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To return to the value of the carriers programme, I believe that we cannot have global reach without them, because a number of future threat scenarios would require us to maintain the capability to move into areas outside our immediate control, perhaps where there is no friendly state willing to allow us to use its territory as a base. With increased tension and pressure arising from the consequences of global warming and the potential for mass migration, we could see existing and developing intra-state conflicts over water shortages and land escalating to much more serious inter-state conflict, which might require international involvement and intervention. If we cannot get a foothold close to the source of the problem, we will need the flexibility offered by the CVF.
I therefore welcome a review and hope that it will revisit some of the assessments made of our core capabilities in the paper "Future Navy-Operational Context", published in 2002. That set out clearly how maritime platforms are uniquely capable of supporting the other services of the armed forces in theatre.
Mr. Davidson: Does my hon. Friend regret, as I do, that both the Conservative and Liberal parties appear unwilling and unable to give a clear and unequivocal commitment to supporting the continuation of the carrier programme?
We currently have some capacity, but not on the size and scale of the carriers. For example, current exercises in the far east are designed to support a range of scenarios. The Taurus taskforce, led by Commodore Peter Hudson, which includes both HMS Bulwark and HMS Ocean, is practising a wide range of skills that support the Navy's ability to deploy a maritime force across the globe for prolonged periods. Within the group are frigates and Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels, as well as submarines. Some 17 other nations are also involved. Such exercises flag up the need to look at the changing nature of the demands placed on our Navy and bring into focus its importance to any future defence review.
As I have said, today I am focusing on the Navy, and the review should, I believe, consider whether the Type 45 is the answer to our needs in the long term, as was thought to be the case when the programme was agreed. The Type 45 is a fantastic vessel-it is beautiful to look at and, I understand, fantastic to serve on-but is it exactly what we need to tackle some of the future threats? While it is "all singing and all dancing" in terms of its technology and performance, do we really need significant numbers of Type 45s? Are they over-specified? Should we be considering a more flexible, agile, simple and yet adaptable group of vessels that will possibly cost less than the Type 45?
The recent announcement of the maritime change programme-which, from Plymouth's perspective, was very positive; certainly Babcock thought so when the deep water maintenance contracts were announced-hinted that a future review would be looking at the shape of a future Navy in terms of frigates in particular. The implication was that the Government would have to
consider whether or not we needed more smaller and less complex vessels. If so, I am sure that Plymouth would be best placed to support them, and that that would offset some of the continuing concerns about changes to base-porting.
Finally, I want to touch on the importance of having the expertise to apply force, or the threat of force, successfully in the littoral environment, the area between sea and land where strength in amphibiosity is so important. I ask the Minister to reaffirm that, as part of ensuring that we have the best trained and supported capability in that area, Plymouth will be a centre of amphibious excellence and the Royal Marines will be moving to Plymouth from Poole in the not too distant future. It makes enormously good sense for that move to go ahead, given the work currently undertaken at the base which is specific to the landing craft and landing platforms.
Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): I agree with what my hon. Friend is saying. Is there not a danger of sea-blindness in the future defence policy, and does not her speech restore the balance?
I look forward to the Green Paper and the debate that follows, and to learning how Plymouth, with its naval base and dockyard, fits into the future requirements for the defence of the UK. That is important. Let me say to the Minister that the Green Paper must not undermine confidence or the motivation of the people who serve in our armed forces, or work to supply them with the best possible equipment and technology, by creating unreasonable uncertainty. I know that Green Papers are designed to leave a range of options open, that they need to be tough, and that they need to explore all avenues both to progress and to efficiency and cost savings. However, this paper will be published at a time when we shall still be in a very difficult theatre of operations, and our manufacturers will be working hard to meet the needs of our troops on the ground. A Green Paper that had the effect of demoralising them would not be helpful.
Mr. James Arbuthnot (North-East Hampshire) (Con): Yesterday the moving roll-call read out by the Prime Minister of those who have died in Afghanistan over the last few months held the attention of the country, and I hope that the poignant letter read out by the hon. Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) about the death of Kyle Adams did the same. These are men and women who will be honoured for ever. I hope that we shall also be able to remember for ever, and honour during their lives, those who have been wounded in body, in spirit or in mind, because that is something of which we often fail to take sufficient account.
