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We are keen to give increasing numbers of young people the opportunity to benefit from the cadets. That is why we decided to introduce a scheme to pilot the expansion of the combined cadet forces traditionally associated with public and grammar schools into a wider range of state schools. We have already announced
the first five schools that will participate in the scheme, and I am delighted today to announce the sixthWalker technology college in Newcastle upon Tyne. There is much to be done to prepare this new contingent, but based on the enthusiasm that we have already seen I think that that will be easily taken forward.
Andrew Mackinlay: I welcome my hon. Friends announcement on extending combined cadet force schemes in schools. However, several Members have been concerned over many years about the disparity of funding between the three cadet forcesthe air cadets, the sea cadets and the Army cadets. The RAF cadets have full funding whereas the others are funded on a comparable basis to the Scout Association. I do not begrudge them that one little bitin fact, I would like to see it extended to the other cadet servicesbut it is an unfair anomaly that needs to be remedied soon so that there is parity of treatment.
Derek Twigg: I take my hon. Friends point entirely. I cannot offer him any change to that situation in the near future, but part of the reason for mentioning the cadets today was to highlight the tremendous job that they do, and I take on board his concerns.
Further to the youth aspect and the Army presentation teams that the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) mentioned, I made clear the reasoning behind what happened and what is involved in that work. As he knows, we are considering another proposal called Defence Dynamicsa web-based system that we believe will be popular with schools. I have offered to give him a presentation when that is possible.
Let me turn to the issues involved in the health and welfare of our personnel, which is why we are here. On Afghanistan and the report that appeared at the weekend, I have spoken to the Surgeon General and to other clinicians, and they are clear that our approach is the right one. The newspaper article was written in an unfortunate way that gave the wrong impression. What is important is that we have dedicated, often consultant-led medical teams out there at the front, not far from the operations that are taking place, to support our injured service personnel. It is important that that rapid medical attention is available, because that saves lives. Of course, they will eventually have to be transferred back through medevac, but it is important that that essential medical expertise and help is out there. That is why we take that approach. As regards helicopters, one cannot compare what went on in Vietnam with Afghanistan, because it is completely different geographically. We ensure that our people are well looked after and that they have the emergency treatment that they need when out there on operations and supporting operations.
The article did not explain the improved facilities that are being provided in Afghanistan and Iraq, such as scanners, digital X-rays and telemedicine, as well as the clotting bandages and tourniquets that are also helping to save lives. It is clear from the medics I speak to, and from many of the service personnel who have been wounded and their colleagues, that lives of our service personnel are being saved today that would not have been saved a number of years ago. Talking to clinicians and seeing some of the wounded service personnel who have been saved makes it clear that our medical teams out there in operations are doing a tremendous job.
Mr. Harper: I have a copy of the full article to which the Under-Secretary referred, and the reporting of it accurately characterises it. However, it took me a great deal of time to get hold of it. I was transferred from the Army Journal to the Ministry of Defence press office, and I had to threaten to talk to the Under-Secretary before I was allowed to have a copy. I was trying to be good, get the document, examine it in context and do all the things that we are supposed to do. The press office needs to be more open. That would be helpful.
Mr. Ellwood: In my contribution, I asked why we are repeating medical services in our NATO structure in Afghanistan. We are under an international remit and working as part of an international body. It is strange that we have replicated operations in Kandahar, and different field hospitals from different contributors, including the Canadians, the Dutch and the British. Not only that, but we have assets in Dubai on which we can lean. Will the Under-Secretary consider whether we can make some cost savings?
Derek Twigg: I understand the hon. Gentlemans point and I will examine the matter. Of course, we call on our coalition partners for support, if needed. I assure him that I shall consider whether more can be done to improve matters.
I apologise to the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster)I understand that he may not have received his bonus yet. I was assured elsewhere that he had. Clearly, he is so well paid that he did not notice.
We have considered Selly Oak several times. It is clear to everyone who has been to that hospital, including Opposition Members and other colleagues, that it provides tremendous treatment. There have been massive improvements in welfare support, through the provision of welfare officers, psychiatric nurses, liaison officers and so on. A partition is now being built, to help us group our wounded service personnel together better. There is a link to Headley Court, which has a tremendous record. I was there again yesterday and it is a world-class facility.
Some of the press speculation and stories have been deeply damaging to the morale of our NHS nurses and their colleagues, who have been tremendous. They are part of the reason why so many of our service personnel have lived and recovered better than expected, and they work closely with our military medical personnel. I wanted to put it on record that they do a tremendous job. Press attacks on Selly Oak have not helped them, and we should acknowledge their work.
