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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Ivor Caplin): The Ministry of Defence works across Government, with international partners and with the ex-service and voluntary organisations to improve continually the support available to UK veterans. One of the ways in which we do that is to ensure that the transition from service to civilian life is as successful as possible. Our statistics show that 95 per cent. of service leavers who undertake resettlement training find employment within six months of leaving the armed forces.
John Robertson: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. He will be aware that many of our soldiers join up at the age of 16 or 17 and therefore miss out on gaining the further or higher education qualifications that many hon. Members might have. Does he agree that our servicemen and women should receive special help to ensure that they have the necessary educational qualifications to meet their needs when they leave the services?
We have a very active programme of education and training that continues throughout the military careers of our servicemen and women. Indeed, the Ministry of Defence is the largest training organisation in the United Kingdom. Although procedures existed in our armed forces to help early service leavers to return to civilian life, they were often locally determined and there was no consistent tri-service policy. I introduced the new tri-service early leavers policy last April, which ensures that all early service leavers now receive a mandatory brief and interview. In short, we now know that, for the first time,
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we are giving everyone leaving the services structured help to resettle into civilian life. I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that that is an important step forward.
Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): My constituent, Paul Connolly, from Woking is a veteran of the first Gulf war. Since then, he has been permanently ill with kidney problems, and on dialysis. Will the Minister undertake to have another look at this case? Mr. Connolly was a civilian who was seconded to the military although, to all intents and purposes, he was part of the military. He has received no benefits whatever since the war, and he is still very ill.
Mr. Caplin: I cannot comment on the case that the hon. Gentleman mentions, but if he cares to write to me, I shall certainly look at the matter. In regard to sickness relating to the first Gulf war, the Gulf veterans assessment programme at St. Thomas's hospital is available to any veteran from that or the more recent conflict who feels that they may be unwell.
Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): I understand that there is to be a veterans summit. Will my hon. Friend tell us what will be involved, as I am sure that it would be of interest to many people in the city of Plymouth?
Mr. Caplin: The international summit of Ministers with responsibility for veterans is taking place today and tomorrow at the Royal hospital, Chelsea. This is the first such event, and it has brought together Ministers from the United States of America, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State opened the event this morning, and I expect a formal communiqué to be issued tomorrow afternoon. I shall ensure that copies are sent to my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) and placed in the Library of the House.
Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): More than 1,000 RAF personnel in Scotlandmost of them in my constituencyare set either to be relocated or to become veterans through redundancy. What plans do the Government have to support these soon-to-be veterans in the communities in which they live?
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Using the word "veteran" makes it sound as though we are talking about elderly people, but the vast majority of those who leave our armed services are in their 30s or 40s. They can face difficulties not only in finding their first job but in finding a fruitful career for the following 20 to 25 years. What plans are there to ensure that they have support not only when they first leave the services but throughout the rest of their adult working lives?
We employ a number of advisers to provide through-life support to people, both in their military life and when they go back into civilian life. The employment consultancy advice available through the resettlement programme is considered to be one of
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the best available to employees anywhere in the United Kingdom. As I said earlier, statistics show that about 95 per cent. of service leavers will undertake resettlement training and find good employment within six months of leaving our forces.
Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South) (LD): Is the Minister planning any new initiatives on, or is he prepared to look again at the problems associated with, the health of the nuclear test veterans and their families? Sadly, many of the veterans have now died, but many of their families, especially their children, are still suffering the consequences and those children claim that their illnesses were a direct result of their contamination during the nuclear tests in the 1950s.
Mr. Caplin: The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the recent Westminster Hall Adjournment debate on this subject in which I laid out the Ministry's current position in relation to nuclear test veterans, including the apology that I have made on the Ministry's behalf to the Maddison family and the fact that we would challenge, through judicial review, the coroner's findings.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): The majority of defence procurement, both manufacture and research and development, is both large-scale and complex. Consequently, it lends itself more to prime contracting through large defence industry companies or research organisations. Therefore, small and medium-sized enterprises are mainly involved in subcontract work.
The Ministry of Defence provides advice and guidance to all companies interested in becoming defence suppliers, either as prime contractor or subcontractors. For example, the Department provides a helpdesk facility, seminars and web portals, which SMEs can access for information about opportunities to work with the Ministry of Defence.
The Ministry of Defence is also a participant in the small business research initiative, a cross-departmental initiative, which is designed specifically to increase the success of smaller firms in obtaining contracts from Government bodies to conduct research and development.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. He will be aware that I have a number of small firms in my constituency that would benefit enormously from Government research contracts that do so much to help to secure stable funding, which is important in early-stage business, and which the US seems better at doing than the UK. Can my right hon. Friend therefore tell me how close he is to reaching the targets set by the small business research initiative for giving Government contracts to small business?
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Mr. Ingram: My hon. Friend asks an important and interesting question. The issue does not just affect her constituency, although I would guess that her constituency has quite a concentration of such companies, because those companies are spread throughout the United Kingdom. Under the small business research initiative, Departments were committed to a target of purchasing at least 2.5 per cent. of their R and D from SMEs by 200405. The Ministry of Defence's estimate is that, currently, some 5 per cent. by value of the MOD's research budget is taken by SMEs. That is a good start, but there is more to be done.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): In supporting the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) in her question, would not the Minister accept that the development of the Nimrod MRA4 at BAE Systems, Woodford, is hugely beneficial to a large number of smaller businesses that supply BAE Systems? Could he give me an update on when the Government are to order those sophisticated aircraft, which would not only guarantee jobs at BAE Systems, Woodford, but would be of huge assistance to a large number of smaller businesses that supply the aerospace and defence industries?
Mr. Ingram: I agree with the broad thrust of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, as I made clear in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell). In terms of the final decision, the price must be right, and tough negotiations with the company are taking place. The hon. Gentleman might have noticed that, last Friday, I announced that the MRA4 will be based at Kinloss, although that was not well received by the MP for that area at the time.
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