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9 Dec 2002 : Column 15continued
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): The United States Administration have yet to make specific decisions about the precise future architecture of a United States missile defence system. However, as I told the House on 17 October, the US missile defence programme is gathering momentum, and there are plans to develop and evaluate options for a basic missile defence system. In that context, the United States has indicated that one of the options it is considering would involve an upgrade of the early warning radar at Fylingdales. We will consider any such request seriously and will agree to it only if we are satisfied that the overall security of the United Kingdom and the alliance will ultimately be enhanced.
Mr. Syms : Why are we being so timid? There is no doubt that the US will make such a request. The Government seem more concerned about opinion on their Back Benches than with doing the right thing for Britain.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie): The key elements of support for service personnel when they leave the armed forces are provided under the career transition partnership, which provides resettlement support for service leavers through nine regional resettlement centres within the United Kingdom, one in Germany, plus an office in Kathmandu specifically for the Gurkhas, and a resettlement training centre at Aldershot. It includes the job finding services of the regular forces employment association and the officers association as sub-contractors.
Shona McIsaac : Although it is some time since my father left the Royal Navy after 25 years service, I know that many people who leave the armed forces find it difficult to obtain housing. Indeed, there are press reports about some of them becoming rough sleepers. What assurances can my hon. Friend give that the projects he mentions take into account social issues as well as issues of employment?
Dr. Moonie: I am well aware of the sterling service that my hon. Friend's father gave to the armed forces when he served in the Royal Navy. On rough sleepers, she may be aware that we have taken a great deal of interest in, and spent a great deal of time, effort and money on that problem over the past couple of years. We have certainly had a major effect. We have
We must remember that 25,000 people a year pass out of the armed forces. The vast majority go into full-time employment and have no problems resettling into the community, as we would expect from such excellent individuals. It is imperative to ensure that the transition is properly managed so that all those who leave have the same advantages.
Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley): Pension provision is obviously a major factor in retirement for personnel from the armed forces. Is the Minister aware that part-time members of the Royal Irish Regiment have no pension provision despite the fact that they are on constant active service as members of the home service battalions of that regiment? What plans does the Ministry of Defence have to make pension provision for them?
Dr. Moonie: This, of course, also applies to the Territorial Army. A review of pensions policy is being carried out, which we expect to report in the near future. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall keep a close eye on these matters. However, it is not that easy to make provision for part-timers.
Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport): While most service personnel benefit enormously in terms of fitness and confidence from their time in the armed forces, a significant number need extra and significant support. Is the Minister aware that the record in the UK does not compare favourably with the record in the United States, where it is said that if it puts its boys and girls in harm's way, it will do anything to ensure that they are safeguarded after their service? Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that it is not good enough to leave the matter to charities? We would like to see a much more determined initiative from the Government.
Dr. Moonie: The situation in the United Kingdom, with the national health service, is very different from that which pertains in the United States of America. I would refute any suggestion that the care given to people in this country is in any way inferior to that given in any other country.
Having said that, we are always concerned to ensure that the services given to those leaving the armed forces are improved. I am working closely with colleagues in the Department of Health to ensure that that happens and that people get the treatment to which they are entitled.
Mr. Dismore : I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that there is a precedent for an award of a medal after such a long delay. The sailors of Nelson's navy had to wait up to 56 years for a decision over their medals. If the bureaucrats, after decades, could finally do their duty by the heroes of Trafalgar, why cannot the bureaucrats of today, after a similar delay, do their duty by the heroes of the Barents sea and the Arctic convoys.
Dr. Moonie: No one disputes the heroism of those who took part in the Arctic convoys. At the end of the second world war, the qualifying criteria for the range of medals instituted to recognise second world war service were drawn up by the Committee on the Grant of Honours, Decorations and Medals, which is known usually as the HD Committee, which advises the sovereign on all matters relating to honours and awards. The Committee took great care with the qualifying criteria of all the campaign medals and stars before submitting them to the King for his approval. The King approved the proposals and ruled that no further medals should be instituted for second world war service. That ruling remains in force today and there are currently no plans to institute any new medals or to amend the qualifying criteria of any existing medals.
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): I thank the Minister for his and his officials' assistance, which he will recall arose because one of my constituents had not previously been awarded a decoration because of ill health failing a claim being made earlier. The Minister was very helpful and an award has now been made. I agree entirely with what he has said about the heroism of those who served on the Arctic convoys and the appreciation given to those who, like the constituent to whom I have referred, served in supporting the forces in Russia by the work that they did on the Arctic convoys, which has been very much recognised by Russian authorities in recent years.
Dr. Moonie: Yes. I underscore again that the fact that there is not an individual medal for service on the Arctic convoys does not in any way lower the respect that we feel for those who served or gave their lives in the course of that action during the second world war.
Mr. Ingram: I do not have a specific date for that. However, I am not so sure that there is a waste of money. There is an individual service approach, and over time harmonisation on a tri-service basis is constantly developed. Sometimes it is easy and sometimes it is not. I am sorry, but I do not have a precise date.
Mr. Swire: Many of the reservists who have been compulsorily mobilised recently are highly paid civilian specialists whose skills are much needed by the armed forces. Does the Minister accept that if he wants the help of such people he must compensate them properly? If so, will he tell the House why to date he has been reluctant to pay realistic sums from the reserve hardship award?
Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): Will the Minister tell the House how many reservists are employed as doctors and nurses in the national health service, and what the effect on NHS personnel would be if we went to war with Iraq?