James Arburthnot MP

9 Nov 2012 14:44:05

Conservative MPs give warm welcome to Philip Hammond's plans to strengthen Army Reserve

By Matthew Barrett
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Yesterday, the Defence Secretary Philip Hammond announced plans to bring the Territorial Army - or Army Reserve, as it will be known in future - up to the size and standard of a more professional level than the reputation the TA has sometimes had as being "weekend soldiers". He also announced more benefits for employers of soldiers who chose to serve with the Army Reserve. These are all ideas suggested by the Duke of Westminster, which I wrote about last month. The proposals for strengthening the role and duties of reservists was, mostly, met with a positive reception by Conservative MPs. Below are some of the best contributions to yesterdays' statement.

Former Defence Secretary Liam Fox wanted Philip Hammond to learn from international examples of reservist forces:

FOX HALF SMILE"Dr Liam Fox (North Somerset) (Con): I very much welcome the creative and supportive way in which my right hon. Friend set out the Government’s approach to the reserves. Will any legislative changes be required to guarantee that reservists can be used for the full range of military tasks? As part of the consultation, will the Government make available to the House the experiences of how other countries incentivise employers? Other countries, particularly the United States, have a much better record than most of being able to use reservists in a full range of tasks and ensuring that they have a full range of promotional opportunities."

Continue reading "Conservative MPs give warm welcome to Philip Hammond's plans to strengthen Army Reserve" »

26 Oct 2012 06:22:26

Who are Conservative Friends of Israel? A profile of the Conservative Party's most populous grouping

By Matthew Barrett
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Conservative Friends of IsraelConservative Friends of Israel is an influential affiliate group of the Conservative Party which contains perhaps the largest number of Conservative MPs of any group in Parliament. It exists to promote understanding of and support for the State of Israel in the Conservative Party, and its membership reaches the highest echelons of power, including the Foreign Secretary, William Hague. In this profile, I examine its origins, membership, role, and activities.

Origins of the group

Conservative Friends of Israel (CFoI) is the oldest group of Conservative MPs I have profiled so far: it was founded by Michael Fidler, who was the Conservative Member of Parliament for Bury and Radcliffe between 1970 and the October 1974 election. After losing his seat, he decided to focus on building a pro-Israel group within the Conservative Party - there had been a Labour Friends of Israel group since 1957 - so Fidler launched CFoI in 1974, and served as its National Director. 

Sir Hugh Fraser served as the first Chairman of CFoI, from 1974. Sir Hugh was a Conservative MP of the old school: after a distinguished military intelligence career in the Second World War, he entered Parliament in 1945, and he missed out on being Father of the House to James Callaghan in 1983 by only a few days. Sir Hugh had an interest in oil and the Middle East and served a number of positions in the War and Colonial Offices, before entering Cabinet as the Secretary of State for Air in 1962. He might be best known to some readers as the outsider candidate who came third in the 1975 party leadership contest, behind Mrs Thatcher and Edward Heath, gaining only 16 votes.

Continue reading "Who are Conservative Friends of Israel? A profile of the Conservative Party's most populous grouping" »

19 Sep 2012 10:31:48

Only one supportive Conservative question for Philip Hammond yesterday (and that from one of his recent Ministerial colleagues)

Screen shot 2012-09-20 at 08.23.28
By Paul Goodman

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Even the most cursory glance at today's ConHome newslinks demonstrates that Philip Hammond had a torrid time in the Commons yesterday. I think it is worth listing a selection of the questions he was asked from his own backbenches, and I hope and believe that the one below is representative of those asked.

Readers will see that only one question was supportive, and it came from Peter Luff, who was recently dismissed from the MOD during the reshuffle. (The Defence Secretary will be grateful to Mr Luff for rallying round, especially since he was apparently expected to stay in the department: it was another curious dismissal.)

