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Mr Robert Syms (Poole) (Con): I am getting e-mails from people who think that the fair fuel motion on the Downing street website is what we are debating next Tuesday, but of course we are debating a different fair fuel motion. Is not this misleading people that they are getting something that they are not, and should not we review the whole e-petition process and perhaps the way that the Backbench Business Committee gives out business?

Sir George Young: There is a commitment to review the work of the Backbench Business Committee, which could embrace the issue of e-petitions. It is the case that an e-petition will not be debated, either here or in Westminster Hall, unless it is adopted by a Member, and the Backbench Business Committee then has the freedom, along with the Member who has presented the petition, to decide on what basis the debate should take place; and it might then be, as my hon. Friend said, a different debate. When we review e-petitions and the Backbench Business Committee, we could see whether there should be the latitude that we have at the moment or whether an e-petition should be debated automatically, regardless of whether any Member of Parliament wishes to put the motion forward.

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): A speech and language therapy programme at Feltham young offenders institute that reduced reoffending from 80% to 17% has been cut to save money. Does the Leader of the House accept that that is a false economy? Will he grant an urgent debate on the use of speech and language screening before prison and before school, as well as programmes to reduce offending and reoffending and to reduce the number of those not in education, employment or training, which at 20% in Swansea is the highest in Wales?

Sir George Young: I applaud the work that is done at Feltham with often very vulnerable and disturbed young people. We had Justice questions on Tuesday; I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman had an opportunity to raise the matter then. I will raise it with appropriate Ministers at the Ministry of Justice and see whether there is a way to protect that important programme.

Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner on the “total policing”, as he calls it, which saw a successful conclusion to yesterday’s protest in London? The Mayor of London is on target to put an extra 1,000 police officers on the streets of London by the end of this term of office. May we have a debate on the effective deployment of police officers when tackling public disorder and protest?

Sir George Young: I am delighted that yesterday’s protest went off peacefully. I commend the work of the Mayor of London on reducing crime in the capital and ensuring that there are more police patrols, for example by having single patrolling. I am sure that Londoners will recognise the wisdom of his administration when they go to the polls next year.

Mr Dave Watts (St Helens North) (Lab): Two weeks ago, the Chancellor told me and this House that he had no intention whatsoever of bailing out the euro. We now know that he will use the International Monetary

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Fund to put billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money into bailing out the euro. May we have a debate or a statement on this issue?

Sir George Young: We have had a statement on that issue. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was at this Dispatch Box a week ago and he answered the precise question that the hon. Gentleman has put. I refer him to Hansard.

Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): In the past year, a £3.5 million rebuild of Whitefield infant school in Nelson and a £4.2 million total rebuild of Laneshawbridge primary school in Colne have been agreed. However, last Friday I visited Barnoldswick Church of England primary school, which has very cramped buildings. A rising birth rate in the area means that there is a lack of school places in the town. A total rebuild of the school is long overdue. May we have a debate on Government funding for additional school places?

Sir George Young: I will draw my hon. Friend’s remarks to the attention of the Secretary of State for Education. We have put extra funding into additional school places, with a total of £1.3 billion. We have preserved the capital programme, despite the difficult decisions that we have had to take. I will ask my right hon. Friend to write to him about the school to which he referred.

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): May I try once again to get the Leader of the House to secure an urgent debate before 12 December on the proposed changes to the feed-in tariff regime, which will be very damaging to the economy of north Wales? I know him to be a fair man and I am sure that even he will accept that it is an abuse of this House when a policy is implemented 11 days before the consultation on that policy closes. My constituents cannot express their concerns and manufacturers will lose £12 million over the next three months because of the changes proposed by the Government before the consultation has even concluded.

Sir George Young: I understand the concern that the right hon. Gentleman expresses. He will have had an opportunity to register that concern when the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) addressed the House on feed-in tariffs on Monday last week. He will know that the position we inherited was unstable and unsustainable. There was no mechanism for responding to increased demand and the lower cost of solar panels. If my hon. Friend had not announced those changes, there would have been an extra burden on consumers and the available sum would have run out. That is the background to the decision. I am afraid that I cannot promise a debate before 12 December.

Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford) (Con): By 2021, the number of people living with dementia is predicted to rise to more than 1 million. There is active interest across the House in how we will deal with this ticking time bomb. Will the Leader of the House consider holding on the Floor of the House a general debate on dementia so that we can discuss this issue in detail?

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Sir George Young: That is a timely request, because earlier this week we launched a campaign to raise the awareness of the early signs of dementia and to encourage people to come forward, have the symptoms treated and get the support that they need. My hon. Friend will know that we launched the national dementia strategy a year ago to drive up the quality of service that we provide. I would welcome such a debate and I can only suggest that she goes to the Backbench Business Committee or applies to Mr Speaker for a debate in Westminster Hall on a Tuesday or Wednesday.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): Has the Leader of the House seen the article in The Times today which suggests that the National Memorial Arboretum is facing a funding cut? That has been denied by the Ministry of Defence. Will he arrange for an urgent statement from the MOD to set out what the funding will be in the current financial year and in future years? This is a great memorial and it is an excellent way to mark the sacrifices of our servicemen and women. I was there only a few weeks ago with Greek veterans from the second world war, when I saw for myself once again what a wonderful memorial it is.

Sir George Young: I agree with hon. Gentleman. I assure him that there are no plans to reduce the grant in aid that we give to the National Memorial Arboretum. If he is able to stay, there will be a debate in a few minutes on related matters, during which he may have an opportunity to develop his case. The Government take this matter seriously. As he knows, we also support the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to the tune of some £45 million. We place a premium on the work of both those organisations.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): Last week, following a phone call from a journalist, I discovered that a fake Twitter account had been set up by somebody purporting to be me, which I found completely unacceptable. That can happen to anyone across the country and can cause unnecessary nuisance. I ask the Leader of the House for an urgent debate on the responsibilities of social media and networking sites, and on whether one should have to provide some form of identification to set up an account.

Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that matter. No one has done me the flattery of setting up such an account in my name, so far as I am aware. I think that I am right in saying that social media organisations usually insist on the name being the same as that of the applicant. If there is any question of impersonation, there is a process by which they take the account down. Of course, if any fraud were involved, it would be a matter for the police. I will raise with Department for Culture, Media and Sport Ministers the abuse to which my hon. Friend has referred. I hope that no lasting injury has been done to his reputation.

Fabian Hamilton (Leeds North East) (Lab): Over the past few weeks, 12 Tibetan nuns and monks have set fire to themselves in protest at the treatment of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people in China. Lhamo Tso, the wife of the acclaimed film maker Dhondup Wangchen, who is currently serving six years in prison for making a film about the abuse of human rights in Tibet, is

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currently in the United Kingdom to draw attention to the plight of her husband, who only exercised his right to free speech under the Chinese constitution. Will the Leader of the House make time for a statement or a debate on human rights abuses in Tibet?

Sir George Young: The hon. Gentleman makes a forceful case and rightly draws attention to the abuse of human rights. I cannot promise time for a debate, but perhaps he would like to apply for an Adjournment debate so that we can debate this issue at greater length and so that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary or another Foreign Office Minister can outline the representations that we are making to seek to end these injustices.

Mr Edward Timpson (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con): Following the announcement of the Olympic torch route before next year’s London games, the highlight of which will be on 31 May when the torch travels through Crewe in my constituency, may we have a debate on spreading the Olympic spirit, so that we can discuss how communities outside London can be more involved in the Olympics and how we can ensure that there is a strong Olympic legacy?

Sir George Young: I think that 11 July is the operative day, because that is when the torch will go through north-west Hampshire. We all have a role to play in spreading the Olympic message. I know that Department for Culture, Media and Sport Ministers are anxious that all parts of the United Kingdom should benefit from the Olympic games. I would welcome such a debate and, again, I can only suggest that my hon. Friend applies for one on the Adjournment or in Westminster Hall.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Will the Leader of the House consider a debate or a statement on extending the game shooting season into February? Discussions on that matter should include the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, the Countryside Alliance, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and other shooting bodies to seek their opinion.

Sir George Young: The hon. Gentleman tempts me from my comfort zone. The end of the shooting season has been at the end of January for some time. There may be all sorts of implications if it was extended. I will raise with the appropriate Minister, who I assume is at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, whether this issue ought to be discussed and whether there are good reasons for moving away from the traditional beginning and end of the shooting season.

Kris Hopkins (Keighley) (Con): The Leader of the House will be aware of requests from local and regional press for more accreditation for next year’s Olympic games. This week, I received a letter from the chairman of the British Olympic Association, Lord Moynihan, in which he promised to continue to lobby the International Olympic Committee to grant those requests. Can we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Culture,

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Olympics, Media and Sport to make it clear that Lord Moynihan’s commendable efforts have the full support of the Government?

Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue. Yes, I will raise it with the Secretary of State and see whether we can get the sort of assurance for which he asks.

Gavin Williamson (South Staffordshire) (Con): Codsall high school is one of the top-performing schools in the country for the teaching of physics and science, which is down to the passion, dedication and enthusiasm of the staff. May we have a debate in this Chamber about how we can encourage more of our best graduates to go into the teaching of physics?

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend will know that the day before yesterday, the Education Secretary announced a £2 million a year partnership between the Department for Education and the Institute of Physics to do exactly what he has just referred to, namely attract the best graduates to become physics teachers. About 100 scholarships, worth £20,000 each, will be available every year for appropriate graduates. I am sure my hon. Friend will draw that scheme’s availability to the attention of his constituents.

Karen Bradley (Staffordshire Moorlands) (Con): May I echo the earlier request of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones) for time for a debate on academies, and particularly the success of the academy programme under this Government? As I understand it, at the end of last month more than 1,300 schools had become academies, including Biddulph high school in my constituency.

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend is quite right. Under the coalition, the number of academies has increased sixfold from 203 in May 2010 to 1,350 this October. Some 1,526 schools have been able to apply to become academies, and 1,031 have already been converted. As I said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones), 116 underperforming schools have been replaced by academies since May 2010, and more than 40% of all secondary schools are now open, or in the process of opening, as academies.

James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): May I join other hon. Members who have advocated a debate on the success of academies, especially in areas such as Sandwell, part of which I represent, where a recent Ofsted report gave four out of five academies in the borough good or outstanding ratings, compared with less than half the local education authority-run secondary schools?

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend draws attention to a valuable part of the academy programme, namely the freedoms that academies have, which have been put to good use. The standard of education in the schools that have become academies normally exceeds the standard in those that have not, so there is evidence that we are driving up standards in our schools by taking forward the academy programme.

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Gavin Barwell (Croydon Central) (Con): The Mayor of London has helped to fund additional trams for the Croydon Tramlink system and completed the extension of the East London line to West Croydon on time and on budget. May I join my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) in pressing the Leader of the House for a debate on how our public transport system in London is being transformed, and on the grave threat of Ken Livingstone’s proposal to strip £800 million from Transport for London’s investment programme?

Sir George Young: As the Secretary of State for Transport who gave the go-ahead to the Croydon Tramlink, I particularly appreciate that reference.

I would welcome a general debate on London. My hon. Friend is right that there is a trade-off between lower fares and the investment programme. If we want to make progress with Crossrail and the upgrade of the tube lines, we need the revenue that the Mayor is currently planning to get from the fare box. If that revenue went down, there would be a knock-on effect on the capital programme.

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): I have recently received menacing letters from paid trade union lobbyists. May we have a debate on trade union lobbying, and particularly its influence on Labour party policy? We learned yesterday in Prime Minister’s questions and in points of order that it exerts considerable influence over Labour, and a debate would enable our constituents to learn the full extent of it.

