By Mark Wallace
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Courtesy of the Spectator, here are the full speeches on Syria given by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.
David Cameron's statement:
Ed Miliband's response:
By Mark Wallace
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Paul reported yesterday on the start of a campaign by MPs to insist on a Commons debate before any action is taken against Assad over his use of chemical weapons.
That campaign is now gathering pace. Graham Allen, the Labour MP who chairs the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, sent out an appeal to his fellow MPs yesterday afternoon for signatures on an EDM which reads:
This House believes that Parliament should hold a full debate before any British commitment to military action in Syria
He tells me that he has already secured the signatures of 70 MPs. The incomplete list I have been sent includes no fewer than nine select committee chairmen:
Graham Allen, Richard Ottaway, David Davies, Hywel Francis, Malcolm Bruce, Graham Stuart, Tim Yeo, Keith Vaz and Clive Betts
and 52 other MPs:
George Mudie, Martin Caton, John Redwood, David Wright, Adrian Sanders, Bob Blackman, Mike Crockart, Nigel Mills, Stewart Jackson, Mark Lazarowicz, Sammy Wilson, Steve McCabe, Robert Ainsworth, David Ward, James Gray, Albert Owen, Douglas Carswell, Julian Huppert, Naomi Long, Fiona O’Donnell, Angus Robertson, John Leech, John Robertson, Adam Holloway, Jim Sheridan, Philip Davies, John Hemming, Kate Hoey, Robert Smith, Diane Abbot, Mike Weir, Sandra Osbourne, Martin Vickers, Bill Esterson, Grahame Morris, Mary Glindon, John McDonald, George Galloway, Michael Meacher, Dai Harvard, Katy Clark, Toby Perkins, Paul Flynn, Mike Gapes, David Anderson, Madeleine Moon, Graham Stringer, Gisela Stuart, Andrew George, Julian Lewis, Eleanor Laing and Stephen Doughty.
As you can see, support is drawn from a wide range of parties and opinions. Some undoubtedly support the motion as part of their opposition to any intervention against Assad, but others view it as a constitutional principle that Parliament should be able to scrutinise something as important as a decision to go to war.
As readers will be aware, I support military action against Assad - indeed, I think our policy of isolationism is responsible for the rise of Al Qaeda in Syria - but I cannot see why Parliament should be bypassed on this issue.
The Conservative manifesto pledged in 2010 to make Royal Prerogative powers, such as the declaration of war, subject to "greater democratic control". That promise should be honoured.
By Peter Hoskin
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It’s no surprise that Tory MPs are joining Douglas Alexander in seeking a recall of Parliament ahead of any military action in Syria. After all, 81 of them signed a letter to David Cameron in June, demanding a vote on any decision to dispatch British arms to the rebels.
And it’s also no surprise that the author of that letter, Andrew Bridgen, is among the most insistent voices this time around, now that missiles appear poised to strike at Assad. “We need to recall Parliament immediately, if that’s what’s on the table,” is how he put it on the radio yesterday. “I want to hear what the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary has to say at the despatch box.”
By Joseph Willits
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In yesterday's Adjournment debate before the start of the Christmas recess, a mix of topics were raised by MPs.
Chris Skidmore MP (Kingswood), who also wrote on ConservativeHome yesterday about making history a compulsory subject for under-16s, spoke of the study of history reaching a record low. Skidmore said that "in 77 local authorities fewer than one in five pupils is passing history GCSE". Despite these figures already being low enough as it is, there was a need to break them down, he said, "because in places such as Knowsley under 8% of pupils are passing history GCSE".
"Often it is the Daily Mail or academics who discuss what type of history should be studied in schools, whose history should be studied, how history should be studied in the curriculum, whether we should have a narrative form of history or a more interpretive form of history that looks at sources, and whether history should be seen as a framework of facts."
Whilst this debate was important, he warned of history "becoming a subject of two nations" and Britain's isolation in Europe, if people were not united in the view "that history is a crucial subject that binds us as one nation".