I have edited Mr Hammond's replies in order to keep this summary reasonably brief, and I think and hope, again, that the result is not unfair to him.  The full Hansard record is here.  Paul Waugh reports elsewhere that Rory Stewart, who knows more Afghanistan than any other MP, forced William Hague to admit yesterday that 75% of attacks on our troops are not by the Taliban. 

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay): "This announcement threatens to blow a hole in our stated exit strategy, which is heavily reliant on these joint operations continuing until Afghan forces are able to operate independently and provide their own security following ISAF’s withdrawal...What is our mission in Afghanistan? Clarity is required. If we are remaining true to our original mission of eliminating al-Qaeda from Afghanistan, should we not now be doing more to encourage the Americans to conduct non-conditional talks with the Taliban in order to explore possible common ground?"

 The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Philip Hammond): "I am clear that the mission we are carrying out in Afghanistan is to protect Britain’s national security by denying Afghan space to international terrorists. That is our mission, and that is the mission we will complete."

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East): "The reason why, in opposition, the shadow Defence ministerial team opposed naming an advance date for withdrawal was the fear that the Taliban would redouble their efforts in the run-up to that date. Given that we are where we are with such a date, is it not obvious that a move towards a strategy of maintaining one or more long-term strategic bases in Afghanistan would show the Taliban the need to negotiate a solution and a settlement? Without that, it will not happen."

Hammond: "I can tell the House that the UK Government have no appetite for a long-term combat role in Afghanistan, and have made it very clear that we will be out of the combat role by the end of 2014."

Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): "The Secretary of State made the welcome comment that the international forces wished to lower their profile at a time of trouble, but then he seemed to imply that that applied only to American forces. What action has been taken to protect British forces? What is the approach to their having to co-operate with people who may intend their death, and would he not move more quickly to Afghans policing dangerous places in Afghanistan?"

Hammond: "There is much evidence that there is a much lower risk where long-term partnering arrangements are in place—in other words, where a group of troops are working with a group of Afghan troops on a daily basis—and much more risk where these partnering and mentoring activities are on an ad hoc basis, so that relationships are not built."

Dr Liam Fox (North Somerset) (Con): "Mentoring is one of the most important ways in which we have increased the capability of Afghan forces, and the Secretary of State has made it clear today that the instruction from ISAF in Kabul will not alter the British relationship to partnering. Does he not recognise, however, that the nuances between tactics and strategy can be lost on insurgents, and that the timing of this is unfortunate, so we must redouble our efforts to make it clear to the forces of terror that they cannot push our strategy off course?"

Hammond: "Of course my right hon. Friend is absolutely right: this is the crucial message that needs to be sent to the insurgents."

Mr James Arbuthnot (North East Hampshire) (Con): "My right hon. Friend said that the new measures announced by ISAF were prudent but temporary. In what respect are they temporary? In what respect can they be?"

Hammond: "General Allen has indicated that he intends to review the order in the light of the evolving security environment, and to return to normal operations, as he described it, as soon as possible."

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): "Will my right hon. Friend comment on the fact that American soldiers who are mentoring seem to be slightly safer than our junior NCOs, young officers and soldiers, because they are not right on the front line? It worries me a great deal that we continue to allow our solders to go right to the front line, where they are seemingly in greater danger than their American colleagues."

 Hammond: "I do not accept that our soldiers are in greater danger, but it is the case that our model differs from the American model, in that it includes routinely mentoring at company, or tolay, level. That is the model that we have deemed most effective."

 Peter Luff (Mid Worcestershire) (Con): "The Secretary of State has made it commendably clear that it is in our vital national interest to stick to the strategy that has been set in Afghanistan. When it comes to the security of British troops, does he take comfort from the words of Brigadier Bob Bruce, who will be leading the 4th Mechanised Brigade in its forthcoming tour of Afghanistan, who has said that we are sending to Afghanistan“the best prepared and the best equipped…Task Force the United Kingdom has ever put into the field?"

Hammond: "I am most grateful to my hon. Friend, who has been a stalwart supporter of the policy and the strategy, which, as I have emphasised this morning, has not changed."

