Previous Section Index Home Page

Eric Joyce (Falkirk) (Lab): I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt). She certainly advanced a sophisticated argument for the interests of the Navy and she should be congratulated on listening so carefully to her predecessor, Sir Roger. However, I am not sure about all of that knights on chargers stuff-I am always a bit sceptical about all that. I thought she was a bit scary. It was nice that she referred to my colleague and her predecessor, Sarah McCarthy-Fry. I know that everyone
21 Jun 2010 : Column 105
who serves a constituency with a big military naval or air force interest must largely follow that trend, but I think that the world we are in leads us to leave that behind. Today's debate leads us to reflect on the fact that many people, including Opposition Members, have to consider not only their constituents' interests but the fact that we are in a complex and difficult time financially and that we have to look to defend the realm in ways that leave sectional interests behind. However, I thought that the hon. Lady's speech was super. I can imagine her on a horse, but I am trying to stay legal here. It was a tremendous speech. There have been a number of really good opening speeches tonight. I have probably said enough about that, except I must say that I thought her comments about her predecessor were a bit acerbic.

I want to address two issues in the brief time available to me, starting with a quick word about Trident. My personal perspective is that Opposition Front Benchers are slightly constrained by the fact that we were in government until quite recently, so we cannot really put a proper Opposition perspective on things at the moment. That is simply the way it is. I am not being critical of Labour Front Benchers, who are all very good and who excelled as Defence Ministers. It is just the way things are: things change, we are now in opposition, and I think that our profile will change in some ways too.

It is bizarre to argue that we voted Trident through in 2007, so now it should be fine, which is essentially the Secretary of State's position. There are many things that we voted for in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 on which the position will have changed, because, as I understand it, this Government have a different prospectus from the previous Government. The idea that Labour had that as a policy when in government and should therefore follow that line is not really an argument at all. The fact is that both the Conservatives and Labour are afraid of Trident as a truly political issue, and this is not really a defence issue, but a political issue. The Conservatives are afraid-some Back Benchers are afraid-because it looks as though we are yielding something to the French or yielding some international prestige. Labour is, to some degree, afraid, because it looks as though we are going back to the 1980s.

The Secretary of State said something quite prescient in his opening speech-that we must not have a view that is essentially the view of that a generation ago. There are Members on the Government Benches who know much more about this than I do, but that is a classic position on defence policy-that we must not look to the past few campaigns to work out what to do in future. However, that is exactly what we are doing with Trident.

I have with me a whole bunch of cheap quotes-I could not help noticing that the Minister for the Armed Forces glanced up at me then-but I am not going to use them. I just am not cheap enough. I cannot; I am not going to do it. The Minister has advanced many intelligent arguments, but now he is in government he cannot do that, so he must be very frustrated. There was a piece in The Guardian today by Baroness Williams from the other place. I do not know whether the Minister put her up to it, but it was preposterous, saying that we should perhaps reduce from four boats to three. Conservative Members might say, "Hang on-that was kind of hinted at from your perspective six months ago", but it is ridiculous and absolutely mad. People at the Ministry of Defence probably spent 15, 20 or 25 years
21 Jun 2010 : Column 106
thinking what our policy on replacing Polaris should be. They did not just say, "Is it four, or is it three?" Hon. Members can imagine a guy turning up at the MOD with a very large lorry, going upstairs to the fifth or sixth storey and saying to the Secretary of State, "Here are your boats mate; here are your Tridents," and the Secretary of State saying, "Right, let's have one up there in Scotland, one doing training or something and one out at sea." Can hon. Members imagine the chap saying, "Well, you've got another one-a fourth one," and the Secretary of State replying, "There's a fourth! I didn't know about that. Can you stick it up in Hertfordshire and cover it with foliage and twigs, and we'll chat about it in a couple of years' time"?

