Defence in Scotland

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John Robertson: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. I agree that it is indicative of the SNP that, if it were to get power, there would be no Navy for Scotland and all the ships would go. If any SNP

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Members would like to intervene, I would be happy to hear their views.

Angus Robertson: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will use this opportunity to speak to the 450 workers at Royal Ordnance Bishopton? He may also want to say something to the 450 people working on the Clyde who have lost their jobs in the past year. Will he compare and contrast them with the 14,000 people working in shipbuilding in Finland and the 10,000 in Norway?

John Robertson: I thank the hon. Gentleman for once again being selective with the figures that he uses. If I can save 6,000 jobs in Scotland in the defence industry alone, how many does the hon. Gentleman think that he could save? Does he honestly think that his party could sustain shipbuilding? The nationalists would do nothing to protect the people of Scotland. All they ever do is decry Scotland. They have no policies whatever to help the people of Scotland. They do my country no favours.

I ask the Minister—as I have done on many occasions—to look at shipbuilding and where our Navy fits in with defence policy. We are somewhat lacking in our naval capabilities, especially if there were another occasion such as the invasion of Afghanistan, in which we had to use American ships for most of the work. We would not be able to do something like that ourselves. Can we find some way within our defence policy to increase capability so that, if we ever had to mount a defence or an attack, we would have the necessary weapons and ships at our disposal?

May I also say once again that the Government did an excellent job with shipbuilding? My constituents in Glasgow Anniesland would like to thank the Minister for saving jobs; nearly a quarter of them belong to people who live in my constituency. He has helped to keep them employed.

Over the past few days, I have noticed that a new policy appears to be emerging in the newspapers, television and radio. I am concerned that we seem to be heading towards some kind of war with or invasion of Iraq. Although that is a national problem, the people of Scotland will say, ''What's happening?'' Will Ministers please tell us what is going on? We heard Ministers talking last night about how we must take on such people as Saddam but I have received no information on the subject from the Prime Minister or the Ministry of Defence. I am concerned that this is a case of spin to win. They will try to soften the blow of whatever is going to happen tonight. We must ask questions, because matters are now going too far. I would be pleased if the Minister could allay my fears, but I see horrible things happening and am very concerned that our troops may be falling into the deep end without consultation of Parliament.

12.25 pm

Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): First, for your benefit, Mr. Hood, and for that of the Committee, can I confirm that I am indeed the defence spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives in the Committee? I did not want any confusion to detain the debate.

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I share the concern that some earlier contributions were on the lengthy side. In the short time available, I shall be happy to take interventions from both sides of the Committee. Any play-acting on that score lowers the standard of debate. The Committee should rise above that. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson) is an exception to my criticism.

We, the Scottish Conservatives have a proud vision—[Interruption.]

The Chairman: Order. I must ask for order for the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Duncan: Thank you, Mr. Hood.

I have a positive vision for defence in Scotland. Defence is key to our economy and I would like to say something about how it interacts at a local level, rather than at the national Scottish level. As has been said, defence expenditure in Scotland is estimated at £1.8 billion, supporting 60,000 jobs indirectly and directly. The Minister made a powerful case for the importance of defence to our Scottish economy. It is an industry in which Scotland has excelled historically and in which the Scottish Conservatives believe that we can excel in the future.

Defence makes a huge and disproportionate contribution to very localised economies, as the hon. Member for Moray explained. In my constituency, the small community of Kirkcudbright is hugely dependent on a small number of jobs. Although I recognise that there are a significant number of shipbuilding jobs in the constituency of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (Mr. Robertson), sometimes in a small community, a trivial number of MOD-derived jobs can make a huge impact. Kirkcudbright is a good example. I welcome the recent announcement of £5 million of investment by the MOD in troop-training facilities at the Dundrennan range, which will have a huge spin-off benefit for the local town.

Defence is an industry of growing high technology. West Freugh in my constituency, run by the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, depends crucially on the testing of MOD technology. I am disappointed—although hon. Members will not be surprised at this—that it has been subject to some politicking from the nationalists lately—[Interruption.] I know that that is a huge revelation to all hon. Members. The nationalists have, somewhat inexcusably, criticised the Government for transferring it into the private sector, although the defence policy of the SNP, should it ever be in government, would make West Freugh, with the whole defence research business in Scotland, immediately unsustainable.

More can and should be done to maximise the value of MOD assets in local communities. I have corresponded with the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy about the facility at West Freugh, potentially a huge asset to its local area. More could be done to investigate the creation of spin-off jobs. I venture to suggest that the

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private sector could become more involved in developing those assets. The jobs created would be quality jobs delivering significant salaries in areas of Scotland, such as my constituency and that of the hon. Member for Moray, where salaries are otherwise small.

I make a small digression on nationalist policy. I feel as though I am interfering in a private party between the nationalists and the Labour party.

John Robertson: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Duncan: I shall be delighted.

John Robertson: Is the hon. Gentleman telling me that the nationalists have a policy?

Mr. Duncan: No, I would not go that far. I will explain. They have obviously undertaken some blue-skies thinking on defence and with their proposals for a Scottish defence force have produced a policy that is pie in the sky. Their half-baked 2001 manifesto suggested that there would ''negotiations'' to separate Scotland's defence. That is ridiculous. Scotland's defence depends on the United Kingdom's defence force and the most successful fighting force in the world cannot be divided. Their qualifications on NATO are simply inexplicable. They recognise that themselves.

Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, Cathcart): Is the hon. Gentleman aware that a couple of weeks after 11 September, when the Secretary-General of NATO Lord Robertson was invoking clause 5 of the NATO treaty, the leader of the SNP was quoted as saying:

    ''An independent Scotland should be out of NATO''?

Should we expect that cynical betrayal of our allies or was it a one-off?

Mr. Duncan: That requires no further comment from me, but I suspect that it will not be a one-off—it never is. The SNP suggests a Scotland that would hang on the coat tails of those who have the courage and the political determination adequately to defend themselves. It should be deprecated. Defence is one of our key responsibilities at Westminster, yet when one reflects on the nationalists' performance on the issue the reality is somewhat different.

Mr. Salmond: The hon. Gentleman heard earlier about decisions on Rosyth and Devonport, which certainly focused the minds of people in Scotland on the performance of the Conservative party on defence. At that time did the hon. Gentleman have a view on where the contract should have gone and what was that view?

Mr. Duncan: I did not have a view then, as I was not in active politics at the time. [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman will give me a moment I will make clear my personal position. That was one of the greatest mistakes in our time in power. I am happy to make that clear.

The hon. Gentleman is keen to focus on the Conservative position. Can I return briefly to the nationalist position? If any further evidence is needed on the defence-shy SNP, I have a list of the key defence debates—since the first day of the Scottish Parliament in 1999—that SNP Members should have attended to

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listen and learn about UK defence, but somehow did not feel fit to speak at. They did not speak at the debates on armed services personnel on 1 July 1999, defence in the world on 10 July 1999 or foreign affairs and defence in November 1999. They did not speak on either debate on the defence White Paper in February 2000. They did not attend the debate on armed services personnel last year and they did not speak in the debates on defence in the world and defence and the armed forces. No SNP Member of Parliament even voted on the Armed Forces Bill.

Mr. Michael Weir (Angus): The hon. Gentleman started this little tirade with the comment that this was in the Scottish Parliament. When did the Armed Forces Bill appear in the Scottish Parliament?

Mr. Duncan: The hon. Gentleman should listen more carefully. I said that since the Scottish Parliament first met, these were the debates held in Westminster.

Mr. Joyce: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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