New Forest East

MAIDEN SPEECH - 20 May 1997

MAIDEN SPEECH - 20 May 1997

Dr Julian Lewis: In rising to make my Maiden Speech, I have the pleasure of paying tribute not just to one but to two simultaneous predecessors. The first, Sir Patrick McNair-Wilson, served briefly in the 1960s as a representative of Lewisham, West, but then became the Member of Parliament for the New Forest, which he represented with great diligence, efficiency, loyalty and faithfulness for nearly 30 years. His motto was, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." That is why the 900-year-old New Forest, a hunting forest, founded by William the Conqueror, retains so much of its marvellous authenticity today.

The second person to whom I have the pleasure of paying tribute is my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey (Michael Colvin) who, until the general election, represented 81 per cent. of the electorate of the new New Forest, East constituency. I, as an adopted candidate, could not have asked for a better and more encouraging mentor. I am delighted to think that the constituents of Romsey will continue to have the benefit of his care and attention, as did those constituents whom I have been fortunate enough to inherit from him.

I am glad that the debate has widened somewhat into the European sphere because I wish to go a little more generously wide in my remarks than my right hon. and learned Friend the Shadow Chancellor did when he said that the only commitment that had been given by the Government in the Gracious Speech was to enter the Social Chapter.

There was something else in the Gracious Speech to which we should pay tribute and it concerned the peace of Europe. Before I develop that theme, I want to show how the peace of Europe has affected almost every part of the constituency that I am now privileged to represent.

The new constituency runs from Totton at the edge of Southampton to Calshot at the southern end of Southampton Water. Totton has a large employer, Millbrook Furnishings, which should be of interest to Members of this House and another place because it is the firm that upholsters and maintains the Benches on which we are all so happy to sit.

Calshot has more of a military history. Calshot was where R.J. Mitchell developed much of his work on the Spitfire and the seaplanes. Many attempts were made on the air speed record, some with fatal consequences to the pilots who were pushing the technology to its limits. Between those two extremes there are many historically significant defence locations.

Marchwood has the great military port from which the forces set sail for the Gulf. Hythe was the home of the British Powerboat Company that pioneered the development of high-speed launches and motor torpedo boats which were so vital a component of our coastal forces during the Second World War. I am sure that many hon. Members will have visited Beaulieu with great pleasure. It is sometimes startling to think that it was at Beaulieu that the Special Operations Executive agents were trained before they parachuted, often to a fatal end, into Nazi-occupied France. To go from that beauty into that danger, as Violette Szabo GC did, never to return, required a degree of courage that it is hard to envisage in today's times of peace.

Moving along, we have, near Lymington, Green Marine, which has manufactured the vast majority of Royal National Lifeboat Institution lifeboats during the past eight years. The Cadland Consortium has developed the Cadland concept of a new ship to replace the Royal Yacht Britannia, not a floating gin-palace but a sail training vessel which, if it were adopted – I commend it to the Government – would supply sail training experience for scores of young people in between its royal purposes.

Moving north, we come to Lyndhurst where is to be found the grave of Alice Hargreaves, who was born Alice Liddell, and was the inspiration for Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland". Also in the parish church at Lyndhurst is a memorial tablet to two of her sons. One was a captain who won the DSO in the First World War, the other was a captain who won the MC in that same war. Both were killed in successive years on the Somme at the age of 33. So even Alice in Wonderland was touched by the tragedy of war in Europe.

Finally, at Fawley, which has the largest oil refinery in the country, there is a small church which unexpectedly among its plots has a small group of war graves from the Battle of Britain. Such sights are always moving, but I hope that the House will be as impressed as I was by the nobility of spirit of the parents of Sergeant John Burrow, who inscribed the following on his gravestone:

"Into the mosaic of victory we lay this priceless piece – our son".

Even an area as known for happiness, tourism and relaxation as the New Forest has had the scars of war deeply imprinted upon it.

In making my Maiden Speech, I am in something of a dilemma. I know that it may be the only opportunity in my entire parliamentary career to get my message across uninterrupted. However, the reverse side of the bargain is that I have to be relatively non-controversial. That is why I should like to pay tribute to part of the Gracious Speech that my right hon. and learned Friend the Shadow Chancellor overlooked – the section in which the Government intend to "retain strong armed forces, including the nuclear deterrent".