By Joseph Willits
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Phillip Hammond, the Defence Secretary has said in the Commons yesterday that "all submariner roles will be open to women" in response to questions from Tory MPs Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) and Harriet Baldwin (West Worcestershire). Hammond was asked by the MPs what the role of women would be on submarines, including on Vanguard and Astute class, after his 8th December announcement earlier this month that the Royal Navy submarine service would begin recruiting women.
Hammond said that as a result of this wider recruitment, there would be an increased talent pool for the Royal Navy, and that both males and females will endure the same training and be assessed using the same criteria. The Defence Secretary said he was "confident that there will be sufficient interest from female personnel to serve on board Royal Navy submarines."
Dinenage asked "when it is most likely that women will first be put into training and service on submarines?" Hammond replied:
"Female officers will serve on Vanguard class submarines from late 2013, followed by ratings in 2015, and that women will be able to serve on Astute class submarines as both officers and ratings from about 2016."
By Joseph Willits
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Yesterday was Phillip Hammond's first opportunity to answer defence questions. Hammond's address to Parliament also followed a recent, first trip to Afghanistan, where the Defence Secretary marked Armistice Day with 3,000 British troops at Camp Bastion. Whilst in Afghanistan, Hammond said:
''British troops are making significant progress in Helmand to rid the country of a brutal insurgency that is a threat to our country and the people of Afghanistan."
In Parliament yesterday, Hammond echoed the remarks he made at Camp Bastion, describing the "fantastic job" and "progress" British troops are "making both in reversing the momentum of the insurgency and in training the Afghan security forces to defend their own country". Hammond's assessment was that "the security situation in central Helmand has improved" and that improvements had been made in the capability and numbers of British trained Afghan national security forces.
Hammond was asked by Nicholas Soames MP, if he had come to a decision about "which particular areas we will specialise in training Afghans after 2015". In response, the Defence Secretary reiterated Cameron's "commitment that Britain will take the lead role in the Afghan national officer training academy" just outside of Kabul, which hold responsibility for training the "bulk of officer recruits to the Afghan national security forces".
By Joseph Willits
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In a Parliamentary debate on Armed Forces Personnel yesterday, Armed Forces Minister Nick Harvey rather poignantly assessed the state of the military now, compared with the First and Second World Wars.
Harvey paid his respects to those killed in military combat. "Remembrance" he said, "is not a political occasion" but "about recognising that the real price of war... is a human price—a price paid not just by those who have died but by their families and by all those who have returned wounded, physically or mentally".
The armed forces today, he said "are different in many ways from those who fought on the Somme or at El Alamein", and that conscription then, was a "reflection of the existential threat facing the country at that time". Harvey stated that public awareness of the military had "declined" and was not "woven deeply into the fabric of the nation" as it once was. He suggested two reasons for the said decline; the numbers of those "who fought in the world wars or undertook national service" has dwindled, and service downgrades "since the end of the cold war." Harvey was careful to emphasise a decline in perception and awareness of the armed forces, rather than respect for them. "The people of Royal Wootton Bassett [who] chose to mark the return of the fallen is surely testament to that", he said.
Highlights, not verbatim, from the Prime Minister's speech at the beginning of today's Commons debate on imposing a No Fly Zone over Libya. Mr Cameron took a large number of interventions - notably from opponents of the policy such as Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Caroline Lucas and John Baron. His speech was notable for the number of times he explained why this intervention was different from Iraq.
A bloody massacre has been averted in Benghazi in the nick of time. A historic and proud city has been protected from destruction.
Gaddafi lied to his people and the international community when he declared a ceasefire that he had no intention of fulfilling.
David Cameron reiterated his own British government belief in regime change but said that the Coalition was only committed to establishing (1) a No Fly Zone and (2) protecting the civilian population of Libya.
Spain, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Italy, Greece and Qatar have joined the Coalition in terms of supplying aircraft, airfields or other military equipment.
PM says Britain won't use uranium tipped munitions or cluster bombs in Libya.
