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I can tell my right hon. Friend that I have already asked the civil service at the MOD to draw up plans that will allow greater scrutiny in real time by the
Select Committee of MOD projects, rather than having to wait for post-mortems by the National Audit Office. I think we should try to replicate what occurs in other legislatures if we are to have a genuine change in how we carry out government in this country.
The Defence Committee must be independent, and must be well informed both about defence and about how the MOD operates internally. It must work together as a Committee and have a relationship with government that is constructive but never cosy; it must be polite, but also determined, searching and rigorous. Parliament needs the Select Committees to work, because that is Parliament working at its very best.
Dr Brian Iddon came to Parliament in 1997 after long and distinguished service in local government politics. A chemist by profession, he has the distinction of being the first Member of Parliament after the gunpowder plot to be allowed to bring gunpowder into the House, and to explode it in Westminster Hall. The House need not fear, however, as I will not be doing the same, because, in the immortal words of my mother, I don't have nimble fingers, and I am more likely to set myself alight than to set the world alight.
Brian was a hard-working and diligent constituency Member, who was able to get tremendous amounts of resources for our constituency, such as ensuring that Bolton college became Bolton university, and securing the additional colleges and the science and technology institute, and the £30 million for the neonatal unit at Royal Bolton hospital. In Parliament, he managed to have a number of private Member's Bills passed, including the most recent piece of legislation which provides protection for tenants in properties that are being repossessed.
One of the things that unites all new Members is our enthusiasm for talking about our constituency. Bolton South East is one of the three constituencies created to represent the Bolton area, with a population of more than 100,000. It is the largest town in Great Britain, and was recently voted the friendliest town. I can vouch for the veracity of that accolade: there has been a lot of talk about immigration both inside and outside this House, but I have to say that the natives of Bolton accepted me, as a southern immigrant, into the bosoms of their hearts. I do wish to make a serious point: Bolton has always welcomed people from across the world. The important thing is that communities should integrate, but they should not be pushed into assimilating.
Historically, Bolton has been a mill town, and the urbanisation that developed in Bolton largely coincided with the industrial revolution. Bolton has always been a town that has made things. In the famous and pioneering mass observation study carried out between 1937 and 1940 it was known as "Worktown". In its heyday as an industrial manufacturing town, its skyline was indeed a forest of chimneys, most of which served the textile industry, of which Bolton was a world-famous centre. Heavy engineering, foundries, bleaching, tanning and
coal mining were also major employers. The beauty of the moorland countryside within my constituency may come as a pleasant surprise to visitors still expecting factory chimneys and clogs. Even now, Bolton retains some traditional industries, employing people in aerospace, paper manufacturing, packaging, textiles, transportation, steel foundries and building materials. I mention that list because there is such a wealth of talent and knowledge in Bolton South East that I urge entrepreneurs and business people to come to Bolton and set up businesses there. It is a good place to do business.
Bolton has a proud past, but it also has a glorious future. Our team is in the premier league, and so are the people of Bolton South East. Bolton also has a magnificent town hall, a vibrant retail town centre, new developments as result of the past 13 years of record investment by previous Labour Governments, pedestrian-friendly shopping streets, an acclaimed theatre and a new university. I will also be pressing hard and campaigning to ensure that Bolton council's bid to obtain city status by 2012 will be approved by the Queen; Bolton certainly deserves it.
I first came to the House of Commons to visit when I was about 15, with the then Member of Parliament for Watford, Tristan-now Lord-Garel-Jones. When I saw him in the House last week, I told him that I had come to the House at his invitation, and that I was now a Labour Member. He said, "What did I do, to make you regress and join the Labour party?" Well, he did nothing wrong; he was a wonderful Member of Parliament-but my politics, of course, lie with the Labour party.
There can be no better privilege for anyone than to represent their fellow citizens in this Parliament and in this land of the mother of Parliaments, and I am deeply grateful to the people of Bolton South East for allowing me the opportunity to represent them. They are wonderful people and it is a lovely constituency. Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me the opportunity to speak today. I also thank the other right hon. and hon. Members for extending the usual courtesies to one who is making a maiden speech. I may not again be listened to in silence in this House, but I promise the constituents of Bolton South East that I will not be silent.
Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi). She may be interested to learn that my first parliamentary campaign took place close to her constituency, in Newton. I am sure that the whole House will have noted the important point-this runs contrary to misplaced and prejudiced stereotypes-that she has been most warmly welcomed in her constituency, as has been confirmed and vindicated by her electoral success. She clearly has great knowledge of her constituency and we very much look forward to hearing more from her on future occasions.
