CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

IN MY VIEW: 'SPITEFUL ATTACK ON AFPS WAS ILL-INFORMED'

By Sir Neil Thorne OBE TD
Founder of the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme

Southern Daily Echo – 7 December 2009

On April 28 this year, Chris Bryant MP, Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, said of the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme (AFPS):

"It has provided an invaluable service for many hon. Members, including me, who would otherwise know very little of the Armed Forces, and we should thank Sir Neil Thorne."

He was responding to a speech in which Shadow Defence Minister and New Forest East MP, Julian Lewis, warned that an attack might be made on the AFPS by Terry Scriven, his prospective Liberal Democrat opponent.

This has now happened (In My View, November 27), and it is even more ill-informed and unpleasant than I anticipated.

I founded the AFPS 22 years ago, and it has never before been denigrated so spitefully. In fact, countless MPs of all parties have praised it to the skies, including such prominent Liberal Democrats as David Heath, Paul Keetch, Bob Russell, Roger Williams, Richard Younger-Ross and the late Lord Garden.

Mr Scriven, a retired Military Policeman, complains about the notional ranks assigned to MPs on the AFPS. But the Scheme is intended to give experience of life in the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Army and RAF, by attaching MPs to the relevant Service at various levels. The ranks ascribed to them are totally theoretical and signify nothing more than the level at which their experience within the Armed Forces, on any given attachment, will be pitched.

When I started the Scheme, the Government made it clear that this must not be at the taxpayer’s expense. I therefore sought sponsorship from several companies, only some of which are from the UK’s Defence industry. By far the greatest financial contributor has actually been me – and if, as Mr Scriven demands, the Government took over the AFPS, the annual cost to the Defence Budget would be some £500,000. This is inconceivable in the present financial situation.

At the highest level of the Scheme, a few MPs, as well as civil servants and policemen, do become full members of the Royal College of Defence Studies. Out of 80 RCDS graduates in 2006, Dr Julian Lewis was one of just 13 to be awarded a prize for his 10,000-word dissertation, and to have it published by this top-level Staff College.

This may make Mr Scriven unhappy; but he will have to learn to live with it.