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Heroes Return

5. Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes) (Lab): If he will make a statement on "Heroes Return". [156733]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Ivor Caplin): "Heroes Return" is the central element of the New Opportunities Fund's "Veterans Reunited" programme to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of the second world war. This lottery-funded programme will help to ensure that all generations of United Kingdom residents can commemorate the 60th anniversary together, with events both at home and abroad, and is part of wider cross-government work involving the Ministry of Defence, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and the Department for Education and Skills.

Shona McIsaac : It is clear from other questions that have been asked in the House today that all hon. Members welcome this excellent initiative, which is proving very popular with our veterans. Given its popularity, will my hon. Friend consider extending the scheme to the veterans of other conflicts, such as the Korean war or Suez, so that our veterans could go there and wear their medals with pride?

Mr. Caplin: "Heroes Return" is a two-year, lottery-funded programme commemorating the 60th anniversary of the end of the second world war. I know of the importance of Korea to hon. Members and to the British Korean Veterans Association, members of which I visited at the arboretum recently; I was also with a number of veterans in Korea last summer. I acknowledge my hon. Friend's bid as the first for an extension to the scheme. I will have to consider it and talk to the lottery operator when the time is right.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Lottery grants are often controversial, but the Minister will agree that this one will achieve universal acclaim across the Chamber and throughout the country. In considering the grants made and the representations given at veterans' events, will he bear it in mind that, two days before the heroes return to Normandy this June, other heroes will be returning to Rome because it will be the 60th anniversary of its liberation? Will he bear it in mind that those who are entitled today to wear the Italy star belong to a force that lost 45,000 British and Commonwealth servicemen? Is there any prospect of a royal and prime ministerial presence in Rome two days before the same dignitaries go to Normandy?

Mr. Caplin: The hon. Gentleman would not expect me to comment on the last point. However, in April, it will be the 60th anniversary of Kohima in Burma, and in May, it will be the 60th anniversary of Monte Cassino. Both events take place before the D-day commemoration. It is important to emphasise that "Heroes Return" is about all events worldwide and does not support only veterans going to events or their carers. It is also an educational project that allows veterans to

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commit to regaling their stories and legacy to young people in our society so that we have a living history of the great sacrifices many of them made.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Speaker: Andrew Mackay. [Laughter.]

Andrew Mackinlay: I am the good-looking one.

Will the Minister consider how the many thousands of volunteers from the Republic of Ireland who served in the British armed forces during the war and those of whom Winston Churchill made special mention in his "Victory in Europe" broadcast can be included in the scheme? There were thousands of them, they were outstanding and every single one of them was a volunteer. They need to be included in "Heroes Return", in the absence of an Irish delegation here today.

Mr. Caplin: I never for one moment thought that my hon. Friend was the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay).

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): He has not been under the sun lamp.

Mr. Caplin: I shall leave that comment from my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) alone, Mr. Speaker.

The lottery money amounts to £10 million and, under the rules of the national lottery agreed by this House, we can only give grants to UK citizens. Those veterans resident in Northern Ireland will qualify. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that those resident in the Republic will qualify unless they are UK citizens.

Aircraft Carriers

6. Mr. Robert Syms (Poole) (Con): If he will make a statement on the future of the aircraft carrier programme. [156734]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): The future carrier programme is currently in stage 3 of the assessment phase. Design work is progressing, as are discussions on the alliance strategy, which remains our preferred approach to delivering the capability to our time and cost targets. Our target in-service dates remain 2012 and 2015.

Mr. Syms : There has been a lot of debate, certainly in the press, about the size, capability and cost of this welcome project. Originally, British Aerospace and the Ministry of Defence hoped to agree a firm design for the project by this April. Is the Minister holding to that April date or will it be missed?

Mr. Ingram: Work is progressing on the assessment phase and is due to continue until spring this year. At that point, Ministers will consider proposals on the overall CVF—carrier vessel future—programme and make a decision on when to proceed to the next phases, demonstration and manufacturing, of the project.

