Monday, 1 November 2010

Gordon Brown back in the Commons

Gordon Brown returned to the political fray last night with an appearance in the Commons in support of retaining servicing work on the remaining Royal Navy supercarrier at the Rosyth dockyard.

The former Prime Minister, who has been seen in the Commons twice since losing May’s general election, spoke in a late night adjournment debate over concerns that Britain's one remaining carrier could undergo lengthy refits at the French naval yard at Brest.

The Commons was packed for Brown’s speech, which he started by paying tribute to the armed forces and the civilian defence staff “who work for the security and strength and safety of our country.”

With Armistice Day approaching he also paid tribute to the all those in the armed forces who gave their lives in the service of the country. In a reference to the conflict for which he was involved in as Prime Minister he said those who lost their lives in Afghanistan “would never be forgotten” .

Brown applauded Thomas Docherty, Dunfermline and West Fife MP, for securing the Commons debate and joked about “the above average attendance”. Before rising to his feet he had already been attacked by the new Tory MP for Portsmouth, Penny Mourdant, who reminded him of an assurance that the carriers would be serviced in their home port.

But Brown said Rosyth was the only location to build and service the carriers: “It is the only base that can assemble the aircraft carriers, the only base that can refit these carriers in the future.”

The former Prime Minister also wanted to be clear on why the £5.2bn carrier order for two carriers had gone ahead, although the incoming coalition government plans to mothball one and will announce plans tomorrow to share the maritime defence burden with the French navy.

He said: “These are military decisions, based on military advice for military reasons. If we are to maintain a global presence as a navy and as a country we will need these aircraft carriers for years to come.

"They are important in maintaining the 500 year role of the Royal Navy in being available to assist in any part of the world.”

Defence Minister Peter Luff said that Rosyth “and possibly overseas locations” would be looked at for the 36-week refit that the British carrier will require every six years.

Brown asked Luff why he could not give an assurance that the carriers would be serviced in the UK.

Luff replied: “I think it is extremely likely that they will, I cannot give a categorical assurance at this stage."

Earlier a senior defence official said : "No final decision has been made but I think you can assume that UK carriers will be refitted in Britain."

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