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4.40 pm

Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): Let me begin by paying tribute to the fine speech of the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy). While we may be on different sides of the House, his passion and commitment to his constituency really came across, and I wish him a long and successful parliamentary career.

It is with considerable pleasure, Mr Deputy Speaker, that I stand before you as the newly elected Member of Parliament for Stalybridge and Hyde, a place that I am proud to call my home as well as my constituency. May I express my gratitude to you for allowing me to make this maiden speech, and to my friends, neighbours and colleagues for electing me as their Member of Parliament?

I wish, in the customary fashion, to say something about my predecessor, the right hon. James Purnell. Many in the House will know James from his work as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and before that as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. James will be a hard act to follow. Not only did he enjoy an impressive ministerial career in the nine years that he spent here, but before he had even arrived he was credited with having drawn up the blueprint for Britain's system of media regulation when still in his mid-twenties.

But James is also fondly remembered in Stalybridge and Hyde as a conscientious constituency Member of Parliament. We are particularly grateful for his tireless lobbying for our new schools-of which there are now several, with more on the way-for his commitment to the regeneration of our parks and public spaces such as Stamford park, and for his unstinting support for local community groups such as RASH in the Ridge Hill area of Stalybridge, where his support helped them to establish a communal garden, launch projects to cut antisocial behaviour, and open a drop-in centre for local residents.

Most of all, James has my admiration for always being a politician prepared to deal in the business of ideas. At times British politics can appear to run on orthodoxies, and people like James who can see beyond those should be cherished. I believe that the House will miss him.

It is with great sadness that I must report that one of my first duties as a Member of Parliament will be to attend tomorrow the funeral of Corporal Harvey Holmes, a soldier from my constituency from 1st Battalion The Mercian Regiment who was serving in Afghanistan, fighting to bring some of the freedoms that we enjoy in this country to a troubled part of the world. I know that all Members will join me in sending best wishes to Corporal Holmes's family.

I wish to use this opportunity to record my admiration for, and gratitude to, men and women like Corporal Holmes for their outstanding devotion and service to their country. It seems to me that in a world where a person can be described as a hero for a performance on
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a sports pitch or an appearance on a television talent show, we so often forget the true meaning of words like "heroism" and "courage". In my time in this House I will never forget their true meaning, and I hope I will always be known as a friend of this country's armed forces.

I am immensely proud of my constituency and the localities that make it up: the towns of Stalybridge, Hyde and Mossley, and the villages of Broadbottom, Hollingworth, Mottram and Hattersley-to which I owe a particular debt, as they allowed me to begin my political career by electing me to Tameside metropolitan borough council. I should also not forget to mention the town of Dukinfield, for which, owing to its division between two constituencies, I share the honour of parliamentary representation with my hon. Friend-and good friend-the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne). Together, those towns and villages form part of the borough known as Tameside, on the eastern side of the great city of Manchester.

I would recommend a visit to my constituency to any Member of the House. Whether it is the beautiful countryside of Werneth Low or the Longdendale Valley, the atmosphere of the buffet bar at Stalybridge station or the distinct character of the town of Mossley, there is much to enjoy and appreciate. Most of all, however, it is the people of my constituency who make it what it is.

We are proud and hard-working people, providing an example of the enduring ability of the British people to adapt to changing times. In 1844, no less a man than one Friedrich Engels visited my constituency when writing his book on the condition of the working class in England, and described Stalybridge in the following terms:

I am pleased to say that today Stalybridge is a pleasant and prosperous place, unrecognisable as the town that Engels visited. However the themes that motivated Engels' writings-the force of industrial change and the resulting social problems-are an illustration of the enduring nature of the political challenges that this House is called to address. For today the people of my constituency are faced with forces of change no less powerful than those that Engels observed, but whereas he observed how working people's lives were being changed by the powerful force of industrialisation, today we can just as easily observe the effects of the force of globalisation. It is a force that has left many feeling vulnerable, insecure and concerned for their future, yet it is a force that cannot be stopped or turned back, any more than the luddites could turn back the process of industrialisation. The question for us is: how can we harness this force, shape it and turn it to the advantage of constituencies such as mine?

I believe that it is the role of Government to help people in my constituency to do this. In making that point I wish to make it clear that I do not advocate a
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return to the days of the state running every aspect of our lives, or a return to the paternalism of the past. Government must steer, not row. They must give people the skills with which to compete in this new world, give them opportunities to retrain in the face of global adjustments, and set the rules by which we all stand a chance to fulfil our potential. In addition, Government must be prepared to tackle the inequalities that stand in the way of that fulfilment. I believe the previous Government made a significant contribution to doing that. My constituency now has better schools, better housing and better health care than in 1997, but we should also recognise that tackling inequality is about more than just providing new buildings; it is about what goes on inside them.

