|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
We need to do more, but we should never have found ourselves in a situation where we need to ask our troops to operate without all the necessary equipment. If we have failed to provide our forces with everything that they need, we have not failed as a nation to fulfil our obligations as a NATO member, which is more than we can say for a number of our European NATO allies. Many of the additional European troops who were offered at Bucharest, as well as many of the European troops who are already operating in Afghanistan, are
restricted by phone books-worth of caveats, and that comes at a time when defence is high on the EU agenda.
The EU has talked about a foreign and security policy, but it simply will not spend the money. Most countries in Europe spend well below the 2 per cent. of gross domestic product on defence that is supposedly the floor level. In Afghanistan, some of the major EU players are most clearly failing in their duties towards the NATO commitments. Understanding the potential of soft power is important, but soft power on its own is not enough. If we will the ends, we must will the means. Diplomacy without military support has little credibility. In a dangerous world, we cannot simply count on talking away any threat that we face.
We remain a global military power, and power brings responsibility. Frameworks, institutions and agreements are all very well, but security does not come for free. Many EU politicians like to say that the role of the EU is in peacekeeping and nation building, but we can keep the peace only if we have the peace. If we want freedom, we must be willing to defend it, to fight for it, if necessary to die for it and, definitely, to fund it. In Afghanistan, we need a commitment to fight to the last, but unfortunately, at present in the south of Afghanistan, that would be the last Briton, the last American and the last Canadian [ Interruption ] and a few notable others. That cannot be sustained in the long run. There must be better burden sharing in the south of Afghanistan, because the load in fighting cannot fall on as few nations as it does at present in an alliance that wants to have a sustainable long-term future.
When Secretary Gates talks about the emergence of a two-tier NATO, it is a warning about the survivability of the alliance. For EU politicians then to talk about a European pillar of NATO compounds the problem. With European security and defence policy, we see no extra funds on top of those set aside for NATO responsibilities; rather we see the double-hatting of forces that are clearly masquerading as new capacity. We see duplication and possibly competing military structures on top of an already underfunded commitment to the primary defence alliance. That is a potentially toxic mix for NATO in the long run.
Mr. Kidney: Will the hon. Gentleman exonerate Denmark and the Netherlands from what he has just said about presence in the south of Afghanistan? Will he say which nations he is talking about? Is he talking about France and Germany, or Greece?
Dr. Fox: It is clear that the Netherlands and Denmark have been operating honourably in the south of the country, but they are primarily supporting the forces of the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada. Most people would recognise that we provide the vast bulk of the fighting troops in the south of Afghanistan. The majority of people in this country well understand that, while we are giving a commitment, along with those major allies, to fighting in the south of the country, too many other NATO partners are unwilling to see their forces engaged in the south. That is not a good thing for the long-term health of the alliance. If we have collective security, we must collectively accept the areas of high risk. It is not acceptable for everyone on the street to have the same insurance policy, while only some of them pay the insurance premium.
All the areas that I have outlined come at a time of increased tension and danger. We face the threats of nuclear proliferation, with Iran testing the patience of the international community. We face a resurgent and self-confident Russia, and we face the deadly threat of Islamist extremism, with forces opposed to our system of government, our beliefs and our values. They oppose us not for what we do, but for who we are. We cannot avoid the confrontation, for they have chosen to confront us.
Today we are remembering the end of the second world war in Europe 63 years ago and the sacrifices made then for our security. We showed resolve not only then but again in the cold war against the communist threat. We need to face our present challenges with the same courage and determination that previous generations showed, and we as a nation cannot be found wanting.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): It is important that we are talking about defence in the world, and I should like to start by paying a tribute to Royal Marine Jonathan Holland, who made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan and who is buried in a Chorley churchyard. That brings home what our troops are doing out in Iraq and Afghanistan. One cannot forget all those peoplegenerally they are young peoplewho have made the ultimate sacrifice and, of course, those who have been injured and severely injured. We talk about the commitment of our armed forces, and without doubt we are second to none in the world in the commitment that we ask of, and receive from, our armed forces. They never say no; they always say yes. We must respect that.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Territorial Army, and it plays a role in back-filling our forces. Whether in Kosovo, Afghanistan or Iraq, the TA footprint is there and we must not forget that in its centenary year. I say to the Government that the TA has played an excellent role in the past. It continues to play that role and it must be allowed to continue to play it in the future. We cannot manage and play our role in the defence of the world without the TA. It is only right that we look to increase its budget and not cut it. It does so much at so little cost that we should not ask it to take cuts at this time.
Lancashire is famous for recruitment and its regiments. The Duke of Lancasters Regiment is a new regiment that is made of three great regiments: the Queens Lancashire Regiment, the Kings Own Royal Border Regiment and the Kings Regiment. We should not forget the Queens Lancashire Regiment, and one person in particular. Colonel Mendonca almost became a scapegoat for the higher ranks in the military and we should not forget what a brave man he was. I am sorry that the Army lost such a young leader. It was tragic that he was forced out, but we must not forget what he did for us and we must not forget his regiment, which is now part of the Duke of Lancasters Regiment. I pay tribute to Colonel Mendonca.