Sir George Young: I would welcome such a debate. My hon. Friend is right—at the moment, some 82% of the Labour party’s revenue comes from the trade unions, a figure that went up under the last Administration. I would be very happy to have such a debate. We also await with interest the report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life on the broader issue of party funding.

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): Does the Leader of the House agree that it is urgent that we integrate the NHS with social care, so that we can provide transparent, accountable and holistic delivery to those who require support?

Sir George Young: I quite agree with my hon. Friend. He may know that there is a debate later today in Westminster Hall on social care and that the Health and Social Care Bill is now in another place. We want to break down the iron curtain that has historically existed

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between health and social care. The establishment of health and wellbeing boards and of personal budgets, to which both social services and the health service will contribute, is helping to break it down and provide a more cohesive service to those in receipt of social or health care.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): As others have mentioned, the Mayor of London has committed himself to raising fares on the underground by RPI plus 2% to get much-needed investment for the underground. His Labour opponent, however, has committed himself to cutting fares by 5% and not raising them until at least 2014. That would mean London being deprived of £835 million of investment in the tube service that we desperately need. May we therefore have a debate on how we can encourage investment in public transport in London and across the country, so that we can expose the lies of the Labour party?

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend underlines a point made by other London MPs who are concerned that the infrastructure of the capital should be improved. I commend the Mayor of London and the former Secretary of State for Transport for the agreement that they reached on a settlement going up to 2014-15, which will enable a capital programme of some size to go ahead. That capital programme would be affected if the revenue stream that the Mayor has anticipated were to be eroded, and all Londoners would suffer a disbenefit because the improvements that they are looking forward to would not take place.

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): This week, the Muslim festival of Eid is celebrated. I was delighted last night to accompany a Muslim community leader from my constituency to No. 10 Downing street to celebrate the festival, and to hear from the British Army’s Muslim chaplain a moving description of his months with the international security assistance force in Afghanistan, and his praise of it. Does the Leader of the House agree that the role and contribution of British Muslims in our armed forces in rebuilding Afghanistan is under-appreciated? Will he help me identify an opportunity for Members to hear from our Army’s Muslim chaplain directly?

Sir George Young: I can accede to my hon. Friend’s request, somewhat unusually. If he stays in his place for about two minutes, he will have an opportunity to take part in a debate on armed forces personnel. I cannot think of a better debate in which he could participate in order to make the point that he has just so eloquently touched on.

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Point of Order

12.47 pm

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Can anything be done to stop Ministers using the Lloyd George principle when answering written parliamentary questions? When he got lost in north Wales once, he asked a farmer where he was and got the answer, “You’re in your car.” Lloyd George said that that was the perfect parliamentary answer from a Minister, because it was short, accurate and told him absolutely nothing he did not know already. I have had to resubmit all my recent questions to the Department for Education, because they have not been answered. Would we not save a lot of time and money if something were done about that?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): I am sure the hon. Gentleman appreciates that the quality of answers from Ministers is not the responsibility of the Chair; nor is the point that he has made a point of order. He has none the less made his point very clearly, and I am sure the Leader of the House will want to ensure that Ministers answer all questions promptly, directly and accurately.

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Armed Forces Personnel

12.48 pm

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Nick Harvey): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of Armed Forces Personnel.

Tomorrow, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the nation will unite in an act of remembrance. We will honour the memory of all who have paid the ultimate price in the service of their country. In November 1919, on the first day of remembrance after the great war, King George V asked that the nation observe a two-minute silence in memoriam, so that, in his words,

“in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.”

I am sure the whole House will join me in urging the nation once again to observe remembrance, as it does every year, with that same deep respect.

Remembrance is not a political occasion, and it is not about one’s personal views on this conflict or that. It is about recognising that the real price of war, any war, is a human price—a price paid not just by those who have died but by their families and by all those who have returned wounded, physically or mentally. We therefore remember the hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of people from the UK and the Commonwealth who fought and fell in the two world wars of the last century.

This is also about those who have fought for the country in more recent times. Next year will mark the 30th anniversary of the Falklands conflict, in which 253 members of Britain’s armed forces were killed liberating the islands. This year marked the 20th anniversary of the 1991 Gulf war, in which 44 service personnel were killed.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): Will the Minister shed some light on this matter? The Times today says that there is a cut in the funding for the National Memorial Arboretum. The Ministry of Defence has said that that is not correct and the Leader of the House previously said that there was no cut in grant in aid. Will the Minister confirm that there is no cut in any funding streams from Government sources to the arboretum, in which, as he will know, I took a very close interest when I was veterans Minister?

Nick Harvey: I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance he seeks. There has been no cut in the funding of the National Memorial Arboretum. I am afraid that the journalists, in framing their story, did not compare like with like. They counted in the previous figure a one-off capital grant and conflated that with the annual grant in aid, which had the effect of making it appear that there had been a cut. There has been no cut: the level of grant in aid remains as it was, and the capital works for which the previous project money was granted by the previous Government are now complete.

Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con): My hon. Friend is absolutely right to begin his speech by recognising Remembrance day. All hon. Members will wear poppies tomorrow and on the weekend to pay tribute to those who have been either killed or injured in the wars. However, will he join me in condemning a

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small but naive group among the younger generation who choose to desecrate, damage and rob war memorials, which shows a growing distance between a younger generation and a generation who made the huge sacrifices for the very freedoms that we enjoy today?

Nick Harvey: It is a pleasure to see my hon. Friend in his place today, and I should like to thank him for his work in his previous role as a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Ministry of Defence. I entirely agree with what he says. It is a tiny minority who behave in that completely deplorable manner. I am sure that all like-minded people would have no hesitation whatever in condemning them and in applauding the work not only of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, but of local authorities and others up and down the country who work assiduously to maintain war memorials.

The 1991 Gulf war was not the end of the loss of British lives in Iraq. One hundred and seventy-nine were killed on Operation Telic between 2003 and 2009. Last month, we marked 10 years since the beginning of operations in Afghanistan, where 385 servicemen and women have been killed. The House will have heard about the death of a soldier from 4th Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment on patrol in Helmand yesterday. Our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time as they come to terms with their loss.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is in theatre as we speak, preparing to observe Remembrance day with our troops there. That is because while we honour the memory of those who have died, those who fought and those who returned bearing the wounds of war, we keep in mind all those currently serving in our defence. I am sure the whole House will join me in paying tribute to them. Those serving do a very dangerous job not only on operations, but in their many other duties, as the sad death of Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham of the Red Arrows reminds us.

Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): I do not want to repeat what I said yesterday to the Prime Minister—there is no need—but on the wider issue of personnel, my hon. Friend will want to take this opportunity to emphasise that the Ministry of Defence will leave no stone unturned to ensure the safety of the Red Arrows and their personnel. We want to keep RAF Scampton open because the skies are safe there. However, personnel directly suffer iniquities from the RAF closing bases and not thinking about the future. There is further reportage in today’s papers on the return of all personnel from Germany by 2020. Will the Minister bear it in mind that we have a wonderful base in RAF Scampton, which could remain open to welcome back those who are returning?

Nick Harvey: I note what my hon. Friend says and I shall draw his remarks to the attention of the RAF, but in respect of this week’s fatal accident, I must stress that the Military Aviation Authority is beginning a full and proper investigation of what happened and what led to the tragedy. It would be quite improper for me, as a Minister of the Crown, to say anything at this stage that would pre-empt that process. In the fullness of time, I have no doubt whatever that he and others will have the opportunity to raise questions about that.

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The armed forces of today are different in many ways from those who fought on the Somme or at El Alamein. The conscription that created the massed forces of the world wars was a reflection of the existential threat facing the country at that time. When world war two ended in 1945, there were around 5 million men and women in uniform. Almost every family in the country was connected in some way to the sacrifice that had been made, and service in the armed forces was woven deeply into the fabric of the nation, but for many years now, our armed forces have been a smaller, professional, all-volunteer force, including reserve forces, which have been used widely in recent conflicts.

As the older generations who fought in the world wars or undertook national service dwindle, and as the services have reduced in size since the end of the cold war, public understanding of our armed forces has declined as a result. I am suggesting not that the respect and esteem in which our armed forces are held by the nation has in any way diminished—the way the people of Royal Wootton Bassett chose to mark the return of the fallen is surely testament to that—but that people understand less how members of the armed forces view risk and reward, and what motivates them to do the dangerous job they do.

What a life in today’s armed forces is like and the impact that service life has on modern families is also less widely understood. That is why, as we seek to reinvigorate the armed forces covenant, we must raise people’s understanding of the impact of service life. Fulfilling the armed forces covenant has to be a whole-of-society enterprise: it is not just for the Ministry of Defence but for all Departments; it is not just for legislators here in Westminster but for legislators at all levels; and it is not just for the Government, but for charities, the private sector and private citizens.

Mr Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a thoughtful speech. Does he agree that that challenge will increase markedly once the Afghanistan operation is over as people see less of the armed forces on their television sets? Does he also agree—he may be about to come to this point—that one key area in which we can build that connection is through the Ministry’s plans for the reserve forces and cadets?

Nick Harvey: I had a feeling my hon. Friend would intervene on that matter. It is certainly the case—this has been tangible in the past few years—that the amount of media attention that is quite rightly devoted to the conflict in Afghanistan has had an impact on public recognition and awareness of the work that the armed forces are doing. As we know, their conflict or fighting role in Afghanistan is due to end by 2015. I suppose my hon. Friend is right in saying that there could be a risk that public awareness of the daily and regular actions of the armed forces will diminish, but of course, nobody at this stage can anticipate what demands will be put on our armed forces thereafter. In an increasingly uncertain and dangerous world, I fear it is unlikely that our armed forces will disappear or have a period of inactivity, but he is quite right to suggest that the increasing role that we plan for reserves, and the investment that we intend to make to build up their capacity and professionalism in the next decade or so, will, I sincerely hope, have the effect that more people in society will have some connection and contact with those who serve and awareness of what they do.

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I recognise the valuable groundwork done by the previous Administration to reinvigorate the armed forces covenant: the 2008 service personnel Command Paper, produced by the right hon. Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth) when he was Minister for the Armed Forces, provides much of the intellectual grounding for the first formal tri-service armed forces covenant published in May. He will find the principles in the covenant familiar, particularly where it states:

“Those who serve in the Armed Forces…should face no disadvantage compared to other citizens in the provision of public and commercial services. Special consideration is appropriate in some cases, especially for those who have given most such as the injured and the bereaved.”

Now that the Armed Forces Act 2011 has received Royal Assent, these principles have been recognised in statute for the first time. In my view, that is a considerable step forward, and we are already acting to give the covenant life, particularly through encouraging action at a community level. This is about local authorities, devolved Administrations, charities, businesses, communities and individuals coming together to offer their support to the services and the service community in their local area, and to improve understanding and awareness among the public of issues affecting the armed forces community. That is why we call it the armed forces community covenant. It is a voluntary statement of mutual support between the civilian community and its local armed forces community.

In August, the MOD launched the community covenant grant scheme, which aims to support local projects that strengthen the ties on mutual understanding between members of the armed forces community and the wider communities in which they live. Some £30 million has been allocated to the scheme. The covenant has to be seen to be bipartisan, non-political and as an all-society effort, if it is to be meaningful and lasting. The Labour party should take a share of the credit for the progress being made, given that it put in place some of these useful steps.

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): My hon. Friend is right to pay tribute to the previous Government for the measures they took. The veterans badge is another measure that has helped many of our former military personnel to show their support now that they are on civvy street. Does he agree that the armed forces community covenant would be further boosted if those who served in Her Majesty’s armed forces—often national servicemen—were allowed an armed forces service medal, which they could wear with pride on Remembrance Sunday? They served King and country, Queen and country.

Nick Harvey: The principle of an all-encompassing medal has been considered several times, but to date, at least, it has been ruled out because it cuts across the usual principles on which medals are issued. For the time being, that remains the situation. I understand the calls that some make for such a medal, but the principles on which medals are awarded will not allow for that, unless they are amended.

Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con): Is the Minister aware of the concern that the armed forces personnel who will be made redundant, but who otherwise

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would have qualified for the diamond jubilee medal, might not receive it? What is the Department’s thinking on that?

Nick Harvey: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. We will take it away and give it some serious consideration, and I shall come back to her and the House in due course. We will need to reflect on that point.

As I said, the armed forces covenant has to be an all-society and bipartisan effort, if it is to be recognised and respected, and if it is to endure.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): On the point about the principles and practical application of the military covenant applying across the board, does the Minister agree that it has to apply in all parts of the United Kingdom? Will he therefore join me in supporting efforts to ensure that, through legislation, the devolved regions are required to implement and follow through on the military covenant?

Nick Harvey: We certainly want the covenant operating, in practice and effect, across the whole UK. The armed forces are drawn from, and stationed across, the whole UK, and it is certainly our view that this should be a whole-UK effort as well.

Unfortunately, owing to the fiscal situation, we have had to make some difficult decisions to balance the defence programme and to begin building the formidable, adaptable and sustainable armed forces that the country will need for the future. I regret to say that this has also affected the pace and sequencing of measures to improve the welfare of service personnel, their families and veterans. I know that some of the decisions required to bring balance to the defence programme directly affect people—for instance, decisions on pay and allowances, and the decisions to reduce the size of the armed forces establishment. I greatly regret that we have had to take some of these measures, just as I regret the need to cut the defence budget as a whole to contribute to deficit reduction, but that is the reality of the situation the country is in.

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): Does the Minister agree that one cut that has hit families particularly hard has been the decision not to refurbish 49,000 units of armed forces accommodation? Yet again, many, many families will be spending a desperate winter in unfit and unsuitable accommodation. Will he consider that point, especially in the light of the plans to save £250 million by bringing troops back from Germany? Perhaps some of that money could be invested in our armed forces families’ accommodation.

Nick Harvey: Unless I misheard, the hon. Lady suggested that the impact would be felt this winter. The regrettable pause announced to the housing programme will not take effect for another two years, so there is no question of it having a marginal impact this winter. It is a matter of profound regret that we have to pause the programme, but I must stress that the majority of family houses in the defence estate are in the upper two quality bands. Obviously, however, it remains the commitment of any Government to get all the housing into those top two bands over the long term.

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I want to make it perfectly clear that routine maintenance and repairs are not affected, and specific improvements to kitchens and bathrooms will continue during the pause. Furthermore, as the coalition agreement states, we will continue to look for savings elsewhere in the Defence Infrastructure Organisation budget, and if we can make them over the next two or three years, we will put them back into the housing improvement programme in due course. I hope very much that we can achieve that. However, the hon. Lady makes a perfectly valid point, and it is one that I acknowledge and regret. I hope that we can do something about it, but this is the reality of the situation in which we find ourselves.

We cannot do all that we would want to do straight away to improve the welfare of personnel, because the money simply is not available. As a result, we have had to prioritise ruthlessly in order to ensure that any extra money that we can spend, we spend wisely and on those things that are most urgent. So let me set out what we have done. First, there is operational welfare: operations have to come first to ensure that those in the firing line have the tools and protection that they need to do the job. That is not just about strategy and equipment, but about ensuring that personnel and their families are looked after too. As Montgomery set out in his principles of warfare,

“the morale of the soldier is the most important single factor in war”.

Bob Russell: The morale of the soldier is uppermost, but following on from the previous question, my hon. Friend has seen for himself examples of where the Government have found money, through the Department for Communities and Local Government, to modernise former MOD housing on one side of a road and into which civilian families are now moving—good news—yet where, on the other side of the road, there are identical but un-modernised houses occupied by the families of soldiers who, this time last year, were serving in Afghanistan. Why can the Government not find the money for soldiers’ homes, if they can find it for former MOD homes?

Nick Harvey: As my hon. Friend rightly says, I have seen that for myself. I visited that area earlier this year and I know exactly what he is referring to. He makes a good point, and if I were living in those military houses, I would feel just as put out about it as I know the residents do. I take the point entirely. As I have just explained, we are in a tight financial situation. Other Departments have had to set their priorities and also make big cuts in their budgets. Fortunately for those of my hon. Friend’s constituents who happen to live in the other part of the estate, they have had good news sooner than those living in the military housing. However, let me reaffirm the Ministry of Defence’s commitment to return to this issue as soon as funds allow in order to ensure that we continue the programme of improving defence housing.

One of the first actions taken by the new Government was the doubling of the operational allowance paid under the previous Government, taking it to over £5,000 for a typical six-month tour. We have changed the rules on rest and recuperation, so that any days of leave lost due to delays in the air bridge or any other operational requirements will be added to post-tour leave. This year we have doubled council tax relief from 25% to 50% for

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all personnel on operations, including in Libya. The deployed welfare package is kept under constant review to ensure that it meets the needs of both the service person and their dependants. Free phone calls are available for 30 minutes a week. Wi-fi access has been extended in operational areas, while texting and internet facilities have been improved, even in the forward operating bases. Those measures have been particularly important in ensuring that the home front and the front line can provide mutual support at a time that is difficult for families and dangerous for personnel.

Our focus on operations has meant that we have been unable to go as far or as fast as we want in other areas, as is certainly the case with housing, as my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) has pointed out. However, that means that the initial key pledges in the coalition agreement have already been addressed. They include not only the operational welfare measures that I have mentioned, but providing university and further education scholarships to the children of members of the armed forces who have been killed since 1990. So far, 49 children have received scholarships. We have also included some 45,000 service children in the pupil premium system, recognising the uniqueness of service life and its effect on service children and service communities.

Mr Brazier: My hon. Friend is touching on an extremely important point. Will he confirm that we have started to return to what was universally recognised should happen until 12 or 13 years ago—that is, the costs falling where they should fall and not on the defence budget? It is the duty of the nation as a whole, not just the defence budget, to look after the children of the fallen.

Nick Harvey: I can assure my hon. Friend that he is quite right about that. The changes made are important, and we have discussed them with colleagues in other Departments. We are pleased that the Government have been able to agree them, but he is absolutely right that the costs will be met where they fall and that the Departments responsible for providing those services will be the ones paying for them.

We have endorsed all the proposals made by my hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) in his report on improving mental health care, in particular: a structured mental health component in existing medical examinations performed while serving; an uplift in the number of mental health professionals conducting veterans outreach work from mental health trusts; the trial of an online early intervention service for serving personnel and veterans; and the means to allow the newly formed veterans information service to contact service leavers after they have left the armed forces. The new round-the-clock veterans mental health helpline is funded by the NHS and run by Rethink Mental Illness on behalf of Combat Stress.

Mrs Moon: Will the Minister confirm that we all owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Royal Marines and charities such as Combat Stress for highlighting the need to focus on mental health issues in the military? They have helped to make mental health issues not something that people hide, but something that they seek help for—something that people are proactive in admitting is becoming a problem and in dealing with

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before it becomes too difficult and damaging for themselves and their families. We owe those groups a debt of gratitude for working to make it acceptable to seek help.

Nick Harvey: We certainly do, and I agree very much with what the hon. Lady says. The Royal Marines were undoubtedly pathfinders in being the first to take measures to address the issue, and I know that the other services have sat up and taken notice of what they did. I believe that awareness of, and attitudes towards, mental health are shifting throughout the services, and I pay tribute to those in the services who have helped to bring that about. However, the hon. Lady is also right to pay tribute to those outside the services who work with them and who are beginning to address what, for many people, is a real problem.

We know from previous conflicts that some of those presenting with symptoms of mental illness as a result of their engagement have sometimes come forward many years later. However, the statistics show that people are coming forward rather sooner from the current operations in Afghanistan and the previous operations in Iraq, and they will probably continue to do so for many years. Far more have come forward far sooner than in the past, which must in some way reflect the changing attitude towards and awareness of the issue, and the growing availability of support and help to people on the outside. I pay tribute to everybody who is involved in all that.

That co-operative structure in delivering support—government at all levels working with professionals and charities—is being taken forward in other areas too. The defence recovery capability, which is a joint venture between the MOD, Help for Heroes, the Royal British Legion and other service charities, is taking the way we support our wounded, injured and sick personnel to a new level. For complex cases, world-class care is provided at the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre at Headley Court for serving personnel. Personnel recovery centres and recovery and assessment centres are being established in major garrisons, where recovering personnel will be in a position to take advantage not only of excellent medical and rehabilitation services, but of the full range of facilities in large garrison areas. In prosthetics, the Government will work with service charities, including Help for Heroes and BLESMA—the British Limbless Ex-Service Men’s Association—as well as specialists in the NHS, to ensure that high-quality NHS facilities are available to our servicemen and women once they leave service.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): The Hasler unit in my constituency does an enormous amount of work on prosthetics and so on. May I encourage my hon. Friend to come down to Plymouth to see for himself the excellent work being done there?

Nick Harvey: It is very kind of my hon. Friend to issue that invitation, but I have actually already visited and seen the work at Hasler for myself. He is right to pay tribute to the terrific work done there. [ Interruption. ] I did indeed tell my hon. Friend. I visited various parts of the facility in Plymouth, but he was perhaps unaware

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that the trip was on my itinerary that day. However, he is right: the facilities at Hasler are first class, and I can see the difference that they have made for people. That is an example of good practice that we would hope to emulate everywhere else. The Department of Health will introduce a number of national specialist prosthetic and rehabilitation centres for amputee veterans across the country, because we recognise that they will continue to need help and support throughout their lives. Those are just a few of the initiatives that we have been able to take forward, despite the testing budgetary circumstances we face.

Mr Ellwood: On rehabilitation, I hope that my hon. Friend will join me in paying tribute to the work done at Headley Court, in the same vein as he did to the work that my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) mentioned. Headley Court is due to close down in the near future, so will the Minister provide some clarity on the time frame for when this excellent facility will move further up towards Selly Oak?

Nick Harvey: May I correct my hon. Friend? Headley Court is not due to close in the near future. We are talking about a development that is still a good many years off. The new facility in the midlands will be ready towards the end of the decade. It will be a much bigger facility, and it will initially offer support to armed forces personnel, although we hope that, in the fullness of time, the campus will allow for a modular approach that will enable veterans and members of the wider society to take advantage of it. Also, the clinical support there will be quite close to the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham, which will enable an even higher standard of care to be delivered. I am pleased to say that all the relevant stakeholders—the trustees at Headley Court, Help for Heroes, the Royal British Legion and others—are entirely aware of the scheme and supportive of it, so I see no reason for it to cause any disappointment or grief.

What has been achieved at Headley Court has been nothing short of remarkable, but we have to recognise that a country house in the Surrey countryside is not the ideal location if we are trying to build a modern, state-of-the-art facility. The opportunity afforded by a completely new build in the midlands will allow us to take what is being done at Headley Court on to a greater scale altogether, which will be of help to a greater number of people. I would not want anyone to think that the move was imminent, but the plans are in place and they will be rolled out towards the end of the decade.

Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con): Real estate is clearly important, but does my hon. Friend agree that one of the chief advantages of the relocation is the potential for far greater integration with the national health service? That will mean that the excellent service provided at Headley Court will be more likely to be emulated throughout our national health service not only for our service personnel but for everyone.

Nick Harvey: I am sure that my hon. Friend is right to say that that will be the outcome. I say again that what has been achieved at Headley Court is absolutely

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remarkable, and everyone involved deserves the highest praise and thanks from all of us for the work that they do. We must, however, take advantage of the opportunity afforded by the new facility to provide a national centre, which will be of lasting benefit. As I said earlier, some of those who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan with serious injuries will need support for the rest of their lives, and I am sure that the new national centre will have a part to play in that.

