Strategic Defence and Security Review

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:50 pm on 21st June 2010.

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Photo of Jack Lopresti Jack Lopresti Conservative, Filton and Bradley Stoke 7:50 pm, 21st June 2010

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to contribute to this vital debate.

I am delighted that it is customary for Members to use their maiden speeches to pay tribute to their predecessors. I have the honour to do so twice over, because my wonderful constituency of Filton and Bradley Stoke-known to many as FABS-is a new seat, created from three former seats. Two of the Members who represented those seats are no longer in the House.

Dr Doug Naysmith served Bristol, North-West for 13 years with straightforward honour and distinction. His political foes marked him down as a good and decent man. He was personally kind and-dare I say it?-supportive to me whenever we met. I wish him well in his new political career as a member of Bristol city council, and I may yet come to forgive him for defeating my old Avonmouth councillor friend Spud Murphy after a nail-biting four recounts when lots had to be drawn.

Roger Berry, who represented the wards of Kingswood that are now in FABS, is someone with whom I would have had little in common politically, but in the part of my constituency where he was formerly a Member he was well regarded across the political spectrum for his endeavour, his independence, his forthright political opinions, and his work as co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on disability.

Filton and Bradley Stoke is a fascinating and diverse place. It is the home of the British aerospace industry. Concorde was built at Filton, and today it is still the British home of EADS and Airbus, Rolls-Royce, and a large part of GKN. This year, 2010, marks the centenary of aviation in Bristol. Founder Sir George White, a great entrepreneur and Bristolian who came from humble beginnings, was so proud of his city that he named his company the Bristol Aeroplane Company after it. We are home to the university of the West of England, one of Britain's most successful new universities, and we are fortunate to have the world-famous Frenchay hospital, which is internationally renowned for its work on the treatment of bones and head injuries. Frenchay was sadly downgraded by the last Government, but I will continue to fight for its existence as a community hospital with as many facilities as possible to serve the residents of south Gloucestershire.

My constituency is at the centre of the debate on the strategic defence and security review. At its heart lies the MOD procurement centre at Abbey Wood. EADS makes missiles, and Rolls-Royce contributes to the building of not only the Type 45 destroyer but the engines of the new US strike fighter. Airbus and GKN lead the world in the development of composite wing technology, and Airbus is also engaged in the development of the new and fantastic A400M plane, a transport plane designed to replace the now ageing Hercules. The A400M will have its UK debut in the south-west at the royal international air tattoo in Fairford on 16 July. It will be flown by the aptly named chief test pilot Ed Strongman, who is a Cornishman and a graduate of Bristol university.

At a time of straitened economic circumstances, the development of those projects and the huge costs involved will provide the substance of many ensuing debates on the nature and cost of the country's defences. I hope the new Government will learn one lesson from their predecessors, and will never forget it. We may enter into wars at short notice and with good reason, but we must never do so again without a full understanding of the implications for the lives of our troops whom we place in harm's way. Waging war costs money, but that cost is nothing in comparison with the lives of the men and women involved, and our duty to our service personnel does not stop with a homecoming parade and a few beers in the mess afterwards.

As several of my hon. Friends have already pointed out in their maiden speeches, it is time for this country, and this Government, to take seriously the ongoing issue of the welfare and, in particular, the mental health of so many of our returning heroes. From the comfort of my home in Filton, I cheered nearly as loudly as our troops in Camp Bastion when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made his announcement about the doubling of their operational allowances. I know what that sort of practical support means to the troops on the ground. However, it must be accompanied by a real and ongoing commitment to looking after our troops, sometimes for the rest of their lives.

I believe that the one thing that will distinguish this Parliament from many of its recent predecessors is the number of us sitting here today who have served. That includes new hon. Friends from as far afield as South Dorset and Penrith and the Border, as well as many in between. My own military experience is as a serving Territorial Army soldier. I am a Gunner with 266 Commando Battery of the Royal Artillery. As a mobilised reservist, I had the huge honour and privilege to spend a year serving with the mighty men of 29 Commando Regiment, five months of it in Afghanistan on Operation Herrick 9.

As a private soldier, Gunner Lopresti, I spent my tour in Helmand, where I saw at first hand what decisions made in the House of Commons can mean for the men and women on the ground. I worked with the Rifles for a bit of my tour of duty as a member of infantry force protection on the Medical Emergency Response Team, who work in the back of a Chinook helicopter. I watched some awe-inspiring young people fly in and out of danger to pick up and treat casualties, sometimes in the very worst of circumstances and sometimes successfully, sometimes not. I learnt exactly what our future decisions could mean. I also worked alongside a remarkably brave and inspirational soldier, a Lance Bombardier from 29 Commando, whose foot and lower leg were blown off by an improvised explosive device while he was driving a Land Rover with no mine protection in 2006 and who, less than two years later, was back doing a second tour of duty with his regiment as part of 3 Commando Brigade. That was just amazing.

My experience is what will inform my thinking when the debate on the shape of our military future takes place. Our new Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will certainly have the support of this new Member of Parliament if our Government honour their commitment to renew and strengthen the military covenant, but I will also reserve the right to be a critical friend, not only mindful of Britain's place in the world and our international duties and obligations, but conscious above all of our duty properly to equip and care for those who put their lives on the line for our country. This country needs many culture changes; let us ensure that the ongoing welfare of our servicemen is among them.

Making my maiden speech in this place is a truly humbling experience which I assure the House I will never forget, but nor, as we review our defence priorities, will I ever let this place forget the debt that we owe to our service personnel. As the great General George Patton once said, wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men.

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