I have already referred to the role of the TA, and Chorleys own TA squadron has just been part of 52 Brigade under the command of 5 General Support Medical Regiment. Colonel Roger McBroom took 5GS to Afghanistan, and what a role it played in providing medical services and returning people to this country. It is only right that we also talk about the hospital at Selly Oak and the role that it plays.
Medical services have been based at Preston, and men returning from Afghanistan receive their medicals at Fulwood barracks, as will the men from the Chorley TA squadron. When the squadron went out to Afghanistan, it was commanded by Major Nick Medway, and we must pay tribute to him for becoming a lieutenant colonel. The TA and the regulars worked well together and it is important that we recognise their important role.
A reception was held on the Terrace only a week ago for 52 Brigade and others who had returned from Afghanistan, and I thank the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning) for organising it. It was good to see that our soldiers were being given recognition in the House.
Recognising the role of our soldiers means that they should be able to march through our towns. We want the people of this country to recognise what our soldiers have done, so it is important that they have the right to exercise the freedom of the town and can march with banners and standards flying and drums beating.
Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): My hon. Friend raises the important point of recognising the role that our troops play. When they return home, they should be recognised, but there should be consistency. Everyone returning home, and not just the privileged few, should receive the recognition that their role deserves.
Mr. Hoyle: I agree. We need equality for members of our armed forces. They all risk their lives and should get equal recognition. It is important that we recognise what they are doing and that we take the public with us, because they have to recognise what our armed forces are doing on our behalf.
I am pleased that the Government have committed £24 million to Headley Court. It is important that there is not just talk, but actual commitment. We are now seeing that, and long may it continue, because we need the right facilities, not just for the people who come back, but for those who have been injured.
Our armed forces must wonder about compensation. We have done a lot and put compensation in place, but we must also look at what is awarded in the private sector. We should treat our troops in the same way as an insurance company that pays out for someone who is injured in a car crash or whatever. We should be aiming for that recognition and endeavour. That is the standard of compensation that we should be seeking for our brave troops.
What also goes with our troops is accommodation. I know that the Minister of State has said that he is not satisfied with their accommodation and that he is committed to changing that. When troops come back, they expect the best, and that is the only thing that is good enough for them. We should seek nothing less.
Mr. Ellwood: The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful argument. Let me put to him a circumstance that arose recently. A civilian Iraqi was horribly injured in the spine and got £1 million compensation. I am not denying that that individual deserved that amount, but many soldiers in the UK are looking over their shoulders and seeing that payout, when the maximum payout for any injured personnel in the British Army is around £200,000. That seems wrong.
Mr. Hoyle: I do not disagree; in fact, that is my point. It was this Government who introduced the compensation scheme. I am saying that we have to lift the bar. More money should be available. However, at least we took the decision to ensure that compensation is available. I do not want to take money away from someone, but we must try to lift the amount that is available.
The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): My hon. Friend should not assist in perpetuating the myth that we are comparing like with like. We surely cannot treat our injured service personnel by giving them a one-off payment, no matter how large, and then say, Thats it. The payments have to be made for the rest of their lives. They are young and potentially vulnerable people. We cannot simply give them an up-front payment as is awarded by the courts. We give them an up-front payment at the moment, but we supplement it with an ongoing guaranteed payment for the rest of their lives.
Mr. Hoyle: I do not disagree; in fact, my right hon. Friend may well be aware that there has been a change in circumstance in the insurance company sector. Not all the money is paid up front; it is paid in stages and put into trust funds. The Government were right to introduce the compensation scheme, but it does not stop us ensuring that more money is available in the future.
Instead of saying to someone, Youre no longer fit for purpose, we now also rightly say, If you want to stay in the service, were going to help keep you in employment. That in itself is a major change. It is fantastic that someone who lost a limb has gone back to Afghanistan because he wanted to be out there with his troops. We are giving our service personnel that ability. The Government should be congratulated on that. I am not attacking themfar from itbut we should lift the bar to see what more we can do. We started something that needed to be put in place, but that does not stop us renewing the scheme and looking at it again as time goes by. The people who serve are important. We have been lucky that our troops want to be part of the fighting team. We cannot forget that they are a band of brothers.
My right hon. Friend the Minister is correct to ensure that we lift the standard of accommodation. We must invest heavily, and sooner rather than later. When the troops come home, good accommodation and a longer period of rest are important before they redeploy. Overstretch is an issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, North (Jim Sheridan) may not say that there is overstretch, but I would go as far as saying that there is because we have big commitments. We must ensure that there is a period of respite between redeployment and retraining. Our troops must be satisfied with that. Otherwise, they will
walk away, and we cannot afford to let that happen. We have invested heavily in those troops, so we must look after them when they need it.
