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House of Commons Hansard
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Defence Transformation
18 July 2011
Volume 531

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I wish to express my condolences to the family and friends of Lance Corporal Paul Watkins of 9th/12th Royal Lancers, who was killed in Afghanistan on Saturday. My thoughts and prayers—and, I am sure, those of the whole House—are with them at this very sad and difficult time for them.

I wish to make a statement on the next steps in implementing the strategic defence and security review. This Government inherited both a national economic disaster that represented a strategic threat and a defence programme undermined by a £38 billion black hole. Without a fundamental review for 12 years, our armed forces were still largely configured for the 20th century, despite a decade of sustained operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. The failure to set out a coherent long-term strategy for defence or to match commitments effectively to resources is one of Labour’s worst legacies. However, it is not enough to deal with the mess that we inherited; we also need to build something better for the future.

Right from the start, this Government have been determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past, and to make the difficult decisions that were ducked by the previous Government. We are determined to be bold and ambitious and to build formidable, well-managed armed forces structured for the rigours of future conflict and supported by an affordable defence programme. The SDSR has mapped out our long-term goal for Future Force 2020. The report of the defence reform unit that I announced to the House on 27 June was part of that process. Today, I want to set out the next phase of defence transformation, which involves bringing the Army back from Germany, creating a better future for our reserve forces, and delivering on our commitment to agree a 10-year defence equipment budget.

I have written to Members of both Houses and the devolved Administrations whose constituencies and interests are affected by the decisions that we have taken. Commitments must match resources in order to achieve a balanced budget. As part of the preparation for this year’s planning round, we have identified a number of adjustments to the defence programme. This includes rationalising vehicle acquisition to make the best use of those that we have already procured to support operations in Afghanistan, and continuing to bear down on non-front-line costs, where we will aim to deliver further substantial efficiencies in support, estate spending and IT provision.

Against this background, and as part of our overall approach to balancing the programme, I have agreed with the Treasury that the Ministry of Defence can now plan on the defence equipment and equipment support budget increasing by 1% a year in real terms between 2015-16 and 2020-21. I am grateful to colleagues, and particularly to the Prime Minister, for their support in this process. Such a long-term planning horizon will give greater stability and predictability, and stop the old practice of simply pushing programmes into future years. These and other changes will enable us to proceed with a range of the high-priority programmes set out in the SDSR.

I can therefore now give the go-ahead for the procurement of 14 additional Chinook helicopters, the upgrade of the Army’s Warrior vehicles, spending on the joint strike fighter, the procurement of the Rivet joint intelligence and surveillance aircraft, the cats and traps for the Queen Elizabeth class carriers, and the development of the global combat ship. This equipment can now be bought with confidence, ending a decade of uncertainty for our armed forces and for industry. However, similar discipline will be applied in future: we will order only what we can afford to buy.

Today I am placing in the Library the report of the review into the reserve forces, “Future Reserves 2020”. I would like to thank General Sir Nick Houghton, Lieutenant-General Graeme Lamb and my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier) for their excellent report. The report makes it clear, and I fully agree, that our reserve forces make an outstanding contribution to operations but have been shamefully neglected in recent years. For example, by some estimates, the Territorial Army has a trained and active strength as low as 14,000.

I am therefore pleased to announce that the Government will proceed with a £1.5 billion investment package over the next 10 years to enhance the capability of the reserves and consequently increase their trained strength, £400 million of which will be spent during this Parliament. The Government will work with employers and legislate if necessary to ensure that the reserves are more readily useable on operations. This significant investment will also build up the capacity of the reserves to contribute to homeland security consistent with the adaptive posture set out in the SDSR.

As the capability of the Territorial Army improves, this will allow a progressive adjustment of the regular-reserve balance of the Army while maintaining the land forces capability set out in the SDSR. This will include the delivery of the multi-role brigade structure of Future Force 2020. By 2020, if the Territorial Army develops in the way we intend, we envisage a total force of around 120,000, with a regular to reserve ratio of around 70:30. This will be more in line with comparable countries such as the United States, Canada and Australia.