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Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the two carriers not only add to the defence capacity of the United Kingdom but will also give a great boost to the regional economies in areas such as the north-east? Can he give the House an assurance that those orders will not be cut, as is being suggested in some quarters of the Opposition?

Mr. Ingram: We have no plans to cut the programme. My hon. Friend may be referring to others who are developing programmes that would have such an implication were they ever to get into power. A cut of £1.5 billion for defence might mean only one aircraft carrier, but if there were two carriers, such a cut would mean fewer aircraft or a smaller Army; it is not for me to answer on what others are saying about their future programme. We shall continue with the project and my hon. Friend is right that it means a lot for the north-east, the Clyde and the rest of the UK shipbuilding industry.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): Is not the programme crucial to the fleet, which already faces a grievous air defence gap between the elimination of the Sea Harriers from service in about 2005 and the earliest date for entry into service of carrier-embarked joint strike fighters in 2012? Can the Minister assure the House that there will be no further slippage either in defining the design or in the time scale for entry into service? If that were to occur, he would open up the fleet to exceptional vulnerability.

Mr. Ingram: We have had a lot of debate about the Sea Harriers and it has been explained time and again why that military judgment was made. The upgrade would have been very expensive and there were also technical difficulties. On protection of the fleet, we have also said that the highest likelihood is that we would always be in coalition with our allies, so we should have that combined defence. The hon. Gentleman makes another important point, which is about the future size of the fleet. Perhaps he should ask the shadow Chancellor about the implications for defence if £1.5 billion were cut from defence expenditure. There is an old adage, "If the enemy isn't in front of you, he's behind you." The hon. Gentleman's enemy is sitting in front of him.

Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that no progress will be made on the construction of that programme until, before it goes to the gateway, every risk reduction strategy has been developed, it meets the criteria set down under smart acquisition and it is not in danger of becoming another legacy project, similar to those we inherited from the previous Administration, which went over-time and over-cost?

Mr. Ingram: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need to ensure that we do everything we can to reduce risk in the programme, but of course, we are facing inherited programmes where such sophisticated planning was not undertaken early enough. The Government have learned lessons from that and we shall do everything we can to ensure that those elements of the project are adhered to. My hon. Friend is right to raise the matter as he did.

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Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex) (Con): May I start by saying what a pleasure it is to see the Secretary of State back and in such good form after his political near-death experience? Can the Minister assure the House that the main gate approval date for the future carrier programme will not slip further? When will he actually be able to make an announcement on the programme and will agreement with the contractors be reached by April?

Mr. Ingram: I should welcome the hon. Gentleman to the Dispatch Box; we had a sweep running on whether he would turn up to ask a question as he is clearly embarrassed by his non-involvement in the development of his party's future spending programmes, if the Conservatives were ever to get into power.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the future of the carrier programme. I set it out in my answer to his hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Syms). The in-service date is still as set down and, as I said in answer to a previous question, we have to ensure that we are smart and are very specific about the way in which we develop the programme. Every announcement on the details of the next phase of the project will be made on time, when we are ready to give the information. The hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) should not expect anything other than that from us.

Mr. Soames: I thank the Minister for his concern for my welfare, but Conservative Members are entirely satisfied with the shadow Chancellor's robust and assured commitment to defence.

Is the Minister aware that any delay, leaving this country with no aircraft carriers at all in the early years of the next decade, will result in a serious gap in our expeditionary capability?

Mr. Ingram: That obviously has to be worked against, which is why we have a decommissioning timetable for the three current carriers that is consistent with the in-service date of the new carriers. No one can predict with certainty 10 years ahead, but the reality is that the programme will deliver what we have already announced and improve immeasurably this country's expeditionary war-fighting resources.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his and the Government's commitment to the two carriers, but will he assure me that he will not rule out different options for different types of aircraft using this platform around the world? Will he keep the options open for the future?

Mr. Ingram: I suspect that my hon. Friend is asking about the modernisation of Typhoon. We have already ruled that out and have no plans to change our mind.

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