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Mr. Caplin: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but I hope that he will accept that it is important that the independently commissioned research follows its full course before any decisions are made.

Dr. Lewis: One has to strike a balance between allowing enough time for research results to be known to be valid and recognising that the more time is allowed, the harder it is for the people who may be suffering from the syndrome that the research is trying to establish.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that another difficulty with an inquiry would be locating records? The Ministry of Defence has admitted that recordkeeping of what type and combination of vaccines people received before the first Gulf war was non-existent in some cases and poor in others.

Dr. Lewis: I am new to this subject and I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point. It goes back to the issue raised earlier about the where the burden of proof should lie—

Mr. Brazier indicated assent.

Mr. Kevan Jones indicated assent.

Dr. Lewis: I see that the hon. Gentleman agrees, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury.

Mr. Caplin: I had not planned to intervene again, but I feel I must do so for the sake of the record. When I gave evidence to the Defence Committee, of which my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) is a distinguished member, on 5 November last year, I made it clear that in the event of failed recordkeeping in relation to pensions or compensation the Ministry of Defence would accept its responsibilities. We have learned the lessons of the failure of recordkeeping in the early 1990s and it is much better today. The hon.
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Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) is welcome to visit Chilwell to see the mobilisation process and the recordkeeping for himself.

Dr. Lewis: I thank the Minister for that invitation and either my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot or I may take it up. My hon. Friend called for an inquiry in response to a written answer in the other place to a question from the Labour peer Lord Morris. The Minister for Defence Procurement, Lord Bach, confirmed that the Government were aware that some of the combinations of vaccination used could cause serious side effects and that vaccinations went ahead despite warnings from the Department of Health and the deputy chief medical officer. That is a serious admission. I do not wish to press it further today, but my colleagues who specialise in such issues may return to it in the future.

Jim Sheridan (West Renfrewshire) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is wrong that the Government do not fund services for veterans who suffer from mental illness? My constituency includes Erskine hospital, which cares for disabled ex-service people and which my hon. Friend the Minister has kindly visited. That organisation is totally dependent on charity and has received no funding from this Government or the previous Government. Is it right that ex-service people should be dependent on charity in this day and age?

Dr. Lewis: That situation is not confined to veterans with mental health problems. I think of St. Dunstan's, for example, which cares for seriously physically disabled veterans. I once instituted a debate on the denial of lottery money to that organisation. I would say only that the Government cannot be expected to do everything that service charities do so well, but they can be expected to help. Whether sufficient Government help is being given must be examined on the merits of each case.

I was pleased to hear the Minister's remarks about homelessness. It is a grave concern that a high proportion of people out on the streets have an ex-service background. Is that because they were insufficiently looked after in service or when they left the service, or are they people who should not have been selected for the services in the first place? The point has been made that people sometimes join the services to get away from unsatisfactory conditions at home and then after their period of service go back to the very conditions that led them to join up in the first place. That problem cannot be laid at the door of the services, but it must be dealt with in a humane society.

I shall close by relating one more story from world war two. The Minister movingly said that the veterans to whom he spoke told him that the real heroes were the ones who did not come back. Over the years, I have read a number of stories about people who did not come back. Some of those stories are very well known, but there is one that I have never seen except in a book about the George Cross. It is the story of a Royal Air Force chaplain, Herbert Cecil Pugh, who was on a troop carrier, the Anselm. On 5 July 1941, they were on route for west Africa when a submarine managed to penetrate the escorting screen of destroyers and torpedoed the troop ship.
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The account states:

So, the account continues,

I do not know how that affects you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I first read that story 40 years ago. I find it hard, even now, to read it without emotion.

3.48 pm

Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon) (Lab): First, I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for his comments about the Blaydon project, which is well appreciated in my constituency. I have been involved with SSAFA over the years and know how well the organisation works with veterans who have problems. It does a valuable job.

That is not the main reason that I rise to speak today, however. I want to speak on a matter that has already been mentioned: the injustice done to the survivors of the Arctic convoys. I am sorry that the Minister regarded the position he set out at Question Time in March as satisfactory. It is not.

When the Arctic convoys went into the Atlantic on the summer route, they went through the Greenland-Iceland gap, turned to starboard and headed for the Arctic ocean, the Norwegian sea and the Barents sea. They could do that only during the very short Arctic summer because the ice had retreated far enough for them to get through. The winter route, which lasted for some nine months of the year, went straight from Scapa into the Norwegian sea, and on to the Arctic ocean and the Barents sea, before ending up at Murmansk, which was less than 30 miles from the German-Finnish front line, or Archangel.

On those routes, the convoys were subject to attack by surface raiders and, when they were further out, long-range bombers; they were also subject to the most atrocious weather conditions imaginable. In February, my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) and I were in north Norway. We spent part of the time in the mountains with 42 Commando and part of the time with the Assault Squadron in a fjord based in a German U-boat pen dug out of the virgin rock by slave labour. On the night that we slept out in a 10-man tent, the temperature outside dropped to minus 30°; inside, it
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was a relatively modest minus 11° or 12°. But the kit that we were wearing was light years away from anything that was issued to the brave men who served on the convoys. They were not only from the Royal Navy, but the Royal Marines, the merchant marines, and—in the case of the gunners on the merchant ships—the Army.

