Mr. Michael Moore (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (LD): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson), who has certainly enlivened our debate. He said at the outset that he had been given three bits of advice, and taking two out of three was not bad in the circumstances.
It was clear from some of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, particularly those about Europe, that we will not always agree with one another, but I do agree with what he said about the beauty of Antrim and his constituency. I was born in Dundonald, my family are from Donaghadee, and I still have many relatives in Northern Ireland. Last year I took my wife to Northern Ireland for her first visit. We experienced the delights of the Donaghadee lighthouse and toured around old haunts. It was a pleasure to take her to Antrim, although, after the rather dreich weather, she will have to hear the hon. Gentleman's tourism pitch before I can persuade her to go back.
It has been an interesting debate. The hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer), who is now not in his place, gave a careful analysis of the defence arena. I do not necessarily agree with everything that he said, as will become obvious, but like him I pay tribute to the quality of the speeches from those making their maiden contributions, including my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Rogerson). Like him, I pay tribute to his predecessor, Paul Tyler. I am delighted that he will soon, we hope, be in another place to continue his contribution to Parliament. The hon. Member for Leicester, South (Sir Peter Soulsby) made an early bid for a note in the Whips' notebook with some of his comments about the issues in the Government's programme about which he is concerned. Although I did not hear every part of it, as I nipped out of the Chamber briefly, the contribution by the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies) illustrated that he will be a strong contributor to the House. I wish him and the others every success.
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This is clearly not my maiden speech but, at the election, I discovered myself fighting a substantially altered seat in the Scottish borders. Just as right hon. and hon. Members had got the hang of Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale, the boundary commission vandalised it all and I am now pleased to represent the seat of Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, where I count among my important constituents the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram). I do not know whether he counts his home near Jedburgh as his first or second home, but he knows the area well and will understand why I regard it as a great privilege to be able to represent all Sir Archy Kirkwood's old seat, while retaining part of my old seat around Selkirkshire.
May I, in the manner of maiden speeches, pay tribute to Sir Archy, who, like Paul Tyler, will, I hope, soon be in another place? He was well respected in the House as a fair and impressive Chairman of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions over the previous two Parliaments. Behind the scenes, he was an important character in the House of Commons Commission and in many other aspects of Westminster life. He regularly says that he has been in this institution as a man and boy, for over 30 years. I am delighted that he will have the opportunity to continue to contribute to parliamentary life in the House of Lords in due course, and it is a great honour to be able to succeed him in his old seat.
The hon. Member for Newark took issue with some of the comments by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) about the situation in Iraq. I listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman's analysis, much of which I share. He is in danger of oversimplifying the situation as we have put it forward. We believe that now is the appropriate moment to make it clear what the exit strategy is to be in Iraq. We believe that the end of the United Nations authority under the existing resolution at the end of this year offers a clear target which we can aim for to begin a phased withdrawal from Iraq, but we accept that there are key issues to do with security there. As my right hon. and learned Friend made clear, we accept that there are severe difficulties in the provision of services in Iraq. The way people live day to day in that country is a terrible way to exist. Clearly, we have an ongoing responsibility to the country to ensure that those services and, above all, the security situation improve but, beyond all else, we must stop being part of the problem. We have not provided the solution that was expected or that was claimed would be provided. We must make it clear that we will do our bit to ensure that we develop that solution.
Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): I heard the hon. Gentleman say that his policy, or that of his party, was to have a target of a phased withdrawal beginning at Christmas this year. Listening to his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) earlier, I understood him to say "a phased withdrawal by" Christmas of 2005. One has an end date; the one that the hon. Gentleman has just announced could be as long as a piece of string. Perhaps he would clarify.
I have set out already, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman was listening very carefully, the
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fact that there are some key factors in determining what would be the appropriate moment, but we think that unless we make it clear that we support and will deliver a phased withdrawal of our troops, the continued insurgency and the growth in the strength of opposition to the coalition forces will get worse.
In the past few years we have witnessed a rapidly changing world, from a situation where the cold war dominated our military thinking to a situation that changed out of all recognition after the tragedy of 9/11. But in that period between the end of the cold war and 9/11 we had the terrible situation in Rwanda, and nearby, on our own European doorstep, in Bosnia. Our previous assumptions about the security situation in the world were turned on their head and the precariousness of our world security was illustrated in so many different ways.
