Karen Lumley (Redditch) (Con):
First, Mr Deputy Speaker, may I congratulate you on your new role? We have known each other for more years than I care to
remember-[Hon. Members: "Oh!"] To put that in context, I helped Nigel in his first ever by-election in Ribble Valley many years ago. I do not remember exactly when, but it seems a long time ago.
I am grateful, Mr Deputy Speaker for the opportunity to give my maiden speech in this great debate. I welcome the review, and very much look forward to discussing the issue with my constituents and to making my submission. I pay tribute to the courage and determination of all our armed forces fighting on the front line in Afghanistan. I would especially like to pay tribute to those in the Mercian Regiment, some of whom are from my constituency, and want to give a special mention to a brave soldier from Redditch whose funeral I attended last year-a lance corporal from the Parachute Regiment.
It is an honour to be the first elected Member of Parliament for the new constituency of Redditch county. Although I was unsuccessful, I fought the old Redditch seat twice before. The new seat of Redditch county includes the rural areas of the Lenches and Hanbury, whose church, legend has it, features in the radio show, "The Archers". They are very beautiful parts of the county of Worcestershire and I am honoured to represent them. These parts of the new seat were, until this election, represented by my good friend, and hon. Friend, the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff), who has helped and supported me through my whole time in Redditch.
I would like to pay tribute to my immediate predecessor, the right hon. Jacqui Smith, who was this country's first woman Home Secretary. Jacqui was renowned in Redditch for being a great constituency MP and in that I certainly have a hard act to follow. Jacqui Smith and I have three things in common. We are both mothers with two children, we both have sisters called Sarah, and we both have husbands called Richard. But I think we will leave that one there. I wish her well in whatever she now chooses to pursue.
Redditch is a new town and was designated so in 1964, the year I was born. Back then it had a population of some 29,000 and included lovely areas such as Headless Cross and Webheath. It has grown significantly since then, and the new constituency has some 66,000 voters and includes the lovely villages of Cookhill, Feckenham, Inkberrow, Hanbury, Stock and Bradley Green, Abbots Morton and the Lenches. For those who listen to "The Archers", it is believed that Inkberrow is the model for Ambridge, so I invite all right hon. and hon. Members to come to Inkberrow for a drink in the Old Bull, which is delightful.
Redditch county is a mixture of rural and urban communities and in that there are many challenges to face. The town of Redditch has suffered the loss of many manufacturing jobs over the years, especially with the demise of the car industry. However, in their place, there are many small and medium-sized businesses that will be looking to us to try to build the economy and ensure direct investment into our country and into Redditch. One of those companies hoping for a push in the right direction is Mettis Aerospace, a company that provides components to the aerospace industry and
employs hundreds of Redditch residents. I am sure the Secretary of State remembers visiting that successful company with me a few years ago.
As well as the larger employers in Redditch, we cannot forget the many smaller companies that I have visited over the years. I have been extremely impressed by their dedication, business know-how and commitment to their staff.
I hope that Members here today will take the time to visit Redditch, especially the site of Bordesley abbey, where the 12th century monks set up home, as well as the Forge Mill museum, which tracks the development of industry in Redditch through needle-making and the manufacture of fishing hooks. I am happy to say, and I know my constituents will be delighted to hear, that in 2012 Redditch will have a brand-new swimming pool, courtesy of the Conservative-controlled council, to complement a wonderful theatre that has been lovingly refurbished.
There are many fine schools in Redditch. I firmly believe in the best education that we can provide. Both my children were educated in the state system and received a great education at St Augustine's high school in Redditch. I am very proud to be chairman of governors at Vaynor first school, which is one of the largest first schools in the UK. For those Members who do not know, Worcestershire is one of the lowest funded authorities in the country, and I promise to make it my mission to address that while I am a Member of Parliament.
I would like to finish by saying that I am so proud to be here, standing up for the people of Redditch county, and fighting on their behalf. It has taken me 10 years, but it has been worth it. I hope that I am able to make a difference to their lives and repay the trust that they have put in me. Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech today.
Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate the hon. Member for Redditch (Karen Lumley) on a wonderful maiden speech. I gave mine a couple of weeks ago, and I know that making the speech is not as trying as the nerves while waiting to make it. The hon. Lady makes Redditch sound idyllic, and if I have the chance I will visit it one day.
I would like to pay my own tribute to all the men and women who serve in our armed forces. Our hearts go out on this sad day to all those who have lost loved ones. Their bravery and courage is truly remarkable, and their dedication both to their duty and to our country demonstrates why they are rightly described as the finest force in the world. We should all be very proud of them and deeply grateful for all they do to protect our country. Joining the forces is not like joining Barclays or Tesco. We ask those brave men and women to put their lives on the line for our security, and in return we must honour their commitment. Therefore, the guiding principle of the strategic defence and security review must be the safety of our armed forces.
We all know very well that the troops who are in greatest danger today are those serving in Afghanistan. Our security here in Britain is directly affected by what
happens in Afghanistan. If we are to prevent terrorism on our streets here at home, we must see our job in Afghanistan through to its conclusion. The Secretary of State said recently, in a speech at the Royal United Services Institute, that our people in Afghanistan will get the best possible support. For me, the best possible support for our forces is to provide them with the best possible equipment.
