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Military Training Schools

Volume 405: debated on Monday 12 May 2003

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If he will make a statement on the privatisation of military training schools. [112217]

The defence training review, published in March 2001, recommended that some types of military specialist training should be rationalised. It also recommended that industry should be engaged at an early stage in determining how that training can best be delivered. Accordingly, the Department is currently taking forward a programme to provide, in partnership with the private sector, modern, cost-effective training, better accommodation and facilities, and the more efficient use of the training estate.

Is the Minister aware of the serious concern in his Department and in the armed forces that specialised training—from complex logistics to intelligence training—could be handed over to private companies that do not have the experience or the expertise of MOD trainers, and do not have the knowledge of long-term military requirements? When they get that knowledge, they will have a long-term private monopoly over a service that is critical to national security.

I would be concerned if that were what we are doing, but it is not. The rationalisation programme is about modernisation of training, and ensuring that delivery continues to adapt to reflect operational need. The benefits that we will derive from a more efficient use of the training estate will help us to achieve those key aims. We are currently consulting prospective bidders to determine the scope of a future partnering arrangement. We expect to be ready to select short-list bidders and issue invitations to negotiate by the end of the year. Each prospective consortium has been carefully scrutinised to ensure that it has the full range of skills and experience required to meet the needs of our programme.

My hon. Friend will know that I am usually in favour of relationships between the public and private sectors, such as private finance initiatives. Does he agree that the training record of the British defence forces has been exemplary, and that most people recognise that our armed forces historically have the best trainers in the world? Whether he calls it rationalisation or anything else, he should be cautious before he destroys the critical mass of training in our armed services.

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. That is precisely what we are trying to do. Our training has been the best in the world, and our intention is not only to keep it the best, but to make it even better. Everything we are doing in the review is aimed at producing that outcome.

Does the Minister recognise that it is important to keep all Members of the House who have constituency interests in defence training informed of plans? He will recall that there has been a history of difficulties with defence training establishments in my constituency, but I shall not labour that point because he is well aware of the problems. I have the defence medical training organisation in my constituency, and I am sure that he would agree that there is nothing more vital to the interests of our armed forces personnel than defence medical training. Will he undertake to keep me and all other MPs fully informed of any further developments or changes in defence training, especially in the medical field?

I should point out that this is not part of the training review, but I am happy to assure the hon. Gentleman that I generally try to ensure that a Member is informed of any changes that are likely to affect the interests of his constituency. If I fail to do so, Members are not slow to remind me!