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): "The Secretary of State mentioned earlier that a motive for the attacks was the despicable video that was published on the internet. Does he agree that another motive, which I have mentioned to both him and the Secretary of State for International Development, is the use of drone strikes, which have killed nearly 1,000 civilians in Pakistan and a higher number in Afghanistan? Does the Secretary of State not agree that we urgently need to look at reviewing the use of drone strikes, which is considered on the front page of The Times today?"

Hammond: "The use of unmanned aerial vehicles to carry out strikes is continuously reviewed, but I do not believe there is any need for a wholesale change to the current approach, which is that UAVs will be used where they are the most appropriate way to execute a particular operation."


A section of the Defence Secretary's statement that particularly caught my eye was another part of his answer to Dr Fox:

"As I said yesterday, the stepping up of these insider attacks is, in fact, a reflection of the success of partnering and mentoring operations."

Given the rising number of green-on-blue killings, I'm not sure that this is an argument I would have used.  The chart below is from the Guardian.

Screen shot 2012-09-19 at 09.44.08
My view has previously been outlined here: namely, that the arguments put in Mr Stewart's essay in the London Review of Books and Adam Holloway's booklet for the CPS are right.

Their view in a nutshell is that Afghanistan cannot be transformed into a western-style liberal democracy and that British military commitment to it should be minimal.

14 Sep 2012 14:09:34

The 24 Conservative MPs who are still on the backbenches and have never rebelled

By Matthew Barrett
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After last week's reshuffle of the Secretaries and Ministers of State, and this week's reshuffle of Parliamentary Private Secretaries, it's possible to investigate the state of a dying breed: the backbenchers who've always been loyal. The list below features the Conservative MPs who meet the following criteria:

  • Are not currently on the government payroll (including as PPSs)
  • Were not on the government payroll before the reshuffle (including as PPSs)
  • Have not rebelled against the Government
I've excluded Nigel Evans, who is a Deputy Speaker, and I've noted their constituencies and years first elected. It's also perhaps worth noting Arbuthnot, Dorrell and Yeo are Select Committee chairmen. 
  1. James Arbuthnot (North East Hampshire, 1987)
  2. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk, 2001)
  3. Sir Tony Baldry (Banbury, 1983)
  4. Steve Barclay (North East Cambridgeshire, 2010)
  5. Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley since 1997, MP since 1992)
  6. Aidan Burley (Cannock Chase, 2010)
  7. Neil Carmichael (Stroud, 2010)
  8. Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham, 2010)
  9. Oliver Colvile (Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, 2010)
  10. Stephen Dorrell (Charnwood. 1979)
  11. Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock, 2010)
  12. Charlie Elphicke (Dover, 2010)
  13. Graham Evans (Weaver Vale, 2010)
  14. Sir Roger Gale (North Thanet, 1983)
  15. Mark Garnier (Wyre Forest, 2010)
  16. Rebecca Harris (Castle Point, 2010)
  17. Kwasi Kwarteng (Spelthorne, 2010)
  18. Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke, 2010)
  19. Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock, 2010)
  20. David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale, 2010)
  21. Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham, 2010)
  22. Chris Skidmore (Kingswood, 2010)
  23. Mark Spencer (Sherwood, 2010)
  24. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk, 1983)

Continue reading "The 24 Conservative MPs who are still on the backbenches and have never rebelled" »

11 Jul 2012 09:43:57

80 Tory backbenchers voted for Lords reform last night. 110 did not.

By Matthew Barrett
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We know that 91 Tories voted against the Lords Reform Bill last night. That's the big, headline grabbing figure - the biggest rebellion in this Parliament. 

