Previous SectionIndexHome Page

8.17 pm

Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone): I would be negligent if I failed to mention the contribution that the armed services have made in Northern Ireland over more than a quarter of a century. During that time, hundreds of young men and women have died in the defence of democracy and many thousands have been injured. The devotion to duty demonstrated by those young men and women is quite remarkable, given the fact that successive Governments have been without any coherent or cohesive policy on how to deal with terrorism in Northern Ireland.

It is certainly no compliment to the courage and discipline of those young people that we now have the IRA, represented by unreconstructed terrorists, at the table of democracy. However, I shall not deal with that matter during my brief speech tonight; I want to concentrate on how the Ministry of Defence acts and reacts in respect of this nation's arms procurement so as to sustain the interests of our defence industry.

27 Oct 1997 : Column 656

I move immediately to the development of our air-to-air capability. When the decision was made to equip our forces with Apache helicopters, it was recognised that they would require an effective air-to-air capability to defend themselves against enemy helicopters and other aircraft. There was what was called a mandatory option to equip with Starstreak or anything better. At that time, Starstreak had not been accepted into service, but it is now successfully deployed with United Kingdom forces as a vehicle-based, ground-to-air, very short-range missile system.

I do not need to remind hon. Members of the advantage that Starstreak's laser-guided, high-velocity missile system holds over infra-red systems--it is effective in typical battle-scene scenarios where there is clutter such as smoke, tree obstructions or heat sources. Starstreak has been designed to be immune to countermeasures, including jamming, flares, chaff or electronic devices. Its high velocity enables engagement times to be short.

Air-to-air Starstreak can take full advantage of the target acquisition range provided by the Apache helicopter's longbow radar and target acquisition and designation system--TADS. As it is not a fire-and-forget infra-red system, there is also a reduced risk of mistakes such as friendly fire, as the missile can be destroyed or steered away from the target following launch if the target is found not to be hostile.

The possible alternative to Starstreak--the United States' Hughes Stinger infra-red system--has been declared ineffective in the air-to-air role, whereas Starstreak had, by the end of last year, successfully completed phase one of a joint US-UK evaluation, with six Starstreak missiles successfully fired from the helicopter in the hover and forward flight positions.

Phase two, encompassing the integration of Starstreak's laser beam guidance system with the Apache's TADS and full integration with the programme, together with the recent selection of the Apache by the Ministry of Defence, could pave the way for joint missile procurement and inter-operability of common US-UK equipment. Between the US and the UK, we are talking about some 900 helicopters.

I come now to my point about the Ministry of Defence. Quite simply, it is not punchy enough; it is not positive in promoting this country's defence industry in the face of very aggressive opposition. Potentially, Starstreak is a huge winner and it could be ready for service within two to three years in its air-to-air role, yet the United States finds the MOD ambivalent and without enthusiasm on the issue of whether we are committed to our own system. There is a huge Stinger lobby in the US. It is therefore essential that Starstreak receives full UK support. The current perception in the US is that the MOD is not firm enough in its support for Starstreak and is simply waiting for the US to pay for and make the selection decision. That can only assist the Stinger lobby.

I encourage the Minister and the Secretary of State, who has just resumed his seat, urgently to address the fact that improvements in the ground-based air defence capability at short range and very short range are required through the introduction of a co-ordinating command and control structure working to individual fire unit level. No such change in the infrastructure of our ground-based air defence has yet occurred. In order to bring significant gains in the efficiency of our air defence assets--I refer

27 Oct 1997 : Column 657

specifically to Rapier and Starstreak--the sophistication of co-ordination in command and control needs to match that of other European nations.

The introduction, through technology insertion, of a command and control capability in the short range and very short range air defence systems would provide scope to increase the efficiency of the weapon systems, to allow the most cost-effective weapons mix to be deployed, to provide instantly the recognised air picture and local air picture to the fire units, and to ensure that Britain's air defence capability is compatible with the continuing adoption of such digitisation programmes by other NATO countries.

Finally, I want to touch on the airborne stand-off radar--ASTOR--programme, which is essential to the defence of our nation. Do the Government still regard it as a high priority? I point out to the Minister that, apart from my regional interest in the programme, it incorporates significant national interest. Of the two aircraft platforms proposed for the ASTOR programme, only one--the Bombardier Global Express--has significantly high British content. Shorts design and manufacture more than 25 per cent. of the aircraft in Belfast.

