Introduction to the scheme

Sir Neil Thorne - Founder and Chairman

Sir Neil ThorneWhen I entered the House there were very few members of parliament with previous military experience and there are even fewer today, which had a serious affect upon the quality of our debates. In this situation, I felt that even avery limited experience ofservice life must be of help to members in providing them with some foundation for informed comment.

By experiencing life from the lowest rank upwards would have given the graduates benefit, but clearly members of parliament do not have time to do this, so I have invited them to spend 22 days in a year looking at service life from the perspective of a Lt Commander, a Major or a Squadron Leader. This is usually the highest rank which deals with the private sailor, soldier and airman on a day to day basis.

It soon became necessary for participants to be issued with a uniform not only for use as a working overall, but also to enable them to benefit from the experience of becoming embedded within a unit and being treated as one of the family. Our own badges of rank soon followed to help our hosts at all levels identify their guests and to put them into a proper junior context.

In 1997, the then Secretary of State asked me to expand the scheme and to maintain MPs' interest in and knowledge of the services over a longer period. A Post-Graduate scheme for 20 days was therefore introduced in 2000 to demonstrate a little of the life of a Commander, Lt Colonel or Wing Commander. Another step was taken soon after by the introduction of a third level for another 20 days at the level of a Naval Captain, Colonel, or Group Captain to learn about jointery and how the services now co-operate closely with one another. The fourth and final experience at Commodore, Brigadier and Air Commodore level is based on the course at the Royal College of Defence Studies.

Mr Speaker continues as our President, and I am also grateful to members on all sides of both Houses for their advice and help.

My thanks too to General Sir David Richards, the Chief of the Defence Staff, who takes a very close interest in our work, to the Service Chiefs, the First Sea Lord, the Chief of the General Staff, the Chief of Air Staff and the Vice Chief of Defence Staff, the Permanent Secretary, Mrs Ursula Brennan, and to all of their own staff who have been involved. The sponsor companies BAE SYSTEMS, Rolls Royce, AgustaWestland and Capgemini continue with their generous support.

In times when we are asking our young sailors, soldiers and airmen to undertake hazardous duties on our behalf it is vital that members of parliament should ensure that they are fully aware of how the service system operates.

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