Looking to the future, the strategic defence and security review has set the vision for our people, including the development of a new employment model, which aims to provide an attractive package that better suits the demands of modern life. Those who serve today, and their families, have very different expectations and needs from those of even a generation ago. Moving towards a new employment model will mean looking not only at the terms and conditions of service but at different approaches to basing, accommodation and supporting family life. It is clear that a large number of service personnel and their families would benefit from a more stable lifestyle, involving everything from schooling the children and buying a home to providing better stability for spouses’ careers. It is also clear that the defence budget would benefit from such a proposal, as it would enable us to reduce housing stock and relocation costs. It would also allow us to reduce spending on allowances that would be no longer necessary.

On the other hand, the predictability and stability that someone with a growing family seeks might not be the same thing that motivates a young man or woman to join the armed forces in the first place. Their motivations might include learning a trade, seeking adventure, seeing the world or serving their country. Getting the balance right in recruitment and retention at different points in a career will present different challenges for each of the three services. Succeed we must, however, because military effectiveness is not built simply on getting the right equipment; it is built on people. The men and women of our armed forces are the greatest asset we have, and we must ensure that we provide them with what they need to succeed in the dangerous jobs that they do.

Mark Lancaster (Milton Keynes North) (Con): Looking to the future, will my hon. Friend say a few words about how he anticipates members of our armed forces being used in upstream intervention, as outlined by the Government’s Building Stability Overseas strategy?

Nick Harvey: My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is perfectly clear that taking pre-emptive measures to prevent conflict can be very successful. It can certainly save many lives and prevent a great deal of suffering, and it will increasingly become part and parcel of our work. I am reminded of an analogy that the right hon. Member for Coventry North East used when he was Defence Secretary. He said that the logic of defence was akin to that of a football match. We do not defend our own goal by sticking all our players on the goal line; we do it by keeping our players at the other end of the pitch. Similarly, sending people out to try to the tackle problems before they arise is always the most effective approach, and it will be part and parcel of what we do in future.

At this time of year, as we pin the poppy to our jackets and coats and remember the great sacrifice that has been made over many years, it is a time for each of

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us to pause and reflect. The armed forces covenant is not just about what the Government can do; it is also about what the nation can do. That is not just about the financial support that is provided through taxes or directly to charities; it is also about the moral support that the nation provides to our armed forces.

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): The Minister might have heard earlier the suggestion from the Leader of the House, in response to my question, that we should recognise the contribution of all communities to the international security assistance force in Afghanistan, including the British Muslims about whom we heard last night from the Muslim Army chaplain.

May I also seek the Minister’s moral support for the application that I am helping my landlady to make at the moment? She is now 98, and would be very grateful to receive the medals for her late husband, Major Hamish Wilson, who died in 1943. She will be making that application shortly, and I think that it is very appropriate at this time of year.

Nick Harvey rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. Minister, you have been very generous in giving way, but you might not be aware that there is a time limit on Back-Bench speeches because so many Members wish to participate in the debate. Perhaps I can draw that to everyone’s attention.

Nick Harvey: Madam Deputy Speaker, I was indeed coming to the end of my speech. I entirely acknowledge the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) has just made about the contribution of the Muslim members of our armed forces. I was pleased to attend a Downing street reception to acknowledge that contribution a little while ago. In regard to the individual case that he mentioned, I will certainly look into the matter if he would care to write to me about it.

This House is an important part of the moral support that we offer to the armed forces. On Remembrance Sunday, politics is put to one side as wreaths are laid at the Cenotaph. Serving personnel are joined by ranks of veterans from the United Kingdom and from every corner of the globe to march down Whitehall. We are no longer graced by the presence of the brave souls who fought in the trenches during the great war, but we will remember them.

1.28 pm

Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): I should like to begin by joining the Minister in his thoughts on the loss of the soldier in Afghanistan this week, and on Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham. They served their country in different ways, and with great distinction, and their sacrifice should be remembered not only today but over the coming years.

It is fitting that we meet today to debate armed forces personnel in the lead-up to this weekend’s remembrance of those who have lost their lives in the service of their country. We must remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, as well as their families. We must also remember those who have suffered serious injuries as a result of their service, whether on active service or in

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training. We should also pay tribute to those who are serving their country—not just those on active service abroad but all those who, through their dedication and hard work, protect the freedoms that have been hard fought for over many generations. Their actions at home and abroad make the streets of Britain safer, and we all owe each of them an immense debt of gratitude.

Today’s announcement on the reorganisation of the Army footprint in the UK will have a major impact on the lives of many thousands of armed services personnel and their families. The announcement in this morning’s The Guardian and the subsequent press release from the Ministry of Defence about rebasing from Germany will equally have an effect on servicemen and women and their families. The fact that the Secretary of State chose to inform The Guardian yesterday and to put out a press release this morning rather than make a written ministerial statement to the House is not acceptable. The announcement on Germany was not included even in this morning’s written ministerial statement on the realignment of the Army footprint in the UK, which seems completely illogical to me.

The written ministerial statement on Army restructuring and the press release on Germany raise more questions than they answer. The press release states that the savings to the Ministry of Defence will be some £250 million a year, but no reference is made either to the investment needed to achieve that or to the year in which the £250 million will first be realised. Many will conclude that the cuts to Army numbers—both those announced in the strategic defence and security review and those announced in July by the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox)—are paying to make these moves possible. I ask the Minister to confirm in his winding-up speech that these Army redundancies are subsidising this restructuring.

Nick Harvey: I think the hon. Gentleman conflates two things. A written ministerial statement has been issued today, which covers some big-picture decisions taken at a national level in the Ministry of Defence concerning the divisional and regional headquarters of the Army throughout the United Kingdom. The decisions have an impact on people throughout the UK and have been communicated to all relevant parties.

The hon. Gentleman also talks about tactical decisions to move certain units, which are made all the time and are never normally the subject of ministerial announcements. He portrays them as though they were all to do with moves back from Germany, whereas the reality is that three quarters of them are nothing of the kind. Two units are being moved back from Germany—one involves a total of 450 people, the other involves 120—but such things happen all the time and are not suitable for announcement in a ministerial statement.

Mr Jones: I am absolutely astonished. The Minister had 40 minutes in which to make an announcement, but did not choose to do so. I have to say that he is completely wrong. His written ministerial statement this morning rightly dealt with changes to Army headquarters in the UK—something that I was already on to when I was the Minister. He put out a press

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release—I have it here with me—that mentions the savings that could be made from the draw-down from Germany. Clearly,

The Guardian

was briefed last night on the major changes proposed regarding the withdrawal from that country. I am sorry, but I do not accept the Minister’s statement that these are minor movements around. These are major reorganisations that will affect many thousands of armed service personnel, civil servants and their families. The Minister said that some £250 million a year would be saved at the end, but the press release does not say exactly when that will be achieved.

As the Minister who used to be responsible for the defence estates, I know the figure I was given in relation to the rebasing from Germany. It was roughly £3 billion.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have been listening to the evidence given by James Murdoch to the Select Committee. He has admitted that members of the Committee were followed at the point when the Committee was undertaking an inquiry into the phone hacking activities of News International. This is obviously an extremely complex matter, but I wonder whether a breach of privilege might be involved.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Anything going on in respect of evidence given to a Select Committee is a matter for that Committee to deal with. If the hon. Lady believes that a breach of privilege has been committed in any way, as an individual Member of this House she should write to Mr Speaker about it. It is not a matter that would be dealt with on the Floor of the House.

Mr Jones: I know that the consultants brought in by the MOD estimate that the figure would be more than £3 billion. I do not know whether pennies have suddenly dropped from heaven for this investment or whether since the departure of the former Secretary of State the Treasury has given the MOD an early Christmas present. It will be interesting to find out where this extra investment is coming from. We need a clear statement on that, particularly in respect of the converting of Cottesmore and Kinloss from RAF bases into Army bases.

In addition, the total footprint in Germany is 47,000 individuals if civil servants and dependants are included. What will be the cost on other Government Departments and local authorities of relocating these individuals to their new local communities? For the Minister and the MOD to have any credibility about these plans, we need the answers published and we need a detailed time scale for when people will return from Germany and how the moves will be funded. We need to know how the money will be spent and where exactly it is coming from. If we do not have that, there will be some incredulity about how the plans will be affordable and how they will affect the lives of many thousands of armed service personnel.

Nick Harvey: Let me clarify the moves for which the Army has preliminarily planned: 7 Regiment the Royal Logistic Corps will move from Bielefeld in Germany to Cottesmore, with some 450 service personnel moving by the summer 2013. This will allow a saving of £55 million a year from 2014-15. In the other move, 43 Close Support Squadron Royal Logistic Corps will move from Guterslohe to Abingdon in 2012. There are small capital costs involved, which the director general of the Defence

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Intelligence Organisation is perfectly content can be found from within his existing budget.

Mr Jones: I am sorry, but I just do not accept that. It is all very well to say these are small matters. Why will he not publish the overall plan? He has set an ambitious target of bringing the Army back from Germany. Why will he not set out clearly what the investment will be and what the costs of withdrawing will be in compensation and reparation payments to the German Government? It is not good enough to say that these are preliminary announcements. Why stick out a press release this morning, stating that £250 million a year is going to be saved and that this will somehow boost the British economy by £650 million, when the Minister has just admitted that these are preliminary plans? It is not good enough for our armed forces to be treated in this way. [Interruption.] The new Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), chirps from a sedentary position to question whether this is the right tone. These are issues that will affect many thousands of individuals and their families, so we need to ensure that we have the answers. Without that, credibility will not stand much scrutiny.

As we debate the future of our armed forces personnel, it is important, as the Minister said, to focus on the military covenant and how it can be strengthened. I also think it important to take account of what we have achieved over the past 10 years. The Minister rightly referred to the service personnel Command Paper, which was published by the previous Government and which was the first piece of work to make the welfare of our personnel a mainstream commitment in Government Departments.

Like the Minister, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth) for his championing of the policy, not just through the MOD but across Whitehall. I believe that it genuinely changed the way in which the armed services and their families, and veterans, are perceived in other Departments. It brought about, for instance, the armed forces compensation scheme, the doubling of welfare payments to those on operations, the advancement of education services for service leavers who have served for six years, increased access to the NHS—I am grateful to the hon. Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) for continuing that work with the NHS—and improvements in accommodation, including accommodation in Colchester, as I saw when I visited the town with the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell). Most important, it brought about increases in pay.

The Army recovery capability was another key achievement, and I am pleased that the Government are following it up. It will not just change the way in which we look after injured service men and women while they are in service, but enable us to ensure that they receive care and support throughout their lives. I want to record my thanks to the service charities, with many of whom I worked closely while I was a Defence Minister. They not only look after our veterans, but increasingly support men and women who are currently serving in our armed forces. We need to uphold the principles of the covenant, but we also need to ensure the upholding of the basic principle of the Command Paper that no disadvantage should arise from service.

I know that welfare support for the men and women of our armed forces and their families is a priority for

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Members in all parts of the House, and it is important that, on occasion, we speak with one voice in support of our veterans and service men and women. However, Labour Members will also scrutinise the Government’s policies carefully, and will make it clear when we think that they have got it wrong, and I think that the way in which they have addressed a number of personnel issues needs to be examined more carefully.

I welcome the Government’s progress in regard to, in particular, the enshrinement of the military covenant in law. Unfortunately, however, that was not done by choice, but was forced on Ministers by the Royal British Legion. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Colchester is chuntering, but he voted against the enshrinement of the covenant in law when the Armed Forces Bill—which became the Armed Forces Act 2006—was in Committee. He should remember what he did then, when it was open to him not to support the Government.