Responding to Tory MP John Baron - who suggested (as in his ConHome OpEd) that Arab states should implement the NFZ - Mr Cameron said that speed was of the essence and without speedy intervention there could have been massive loss of life in Benghazi.
He confirmed that there would be no invading force but did not dissent when a backbench Conservative (Dan Byles) said that there would need to be a "robust search and rescue" force should an RAF pilot go down in Libya.
He said he was disturbed by events in Yemen but pressed on why the UK wasn't intervening in other parts of the Middle East he repeated his line that because we can't help every nation we shouldn't help anyone at all.
Coalition is currently operating under US leadership but will soon operate under NATO and through its established machinery.
Mark Pritchard asked a question about the safety of journalists in Libya (Roy Greenslade has listed those missing and detained). The Prime Minister sympathised and also urged broadcasters to regularly remind the public that journalists in Tripoli were operating under severe reporting restrictions.
There is a long way to go, Mr Cameron said, but many lives have been saved so far by Coalition action. Britain has acted in the best traditions of the nation.
Highlights, not verbatim.
After offering sympathy and support to the people of Japan David Cameron moved on to the situation in Libya. Most interestingly he focused on the case for a No Fly Zone. He said that NATO had made feasibility preparations for a Zone, should one be advanced, since he last addressed the Commons on the subject.
The Prime Minister reiterated the three conditions for an NFZ: (1) Demonstrable need; (2) Regional demand and support and (3) Legality. On (2) he stressed the "very significant" call from the Arab League for a Zone.
Mr Cameron said that allowing Gaddafi to prevail would send a "dreadful signal" to all people striving for liberty in the Middle East and wider world.
He said to those who said Britain has no interest in Libya that if we do not act Europe could end up with a failed state on its southern border - exporting a variety of challenges.
Responding to Ed Miliband on Sir Malcolm Rifkind's call (in today's Times (£))* for the Libyan rebels to be armed, Mr Cameron said that he ruled nothing out but would do nothing that was illegal.
Noone, he said, was talking about western "boots on the ground".
Mr Cameron concluded his statement by saying that Britain would continue to be at the forefront of international efforts to stand with the Libyan people and against Gaddafi's attempts to crush them.
* Mark Pritchard MP's earlier article on the subject: The Libyan people should not be left defenceless in pursuit of freedom
Earlier today in the House of Commons, Liam Fox clashed with his opposite number after The Sun revealed the sacking of 38 long-serving soldiers via email and, yesterday, The Telegraph reported that a quarter of the RAF's trainee pilots were to be "culled".
Dr Liam Fox MP, Secretary of State for Defence: "As a result of the strategic defence and security review and the comprehensive spending review, it has, sadly, been necessary to plan for redundancies in both the civil service and the armed forces. At all times this should be done with sensitivity to individuals concerned, and with an understanding of the impact that it will have on them and their families. There are two recent cases in which this has not happened. Let me deal with them both.
The Coalition's Defence Review came under attack in the Lords yesterday. Some highlights below.
Baron Craig of Radley, former Marshal of the RAF, described the cuts as "unforgivable":
"Regrettably, yet again, defence is viewed by a Chancellor as a soft option for belt tightening. That was understandable in the years of the Cold War, but unforgivable when we have had forces fighting hard in Afghanistan for eight years, with the prospect of being heavily committed there for a further four years. The Prime Minister and other senior Ministers say that they wish Britain to continue punching above its weight in the world and that they have no less ambition for this country in the decades to come. I do not cavil at this aspiration, but is it not totally wrong not to fund the forces that may be necessary to fulfil that ambition? The withdrawal of HMS "Ark Royal" and the remaining Harriers squanders the Fleet Air Arm's future in the fixed-wing carrier role. Scrapping the Nimrods even before they had entered service and reducing frigates and destroyers to a mere 19 vessels, collectively blows an enormous hole in national maritime capability which we shall be living with, on present plans, for the next decade and beyond. This gap in capability could endanger national security more than any reduced commitment to land operations."
