I thank the Opposition Front-Bench team for calling this important debate, and I will be supporting the motion.
This is an opportunity to debunk some of the myths and misrepresentations we have heard during the debate about the Labour party’s defence policy. In the Labour party manifesto “For the many not the few” it is written with complete clarity that Labour supports a
“strong, viable and sustainable defence and security policy” and that that
“must be strategic and evidence led”,
and not the financially driven defence agenda of the Conservative party.
The manifesto also says:
“We will ensure that our armed forces are properly equipped and resourced to respond to wide-ranging security challenges.”
There is a suggestion that the Conservative party is somehow the guardian of probity and competence, but there are many examples—the Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft, the 18-month delay with the RFA Tidespring and the disbanding of the Harrier force—where the Government’s procurement decisions have impacted on the defence budget. Labour is also committed to spending at least 2% of GDP on defence, and we
“will guarantee that our Armed Forces have the necessary capabilities to fulfil the full range of obligations” that are set for them.
We have a duty to properly reward and remunerate our armed forces. It is clear that, under the Conservatives, they have been hit by rent rises, pay restraint, and changes to tax and benefits, which has put real pressure on service personnel and their families. Labour will ensure that servicemen and women get the pay and living conditions their service merits.
I do not have a military base or establishment in my constituency, but I am fortunate to have a strong and active forces community, and it has a noble tradition of high levels of recruitment to all three armed services. This Sunday—
I am delighted to have been invited to unveil this year’s poppy artwork. In a spirit of solidarity and generosity, I would be very happy to invite the Minister to accompany me. He would be more than welcome to visit Seaham this weekend to help to highlight this year’s poppy appeal. I hope that in his closing statements he will commend the work of all the volunteers who have spent many months planning this tribute in support of our service personnel. It is one of many examples of how communities honour the armed forces covenant, which is a really important aspect of how we treat our veterans.
I am sorry that because of the shortage of time I am not able to develop these arguments. Marvellous work is done by terrific charities such as the Royal British Legion, SSAFA and, in my area, the Remember Them Fund. We have a moral obligation to the men and women who risk their lives to protect us. The nation owes them a debt of honour and we should ensure that we fulfil that debt. The modest armed forces pension is another issue that many veterans identify to me as causing them significant problems. I urge the House to support the Opposition motion.