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26 May 2010 : Column 259

The hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) was generous in giving due recognition to his predecessor. My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) made a perceptive speech that showed a real understanding of the challenges that he faces as an MP. The new hon. Member for Burnley (Gordon Birtwistle) gave a description of his constituency that was clearly designed to encourage new visitors to the area. My hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty), with whom I shall need to make common cause on the need to secure both our dockyards, also made an interesting speech. My hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock), who is still in his place, was witty and eloquent. I also welcome the scientific background of the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert). We have lost a number of good colleagues on both sides of the House with that kind of experience, and I am sure that his expertise will be valued here.

We have been debating foreign and defence policy today, but because of my constituency's deep reliance on defence industries, I will focus on questions specific to those concerns and on the wider implications of statements made in the Gracious Speech and in advance of the Budget outside this Chamber, which will have an impact on the constituents of Plymouth, Moor View.

The proposed armed forces Bill will seek to make military police investigations more independent. That will be welcomed, following serious criticism by High Court judges of the way in which inquiries have been carried out. The Bill will also build on the progress made under the previous Government to recognise the selfless performance of duty that we receive from our serving armed forces, and the pressure that that places on them and their families.

The covenant agreed under the Labour Government represented a significant step forward, and set out the nation's commitment to the armed forces personnel, to their families and to veterans. It included more than 40 commitments aimed at improving support, and although many of them are in place, I would like a commitment that that support will continue alongside any proposed enhancements offered to front-line service personnel, rather than those developments replacing what happened earlier. How the Foreign Secretary's statement today relates to the various pledges made in recent weeks is unclear, as is how the savings that the Secretary of State for Defence-whom I welcome to his new role-will be asked to make will impact on the UK defence industries, and specifically on naval bases.

When I was elected in 2005, there was a concern that we could lose 1,500 jobs from the dockyard, making it unviable in terms of skill retention. We then faced the spectre of our naval base being closed when the previous review took place. None of those things happened, because, as a city, we lobbied very hard. At this point I would like to pay tribute to my former colleague Linda Gilroy, who, throughout her parliamentary career representing Plymouth, Sutton, fought to protect Plymouth from cuts to the defence budget. She brought great expertise to her work on the Defence Committee, which was recognised on both sides of the House, and Ministers were only too aware that if noises were made about changes to Plymouth's defence industry, they would face a formidable opponent.

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We as a city will continue to press our case. We have Babcock Marine-now much enhanced by the addition to the company of VT-as well as many other defence-related firms such as Atlantic Inertial Systems and Barden Corporation UK Ltd. Those companies have found the recession tough at times, but they, like other companies across the south-west, had begun to see progress as the economy began to grow under the previous Government. Plymouth's economy depends on the continued resilience of those companies, and the terms of business agreement signed by Babcock and the Government before the election should ensure that work continues in Plymouth. However, I would like a guarantee from the Minister that that contract is not one of those whose flexibilities will be revisited with a view to making changes. Will he confirm that the terms of business agreement cannot be unpicked? Babcock's highly skilled and committed work force will need that reassurance, as will the company itself.

All the city's MPs also battled to ensure that Plymouth was retained under the last naval base review, and that we would continue to have a long-term role. The review settled on the need for three naval bases, and Plymouth was to be enhanced by the addition of the Royal Marines, who are currently based in Poole, moving to the Weston Mill part of the largest naval base in western Europe. We are due to become a centre for amphibiosity and to make the obvious links between HMS Ocean, Bulwark and Albion-the light fleet carriers and the landing craft, which are already part of Plymouth's landscape. Will the Minister confirm that that move will still take place-or will it form part of the strategic defence review? Plans were well in hand, and the Royal Marines themselves were keen for the move to happen so that they could plan ahead, which is especially important for the families who might have to make decisions about schools and property moves. Any uncertainty would, I have no doubt, cause problems for the service.

As a result of the maritime change programme, Plymouth also has virtually all the deep-water maintenance on the submarines and ships. Will the Minister confirm that that position will not be changed, as some 40% of the work force based in the dockyard are my constituents, who do not want any insecurity?

The most inimical part of the coalition's defence policy is the attitude to our nuclear deterrent. Perhaps the Minister will set the record straight on Trident. Was his hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), who contributed in such an entertaining way on this issue, right when he said that the proposal for an alternative system was nonsense? The Liberal Democrats argued strongly in favour of that proposal prior to the election. As is clear from what the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) said, there are still concerns and splits between the two partners. What is the status of the review of Trident, and how will it fit into the SDR?

The new Foreign Secretary stated last year during the debate on the Queen's Speech that he believed that replacing Trident with an alternative deterrent would present a serious problem with regard to our legal obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Perhaps that could be cleared up during the winding-up speeches, or is this just another disagreement between senior Ministers on policy? Will Ministers confirm today that the Government will take no steps to embark on
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any programme or policy that could breach this treaty at any time? If they will confirm that, will they accept that their commission to investigate Trident is a sham and a waste of public money that would be better spent maintaining vital public services-or are the Government looking at the defence review as a means of extending the life of the existing submarine platforms? Clarification is needed, as extension would be beneficial to Devonport.

