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From Plymouth's magnificent natural harbour, some of our leaders have gone out to explore the world and show us what was going on. They include Sir Francis Drake, Raleigh, Hawkins, Sir Francis Chichester and, of course, Scott, whose anniversary it will be in two years' time. In 1620, the Pilgrim Fathers left from the
Mayflower steps to establish America's second settlement. In 1690, the first dockyard was built on the River Tamar at Devonport. Plymouth as a city also has a number of major assets. It has a university with a distinguished reputation for marine science research; wonderful, diverse architecture; some of Britain's finest-and liveliest-students; a dramatic waterfront; the excellent Theatre Royal; the remarkable Peninsula college of medicine and dentistry; and, of course, an historic dockyard and naval base.
However, Plymouth has also paid a high price in defending our country. It was badly bombed during the blitz, and it also provided a series of ships and servicemen to win back the Falklands in 1982, and, just recently, 29 Commando-including my hon. Friend the Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti)-to serve out in Afghanistan, as well as the Royal Marines, who have played a significant role in defending our country while based in Afghanistan and Iraq. I am very aware that the sacrifices that they ended up making have left a lot of families bereft of their relatives, with all the heartache and sadness that goes with that.
Despite that, there is a sense that Plymouth has been slightly left out, being at the far end of the peninsula, especially when people have seen the frigates and their families being moved to Portsmouth and the submarines moved up to Faslane. The city was surprised-and, I think, rather hurt-that it was not included as a location for the national veterans weekend in 2009. However, I very much hope that those on my Front Bench might be willing to take that point on board when the position is reviewed in 2012.
The big issue that I feel is going to be important in this debate on the strategic defence and security review is that of combat stress and the facilities that we need, including in Plymouth. I realise that a number of colleagues have spoken about this issue, but I very much hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State takes on board the ticking time bomb that is lurking in Plymouth as well. Coming from a service family whose father entered the Navy at the age of 14, I was brought up with an understanding of some of the mental health issues that went with his colleagues and friends. Recently, the Royal British Legion made it clear to me that it can take up to 14 and a half years for issues to do with combat stress to become apparent.
Plymouth has a serious drug and alcohol problem. Unless we take action now, I am afraid that we will be putting greater pressure on our health service, police, prisons and housing, so I would say that this is a case of "Action stations now". If I do nothing else in my time in this House but raise the issue of mental health and combat stress, I feel that I will have made as significant a contribution as those other Members, including Dame Joan Vickers, who was a pre-eminent Member of Parliament.
Anyway, let me turn to the question at hand, which concerns the strategic defence and security review. I do not want to deal with some of the things that ought to be in the review; I would like to return to the discussion
about how we are going to conduct it. It seems to me that we are talking about a collection of reviews. There has been much talk about, for example, the discussions that we have had in the past about the strategic nuclear deterrent and other things. As far as the strategic nuclear deterrent and the last discussion that we had on it are concerned, I can say as a member of the Defence Committee at the time-there are other members in the Chamber today-that we had to fight to have that discussion in the first place. We produced three reports-in order to do what? To inform a discussion; so there must be scrutiny.
We have heard about scrutiny of the current nuclear deterrent review. As I understood it-there are people here who can correct me on this-the coalition document says that it has been agreed, quite rightly, that
"the renewal of Trident should be scrutinised to ensure value for money."
I thought that that would mean scrutiny of the process as it went along, but it appears today that it means a one-off shot. I am sure that there are Liberal Democrat Members who will be somewhat surprised, as I was, that this scrutiny will not form part of an ongoing process of deciding where we are. I thought that the debate about whether we should have a strategic defence review was a debate about possibly having one at the start of every Parliament. Over the past 10 years, we have effectively been having a series of strategic defence reviews, but in an ad hoc and piecemeal way, without taking a strategic approach.