Following the loss of 1,000 jobs due to Fokker's collapse last year, this programme is of major importance to employment at Shorts and other UK companies. Up to 700 jobs in Belfast will depend on Global Express at full production. Other major British suppliers include Lucas Aerospace, Messier-Dowty, Westland and BMW Rolls-Royce, which supply the engines.

Due consideration should be given by the MOD and the Department of Trade and Industry to the high UK work content, in addition to the advantages that the all new design Global Express aircraft offers. Because of its all new design, Global Express offers major advantages to the MOD in that it provides 25 per cent. more cabin space with outstanding capacity for flexibility and development of interior layout. It incorporates the most advanced proven technologies available with superior systems, three times the amount of electrical power, superior performance and low operating costs.

If selected, Shorts would also manufacture components for the modified ASTOR aircraft, thereby providing even more jobs. There would be major export opportunities for Global Express, with more advantages available to the British companies that I have mentioned.

I believe and I hope that the Secretary of State agrees with me--although he is not paying much attention at the moment--that this nation's effective defence depends on our vital defence industry being maintained and given all the support and encouragement that other nations appear only too willing to give their industries.

I shall end as I began: we depend on our young men and women in uniform, but integral to our defence must be a healthy defence industry. I hope that the Secretary of State will pay due attention to that.

8.29 pm

Mrs. Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton): In rising to make my first speech, I should like to say something of my constituency. It is particularly relevant that I should

27 Oct 1997 : Column 658

make my maiden speech in the annual debate on defence, representing as I do one of the leading defence constituencies in the country.

Called Sudtone in the Domesday book, Plymouth's original harbour is still called Sutton harbour. A developing trade and the shipment of armies to France led to its early growth, and by the 16th century it was flourishing and the home port to many Elizabethan adventurers, including Sir Walter Raleigh, who set off for Virginia from Plymouth, and Sir Francis Drake, who sailed with the English fleet from Plymouth to defend the country against attack from the Spanish armada in 1588.

Sutton harbour is now flourishing on a different basis as home to the fastest growing fish market in Europe. The Hoe, on its southern waterfront, is dominated by the citadel, built by Charles II, and now home to the 29th Commando Regiment, Royal Artillery. The east of my constituency is bounded by the royal dockyard, which was started in the late 17th century and became the focus for the town of Plymouth Dock, renamed Plymouth Devonport in 1824.

As a naval port, Plymouth has played a key role in the defence of the country. Partly as a result of this, during world war two, the city suffered severe bomb damage from air raids. Indeed, it was the most bombed city in England.

At the entrance to Sutton harbour, the walls carry plaques recording the historic voyages that started from Plymouth. They also include many to those who died at sea while fishing or working in the merchant service. Perhaps most famous among the voyagers are the Mayflower pilgrims, who finally set sail from Plymouth in 1620 for the new world. The plaque recording the pilgrim fathers was put up in 1955, but it was only in the early 1980s that the names of the pilgrim mothers--essential, I would have thought, to the new world--were added.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to the potential huge movements of people in Europe, and some of the plaques at Sutton harbour mark the departure of some 450,000 people to Australia and New Zealand in the 18th and 19th centuries.

I was fortunate enough to visit Australia during the recess as a member of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation. We were able to see at first hand the impact that emigrants from the south-west made in establishing the roots of what is now a flourishing country. The links with Tasmania, as shown in place names, are particularly strong: Devonport, Exeter, Launceston, Staverton, Tamar and Cornwall, to name but a few.

We visited the Australian national war memorial in Canberra, which reminded us of the strong defence links with our Commonwealth allies. I should like to record my thanks to the many Australian members of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the staff of the various Parliaments in New South Wales, Canberra and Tasmania, and our own high commission staff. They all contributed to making our visit purposeful and memorable.

The historic landings at Plymouth are less well recorded, with one notable exception. In 1956, Plymouth trade unionists put a plaque on the harbour wall to mark the homecoming of four of the Tolpuddle martyrs who landed back in Plymouth in March 1838, having survived their exile in Australia.

27 Oct 1997 : Column 659

Our waterfront has rich associations that have earned the city the titles of cradle of the Commonwealth and springboard for the new world. There are indeed some 40 places in the world that take their name from Plymouth. We are working to celebrate that millennial heritage in the regeneration of our waterfront. "The Shell Guide to Britain" refers to our waterfront as one of the premier waterfronts in the world.