May I also say to my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) what a great pleasure it was for me to be in the House to hear his speech? When we met in the House shortly after he had been elected, he reminded me that we had met before and that he had come to my office in the Ministry of Defence to be interviewed as my military assistant. With the utmost courtesy and civility, he reminded me that I had failed
to select him. He referred to Winston Churchill, who, as we all know, wrote in the front pages of each of the volumes of his great history on the second world war "magnanimity in victory". My hon. Friend undoubtedly has magnanimity in abundance and I know that he will make a most valued contribution, both in his constituency and in this House.
Like other right hon. and hon. Members, I am delighted that my right hon. Friends the Members for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague) and for North Somerset (Dr Fox) are in their respective posts. Their appointments were widely anticipated, but they are, none the less, very encouraging and reassuring for those on this side of the House; we wish them well in their roles.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was entirely right to go to the United States on his first overseas visit within a couple of days of taking up his appointment. I do not know whether Secretary Clinton found him as personally captivating as she clearly did the right hon. Member for South Shields (David Miliband), but whether she did or not, my right hon. Friend was entirely correct to make his first port of call overseas our most important and reliable ally.
In this House, I am sure that we do not forget that others talk the talk about being allies but that when it comes to the heavy lifting, the tough operational situations and the risk of casualties, it is again and again our American allies who walk the walk with us. I hope that that will remain the foundation of our foreign policy and defence policy through this Parliament.
That brings me to Afghanistan. I am very glad that the Gracious Speech coupled the references to Afghanistan with those to Pakistan. The two are inseparable. The success of the Pakistan authorities and military in the badlands of Pakistan-in North and South Waziristan, in the federally administered tribal areas or FATAs and in North West Frontier Province-is inextricably related to the degree of success that we can achieve in the remaining badlands controlled by the Taliban in Afghanistan. We, above all, learned in Northern Ireland that one cannot have any real prospect of success in dealing with cross-border counter-terrorism if one deals with only one side of the border.
The previous Government made an important step in the right direction approximately a year ago. The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs was in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the then Prime Minister was in those two countries at the same time. He announced a programme of bilateral assistance to Pakistan to help it to deal with its terrorist problem. In his opening remarks, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary referred to building on our bilateral relationships with Pakistan and I urge most strongly that our bilateral co-operation with Pakistan should be built on and that additional resources should be provided for it. It is fundamental to the degree of success that we can achieve in Afghanistan.
The further point that I want to make about Afghanistan is that there is one somewhat sobering lesson to be learned from the past 10 years or so, both in Iraq and Afghanistan. Again and again, we have undertaken operational responsibilities and commitments and have been unable to deploy the necessary resources to discharge those commitments fully. In doing so, I believe that we have seriously let down our brave servicemen and women. If anybody was in any doubt about that, I hope that
they saw the "Panorama" programme last Tuesday, which showed what enormous and intolerable pressure our counter-IED teams in Afghanistan have been put under as a result of an insufficiency of trained personnel to deal with that threat.
There is much speculation in the press that we might be asked to take on Kandahar, and I want to make the point to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence that if we are going to take on that responsibility, I trust that we will do so only if we are absolutely satisfied that we have the resources and equipment that our forces need to take on that area, which is the historic heartland of the Taliban.
"In the Middle East, my Government will continue to work for a two-state solution that sees a viable Palestinian state existing in peace and security alongside Israel"
Although a viable Palestinian state remains the goal, and although that policy remains unchanging, what is changing is the situation on the ground. The prospect of a viable Palestinian state is steadily receding because the Palestinian state is now divided into three. There is Gaza, which is effectively a prison, there is East Jerusalem-a semi-prison where there is relentless Israeli pressure to increase the Israeli population and decrease the Palestinian population-and there is the rest of the west bank, where the viability of farms and businesses owned by Palestinians is being jeopardised all the time by Israeli security requirements. I urge my right hon. Friends to do everything they can to try to bring home to the Israeli Government the fact that the policy that they have been pursuing for years of effective de facto annexation of East Jerusalem and the west bank will produce not long-term security for Israel, but long-term insecurity.
On the non-proliferation treaty, I want to cover one aspect that has not been covered so far. In a previous Conservative Government, we achieved what I believe to have been the most significant nuclear arms reduction since nuclear weapons came on the scene-the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty of 1987, in which the entire class of ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges from 5,500 km down to 500 km was scrapped. That agreement between the United States and Russia meant there were zero such weapons on either side. We now have the possibility of completing that process with shorter-range nuclear weapons, and I ask my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench to put that on their agenda. Those weapons are an anachronism, but they exist by the thousand: there are approximately 5,000 in Russian hands and some 1,100 in United States hands. If we were able to get those numbers down to zero and zero for intermediate-range weapons, we ought to be able to do the same for short-range weapons.
I wish my right hon. Friends the Members for Richmond (Yorks) and for North Somerset and the whole Front Bench well in resolving the very major foreign policy and security issues that we face. Above all, I wish them well in keeping the people of this country safe.
