Lariam

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:28 pm on 27th October 2016.

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Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Chair, Defence Sub-Committee 3:28 pm, 27th October 2016

I, too, want to thank the Defence Committee Clerks, who did a terrific job. We were presented with a wide range of evidence, some of which was reasonably scientific, and we certainly needed their help. I also pay tribute to our many witnesses, one of whom flew in from America to give us evidence.

The report has been an important one for the Committee. In the first 18 months following the 2015 general election we have produced three reports on the duty of care and how we look after people. It is an interesting time in politics, and there are diverse views on defence on either side of the party divide and in the SNP; that is great, but we have a duty to hold the Government to account. That is where Select Committees can come into their own, and we have had some success. The report speaks to the soft side of looking after people and why it is important.

Having served and so on, I know that the interesting side of the military is going on operations and all the things that come with that—shiny stuff, bombs and all the rest of it—but what we fail to get in this country is the importance to combat power of looking after people. I certainly would not hold the United States up as a bastion of getting everything right, but we have seen its forces go through a process so that they understand the whole force concept. They do not just talk about it doctrinally or write about it at staff college. They actually impose a whole force concept whereby looking after families, housing, accommodation, health, wellbeing and so on contributes to fighting power. The US has seen those rewards. We are slow to that game, but we are beginning to get there and we are making real strides, particularly under the current Minister.

In the challenging time we are going through with Brexit, which absolutely presents opportunities as well, it is important that we do not drop the ball on defence issues. As everyone will recognise, we have come out of a particularly tense time on operations. We must maintain our focus, as my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces alluded to in the previous debate. People read and watch what happens in this place, and it means something to them, so I am pleased that we are having this debate.

Lariam can be quite a complex issue, but it comes down to one clear thing. There is a drug that is clearly very effective at fighting malaria, which is a killer—we should not lose sight of the fact that malaria still kills a lot of people worldwide—but any manufacturer will say that the drug should be used within the guidelines. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, we did not use it within those guidelines, and people were affected.

The matter can be viewed as being a bit niche. When I first brought it to the attention of the Ministry of Defence in August last year, I was treated as though it were a personal campaign of mine. I have never taken the stuff, so I have never experienced any of the effects at all, but the issue is not niche to those who have been affected. We are now doing so much better in this place when it comes to the problems caused by Lariam, as we are on other mental health matters. However, it is simply not good enough to understand it just because it happens to us, our family or someone close to us. We have to take these things seriously, and we must take responsibility.