Westminister Comment - A time to pay tribute and remember

I recently visited the Tower of London to see the poppy display taking shape in the moat. One poppy for each life lost in the First World War.

It was a moving reminder of the sacrifice that was made during that war by so many and is part of a series of events that mark the start of the war a hundred years ago.

As we mark their sacrifice we should remember that, whilst at the time they thought it was the war to end all wars, there has been considerable further sacrifice in the following years as we faced further conflicts. This Sunday there will be remembrance services where we pay tribute to those many sacrifices.

This week saw the withdrawal of our combat troops from one of the more recent conflicts, as Afghanistan takes on the role of policing its own security. It is a time to pay tribute to the 453 who gave their lives, as well as the many more who were seriously injured. Our thoughts should be with them, their family and friends.

As the place where the attack on the twin towers was masterminded, we had little option but to respond to the refusal of the Taliban regime to hand over the ringleaders. In the process we helped remove an oppressive regime.

Sadly, the US, followed by Tony Blair’s Government, got side-tracked into invading Iraq and diverting vital resources from finishing the job in Afghanistan. For instance, satellite surveillance that was looking for Osama bin Laden in the mountains was switched to preparing the ground for the invasion of Iraq.

Such failure to take the early momentum made the job all the more difficult in the long run, as the early goodwill was squandered. The later troop surge helped to recover some of the situation and paved the way for withdrawal. We will continue to provide training support.

We must not turn our back on continued support for development in Afghanistan. It is the 16th poorest country in the world. Just because our combat role has finished, it does not mean we cannot help to bring stability through our development assistance.

For me one of the most moving times in my role as an MP was to sit at the desk of girls in school proudly showing me their homework. There is still a lot to be done, but bringing education back to girls in Afghanistan is an important step in the right direction.

If we do not remain engaged in supporting Afghanistan as it develops, then we risk seeing a return to an oppressive regime with all the risks that could bring. We owe it to those who sacrificed so much to help sustain what they achieved.

Back at home Oil and Gas UK’s latest survey confirms a fall-off of optimism about prospects in the North Sea, confirming the need for a positive outcome in the Treasury’s tax review. We need to see greater incentives to explore and to invest in new production, if we are to maximise the benefit we get from the North Sea.

Crucial to the development of future finds is the availability of skilled professionals. It is with that in mind that I hosted a debate, organised by the Petroleum Exploration Society of Great Britain and the Society of Petroleum Engineers Young Professionals. It is good to see the next generation taking an interest in future energy policy.

Last Tuesday CBI Scotland held a meeting for MPs at Dover House sponsored by Shell. Shell’s message was the importance of the UK remaining a member of the European Union. Businesses should not dictate public policy.