I beg to move,
That this House has considered the matter of the strategic defence and security review.
On this sad day when the House has heard the news of the 300th member of the armed forces losing his life in Afghanistan, our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends, as well as with all those other service families who are mourning their losses. It is also appropriate to remember the families of the victims of violence from 9/11 to the present day. We did not initiate this cycle of violence, but we will certainly confront it.
I am pleased to open this debate on the Ministry of Defence contribution to the strategic defence and security review. All parties in the House committed themselves at the election to holding this review. The Green Paper from the previous Government, with its all-party approach, produced broad agreement on the need for fundamental reform, and I am sure that all Members will agree and reiterate that the defence of the nation should be above the worst excesses of partisan party politics.
In this review, we will need to challenge many preconceptions and think clearly about what we as a country want and need from our armed forces, and what we can afford. I want to ensure that we benefit from the expertise in the wider defence community, including partners in industry, academia, non-governmental organisations and the charitable and voluntary sector.
It is also essential that members of the House of Commons have a proper opportunity to make their views known on behalf of themselves and those whom we represent. In that light, Members submissions on the defence review should be made directly to me at the Ministry of Defence. Those in the other place with specialist interests will also be especially welcome to make submissions. Most importantly, the Prime Minister and I are determined that members of the armed forces and their families have an opportunity to contribute, and the service chiefs will set out shortly how that will be achieved. There has already been a lively debate about the choices that we face, and the MOD will continue to engage. Today, I shall set out the coalition Government’s broad approach to the defence review, an assessment of the financial backdrop, a description of the strategic environment and, finally, the way ahead.
Conducting a defence review while fighting a war in Afghanistan is rather like trying to build a ship while still at sea. Afghanistan must remain our priority, and as part of the international coalition of 46 nations we must prevail. None the less, after 12 years without a defence review, when our armed forces have at times been overstretched, with some current equipment overused or out of date, with programmes from the cold war that are of less relevance today, and in our dreadful economic and financial circumstances, it is clear that change must come. The review will need to provide a step change, not salami-slicing. We will have to bring defence policy, plans, commitments and resources into balance, confront the harsh facts of the economic climate in which we operate and make a clean break from the military and political mindset of cold war politics.
Let me give the House just one example. In the past, military might has been measured by conventional capabilities, such as tanks, aircraft and ships that we can inspect and review; but technology is already moving on at such a rate that there are new domains of warfare, such as cyber and space, where we will require capabilities in which the Government will have to invest but which the public might not be able to see. We also see the development of asymmetrical capabilities that serve to deny us the effectiveness of our conventional capabilities. It makes sense for any adversary to develop what are commonly referred to as area-denial or anti-access strategies in order to deny us the use of our conventional military capabilities without matching us tank for tank, ship for ship or jet for jet. We should not hope that our adversaries do not do so; we should expect and plan that they will; and it is vital that the review consider that point.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his new position. Ministry of Defence statistics show that since the previous strategic defence review there have been more than 10,000 defence job losses in Scotland and an under-spend of more than £5.6 billion. What consideration will be given in this SDSR to ensure a fair and balanced defence footprint throughout the nations and regions of the United Kingdom?
The point of the review is to ensure that we have the proper defence for the United Kingdom. We will have further things to say about the defence industrial strategy and how we will take that forward, not least because it represents high levels of employment in some economically less well-off parts of the United Kingdom, and we will come to the House with those proposals in the near future.
I, too, welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his new post. I could make a similar point about St Athan with regard to Wales and, for that matter, more deprived areas of the country. However, that is not the point that I want to make about St Athan. Rather it is that, in the light of what the right hon. Gentleman said about the changing nature of warfare, technical training is far more important now than it was 30 or 40 years ago. Is it not absolutely vital that one of our highest priorities be to ensure that such training is improved for all our troops? Does that not mean that we should support and he should support—this is my submission—the St Athan defence training college?
Given my experience of the hon. Gentleman, I would be extremely surprised if that were the end of his submission, and I look forward to an undoubtedly weighty document landing on my desk. I understand his points, and training is absolutely vital, particularly given the increasing professionalism in the armed forces and the increasing complexity involved. None the less, he will understand that, while that project is being considered as part of the SDSR, it would be inappropriate for me to give him even a hint of our position on it, but if he makes a personal submission, I shall certainly ensure that I read it—undoubtedly at length.
I shall be polite to the Secretary of State even after that comment, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Secretary of State was always courteous to me during my short time as a junior Defence Minister, and I hope to return the courtesy over the next year or two.
Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the review will consider the international conventions used for the engagement of advanced technology? I am thinking particularly of drone planes. Does he believe that such planes are within international law when they are used for the targeted extra-judicial killings of suspected terrorists?
As the hon. Gentleman would expect, that issue will not be part of our review, but it is part of the sort of discussions that we need to have with our allies about the wider issues in respect of the conduct of warfare. I am sure that the Foreign Secretary and his colleagues, as well as Ministers and officials inside the MOD, will want to take on those discussions.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he said towards the beginning of his intervention. He was always extraordinarily courteous to the Opposition when he was in government. We shall endeavour to act in the same way, and I am sure that he will bring us up if we fail to do so.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving way and, like others, I congratulate him on his appointment. In his opening remarks, he said something to the effect that he was going to do away with cold war thinking and look at problems of expenditure in that context. Britain’s development of nuclear weapons was entirely a product of the cold war. As I understand it, Britain’s possession of nuclear weapons and the Trident system will be ignored and not taken into account in the defence review. Has there been any change of thinking on that? Some of us would be astonished if defence policy could be reviewed without a review of nuclear weapons as well.
A few years ago, we had an extensive debate in the House of Commons on what we thought, as a Parliament, was the best way to take forward Britain’s nuclear deterrent. The Conservative party, in opposition at the time, agreed with the Labour Government’s position then, and our position has not changed.
However, I say this to the hon. Gentleman. I said that we would have to get rid of some of the cold war mindset. It would be very nice if nuclear weapons had disappeared with the cold war, but when I look at what is happening in North Korea and Iran, I see that we will face the threat of nuclear proliferation in the future. Nuclear weapons are not simply a by-product of the cold war.
I have given way a number of times and I shall give way again later.
I believe that at the beginning of this debate it is vital and useful to go back to first principles and remind ourselves about the purpose of defence. It bears repeating that the first duty of a Government is to provide security for our citizens. Although many arms of government are directed towards or contribute to that aim, the armed forces are central to the effort. Of course, our armed forces can do many things for the promotion of our national interest and to support Government policy more widely. But we must not lose sight of their primary mission—to maintain the capability to apply military force, when needed, so that political decision makers have the widest possible range of choices when making strategic decisions.
That has two aspects. First, our armed forces protect our citizens and territory by deterring and containing threats, preventing possibilities from becoming actualities. The nuclear deterrent is, of course, fundamental to our ability to deter the most extreme threats to the United Kingdom. As I just said in response to the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), in 2007 the Conservative party in opposition supported the decision to renew the Trident system based on the analysis set out in the 2006 White Paper, and we remain committed to continuous at-sea deterrence.
As the coalition agreement has made clear, we are scrutinising the Trident renewal programme to ensure that we get value for money, and my Liberal Democrat colleagues will continue to make the case for alternatives. However, we underestimate the value of deterrence at our peril and we do ourselves a disservice if we merely confine the concept to nuclear weapons. We know from historical experience that a declaration of peaceful intent is not sufficient to dissuade aggressors and that a weakening of national defences can encourage them. All our forces, including conventional forces, have a powerful deterrent effect, which we should seek to maximise. Recently, we have not recognised that as much as we should have. I want the SDSR to change that—to take a fresh look at what we are doing to dissuade aggression and at how we might do it better.
I happen to agree with the Secretary of State’s stance on nuclear weapons and Trident. Will he say a little more about the extent to which he regards Trident to be, as well as a deterrent, part of our obligations as a permanent member of the Security Council—as one of the P5, at the top table?
It is not an obligation, but I certainly think that it adds credibility to our position as a member of P5. As I have said, our position on nuclear weapons is that in a dangerous world, when we are looking to 2050 or beyond, we cannot play fast and loose with Britain’s defences. We do not know what threats will emerge or what will happen in terms of future proliferation, and we are simply not willing to take a gamble.
The Secretary of State began this passage of his speech by talking about returning to first principles. That allows me to take up an issue that he dealt with a moment or two ago, which is this: in determining the structure of our armed forces, in determining the location of bases, and in determining procurement decisions, must we not accept that the motivation has to be what is in the best interests of defence? If I may be excused for putting the matter pejoratively, we should not be using defence as some kind of job creation scheme.
I have a degree of sympathy with what the right hon. and learned Gentleman says, but it is worth pointing out, at a time when the economy is going through a great deal of trouble, that the defence industry provides 300,000 manufacturing jobs—jobs that actually make and sell things to the benefit of this country’s balance of payments. The defence industry contributes a very high value to Britain’s exports, and it punches above its weight. It will be the aim of the Government to increase Britain’s defence exports, partly as a way of securing British defence jobs in the longer term, because the more markets we have, the less the British defence industry is dependent on the British domestic economic cycle.
I agree with the Secretary of State about industrial capacity. Before he moves on from the deterrent, will he clarify whether the value-for-money Trident review is solely considering the ballistic missile submarine system, or are alternative systems being considered?
There are a number of elements in the Trident renewal programme, and we are looking for value for money in each of them, and trying to see where we can, if possible, get that capability for lesser cost. However, there is no question but that we will move ahead with a continuous, minimum, credible at-sea nuclear deterrent for the United Kingdom.
I will in a moment.
This brings me to the second aspect of the armed forces’ primary mission. Defence is also there for when everything goes wrong—when despite our best efforts, deterrence and containment have failed, diplomacy is exhausted, and, as a last resort, the use of lethal force is required. No other arm of government can deliver this or is designed for this purpose. So our armed forces must be structured, first, to deter; and secondly, to deliver the use of force in support of our national interest and to protect national security. We undertake this strategic defence and security review at a time when our armed forces are delivering on that primary mission in Afghanistan. We must have strategic patience and resource that mission fully, but it would be a mistake to base our future security on the assumption that future wars will be like the current ones. That is why we must maintain generic capability able to adapt to changing threats.
I now give way to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis).
My right hon. Friend must have read my mind; perhaps that is not difficult to do. I congratulate him on taking up his post; it is a pleasure to see him there.
My right hon. Friend says that we cannot assume that future wars will be like current counter-insurgency campaigns, yet some very senior figures in the Army are asking us to make that very assumption. It cannot be safe for this country to plan on the basis that just because we are engaged in irregular warfare now, we do not have to worry about state-against-state conflict in future. Will he say, once and for all, that there is a danger that we could one day find ourselves opposed by a modern, well-armed, industrialised state, and that we have to be prepared for that terrible eventuality?
I would never be so presumptuous as to believe that I could read the complexities and high intellectual level of my hon. Friend’s mind, but let us just say that having spent four years in opposition together, I have a fair idea of what he is likely to raise and when. He is absolutely correct, and I reiterate that it would be wrong, and fly in the face of everything that we have learned from history, to believe that future wars will be predictable or like the ones in which we are currently engaged. We must maintain generic capability that is flexible, adaptable and able to deal with changing future threats of a sort that we cannot possibly predict with any certainty.
I am struggling to understand at the moment how the Secretary of State plans to deal with the issue of the deterrent. I know what the coalition agreement said and what the Liberal Democrats’ position is, and I have heard him say various things, but will the value-for-money study be part of the strategic defence review, has it started, and how and in what forum will his coalition partners be able to pursue their separate views on the shape of the deterrent?
The value-for-money study on Trident has begun, as has the SDSR, and it will be concluded long before the SDSR. I hope that it will be concluded before the summer recess.
I want to be as open as I can about the backdrop to the SDSR. To take one aspect, the defence budget itself, the future programme is entirely unaffordable, especially if we try to do what we will need to do in future while simultaneously doing everything in the way that we do it today. The legacy that the new Government have inherited means that even if defence spending kept pace with inflation, we would face a deficit of many billions of pounds over the life of this Parliament and more over the next decade. To make things worse, there are additional systemic pressures on the defence budget that exacerbate the situation, including the trend of pay increases above inflation. The previous Government’s approach was too often characterised by delay-to-spend rather than invest-to-save. The decision to slow the rate of the Queen Elizabeth class carriers in 2009, for example, increased the overall costs by more than £600 million at a stroke.
The bottom line is this: no matter how hard we bear down on the costs of administration and drive up efficiency, we cannot expect to bridge the gap by those means alone. The problem is structural, so the response must be structural to put defence on a stable footing. The Ministry of Defence, as a Department of State, must itself face wide-ranging reform. We intend to reorganise the whole organisation into three pillars: first, strategy and policy; secondly, the armed forces; and thirdly, procurement and estates. We intend to create a more efficient and leaner centre, in which everyone knows what they are responsible for and to whom they are accountable, with clear deadlines and budgetary discipline. Major reform of our procurement practices will be accompanied by a number of industrial consultations that I will shortly outline to Parliament.
As much as structural reform is required, however, I am equally determined that the armed forces be reconfigured to meet the needs of the evolving security environment and satisfy the expectations of this country. Although the SDSR is necessarily financially aware, it is policy-based, and I wish to set that policy out to the House.
I apologise for interrupting now, because what the Secretary of State has just said is hugely important, but may I go back to what he said about the review of the deterrent? May we be clear that the financial review of the nuclear deterrent is due to take place before the recess, that it is a one-off activity and that it will not be part of a continuing review at each of the various stages of the programme that has been outlined, including the main gate stage? Will the Secretary of State clarify that point?
As part of the coalition agreement, we agreed that we would have a value-for-money study to examine the costs of the programme and see where we could achieve better value within it. That is the process that is now ongoing.
The Foreign Secretary has set out the new Government’s distinctive British foreign policy, which has at its heart the pursuit and defence of UK interests and a recognition that our prosperity and security is bound up with that of others. That will require the enhancement of diplomatic relations with key partners, using Britain’s unique network of friendships, bonds and alliances and working bilaterally as well as multilaterally. That does not mean that we must be able to do all things at all times. We will need to be smarter about when and how we deploy power, which tasks we can undertake in alliance with others, and what capabilities we will need as a result. That must be based on a hard-headed assessment of the current security environment and the growing threats to peace and stability.
We live in a period in which direct military threats to UK territory are low, but in which the wider risks to our interests and way of life are growing. Over the coming decades, we could face weak or failing states creating new focal points for exportable Islamist terrorism that threatens our citizens and our allies, as we have seen in Yemen and Somalia. We could also face a nuclear-capable or nuclear-armed Iran destabilising Shi’a-Sunni and Arab-Persian fault lines, as well as those with Israel and the rest of the world. That could create an uncontrollable cycle of nuclear proliferation and, at worst, the erosion of the post-Hiroshima taboo against nuclear use by both Governments and terrorists. Elsewhere, we could see the emergence of old or new regional powers and the return of state-versus-state competition and confrontation. More immediately, competition for energy and other resources, including fresh water, could take on a military nature.
It is conceivable that we will negotiate the next half century without confronting any of those risks—I certainly hope so—but it is equally possible that the UK could face security policy decisions relating to any or all such risks during the course of the next Parliament. That is the reality of the world in which we live, and we must break away from the recent habit of planning for the best-case scenario and then hoping the worst never happens. Unlike what happened during the cold war, we cannot be confident about how and how quickly such trends may evolve. I shall therefore conduct a thorough stocktake of our contingency plans in the months ahead.
Of course, responding to such events would not be for Britain alone. Britain’s relationship with the United States will remain critical for our national security; it is the UK’s most important and prized strategic relationship.
Given the contingencies that my right hon. Friend outlines, is it not important for us to have a strategic reserve? What lessons can be learned from last year’s debacle, when the previous Government had to do a humiliating U-turn over cuts to the Territorial Army, to ensure that we do not make such mistakes again in the coming defence review?
It is very clear that we require civil contingency in the UK, and as part of the wider SDSR, we are looking at the protection of the UK homeland. We cannot simply direct our armed forces at external threats while ignoring internal threats. That must be a raised priority, as it will be as part of the wider security review.
I welcome the Secretary of State and his team to their positions. When in opposition, he was always steadfast and unwavering in his calls for a larger Army. Does he share my concern and that of my constituents that the review ought not to be used as a way of delivering major cuts to Army manning levels, which would be quite unwise and, indeed, dangerous?
The defence review is not about predetermining the size or shape of the armed forces. In fact, the size or shape of the armed forces will be determined by the review. I can comfort the hon. Gentleman by saying that the service chiefs will each thoroughly defend their service in the review, as one might expect. I would be surprised—Opposition Front Benchers would be even more surprised—if that were not the case.
These are complex and difficult issues, and if they are to be approached thoroughly, they cannot be approached quickly. Does the Secretary of State intend to take any decisions that might pre-empt the results of the review? In particular, what are the implications for procurement contracts that are running? Does he intend to take any steps to halt, restrict or in any way constrain existing procurement contracts? He might be able to think of the one I have in mind.
On this occasion it is rather easier to be a mind-reader. I am well aware of the project to which the hon. Gentleman is referring. We thought about making an interim statement to Parliament just before the summer recess about which programmes were likely to go ahead, but we decided that it might cause more instability than it was worth. We therefore intend to announce all the programmes that we believe give reality to the capabilities that we want when we reach the end of the review.
Having said that, let me tell the hon. Gentleman that we are acutely aware of the fact that it is unavoidable that there will be insecurity during the period of the review. He asked about the speed. The last defence review, in 1998, was an 18-month process. We have brought the process forward partly because, to be frank, most of us in the House who take an interest in such issues have a clear idea of the sort of choices that will need to be made, but also partly because we wanted to minimise that period of insecurity for the defence industry and those who work in it.
I am going to make a little progress, as I know that a large number of Members wish to speak in this debate.
NATO will remain our first instrument of choice for responding to the collective security challenges that we face. In the past decade, NATO has moved outside its traditional geographic area, with European allies such as Germany deploying troops abroad in ways that would have been inconceivable a decade ago. Of course, NATO is not perfect, and we are keen to streamline command structures and decision-making processes. We began that process at the NATO ministerial meeting in Brussels last week, making more progress than most of us expected. However, we must use every lever at our disposal—including the Commonwealth, the UN, the EU and other regional organisations—to protect our security in an uncertain, unstable and unpredictable world.
We will look to step up cross-Government overseas engagement. Defence co-operation is an important component of that, particularly with nations who share our interests and are prepared both to pay and to fight, such as France. We intend to ensure—and consequently fund—a defence diplomacy programme in the SDSR that can make an important contribution to our global influence. Clearly we need close consultation with our allies on the SDSR. I had a good opportunity to engage in early exchanges at the recent NATO ministerial meeting, and I will follow up with detailed discussions with our closest allies. In particular, I intend to visit Washington in the near future to take forward discussions already begun there.
I warmly welcome what the Secretary of State has said about defence diplomacy. Does he agree that, inevitably in an age of restraint, defence diplomacy is an extremely important and effective asset for this Government and something that this country has historically done well? Does he also agree that to pare back our work in defence diplomacy at this time would be to cut off our nose to spite our face?
I agree 100% with my hon. Friend. Not only is defence diplomacy effective; it is cost-effective. It provides this country with great overseas influence at relatively little cost, compared with other elements of the defence budget. We are very foolish as a country if we ever ignore the fact that joint exercising, training and defence exports can achieve a great deal for this country at a relatively low cost. In recent years there has been too much penny-pinching in certain areas, which has had a disproportionately negative effect on this country’s influence, and a good deal too much short-termism, when we need to be looking at what we do well and doing it more often.
I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend, who has been making the most robust case possible for keeping a full range of military capabilities, despite the fact that we are engaged in an important operation. With his visit to Washington coming up, does he agree that it would be truly extraordinary if we alone continued to have 85% of our defence capability in expensive regular manpower, when the mightiest and richest country on earth has almost half its total defence capability in volunteer reserves?
My mind-reading abilities seem to know no bounds today—no doubt like those of my colleagues. I pay a full tribute to the reserve forces of the United Kingdom. They make a tremendous contribution to our national security. If we ever fail to value them fully, we are making a profound mistake. I know that my hon. Friend would not expect me to go further, given that the structure of our forces is an unavoidable part of the review itself. Suffice it to say, I think it is very clear just how wedded is most of this House, and not least the Conservative party, to the well-being and existence of our reserves.
Let me sum up the Ministry of Defence’s approach to the strategic defence and security review. First, relevance: our posture and capabilities must be relevant to the world we now live in. This is our opportunity to dispense with much of the legacy of the cold war. Secondly, realism: resources are tight for the country as a whole, and defence is no exception. We cannot insure against every imaginable risk, so we will need to decide which risks we are willing to meet and which risks we are willing to take.
Thirdly, responsibility: as a nation, we have a duty to give the brave and capable men and women of our armed forces our full support in return for the selfless service and sacrifice they are prepared to make in our name. We must ensure that they have what they need to do what we ask of them, and that they and their families are looked after properly during and after service. There has never been a formal document setting out precisely what this means, which is why, for the first time, this Government will create a tri-service military covenant. It will be the foundation of the new Government’s far-reaching strategy for, and obligations to, our servicemen and women, their families, and veterans.
The National Security Council and the SDSR will consider defence interests in the round, along with other security risks and interests, including terrorism, cyber-security and civil emergencies. I have stressed the need for the review to follow a logical sequence. We must begin with our foreign policy priorities, reflecting our interests. The establishment of the National Security Council has allowed us to have a full debate and to ensure that departmental priorities will be aligned with our conclusions. The first stage is the development of the new Government’s national security strategy, which will be wide-ranging and draw on the work of all Departments concerned, including the Ministry of Defence.
We must understand the environment in which we will protect and promote those interests, in particular the threats and risks. Under the auspices of the NSC, the MOD is playing a full role in work to establish a prioritised register of those risks that will be a key element to the national security strategy. Decisions on the capabilities required will be based on this overarching strategy, but these decisions will need careful preparation.
I am determined to understand fully the operational and resource implications of the options. I have therefore directed the Department to initiate a range of detailed studies on specific capabilities and force structures. We will begin to move to conclusions as our strategic posture becomes clearer, and we can test our work against the agreed policy baseline to produce a synthesised force structure and risk assessment. I would expect to see the emerging conclusions in August, and the House will understand why I will not speculate on them today. They will then be discussed in detail by the NSC. We expect that the defence section of the SDSR will report in the autumn, which will coincide with the outcome of the comprehensive spending review.
I am also determined that we fully understand—and, where possible, mitigate—the risks we are taking and the assumptions we are making about future operations, from the partners we will work alongside to the tactics and adversaries we will confront. I have therefore directed the vice-chief of the defence staff to lead a detailed process of force testing, which will look at the effectiveness of possible future forces against a range of scenarios. I will receive updates in July and August to ensure that emerging findings can be reflected in our strategic choices; and a final report in September to ensure that I and the NSC can validate the decisions we are taking.
There will undoubtedly be difficult decisions ahead. We will have to confront some long-held assumptions. There will be competing priorities to assess, risks on which we will have to make judgments, and budgets to balance. It is inevitable that there will be the perception of winners and losers as we go through this process. I am determined, however, that defence as a whole will come out in a stronger position. The prize is a safer Britain, with secure interests and a sustainable defence programme able to address the needs of today and prepared for tomorrow. As I said earlier, providing security for our citizens is the primary and overriding duty of Government. The SDSR must become a national, not a party political, endeavour, and all in this House must have the political resilience, strength, will and resolve to see us through.
