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Before I came to the House today, I thought about what was I going to say, and I was mindful of that saying, "Whenever the clouds are on the horizon, you can either shelter from the storm or run with the wind." I am conscious that this Government are doing more sheltering from the storm. The question for us, as elected representatives at Westminster, and for our constituents is: is there somewhere to shelter? That is what I shall comment on, but I am also conscious of the comments that I make. I always try to make constructive comments, because that is my nature, but I shall also underline some concerns that I, as an elected representative and MP, believe I am duty bound to mention.
In Northern Ireland, and in Strangford, which I represent, there is a very clear tightening of the belt. The marks are already there, and I just wonder how tight the belt will be by the time the Budget is eventually farmed out to all parts of the United Kingdom and all Departments. We in Northern Ireland are mindful of that in relation to the block budget.
I am very conscious also of the serious economic state that we are in. I am not ignoring it, and neither are the people of the United Kingdom. We all recognise that drastic measures need to be taken, but I have to ask: are they being taken in the right place and taken correctly, and will they adversely affect my constituents and, indeed, those of many other hon. Members who have spoken today? I recognise the need for health and perhaps international development to be ring-fenced, and that the Budget will not necessarily affect those areas. There is some talk about education, or at least some parts of it, remaining untouched as well, but in that case there will have to be cuts in other Departments.
I recognise that this House is very supportive and proud of the armed services as they fight in Afghanistan, Iraq and all over the world. Is a 25% cut in defence fair? The Prime Minister has given a commitment to the soldiers on the front line, wherever the war is taking place. However, if there is to be a 25% cut in defence, someone has to feel the pinch and the pain, and if it is not the soldiers on the front line-and it should not be-it has to be those at home. I am pleased that the cut will not affect the front line, but concerned about how it will affect other areas. Will it mean that commanders are pensioned off? Will it affect the MOD in buying equipment? The MOD will look for the best prices, as it probably should, but we do not want spending to be diminished in such a way that its position is undermined.
The cadet forces make a significant contribution across the whole United Kingdom, but particularly in Northern Ireland. It is very important for us in Northern Ireland to have cadet forces that bring the communities together. We have tried to achieve that for years, and we are now seeing the partnership begin to work better than it ever has before. Cadet forces, by their very nature, are drawn from both communities. There are more people from the Roman Catholic side of the community in the cadet forces in Londonderry, which Mark Durkan represents, as well as in Limavady, Enniskillen and Strabane. That has come about because joining the cadet forces has been attractive to young boys and girls, who recognise that some day they will want to serve in the British Army and the other services, including the Royal Air Force.
I want to highlight lone parents. I welcome the fact that the Government want to encourage them back to work; I think we all want to do that. However, when they have the opportunity to do so, we want them to have the jobs to go to. It is great to have this support in theory, but how does it come about in reality? Do the people have jobs, and are there opportunities and options? I am not sure that there are. I am concerned about the Government's position.
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