We are talking about some of the bravest men who served in the second world war. The RAF Hurricat pilots were fired off their ships in a catapult, with no place to land, to take on masses of German aircraft attacking their convoy. Their only hope of survival was to land close enough to a ship to be picked up out of the water in the very few minutes in which they could live in those temperatures. They ended up in Russian army hospitals being looked after by Russian army doctors and nurses. Cruelly injured or suffering from frostbite, their uniforms would be gone, so they would have to wear Russian army uniforms, and they would be subject to attack from German bombing. Yet that service did not count towards the Atlantic medal—they were not allowed to be considered for it.

I have been in correspondence with the Ministry of Defence on this issue for several years, including under previous Governments. My hon. Friend the Minister told me earlier that the award of medals was scrupulously fair. The hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) observed that the criteria for awarding medals differ, but he did not say by how much. A campaign medal was awarded to those who served for one day in the Mediterranean, Pacific or Burmese waters, whether they were in action or not. They got a medal for sailing gently through the south seas for one day without coming under attack.

The Atlantic Star required six months in the theatre of war, but the men on the Arctic convoys had little chance of achieving that. We have heard the figures already: of 670 ships' companies involved, only six qualified. That does not recognise the sacrifice that those men made. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) gave us the figures: 7 per cent. of ships sunk, as against 1 per cent. in the Atlantic—but the figure that he did not give us was the proportion of casualties from each ship sunk. Ships sunk in the the Norwegian sea, the Arctic ocean or the Barents sea would have virtually 100 per cent. casualties, whereas in the Atlantic there would be far fewer.

I do not need to explain further the heroism and fortitude that those men displayed. I have no need to say anything more about their individual qualities—but in this week when we remember the Normandy landings, I have to say something about what they achieved. Had they not served on those convoys, protected them and resupplied Russia, the Normandy landings would not have happened when they did. Indeed, if Germany had conquered Russia, the former Speaker of the House might have been right to say that we would not be enjoying the democratic freedoms that we enjoy in the House, in this country and in Europe today.

Those men made a vast contribution, out of all proportion to the numbers involved—so why did they not get the medal in the first place? The hon. Member for New Forest, East was right: it was simply because they were resupplying the Soviet Union, and immediately the war ended the Soviet Union became not just our
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tentative enemy but our absolute enemy. Almost throughout my life, the Soviet Union was the enemy of this country and of the west.

That must have been terribly embarrassing for those officials at the time. Could we possibly give a medal to people who had resupplied our enemy? They forgot the fact that had it not been for the bravery and the losses that the red army suffered, if it had not been for the losses and the bravery of the civil population, D-day would not have happened.

I was privileged to see the mass graves in what was then Leningrad, but is now St. Petersburg, with colleagues from both sides of the House on a private visit some years ago. I was amazed. There was a tiny museum, and in it we saw what the bread ration for the civil population was for the 900 days of the siege—a siege that was lifted only because of the supply delivered through Murmansk and Archangel. The bread ration was the size of a packet of 20 cigarettes, and half of that was sawdust. Thousands and thousands of people were in those graves; an appalling sacrifice was made.

The fact that we did not agree with the Russians' politics, or with what they wanted to do to us, is not a good enough reason for not recognising the contribution that people made—but it was inconvenient for the establishment of the day to recognise it.

The civil service works on precedent. I have been a civil servant, and I know that—but precedent is of value only if there has been no significant change in circumstances. The Minister was proud to announce the award of the Suez campaign medal for the 1951–54 campaign. However, there was no significant change in the circumstances that prevailed between us, Egypt and the Suez canal zone between 1951 and 1954. There was no significant change in the circumstances between our country and Japan after 1946 when we decided—eventually and properly—to award payments to Japanese prisoners of war. However, there has been an enormously significant change in the circumstances between our country and Russia since 1946.

In my desk drawer, I have one of the last British military government of Berlin passes ever issued, which I got because the Defence Committee visited Berlin immediately after the collapse of East Germany. The Foreign Office did not know what sort of reception we would get, so rather than chance us going through the checkpoints with our passports, it issued us with government passes. It was unbelievable to walk down the Unter den Linden, which is in eastern Berlin, and to see the bullet holes that had been left in the wall to commemorate the Russians taking the city. I did that on a lovely May day with my jacket slung over my shoulder as I went to visit the British delegation. No one in a black leather jacket followed me, tried to tap my conversations or eavesdrop. It was amazing to see people going about their daily business and the lines of Trabants queuing to fill up to avoid increased petrol costs due to currency unification. It was amazing to see the President of Russia at the D-day ceremony last weekend, although it was right for him to be there. It is also amazing to see the role that Russia is now playing in world affairs, not least at the UN yesterday. It is time to stop the nonsense and the silly things that have been going on.
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The leader of the Arctic convoy veterans, Commander Grenfell, received a letter from a civil servant, Mr. Sinfield, the head of DS Secretary (Secretariat), dated 9 October 2002. It says:

Committee on the Grant of Honours, Decorations and Medals

Of course, that is a Cabinet Sub-Committee rather than a committee of the Ministry of Defence or the Foreign Office. The letter continues:

That would have been all right, but on 11 September 2002 my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) received a letter from my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), who was then a Minister at the Foreign Office. The letter said:

There is a complete bureaucratic muddle. If the then Minister could make such a request, why did he make it to the Ministry of Defence rather than the Cabinet Sub-Committee? Why did he submit it to the MOD, with which we are having the argument? That is like having a fight with the wife and asking one's mother-in-law to adjudicate—it is silly.

What is going on? It cannot be the cost, which must be minute compared with that for the Suez medal because so few of the men are still alive. The veterans' calculation is £670,000.

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