Continue reading "80 Tory backbenchers voted for Lords reform last night. 110 did not." »

5 Jul 2012 14:47:02

Philip Hammond gets rough reception from some Tories as he announces historic cuts to the Army

By Matthew Barrett
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Hammond statement

Philip Hammond's statement to the House this afternoon announcing cuts to the Army was bound to be a challenging time for the Secretary of State for Defence. The announcement signals the beginning of a long transformation for the Army, and jobs will undoubtedly be lost as a result of the changes. Mr Hammond told the House that the 5th Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland, 2nd Battalion the Royal Fusiliers, 2nd Battalion the Yorkshire regiment, 3rd Battalion the Mercian Regiment and the 2nd Battalion the Royal Welsh would all be "withdrawn" or disbanded. The Secretary of State said: 

"These withdrawals and mergers, unwelcome as I know they will be in the units affected, are fair and balanced, and have been carefully structure to minimise the impact of the regular manpower reduction and optimise the military effectiveness of the Army."

Continue reading "Philip Hammond gets rough reception from some Tories as he announces historic cuts to the Army" »

24 Mar 2012 07:56:45

Sir John Stanley MP announces his retirement

By Tim Montgomerie
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Stanley Sir John.ashxNews reaches me that Sir John Stanley joins James Arbuthnot as a sitting Tory MP who has announced they won't seek re-election. In the past these retirements would have produced much excitement among those on the candidates list. In this parliament - with the number of MPs set to fall from 650 to 600 if the boundary review is approved - the spare seat will help the whips find a slot for one of Sir John's colleagues whose own seat might have disappeared or been changed beyond recognition. In Kent that's likely to be sports minister Hugh Robertson.

Sir John told his Tonbridge and Malling Conservative Association Association AGM of his intentions last night.

First elected in 1974 Sir John was PPS to Margaret Thatcher when she was Leader of the Opposition. He has served as a minister in the defence, housing and Northern Ireland portfolios.

15 Nov 2011 13:58:28

Hammond hails Afghanistan "progress" - and the training of national security forces

By Joseph Willits 
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Screen shot 2011-11-15 at 12.00.59Yesterday 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".

Continue reading "Hammond hails Afghanistan "progress" - and the training of national security forces" »

21 May 2011 06:24:07

Conservative MPs insist Hamas must respect the State of Israel's right to exist, and accept Quartet Principles

By Matthew Barrett

On Monday, William Hague opened a debate about the Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Questions about Libya, UN and NATO involvement came up initally, but events in Israel and Palestine - especially the new agreement between Hamas and Fatah - were also raised, with Conservative members firmly advocating that Hamas should accept Israel's right to exist. 

ARBUTHNOT JamesThe Member for North East Hampshire, James Arbuthnot, who is also the Parliamentary Chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel, made a particularly strong speech about Israel-Palestine.

Israel is not the cause of the Middle East's problems: "When Osama Bin Laden was killed a few weeks ago, an important article by Robert Fisk appeared in The Independent, in which he made the point that al-Qaeda’s irrelevance has been shown by the fact that the Arab spring was demanding not more Islamic fundamentalism, but freedoms. It is just as important to note that the Arab spring has not been demanding a change in Palestine, essential though that change is; the Arab spring has been demanding the sort of freedoms—freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the rule of law—that are provided and embodied in Israel. My main initial point about Israel is that it is not the middle eastern problem; the autocratic regimes that have been surrounding Israel are the problem."

The Hamas-Fatah agreement could mean larger Hamas influence: "If the new Hamas-Fatah organisation follows the Fatah line I will be utterly delighted. That would mean that we could negotiate with Hamas again and that Israel would have a useful negotiating partner, because all these things must be achieved by negotiation and cannot be achieved by force or unilateralism. If, however, the new united organisation follows the Hamas line, the reconciliation will be either meaningless or significantly worse. This is not a various shades of grey issue, but a black and white one."

Hamas must renounce violence: "At a time when the Arab spring is showing that the Arab people are desperate for freedoms, now is not the time for the United Kingdom or the international community to abandon the Quartet’s principles. They must demand that Hamas should renounce violence, recognise the state of Israel and honour the previous agreements."