Dr Julian Lewis: I am fascinated by this point about the number of submarines required. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the plan was originally to have five Polaris submarines and that the number was reduced to four by the incoming Labour Government to give them an excuse to say that they were doing something different from the previous Conservative Government? I sometimes get the impression that some of my now allies are trying to make the same sort of suggestion about changing the number from four to three for a similar reason.

Eric Joyce: I enjoy giving way to the hon. Gentleman. He made an excellent speech earlier, and I will come to him in a moment; the second part of my speech is on Afghanistan.

Although I may not be qualified to say this, the position of successive Governments on Trident is incoherent militarily; it is political argument. Frankly, the idea that someone can simply pop up in an article in The Guardian or as part of the Government and say, "Let's knock it from four down to three" is completely mad. Therefore, this turns on a geopolitical argument, which we can discuss, but-guess what?-if it is excluded from a defence review or, indeed, to be fair, a shadow defence review, we cannot discuss it. We simply say, "That's not going to cut the mustard, so we'll just leave it out. It's a bit embarrassing, so just push it out." That is like suggesting that we should exclude Trident when considering how much we spend on defence each year, or not saying that we spend 2.3% of our gross domestic product on defence, but, for those reasons, we should not do that.

Trident is not really a military question at all; it is a geopolitical question and one for the Prime Minister. I sometimes think that it is rather odd that we even discuss it in defence debates. It is most peculiar that Trident is excluded, and perhaps any defence review with proper integrity would include it. Such a review may conclude that we need Trident or its successor, that we need something different or that we need nothing, but leaving it out is simply an admission that we cannot stack up the argument.

In my last two minutes and four seconds, I shall zoom on to Afghanistan. The same problem exists, because we have an interim situation in the Opposition. The hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) has ideas that are worth fleshing out. We cannot properly oppose the position at the moment, because politics is as it is. I listened to the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) and other Members with very great interest. My instinct is that Government Back Benchers have considerable experience, which creates a sense of not disloyalty but
21 Jun 2010 : Column 107
ambivalence, with a generation of different ideas that are not classically conservative but are creative and imaginative. That is not to say that one agrees with them, but a lot more of that is going on among Government Members than can happen among Opposition Members. The difficulty is where we are at the moment politically. That will change at the end of the year, but defence debates can be decidedly dull for correspondents in other places, because we tend to agree, which is a bit boring, is it not? However, quite interesting stuff is going on among Government Back Benchers, and Opposition Back Benchers are a little constrained at the moment.

Crucial though issues such as jobs are, I should like to think that future debates in the House would not simply revolve around constituency sectional interests and manufacturing. Our debates need to be about something rather more than that; they need to be much more about the future of foreign and defence policy, what we need to do in this country, whether we pay too much obeisance to the United States and whether we get back in return what we give in geopolitical influence. Those are the key issues that we should be considering, and some of them have been broached tonight.

8.23 pm

Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con): I am grateful to catch your eye, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I congratulate all the hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches tonight.

My constituency of South East Cornwall was known as the Bodmin constituency until 1983. It is an honour to follow my predecessor, Colin Breed, who was a dedicated campaigner on behalf of those who work in the defence industry until his retirement from the House this year and who was well respected throughout the constituency. I should also like to pay tribute to Sir Robert Hicks. Held in high esteem by so many and first elected as MP for Bodmin in 1970, he spoke up for Devonport naval base and dockyard throughout his political career until 1997.

It is ironic that another former MP for Bodmin, John Rathbone, was killed while defending our nation in December 1940 during the battle of Britain and was succeeded by his wife, Beatrice, the first female MP for Bodmin who was elected unopposed in 1941. As Beatrice Wright, she became vice-president of the Royal National Institute for Deaf People and founded Hearing Dogs for Deaf People.

South East Cornwall is a mainly rural constituency, bounded by the River Fowey in the west and the Tamar in the east. It is economically reliant on farming, tourism and small enterprise. It is a truly beautiful part of the county, with hill farms on the border of Bodmin moor and lush market gardens in the Tamar valley, the beautiful Rame peninsula, where I am fortunate to have my home, and a coastline and beaches that attract thousands of holidaymakers. I would welcome any hon. Member to come and have a holiday in South East Cornwall, because I know that they would be made to feel welcome.