I join the Secretary of State in offering my commiserations, thoughts and sympathies on the loss of the 300th member of our armed forces in Afghanistan. We must remember that each loss, whether or not it is one of the milestones that attracts the media so much, is a tragedy for the family and friends of the individual concerned. It ought also to serve as a reminder to Members of the unique commitment made by our armed forces on our behalf.
As others will obviously and understandably do the opposite, we ought also to restate our support not only for the members of our armed forces but for the mission that they are undertaking. When we visit our armed forces in Afghanistan, they expect, require and repeatedly tell us that they want support not only for them as individuals but for the work they are doing. They believe in the mission in Afghanistan and that it is achievable, and they expect support, from both sides of the House, while they are in theatre carrying out such dangerous work. I hope they will continue to receive such support.
Now that the right hon. Gentleman is in opposition, does he agree, on quiet reflection, that it is a pity that at times in the past few years the previous Government were less than clear on the mission statement in Afghanistan? They allowed themselves to be diverted so that, in the minds of many, it seemed that the purpose of being in Afghanistan was international development. However, the prime mission always has been, and must be, the national interest of the United Kingdom.
I am glad the hon. Gentleman has said that, as it gives me an opportunity to say that I do not agree. However, there were times when members of the media, as well as some Members on his side of the House, made it difficult for us to get our message across. The current Government will find that we as the Opposition will genuinely support the mission in Afghanistan, and will not play fast and loose with that support. We will not state in the House that we support it wholeheartedly, and then say things, without first checking them properly, that effectively undermine the confidence of the British public in the British Government’s ability to support their troops. If there have been mixed messages about Afghanistan, they have the potential to continue, and we ought to join together to ensure that they are not effective.
I say to the Secretary of State for Defence that his Government need to make sure that the messaging is correct. We do not need the Secretary of State for International Development saying that development opportunities are central to our ability to succeed in Afghanistan, while the Secretary of State for Defence appears to say something different. It is important that we all say clearly what we are trying to achieve and how we are trying to achieve it. The mission in Afghanistan and, overwhelmingly, the way in which we have joined up the mission in Helmand province, is the envy of many nations operating in that theatre, and that ought to be recognised.
I can understand the temptation for a new Government, but they should not try to suggest that a new strategy is being pursued in Afghanistan. What our troops expect—and what I believe is the fact—is continuity between what the new Government are doing and what the Labour Government were doing a month or so ago. We were pursuing a coalition strategy laid out by General McChrystal last year, and the new Government are doing that. There is no year zero; there is continuity in what we are trying to do, and in the methods we are using in order do it.
I find it slightly puzzling to hear my right hon. Friend tell the Secretary of State for Defence to stay on message. Does he not think that what is going on is in fact more interesting than he suggests? There seems to be some ambivalence on the Conservative side about what we are doing in Afghanistan. It is the Opposition, from my perspective at least, who seem to be more determined to pursue the strategy we had before, and that might mean we are more closed-minded than they are.
I am not certain of that. I would not go as far as my hon. Friend. I have, however, seen unfortunate headlines when, as a result of things that were being said, the press were able to suggest that the Government were propagating some kind of exit strategy. I do not believe that that is so. I believe that the Government are pursuing the same strategy that we pursued. I believe that they accept that we must stay in Afghanistan until such time as the Afghan forces themselves are able to defend their own country, and that they will not take any precipitate decision to reduce our force levels in that country before that happens. I certainly hope that that is the case.
I thank the shadow Secretary of State for being so generous in giving way, but he must accept that it is not just a question of mixed messages in one part of the alliance, given that President Obama himself has suggested the possibility of a run-down of troops in Afghanistan as early as 18 months from now. If we are to come out with our strategic interests intact, we must have new thinking about how best to protect them, and sending people out on uniformed patrols day after day to be shot at and blown up may not be the most intelligent way of doing that.
I know the hon. Gentleman’s views. I have heard him describe, both privately and publicly, his position on Afghanistan and how we can pursue it. I have to tell him, however, that we are pursuing a counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan—that is agreed across the coalition—and while that is so, while there are people in theatre and while they are doing the very difficult work that we have asked them to do, we must give them support.
During Labour’s years, big changes were made to the structure of our armed forces’ capability. A great deal of modernisation took place. There were big moves away from cold war capability towards the modernised expeditionary capability that our armed forces have shown in recent years. I accept what the Secretary of State has said—that he wants to continue that move—and I also accept that the threats have changed. We need to examine the emerging threats, and consider what role we need to play in the world. I hope and believe that I made a start on that during the Green Paper process, about which the Secretary of State has used very kind words. I hope he will be as open and engaging in the methods he will use in relation to the strategic defence review as I tried to be with the Green Paper.
What the Secretary of State has effectively said to us, it seems, is that a process is under way and that he will invite everyone to participate, but the way in which we will participate is by having an opportunity to make submissions to him. I suggest to him that anyone and everyone has always had that ability. If this means we cannot continue to write to him expressing our views, I think he will miss a real opportunity. He knows that there are considerable financial pressures on both the MOD budget and the public finances overall. I do not believe that, when he is faced with all those difficulties, it is in his interests or those of a proper debate to do anything other than continue to be open and give people an opportunity to share—[Interruption.] Well, if the Secretary of State did say that, I am wasting my breath, but I am worried that what he said was, “We have a decision-making process, and if you want to make a submission, you are free to do so.”
I would have thought that it was in the Secretary of State’s interests, and those of the Government and the nation, that he share his emerging thinking with us. It seems that he has even cancelled the interim assessment or interim announcements that he was going to give. When are we going to hear what his emerging thinking is, because he has said very little about that today? We are only six weeks away from the recess and the Government have set themselves a very tight time scale. Do they genuinely want to engage the nation, the Opposition, academia, industry and everyone else who needs to be involved; or are they simply going to invite us to make written submissions?
Last year when the right hon. Gentleman was Secretary of State for Defence, he effectively made policy on the hoof by announcing he was going to scrap the Territorial Army budget and thereby stop people like me training for six months. Given the mistakes he made last year and the appalling way he carried out that review, does he not think this current process is much better?
With the greatest of respect to the hon. Gentleman, let me point out that we were dealing with in-year budgetary measures—yes, they proved very controversial, and significant changes were made that people subsequently came to welcome, even if they could not find the ability to do so on the day—but that is very different from dealing with a strategic defence review, which is about the shape and framework of our armed forces for the years to come. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that it therefore ought to be tackled in a different, more open way. There is lots of expertise and interest on both sides of the House and outside this place. The people who possess it want genuinely to engage with this process, and I would have thought that, if the Secretary of State wants to fend off the purely financial pressures, it would be in his own interests to welcome that.
I feel the empathy between the two Front Benches on the financial pressures at the MOD, and I, too, am familiar with that. Does my right hon. Friend agree that emerging thinking should come early, at least in respect of the military covenant issues? I am thinking in particular of the announced review of armed forces pensions. Can we have a reassurance that existing members of the scheme will not be affected? Does my right hon. Friend think the Government Front-Bench team should reassure us of that, at least, today?
On a slightly more controversial note, does my right hon. Friend think we should hear from the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr Robathan), about the mental health of serving personnel? He was completely hopeless on “File on 4” yesterday, and seemed to contradict himself three times on whether we would have screening of military personnel. He eventually had to endure the humiliation of being interrupted by the MOD chief press officer because he was going off-script.
I missed that programme—sadly, by the sound of it. My hon. Friend raises an important point when he says a review of armed forces pensions has been announced. As I was in the Chamber at the time, I know that he tried to get an answer on that from the Prime Minister earlier today, and answer came there none. These are very important issues. Is the armed forces pension scheme part of the general review? Are we going to have any wider discussion of welfare issues?
Mental health is a very important issue, but it seems that Government Front Benchers have views that contradict each other greatly. Some of them say we need to do much more than the last Government did, and to introduce general screening for mental health; yet the Minister with responsibility for veterans, the hon. Member for South Leicestershire, appears to be totally and utterly opposed to screening for mental health—or did appear to be, unless he said something else in the programme to which my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson) referred.
Will the right hon. Gentleman concede that before he arrived at the MOD, Labour carried out a substantial review of armed forces pensions that did not affect any of the civilian part of the public sector, but as a result of which people in the scheme for subsequent years lost very significant sums in potential pension rights?
I know the hon. Gentleman is very interested in the welfare of the armed forces. All we are trying to do is solicit an answer. Everyone needs to know whether the armed forces pension scheme is part of the review or not, but we cannot get an answer. We need an answer and we certainly cannot wait until the summer recess for one.
While I am talking about welfare issues, let me address what the Secretary of State said about the non-existence of a tri-service Government document. May I recommend to him the preamble in the Command Paper and suggest that he should consider seriously whether he can improve on it? Will he continue with the commitments in that paper and will he, as part of the strategic defence review, look seriously at something that was in the Labour party manifesto—the introduction of a service charter? Many members of our armed forces whom I have met—I am sure that he will have had the same—recognise some of the improvements that have been made to many aspects of their service and support in the past few years, but want them to be entrenched in law. Is he prepared to make such a commitment?
The Secretary of State seems to have said that a process to examine the value for money of alternatives to Trident has already started and will be all over before the summer. We are only five weeks away from that and from the future successor, but we have heard nothing about it from him or his coalition partners. If we hear nothing at all on this before a final decision is taken, it will only increase the cynicism that many of us had about the Liberal Democrats’ position in the first place—that it was about them trailing their coats in the direction of unilateralism without actually going there. They never had, as I think the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) effectively exposed in his paper, a sensible alternative to Trident. Is there going to be a process and will we be told anything about it, or is this just a way of getting a rather embarrassing chapter in the coalition’s creation off the agenda as quickly as possible?
I understand as well as anyone the very difficult decisions with which the Secretary of State is confronted. I appreciate and totally agree that salami-slicing is not the way to go. I agree that a step change is probably needed and that some difficult decisions will therefore need to be taken. I am sure he regrets some of the rhetoric that he used in opposition and some of the promises he made, such as those about a bigger Army and a bigger fleet. Now he is in government, he will need not just to say those things but to deliver them. I hope he will do that in an open manner in which we can all engage, and I think it would be in his interests to do so.
Did the shadow Secretary of State ever consider whether the strategic defence review might have taken place a few years ago? It seems to have taken a very long time to get to, and it might have been quite useful to have had it in 2004. Both parties have said that they would go ahead with it, but did he consider doing so much earlier?
We carried out a strategic defence review in 1998; we updated it through the new chapter and the White Paper. I became Secretary of State in the late summer of 2009. We committed ourselves to a strategic defence review in exactly the same way as the Conservative party did. We would have been carrying out a strategic defence review in exactly the same way as the Government are. We would be confronting the same difficulties. We would try to be as open and inclusive as we possibly could. I genuinely believe that defence is more than a simple party interest and that it ought to expand beyond that.
I do not think we will get an answer on specific capabilities from the Defence Secretary—we have not got many answers from him at this stage—and I suppose that that is understandable. I did not expect him to come to the House and be able to tell us today what his conclusions will be. I am asking him—I think this is perfectly reasonable—to share his emerging thinking with the House and not to think that he can present a fait accompli at the end of the day, because that would make things a lot worse.
I want to raise two points of contention. First, the Government announced, and the Prime Minister repeated this in The Sunday Telegraph yesterday, that £67 million has been applied to doubling the number of improvised explosive device teams. As we applied £150 million to the IED capability in Afghanistan a few months ago and that doubled the IED teams, I wonder how the new Government have managed to double them yet again with only £67 million. We should not be spinning about that; we ought to be clear. I hope we will hear some explanation when the Minister winds up about exactly what that £67 million has bought. Are they re-announcing the doubling that took place under the previous Government, or have they managed by some means or another to redouble an already doubled capability for about half the cost? That really would be magic money indeed.
Secondly, I do not believe that the manner in which the impending resignation of the Chief of the Defence Staff was dealt with was in any way appropriate. To suggest that he is in some way responsible, as it was put, for past failures in Afghanistan or was too close to Labour is quite a sad thing for anyone to have suggested. The existing Chief of the Defence Staff is a man who, as far as I am aware, believes in democratic control. He therefore believes that Ministers ought to take decisions and that commanders ought to give advice. If people detract from that, they do themselves no favours whatsoever.
The defence review inevitably involves, as we have heard this afternoon, the consideration of abstracts and concepts, but the 300th death in Afghanistan is eloquent reality. As the shadow Defence Secretary indicated a moment ago, for every one of those people, 300 families are in mourning. We have a brief acknowledgement of the sacrifice, but for those families, the sacrifice goes on for as long as they live. Particularly when we see the montages of the 300 people who have lost their lives, we must think about the promise, discipline and service that have been cut down by the fact of their deaths. That is why on these occasions we should think more than in a perfunctory way about what it costs to defend our country and the sacrifice that, sometimes painfully, must be made.
Iraq and Afghanistan have skewed our priorities, but more than anything else, they have breached the assumptions of the 1998 defence review. They have put an intolerable financial burden on the Ministry of Defence, and indeed on the Government’s Contingencies Fund. I spend a little time referring to Iraq and Afghanistan because neither the duration nor the intensity of either was anticipated by the 1998 defence review, which was none the less regarded as a successful operation. Indeed, if I may pick up a point that the shadow Defence Secretary made, part of that success was due to the degree to which there was consultation, and the degree to which people were invited in—not asked to make written submissions, but actually allowed to sit face to face with John Reid and George Robertson, and to argue the case with them. If that is not to be possible on this occasion, the Government will, in a sense, be restricting themselves, and perhaps shutting off a degree of help, assistance and contribution that would enable the conclusions of the defence review to be well founded.
The principles of a defence review are easy to articulate. One must establish the foreign policy objectives or baseline; assess what military capability is necessary to enable one to achieve those objectives; and finally allocate the resources. In 1998, the Government never published their foreign policy baseline, but if they had, it would not have included the doctrine of humanitarian intervention, because that came after 1998, in a speech made by Prime Minister Blair in Chicago. However well founded and well regarded it is, it is an element of British policy, with military consequences, that was not embraced by the 1998 review.
The review envisaged one short-term, high-intensity conflict going on at the same time as a medium-term operation such as peacekeeping, but in fact we had two hot wars being fought simultaneously, plus Sierra Leone—a notable success of Prime Minister Blair’s, in my view, and, of course, there was Kosovo, where, it has to be acknowledged, he was responsible for holding the feet of the rather reluctant American President to the fire, thereby producing an outcome that all of us regarded as the best possible.
In spite of the success attributed to the 1998 review, there was a continuing argument about resources and, in particular, helicopters. The reason that I point to that is that we imagine that there is some kind of immaculate conception of a defence review, but the truth is that it is based on assumptions and judgments, and the unexpected will almost certainly be part of the terrain that defence has to cover in the next 20 or 25 years.
There is an element of rush about the review. When one considers the complexity of the issues at stake, setting a time limit of a few months is unwise. I would like the foreign policy baseline to be not only published, but the subject of debate in this House, because it is on that baseline that subsequent decisions will rest. If there is not unanimity, or at least general consensus, on the foreign policy baseline, what comes thereafter will undoubtedly be regarded by some as flawed.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is generous to give way. Does he appreciate that it is not simply carrying out the strategic defence review within the time scale that is problematic, but the fact that the comprehensive spending review and the Ministry of Defence’s planning round 11—PR11—are all happening at exactly the same time?
Indeed. During earlier exchanges, the thought occurred to me that, if there were any Treasury Ministers looking in on the debate, they certainly were not getting any encouragement about a willingness on the part of anyone in any part of the House to give up any capability or programme, or any installation or base that happened to be in their constituency.
No, I will not, because I will deal with the hon. Gentleman in a moment. The central question is: what role do we want Britain to play, and how much, as a nation, are we prepared to pay for that? On this occasion, the question is: how much can the nation afford to pay? The blunt truth is that a large part of the review will be an expenditure review, and not necessarily a defence review.
I have some sympathy for the hon. Gentleman in his argument about the carriers. The carriers are the answer to this question: should Britain have a global role? However, can Britain afford a global role? If I might offer him a moment or two of advice, perhaps he will find that line of argument a little more compelling than his understandable determination to maintain jobs in his constituency.
Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman not agree, though, that we also have international responsibilities that must be met, including towards Britain’s overseas territories? With regard to the carriers, one overseas territory for which we still have a huge responsibility is the Falkland Islands. Given those far-flung territories, we must have the defence capability to meet those responsibilities.
It is all a question of flexibility and adaptability; the hon. Lady will find that in the Green Paper. Take, for example, Afghanistan. We enjoy aerial supremacy there. There is no challenge in the air. That has been enormously important in the provision of close air support or interdiction, in the protection of our forces, and, indeed, in allowing them to take part in the kind of operations in which they are now engaged, but just imagine if there were not host nation support—if we did not have available airfields. The obvious platform from which to provide close air support and interdiction would, in that case, be a carrier, so carriers have enormous utility in a variety of circumstances. That is one of the reasons that I think that we should build the carriers; they provide the sort of flexibility and adaptability that lie at the very heart of the Green Paper. In that sense, the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Mr Davidson) may find, much to his surprise, that I am rather more sympathetic to him than he anticipated.
In the days of the cold war, we had the four-minute warning. Now we have an eight-minute warning, perhaps almost to the same effect. The reason that I have such enthusiasm for the Green Paper is that the shadow Defence Secretary, then Secretary of State, invited the hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) and me to be part of the group of people who considered its terms. We are not responsible for everything in it, but I hope that we made a valuable, or at least valid, contribution to it. Page 32 talks about partnership, and asks
“how we can strengthen European nations’ contribution to global security, including through more effectively aligning resources and priorities; how we can further improve cooperation between NATO and the EU”
“whether there is scope for increased role specialisation or capability-pooling within NATO and the EU in order to create a more coherent and capable output”.
It is partnerships of that nature that will enable us to provide the all-round spectrum. No one here who I have heard so far has sought to argue that we should finish with one particular capability. There is a determination to maintain an all-round spectrum, but we cannot afford that. The only way in which that will be done is with our neighbours, and as part of a partnership.
On Trident, let me say briefly that my views are well known. I do not see how one can have a value-for-money assessment unless one considers what alternatives are available. In that sense, the review, which the coalition document embraces and endorses, will be much wider than many people think.
I am grateful, Mr Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to speak in this important debate.
These are difficult economic times, with more problems to come, no doubt. The temptation to cut the defence budget is inevitably high. If there are efficiency savings to be made, we should make them, but they must be made in the back office, and not, in these circumstances, in any way that affects the front line.
It is important that we use our helicopters for what we need to use them, and not use them to ferry our top brass to other functions.
If we can make efficiency savings in the back office, I am in favour of doing so, but may I take the opportunity to emphasise the fact that there is nothing more important than the defence of our people and the land in which we live? To cut any further our already stretched resources will put our security and service personnel at even more risk. I do not accept that our forces are overstretched, but only because they demonstrate the absolute reverse through their ability to cope. However, they have certainly been under immense pressure for too long, and that simply must not continue.
I have consistently held the view that the defence budget is too small. To cut it now would be unthinkable. Education and health are vital, and it is right that they should be ring-fenced, but their importance will pale into insignificance if our way of life is threatened by terror or, even worse, if we find ourselves under the heel of a foreign power. The difficult question is, as always, estimating the level of the threat that we face, but we must always err on the side of caution and fear the worst. The justification for defence expenditure should be based primarily on necessity, rather than affordability. In conjunction with the strategic defence review, we must look at our foreign policy commitments, because we must decide what sort of country we want to be before we make up our mind on our strategic defence position. We could, for example, model ourselves on Belgium, Switzerland or Scandinavia, and send the message to the world that we do not intend to do anyone any harm, in the vain hope that they will not do us any.
Alternatively, we could growl fiercely at our would-be aggressors, declaring that if they give us a problem, we will sink our sharp teeth into them. One thing is clear: we would be unwise to flip between the two models. It is sensible not to be too aggressive, but Britain’s history, its place in the world, and our culture define us as a nation. For my part, I confess to feeling much more comfortable with an ability to bite potential invaders, as opposed to begging for forgiveness and pleading for mercy.
George Robertson, in the last defence review in 1998, said that the cold war had been
“replaced by a complex mixture of uncertainty and instability.”
That certainly has not changed. The 1998 review was radical, and it reflected a changing world. The reality is that the Ministry of Defence has reformed, and made considerable progress since 1998. Our forces are much better configured to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Change was essential, and there is room for more, to enable us to meet and to defeat the new threats that we face, but such ambitions do not come cheap, and no defence review is effective if it is used simply to save money.
Government after Government have failed to provide the financial resources needed, which is simply unfair on our Army, our Navy and our Air Force, and it just cannot go on. We are extremely fortunate that Britain’s armed services have dealt with a lack of resources in most ingenious ways—it is what we would expect—but make do and mend cannot last, and time to train, and to recover, is absolutely vital to maintaining the world-class standards of our forces. I therefore urge the Conservative-Liberal coalition not to make the same mistakes as previous Governments by under-resourcing and over-expecting. If we are not prepared to lay out the resources that will increase our forces’ size and complexity, we have a responsibility to downgrade our global role.
I do not think that we should do so, but we cannot have it both ways. As the 1998 review explained, we can decide not to have a significant military capability. What was true in 1998 is even more true today, and we must now add Iraq and Afghanistan to our commitments. We must always be prepared to be able to defend ourselves against threats that we do not expect. For example, the discovery of oil around the Falkland Islands means that we must be ready to defend ourselves against increasing tensions in the south Atlantic. My genuine fear is that coalition government is not exactly the ideal vehicle for the task in hand, especially a coalition as diverse as one including Conservatives and Liberals. I really hope that I am wrong.
An important question is the future of tranche 3 of Eurofighter Typhoon. In the general election campaign, the Liberals said that they would cancel tranche 3, and the Conservatives said that they would retain it—I agree with the Conservatives. It would be interesting to know what the coalition intends to do with Typhoon—and the industry is entitled to know sooner rather than later. The prospects for our new aircraft carriers are another worry, and their acquisition is in the interest of those who will gain useful employment from their construction. Much more importantly, they are vital to Britain’s independent defence capability.
We need two aircraft carriers, and we must have joint strike fighters to fly from them, and indeed the support ships to defend them. The Treasury must be quaking in its boots, because all of that will be expensive, but I return to my earlier point: our defence capability must match our foreign policy expectations. If we are not willing to keep our forces up to speed, we should not expect them continually to perform miracles without resources. In conclusion, the most important job for the coalition is not just delivering an effective strategic defence review, but paying for it.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bolton North East (Mr Crausby), with whom I served on the Select Committee on Defence in the last Parliament. I always knew that he had a great speech in him that would defend the strains in the Ministry of Defence. We certainly heard it today, and I congratulate him on it.
We all accept that in this Parliament debt reduction must be the coalition’s main effort, but in this dangerous world, the UK needs to be able to protect itself from the threats it may face, now and into the future. The possession of a flexible, deployable military capability remains an indispensible component of any cost-effective defence and security strategy. As the Secretary of State told the Royal United Services Institute last week, defence is as much about deterrence as the actual use of force—and we heard that again today. The strategic defence and security review must be preoccupied not just with the capabilities we deploy during this period of “hot peace”, as opposed to cold war, but with maintaining those capabilities that we hope never to use in anger.
