|Scotland in the World: A NewPerspective
Dr. Moonie: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that last point. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) questioned whether my statement was in order. I read the statement carefully before I delivered it to ensure that it was, as far as possible, in order. When the hon. Gentleman reads it, he may decide that it is more relevant than he initially thought.
The initiative is intended to be as inclusive as possible. Every hon. Member meets veterans' organisations in their constituencies, and if issues of concern are raised with them, I want them to bring them to my attention. The fact that we have set up the structure that I have described does not alter the fact that any hon. Member can bring such an issue to my attention at any time.
I could talk all morning about pension levels—suddenly, there is a look of horror on my right. I started working in the 1960s, when it was common for employment not to be pensioned. Such practice was not the unique preserve of the armed forces, but the impact of that was particularly great on people who left the forces early. Pensions were not portable; there was no facility for people to take them with them. If people had served for less than a certain period of time, they could withdraw their contributions, otherwise they had to leave them and there was no facility for withdrawing them or for continuing to make them.
Although I have sympathy for people in that situation, they chose to enter that employment in the full knowledge that it was not pensionable unless they stayed for the full length of time. That would be the case in almost any other organisation that one could name. The cost of making any sort of recompense—even if we felt that that was necessary—would be prohibitive.
I shall now discuss the POW compensation. I have listened carefully to the complaints that have been made. Regarding such schemes, one instinctively feels sorry for people who have been excluded. When we first addressed the matter, we thought of taking as our starting point the group of people who were compensated in the 1950s by the Japanese, but we subsequently decided to broaden that—to include children, for example.
The original test of Britishness was, in effect, whether someone had gone to war from these islands, and whether they returned here afterwards. Only people who returned received the compensation. We thought that that was wrong, and that the definition should be wider. That is why we introduced the test of whether a parent or grandparent had been born in this country. I do not consider that to be an unreasonable test—it means that a relative was born in this country in the late 1800s. That is a fair test.
The concept of nationality has greatly changed since the second world war: for example, people whose families had worked in India for five or six generations might have retained their British passports, but their links with these islands were tenuous at best. We have struck a balance between leaving the test open to anyone who can claim a relationship with this country at any time—which obviously would not have been sensible—and the over-restrictive provisions of the 1950s compensation scheme. It is difficult to see what more we could do at this stage. Although I think that we have been reasonable, I am sure that I will receive many more representations on the subject.
Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine): It is welcome that the Minister recognises the importance of the role that veterans have played in ensuring that hon. Members are here today, and that we are all able to get on with our lives. It is also important to highlight the fact that veterans do not date only from first world war and the second world war; there are veterans of the many conflicts since then, and of all the services that the armed forces have provided in times of peace.
I wish to go to the nub of the pension issue. It would be welcome if the Minister could sort out bureaucracy and joined-up government. However, is the Treasury willing, if some of the solutions have resource implications, to allow him to tap into resources to provide those solutions? Many veteran pensioners feel frustration because the House retrospectively sorts out the pension problems of Members. That creates a sense of grievance among veterans, who think it a matter of principle, as there is no retrospective way of dealing with their pension problems.
When the Minister considers the issue of war graves at sea, will he be sensitive and recognise that the vast number of recreational wreck divers show great respect for the wrecks that they visit? Without those divers, many war graves would not have been found. When wreck diving is done carefully and sensitively, it can form an important part of the local economy for some parts of Scotland. It is an attraction for tourism and visitors. I hope that the Minister takes a balanced view and recognises that the majority of wreck divers are responsible and well behaved citizens.
Dr. Moonie: There was a chunk at the end of my speech that I did not deliver. Part of the missing bit was about war graves, no doubt. It was decided that I would not expand my speech to apply to any other issue.
As hon. Members know, I changed the policy on war graves, and implemented the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 to designate 16 vessels as controlled sites on which no diving is allowed without a licence. I did so because of the great loss of life that accompanied the wrecking and foundering of those vessels. Other wrecks will be designated protected places, and people will be asked to respect them.
The matter is analogous to taking a walk in a churchyard and looking at the graves there. None of us would chip bits off the stones and take them away. Similarly, wreck sites represent the graves of our fellow men and women, and divers should treat them with respect. The vast majority of divers are respectable, decent citizens who enjoy their dive and leave without doing any harm. A small number of people will never respect anything, and the 1986 Act is intended to deal with them. I hope that those people are reported; I guarantee that they will be prosecuted if evidence is produced to support the claim that they desecrated one of the graves.
|©Parliamentary copyright 2001||Prepared 28 November 2001|