Previous Section Index Home Page

Mark Pritchard: The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that point. I know that he has spent a long time thinking about the issue during his long service on the Defence
15 Mar 2010 : Column 677
Committee. I pay tribute to him, and to his colleagues on both sides of the House who also serve on the Committee. In answer to his question, I would say that it is incumbent on all Members to go to their constituencies, as I do, and try to make the case for the mission in Afghanistan.

My fourth point-it is as important as the first and second points, but perhaps not as important as the third-is that if al-Qaeda, its affiliates and the Taliban regrouped in Afghanistan, whether together or separately, Afghanistan would become a failed state again. Having regrouped, those organisations would set up their terrorist training camps and launch themselves into different parts of the world, including, I believe, the cities of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Keetch: When our forces come home, whether to Wootton Bassett or any other town or city-as the hon. Gentleman knows, the Rifles will parade through Hereford on 1 May-vast numbers of people are out there to welcome them home. Does that not demonstrate that although there may be concerns about the political issues relating to Afghanistan, the support for the men and women in our forces on the ground is absolutely solid?

Mark Pritchard: The hon. Gentleman makes some good points. I grew up in Herefordshire and would like to pay tribute to the Special Air Service, which has taken significant casualties in terms of loss of life and injuries. The House recognises the major contribution of the special forces and the Special Forces Support Group, including the Special Boat Squadron, which has played and is playing a significant part in Afghanistan. I am glad that the city of Hereford is recognising the excellent and significant contribution of the Rifles. I was in Basra palace in Iraq the day that some of the infantry and light infantry regiments became 2 Rifles. The Rifles have taken significant losses even over the last few days and weeks. The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that the case has to be made time and again, and it is incumbent on all of us as MPs to make the case in our constituencies. The media must also ensure that their reporting of the war is fair and balanced and takes on board the comments of Members who have visited Afghanistan many times. The media in this country and others have sadly lost colleagues in Afghanistan and Iraq, and we pay tribute to those journalists who are prepared to go to the front line to report back the very issues that we agree this evening need to be reported to the British public.

On Argentina and the Falkland Islands, I am glad that the Secretary of State made it absolutely clear that the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands is not in question and that there is no dialogue or negotiating going on with the struggling Government of President Kirchner in Argentina. I am also glad that reference was made to the Government's resolve to ensure that the military garrison on the Falkland Islands is staffed up to the levels that would be required to ensure that the right message is sent back to Buenos Aires. I would not expect the Minister to comment but I hope also that the appropriate level of naval protection will be sent or is in the area, including submarine protection. I hope the Minister agrees that it would be far better for the international community, particularly those Latin American
15 Mar 2010 : Column 678
countries and our Commonwealth cousins, for the Royal Navy to be going to places such as the gulf of Aden and the Indian ocean off the east coast of Africa and the horn of Africa to protect international shipping, including shipping from Latin America, the Caribbean area and-dare I say it?-the United States, rather than sending more ships to the south Atlantic to respond to the Argentine Government's rhetoric and actions. I hope that the great people of Argentina will see beyond the unhelpful and highly charged political rhetoric of President Kirchner and say that this is not a route down which they wish to go again. They have been there before and the consequences were severe for that nation. We stand completely behind the people of the Falkland Islands.

We heard an intervention earlier on armoured vehicles and on BAE Land Systems. It is regrettable that nearly 100 years since the first use of the tank-a British invention-in 1916 at the battle of the Somme, which was referred to earlier, it is likely that the manufacture of armoured vehicles in the United Kingdom will cease as a result of the Government's dither and delay over the new armoured reconnaissance vehicle. I would have wanted the CV90, the scout vehicle, to go to BAE Land Systems, not only because it does a great job in my constituency but because it would have kept that defence engineering capability within the United Kingdom, rather than its being outsourced to General Dynamics, which will use companies in Austria and elsewhere. If that is not the case and the Government have not awarded the contract to GD, I hope the Minister will make that clear this evening. If there has been a cancellation of the whole scout project, I hope the Minister will make that clear as well. It is clear that the British Army requires that vehicle, as well as the new cannon on the Warrior. That is long overdue and it affects my constituents, who work so hard and so well at BAE Land Systems and the Defence Support Group in Donnington.

