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Fylde is also a beautiful constituency. Wrea Green is a stereotypical English village. As someone who was born in Scotland, even I can fully appreciate it. Cricket is played there in the summer, and one can hear the sound of leather on willow. Until recently, like many villages in my constituency and towns throughout the country, Wrea Green was threatened by the Government's regional spatial strategy. I thank the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government for his swift
action in abolishing the targets set by that strategy, giving hope once again to people who cherish green space.
I also congratulate Blackpool football club. I would not seek to claim credit for Blackpool's elevation to the premier league, nor would I claim that the club is located in my constituency, but its training ground is, its very talented manager lives in my constituency, and what is more, most of the players do, too-so if I am going to take the glory for someone else's hard work, this is the moment.
Fylde is also incredibly fortunate to be served by two very good local newspapers, The Gazette, which is printed six days a week, and the Lytham St Annes Express, which is a shining example of how a talented editor-Steve Singleton in this case-can do a lot in difficult times. However, if the sun ever fails to shine in Fylde, one can always jet off to warmer climes, because Blackpool airport is very much based in my constituency.
Let me turn to the substantive issues in today's debate. Fylde is neither a twee constituency nor simply the beautiful rural jewel that I have described; there is much more to it than that. We make things in Fylde. It is the home of nuclear fuel, employing 2,000 people, and in a future debate I wish to expand on that point. It is home also to the military aircraft division of BAE Systems, employing more than 8,000 people directly. Indeed, it is not only the home of the Typhoon Eurofighter; Nimrod final fit-outs and all the developmental work on unmanned aerial vehicles takes place there. The Americans take the credit for many things, but one thing for which they cannot take credit is that technology. The United Kingdom is the world leader in that technology, and it is developed in my constituency.
On the defence review, I should like to make an appeal to the Minister. I know that budgets are tight and many Members from all parts with interests in defence procurement are making pitches, but we need Typhoon tranche 3b for a number of reasons. We live in an unpredictable world, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) said, we cannot tell what the future holds, other than that it will be unpredictable. At times Government Front Benchers talk about export potential, and British Aerospace is working very hard in Saudi Arabia, Oman and Japan to win exports. However, the aircraft's cost model is built on the premise of a future RAF order, and Ministers must be aware that if a future order is not forthcoming the cost dynamics will change, and BAE might not be competitive with the United States and France in export markets.
Finally, on that subject, I pay tribute to Unite. I may be the only Conservative Member to do so, but there we have an example of the trade union working with BAE management and the Government to deliver what is important: a quality product, products coming off the production line and everyone pulling in the same direction. I really hope that Unite continues to work with the current Government and with BAE to deliver that.
Time is catching up, so I should quickly move away from BAE and mention my other defence interest, Weeton army barracks. The soldiers based there have just returned from Afghanistan, having served this country well, and I appeal to the Minister to ensure that we do nothing that puts Weeton's strength in any doubt.
Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies), who, in the finest tradition of maiden speakers, was gracious towards his predecessor and agile in the promotion of the beauty and attributes of his constituency and constituents. He may not be aware of this, but we have a shared interest: the Nimrod aircraft, which is based in my constituency at RAF Kinloss. No doubt he will develop a strong interest in Nimrod and in all the other industries in his constituency. On the Nimrod link, and on this day, having heard about the 300th casualty in Afghanistan, I, too, pay tribute to all those brave servicemen and women who have made all the ultimate sacrifice-while not in any way losing sight of the pain and suffering of their families, 14 of whom are related to service personnel who died aboard Nimrod XV230, which was based at RAF Kinloss.
The strategic defence review is long overdue, and it is correct for foreign policy, defence and security considerations to be the drivers of such an exercise. But, it is important that during the process we do not lose sight of achieving a balanced and fair defence footprint throughout the nations and regions of the UK. I make an appeal to Ministers on the Treasury Bench on that subject, because I shall return to it repeatedly. We cannot overlook or underplay the fact that the financial drivers behind this SDR are massive, and the consequences of decisions will be significant for many parts of the UK. We know that, because the Royal United Services Institute-RUSI-estimates a likely defence budget cut of between 10% and 15% over the next six years, and a 20% personnel cut over the same period. If that were applied in Scotland, it would result in 2,400 job losses.
Many Members may not be aware that there are already fewer service personnel based in Scotland pro rata than in the defence forces of the Irish Republic. If RUSI's expected reduction is realised, Scotland will have fewer service personnel in real terms than the Irish Republic. That is not a surprise if we try to understand what has happened in recent years, but if we do not do so the SDR will run away with itself, leaving Scotland-and, incidentally, other parts of the UK-with such a denuded footprint that there will be very serious consequences.
Since the previous SDR, the number of defence jobs in Scotland has gone down by about 10,000. That includes 1,880 fewer service personnel, 4,600 fewer civilian personnel and 4,000 fewer jobs associated with the defence sector. All those numbers come from the Ministry of Defence.
Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman share my surprise at the fact that the Liberal Democrats do not seem to care about the closure of RAF Leuchars, which would have a devastating impact on the Fife and Tayside economy?
