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David T.C. Davies: I welcome the hon. Gentleman's comments and I am delighted that he supports Britain having an independent nuclear deterrent. Is he pleased about the fact that a Conservative Government won elections in 1979, 1983 and 1987 when his colleagues were trying to scrap our independent nuclear deterrent?
David Wright: That is the very debate that we need to have, but I have put my position clearly on the line this afternoon. I would vote for retention. Some of the people in my local Labour party may disagree with me, but I am willing to say that I think that we need to have that independent deterrent but that we need to look at options other than Trident or a replacement for Trident, which are incredibly expensive. There must be cheaper options that we can use and divert resources into conventional forces.
I want to finish by talking about community ownership of the armed forces. We have moved away from that in the changes that have been made to the regiments with their identities based on counties, and that is a shame. Over the years, my relatives have served in the King's Shropshire Light Infantry and the Royal Artillery, although that is a distinct regiment, obviously not based upon a country structure. I wish that we could do more to keep a community connection with our armed forces. We do not seem to name our ships any more after counties or towns. We seem to give them more general names. Let us start to think about connecting our communities again with our armed forces. Let us have an HMS Shropshire or an HMS Wrekin
Mr. James Arbuthnot (North-East Hampshire) (Con): I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Telford (David Wright) has just said. I share fully in his praise for the armed forces parliamentary scheme, and I will come on to recruitment and the community connection that he talked about. I think that a great deal of benefit would be achieved by naming a ship HMS Hampshire, but then I would say that, wouldn't I?
I must begin, and it is a huge pleasure to do so, by paying tribute to my predecessor as Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George). He truly believes in defence and in this country. He has served the House and the Defence Committee very well over the past two Parliaments and his shoes are difficult to fillindeed, everything is difficult to fill because he is larger than life.
It is a new Committee. It has outstanding support from its staff; we are very lucky in that regard. From what I can see of the way it is working so far, it will be an extremely good Committee. It is larger than before: the number of members has increased from 11 to 14. It was over-subscribed. A lot of people who would have liked to be on it are not. We are working very hard, as the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore) kindly said. We have a full programme. We have started investigating the carriers and the joint combat aircraft. We have already had some interesting evidence sessions on that. We have also started an inquiry into delivering future capability for the Royal Air Force. Yesterday, we were at RAF Marham and saw some dedicated and enthusiastic people there working to do exactly that.
I asked the Minister of State earlier what the repair arrangements were going to be for the joint combat aircraft and for the Nimrods. That was with a view to discovering whether there was a principle behind his move of the repair facilities from, for example, DARA St. Athan to RAF Marham. I was disappointed in his reply in that he said that he simply did not know the answer. Therefore, it did not strike me that there was much principle behind the move. We will have to go into that.
The Defence Committee is beginning an inquiry in relation to Afghanistan, where the Allied Command Europe Rapid Reaction Corps will deploy next year. We have already had some interesting discussions about the difficult circumstances that it will face when it gets there. We have had informal briefings at the MOD and taken introductory evidence from the Secretary of State for Defence.
The Defence Committee will move on to discuss the topic that is increasingly coming up in this debate: the independent nuclear deterrent. I echo the comments made by hon. Members on both sides of the House. When the Secretary of State said that we needed a debate about that subject, he was absolutely right but, for heaven's sake, when is it going to begin? The Committee will play its part in making sure that there is a debate on that matter, but we will need to encourage the MOD to be open, as it was when Trident was first introduced. Perhaps we will need to encourage the MOD to an openness that it has previously resisted, but which would greatly strengthen its hand.
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Jeremy Corbyn: I am pleased by what the right hon. Gentleman says about the possibility of the Defence Committee undertaking an inquiry on the issue. Could it do so in conjunction with the Foreign Affairs Committee, so that issues of non-proliferation and disarmament could be considered? They are also part of the debate and should form part of the discussion.
Mr. Arbuthnot: I shall draw that question to the attention of my Committee. It is an interesting idea and it would not be right for me to rule it out or in. I shall leave that to the Committee in its wisdom, which isI thinkgreat.
We have not yet found the right formula for these debates on defence in the UK. Defence always used to be debated in relation to what we did overseas, because of the expeditionary strategy that this country always used to follow. However, it is good to remember our history. Trafalgar was an overseas event, despite the fact that the name now sounds English to our ears. I wish to draw attention to the outstanding celebrations this year of the 200th anniversary of Trafalgar and, unusually perhaps, to pay particular tribute to my great-great-great-great-grandfather, a captain at Trafalgar who sadly had his head blown off on the day. His memorial is next to Nelson's in St. Paul's cathedral.
The role of defence in the UK was drawn starkly to our attention on 7 July, when we discovered that the threat is as much at home as it is abroad. The Defence Committee suggested in an earlier report that the Government had relied too much on the expeditionary strategy. It said that
"current Defence policy rightly emphasises the role of the Armed Forces in supporting wider foreign and security policy objectives. But . . . the Armed Forces contribute specific capabilities to standing home commitments and are held ready to support the civil authorities if requested to do so."
I am glad that the Government said that, because we must not forget the experience of the United States in the dreadful tragedy of New Orleans, when it was discovered that too many of their troops had been called overseas to Iraq and were no longer able to perform the home support role with their previous facility. Every decision that we take on overseas engagement has consequences. Next year, 8,000 troops will be in Iraq and we do not yet know how many will be in Afghanistan. There will also be troops in the Balkans, Northern Irelandnot that that is abroad, of courseGermany, Cyprus, the Falklands and Brunei.
The Minister said that he will never tire of paying tribute to the commitment, dedication and bravery of our forces, and neither will I. We will always say that. At the end of the cold war, we decided that it was right to reduce our spending on defence and cut troop numbers. That was a mistake, although I did not think so at the time. It was a mistake that we all made, but we have discovered since the 1990s that the world did not become safer or more secure after the cold war; it needed more troops, not fewer. Nevertheless, ever since then we have seen a rundown in the number of our troops. We need to reverse that mistake. Pressures abroad have
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consequences at homein overstretch and in breaches of the harmony guidelinesand the Committee will certainly have to keep a very close eye on that. Recruitment is therefore a difficult, important issue.
I have the impression that the Ministry of Defence is not sure why recruitment is so difficult. I have the impression, too, from something that the Secretary of State said, that he is not entirely sure what we can do about it. I have one suggestion. The Chief of the Defence Staff suggested on Sunday morning that reputational issues and matters such as Deepcut have consequences for armed forces recruitment, and I think that he must be right about that.
The Committee published a valuable report earlier this year on the duty of care. We will begin to recruit at the necessary level only if we in the House and in the country show an absolute determination to treat our troops outstandingly well, both in their service and in their training. A good demonstration of that, if I may make a suggestion to the Minister who will reply to the debate, would be made by implementing the Committee's strong recommendation for an independent tribunal to look into complaints against the armed forces. The independence of that tribunal is essential. It would require a very deep change in mindset in the MOD, but it would be good for the MOD, good for our armed forces and very good indeed for the country.
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