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Absolutely not. It is important to remember that Scotland has fewer naval and air force bases than a comparable country such as Norway. We are committed to retaining all the bases, to provide the basis for a properly funded conventional defence force
in Scotland. No one is talking about jobs being lost. My point is that the argument that we hear time after time from the Government overstates the number of dependent jobs. The proportion of personnel recruited and equipment procured from Scotland is considerably lessabout £750 million lessthan the annual share of the budget allocated to it.
Mr. Kevan Jones: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. Has he visited Faslane or Coulport? It is mind-boggling to imagine what a conventional force might do with the specialist equipment for handling and resupplying nuclear submarines; I am not sure what conventional defence use the storage facility at Coulport could have.
I have made three points in this wide-ranging debate. The regiments issue is vital because there has been a shortfall in recruitment and retention, and we believe that the association with local regimentsnow local battalionsis so weakened that it is leading to people not joining up and not staying. We are concerned about that.
Mr. Hendrick: The hon. Gentleman talks about a shortfall in the number of troops in Scotland joining Scottish regiments. I live in an Army town and I have barracks 300 yd from my house. I meet troops regularly in my local pub, many of whom are from Scotland and are happy to serve in Lancashire and elsewhere in England rather than in Scotland.
Stewart Hosie: People have the right to join any regiment or corps that they wish, but we have a target contingent for the Royal Regiment of Scotland, and it has a shortfall at present of more than 300. That is an ongoing problem that the removal of the Scottish regiments did not solve. We need to address it properly; otherwise, we will continue to have a shortfall, not only within the Royal Regiment of Scotland but in other regiments in England and elsewhere.
The second point was about the procurement of equipment and the recruitment of personnel. If we are to make the armed forces meaningful for everybody, the Government have it within their power to look at how and where procurement is secured, and at how the budget for recruitment is spent to ensure that the necessary personnel are attracted from all parts of the UK. A huge amount of money is being spent. A large chunk has been allocated to Scotland, and we are well aware that not all of it is being spent in Scotland.
The third point is a point of principle about Trident. The lifetime cost of its replacement will be between £25 billion and £75 billion. We know that 61 per cent. of the Scottish people oppose it and think that the Scottish Parliament should have the power to decide the issue. We know that the majority of Scottish Labour MPs oppose the Trident replacement. The vote in the Scottish Parliament was, I think, 71 to 16 against replacing Trident, so there is a massive groundswell of
opinionpolitical and publicagainst replacing the Trident nuclear missile system in Scotland. The Government must of course take cognisance of thatand that, of course, is before we enter into any discussions about the morality or legality of nuclear weapons.
I will not touch on Iraq or Afghanistan. This has been a wide-ranging debate, and many other Members have made salient points about those countries. However, irrespective of our opposition to the war in Iraq, it goes without saying that once the troops are in situ, they should be backed 100 per cent., as one would expect.
I do hope that the Minister will, in summing up, look at the three substantive issues that I have raised. The first was recruitment, particularly to the Royal Regiment of Scotland, and the second was recruitment of personnel and procurement of equipment generally, and how the money is spent. Thirdly, I am sure that he will want to make a robust defence of why the Government want to spend £75 billion on a replacement for the Trident nuclear weapons system, at a time when there is overstretch, when there are constant complaints about a shortage of equipment and when the recruitment policynot just in Scotland but elsewhereis putting huge pressure on service personnel, who are being sent out for repeat tours, against the guidelines of the MOD.
Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk) (Lab): I have two fairly brief points to make, but, first, I want to make a brief subsidiary point, having listened to the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Stewart Hosie). His defence planning is based not on capabilities and resources, but on what badges and tam oshanters personnel will wear; having done that, one is then supposed to work out how to build force levels and configurations. I do not know whether the Scottish National party still plans simply to line up people up and down the east and west coast of Scotland, looking outwards, but it does rather sound like that. That is all rather hilarious.
The two issues that I want to raise have been mentioned by a number of speakers, but it does no harm to reiterate them. The first issue is housing. Perhaps I might swing the lamp for a bit. In the 1980s, I lived in a military house that had an outside toilet. In retrospect, I swear that it was a cunning plan by the then Conservative Government to toughen the troops by making them run through the winter cold every time that they went for their ablutions. Every time that we went to the toilet, it was like an SAS selection course.
A number of things have been said tonight about what the Government are doing about single living accommodation, and to emphasise how much we need to spend on this issue, on which we need to spend the most at the moment. It is important to remember and to reflect on how we got to where we are now. We need to spend billionsas I understand it, £5 billion is planned to be spent over the next 10 yearsto bring service personnel accommodation up to standard.