Bob Russell: I am sorry that, having embraced the unity of the House on the subject of Her Majesty’s armed forces, the shadow Minister should nitpick on the armed forces covenant—he should use the correct description—when he knows full well that members of the Committee considering the Armed Forces Bill were united. The Committee argued only around the edges, and that is what we are talking about here. The hon. Gentleman should not be churlish.

Mr Jones: It is not churlish to remind the hon. Gentleman what he did at that time. When we tabled an amendment to enshrine the covenant in law, he voted against it. I know that he is a Liberal Democrat, and thus can pick and choose and place a certain interpretation on what he does, but he must be reminded of the fact that he voted against that amendment. It was only after the Royal British Legion’s campaign that the Government were forced to change their policy and the covenant became law.

Mr Ellwood: While preparing for the debate, I wondered whether the Opposition would raise the issue of the covenant. They had 13 years in which to introduce such legislation themselves. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the personnel paper and I concede that it was a good step forward, but it was not legislation. The fact that, after 13 years of Labour government, the covenant is now enshrined in legislation is thanks to our Government, not his.

Mr Jones: No, actually, it is not. In July 2009, I produced a Green Paper on the covenant. I do not think the hon. Gentleman read it and I do not think many of the new Ministers did either, because they clearly fell for the civil service tricks that were tried on me. They were obviously told how hard it would be to implement such a measure, although they finally realised that it could be implemented.

Although not widely read in the House, my Green Paper was widely welcomed by the services community. It received a good deal of coverage and would have formed part of our programme had we been re-elected. It is not true that it was not on anyone’s radar screen when we were in government. I suggest that everyone should read the very well thought out Green Paper that I produced. Even the Under-Secretary of State for

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Defence, the right hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr Robathan), the current veterans Minister, has admitted that it covered the main points.

One of the Government’s policies we are concerned about relates to armed forces and war widows’ pensions. The year-on-year change to uprate pensions using the consumer prices index rather than the retail prices index will disproportionately affect members of the armed forces community, who rely on their pensions at a younger age than almost anyone else. The impact will be felt not just by the present generation, including those who are fighting today in Afghanistan, but by those who landed on the beaches of Normandy.

The Forces Pension Society estimates that, as a result of the Government’s changes, a disabled double amputee of corporal rank aged 28 will lose some £587,000 by the age of 70, and that a war widow with children will receive a basic per annum pension that will be £94 less next year. The society has said:

“The extent of devaluation of Armed Forces pensions has become a matter of deep concern to Service people, past and present.”

The society’s chairman, Vice-Admiral Sir Michael Moore, has said:

“I have never seen a Government erode the morale of the Armed Forces so quickly'”.

Julie McCarthy of the Army Families Federation—I had the privilege of working closely with her when I was a Minister, and I pay tribute to her and to the representatives of the RAF and Naval Families Federations—has said:

“The demands of the service have not gone down... but”


“are seeing their pay frozen, the threat of redundancy and now allowance cuts.”

[Interruption.] In the light of that, I wonder whether the Minister will tell us why—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. We really do not need a continuous commentary from Members who do not wish to intervene. A Member who wishes to intervene must stand up and make his or her point if the Member who has the Floor gives way. Otherwise, Members must not shout across the Chamber.

Mr Jones: As I was saying, I wonder whether the Minister will tell us why that change has been made permanent. It will extend even beyond the target date for the end of the deficit reduction period.

Another matter of concern to many Members involves the office of the chief coroner. As the military covenant states, no member of the service community, including dependants, should suffer disadvantage arising from service, and special provision should at times be made to reflect their sacrifices. That is why the post of chief coroner is so important. It can provide an independent, expert service for bereaved families, and scrapping it undermines the Government’s commitment to the covenant.

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): I have received letters from constituents who are worried about the effects of the abolition of the office of the chief coroner. Does my hon. Friend agree that the decision should be reversed as soon as possible?

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Mr Jones: I do indeed. It worries me that, not only the Royal British Legion and other service charities, but a range of organisations that deal with the bereaved cannot see the logic of the decision. It disturbs me that the cross-party support I saw when I served on the Armed Forces Bill Committee in the last Parliament seems to have been withdrawn.

Dr Murrison: On the subject of no disadvantage, does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is highly regrettable that the Administration in which he served allowed the MOD to pay for expensive barristers to argue the Department’s corner in coroners’ courts, which are supposed to be non-adversarial situations? That has been represented as a genuine concern in the context of no disadvantage, whereas the office of chief coroner has not.

Mr Jones: I disagree. We put in place, with the Royal British Legion, support for bereaved families at military coroners proceedings. That was important, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North East was very keen to do it. I simply do not accept that not having a chief coroner will help bereaved families to get the answers they want, and I cannot see why this Government have suddenly changed their position from the one they held when in opposition.

The RBL has said the change in policy is

“a betrayal of bereaved armed forces families”

and that it

“threatens the military covenant.”

The Government’s stated reason for the change in policy is deficit reduction, but the costs of the office are widely disputed and both the RBL and INQUEST are prepared to work with the Government to find a more cost-effective option. It is regrettable that Justice Ministers—not MOD Ministers, I accept—have not listened to the RBL’s well-founded concerns.

It is difficult to understand the Government’s deficit reduction measures, especially when we learn that a firm of consultants, AlixPartners, has been employed by the MOD on a £4,000 a day contract, meaning that it earns more in a week than a front-line soldier in Afghanistan earns in a year. I urge the Minister to ask his colleagues in the Ministry of Justice to listen to the RBL’s arguments about the chief coroner.

Substantial numbers of armed forces personnel have been made redundant in recent months. That is, of course, only the start of the service personnel cuts that are to be made over the next four years. When the strategic defence review was published in October 2010, we were told that 17,000 personnel across the three services would have to go. As of July 2011, however, as the Government prepared to issue their latest round of redundancies, we were told that the number had risen to 22,000. When outlining the further reductions, the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for North Somerset, failed to offer the armed forces any clarity on what the precise size of the armed forces would be by 2015. We are still waiting for confirmation of exactly how many redundancies there will be on top of those sketched out in the strategic defence and security review, and of whether the new Secretary of State agrees with the statement made by his predecessor. The new Defence Secretary has said that he “regrets” cuts to our armed

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forces, but it is not yet clear whether he has the courage of his convictions and intends to act on those regrets.

The redundancies issue is not just about numbers, though; it is also about the individuals and the skills that are being lost to all three services. When I hear that some of the individuals I once worked with when I was a Minister are now leaving the services, it makes me concerned about whether our armed forces and this country can afford to lose those capable and well-trained individuals. Greater clarity is the very least our armed forces deserve. If there are to be cuts, we should know where they will fall. Service personnel must be allowed the opportunity to plan for their futures and the futures of their families.

One of the most worrying aspects of the latest round of redundancies last month was that 800 members of the Royal Navy actually volunteered to leave. They were not asked to leave by the MOD, but instead felt that they would be better off outside the service. They made that decision at about the same time as we learned that morale in all three services is in decline. It is essential that today we ask why that is the case. We must ask why 800 members of the Royal Navy believed they had better opportunities elsewhere. It is vital that our forces are able to attract the best talent and retain it, and I am worried that we may be left with skills shortages as a result of the short-term budget changes currently being put in place.

The Conservatives did exactly the same thing when they were last in office in the 1990s, and in the following decade we had to deal with the problems that caused—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Devizes chunters from a sedentary position very often, but does she realise that as a Parliamentary Private Secretary she should be the eyes and ears of the Secretary of State, not his mouthpiece? A bit of quiet from the hon. Lady would be a better idea. She might want to take some lessons from the hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), who sat in the Chamber quietly while serving very effectively as PPS. May I put on the record my appreciation of the good job he did in that role? I was very sad to see him replaced, especially given what we have experienced today. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady is obviously not listening: it does not help Ministers if she sits behind them whingeing and making snide comments. She should seek advice from the hon. Member for Bournemouth East, who might be able to give her some tips on how to do the job properly.

When he winds up the debate, will the Minister of State say what the MOD is doing to ward against the decline in morale in all three services?

Bob Russell: In the context of morale, the shadow Minister has not yet mentioned the condition of armed forces housing. Although I acknowledge the situation the last Labour Government inherited, they had 13 years to sort it out and those were years of relative economic prosperity, so can the hon. Gentleman explain why his Government did not modernise all the Army family housing in my constituency and across the country?

Mr Jones: That question is a bit rich—although the hon. Gentleman is a Liberal, and we know we have to accept such things from them. I visited Colchester garrison

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with him, where we saw the investment that had been made not only in recreation and training facilities, but in housing. He knows as well as I do the problem we all grappled with and that the current Government are still grappling with. I understand, of course, that the hon. Gentleman is hinting at the Annington Homes issue, but to get to the bottom of that, we have to go all the way back to a decision made under the previous Conservative Government. The Chair of the Defence Committee, the right hon. Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot), is present, and his fingerprints are on that decision, which was not a good decision for the taxpayer and limited what we could do to improve armed forces housing. None the less, we made great strides in both married quarters and single-living accommodation in the Navy, the RAF and the Army, and it is now some of the best accommodation of its kind to be found.

Although the Minister hinted at possible future provisions, there is a question whether we should provide housing at all, or whether we should instead move to an allowance system, so that individuals have options in housing, rather than being wedded to a contract, which was also very bad news for the taxpayer.

Mr Brazier: Will the hon. Gentleman expand on how that proposal would work in places such as Catterick? It is the largest forces base and there is a huge concentration of soldiers out in the countryside with almost no civilian housing anywhere nearby.

Mr Jones: What has happened at Catterick and in other places is very interesting. People are speaking with their feet, as it were, by commuting large distances. At Catterick, many people stay in single-living accommodation during the week or commute to Tyneside or even further afield. We have to recognise that the way people organise their lives is changing. The hon. Gentleman talks about examining how we provide housing and allowances, and we need to do that. The piece of work that I kicked off—I do not know whether it is still going on—looks at the options, including paying allowances or working with, for example, housing associations to provide accommodation where people want it. In all three services, many people are choosing to buy or rent accommodation far from their workplace and travel at the weekend. That creates new challenges for the armed forces in providing single-living accommodation, and these are things that we need to examine.

We ask our armed forces to risk all on our behalf. In return, we must make sure that we give them the proper equipment, training and financial support that they deserve. The sacrifices that service personnel make for the country are such that they should not be treated as other public sector workers. They deserve special recognition. In that spirit of recognising the unique nature of military service, I look forward to hearing the contributions to today’s debate. The debate about our armed forces mainly concentrates on equipment, and that is important, but this is an opportunity to recognise the work that our armed forces do. We should not forget that without the input of the men and women of our armed forces, some of the fantastic, dangerous and, in some cases, unique things we ask them to do would not be possible.

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2.1 pm

Mr James Arbuthnot (North East Hampshire) (Con): I have listened with interest, amusement and, often, respect to the words of the shadow Minister. I hope that he will have a stiff word with the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), who interrupted him, in the middle of a perfectly good argument, to talk about something that has absolutely nothing to do with this debate. He was a troublesome member of the Select Committee on Defence, but an extremely effective one, just as he was an effective Minister. So, too, is my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces, whose words I also listened to with interest and respect.

I wish to thank the Government for holding this debate on armed forces personnel and for its timing. I have been looking through my records and it seems that this is the first debate on personnel since January 2009. Can that really be the case? I say that because it is our armed forces personnel and the training that they receive which make our armed forces the envy of the world. I have to say that the arrangements for having these debates on armed forces matters or on defence equipment are simply not working. I am relieved and pleased that the Leader of the House is having discussions on how to change things. One matter that I would point out to the Backbench Business Committee—I cannot immediately see any of its members in the Chamber—is that the pressure of time in this debate is such that there is a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches, on a day when there is no vote at the end. There is no shortage of interest in this matter and I hope that the Committee’s members will take that point away with them if ever we go back to ask for further time.

