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Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting and important contribution. The enormous merit of the WEU Assembly, of which I have the privilege of being a member, is that it includes representatives of the national Parliaments of 28 European countries, with various statuses. It includes the Ukrainians, and representatives of the Baltic states--regions of critical importance to overall European security, which cannot be viewed simply in a European Union context.
Mr. Anderson: The hon. Gentleman is a distinguished member of that Assembly, and I listen to his comments with respect. I am sure that he will agree that the new developments mean that the European Parliament must be linked into the process in some way. However, we cannot simply have a six-monthly meeting of those who chair Defence and Foreign Affairs Committees, which Mr. Brock, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, wants. That would be wholly inadequate. We must build on the strength of the WEU Assembly. Hence the importance of placing it on the agenda at Nice and fully discussing it in the first six months of next year.
The Prime Minister made an important speech in Warsaw, where he discussed a second chamber for the European Parliament. As he said, that second chamber could cover defence and security matters. However, another intergovernmental conference will not be held until at least 2004; with ratification, we are considering 2005. In the important interim period, we must seriously discuss democratic scrutiny of defence within Europe and in the context of the co-ordination of European countries. I urge the Government to join our Dutch colleagues to ensure that the matter is firmly on the agenda.
Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford): It is a pleasure to speak in the debate. As other hon. Members have done yesterday and today, I begin by paying tribute to the members of Her Majesty's armed forces. They are some of the finest trained and led forces in the world. I especially associate myself with the remarks from the three Front Benches on the death of Bombardier Brad Tinnion, who was buried in my constituency only a few weeks ago. His service with 22SAS again shows that that regiment has been in the front line on more than one occasion in the past 12 months. It is an example of the very best of the very best, and I pay tribute to it.
I welcome many of the comments of the Minister for the Armed Forces, who is sadly no longer in his place. I especially welcome the new arrangement that he announced today between Rolls-Royce and the Defence Aviation Repair Agency. My late father trained with Rolls-Royce and served with RAF ground crew during the second world war. He knew then as we know today about the close links between the RAF and Rolls-Royce. I am sure that the announcement will be welcomed by Rolls-Royce and the RAF.
The Minister was also right to praise flag officer sea training--FOST. I have been to Plymouth and, like other hon. Members, have undergone a Thursday war to see the efficient way in which our Royal Navy works. FOST is one of the key training elements of western navies. It is extremely useful and successful, and its use of NATO and other diesel-electric submarines--we have none of our own and sadly, we now have only one nuclear submarine--is a common feature of FOST.
The Prime Minister said that a memorial would be dedicated to the men and women killed in the troubles in Northern Ireland. On behalf of the Liberal Democrats, I express our gratitude for that. We look forward to its establishment.
The hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) thanked the Government for the access that he and his colleagues have to military establishments. I echo that on behalf of the Liberal Democrats. It is an important part of our democratic procedures that not only defence spokesmen, but all Members of Parliament, have the sort of access that we are afforded. I thank Ministers and officials, who also play an important role, for that.
On one of the points that the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) made, we have a problem in Britain and perhaps in Parliament with the connection between general society and our armed forces. The hon. Gentleman rightly said that fewer and fewer people have served in Her Majesty's armed forces. I never have. However, when I was in Kosovo recently, a senior member of the Royal Green Jackets said that they preferred defence spokesmen who had never served in the armed forces because they came to the job with no preconceptions. That is not a criticism of the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), but there is some truth in the remark.
The new intake of Members of Parliament shows that there is increasingly less connection with the armed forces. In yesterday's debate, only one member of 1997 intake made a speech. The hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) spoke very well. The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) made some important contributions, and I contributed. I see that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge) is in his place. Perhaps we will hear from him later. My party is as bad as the others. Members of the new intake do not have the same connection to the armed forces that others had in the past. It is therefore important that the armed forces parliamentary scheme works well. I am a proud graduate of that scheme--I am wearing the scheme's tie today.
I pay tribute to Sir Neil Thorne for his excellent work over many years on the scheme. It is notable that when Lord Robertson became Secretary of State for Defence after the general election, the number of people involved in the scheme was increased from two hon. Members for the Army, the Navy, the Air Force and the Marines to five hon. Members for each of those services. However, it is sometimes difficult to fill those places with new or experienced hon. Members. By its very nature, the armed forces parliamentary scheme is geared towards hon. Members who already have an interest in defence. So the Government should take a lead in making defence more
I turn to another parliamentary group--the defence study group. I went to Germany with that group and the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay), who is not in his place, has also been associated with it. The defence study group is funded by the Ministry of Defence, but is largely based in another place. There is an important need for it to become more involved with the House of Commons and to encourage a greater interest in defence matters. That also applies to the wider community.
The Minister mentioned the cadet forces which comprise 128,000 young people. He paid tribute to the adult instructors and I join him in that. I was honoured to take the salute of the Severn branch Trafalgar Day celebrations in Ross-on-Wye in my constituency last weekend. I met 120 or so sea cadets from all over the south west. They were there because they wanted to become involved in the Royal Navy and the adults that instructed them and looked after them were doing a fine job. However, the cadet services remain short of resources. I have been told by sea cadet groups how difficult they find warship visits. Perhaps the Minister could ensure that when there are ship visits around the coast of our country and at places such as the Pool of London, where HMS Belfast is based, sea cadet groups all over the country are informed of those visits and given an opportunity to visit these ships.
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Does not the declining interest in defence reflect the widespread belief that as a subject defence is of less political salience than was once the case? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the crucial point is that although the sources of the threat to our national security might have changed, the fact of it has not?
Mr. Keetch: The hon. Gentleman is right. I was born in 1961 and I was brought up to suspect that there might be a war with Russia. That has changed since the end of the cold war, but the threats to our society, internationally and technologically, through terrorism and different types of warfare, are greater now than they have ever been. We must engage young people in particular and make them understand that those current and increasing threats did not affect previous generations.
We need to ensure that cadet forces have proper access to military assets throughout the United Kingdom. We also need to ensure that cities and communities continue to be associated with the armed forces. I am surprised at the decline in the number of twinnings between warships and cities and communities. The city of Hereford lost its ship HMS Antelope, which was sunk in the Falklands. Every other city connection with ships sunk in the Falklands has been re-established with other vessels, but Hereford has not.
Mr. Keetch: The Minister asks why not. I have written to him before to ask him about that. Perhaps he will investigate. Those twinnings where forces marched through the streets with bayonets fixed are very important.
I now turn to Gulf war syndrome which was mentioned in yesterday's debate. The hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) drew attention to the difference between the announcement made the other day about compensation for new-variant CJD victims and the way in which successive Governments have dealt with Gulf war syndrome. There have been approximately 80 deaths resulting from new-variant CJD. We deplore that and we welcome the compensation, but there have been up to 400 deaths as a result of Gulf war syndrome and as yet there has been no public inquiry. I am not saying that one is needed, but the Government should consider the kind of no-fault interim compensation that was paid to haemophiliacs. We welcome the fact that some 7,500 former Japanese prisoners of war may receive some compensation. I hope that the victims of Gulf war syndrome do not have to wait as long as they have.