Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Several weeks ago I invited fellow Members to visit Shropshire and I invite them to come with me on a journey to Shropshire today. I am concerned about the state of Shropshire, in particular my constituency. Why?
Over the past few years, there have been several thousand job losses. People may say that that is contradictory because the Government talk about full employment, but there has been an outflow of jobs from my constituency, from the defence, manufacturing and public sectors. In the six months since the general election, unemployment has risen by 7.9 per cent. in my constituency alone.
On 21 July, the Government announced that 428 people would lose their jobs at the Defence Logistics Organisation in my constituency. Only three weeks ago, the Government announced that 628 people would lose their jobs at the Army Base Repair Organisation in my constituency. The Government are currently coming to a view as to whether they will collocate, or relocate, 383 people from Sapphire house in the neighbouring constituency of Telford to Bristol and the south-west. The Government's own report concluded, however, that the majority of those jobs are not mobile and cannot be relocated or collocated.
The defence training review will probably come to a decision in July. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will ask Ministry of Defence officials and Ministers not to delay that announcement until the day before the summer recess, so that Members can have full discussion of the outputs and outcomes of the DTR. It is important that we give RAF Cosford a level playing field with St. Athan. It would be wrong for St. Athan to
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be given taxpayers' money by the Welsh Development Agency to promote itself while RAF Cosford did not have the same opportunity.
RAF Cosford has a proud heritage and history of serving Her Majesty's armed forces, and I hope that that will continue. It currently employs 2,000 military and civilian staff. It is home to the Defence College of Aeronautical Engineering, and I hope that the Government will find in favour of RAF Cosford and bring an additional 2,000 much-needed jobs to Shropshire and my constituency.
I also hope that, in the context of the defence industrial strategy that was announced in the House last week, the Government will tread cautiously when outsourcing defence manufacturing to foreign companies. Yes, it is absolutely right that we should have more private and public sector partnership in defencethat has gone on for many years and under the last Conservative Administrationbut the important issue of national security must not be overlooked or dismissed as scaremongering; it must be put at the very heart of the defence industrial strategy.
If the public sector offers the best value for money, while offering national security, it is perhaps the best place to keep some parts of the defence industrial strategy. That might seem strange coming from a Conservative, but no Conservative Member has ever said that the private sector is always right. We have never said that the public sector is always wrong. We must consider each case on its merits, and on occasion, the public sector will offer the best value for money.
I argue that, in defence, the Government are rushing headlong into privatisation. They have more of a machismo doctrine of privatisation than the Conservative party ever had, but such things must be considered on their merits and on a case-by-case basis. The Government should consider what is in the national interest, as well as what is the most effective and efficient outcome for Her Majesty's armed forces. In that context, I have concerns about the closure of ABRO.
We are about to deploy troops to Afghanistan, and those hon. Members who know of ABRO's history understand that its workers are dedicated and work long hours. They work overtime, often unpaid, to repair armoured fighting vehicles that have been damaged on the front line and send them back to the front line to protect our troops. If the turnaround time for those armoured vehicles is increased, lives could be put at risk in Afghanistan, Iraq and other places around the world. Yes, we can work in partnership with the private sector, but will the Deputy Leader of the House please tell his colleagues that they should ensure that the public sector retains some elements of the defence industrial strategy?
In my introduction, I mentioned the large number of job losses in Shropshire and my constituency. Two weeks ago, the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust announced that 280 jobs would go at the local hospital. Significantly, the statement said that that would inevitably include doctors and nurses. Yet, week in, week out, when the Prime Minister comes to the Dispatch Box, he does not hesitate to remind the House of the amount of money going into the health service in answer to virtually every question on health. That is finewe accept thatbut the question in Shropshire that is put on the airwaves of local radio stations, in
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letters columns and to me, as a local MP, is where has all the money gone. Where has all the money gone? No Minister has stood at the Dispatch Box in the past six months and answered that fundamental question. Doctors who have trained for many years are being put on the dole. We have nurses who have trained for years, some of whom have given 25 or 30 years' dedicated service to the national health service, yet they are being put on the dole. At the same time, the Government say that they are improving patient care.
It was interesting that my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (David Maclean) said that he was open-minded about change to his local health service as long as things were put in place to address what was taken away. I am not saying that we should not change the way in which health care is delivered locally, but when my strategic health authority says that it wants to cut children's services at the Princess Royal hospital, which is in my constituency, and perhaps remove its consultant-led accident and emergency unit, one must begin to question the logic of such action if there is nothing to replace those services.
I am quite open-minded. A Minister could come to the Dispatch Box and tell me that although the Government will make major changes to the Princess Royal hospital, they will first put in place cottage hospitals, because we do not have them, ensure that there is a thriving independent sector and put money into local GP practices so that they can grow and offer more services, become more specialised and treat more patients. If those things were put in place, I would be more relaxed about the proposed changes to my local hospital. However, those services are not in place and, more worryingly, there is no proposal to put them in place or any money to pay for them. The clear message from my constituents to the Government is, "Keep your hands off our local hospital until you've put in the money and the health infrastructure to replace the services that are under threat."
I also want to talk about agriculture and sugar beet reformthis will be just a quick one, really. I hope that the much-trumpeted compensation that the Secretary of State has mentioned to the House in the past week or so will be passed on to farmers. There are more than 200 sugar beet farmers in my constituency and more than 600 in Shropshire as a whole. If we are to keep agriculture alive in Shropshire, East Anglia and other parts of the United Kingdom, it is important that the compensation attached to the new reforms is passed on to farmers.
I am mystified about why the Government have not moved more quickly on biofuels. Some farmers might be forced out of sugar beet production, yet sugar beet could be used for biofuels. We would have a win-win situation because the Government might meet their climate change targets while providing a new market for an important cash crop for rural farmers in Shropshire at the same time.
I would like to mention energy briefly. I had the privilege of visiting Denmark and Finland in the past couple of weeks to look at wind farms and nuclear power plants. I was struck by the fact that wind farms have a place, but that place is offshore, where they cannot be seen and there is plenty of wind. They do not have a place onshore, where they would be seen and could kill approximately 50,000 birds of prey. Onshore
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wind farms would create blight for not only home owners, but parts of Shropshire that are reliant on tourism.
I hope that the Government will bring forward more wind farms. We have to have them. We must move to an energy mix that has more renewables. However, there must be a balanced mix and a balanced provision, and that needs to take into consideration the points that I have raised along with those raised by other hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), who did so far more eloquently than myself.
I place on the record my thanks to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to all those who work in the Speaker's Office and to all Officers of the House, including those who are not seen on the Floor of the Housethe administrators. Without administrators in hospitals throughout the land, in schools, in Whitehall and in the public and private sectors, the country would grind to a halt. I hope that in the spirit of good will at this Christmas time we can all applaud administrators. They get a tough time in this place. Yes, there is a place for rationalisation, as there is a place for cutting democracy, but I want to champion the cause of administrators today.