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Britain in the World

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:58 pm on 13th January 2020.

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Photo of Alec Shelbrooke Alec Shelbrooke Conservative, Elmet and Rothwell 6:58 pm, 13th January 2020

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. His point is just as relevant today. In fact, we are seeing a rise of extremist parties across Europe. Whether it be Vox in Spain or the Swedish Democrats, all these people come from questionable pasts. This is all based on the fact that populaces feel that their national Governments are not taking notice of their demands.

Brexit was a pressure valve for us in many ways. It allowed people who felt ignored to vent their fury at where they thought things were going without having to move to extreme parties, and we in this country should be grateful for that. The reality is that we have just had an election in which extremist views were rejected. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition threatened to shut down elements of the press if he did not like what they were doing. He released a video in which he said, “Change is coming. You will all be sorry.” That was unacceptable and undemocratic. We may not like what the press say all the time, but we cannot have a free and open society unless we have a free and open press. If we disagree with what is in the press, it is up to us to argue why it is wrong and to prove our point.

I am being careful about the time, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I must say that it is all very well for Emily Thornberry to criticise this Government’s relationships with partners around the world and to draw on Yemen, but not once did I hear her lay any of the blame at the Iranian regime that has been arming the Houthi rebels, launching missiles into Riyadh and using deliberately provocative terms. Given all the events of past week, the lack of willingness to come out against the Iranians and what they have been up to shows that Labour may be able to change its leader but, in the words of The Who,

“Meet the new boss,

Same as the old boss.”

Moving on to defence, freedom is important, and we must ensure that we can defend it. As my right hon. Friend Dr Lewis said, deterrents are equally as important and, as I said to the Secretary of State for Defence last week about the possibility of a NATO-led maritime force in the strait of Hormuz to act as a deterrent rather than as a reaction to an attack, we must sure that we have the ability to react to such things. When the defence review comes up, I will make no apology for saying that we must have another proper look at the Royal Navy. It was a mistake to deliver only six of the 12 destroyers. In fact, the other six destroyers would not have cost half as much to make as the original six, because it was all in the programme. We have a good frigate programme, but we need more. We should be looking at more minesweepers, which are flexible and versatile ships that can be used either to patrol our waters or to help in problem areas.

Lots of people criticised the amount of money spent on the aircraft carriers, but I will be controversial and say that I would have another one. Frankly, the ability to have aircraft platforms in several different areas is important because, as my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East said—I always appreciate his in-depth work—we do not know where the threats will come from. What we do know, however, is that if we cannot react or work against such things, we may allow them to spin out of control because we do not have the counterbalances or the deterrents.

I agree with Dominic Cummings when he says that there is a major problem in procurement in the Ministry of Defence. We read only this weekend that the Trident replacement is already £1.3 billion over budget. How does that happen? How can we possibly try to build up our armed forces and build more ships when a project that is hardly under way is already over budget by billions? There must be a fundamental review. We must also work out how we are going to man all these ships and how we will recruit. It is all very well building ships, but we have a recruitment problem, and recruitment has always been hard during times of full employment.

I will briefly mention infrastructure, because it is important and will help cement our place in the world. If we want to have a high-tech economy, we must build for it. We have to ensure that fibre broadband goes in. We have to work on transport solutions. We must be honest and say that if a solution does not look like it is going to deliver what it should deliver or if the price is going up, there must be other ways to deliver that solution. I still want HS2 to come to my city of Leeds, because it will be vital. However, whether it does that by going to Manchester and then looping into HS3, I am open to suggestions. At the moment, I am finding it hard to see how the price tag, which is almost double what we were led to believe, can deliver the benefits we are looking for, especially when there are other ways, given the Prime Minister’s agenda, that it can be delivered to my city of Leeds.

I am an optimist, and I am very excited about the one nation agenda that is being put forward in this Queen’s Speech. I honestly believe that the reason why this will be a fantastic decade is the strength of the one nation agenda. We will not be talking about the roaring ‘20s; we will look back at this period as the start of the roaring 21st century.