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7.50 pm

Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to contribute to this vital debate.

I am delighted that it is customary for Members to use their maiden speeches to pay tribute to their predecessors. I have the honour to do so twice over, because my wonderful constituency of Filton and Bradley Stoke-known to many as FABS-is a new seat, created from three former seats. Two of the Members who represented those seats are no longer in the House.

Dr Doug Naysmith served Bristol, North-West for 13 years with straightforward honour and distinction. His political foes marked him down as a good and decent man. He was personally kind and-dare I say it-supportive to me whenever we met. I wish him well in his new political career as a member of Bristol city council, and I may yet come to forgive him for defeating my old Avonmouth councillor friend Spud Murphy after a nail-biting four recounts when lots had to be drawn.

Roger Berry, who represented the wards of Kingswood that are now in FABS, is someone with whom I would have had little in common politically, but in the part of my constituency where he was formerly a Member he was well regarded across the political spectrum for his endeavour, his independence, his forthright political opinions, and his work as co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on disability.

Filton and Bradley Stoke is a fascinating and diverse place. It is the home of the British aerospace industry. Concorde was built at Filton, and today it is still the
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British home of EADS and Airbus, Rolls-Royce, and a large part of GKN. This year, 2010, marks the centenary of aviation in Bristol. Founder Sir George White, a great entrepreneur and Bristolian who came from humble beginnings, was so proud of his city that he named his company the Bristol Aeroplane Company after it. We are home to the university of the West of England, one of Britain's most successful new universities, and we are fortunate to have the world-famous Frenchay hospital, which is internationally renowned for its work on the treatment of bones and head injuries. Frenchay was sadly downgraded by the last Government, but I will continue to fight for its existence as a community hospital with as many facilities as possible to serve the residents of south Gloucestershire.

My constituency is at the centre of the debate on the strategic defence and security review. At its heart lies the MOD procurement centre at Abbey Wood. EADS makes missiles, and Rolls-Royce contributes to the building of not only the Type 45 destroyer but the engines of the new US strike fighter. Airbus and GKN lead the world in the development of composite wing technology, and Airbus is also engaged in the development of the new and fantastic A400M plane, a transport plane designed to replace the now ageing Hercules. The A400M will have its UK debut in the south-west at the royal international air tattoo in Fairford on 16 July. It will be flown by the aptly named chief test pilot Ed Strongman, who is a Cornishman and a graduate of Bristol university.

At a time of straitened economic circumstances, the development of those projects and the huge costs involved will provide the substance of many ensuing debates on the nature and cost of the country's defences. I hope the new Government will learn one lesson from their predecessors, and will never forget it. We may enter into wars at short notice and with good reason, but we must never do so again without a full understanding of the implications for the lives of our troops whom we place in harm's way. Waging war costs money, but that cost is nothing in comparison with the lives of the men and women involved, and our duty to our service personnel does not stop with a homecoming parade and a few beers in the mess afterwards.

As several of my hon. Friends have already pointed out in their maiden speeches, it is time for this country, and this Government, to take seriously the ongoing issue of the welfare and, in particular, the mental health of so many of our returning heroes. From the comfort of my home in Filton, I cheered nearly as loudly as our troops in Camp Bastion when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made his announcement about the doubling of their operational allowances. I know what that sort of practical support means to the troops on the ground. However, it must be accompanied by a real and ongoing commitment to looking after our troops, sometimes for the rest of their lives.

I believe that the one thing that will distinguish this Parliament from many of its recent predecessors is the number of us sitting here today who have served. That includes new hon. Friends from as far afield as South Dorset and Penrith and the Border, as well as many in between. My own military experience is as a serving Territorial Army soldier. I am a Gunner with 266 Commando Battery of the Royal Artillery. As a mobilised reservist,
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I had the huge honour and privilege to spend a year serving with the mighty men of 29 Commando Regiment, five months of it in Afghanistan on Operation Herrick 9.

As a private soldier, Gunner Lopresti, I spent my tour in Helmand, where I saw at first hand what decisions made in the House of Commons can mean for the men and women on the ground. I worked with the Rifles for a bit of my tour of duty as a member of infantry force protection on the Medical Emergency Response Team, who work in the back of a Chinook helicopter. I watched some awe-inspiring young people fly in and out of danger to pick up and treat casualties, sometimes in the very worst of circumstances and sometimes successfully, sometimes not. I learnt exactly what our future decisions could mean. I also worked alongside a remarkably brave and inspirational soldier, a Lance Bombardier from 29 Commando, whose foot and lower leg were blown off by an improvised explosive device while he was driving a Land Rover with no mine protection in 2006 and who, less than two years later, was back doing a second tour of duty with his regiment as part of 3 Commando Brigade. That was just amazing.

My experience is what will inform my thinking when the debate on the shape of our military future takes place. Our new Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will certainly have the support of this new Member of Parliament if our Government honour their commitment to renew and strengthen the military covenant, but I will also reserve the right to be a critical friend, not only mindful of Britain's place in the world and our international duties and obligations, but conscious above all of our duty properly to equip and care for those who put their lives on the line for our country. This country needs many culture changes; let us ensure that the ongoing welfare of our servicemen is among them.