The Minister was kind enough to write to me today and he has informed the House today that Operation Borona-the draw-down of some of the British Army of the Rhine from Germany that was due to take place in 2013-14-will now be delayed, for the large part, to 2018, a five-year delay. What does that mean for the west midlands? The Secretary of State is an MP from the west midlands, and the former Defence Minister, now a senior Whip-the right hon. Member for Warley (Mr. Spellar)-who has just taken his place on the Front Bench also represents the region. Defence procurement and manufacturing are critical to the west midlands. What does the delay in the draw-down of British troops mean for the west midlands and west midlands jobs?

In 2013, a significant number of people will need to leave RAF Cosford in Shropshire to be relocated to Wales as a result of the defence training review. I am one of many who believe that the defence training review project-the largest private finance initiative in British history, at £13 billion-has been flawed from the very beginning. The vast majority of people whom the MOD expects to move to Wales will be unable or unwilling to do so for a wide variety of reasons, one of them being the price differentials in housing. I pay tribute to the PCS union for the hard work it does in my constituency. If the union is right-it often is-more than 74 per cent. of the existing personnel at RAF Cosford will not be able to go down to St. Athan as part of the DTR project.

15 Mar 2010 : Column 679

Let us say that the majority do move to Wales in 2013. Previously the west midlands region was unhappy about that, but had consoled itself by thinking that the British Army would backfill vacancies into places such as Cosford. However, the written ministerial announcement today of the delay until 2018 means that there will be a five-year gap from when people leave Cosford until the British Army returns to the west midlands. I hope the Minister will tonight say what will happen to RAF Cosford in that five-year period. I understand that BBC Midlands this evening has run a story in which an MOD statement suggested that job losses will not necessarily be forthcoming and are not inevitable. Will the Minister confirm that that is his view? Will he go further and say that he will guarantee that there will be no job losses at RAF Cosford as a result of the delays to Operation Borona? The people of the west midlands are right to want the British Army spending British pounds in British towns, not in German towns.

Despite the peace dividend in Northern Ireland, there has recently been an increase in dissident activity, and I hope that as the MOD scrabbles around to make up for the many financial planning errors it has made-with the oversight of Ministers-it will not leave the Security Service and the Police Service of Northern Ireland without the necessary level of support from the Northern Ireland garrison. There have been some sharp attacks on people who have given long and distinguished service to our nation, such as former Chiefs of the Defence Staff and of the various services, and that is unfortunate because, ultimately, it is Ministers who decide; yes, they take advice from senior military officials, but it is Ministers who make the final decision. I therefore think it wrong for the buck to be passed.

Turning to the horn of Africa, it is intriguing that, despite the Royal Navy and other navies from Europe and around the world being deployed in the area, piracy there has increased. There needs to be a review of the Royal Navy and international navy presence in the horn of Africa. If that is not delivering the results we all want, instigating a review would be a sensible step.

Last week, I mentioned in the House that automatic ship transponders, which give ships' global positioning, are apparently being turned off by some shipping companies because they fear that some Somali pirates are able to track them. That issue needs to be raised with the International Maritime Organisation and with shipping companies directly. Turning transponders off does not help the international navies in trying to protect ships, and it also might make insurance null and void. This is a serious matter.

The rules of engagement are extremely important too. I would be interested to learn whether the Minister has had any discussions with his Foreign Office colleagues on how pirates might be brought before the courts. I know that the British Government have been liaising closely with the Government of Kenya, but there has not been as much progress as we would perhaps have wanted. It is therefore right that the British Government should look for other partners in the region-such as Tanzania-where these pirates can be brought before the courts.

Cyber-security has been mentioned this evening, and a couple of Members asked what is happening in the House on that issue. I am pleased to be able to say that a
15 Mar 2010 : Column 680
new all-party group on cyber-security has been established, albeit only three months ago. I had the great honour of being elected its chairman, and I invite all Members who are interested in cyber-security to get involved; we have some great speakers lined up over the next few weeks. It is a very important issue and I hope we can increase knowledge, awareness and understanding of it in the House in the coming years-subject to the re-election of myself and other members of the all-party group. I should also put on the record that I am not an expert on the issue, but I do have a particular interest in it.