Let me turn to basing. The decisions that we have taken in the SDSR to reduce aircraft types, bring the Army back from Germany and form the Army into five multi-role brigades will enable us to rationalise the defence estate and dispose of high-value sites that are no longer needed. The security of the nation and the requirements of defence were paramount in our analysis, but we have also considered the impact of changes on local communities, the impact on service personnel and their families, and the current pattern of the armed forces in Britain.

Army brigades currently stationed around Catterick and Salisbury will make up three of the five multi-role brigades. The other two MRBs will be based in the east of England, centred on Cottesmore, and in Scotland, centred on Kirknewton, south-west of Edinburgh. The MRB centred in Scotland will require a new training area, and positive discussions are being taken forward with the Scottish Government. Two major units and a formation headquarters will be based at Leuchars, increasing the number of posts there from 1,200 to more than 1,300. Consequently, the Typhoon force due to be built up there will instead be built up at RAF Lossiemouth. Other MRB units will be moved into Glencorse, Caledonia, Albemarle barracks and eventually Arbroath, as we intend over time to bring the bulk of the Royal Marines together in the south-west. We are also planning to place Army units in Kinloss in around 2014-15, continuing its long-term relationship with defence.

Taken together, this represents a significant increase in the defence footprint in Scotland of well over 2,000 posts. This is in line with the Scottish tradition of supporting our armed forces and is a recognition that these are United Kingdom forces under the Crown, protecting the citizens and interests of this United Kingdom. With the move to five multi-role brigades, we have concluded that 19 Light Brigade in Northern Ireland will be disbanded. Other units returning from Germany will move into the vacated bases and we remain committed to maintaining a permanent military garrison in Northern Ireland; 160 Wales Brigade will remain in Brecon.

We will retain St Athan at its current size for now, but intend to increase its usage to take full advantage of the excellent facilities there. RAF Marham will remain as a base for Tornado GR4. The defence technical training programme will move to Lyneham, guaranteeing its future. More details of these and other estate-related decisions are in the written statement I have laid today. The planning work, including the investment required to adapt sites, will now get under way, based on this strategic direction. It will involve consultations with local communities as appropriate and other statutory obligations that we will need to fulfil.

I am very conscious of the uncertainties that these changes will cause for service personnel and their families. Let me reassure them that the majority of the moves I have announced today will take place after 2015. In both basing and reserves, we have sought wherever possible to strengthen the strong and natural links between local communities and the armed forces. I do not underestimate the importance of these ties in underpinning the military covenant.

The overall package I have announced today is good news for our armed forces and means that they can look forward to the future with renewed confidence because the defence programme I have announced is underpinned with real resources. This investment in people and equipment is not the wish list of the past, but certainty for the future. I commend these decisions to the House.

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I join the Secretary of State in offering condolences to the family and friends of Lance Corporal Paul Watkins, who was tragically killed in Afghanistan over the weekend.

Last week, I offered wide and warm welcome to the Secretary of State for his thoughtful announcements on the Mull of Kintyre. Today, I am afraid, the right hon. Gentleman has chosen to take a different approach. The Government have been grappling with four big policy areas over the past few months: the RAF basing review, reserve forces, the financial settlement and proposed cuts to the Army. Each of those issues is of national importance and each is deserving of a statement in its own right, yet the Secretary of State comes here in what he thought was to be the last full day of Parliament to cram them into one 10-minute speech. This is a shabby way to treat our forces, and a shabby way to treat this Parliament.

The Government have chosen today, at the high point of one of the biggest political crises in decades, to bury this bad news of 10,000 cuts to the Army—a decision that will not take effect for many years to come. Why are the Government again blaming others? These announcements today are their cuts and their choices. The Secretary of State has announced cuts to the Army of 17,000—just under a sixth of the entire force in just 10 short months.

When in opposition, the Secretary of State said:

“In the real world the only logical conclusion you can come to is that the army is already too small”—

and he went on to demand

“A bigger Army for a safer Britain”.