In "On War", Clausewitz said that strategy is more like an art than anything else. What is the art? It is the art of timing. Knowing what to do and how to do it can be the science; knowing when to do it is the question, and that is what we should address. In doing that, we also have to open the process up to some form of scrutiny. We are talking about a strategic review, apparently of both security and defence, and it was the Secretary of State who talked about the MOD's contribution to that discussion. That assumes that we will therefore have a Foreign Office contribution and a Home Office contribution as well, with all the different elements coming together. I hope so, and I hope someone is going to explain to me the sequence of events by which we can scrutinise not only the strategic nuclear deterrent, but all the elements that make up what counts as strategic or otherwise.
Alison Seabeck: My hon. Friend is making entirely appropriate points, but does he share my concern about the time scale and the fact that the SDSR and the comprehensive spending review seem to be on top of each other? Which will take priority-the MOD or the Treasury?
Mr Havard: I could give my answer, but it is not mine that is important, is it? What is important is the question, and as I understand it, based on published coalition documents, the position is this:
"The parties commit to holding a full Strategic Security and Defence Review... alongside the Spending Review with strong involvement of the Treasury".
I bet there will be strong involvement from the Treasury, but is that involvement just about the costs, or will it also consider other things? The statement
I quoted refers to a review conducted "alongside"; it does not say that the parties commit to "having a review of the nuclear deterrent by July" and it does not actually say that they commit to "determining the whole of the strategic defence review before the comprehensive spending review", but that seems to be precisely what is said in the agreement. I am most confused about what the exact sequence of all these events will be, because if proper scrutiny is not allowed for, there will be a democratic deficit. After all, legislative change could be required. One would have thought that it was a good idea to have pre-legislative scrutiny-we agreed that in the past, but now it has apparently been forgotten. One would have thought that it was a good idea for the various Select Committees to be involved. That was supposed to happen in the new Parliament.
This was supposed to be the new dawn, if I may use the pun again, whereby Parliament, and not just the Front-Bench team, would have an important role in the process. [Interruption.] I am asked, "Where are the speakers?" A good question. I have been in this Parliament for a number of years and taken a strong interest in defence, yet there are some defence debates that I have not bothered to attend. Let me explain why-because I was not going to sit here for six hours to get three minutes to speak. We debated the whole matter of the replacement of the nuclear deterrent in six hours, and two hours of that were taken up with a ping-pong Punch and Judy show at the front. Back Benchers who had an interest in the matter were not allowed to speak because the great and the good came in for that debate and they were given priority in the pecking order. What we need to do is to look at the process: it is not just process in the Ministry of Defence that needs looking at, but the processes here. We need to scrutinise them, and having the McKinsey book of boys consultancy, or whatever, applied in the MOD is not going to hack that. Well, the Foreign Secretary was trained by that book, so presumably he can make a contribution to it all, but that is not going to be important for the public's understanding.
If we are truly committed to taking people with us when it comes to a serious set of choices, we have to address the public, and we have to provide them with information-ground truth, that is what we need here. This is not a party issue. It is about information, reality and understanding. The Government are effectively claiming that, at last, we have an integrated and coherent process that deals with the issues and lays out the involvement of all the different Departments-but they should do it, not just claim it. From what I have heard today and from how I see the sequencing of events, they will not, in fact, be doing that. It will still be a case, as mentioned earlier, of working in silos, with each individual service doing its bit. The rubber heels at the MOD will do their bit, and everyone else will do their bit-and it will be in bits, and no matter how high they are piled up, bits do not make a strategy.
This issue is too important for such an approach. We are at the beginning of a period of change. The Government are setting an agenda for a generation and committing money that will be spent in 30 years' time. The Government know that: they know it intellectually, but they do not seem to know it in terms of how process works. They can deny it as much as they like, but the strategic nuclear deterrent will have to become part of a review.
Put it in; do it properly; do it comprehensively. That sort of thing happens with DFID and when we go into Afghanistan-the comprehensive approach. Well, this is a comprehensive approach with large parts missing; that is what this SDSR is about.