We need to inspire our young people to have higher aspirations. We need a society based on values, not just material value. We also need to be prepared to take on vested interests when they attempt to block our progress. We must be tough on poverty, and tough on the causes of poverty, not just because that is fair, but because, in today's global world, we need to unleash the capacity of every one of our citizens, or be prepared to see ourselves overtaken by the nations that do.

I shall end by saying something about the political times we find ourselves in. I first came to this House as a student on a trip from my college, and it created in me a sense of wonder that has stayed with me ever since. It is my sincere regret that its reputation, and that of politics generally, has been so diminished by the events of the last few years. We as Members of this new Parliament have a great deal of work to do to repair some of the damage. That will involve not only how we conduct ourselves as individuals, but how we go about reforming our entire political system, and I believe that this House needs to make sure that in a world dominated by coverage of the Executive branch of Government, we do not forget the supremacy of Parliament and how it can be used to enable a national dialogue on matters of national contention.

I believe that this House needs to remember that on many issues, cross-party co-operation will yield results much faster than exaggerated dividing lines. I also believe that this House needs to make real progress towards reforming the House of Lords, and to take seriously the opportunity to amend the voting system that sends us all here to the House of Commons. Most of all, however, I believe that what this great House needs is great parliamentarians. In my time in Parliament, it will be my humble aspiration to attempt to be one.

4.48 pm

Mr Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds), who made a deeply sincere and moving speech that reminded us all what heroism is all about. This debate started with an outstanding speech by my right hon. Friend the new Foreign Secretary and there have been a number of maiden speeches, including excellent ones by my hon. Friends the Members for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris) and for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), and the best maiden speech I think I have ever heard, from my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart). I look forward to the winding-up speech from my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox), who I am delighted to see is our new Secretary of State for Defence.

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I am particularly pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Mr Luff) is sitting on the Front Bench in his role as a Defence Minister. He is part of the strong Ministry of Defence team, which will be grappling with what, frankly, is a nightmare in the strategic defence and security review. I cannot think of a better team to do it, but it will face a huge mismatch: the resources available have dropped from 5.5% of national GDP in the 1980s to 2.2% today-a fall of 60%-at a time when in Afghanistan we are involved in the bloodiest war since Korea. Moreover, the grim news coming out of Korea reminds us that, at the other end of the military spectrum, nuclear proliferation among some deeply unattractive countries is a real threat.

There is a temptation to focus on Afghanistan. As the representative of a garrison city proud to be home to the Argylls, to whom we gave the freedom of the city recently, and the 3rd Battalion The Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment-a Territorial Army battalion-nobody needs to remind me how important it is to support our troops in Afghanistan in every way that we can. However, it is important to remember that very few of the wars in which we have participated over the past 100 years have been expected: 48 hours before the invasion of the Falklands nobody expected that war to take place; less than six months before the first Gulf war, the Ministry of Defence had categorically ruled out any possibility of deploying armoured troops outside the NATO area; and hours before 9/11 anyone who had said that we would be involved in a long-term conflict in Afghanistan would, to put it mildly, have been thought mad.

That is why we must maintain a full range of capabilities and not allow the new strategic defence review to reshape our armed forces simply around the immediate pressing needs of Afghanistan. How then are we to square the impossible mismatch between keeping a full range of military capabilities and the fact that, although the Treasury team has done well in protecting the defence budget so far, nobody believes that extra money will be available? I put it to the House that that cannot be done without tackling the spiralling cost of manpower. As the son of a Regular Army officer, I have, over the years, campaigned for better treatment for the wounded, for better housing for the armed forces, for the protection of their pensions and for a range of allowances, and although I welcome every word of what we have said on the military covenant-I am sure that we will deliver it-we must recognise that the current model is close to being broken.

Most major countries regard defence as an activity of the nation and, although their professional armed forces form an important component, it is not the only one. We have many reasons to be proud of our armed forces, but we must consider how others do things. There are two main models: most European countries, apart from France, use a conscription-based model, so most people pass through the armed forces. Russia and China use the same model. Alternatively, other English-speaking countries, which are fighting alongside us in Afghanistan, use a balanced mixture of regular and volunteer reserve forces, as we always used to do, including in both world wars. Almost alone, we are heading towards having almost all-professional armed forces, and that is extremely expensive. Of course we must look after them in every way that we can, but the costs of pay, allowances, pensions, housing and so on make such an approach very expensive.