Today, however, he has announced a smaller Army for a country that we can assume he sees as having only smaller ambitions—from a party that promised thousands of extra troops. It is hard to conclude other than this is strategic shrinkage by stealth. Today’s cut in the Army is bigger than the entire current deployment of all UK forces in Afghanistan. Will the Secretary of State explain why he believes it is in Britain’s strategic national security interest to have an Army so dramatically reduced in size? Will he also say whether this announcement is a result of planning round 11 having been completed?

We welcome any additional investment in our armed forces, and the £1.5 billion from the Treasury is good news, as is the announcement about St Athan. Many of the new capabilities were frozen in the Government’s defence review. We will look at the small print with renewed care, which we have learnt to do in recent months. Notwithstanding last week’s trumpeted announcement on the extension of the operational allowance to Operation Ellamy, hundreds of our forces in Libyan operations will not receive a single penny.

Reservists are great patriots, and provide a bridge to our communities at a time when many people have little understanding of or connection with a large number of our armed forces. They serve with enormous bravery, and we should pay permanent tribute to those who have fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan. There would, of course, be concern if bespoke standing units of reservists became the norm, as that could increase the commitment required from civilians. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the impact of today’s announcement on retention and recruitment, and how does he address the fear that his approach will undermine the “one Army” concept?

Reform of the defence estate is important to ensuring that our armed forces are properly provided for, but there will be fury in Fife. The RAF has been based in Leuchars for more than 70 years, and it is a matter of deep regret that the Government have chosen to break an historic link that has served the nation so well in peace and in war. It is clear that they have not done their homework. They are closing an RAF base to make savings that they have not identified, and are redeploying the Army at costs that they have not quantified. Will the Secretary of State say how much it will cost to convert the RAF base into an Army garrison—because there will be substantial upfront expenditure—and will he guarantee that there will no period without a military presence at Leuchars, which would have a huge impact on the local communities? Will he also commit his Department to detailed research on the defence estates and the industrial footprint of United Kingdom defence in Scotland?

Following the defence review, it is clear that the country is engaged in events that Ministers did not foresee and reliant on equipment that Ministers planned to scrap. We now have a defence policy based on assumptions that are completely out of date. It seems that the Government are starting to face up to the inadequacy of their own defence review. Surely now is the moment for them to think again, and properly to reopen that flawed and rushed review.

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That was one of the poorest attacks on a Government that I have ever heard. It is pretty rich for the Opposition, after calling for the statement for so long, to complain when we make it. They also seem to be utterly incapable of understanding, even now, the appalling financial state in which they left not only defence but the United Kingdom in general. Does the right hon. Gentleman really think that had we been given a choice—had we not faced a national economic emergency—we would be making spending reductions across the board? We are having to do that because of the mess that the Opposition left behind.

When it comes to numbers, yet again the Opposition seem not to have learned any lessons. They talk about total numbers all the time, but they do not talk about deployability. Yet again they have failed to learn the lessons of the mistakes that they made during their time in office. I want to see British forces that can be deployed better, and I want to see them better trained and properly equipped. When they talk about how much they value the TA, the Opposition would do well to remember that it was they who were cutting the reserves during their last months in office. It was they who were cutting reservists’ training and allowances to save small amounts of money. We do not need any lessons from them in that regard.

We are trying to augment the “one Army” concept by ensuring better interoperability between our reserves and our regular forces. We want our reserves, like those in other countries, to be properly used in a way that gives good value for the investment made in them, and gives them a greater say and more respect within the military family.

Investment had already been made in Leuchars, and I fully accept that some of that investment will be lost. However, we felt that—in the broader scheme of things, and if we were to achieve a better rationalisation of the estate—Lossiemouth was the better choice, given that we had an alternative for Leuchars in the form of investment in the Army in the south of Scotland.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the footprint in Scotland. I should be happy to look at our footprint across the United Kingdom. What we have done is return to Scotland a footprint that is much more akin to what was there when we left office than to what was there when we returned to it.

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I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on his important and impressive announcement. Contrary to what the right hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy) said, the Army will discover that the RAF bases into which it moves are very much better found than it is used to. Does the Secretary of State agree that the transformation and whole reform of the defence structure needs to proceed at a great pace, otherwise the rats at the Ministry of Defence will get at it?