We also heard yesterday from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster) about the curtailment of his Territorial Army training. That was very important, but today, shortly before I came into the Chamber, I received a
message from my daughter. She is a university undergraduate, and last weekend she went to join the officer training corps at her university. Using the words young people employ, she described the weekend as "mental" and "absolutely incredible." She joined up with enthusiasm. Just before I entered the Chamber, I received a message from her saying that she will not be paid for any training but that it is expected that paid training will recommence in April. I do not know how much reliance we can put on such an expectation.
Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): I am not the commanding officer of anything, but I can assure my right hon. Friend that a member of one of the Yorkshire Territorial Army units has informed me that they will be allowed-indeed, encouraged-to continue with the TA but they will not be paid. I also join my right hon. Friend in bemoaning the cuts to the OTC because my second oldest grandson is at Exeter university and, like my right hon. Friend's daughter, he will be adversely affected.
Mr. Arbuthnot: My daughter concluded her message by asking me whether I think she should continue with it. I hope she is watching this debate, and if she is I can tell her-I have never communicated with my family in this way before-that I very much hope that she will, because it is one of the best things anyone can possibly do.
To the Government, however, I communicate the following: to take the advice of chiefs of staff-who will always support the regulars when faced with choices between priorities-and to cut off this link between the civilian population and the military in order to save £20 million will result in units going out of existence. It is a short-sighted and wrong decision, and I ask the Government, please, to think again.
We have also heard today about Bernard Gray's report on procurement. The decision the Government took in July to delay its publication for as long as possible-and even, possibly, not to produce it at all-was extraordinary and ridiculous. It gave the impression that they had something to hide. It was not that there was something to hide; this is something to be brought out into the open and discussed so that we can put the endemic problems right.
The key recommendation in the Bernard Gray report is that the costings and truthfulness of the equipment programme should be subject to independent audit by a large firm of outside independent auditors and that the Government and their programme should be subject to a "going concern" test. We know that at present the equipment programme would not pass a "going concern" test-and we also know that the Government would not pass a "going concern" test. In order to get this right, we must have a realistic equipment programme. That means that if we were to follow Bernard Gray's recommendations, the first year would be very difficult. I must draw attention to the fact that the first year will involve some tough decisions.
Other key recommendations of an excellent report are aimed at the perverse incentives within the Ministry of Defence, whereby our procurement process means that we are almost bound to end up with the wrong decisions; at the absence of skills within the MOD and how skills, particularly those in project management, can be built up and required; and at the need for long-term budgets-10-year budgets-for the MOD. I warned all three Front-Bench teams that although the Treasury will have a bit of difficulty with that, it must be seen off. Long-term budgets for a Department that sometimes builds equipment that takes years to bring into commission and then lasts for a further 50 years are essential. The recommendations also include the holding of regular defence reviews, which has been an excellent policy of the Conservative party for some time. I am not sure whether it is a Government policy yet-I very much hope that it is.
Mr. Davidson: The right hon. Gentleman seems to be in favour of long-term planning, and of decisions being made and not being thrown into question, so does he agree that it would be appropriate for any party that aspires to form a Government to be unequivocally in favour of proceeding with the aircraft carrier order?
Mr. Arbuthnot: I agree that any party that aspires to be in government should follow all the recommendations on the need to have a strategic defence review. Such a review should take into account precisely the sort of things that the hon. Gentleman mentions. I am sure that he has his press release by now and does not need any further quotations from this debate -[Interruption.]
I return to the theme of Afghanistan. I share the approach of the Secretary of State and of my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox), who made an outstanding speech, to Pakistan and to Afghanistan. The Select Committee on Defence was in the United States last week. We were a bit depressed by the quality of the debate there about General McChrystal's report, because it seemed to be about whether the discussion should have been held in public or in private, as opposed to being about whether the points that his report had raised were intrinsically right or wrong. I thought that the points that General McChrystal made had great strength and that he was right.
Yesterday, this House of Commons welcomed the 22 Light Dragoons. I was told by a young major-nowadays all majors seem to be young-that he thought we ought to concentrate far more than we are doing on the comprehensive building of capacity within Afghanistan; on building an understanding of the culture of the Afghan people and their economic needs, rather than the needs that we think they might have; on building an understanding of their power structures; and on building genuine friendships between this country and that country and these people and those people. Although General McChrystal's report suggests that we need more resources, we must recognise that they do not necessarily need to be entirely military resources.