I have no fear of further scrutiny of the Trident deterrent programme, first because Trident is the cheapest option available. Its costs are vastly overstated by its opponents, amounting only to 0.5% of the defence budget over its lifetime. No one knows how expensive the alternatives would be, but they would demand the creation of a whole new weapons systems without the input of allies. Does anyone expect this to be a cheaper option than piggybacking on American technology?
Secondly, the development of an alternative weapons system would also put us in breach of the non-proliferation treaty. What would the international community say about that? Thirdly, Trident is the most effective system. It is safe from first strike, unlike land-based missiles. It is supersonic, unlike cruise missiles, which would be vulnerable to interception, and crucially, it is the least detectable.
I draw the attention of the House to something that Baroness Williams wrote in The Guardian this morning, which she clearly fails to understand. She argues that by having three Trident submarines instead of four, we would not only save, as she terms it,
“several billion pounds a year”,
which is questionable, but could maintain a
“smaller but still effective deterrent”
“keep Trident submarines in port, with at least one on alert status able to sail in a developing crisis situation.”
The suggestion is that the UK should be forced to deploy our nuclear deterrent in the face of the world’s media in the midst of a full-blown international crisis. To plan for such a public escalation is strategically illiterate.
But Trident is simply one part of our deterrence. We need the new smaller surface warships to deter drug smuggling and piracy. We need more drones to protect ground forces on operations. Strike aircraft and cruise missiles help deter aggression by rogue states that threaten to destabilise their regions. How else would we defend the Falkland Islands today? The ability to deploy ground troops at a distance acts as a deterrence and also hugely increases our influence with our key allies, especially the United States.
Astute submarines can deter almost any other navy from putting to sea against us. Flexible, deployable capability gives us broader deterrence effect, and that indefinable and indispensable quality, influence. Such capabilities take decades to create and will take decades to re-create if we give them up now in the face of a one-off fiscal crisis.
But what can we afford? Even if spending is maintained, there will have to be substantial cuts in personnel and equipment. Bernard Gray, the author of the excellent MOD report on procurement last year, said that, if the MOD budget is frozen, the Department will be unable to order any new equipment for the next 10 years. If defence is to come out stronger, as the Secretary of State said it must, following the review, it is very difficult to see how spending can be cut—a point implicitly accepted by the protection of defence spending in the current year.
The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have both stated that they have no wish to oversee the decline of the UK as a world power. The task facing the Secretary of State is to ensure that his “policy-led, resource-informed” cross-Government review does not lead to the UK stumbling toward decline as a result. I have set out my own basis for the review in the form of a memorandum which the Prime Minister might well have sent to the Cabinet Secretary in his first week of office—a memorandum which the Royal United Services Institute very kindly published on its website today.
The defence review is about what sort of nation we wish to be in, say, 2020, and it must also explain how we get there. Are we to become just another medium-sized European country, like Spain or Italy, or must we recognise that our historical and geographic inheritance has presented us with a unique global role that we should be prepared to shoulder?
I am thoroughly enjoying listening to the hon. Gentleman’s speech, which is well reasoned and considered. Has he considered—perhaps in his paper, which I have not had an opportunity to read yet—the position of our forces abroad, for example in Germany? He may come to that in his speech.
Those forces should certainly be part of the review. It is difficult to imagine how we can hang on to a heavily armoured capability, give up those bases and provide for the expense of bases elsewhere. It is an open question. I do not present solutions or capabilities in the paper; I set out parameters for the discussion.
As I have said in the House before, for British prosperity and security, the UK’s global role is not a lifestyle choice; it is an imperative. It is not merely an expression of our aspirations. It defines who we are as a nation. We have unique capabilities and advantages that other nations do not possess, and it is in the interests of all free nations, and it is our national responsibility, that we use them for our mutual benefit.
In the past, there was nothing inevitable about the abolition of slavery, the defeat of fascism, or the facing down of communism, and in the future there is nothing inevitable about the continued spread of democracy and free trade, yet we depend upon democracy, free trade and the international rule of law utterly for our own prosperity and security. We must play our role in the world, simply because we can. That role reflects and reinforces our values and interests.
If we wish to step back from our global role, we must be frank about the likely consequences of such a move. We must ask which nation will take our role as America’s most influential and enduring ally. Are we to encourage the US to become unilateralist by disengagement? Who would protect our shipping from Somalian pirates? Who will invest in NATO if we choose to disinvest? Which other nation or nations would gain from our retreat? Would they promote freedom and democracy, or their own agenda, not ours?
The world is getting more dangerous and more fluid. We are in an age much more akin to the 19th century than the relative stability of the cold war stand-off. In today’s world overpopulation, competition for food and resources, the risk of environmental catastrophe, mass migration, accelerating technological change, nuclear proliferation, nationalism and extremism are all on the rise, and that is quite a list, aggravated further by the global recession. Is this the moment for us to substitute soft power for hard power? Too often, advocates of soft power are those who have decided that they can take a free ride on the hard power of others.
The Conservatives in 1979 inherited an economic and fiscal mess almost as bad as the one that we now face, yet between 1979 and 1985 defence spending increased by 30% in real terms or by almost 0.9% of GDP. The national interest was put first, and it should be put first now. Defence spending in 2009-10 was £35.3 billion, historically very low as a percentage of GDP. Other programmes, such as social security, are several times larger. While spending will have to be restrained in the long term, with a modest phased spending increase, savings of perhaps £3 billion in procurement and overheads, and a moratorium on discretionary operations, we could maintain a broad spectrum of capabilities and retain the UK’s global role. That would be outstanding value for money for this country and for the world, and would help to create a safer, more secure, and therefore more prosperous world for the next generation.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) who, as ever, was thoughtful and knowledgeable.
I welcome the decision by the current Government to follow through, as recommended in the Gray report, on the Labour Government’s proposed strategic defence review, now the strategic defence and security review. We have heard from right hon. and hon. Members across the House of the importance of assessing our forward requirements and cutting our cloth to ensure that we do not leave our country, our armed services or our people at risk from the range of potential threats that we face. How we equip ourselves to meet those risks and the implications for the UK defence industries, for service personnel and their families and for the taxpayer are all questions which the SDSR will have to answer.
I accept that linking homeland security to the review makes sense, but this will make the process a hefty task and clearly one that should not be rushed. Does the Secretary of State have any concerns about the capacity of those undertaking the work to deliver an outcome within a realistic time scale, given the Government’s intention to cut as far and as fast as possible in all Departments?
So what are the risks? Across the globe there are three main areas from which threat could develop, areas where pressures have already built, or are building, and could lead to the need for engagement—engagements in which we as a nation could, or perhaps should, become embroiled. We need a sensible assessment of the international context in which the review takes place and of the future character of emerging conflicts. Those risks involve climate change, globalisation and global inequalities, and the sense of injustice that grows from that. This SDSR will need to make an assessment of the nature of the changes that will arise from climate change. There is an increased likelihood of mass migration as a direct result of the scarcity of materials and natural resources and the loss of habitable land.
Globalisation presents different concerns, which could need a military solution. Competition for goods and markets will increase, and there is an inevitable increase in the use, internationally, of telecommunications and cyberspace, and, therefore, the vulnerability of companies and countries to cyber attacks and the threat posed by serious organised crime, occasionally masquerading behind an ideological or religious front. The continuing divide between rich and poor nations, and between the rich and poor within nations, and between different societies and groups, is also a flashpoint that might need a military response from Britain, or indeed bring terrorist or other activity to our shores.
The Development Concepts and Doctrine Centre's strategic trends programme sets out those risks in great detail, looks at the next 30 years and offers analysis on the type of future military capability that might be required. We know that our armed forces have undertaken over 100 operations since the last strategic defence review. Those varied from major conflicts in Iraq, international operations in places such as Kosovo and a counter-insurgency operation in Afghanistan, through to counter piracy work in the Indian ocean and drugs patrols in the Caribbean.
We have in the last decade moved beyond the cold war scenario and our capabilities have changed to match the new requirements. However, we have always to be mindful of the risk of a sudden change to the demands being placed on our armed forces, including a new cold war, and this SDSR has to ensure that we are equipped to meet all risks while ensuring that the UK maintains its place at the top table internationally. We do not want to be caught out, as Governments were in the past following earlier defence reviews in which swingeing cuts were the outcome, and find ourselves in a Falklands war scenario with inadequate equipment and a reduced Navy, or, as at the time of the first Iraq war, with an Army that has been cut back. Both, incidentally, followed Conservative Government strategic defence reviews.
I want an assurance that this Government will not cut for the sake of it, but that they will, as they seek to ensure that we have a flexible and affordable capability, listen very carefully to the advice being offered to them from across the services and avoid being Army-centric. Clearly, as a Plymouth MP, I would be expected to say that, but a number of the signals from Ministers, both before and since the election, have suggested an increased role for the Army. However, the other two services, especially the Navy from my constituency perspective, are vital. Perhaps the Minister could confirm whether the settled view of the Government is that the Army is too small or needs enlarging.
I would argue that there is an ongoing requirement for the capability to ensure that our merchant shipping is protected and sea lanes remain open. We could not afford to be caught out with an undersized Navy were another Falklands-type incident to arise, and we certainly need to be able to move armed forces by sea and into the littoral environment quickly and safely on vessels that can give hard support to troops on the ground.
I do believe that we have to have a nuclear submarine based deterrent, but I am unclear exactly how Trident and its platform—the successor to Vanguard—fits into this SDSR. I did ask the Secretary of State this question during our last exchange, when I gave my second maiden speech, but I did not, perhaps because the right hon. Gentleman was thrown by the response of the House to that comment when he made it, get a reply. What specifically will the remit be for this proposed value-for-money review into Trident, and how would that process be scrutinised? Given that Trident money was earmarked as Treasury spend originally, not MOD, what pressure is the Secretary of State under from his Treasury colleagues, let alone his Liberal Democrat friends, to bring Trident forward and for these costs to be cut?
The economic benefits to British industry and to its work force of maintaining this programme, and indeed the Astute programme, which is so vital to the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock), are significant. Babcock, which has its headquarters in Plymouth and which punches above its weight, as the Secretary of State mentioned earlier, is not only involved in successor submarine contracts but has a major commitment to the carriers. The first sub blocks have already made their way from Appledore to Rosyth, on time and on budget. That is very much in line with what Bernard Gray, in his report, wanted to see. My constituents are also benefiting from the work on the carriers as Babcock moves work down from Rosyth to accommodate the expansion of the carrier build. The new ships should be a vital component in the future fleet. When the Minister replies, will he explain what the options are of not proceeding with one or both of the carriers?
The future surface fleet combatant, or the new Type 26 class, was designed to replace the Type 22 and Type 23 frigates. What scope is there for BAE to bring forward initial concept designs offering the full range of options, from the gold-plated option down to the workhorse frigate? We in Plymouth believe that the workhorse frigate would give us some opportunities not only to base port, but to continue to service.
This SDSR has to balance the UK's need to preserve its position internationally with the role that our armed forces play in protecting our security at home and abroad and support our trade routes. Therefore, I would suggest closer working between Departments. But given the Treasury's strong involvement in the process, will the Minister confirm whether the Treasury will be the final arbiter rather than the MOD?
The hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Alison Seabeck) made a light-hearted reference to her second maiden speech, but I am proud to tell the House that this is my first maiden speech. If the House will indulge me for a few moments, I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my predecessor as a Member of Parliament for Fylde, the right hon. Michael Jack.
Michael was known to the House most recently as an incredibly capable MP who served as Chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, and he was held in great esteem. But Michael also served this country as a Minister both in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and in the Treasury. More importantly for me, he served the people of Fylde with real class. When I look to someone as a model Member of Parliament, Michael Jack is such a person. Without the glare of publicity, he just got on and did the job. With that in mind, I hope to be able to serve in his footsteps. Michael Jack was also a great defender of the Typhoon Eurofighter, which I hope to talk about later in my speech.
The Fylde constituency is the jewel of the north-west. I am glad that it is you, Madam Deputy Speaker, not one of the other Deputy Speakers, who is in the Chair, because they might disagree with that comment. I am often asked by hon. Members where Fylde is, and whether it is next to Blackpool. It most certainly is not. Blackpool is in the Fylde, not the other way around. Fylde is famous for a great many things. It has world-class golf courses and will soon host the world open golf championship. It has some of the cleanest beaches anywhere in the United Kingdom and some of the finest agricultural land in the north-west. Lytham Green, with its iconic windmill, which this year hosted the local proms, is an example of a fine green space which is attractive to tourists.
My constituency does have its problems, however. The high street of Kirkham, a proud market town, like many high streets throughout the country, has many empty local shops. Councillor Elaine Silverwood runs a local bookshop there, but she also makes ice cream and has a tearoom. That spirit of entrepreneurialism gives me a lot of heart. It is not about sitting back and complaining about how things are; it is about encouraging people in the constituency to go out there and make a difference, to take over empty shops and really start to bring something new and different to the high street. I pay tribute to such people in my constituency.
Fylde is also a beautiful constituency. Wrea Green is a stereotypical English village. As someone who was born in Scotland, even I can fully appreciate it. Cricket is played there in the summer, and one can hear the sound of leather on willow. Until recently, like many villages in my constituency and towns throughout the country, Wrea Green was threatened by the Government’s regional spatial strategy. I thank the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government for his swift action in abolishing the targets set by that strategy, giving hope once again to people who cherish green space.
I also congratulate Blackpool football club. I would not seek to claim credit for Blackpool’s elevation to the premier league, nor would I claim that the club is located in my constituency, but its training ground is, its very talented manager lives in my constituency, and what is more, most of the players do, too—so if I am going to take the glory for someone else’s hard work, this is the moment.
Fylde is also incredibly fortunate to be served by two very good local newspapers, The Gazette, which is printed six days a week, and the Lytham St Annes Express, which is a shining example of how a talented editor—Steve Singleton in this case—can do a lot in difficult times. However, if the sun ever fails to shine in Fylde, one can always jet off to warmer climes, because Blackpool airport is very much based in my constituency.
Let me turn to the substantive issues in today’s debate. Fylde is neither a twee constituency nor simply the beautiful rural jewel that I have described; there is much more to it than that. We make things in Fylde. It is the home of nuclear fuel, employing 2,000 people, and in a future debate I wish to expand on that point. It is home also to the military aircraft division of BAE Systems, employing more than 8,000 people directly. Indeed, it is not only the home of the Typhoon Eurofighter; Nimrod final fit-outs and all the developmental work on unmanned aerial vehicles takes place there. The Americans take the credit for many things, but one thing for which they cannot take credit is that technology. The United Kingdom is the world leader in that technology, and it is developed in my constituency.
On the defence review, I should like to make an appeal to the Minister. I know that budgets are tight and many Members from all parts with interests in defence procurement are making pitches, but we need Typhoon tranche 3b for a number of reasons. We live in an unpredictable world, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) said, we cannot tell what the future holds, other than that it will be unpredictable. At times Government Front Benchers talk about export potential, and British Aerospace is working very hard in Saudi Arabia, Oman and Japan to win exports. However, the aircraft’s cost model is built on the premise of a future RAF order, and Ministers must be aware that if a future order is not forthcoming the cost dynamics will change, and BAE might not be competitive with the United States and France in export markets.
Finally, on that subject, I pay tribute to Unite. I may be the only Conservative Member to do so, but there we have an example of the trade union working with BAE management and the Government to deliver what is important: a quality product, products coming off the production line and everyone pulling in the same direction. I really hope that Unite continues to work with the current Government and with BAE to deliver that.
Time is catching up, so I should quickly move away from BAE and mention my other defence interest, Weeton army barracks. The soldiers based there have just returned from Afghanistan, having served this country well, and I appeal to the Minister to ensure that we do nothing that puts Weeton’s strength in any doubt.
Madam Deputy Speaker, it has been a privilege to make my maiden speech. Thank you very much.
It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies), who, in the finest tradition of maiden speakers, was gracious towards his predecessor and agile in the promotion of the beauty and attributes of his constituency and constituents. He may not be aware of this, but we have a shared interest: the Nimrod aircraft, which is based in my constituency at RAF Kinloss. No doubt he will develop a strong interest in Nimrod and in all the other industries in his constituency. On the Nimrod link, and on this day, having heard about the 300th casualty in Afghanistan, I, too, pay tribute to all those brave servicemen and women who have made all the ultimate sacrifice—while not in any way losing sight of the pain and suffering of their families, 14 of whom are related to service personnel who died aboard Nimrod XV230, which was based at RAF Kinloss.
The strategic defence review is long overdue, and it is correct for foreign policy, defence and security considerations to be the drivers of such an exercise. But, it is important that during the process we do not lose sight of achieving a balanced and fair defence footprint throughout the nations and regions of the UK. I make an appeal to Ministers on the Treasury Bench on that subject, because I shall return to it repeatedly. We cannot overlook or underplay the fact that the financial drivers behind this SDR are massive, and the consequences of decisions will be significant for many parts of the UK. We know that, because the Royal United Services Institute—RUSI—estimates a likely defence budget cut of between 10% and 15% over the next six years, and a 20% personnel cut over the same period. If that were applied in Scotland, it would result in 2,400 job losses.
Many Members may not be aware that there are already fewer service personnel based in Scotland pro rata than in the defence forces of the Irish Republic. If RUSI’s expected reduction is realised, Scotland will have fewer service personnel in real terms than the Irish Republic. That is not a surprise if we try to understand what has happened in recent years, but if we do not do so the SDR will run away with itself, leaving Scotland—and, incidentally, other parts of the UK—with such a denuded footprint that there will be very serious consequences.
Since the previous SDR, the number of defence jobs in Scotland has gone down by about 10,000. That includes 1,880 fewer service personnel, 4,600 fewer civilian personnel and 4,000 fewer jobs associated with the defence sector. All those numbers come from the Ministry of Defence.
The hon. Gentleman is a new Fife Member, and I welcome him to his place. He is very alive to the risks in Fife, as I am to those in Moray and others are to those in their constituencies. I am very surprised by the fact that the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), who is not now in his place, did not seem to acknowledge that it would be important if there were cuts at RAF Leuchars.
This is not just about jobs, but about defence expenditure, and again, using MOD statistics, we can understand that under the previous Government there was a significant defence underspend—the difference between Scotland’s population share and the amount of money that the MOD spent in Scotland. That underspend ranged from £749 million in 2002-03 to £1.2 billion in 2007-08, representing a 68% increase over the period. Between 2002 and 2008 the defence underspend in Scotland totalled a mammoth £5.6 billion, and the largest recorded underspend in one year was £1.2 billion, between 2007 and 2008. Those things should be taken into consideration.
I said in passing that this has impacted not only on Scotland, but on Wales and Northern Ireland in exactly the same way. When Scotland had an underspend of £5.6 billion, the underspend in Wales was a staggering £6.7 billion, while in Northern Ireland it was £1.8 billion. Some might ask themselves whether cyclical factors are involved, and think that defence contracts have simply come and gone—but when we look at the numbers we see that that is not the case: there is currently a structural underspend.
All that has happened over a period when there have been job losses across all three services the length and breadth of Scotland. The list is long. At RAF Lossiemouth in my constituency, one announcement revealed that 340 service jobs were being terminated, and then there was another announcement that 700 service jobs were being terminated. As has been mentioned, 160 service jobs were terminated at RAF Leuchars. At RAF Kinloss, which is in my constituency, 180 service jobs were terminated.
Perhaps the hon. Lady will concede that if we spent our population share on defence, we would have significantly more service personnel; more would be spent on procurement and as part of the defence sector in Scotland than is spent now. I do not know whether she was listening at the start when I said that the UK already has fewer service personnel pro rata in Scotland than the Irish Republic does.
The hon. Lady obviously did not want to listen to the litany of further closures that took place under the Labour Government. HMS Gannet lost 245 service personnel and hundreds of jobs were lost on the Clyde; incidentally, there are fewer shipbuilding jobs on the Clyde now than when Labour came to power. RAF Stornoway was closed, as was the mooring and support depot at Fairlie. The royal naval storage department in Rosyth was closed, while RAF Machrihanish was passed to Defence Estates. The Army depot at Forthside in Stirling was also closed, as was RAF Buchan.
The list goes on and on. I should like those on the Treasury Bench to understand that the strategic defence and security review cannot take place without an understanding of what has happened to the defence footprint across the United Kingdom. If there is not such an understanding, the review will be severely denuded. We had only to open one of Scotland’s best selling quality newspapers this weekend to learn that, apparently, areas slated for closure include RAF Kinloss, RAF Lossiemouth, 45 Commando, Fort George, the Queen Victoria school at Dunblane and the 2nd Division at Craigiehall. There are concerns about procurement projects, including carriers on the Clyde and in Rosyth.
At the start of this debate, I asked the Secretary of State what consideration he would give to the concept of the defence footprint at the end of the review. He said—I paraphrase—“We will be considering these matters as part of the defence industrial strategy.” With the greatest respect, this issue is much bigger than the defence industrial strategy. It is about the location of bases and the companies that produce for the major contracts—about what is left open and what closes. I repeat that, of course, the driver in an SDSR must always be defence and foreign policy considerations. That is understood; everybody understands that.
I am running out of time, and I want to conclude by saying this. Unless those issues are considered at the MOD now, they will be lost as the different services interplay and trade off the different things that they will lose as part of the SDSR. Somebody needs to take charge and ask themselves what will come out of the situation and what will be left of the defence footprint around the UK. What will be the impact on the nations and regions? If that does not happen, I predict that there will be big losers and virtually no winners.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make my maiden speech during this important debate. Unfortunately, the previous maiden speech was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies), who set such a high standard.
I am proud to be a new MP and represent the new seat of Lancaster and Fleetwood. It was formed from the old seats of Blackpool, North and Fleetwood and Lancaster and Wyre, and I pay tribute to my two predecessors. For 13 years, Joan Humble was Member of Parliament for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood and she represented the town of Fleetwood to the best of her ability. I know that in this place she was well respected on both sides of the divide for her work on the Social Security Committee and for her chairmanship of all-party groups, including the all-party group on childcare. Joan stood down before the last election, and I am sure that we all wish her the best in whatever career she develops.
My other predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace), is still in the House; he was selected for that new seat and elected with 52% of the vote—a figure that I aspire to, given my current majority. I owe a great deal to him. He was a friend, mentor and guide while I was a candidate and he has set me a high boundary to hit, given his campaigning for his constituency in the last Parliament. I particularly highlight his work in defending the people of Wyre against plans to store gas under the River Wyre. I hope to join him in that campaign, alongside his constituents and mine.
Many people have commented on my constituency’s boundaries. I visit the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde frequently, because I have to travel through three other constituencies to get to a third of my constituents. I do not know whether any other Member faces such a situation. Fleetwood is a town on a peninsula with the River Wyre on one side and the sea on the other—one of those seaside towns and fishing ports that have been so neglected in recent years. Its infrastructure has been neglected; its railway has no trains and its A road has only a single carriage. Its fishing fleet has almost been destroyed by the depredations of the common fisheries policy. What is left of it is now also threatened by the new plans for offshore wind power.
At the centre of Fleetwood there is a whole community of family businesses. Perhaps the famous “Fisherman’s Friend” is the most well known to Members; I am told that it sells 4,000 million lozenges per year, in more than 100 countries. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] That makes for a damn lot of hot air, I would imagine. I particularly compliment the family that runs the company; Doreen Lofthouse, the head of the family, has contributed so much to the town of Fleetwood and sets an example of what businesses can do for their own areas.
