Last night, James Gray, MP North Wiltshire, welcomed Sir David Attenborough to Parliament to hear an update on Britain’s new polar research ship, the RRS Sir David Attenborough.

The meeting was organised by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Polar Regions, which Mr Gray chairs. The meeting was attended by over 100 guests from across Parliament and the wider UK Polar Community.

Mr Gray said: “It is vital that Parliament gets to see the very best that British science and engineering has to offer, especially where tax-payer funded projects are concerned.”

The Royal Research Ship Sir David Attenborough was commissioned by the Natural Environmental Research Council to maintain Britain’s position at the leading-edge of polar research. Costing £200 million to build, the ship will be one of the most advanced scientific research vessels in the world. It has also been a catalyst for upgrading the rest of the UK’s critical polar infrastructure in Antarctica, and creates exciting opportunities for UK polar science in the years ahead.

Next week, the RRS Sir David Attenborough’s hull will enter the water from Cammell Laird’s shipyard in Birkenhead where it is being built. That will allow the final modules to be added ahead of the official naming ceremony in the autumn. Sea trials will follow with a view to having the ship ready for use in 2019.

Mr Gray added: “This ship demonstrates the very best that Global Britain has to offer, first and foremost in terms of polar science and logistics, but also because it demonstrates that British ship-building is back. As well as producing a cutting-edge ship, this project has been an investment in skills and expertise right across the UK maritime sector, which we can export to the rest of the world.

From 2019, the RRS Sir David Attenborough will provide a state-of-the-art platform from which scientists will tackle some of the most important issues facing humanity, including climate change, future sea-level rise, and marine biodiversity.

James Gray, MP for North Wiltshire spoke yesterday in response to Alex Burghart MP’s Westminster Hall debate about the proposed road alterations around Stonehenge. Mr Gray spoke of the importance of protecting such an historic site, whilst making improvements to ease the heavy flow of traffic around the area and make it suitable for modern life. It is a fine and delicate balance between preserving the heritage of the area and ensuring it is fit for modern purpose.

Mr Gray stated:

“Of course we have to preserve the archaeology, but we have to do so in a way that modern people can appreciate, and in such a way that they can live their lives. At the moment, that is not happening.

Something has to happen and people have been considering the matter for generations now. The proposal we have come up with seems to me to be the least bad of the options available to us. Of course, there may be some downsides and a bit of impact from the weight of the flyover and one or two other things, which we will try to make better, but we have got to do something.”

“In considering my hon. Friend’s very fine and important archaeological points, it is also necessary to consider at the same time how those things can be sustainably maintained—in other words, kept in their pristine condition in a way that allows modern people to live their modern lives.”

Whether you are in favour of punitive strikes against the Assad regime in Syria, or against them, a Parliamentary vote on the subject will not help. There were Parliamentary votes on not a single one of the 124 wars waged by the UK since 1800. There was no vote on the First or Second World Wars, nor on the Falklands, nor Gulf 1. The Prime Minister kept Parliament informed - of course (s)he did. And he could not have gone ahead without a reasonable certainty that he had popular and political support for the war in question. If that were not the case he would not remain PM for very long. But there was no formal vote on them.

The first time that Parliament was asked either to approve or to prevent a military deployment was in 2003, when Tony Blair secured not one but three Parliamentary votes on his (very probably illegal) invasion of Iraq in 2003. That cannot give anyone- whether in favour or against a strike against Syria- much confidence that Parliamentary votes necessarily ‘get it right!’ There was a vote only after the strikes in Libya - again, perhaps not a great precedent. Parliament voted against bombing Assad in 2013 (and last weekend’s chemical gas attacks may well be a direct result of that decision); and Parliament voted in favour of bombing ISIS in both Iraq and Syria more recently. The point is that there is absolutely no guarantee whatsoever that politicising warfare by asking backbench MPs to vote on it, results in the correct decision being taken.