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I would like to say that I am rat-proof, but that would probably be tempting fate. We have set out a path that we will clearly follow, from the defence reform set out by Lord Levene, through the basing review, which we have set out today, and through the reserves review and the extra investment that goes with that. It is correct that some of that will have to proceed quickly, but it is also correct that some of it can occur only if other steps are met. For example, the assumptions we make about Future Force 2020 and the size of the regular reserve ratio will depend on two things: that we ensure that the training and equipping of the reserves goes to the plan I have set out, and that we withdraw from Afghanistan in the time scale the Prime Minister has set out.

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Will the Secretary of State not even acknowledge—these words have not crossed his lips—that his announcement today effectively brings the cuts in the regular Army to in excess of 17,000? That comes on top of the cuts he has announced to the RAF and the Navy, and on top of the cuts he has announced to the Royal Marines, because no Minister has been prepared to acknowledge that not only has 19 Light Brigade been disbanded, but so too has 3 Commando Brigade. The Secretary of State is telling the House that we cannot afford—[Interruption.] Well, if Ministers are going to tell us that 3 Commando Brigade still exists, I want the Secretary of State to stand up and say that, because it does not—and if the Minister for the Armed Forces does not even know that, he should not be in his job. Members on both sides of the House worry that it is not the strength that we cannot afford, but it is the weakness that we potentially cannot afford, and we have not had any debate about this massive demise in our military capability. The strategic defence and security review did not provide such a debate, but we surely need it now.

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It defies belief that senior former Ministers of the previous Government can still come to this House and demand that we spend money that is not there. The right hon. Gentleman complains about cuts, but I have to point out to him that we have had to introduce cuts right across public spending because the previous Government left us with a £158 billion annual deficit, and what he calls the equipment programme was no more than a wish list at the MOD; there was no money in the pipeline for it. The programmes I have announced today—the 14 Chinooks, for example—I have been able to announce because there is real money there; they were never able to make such announcements because of their incompetent management of both the Department and the economy.

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Elements of air defence have been present at Leuchars in my constituency for the best part of 100 years, as part of the continuing obligation of all Governments to preserve the safety of their citizens. Because I believe in that obligation on the part of Government to defend their citizens, I cannot support the decision not to retain Leuchars as a Royal Air Force base. I believe that decision to be fundamentally wrong, strategically inept and likely to increase risk to our citizens. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that his decision to discontinue Royal Air Force use of Leuchars was taken against the advice of the most senior commanders of the Royal Air Force? Finally, the proposals for alternative use of Leuchars by Army units lack dates, details and substance. What cast-iron guarantees can my right hon. Friend give that these promises will be kept and that the money for them will be found?

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First, may I say to my right hon. and learned Friend that, in what has been a passionate debate about basing, few have defended their constituency interests as passionately as he has, and that I know he is bitterly disappointed with the decision that has been taken? Across the services—it was not just a decision of one service—we looked to see what we thought was the best decision for defence as a whole. Because we wanted to bring the Army back from Germany, because we thought this was a suitable place in the south of Scotland to have one of the multi-role brigades and because we thought that this was good for the footprint of our defence forces in the United Kingdom, it made sense to coalesce our air force at Lossiemouth. I understand that some people, including my right hon. and learned Friend, will be disappointed, but the feeling across the services was that, on balance, this was the right decision.

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RAF Lossiemouth is to remain an air station and Kinloss will become an Army base, and the whole Moray community and its supporters are to be congratulated on the amazing and successful campaign to retain both facilities. I also thank those who have sensibly, if belatedly, decided to retain the Moray bases.