BOLES-COLOUR Nick Boles (Grantham and Stamford) stated that Israelis must be sure of their future security: "The vast majority of Israeli people also think that a two-state solution is the long-term source of their security, but they will grasp it only if there are guarantees that that state will not threaten the long-term security of Israel. It is not unreasonable to ask for that when only five years ago Israel withdrew from Gaza and Gaza immediately fell into the hands of an organisation that is directly sponsored by Iran and wants to wipe Israel from the map. It is not unreasonable when Lebanon’s Government have been brought down and the new Prime Minister has been put in place by an organisation whose leader only yesterday said that we need to drive Israel into the sea, and that no treaties, no borders, no agreements will stop that happening. It is not unreasonable for the Israeli people to have that expectation."

JACKSON STEWART Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) talked about the severe threat of Iran's nuclear ambitions: "Iran is a state that espouses a jihadist, anti-Semitic, militant theology. It is a leading sponsor of state terrorism across the middle east. Furthermore, it wishes to challenge the United States and undermine the historic undertaking of the Baghdad pact of the 1950s, through which the United States sought to support moderate Arab states. There is no doubt that the Iranian regime not only sees itself as the pre-eminent regional power seeking hegemony in the middle east, but is developing a supra-conventional nuclear missile capacity to consolidate that hegemony and become a rival to the United States in global terms. Iran is close to weaponised nuclear capability, and to being able to move, via a breakout position, from the conversion of low-enriched uranium to high-enriched uranium at the minimum 90% level. Once the regime has achieved that, weaponisation can be achieved relatively simply... A nuclear Iran would destroy the policy objective of global non-proliferation and semi-permanently destabilise the middle east, with countries such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and smaller Arab states seeking nuclear parity. That argument is enunciated in a report entitled “Global Trends 2025” by the National Intelligence Council. The prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran presents a clear and present danger to Israel and to regional stability, and it is too great a risk. The European Union, the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency must rise to the challenge of preventing that prospect from coming to fruition."

Read the whole debate in Hansard.

22 Mar 2011 06:19:48

MPs quietly voted to freeze their salaries last night

By Jonathan Isaby

After the intensity of and the interest in the debate on Libya yesterday, another motion on the order paper  - which would have created huge media interests were it not for international events - was quietly passed after a short debate.

It was on the thorny issue of MPs' pay and, contrary to my headline, they didn't in fact vote for a freeze: a) the motion to freeze pay for two years was actually passed without a vote; and b) as is the case for public sector workers earning over £21,000, a freeze does of course amount to a real terms cut.

Sir George Young Commons The Senior Salaries Review Body had proposed a 1% pay rise for MPs, but the leader of the Commons, Sir George Young, proposed the motion to reject it, explaining:

"On 3 July 2008, the House agreed a new formula for uprating Members’ salaries... The annual percentage increase would be the median of a basket of public sector comparators, and this percentage would be calculated by the Senior Salaries Review Body and notified to you, Mr Speaker, in a letter from its chairman. That percentage increase would then take effect automatically from 1 April.

"That system has considerable advantages. It provides a fixed uprating formula so that we do not determine our own salaries. It is transparent, as the formula and the SSRB’s determination are there for everyone to see. It is also fair in that it provides a link between the salary of a Member of Parliament and the salaries of others in the public sector. Those are the virtues that the Government usually believe should underpin any system for determining our salaries—independence, transparency and fairness. We have therefore not taken lightly the decision to set aside the pay increase and thereby abandon the formula."

"The whole House will be keenly aware of the country’s difficult financial situation, and both sides of the House accept that we have a substantial structural deficit, which must be brought down. The Government have had to take difficult decisions throughout the public sector, including imposing a two-year pay freeze on public sector workers earning more than £21,000. Hon. Members must now decide whether their constituents would welcome Parliament exempting itself from that policy and thus insulating itself from decisions that are affecting households throughout the country, or whether, as I believe, the public expect their elected representatives to be in step with what is being required of other public servants. I believe that it is right for us, as Members of Parliament, to forgo the pay increase that the current formula would have produced."