We arrived at this point in a particular way, and I remember what happened rather well. In 1996this has probably been said before in this place, but it is good to get it back in Hansard from time to timethe
then Tory Government sold off 56,700 MOD homes. It was described as the single largest transfer of residential property in the UK, which it was. According to some accounts, the receipts totalled £2.6 billion, but my recollection is that they totalled £1.9 billion. All the financial press agreed that the property was preposterously under-priced. It was sold fast, so that the then Tory Government could throw a wagera rather hopeless oneon their winning the following years election.
The then right hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate, Michael Portillo, whom we see doing political analysis on television, had a number of good jobs in government, and he was a very senior politician in his own right. However, I am not sure, when he looks back on his career, that he will regard his time at the MOD as the best time of his life in politics. In fact, I believe that I have heard him say that on television in relation to a different matter that we need not mention at the moment.
The transaction to which I refer was undertaken in return for a contract that involved the MOD retaining responsibility for maintaining the 56,700 homes. Some 11 years later, I still ask myself why the MOD is still this huge landlord with a huge maintenance bill. The then Government tied themselves to this arrangement in 1996, which has had the obvious knock-on effect of a contractual obligation that todays Government still have to honour.
Mr. Kevan Jones: Does my hon. Friend agree that the situation is even worse than he describes? If housing becomes surplus under this contract, not only do the MOD and the taxpayer have to pay money to renovate the houses; in some cases, they have to make substantial improvements at huge cost, and then hand the property back to the private company that my hon. Friend is describing.
Mr. Joyce: That is absolutely right. Indeed, a Patrick Barkham article in The Guardian back in April dealt with this issue. Essentially, when the accommodation becomes surplus, Annington, which owns it, refurbishes it and sells it on. I might be wrong and the Minister might want to correct me, but, as I understand it, there is no formal mechanism by which those houses can be awarded to service personnel, or offered to them with some form of discount.
In the case of RAF Coltershall, which was referred to in the newspapers, Annington agreed that half the houses would go to service personnel. The Guardian cited the case study of a woman and her family who literally camped out for several days to get a house, because they were required to spend 22 of every 24 hours in the queue. Her husband was in Iraq, and in order to succeedthe price had not been confirmedthey had to queue up. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that when he winds up. Although this issue is not the MODs responsibility, I hope that it can persuade Annington to look again at whether it is appropriate to have the families of service personnel camping in a field to get a surplus house.
Before I came to the House tonight, I visited the website of Terra Firma, a powerful and successful private equity company that I would not criticise per se, and which put together this deal. As I understand it,
the Nomura bank was the primary investor. However, it did not have that English, home counties twang, so Anningtonthe name sounded a bit more English, and a little more acceptable to some who objected at the time to a Japanese investment bank taking over MOD quarterswas chosen as the name of the vehicle. However, that is ancient history.
I was interested to read how Terra Firma describes what it does, and why it is so successful as a private equity vehicle. We should bear it in mind that the following was written in 1996, after 17 years of Tory government:
Terra Firma focuses on businesses where our views differ from the market consensus. Companies that are out of favour, usually as a result of being neglected, under-managed or under-invested by their owners.
That is the state that MOD housing was in at the end of the period of Conservative government. After years of neglect, the then Government sold off housing cheap, hoping to bolster their chances at the following years election. That clearly did not work, but the last thing on their minds when they sold those houses and created the mess that we have today, which the Labour Government are doing their very best with, was the welfare of service personnel.
The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) made a number of excellent points about garrisons. There is a danger that the big garrisons that we inevitably have now will lead, if we are not careful and do not take appropriate steps, to a greater degree of insularity, in that fewer people in civilian life will have contact with service personnel. That is why the Territorial Army is so very important. The hon. Gentleman talked, as did several other Members, about the military covenant. We need to think of it not simply as a covenant between the armed services and the Government. It is about much more than thatit is about society and the way that society is.
Earlier, I was fiddling around with my biro, wondering about its size. It is bigger than a 5.56 mm round, but a bit smaller than 7.62 mm ammunition. However, let us say that it is the same as the latter. Looking at it, one can see the sort of bullets shot at British service personnel by enemies across the world. That is why I prefer to call the military covenant rule 762: it is easier and has a nicer ring to it.
The term military covenant is one that people who are not acquainted with military language, acronyms and the oddities of the way we speak about service issues find hard to get their heads around. It means that service personnelof all countries, as the concept is not confined to Britaintake extraordinary risks on behalf of their nation and that, in return, that nation honours them and looks after their unique needs. No one can argue with the concept, so the question is not whether we agree with it, but whether we observe it.
