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Dr. Julian Lewis: I thank the Minister for giving way and I am sorry if I was not sufficiently clear. I was commending what General Jackson said, which is that so long as there are groups that wish to continue the celebrations, the Army and the other services should continue to support them.

Dr. Ladyman: I think that is right, and it is why my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow) said that we must keep an open mind and engage in discussions with veterans. That is very much the position of my hon. Friend the veterans Minister. We should make the decisions with veterans, not for them. That is important.

I want to chide the hon. Member for New Forest, East a little, however. He mentioned several times the need to get the balance right on a number of issues. He spoke for 56 minutes, and very good his speech was too. I very much enjoyed it and it was very eloquent, but he was 39 minutes in before he got to the nitty-gritty of how to improve services for veterans or mentioned any of the issues that affect their lives today, other than the issue of medals and the Chinook issue, which I accept are important. Indeed, he spent longer on his paean of praise for President Reagan than on pensions for veterans.

I criticise the hon. Gentleman gently, but no more than that. Where I will not be gentle in my criticism, though, is in respect of the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock), who alone today gave what I have to say was a rather mealy-mouthed speech. I understand that it is easy for the third party in British politics to climb on every bandwagon and to support every campaign that comes along, but simplistic answers to complicated problems get us nowhere. At least he could have recognised the fact that some issues that he raised are complicated matters of judgment. People do not find it easy to make these decisions, so for him simply to say that he supports every campaign that comes along did him and his cause no justice at all.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Arctic convoys, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam), who has campaigned on the Arctic convoy medal for a long time; the hon. Member for New Forest, East; my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing); and the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet. I shall not add to what my hon. Friend the Minister for veterans said, as this is not an issue on which the House particularly wants to hear the views of a Health Minister, but let me say here and now that no Labour Member doubts the bravery of or the contribution made by those men.

I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby that I was brought up in Liverpool as well, although I was not born until 1952. Even I, as a child, was told about the change that happened when the red army started to advance and the benefits that that delivered for Merseyside, so nobody needs to tell me what contribution those brave people made.
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The hon. Member for Portsmouth, South raised a number of housing issues. I shall return to some of those, but he said that surplus housing was available that was not committed to the Annington Homes scheme. That is not the case. I understand that any surplus housing identified by the MOD has to be released to Annington Homes.

Mr. Hancock: Will the Minister give way?

Dr. Ladyman: I would rather not as, unfortunately, I have only six minutes in which to speak. My hon. Friend the Minister for veterans is dealing with that issue and I know he will have listened to the hon. Gentleman's comments.

The hon. Member for New Forest, East also raised the possibility of pre-screening recruits for predisposition to mental health problems. That has been considered, primarily in other countries, and has never been found to be particularly satisfactory. The insensitivity of the screening processes is the issue, although, obviously, those with a severe or current mental illness or learning disability would be excluded. It is right, however, for training and preparation of those going into combat to include coverage of the psycho-social aspects of health as well as physical issues.

On limiting traumatic stress-related disorders on deployments, measures are in place to help to reduce the risk of such disorders occurring among service personnel. Those preventive arrangements for the armed forces have been developed over a number of years, and will continue to be reviewed in the light of developments in the field of stress management and medical treatment.

The hon. Member for Portsmouth, South raised the issue of Alexander Izett and Gulf war syndrome. I am sure that he will know that I am not in a position to comment on the treatment that Mr. Izett is receiving. That is a matter between him and his doctor. I strongly encourage him to give up his hunger strike, however, as I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has done, as it will not benefit anybody. He is currently resident in Germany. Were he living in the UK, however, as a war pensioner, he would be entitled to priority national health service assessment and treatment for any condition to which his pension was related. Nothing that he or any other veteran of the Gulf war has presented with is beyond the capability of the national health service.

It is important that we gather robust evidence concerning the health needs of our veterans. The MOD is spending £8.5 million on research on Gulf war syndrome and the issues concerned. That research is being directed by independent medical experts. The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet raised a number of possible factors: vaccines, pesticides and oil fires. That points to the need to do proper research rather than to jump to conclusions.

The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet also raised a number of other issues. He welcomed lapel badges for veterans, and said how positive they would be. I share that view. He was the first Member to mention today's service people in the debate. One or two of us have forgotten today's service people. That point was also picked up by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble, who joined in the call for services for tomorrow's veterans also to be improved.
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The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) raised his concerns about the Armed Forces (Pensions and Compensation) Bill. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence has engaged in argument with him on the matter, and it will now go to the House of Lords. There is nothing that I can add that will satisfy him, and I am sure that we will return to the debate in the future.

Other Members made moving speeches, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham). The hon. Member for Salisbury also made a careful and considered speech.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) raised the issue of privatisation of the records office in his constituency. That is a matter on which I am unsighted, so I cannot satisfy him on it today. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence has agreed to read his comments, however, and to respond to him.

The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) raised the issue of the Droitwich Army medal office. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary assured the House that the backlog for Suez medals will be cleared in two years. I know, however, as I am the Minister who deals with health service issues for Mid-Worcestershire, that when the hon. Gentleman gets a bone in his teeth, he will not let it go. I therefore suspect that my hon. Friend will be hearing more from him in the weeks to come.

The issue of homelessness shows how dealing with services for veterans needs a multi-agency approach. It is therefore important that we build the needs of veterans into the new vision for adult social care, which we are developing. My hon. Friend and I will work together to ensure that the views of veterans are built into that new vision, and that services for future veterans reflect the contribution—

It being Seven o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.


Post Offices

7 pm

Tom Cox (Tooting) (Lab): I wish to present a petition from constituents expressing deep concern about the Post Office's proposals to close four post offices in the Tooting area of the London borough of Wandsworth. I fully support their opposition. The concern exists because the closures follow closures that took place last
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year. As we all know, such closures inevitably affect local communities—people of all ages who use and greatly value a key public service. They also have a real effect on businesses that regularly use the services provided by local post offices.

To lie upon the Table.


7.2 pm

Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby) (Lab): I present my petition on behalf of 30,000 teachers who are members of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers.

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