Fresh back from a fascinating visit to Monte Cassino, and a most moving visit to the British and Polish War Cemeteries there; and watching the commemoration of Passchendaele, sparks conflicting emotions. What a tragedy it is that these young men had to die. What a piece of needless vandalism that the (unoccupied) monastery was destroyed. Yet what would the world be like now if it were not for our readiness to fight for what is right, and to deter what is bad. ‘Arma Pacis Fulcra’ as the Honourable Artillery Company motto hath it- ‘Arms are the Balance of Peace.’
The Defence of the Realm is the first duty of any Government. Post- Brexit our new found independence will once again make us a world force, a free trading nation, and our land, sea and air forces will have a renewed importance. We do ‘punch above our weight’ in foreign affairs and defence terms. We rank fifth in the world for defence spending (£40 Billion, and outranked only by the US, China, Saudi Arabia and Russia), we are one of only three NATO countries who achieve the 2% of GDP spending which the Alliance sets as a basic minimum.
All well and good. But our army at 82,000 soldiers (currently only 78,000) is the smallest since Waterloo, and there are said to be dastardly plans afoot in the MOD to cut it even further; our Royal Navy is rightly immensely proud of the two new Aircraft carriers; yet there is some doubt as to whether or not we have enough people or enough planes to fill them; and our air force has done well in many areas of equipment, yet is perilously short of serviceable fast jet fighters.
So with all of that as background, and representing as heavily a military area as I do ( Wiltshire boasts half the British Army, in the North here we have the £250 million newly refurbished Technical Training College and REME HQ at Lyneham; we have the tri-service communications HQ at Corsham; 21 Signals Regiment at Colerne; IX Regiment of the Royal Logistics Corps at Hullavington; and a very large number of my constituents are either serving or retired from the armed forces), I have no embarrassment at my focus on Defence matters in Parliament.
I chair the Armed Forces Parliamentary Trust, which seconds 35 or so MPs and peers to the three services for 12 months, embedding them for a minimum of fifteen days to experience service life for real; I am chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Armed Services, which lays on weekly high level briefings, usually over a meal; I arranged over 10 years the regular Parliamentary welcome homes for each brigade as it came back from Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as a number of one-off parades (this year we have the 100th anniversary of the founding of the RAF and 100 years of service by women in the Royal Navy, both of which will be commemorated by receptions in Mr Speaker’s State Rooms); I have served for the last 5 years or so on the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, and hope to be re-elected to it in September; I am a graduate of the Royal College of Defence Studies, a visiting fellow of St Anthony’s College , Oxford, and Patron of Operation Christmas Box which sends boxes to service people who are on overseas deployment at Christmas; and I served for seven years in the Reserve Army, in the form of the Honourable Artillery Company.
So I am proud that Defence of the Realm- and keeping the Government up to scratch on it - is without question my own first duty in Parliament.