Among the speeches made by MPs was the following powerful contribution from Conservative MP, James Arbuthnot, which I reproduce here in its entirety:

"I have never before spoken in a Members’ salary debate; I trust I will never have to again. Today we have been debating what the armed forces will be doing in Libya. As Chair of the Select Committee on Defence—albeit not speaking on behalf of that Committee—I have only one point to make. For the armed forces to receive no pay rise and for politicians to receive a pay rise would be just so unacceptable in the country that we could not possibly think of allowing it to happen tonight."

19 Mar 2011 07:43:37

Conservative MPs line up to support Cameron on Libya - but he's probed about the arms embargo

by Paul Goodman

I list below every question asked by a Conservative MP yesterday in response to the Prime Minister's Commons statement about Libya.  For better or worse, I haven't cited his replies in every case, but his answers on regime change, the arms embargo and the International Criminal Court are of special interest, and are therefore quoted in full.

"Richard Ottaway (Croydon South) (Con): As one of the doubting Thomases of the past few weeks, I congratulate the Prime Minister on his success and leadership and offer him my full support. I also join him in paying tribute to Sir Mark Lyall Grant and his team at the UN for what is a remarkable diplomatic success, which hopefully will mark a turning point in the development of these issues at the UN.  I am sure the Prime Minister agrees that difficult questions remain. At this moment, however, it is incumbent on all of us to stand behind the armed forces, particularly our airmen, who have to implement the resolution.

Mr James Arbuthnot (North East Hampshire) (Con): Yet again, my right hon. Friend has shown a breathtaking degree of courage and leadership. I support what he has said and what he has done. Does he agree that, while regime change is not the aim of these resolutions, in practice there is little realistic chance of achieving their aims without regime change?"

Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con): I join others in congratulating the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and all the others who have been involved in securing this very tough resolution, and indeed the building of a broad-based coalition to deal with Gaddafi. Does the Prime Minister agree, however, that in the weeks to come it will be important for the country to know that at the same time as trying to deal with Gaddafi, the Government are also intent on forging ahead, with our European partners, in keeping the middle east peace process revitalised and going, so that we can draw the poison from the well?

Continue reading "Conservative MPs line up to support Cameron on Libya - but he's probed about the arms embargo" »

2 Mar 2011 07:23:14

Why did no-one ask how military intervention in Libya would work?

by Paul Goodman

I've glanced back at the Prime Minister's Commons statement on Monday about Libya, and found the following:

  • Richard Ottoway asked whether defence co-operation with Gaddafi was misjudged.
  • Edward Leigh demanded no further cuts in the Royal Navy.
  • James Arbuthnot asked about Hamas's refusal to hold elections in Gaza.
  • John Baron inquired what effect support for democracy would have on our autocratic allies in the region.
  • Tobias Ellwood asked about mercenaries sent by African governments to support Gaddafi.
  • David Tredinnick wanted to know about planning for regime change.
  • Tony Baldry said that Gaddafi should be referred to the International Criminal Court.
  • Bill Cash urged arming the resistance.
  • Robert Halfon attacked the LSE for taking Gaddafi's money.
  • James Gray said that contractors should make better plans for evacuations.

These were all fair questions.  But I'm struck on reading them by one that was missing.

David Cameron did nothing to discourage speculation, raging that day, that Britain would play a part in military operations against Gaddafi - including the imposition of a no fly zone (which Labour's Mike Gapes referred to).

It's striking that not a single backbench question tried to pin down Cameron on the matter, ask how a British contribution to a no fly zone or other intervention would work; how it might be affected by the coming defence spending scaleback - and, above all, how we could avoid being further drawn in.

Today's news is that the Government's backing off military intervention, and the media's beginning to ask questions about how it would work.  What can we glean from the fact that no Member of Parliament did so? (Though Tredinnick deserves a mention in dispatches for coming closest.)