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Such an approach also means having a huge divide between the armed forces and a civilian world that rightly looks with great favour on the armed forces but understands little about them, and ensures that there is no framework for expansion. Almost half of America's pilots, including a third of their fast jet fighter squadrons, are in the Air Guard or US Air Force Reserve, and America's naval reserve has an aircraft carrier, whereas our Royal Auxiliary Air Force has no fighter pilots, let alone squadrons, and the Royal Naval Reserve has no vessels. Even the shrinking and hard-worked Territorial Army represents a much smaller proportion of ground forces than do its English-speaking counterparts: the figure is a quarter compared with nearly half for Australia and Canada and much more than half for America.

This review offers the opportunity to reconnect our splendid professional forces with outside thinking from the civilian world, to retain unutilised capabilities that would otherwise become unaffordable in the volunteer reserves and to keep a capacity to expand in order to face that unexpected conflict that may come around the corner.

That does not have to mean a compromise in standards. The highest scoring tank regiment in the first Gulf war was the 4th US Marine Division Reserve Tank Battalion from Seattle, all volunteer reservists. British units can do it too. My former regiment, 21 Special Air Service, had a squadron in Afghanistan last year. I am not giving away any secrets by saying that they got two military crosses-again, they are volunteer reservists.

On land, important capabilities, such as much of our heavy armour and artillery, could be transferred to the Territorial Army. In the air, a fast jet fighter pilot costs £4 million to train. In America, he would be likely to go into the Air Guard; in Britain, all that money is burnt when he ceases his service. At sea, we are reliant for the protection of our ports on an anti-mining capability tied up in 16 vessels and 16 regular crews. Why do we not have volunteer reserve crews so that we can work them round the clock if there is a serious mining threat to our ports?

All these things can be done, but they require imagination and good quality volunteers and leadership. Sadly, the word is that neither the Royal Air Force nor the Royal Navy are considering any radical options at all. Perhaps worst of all, the Army, the one service that has a volunteer reserve of some size, was, at least until the election, considering an absurd model of replacing the current structure with, instead of Territorial Army units, a pool of manpower bolted on to regular units with no identity, no premises of their own and no opportunities for command at regimental level. Such a structure is most unlikely to attract high-quality men and women willing, at the end of a full week spent on a demanding job, to train and give up their time to serve their country. Let us remember that they serve, too: 16 Territorials and one air reservist have been killed in action in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past seven years.

We need to address this issue. Over the time that I have been in Parliament, I have always spoken up for the regular forces, but I have also come to believe that we cannot continue with the current model. We are out of line with all our English-speaking counterparts and it is not affordable. There is no prospect whatsoever of the combined staff in the MOD considering these solutions. They will do so only if Ministers, and I have the greatest
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confidence in the new team, make them do so and bring people into the teams-one possible name is Richard Holmes, a former director of reserves and cadets and a very distinguished military academic-who are willing to do so. We will be reconstituting the all-party reserve forces group next month and we will be playing a small role on the outside.

The whole House is rightly proud of our professional armed forces, but we should be proud of our volunteer reserves, too. We must recognise that the current virtually all-professional model is close to bust and that unless we shift towards a better balanced structure, our ability to respond to the unexpected threat will disappear altogether.

4.58 pm

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier), who over many years has illuminated the House with forceful thoughts on these questions. I hope that he and some of the other defence experts who have spoken are listened to, because, as I shall seek to argue, we need some serious new strategic thinking.

First, let me pay tribute to the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), the hon. Members for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris) and for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) for their remarkable, warm, witty, passionate and lovely speeches. They reminded me of my first time 16 years ago. Frankly, I am as excited and nervous now as I was then. We have heard from hon. Members who will make a big contribution to the House of Commons.

Before I focus on Afghanistan and NATO, I want to invite the House to consider that the Prime Minister, unfortunately, misled the House yesterday-inadvertently, I am sure. He said, in response to a question of mine, that


While we have been sitting today, I have received an e-mail from Dr Rafal Pankowski, the expert on these matters in Warsaw, saying:

European Parliament,

For the benefit of Members, the ECR group is, of course, the Conservative-created European parliamentary group, the European Conservatives and Reformists. So, there we have the Prime Minister, inadvertently I am sure, misleading the House because he is relying on party propaganda. He has not yet adjusted to the fact that he is the Prime Minister of our nation and must be absolutely accurate in what he says.

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Let me quote another sentence from yesterday's Loyal Address debate. When talking about Afghanistan, the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley) said:

I have for several years sat and listened to the tributes to the dead and fallen, weeping internally, as many Members have. I think again and again of a poem of Siegfried Sassoon, which I have altered slightly:

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