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Veteran's Badge

3. Mr. Jamie Reed (Copeland) (Lab): How many veteran's badges have been issued since the badge was introduced. [44070]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Don Touhig): Her Majesty's armed forces veteran's badge scheme was launched in May 2004 and, to date, some 182,000 ex-service personnel have applied for and received the badge.

Mr. Reed: I am sure that the Minister is aware of the badge's importance as a symbol of the gratitude of the state for the sacrifice of the individual in the service of the nation. However, there is uncertainty among veterans in my constituency and their families about eligibility. Will he confirm precisely who is eligible for the badge?

Mr. Touhig: The veteran's badge is available to all those who served in the British armed forces in the first and second world wars, between the wars and up until 1954. That includes the Home Guard, those who served in Polish forces under UK command and the widows and widowers who are in receipt of a war pension. Merchant navy seamen who took part in military operations are also included and they will shortly be able to apply for their own version of the badge.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Veterans want to be able to wear the badge, but they also want to wear campaign medals to which they are entitled. What is the update position on the medal for the Malayan emergency that has been awarded by the Malaysian Government?

Mr. Touhig: The Department's efforts to mark the end of various campaigns have been quite successful and we have made great efforts to get medals out. The interest last year in the 60th commemoration of the end of the last war increased the demand and application for historic medals. That has resulted in 9,370 world war two cases still awaiting assessment. I have proposals for improving the service and I hope to make an announcement shortly.

Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): Many of those who served in my local regiment, the King's Own Scottish Borderers, qualify for the veteran's badge. What plans or proposals does my hon. Friend have to further extend the qualifying date?

Mr. Touhig: My hon. Friend may be aware that on 11 November my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State extended eligibility for the badge to cover those
 
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who served between the wars and those who served up till 1954. We will continue to extend eligibility over the coming years. It is our aim eventually to include all who served in the armed forces. It is a question of how quickly we can process the applications. The more speedily that can happen, the sooner we can make an announcement about extending eligibility further.

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): The Minister is aware—he mentioned it in a previous answer—of the role that Polish forces, one of whom was my own grandfather, played in the second world war. Will he please give me an assurance that the Polish forces will be recognised properly? There are still some Polish veterans living in this country who feel that they are neglected, sadly.

Mr. Touhig: I am sorry if there is a feeling of neglect. There is certainly no lack of respect and appreciation for the huge contribution made by Polish forces to our efforts in the last war. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was the first Minister to attend a service at the Polish memorial. We will continue to recognise the huge contribution. If there is anything we could or should do to improve that recognition, I shall be interested if the hon. Gentleman has any proposals to put before me.

Sarah McCarthy-Fry (Portsmouth, North) (Lab): In my constituency there is a group of veterans who, until recently, felt that they had been forgotten—those are veterans of the Arctic convoy. Two years ago I marched on Downing street with those brave men to plead their cause. I congratulate the Secretary of State on achieving what no other Government had achieved since the end of the second world war—getting recognition for those very brave men in the horrendous conditions in which they found themselves. Can my hon. Friend give me a progress report on the Arctic Star?

Mr. Touhig: On behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, I take on board my hon. Friend's congratulations and thanks to him for the efforts that he has put in—a tremendous effort, indeed. We have had discussion, which he led, with the various organisations and we now have broad agreement on a design concept. That is going into the final design stage, and we hope to progress a contract letting shortly and issue the emblems after that. I was delighted to see early-day motion 1429 congratulating my right hon. Friend on his work on the matter—an amazing feat of political prowess, as it united in brotherhood my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) and the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) in support. In terms of consensus, it is clear that my right hon. Friend reaches parts that the Leader of the Opposition wishes he could reach.

Nuclear Deterrence

4. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): What his assessment is of the role of nuclear deterrence in the future security of the United Kingdom; and if he will make a statement. [44071]
 
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7. Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): What his assessment is of the role of nuclear deterrence in the future security of the United Kingdom. [44074]

The Secretary of State for Defence (John Reid): As our last manifesto made clear, our minimum nuclear deterrent capability, currently represented by Trident, is likely to remain a necessary element of our security while there continues to be any risk from the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and while other countries retain substantial nuclear arsenals.

Michael Fabricant: I am grateful for that unequivocal answer. Will the Secretary of State confirm that whatever any future deterrent might be—theatre, strategic or tactical—as long as countries such as Iran and North Korea strive for nuclear weapons, the United Kingdom must maintain some form of nuclear deterrent for the defence of the realm?

John Reid: Our present deterrent is viable for about 15 to 20 years, so, as we made plain in our manifesto as recently as six months ago, we shall retain the nuclear deterrent for the foreseeable future. We shall do so on the assumption that, as long as anyone else who is a potential enemy has a nuclear weapon, we shall retain ours. That of course will have to be tested in analysis, with a forward look of between 20 and 50 years, if we are looking at a successor to our present system of nuclear deterrence; it is that very assumption that we will test against future threats and insecurities. If that assumption proves correct, the conclusion that the hon. Gentleman drew from it will prove to be correct.

Gregory Barker: Many of us will be pleased to hear that categorical assurance from the Secretary of State, but does he agree that the threat comes not only from the states that possess nuclear weapons, but from all those that may seek to possess them? Will he therefore be a little clearer as to what "the foreseeable future" means, and tell us when he expects to place firm plans before Parliament for the replacement of Trident?