Six small towns form the main areas of population throughout the constituency. At Lostwithiel in the west, the Stannary palace is reputed to be the oldest non-ecclesiastical building in Cornwall. The market town of
21 Jun 2010 : Column 108
Liskeard was home to the former Caradon district council and is where the fortnightly cattle market provides an opportunity for farmers and rural villagers to come together. The coastal town of Looe, along with the neighbouring villages of Polperro and Polruan, provides superb tourism locations, while the much depleted commercial fishing industry is just about withstanding the devastating hardship heaped upon it through the present economic situation, the European common fisheries policy and the disastrous way in which the last Administration mishandled the quota management system for the small under 10 metre fishing fleet-believe me, I know, because I am married to a fisherman.

In the north of the constituency, Callington is home to Ginsters-the largest enterprise in the constituency-and the town also boasts the first school in Cornwall to gain foundation status.

Saltash and Torpoint on the eastern bank of the Tamar rely on the neighbouring city of Plymouth for much employment. Devonport dockyard and naval base generate around £850 million per year for the immediate local economy and are responsible, directly and indirectly, for 24,000 jobs. A large number of the Devonport work force live in South East Cornwall and, without that, Torpoint and Saltash could become ghost towns.

I am delighted to welcome my right hon. Friend as the new Secretary of State for Defence, although he is not sitting in his place at the moment, and I welcome my colleague, the Minister for the Armed Forces.

The news that the Trident replacement will not be included in the forthcoming strategic defence and security review is welcome. The nuclear deterrent is necessary to deter the most destructive forms of aggression. I believe that the most cost-effective way to deliver a future maintenance programme for the continuous at-sea deterrent will be to use the refit facilities already in place at Devonport dockyard, and I hope that my right hon. Friends agree.

HMS Raleigh-the Royal Navy's premier training establishment in the south-west and a real part of the community, where all ratings join the service and receive the first phase of their naval training-is located in South East Cornwall and has considerable influence on the town of Torpoint, as well as the Rame peninsula. Four new accommodation blocks, built as part of the major upgrade of facilities, have recently been unveiled. They are named Antelope, Ardent, Sir Galahad and Conqueror to commemorate four ships that played a part in the Falklands campaign.

I have a specific interest in the Navy because my daughter is a serving Royal Navy officer. I have gained first-hand knowledge of the various ways in which our senior service operates in many roles around the globe. The Royal Navy is flexible, resilient and capable, providing Government with a range of options to deal with threats and challenges facing the UK and her allies. The varied tasks undertaken include: providing support for the Department for International Development; supporting the Home Office in protecting the territorial integrity of our home waters; providing fishery protection in English, Welsh and Northern Irish waters; and supporting the Cabinet Office in co-ordinating UK maritime surveillance information.

The UK has been the world's most successful defence exporter over the past 10 years, and the naval sector earns around £3 billion of revenue per year. Flag-officer
21 Jun 2010 : Column 109
sea training is based in Plymouth. Over 100 ships and submarines from the Royal Navy and the navies of NATO and allied nations benefit from FOST's training expertise each year. I hope that the strategic defence review will recognise the return that could be generated from any investment in the Royal Navy, which offers variety and flexibility in the way in which it operates. I hope that my colleagues on the Government Front Bench appreciate that Devonport's dockyard and naval base provide South East Cornwall and, indeed, the city of Plymouth with a huge amount of benefits. I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to keep funding in South East Cornwall, and to use the wealth of expertise that we have in our area.

8.30 pm

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): May I first congratulate all Members on both sides of the House on their superb maiden speeches? We have heard some excellent contributions, including from the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray)-I am sure that the House wishes her daughter all the best in her career-and the hon. Members for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti), and for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile).