The Mayflower steps, on the other hand, marking where the pilgrims left from, have been called the most underdeveloped heritage site in the country. We have much to do, and I hope to play a leading part in ensuring that the citizens and visitors of the next millennium know the role that the city of Plymouth played in defence in worldwide terms during the millennium.

Many famous men have been associated with Plymouth--explorers, adventurers, discoverers and scientists. Plymouth has also had some remarkable, courageous and dedicated women. They include several scientists, nurses and doctors. Dr. Mary Parke made her contribution in the 1940s to marine science, working in Plymouth's Marine Biological Association, a forerunner of our world-famous Plymouth marine laboratory, which now employs 200 people in my constituency.

Plymouth's medical women played a significant role in the services. Eight of them, trained under pioneer nurse Priscilla Sellon, worked with Florence Nightingale in the Crimea, and pioneer woman surgeon Dr. Mabel Ramsey worked on the battlefields in the first world war.

I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement to extend the scope for women to be involved in our armed forces, as will many of my female constituents who serve in them.

Equally, Plymouth has a unique record in the representation of women in Parliament. There are many pictures in the corridors of the House that feature Lady Astor and mark her role as the first woman to take her seat, in 1919, representing the constituency of Plymouth, Sutton. Her maiden speech was made in a debate on one of her favourite campaigning issues, which she referred to as the "vexed question of drink". I think that she would have approved of the steps announced before the recess to control the sale of alcopops. She stood up for equal rights for women in the civil service, and I suspect that she would have been the first to castigate the former Minister for the Armed Forces and the present shadow Secretary of State for their somewhat lukewarm remarks on my right hon. Friend's decisions about the scope for women in the armed forces.

Lady Astor wanted to raise the school leaving age to 16 to reduce unemployment, and she made clear her annoyance at the lack of interest shown in social reform. Indeed, she would feel at home with much of the programme set out by new Labour, as we move to raise standards in education and to recognise the essential links that this has with sustaining employment in today's world. I think that she would also have been angry to know, at the end of the 20th century, that the constituency--on the 1995 index of local conditions--includes St. Peter's as the poorest ward in England.

Lady Astor was the first of an almost unbroken succession of women politicians to represent the city of Plymouth, which must be unique to our city. In the Labour landslide election of 1945, Lucy Middleton was elected the first Labour woman to represent the seat. In the

27 Oct 1997 : Column 660

aftermath of war, international co-operation and the role of food aid in achieving this was the subject of her maiden speech.

In 1955, Dame Joan Vickers was elected to the neighbouring seat of Plymouth, Devonport, and was the first woman to represent a dockyard constituency. Dame Joan lost her seat in 1974, the same year that a former Deputy Speaker, Dame Janet Fookes, now Baroness Fookes, became the Member for Plymouth, Drake, which she represented until this year.

The new Plymouth, Sutton is the successor seat to Plymouth, Drake. Baroness Fookes campaigned successfully for an Act to stop kerb crawling in 1995, and concluded her long service in Parliament, in this House, as Deputy Speaker, commanding the respect of hon. Members on both sides of the House.

As the fifth woman representing the city, and following such a distinguished line of women Members, I am proud to be the city's first Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament. I shall be active in seeking co-operative solutions to the many challenges that we face locally and nationally, working alongside my 24 Labour and Co-operative colleagues on Government Benches.

I am also mindful that there is still much to be done to secure the proper representation of women in the House. There still have not been many more than 200 women Members since Lady Astor took her seat in 1919. In the same time, there have been more than 4,000 male Members of Parliament. I look forward to working with all hon. Members, particularly the 117 other women, to sustain the momentum that we achieved at the 1997 election.

Despite recent reductions, unemployment in the city of Plymouth continues to be alarmingly high. We have suffered from the decline of employment of our traditional industry in the dockyard. Indeed, it has been nearly decimated. The emphasis given by the Government on equipping people for work through their "new deal" programme is welcome, as are measures on education standards to help our citizens to compete in the global economy. Along with my colleagues on the city council, in the partnerships that they have forged with people in business and in the community, I shall work hard to ensure that we respond enthusiastically to those measures.