The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) highlighted the ongoing difficulties in Afghanistan. In the past few weeks we have seen the focus shift to Uzbekistan, and we all now live in an era of greater uncertainty perhaps than at any stage in the past, complicated by the existence and growth of international terrorism and an increasing realisation that the number of failed states in the world is growing, with instability arising owing to scarce natural resources and the poverty from which many countries cannot escape.
Above all else, we are rightly concerned about the risks of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. In recent years there has been a flurry of different responses from the Government reflecting those rapidly changing circumstances, with the strategic defence review, the new chapter, and the White Paper in December 2003, accompanied as it was by the Foreign Office's own White Paper, which highlighted among other things the need to ensure that the United Kingdom was safer from global terrorism and WMD, that we focused on an international system based on the rule of law, and that we created an effective European Union in a secure neighbourhood. The ongoing difficulties in the Balkans, in particular, emphasised the importance of that. We have been broadly supportive of that approach and shared the analysis, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife said earlier.
We have strong defence and armed forces in this country. That is partly as a legacy of our role in the world over the last century, and also in support of our important position at the United Nations, which places upon us special responsibilities. Collective security and the proper functioning of a system of international law are all vital to us and it is important that Britain plays its part in that, not least because British interests across the globe are substantial.
The current broad position of the defence forces in this country has always allowed us to be in a position to carry out expeditionary work across the world, and we support that, while recognising that stabilisation and a response to emergencies are growing features of demands on our armed forces. That requires a certain level of public expenditure and we broadly support the level committed to defence at present, but we do recognise that there is an ongoing need for reform and modernisation. We do, however, continue to question
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the reduction in the number of battalions in the Army and the misjudged abolition of the regiments, not least in Scotland. Nobody doubts the wisdom of strengthening the support and logistics for the Army or of reforming the arms plot, but we still question whether this is the time to be cutting back on the front line battalions, on the basis of big assumptions about the situation in Northern Ireland and the scale of our ongoing demands in Iraq. When we add to the mixture the extra demands placed on our armed forces for homeland security, that is surely something the Government should be rethinking.
As a plea for the regiments, I wish to make a local point to the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence. If we cannot persuade him to rethink his proposals, will he at least look again at the proposed name of the King's Own Scottish Borderers and Royal Scots Battalion within the new Royal Scottish Regiment? The proposed name has absolutely no support in the south of Scotland that I can find and has sought to keep both historic names without, I suspect, finding a solution that is acceptable to the Army or to those who support the traditions and regiments in localities such as those that I represent.
The United Kingdom rarely acts alone. A core assumption runs through defence White Papers and Government foreign policy that we will operate in coalitions informally or through alliances. We remain strong supporters of NATO. We also wish to see the development of the European security and defence policy. We do not believe that those are mutually contradictory or inconsistent; they ought to be complementary. We are encouraged to see the way in which European Union forces have begun to operate together in places such as Macedonia. We should not be choosing between those alliances but working with both.
One of this afternoon's themes has been the risk of proliferation. The hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) made a heartfelt plea, as he did during the previous Parliament, about the need to focus attention on the review conference for the non-proliferation treaty. This is a serious time for us, with concerns about the existence of nuclear weapons in India, Pakistan, Israel and elsewhere and with the threat that other countries, such as North Korea and Iran, might obtain the technology to enable them to create nuclear weapons.
We have a major responsibility at that conference, and as minds are concentrated on the difficulties in Iran and North Korea, we hope that all the existing nuclear powers will take the opportunity to lower the tension about the need for nuclear weapons, as some countries see it, and ensure that we make strong strides towards global disarmament. Without that, we run the risk of uncontrolled proliferation occurring.
We have supported the Government's efforts so far. I pay tribute to them for the disarmament that they have undertaken in recent years. We remain committed to a minimum United Kingdom nuclear deterrent, but we recognise that, as Ministers flagged up before the election, one of the big issues that we will face in this Parliament is the beginning of the debate about what might succeed the existing Trident missile system.
We are extremely well served by the men and women who make up our armed forces in this country. As we debate these matters in the House and take decisions
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about what should happen in Britain's name and about committing the armed forces to conflict, as we did on Iraq, we must never lose sight of their bravery and professionalism and the debt that we owe them. Hon. Members on both sides of the House can agree that we are well served by them, and that it is important that we continue to have strong armed forces in this country.