5 Nov 2010 06:57:42

Tory backbenchers raise questions about the deal with France on aircraft carriers

By Jonathan Isaby

Yesterday saw a debate in the Commons on the recent Strategic Defence and Security Review.

Several Conservative MPs took the opportunity to raise questions about the deal signed this week between David Cameron and President Sarkozy for Britain and France to share aircraft carriers.

ARBUTHNOT James James Arbuthnot, who chairs the Defence Select Committee, said:

"In relation to the French-UK treaties that were signed this week, I am in no doubt that they are a good thing, and that we are moving in the right direction. I have a reservation relating to the aircraft carriers, but I repeat that the treaties are a good thing. Actually, I believe that we should go further and give reality to the treaties, so that the warm words that they contain might be translated into tangible progress in training, doctrine, equipment-sharing, acquisition and research with our good friends and allies, the French. My reservation about the aircraft carriers, however, has been wrongly depicted as some great showdown between myself and the Secretary of State. I shall explain my reservation.

"When the SDSR was announced last month, the Prime Minister said of the aircraft carriers: "We will build both carriers, but hold one in extended readiness." And we all know that "extended readiness" in Ministry of Defence-speak means exactly the reverse. But, in the press conference after the signing of the treaties this week, my right hon. Friend referred to our "carrier". As I understand it, we have not yet decided to sell one of the two carriers, and I hope that we do not. To talk of our "carrier" might be to build an expectation that we shall definitely mothball and almost certainly sell the other one. It is pre-empting a discussion that needs to take place much later, when we can see the economic circumstances of this country and, more importantly, the threats against us.

"Two carriers would be a good idea, and no carriers would be a fairly good idea, but one carrier? Surely not. Every time it went into refit would we not prove to the Treasury that we were able to struggle on without it? Furthermore, are we really yet close enough to the French position that we can utterly rely on being allowed to use theirs? The answer is no, not yet. Our deployment to Iraq took place in the last decade. I do not say that we never will be close enough to the French, because I hope and expect that at some stage in the reasonably near future we shall, but it will come about only after a decent length of time operating alongside them, and after the treaties have been given detail, teeth and funding, none of which has yet happened.

"How about another idea? How about deciding between the two of our countries that the French will contribute to the cost of the second carrier and, in return, have the right to use it when their carrier is in refit? That would mean that the two countries had three operational carriers between them, which should surely be acceptable. Having said all that, let me repeat that the French treaties are, in the words of "1066 and All That", a "Good Thing".

Picture 1 And this is what Gainsborough MP Edward Leigh had to say on the topic:

"My right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot) has done a wonderful job as Chair of the Defence Committee - he is shaping up to be a superb Chair - in questioning the decision on the future shape of the carrier fleet. I am not a Francosceptic; I am a huge Francophile. Both my parents were brought up in France, I went to a French school, and I speak French, so I am all in favour of every kind of co-operation with the French, but... Hon. Members and the public are right to be wary about such co-operation. The public do not really understand - and why should they? - a lot of these details about joint strike fighters, Typhoons and Tornadoes. However, they can visualise aircraft carriers without aircraft, and they can visualise sharing an aircraft carrier with the French, and they do not like it - and they are wise not to like it. We all know what would have happened had we been sharing an aircraft carrier with the French during the Falklands war or the Iraq war."

"I do not doubt for a moment that it is a wonderful idea to have increased co-operation with the French on procurement and to work together more closely, but on this basis it is an extremely dangerous decision. My right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire was right. There is no way in this debate that we can change the decision on the Ark Royal, the Harriers or Nimrod, and I do not think that I will still be in this Chamber when the two aircraft carriers retire, because I will be about 120. However, for the next 10 years, we can together mount a campaign. Its nature must be clear: that we would make ourselves ridiculous, as one of the world's greatest maritime nations, if we built the greatest and most powerful ships we have ever constructed and then sold one of them to India, Brazil or elsewhere.