I plead with the Front-Bench team to look back-or, rather, to step back-and consider the timing of events. It was argued earlier that we do not have to do all of this by a week next Wednesday; and we do not have to do it in a six-hour discussion, in which most of the people here, who represent the real people outside, will not be able to participate. That shows the dysfunctional level to which this Parliament has got to, and I thought that that was exactly the sort of dysfunctional activity that we were meant to be changing. Government Members have that opportunity, because they govern the debate; there are no Back-Bench opportunities to influence that yet. Perhaps that is something that those engaged in the discussion over Back Benchers and Parliament should try to change. Unless and until that debate takes place, whether it is prompted by the Government Front-Bench team or whether it is forced on them by those in others parts of the House, it will not be a real one.
Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): We have heard three excellent maiden speeches today, and I am delighted to say that I have some connection with all three. I know that their constituencies are wonderful. I was born near Lancaster, a fabulous place-
I learned to dive under Royal Navy command at Devonport, despite being a pongo, and I joined my regiment in 1969-a very long time ago-at Weeton camp in the Fylde constituency. When I joined my regiment I joined a battalion that had an establishment of 750. When I handed over command of it some two decades later, it was down to 638. We had lost 20% of the manpower of our battalion. The theme of my speech, then, is resilience at the front line. It is still called a battalion, but it has been salami-sliced and hollowed out. This is a big problem, which the strategic defence review must look at. We must ensure that our front-line troops have the capability to do the job we expect them to do.
On resilience, just consider the 3rd Battalion the Rifles, which returned in April. When it came back after six months of the winter tour in Afghanistan, it had lost eight men killed in action and had 67 casualties. That meant, in terms of the fighting men for that battalion, a 14% casualty rate. My own battalion, the 1st Battalion the Cheshire Regiment as it was-now, for some strange reason, called the 1st Battalion the Mercian Regiment-is in Afghanistan at the moment. It has been there two months: it has lost five men killed in action already, and it has 35 people wounded.
If we think about the basic fighting strength-I return to the theme of resilience-of a fighting unit in our infantry, it is the eight-man section. It is very sad statistically to
understand what that means-that in an eight man section, it is likely that one or two of the men fighting at the moment in Afghanistan in 1st Battalion the Mercian Regiment are likely to come back to this country either in a box or on a stretcher. Thank goodness we have the Territorial Army, as it heavily reinforces the regular Army. It does that extremely well. Indeed, in Helmand at the moment, 10% of the troops out there are either Territorial Army or reserves. It was the same in Iraq. When I visited the coalition operating base in 2007, the figure was 10%. In 2004, with the invasion of Iraq, it was 20%, so the strategic defence review has to look very carefully at how we use the Territorial Army, which has now become a proper reserve force for the regular Army.
When our troops are deployed on operations for six-month tours, they have a period in the middle of their tour called rest and recuperation-R and R-which is normally two weeks long. I put it to the House that approximately 1,000 of the 9,500 troops deployed to Afghanistan are either not there or are travelling to or from R and R. Effectively, in resilience terms, some infantry sections-I see the right hon. Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth) nodding his head, because he knows what I am going to say-are down to four or five men. Infantry cannot fight with sections of four or five men, so they are put together, with the result that combat power is reduced. Whatever the outcome of the strategic defence review, we must ensure that our front-line units are properly manned and that their ORBAT-organisation for battle-is good enough to sustain them properly.
I have concentrated on the Army, but the principle remains the same for the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy. We have a problem with the Navy, and we must ensure that the ships deployed on operations are manned and equipped properly. The Royal Air Force currently has 74 Harrier jump jets, less than a third of which are operational. We must get this right across the services.
I totally understand how difficult it is for Governments of either persuasion to get money for defence. It is extremely difficult, and I will not be found criticising the Opposition on that matter. However, we must ensure that the question of resilience is dealt with properly in the strategic defence review. We must not send our young men and women into battle without adequate manpower to sustain operations when things go wrong.
Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): I congratulate you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on taking the Chair. I also congratulate those Members who made their maiden speeches-I almost said "nervous speeches"; I was certainly nervous when I made my maiden speech, but they were not. To talk in military terms, they will be pleased to have got off the runway, and I am sure that they will sail high in the future.
