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We took the decision to build the carriers, and my hon. Friend was deeply disappointed that we did not decide to build five or six rather than the two to which we committed. However, we took that decision and are getting on with it, and the carriers are in the process of being built. I know that the Opposition's
policy needs to be flushed out-he is very good at doing that, and I wish him every success-but in producing the Green Paper I never sought to divide people. I sought to bring them together.
Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton) (Con): I commend the Secretary of State for raising as one of his strategic questions the matter of armed forces ensuring security and contributing to resilience in the UK. The Institute for Public Policy Research's commission on national security, of which I was a member, stressed the importance of that. Has he looked again at the 1960s civil contingencies legislation and considered whether we should have a homeland security force, who would staff it and how it would work with the Home Office and local government agencies? That is a serious matter in protecting our critical national infrastructure, particularly if we get pandemics.
Mr. Ainsworth: It is true to say that we have been going in the opposite direction, because other organisations, particularly the police, have developed better capabilities so that they do not depend on our armed forces. However, we need to think through how far that process should go. That is why the matter is flagged up in the Green Paper, so that we can consider it, tackle it and come to a conclusion.
Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): The Secretary of State said, "Our biggest capability is our people...military and civilian", and their ability to deliver defence. He was completely silent on the need for decent housing, whether it be single or family accommodation. Although I acknowledge the disaster of the privatisation of family housing by the previous Government, does he agree that the Government have had plenty of time to put that right? If retention is still an important part of the Government's thinking, decent housing for our married soldiers is a priority.
Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman knows that we have invested hugely in the estate, and his constituency and constituents have been the beneficiaries of considerable investment. However, we need to consider to what degree our structures should encourage home ownership among our armed forces. Many of them are going that way in any case, so we must consider to what degree we should continue to encourage them to be tied to the provision of housing that goes with accompanied service. We have to grapple with that issue, and it is raised in the Green Paper so that we can think about it in the defence strategic review.
People worry about the potential effects of losing accompanied service accommodation, but societal trends appear to be going in that direction in any case. It seems to be the desire of most people to own their home, and that applies to service personnel as to anybody else.
David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): Bernard Gray found that too many types of equipment were being ordered for too many tasks at too high a specification. Is it not a great sadness that the Government have only just commissioned this review, having been in office for so long? Does not the Secretary of State feel that some of the problems in defence lie at the very heart of his Department?
Mr. Ainsworth: When one looks for international comparators, one struggles to find anybody who does such things in a pristine manner. We are no worse than many, many others, but there is huge ground for improvement in my opinion. That is why my predecessor commissioned Bernard Gray to do that report in the first place, and why the Minister of State, Lord Paul Drayson, took a hold of it and produced the acquisition reform strategy, which I think will address the issues raised by the hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): The Secretary of State will be aware of the developing world-class technology at BAE Warton in my constituency, which is seeing the production of unmanned and autonomous air vehicles. Will the debate he has triggered by the publication of the Green Paper enable a decision to be made as to whether that technology should be counted as a sovereign technology for the United Kingdom?
Mr. Ainsworth: Yes, that is something that has got to be looked at. I would just remind the right hon. Gentleman that some of his hon. Friends suggested that I was paying for today at the expense of tomorrow when I moved some resources for the purchase of drones. I think such capability is exactly "tomorrow", whether that means in Afghanistan or anywhere else. The kind of thing the right hon. Gentleman mentioned is what we need to think about.
Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): May I assure the Secretary of State that we in Northern Ireland and our friends in Scotland and Wales are not parochial when it comes to providing our best young people-men and women-to serve in the armed forces? Will he advise the House what proposals are contained in the Green Paper to help to encourage young people to join, particularly in the light of the proposals on the university officer training corps and the Army Cadet Force?
We will get the talent that we need in the armed forces only if people think it is an organisation that has a future in which they can build their careers and to which they can make a real contribution. That impacts not only on welfare provision-soldiers are interested in that, but they are also interested in the kind of organisation that they are joining. They want to join capable armed forces. Planning properly for the future to ensure that they can fulfil a role is the biggest single contribution we can make to attracting the talent we need.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): It is welcome that the Green Paper contains a number of references to reserve forces, following from the question asked by the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson). In their review, are the Government going to address the questions why we strike the balance between reserves and regulars so very differently from most of our English-speaking counterparts, and why they are able to make so much more imaginative use of reserves than us?
Mr. Ainsworth: I hope so. That is why those passages are there. I think societal trends will push us, in the long term, in the direction of making more use, not less, of reserve forces. Therefore, the need to ensure that they are highly trained and capable people is going to take on increasing importance. Those issues are flagged up in the Green Paper and the questions that we have posed are out there for debate, and I hope that that matter will be addressed in the strategic defence review.
Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): Does the Secretary of State note, seeing as he has made the statement, that there is not a single reference to NATO in it, which is simply stupendous and quite astonishing? Why is there also no reference to the European Union? Europe is one thing and allies are another. Can he remember what happened with the French off Djibouti? Can he remember what happened when the Belgians would not provide us with any ammunition? Can he remember what happened over the Iraq conflict? Can he remember what happened with respect to the Germans in Afghanistan? Does he not realise that we must have a proper, coherent policy that includes NATO?
Mr. Ainsworth: Unless I misread my speech or there was a late draft or whatever, NATO, the European Union and the United States of America were all mentioned. The hon. Gentleman will find that they are liberally mentioned-appropriately-in the Green Paper, which I commend to him.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Should there not be a step change increase in the use of our reserve forces if we are to provide Her Majesty with a more flexible, adaptable and cost-effective armed forces in future? Is this not the golden opportunity of a generation to do that?
Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): Was it not the Ministry's preoccupation with the European Union project for the future rapid effect system that prevented it having the ability to respond to the needs of our soldiers in both Iraq and Afghanistan, leading to a shortage of appropriate equipment in both protected vehicles and, indeed, helicopters? Did I not note that the Secretary of State mentioned further integration as far as the European Union and defence are concerned, and may I warn him not to go down that route? If he does, caveat emptor.
The hon. Lady has looked into vehicle capability and developed quite a level of expertise in that area, but she knows that I fundamentally disagree with her. The vehicles that we have to have specifically to fight the mine threat in Afghanistan are superb and exactly what is needed, but they would be of little use in different scenarios, such as a high-end attack from a capable and well equipped enemy. A Mastiff would not last very long on a fast-moving battlefield. Therefore, as I have said, we must plan for the many threats that we
might face. Directing all our resources towards Afghanistan is something that we would need to think very seriously about.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Will the Secretary of State expand his thinking about integration with our European allies? Would that ultimately lead to a situation in which some operations could not be conducted without their support?
Mr. Ainsworth: One of the big questions we must face is to what degree we are prepared to integrate with, and therefore become dependent upon, our allies, whether that is NATO or the EU, or the US, with which we have a close association in military affairs. That is something that we must think about, but there are people in the House-I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is one of them-who have a view that we can be secure unilaterally. However, I do not think that even the US can be secure unilaterally in the modern world. Therefore, we must invest in our friends and alliances-we have no choice but to do so.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): Until 1997, there was an annual defence White Paper, which was, to a significant degree, the public presentation of the product of the long-term costings exercise inside the Department, which reconciled the defence programme 10 years out. The absence of that process or of any replacement for it means that the forward defence programme is now bearing all the risk. That was enumerated by Mr. Bernard Gray, who said in his report that
"the forward Defence programme faces"
I am afraid that the Secretary of State and his predecessors, but most of all the Prime Minister, who has been either Prime Minister or Chancellor throughout that period, have to bear the responsibility for this disaster for defence-that is what it is-and reconcile it with the worst fiscal crisis for the Government since the Invergordon mutiny.
Mr. Ainsworth: Equally, I heard the Prime Minister not so long ago tell the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends that it was they who went into the last election pledged to a £1.5 billion cut in the defence budget.
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the law to make provision about damage to war memorials; and for connected purposes.
Every Remembrance Sunday, war memorials up and down the country become the focal point for our national ceremony of remembrance. From the plainest monuments to the grand Cenotaph in Whitehall, people gather to remember the glorious dead. For the rest of the year, war memorials fade from the public consciousness into the background of our lives. But they are still there, exuding a quiet dignity tinged with sadness for those who have died for our country. They are more than rock and stone. In fact, the estimated 100,000 war memorials take the form of plaques, inscriptions on church pews, statues, arches and even bus shelters. But whatever the form, they symbolise the values of service and sacrifice for our liberty that our country holds dear.
Conflicts such as that in Afghanistan have sadly made remembrance a continuous part of our national life. Today, the Prime Minister again read out the names of those soldiers who have died in Afghanistan in our name. Those names, like those that have gone before them, will not be forgotten. That is what we say, and we act-in one way-by inscribing those names on memorials.
I wish to introduce this Bill to ensure that we reflect the importance of war memorials. If enacted, the Bill would properly punish those who show such disregard by desecrating a war memorial. With the death of Harry Patch, the last human thread connecting us to the great war generation may have been cut, but that makes it all the more incumbent on us to retain and protect the physical thread that connects us to Harry Patch's generation in the form of memorials.