"As my right hon. Friend said, extended readiness is not good enough. Our commitment, as with Trident, must be that at all times an aircraft carrier will be available. That means that we must keep our two aircraft carriers and ensure that when one goes in for a refit, the other is available."

10 Jun 2010 12:19:35

Select Committee election results: Labour and Liberal MPs line up behind the Conservative establishment

I wondered earlier this week here whether Labour MPs would use the Select Committee elections to make life difficult for David Cameron.

They didn't.  Instead, they lined up behind the Conservative establishment candidates. Andrew Tyrie took the Treasury Select Committee; Richard Ottaway, Foreign Affairs (a big, big consolation prize, after his defeat in the 1922 Committee Chairmanship election); James Arbuthnot, Defence; Stephen Dorrell, Health; Tim Yeo, Climate Change. Anne McIntosh, who won the Environment Committee, leans towards the left of the Party.

I didn't, of course, see anyone cast a ballot paper.  But unless Conservative MPs turned out en masse to vote against the Party's right - an unlikely course of action, given the '22 Executive results - Liberal and Labour support for less spiky candidates provides the only comprehensible explanation of the results.

It would be unfair to view the victors as patsies.  Tyrie, in particular, has a track record of independent-mindedness.  But ask yourself whether Cameron Towers would prefer the winners to, say, Patrick Mercer at Defence or Peter Bone at Health (let alone Nadine) or Philip Hollobone at Climate Change, and there's only one answer.

Bernard Jenkin and Chris Chope are both seen as men of the right.  But Chope's used the Chamber to launch independent-minded assaults on establishment causes, and it's noticeable that he lost out in the tussle for the Public Administration Committee Chairmanship.

John Whittingdale at Culture and Greg Knight at Procedure, both No Turning Back Group stalwarts, are in unopposed. Graham Stuart won what should have been, even if it wasn't, a close-fought battle for the Education Committee.

Full list of victors.

Paul Goodman

8 Jun 2010 14:09:20

How Labour MPs will vote tomorrow to make life difficult for David Cameron

As most readers know, the Select Committee Chairmanships have been carved out among the parties, and tomorrow's elections for the posts will be cross-party. So Conservative MPs, for example, can vote for Labour candidates, and vice-versa. Jonathan has a list of those standing here.

A question follows: on what basis will Labour MPs vote for the Conservative candidates? Answer: it depends.  Some will support the best candidate.  Others will vote for the Conservative candidate seen to be the more left-wing of the two.

Such is the attachment on the Labour benches to climate change orthodoxy, for example, that large number of the Party's MPs are likely to line up behind Tim Yeo, the establishment candidate for the Energy and Climate Change committee.

In other cases, however, Labour MPs will surely ask: who's the candidate more likely to cause David Cameron trouble?  Or, if they've a more elevated turn of mind: who's the candidate more likely to stand up for the legislature against the executive?

In some cases, it's hard to tell.  For example, both candidates for the Treasury Select Committee Chairmanship, Michael Fallon and Andrew Tyrie, are independent-minded. But in others, it's easier to see who'd be more likely to give Downing Street a fit of the heebie-jeebies.

Step forward, then, Peter Bone - standing for the Chairmanship of the Health Select Committee - John Baron, contesting Foreign Affairs (Baron pursued Ministers energetically about Iraq during the last Parliament) and, in the Defence Select Committee poll, no fewer than three of the candidates: Julian Lewis, Patrick Mercer and, above all, Douglas Carswell (one half of the Carswell-Hannan "Cannon" dynamic duo).

If Carswell in particular wins (an unlikely event, but you never know), expect senior officials in the Ministry of Defence to start screaming and screaming, and be unable to stop...

So if any of the above are elected, take a long, hard look at the Labour benches for those responsible.

Official disclaimer: nothing in this article is to be read as an endorsement of any candidate, in any election, at any time, anywhere...

Paul Goodman