I am concerned, however, to know how the Government intend to fund such an extension and how coherent their policy is. The coalition agreement sets out that the Ministry of Defence will suffer a 25% cut in its running costs. I hope that Ministers from both Government parties do not assume that a cut of this magnitude will have no impact on the front line or will not overburden staff working in other areas and dealing with issues of national security. There is no doubt-the Gray review confirmed it-that significant savings can be made and that procurement processes have to be further improved, but that must not be done with haste, because there is a real risk that rushed changes will bring about unforeseen outcomes.

I hope that the estimates of cost were not worked out in the same way as the Gershon estimates for IT savings, which Conservative Members trumpeted as an example of Government waste. They claimed they could save £2 billion, but on Monday this week it was admitted that the figure was less than £100 million. Will the Minister assure us that before the axe is wielded on the Ministry of Defence, the Government will first check that they have their figures somewhere in the right ball park?

In concluding, I must point out that the previous Government confirmed time and again that they were committed to maintaining the naval base and dockyard at Plymouth. I cannot emphasise enough how important it is that the MOD should continue to maintain the skills base. It would also be wrong for all the frigates to be moved away from Plymouth. The likely shape of the future Navy was raised by the right hon. Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot), the former Chair of the Select Committee, and change was mooted prior to the announcement of the last defence review. The implication was that we needed a serious rethink of the design of the future surface combatant, and that we needed more of a workhorse model than the all-singing, all-dancing top-of-the-range model that the Navy might have wished for. If that is the case, Plymouth is clearly best placed to base-port it.

I hope that Ministers will maintain the commitment of their Labour predecessors to the Plymouth naval base and dockyard, and will realise that the overcapacity problems faced at Portsmouth mean that Plymouth will have an ongoing role. I ask clearly whether the Plymouth dockyard and the HM naval base, which are vital for the city's future, will be secured in the same way to which the previous Government were committed, or whether it will be placed up for grabs in the defence review, risking a wholesale shift to Portsmouth or other bases? Are the Government willing to consider closing bases in connection with the review, or are they willing to offer, here and now, the security and peace of mind that my constituents want-with a naval presence in Plymouth and the jobs that go with it safe from this Government's cuts agenda?

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6 pm

David Cairns (Inverclyde) (Lab): It is a tremendous honour to speak in a debate that has featured so many genuinely outstanding maiden speeches. They have caused me to recall my own puny affair with a growing sense of inferiority as the afternoon has proceeded. [Interruption.] I am too modest, it is true.

I warmly welcome the Secretary of State for Defence to his new job, if for no other reason than that it resumes East Kilbride's grip on the Ministry of Defence, which was established by Adam Ingram's record tenure. Now that the Secretary of State has control, I wish him the very best for his endeavours in the difficult task that lies ahead. I also wish every success to the Front Bench teams holding the foreign, defence and international development briefs.

In the time available, I shall not repeat much of what has already been said about Afghanistan and other issues. Instead, I shall address an issue that has not been raised in the debate and that receives too little mention in the counsels of this Chamber. I am determined to put that right over the coming years.

If I may borrow a phrase from Harold Macmillan and amend it, the wind of oppression is blowing through the African continent today, an oppression aimed largely at young gay men and women. It has become a much more pressing issue; and although it is not confined to Africa, it is in Africa that that dehumanising and brutal oppression is occurring on this very day.

We are aware of the notorious private Member's Bill tabled in Uganda by David Bahati that proposes the death penalty for people who are HIV-positive and engaged in homosexual activity, life in prison for everyone else who engages in homosexual activity, and seven years in prison for people who counsel those who engage in homosexual activity. It is, as I said, a private Member's Bill, and the Ugandan Government have distanced themselves from it. None the less, even without the Bill, it will be illegal to be gay in Uganda, and punishable by 14 years in prison. The President of Uganda has said that homosexuality is "alien". In the last year for which figures are available, the United Kingdom Government gave £71 million in aid to Uganda.

In Malawi, in the past few days, two young men, Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza, have been sentenced to 14 years in prison for declaring publicly their love for one another. Passing sentence, the judge said that he would give them

Action against gays in Malawi is on the increase, and the President of Malawi has done nothing but stoke such prejudice.

There is another, less well-known case in Malawi, the so-called poster boy case. Peter Sawali has been sentenced to community service for the crime of pasting up a poster saying "gay rights are human rights". In the last year for which figures are available, the United Kingdom Government donated £77 million of aid to Malawi.

In Kenya, things are little better. Homosexuality is illegal, and punishable by up to 14 years in jail. In February this year, five people were arrested for planning a gay wedding north of Mombasa, and another man was handed over to the police by members of the public
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on suspicion of being gay. In the last year for which figures are available, the United Kingdom Government gave £103 million of aid to Kenya.