My interest in this issue was sadly first prompted by an appalling act of theft and criminal damage to the Southgate memorial in Broomfield park in my constituency last August. Two six-foot-by-four-foot bronze plaques and nine smaller plates bearing the names of soldiers who died in the two world wars, alongside civilians from Southgate who were killed in the blitz, were ripped out. We were outraged by this despicable act. In 1949, when opening the Southgate memorial, Alderman Wauthier said:
"The Garden of Remembrance is a hallowed place and should not be interfered with".
The national media asked how this could happen. One radio programme was even dedicated to the question of whether Enfield was the meanest borough in London. I set about finding out whether this desecration is unique to my constituency. I take no pleasure in reporting to the House that in fact there have been an alarming number of incidents-57 reports in regional and national press in the last year of desecration of war memorials involving vandalism, theft and even public urination and defecation. This averages out to at least one war
memorial being desecrated every week. In fact, the lack of any specific reporting of such offences means that the number of desecrations is probably much higher.
What particularly troubled me about the desecration in my constituency was that the bronze plaques were practically irreplaceable. We did not have any records of the names that were inscribed, and so when these plaques were stolen there was a good chance that the names, and the memory, of those soldiers could have been lost forever. It sickens me-and, no doubt, the House-to think of those plates being melted down for scrap and those names being consigned to oblivion. Thankfully, a local man who had taken extensive photographs of the memorial a few years ago came forward. Together with the good work of the UK National Inventory of War Memorials, we are now able to replace the plaques. Other communities are not so lucky, with many memorials not properly registered and recorded.
The War Memorials Trust together with the national inventory, based at the Imperial War museum, are doing a sterling job to encourage registration of memorials, but only 55,000 have so far been registered. I urge hon. Members to find out how many war memorials there are in their constituency by contacting the national inventory, and-as they pound the streets and visit community buildings in the coming weeks-to keep an eye out not only for floating voters, but for unregistered war memorials.
The War Memorials Trust, which relies on voluntary support, deserves our membership and support for its commendable and tireless work to protect war memorials. The hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) has previously raised this important issue, and we need to be vigilant and take action to reverse the neglect that is the greatest threat to memorials.
War memorials do not have any dedicated legal protection. When damage is caused through criminal acts or neglect, the common question is who is responsible for repair and restoration. In my constituency, thankfully, Enfield council quickly responded by temporarily replacing the plaques, and they will soon be fully restored. However, the law needs to reflect the impact of desecration. There is, of course, the physical damage and the financial cost to the community of cleaning away the graffiti, repairing damage or replacing any stolen items such as bronze plaques. Many memorials were erected in the aftermath of the first world war and have since become a part of our heritage and our community. They are our connection to the past. The desecrators not only cause damage and steal property, but break the crucial link with past generations who have provided the remembrance. Such a break can sometimes be irreparable. More fundamentally, war memorials represent the values of our country. An attack on a war memorial represents an attack on our deeply held values, our freedoms and our democracy.
Who are those people carrying out these acts of desecration? Some incidents, like the widely reported case of a Leeds student urinating on a war memorial, are the result of reckless binge drinking. Then there are the mindless acts of destruction where memorials are
smashed to bits and nothing taken. Finally, and most serious of all, are the deliberate attacks aimed at desecrating the symbolic value of war memorials. I have come across several incidents of Nazi swastikas being sprayed on to war memorials. One of these included a memorial built to remember the victims of the holocaust. I find this particularly abhorrent, given that many of those memorials commemorate men who died fighting to keep this country free of fascism. Whether the actions are as a result of disrespect or deliberate malice, we must have tough sanctions.
So what is the state of the law at the moment? Currently there is no specific provision for desecration of a war memorial. The problem with the law, as it stands, is that it primarily accounts for seriousness on the basis of financial value of the damage. Unless the damage caused costs more than £5,000 to repair and replace, the maximum sentence that the magistrates court can hand down is three months in prison. This simply does not accurately reflect the seriousness of the crime.
The Bill would amend the Criminal Damage Act 1971 to recognise damage to war memorials. Crown Court judges would have the power to deal with these cases, with up to 10 years' imprisonment at their disposal. Presently, there are no complete figures for attacks on war memorials. By recognising war memorials in statute, we would help the reporting of such incidents. Another benefit of this Bill would be the creation of a proper legal definition for war memorials. This has been the aim of the War Memorials Trust for some time. By clarifying this definition, we would be able to tackle not just desecration but the problem of neglect.
I appreciate that my Bill has no chance of becoming law in this Parliament, but I hope that a future Parliament will consider the whole issue of protection of war memorials. In the meantime, I hope that sentencing guidelines can be revised. Also I am sure that a war memorials all-party parliamentary group will be shortly formed, with a challenge for 2014 on the centenary of the outbreak of the first world war to have all memorials properly registered.
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