|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
31 Oct 2002 : Column 1067continued
Mr. Liddell-Grainger: I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. I hope that he will start to sleep soundly, or I will come back and haunt him. He is absolutely right; the training always has been good. Having participated in the Government course, I strongly advocate it to anybody, but a level must be attained at which it is possible to continue to keep people fully trained for eventualities.
My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) made the very good point that we do not know where the threat is coming from or what it will be. Unless the nucleus is kept going, it will not be possible to train people to a proper level.
Equipment is another important issue for the Territorial Army. It has been pointed out that the TA tends to be given the cast-offs of the regular Army. When that happensI have direct experience of itTA personnel are left to use inferior equipment to do exactly the same job as their regular counterparts. I remember opening packages containing chemical warfare suits that almost fell to bits, although that happened a long time ago, before the Minister was in situ. The equipment that is provided to the Territorial Army must be up to scratch, especially where chemical warfare is involved. If not, we know who will suffer.
The bane of my life and that of the Minister is the Royal Ordnance factory in Puriton in my constituency. He knew that that was coming. I was interested recently to note that BAE Systems, another great British company,
What I do not understand is why BAE Systems is being so vocal and the Government so silent about the need for the company to ensure that the supply of ammunition is maintained within the UK. I do not understand why we cannot ensure that it does so. Interestingly, the aircraft carriers will carry 800 tonnes of ammunition when they sail out of port. I would love it if the explosives were made in Bridgwater. That would certainly keep the jobs there, although I am sure that the hon. Member for South Swindon (Ms Drown) would have something to say about that.
The defence of the UK is in the hands of an overstretched military who do not always have the capacity to do what we ask of them. They do what we ask because they are the highly professional organisation that we know and have come to respect. I urge the Minister to remember that young adults can be taken into the cadets and on to the regulars and that we should try to keep them there. People have left the territorials and regulars as reserve soldiers. We should do everything that we can to keep them. We have a nucleus of people and the terrorist threat to this country will not go away, no matter what we do. The one thing with which everybody in this House is charged is the defence of the homeland. The Americans take one view;
It is important that people such as those in the Territorial Army be given clear structures, but if we do not recruit sufficient numbers to supply the troops and keep them in the field in the long term, whatever attack we face, we will fail in keeping it out.
Laura Moffatt (Crawley): It is certainly a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger), because he clearly has enormous experience of the armed forces. I could not possibly match it, but I hope that I can join him in expressing tremendous support for our armed forces.
My interest began when I was a young girl who joined a uniformed organisation called the Nautical Training Corps, which was wonderful. That superb organisation taught me about life, took me out and about and got me in touch with lots of sailors, which was very helpful. We should be very proud of our uniformed organisations, which play such a large part in helping young people to understand what they want to do in life. Forgetting those wonderful sailors, if I had not met my husband at schoolI remain with himI would myself have joined the armed forces to do my nursing training. I was keen to do so.
My interest continued long before I became a Member of Parliament. Many of us who have had jobs involved in the defence industry have begun to understand its complexities. My hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Ms Drown) rightly talked about the difficulties that are faced by our armed forces and the defence industry in producing the goods that are needed so those forces can do their job properly. That will never be an easy matter to solve or one of those issues that we can allow to toddle along without taking great cognisance.
I was therefore deeply proud that, after the 1997 election, I was placed on the Select Committee on Defence. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor) and I were immensely proud to be the first two women to serve on the Committee. I am not sure whether I am pleased that the Chairman is present, because I am going to be cheeky. My right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) was a superb Chairman. Although some people may say that he did not encourage women to serve on the Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South and I say differently. We were given the same tasks and asked to be just as robust as the men. We were given no concessions, not even for shopping when we went abroad. He was truly wonderful.
Laura Moffatt: I do not know whether my right hon. Friend will be disappointed but I was sad that the women, including the staff who accompanied us on visits, were not placed in tents only because we were put in strange outbuildings and were freezing while the men were in fabulous comfortable tents. That was a mistake, and I hope that it will not be perpetuated.