Our forces in Afghanistan are continually exposed to the threat of attack from Taliban forces, using improvised explosive devices. The Prime Minister's announcement on his recent visit to Afghanistan of extra spending on armoured vehicles and other specialised equipment that will protect British forces in Afghanistan from those devices is certainly welcome. In one of their last acts, the Labour Government awarded the contract for the new generation of armoured fighting vehicles to General Dynamics for its ASCOD specialist vehicle. I well remember being at its site in Newbridge in March to hear employees greet the announcement with cheers and a sense of relief.
Once in service, these new specialist vehicles will bring significant benefits for our troops serving in places such as Afghanistan, including improved protection, greater fire power, longer-range sensors and sighting systems, and greater reliability. During its testing, the vehicle withstood attacks from the latest mine threats, and it also allows additional protection to be fitted as new threats arise. This affords the maximum protection to our troops inside the vehicle and will, without doubt, save the lives of members of our armed forces.
Warfare of the type currently encountered in Afghanistan requires vehicles that can protect our soldiers from all kinds of attack. Protection is now the essence of modern warfare, and the new specialist vehicle will deliver exceptional levels of protection for British troops from the day it enters service. The era of the cold war is now long in the past, thank God, and it seems increasingly likely that the conflicts of the future will involve fighting of the type seen in Afghanistan. We must now focus on equipping our forces properly for such of conflicts, and I hope that this review will focus on how best to achieve that. Therefore, I urge the Government to protect this vital project.
In addition to the military case for maintaining the contract with General Dynamics, there is also an economic case for continuing the contract. Eight regions of the UK are set to benefit in terms of employment as a result of General Dynamics being awarded the specialist vehicle contract. In addition, supply chain jobs fall across the country, as key suppliers are located in Scotland, the north of England, the north-west, the east midlands and the south of England, as well as in Wales and the west midlands. Across the UK, this will mean that 10,500 jobs will be created or safeguarded for British-based companies and organisations.
In Wales, we expect at least 200 new jobs to be created and 250 more to be protected, many of which are based in my constituency of Islwyn. When the Oakdale colliery closed in 1989 with the loss of hundreds of jobs, the future for the local economy looked bleak. However, now in place of the pits is a business park where General Dynamics employs hundreds of highly skilled engineers who will, we hope, soon be working on another of the Government's most important defence contracts. Providing jobs for such a large number of people across our country, at a time when many fear unemployment,
would be a great boost for many local economies and will help us to secure the recovery. Creating and protecting those jobs right across the country will also safeguard key skills and sustain future capabilities for armoured fighting vehicle development and production in the UK. That will ensure that the British tank building industry is maintained, which can only be good for jobs, for industry and for the economy.
I caution the Government against going back on deals that have already been signed. If international companies are given the runaround by the Government they may decide to pack up and leave, which would be a huge blow to the economy, both locally and nationally. Therefore, I urge the Secretary of State and his colleagues to ensure that this vital piece of kit for our soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan is delivered as soon as possible, both to protect our troops and to protect our jobs. The consequences of cutting that project would be disastrous for our armed forces and our economy. I ask the Government to guarantee today that the project will not be cut, and to assure me that our soldiers' safety and our economic recovery will not be endangered in the name of reducing the deficit. Our troops are brave, and I sincerely hope that the review will ensure that in the years to come they will be able to do their job in the best possible way. They are the best, and they deserve the very best from the Government. Anything less will be a betrayal of their commitment.
Mr Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con): Congratulations to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, on your elevation. I am grateful to you for allowing me to speak in this debate. Today is my wedding anniversary, and I hope that making my maiden speech in this place is just about a good enough reason for not wining and dining Mrs Brine this evening. I pay tribute to colleagues from all parts of the House for their good speeches in a very good debate, and to colleagues who have made their maiden speeches-probably far better ones than this. There can be few debates of more significance right now, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary on his new position and pay tribute to him for the strong lead that he gave the House in opening today's debate.
I have the great honour of rising to address the House as the Member for Winchester. The area first returned Members to Parliament only in 1295. Modern day Winchester has undergone significant boundary changes since the 2005 general election, yet it remains focused on the great city of Winchester itself. I also represent, and am pleased to do so, the charming market town of Alresford in the north, famed for its watercress beds and steam railway, the pretty villages of the Itchen valley, including my own village of Easton, the stunning Hampshire downlands of Wonston and Micheldever, and as far south as Colden Common and Twyford.
I also represent four wards of the borough of Eastleigh, across Chandler's Ford and Hiltingbury. It is often said to me that at each election the people of Chandler's Ford and Hiltingbury look very carefully to see where they are going to be asked to vote this time, so often have they been moved around, so I ask the Boundary Commission, if it looks at Hampshire again, to leave the good people of Chandler's Ford and Hiltingbury in peace just this once.