Making my maiden speech in this place is a truly humbling experience which I assure the House I will never forget, but nor, as we review our defence priorities, will I ever let this place forget the debt that we owe to our service personnel. As the great General George Patton once said, wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men.

7.57 pm

Mr Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti). I wish him well in his time in the House, and many years in which to serve his constituents. I also welcome the maiden speeches of the hon. Members for Fylde (Mark Menzies), for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw), and for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile).

The hon. Member for Fylde mentioned golf courses in his constituency, which gives me an opportunity, as a proud Ulsterman, to record our delight that Graeme McDowell has won the US Open championship. For British golf and for golf in Northern Ireland, that is something to be greatly welcomed. Our congratulations go to Graeme and, indeed, to his family, who must be very proud of that wonderful achievement.

On a sadder note, I acknowledge the tragic death of the 300th soldier to be killed in Afghanistan. He was a member of 40 Commando. Last week the funeral took place of my constituent Corporal Stephen Walker, who
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also served in 40 Commando. He was killed in Sangin in Afghanistan, and our thoughts continue to be with his family at this difficult time.

I welcome the commitment given by the Secretary of State to the tri-service covenant, which I support. I also welcome the fact that many Members have mentioned the welfare of our armed forces personnel. If this review is about anything, it must be about ensuring that the men and women who serve in the armed forces have the best support and resources available, because without them we do not have a military capability. It is important that the covenant be honoured, and that we look at that in the context of the review and seek to ensure that those men and women who serve our country are given the support they deserve.

One key area of concern to me is post-traumatic stress disorder. I know from my own service in Northern Ireland and from comrades and members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary who developed PTSD that this is a major, long-term issue that needs a long-term solution, and that many of the men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan developed PTSD after coming home. Indeed, The Lancet magazine recently warned of a "tidal wave" of soldiers suffering from mental trauma as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is a major developing issue.

I know from my constituency work and my work in Northern Ireland that soldiers suffering from PTSD at times do not get the long-term support they need to cope with this very difficult condition. That has real consequences for them. Many of them struggle to find permanent employment after leaving the armed forces, and they can develop major health issues and have marital problems. In effect, PTSD can destroy their lives after service.

I welcome the work undertaken by various charities and veterans organisations, and wish in particular to mention Combat Stress, which has launched a campaign to raise £30 million to improve mental health services for veterans. This work is excellent, but it needs the support of the Government. I hope that, as part of the strategic defence and security review, we will take a long hard look at the impact of PTSD and mental health problems on our veterans and our soldiers, airmen and sailors, and at what we can do to ensure they receive adequate support and care as they seek to live their lives after service.

I also wish to refer the House to an excellent article in yesterday's edition of The Sunday Telegraph, which told the story of a former reserve Territorial Army soldier from Northern Ireland who had served as a medic in Iraq. In 2004 he was involved in a major incident, which is outlined in the article. Corporal Paul Gibson-I understand that that is not his real name-is quoted in the article, and speaks of the terrible impact PTSD has had on his life. He pays tribute to the work of Combat Stress and says it effectively saved his life at a time when he was not getting the support and intervention he needed. The article reports that he has lost his job and spends most of his time at home

He is quoted as saying:

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We cannot allow our brave servicemen and women to be left in that kind of situation. We have got to look after them not only while they are in service, but after they leave.

I am aware of several cases in my constituency and in Northern Ireland involving former military personnel who are facing real problems. Their pensions are being reduced-their war pensions and the other benefits they receive are constantly the subject of review. Part of the problem is the medical profession's failure adequately to recognise what PTSD does to the life of an individual. There is an educational issue here that we would do well to examine, in order to see how we can ensure a better understanding among the medical profession of PTSD and its long-term impact on service personnel.

Finally, I agree with the comments made today about our military capability. On resources, I am concerned that an argument is developing that we need a light-end capability at the expense of a diminishing heavy-end capability. I agree with those Members who have warned against complacency. We may well face major wars in the future and be involved in major conflicts, and we will need heavy-end capability as part of our military resources. I hope that that will be understood during the review, and that heavy-end capability will not be diminished because of the need for financial constraints.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. The conventions associated with maiden speeches now apply. I call Penny Mordaunt.

8.5 pm

Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Having waited for over a month to speak in a debate, it seems a little strange to call this my maiden speech. Perhaps it could be more aptly described as my spinster speech.

I must thank the Speaker for introducing the new rules that have permitted me to show a little ankle and flirt with participation in the proceedings of the House. As those who know me will testify, keeping quiet for a whole month would have been a great strain, but silent I would have been, for I was determined to speak for the first time in a defence debate.

During my first days as a Member of Parliament it was not at all clear from which set of Benches I would be delivering this speech. In the week following the election, as the fog of uncertainty resolved into strong and stable coalition Government, I had time to reflect that I and colleagues who had to wait past the midnight hour for our results made our first utterances as Members of Parliament on the 70th anniversary of the Norway debate. That momentous occasion in 1940 precipitated the fall of the Chamberlain Administration, caused the King to send for Churchill and the formation of the formal coalition Government.

