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MP calls on government to drop NATS privatisation

Gavin Strang MP has called on the government to take the current window of opportunity to walk away with dignity from the privatisation of National Air Traffic Services (NATS).

Speaking in advance of Wednesday’s House of Commons debate on the Transport Bill, Gavin Strang said in Edinburgh today:

‘The future of National Air Traffic Services is in the balance.

‘The House of Lords has voted for two amendments to the NATS privatisation plans in the Transport Bill – one to delay the privatisation, and one to protect staff pension entitlements.

‘This gives Ministers a great opportunity to walk away with dignity from the privatisation of NATS.

‘After all, there is a backlog of legislation that the Government is trying to get through Parliament – so much so that the Queen’s Speech has been delayed until December. Ministers could decide to drop NATS privatisation to help facilitate passage of the remainder of this session’s legislation.

‘I very much hope that the Government will take this opportunity. NATS privatisation is deeply unpopular with NATS staff, with the public, with airline pilots and with the All Party Transport Select Committee who described it as the ‘worst of all the possible options’.

‘Britain’s air traffic control system is the best in the world. Privatisation is being pursued for financial reasons – nobody believes that it will make our skies safer.

‘Privatisation also raises national security concerns – probably the reason no other country apart from Fiji has privatised its air traffic control. Not the US, and not in the EU.’

Nuclear Weapons Proliferation speech

Speaking in advance of the debate he initiated on the floor of the House of Commons on 9 July, Gavin Strang MP said:

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT, is the cornerstone of the international non-proliferation regime.

The Treaty came into force in 1970, and is recognised as having been a real success. The NPT was negotiated at a time when there was a very real danger that the number of states with nuclear weapons could reach 20 or more within a decade or so. That that did not happen is recognised as being in large part due to the Treaty.

The NPT is also given credit for the decision of a number of states who had set out on nuclear weapons programmes, or who had inherited nuclear weapons from Soviet predecessors, to abandon that path.

The NPT is essentially a deal between those of us with nuclear weapons and those without. The Non-Nuclear Weapons States agree not to pursue nuclear weapons. In return they have access to civil nuclear energy and a promise of disarmament from the five recognised Nuclear Weapons States – China, the US, Russia, the UK and France.

While the so called ‘grand bargain’ at the heart of the NPT is easily described, supporting and enforcing it is a constantly changing task as technology advances and politics shift. The fundamental issue is whether the Nuclear non Proliferation Treaty is the way forward for the next 20 years.

Recent history
Following the end of the Cold War, steps were taken to strengthen then non-proliferation regime, and the NPT Review Conferences of 1995 and 2000 gave us real grounds for optimism. Review Conferences are held every five years as part of the ongoing operation to ensure that the mechanisms in place to protect the world from nuclear proliferation are up to the job.

However, from 2000 onwards we have been going backwards.

The last Review Conference, in 2005, ended in failure. Nothing was achieved.

The link between non-proliferation work and disarmament is strong, and is brought out in the recent report of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. It is far more difficult to effectively deal with a less cooperative state, or to build support for measures to strengthen anti-proliferation work, if dissenting parties can point to the failure of the Nuclear Weapons States to make progress towards disarmament.

As far as the UK is concerned, I am firmly of the view that the decision to replace Trident is a setback.

The present
So having endured those bleak years, are we now on the way up? There are, in my view, real grounds for optimism at present.

Firstly, because of the new administration in the United States.

The new President has declared that he wants to work towards a world without nuclear weapons, to pursue the US ratification of the vital Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and to support a verified Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty. As the House will be aware, the US and Russia made progress earlier this week on a Joint Understanding for a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. The START Follow-on Treaty would reduce the number of deployed strategic warheads and delivery vehicles.

Surely this encouraging development points up the difference in President Obama’s approach from that of his predecessor. I would go so far as to say that President Obama provides us with the best hope we have had for years in the area of non-proliferation.