Admiral Lord Boyce, former First Sea Lord of the Royal Navy and Chief of the Defence Staff, attacked the decision to scrap the Harrier jump jet:
"The Government believes it is right for the UK to retain, in the long term, the capability that only aircraft carriers can provide-the ability to deploy airpower from anywhere in the world, without the need for friendly air bases on land. In the short term, there are few circumstances we can envisage where the ability to deploy airpower from the sea will be essential".
What a desperate expression of hope over bitter experience. The people serving on the National Security Council must have been asleep for the past dozen years or so. We have no problem today because we have no emerging crisis. That can change in days, as it did for Sierra Leone, as it did in 2001 and as it did in 2003, to take the most recent significant examples where some so-called friends and allies, let alone neutrals, prevaricated endlessly over or even denied our overflying rights and host-nation support. We cannot even fly direct from Cyprus to Kandahar today. The review goes on to say, "that is why we have taken the decision to retire the Harriers early", but that absolutely does not stand up to any serious analysis or judgment of history. The reason, pure and simple, is to save money. The Government should have the moral courage to say so and admit to the enormous gamble that they are taking."
Boyce continues. defending the usefulness versus the Tornado:
"The Harrier GR9 is a relatively modern aircraft, not 40 years old as deviously implied in the review. It is significantly more modern than the Tornado - for all its virtues mentioned by my noble and gallant friend Lord Craig - against which it is compared and which will cost around £2.5 billion to modernise. So far as the close air support role in Afghanistan is concerned, if you speak to those on the ground at the very sharp end, especially the forward air controllers, as I have done recently, there is no question but that the Harrier is their aircraft of choice, not least because of its speed of response and reliability. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Lee, was right to say that we need both the Harrier and the Tornado in the interim before 2020."
Defence Minister Lord Astor concluded the debate with a number of defences of the Government's position:
On the Harrier and defending the Falklands: "Retiring the Harrier is not something that any of us wanted to do-I am sure that that is true of all noble Lords-but tough but fair decisions had to be made in the SDSR. Retaining Tornado allows us to sustain operations in Afghanistan and maintain contingent airpower capabilities, in addition to the role of UK air defence. The Tornado fleet will gradually draw down over the course of a decade, phased to ensure that there is no impact on operations in Afghanistan and linked to the build-up of the Typhoon. It is simply not the case that decommissioning the Harrier and HMS "Ark Royal" will impact on our ability to defend territories in the south Atlantic. We are not complacent about this. We maintain a wide range of assets to ensure the defence of the Falkland Islands and are able to respond to any and all threats."
On aid spending: "Several noble Lords, including my noble friends Lord Sterling, Lord Chidgey, Lady Tonge and Lord Bates, mentioned conflict prevention and overseas aid. By 2015, one-third of the aid budget will be spent on conflict prevention. We will provide support for fragile states whose instability has consequences for the safety of the United Kingdom. If we do not tackle the root causes of pandemics, climate change and conflict, we will spend far more in the future trying to deal with the consequences. Delivered effectively, aid is good value for money. Each £1 spent on conflict prevention generates more than £4 in savings on conflict response."
Overall: "The SDSR is not a cosmetic exercise; it contains many tough but fair choices that are essential if we are to have a coherent and affordable strategy. The campaign in Afghanistan has been protected, and the decisions that we have made will ensure that we maintain our strategic influence and also provide us with the capabilities that we require for the future. Above all, they guarantee that the United Kingdom continues to play a proud and active role in shaping a more stable world."
By Tim Montgomerie
As trailed earlier today, the Defence Secetary told the Commons this afternoon that UK forces will hand over responsibility for Sangin to the U.S military within the next six months. He said that they will then concentrate on areas in central Helmand, that the mission was essential to our national security, and he paid tribute to British services serving in Afghanistan.