John Reid: "The foreseeable future" means the lifetime of our present system, the end of which is approximately 15 to 20 years away. The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues need not get too excited that anyone is going to take any sudden decisions, because we will retain our present nuclear deterrent during that period, as we made clear in our manifesto. The debate will be about whether we should extend the minimum nuclear deterrent in this country beyond that period, so we are talking about analysing the threats and risks between 20 and 50 years hence. Once we have done that, if the same assumptions apply, if there is a possibility that a potential enemy of this country could have access to nuclear weapons, and if we retain the same assumptions that we have now, we would obviously retain a minimum nuclear deterrent.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): The Prime Minister told us nine months ago that a decision would be taken in this Parliament on the replacement of Trident, and that he wanted to listen to the views of hon. Members. Is it my Friend's intention to publish a Green Paper setting out the options on this matter—we need
 
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not stick with just a submarine-based deterrent; there could be any number of other permutations—and will there be a vote in this Parliament on whether we retain our nuclear deterrent?

John Reid: Just to correct my hon. Friend, the Prime Minister said that it was likely that—[Hon. Members: "Ah!"] As accuracy is demanded of me in these matters, I am entitled to demand accuracy from my hon. Friends. The Prime Minister said that it was likely and preferable that the decision be taken in this Parliament. Indeed, lest Conservative Members again get excited without due reason, may I say that it would be not only preferable but my intention to see that decision taken in this Parliament? Now that everyone has calmed down, may I also say that my hon. Friend is right on his second point? That is that, quite apart from the principle about whether we retain a minimum nuclear deterrent, if we did so, there would be a range of options open to us. On his third point about our being fully prepared, I fully accept that there would need to be a discussion on both the principle and the means, if we decide to do so, of maintaining a minimum nuclear deterrent. There is plenty of time to discuss the exact method of doing that, and the exact voting patterns, which are a matter for the business managers, because there are no imminent decisions to be taken. Indeed, I have not even begun to consider the matter either in principle or in detail, nor have I received any papers on the principle or the detail from any officials. I am unlikely to do so for some time.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): The Secretary of State for Defence will recall that on 3 and 4 December 1998 at St. Malo, the Prime Minister and President Chirac agreed to move towards a progressive framing of a common European defence policy. In the light of President Chirac's statement last week that he would be prepared to use nuclear weapons as a first strike against rogue states, what further discussions is the Secretary of State having with his European counterparts to discuss a common approach to these issues?

John Reid: If, by that, my hon. Friend means a common or joint approach to nuclear deterrence outside the framework of NATO, the answer at present is none.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton) (Con): In considering a replacement for our nuclear deterrent, will the Secretary of State take into account the reaction to President Chirac's speech last week, which was widely regarded as misguided or even counter-productive? Does not he accept that the biggest threat to this country is in more conventional areas and the overstretch of British forces? There must be a rebalancing of our thinking if we are really to protect the lives of our citizens, both in terms of overseas activities and in terms of homeland security.

John Reid: On the hon. Gentleman's first point, I know that he will understand that I no more speak for President Chirac than he does for Britain on such matters. If he has problems with the statements of Monsieur le Président, it would be better to write to him. On his second point, which juxtaposes conventional and nuclear forces, I do not believe that that is a useful way of examining matters. It is perfectly true that there are
 
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new threats arising from terrorism, but that does not mean that the old threats have disappeared. It is equally true that the type of forces that we would need to develop to counter terrorism, such as special forces, extra surveillance and extra mobility, are not necessarily nuclear weapons. That nuclear weapons are not a response to the threat of terrorism does not mean, however, that we should, for instance, get rid of special forces because they are not a response to the threat of nuclear weapons. The truth is that we need a range of responses to a range of threats.

Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring) (Con): Our position on the nuclear deterrent is unequivocal: we are committed not only to retaining the current nuclear deterrent but to replacing it when necessary. Will the Secretary of State therefore tell us whether he or any of his officials have had discussions with their US counterparts on the options for replacing Trident?

John Reid: First, I realise that the hon. Gentleman was not his party's defence spokesman at the time that its manifesto was written, but for a party that says that it is unequivocally committed to the nuclear deterrent not to have mentioned it in one sentence in its manifesto—[Interruption.] I understand that nothing that was written in the Conservative manifesto has any relationship with today's policies, but it would have been useful if such strident commitment to the nuclear deterrent had been in the manifesto.

Secondly, although I have not received any papers on the principle or detail of nuclear deterrents, I have asked my officials to explore all the options in order to bring together the facts, figures, themes, assessments and assumptions about threats and responses in the nuclear field. Therefore, discussions have and will be ongoing between my officials and a range of people in order to assess and present the arguments to me. At that stage, we will have a wider discussion inside and no doubt outside Parliament.

Dr. Fox: We look forward with relish to discussion on the continuity of the nuclear deterrent. On Saturday, the Belgian Foreign Minister said:

Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to make it clear that there is not a snowball in hell's chance of Britain's independent nuclear deterrent becoming part of any European defence structure, now or in the future?

John Reid: I regret to inform the hon. Gentleman that for some 40 years it has, and it is called NATO.


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