Our own Government, to its credit, has shown that it is seized of the importance of progress at next year’s NPT Review Conference. In March the Prime Minister announced that the UK is to work with other countries to set out a ‘Road to 2010’ Plan. I understand that publication is likely to come before the House rises.

There are signs of movement at international level as well. In May the Preparatory Committee agreed by consensus an agenda for the 2010 NPT Review Conference. This may not sound significant, but it was the first time that this has been achieved by the Preparatory Committee in 15 years.

Later in May, the UN Conference on Disarmament – which had been deadlocked for twelve years – agreed a Programme of Work including the negotiation of a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT)

Looking to 2010 and beyond
So it seems there is indeed new scope for progress, and it is vital that we seize this opportunity. Because the challenges that we face are urgent.

So how do we proceed? Looking to the 2010 Review Conference and beyond, a consensus has been emerging over some of the steps that need to be taken.

Firstly, we must see the early entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty The Treaty can only come into force when all five Nuclear Weapons States and all states with civil nuclear reactors have signed. Nine such states, including the United States and China, have still to make this commitment. As I have mentioned, President Obama has pledged to pursue this, and the fact that the Senate is Democrat-led gives further ground for hope.

Secondly, in order to strengthen measures which prevent the illegal diversion of material to nuclear weapons programmes, we must have universal adoption of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Additional Protocol which allows inspectors more intrusive access. The Government recognises progress here to be a priority.

Third, a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty would halt the further production of plutonium and weapons-grade uranium. The Government has identified this as an essential step towards a world without nuclear weapons, and as I have mentioned, President Obama has reversed the position of the previous administration and reinstated US support for such a treaty.

Fourth, moves to guarantee supplies of fuel for peaceful nuclear energy uses, enabling countries to forgo the development of fuel-cycle facilities, would limit the risk of diversion and of terrorist intervention. If progress is to be made here, participating states must have absolute confidence that supplies would be guaranteed.

Fifth, we need proper enforcement measures for states which breach or withdraw from the NPT system – a point made by President Obama in his speech earlier this year in Praguel, and this is a priority of the UK Government.

Sixth, we Nuclear Weapons States must take steps to de-alert our existing arsenals, reduce our dependence upon those arsenals in our defence policies, and improve our levels of transparency. As the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has pointed out, the fact that we do not even have an authoritative estimate of the total number of nuclear weapons attests to the need for greater transparency.

Finally, we Nuclear Weapons States have an obligation to disarm. As I have said, disarmament is one of the three pillars of the Non Proliferation Treaty, and the world is watching closely. The progress towards a successor to START made by the US and Russia this week is an encouraging step in the right direction. Non-Nuclear Weapons States will need to see that we Nuclear Weapons States have an ongoing commitment to further, deeper cuts in our arsenals.

This week we saw the death of Robert McNamara, US Defense Secretary during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis. I was a student at the time and can remember the genuine fear that we all felt.

Forty years after that crisis, McNamara famously revealed how close the world came to nuclear war, and let me quote him.

‘It was luck that prevented nuclear war. […] Rational individuals came that close to total destruction of their societies. And that danger exists today.’

The case for a world without nuclear weapons was made by Robert McNamara in one sentence:

‘The major lesson of the Cuban missile crisis is this: the indefinite combination of human fallibility and nuclear weapons will destroy nations.’

Honouring our Armed Forces

Speaking at an Armed Forces Day Event on 22 June 2009 at 1900 hours at the Royal British Legion Club, Baileyfield Road, Portobello, Edinburgh, the Rt. Hon. Dr. Gavin Strang, Member of Parliament for Edinburgh East said:

It is a privilege to speak at this first annual Armed Forces Day function in Portobello. The Armed Forces Day, which has been designated by the Government, is this coming Saturday 27 June 2009.

Every year in November the British people commemorate Armistice Day and to our credit it is one of the important dates in our national calendar. A few years ago we decided that we should hold, in addition to Remembrance Sunday, an annual Veterans Day. The first Veterans Day in the UK took place on 27 June 2006. The annual event is now called Armed Forces Day. In Scotland, nationally coordinated flag raising ceremonies were held this morning.