A third of my constituency is rural and many Members, particularly on the Government side, have understood the neglect that such areas have suffered following 13 years of a Labour Government. Village shops and post offices have been lost, and there is a feeling that that Government left them behind and forgot about them. Those areas have great hopes that the Conservative Government will rebalance that agenda. The rural area of my constituency is a fantastic part of the world. It is bounded by the Pennines and the sea. Bowland forest is a favourite spot; it has been well known in the country throughout history. In that rural area, however, villages in the upland areas still lack contact with broadband provision. To reach Wray, one of those villages, and the hamlets beyond it, I have to drive through yet another constituency —that of my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris). I think I can already claim some kind of record. I am perhaps the only Member who has to travel through four separate constituencies to reach the various parts of his constituency.
To top it all, there is the ancient city of Lancaster. It is useful in a pub quiz, because most people assume that it is a county town, but it is not. It is, however, an ancient town and city, with its fantastic university and castle. According to The Times, the university is one of the top 10 British universities. I proudly say that in the few weeks before the election, Lancaster university had its annual battle of the Roses with York university. It triumphed yet again, as Lancashire always does.
The other key issue in Lancaster is that we have a very large Territorial Army base. Across the north-west, 3,400 volunteers—men and women—are in the TA, on top of the Royal Naval Reserve, the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve and the Royal Marines Reserve. Since 2003, 1,700 of those volunteers have served in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Balkans. I wish to pay tribute here to the chairman of my association, Dr Robin Jackson, who is commander of 207 Field Hospital (Volunteers), soon to go out to Afghanistan. I am sure that all hon. Members’ prayers, as well as mine, go with those people on their second tour of duty in that country. I was so pleased when, in response to questions from more eloquent Members than me, the Secretary of State spoke about the importance of our reserves, what they contribute, and the mobility that they give to this country and to the Army’s capability. They are a fantastic operation.
As I am sure most Members understand, all our constituents are questioning our engagements abroad at the moment. Certainly in my constituency—where people are, as they say, not backward in coming forward—the jury is still out on what is going on in Afghanistan. However, I will tell Members what they will not put up with and what they expect from this new Parliament: whatever future engagements the Government have for our soldiers, whether regular or volunteer, never again should they be sent out there without the best equipment that this country can provide.
I congratulate my neighbours, the hon. Members for Fylde (Mark Menzies) and for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw), on their excellent and persuasive maiden speeches. That sentiment is all the more heartfelt, given that probably more than half my constituents also wish that they were fellow Lancastrians.
No function of Government is more important than the defence of their people and support for those who put themselves in harm’s way. It is therefore absolutely right that in this review, the needs of country and of the front line must come first. Our manufacturing base is critically important. I represent a constituency where 5,000 people are employed in Barrow shipyard alone—the foundation of the whole economy. There is a supply chain that reaches right across the UK, with the Trident successor set to provide work for nearly 400 suppliers stretching from Aberdeen to Portsmouth. Furness would be decimated if production were to cease. Yet I know that it is the contribution that employees in my constituency make to their country’s security that gives them such pride. They include workers at BAE’s Global Combat Systems making the M777 howitzers for troops in Afghanistan, the likes of Oxley and Marl responding to urgent operational requirements such as infrared lighting to support night driving in that difficult terrain, and workers at BAE’s Submarine Solutions building the Astute class boats that will potentially, in future conflicts, lessen the need for front-line troops to put themselves in harm’s way.
My case is not that the strategic defence review should create defence priorities to sustain our prized industrial base; rather, jobs and capacity within the UK must be maintained precisely because they are essential to keeping our nation safe. We must of course be more efficient and make some very difficult choices, but retaining a unique industrial capacity will continue to give us a military edge in key fields in responding quickly to the next urgent operational requirement and producing subs whose maintenance is not reliant on offshore expertise, compromising our sovereignty and security. How we create a capability through a new defence industrial strategy is critically important, but so, of course, is what we create.
I want to devote the rest of my speech to the importance of taking the right decisions on our independent nuclear deterrent.
Before my hon. Friend moves on to the nuclear issue, does he agree that many countries have often found that when they simply buy off the shelf from the US, it is a bit like buying a car and finding that there are lots of blanks where all the important gizmos should be, because the Americans keep them for themselves? There are also lots of ongoing costs regarding servicing and the black box technology that the Americans keep for themselves.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Very difficult decisions are involved in this review, but we must not overlook the advantage that home-grown, home-made kit gives our armed forces out in the field of combat.
Of course, as parliamentarians and as individual human beings, our instinctive feeling towards the ultimate weapons of mass destruction that the deterrent represents is one of deep hostility and revulsion. It is a responsibility on all of us to strive for a world free from nuclear weapons. So for all the thousands of people who depend on it in my constituency, if abandoning the deterrent now would make the world safer from the threat of nuclear holocaust, it would be my duty to embrace that. However, unilaterally scrapping or delaying the renewal of Trident would make our country and the world less safe, not more so. Instead, it is vital that we secure genuine progress on the multilateral non-proliferation talks that are currently under way. While the threat persists, as we know it will for the foreseeable future, it would, as the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) argued well, be wrong to jeopardise our country by stalling on renewal.
We must guard against the dangerous spread of woolly thinking on this issue. We must not repeat the costly mistake of the last Conservative Government, who left too long a gap between completing the Vanguards and starting the Astutes; and we must resist opting for a platform that, while still capable of great evil and destruction, is no longer an effective deterrent against a hostile strike. Today, I am afraid, the Secretary of State again refused to say whether the new value-for-money review of Trident is considering only the cost of a new ballistic missile submarine platform, or alternatives to it. As the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) said, the surprise decision last week to suspend work on the successor programme suggests that the review may be more significant than we had first thought, because the former approach—driving out unnecessary costs as a programme develops—is what any Government should do all the time. The latter approach, however—considering alternatives to the successor—needlessly reopens a question settled in the 2006 deterrent White Paper. Even if new Ministers end up reaching the same conclusion as the previous ones, this could cause serious delays in a timetable which is already very tight, and ultimately spell a further gap in the order book that could again see skills lost and thousands laid off.
If the Government reach a different conclusion, however, serious consequences would follow for the public finances, jobs and the security of the nation. As far as I can tell, the Secretary of State has said that the Government remain committed to a submarine-based deterrent, so let us consider the alternatives that fit those criteria. On the option of refitting the Vanguard class submarines, we could do that, but relying on a relatively short and very expensive life extension would mean taking a massive punt with our national security.
It is also time to puncture the seductive myths around the second alternative: redesigning the Astute-class submarines so that they could carry nuclear warheads. There is a myth that this option would be cheaper, but it would not. It would not simply be a case of nailing an existing warhead to an existing Tomahawk missile and shoving it aboard one of the seven Astutes that are already slated to be built. We would need to construct many more new warheads from scratch, at vast expense and possibly in contravention of our non-proliferation treaty obligations. We would need to procure a new missile system, again at huge cost. We would need a costly redesign of the sub, as one cannot just slot a nuclear missile into a tube designed to fire a conventional Tomahawk. Finally, we would need many more submarines than we have at present. A fleet of conventional Astutes would still be needed to guard the new ones—they could not just double up—and missile size constraints mean that it could well be necessary to build many more vessels than the four ballistic missile boats they would be replacing.
This would not only cost UK taxpayers more but leave them significantly more vulnerable. The range of cruise missiles is much lower than that of ballistic missiles, and they can be much more easily stopped, so the UK would be left with chilling nuclear weapons, but without the strategic deterrent capacity that ultimately makes the horror of nuclear war less likely. That is truly an option that would deliver less for more.
I suggest that some who argue for a cheaper deterrent really mean that we should not have a deterrent at all. They should just come out and say that. To those who usually dislike American dominance but seem happy to leave the US and the French with the responsibility of protecting the world from nuclear war, I say, fine, but let them make that clear too. It is wrong for our country’s security and our ultimate aim of a nuclear-free world, and yes, it is wrong too for jobs in my constituency and across the country. However, a debate on those terms would at least prevent us from wasting money chasing an unrealistic middle way at a time when there has never been a more pressing need to ensure that every pound of defence spending is invested wisely.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock), and he will not be surprised to hear that I agree with almost every word—no, actually with every word—that he said about the nuclear deterrent. I hope that that does not damn his political career for eternity. He paid generous tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Fylde (Mark Menzies) and for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw) for their maiden speeches, which I am happy to endorse.
Perhaps I can cheer the hon. Gentleman up a little by letting him into a secret. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was aspiring to the leadership of our party, he held a series of interviews with his hon. Friends, of whom I was one. When I went in, I asked him only two questions. One need not concern us today, but the other was about his attitude to the nuclear deterrent, and I am delighted to say that he was extremely robust about it. If the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members care to check the response of our current Prime Minister to the statement of former Prime Minister Tony Blair on the subject in December 2006, they will see that it was once again extremely strong. That was the only occasion when I was ever called in to have anything to do with drafting a response to a Government statement. Our current Prime Minister made two alterations to what his speechwriter and I had drafted between us, both of which were to toughen up his response, not to weaken it. Although our coalition partners may hope to chip away at the edges on this matter, if I know the Prime Minister as well as I think I do, at least on this subject, they will undoubtedly be disappointed.
As hon. Members on both sides of the House will undoubtedly be aware, in the mid-1920s, a glassy-eyed rabble-rouser called Adolf Hitler was incarcerated in Landsberg prison, putting the finishing touches to “Mein Kampf”. At the same time as, sad to say, that man was pre-determining future history unregarded in that cell, the chiefs of staff of the armed forces were trying to decide what they would have to defend Britain against in the future. So incapable were they of predicting the future, understandably, that each of the armed forces prepared its hypothetical contingency plans against an entirely different potential enemy.
The Royal Navy—understandably, because Japan had a large navy—felt that we should prepare against possible Japanese aggression in the far east. The Army—understandably, because Russia had a large army—felt that we should prepare against possible Russian aggression somewhere in the area of the Indian subcontinent. The Royal Air Force was a little bit stuck, but eventually came up with an idea. Because the French had a rather large air force, it decided that we should prepare against a possible war with the French. Not one of the three wise men heading the three services, which had eventually done so well in the final stages of the great war, predicted that the real enemy that would face us, only 15 years later or less, would be a revived Germany led by that man scribbling away in a cell in Landsberg prison.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and we do not need to go that far back. When I was growing up in the 1970s—I know it does not seem possible, but I am genuinely that old—we were facing what we were sure was the actual threat, which was the Soviet Union pouring across the plains of Germany, massed tank battles and the use of tactical nuclear weapons, and then no doubt some form of nuclear holocaust engulfing the world. Nobody mentioned North Korea or Iran—they were not even on the radar. It is clearly difficult to guess what the future holds.
I am delighted that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman, who is absolutely right. I could add to the examples that he gave the Yom Kippur war, which was not predicted by hypersensitive Israel, the Falklands war, which was not predicted by us, the invasion of Kuwait, which was not predicted by anybody, and the attacks of September 2001, which were not predicted by the world’s then only superpower. I therefore very much welcome the Secretary of State’s acknowledgment that there is an unpredictability factor. We simply do not know what enemies will arise, when, and what sort of threat we will face.
This argument has been had over and again throughout the history of defence, most notoriously between 1919 and 1932, when something called the 10-year rule was in operation. It was felt that we could cut forces, because we could always look ahead a decade and say, “Well, there doesn’t seem to be any threat facing us now.” It is impossible to know significantly in advance, if at all, when we will next find ourselves at war. That means it is a limiting factor when we say that a defence review must be foreign policy-led, or even defence policy-led. At the end of the day, what we are doing in the strategic defence and security review is calculating the premium that we are prepared to pay on the insurance policy against harm befalling this country. With a normal insurance policy, if we knew when an accident would happen or when an injury would be inflicted, we could probably take steps to avoid it and would not need to spend money on the premium in the first place. However, we do not know, and that is why we have to spend the money.
As I indicated in an earlier intervention, I am particularly concerned about a frame of mind that is prevalent in some quarters of the Army, and which asserts that, because we are engaged in a counter-insurgency campaign now, anybody who says that in 20 or 30 years, or even longer, we might need modern aircraft to defend our airspace, modern naval vessels to defend our waters and lines of communication or even modern military vehicles to enable our Army to fight—hopefully alongside others—a foreign aggressor that not just had irregular or guerrilla forces but was possibly a hostile state, is living in the past or still thinking in cold war terms. I think like that, but I am not still thinking in cold war terms. I am thinking of the wars that we might have to face two or three decades hence, not just the conflicts in which we are engaged today.
A few years ago, I heard a senior military officer say that a tipping point might come when we had to choose between fighting the conflicts in which we were currently engaged and fighting a war at some time in the future. In other words, he was trying to contrast the small expectation of a big war in the future with the big expectation of a small war that we might have to fight sooner. I said at the time that I felt that to be a false choice, but if I had to make the choice, I would rather insure against the danger of a big war in the future than that of a small war closer to hand.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. To reinforce his point, I add that the small wars that we have fought recently have had more characteristics of state-on-state warfare than many people would care to admit. Serbia fought like a state, as did the Taliban, and Saddam Hussein certainly fought like a state twice. The idea that we should give up state-on-state warfare capability is absolute madness.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that that is absolute madness. I shall not name the senior Army officer who first proposed that thesis—all I will say is that he has become a very senior Army officer, and some say that he might even become an extremely senior Army officer—but leave it to people’s reading of the runes.
The reality is that in those conflicts that we fought, our high-end, precision materiel, our modern techniques, and our use of aircraft, naval vessels and mechanised warfare equipment, have been essential in getting us into theatre. The country has been disturbed and worried not by the casualties we have taken going into a theatre and displacing a hostile Government, but the casualties we take in day-by-day attrition that result from our persisting with methods that make it inevitable that our opponents can inflict them. I say this to shadow Ministers: it is not unpatriotic to question the strategy that is being followed in Afghanistan. Strategies can be improved. In previous wars, we have used strategies that failed over and again. Eventually, when they were changed, the outcomes improved. That can happen in Afghanistan.
I understand that resources are scarce and that each of the armed forces will want to make a case that suits its book best, and to claim most of those scarce resources, but we must have balanced forces, and I am delighted that the Secretary of State indicates that we will.
It is with some trepidation that I follow the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), who, as always, spoke with erudition, energy and great humour. He left us with a tantalising question: what was the other question asked those years ago by the Prime Minister? No doubt many of us will ply him with alcohol later to try to find out.
This morning, I was in Bridgend with my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), raising a flag to honour servicemen and women ahead of this year’s armed forces day on Saturday. In Bridgend, the links that bind ordinary families to the military are long-lasting. Many have the military woven into the fabric of their daily lives—it is not always on show, but it is strong and enduring. The strength of those links is a challenge, because the public now demand a new legitimacy for our actions: they demand an understanding of the actions that place our armed forces in harm’s way. Setbacks, mistakes, failures, and civilian or military casualties, can all diminish military and public acceptance of, and support for, intervention.
As has been said, the defence and security of the realm is the primary responsibility of the state, the Government and the House. Without the capacity to defend ourselves and secure the lives and prosperity of citizens, we face instability, insecurity and ruin. War is the final option in our defence and homeland security armoury, and Governments must go to greater lengths to secure that legitimacy, and the public’s engagement and understanding, before taking it. That is why debates in the House are so important, and why they must address what we seek to defend and why; against what risks and dangers we seek to defend ourselves; what defence forces we need and have available; what equipment, skills and training our defence forces need; how those forces will be deployed and managed; and, importantly, how our forces and their families will be cared for during service and in their lives after service, which might well be blighted by their service. We carry a huge responsibility for that, and the review must firmly address it.
The British public have the luxury of living their lives mostly ignoring the dedication and hard work carried out in their name by our vast defence and homeland security services, because the services do their jobs well and effectively. Defence Ministers are on the Front Bench today, but all Departments have a defence and security role to play. We have talked a lot about the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but the Home Office and the Department for International Development are also key players; there are huge implications for the Department of Health, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills; and, as access to water and food, and energy and climate change, rise up the political, military and defence agenda, the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have increasingly important roles.
We need to look at the lessons that have been learned and examine what changes are needed, what challenges are to be faced and what costs are to be borne. Terrorism, extremism and fundamentalism are not new challenges to Britain—they litter our history—but one new challenge is the global communications world, as that is how recruitment for our enemies can be increased.
Disillusionment among our public will grow from our failures. In recent years, we have seen the failure of the western economic model, human rights abuses and corruption damage the image of western democracies, and how actions in Gaza, even against evil such as Hamas, have turned public opinion against democracies. I was pleased that the Saville report into the events of Bloody Sunday demonstrated that there is no hiding place when such mistakes are made.
One issue that has not been addressed in the debate, but which must be addressed as part of the defence and security review, is the use of private military companies in combat zones. The use of such companies has proliferated. Many private sector companies are indispensable to front-line troops, providing repair and maintenance for essential equipment, logistic support, supply lines and provisions, but there is growing concern about the use of military security companies in combat and combat support roles in the absence of strict licensing and regulation regimes. DFID staff have told me that they were even prevented from going forward to do their jobs not by our military commanders on the ground, but by the diktats of private security companies. That cannot be allowed to happen, and those companies must form an important part of the review.
Setting values and ethics is complex at times of state-on-state warfare, but that threat has diminished. Coalition partnerships have new challenges in setting up new values and ethics as we work together and use new weapons that pose increasingly high risks to civilian populations. Although the Grey report revealed that the UK has better procurement than most comparable military nations, it still demonstrated that our process results in us procuring worse boys-let-loose-in-a-toy-store lethal weapons than I ever thought imaginable. Procurement must be addressed and tackled.
We have new challenges and risks and a change in the balance of power in the world. The impact of the rise of new economies—China, India and Brazil—and the demise of American, western hegemony, and our political, economic and ideological dominance, will impact on our defence and security. I hope to be a member of the Defence Committee in future, to look at how the review plays out, and to challenge some of the decisions that are made in our name and the leaders who make them.
May I first congratulate you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on assuming your role as a Deputy Speaker and, secondly, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak in this debate on the strategic defence and security review? I am grateful, because it is an important debate for my Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport constituents.
I came into politics as a Conservative party agent. For 10 years I was Angela Rumbold’s agent, who I am very sad to say died on Saturday evening. I am very sorry about that, because she was an incredibly good friend and I am grateful for all the advice that she gave me—I am thinking about the speech that I am making now as well. May I also thank my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench for all the help and support that they have given me over the years? When the Secretary of State was formerly the shadow Defence Secretary, he used to come down to Plymouth quite a bit, as he did when he was the party chairman, so I am afraid that he has had to get rather used to me asking him for things on a regular basis. It is also an enormous privilege to follow my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) and the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon), who both raised a number of issues that I hope to pick up.
Making one’s maiden speech is an incredibly daunting experience, but from my point of view it is made even more daunting by the fact that I am following Nancy Astor, Janet Fookes, Michael Foot, Dr David Owen, Alan Clark and Joan Vickers, with my hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon (Mr Streeter) and the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Alison Seabeck) both representing parts of the predecessor of my constituency. Then there is my immediate predecessor, Mrs Linda Gilroy, whose energetic social justice campaigning on the issue of fairer water bills for more deprived communities in the south-west was incredibly important. Indeed, we had an Adjournment debate on that last week. Her work on the Select Committee on Defence also ensured that nobody was unaware of the role that Plymouth has played in the defence of our nation.
In the course of the past month or so, many of my hon. Friends have commented to me about my fighting the Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport seat and its predecessor three times. Let me remind them that it was Sir Francis Drake, who entered this House in 1581, who had to finish his game of bowls before he was able to go and beat the Spanish armada, clearly demonstrating that patience and commitment are important in Plymouth.
From Plymouth’s magnificent natural harbour, some of our leaders have gone out to explore the world and show us what was going on. They include Sir Francis Drake, Raleigh, Hawkins, Sir Francis Chichester and, of course, Scott, whose anniversary it will be in two years’ time. In 1620, the Pilgrim Fathers left from the Mayflower steps to establish America’s second settlement. In 1690, the first dockyard was built on the River Tamar at Devonport. Plymouth as a city also has a number of major assets. It has a university with a distinguished reputation for marine science research; wonderful, diverse architecture; some of Britain’s finest—and liveliest—students; a dramatic waterfront; the excellent Theatre Royal; the remarkable Peninsula college of medicine and dentistry; and, of course, an historic dockyard and naval base.
However, Plymouth has also paid a high price in defending our country. It was badly bombed during the blitz, and it also provided a series of ships and servicemen to win back the Falklands in 1982, and, just recently, 29 Commando—including my hon. Friend the Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti)—to serve out in Afghanistan, as well as the Royal Marines, who have played a significant role in defending our country while based in Afghanistan and Iraq. I am very aware that the sacrifices that they ended up making have left a lot of families bereft of their relatives, with all the heartache and sadness that goes with that.
Despite that, there is a sense that Plymouth has been slightly left out, being at the far end of the peninsula, especially when people have seen the frigates and their families being moved to Portsmouth and the submarines moved up to Faslane. The city was surprised—and, I think, rather hurt—that it was not included as a location for the national veterans weekend in 2009. However, I very much hope that those on my Front Bench might be willing to take that point on board when the position is reviewed in 2012.
The big issue that I feel is going to be important in this debate on the strategic defence and security review is that of combat stress and the facilities that we need, including in Plymouth. I realise that a number of colleagues have spoken about this issue, but I very much hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State takes on board the ticking time bomb that is lurking in Plymouth as well. Coming from a service family whose father entered the Navy at the age of 14, I was brought up with an understanding of some of the mental health issues that went with his colleagues and friends. Recently, the Royal British Legion made it clear to me that it can take up to 14 and a half years for issues to do with combat stress to become apparent.
Plymouth has a serious drug and alcohol problem. Unless we take action now, I am afraid that we will be putting greater pressure on our health service, police, prisons and housing, so I would say that this is a case of “Action stations now”. If I do nothing else in my time in this House but raise the issue of mental health and combat stress, I feel that I will have made as significant a contribution as those other Members, including Dame Joan Vickers, who was a pre-eminent Member of Parliament.
It is a pleasure to serve under your weather eye, Madam Deputy Speaker—a new dawn, if not a red dawn.
Anyway, let me turn to the question at hand, which concerns the strategic defence and security review. I do not want to deal with some of the things that ought to be in the review; I would like to return to the discussion about how we are going to conduct it. It seems to me that we are talking about a collection of reviews. There has been much talk about, for example, the discussions that we have had in the past about the strategic nuclear deterrent and other things. As far as the strategic nuclear deterrent and the last discussion that we had on it are concerned, I can say as a member of the Defence Committee at the time—there are other members in the Chamber today—that we had to fight to have that discussion in the first place. We produced three reports—in order to do what? To inform a discussion; so there must be scrutiny.
We have heard about scrutiny of the current nuclear deterrent review. As I understood it—there are people here who can correct me on this—the coalition document says that it has been agreed, quite rightly, that
“the renewal of Trident should be scrutinised to ensure value for money.”
I thought that that would mean scrutiny of the process as it went along, but it appears today that it means a one-off shot. I am sure that there are Liberal Democrat Members who will be somewhat surprised, as I was, that this scrutiny will not form part of an ongoing process of deciding where we are. I thought that the debate about whether we should have a strategic defence review was a debate about possibly having one at the start of every Parliament. Over the past 10 years, we have effectively been having a series of strategic defence reviews, but in an ad hoc and piecemeal way, without taking a strategic approach.
