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Next week, on 16 October, we shall celebrate the centenary of flight in this country. There will be a fly- past, which my right hon. Friend can watch, and I will be flying the De Havilland Canada 1a Chipmunk
sandwiched between a Hurricane and a Vulcan. That spectacle will be on view at Farnborough next Thursday, weather permitting. We will have the opportunity to demonstrate how Britain has made such a contribution to, and led the world in, the aviation business during the past century.
The hon. Member for Telford and my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) drew our attention to the concerns about training in their constituencies. Both of them have been members of the armed forces parliamentary scheme, as, I think, has the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport. I think that that speaks volumes for the value of the AFPS.
My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) is an absolute expert on reserve forces, and he paid tribute to their role in his speech. He has also produced some excellent reports, which the House would do well to study. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) said that when the First Sea Lord warns about cutbacks to the naval programme he needs to be heeded. The last one made the same cuts, and he got a peerage, so this one probably can as well.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) referred to the repatriation of the fallen through his constituency. All of us will have been hugely impressed by the people of Wootton Bassett in his constituency, whom we have seen on television and who have given the fallen the dignity of a heros return, for which the entire nation ought to be grateful.
The debate clearly takes place against a background of the darkest possible economic conditions, the full fallout of which we must await and in turn assess in relation to future spending priorities, but we cannot allow those matters, however weighty, to distract us from attending to the needs of our armed forces.
Much mention has been made of the need to look at the new geopolitical situation. For the past year, I have been warning that we ignore what Russia is doing at our peril. While I understand what my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton) said about the need to deal with the situation in Afghanistanmuch of which task has been done, as she pointed outit would nevertheless be foolish not to note how Russia is now behaving: invading Georgia, claiming the Arctic and rebuilding its military capability.
I am sorry that the Minister was insulting about our military covenant commission. We have some distinguished people on it and it would be good for him to apologise, because Simon Weston, John Keegan and Rear Admiral Iain Henderson are not people to be trifled with.
Much mention has also been made of Help for Heroes and other charities, which have done a fantastic job. They are much in tune with the public spirit, which is support for our armed forces. The high command has been slow to recognise the public support that exists for the armed forces.
By the Governments own admission, the state of the armed forces is parlous and they have failed to resource the armed forces to meet the current international challenges. Those failings are fully annotated in the Ministry of Defences own annual report and accounts, but the nation has every reason to take pride in the courage, loyalty and commitment of our armed forces, which continue to set the standards against which other nations are judged. They are supported by a defence
industry that is striving to ensure that they have the very best equipment, preferably sourced from the UK, to discharge the responsibilities imposed on them by us, the politicians. Our servicemen and women, together with their families, deserve the best support that the country can give them.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Kevan Jones): I start by associating myself with the expressions of sympathy for those who have fallen over the summer and those who have been injured in the service of their country. I thank everyone for their kind words during the debate, although I am not sure how long they will last, and for the cards.
Mr. Jones: As the hon. Gentleman says, it will be the only time. I also thank everyone for the kind letters that I have received, including one from a member of the Defence Committee, which said, Your moving on is a little like toothache: you miss it when its gone.
I also pay tribute to my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Derek Twigg), and his tremendous work on behalf of veterans, and to the former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Des Browne). I thank the members of the Defence Committee, where I had seven and a half wonderful years, and the Chairman and Vice-Chairman for the work that they have done. I also thank the staff and the special advisers for their hard work.
Members will be reassured to know that I am now a fully trained-up memberI have just signed up this weekof the new Ministry of Defence poacher-turned-gamekeeper course. This has been an interesting experience and learning curve, but I must say that I have been welcomed and I acknowledge the enthusiasm and dedication of the staff and military personnel I have worked with in the last few days.
If I do not cover all the subjects raised, I will write to any hon. Members who brought up specific points. The hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) raised JPAjoint personnel administration. My predecessor commissioned a report on some of the problems and this week I met the Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff and the three principal personnel officers. I have actioned that report and asked them to ensure that it is on the agenda for my monthly meetings; rest assured that I will be on top of it.
Mental health was raised, and members of the Select Committee know that it is an area in which I take great interest. I have had a meeting this week with the Surgeon General and Dr. Ian Palmer of the mental health medical assessment programme. I have asked for work to be commissioned on the issue to ensure that it is a top priority. I know that it is causing concern and I want to ensure that the armed forces get the best mental health carenot just while they are in service, but afterwards.
The hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) raised the issue of Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith. I had the privilege of meeting the brigadier in July when I was in Afghanistan. I pay tribute to him and his men for their tremendous work on our behalf. The position is
clear and not ambiguous: as the Prime Minister said on 12 December, we do not negotiate with the Taliban, but we will work with the Afghan Government in relation to those people who are prepared to renounce violence. As the right hon. Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot) knows, we sat down with some people who had done that when we were there. I do not think that the brigadier or the stabilisation team, whom we met in Lashkagar and are doing a tremendous job, would disagree with that approach. Anyone who tries to say that the military are doing everything should look at the stabilisation team working in Lashkagar, because it is a great joined-up effort.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Devonport (Alison Seabeck) and for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) for their hard work on behalf of Devonport and the Devonport strategy group. I understand their frustration, but I reiterate the point made by my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces in his letter: there is no equivocation about the Governments commitment to Devonport. With two such strong advocates, I am sure that I will get regular updates. The naval base review will deliver what is planned.
The hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey) covered a few issues, including the future rapid effect systemas the hon. Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton) knows, I am a FRES anorak, along with her, and follow it in detail. She rightly paid tribute to the operational requirements delivered in Afghanistan, and I have seen the protection given to our servicemen and women on the ground in both Afghanistan and Iraq. I pay tribute to the team who have got those urgent operational requirements into theatre.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) made a fantastic speech. I have known him a long time. He and I worked together, along with Lord Robertson, and the GMB trade union is obviously a good breeding ground for Defence Ministers. My hon. Friend takes a great interest in European affairs, and I agree with him that we cannot insulate ourselves from the rest of the world. We need to emphasise that.
The right hon. Member for North-East Hampshire will be pleased to know that this week I met the Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff for personnel and three personnel officers and asked them to do some work on retentionnot just in relation to pay, but to find out what else can be done. I received the right hon. Gentlemans letter about his trip to Israel. Not only will I respond to it, but I would like to speak to him about it. I understand his concerns about affordable housing. That issue is on my radar screen, and a piece of work has been commissioned this week.
My hon. Friend the Member for Telford (David Wright) is a strong advocate for his constituency. I think that he is trying to get me to name a ship after him or Telford, which would be difficult. Perhaps he should follow the example of Durham county council, which is proudly associated with HMS Bulwark. He mentioned the success of the veterans badge, of which 650,000 have been produced. They are valued and welcome in recognising the debt of honour to those men and women who have sacrificed their lives and worked on our behalf.
My hon. Friend also mentioned the situation of those injured and killed on operations. On 10 June the Secretary of State announced a scroll and emblem for the next of kin of those who have lost their lives in action on our behalf. I thank and pay tribute to the Daily Mirror for its campaign on that.
With time short, I apologise to other Members whose contributions I will not be able to cover. I find this an exciting brief, and I will ensure that the voice of veterans, and of the ordinary man and woman who serve on our behalf is heard loudly in the Ministry of Defence.
Let me also say, in the spirit of bipartisanship referred to by the hon. Member for New Forest, East, that I want to work with Members in all parts of the House to ensure that we secure not only the best possible conditions but the best possible recognition for our armed forces.
Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): I am very pleased to have an opportunity to address the House on the subject of Gibraltar, and I do so with great pride, both as an active member of the all-party parliamentary Gibraltar group and in my capacity as chairman of Conservative Friends of Gibraltar. Both those groups work to fortify the already strong relationship between the peoples and Governments of Gibraltar and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I am proud to be strongly linked to Gibraltar as a result of many years of visiting the Rock and campaigning to support the rights, freedoms and self-determination of the great British Gibraltarian people, and I want to take this opportunity to champion a distinctive, welcoming and loyal British Overseas Territory.
Located on the southernmost tip of the Iberian peninsula, Gibraltar is the gateway to the Mediterranean sea from the Atlantic ocean. The Rock overlooks the Straits of Gibraltar, which separate southern Europe from northern Africa. Small though it may be, consisting of an area of just under 6 square miles and with a population of around 28,000, Gibraltar nevertheless boasts a rich and varied culture and a blossoming economy, and is a fine example of an established, progressive and modern democracy.
As Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory, its Head of State is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen is served by the Governor, currently His Excellency Lieutenant-General Sir Robert Fulton KBE, who is the representative of the Crown. The role of the Governor is largely ceremonial, but the United Kingdom still retains responsibility for important areas such as defence, foreign policy, international security and finance.
In London, Gibraltar is represented by Albert Poggio OBE, who is the head of the Gibraltar Government Office and manages a team of dedicated staff in the Strand, looking after the interests of Gibraltar in the United Kingdom 365 days of the year. Albert does a magnificent job for Gibraltar and I pay tribute to him for doing so much to defend and promote it, especially during such politically difficult times. It is thanks to Albert Poggio that Gibraltar has so many friends here in Parliament, in all parts of the House.
The Hon. Peter Caruana, QC, is the elected Chief Minister of Gibraltar, and has served the people of the Rock with great distinction since his election to office in 1996. The Hon. Joe Bossano, as Leader of the Opposition and a former Chief Minister, has also served the people of Gibraltar with immense determination. I pay tribute to both those gentlemen, and to all the Assembly Members and politicians of Gibraltar.
Whatever political differences exist, one issue that unites everyone is their desire to remain British and to uphold the rights of the Gibraltarian people to determine their own destiny. I wholeheartedly support them in that. I earnestly hope that the Minister will take the opportunity to confirm categorically on behalf of Her Majestys Government that in future they too will uphold the principle of self-determination for the people of Gibraltar, and that never again will the Government
seek to impose a constitutional arrangement over the heads of the people as Mr. Blairs Government attempted to do in 2002 under the discredited joint sovereignty proposals.