When Iran is mentioned in the House, it is often in order to discuss its nuclear programme. We should be in no doubt that there is a nuclear programme in Iran. It is right that we should highlight that, and we need to try to deal with the threat as soon as possible. I hope the international community, and our European partners in particular, will row in the same direction, so we work together to ensure that sanctions are put in place and are effective.

I am particularly concerned about reports that some German companies are trying to find a way around the sanctions regime, especially as one or two of them are engineering companies. It is important that the German Government realise that sanctions are going to work only if we all work together. It is not right for German companies to undermine the European and international sanctions effort.

Notwithstanding the nuclear question, when we look around the world we can frequently see the malevolent, repressive and destabilising influence of the Iranian regime-not the Iranian people, but the regime. Let me therefore take us on a brief global tour in order to see where Iran is involved. In Latin America, President Ahmadinejad has visited President Chavez-and, indeed, President Putin has also visited Venezuela. It is clear that the hand of Iran is seeking to be a destabilising influence in Latin America, and it is succeeding. In particular, it is trying to stir up trouble between Colombia and Venezuela. That is unhelpful to the region, as it will not serve to attract foreign investment; in fact, it will scare potential foreign investors off. President Chavez of Venezuela needs to keep better company, and to focus on getting people back into jobs in Venezuela and on helping the poor in his country.

The hand of Iran is also stirring up trouble in Eritrea and Somalia in the horn of Africa, while in Europe it is still stirring up trouble in the Balkans. All over the world, the hand of Iran is a repressive, malevolent and destructive force. There are therefore many reasons why we should deal with Iran, notwithstanding the nuclear question. I could also name other countries, of course, such as Lebanon, Iraq and even Afghanistan. There is no doubt that the hand of the Iranian Government is still active there, and it is a dark hand that I believe is a threat to the United Kingdom's national security.

There has been some criticism of soft power from Members tonight, and I think there is some merit in those criticisms. However, I want to put on the record my tribute to the work of the British Council, the BBC World Service, school and university exchange programmes and the Chevening scholarships. All play an important role in projecting the UK's soft power and in promoting our values. They are not arms of the state-although the BBC World Service might take a different view-but it is important that we remember that these levers of
15 Mar 2010 : Column 681
soft power are vital elements in our international diplomacy. We reduce the resourcing and support for them at our peril. Britain is a force for good and should continue to be so, but it can use the levers of diplomacy and soft power and promote all the many things that make this nation great only if it has strong armed forces: strong peace through strong defence.

8.29 pm

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, South-West) (Lab/Co-op): Like other hon. Members who have spoken, I should like to pay tribute to those who serve and, in particular, to those who have fallen. I should also like to recognise the immense support provided by their families.

I want to start by talking about the strategic defence review that is going to take place. The hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) gave a thorough account of the areas that he wished it to cover. If we are to have a foreign policy-led, values-led, ethical review, it will not be quick, and I want to pursue with the Opposition the question of what would happen while the review was taking place, particularly in relation to major procurement matters.

The Conservatives have said that they intend to examine the break clauses in the aircraft carrier contracts on day one of coming into office, but it is not clear whether they would use that information to press the pause button and put those contracts on hold until the review was complete. Unless they allowed construction of the aircraft carriers to continue, there would be a danger of escalating costs, work forces being dispersed, and the like. It is therefore reasonable for me, as a representative of a constituency with shipbuilding interests, to speak on behalf of the work force and appeal to the Conservatives to abandon their idea of examining the break clauses on day one, because it is simply causing fear and trepidation among the work force.

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): The hon. Gentleman is quite right to be an advocate for his constituents, but he is quite wrong to spread fear and unhappiness among them. He must know that the position of the Opposition is very similar to that of the Government on this matter. I am sure that Ministers know where the break clauses are; we simply do not. It is wrong of him to pretend that there is some massive difference between the positions of the Government and the Opposition on the aircraft carriers, and I hope that he will set the matter straight.

Mr. Davidson: As I understand it, the massive difference between the Government and the Opposition is that we have to gaze into a crystal ball to see what the Opposition will do, because we do not know. The only unequivocal statement that they have made is that they would examine the break clauses. We do not need a crystal ball to understand what the Government are doing, however, because we can read the book and see what they have actually done. They have placed the orders for the aircraft carriers. I have been at ceremonies in my constituency and elsewhere where steel has started to be cut. That is the record of the Government. The Opposition, however, have said that they intend to put the whole matter under review and to examine the break clauses on day one. The Government have never said that they intended to look at the break clauses on day one. That is the difference.