The Royal British Legion campaign makes some valid policy points, although other elements are more arguable. Yet all hon. Members will agree that it makes an important philosophical point, and that it poses a question that society at large must answer. I do not want to sound too high minded, but I believe that all Members of Parliament, like many people outside, have a role to play in reminding the public of the extraordinary things that our service personnel do for our country. Every time people fiddle with a biro, they
can use their imagination to remind themselves of the military covenantor rule 762, if they prefer to call it that.
Service personnel face extraordinary dangers on our behalf. The responsibility to ensure that that is remembered does not lie only with politicians or people interested in politics, but with society as a whole.
Sarah McCarthy-Fry (Portsmouth, North) (Lab/Co-op): In this debate, I want to consider globalisationhow we can face the challenge that it poses, the role played by defence in doing so, and the interaction between defence policy and international development policy. However, before I touch on those matters, I want to take advantage of my first opportunity since the conclusion of the naval base review to convey the thanks of Portsmouth people to the Ministry of Defence and the Secretary of State for the far-sightedness and excellent judgment displayed in their decision to keep all three of our bases open.
That, of course, was what we in Portsmouth advocated all along, for sound military and strategic reasons. We also had a sound financial case, and I should like to place on record my thanks to everyone involved in the campaign. That included neighbouring MPs from all parties, the South East England Development Agency, the Government office for the south-east, the city council, the Royal Navy, our industrial partners in the naval base, the trade unions, our local newspaper, the people of Portsmouth, and the many serving and ex-serving Royal Navy personnel from all over the world. They could not imagine Portsmouth without the Royal Navyor, indeed, the Royal Navy without Portsmouth.
The announcement that the bases were safe from closure has given a huge boost to the morale of all who work in the naval base. Yesterday, I welcomed our new Minister for the South East, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw), to Portsmouth and accompanied him on a very quick tour of the naval base. The important thing that I pointed out to him was that the success of our operations in Portsmouth was due to partnership working between the Navy and our industrial partners, which I believe to be an example of best practice.
The Minister was able to see that for himself on a visit to the VT Shipbuilding yard, when he inspected the bow sections of the type 45 destroyers that are under construction there. We were, of course, also able to show him where we are going to berth the two new aircraft carriers. They will dwarf any other ship that is or ever has been based at Portsmouth, and will be a very visible reminder to the people of the city of its strategic importance to the defence of our nation.
The wider message of the decision to keep all three bases open, and of the announcement of the decision to go ahead with building the two new aircraft carriers, is that this Labour Government are committed to a strong Royal Navy that is able to carry out its duties, not just patrolling our own shores, but further afield. Given that most of our world is water, the carriers will ensure that Britains contribution to being a force for
good in the world includes a strong maritime presence. As many hon. Members have said, it is unlikely that we will act on our own as a nation state in the foreseeable future. We will be acting as part of a multinational coalition, so the two new carriers will mean that we will be bringing some serious equipment to the table, and that our voice is heard in a multinational maritime strategy.
That brings me back to the argument about globalisation. Over the past 10 years, we have heard a lot about the challenge of globalisation, but mainly in an economic context. The global market place is much more developed than it was even 20 or 30 years ago. In the new global electronic economy, finance and capital can be transferred around the world at the click of a mouse. Products can be produced in, and services provided from, anywhere in the worldbut a question mark hangs over how far nation states can manage their own destiny. For a recent example of that, we need look no further than what happened with Northern Rock: that problem was caused not by our economic actions, but as a consequence of lending decisions in the US.
One of the biggest effects of globalisation is the transfer of information. The advent of satellite communicationsby the way, that is yet another technology manufactured in Portsmouthmeans that instantaneous communication is possible between one side of the world and the other. We have seen the effect of that already in the defence context, with pictures from operational theatres being sent by mobile phones. We have had to modify our rules and regulations to take account of that.
However, instantaneous electronic communication is not just about conveying information more quickly. It is about information reaching people who have never been reached before, despite the efforts of the nation state to prevent it. Again, we just have to look at the events in Burma a few weeks ago to see an example of that.
nations no longer have enemies...Nations today face risks and dangers rather than enemies, a massive shift in their very nature.
Is he right? If so, we need a defence policy not against a specific enemy, as in the days of the cold war, but one that is flexible and enables us to respond rapidly to whatever risks and dangers may emerge.
Is globalisation one of those risks? Is it a threat against which we should be defending ourselves, or is it a good thing that we should encourage, as it opens up the world and opens up opportunities for people to grow and develop? It is probably both: we do not have to look too far into the future to see a growing world population, with everyone competing for limited resources, such as water, food and energy. Inevitably, that will produce tensions. We can see new, growing economies quite rightly wanting their share of those resources as they develop, and people in those countries wanting to share in the lifestyles that they are increasingly able to see in more developed countries through the internet and mobile phone networks.
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