In Zimbabwe, almost nothing unites President Mugabe and Prime Minister Tsvangirai except their competition to see who can demonise gay people the most. Just a few days ago, two members of the organisation Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe were arrested. Their crime was to publish a letter written by Willie Brown, the former mayor of San Francisco, which was critical of Robert Mugabe. Today, those two people are in prison. In the last year for which figures are available, the UK Government gave £56 million in aid to Zimbabwe. Even in South Africa, the only country on the continent where gays have any legal rights at all, there has been an increase in so-called conversion rapes against young lesbian women in the townships. In the last year for which figures are available, the UK Government gave £40 million in aid to South Africa.

I know that the question of our attitude towards what may be regarded as social and sexual mores in other countries, and especially developing countries, is a complex one, and that it can often tie us in moral knots. We may personally deplore what is going on, but we may also be anxious to avoid the sort of moral neo-colonialism that seeks to impose our western liberal sexual values on other countries; after all, these countries suffered enough from our forebears, who told them in the Victorian age what sexual mores they should and should not follow.

To answer that complex question, we must go back to first principles. Why do we have an international aid policy in the first place? Why do we give money to such countries? We do not do so because one day we hope they will trade with us, which is our rationale for giving money to European countries. We may do so because it helps bolster our image on the international stage-a fact recognised by the new Prime Minister on entering office-but that is not the main reason. Rather, we have an international aid policy in the first place because it is an outward expression of our common humanity. It is an expression of the fact that those of us who have plenty are morally compelled and obliged to help those of our fellow men and women around the globe who do not; and it is in that expression of an indivisible common humanity that we can properly locate our abhorrence of the oppression and dehumanisation of gay men and lesbians in Zimbabwe today.

I do not want to use our aid budget as a football. I know this money is not going to the state; I know it is going on projects to combat deprivation, ill health and disease, and I do not want to diminish it in the least, but what do we do when our denunciations are ignored? What do we do when our entreaties are brushed aside, and when President Mugabe, whose country receives tens of millions of pounds in aid, can say that gays are worse than pigs and dogs? What do we do when this Parliament has within its grasp the ability to say to some of these countries, "We want to help and support you-it is a recognition of our common humanity that we do so-but we cannot go on signing cheques to countries that are brutally and viciously oppressing and suppressing the rights of others."?

It is not only on the ground of sexuality that countries oppress rights. As we heard from the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr Donaldson), some countries oppress
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people on the ground of religion, which may be rooted in differences of creed or race. If our international aid budget is rooted in our humanity, it does not come value-free, and it does not come free from a sense that the humanity of everyone must be respected.

I have not even mentioned the utterly disastrous effect these policies in Africa are having on the rise in HIV and AIDS. If someone who thinks they might have HIV is told that to be homosexual is to be worse than a pig or a dog and is punishable by 14 years in prison, why would they come forward? What possible reason would they have to seek medical help and the method to prevent the spread of HIV? We are funding anti-HIV and AIDS programmes in countries with policies that do nothing to stop HIV and AIDS, and instead contribute to their spread.

This is a big job for the Government. I do not pretend it is the most important thing on the plate of incoming Ministers, but it is important to millions across Africa whose fundamental human right to be gay or lesbian is being brutally oppressed by regimes. I look to the Government to give a lead by setting out what positive action we can take when our denunciations are brushed aside and doing something about this appalling miscarriage of human rights.

6.9 pm

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): A special intense silence falls on this place when the names of the fallen are read out. We experienced it yesterday when the names of those who have died since we last met were read out by both Front-Bench spokespeople. It is right that we read those names out, that we record our gratitude for the heroism of those who have fallen and that we remind ourselves that we in this place were responsible for the decision to send them to war. Every one of those names belongs to a person whose life has ended and we remind ourselves that they all had loved ones who suffered a wound that will never heal.

It might surprise hon. Members to learn that I have before me the names of all those who have fallen, but I do not intend to read them out, first, because to do so would take longer than the 10 minutes available to me and, secondly, because I am forbidden to do so. I have not mentioned in the House before that after I last read out a list of the 250 names of the fallen the extraordinary decision was taken that this is not to be allowed on any future occasion. I am not sure why, because it is right that there should be an occasion, at least once a year-the list should perhaps not be read by a Back Bencher, but by the Leader of the House-on which we should recall not just the names of the individuals who have died in the previous week or so, but the names of all those who have died. That would leave us with a profound impression of the result of our decisions.

The attitude in this House towards Afghanistan is one of mutually assured delusion, and we heard a bit of that today. We know that only the future is certain and the past is always changing; every politician is trying to rewrite and reshape the past. It does not often seem that we have to reshape the past of last week, but we received optimistic and positive reports of last week's visit by the three Ministers to Afghanistan. It seems strange that omitted from the reports was the major event of that trip, which was their inability to visit their main destination because of Taliban activity.

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I have also raised with the Foreign Secretary the comments by the Defence Secretary, who was reported in The Times as having said that the troops were not there

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