Dr Fox said that “We face many challenges; progress has been slower in some areas than others, particularly on the political side," adding that "we expect progress in counter-insurgency to be gradual and cumulative." However, he insisted that good progress was being made in developing the Afghan security services, and said that successful counter-insurgency would take time.
He added that he had authorised a request from ISAF that the UK deploy its theatre reserve battalion, which is currently stationed in Cyprus. Dr Fox said this battalion will withdraw from Helmand once the handover of Sangin is complete. “Counter-insurgencies are about progressively winning the confidence of the local people and US marines are well placed to succeed,” he said.
Patrick Mercer, who recently contested the Defence Select Committee elections, warned earlier today that the Taliban could spin the redeployment as a victory, but insisted that "a great deal has been achieved in Sangin". Reporting the move earlier today, the Independent suggested a more stark view, drawing parallels with the British withdrawal from Basra in Iraq, while the Guardian asserted that the Prime Minister's always been sceptical about the Sagin deployment. (Both papers claimed the story exclusively.)
It makes sense for the U.S to take over the Sangin mission, since they have the troop numbers required if it's to stand a chance of working fully. Richard Dannatt, the former Chief of the Defence Staff and Conservative Defence Adviser, said earlier today that our forces in Sangin were "like flies in a honey pot". Today's announcement bolsters my view that David Cameron's seeking a way out of Afghanistan as fast as possible. In responding for Labour, Bob Ainsworth sought to exploit differences between Cameron and Fox over withdrawal timing for the mission as a whole.
"That this House expresses its continued support for HM armed forces personnel and their families; notes that over 440 service personnel have been killed on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001; further notes that the armed forces have operated over the original planning assumptions for years; regrets that there has not been a Strategic Defence Review (SDR) since 1998; believes that the 1998 SDR was never fully funded and failed to provide proper equipment for the Iraq war; recognises that the Government failed to plan for post-conflict reconstruction in Iraq; further recognises the cut to the helicopter budget by £1.4 billion in 2004; is concerned about the cuts to the frigate and destroyer fleet from the 32 recommended in the 1998 SDR 10 to 23; is further concerned by the failure to provide the Royal Air Force with a modern troop transport and air-to-air refuelling fleet; believes that the Government has presided over a failed procurement process; further believes that the Government has failed properly to fund the armed forces for wartime operations; and calls on the Government to acknowledge its failure to honour the Military Covenant."
Cuts to the Royal Navy: "Time and time again since the 1998 SDR, the Navy has been blackmailed into accepting cuts to its fleet, to ensure the eventual addition of two new carriers. During the 1998 SDR process, the Navy agreed to cut its fleet of 12 attack submarines to 10, and its fleet of 35 destroyers and frigates to 32, in return for the promise of the two carriers. A decade later we find our Navy with only eight attack submarines, with a possible future reduction to only six or seven, and 22 -an astonishingly low number-of destroyers and frigates. Maritime commitments have not decreased since 1998 but have risen, at a time when our Navy has been slashed, mothballed and, in some cases, sold off. There is a similar pattern to be found across all three services, including the reserves."
Inadequate preparation for Iraq war: "The true story behind the invasion of Iraq is now being told. I am sure that the whole country is looking forward to the Prime Minister's evidence this Friday, but what we already know is quite shocking. Not only did the Government fail to plan properly for the post-conflict period in Iraq, but it is now well known that what most of us suspected all along is true: that troops were sent into Iraq without proper equipment. We now know that during the early planning phases of the Iraq war, the then Chief of the Defence Staff, Lord Boyce, was blocked by the then Defence Secretary from organising crucial logistics, in case it sent the wrong political message: that we were preparing for war. In the words of Lord Boyce, "I was not allowed to speak, for example, to the Chief of Defence Logistics-I was prevented from doing that by the Secretary of State for Defence, because of the concern about it becoming public knowledge that we were planning for a military contribution which might...be...unhelpful in the activity...in the United Nations to secure" a Security Council resolution."
Procurement failures: "According to the most recent figures available from the National Audit Office, the top 15 major procurement projects are £4.5 billion over budget and delayed by a total of 339 months. The A400M aircraft is £657 million over budget and will be delayed by 82 months. The Type 45 destroyer is £1.5 billion over budget and will be delayed by 38 months. The aircraft carriers are more than £1 billion over budget already, and the service entry date for the first carrier has been delayed from 2012 to 2016. The decision in 2004 to cut the helicopter budget by £1.4 billion-in the middle of two wars-was inexcusable, irresponsible and irreconcilable with the basic duty to maximise the safety of our troops while carrying out a dangerous mission. In the words of the former Defence Secretary, the right hon. Member for Ashfield, to the Chilcot inquiry, "had that budget been spent in the way that we thought we should spend it, then those helicopters would probably be coming into service any time now.""
Waste and wrong priorities: "The Ministry of Defence's record of waste is staggering, as £2.5 billion has been spent on external consultants, but it could not find £20 million to train the Territorial Army. Furthermore, £2.3 billion was spent refurbishing the MOD, but it could not find £4 million for officer training corps training. A further £6.6 billion was wasted on account of lost equipment, including among other things 3,938 Bowman radios and an untold number of laptops. Another £113 million was wasted on a super hangar for fast jet repair that was never used, while £118 million was wasted on armoured vehicle cancellations, £8 million was lost on cancelled training courses and almost £250,000 lost on works of art to hang on the walls of main building. How can all that be allowed to happen? It is a picture of serial incompetence and a lack of grip by Ministers on the Department."
Tough and very welcome words from John Bercow today. The new Speaker rebuked Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth for releasing the 'Gray report' on arms procurement just one hour before the Commons was due to debate it.
Ministers have had the Gray report for a number of months. It finds average procurement over-runs are costing the Ministry of Defence £2.2bn every year.
Full report in the London Evening Standard.
4.30pm Update: Here is the full transcript of the exchanges:
Dr. Liam Fox: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. About an hour ago, the Government published the Gray report, the very important report into acquisition which has been suppressed throughout the summer recess. Only this week we were told in an answer that the report is expected to be published in the autumn. Now, an hour—or even less—before a debate on defence, Members are asked to read and digest 296 pages of non-stop damning criticism of Government procedure. This is an insult to the House; it is a despicable and cowardly act and indicative of a Government who care more about their own reputation than informing the House. As the Secretary of State is present, may I ask, Mr. Speaker, that we get a separate statement on this tomorrow? If the Government do not provide a separate statement, the Opposition will certainly ask for an urgent question.
Mr. Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising his point of order. The laying of documents, including the timing of when they are laid, is a matter for Government. However, I have listened very carefully to what the hon. Gentleman has said and in the light of the fact that, as I understand it, the report was completed some time ago, I say to members of the Treasury Bench that, frankly, it can be regarded as a rank discourtesy to the House that it has been published only an hour or so before the next debate. As the Secretary of State for Defence is present, I invite him to respond to the point of order.
Bob Ainsworth: I know what is said, but the report was not completed some time ago. That is why it was not published before the recess, and I think the House would have been damning of me had I published it during the recess. I have published it at the earliest opportunity in the House. I sincerely regret that we were not able to get it to Opposition Members earlier this morning, but it is now available for everyone to examine, and we will be able to do that in the months ahead in the run-up to the Government’s Green Paper, where we will have to address acquisition reform and many of the issues raised by Bernard Gray.
Mr. Speaker: The Secretary of State has heard the point of order and my response to it, and I have listened with interest and respect to his response. I must say to him that publication a matter of an hour before the debate is regarded by Members as a discourtesy, and I confess that I myself also regard it as a discourtesy, and I hope that this will not happen again.
Mr. James Arbuthnot [Chairman of the Defence Select Committee]: Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am surprised at what the Secretary of State has just said. I read this report in July. I have just read it again as fast as I could, and it has changed by a few words but its entire structure and basis are exactly the same, so for the Secretary of State to say that it was not complete before the summer recess surprises me.