It is not surprising that there is no shortage of interest in this issue, given what the armed forces are going through. There is turmoil in the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces because of the degree of change that is having to be forced through. There are redundancies, restrictions on money for exercising and training, and changes to the allowances, not to mention the fighting that they are doing at the same time. The Defence Committee has been doing work on all those things, as the House would expect.

Sometimes people believe that it is the job and the role of the Defence Committee to speak for the armed forces, but strictly speaking that is not true. We are not a lobbying organisation for the armed forces or for the defence industry. Our role is to ensure that the MOD does its work as well as it can in the circumstances. Our lobbying role is to lobby for the country; we are not lobbyists for the armed forces. Lobbying for the country, we realise, as people and as a Committee interested in defence, that the country wants certain things. It wants its armed forces to be treated fairly and properly. It also wants its armed forces treated with respect and honour, and the Royal Wootton Bassett phenomenon is a demonstration of that.

There has been a discussion in the newspapers over the past few days about the issue of wearing a poppy and about the question of whether people feel compelled to wear one. There was even an article in The Independent by Robert Fisk entitled, “Do those who flaunt the poppy on their lapels know that they mock the war dead?” I read that article not with anger, but actually with a degree of sympathy. However, I concluded that it had got entirely the wrong end of the stick. He talked

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about his father, who had fought in the first world war, stopping wearing his poppy because he did not want to see so many damn fools wearing it. His father felt that those who wore the poppy had no idea what the trenches of France were like, and what it felt like to have your friends die beside you and then to confront their brothers, wives, lovers or parents. Of course, to a large extent that is true; those of us who have not been in the armed forces cannot imagine quite the horror that is involved. We may think we can but we cannot. Few of us in this House—there are honourable exceptions, and I am pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) in his place—have had that experience.

As Wilfred Owen pointed out,

“Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori”—

it is a sweet and fitting thing to die for one’s country—is actually a lie. Horace, who wrote those words, did not follow his own advice. Interestingly, he did fight at the battle of Philippi, but he later claimed that he survived that battle only by running away, having thrown his shield away. I do not blame him for that. But we who have not fought do not wear the poppy because we claim to understand what war is truly like—as I say, we cannot do that. We wear a poppy for other reasons.

Robert Fisk’s article says that he declined to lay a wreath at the Menin gate because it was something of which he was not worthy. I think that that is a shame because, in those terms, which of us is worthy? I do lay a wreath on Remembrance Sunday, and I do not do so because I am worthy—I am not. I do so for many of the constituents I represent: the incredibly brave Chinook pilots who rescue our wounded under fire; the former Gurkhas who have done so much for our country; the families who bear so much of the brunt of death and injury; and the pensioners who survived the second world war and who fought in the Korean war. Those are the people who are worthy and I do it for them.

I also wear a poppy. That is partly because of my grandfather, who, like Robert Fisk’s father, fought in the first world war but who died at the second battle of Ypres. But wearing a poppy is also a public acknowledgement of debt, a public reminder of continuing need in the armed forces community, a public display of respect and a public expression of thanks. It is really not a public announcement, “Look I’ve given the Royal British Legion a bit of money.” Although it is true that sometimes politicians and others may feel obliged to wear a poppy because if they fail to do so they will be subject to public disapproval, one really should not get hung up on that sort of thing. The vast majority of people wear a poppy out of pleasure, and they wear it because they want to, rather than because they must—at least, that is my reading of the situation.

Mr Brazier: Like my right hon. Friend, I have never fought, but is there not one further argument, in addition to the powerful ones that he puts forward for wearing a poppy? The men and women who went off to fight in the two world wars were a huge cross-section of ordinary people, many of whom had no military experience at the time, yet on the eve of the battle of the Somme, not one single man was reported absent without leave.

Mr Arbuthnot: My hon. Friend has got military experience, even if he has not fought. He highlights a point that my hon. Friend the Minister made about the current shortage of experience—within a cross-section

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of the country, as my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier) said—in what the armed forces do. I think that is, as my hon. Friend says, a reason for wearing the poppy.

Our constituents also wear a poppy with pride, and it is not pride in themselves. It is pride in their country and pride in what our young men and women, who are prepared to sacrifice everything they have and all that they are, do. In the end there are times when it is right to go to war. If diplomacy fails and if people are determined to behave as Hitler and Gaddafi did, they must be stopped, and we should give respect, honour and thanks to those who are prepared to do it for us.

2.11 pm

Mr Dai Havard (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot), my colleague on the Defence Committee, and his comments about the poppy.

The debate today is about armed forces personnel, so I shall talk about them and not necessarily about Parliament. It is interesting to find out who the people who currently serve are. Over a number of years, through the armed forces parliamentary scheme, I have had the opportunity to engage with our forces in theatre and out of theatre. One finds that a fantastic variety of people make up our armed forces. They have a fantastic array of skills, some of which we bothered to give them and some of which they come along with in the first place.

I remember being in Kabul doing some canvassing for the presidential elections. I was masquerading as a soldier at the time and it was not for any particular candidate; it was about the process of presidential elections. I said, “Come on, boys. We had better go over here. We’ll go to the caff and have a word.” They said, “You’re good at this, aren’t you?” I said, “Well, one thing I ought to be reasonably good at is canvassing. You do the soldiering, I’ll do the canvassing.” We were walking up the street when all of a sudden the Fijian flanker I had been given to look after me started to chat to the locals. I said to him, “How come you speak the local language?” He said, “I’m Fijian. I went to school with people who speak Urdu, and I can get along with these people.” I asked, “You’re not an interpreter, then?” “No,” he said. “I just get on and do it.”

The Gurkhas seem to have some Babel fish in their ear. Wherever one goes with them, they are always in some way or another able to communicate with the local people. When I was in the Balkans, there were Chileans and people from the area with a Gurkha in the middle. For some reason or another, he was able to make those people understand one another in some fashion. In the Balkans, as the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) will know, the Welsh also serve. Our communications fell down. The only reason we could speak to one another was that there were two Welsh boys with mobile phones and they could speak Welsh to one another, just like the wind talkers did for the Americans in south-east Asia.

There is a fantastic array of skills among our armed forces, but we have to equip them as well. They come with these skills by default and we use them, but we must not abuse them. One of the things that is missing

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from the debate is how we enable them to do the things we want them to do. I was in Iraq and the place was jumping, as it usually was when we went to Iraq. I was talking to an American, who said to me, “See, the difference is that we train warriors. They go forward—blitzkrieg—they can fight anything in front of them, but you train soldiers. Once the fighting is done, they take their helmet off, put the beret on and start to engage with people. They are multi-skilled, so it’s different. I don’t know what you do, but you train different people.”

That does not come about by accident. We must equip our armed forces and enable them. If, as the Minister said, we need to understand them, then we need to engage with them. I would recommend any Member to use the facilities of the armed forces parliamentary scheme to get under the wire and go and live in a tent or a ditch with those people for two or three days. Very often it will be, “And another thing—” so the Member will soon find out who they are.

Mr Kevan Jones: I slept in a tent with my hon. Friend in Iraq when I served on the Defence Committee. Does he recognise that whenever we went anywhere, we always seemed to meet someone who was from Merthyr Tydfil?

Mr Havard: The “Taffia” is at work. That is true. At the local field hospital at Camp Bastion when we visited, Andy Morris, who is now Major Morris, was there as a paramedic. These are the people who jump in the back of helicopters and bring people out. He is a reservist, not a regular. There is a real debate to be had about what the balance of forces is going to be. The report by the hon. Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) is seminal. A decision will have to be made about the balance between regulars and reserves. We do not want to cheapen their capacity or their labour. We need to maintain and improve that quality. We must not make the mistake of using it as a way of cheapening the price, rather than improving the value.

The moral component is important. We heard reference earlier to war memorials. We all have the problem. I would like to find the bandit who nicked the bayonet off the Aberfan war memorial. We probably know who he is and where he lives, and we will get it back, but that is not the point. It is about respect. Tomorrow I will be in Rhymney comprehensive school, laying a wreath at the school at its memorial with the children. I will be visiting the cadets and the reserves at Maindy. We must engage with the people.

I do not have a big poppy. Perhaps the size of the poppy is important; I do not know. I have a 90th anniversary badge, given to me by the British Legion in Dowlais. There is a whole community involved. The social and economic impact that the Ministry of Defence has in all our communities is huge. We need to recognise that in deploying the resources that we have, because we also ask people to deploy.

Let me say a little about some of the things that we are discussing on the Defence Committee and the changes that are being made. Reference has been made to how it is possible to divide communities, as well as bringing them together. We can say that armed forces personnel have special interests, and therefore should have special services. By doing the right thing, we can inadvertently do something else and create divisions. Be careful that

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there is not a problem with consistency, rather than uniformity, in the application of these services across the United Kingdom. The right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) mentioned that earlier, and the same applies to Wales. The National Assembly for Wales yesterday published a document about what it will do to improve services for veterans.

The organisation of the health service will be different, because it is very problematic, as is housing and the rest of it. There is a variable geography and the operational delivery of services varies between Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England, but the Ministry of Defence must understand that the covenant is a UK document that will apply to service personnel wherever they are in the UK. If it does not have some consistency of application, it will get it wrong. That is a real problem it needs to grapple with, and I hope that we can help.

The Defence Committee—perhaps I am giving away secrets—plans to produce a report on housing in the same way as we produced reports on veterans and casualties. As my friend the right hon. Member for North East Hampshire said, the Committee’s work is to bring those matters to Parliament, because it is a servant of the House and our work should be debated here. Frankly, it is a disgrace that the House has not had a proper debate on the matter in more than 12 months. However well meaning Front Benchers have been in today’s debate, they have their political knockabout and absorb the time and the way the debate is conducted is not in the hands of Back Benchers. I know that the Backbench Business Committee has become some sort of petitions committee by default, but I appeal to it to provide time for the House to debate the work the Committee has been doing and allow Back Benchers to say what they want to say beyond the direct control of the Executive, rather than by any other process.

I would like to say one more thing about understanding people. We deploy the armed forces, so we need to protect them. One of the current debates about respect relates to people’s respect for how they are deployed and what we send them to do. The armed forces are sometimes uncertain about their legal and moral status, and if we are not careful, that will cause difficulties for the operational capacity to do things on the ground. It is known in the trade to those of us who discuss these things as the “lawfare-warfare” debate; is it legal, but is it also morally defensible? If we want respect and legitimisation, we must not only enable and provide for those people, but give them and the community on whose behalf they work some certainty that they are being properly deployed to do things that they feel comfortable being deployed to do.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): The morality of war is very well set out in the Geneva convention. As long as our officers and soldiers put the convention at the front of all their actions, they will not go far wrong.

Mr Havard: I agree that the Geneva convention sets out an important architecture, but let me give an example to illustrate my point. We were once running an internment camp—not a detention facility—in Iraq because that is what was required. That was legitimate and part of the UN mandate. It was legitimised, but it had to be reviewed

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from time to time and the authority to run it had to be agreed with the new Iraqi Government following an exchange of letters and all the things that go with UN activities. Otherwise, our military personnel, from Colchester and elsewhere, who were running the camp, which was not anything like Guantanamo Bay, needed to know that they were secure in what they were doing. They now serve alongside others, more often than not in coalition.

The Americans are not signatories to the International Criminal Court, but the United Kingdom is. Often there are people on the ground in a foreign place with some sort of architecture of legitimacy between the Government who have asked them to go, or the United Nations, and individually they may well find that domestic and international law are different from one another. That issue needs to be considered. At the moment we put in place mechanisms that we believe protect our individuals who are on the ground, but they are citizens serving abroad. There is a relationship between international and domestic law that we need to be very careful about, and the subject will need debate, because I see operational service personnel second-guessing their decisions. Rather than doing what they would normally do, they send it back up just to make sure. The window of opportunity is gone.