Mr Elfyn Llwyd (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): I congratulate most warmly the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) on a very good maiden speech, and the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), who also made a very fine speech.
We in Plaid Cymru have always said that we were against the incursions into Iraq and Afghanistan, and we are disappointed that the Labour-Tory consensus on military action in the past Parliament, coupled with Liberal Democrat dithering, contrasted rather sharply with our belief that our young men and women should be sent into harm's way only under the auspices of the United Nations. Together with my Plaid Cymru colleagues, I voted against the war in Iraq, and I am proud of that fact. I remember seeing the Iraq dossier on the day it was published, when I described it as the least persuasive document in recent political history. It gives me no pleasure at all to say that history has, unfortunately, proved us right, because of the untold carnage in Iraq and the awful state that that country has been left in after the conflict phase.
We in Plaid Cymru also voted against the incursion into Afghanistan, partly because of the history of various conflicts there in the 20th century, particularly the failed attempt by 150,000 Soviet troops to pacify the Afghan tribes. The huge Soviet army eventually retreated, with its tail between its legs, leaving a massive toll of death and destruction in its wake. To us, there did not, at that stage, appear to be an immediate threat from Afghanistan, so we thought it prudent to vote against the incursion.
In November 2001, some of us forced a symbolic vote against this. About 15 or 18 of us voted. The Sun then printed our telephone numbers and invited readers to "call a wobbler", a term it coined for opponents to military action, depicting us with heads like jellies on a plate. We in Plaid Cymru make no apology for sticking to our principles on that matter. We tabled a similar amendment to the last Queen's Speech, asking the Government to set out a full timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan. I have made it clear that I have always thought that we should not be there.
Paul Flynn: The hon. Gentleman's party has an honourable record in calling for an inquiry into Iraq. Does he think that as the Iraq war caused the death of 179 soldiers, and the incursion into Helmand province increased the number of British deaths from seven to 286, it is time that we had an inquiry into that incursion, where it was hoped that not a single shot would be fired?
Mr Llwyd: I agree absolutely with the hon. Gentleman. He and I believe strongly that the incursion is wrong and that it will end in tears. Some of us said at the beginning that it was another Vietnam. At the time, we were laughed at, but I am afraid we are rapidly getting there.
As long as the troops are there, they deserve every possible support. They deserve the best kit, they deserve our support, and they deserve every comfort and care when they return to the UK. Let us face facts. It is not the people out there who are the authors of foreign policy. We in this place, apparently, are the authors of
this unfortunate foreign policy, but it is they who daily have to stand in harm's way. We should respect them for that and give them every possible credit. That is a vital component of the military covenant.
More than 600 servicemen were wounded in Afghanistan last year, and 125 were killed. We are facing the longest continuous military campaign since the Napoleonic wars. The new Government should acknowledge in due course that this is unfortunately a no-win situation. I was pleased to hear the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley), in seconding the Gracious Speech, calling for an early and orderly timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan. I agree.
Matters have been made far worse by large numbers of service personnel making the ultimate sacrifice to prop up the corrupt Karzai Government. Afghanistan has never been a democracy. It is a collection of 50, 60 or more tribes. We will not impose democracy upon anyone. No country will accept democracy imposed upon it. It must want it first. Meantime, we reiterate our call for a properly timetabled exit and commit our full support to the troops in theatre while they are there. That withdrawal must be of immediate importance.
"It is a crying scandal, I think, that at the present moment there are so many soldiers and sailors who have placed their lives at the disposal of the country, and are quite ready to sacrifice them . . . hundreds and thousands do actually leave the Army and the Navy broken through ill health . . . These men leave the Army without any provision from either public or private charity, and they are broken men for the rest of their lives."-[ Official Report, 4 May 1911; Vol. XXV, c. 613.]
Who said these words? When were they uttered? They were spoken in May 1911 in this place by David Lloyd George introducing the National Insurance Bill in Parliament. It is striking that those words are apposite today, nearly a century later, and that is a scandal.
Those words are prescient and have a contemporary ring to them, when concern is expressed today about the non-observance of the military covenant. Furthermore, as I have discovered, thousands of ex-service people from theatres in Iraq and Afghanistan unfortunately end up in prison. This is an issue that I have raised on numerous occasions on the Floor of the House. We need to ensure that returning service people have all the help they need in the form of medical and psychiatric support, education and skills, assistance with employment, housing, and general reintegration into society from a closed and highly regimented lifestyle.
There are beacons of good practice here and there, but we must ensure that every returning service person, regardless of where they come from, is given an equal opportunity to avail themselves of those vital services. Many of the cases before the courts involving servicemen and women could be avoided if we adopted a structured proactive approach to all returnees.
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