Of course, part of that back-up comes from others, such as the Gurkhas. It is only right that we ensure that the Gurkhas standard of living is looked after. The same point applies to the Royal Gibraltar Regiment, who have played a key role in back-filling and have won some of the highest honours awarded in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is a crying shame that they are not on the same wages as the British Army back in Gibraltar. The issue has been investigated and reports have come out, but the pay levels have not been matched. They are willing to risk their lives in winning those honours, so we should look again at this issue. It is important that we thank the Gibraltar Regiment and the Gurkhas for what they do.
We in this House rightly talk about equipment. On helicopters, we have done the best that we can, but they do not appear overnight; we must work harder and ensure that that air support is in place. It is absolutely critical that we have more helicopters.
Mr. Hoyle: Of course it would. What can we say about mothballed Chinooks that were meant for our special services, and which have never been used? That is totally unacceptable. That was a complete waste of money; I cannot get away from that, and nor can anybodyon either side of this House. It was a tragic mistake, but it has happened and we cannot turn the clock back.
Mr. Keetch: The hon. Gentleman knows that I have raised this issue with the Prime Minister. Would it not be a fitting tribute to our special forces if those helicopters, which were ordered by John Major and paid for by Tony Blair, were brought into service by the current Prime Ministeror at least if equivalent helicopters were provided?
Mr. Hoyle: My understanding is that we are investing a lot of money in trying to get those aircraft into service, and we can all agree that the sooner that happens, the better. That might remove some of the embarrassment from the Opposition.
We must also consider uniforms and their quality. This Government made a tragic mistake with the cut-and-sew contract, which was given to a company in Northern Ireland that was never going to produce the uniforms. The work was sent to China, done in a sweatshop and sent back for our troops. That is totally unacceptable. [ Interruption. ] One of my hon. Friends says from a sedentary position, We have heard this before. He may have, but he may not be aware that the cut-and-sew contract is coming up for renewal. I hope that we are brave enough to allow an open tender, rather than making a cosy arrangement in an office somewhere in the Ministry of Defence that allows China to keep that contract. I hope that we will open up this process and allow British companies to tender for the contract, and put the jobs back in Lancashire. So there is a challenge for my friends here. I look
forward to the Pincroft bleaching and dyeing company winning that contract once again.
It is a question of commitments. There is none better than the Type 45 destroyer. HMS Daring has been doing its tests; it is an absolute leader in its class and we can be proud of it. We are heavily investing in that class of destroyer, and long may it continue; we thank it for what it has done. We have the destroyers, and we must look forward to the two aircraft carriers, which are crucial in defence terms. We look forward to an announcement on them sooner, rather than later, and to a commitment regarding what will be operating off that platform. We talk all the time about and hear a lot about the joint strike fighter. I hope that that contract is there, that the intellectual transfer will take place and that we can get the benefit of those jobs in the north-west. I hope, too, that we will not just be providing parts but doing the final assembly, and that we can maintain those aircraft on those two valuable carriers.
Jim Sheridan: My hon. Friend may be aware that there are already threats of job losses on the Clyde if those aircraft carrier orders are not placed. It would certainly be helpful if we could have a clear statement from the Minister today on the situation with those carriers.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentlemans excellent speech, but a recent written answer gave some interesting information from the Minister for the Armed Forces. I had asked how long it would take to construct each of the carriers and was told five and a half years. If the first is to come into service in 2014and given that one must allow a year for sea trials and then another year for acceptance and working up in the Royal Navyit is getting perilously near the deadline; in fact, we might even expect the announcement today or next week if the deadline is to be met.
Mr. Hoyle: I cannot disagree and I hope that the winding-up speech will contain a good announcement for ussomething positive for us to take back to our constituencies. We need that. I am not sure that we are ready for the building of ice-breakers yet. I am more bothered about the carriers, which will be more relevant to our defence needs.
The platforms are crucial and I look forward to the joint strike aircraft operating from these carriers. On heavy lift capability, the workhorse is coming to the end of its life. We have to replace the C130Js at some point, and they have done an excellent job. We look forward to the A400M, but it seems to have gone rather quiet. The aircraft will be capable of operating on short runways and rough airstrips and will have a heavier lift capability than anything we have, apart from the Galaxies. We know that that aircraft is needed quickly. Where are we up to with that, as it will play an important role?
Mr. Hoyle: That is a kind offer, but I am sure that we will all get an invitation. The A400M is an important aircraft and will be our aircraft for the future. We talk about the air tanker programme and we need a statement on that now. It is also important that procurement supports British jobs.
Our troops are the best in the world and we must look after them. In years gone by, Labour had a reputation for not having an interest in defence. As I look around the Chamber today, I can see that that has changed. Defence matters to the Government and to Labour Members. I am pleased to say that there are parties on both sides of the House that take an interest. I notice that there is a gap towards the back on the right of the Chamberas I look acrosswhich is a tragic shame. All parties should be here for this very important debate.
World defence is about world security and nothing is more important than homeland security. What role could our armed forces play in the establishment of a border security force? Such a force needs to be established and it should be a joint force between the police and our armed forces. We know the important role that our armed forces have played around the world . It does not seem so long ago that the far east land forces were operating on the Hong Kong-China border. We ought to use that knowledge in setting up a homeland security force to make this country safer and to protect the people we represent.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|