I could give a practical example of that relating to the current problem of piracy in the Gulf, but I am not allowed to. The person concerned did not do wrong; they did right in order to protect themselves. What we must have in place is a decision-making process that enables us to take all those things into account with the speed that they need to be taken into account so that the decision-making process does not disadvantage the individual when they do the job that they are required to do, not later after some gang of lawyers have assessed whether it is right or wrong. We must celebrate all those who have served, all those who do serve, and all those who will serve, but we must be careful how we make organisational changes to do the things we wish to do.

2.24 pm

Mr Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow my friend and Select Committee colleague, the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr Havard), and indeed our excellent Committee Chairman, my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot).

As we remember those who gave their lives in earlier generations, we honour those who serve today. To visit them, whether on operations or on exercise, is to be humbled by the sheer quality of the men and women who serve in our forces, but over the generations since the cold war the structures that planned and organised them lost direction.

On the day after another young Territorial has died in Afghanistan, I want to talk about reserve personnel, but first I shall give the House some context—when tension between operational pressures and funding is especially tight. The Ministry of Defence has become distorted by the shape of most conflicts during the 20 years between the Gulf war and the Libyan operation. For most of that period, the main effort has been a single, medium-scale expeditionary force, led by the Army with air support. Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan mostly followed that pattern.

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The intensity of the conflicts varied enormously, but each saw a brigade-sized expeditionary force supporting air elements in six-monthly rotations and in line with defence-planning assumptions, hence a strong temptation for the planners to configure our forces around that model. Resurgent problems in Northern Ireland and the 7/7 bombings figured very little in pre-strategic defence and security review planning, and two important overseas outliers were widely overlooked.

First, there was the planned invasion of Kosovo in 1999, when 1 million desperate refugees fled the Serb army. Almost all our allies demurred from sending ground forces and the MOD initiated a confused blizzard of call-out notices, summoning many reservists at a few days’ notice, even from units that it was in the process of disbanding. Britain was spared humiliation, of course, when the Serbs backed down under Russian pressure at the very last moment.

Secondly, in 2003-04 we were stretched well beyond expectations, as the continuing operation in Iraq overlapped with the incursion in Afghanistan.

The national security strategy rightly dismisses the assumption that our forces should be optimised almost entirely for medium-scale, Army-led expeditionary operations. It includes other roles, including, crucially, homeland security and upstream intervention, and there is even a faint hint of the scenario that dare not speak its name—general mobilisation for an unexpected crisis. Libya was Royal Air Force and Royal Navy-led—and led brilliantly, a point that I note in the week when we mourn the loss of Flight Lieutenant Cunningham of the Red Arrows.

How can we address so many scenarios, therefore, when the money available is so tight? The key surely is to reverse the slide towards an impossibly expensive manning model in which most units are full time, with costly payrolls, pensions, housing and so on. Of course they are worth it, but we cannot afford enough of them. Between two fifths and half the armies of our English-speaking sister countries are made up of volunteer reserves. On paper, ours make up less than one fifth, and in reality estimates suggest that the true figure is nearer 10%.

The US deploys National Guard armoured infantry brigades and fast-jet fighter squadrons to Afghanistan; Canada had a reservist company with every infantry rotation; and Australia has deployed formed companies and handed over its main commitments in Timor and Bougainville to reserve-led forces.

Bob Stewart: When we talk about National Guard pilots, I worry, because I wonder how much training they have to do, and whether it is different from what a regular has to do to be up to speed and to fly in combat.

Mr Brazier: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Three quarters of the US National Guard’s fast-jet pilots are ex-regulars, so they are not wasting several million dollars in training when they leave, and the remaining quarter have to be very experienced pilots to be allowed to join.

As we stand in silence at war memorials up and down the country, let us remember that the vast majority of those who served and fell were not professionals, and that the volunteer reserves were the key link between

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our brave but small professional forces and the wider community. They also provided back-up that was immediately available and, crucially, a framework for expansion into a national effort.

In the great war, the Territorial Army provided almost half the combat units, winning 71 Victoria Crosses. The Royal Naval Reserve won 12. In the battle of Britain, the Auxiliary Air Force squadrons comfortably out-shot their regular RAF counterparts. Although those forces were trained in peacetime at a fraction of the cost of their regular counterparts, they were available when they were needed to fight—and fight they did.

When overstretch peaked in 2004, our small volunteer reserves provided a fifth of our forces in Iraq and one-eighth of the number in Afghanistan. Yet over the next two years, they were rewarded with a cack-handed reorganisation, recruitment ceilings and a demoralising freeze on collective training. Despite all that, they continued to achieve some remarkable successes. In 2007, when commenting on a company from the London Regiment, its commander Brigadier Lorimer—now General Lorimer —said:

“Somme Company was an outstanding body of men: well trained, highly motivated and exceptionally well led.”

More than 25,000 reservists have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and 28 have given their lives, including the young man yesterday. Yet, in 2009, all formed deployments to Afghanistan apart from field hospitals were stopped, and the use of reservists has degenerated into the backfilling of regular units, unlike what happens in the countries of our English-speaking counterparts.

Not surprisingly, the strength of the reserves rapidly dwindled, with the greatest deficiency among young officers. As the House knows, I was recently privileged to serve under General Sir Nicholas Houghton on his review of reserves. Two or three units I visited had no young officers left at all. While we were carrying out our study, the unhappiness among TA officers was compounded by the truly disgraceful announcement by the Military Secretary’s branch in July that an unprecedented four-fifths of TA commands were to go to regular officers, despite there being 25 Territorials in the frame who had all the necessary qualifications.

Our study recommended that we should move towards a better balance between regulars and volunteer reservists in the Army, with 30,000 trained reservists by 2015, and that they should

“no longer simply be used as individual specialists and augmentees, but as formed units and sub-units”.

The Royal Naval Reserve has plans to expand several areas, including its highly cost-effective air branch, which took over the training pipeline for some months in the overstretch crisis of 2004. It also has imaginative plans for the Royal Marines Reserve. The commission was disappointed with progress on the RAF, which has a pool of flying volunteer reservists that is only about a quarter of the size of that of the Royal Navy. Although there were some more imaginative ideas in the background, the recommendations it actually put forward were all rather expensive and seemed to be very modest in their actual value. That is why we recommended an independently led follow-up study on the RAF.

There are three keys to rebuilding our reserves: first, we must get out and recruit officers from the thousands of young men and women passing through our university

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officer training corps and restore the proposition. If we reintroduce demanding collective training for units and sub-units, it will restore the capability of the TA to deploy formed bodies and provide those leadership opportunities that are so vital for the commitment of young officers.

On a recent visit to 7 Rifles, I was told that four regular officers had just applied to join. I was astonished to hear, however, that some of them were stuck waiting to receive security clearance. Why on earth do we have security clearance for regular officers transferring to the TA?

That brings me to my second point. We need fit-for-purpose administrative systems, so that people can enlist, have their medicals and be fed into training without the endless delays that characterise the current dysfunctional system. My local unit, 3 PWRR, has had more than 100 recruits in a few months. Yet, the sheer incompetence of the MOD personnel administrative systems has already put off a large number of them.

Some regular officers are claiming that the TA cannot reach a trained strength of 30,000 by 2015. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces, who made an excellent speech earlier, not to listen to them. It is the dysfunctional system and the blockages in the regular-dominated training pipeline that is holding our reserve numbers back.

Hence, my third and final item on the shopping list is this. Let us reintroduce regionally based phase 1 training, so that Territorials are not scrabbling for a place at the back of the queue in the regular establishments. In July, the former Secretary of State announced a £1.5 billion investment in the reserves over a decade. I am certain that my right hon. Friend the new Secretary of State is still committed to that. May I advise that it must be spent on rebuilding viable and usable structures to meet the 2015 deadline, not siphoned off to meet shortfalls elsewhere while that crucial date is allowed to slip?

Rebalancing our armed forces will enable Britain to afford more capacity within tight budgets—to expand the pool of talent available for defence, to increase the footprint for national resilience and, above all, to reconnect our excellent but increasingly remote regular forces with the nation they serve so well.

2.35 pm

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot), who chairs the Defence Committee with great integrity, honesty and ingenuity and sets the standard that the rest of us aspire to reach, and my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr Havard), my fellow Welsh member of the Select Committee—the Committee has a great tradition of having a large number of Welsh members. The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier) is also a member of the Committee, and he always seems to have a downer on the RAF.

Last year, I spent Remembrance day not in my constituency but in Warsaw, where I took part in a remembrance parade there as a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, which was gathered in that city. As we stood there and looked across at the veterans

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from the Polish army and the Polish resistance, we really understood what Remembrance day was about. We never truly experienced, as those people did, the real horrors of war. When we are at war, defence is not the responsibility of our armed forces alone. Let us not forget others who gave their lives: our firefighters; the merchant navy, which lost more people than all three services; the munitions workers; the agricultural workers; the Bevin boys; the home guard; and the ARP workers. Defence is a whole community responsibility.

We are here today to talk about our armed forces personnel. It was with particular delight that this week I hosted an event here in the Commons for the RAF presentation team. In the very first words of introduction, we spoke about the team’s need to talk to local communities about why they fund their armed forces and why that funding is essential for the defence of the country.

We then went on to host people who had taken part in NATO’s Operation Ellamy and Operation Unified Protector. They talked about the commitment, creativity and, in these days of defence cuts, the increasing needs of our armed forces personnel, as well as the huge capacity that our people have. They talked with great passion about the partnerships within NATO. I know that Italy is going through a period where there is a certain amount of humour about its financial difficulties, but they spoke with great passion about the help and the support that they had received from our Italian NATO allies. For example, they described having arrived at a base in Italy where the accommodation they were given was ill equipped and had poor facilities—the equipment and services that we would have offered on many of our bases would have been similar. The Italians sent their people in and they worked 24/7 to bring it up to the standard that they knew that a NATO ally deserved. We should honour that commitment from a NATO ally to our forces, because it is about their recognition that that NATO partnership is important and that our service personnel, wherever they come from, respect each other.

Those service personnel also talked about the partnership that is essential to all armed forces personnel when they go into theatre, including the partnership with their families, who support them in going and send them messages of support. The support and safety of their families is integral to their ability to do their job well.

Mrs Helen Grant (Maidstone and The Weald) (Con): Isolation and worry are significant problems for many families when their loved ones are away. Does the hon. Lady agree that support networks such as Troopers Mums in my constituency, which do good work in keeping families calm and holding everything together while our military personnel are away, ought to be congratulated and encouraged?

Mrs Moon: I most certainly do congratulate such organisations. Service personnel have mentioned to me how important community support is for their families—for example, it is important to know that teachers are aware if children in their class have fathers who are away on operations. I am talking about Operation Ellamy, but I am sure that this is equally important for service personnel in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world. However, when personnel leave at short notice, as was the case in Operation Ellamy, it is even more important because

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they do not have time to prepare their families. The support of the organisations that the hon. Lady talked about is absolutely integral.

Bob Stewart: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs Moon: I most certainly will give way to the hon. and gallant Gentleman.

Bob Stewart: As my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier) said, one problem is that when reservists and people who live away from their camp are deployed, their wives and families are left isolated. The Ministry of Defence is trying to find a way to ensure that people who are not on base are looked after properly, because they get extremely worried when they feel isolated. I am sure that the hon. Lady agrees with that.

Mrs Moon: I most certainly do agree. It is even more important that we recognise the need to give such service personnel help and support to reintegrate into their families. Often, their families have not had help and support from other service personnel, so when their family member comes back, their anxiety can add to the tension within the family and cause a lot of conflict.