15 Mar 2010 : Column 682

Dr. Murrison: The hon. Gentleman is indulging in the narcissism of small differences. That would be fine and academic if it were not spreading unnecessary alarm among his constituents. Has he had an unequivocal commitment to the aircraft carriers from his hon. Friends?

Mr. Davidson: I am satisfied with the commitments that I have had from the Ministry. I am absolutely clear where the Minister and his colleagues stand on this matter. They have been unequivocal in their discussions with me about their commitment to the aircraft carriers. They have invited me along to a variety of events, at which I have heard them expressing their commitment. I have been there when they have cut steel as part of the work on the aircraft carriers in my constituency. I have discussed with them various things that need to be put on to the carriers, some of which are far too complicated for a mere mortal to understand.

Regrettably, I have not had the same commitment from the Opposition, who have told the trade unions that, on day one of a Conservative Government, they would examine the break clauses. They were not forced to say that to the unions; they chose to do so. There is, therefore, some trepidation about their intentions, particularly as they are tying up the future of the aircraft carriers with the strategic defence review. The review will clearly be a complex exercise, for reasons that I understand, and it will undoubtedly take some considerable time. The danger, from the Opposition's point of view, is that their options could be closed off if the review took so long that the aircraft carriers were finished before it was complete. That would obviously negate the point of examining the break clauses.

Mr. Arbuthnot: These speeches that the hon. Gentleman makes are always extremely entertaining, but perhaps he would like to think about the fact that the Government do not need to say that they will examine the break clauses on day one because the Government wrote the break clauses. If the Government wrote the break clauses, presumably that was with the idea of possibly breaking them.

Mr. Davidson: But the Government have given no indication that on day one of the next Labour Government-or on any other day-they intend possibly to activate the clauses, whereas the shadow Minister has indicated to the unions that on day one the Conservatives intend to examine the break clauses. It is perfectly clear that that is the position. The work force went away aghast at the Conservatives' position. They were, I must say, much happier with the position of the Liberals who, on this matter at least-if only on this matter-seem to be a much nicer lot altogether. They said quite clearly that they were committed to the future of the aircraft carriers.

Dr. Murrison: It is important to get this straight, so I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for being generous in giving way so that that can be done. Will he say who wrote the break clauses, who signed up to them and what he thinks was in their minds when they did the signing?

Mr. Davidson: I would take the view that break clauses are appropriate in all contracts above a certain level so that should the project go awry, should it
15 Mar 2010 : Column 683
explode in money terms, should it be seen to be inappropriate, should we discover that it was not going to be produced timeously or should the company involved collapse, there is a way of getting out of it. There must always be some way of getting out of it; that seems to me to be acceptable commercial practice. However, the Government are not saying that on day one of the next Government they will examine the break clauses, presumably with the intention of getting out of the contract.

We need the Conservative party to make quite clear what they intend to do with the information that they have about the break clauses. If the hon. Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison) tells me in his response to the debate that the Opposition will drop altogether the suggestion that they will examine the break clauses on the aircraft carrier contracts, I will go back and tell my constituents that the Conservatives are no longer imperilling their jobs by insisting on examining the break clauses on day one of a Conservative Government. That is what I look for.

I also want the Government to give some indication of what they intend to do once the aircraft carriers are completed. That is where an indication of their plan for the Type 26 would fit in. I hope that they will be able to give us an announcement later this week that they intend to take the Type 26 to the next appropriate level. That would give an enormous boost to morale in my and other shipbuilding constituencies. It would show a clear contrast between those who are proceeding with the aircraft carrier and who are now proceeding with the Type 26, and those who are considering break clauses on day one of any future Government. I hope that that point has not been too subtle for people to pick up. It seems to me to be a particularly important one.

Let me turn to a subject that has been touched on by a couple of hon. Members: the political ambush that was recently mounted by the allegedly neutral Cross Bencher, Lord Guthrie. I thought that it was particularly interesting that he was quoted in the paper as having said that the Prime Minister


Next Section Index Home Page