The diversity and robust nature of the Committee are vital. Two members belonged to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. That is right and proper. Let me say a good word for the Whips, who often come in for criticism. I cannot imagine why; it is a mystery. I was delighted to be put on the Defence Committee, but I approached the Whip and asked whether it was a mistake. I had heard tales about its being manufactured and that no one who presented difficulties would serve on it. I admitted that I was a member of CND and asked whether the decision was correct. The Whip said, XOf course it's right. We should have a diverse Select Committee that can examine all aspects of defence." Of course, we are not there for our own purposes; we should be able to examine matters across the board.
Laura Moffatt: I am delighted to hear the hon. Gentleman say that, because there is a feeling that a CND member would not be welcome on the Defence Committee. That is clearly untrue and I am pleased to be able to say that.
The Select Committee on Defence was able to examine the big issues of the day, including extremely troubling matters and others that were heartening. It was pleasing to examine in detail the strategic defence review. It was a trailblazer in terms of trying to define our armed forces and the way in which we ensure that
A major difficulty persists in the Defence Medical Services. As a trained nurse for 25 years, I am especially interested in them. The hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch), who is no longer in his seat, told us about the shortfall that the Defence Medical Services face. The national health service also faces such difficulties. The close link and interchange of experience and technical expertise between the health services means that they suffer the same problems. We should therefore not be surprised that recruitment difficulties are the same for both.
The problem is being tackled in a way that I believed impossible. I did not believe that representatives of the NHS and the MOD could sit down together and consider carefully methods of recruiting from the NHS. They examined ways in which to release staff. That is an extremely difficult problem to tackle, but it is now being done in a way that will bear fruit. In that regard, the Centre for Defence Medicine will create extra expertise and be of tremendous advantage to us all. It is wonderful that the Select Committee is able to tackle those issues. Issues such as terrorism and ensuring that we properly address the difficulties that we face today are also, rightly, in the hands of the Select Committee. I was pleased to read its report, because hon. Members who have left the Committee remain engaged with the valuable job that it undertakes.
It is impossible to ignore the economic impact of our defence industry. I have mentioned some of the jobs that are so crucial to Crawley. The reason I am so supportive of those jobs is that they help to ensure that we have decent communications and proper simulator training facilities. Those jobs are at the soft end of the market; we do not produce arms in Crawley. I do not, therefore, find it difficult to support them. I know that the impact that they have on my town is a positive one, and one that I feel completely comfortable about supporting.
We need, however, to tackle certain issues, and we now have the Export Control Act 2002, which allows us to examine what is happening in relation to defence exports. The annual report also plays a vital role in that regard. We need more openness, however, and we need our Select Committees to have more involvement than the Quadripartite Committee simply meeting the Secretary of State to discuss these matters. We also need more input from the Floor of the House. We have nothing to hide. This is a decent country, and people do decent jobs for decent companies that provide a real service. We have everything to be proud of, and more openness will not be a constraint. I would like to see more of it, and a more prominent role for Parliament in these matters.
I want to discuss the impact of those defence industry jobsof which there are now several thousandon Crawley. We often think of the south-east as a high-employment area with no employment problems. Why, therefore, should we think of maintaining those defence jobs in Crawley and the south-east? I would like to make a plea to my right hon. Friend the Minister that it is crucial that we maintain those jobs there. We often think
Gatwick airport is in my constituency and has 36,000 employees across the board. Many of those jobs are in the service industries, however. They are good jobs, with reasonable pay, which provide full employment. One could argue that we should not be moaning. It is clear, however, from visiting defence industry companies such as Thales, that the jobs that they offer are degree-entry jobs. They are fantastic jobs for those coming out of universities and colleges, and the companies provide superb training, including apprenticeships, to ensure that the jobs are of the highest quality. We would have serious difficulty with the diversity of jobs available if those defence jobs were not there for our young people. I make a plea: when acquisition issues are considered, we should not think, XLet's not worry about the south-east and acquisitions from companies there."