In “On War”, Clausewitz said that strategy is more like an art than anything else. What is the art? It is the art of timing. Knowing what to do and how to do it can be the science; knowing when to do it is the question, and that is what we should address. In doing that, we also have to open the process up to some form of scrutiny. We are talking about a strategic review, apparently of both security and defence, and it was the Secretary of State who talked about the MOD’s contribution to that discussion. That assumes that we will therefore have a Foreign Office contribution and a Home Office contribution as well, with all the different elements coming together. I hope so, and I hope someone is going to explain to me the sequence of events by which we can scrutinise not only the strategic nuclear deterrent, but all the elements that make up what counts as strategic or otherwise.
I could give my answer, but it is not mine that is important, is it? What is important is the question, and as I understand it, based on published coalition documents, the position is this:
“The parties commit to holding a full Strategic Security and Defence Review… alongside the Spending Review with strong involvement of the Treasury”.
I bet there will be strong involvement from the Treasury, but is that involvement just about the costs, or will it also consider other things? The statement I quoted refers to a review conducted “alongside”; it does not say that the parties commit to “having a review of the nuclear deterrent by July” and it does not actually say that they commit to “determining the whole of the strategic defence review before the comprehensive spending review”, but that seems to be precisely what is said in the agreement. I am most confused about what the exact sequence of all these events will be, because if proper scrutiny is not allowed for, there will be a democratic deficit. After all, legislative change could be required. One would have thought that it was a good idea to have pre-legislative scrutiny—we agreed that in the past, but now it has apparently been forgotten. One would have thought that it was a good idea for the various Select Committees to be involved. That was supposed to happen in the new Parliament.
This was supposed to be the new dawn, if I may use the pun again, whereby Parliament, and not just the Front-Bench team, would have an important role in the process. [Interruption.] I am asked, “Where are the speakers?” A good question. I have been in this Parliament for a number of years and taken a strong interest in defence, yet there are some defence debates that I have not bothered to attend. Let me explain why—because I was not going to sit here for six hours to get three minutes to speak. We debated the whole matter of the replacement of the nuclear deterrent in six hours, and two hours of that were taken up with a ping-pong Punch and Judy show at the front. Back Benchers who had an interest in the matter were not allowed to speak because the great and the good came in for that debate and they were given priority in the pecking order. What we need to do is to look at the process: it is not just process in the Ministry of Defence that needs looking at, but the processes here. We need to scrutinise them, and having the McKinsey book of boys consultancy, or whatever, applied in the MOD is not going to hack that. Well, the Foreign Secretary was trained by that book, so presumably he can make a contribution to it all, but that is not going to be important for the public’s understanding.
If we are truly committed to taking people with us when it comes to a serious set of choices, we have to address the public, and we have to provide them with information—ground truth, that is what we need here. This is not a party issue. It is about information, reality and understanding. The Government are effectively claiming that, at last, we have an integrated and coherent process that deals with the issues and lays out the involvement of all the different Departments—but they should do it, not just claim it. From what I have heard today and from how I see the sequencing of events, they will not, in fact, be doing that. It will still be a case, as mentioned earlier, of working in silos, with each individual service doing its bit. The rubber heels at the MOD will do their bit, and everyone else will do their bit—and it will be in bits, and no matter how high they are piled up, bits do not make a strategy.
This issue is too important for such an approach. We are at the beginning of a period of change. The Government are setting an agenda for a generation and committing money that will be spent in 30 years’ time. The Government know that: they know it intellectually, but they do not seem to know it in terms of how process works. They can deny it as much as they like, but the strategic nuclear deterrent will have to become part of a review. Put it in; do it properly; do it comprehensively. That sort of thing happens with DFID and when we go into Afghanistan—the comprehensive approach. Well, this is a comprehensive approach with large parts missing; that is what this SDSR is about.
I plead with the Front-Bench team to look back—or, rather, to step back—and consider the timing of events. It was argued earlier that we do not have to do all of this by a week next Wednesday; and we do not have to do it in a six-hour discussion, in which most of the people here, who represent the real people outside, will not be able to participate. That shows the dysfunctional level to which this Parliament has got to, and I thought that that was exactly the sort of dysfunctional activity that we were meant to be changing. Government Members have that opportunity, because they govern the debate; there are no Back-Bench opportunities to influence that yet. Perhaps that is something that those engaged in the discussion over Back Benchers and Parliament should try to change. Unless and until that debate takes place, whether it is prompted by the Government Front-Bench team or whether it is forced on them by those in others parts of the House, it will not be a real one.
I learned to dive under Royal Navy command at Devonport, despite being a pongo, and I joined my regiment in 1969—a very long time ago—at Weeton camp in the Fylde constituency. When I joined my regiment I joined a battalion that had an establishment of 750. When I handed over command of it some two decades later, it was down to 638. We had lost 20% of the manpower of our battalion. The theme of my speech, then, is resilience at the front line. It is still called a battalion, but it has been salami-sliced and hollowed out. This is a big problem, which the strategic defence review must look at. We must ensure that our front-line troops have the capability to do the job we expect them to do.
On resilience, just consider the 3rd Battalion the Rifles, which returned in April. When it came back after six months of the winter tour in Afghanistan, it had lost eight men killed in action and had 67 casualties. That meant, in terms of the fighting men for that battalion, a 14% casualty rate. My own battalion, the 1st Battalion the Cheshire Regiment as it was—now, for some strange reason, called the 1st Battalion the Mercian Regiment—is in Afghanistan at the moment. It has been there two months: it has lost five men killed in action already, and it has 35 people wounded.
If we think about the basic fighting strength—I return to the theme of resilience—of a fighting unit in our infantry, it is the eight-man section. It is very sad statistically to understand what that means—that in an eight man section, it is likely that one or two of the men fighting at the moment in Afghanistan in 1st Battalion the Mercian Regiment are likely to come back to this country either in a box or on a stretcher. Thank goodness we have the Territorial Army, as it heavily reinforces the regular Army. It does that extremely well. Indeed, in Helmand at the moment, 10% of the troops out there are either Territorial Army or reserves. It was the same in Iraq. When I visited the coalition operating base in 2007, the figure was 10%. In 2004, with the invasion of Iraq, it was 20%, so the strategic defence review has to look very carefully at how we use the Territorial Army, which has now become a proper reserve force for the regular Army.
When our troops are deployed on operations for six-month tours, they have a period in the middle of their tour called rest and recuperation—R and R—which is normally two weeks long. I put it to the House that approximately 1,000 of the 9,500 troops deployed to Afghanistan are either not there or are travelling to or from R and R. Effectively, in resilience terms, some infantry sections—I see the right hon. Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth) nodding his head, because he knows what I am going to say—are down to four or five men. Infantry cannot fight with sections of four or five men, so they are put together, with the result that combat power is reduced. Whatever the outcome of the strategic defence review, we must ensure that our front-line units are properly manned and that their ORBAT—organisation for battle—is good enough to sustain them properly.
I have concentrated on the Army, but the principle remains the same for the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy. We have a problem with the Navy, and we must ensure that the ships deployed on operations are manned and equipped properly. The Royal Air Force currently has 74 Harrier jump jets, less than a third of which are operational. We must get this right across the services.
I totally understand how difficult it is for Governments of either persuasion to get money for defence. It is extremely difficult, and I will not be found criticising the Opposition on that matter. However, we must ensure that the question of resilience is dealt with properly in the strategic defence review. We must not send our young men and women into battle without adequate manpower to sustain operations when things go wrong.
I congratulate you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on taking the Chair. I also congratulate those Members who made their maiden speeches—I almost said “nervous speeches”; I was certainly nervous when I made my maiden speech, but they were not. To talk in military terms, they will be pleased to have got off the runway, and I am sure that they will sail high in the future.
If Iraq and Afghanistan have taught us anything, it is that the challenge is not winning the initial conflict, but securing the peace. Our opponents in both conflicts learned that standing and fighting in the open ended in their defeat, but that if they used the terrain, whether in the countryside or in towns and cities, and used hit-and-run tactics and improvised explosive devices, they could fight us effectively, and that insurgency would spread from province to province and—what we fear most—from country to country. To counter that, we have recognised the need for more mobile forces than we have had in the past—forces that can respond rapidly to ever changing situations. At the heart of meeting that challenge is the availability of more troops and equipment to be put down, often under fire, in difficult situations. Helicopters are only part of the answer to that, and we need large-scale strategic lift to support our forces engaged in ground operations.
Our forces are still reliant on the ageing Hercules, which have been excellent workhorses over many years but are now showing their age. It is becoming increasingly difficult to keep them serviceable for the number of hours that our forces require. Although the C-130J has good tactical performance, it cannot carry outsize loads because its cargo hold is too small. The C-17, which seems to be the transport plane of choice, is a good outsize-load airlifter, but is costly and has limited tactical capability. It is fine if it can land on a proper airfield, but it cannot be used or operated from soft fields—or at least, as someone once advised me, it can land on soft fields, but only once. Not only is our use of leased aircraft expensive, but often they are not available at the time required, and many of the aircraft share the same problems as the C-17.
The decision of the Labour Government—I thank my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench for this—to commit themselves, confirm and sign up to the Airbus 400M programme was extremely welcome. Derided by its opponents as a paper aircraft that would never take to the air, it has now flown, and by all accounts performed extremely well in its trials. The A400M will be able to carry either the same payload as the stretch C-130J more than twice as far, or double the payload over the same distance. It will be able to operate at high altitude and at high speed and respond to a greater range of mission requirements. Probably most importantly, it can operate from soft and rough fields, and can therefore deliver support to forward positions where it is most needed. To do that, it has advanced protection systems, which compare favourably to the airlifters currently in use. It will be able to carry helicopters and armoured vehicles and—we are currently unable to do this—deliver them directly to where they are needed.
Furthermore, the aircraft will be cost-effective, which we can rarely say about military projects. Compared with the C-130J and C-17 fleets, it will have the highest availability and the lowest life cycle costs. It has been designed and built to meet operational requirements, rather than being modified or shoehorned to meet the task required of it. The export potential of the aircraft is also positive: its rivals are either ageing or unable to meet the full operational requirements; no new aircraft, either in development or on the drawing board, can rival the A400M. It could sell well around the world, and even in the US, although our experience with AirTanker would lead us to believe that the Americans would try to gerrymander any situation to the advantage of Boeing. Our American allies think that it is fine for them to have open access to our markets, but that we should be prevented from competing in theirs. However, that is an argument for another day.
There are those who have always been opposed to UK involvement in the A400M programme, believing instead that we should just buy something off the shelf. The current Secretary of State for Defence has said that on several occasions. Underlying that is the Conservatives’ opposition to European co-operation: they really dislike that aspect of the project. That attitude makes no sense on a number of fronts. It makes us totally reliant on the US—we would have no access to the intellectual property—and undermines the UK aerospace industry. It has a direct impact on jobs not only in the military sector but in the civil sector. For Airbus in the UK, the stakes are even higher: the A400M will be the first aircraft to be built with composite wings. In this country we have long prided ourselves in being at the centre of wing excellence, but that will be at risk if we do not take part in the project. Given how Airbus operates, if we pull out of the project the work share would be divided between the remaining partners, and Spain has long made it clear that it would get the chequebook out and be more than willing to take on that work. That would have a direct impact within the civil programme. Rather than our being the natural builder of the wings for future Airbus aircraft—in particular, the replacement for the A3320—we would find ourselves competing with Spain. If we lost that order, the future of Airbus in the United Kingdom could be at stake.
I plead with the Secretary of State and the Minister to think of the future, not just in terms of a military project but in terms of the effect on the whole of the UK aerospace industry, including both direct and indirect employment. The last Government signed up to this project, which has ramifications far wider than military use. I appeal to the present Government to sign up to the project and ensure that it goes ahead, for the future of the United Kingdom.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to contribute to this vital debate.
I am delighted that it is customary for Members to use their maiden speeches to pay tribute to their predecessors. I have the honour to do so twice over, because my wonderful constituency of Filton and Bradley Stoke—known to many as FABS—is a new seat, created from three former seats. Two of the Members who represented those seats are no longer in the House.
Dr Doug Naysmith served Bristol, North-West for 13 years with straightforward honour and distinction. His political foes marked him down as a good and decent man. He was personally kind and—dare I say it—supportive to me whenever we met. I wish him well in his new political career as a member of Bristol city council, and I may yet come to forgive him for defeating my old Avonmouth councillor friend Spud Murphy after a nail-biting four recounts when lots had to be drawn.
Roger Berry, who represented the wards of Kingswood that are now in FABS, is someone with whom I would have had little in common politically, but in the part of my constituency where he was formerly a Member he was well regarded across the political spectrum for his endeavour, his independence, his forthright political opinions, and his work as co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on disability.
Filton and Bradley Stoke is a fascinating and diverse place. It is the home of the British aerospace industry. Concorde was built at Filton, and today it is still the British home of EADS and Airbus, Rolls-Royce, and a large part of GKN. This year, 2010, marks the centenary of aviation in Bristol. Founder Sir George White, a great entrepreneur and Bristolian who came from humble beginnings, was so proud of his city that he named his company the Bristol Aeroplane Company after it. We are home to the university of the West of England, one of Britain’s most successful new universities, and we are fortunate to have the world-famous Frenchay hospital, which is internationally renowned for its work on the treatment of bones and head injuries. Frenchay was sadly downgraded by the last Government, but I will continue to fight for its existence as a community hospital with as many facilities as possible to serve the residents of south Gloucestershire.
My constituency is at the centre of the debate on the strategic defence and security review. At its heart lies the MOD procurement centre at Abbey Wood. EADS makes missiles, and Rolls-Royce contributes to the building of not only the Type 45 destroyer but the engines of the new US strike fighter. Airbus and GKN lead the world in the development of composite wing technology, and Airbus is also engaged in the development of the new and fantastic A400M plane, a transport plane designed to replace the now ageing Hercules. The A400M will have its UK debut in the south-west at the royal international air tattoo in Fairford on 16 July. It will be flown by the aptly named chief test pilot Ed Strongman, who is a Cornishman and a graduate of Bristol university.
At a time of straitened economic circumstances, the development of those projects and the huge costs involved will provide the substance of many ensuing debates on the nature and cost of the country’s defences. I hope the new Government will learn one lesson from their predecessors, and will never forget it. We may enter into wars at short notice and with good reason, but we must never do so again without a full understanding of the implications for the lives of our troops whom we place in harm’s way. Waging war costs money, but that cost is nothing in comparison with the lives of the men and women involved, and our duty to our service personnel does not stop with a homecoming parade and a few beers in the mess afterwards.
As several of my hon. Friends have already pointed out in their maiden speeches, it is time for this country, and this Government, to take seriously the ongoing issue of the welfare and, in particular, the mental health of so many of our returning heroes. From the comfort of my home in Filton, I cheered nearly as loudly as our troops in Camp Bastion when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made his announcement about the doubling of their operational allowances. I know what that sort of practical support means to the troops on the ground. However, it must be accompanied by a real and ongoing commitment to looking after our troops, sometimes for the rest of their lives.
I believe that the one thing that will distinguish this Parliament from many of its recent predecessors is the number of us sitting here today who have served. That includes new hon. Friends from as far afield as South Dorset and Penrith and the Border, as well as many in between. My own military experience is as a serving Territorial Army soldier. I am a Gunner with 266 Commando Battery of the Royal Artillery. As a mobilised reservist, I had the huge honour and privilege to spend a year serving with the mighty men of 29 Commando Regiment, five months of it in Afghanistan on Operation Herrick 9.
As a private soldier, Gunner Lopresti, I spent my tour in Helmand, where I saw at first hand what decisions made in the House of Commons can mean for the men and women on the ground. I worked with the Rifles for a bit of my tour of duty as a member of infantry force protection on the Medical Emergency Response Team, who work in the back of a Chinook helicopter. I watched some awe-inspiring young people fly in and out of danger to pick up and treat casualties, sometimes in the very worst of circumstances and sometimes successfully, sometimes not. I learnt exactly what our future decisions could mean. I also worked alongside a remarkably brave and inspirational soldier, a Lance Bombardier from 29 Commando, whose foot and lower leg were blown off by an improvised explosive device while he was driving a Land Rover with no mine protection in 2006 and who, less than two years later, was back doing a second tour of duty with his regiment as part of 3 Commando Brigade. That was just amazing.
My experience is what will inform my thinking when the debate on the shape of our military future takes place. Our new Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will certainly have the support of this new Member of Parliament if our Government honour their commitment to renew and strengthen the military covenant, but I will also reserve the right to be a critical friend, not only mindful of Britain’s place in the world and our international duties and obligations, but conscious above all of our duty properly to equip and care for those who put their lives on the line for our country. This country needs many culture changes; let us ensure that the ongoing welfare of our servicemen is among them.
Making my maiden speech in this place is a truly humbling experience which I assure the House I will never forget, but nor, as we review our defence priorities, will I ever let this place forget the debt that we owe to our service personnel. As the great General George Patton once said, wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men.
It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti). I wish him well in his time in the House, and many years in which to serve his constituents. I also welcome the maiden speeches of the hon. Members for Fylde (Mark Menzies), for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw), and for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile).
The hon. Member for Fylde mentioned golf courses in his constituency, which gives me an opportunity, as a proud Ulsterman, to record our delight that Graeme McDowell has won the US Open championship. For British golf and for golf in Northern Ireland, that is something to be greatly welcomed. Our congratulations go to Graeme and, indeed, to his family, who must be very proud of that wonderful achievement.
On a sadder note, I acknowledge the tragic death of the 300th soldier to be killed in Afghanistan. He was a member of 40 Commando. Last week the funeral took place of my constituent Corporal Stephen Walker, who also served in 40 Commando. He was killed in Sangin in Afghanistan, and our thoughts continue to be with his family at this difficult time.
I welcome the commitment given by the Secretary of State to the tri-service covenant, which I support. I also welcome the fact that many Members have mentioned the welfare of our armed forces personnel. If this review is about anything, it must be about ensuring that the men and women who serve in the armed forces have the best support and resources available, because without them we do not have a military capability. It is important that the covenant be honoured, and that we look at that in the context of the review and seek to ensure that those men and women who serve our country are given the support they deserve.
One key area of concern to me is post-traumatic stress disorder. I know from my own service in Northern Ireland and from comrades and members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary who developed PTSD that this is a major, long-term issue that needs a long-term solution, and that many of the men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan developed PTSD after coming home. Indeed, The Lancet magazine recently warned of a “tidal wave” of soldiers suffering from mental trauma as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is a major developing issue.
I know from my constituency work and my work in Northern Ireland that soldiers suffering from PTSD at times do not get the long-term support they need to cope with this very difficult condition. That has real consequences for them. Many of them struggle to find permanent employment after leaving the armed forces, and they can develop major health issues and have marital problems. In effect, PTSD can destroy their lives after service.
I welcome the work undertaken by various charities and veterans organisations, and wish in particular to mention Combat Stress, which has launched a campaign to raise £30 million to improve mental health services for veterans. This work is excellent, but it needs the support of the Government. I hope that, as part of the strategic defence and security review, we will take a long hard look at the impact of PTSD and mental health problems on our veterans and our soldiers, airmen and sailors, and at what we can do to ensure they receive adequate support and care as they seek to live their lives after service.
I also wish to refer the House to an excellent article in yesterday’s edition of The Sunday Telegraph, which told the story of a former reserve Territorial Army soldier from Northern Ireland who had served as a medic in Iraq. In 2004 he was involved in a major incident, which is outlined in the article. Corporal Paul Gibson—I understand that that is not his real name—is quoted in the article, and speaks of the terrible impact PTSD has had on his life. He pays tribute to the work of Combat Stress and says it effectively saved his life at a time when he was not getting the support and intervention he needed. The article reports that he has lost his job and spends most of his time at home
“enclosed in a world of his own”.
He is quoted as saying:
“I’m a totally different person…I don’t have any ambitions any more. There’s no purpose to my life. I just try to get through the day.”
We cannot allow our brave servicemen and women to be left in that kind of situation. We have got to look after them not only while they are in service, but after they leave.
I am aware of several cases in my constituency and in Northern Ireland involving former military personnel who are facing real problems. Their pensions are being reduced—their war pensions and the other benefits they receive are constantly the subject of review. Part of the problem is the medical profession’s failure adequately to recognise what PTSD does to the life of an individual. There is an educational issue here that we would do well to examine, in order to see how we can ensure a better understanding among the medical profession of PTSD and its long-term impact on service personnel.
Finally, I agree with the comments made today about our military capability. On resources, I am concerned that an argument is developing that we need a light-end capability at the expense of a diminishing heavy-end capability. I agree with those Members who have warned against complacency. We may well face major wars in the future and be involved in major conflicts, and we will need heavy-end capability as part of our military resources. I hope that that will be understood during the review, and that heavy-end capability will not be diminished because of the need for financial constraints.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Having waited for over a month to speak in a debate, it seems a little strange to call this my maiden speech. Perhaps it could be more aptly described as my spinster speech.
I must thank the Speaker for introducing the new rules that have permitted me to show a little ankle and flirt with participation in the proceedings of the House. As those who know me will testify, keeping quiet for a whole month would have been a great strain, but silent I would have been, for I was determined to speak for the first time in a defence debate.
During my first days as a Member of Parliament it was not at all clear from which set of Benches I would be delivering this speech. In the week following the election, as the fog of uncertainty resolved into strong and stable coalition Government, I had time to reflect that I and colleagues who had to wait past the midnight hour for our results made our first utterances as Members of Parliament on the 70th anniversary of the Norway debate. That momentous occasion in 1940 precipitated the fall of the Chamberlain Administration, caused the King to send for Churchill and the formation of the formal coalition Government.
During that historic debate, the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth Sir Roger Keyes rose from his place in full dress uniform with six rows of medals pinned to his chest, and delivered what Harold Nicolson called the most dramatic speech he had ever heard. Sir Roger began:
“I wish to speak for some officers and men of the fighting, sea-going Navy”.—[Official Report, 7 May 1940; Vol. 360, c. 1125.]
My uniform remains in my wardrobe, and I do not pretend to high drama, but I have come to the Chamber today, and will come again on many other days, to do as Sir Roger did: to speak for the Navy.
First, however, let me make mention of another of Sir Roger’s successors. I am speaking today because Sarah McCarthy-Fry is not. This election was, if the House will indulge a topical metaphor, the second match of our personal contest, and so I can really only claim to have levelled the score, although given the size of the current majority I think I can say that I am ahead on goal difference.
In the intervening years, Sarah was very much the super-sub, occupying almost every ministerial job going, including a mere fortnight at the Department for Communities and Local Government. I pay tribute to Sarah’s service to our city, and in particular to her fight to keep Portsmouth naval base open and viable. I will continue that campaign, although unlike her I hope not to have to fight my own Government to achieve it.
I am happy to report to the House that Sarah has quickly gained new employment and has taken a job of hard labour—or hard Labour—which might have gathered dust on the average Jobcentre Plus shelves. I am sure that my hon. Friends will join me in wishing her well as campaign manager for the shot at the Labour party leadership of the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls). In light of his recent utterances, it must be a great comfort to the right hon. Gentleman that he did not have to look to immigrant labour to do a job that most British people simply would not have touched.
I could have spoken today about any of Portsmouth’s manifold attributes: the innovation and ambition across all sectors, the world-famous Pompey spirit so evident at the recent FA cup final, and my pride that my home city has put its trust in me. However, there is one particular issue at the heart of Portsmouth’s history and daily life on which I wish to speak today: the Navy service.
