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But he did for them both by his plan of attack."
It is time to assert the principle that war is too important a matter to be left to generals. We need to assert the authority of this House and the authority of a politically elected Government over the lack of strategy in Afghanistan. The Canadian Parliament has done that. Canada's Conservative Foreign Minister, Mr Lawrence Cannon, has confirmed that, "In 2011, we're out." So, Canada, our closest English-speaking ally, is saying that enough is enough.
We began yesterday, as we have begun every Prime Minister's questions since June 2003, with the Prime Minister reading out the names of the dead. We cannot continue, Wednesday after Wednesday in this Parliament, reporting the blood sacrifice of our young soldiers and officers. I want to help the new Prime Minister so that he can come to the Dispatch Box without that grim piece of paper to read out. That is why we need to say clearly to the generals, "Your strategy is wrong." We need to move from a policy of confrontation to one of containment. Our strategy must absolutely be based on finding a political solution. We need more jaw-jaw, and less war-war.
Before the election, there was, frankly, a general briefing by too many generals against the then Prime Minister about what was happening in Afghanistan and the support for the Army there. Sadly, the Secretary of State for Defence was part of that shameful and shameless procedure. He is now known around the region as 13th-century Fox. His breathtaking insult of the Afghan people has caused huge damage in the region. He shows the colonial mentality of a Lord Salisbury. President Karzai is an obsessive reader of the UK and American press. The 13th-century insult of the Secretary of State has set back good relations not just with Afghanistan but with other countries in the world. Instead of apologising for his insult-I hope that he will have the grace to do that when he winds up tonight-the Secretary of State has tried to defend and downplay his remarks. That is a disastrous start and it would be no bad thing if he were transferred to another post where he could do no harm.
I also appeal to the Conservative press to stop always simply supporting the generals and to start supporting the soldiers. I have, or had, here a front page of The Sun from February, but I cannot lay my hands on it. "Blitzed Taliban on run" screams the front page of The Sun on 15 February 2010 about the Marjah offensive, and it quotes a Major General Messenger saying:
"Nothing has stopped the mission from progressing",
We need some British generals who will tell the truth, like General McChrystal. We need an Alanbrooke, a latter-day "master of strategy", to quote the inscription on Lord Alanbrooke's statue outside the Ministry of Defence. I wonder whether General McChrystal knew that he was echoing the very words of Mikhail Gorbachev 25 years ago, who described Afghanistan not as a bleeding ulcer, but as a "bleeding wound". It is time to admit that we are not going to win this war. Our object must now be to change and to support our boys, not the generals as they send them to be IED fodder.
What should that strategy consist of? In a word, statecraft must replace warcraft. We need a political solution that will involve compromise. Of course we must ensure that al-Qaeda does not return, and we must work in close collaboration with the United States and with our NATO partners, but NATO is doing itself no good talking up a war it cannot win. We need long-term thinking. It is absurd to have army chiefs rotating every six months. Instead of one six-year war, we have 12 six-month wars.
The Taliban are not stupid. Why fight face to face when planting an IED is just as effective? Yes, our soldiers will always chase them out and behave heroically as they do so, but it is like squeezing a balloon. The can-do, will-do powerpoint style of the generals must be replaced by a real feel for the tribal and political reality and relations of the region. The MOD must allow a fuller discussion by all officers, including junior officers, of their real views and thoughts. We have to accept that Pashtuns will not be told how to run their lives by outsiders in uniforms, and that applies as much to Tajiks as to NATO soldiers.
We must widen out our reach regionally. China has invested $3.5 billion in copper mines in Afghanistan. Iran wants a stable Afghanistan, because Iranians are suffering from huge drug epidemics. Above all, we need to get India and Pakistan talking and working together successfully to find a solution to Kashmir. We heard talk about Afghanistan and Pakistan from the Foreign Secretary, but he did not mention the Pakistan-India link. Until India and Pakistan are at the conference table finding a solution to Kashmir, where 70,000 Muslims have been killed since the state was put under Indian army control 20 years ago, we will have no solution in Pakistan.
That requires regionalising the conflict. We need to get the UN more involved. Can Britain promote a south-west Asian version of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe so that China, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan can work out some problems together? We need to show more respect for India, Pakistan and Afghanistan publicly--unlike the "13th century" remark--but use tougher language privately. The United States,
the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth, our European Union partners and our other main partners must come together to draw up a common strategy. The start of a new Government is a chance. The hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) put forward his innovative idea of a sovereign strategic base in the country to prevent al-Qaeda coming back, but no longer trying to fight and die.
There are other issues to do with NATO, the Baltic states and Poland that I would like to have addressed, had time permitted. However, this is the most important turning point in our military history this century. We must get it right. I hope the Government will do so.
Gordon Birtwistle (Burnley) (LD): I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech so early in the new Parliament. I pay tribute to those who made their maiden speeches before me-the hon. Members for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris), for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) and for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds). I know Stalybridge quite well because I am always delivering precision machine parts to a company based there.
