I hope that my hon. Friend will use his good offices to ensure that they remain in the stewardship of the cadets.

Mr. Henderson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. I assure him that the Government greatly value the contribution of those vessels in encouraging cadet units around the country, including his constituency. I am reviewing whether it is possible to continue the existing arrangements or whether we should try to sell them to the cadet forces. I am taking into account all factors, including health and safety, and practicability.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): Will the Minister look at links with the Territorial Army in areas where the TA unit is the only Army presence in a county, as in the case of the Somerset and Cornwall Light Infantry? Will he also look at the increasingly irrelevant and outdated distinction between local cadet forces and the independent schools' combined cadet forces? Do we want such a distinction in the present day armed forces?

Mr. Henderson: I assure the hon. Gentleman that any relocation that takes place because of changes announced in the Territorial Army review will be on the basis that existing cadet units will be placed in accommodation that is at least as good as their present accommodation. That is just as true in the hon. Gentleman's constituency as it is throughout the country.

I want to encourage all cadet units in the three services to maximise their input and to seek to recruit as many young people as they can. That will benefit not only the communities where those young people live but our recruiting plans for the three armed services.

Territorial Army

7. Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): What plans he has for the Territorial Army in the Aldershot constituency. [55884]

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. Doug Henderson): A statement on the future of the Territorial

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Army will be made once Ministers have had a chance to consider the matters that have already been discussed by officials, including those matters that concern the hon. Gentleman's constituency.

Mr. Howarth: We have been assured for the past two weeks that the Government will make a statement. This is a matter of great concern not only in my constituency but throughout the country. Is the Minister aware that his lack of decision making on this matter is deeply unsettling to Territorial Army units? I hope that the Minister can give me an answer before I go on an exercise with the 10th (Volunteer) Battalion the Parachute Regiment in two weeks' time.

Mr. Henderson: The hon. Gentleman might like the Government to rush into a decision, but territorials throughout the country, especially in his constituency, would not want us to do so. Extensive consultations have taken place with units throughout the country, including in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. The general guidelines, which were well debated in the House two weeks ago during the strategic defence review debate, were made clear to TA units and other interested parties locally, and the prime motives of the review were emphasised. How the objectives will be implemented locally has been the subject of consultation, and we shall make a statement to the House once the matter has been assessed.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): Although I accept the Government's good faith, does the Minister not realise that uncertainty over the proposals is damaging to morale and that some units are experiencing a haemorrhage of both officers and men? Why do the Government not open the books, publish the detailed proposals, declare a six-month moratorium and allow us to have a properly informed debate about the future of the TA?

Mr. Henderson: I know that the hon. and learned Gentleman raises that question with the best of motives, but the consultation process has been widely received throughout the country and suggestions have been made on how the changes can be implemented. That is the proper way to proceed. A statement will be made once we have assessed what the consultation has thrown up.

Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon): The Minister complacently accuses us of trying to rush him into a decision. No decision can have hung around for longer than this one. He seems to be totally unaware of the delay's dreadful effects on motivation in the Territorial Army. Communities are desperately worried about the closure of TA halls. Moreover, the secrecy with which everything is being done has made matters much worse. Will he ensure that definitive announcements are made as soon as possible and that we do not have to wait until a convenient moment when they can be buried in the Government's news management agenda?

Mr. Henderson: Of course the announcements will be made as soon as possible, but, unlike the previous Government, we believe in consulting people about our proposals before making a decision that we announce to the House.

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Asbestos (Compensation)

8. Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon): If he will make a statement on compensation arrangements for service personnel and former service personnel who suffer from asbestos-related conditions contracted before the amendment of the Crown Proceedings Act 1947. [55885]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. John Spellar): Compensation arrangements for service personnel and former service personnel who suffer illness as a consequence of exposure to asbestos are the same as for those killed, those injured or those who develop a disease from any other cause related to their service. The non-retrospective repeal of the Crown Proceedings Act 1947, on 15 May 1987, by the Crown Proceedings (Armed Forces) Act 1987 gave service personnel the right to claim common law compensation from the Ministry of Defence. Compensation arrangements for former service personnel for illness caused before the repeal of the 1947 Act is paid in the form of a war pension and other allowances by the War Pensions Agency of the Department of Social Security. The Government's arrangements for compensating former service personnel are broadly comparable with those for former civilian MOD employees.

Mr. Dismore: Is my hon. Friend aware of the sense of injustice felt by many who are now being diagnosed as suffering from asbestos-related conditions such as mesothelioma, which is invariably fatal and invariably painful, and results in the rapid onset of symptoms leading to death? Does my hon. Friend agree that that sense of injustice is highlighted by the 1987 Act? People who were exposed to asbestos before 1987, but are experiencing symptoms now, may feel somewhat hard done by in comparison with people who have suffered other injuries since 1987.

As my hon. Friend knows, I have campaigned on this issue for some time, along with my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) and for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Rapson). Will my hon. Friend try to devise a method of compensating, in particular, those who are suffering from the most disabling asbestos-related conditions?

Mr. Spellar: I recognise the difficulties and distress suffered by those who have contracted this awful disease, but my hon. Friend must accept that there are complicated interlocking relationships between the war pension, the war widow's pension and compensation arrangements--and, indeed, between asbestos-related and other diseases. The Ministry of Defence is considering those matters, but there are no easy answers.

I understand that my hon. Friend discussed the issue with the last Minister for the Armed Forces, and that my hon. Friend the current Minister will meet him soon to try to unravel some of the problems.

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