Linda Gilroy: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that. When we were in the United States did he sense that the Americans were being very thoughtful about the purpose of the possible increase in the number of troops? Does he not only welcome that, but agree that they do not need to delay too long, because there is a danger of a vacuum emerging if they do so? Would he therefore urge them to get on with making their decision?
Mr. Arbuthnot: Yes, I did get that impression of thoughtfulness. Given the importance of the issue of Afghanistan and Pakistan-I put those both together, despite what the hon. Member for Newport, West said-I do not object to those in the United States doing their utmost to get these decisions right. Yes, we need to do this as speedily as possible, but the key thing is that we need to get it right. The future of the world, I believe, is at stake.
The other issue that the 22 Light Dragoons raised with me yesterday was housing. I should not spend too much time on that, but they mentioned both the quality and the cost of armed forces housing. I am going to pose a problem to the House. It is only the armed forces who have to face a competition between the needs of bullets and the needs of housing-
Mr. Arbuthnot: Bullets and billets, yes. The result of that is that these are the only people who, as a result of Government policy, face the risk of substandard housing because they have the discipline and commitment to fight for their country. There is something intrinsically morally wrong with that. I pose that problem without, I am afraid, being able to suggest a particular answer. I do not know what the answer is, but perhaps there should be closer links between the housing budgets of local authorities and the Minister of Defence. Although I do not know the answer, I know that we need to treat our armed forces better than we do as regards housing.
Mr. Dai Havard (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab): Like the right hon. Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot), I was part of the delegation to the USA last week, and I want to make a few observations. We discussed issues that we have not discussed today but that are part of the general discussion. For example, we discussed the trade treaty, which the Defence Committee has asked to consider in particular and which this Parliament ratified some time ago. We were concerned that the new Administration should take that much more seriously than they seemed to have been doing up until now and deal with it much more quickly than they have been, because it speaks to an enduring relationship. In my opinion, a lot of loose language is used in talking about a special relationship and so on, but particular relationships need to be cemented and understood. The trade relationship is one of them. We were trying to ensure that that was the case. We were also concerned about a second engine for the joint strike fighter-a huge investment for us in terms of our defence, but one involving small numbers for the United States. The investment is of huge importance to our local economies, our national economy and our defence relationship. Those are a few of the things that we discussed.
It is interesting that the debate in the United States-like the debate here-is clearly dominated by concerns about Afghanistan and where we will go in the future. Other issues were are stake, not least of which was a broader discussion about missile defence-that has not been mentioned today, and we cannot do everything in one day-but that affects the view from America about where it should be in the world. We all know that that has changed; it has changed radically with the election of the new President. That offers us opportunities to debate differently with the Americans and to speak to them about looking at parts of the world in a different way. They know that they have lost capacity to go and speak to certain parts of the world-whether it was deliberately destroyed or not. The previous Administration damaged their ability to do so. They know that they need to rectify that, and it was interesting to discuss it with them.
As my colleague from the Defence Committee, the right hon. Member for North-East Hampshire, said, the Americans' discussion about where they are going in Afghanistan was somewhat overlaid by their semi-hysterical press, which does not help. If anyone thinks that ours are bad, they should go and have a look at some of theirs. It did not inform the discussion but we felt that, underneath that, people were trying to get a real analysis. I was pleasantly surprised by at least the first half of the speech from the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox), as he seemed to begin a real analysis of where we need to be. He asked some genuine questions, similar to the ones that some of us have been trying to ask for some time.
I take personal offence at the way in which problems tend to be collapsed together, and at the abuse of language exemplified by terms such as "the AfPak solution". I am sure that the Pakistanis and Afghanis find it offensive too. It may only be shorthand but it does not help, as the type of language used in discussions with these people is very important.
I agree that military activity is not always supported by civilian work to build capacity. It is clear that the US is now having that debate. It has a new organisation for reconstruction and stabilisation, but USAID-the United States Agency for International Development-has all the money. Organisationally, the US is not properly joined up, and that is a problem with which I think it knows it must deal.
Our Department for International Development tries to make available most of the finance that it can offer through Afghan Government structures, however corrupt, difficult or dysfunctional they may be. The aim is to help to build indigenous capacity rather than offer a well meaning substitute for it.
Those organisational questions are crucial to any discussion of where we go now in Afghanistan. The debate goes beyond numbers of front-line infantry combat forces. In that regard, it should be noted that Stan McChrystal talks about resources in the broader sense, and he is right to do so. What should be the shape of our contribution? That is the important question.
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