During that historic debate, the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth Sir Roger Keyes rose from his place in full dress uniform with six rows of medals pinned to his chest, and delivered what Harold Nicolson called the most dramatic speech he had ever heard. Sir Roger began:

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My uniform remains in my wardrobe, and I do not pretend to high drama, but I have come to the Chamber today, and will come again on many other days, to do as Sir Roger did: to speak for the Navy.

First, however, let me make mention of another of Sir Roger's successors. I am speaking today because Sarah McCarthy-Fry is not. This election was, if the House will indulge a topical metaphor, the second match of our personal contest, and so I can really only claim to have levelled the score, although given the size of the current majority I think I can say that I am ahead on goal difference.

In the intervening years, Sarah was very much the super-sub, occupying almost every ministerial job going, including a mere fortnight at the Department for Communities and Local Government. I pay tribute to Sarah's service to our city, and in particular to her fight to keep Portsmouth naval base open and viable. I will continue that campaign, although unlike her I hope not to have to fight my own Government to achieve it.

I am happy to report to the House that Sarah has quickly gained new employment and has taken a job of hard labour-or hard Labour-which might have gathered dust on the average Jobcentre Plus shelves. I am sure that my hon. Friends will join me in wishing her well as campaign manager for the shot at the Labour party leadership of the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls). In light of his recent utterances, it must be a great comfort to the right hon. Gentleman that he did not have to look to immigrant labour to do a job that most British people simply would not have touched.

I could have spoken today about any of Portsmouth's manifold attributes: the innovation and ambition across all sectors, the world-famous Pompey spirit so evident at the recent FA cup final, and my pride that my home city has put its trust in me. However, there is one particular issue at the heart of Portsmouth's history and daily life on which I wish to speak today: the Navy service.

I was at primary school in Portsmouth during the Falklands conflict. Britain did not expect to face such an act of territorial expansion, but the Navy was unfaltering in its readiness and commitment to the defence of the British people. That spirit of duty and service made a deep impression on me, even though the Navy had already played a major role in my life before that. Indeed, I am named after HMS Penelope, which was the first cruiser able to do a complete about-turn within her own length-a manoeuvre that I hope never to have to deploy here.

That spirit of service is as strong as ever in the Royal Navy, but although it is understandable that recent debates in the House and the wider media have focused primarily on the Army, the senior service has, as a consequence, often felt under-represented and unappreciated. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House recognise the contribution that the Navy makes to our way of life, to our ability to trade, to hydrographical and meteorological services, to tackling crime and to providing help in times of crisis. However, the breadth of its role should not detract from the depth of its contribution to the defence of the realm-continuous at-sea deterrence, delivery of commando force and air assets and mine counter-measures are but a few of its roles.

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In the review, we must not be sea-blind. We face very tough challenges and calls for immediate cuts. To see the scale of the challenge, one has to look just at the disparity between what the last strategic defence review suggested for the Navy and the current number of ships in service or planned to be in service. For example, the last review recommended 12 destroyers, but we are building only six. To close the gap between need and affordability and to preserve the development and maintenance capability that we want in our bases and dockyards, we need a planned but flexible approach to procurement. The review must listen to the drum beat of production in those UK yards and must seize every opportunity to strengthen UK exports.

We need to take a longer-term approach to our ordering of ships and we need to end wasteful delay to production schedules. As the Secretary of State pointed out earlier, the decision to slow the rate of the Queen Elizabeth class carriers in 2009 increased overall costs by £600 million. Having seen the carriers being built last Friday, I can report that they are already at an advanced stage and that they have gone beyond the first cut of steel. Lessons should be learned from the carriers and the Type 45s. We could have laid down nine destroyers one after the other, thereby supplying the Navy with what it needed when it needed it, allowing the yard to maximise returns on its investment and ensuring the defence budget was sustainable. Of the six we are building, the last will be ready for sea trials in January 2013. Small orders built at lightning speed short-change the Navy and the yard and place stress on the defence budget.

The Type 26 presents an opportunity to act upon those experiences. Consideration should be given to the timing and specification. If they are to be built, let us ensure that other navies will want them too. After all, if they are good enough for the Royal Navy, they are good enough for any navy. If we achieve that, it will be a dreadnought moment in UK procurement. We have not sold a new Navy-designed ship abroad since the 1970s, but it is achievable. Britain is already selling standard kit to the US navy. Innovative Rolls-Royce gas turbines will power the DDG-1000 and are already powering the USS Freedom. We must focus on trade deals where they are viable and strategically advantageous. I am sure that there will be disagreement about my views, but I will not falter in making this argument, and I point out to my critics that HMS Penelope latterly became known as HMS Pepperpot because of her ability to endure massive amounts of shelling and remain afloat and able to return fire. I thank hon. Members for listening to my arguments and I shall end as Sir Roger did, by quoting Lord Nelson, whose words are as relevant now as ever:

8.13 pm

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