If Iraq and Afghanistan have taught us anything, it is that the challenge is not winning the initial conflict, but securing the peace. Our opponents in both conflicts learned that standing and fighting in the open ended in their defeat, but that if they used the terrain, whether in the countryside or in towns and cities, and used hit-and-run tactics and improvised explosive devices, they could fight us effectively, and that insurgency would spread
from province to province and-what we fear most-from country to country. To counter that, we have recognised the need for more mobile forces than we have had in the past-forces that can respond rapidly to ever changing situations. At the heart of meeting that challenge is the availability of more troops and equipment to be put down, often under fire, in difficult situations. Helicopters are only part of the answer to that, and we need large-scale strategic lift to support our forces engaged in ground operations.
Our forces are still reliant on the ageing Hercules, which have been excellent workhorses over many years but are now showing their age. It is becoming increasingly difficult to keep them serviceable for the number of hours that our forces require. Although the C-130J has good tactical performance, it cannot carry outsize loads because its cargo hold is too small. The C-17, which seems to be the transport plane of choice, is a good outsize-load airlifter, but is costly and has limited tactical capability. It is fine if it can land on a proper airfield, but it cannot be used or operated from soft fields-or at least, as someone once advised me, it can land on soft fields, but only once. Not only is our use of leased aircraft expensive, but often they are not available at the time required, and many of the aircraft share the same problems as the C-17.
The decision of the Labour Government-I thank my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench for this-to commit themselves, confirm and sign up to the Airbus 400M programme was extremely welcome. Derided by its opponents as a paper aircraft that would never take to the air, it has now flown, and by all accounts performed extremely well in its trials. The A400M will be able to carry either the same payload as the stretch C-130J more than twice as far, or double the payload over the same distance. It will be able to operate at high altitude and at high speed and respond to a greater range of mission requirements. Probably most importantly, it can operate from soft and rough fields, and can therefore deliver support to forward positions where it is most needed. To do that, it has advanced protection systems, which compare favourably to the airlifters currently in use. It will be able to carry helicopters and armoured vehicles and-we are currently unable to do this-deliver them directly to where they are needed.
Furthermore, the aircraft will be cost-effective, which we can rarely say about military projects. Compared with the C-130J and C-17 fleets, it will have the highest availability and the lowest life cycle costs. It has been designed and built to meet operational requirements, rather than being modified or shoehorned to meet the task required of it. The export potential of the aircraft is also positive: its rivals are either ageing or unable to meet the full operational requirements; no new aircraft, either in development or on the drawing board, can rival the A400M. It could sell well around the world, and even in the US, although our experience with AirTanker would lead us to believe that the Americans would try to gerrymander any situation to the advantage of Boeing. Our American allies think that it is fine for them to have open access to our markets, but that we should be prevented from competing in theirs. However, that is an argument for another day.
There are those who have always been opposed to UK involvement in the A400M programme, believing instead that we should just buy something off the shelf. The current Secretary of State for Defence has said that
on several occasions. Underlying that is the Conservatives' opposition to European co-operation: they really dislike that aspect of the project. That attitude makes no sense on a number of fronts. It makes us totally reliant on the US-we would have no access to the intellectual property-and undermines the UK aerospace industry. It has a direct impact on jobs not only in the military sector but in the civil sector. For Airbus in the UK, the stakes are even higher: the A400M will be the first aircraft to be built with composite wings. In this country we have long prided ourselves in being at the centre of wing excellence, but that will be at risk if we do not take part in the project. Given how Airbus operates, if we pull out of the project the work share would be divided between the remaining partners, and Spain has long made it clear that it would get the chequebook out and be more than willing to take on that work. That would have a direct impact within the civil programme. Rather than our being the natural builder of the wings for future Airbus aircraft-in particular, the replacement for the A3320-we would find ourselves competing with Spain. If we lost that order, the future of Airbus in the United Kingdom could be at stake.
I plead with the Secretary of State and the Minister to think of the future, not just in terms of a military project but in terms of the effect on the whole of the UK aerospace industry, including both direct and indirect employment. The last Government signed up to this project, which has ramifications far wider than military use. I appeal to the present Government to sign up to the project and ensure that it goes ahead, for the future of the United Kingdom.
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