The hon. Gentleman is a new Fife Member, and I welcome him to his place. He is very alive to the risks in Fife, as I am to those in Moray and others are to those in their constituencies. I am very surprised by the fact that the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell),
who is not now in his place, did not seem to acknowledge that it would be important if there were cuts at RAF Leuchars.
This is not just about jobs, but about defence expenditure, and again, using MOD statistics, we can understand that under the previous Government there was a significant defence underspend-the difference between Scotland's population share and the amount of money that the MOD spent in Scotland. That underspend ranged from £749 million in 2002-03 to £1.2 billion in 2007-08, representing a 68% increase over the period. Between 2002 and 2008 the defence underspend in Scotland totalled a mammoth £5.6 billion, and the largest recorded underspend in one year was £1.2 billion, between 2007 and 2008. Those things should be taken into consideration.
I said in passing that this has impacted not only on Scotland, but on Wales and Northern Ireland in exactly the same way. When Scotland had an underspend of £5.6 billion, the underspend in Wales was a staggering £6.7 billion, while in Northern Ireland it was £1.8 billion. Some might ask themselves whether cyclical factors are involved, and think that defence contracts have simply come and gone-but when we look at the numbers we see that that is not the case: there is currently a structural underspend.
All that has happened over a period when there have been job losses across all three services the length and breadth of Scotland. The list is long. At RAF Lossiemouth in my constituency, one announcement revealed that 340 service jobs were being terminated, and then there was another announcement that 700 service jobs were being terminated. As has been mentioned, 160 service jobs were terminated at RAF Leuchars. At RAF Kinloss, which is in my constituency, 180 service jobs were terminated.
Gemma Doyle (West Dunbartonshire) (Lab/Co-op): Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that if he had his way and there were an independent Scotland, there would be no UK defence jobs and no UK defence contracts in Scotland at all?
Angus Robertson: Perhaps the hon. Lady will concede that if we spent our population share on defence, we would have significantly more service personnel; more would be spent on procurement and as part of the defence sector in Scotland than is spent now. I do not know whether she was listening at the start when I said that the UK already has fewer service personnel pro rata in Scotland than the Irish Republic does.
The hon. Lady obviously did not want to listen to the litany of further closures that took place under the Labour Government. HMS Gannet lost 245 service personnel and hundreds of jobs were lost on the Clyde; incidentally, there are fewer shipbuilding jobs on the Clyde now than when Labour came to power. RAF Stornoway was closed, as was the mooring and support depot at Fairlie. The royal naval storage department in Rosyth was closed, while RAF Machrihanish was passed to Defence Estates. The Army depot at Forthside in Stirling was also closed, as was RAF Buchan.
The list goes on and on. I should like those on the Treasury Bench to understand that the strategic defence and security review cannot take place without an understanding of what has happened to the defence footprint across the United Kingdom. If there is not
such an understanding, the review will be severely denuded. We had only to open one of Scotland's best selling quality newspapers this weekend to learn that, apparently, areas slated for closure include RAF Kinloss, RAF Lossiemouth, 45 Commando, Fort George, the Queen Victoria school at Dunblane and the 2nd Division at Craigiehall. There are concerns about procurement projects, including carriers on the Clyde and in Rosyth.
At the start of this debate, I asked the Secretary of State what consideration he would give to the concept of the defence footprint at the end of the review. He said-I paraphrase-"We will be considering these matters as part of the defence industrial strategy." With the greatest respect, this issue is much bigger than the defence industrial strategy. It is about the location of bases and the companies that produce for the major contracts-about what is left open and what closes. I repeat that, of course, the driver in an SDSR must always be defence and foreign policy considerations. That is understood; everybody understands that.
Angus Robertson: I am running out of time, and I want to conclude by saying this. Unless those issues are considered at the MOD now, they will be lost as the different services interplay and trade off the different things that they will lose as part of the SDSR. Somebody needs to take charge and ask themselves what will come out of the situation and what will be left of the defence footprint around the UK. What will be the impact on the nations and regions? If that does not happen, I predict that there will be big losers and virtually no winners.
Eric Ollerenshaw (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Con): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make my maiden speech during this important debate. Unfortunately, the previous maiden speech was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies), who set such a high standard.
I am proud to be a new MP and represent the new seat of Lancaster and Fleetwood. It was formed from the old seats of Blackpool, North and Fleetwood and Lancaster and Wyre, and I pay tribute to my two predecessors. For 13 years, Joan Humble was Member of Parliament for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood and she represented the town of Fleetwood to the best of her ability. I know that in this place she was well respected on both sides of the divide for her work on the Social Security Committee and for her chairmanship of all-party groups, including the all-party group on childcare. Joan stood down before the last election, and I am sure that we all wish her the best in whatever career she develops.
My other predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace), is still in the House; he was selected for that new seat and elected with 52% of the vote-a figure that I aspire to, given my current majority. I owe a great deal to him. He was a friend, mentor and guide while I was a candidate and he has set me a high boundary to hit, given his campaigning for his constituency in the last Parliament. I particularly highlight his work in defending the people of Wyre
against plans to store gas under the River Wyre. I hope to join him in that campaign, alongside his constituents and mine.