It was a great privilege in the early hours of 7 May to be elected as Member of Parliament for Burnley. Burnley now has a Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament-the first time that Labour has not held the seat since 1935, a period of 75 years. Burnley is a special place at the heart of Pennine Lancashire, with lovely countryside and friendly people. We have an abundance of waterways, canals, rivers and reservoirs, all of which played their part in our industrial heritage, which has sadly declined over the years. The old industries of cotton, textiles, coal and heavy engineering have now all but disappeared. The industries may have declined, but the industrious spirit of the north remains as strong as ever.
One of my main interests in this Parliament is to promote sustained growth in the high-tech, high-value manufacturing sector, both locally and nationally, that will deliver pride and prosperity for this nation. The sector is already well established in Burnley, whose businesses include Aircelle, manufacturer of thrust reversing systems for the Rolls-Royce Trent engines used by airlines around the world; MB Aerospace, which manufactures launch canisters for the American Harpoon missile; Futaba Tenneco, which manufactures major body parts for the current range of Toyota vehicles, which are sold around the world; and many other small high-tech manufacturing companies that serve the aerospace, nuclear and automotive sectors.
We need to ensure that students are provided with the relevant education to prepare them to undertake these high-tech roles. By providing people with the skills that employers require, we will also be providing them with the ability to earn a good living wage. Burnley's new sixth-form college and university campus, which is dedicated to advanced manufacturing, goes some way to delivering these opportunities in Burnley and must be replicated elsewhere across the country.
I give my heartfelt thanks to the constituents of Burnley for having faith in me and the courage to vote for change-change that I believe can be delivered by this new type of coalition Administration, harnessing
the best policies of two fresh parties both committed to raising our country out of the current difficulties, which should not be underestimated.
At this point, it is customary to make reference to the contributions of predecessors. Kitty Ussher represented Burnley for five years, and in that time she gave birth to her two children, Lizzie and George. Kitty realised first hand the problems of combining being a mother and a Member of Parliament, and she began a campaign for family-friendly working hours. Kitty worked hard to help deliver the Building Schools for the Future programme in Burnley and she will be pleased to hear that the final two schools will be opened in time for the commencement of the new school year. Together with all the people of Burnley and Padiham, I wish Kitty success in her future career outside Westminster.
The people of Burnley and Padiham are good, decent and hard working. They are outspoken and direct, and unafraid of speaking their minds. Serving them as a local councillor and council leader for the past 28 years has given me a thorough, in-depth apprenticeship in how best to serve their needs in Parliament. I will always put the needs of the people of Burnley and Padiham first in my parliamentary activities, as I will never forget that their faith in me has brought me here today.
The most pressing current issue for the residents of Burnley and Padiham is the transfer of our accident and emergency unit, which was taken from us in 2008 and relocated 15 congested miles away at the Royal Blackburn hospital. Now, the threat of the transfer of our children's ward to the same hospital, which for many people is accessible only with a great deal of difficulty, is considered to be a step too far. I am heartened to have received a statement from my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary outlining the new coalition Government's vision for locally led NHS service changes. That vision gives me hope that the transfer of the children's ward will not now take place. I will continue to press for the full return of the accident and emergency facilities that are so vital to the 250,000 residents of Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale.
Once again, I thank the people of Burnley for their courage and faith in me. I assure them all that I will always represent them to the best of my ability. Mr Deputy Speaker, I thank the House for listening to my speech this evening.
Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): I very much welcome the opportunity to make my maiden speech in this debate about the future of our armed forces. It is somewhat daunting to follow such excellent contributions, particularly from my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) and the hon. Members for Burnley (Gordon Birtwistle) and for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy). Given that they have set the bar so high for others to follow, I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not quite reach their standard at this, my first attempt.
My predecessor as Member for Dunfermline and West Fife was Mr Willie Rennie, who enjoyed a relatively short parliamentary career, having been elected in a
by-election in February 2006. However, during his brief tenure he certainly made a very large contribution to the fortunes of the Lib Dems in Fife. Mr Rennie almost single-handedly ran their successful Scottish Parliament and council election campaigns in 2007, and I know that his zeal for campaigning will be missed by Liberal Democrats both locally and nationally. We should also congratulate him on his appointment as a special adviser to the Secretary of State for Scotland. I wish him all the best in his new role.
Mr Rennie's predecessor was, of course, Rachel Squire, who enjoyed a much longer period in the House, having been first elected in 1992 as the Member for Dunfermline, West. Throughout her 14 years, she worked tirelessly to represent her constituents. She established a reputation as a fierce defender of local industries, particularly the dockyard. I have been advised by hon. Friends who served as Defence Ministers that they developed an almost Pavlovian reaction of trepidation when they saw her approaching them in the Lobby and in the corridors, such was her dogged commitment to safeguarding the dockyard's future. I hope that perhaps in time I might come to cause the same Pavlovian reaction in some of the Members sitting opposite.
Dunfermline is Scotland's ancient capital city, having served this role for some 500 years. It is the final resting place of Robert the Bruce and the birthplace of Charles I, who was perhaps not the most successful of Scottish expatriates. I hope that the Defence Secretary, who is just the latest Scottish expat, fares better in his dealings with this Parliament.
