Maria Eagle MP, Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary, in a speech to Labour Party Annual Conference, said:
Politics is changing. Since we lost the General Election, we have increased our membership by 164,000.
Our new leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is inspiring a new generation of members of our Party – people who had not thought politics was for them – but who now want to help us to change our society for the better.
I am honoured to have been asked by Jeremy to be the Shadow Secretary of State for Defence and I was proud to accept the job because the defence of our Country and its people is the first duty of any Government.
And it must be taken equally seriously by any Party that seeks to govern.
I want to take this – my first opportunity – to thank and congratulate our magnificent British servicemen and women for the work that they do.
All around the world. Keeping us safe. Putting themselves in harm’s way on our behalf.
They do this despite the redundancies, the real terms cut to pay, pensions and allowances imposed on them by the Tories since 2010.
They are truly amongst our very finest and most dedicated public servants.
And this Party will always acknowledge that and seek to look after them. After all, most recruits to the armed forces come from our Labour heartlands.
I will use my new role as Chair of Labour Friends of the Forces, to help to strengthen and deepen the understanding between the Labour Party and our forces community.
Just a day or two after my appointment, I had the opportunity to meet some of the 1000 servicemen and women who served in Sierra Leone tackling the Ebola epidemic.
At no small risk to themselves, they helped to defeat that scourge – a fantastic humanitarian achievement.
They also left behind six treatment centres and 4,000 trained local staff.
To help enable that nation to tackle and prevent any further outbreaks of contagious disease.
And the work that they did in West Africa helped keep us safe here at home also by ensuring the epidemic never reached our shores.
They have done a brilliant job.
I would also like to congratulate and thank all those service personnel on HMS Bulwark and HMS Enterprise.
To date, they have saved 5,577 desperate people fleeing persecution and war who would otherwise have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea.
The Royal Navy continues to contribute, with our EU partners to this vital work and we support it fully.
Since we last met, our combat troops have left Afghanistan.
454 of them have lost their lives since 2001.
We acknowledge their sacrifice.
The security they have helped to provide has brought social progress to that country.
There are now six million children safely able to attend school in Afghanistan, two million of them girls. They are the future of their country and the more of them who are in education, the better.
Our Nation’s defence has never been more important than it is now in an increasingly interconnected, unpredictable and dangerous world.
Where threats, new and re-emerging, come at us thick and fast.
Five years ago who would have anticipated the barbarism of ISIL/Daesh? Or the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia?
Certainly the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review did not.
It was a rushed, short sighted, Tory, Treasury-led cuts exercise giving us, amongst other things, a plan for aircraft carriers with no aircraft.
Our Country and our armed forces cannot afford a similarly poor effort from the Government in 2015.
Anticipating future threats is a difficult job though Conference.
Who would have anticipated the millions of people fleeing conflict, drought and oppression in the Middle East – reminiscent of scenes we thought belonged to the history books?
It is the job of Government and those who aspire to govern, to ensure that Britain is ready and able to deal with any threat that arises and to be a force for good in the world.
And this fits in with our values as a Party. We believe in International cooperation, social justice and providing humanitarian assistance.
Britain is an outgoing nation fully engaged in the World.
We remain the only country to be a member of NATO, the EU, the UN Security Council, G7, G20 and the Commonwealth.
We have a unique opportunity and a great responsibility to use our position in the world to help solve problems, not turn our backs on them.
We should not spurn that opportunity. We should not shirk that responsibility.
And we must ensure our people are safe here at home.
Our security services have warned that terrorist plotting against Britain is at its most intense for three decades – with six attempts foiled in the past 12 months
The collapse in stability and governance in the Middle East and North Africa has left a vacuum for extremists who seek to attack us at home and abroad.
The ongoing civil war and chaos in Syria has created space for ISIL/Daesh to unleash horrific atrocities on innocent people.
Britain cannot solve these problems alone. But Britain must not turn its back on the world.
This is the context for our deliberations about Britain’s role in the world and the defence capabilities we need, in conjunction with our allies and partners in playing that role.
For decades our policy has been that the UK should have responsive, high-tech armed forces with the capability to respond to emerging threats.
And it has been our position for decades too that Britain needs a credible independent nuclear deterrent while taking a lead internationally to push for a world without nuclear weapons. Labour in Government reduced the numbers of nuclear warheads and gave up our free fall nuclear bomb option – as part of multilateral disarmament efforts.
I know that some people have always disagreed that Britain should have an independent nuclear deterrent.
But we all agree that more must be done to rid the world of nuclear weapons.
I recognise and respect the different views in our party on the future of our nuclear deterrent.
Jeremy knew that I disagreed with him about this when he appointed me. And he still asked me to do the job.
At the last election, we were committed to having a much more transparent and public facing debate about our place in the world and how best we should fulfil it.
Jeremy Corbyn has asked me to facilitate such a debate.
And I will do that.
In sharp contrast to the Government’s SDSR consultation, where responses were limited to 300 words, it will be a debate that all of our members will be able to take part in.
It will involve our trades union affiliates as well, some of whom represent:
The 40,000 people who work in the defence industries in Scotland,
The 7,500 who work in our submarine manufacturing industry
The 850 companies in the supply chain for the planned Vanguard successor submarines – all offering highly skilled jobs and apprenticeships.
For they have a legitimate interest in our deliberations also.
And it will be a debate that must also involve the British people – for these issues are amongst the most important that any politician ever has to consider.
There is an appetite out there, in our Party and beyond, for real issues of substance to be discussed openly in politics, rather than be decided just by Ministers in Government, behind closed doors or politicians in Parliament, subject to a Party whip.
We’re seeing it surface in other political parties as well as our own.
Our debate is starting at this Conference.
It is right that Britain’s place in the world should be at the centre of these deliberations.
And Conference, I will make sure that it is.