Many people have commented on my constituency's boundaries. I visit the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde frequently, because I have to travel through three other constituencies to get to a third of my constituents. I do not know whether any other Member faces such a situation. Fleetwood is a town on a peninsula with the River Wyre on one side and the sea on the other-one of those seaside towns and fishing ports that have been so neglected in recent years. Its infrastructure has been neglected; its railway has no trains and its A road has only a single carriage. Its fishing fleet has almost been destroyed by the depredations of the common fisheries policy. What is left of it is now also threatened by the new plans for offshore wind power.
At the centre of Fleetwood there is a whole community of family businesses. Perhaps the famous "Fisherman's Friend" is the most well known to Members; I am told that it sells 4,000 million lozenges per year, in more than 100 countries. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear!"] That makes for a damn lot of hot air, I would imagine. I particularly compliment the family that runs the company; Doreen Lofthouse, the head of the family, has contributed so much to the town of Fleetwood and sets an example of what businesses can do for their own areas.
A third of my constituency is rural and many Members, particularly on the Government side, have understood the neglect that such areas have suffered following 13 years of a Labour Government. Village shops and post offices have been lost, and there is a feeling that that Government left them behind and forgot about them. Those areas have great hopes that the Conservative Government will rebalance that agenda. The rural area of my constituency is a fantastic part of the world. It is bounded by the Pennines and the sea. Bowland forest is a favourite spot; it has been well known in the country throughout history. In that rural area, however, villages in the upland areas still lack contact with broadband provision. To reach Wray, one of those villages, and the hamlets beyond it, I have to drive through yet another constituency -that of my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris). I think I can already claim some kind of record. I am perhaps the only Member who has to travel through four separate constituencies to reach the various parts of his constituency.
To top it all, there is the ancient city of Lancaster. It is useful in a pub quiz, because most people assume that it is a county town, but it is not. It is, however, an ancient town and city, with its fantastic university and castle. According to The Times, the university is one of the top 10 British universities. I proudly say that in the few weeks before the election, Lancaster university had its annual battle of the Roses with York university. It triumphed yet again, as Lancashire always does.
The other key issue in Lancaster is that we have a very large Territorial Army base. Across the north-west, 3,400 volunteers-men and women-are in the TA, on top of the Royal Naval Reserve, the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve and the Royal Marines Reserve. Since 2003, 1,700 of those volunteers have served in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Balkans. I wish to pay tribute here to the chairman of my association, Dr Robin Jackson, who is
commander of 207 Field Hospital (Volunteers), soon to go out to Afghanistan. I am sure that all hon. Members' prayers, as well as mine, go with those people on their second tour of duty in that country. I was so pleased when, in response to questions from more eloquent Members than me, the Secretary of State spoke about the importance of our reserves, what they contribute, and the mobility that they give to this country and to the Army's capability. They are a fantastic operation.
As I am sure most Members understand, all our constituents are questioning our engagements abroad at the moment. Certainly in my constituency-where people are, as they say, not backward in coming forward-the jury is still out on what is going on in Afghanistan. However, I will tell Members what they will not put up with and what they expect from this new Parliament: whatever future engagements the Government have for our soldiers, whether regular or volunteer, never again should they be sent out there without the best equipment that this country can provide.
John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate my neighbours, the hon. Members for Fylde (Mark Menzies) and for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw), on their excellent and persuasive maiden speeches. That sentiment is all the more heartfelt, given that probably more than half my constituents also wish that they were fellow Lancastrians.
No function of Government is more important than the defence of their people and support for those who put themselves in harm's way. It is therefore absolutely right that in this review, the needs of country and of the front line must come first. Our manufacturing base is critically important. I represent a constituency where 5,000 people are employed in Barrow shipyard alone-the foundation of the whole economy. There is a supply chain that reaches right across the UK, with the Trident successor set to provide work for nearly 400 suppliers stretching from Aberdeen to Portsmouth. Furness would be decimated if production were to cease. Yet I know that it is the contribution that employees in my constituency make to their country's security that gives them such pride. They include workers at BAE's Global Combat Systems making the M777 howitzers for troops in Afghanistan, the likes of Oxley and Marl responding to urgent operational requirements such as infrared lighting to support night driving in that difficult terrain, and workers at BAE's Submarine Solutions building the Astute class boats that will potentially, in future conflicts, lessen the need for front-line troops to put themselves in harm's way.
My case is not that the strategic defence review should create defence priorities to sustain our prized industrial base; rather, jobs and capacity within the UK must be maintained precisely because they are essential to keeping our nation safe. We must of course be more efficient and make some very difficult choices, but retaining a unique industrial capacity will continue to give us a military edge in key fields in responding quickly to the next urgent operational requirement and producing subs whose maintenance is not reliant on offshore expertise, compromising our sovereignty and security. How we create a capability through a new defence industrial strategy is critically important, but so, of course, is what we create.
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