My constituency contains Longannet power station, which has been providing power to homes and businesses in east and central Scotland for some 40 years, and is now a centre of research for carbon capture and storage. The previous Government demonstrated their commitment to the future of Longannet by funding design and development studies as part of the competition to build one of the world's first commercial-scale carbon capture facilities. The final decision on this competition lies, of course, with the new Government, and I will be pressing the case for Longannet in the months ahead.
My constituency is home to one of Scotland's oldest professional football teams, Dunfermline Athletic. I should perhaps declare an interest here, as I am a tenant of the club from the start of next month. The club celebrates its 125th anniversary next week and was one of the very first British teams to play in Europe, participating in the Cup Winners cup in 1961-62. West Fife has also produced some fine individual international footballers over the years, particularly Hill of Beath's Jim Baxter, who led Scotland to the crown of real world champions in 1967, and Townhill's Billy Liddell, who played almost 500 times for Liverpool, scoring 215 goals. Only last week, I was present at the unveiling of a memorial to Billy in his home village, which I would commend to any Liverpool fans who happen to visit the kingdom of Fife.
West Fifers are very well read, and we are ably served by two newspapers. The Courier was established in 1801 and serves the Fife and Tayside region, with some 80,000 readers a day. It is a fine example of what a quality regional newspaper should offer, balancing national, international and defence coverage with a keen interest in stories that affect readers closer to home. Our constituency newspaper is the Dunfermline Press, which
was founded in 1859 and has more than 20,000 readers. It has a passion for our community and has been at the forefront of many local campaigns in recent years, such as the future of the hospital and the dockyard.
The dockyard is the largest single private sector employer in my constituency and not only provides vital refit and refurbishment services to the Royal Navy surface fleet but sustains hundreds of local manufacturing and engineering jobs. It has a long and proud tradition of sending warships back to the Navy in prime condition for service, and I invite the Minister to visit it with me to see at first hand the excellent work carried out there and to meet the trade unions and management to discuss the future order book.
Of course, people in West Fife are very concerned about the defence review that the Ministry will undertake shortly. As the House will recall, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) gave a clear commitment in the last Parliament that the construction of the two new supercarriers would not be reviewed as part of the strategic defence review. We on the Opposition side of the House recognise the crucial role that the new carriers will play in our nation's defence. Without the two carriers, the Queen Elizabeth and the Prince of Wales, our nation's armed forces would rely wholly on the good will of foreign nations to carry out air operations in any future conflict.
If the Prince of Wales were to be cancelled, delayed or downgraded, as many Liberal Democrats, including the new Business Secretary, have suggested, we would have to rethink the very fundamentals of our defence policy. There would also be a wider economic impact. Not only would it threaten hundreds of new jobs and apprenticeships at our dockyard, it would have a devastating impact on many companies across Fife, Scotland and the rest of the UK. Companies such as Brand-Rex, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Glenrothes (Lindsay Roy), and MacTaggart Scott, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr Hamilton), have multi-million-pound contracts lined up for the new carriers. The Ministry of Defence itself estimates that some 10,000 British jobs will be sustained by the project. Those are highly skilled, highly prized jobs in science, technology and engineering, and I hope that the Secretary of State for Defence, who has now joined us in the Chamber, will recognise that if those jobs were lost, they could not be replaced quickly or easily. I therefore urge him to give a clear undertaking that the construction of the two new supercarriers will not be subject to review.
As the Secretary of State has joined us, I congratulate him on his new role. He probably does not remember this, but when he was a Minister in the previous Conservative Government and I was a fresh-faced young researcher for my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham), he was kind enough to take some small interest in my progress. I hope that with his new, greater role, he will take some interest in a not so fresh-faced, but certainly very keen, new Member.
It would be remiss of me not to mention one other organisation in my constituency, the Round Table, of which I am an active member. I am sure that many in the House are familiar with the work of the Round Table in their own constituencies. My local Round Table organises the annual beer festival, which last year raised more than £25,000 for good causes and charities.
The Round Table's motto is "To adopt, to adapt, to improve", and I commend that motto to the Secretary of State and ask him to make it the perfect mission statement for the SDR.
Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): It is an enormous pleasure to speak in this debate, which has had so many notable contributions by new Members, including the hon. Members for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) and for Burnley (Gordon Birtwistle), my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), who made a very good speech indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris), and my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), whose constituency I had the honour of representing for about 14 years some years ago. I was fascinated by his reference to Izaak Walton, who I think I am right in saying left his estate to the citizens of Eccleshall, in my constituency. However, under the terms of the charitable trusts, if they did not behave themselves the estate was to be left to the citizens of Stafford. There is an interesting interaction there. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the campaign that he maintained during the Stafford hospital crisis. We worked closely together and he showed his mettle, as I know he will as he proceeds in the House over the next few years.
To revert to the subject before us, I begin by invoking the words of Disraeli, that great one-nation Tory. His book, "Sybil, or The Two Nations" was one of the spurs that brought me into politics. In his great book, "Coningsby"-this was in about 1849, after the repeal of the corn laws, with which my family was somewhat associated-he said that there was a great deal of shouting about Conservative principles, but "the awkward question" of what we are supposed to conserve "naturally arose". He also said that
"England does not love coalitions".
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