After all, we do not have the secret intelligence, the military assessments, nor the legal advice which is available to the Prime Minister and Cabinet. We do not know whether or not we could have precision strikes against Syrian military bases without ‘collateral damage’, or Russian casualties. We do not know what the Russian reaction would be. We do not know what the Americans and French are planning. We do not even know whether it was a chemical attack or not. We do not know those things – AND WE SHOULD NOT KNOW THEM. They are matters for the generals and intelligence chiefs advising the Prime Minister and Cabinet. And it is they who must take those terrible decisions either to go to war, or indeed not to do so, (the consequences of which may sometimes be even worse than a limited strike against an aggressor or war criminal.)

Not only all of that, but whipping backbench MPs either to support (or perhaps to oppose) a military action proposed by the PM and Government effectively hamstrings, even emasculates Parliament. For if we voted for the war - as we did in 2003 over Iraq, for example- we cannot then realistically criticise the Government for doing the very thing which we voted for. The same applies the other way round. It is hard, if not impossible, for MPs like me who voted against the strikes against Assad in 2013 now to admit that we may have been wrong, and then hold the Government to account for not doing something which we made them not do.

By insisting on a Parliamentary vote, we are making it a Parliamentary decision, not a decision by the PM and Executive. And by that very action we prevent ourselves from thereafter holding the Government to account and criticising what they have done.

So I very much hope that Theresa May either joins in with a US strike against, Assad, or that she does not do so for good military or intelligence or legal reasons. Either way round, she should not be shielding her decision by seeking a Parliamentary vote on the matter. She should not be allowed that political top-cover.

James Gray MP is a member of the Joint Committee on National Security (formerly of the Defence Committee); he is Chairman of the Armed Forces Parliamentary Trust and co-author of “Who Takes Britain to War. (History Press, 2015.)

2018 04 25 JG RN YoEThis week, James Gray, MP North Wiltshire, has been hosting a week-long exhibition in Parliament to celebrate the Government’s Year of Engineering campaign. The exhibition consists of displays created by the Royal Navy and the British Antarctic Survey.

Mr Gray said: “I am delighted to have been able to help the Royal Navy and the British Antarctic Survey showcase their incredible contributions to British engineering as part of the national Year of Engineering”.

The Royal Navy is showcasing its key role in promoting careers in engineering and the role it plays in everyday life. Approximately a third of the Royal Navy’s personnel are engineers and technicians, who serve as the ‘beating heart’ of operational capability.

The British Antarctic Survey, meanwhile, is displaying an incredibly detailed model of the Royal Research Ship Sir David Attenborough, Britain’s new polar research ship. The ship was commissioned by the Natural Environmental Research Council, is being built by Cammell Laird, and will be operated by the British Antarctic Survey. From 2019, it will provide a state-of-the-art platform from which scientists will tackle some of the most important issues facing humanity, including climate change, future sea-level rise, and marine biodiversity.

Mr Gray, who, is Chairman of both the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Armed Forces and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Polar Regions, added: “It is important that Parliament gets to see the very best that British engineering has to offer, especially where tax-payer funded projects are concerned.”

2018 03 22 blue passportJames Gray MP has today written to Amber Rudd questioning the decision to award the contract for the new UK passport to a French manufacturer.

Mr Gray said “The UK Government have a responsibility to protect British jobs and promote innovative and pioneering British businesses, particularly during this uncertain period of exiting the EU."

"The British passport is a symbol of national pride and British identity. It is a cruel irony for the staff of previous contract holders De La Rue, who have a base in the neighbouring county of Somerset, that the new British passport will not be made by a British company."

"I hope that Ministers will reflect on the fact they have awarded one of the most prized government contracts to a French company when British firms are expressly prohibited from bidding to manufacture passports in those markets. It seems to me that this decision is ill-thought-out and at odds with the Government’s purported aims to champion British business at home and abroad. It sends a confused message and demonstrates to the public that it has its priorities wrong at a time of huge uncertainty for the country.”