It was interesting to hear about the important role played by employers, particularly the employers of reservists, in supporting people in going away and returning, so that they can settle back into their normal employment. When one has been working with the brakes off, 24/7, in the theatre of operations, it is difficult to come back to the slower pace of civilian life. That is an important lesson that employers need to build into their approach when they welcome service personnel back.

Industry is also important. Everybody has made a great deal of distancing themselves from industry today, but in Operation Ellamy, we needed the support of industry to ensure that the forces at the front of the fighting constantly had the supplies they needed, and so that Operation Unified Protector could provide the protection that was needed. That team spirit and can-do attitude is incredibly important.

The service personnel also talked about the range, reach and accuracy of our weapons—I see smiles on the faces of those who were at the meeting. We need to recognise that new is not always best. They talked with delight about how the VC10 is still such a valuable piece of kit.

I would like to mention briefly a wonderful piece on the front of Defence News entitled, “Stop Doing Things That Are Stupid”—a lesson that the Ministry of Defence should always bear in mind. Perhaps it should be on the front of every Minister’s desk. The USA is giving front-line personnel reports to send back about kit and equipment so that they can say, “This works,” or “If you did this it would work better,” or, “This is useless. Get rid of it.” We should stop asking people back at the Ministry of Defence to answer those questions. Why can we not follow the US example and get our front-line personnel to tell us what they want and what works best in theatre?

One of the sad things we heard was that NATO bases’ interoperability has been lost. I will take that up in my role as a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. We need our forces to be able to move around the NATO countries and know where they are

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and where they can find the things they need to make us more effective. A matter that we have repeatedly heard discussed is intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. In refuelling, we have relied on the Americans, but we cannot continue to expect them always to meet that requirement. It is critical that we consider how to develop and increase our own resources.

We owe the RAF, Navy and Army pilots a debt of great thanks for their professionalism. There were no deaths among our forces on Operation Ellamy, and they ensured that civilian deaths were kept to an absolute minimum. They showed a new way of operating in theatre. With few forces on the ground, they had to take greater responsibility for civilian life.

I wish briefly to discuss the military covenant. I have been extremely distressed to see the Royal British Legion being treated pretty shabbily for its involvement in the campaign and accused of delaying reform. The RBL is a vital voice for our armed forces, and especially for our veterans. I also struggle to understand why the chief coroner has come to be seen as surplus to requirements. I hope that the Ministry of Defence is considering that matter.

We have heard briefly about mental health. We know that American studies show that one third of American veterans needed psychological care, while one in five soldiers suffered combat-induced psychological problems post-Iraq. We also know that members of the reserve forces are more susceptible than others to mental health problems. We must commit to ensuring that every serving armed forces member and every veteran has access to the help and support they need, whether it is while they are serving, in theatre, when they come home, or many years later. We must not allow compassion fatigue to mean that as the years go by, we forget the service that people have given.

On accommodation, I welcome the Minister’s statement that money will go back into the accommodation budget if it can be found, but Julie McCarthy, the chief executive of the Army Families Federation, has said:

“The feedback we are getting is one of resigned disappointment. The upgrades that are being cancelled involved a total rebuild of houses—new roofs, windows, carpets, kitchens and bathrooms.”

The programme was about not just repainting a few rooms, but making quarters habitable. Our armed forces deserve habitable accommodation. They deserve the best that we can give them, and I hope the Minister will find the additional money needed.

2.48 pm

Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con): I start by declaring my interest as a service pensioner and a current member of the reserve forces.

It is a great pleasure to follow four current and past members of the Defence Committee. I wish to develop a point that the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr Havard) made in his extremely considered contribution, which is about the universality of the military covenant. I share his concern that we may forget that it is not a local covenant, or an English, Scottish, Northern Irish or Welsh one, but a UK covenant. In preparing my report “Fighting Fit”, on veterans’ mental health, and more recently a report on military amputees, I have been extremely aware of the need to ensure that the complexity of the devolved arrangement

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is worked through. I have been buoyed up by the understanding of that necessity among officials and Ministers throughout the UK. There is a strong understanding that we must ensure that the covenant is applied throughout the UK and in equal part. From my experience of preparing that work, I am confident that it will.

Mr Havard: I recognise what the hon. Gentleman says and congratulate him on behalf of all hon. Members on his work on both those matters. I hope he is correct that a consistent approach will be maintained over time. My concern is that the process needs to endure not just for the next five years or the next comprehensive spending review period, but for a long time into the future.

Dr Murrison: I entirely agree.

Last week, with a number of hon. Members, I rattled a tin for the Royal British Legion in Westminster tube station. That is always an enjoyable occasion and it is particularly pleasurable to importune colleagues as they come through the barriers, and to fix one’s gimlet eyes on precisely what goes into the tin—indeed, it restores one’s faith in politicians. Perhaps I should not name names, but without exception, they were all extremely generous. Such occasions are well appreciated in the House and I recommend that all hon. Members participate in future.

Like many right hon. and hon. Members, I shall pay my tribute this weekend—in my case at the war memorials in Trowbridge and Warminster. In each of the 10 years that I have been the local MP, I have noticed an increase in the number of people who wish to pay their respects. I was asked this morning on my local radio, which my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen) knows well, why we should wear a poppy. One point made earlier was that there is an imperative pressure to wear one. The truth is that it is an individual choice—nobody should feel obliged to wear any badge or mark of commemoration. However, purely anecdotally, it seems that more and more people are choosing to wear a poppy, and they are sometimes people whom we would not necessarily expect to do so. They do so not out of a sense of militarism, nationalism or patriotism, but out of a sense that we need to mark the sacrifice and contribution of people who have fought in conflicts. We might or might not agree with those conflicts, but nevertheless, those who fought in them have shown the best of us in their soldierly conduct. That is why people choose to wear a poppy and to be so generous to the poppy appeal and the Royal British Legion.

I look forward to the armed forces covenant interim report later this year. I welcome very much the evolution of the external reference group into the covenant reference group, and particularly Ministers’ insistence that it should be independent. The evolution of the Armed Forces Act 2011 was interesting—as has been said, the Royal British Legion certainly made a big contribution to it. I do not entirely share the perspective of the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), but nevertheless, the Royal British Legion’s contribution was an important one. I look forward to seeing both the interim report and the covenant reference group’s response—its independence is extremely important.

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I welcome Professor Hew Strachan’s work and the report of his independent taskforce, which was published in December last year. I hope we have an opportunity to discuss progress on the points in the interim report that have been accepted by the Government when it is debated later this year.

Mrs Grant: Does my hon. Friend agree that we need to give tangible meaning to the military covenant, and that the importance of doing small things in military accommodation, such as fixing kitchens and improving bathrooms, must not be underestimated?

Dr Murrison: Absolutely. The military covenant is not laid down didactically in the Armed Forces Act. It was debated at great length when the measure went through the House and the other place, and it is absolutely right that it should not be set in stone in those sorts of ways, although clearly we can talk about it. However, the armed forces, which are meant to be the subject of the covenant, will be pretty unimpressed if it is not followed with tangibles. We will always ask for more, particularly those of us who represent military or naval areas, and no doubt we will never be entirely satisfied. However, in difficult circumstances, the Government have continued the best of the work done by the previous Administration in trying to improve the lot of those who serve in our armed forces.

Mention has been made of the chief coroner. The Royal British Legion is an excellent organisation in almost all respects, but I take issue with it on this matter. I have counselled caution on its insistence that we retain a chief coroner. I have a particular interest: many of the military inquests that have been necessary over the past 10 years have taken place in Trowbridge in my constituency. I have visited those inquests, and I have spoken with David Masters, the then coroner. Coroners are independent judicial office holders, and have been so for hundreds of years. In this respect, part of the value of the coronial service has been that it has been prepared to be very outspoken, and there are Ministers who served in the previous Administration who bear the scars on their backs of the coroner’s many interventions, particularly on kit. That is absolutely as it should be. The whole point about the coroner’s contribution in the past 10 years is that he has spoken out, particularly on kit, and I have absolutely no doubt that that policy was changed for the better as a result of the comments of David Masters and Andrew Walker. I would be very cautious about altering a system that has delivered such good effect to the benefit of men and women at the front line.

This week we remember the fallen. Remembrance is an integral part of the covenant between the armed forces and the nation. In 2014, we will commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the great war. In the UK, we have a tradition of commemorating and celebrating the end of conflict, not the beginning, which is a good thing. However, we need to make an exception in this case, because the great war was the seminal event of modern history. Not only did its outbreak herald four years of desperate, terrible carnage, but it set in place the conditions for the second world war. Both those conflicts have shaped and formed how we live today, and it is appropriate that we take the opportunity to reflect on and commemorate the early days of the great war.

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There are a number of reasons for that. First, it is not right that the sacrifice of those millions of people between 1914 and 1918 should go unrecognised 100 years on. What sort of people would we be if we did not mark out this anniversary? It is a deeply human thing to wish to commemorate sacrifice on that scale. However, there are also lots of things to be learned from the great war, and there are messages for us today, particularly for children in our schools who, as has been mentioned already, we hope will grow up in a world without conflict of that nature, but who, nevertheless, need to know the full horrors of war, so far as they possibly can, so that we may try to avoid them as best we can.

The UK Government have been criticised for being slow off the mark. That is a little unfair. Next year we will, I hope, have our annus mirabilis, in that we will celebrate Her Majesty the Queen’s diamond jubilee and the London Olympics. However, we should keep our eye on what is to follow. This week President Sarkozy will unveil the Musée de la Grande Guerre in Meaux, a purpose-built museum for the great war, and it has been suggested that the British Government should do something similar. However, I would ever so gently point out that the British Government did do something similar, in 1917, before the great war was even concluded. I have been extremely impressed by the preparations of the Imperial War museums—plural—to mark the beginning of the great war. If fully carried out, their programme will, in my view, eclipse the Musée de la Grande Guerre in France, and I look forward to seeing it.

As we approach 2014 and decide how we will mark and commemorate the occasion, it is important that we focus heavily on the local and the parochial, the human and the personal. All of us as constituency MPs will have examples of small-scale projects in our areas that celebrate the contribution of local people—I certainly do in my area. I hope very much that all those projects, supported by the lottery fund and others, will come together in a national memorial—co-ordinated, I suspect, by the Imperial War museums—so that we can show a proper mark of respect in 2014 and commemorate the occasion in a way of which we can all be proud.

3.1 pm

Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central) (Lab): It is a privilege to take part in today’s debate, especially at a time when the whole of Britain and the Commonwealth is preparing to mark a weekend of remembrance in the most dignified and unique way, and, here at home, in a very British way. The great British sailor, soldier and airman are the very best in the world. Throughout our nation’s rich history, our armed forces have never let us down—generation after generation of excellence and endeavour, courage and commitment, dedication and delivery; never turning away, even in the darkest hour; always the first to stand between home and danger. It is right that Remembrance Sunday is a focal point for Britain and that the whole country pauses to remember.

Mrs Moon: Does my hon. Friend share with me a great sigh of relief that it has finally been agreed that those service personnel who were awarded the Pingat Jasa Malaysia medal will be able to wear it this year and at last honour their colleagues who fell in the service of this country in Malaysia?

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Dan Jarvis: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her intervention, and I share her thoughts about that medal. I know from previous experience that the very subject of medals can be controversial, but in this case I absolutely share the sentiments that she has expressed.

As I prepare, for the first time since leaving the Army earlier this year, to mark Remembrance day in my Barnsley constituency tomorrow, I am reminded of Sergeant Andy McFarlane from the Adjutant General’s Corps, who wrote a poem while serving in Afghanistan in 2008. It begins:

“The news is spread far and wide

Another comrade has sadly died

A sunset vigil upon the sand