I was at primary school in Portsmouth during the Falklands conflict. Britain did not expect to face such an act of territorial expansion, but the Navy was unfaltering in its readiness and commitment to the defence of the British people. That spirit of duty and service made a deep impression on me, even though the Navy had already played a major role in my life before that. Indeed, I am named after HMS Penelope, which was the first cruiser able to do a complete about-turn within her own length—a manoeuvre that I hope never to have to deploy here.
That spirit of service is as strong as ever in the Royal Navy, but although it is understandable that recent debates in the House and the wider media have focused primarily on the Army, the senior service has, as a consequence, often felt under-represented and unappreciated. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House recognise the contribution that the Navy makes to our way of life, to our ability to trade, to hydrographical and meteorological services, to tackling crime and to providing help in times of crisis. However, the breadth of its role should not detract from the depth of its contribution to the defence of the realm—continuous at-sea deterrence, delivery of commando force and air assets and mine counter-measures are but a few of its roles.
In the review, we must not be sea-blind. We face very tough challenges and calls for immediate cuts. To see the scale of the challenge, one has to look just at the disparity between what the last strategic defence review suggested for the Navy and the current number of ships in service or planned to be in service. For example, the last review recommended 12 destroyers, but we are building only six. To close the gap between need and affordability and to preserve the development and maintenance capability that we want in our bases and dockyards, we need a planned but flexible approach to procurement. The review must listen to the drum beat of production in those UK yards and must seize every opportunity to strengthen UK exports.
We need to take a longer-term approach to our ordering of ships and we need to end wasteful delay to production schedules. As the Secretary of State pointed out earlier, the decision to slow the rate of the Queen Elizabeth class carriers in 2009 increased overall costs by £600 million. Having seen the carriers being built last Friday, I can report that they are already at an advanced stage and that they have gone beyond the first cut of steel. Lessons should be learned from the carriers and the Type 45s. We could have laid down nine destroyers one after the other, thereby supplying the Navy with what it needed when it needed it, allowing the yard to maximise returns on its investment and ensuring the defence budget was sustainable. Of the six we are building, the last will be ready for sea trials in January 2013. Small orders built at lightning speed short-change the Navy and the yard and place stress on the defence budget.
The Type 26 presents an opportunity to act upon those experiences. Consideration should be given to the timing and specification. If they are to be built, let us ensure that other navies will want them too. After all, if they are good enough for the Royal Navy, they are good enough for any navy. If we achieve that, it will be a dreadnought moment in UK procurement. We have not sold a new Navy-designed ship abroad since the 1970s, but it is achievable. Britain is already selling standard kit to the US navy. Innovative Rolls-Royce gas turbines will power the DDG-1000 and are already powering the USS Freedom. We must focus on trade deals where they are viable and strategically advantageous. I am sure that there will be disagreement about my views, but I will not falter in making this argument, and I point out to my critics that HMS Penelope latterly became known as HMS Pepperpot because of her ability to endure massive amounts of shelling and remain afloat and able to return fire. I thank hon. Members for listening to my arguments and I shall end as Sir Roger did, by quoting Lord Nelson, whose words are as relevant now as ever:
“The boldest measures are the safest”.
I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt). She certainly advanced a sophisticated argument for the interests of the Navy and she should be congratulated on listening so carefully to her predecessor, Sir Roger. However, I am not sure about all of that knights on chargers stuff—I am always a bit sceptical about all that. I thought she was a bit scary. It was nice that she referred to my colleague and her predecessor, Sarah McCarthy-Fry. I know that everyone who serves a constituency with a big military naval or air force interest must largely follow that trend, but I think that the world we are in leads us to leave that behind. Today’s debate leads us to reflect on the fact that many people, including Opposition Members, have to consider not only their constituents’ interests but the fact that we are in a complex and difficult time financially and that we have to look to defend the realm in ways that leave sectional interests behind. However, I thought that the hon. Lady’s speech was super. I can imagine her on a horse, but I am trying to stay legal here. It was a tremendous speech. There have been a number of really good opening speeches tonight. I have probably said enough about that, except I must say that I thought her comments about her predecessor were a bit acerbic.
I want to address two issues in the brief time available to me, starting with a quick word about Trident. My personal perspective is that Opposition Front Benchers are slightly constrained by the fact that we were in government until quite recently, so we cannot really put a proper Opposition perspective on things at the moment. That is simply the way it is. I am not being critical of Labour Front Benchers, who are all very good and who excelled as Defence Ministers. It is just the way things are: things change, we are now in opposition, and I think that our profile will change in some ways too.
It is bizarre to argue that we voted Trident through in 2007, so now it should be fine, which is essentially the Secretary of State’s position. There are many things that we voted for in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 on which the position will have changed, because, as I understand it, this Government have a different prospectus from the previous Government. The idea that Labour had that as a policy when in government and should therefore follow that line is not really an argument at all. The fact is that both the Conservatives and Labour are afraid of Trident as a truly political issue, and this is not really a defence issue, but a political issue. The Conservatives are afraid—some Back Benchers are afraid—because it looks as though we are yielding something to the French or yielding some international prestige. Labour is, to some degree, afraid, because it looks as though we are going back to the 1980s.
The Secretary of State said something quite prescient in his opening speech—that we must not have a view that is essentially the view of that a generation ago. There are Members on the Government Benches who know much more about this than I do, but that is a classic position on defence policy—that we must not look to the past few campaigns to work out what to do in future. However, that is exactly what we are doing with Trident.
I have with me a whole bunch of cheap quotes—I could not help noticing that the Minister for the Armed Forces glanced up at me then—but I am not going to use them. I just am not cheap enough. I cannot; I am not going to do it. The Minister has advanced many intelligent arguments, but now he is in government he cannot do that, so he must be very frustrated. There was a piece in The Guardian today by Baroness Williams from the other place. I do not know whether the Minister put her up to it, but it was preposterous, saying that we should perhaps reduce from four boats to three. Conservative Members might say, “Hang on—that was kind of hinted at from your perspective six months ago”, but it is ridiculous and absolutely mad. People at the Ministry of Defence probably spent 15, 20 or 25 years thinking what our policy on replacing Polaris should be. They did not just say, “Is it four, or is it three?” Hon. Members can imagine a guy turning up at the MOD with a very large lorry, going upstairs to the fifth or sixth storey and saying to the Secretary of State, “Here are your boats mate; here are your Tridents,” and the Secretary of State saying, “Right, let’s have one up there in Scotland, one doing training or something and one out at sea.” Can hon. Members imagine the chap saying, “Well, you’ve got another one—a fourth one,” and the Secretary of State replying, “There’s a fourth! I didn’t know about that. Can you stick it up in Hertfordshire and cover it with foliage and twigs, and we’ll chat about it in a couple of years’ time”?
I am fascinated by this point about the number of submarines required. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the plan was originally to have five Polaris submarines and that the number was reduced to four by the incoming Labour Government to give them an excuse to say that they were doing something different from the previous Conservative Government? I sometimes get the impression that some of my now allies are trying to make the same sort of suggestion about changing the number from four to three for a similar reason.
I enjoy giving way to the hon. Gentleman. He made an excellent speech earlier, and I will come to him in a moment; the second part of my speech is on Afghanistan.
Although I may not be qualified to say this, the position of successive Governments on Trident is incoherent militarily; it is political argument. Frankly, the idea that someone can simply pop up in an article in The Guardian or as part of the Government and say, “Let’s knock it from four down to three” is completely mad. Therefore, this turns on a geopolitical argument, which we can discuss, but—guess what?—if it is excluded from a defence review or, indeed, to be fair, a shadow defence review, we cannot discuss it. We simply say, “That’s not going to cut the mustard, so we’ll just leave it out. It’s a bit embarrassing, so just push it out.” That is like suggesting that we should exclude Trident when considering how much we spend on defence each year, or not saying that we spend 2.3% of our gross domestic product on defence, but, for those reasons, we should not do that.
Trident is not really a military question at all; it is a geopolitical question and one for the Prime Minister. I sometimes think that it is rather odd that we even discuss it in defence debates. It is most peculiar that Trident is excluded, and perhaps any defence review with proper integrity would include it. Such a review may conclude that we need Trident or its successor, that we need something different or that we need nothing, but leaving it out is simply an admission that we cannot stack up the argument.
In my last two minutes and four seconds, I shall zoom on to Afghanistan. The same problem exists, because we have an interim situation in the Opposition. The hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) has ideas that are worth fleshing out. We cannot properly oppose the position at the moment, because politics is as it is. I listened to the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) and other Members with very great interest. My instinct is that Government Back Benchers have considerable experience, which creates a sense of not disloyalty but ambivalence, with a generation of different ideas that are not classically conservative but are creative and imaginative. That is not to say that one agrees with them, but a lot more of that is going on among Government Members than can happen among Opposition Members. The difficulty is where we are at the moment politically. That will change at the end of the year, but defence debates can be decidedly dull for correspondents in other places, because we tend to agree, which is a bit boring, is it not? However, quite interesting stuff is going on among Government Back Benchers, and Opposition Back Benchers are a little constrained at the moment.
Crucial though issues such as jobs are, I should like to think that future debates in the House would not simply revolve around constituency sectional interests and manufacturing. Our debates need to be about something rather more than that; they need to be much more about the future of foreign and defence policy, what we need to do in this country, whether we pay too much obeisance to the United States and whether we get back in return what we give in geopolitical influence. Those are the key issues that we should be considering, and some of them have been broached tonight.
I am grateful to catch your eye, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I congratulate all the hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches tonight.
My constituency of South East Cornwall was known as the Bodmin constituency until 1983. It is an honour to follow my predecessor, Colin Breed, who was a dedicated campaigner on behalf of those who work in the defence industry until his retirement from the House this year and who was well respected throughout the constituency. I should also like to pay tribute to Sir Robert Hicks. Held in high esteem by so many and first elected as MP for Bodmin in 1970, he spoke up for Devonport naval base and dockyard throughout his political career until 1997.
It is ironic that another former MP for Bodmin, John Rathbone, was killed while defending our nation in December 1940 during the battle of Britain and was succeeded by his wife, Beatrice, the first female MP for Bodmin who was elected unopposed in 1941. As Beatrice Wright, she became vice-president of the Royal National Institute for Deaf People and founded Hearing Dogs for Deaf People.
South East Cornwall is a mainly rural constituency, bounded by the River Fowey in the west and the Tamar in the east. It is economically reliant on farming, tourism and small enterprise. It is a truly beautiful part of the county, with hill farms on the border of Bodmin moor and lush market gardens in the Tamar valley, the beautiful Rame peninsula, where I am fortunate to have my home, and a coastline and beaches that attract thousands of holidaymakers. I would welcome any hon. Member to come and have a holiday in South East Cornwall, because I know that they would be made to feel welcome.
Six small towns form the main areas of population throughout the constituency. At Lostwithiel in the west, the Stannary palace is reputed to be the oldest non-ecclesiastical building in Cornwall. The market town of Liskeard was home to the former Caradon district council and is where the fortnightly cattle market provides an opportunity for farmers and rural villagers to come together. The coastal town of Looe, along with the neighbouring villages of Polperro and Polruan, provides superb tourism locations, while the much depleted commercial fishing industry is just about withstanding the devastating hardship heaped upon it through the present economic situation, the European common fisheries policy and the disastrous way in which the last Administration mishandled the quota management system for the small under 10 metre fishing fleet—believe me, I know, because I am married to a fisherman.
In the north of the constituency, Callington is home to Ginsters—the largest enterprise in the constituency—and the town also boasts the first school in Cornwall to gain foundation status.
Saltash and Torpoint on the eastern bank of the Tamar rely on the neighbouring city of Plymouth for much employment. Devonport dockyard and naval base generate around £850 million per year for the immediate local economy and are responsible, directly and indirectly, for 24,000 jobs. A large number of the Devonport work force live in South East Cornwall and, without that, Torpoint and Saltash could become ghost towns.
I am delighted to welcome my right hon. Friend as the new Secretary of State for Defence, although he is not sitting in his place at the moment, and I welcome my colleague, the Minister for the Armed Forces.
The news that the Trident replacement will not be included in the forthcoming strategic defence and security review is welcome. The nuclear deterrent is necessary to deter the most destructive forms of aggression. I believe that the most cost-effective way to deliver a future maintenance programme for the continuous at-sea deterrent will be to use the refit facilities already in place at Devonport dockyard, and I hope that my right hon. Friends agree.
HMS Raleigh—the Royal Navy’s premier training establishment in the south-west and a real part of the community, where all ratings join the service and receive the first phase of their naval training—is located in South East Cornwall and has considerable influence on the town of Torpoint, as well as the Rame peninsula. Four new accommodation blocks, built as part of the major upgrade of facilities, have recently been unveiled. They are named Antelope, Ardent, Sir Galahad and Conqueror to commemorate four ships that played a part in the Falklands campaign.
I have a specific interest in the Navy because my daughter is a serving Royal Navy officer. I have gained first-hand knowledge of the various ways in which our senior service operates in many roles around the globe. The Royal Navy is flexible, resilient and capable, providing Government with a range of options to deal with threats and challenges facing the UK and her allies. The varied tasks undertaken include: providing support for the Department for International Development; supporting the Home Office in protecting the territorial integrity of our home waters; providing fishery protection in English, Welsh and Northern Irish waters; and supporting the Cabinet Office in co-ordinating UK maritime surveillance information.
The UK has been the world’s most successful defence exporter over the past 10 years, and the naval sector earns around £3 billion of revenue per year. Flag-officer sea training is based in Plymouth. Over 100 ships and submarines from the Royal Navy and the navies of NATO and allied nations benefit from FOST’s training expertise each year. I hope that the strategic defence review will recognise the return that could be generated from any investment in the Royal Navy, which offers variety and flexibility in the way in which it operates. I hope that my colleagues on the Government Front Bench appreciate that Devonport’s dockyard and naval base provide South East Cornwall and, indeed, the city of Plymouth with a huge amount of benefits. I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to keep funding in South East Cornwall, and to use the wealth of expertise that we have in our area.
May I first congratulate all Members on both sides of the House on their superb maiden speeches? We have heard some excellent contributions, including from the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray)—I am sure that the House wishes her daughter all the best in her career—and the hon. Members for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti), and for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile).
This has been an excellent debate because of the cross-party consensus about the need for a rational, thoughtful defence review. I think that we Labour Members can all recognise that there are areas of waste that we can look to cut. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) will be happy to supply the Government Front Benchers with a list of projects and areas of expense that they can cut to begin with.
I hope that the Minister for the Armed Forces will give answers on some pressing issues that my constituents—and, from the sound of it, constituents of Members on both sides of the House—have about the future of our two new aircraft carriers. It might be helpful if I gave a flavour of the size and scale of the two new super-carriers, and their importance to the Royal Navy. Each is 65,000 tonnes at full displacement. They are three times bigger than anything that the Royal Navy has ever built or used, going back 500 years. Each will have 1,600 personnel and 40 aircraft on board, and have a range of up to 10,000 nautical miles. They are absolutely crucial to our future force projection and to the expeditionary role that our armed forces will play. It is perhaps also worth reflecting on the fact that there are 10,000 British highly skilled, highly prized manufacturing jobs at stake.
I note that the hon. Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) is nodding away; he will know, as will Members on both sides of the House, how crucial such jobs are.
Perhaps it is worth reflecting on why we need these two new super-carriers. It was clear from the last strategic defence review, carried out in 1998 by the then Secretary of State, that the existing carrier fleet was from the cold war era. It was built around the idea of anti-submarine warfare. That threat has thankfully receded, and we will face new types of threat. It is not plausible simply to rely on the good will and good nature of foreign powers in letting us use their territories for conducting expeditionary operations. That is why we need the force projection that only the carriers can provide. It took five years to set up the aircraft carrier alliance, which has developed the project. That is important, because when discussing something in the region of £4 billion-worth of expenditure, people tend not to rush into things, and I hope that Members in all parts of the House accept that the previous Government made sure not only that there was a good deal for British industry but that, crucially, there was a good deal for the British taxpayer. That is why it took so long for the project to come to fruition. I note the comments about the bow sections, which have now been completed for the first of the two aircraft carriers and have arrived in my constituency for assembly.
Many Members, however, are rightly concerned about the comments about the second aircraft carrier, HMS Prince of Wales, which is due to roll into the Forth in 2017-18. I should be grateful if the Minister tried to answer four or five questions. First, when will the formal period of consultation on the defence review begin? There is great anticipation, both in the House and across the country, and we want some certainty. Secondly, how long will that formal consultation last and will he, as the previous Government did in its SDR, make sure that interested organisations—I am thinking of trade unions, the defence industry, local authorities, the Scottish and Welsh Governments—have an opportunity to make some input into the SDR?
Will the Minister also clarify what weighting the Government will give, not just to military need, which should be paramount, but—and we have heard some good contributions on this—the vital role that the contract will play as a platform for our defence industry to export ideas, technology and skills to other countries? There has been some speculation—and the Minister may wish to shed light on this—about whether or not a foreign country has expressed interest in buying an aircraft carrier, using the skills and expertise that British companies have developed. Finally, will he explain what weighting will be given to the socio-economic role played by the aircraft carriers? As I have said, 10,000 jobs depend on the contracts going ahead, and there is trepidation among Opposition Members, who fear that if the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills gets his way, and the second carrier is delayed, mothballed or downgraded, those jobs will be in danger.
Will the Minister explain whether, as part of the overall defence review, the future of the Fleet Air Arm will be considered? Without wishing to prejudice the argument, many people would suggest, given that the two carriers will use the joint strike fighter with the Royal Air Force, that the time has come to have a thorough review of whether the Fleet Air Arm should become part of the RAF. I should be grateful if he outlined his thoughts on that. Finally, this has been an excellent debate, and I should like to conclude by wishing the Minister well in his role, and assuring the House that the Opposition will give our full support to a thorough, thoughtful and long-term defence review.
First, Mr Deputy Speaker, may I congratulate you on your new role? We have known each other for more years than I care to remember—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”] To put that in context, I helped Nigel in his first ever by-election in Ribble Valley many years ago. I do not remember exactly when, but it seems a long time ago.
I am grateful, Mr Deputy Speaker for the opportunity to give my maiden speech in this great debate. I welcome the review, and very much look forward to discussing the issue with my constituents and to making my submission. I pay tribute to the courage and determination of all our armed forces fighting on the front line in Afghanistan. I would especially like to pay tribute to those in the Mercian Regiment, some of whom are from my constituency, and want to give a special mention to a brave soldier from Redditch whose funeral I attended last year—a lance corporal from the Parachute Regiment.
It is an honour to be the first elected Member of Parliament for the new constituency of Redditch county. Although I was unsuccessful, I fought the old Redditch seat twice before. The new seat of Redditch county includes the rural areas of the Lenches and Hanbury, whose church, legend has it, features in the radio show, “The Archers”. They are very beautiful parts of the county of Worcestershire and I am honoured to represent them. These parts of the new seat were, until this election, represented by my good friend, and hon. Friend, the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff), who has helped and supported me through my whole time in Redditch.
I would like to pay tribute to my immediate predecessor, the right hon. Jacqui Smith, who was this country’s first woman Home Secretary. Jacqui was renowned in Redditch for being a great constituency MP and in that I certainly have a hard act to follow. Jacqui Smith and I have three things in common. We are both mothers with two children, we both have sisters called Sarah, and we both have husbands called Richard. But I think we will leave that one there. I wish her well in whatever she now chooses to pursue.
Other former Members of Parliament to represent parts of Redditch include the late Eric Forth and Hal Miller, who both had highly distinguished careers.
Redditch is a new town and was designated so in 1964, the year I was born. Back then it had a population of some 29,000 and included lovely areas such as Headless Cross and Webheath. It has grown significantly since then, and the new constituency has some 66,000 voters and includes the lovely villages of Cookhill, Feckenham, Inkberrow, Hanbury, Stock and Bradley Green, Abbots Morton and the Lenches. For those who listen to “The Archers”, it is believed that Inkberrow is the model for Ambridge, so I invite all right hon. and hon. Members to come to Inkberrow for a drink in the Old Bull, which is delightful.
Redditch county is a mixture of rural and urban communities and in that there are many challenges to face. The town of Redditch has suffered the loss of many manufacturing jobs over the years, especially with the demise of the car industry. However, in their place, there are many small and medium-sized businesses that will be looking to us to try to build the economy and ensure direct investment into our country and into Redditch. One of those companies hoping for a push in the right direction is Mettis Aerospace, a company that provides components to the aerospace industry and employs hundreds of Redditch residents. I am sure the Secretary of State remembers visiting that successful company with me a few years ago.
As well as the larger employers in Redditch, we cannot forget the many smaller companies that I have visited over the years. I have been extremely impressed by their dedication, business know-how and commitment to their staff.
I hope that Members here today will take the time to visit Redditch, especially the site of Bordesley abbey, where the 12th century monks set up home, as well as the Forge Mill museum, which tracks the development of industry in Redditch through needle-making and the manufacture of fishing hooks. I am happy to say, and I know my constituents will be delighted to hear, that in 2012 Redditch will have a brand-new swimming pool, courtesy of the Conservative-controlled council, to complement a wonderful theatre that has been lovingly refurbished.
There are many fine schools in Redditch. I firmly believe in the best education that we can provide. Both my children were educated in the state system and received a great education at St Augustine’s high school in Redditch. I am very proud to be chairman of governors at Vaynor first school, which is one of the largest first schools in the UK. For those Members who do not know, Worcestershire is one of the lowest funded authorities in the country, and I promise to make it my mission to address that while I am a Member of Parliament.
I would like to finish by saying that I am so proud to be here, standing up for the people of Redditch county, and fighting on their behalf. It has taken me 10 years, but it has been worth it. I hope that I am able to make a difference to their lives and repay the trust that they have put in me. Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech today.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Redditch (Karen Lumley) on a wonderful maiden speech. I gave mine a couple of weeks ago, and I know that making the speech is not as trying as the nerves while waiting to make it. The hon. Lady makes Redditch sound idyllic, and if I have the chance I will visit it one day.
As one Welshman to another, I welcome you to your place, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As you said to me once, we Evanses must stick together.
I would like to pay my own tribute to all the men and women who serve in our armed forces. Our hearts go out on this sad day to all those who have lost loved ones. Their bravery and courage is truly remarkable, and their dedication both to their duty and to our country demonstrates why they are rightly described as the finest force in the world. We should all be very proud of them and deeply grateful for all they do to protect our country. Joining the forces is not like joining Barclays or Tesco. We ask those brave men and women to put their lives on the line for our security, and in return we must honour their commitment. Therefore, the guiding principle of the strategic defence and security review must be the safety of our armed forces.
We all know very well that the troops who are in greatest danger today are those serving in Afghanistan. Our security here in Britain is directly affected by what happens in Afghanistan. If we are to prevent terrorism on our streets here at home, we must see our job in Afghanistan through to its conclusion. The Secretary of State said recently, in a speech at the Royal United Services Institute, that our people in Afghanistan will get the best possible support. For me, the best possible support for our forces is to provide them with the best possible equipment.
Our forces in Afghanistan are continually exposed to the threat of attack from Taliban forces, using improvised explosive devices. The Prime Minister’s announcement on his recent visit to Afghanistan of extra spending on armoured vehicles and other specialised equipment that will protect British forces in Afghanistan from those devices is certainly welcome. In one of their last acts, the Labour Government awarded the contract for the new generation of armoured fighting vehicles to General Dynamics for its ASCOD specialist vehicle. I well remember being at its site in Newbridge in March to hear employees greet the announcement with cheers and a sense of relief.