Those major changes mean that I take over from one current Member and two former Members: the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, the right hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne), Sandra Gidley and Mark Oaten-who vacated the major part of the new Winchester constituency. It is no secret that my predecessor left the House in difficult circumstances, but I pay tribute to Mark for his work over 13 years as the Member for Winchester, and I thank him genuinely for being a gentleman and a consummate professional in his dealings with me when I was a candidate. I count Mark today as a friend, I know how very well respected he was in the constituency and in the House, and I wish him and his family every success for the future.
Members will be aware that Winchester is an ancient place. Once, during Saxon times, it was the capital of England, and we shall be happy to take that status back at any time. The cathedral is still at the heart of life in our city, and the Bishop of Winchester is one of just 26 Church of England bishops to sit in the other place during their time in office. We have the second oldest mayoralty in the land, but our main newspaper, the Hampshire Chronicle, is a relatively new boy, having been established only in 1772.
We do history well in Winchester. King Arthur's legendary round table hangs in the great hall, we have England's oldest and most perfect almshouse at St Cross, and we have King Alfred-Alfred the Great. The great man is far from forgotten by today's residents. He keeps watch over the city from his vantage point on the Broadway, and he is served magnificently today by the Hyde900 project.
Today, Winchester is a vibrant, bustling and cosmopolitan city that boasts one of the largest sixth forms in the country at Peter Symonds college, the self-confident university of Winchester and, quite literally, schools to move for. As the county town of Hampshire, we host the headquarters of Hampshire county council, HMP Winchester and the headquarters of Hampshire constabulary.
My constituency has a proud military tradition, and I look forward to making my voice heard in the House on defence matters. The city has no fewer than five military museums, including the Royal Hampshire Regiment museum. The Royal Hampshire, now the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment, is based in Winchester and counts a Brine, my grandfather, as part of its proud history. The city will be very much focused on the brave men and women of 11 Light Brigade on Wednesday this week, when we host the royal welcome home parade from Afghanistan. I will be there, of course, as will several Front-Bench Members. I assure the House that we will give the brigade the best Hampshire welcome home.
In my constituency we are proud of our military history, but it is not all about museums, and it must never be. The Army is still firmly in my constituency at Worthy Down camp, which is still-for now, at least-the home of the Adjutant General's Corps. My constituency also includes the Army training regiment, whose future I am keen to secure as contracts are considered and reviewed for initial support and logistics training.
The strategic defence and security review is a marked opportunity for our nation to re-engage not only this House-we have certainly done that this afternoon-but
the wider public in the invaluable work done by our armed forces to secure our national security. While I am in this House, I intend to be a clear and persistent voice in favour of ensuring that the new Government honour their promise, as I know they will, to repair the military covenant for the sake of our men and women in the field, as well as the families back home living in places such as Worthy Down camp in my constituency.
The national health service is one of the factors that drove me into the House. At present, my constituents are well served by a much loved district general hospital in Winchester-it was home to much of the good work of Florence Nightingale in her early days-and by large general hospitals in nearby Basingstoke and Southampton. During my time as a candidate, including during the election, I campaigned vigorously and clearly to maintain services, most especially A and E and maternity services in Winchester. I believe that I was elected with a clear mandate to see that that happens. The issues affecting the future of district general hospitals such as Winchester's will be at the heart of the health debate in this Parliament, and I promise the House that I will argue passionately for their place in a modern NHS.
Already the people whom I represent have felt the new Government's presence. The removal of regional strategies and top-down housing targets has been warmly welcomed in Winchester and Chandler's Ford. The tireless campaigners of the Save Barton Farm group and many others in my constituency are among those who warmly welcome their abolition. I pay tribute to the work of those campaigners to protect Winchester and surrounding areas from gross overdevelopment.
This is probably a cliché, but it is no less true for that: I am the first member of my immediate family to go to university, and many are proud of that. As I said, my family includes a brave man of the Royal Hampshire Regiment, one of the original Tolpuddle martyrs-according to family legend-and now the Conservative MP for Winchester. Brinism, if there is ever such a word, is a very big tent indeed.
Gemma Doyle (West Dunbartonshire) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr Brine), who took us on an enchanting tour of his constituency and touched on some serious issues; I am sure he will represent his constituents excellently.
Defence spending and investment is of particular importance to my constituency, which is potentially under attack on two fronts by more than one party in the Chamber. Faslane naval base, the home of Trident, sits just outside the western end of my constituency and the Clyde shipyards working on the aircraft carriers sit just outside the eastern end. Disappointingly, the new Government have not committed to backing the new aircraft carrier projects and, frankly, have not given good enough answers today about the replacement of Trident.
At the same time, the Scottish National party Government would, if they could, try to remove Trident from Faslane, and as a consequence would run down the base there. Multilateral disarmament is a noble aim that I support, but it would be foolhardy, to say the least, to get rid of our nuclear deterrent when other countries will not. Negotiation is the best way forward.
[Interruption.] The Secretary of State is now in his place. I thank him for his letter to me and a few other Members last week, which came with a glossy booklet that seems to have been commissioned since his appointment. In his letter, he writes: