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Defence Establishments (Location)

Volume 87: debated on Tuesday 26 November 1985

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10.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he has reached any conclusions in his review of the geographical distribution of units and establishments.

For a variety of reasons the services are disproportionately located in southern England and, as the House will be aware, I want to see what can be done to redress the balance. A more even geographic spread would benefit the regions and is highly desirable on those grounds, but all proposals must stand on their economic and operational merits.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. Is it not archaic that so many units and establishments are located in the south-east facing the Channel, where the threat appears to have diminished, rather than in the north-east, nearer the NATO flank that we are pledged to defend?

I thought that my hon. Friend was about to suggest that we should address the threat from Liverpool. I should tell him that the Ministry of Defence is carrying out further work on this important matter.

The Opposition welcome the Secretary of State's statement that he wishes to move defence establishments from constituencies represented by Conservative Members, near Bath and in Hampshire and Sussex, to areas of high unemployment. I hope that we shall see some fruits of that desire. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that a defence establishment in my constituency was the first to be closed under the John Nott review. Will the right hon. Gentleman show his good will by keeping open factories and establishments in areas of high unemployment before he embarks on this exercise?

The right hon. Gentleman will realise that even I cannot keep open establishments that have long since been closed. All those factors will be carefully borne in mind, although I must introduce the caveat that the underlying commercial realities are bound to have a significant influence on our decision-making.

Is my right hon. Friend taking active steps to examine the scope for defence establishments to be located in the north-west?

We are considering how the decision-making process tended for many decades to concentrate facilities in the south. In that context, the location of some facilities in the north-west is bound to be on the agenda.