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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Ivor Caplin): We have a comprehensive programme of recognition and support for veterans that we keep under regular review. At the present time, a significant number of events are being planned to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of the second world war. We have produced the highly successful veterans badge, which we are issuing to all veterans of the first and second world warsor, where appropriate, their dependantsto recognise their sacrifices during those wars and express our recognition of the debt that we owe them. We have also produced a number of commemorative booklets marking certain key events in the second world war, all of which are available in the Library, or online at www.mod.uk/aboutus/history.
David Wright: Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating and thanking people such as Albert Colley, who works for the Royal British Legion in Telford and Dennis Edwards, who works for SSAFAthe Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen's Families Associationin Telford for the tremendous work that they and others do for veterans throughout the country? They work particularly hard for war widows, as well as veterans. What more will the Government do to support war widows?
Mr. Caplin: I congratulate my hon. Friend's British Legion and SSAFA branches for their work in his local community and the work that the organisations do throughout the United Kingdom. He may recall that, during the passage of the Armed Forces (Pensions and Compensation) Act 2004, I undertook to reconsider war widows. I can confirm to the House today that pre-1973 war widows will benefit from an immediate pension enhancement of £104 a year over and above inflation. That will become effective in April and the total cost to the Ministry of Defence will be £4 million a year. I hope that the House agrees that that is a proper way of recognising the role of those widows in our veteran society.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): As the Minister is about to become a sort of Ministry of Defence veteran, may I wish him well? Surely it is most important for veterans that we recognise their achievements. I have taken the opportunity to look at the documents relating to the non-award of the Arctic star immediately after the second world war. From looking at those documents, it seems that it was never considered whether a separate star should be awarded. Will he look again at the matter because the badge that has been awarded does not fulfil the need and the problem of clashing with Buckingham palace should not arise as the issue was never seriously considered in the first place?
Mr. Caplin: The hon. Gentleman started by talking about recognition and the fact that we are properly recognising the Arctic convoys with the emblem that has been announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is a proper and effective way forward.
Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth)
(Lab): When my hon. Friend has a chance during the next two days to talk to
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other Ministers concerned with veterans' issues, will he, perhaps over coffee, talk to Ministers from the United States, Canada and Australia, and ask how their Governments dealt with the nuclear test veterans to find whether there are any lessons to be learned by our Government?
Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), can the Minister explain why a medal was given five years ago for the Suez campaign, but not for the Arctic convoys?
Mr. Caplin: The Suez campaign was never considered by the appropriate committee. The hon. Gentleman will recall that the decision to award the Suez medal was taken in 2003, just two years ago, by this Government.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): Sub-Saharan Africa is the most heavily mined region in the world. I recently had the pleasure of opening the UK-funded international mine action training centre in Kenya. It is the first training centre of its kind in the region and, as an internationally recognised centre of excellence, it provides high-quality training, advice and expertise on all aspects of humanitarian de-mining for military de-miners, NGOs and other organisations operating in a mine-affected region, and is open to all, including Malawi.
Ann McKechin: I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply and welcome the efforts made by his Department to assist the many victims of mines throughout sub-Saharan Africa. He will be aware that there are also many victims in countries such as Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and north Uganda. Will his Department be able to provide assistance in those areas as they move from conflict to peace?
Mr. Ingram: We are dealing with two separate subjects. In-country de-mining initiatives are the responsibility of the Department for International Development. The centre that I opened in Kenya is an internationally recognised major resource for Africa to train people in de-mining activities and it is open to all countries that wish to participate. Already, applications have come from neighbouring states, which have some of the most heavily mined areas. All the other support mechanisms are the responsibility of the DFID.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Ivor Caplin): Income received as rent for agricultural land on the Salisbury plain training estate over each of the past five financial years is as follows: £978,000 for 200001; £1,039,000 for 200102; £1,046,000 for 200203; £1,069,000 for 200304; and £1,079,000 for 200405.
Paul Flynn: The latest figure works out at a mere £43 per hectare, which is a ludicrously low rent compared with that charged by the local authority of four times that amountand that is a subsidised rent. It is decreasingly likely that the Army will use that rented land, because the nature of modern warfare means training for a peacekeeping role, rather than for gaining territory. Should not a fair market rent be charged on behalf of the taxpayer, or the land sold to the farmers?
The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): Afghanistan is NATO's principal operational priority. Excellent progress was made at Nice regarding the continuing expansion of the NATO-led international security assistance force, as well as moves towards enhanced co-operation and co-ordination with the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom. That underscores NATO's long-term commitment to helping Afghanistan build a stable, prosperous and democratic future.
Ross Cranston: In relation to Question 4, my right hon. Friend heard from both sides of the House that it is vital that the UK and NATO play an essential part in stabilising Afghanistan. The Department is good at responding to correspondence, but it is disturbing that the Afghanistan entry on the MOD website has not been updated since 2002. Can he give an absolute assurance that the Department fully supports stages 2 and 3 of the international security assistance force expansion and can he give some specific details?
I am sorry that the website has not been updated and I shall look into that. I confirm that we are very supportive of stage 2 expansion and are providing significant assistance. We plan to assist a Lithuanian reconnaissance mission to Chaghcharan and our Harriers are also available to support NATO in the west. We have no further plans to participate in stage 2, because our commitments lie in the north, but our aspiration is to move the focus of UK forces from the north to the south and to play a key role in ISAF stage 3. Other NATO allies plan to take over our provincial reconstruction teams in the north. There is a coherent NATO and ISAF programme as we begin to increase our presence across wider regions of Afghanistan.
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