I was disappointed with the comments of the hon. Member for Forest of Dean about the military ward. I was trying to clarify that we have an opportunity through the new private finance initiative hospital in Birmingham to develop a military ward. However, it is important to
understand what that will be. Of course, if a major crash or incident occurs and beds are available, we would use them. However, we must be clear about when we would allow civilians in there. For example, if there are 32 beds, 15 of which are empty and the hospital needs more beds, are we to say that they cannot be used unless a major incident occurs, and that they must remain empty? What if an 86-year-old Normandy veteran needed treatment? Ministers will make the decisions and we always listen to the views of the chiefs of staff on such matters.
Let me deal with mental health, about which there has been some misunderstanding today. There is significant support pre and post-deployment for serving personnel, and advice for their families. Treatment and care are available on operations and when personnel return to the UK. Psychiatric support is clearly provided. I have heard nothing to suggest that that provision is not working well or that it has not been there when people have needed it.
The position of reservists in the context of mental health was raised previously. That is why we decided, as a result of a report produced by Kings college, to provide the reservists mental health scheme. Reservists now have a mental health assessment programme and treatment available to them. That is a new development from last year. As far as I know, the reservists and their families have welcomed it. It is an important step forward.
I recently announced an extension of the medical assessment programme for veterans at St. Thomas hospital. This goes back to 1982 and includes the Falklands veterans. Again, an additional service is now available that was not available before, and it will be up and running in the near future. I think that that is another major step forward.
Many hon. Members have discussed the NHS and how we should link into it. We are currently working to develop a number of pilots whereby the NHS, Combat Stress and the Government will work together to provide centres of excellence around the country. We will provide the expertise and training so that NHS clinicians are better able to understand and treat those who come into the system with mental illness as a result of their service. Once again, that is a major step forward.
Of course Combat Stress does a brilliant job, as do service charities generally, whether it be the British Legion, SSAFAthe Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Associationor others. They do a fantastic job for our service personnel and veterans. I can give hon. Members an assurance that Combat Stress will get a significant increase in funding this year. We will continue to work closely with the organisation and involve it in our discussions with the NHS about the pilot schemes. I can also assure the House that we talk regularly to our NHS colleagues and that I have had meetings with the Secretary of State and other Health Ministers about how best to link in and support veterans. I wanted to give the House that assurance.
On the issue of priority treatment, I will write to the hon. Member for Forest of Dean. We deal with people in the NHS and ask them to ensure that the information is sent out to clinicians and GPs about getting priority treatment for these troops. We will continue to do so.
On the tracking system in respect of the welfare of the more seriously wounded, I know that hon. Members
are very concerned about the whole-life approach. We are developing a tracking system and we will involve case workers in the Veterans Agency and elsewhere to support and keep track of the more seriously wounded and the people who are most vulnerable. That will be rolling out soon and it will be another important move forward in our support for our wonderful veterans. As a result of the welfare conference with the single services and the service charities, we continue to look for ways to improve the welfare package generally and to support our armed forces personnel and our veterans.
Dr. Fox: Will the Minister take this opportunity to tell us how the profiling would be done to identify those regarded as at risk of mental health problems later on? There is a very important point at stake here because problems like PTSD often take a long time to present and the individuals affected may have left the armed forces. They will be asked to self-diagnose and self-present, so how will the tracking system work?
Derek Twigg: The hon. Gentleman makes an important and valid point. Tracking someone who may have mental health problems subsequently is obviously a different issue from tracking someone who presents with a general or a mental health problem or who has received injuries in battle during his period of service. As the hon. Gentleman knows, people with mental health issues and PTSD present some time later, so it is obviously not possible to track in that context. That is part of the reason why we are setting up mental health assessment programmes, which will allow people to get an assessment. It is also why we are developing pilots with the NHS and Combat Stress to provide treatment for our armed forces personnel. It is important to stress that we are seeing a significant development in the approach to mental health for our veterans.
Let me move on to an issue that has not been much debated today, but is very importantresettlement. We have an extensive resettlement package for our service leavers. Something in the region of 20,000 people leave every year. This is a very important package, which provides training, education and general support for our service leavers to give them the best possible start in civilian life. The longer someone has been in service, the better the package. We should recognise the importance of this scheme. About 93 per cent. of those who have been through the resettlement package who want to find work do so within six months. That is another important aspect of our support for service personnel.
I am conscious of the time, so let me make a couple of final points. The issue of how we can best further help and support our veterans and armed forces personnel is important. We have a duty to continue to look at ways of improving such support. We have taken major steps forward, but a key area is to ensure that we work with all our partners, including the NHS, local authorities and particularly the service charities, which do a tremendous job. We will continue to examine the ways in which we can take these matters forward. We have taken significant steps forward in recent years in the support that we give to our armed forces and to their care and welfare, and we will continue to do that work.