There are many issues on which the Government will not accept that they were ever wrong or that the Conservatives were ever right, but I am sure that the nuclear deterrent is one issue on which they accept that we were right all along. In 1982, the then hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central, now the Foreign Secretary, stood at the podium at the Labour Party conference and said:

"I come to this rostrum to beg Conference, to ask Conference, to plead with Conference to vote for unilateral nuclear disarmament."

I am happy to welcome the right hon. Gentleman and his Government back to the multilateralist camp.

Some may ask the purpose of worrying about the peace of Europe in the present context with no enemy on the horizon. In the 1980s, those of us who were fighting the battle for the nuclear deterrent often made comparisons with the 1930s and the arguments of peace through appeasement and disarmament versus those of peace through strength and deterrence. If the 1980s were parallel with the 1930s, I suggest that the 1990s are parallel with the 1920s.

In the 1920s, there was so little sign of an enemy on the horizon that each of the three Armed Services made its hypothetical plans against an entirely different country. Cuts in the Armed Forces were introduced through something called the Ten-Year No-War Rule. The idea was that the Government would look ahead and ask themselves whether there was a danger of war in the following decade. If the answer was no, they would cut the forces. The following year, they would ask the question again, so they had a rolling Ten-Year Rule. Yet when the danger arose, there was not sufficient warning to reverse those cuts.

That is why I strongly welcome the Government's decision – provided that they stick to it – to maintain strong Armed Forces, which are our insurance premium for peace in Europe. However, there is a danger that that new-found unanimity on the role of nuclear deterrence in keeping the peace could be undermined by the common defence policy that the European Union is threatening to foist on us.

Occasionally I have an open mind on European issues, and it certainly extended as far as visiting Brussels last September as the guest of a delegation of Members of the European Parliament. We were addressed by many representatives of different political parties from different member countries of the European Union. I was particularly struck by the following point, made by a German Member of the European Parliament:

"What you really have to understand is that Europe is not mainly about economics; Europe is mainly about peace."

I replied:

"Excuse me, but if you mean that the EEC, the EC or the EU has played a key role in keeping the peace in Europe against Soviet aggression, that is clearly false, because the key role was played by NATO and the key component of NATO was the United States. Indeed, the lesson of the First World War, the Second World War and the Cold War was that, without American involvement, there is no security for peace in Europe. However, if what you mean about Europe being mainly about peace is peace between Germany and her neighbours –"

and of course, that is what he meant –

"I still don't think that the EEC, the EC, or the EU, has made a decisive contribution. What has made a decisive contribution has been the fact that Germany and her neighbours are all parliamentary democracies."

When I ask people to give me examples of dictatorships going to war with other dictatorships, they can give me many. When I ask them for examples of dictatorships going to war against democracies or democracies such as Britain in 1939 going to war against dictatorships, they can give me many; but when I ask for examples of democracies going to war against other democracies, they can usually come up with nothing or their examples are so obscure as to be virtually meaningless.

When I put that question to the German Member of the European Parliament, he thought for a while and he did not give me the usual example of India and Pakistan. Instead, he referred to a war between Prussia and Bavaria in 1866. I thought that if he had to go back to 1866, my case must be pretty strong. When I looked into the matter, I found that one of those states was not a democracy even on paper until two years after the war had finished.

In conclusion, the key to keeping peace in Europe is to preserve our system of democratic states and to retain democratic control over our Armed Forces. That is why it is meaningless for the Government to say that they support the maintenance of an independent deterrent unless they can be sure that control of that deterrent will remain in British hands and that our veto will be used against any attempt to incorporate it into a common defence policy. This is not alarmism, because the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Security and Defence Policies of the European Parliament has already said that a common defence policy would require a common deterrent, and that that would require Brussels having control of the British and French deterrents. So there we have it.

The Government have promised to maintain the deterrent, the Armed Forces and our allegiance to and involvement with NATO. They can count on the warmest, strongest and most full-hearted support from Conservative Members who are interested in defence if they fulfil those promises.

[Mr Jimmy Hood: ... The hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr Lewis) has just made an interesting speech on Defence that was obviously well researched; he was well briefed. He spoke without notes, and I congratulate him on that. I was reminded of the last Maiden Speech about Defence that I heard from a Conservative Member who spoke without notes. That was the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Ann Widdecombe). I am not making a comparison, but both speakers were obviously well briefed on Defence. I welcome the hon. Member for New Forest, East to the House; I am sure that we shall hear plenty from him in the years ahead.]