Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): It is a daunting prospect to follow two speeches that do great credit to this Chamber. I look forward to the next election when the voters in many lucky constituencies will have the chance of putting right the major defect in this House. We are elected here to represent how the country looks: at the moment there are more women here, but not enough of them; there are more ethnic minorities here, but not enough of them—and there is a terrible shortage of octogenarians. The people of Bolsover and Newport West will have a chance to correct that in future.
My point will be brief, but it is one of great importance. It is not just the pantomime of Prime Minister’s questions that will be absent tomorrow; also absent will be the valuable recent tradition of announcing the names of the fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am afraid that the Government have form on that. On two occasions, the announcement was changed from Prime Minister’s Question Time—the moment of the week of maximum attendance by Members and maximum attention by the press and public—once to a Monday and once to a Tuesday. It was only because of an outcry by Back Benchers that it was restored to its proper place.
There are other indications that the Government wish not to publish the names of the fallen, by which I mean the practice of reading out the names—it has been done—of the 179 fallen in Iraq and of the fallen in Afghanistan. It is now part of our orders in the House that that is not permitted. Why? Lance Corporal Jamie Webb died on 26 March, and was repatriated to this country on 4 April. Did anyone see any publicity about that? Did anyone realise that the event had taken place?
I went down to Brize Norton to inspect the facilities for the repatriation of our fallen soldiers. I was grateful to the Prime Minister for writing to me after last Wednesday’s debate in the House, because Brize Norton is in his constituency. Those facilities were very sensitively conceived, and one can think of hardly any improvement that could be made. There is provision for counselling, and rooms have been allocated for the coffins to be laid out with the appropriate religious regalia. Also—this is very touching—because many of the fallen were the fathers, or perhaps in some cases the mothers, of young children, a room has been fitted out with Peppa Pig toys for the children who turn up.
However, I believe that, sadly, an attempt has been made to hide the event at Brize Norton. A special entrance has been constructed so that the main entrance, and the attention that it might receive, can be avoided. When the procession went through the attractive town of Wootton Bassett, it was a touching sight. Passers-by would stop and bow their heads in respect and reverence. Now, however, rather than going through the main town, the procession skirts the local village and goes on to the main road, where no one can show respect.
I think it a great shame that there was no prime ministerial announcement of the death of Lance Corporal Webb. That meant that the country could not pay tribute to the 441st of our soldiers to die in Afghanistan. We hear today that we went into Helmand province in 2006 in order to reduce the growth of drug activity there. At that time only two soldiers had died in combat. Now 441 have died, and the growth of drug activity is at record level. I think it absolutely right for us to meet and to bring that part of Prime Minister’s Question Time back into being.
I congratulate my hon. Friends on their speeches. I agree with much of what they said. It would have been possible for the funeral to take place on a different day, and for Prime Minister’s Question Time to take place here. It is a great shame that although there was a minor announcement of that recent death, we have not paid that soldier the full respect that he so richly deserves.