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): Mr. Deputy Speaker, I would like to thank you and Mr. Speaker for granting me the opportunity to hold this important debate. It is not a debate that I would wish to have; in fact, I would be very pleased if we did not need to have it. The fact remains, however, that the murderer or murderers of Kirsty Jones still remain at large. They have not been identified, charged or convicted. I called for this debate on the basis of the determination of Kirstys parents, Sue and Glynn Jones, to ensure that the perpetrator of the crime is identified, and also because of the good, substantial work that has been carried out by Dyfed-Powys police.
Kirsty Jones lived in Tredomen, near Brecon, and was 23 when, in the summer of 2000, she left home on a three-month backpacking holiday around the world. In August 2000, Kirsty attended a three-day trek in the mountain region of Chiang Mai province. Hill treks are a popular tourist attraction. The guides are mainly from the Karen hill tribes of northern Thailand. This was the case on the trek attended by Kirsty, and one of the guides was known as Narong.
On the evening of 9 August 2000, Kirsty was drinking in Chiang Mai with some friends she had met. At about 11 pm, she visited the night market to buy presents for her family. She was alone. Fifteen minutes after midnight on 10 August 2000, screams could be heard coming from her room in the Aree guesthouse, where she was staying. She was heard to say, Get out, get out. Help me, help me. A number of guests gathered outside the room, but tragically, did not enter. Later the next morning, the body of Kirsty Jones was found in her room. She had been raped and strangled.
The Thai press attacked the local police and accused them of incompetence in dealing with the scene and the investigation. Very quickly, the police publicly announced that Andrew Gill, the guesthouse owner, was responsible for the murder and that DNA evidence taken from the scene would confirm this. However, examination of this forensic evidence quickly established that the crime scene DNA was of south-east Asian origin and eliminated Gill as the donor. This was a significant event for the Thai police, as there was no evidence to link Gill to the murder.
Two witnesses then gave statements implicating Gill. These were Surin Champranet, the guesthouse co-owner, and his girlfriend. Both stated that they had seen Gill in Kirstys room at the time of the murder, and later leaving her room. Gill was charged with conspiracy to murder. This was the first time that a murder conspiracy charge had been made in Thai law. Gill was then held in prison in Bangkok.
On 30 November 2000, the acting district attorney, Mr. Umnaj Chotichai of the Attorney-Generals office, announced that the charges against Gill were to be dropped. He stated that the witness testimony of Surin and his girlfriend was unbelievable and contradicted their original testimony. There was also no forensic evidence to implicate Gill. This was later confirmed by the Thai Attorney-General in a meeting with Dyfed-Powys
police. All these facts have been reported in both the Thai and British press and are a matter of public record.
Kirstys parents, Susan and Glynn, were understandably disappointed by this development. My predecessor, Richard Livsey, contacted Baroness Scotland, then the Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Baroness Scotland supported the involvement of the UK police and, following contact with Scotland Yard, it was agreed that Dyfed-Powys police would be best placed to provide support to the family and contact with the Thai authorities. It was agreed that the most practical and realistic support we could offer was through family liaison and access to the Forensic Science Service.
The Welsh force has visited Thailand on four occasions, on the last with members of the family. On the initial visit, it was established that the case had been closed in Thai law. Following a considerable amount of negotiation and persuasion by Dyfed-Powys police and Kirstys parents Susan and Glynn, the Thai Attorney-General had to be persuaded that the case should be reopened.
The Attorney-General agreed to reopen the case on the basis of the arguments of the Welsh police officers. As a result, a number of exhibits were brought to the United Kingdom by the Thai police for examination at the Forensic Science Service laboratory. It was clear at that time that the origin of the DNA was south-east Asian. Examination of the exhibits and samples provided a full DNA profile, and the most interesting line of inquiry.
Dyfed-Powys police and the Forensic Science Service suggested parameters in which a mass screening could be carried out in the locality of the murder. That has not been pursued to its natural conclusion, and there appears to be a lack of understanding on the part of the Thai police of its value to the investigation.
Dyfed-Powys police have never been given access to original statements made by witnesses in the case. There is a suggestion from the Thai police that the forensic evidence was planted on the scene following the murder. The Welsh police cannot and will not comment on that. What they can say, on the basis of a mature assessment of the forensic evidence, is that the key to the investigation is the identification of the donor of the DNA evidence. It is that person who will provide the answer to how it got there. In any event, it is essential to adopt a structured approach to locating the donor.
The Thai Department of Special Investigation has yet to trace and interview key witnesses who made statements implicating the only person who has been charged with links to Kirstys murder. There are other key witnesses, yet to be interviewed by the DSI, who have previously indicated that they have knowledge of attempts to contaminate the scene by a Thai national linked to the guesthouse. Dyfed-Powys police have had constantly to suggest lines of inquiry to the DSI. When told that one of the key witnesses had been found dead, they insisted that DNA and fingerprints be taken from the body, which later confirmed that they were not those of the man whom they wanted to question.
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