Once in service, these new specialist vehicles will bring significant benefits for our troops serving in places such as Afghanistan, including improved protection, greater fire power, longer-range sensors and sighting systems, and greater reliability. During its testing, the vehicle withstood attacks from the latest mine threats, and it also allows additional protection to be fitted as new threats arise. This affords the maximum protection to our troops inside the vehicle and will, without doubt, save the lives of members of our armed forces.
Warfare of the type currently encountered in Afghanistan requires vehicles that can protect our soldiers from all kinds of attack. Protection is now the essence of modern warfare, and the new specialist vehicle will deliver exceptional levels of protection for British troops from the day it enters service. The era of the cold war is now long in the past, thank God, and it seems increasingly likely that the conflicts of the future will involve fighting of the type seen in Afghanistan. We must now focus on equipping our forces properly for such of conflicts, and I hope that this review will focus on how best to achieve that. Therefore, I urge the Government to protect this vital project.
In addition to the military case for maintaining the contract with General Dynamics, there is also an economic case for continuing the contract. Eight regions of the UK are set to benefit in terms of employment as a result of General Dynamics being awarded the specialist vehicle contract. In addition, supply chain jobs fall across the country, as key suppliers are located in Scotland, the north of England, the north-west, the east midlands and the south of England, as well as in Wales and the west midlands. Across the UK, this will mean that 10,500 jobs will be created or safeguarded for British-based companies and organisations.
In Wales, we expect at least 200 new jobs to be created and 250 more to be protected, many of which are based in my constituency of Islwyn. When the Oakdale colliery closed in 1989 with the loss of hundreds of jobs, the future for the local economy looked bleak. However, now in place of the pits is a business park where General Dynamics employs hundreds of highly skilled engineers who will, we hope, soon be working on another of the Government’s most important defence contracts. Providing jobs for such a large number of people across our country, at a time when many fear unemployment, would be a great boost for many local economies and will help us to secure the recovery. Creating and protecting those jobs right across the country will also safeguard key skills and sustain future capabilities for armoured fighting vehicle development and production in the UK. That will ensure that the British tank building industry is maintained, which can only be good for jobs, for industry and for the economy.
I caution the Government against going back on deals that have already been signed. If international companies are given the runaround by the Government they may decide to pack up and leave, which would be a huge blow to the economy, both locally and nationally. Therefore, I urge the Secretary of State and his colleagues to ensure that this vital piece of kit for our soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan is delivered as soon as possible, both to protect our troops and to protect our jobs. The consequences of cutting that project would be disastrous for our armed forces and our economy. I ask the Government to guarantee today that the project will not be cut, and to assure me that our soldiers’ safety and our economic recovery will not be endangered in the name of reducing the deficit. Our troops are brave, and I sincerely hope that the review will ensure that in the years to come they will be able to do their job in the best possible way. They are the best, and they deserve the very best from the Government. Anything less will be a betrayal of their commitment.
Congratulations to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, on your elevation. I am grateful to you for allowing me to speak in this debate. Today is my wedding anniversary, and I hope that making my maiden speech in this place is just about a good enough reason for not wining and dining Mrs Brine this evening. I pay tribute to colleagues from all parts of the House for their good speeches in a very good debate, and to colleagues who have made their maiden speeches—probably far better ones than this. There can be few debates of more significance right now, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary on his new position and pay tribute to him for the strong lead that he gave the House in opening today’s debate.
I have the great honour of rising to address the House as the Member for Winchester. The area first returned Members to Parliament only in 1295. Modern day Winchester has undergone significant boundary changes since the 2005 general election, yet it remains focused on the great city of Winchester itself. I also represent, and am pleased to do so, the charming market town of Alresford in the north, famed for its watercress beds and steam railway, the pretty villages of the Itchen valley, including my own village of Easton, the stunning Hampshire downlands of Wonston and Micheldever, and as far south as Colden Common and Twyford.
I also represent four wards of the borough of Eastleigh, across Chandler’s Ford and Hiltingbury. It is often said to me that at each election the people of Chandler’s Ford and Hiltingbury look very carefully to see where they are going to be asked to vote this time, so often have they been moved around, so I ask the Boundary Commission, if it looks at Hampshire again, to leave the good people of Chandler’s Ford and Hiltingbury in peace just this once.
Those major changes mean that I take over from one current Member and two former Members: the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, the right hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne), Sandra Gidley and Mark Oaten—who vacated the major part of the new Winchester constituency. It is no secret that my predecessor left the House in difficult circumstances, but I pay tribute to Mark for his work over 13 years as the Member for Winchester, and I thank him genuinely for being a gentleman and a consummate professional in his dealings with me when I was a candidate. I count Mark today as a friend, I know how very well respected he was in the constituency and in the House, and I wish him and his family every success for the future.
Members will be aware that Winchester is an ancient place. Once, during Saxon times, it was the capital of England, and we shall be happy to take that status back at any time. The cathedral is still at the heart of life in our city, and the Bishop of Winchester is one of just 26 Church of England bishops to sit in the other place during their time in office. We have the second oldest mayoralty in the land, but our main newspaper, the Hampshire Chronicle, is a relatively new boy, having been established only in 1772.
We do history well in Winchester. King Arthur’s legendary round table hangs in the great hall, we have England’s oldest and most perfect almshouse at St Cross, and we have King Alfred—Alfred the Great. The great man is far from forgotten by today’s residents. He keeps watch over the city from his vantage point on the Broadway, and he is served magnificently today by the Hyde900 project.
Today, Winchester is a vibrant, bustling and cosmopolitan city that boasts one of the largest sixth forms in the country at Peter Symonds college, the self-confident university of Winchester and, quite literally, schools to move for. As the county town of Hampshire, we host the headquarters of Hampshire county council, HMP Winchester and the headquarters of Hampshire constabulary.
My constituency has a proud military tradition, and I look forward to making my voice heard in the House on defence matters. The city has no fewer than five military museums, including the Royal Hampshire Regiment museum. The Royal Hampshire, now the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, is based in Winchester and counts a Brine, my grandfather, as part of its proud history. The city will be very much focused on the brave men and women of 11 Light Brigade on Wednesday this week, when we host the royal welcome home parade from Afghanistan. I will be there, of course, as will several Front-Bench Members. I assure the House that we will give the brigade the best Hampshire welcome home.
In my constituency we are proud of our military history, but it is not all about museums, and it must never be. The Army is still firmly in my constituency at Worthy Down camp, which is still—for now, at least—the home of the Adjutant General’s Corps. My constituency also includes the Army training regiment, whose future I am keen to secure as contracts are considered and reviewed for initial support and logistics training.
The strategic defence and security review is a marked opportunity for our nation to re-engage not only this House—we have certainly done that this afternoon—but the wider public in the invaluable work done by our armed forces to secure our national security. While I am in this House, I intend to be a clear and persistent voice in favour of ensuring that the new Government honour their promise, as I know they will, to repair the military covenant for the sake of our men and women in the field, as well as the families back home living in places such as Worthy Down camp in my constituency.
The national health service is one of the factors that drove me into the House. At present, my constituents are well served by a much loved district general hospital in Winchester—it was home to much of the good work of Florence Nightingale in her early days—and by large general hospitals in nearby Basingstoke and Southampton. During my time as a candidate, including during the election, I campaigned vigorously and clearly to maintain services, most especially A and E and maternity services in Winchester. I believe that I was elected with a clear mandate to see that that happens. The issues affecting the future of district general hospitals such as Winchester’s will be at the heart of the health debate in this Parliament, and I promise the House that I will argue passionately for their place in a modern NHS.
Already the people whom I represent have felt the new Government’s presence. The removal of regional strategies and top-down housing targets has been warmly welcomed in Winchester and Chandler’s Ford. The tireless campaigners of the Save Barton Farm group and many others in my constituency are among those who warmly welcome their abolition. I pay tribute to the work of those campaigners to protect Winchester and surrounding areas from gross overdevelopment.
This is probably a cliché, but it is no less true for that: I am the first member of my immediate family to go to university, and many are proud of that. As I said, my family includes a brave man of the Royal Hampshire Regiment, one of the original Tolpuddle martyrs—according to family legend—and now the Conservative MP for Winchester. Brinism, if there is ever such a word, is a very big tent indeed.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr Brine), who took us on an enchanting tour of his constituency and touched on some serious issues; I am sure he will represent his constituents excellently.
Defence spending and investment is of particular importance to my constituency, which is potentially under attack on two fronts by more than one party in the Chamber. Faslane naval base, the home of Trident, sits just outside the western end of my constituency and the Clyde shipyards working on the aircraft carriers sit just outside the eastern end. Disappointingly, the new Government have not committed to backing the new aircraft carrier projects and, frankly, have not given good enough answers today about the replacement of Trident.
At the same time, the Scottish National party Government would, if they could, try to remove Trident from Faslane, and as a consequence would run down the base there. Multilateral disarmament is a noble aim that I support, but it would be foolhardy, to say the least, to get rid of our nuclear deterrent when other countries will not. Negotiation is the best way forward. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State is now in his place. I thank him for his letter to me and a few other Members last week, which came with a glossy booklet that seems to have been commissioned since his appointment. In his letter, he writes:
“The importance of defence within constituencies, but also across the country as a whole, warrants far greater attention from us all.”
I agree, and I echo those sentiments. But to give some meaning to the words, will he commit to including an assessment of the economic impact on constituencies of any decisions made as a result of the review?
The new Chancellor may be looking to the defence budget to save billions of pounds, but does he have any idea of the economic impact and financial cost to my constituents if he gets his way on defence cuts?
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is some confusion on the Government Benches, given that the Business Secretary is clearly of the view that it is really important to keep manufacturing in the UK going, yet some of the changes that might come about could have completely the opposite effect?
Yes, I do agree. I share those concerns, as will my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock).
My constituents watched the demise of their world-class shipbuilding industry under the previous Conservative Government, and I can tell the House that that might have something to do with that party’s share of the vote in West Dunbartonshire even today. It has taken not years but decades to try to recover from the devastation caused by the decisions and inaction of the previous Conservative Government. We are only now in the middle of regeneration works on the former site of John Brown’s shipyard. As such, Members will understand my concerns, which arise not only from the prospect of cuts to the defence budget but the further damage that is likely to be done to my constituency because of this Government’s desire to cut public spending at the expense of vital services.
The Secretary of State should note that some 6,000 jobs in Scotland are dependent on the aircraft carriers alone, along with, I believe, another 4,000 jobs in other parts of the UK. Any slippage in the project could cost jobs and skills, and I urge him to give some reassurance to these workers that their jobs are safe. I mentioned that Faslane naval base is at the other end of my constituency, just outside it. Some 7,000 jobs are based there, and given that the entire submarine fleet of the Royal Navy will be based there in future, I understand that that figure will increase.
There has recently been much gnashing of teeth in the press by SNP Members concerned about the impact of cuts on defence projects and jobs in Scotland. They should stop their crocodile tears, however, because under their plans for an independent Scotland, all UK defence contracts and jobs would be lost. They advocate the scrapping of Trident and, according to reports, would be happy to see Faslane run down to become a small facility. What it would be doing in an independent Scotland I am not quite sure, but perhaps this shows that they agree with the sentiment once expressed on the Conservative Benches that unemployment is a price worth paying.
On that note, I should mention that many of my constituents work at the MOD personnel centre in Kentigern house in Glasgow. I imagine that it will be tempting to target cuts at so-called backroom staff. The Secretary of State should know, however, that the previous Government had already reduced the number of MOD civil servants by a third to maintain investment in the front line, and he should be cautious of further reducing back-up services to front-line staff.
I draw the Secretary of State’s attention to an excellent article in today’s Financial Times by Professor Alison Wolf, in which she argues:
“Defence R&D matters to Britain’s manufacturing future because it offers able graduates the incentive to work as engineers and scientists rather than as bankers or analysts.”
That is an important point that those of us who support Britain’s manufacturing industries should bear in mind. Under the previous Government, the strategic review would have examined what our modern defence needs are and how we can best meet them. I am afraid that this Government will not follow our lead and will instead use the strategic review as a smokescreen for cuts.
Yesterday I attended a service to celebrate Armed Forces day in Clydebank town hall. As this is the first time I have spoken in this place on defence, I would like to put on the record my gratitude to our armed forces, although my words hardly seem adequate. We now have an entire new generation of men and women who have seen active battle, many of whom are from my generation. They are heroic men and women who serve their country with such skill and bravery. Their job is the difficult one; mine is only to speak up for them.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak this evening.
I have the great privilege of representing the wonderful people of Castle Point. As everyone here should know, it is a borough constituency on the north side of the Thames in Essex. The seat takes its name from two of its most prominent landmarks: the ruins of Hadleigh castle, which overlook the Thames, and Canvey Point, the easternmost point of Canvey Island—a true island, below sea level, which fortunately enjoys some of the lowest levels of rainfall in the country. Hon. Members will know that the castle is the subject of a beautiful and haunting painting by John Constable. Indeed, I am often confused by people who say they are going to visit Constable country and then mistakenly head off for Suffolk instead. I very much look forward to being able to show off the beauty of my constituency when Hadleigh downs hosts the 2012 Olympic mountain biking event.
Castle Point has a rich history. Canvey Island hosted an early Roman settlement and was drained by Dutch engineers in the 17th century, and the Saxons fought off the Vikings at the battle of Benfleet. Castle Point’s recent political history has been no less interesting. My immediate predecessor was Dr Bob Spink, who was an extremely active Member of the House and an enthusiastic presenter of petitions. In recent years he was associated with several parties, including a short fling with the UK Independence party as its only ever MP, however briefly. He ultimately fought the election leading his own Independent Save Our Green Belt party—an important issue in Castle Point. I have met many people whom he has helped over the years of his service, and he was a very hard-working Member of Parliament. I wish him the best for the future.
However, no Castle Point MP should talk about the constituency without paying proper tribute to the late Lord Braine of Wheatley, who served the area with great distinction for 43 years and was Father of the House until his elevation to another place. Sir Bernard is still remembered with real affection, and at my first meeting with a local campaign leader I was presented with a 30-year-old copy of Hansard recording his marathon three-and-a-half-hour filibuster as he strove to talk out a railway Bill that would have made more likely the construction of two oil refineries on west Canvey marshes. The development would have blighted the whole borough to this day.
Like a lot of men, Sir Bernard seemed to have no great difficulty talking for three and a half hours without pause. That said, he was helped by supportive colleagues on the Back Benches intervening to complain, after only two hours, that he was pursuing his argument in too hurried and superficial a way, and requesting that he please give more background and context in order for them to get a better grasp of his arguments. I am happy to say that Sir Bernard and the tenacious local residents won the day. The refineries were never built, and one of my first public engagements as a Member of Parliament was attending the formal opening of a superb new Royal Society for the Protection of Birds reserve where one of those refineries would have stood.
Bernard showed how an experienced and determined Member might use this Chamber to deliver real benefits to the community that he represented, benefits that are well remembered nearly 40 years on—quite a lesson for a new Member like myself. He understood the Castle Point community and saw it grow rapidly as people moved there from London. In doing so, they sought to bring up their families in the safe, green, pleasant villages of Benfleet, Thundersley, Hadleigh, Canvey Island and Daws Heath. That housing development, though, is balanced by the presence of ancient woodlands, heathland, marshes and glens and vital green belt, the preservation of which is hugely important to the local people, who want to ensure that Castle Point remains a peaceful and attractive place to live—a subject I will return to in future debates. As Members may guess, I and my constituents are delighted at the abolition of regional housing targets.
Despite its rapid growth, Castle Point has maintained an exceptionally strong, even old-fashioned, sense of community—something that its people have preserved, and that I as their MP wish to help them preserve. Castle Point residents are very proud of their community, and also fiercely proud of our country—even, it seems, of our national football team. Above all, they are hugely proud of our armed forces and will line the streets for them on Saturday for Armed Forces day. I am delighted that this year, the 1st Battalion the Royal Anglians, better known as the Vikings, will be joining the parade.
The Vikings recruit in and around my constituency and are just back from a third tour of duty in Afghanistan, where they have fought bravely, helping to provide security to the Afghan people and to us in the UK in turn. They lost five of their number and many more were injured. I had the privilege of receiving last week a briefing at county hall from their senior officers on their achievements during the mission, and was greatly encouraged by the progress they have made on reconstruction and development, on winning over the local community leaders, and on investment in the training of the Afghan national army and police. More than 10,000 Essex people turned out last week to give them a proper Essex welcome, demonstrating their heartfelt support for those who bravely put their lives at risk on our behalf.
However, that support has not stopped those same people from asking searching questions about the mission and equipment, and about the care we give to the injured and their relatives, both in mind and body. Some ask why we are in those locations, what we realistically hope to achieve, and whether all the money and personnel could be better deployed in protecting our domestic security in a more direct way. Like many others, my constituents have experienced terrorism first hand and its changing character over the years. The IRA sought to detonate an oil storage tank on Canvey in the ’70s, and many of my constituents work in London and were affected by 7/7.
I hope the defence review gives us a proper chance to look hard at our priorities as we consider how best to make our country secure again, with the background of a diverse and rapidly changing security threat, and the realities of our economic circumstances. My briefing from the Vikings showed clearly the principle that security can be won and maintained only through the combination of military and policing action, negotiation and diplomacy, and aid and investment, and that one should not undermine or work against the other. I hope that the strategic defence and security review, while determining the future shape of our defence and armed forces, will also give the British public confidence that when our brave men and women are sent to war on our behalf, it is for this country’s security interests.
I shall close by saying what a great pride I have in representing the people of Castle Point. I offer total commitment to serving them in this House, to repay the trust they have placed in me by sending me here.
It is an honour to speak after so many fantastic maiden speeches, in particular those of my hon. Friends the Members for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris), for Winchester (Mr Brine), and for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray). I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester on his wedding anniversary. Mine is tomorrow, so I know the feeling of being away from family down here in London. It is also an honour to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), who spoke with such passion and authority on the necessity of ensuring the resilience of our front-line units in Afghanistan.
It is well known that the percentage of gross domestic product that we spend on defence is at historic lows. However, as a result of our equally historic deficit, it is now likely to fall even lower. I was a soldier, and I do not want that, but I am a realist on the state of Government finances, so I recognise that the Ministry of Defence must take its share of the pain. I am hopeful that if that is done through the prism of a comprehensive strategic defence and security review, we can ensure a sustainable balance between resources and requirements.
The SDSR cannot be conducted independently of a thorough review of the defence industrial strategy. A quarter of our defence budget is spent on equipment and services, and our current approach to acquisition is, at best, a mixed bag. The urgent operational requirement system allows for a valuable degree of flexibility and provides a way into the procurement system for our strong phalanx of small and medium-sized defence companies, but in too many cases, the core programme level is a disaster.
At this stage, I must take issue with the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) and my hon. Friend the Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti), who praised the A400M aircraft. They said that it was a fantastic aircraft with which we should be delighted to be involved. I do not doubt that the aircraft that finally results from the programme will be a fine aircraft, but the acquisition process that has got us to this point is an example of how not to procure an aircraft. It is more than three years late and almos £10 billion over budget, and arguably, it is now considerably over-specced for the initial requirements.
Earlier, my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), in her maiden speech, noted that the United Kingdom has not exported a naval vessel since the 1970s. Type 45 destroyers were originally supposed to cost something like £280 million each, but they now cost more than £1 billion each. Is it any wonder, given the gold-plating that happens in our procurement process, that we end up with bits of kit that are simply too expensive to export? It cost the previous Government £100 million simply to avoid making a decision on the future rapid effect system for a year. The frictional costs at Abbey Wood have been estimated at some £0.5 billion a year. That would pay for a brigade of soldiers.
I am a strong supporter of the UK defence industry. It is a UK good news story, employing some 300,000 people and representing 10% of UK manufacturing jobs, and these are high-quality jobs—they are high-tech, high-value added jobs. The industry turnover is some £35 billion, of which 22% is from exports. However, the question must be asked whether the current acquisition process is designed to support our armed forces or our defence industry. It is supposed to do both; it is in danger of doing neither.
I am old fashioned: I believe that the defence budget is there to equip and train our armed forces, and to support them in performing their duties at home and abroad. The defence budget is not there to support industry—there are other Departments with that remit. I am not even convinced that the defence industrial strategy as it currently operates is good for our defence industry. We have some of the most successful high-tech, highly skilled companies in the world—companies that are hampered, not helped, by the MOD’s constant gold-plating and moving of the goalposts. The MOD too often limits the industry’s export potential by specifying equipment that is simply too expensive and too specialised for the export market. I am not arguing for scrapping the defence industrial strategy or for abandoning partnering between the MOD and industry, but anybody who thinks that the current acquisition programme is working is deluding themselves.
I am listening with interest to the hon. Gentleman, but from the tone of his argument, he seems to be suggesting that those on his Front Bench should perhaps have the opportunity to purchase off-the-peg items from overseas, rather than from British industry.
There is a balance to be struck. In fact, before the hon. Lady intervened, my very next sentence was going to be: there is a balance to be struck between supporting our vibrant defence industry and ensuring that our soldiers get the equipment that they need in a timely manner. I recognise that there is a balance to be struck—it is not about one thing or another—but we are simply not striking it at the moment. We have to look hard at how we equip and sustain our armed forces, and we must do so as part of the strategic defence and security review, not later as a stand-alone review. I sincerely hope that that will be the case.
I am glad to have the chance to contribute in such a vital debate and to follow so many fine maiden speeches, most recently from my hon. Friends the Members for Winchester (Mr Brine) and for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris). I greatly enjoyed hearing about the rich historical heritage of Winchester, and I also enjoyed the fluent and amusing speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point. I now know which is the true Constable country, and I will not be fooled by anybody else’s claims.
During the election campaign, defence was, perhaps surprisingly, a major issue on the doorstep in my constituency. There was a strong feeling that our troops had gone into battle overstretched and under-resourced. I know that a strategic defence review is the only way to square that circle, and I am encouraged by what I have heard from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and in particular his commitment to restoring our military covenant. However, I implore the Government to go still further. We have heard, in many fine speeches, from all parts of the House in this evening’s debate, great concern about the welfare of our troops when they are off the field of battle, with the issues ranging from health care to mental health provision. I implore our coalition Government to go still further: to be bold and to make the proverbial virtue of necessity.
As the profligacy of 13 years of Labour Government has necessitated this root-and-branch review, let us add something completely new to the mix. I advocated this in my maiden speech, and it would be remiss of me not to advocate it again today. This country needs a Veterans Administration. Tracing its roots back to 1636, when the pilgrims of Plymouth colony established a fund to help disabled veterans of wars with the native Americans, the modern Veterans Administration in the United States was set up in 1930 with a specifically co-ordinating function: to
“consolidate and coordinate Government activities affecting war veterans.”
I will in a second, because I believe that I am about to develop the point that I believe the hon. Gentleman is about to raise.
In 1989, President Bush senior created the Department of Veterans Affairs, with a Cabinet seat in the US Government. As he said,
“There is only one place for the veterans of America, in the Cabinet Room, at the table with the President of the United States”.
Today that Department is the second largest in the US Government, with 280,000 employees and a budget—here I urge the Secretary of State to take heart and not to flinch—of $88 billion.