This has been an excellent debate because of the cross-party consensus about the need for a rational, thoughtful defence review. I think that we Labour Members can all recognise that there are areas of waste that we can look to cut. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) will be happy to supply the Government Front Benchers with a list of projects and areas of expense that they can cut to begin with.

I hope that the Minister for the Armed Forces will give answers on some pressing issues that my constituents-and, from the sound of it, constituents of Members on both sides of the House-have about the future of our two new aircraft carriers. It might be helpful if I gave a flavour of the size and scale of the two new super-carriers, and their importance to the Royal Navy. Each is 65,000 tonnes at full displacement. They are three times bigger than anything that the Royal Navy has ever built or used, going back 500 years. Each will have 1,600 personnel and 40 aircraft on board, and have a range of up to 10,000 nautical miles. They are absolutely crucial to our future force projection and to the expeditionary role that our armed forces will play. It is perhaps also worth reflecting on the fact that there are 10,000 British highly skilled, highly prized manufacturing jobs at stake.

Mark Menzies indicated assent.

Thomas Docherty: I note that the hon. Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) is nodding away; he will know, as will Members on both sides of the House, how crucial such jobs are.

Perhaps it is worth reflecting on why we need these two new super-carriers. It was clear from the last strategic defence review, carried out in 1998 by the then Secretary of State, that the existing carrier fleet was from the cold war era. It was built around the idea of anti-submarine warfare. That threat has thankfully receded, and we will face new types of threat. It is not plausible simply to
21 Jun 2010 : Column 110
rely on the good will and good nature of foreign powers in letting us use their territories for conducting expeditionary operations. That is why we need the force projection that only the carriers can provide. It took five years to set up the aircraft carrier alliance, which has developed the project. That is important, because when discussing something in the region of £4 billion-worth of expenditure, people tend not to rush into things, and I hope that Members in all parts of the House accept that the previous Government made sure not only that there was a good deal for British industry but that, crucially, there was a good deal for the British taxpayer. That is why it took so long for the project to come to fruition. I note the comments about the bow sections, which have now been completed for the first of the two aircraft carriers and have arrived in my constituency for assembly.

Many Members, however, are rightly concerned about the comments about the second aircraft carrier, HMS Prince of Wales, which is due to roll into the Forth in 2017-18. I should be grateful if the Minister tried to answer four or five questions. First, when will the formal period of consultation on the defence review begin? There is great anticipation, both in the House and across the country, and we want some certainty. Secondly, how long will that formal consultation last and will he, as the previous Government did in its SDR, make sure that interested organisations-I am thinking of trade unions, the defence industry, local authorities, the Scottish and Welsh Governments-have an opportunity to make some input into the SDR?

Will the Minister also clarify what weighting the Government will give, not just to military need, which should be paramount, but-and we have heard some good contributions on this-the vital role that the contract will play as a platform for our defence industry to export ideas, technology and skills to other countries? There has been some speculation-and the Minister may wish to shed light on this-about whether or not a foreign country has expressed interest in buying an aircraft carrier, using the skills and expertise that British companies have developed. Finally, will he explain what weighting will be given to the socio-economic role played by the aircraft carriers? As I have said, 10,000 jobs depend on the contracts going ahead, and there is trepidation among Opposition Members, who fear that if the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills gets his way, and the second carrier is delayed, mothballed or downgraded, those jobs will be in danger.

Will the Minister explain whether, as part of the overall defence review, the future of the Fleet Air Arm will be considered? Without wishing to prejudice the argument, many people would suggest, given that the two carriers will use the joint strike fighter with the Royal Air Force, that the time has come to have a thorough review of whether the Fleet Air Arm should become part of the RAF. I should be grateful if he outlined his thoughts on that. Finally, this has been an excellent debate, and I should like to conclude by wishing the Minister well in his role, and assuring the House that the Opposition will give our full support to a thorough, thoughtful and long-term defence review.

8.38 pm

Next Section Index Home Page