We all owe a great debt to our armed forces and veterans. Most of us are especially conscious of this at present, yet it is a debt the armed forces incur every generation. Many people around Scotland and other parts of the UK will be keen to find a means of acknowledging that debt, and many veterans and reservists will be keen to participate. Armed Forces Day events offer a simple and effective way of enabling people around the country to express their own support.

It is great that thirteen armed forces veterans lapel badges will be presented here this evening. As the local Member of Parliament may I thank the British Legion Club Chairman, Peter Thomson, and the Secretary, Lillian Darcy, for the work they have put into helping us organise this event in the club. I am glad that Freddy Wood, the British Legion Area Secretary, is with us here this evening.

In choosing the veterans to receive badges this evening, the focus is on older veterans who fought for their country in the last World War. We all know what was at stake during those years. They fought and many died to ensure that these islands did not become part of Hitler’s third reich. They fought for democracy.

It is important to recognise that Armed Forces Day is about all our servicemen and women who serve or have served our country. In recent years, many young men and women have died fighting, and even more have been seriously maimed or injured. I assume that everybody in this hall knows that I voted against military action in Iraq. However, whatever view one takes of that military action, I defer to no one in acknowledging the priority which this government and any future government needs to give to looking after our veterans.

Our armed forces are in action in many parts of the world. They play a vital role in peacekeeping. It is often stated in the House of Commons that we have the best armed forces in the world. I believe that is true, and we need to spend the money required to keep it that way.

As many of you will have noticed, the House of Commons is electing a new Speaker today. As the Member of Parliament for Edinburgh East, I have never been in any doubt that my priority today is to be here. A few of you may know that I am Treasurer of the All-Party Parliamentary Royal Air Force Group. Rather more here may be aware that I have been a Trustee of this club for over thirty years, and I hope to have many more to come.

New RAF aircraft order a welcome boost for economy

Gavin Strang MP has welcomed today’s announcement by the Government that Britain is to sign up to a third order, Tranche 3, of the Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft.

Speaking in Edinburgh, Gavin Strang said today:

‘This plane is at the heart of Britain’s aerospace industries.   Thousands of jobs are dependent on its development, at Rolls Royce, BAE SYSTEMS and SELEX.

‘It is great news for SELEX in Edinburgh, where we have around two thousand jobs.   Their future has now been guaranteed for years to come.

‘With the go-ahead for this improved version of the Typhoon, the company will be able to proceed with its research and development work.   SELEX is developing the AESA radar system which will make the Typhoon a world-beater in international markets.

‘This decision will provide a valuable boost to our economy.   More skilled engineering jobs are vital to this country’s industrial future.   The jobs at SELEX, and its supplier companies, are especially vital to the future of Edinburgh because of the current downturn in our financial sector.

‘Sixteen of the advanced Tranche 3 planes will go to the RAF, more will be exported.   All the airforces which have flown the Typhoon rate it highly.   With the new scan radar the plane has the potential to bring substantial future jobs to this country’s aerospace industries.

‘I am confident that the deal will be signed up quickly, ending the speculation of recent weeks.   With our partner nations, Germany, Italy and Spain, Britain can now move forward with the development and manufacture of this military plane, which has the potential to be successful in export markets.’

Armed Forces Day

The government has announced plans to hold an Armed Forces Day on the last Saturday in June. The intention is to mark the contribution made to society by all those who serve and have served in the armed forces.

Events, large and small, are being held across the country. Such an event is being held in the Portobello Royal British Legion Club on Monday evening, 22 June. A flag will be raised at 7.00pm, followed by a few remarks. There will be a band and buffet supper in the main hall.

If you have served or are serving in the armed forces and would like to come along then to obtain a ticket, costing £4 each, please contact Club Chairman, Peter Thomson, at:

Portobello British Legion Club
43 Baileyfield Road,
Edinburgh, EH15 1NA

Telephone: 0131 669 1001

This article is from Gavin Strang’s Spring 2009 Constituency Update.