Indeed, it is a pity that the Minister for Europe, the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), is not here to reply to the debate herself. After all, it was she who, as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), was so enthusiastic in supporting what can only be described as a shameful attempt to deny the people of Gibraltar their democratic and human rights. It will never be forgotten that after Gibraltars 300 years of loyalty to the Crown and to Britain, this Labour Government attempted to raise the Spanish flag above the Rock, entirely against the wishes of the people of Gibraltar themselves. It was a grubby episode that must never be repeated by this or any future British Government. Perhaps, in her new role, the Minister for Europe will find it within herself to apologise to the people of Gibraltar and make amends for the immense hurt that was caused at that time, and particularly to apologise for the role that she played in those shameful days.
However, the people of Gibraltar are strong and will never be beaten, and today Gibraltar goes from strength to strength and remains steadfastly loyal to the Crown and to Britain. Indeed, the history of Gibraltar is rich in its links to Great Britain. Following its capture in 1704, Gibraltar was ceded in perpetuity to Britain in 1713 under the treaty of Utrecht. In 1830, Gibraltar became a Crown colony, strategic to British interests in the Mediterranean. During the two world wars of the 20th century, Gibraltar was used as a vital base for allied naval units. In world war two its citizens were evacuated and the territory turned into a fortress. Indeed, Gibraltar was central to ensuring the success of the allied landings in north Africa in the early 1940s and in the fight against fascism.
Since coming under British influence, Gibraltar and its people have continually had to endure threats from Spain over its sovereignty, which culminated in the closure of the border in 1969. The people and Government of Gibraltar adapted quickly to avoid damage to the economy and benefited from increased diversification, a boom in tourism and increased military spending. Eventually, years later, in 1985, the border was reopened, although only after Mrs. Thatchers insistence on that before Spain was allowed to join the European Community, but sadly Spanish aggression towards its neighbour continued.
The issue of sovereignty features very strongly in the politics of Gibraltar. Although geographically the territory is much closer to Spain, the people of Gibraltar have fiercely defended their right to remain British. When visiting Gibraltar, the British influence is clear to see. Inhabitants of the territory use the Gibraltar pound, which is interchangeable with sterling. They can post letters in red pillar boxes, watch bobbies on the beat or go for a pint down the Lord Nelson or Pig and Whistle, and sitting in the Chief Ministers office, above Mr. Caruanas desk, hangs, of course, a portrait of Her Majesty the Queen.
The border closure between Spain and Gibraltar in 1969 was triggered, in part, by the events of 1967. Britain had given Gibraltar more power to deal with its internal affairs, but Spain contested British sovereignty
over the territory, claiming that the territory should pass to it. In an effort to reconcile that demand, a referendum was held on 10 September 1967 to determine the territorys future. Voters were asked whether they wished to pass under Spanish sovereignty or remain British, with institutions of self-government. The result was an overwhelming decision by the people of Gibraltar to remain under British rule and reject any suggestion of becoming a part of Spain.
In 2002, another referendum took place, this time on the proposal for joint sovereignty put forward by the then Foreign Secretary, now Secretary of State for Justice. Once again, more than 98 per cent. of people voted against sharing sovereignty with Spain and for remaining British. The joint sovereignty proposals were a cynical move by the Government, putting the future of the territory up for negotiation in order to gain concessions from Madrid relating to the European Union. It was a shameful move that served only to fuel Spains unfounded territorial claims. However, since the referendum, tripartite talks have taken place between representatives of the UK, Spain and Gibraltar to improve relations and work towards co-operation, without ceding anything to Madrid on the issue of sovereignty. Gibraltar today has a new constitution, with a settled and secure status as a self-governing British overseas territory.
However, I believe that there remains an issue that must still be properly addressed: representation here in the British Parliament. Currently, the people of Gibraltar are permitted to vote in European elections as part of the south-west region of the United Kingdom, but have no democratic representation here in the House of Commons. Indeed, given devolution for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, I see no reason why the people of Gibraltar could not, if they so desired, have their own elected Member of Parliament to speak on their behalf on issues affecting the territory, and on policies and laws decided here in Westminster that directly affect the people of Gibraltar. In the interests of democracy, this issue must surely be addressed one day by Her Majestys Government.
For Gibraltar, tourism is a significant industry and is an important foundation of its service-based economy. The economic success of Gibraltar is most notable. It has a thriving economy, which is dominated not solely by tourism but also by financial services and shipping. Since 1978 the economy has adapted and changed with the times, having to deal with the closure of the Royal Navy dockyard and the reopening of the border with Spain. The economy of Gibraltar has proved to be highly resilient and able to adapt better than that of most other countries around the worlda very impressive achievement for a territory of its size. That meant that in 2007, Gibraltars economy was growing at an impressive rate of 6 per cent. per annum, which is very high in comparison with its European counterparts.
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