I was looking at the Secretary of State’s face when the hon. Lady was saying that she wants to spend a great deal more money. Can I ask her to get out of the la-la land of the campaign and look at what the last Labour Government did? We were the first Government ever to have a Veterans Minister and we were the first ever to have a Service Personnel and Veterans Agency—something that no Conservative Government ever provided.
If the hon. Gentleman had allowed me to develop my speech further, he would have heard me say that the cost implications are not the same for similar provisions in this country. Yes, of course there was a Veterans Minister and of course some progress has been made to care for our veterans, but I think that most hon. Members, and certainly most people in the country and in my constituency, think—as has been reflected in the speeches we have heard, including those from Labour Members—that the care provided is totally inadequate.
I am wearing today the Help for Heroes wristband. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Dan Byles) mentioned in his own maiden speech, the existence of Help for Heroes is a rebuke not only to the hon. Gentleman’s Government, but to everyone in the House, as it is properly a function of Government to care for our veterans. Its popularity stems from the fact that it is seen to be filling the gaps in state care. The Ministry of Defence website includes anybody who has ever fought or worn this country’s uniform, and it is estimated to reach about 10 million people in the UK, which is a hefty chunk of the population. There can be no comparison in terms of extra or additional spending for a British model of a Veterans Administration, because 87% of the American VA’s spending costs are for medical care alone, so they are already covered in this country by the NHS.
Some half-hearted attempts have been made in this direction, such as the Veterans UK website, which is an information portal, but is, to be honest, very small beer compared to a dedicated Department focused on the military and their families. Many projects that are being brought forward, such as shared equity house purchasing and pilot schemes for extra mental health provision, which were of course announced in the Conservative manifesto, as was the application of the pupil premium to military families and their children, are in their infancy, but Rome was not built in a day. I recognise that the previous Government did not leave us the money to construct a Walter Reed on UK soil.
Our forces, who are, of course, the best in the world, have been fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq under-equipped and under-resourced. When they return home, they should not have to hunt out and search for what help is available. A simple reorganisation of existing and, indeed, planned benefit changes is necessary. All these things can and should be easily accessible in one place, and, crucially, one Department should have responsibility.
Other measures such as legislation—for example, I would advocate making illegal the refusal of service at hotels or hostels on the ground that a soldier is wearing the Queen’s uniform—or educational initiatives would help. For example, it is customary in the USA to thank military personnel for their service—something that we might usefully teach our own children. That would be effective in raising morale and would, of course, be totally free of cost.
We are embarking on a strategic defence review. Let us review, as part of it, the wholly inadequate present arrangements for supporting our troops and their families when they are off the field of battle. Let the new coalition Government signal their complete seriousness about restoring the military covenant and the pride they have in our troops. I urge the Government to go further than the piecemeal steps taken by the last Labour Government and to take steps to examine the feasibility of a UK Veterans Administration.
We have had a very good debate, with 27 contributions and nine excellent maiden speeches. The hon. Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) gave a fitting tribute to his predecessor; I agree that he was a very strong advocate for the defence industry and for BAE Systems and the Eurofighter. However, I feel that the hon. Member Fylde will find strange bedfellows in his new Liberal Democrat friends, when his two major employers are the nuclear industry and BAE Systems.
We heard a very good maiden speech from the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw). He paid tribute to Joan Humble, a very good friend of mine, who did a lot of work in the House on Deepcut and welfare issues. The hon. Gentleman explained the tortuous way in which he gets round his constituency by going through other Members’ constituencies. I do not envy his task when he puts in his mileage claim to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority and explains how he makes his journey.
The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) paid tribute to another good friend of mine, Linda Gilroy. He also paid tribute to the Royal Marines. When I was a Minister, I had the privilege to visit Plymouth on a number of occasions, and we should all be proud of and humbled by the work of Hasler Company on recovery capability, which, I have to say, was fully supported and financed by a Labour Government.
The hon. Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) spoke from his experience in the Territorial Army, and I thank him for his service to the nation. He paid tribute to the medical emergency response teams in Afghanistan. I have also met the individuals involved and they do a fantastic job. I hope that they will soon get recognition through the award of a campaign medal. He rightly spoke about the footprint of the defence industry in Bristol and the surrounding area. He also rightly lauded the doubling of the operational allowance, although, on the basis of the written answer I received this week, it is an unfunded commitment, because the Government do not know where the money will come from.
The speech of the hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) showed that she will be a strong advocate for the Navy, and I am sure that she will be popular with the Navy in that fine city. She said that she hoped she would not have to fight for the Navy against her Front-Bench colleagues. She might have to fight hard to support her constituency and the Royal Navy, because in opposition the Conservative party was very Army-focused—
I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s comment from a sedentary position—he was the lone voice on the Conservative Front Bench arguing for the RAF.
The hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) gave a beautiful description of what is a beautiful constituency, and she is a good salesperson for her local tourist board. She also paid tribute to Colin Breed, with whom I served on the Defence Committee and who had a keen interest in defence matters. She mentioned HMS Raleigh—if you want to see the best of British youth, Mr Deputy Speaker, you need to go to HMS Raleigh. As a Minister, I was honoured to attend a passing-out parade there last year, and it is humbling to see those who were once raw recruits passing out, with their families in tears, and going on to make a great contribution to our Royal Navy.
The hon. Member for Redditch (Karen Lumley) made, I think, a fitting tribute to her predecessor, as well as to a very good old friend of mine, Eric Forth, who once represented the area, which I had not realised previously. She also rightly pointed out her constituency’s contribution to our armed forces, and I am sure that she will be a strong advocate for that constituency.
The hon. Member for Winchester (Mr Brine) represents a strong military area, which I was fortunate to visit on numerous occasions as a Minister. One of those visits was to launch the armed forces welfare pathway with Hampshire county council, with which I hope the new ministerial team will continue.
I have to say that the hon. Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris), in defeating Dr. Robert Spink, has done a favour to us and the rainforests of South America, because we will no longer have to put up with the nightly petitions he used to present. I thank her for that contribution to the environment. She also said rightly that she represents her constituency with pride, and I am sure that she will do a good job. She made the point that her constituency is a large contributor of men and women to our armed forces, and I wish her well in representing that constituency.
The debate had a large number of contributions. There is usually consensus across the House in such debates, although one would not think that if one saw some of the press comments, or the spin that came from Conservative Front Benchers, before the election. However, this is a serious subject, and we ought to ensure that Members in all parts of the House, as well as in the wider community, are involved in the review.
The right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell)—who nowadays, I have to say, looks a bit like the unhappy father of the bride at a shotgun wedding—
The right hon. and learned Gentleman may not be paying for it personally, but I think that his party may well do so.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman made a good point in saying that foreign policy clearly underpinned the review. He also made a good point about finance. One thing that I think the Government Front-Bench team will soon recognise is that the enemy is not in the Ministry of Defence or in its own parties, but across the road in the Treasury.
It was remiss of me not to welcome members of the Front-Bench team to their new positions. Let me also say that I am sad that the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) and the hon. Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison), who were collateral damage in the reshuffle, are no longer in that team. They worked very hard in opposition, and always dealt with me courteously when I was a Minister.
I think that we have taken a simplistic approach to finance in the context of the review. When we were in government, we fell into the habit of assuming that the civil service was bad and the military were good. I had the privilege and the great honour of being a Minister in the MOD, and I want to record my thanks to the civil servants and the military personnel with whom I worked. The MOD comes in for a great deal of criticism, but one thing that I would not question is the commitment and dedication of the individuals in that Department. It is true that we reduced expenditure on civil servants by cutting their number by 45,000, but savings will now have to be made across the board, and it would be wrong to make them in such a simplistic way.
An important question that has emerged today relates to the parameters of the debate that is to take place. We need to ask whether decisions have already been made, and whether some areas will be ring-fenced. In opposition, the Conservative Front-Bench team made it clear that they wanted to increase the size of the Army. My hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk (Eric Joyce) said earlier that he would not quote things back at them. I am sorry, but I cannot help doing so.
In opposition, the then hon. Member for Woodspring—now the Secretary of State—was keen to ensure that we had a bigger Army. On 18 February 2008, he was asked by Adam Boulton of Sky News:
“So are you saying that you want… a bigger army?”
“We want to see a bigger army.”
That rather contradicts what he is saying now, and what he was quoted as saying the other week in The Sunday Times—that
“nothing had been ruled out—even cuts to the numbers of uniformed personnel.”
Are we to believe that what the Conservatives said before the last election was just the rhetoric of opposition? Was it not, in fact, a cynical ploy to give the impression that they were the party that was standing up for the armed forces?
May I help the hon. Gentleman further, and ask him to confirm that the last Conservative Government reduced the size of the British Army, and that the Conservatives opposed the then Labour Government’s cuts in the number of infantry units?
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman does, but I am sure that he will have some tough decisions to make over the next few weeks.
We must also ask whether the size of the Navy is sacrosanct. In the same article in The Sunday Times, the current Secretary of State asked:
“Have we cut the surface fleets too much in order to buy high-end capability?”
That suggests that somehow the size of the Navy is ring-fenced. We are therefore slowly seeing whole chunks of the review being ring-fenced or put off-limits, so I question what type of review it is going to be.
That brings me to the nuclear deterrent, where I must say we have got one whole of a dog’s breakfast. The Minister for the Armed Forces said before the election:
“The Labour and Conservative policy of like-for-like replacement of Trident is absurd”
“Labour wants to press ahead with a £100 billion nuclear weapons system designed for the Cold War and won’t even consider Trident in the upcoming defence review. That makes no sense.”
I understand from the coalition agreement that Trident will be scrutinised to ensure value for money but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) ably pointed out, we are not quite clear what the value-for-money review actually means. Does it mean going back to the proposals of the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife for a cruise-based alternative, or is it just about tinkering with the figures? The new Chief Secretary to the Treasury clearly did not have a clue when he addressed the House last week. In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness, he said:
“The hon. Gentleman has no doubt studied carefully the coalition programme…The value-for-money review will do precisely what it says on the tin: we want to get the best value for money from the project and not waste taxpayers’ money unnecessarily on the renewal.”—[Official Report, 17 June 2010; Vol. 511, c. 1049.]
Everyone would agree with that, but are we reopening what the Liberal Democrats were putting forward?
Well, no, I do not, because I have to say that I agree with the Conservative Front-Bench team that we must make sure to replace Trident. I must also say that my hon. Friend threw me a little when he said in his speech that he was now supportive of myself and other former Ministers; I am glad he has turned over a new leaf in opposition.
As the hon. Gentleman agrees with the Government’s position on this, given his own experience will he enlighten colleagues as to why the previous Government came to the decision that Trident was the most effective and cheapest way of providing us with a continuous at-sea deterrent?
Well, because it is, and we had the White Paper in 2006 that said that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness raised an interesting point—the idea that we can play stop-go with the building of nuclear submarines is wrong; instead, we need to keep the skills base together. People must recognise that key point. That policy is what led to the problems we are currently facing with Astute. The options were looked at in detail and it was found that, in terms of the procurement of warheads and of the boats themselves, Trident is the most cost-effective way to proceed.
However, I must ask the Minister for the Armed Forces whether, in terms of the review, we are talking about basic principles or simple value for money? A yes or no answer will suffice. Alternatively, is this, as we all suspect, simply a bit of political posturing to keep the unilateralists in the Liberal Democrats on board while not scaring the cold war warriors in the Tory party such as the hon. Member for New Forest East?
Much was said in the debate about the covenant and the work on that—or lack of work, as the hon. Member for Corby (Ms Bagshawe) said. She should look at what we actually achieved in government, and it would be nice if she could support and build upon that.
On value for money, the Treasury will of course look in detail at whatever review takes place, and it is clear that the Secretary of State is also looking at that requirement. In the article that I mentioned earlier, he said that there might not be so much “fat in the system” as was previously thought, but that although the overall defence budget would be protected, dramatic savings would still have to be made. Between 1997 and 2008, Labour added an average £1 billion a year to the defence budget and there was the longest-sustained growth in defence expenditure ever in this country. It is important to get some clarity tonight. If the defence review says there is a need for more defence expenditure, will the Secretary of State argue for that or will he simply take an inflation increase, which would effectively be a cut in the defence budget?
The right hon. Gentleman knows that I was responsible for personnel issues within the Department. There has been much criticism in the past few weeks about bloated public sector pay and pensions. Armed forces personnel are public sector workers, although we do not see them as such, and it will be interesting to see whether he will exempt them from the pay restraint being suggested. Is he going to implement fully the recommendations of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, as we did in the last Government? On pensions, will he exempt armed forces pensions from the review that is taking place? If he is looking for hopeful signs from the former Member for Barrow and Furness, Mr John Hutton, let me tell him that when I suggested that we should look into this, Mr Hutton was the one who scuppered it and then went against the permanent secretary who recommended that the issue should be looked at.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth) said earlier, we welcome the responsible way in which we will make a contribution to this debate. However, there is still confusion around what programmes are included in all this and about the finance. For five years, the Secretary of State has been going around promising larger Armies, bigger Navies, better accommodation and higher pay. Some of his Front-Bench team have even called for higher defence expenditure, although I notice that he has never offered a penny more in relation to any of those commitments. Will he now, with his party and its new Liberal Democrat friends, be straight not only with the armed forces but with the country? We need an effective strategic defence and security review not just to meet our commitments at home and abroad, but to do the right thing by the men and women who daily put their lives at risk on our behalf.
This has been a frank and important debate at a crucial time for defence. Many of us will remember Thursday afternoons in the last Parliament when defence debates were typically rather poorly attended by the same people making—I hope it is not too rude for me to say this—the same speeches. It has therefore been very welcome to see so many new faces here and to have that participation. We look forward to seeing a huge improvement in our defence debates to come.
The strategic defence and security review gives us the opportunity to look afresh at the role we see for our armed forces in the 21st century. It is a chance for us to harmonise defence policy, plans, commitments and resources. There is a good deal of consensus in the House on the need for change and there is recognition of the need to take difficult decisions. There is probably even quite a lot of agreement about what some of those decisions will have to be. However, we also have to be aware that the nature of the review and the difficult decisions that have to be taken mean that we will not be able to please everyone. My ministerial colleagues and I are grateful for the thoughtful contributions that have been made today on a wide range of topics, and we will consider them further as the review moves forward.
More broadly, we are engaging with the defence community as a whole—with industry and academics as well as with the charities and volunteer groups that support our efforts. That will include giving an important voice to members of the armed forces, as the Secretary of State highlighted earlier. The crucial thing is for defence as a whole to emerge stronger from the review. If it is to do that, we cannot make changes at the edges. Efficiency savings can be made, but they alone will not fix the structural difficulties in the Ministry of Defence’s finances, so we will have to face up to the realities and prioritise.
Structural problems can be resolved only by structural solutions. The review will therefore grapple with fundamental issues. We face a more unpredictable security situation than we have had for many decades. In Afghanistan, which I visited last week, there are clearly many challenges, but I have seen for myself that real progress is being made.
On Thursday, 1st Battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment— the Vikings—held a post-Afghanistan homecoming parade in Southend that was attended by my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois), my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) and me. Will the Minister join us in congratulating the regiment on its achievements? In particular, will he ensure that the troops from the battalion who were injured in the conflict will be properly cared for?
I entirely endorse the hon. Gentleman’s comments. It was a particularly distinguished tour of duty, and the homecoming parade, which I have read about in his local newspaper, and which was mentioned earlier by the hon. Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris), was certainly very notable and shows the depth of appreciation in the communities for the work that those forces did.
It is imperative that we continue to build up the size and strength of the Afghan national security force. That is the direct route, ultimately, to our troops coming home. Sometimes that is not as well understood as it could be. While conducting our strategic defence and security review, we must not lose sight of the importance of explaining our mission in Afghanistan. We cannot make the mistake of assuming that all future conflicts that we will be involved in will be like the conflict in Afghanistan, but in deciding what our armed forces should look like, we must consider what the most likely operations that they will be asked to undertake are. In that sense, the review will be policy led.
There has to be a balance between supporting the needs of today and being prepared for whatever tomorrow might bring. There are many potential tasks that we may wish our military to undertake—each will have its own requirements and could be very different indeed from what is going on in Afghanistan—but we cannot fool ourselves into thinking that we can do everything. In that sense, the strategic defence and security review must necessarily be financially aware.
A number of hon. Members have asked questions about how the review will be conducted. Among others, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) specifically asked about the timing of the review, and suggested that it was being conducted very swiftly. I acknowledge that it is being conducted swiftly, but the reason for that is quite simply the financial predicament that the nation faces, and the fact that a comprehensive spending review will take place this October. If we were to wait until after that to start the strategic defence and security review, we would inevitably end up doing so within a financial envelope given to us by the Treasury.
By conducting the strategic defence and security review first, we can make a case to the Treasury on the basis of the foreign policy that has been set out, the security assessment that has been arrived at, and a number of detailed programmes of work on what the armed forces’ structure and configuration will need to be to meet those foreign policy and security requirements. There is clearly an absolute necessity to do that first, so that we can battle our corner within the comprehensive spending review from a position of strength, with a thought-through, strategic position for defence, not by chasing along afterwards to an agenda that has already been set for us. For that reason, it is absolutely right that we have to get on and do it as quickly as we can.
I hope very much that all Members who have taken part in the defence debate today and think of themselves as part of the defence community in Parliament will fight shoulder to shoulder to ensure that defence gets the best possible outcome, as we all compete for very limited resources in the coming months. To that extent, I very much hope that this issue will not be too divisive between parties, and that we can help each other towards that goal.
I am delighted to see the Minister in his post. Will he clarify the position on the mental health screening of personnel? His junior, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr Robathan)—a demoted former shadow Deputy Chief Whip—made a Horlicks of it on Radio 4, and we do not know whether the Government are in favour of mental health screening or not. What is the position? Can the Minister put his junior right, please?
The simple answer is that the Government have promised a new approach to mental health services to support the armed forces. The Prime Minister has asked the hon. Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) to establish the most effective way of improving the care that we provide. On mental health screening, clinical experts have advised that further research is necessary before any new plans are put in place, so we are looking into the matter, but we will come back to the hon. Gentleman and the House on that subject in due course.
A number of hon. Members have, understandably, raised various points of local interest in their constituency, or matters of particular interest to themselves, and that is entirely right. That, after all, is the point of devoting an entire day’s debate to the strategic defence review. I was completely baffled to hear an Opposition Member ask when Parliament would get the opportunity to debate the strategic defence review; he was saying that in the middle of a full day’s debate on it.
Let me say to the hon. Members for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) and for Plymouth, Moor View (Alison Seabeck), who made points on behalf of the Navy; to the hon. Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies), who referred to Typhoon; to the Scottish National party spokesman, the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), who talked about the situation of Scottish industry; to the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty), who raised the issue of the carriers; to the hon. Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti), who talked about the important aerospace industries in his constituency; to the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw), who talked about the Territorial Army in his constituency; and to the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Gemma Doyle), who talked about the ship industry, that we quite understand why they made the points that they did. I cannot offer any promises or any comfort to anybody at this stage. We are just embarking on a genuinely comprehensive review. Nothing is completely safeguarded from it, but equally, no decisions have yet been taken that should give any of those Members specific cause for alarm. We are embarking on a comprehensive piece of work. It is right that they should articulate their concerns, but we cannot arrive at the conclusions at this stage, when we have not embarked on the piece of work.
On the time scale, which Opposition Members are asking about, the work streams are now in place. Hon. Members—and everybody else—have the opportunity to contribute and make whatever representations they wish to make. If there are hon. Members who feel that they are under-informed, and want more information to inform representations that they might make during the review, they need only let us know. Ministers have an open-door policy, and Members are welcome to any further information that they feel they need.
That is a yes. Hon. Members need only ask for any information that they need.
A variety of Members, including the shadow Defence Secretary, raised the issue of Trident. I think that I should clarify as best I can, because there seems to be some confusion—or perhaps I should say that some people seem moderately determined to be a little confused—about the value-for-money review of the existing plan for the Trident successor. It is a value-for-money study of the existing plan. If the study were to conclude that a particular aspect of the existing plan did not represent good value for money, it might start looking at different ways of doing things, but I have to stress that it is not a review in which we look at all the possible alternative ways in which we might provide a successor, and see which works out the cheapest. It is a progress report on the work taking place on the Trident successor project. The Ministry of Defence work on that should be completed by roughly the end of next month. The report will then go to the Cabinet Office, and ultimately these things will be decided by the National Security Council.
This afternoon we heard eight or nine maiden speeches, to which it is my happy duty to respond. If I have missed any, I can only say, with great apologies to those who made them, that they spoke with such aplomb and assurance that I did not recognise them as maiden speeches. The hon. Member for Fylde told us, among other things about his constituency, that Blackpool players tend to live in his patch. I congratulate them on reaching the premier league, and I wish them every success next season, as I wish him success in his seat. The hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood discussed the neglect of rural areas and the decimated fishing industry. I certainly recognise those problems, and I am sure that we will hear a lot more from him about them. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) gave us an account of Plymouth’s naval history, and discussed the work of Combat Stress and others in dealing with the human fallout. He asked whether Ministers would come to Plymouth, and I can reassure him that I am going there this weekend as part of the Armed Forces day celebrations, so it is not being ignored.
The hon. Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke told us about the importance of defence industries in his constituency. He told us that he had served in Helmand, and he promises to be a strong advocate for troop welfare. The hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) stressed her naval heritage by pointing out that she had been named after a naval cruiser—that will take some beating. She urged us not to be sea-blind, and I can assure her that we will not be. Her point about the exportability of new naval craft was extremely well made, and it is something to which the Government are committed.
The hon. Member for Redditch (Karen Lumley), as was said, made the place sound quite idyllic. I acknowledge her tribute to her predecessor. The hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) gave a charming account of her constituency, and made a generous tribute to her predecessor Colin Breed—I thank her for doing so—and to Bob Hicks, the Member before that, whom we all remember fondly. The hon. Member for Winchester (Mr Brine) gave us a geographical tour of his constituency, with which I am familiar. He told us how Chandler’s Ford and Hiltingbury had moved from one constituency to another. As a native of Chandler’s Ford, and indeed Hiltingbury, I am aware of that change, and I wish him well in his representation of the seat. The hon. Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris) gave us a worthwhile reminder of where Constable country is.
I should like to respond to the points made by the shadow Defence Secretary, which I did not think were justified, about the departure of Sir Jock Stirrup as Chief of the Defence Staff. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that Sir Jock Stirrup himself said that it had always been his wish to retire at the end of the strategic defence and security review, which was
“an obvious point at which to make the transition.”
I quite understand that, while it was thought that that review would last until the middle of next year, it might have been assumed that that was the point at which he was going to resign. However, given that, in fact, it will be concluded at the end of October, that is the natural point for him to go. He has no hard feelings about that; it is a perfectly civilised departure, and we thank him for his very fine service. [Interruption.] Any suggestion that he has been picked out as a result of sympathies for the previous Government must come from people who have not met him. Sir Jock Stirrup is about the least likely closet socialist anyone would ever come across—[Interruption.]
No, I am in the last minute of the debate.
There were many other thoughtful contributions, and I particularly agreed with the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) that future battles will not all be like Afghanistan. When the Secretary of State says that there are legacies of the cold war that have to be laid to rest, that does not mean that we will focus entirely on Afghanistan and what Afghanistan entails. We must be prepared, as the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) said, for whatever the future might hold for us and whatever the case might be in three decades’ time. That will be the watchword of the defence review. As we look at all our capabilities across the board, we will try to be ready for any eventuality—
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No.9(3)).