However, given that there are 11 people unemployed for every job vacancy in Plymouth in recent times, something must be done to ensure that the job market improves. There has been much anger about the destruction of key parts of our defence, particularly the naval industrial base. Skilled teams of workers have been cast wantonly to the inefficient vagaries of the unfettered free market. The country invested time, skill and money in training people who are now under-using their skills, or are not able to use them at all.

It is nearly 30 years since the United Nations identified more than 40 ways in which military engineering and technological skills could be used for civilian industrial research and development--particularly in one of the world's future growth industries, environmental technology. At long last we are taking that seriously.

We look forward to a major conference on defence diversification in Bristol next week. I also welcome the announcement that a Green Paper on our plans for defence diversification--as promised in our manifesto--will be published in the autumn. We must fight for opportunities

27 Oct 1997 : Column 661

to maximise those valuable industrial skills and knowledge, and I hope that we will pay particular attention to the role that green technology can play in the process of diversification.

Although we need to diversify our economy, the defence industry will remain a central part of it. At last we have a strategic defence review based on the foreign policy needs of our country, and the outcome of that review must ensure that we have the right sea, air and land capabilities to defend our economic and trading interests, as well as capabilities that enable us to be an effective ally with our partners in the global arena. Our defence and peacekeeping capabilities require the utmost in skills and discipline: they are something in which our country can and should take great pride. The city of Plymouth certainly does, and our contribution is still significant, despite the cuts to which I referred earlier.

From the 29th Commando Regiment, Royal Artillery at the citadel to 3 Commando Brigade, Royal Marines in Stonehouse barracks; from the MOD workers who work in support of the Navy and the dockyard workers at Devonport royal dockyard; from British Aerospace workers to the men and women of the Territorial Army based at Millbay who serve under the 4th Battalion the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment--in the south-west region, of which we like to think of Plymouth as being the capital, some 16,000 men and women earn their living, and spend their working lives in the service of us all. They deserve a review that acknowledges the importance of the vital role that they play.

I stress the importance to Plymouth of the royal naval dockyard. Despite its virtual decimation, it is an industry in which the workers and the city still take great pride. Again and again, Devonport Management Ltd. and its workers have been able to report completion of work ahead of schedule. In recent months, the efficiency of the docking and essential defects programme on the type 23 frigate HMS Montrose resulted in its being undocked four days ahead of schedule.

The three-year programme of refit work on the nuclear submarine HMS Tireless is well ahead, and the team expects to flood her up four weeks early in 1998. The quality of the royal dockyard work is also high: the DML team responsible for the recent refit work on HMS Turbulent has been praised by both the MOD and the boat's commander for the quality of its work.

An adequate quantity of surface fleet work is of vital importance to maintaining the viability of the dockyard work force that will be responsible for the maintenance of the Trident fleet. The company and the work force hope that they will win the contract for type 23 frigate HMS Argyll, which is due for refit in May 1998. There are serious fears that failure to secure the bid may affect the permanent work force at Devonport dockyard. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will treat all bids fairly, and will consider value for money and the future strategic value of Devonport dockyard when examining bids.

The £339 million operation to create the world's best facilities to refit and refuel Britain's nuclear submarines is now well under way. It is an alliance of six international companies that are committed to building the engineering

27 Oct 1997 : Column 662

base for submarine work into the millennium and beyond--DML, Brown and Root, Rolls-Royce, Strachan and Henshaw, the Babtie Group and BNFL.

Each of the Vanguard fleet of four submarines--Victorious, Vigilance, Vengeance and Vanguard itself--has 44 miles of pipework and 300 miles of cabling. Each boat will need skilled refuelling and refitting, which will be Plymouth royal dockyard's critical future contribution to maintaining a British minimum deterrent into the next millennium. The skills required to do that work are of the highest order, and I know that they will not be found wanting among the work force of the royal dockyard.

Cradle of the Commonwealth, springboard for the new world, defender of the peace in the next millennium--the city of Plymouth has a proud heritage, and a challenging future. As I join my neighbouring colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson), in representing the city of Plymouth, I look forward to rising to my part in meeting that challenge.

After many years, our party has been given the trust and responsibility of government. The people of Plymouth lent us their trust on 1 May 1997, and I aim to play my part in retaining that trust. I commend my constituency's honourable track record in the defence of the country throughout the past millennium, and I invite my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to take full account of it as he carries out his serious responsibilities in the conduct of our strategic defence review.

Next Section

IndexHome Page