The victory in Moray is tinged with the sadness that RAF Leuchars will not remain an air base. There has been cross-party support in Scotland for the retention of both Leuchars and “Lossie” as air bases. Sadly, the UK Government have rejected that and have instead made massive and disproportionate cuts to the RAF in Scotland. In addition, the Royal Marines are being largely cut and the welcome return of Army units from Germany is uncertain in its time scale. Will the Government confirm today that RAF personnel numbers in Scotland are being cut by more than 50% and that the Royal Marines are being almost entirely cut in Scotland? Will the Secretary of State confirm that, in addition, Scotland will lose military facilities, including Fort George, Craigiehall, Redford barracks, Dreghorn barracks and the air rescue co-ordination centre at Kinloss? What support will there be for communities that have been suffering and will continue to suffer economic shocks? Lastly, will he confirm what the configuration will be at RAF Lossiemouth in terms of the Typhoon squadrons, the Tornado squadrons, the RAF regiment, the simulators and total personnel numbers?

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This may be the last touch of naivety I have, but I would have thought that on a day when the Government were announcing a substantial uplift of the defence footprint in Scotland, with an extra 2,500 posts in Scotland, the hon. Gentleman might have welcomed something that the Government were doing. This Government have brought stability back to the defence footprint in Scotland and have potentially brought extra investment to parts of Scotland for which he has been clamouring in this House for economic assistance to be given. I thought that, just for once, “Thank you, on behalf of my constituents” might have been words that passed his lips.

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We shall have to examine with great care the consequences of the details of what my right hon. Friend has announced today. Some of it will be welcome, not least the certainty it brings, and some of it will be less so. What assurances can he give that, in rebalancing the Army between the regulars and the reservists, we will begin by building up the reservists and only later will we reduce the Army?

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As I have just said, I have been explicit about the fact that in order to get to the regular to reserve ratio we want we will first have to build up the reserves to create that deployability and we will also have to see the draw-down from Afghanistan. I very much hope that the amount we are spending—£400 million in this Parliament; £1.5 billion on the reserves overall—will be capable of being absorbed in that time, but we will be able to take a look at that during the strategic defence and security review in 2015 to check that the progress that my right hon. Friend rightly says will be necessary has been achieved.

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Does not the disproportionately large size of our Army mean that we take part in an excessive number of wars, with the result that 179 British died in Iraq and 376 died in Afghanistan? Is not the price of punching above our weight that our soldiers die beyond their responsibilities?

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I think the reaction of the House says it all: the hon. Gentleman is in a tiny minority, possibly of one, in holding some of the views he does—[Interruption.] It is to the tremendous credit of our—

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It wusnae me!

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I think the hon. Gentleman doth protest too much on that one.

We should be honouring those who have been willing to make sacrifices in Afghanistan and elsewhere. They do not do so out of a sense of bravado or some bizarre sense of imperialism, as the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) would have it, imposed by the UK Government, but because we take our international obligations for global security seriously. We are in Afghanistan because we believe that that is where some of the threats to the United Kingdom came from and we should be thanking our armed forces for the sacrifices that they have been willing to make for our national security.

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rose

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Order. This is an extremely important statement on which a great many Members want to catch my eye, but I am far from sure that I will be able to accommodate the majority. I would like to try, but I will need help in the form of single, short supplementary questions.

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Will the Secretary of State do his very best to restrict the cuts in the Army to those who do not fight and make sure that the people who do the fighting are maintained as much as possible?

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Yes, where possible the Army will look to see where non-front-line personnel can be part of the reduction that has been set out.

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This is about implementing a strategic defence and security review and today’s statement represents a significant reduction in the military footprint in Northern Ireland, the one region of the United Kingdom that faces the greatest security threat at this moment. The Secretary of State will therefore understand my concerns and those of other Opposition Members about that reduction. Will the Secretary of State assure me that he will reconsider the reconfiguration of the military footprint in relation to Northern Ireland as regards strengthening both the permanent garrison and the reserve footprint?

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I shall treat that question as a full sentence with a series of subordinate clauses, but it should not be emulated by colleagues. It is not a competition.

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I fear you might be disappointed, Mr Speaker. We have said very clearly that we will maintain a constant footprint in Northern Ireland and that we are committed to that and to using the bases in Northern Ireland for some of those returning from Germany. The House should remember, however, that the purpose of having the Army in Northern Ireland was not primarily security inside Northern Ireland itself.

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Unlike others, the people of North Wiltshire, particularly those in Lyneham and Wootton Bassett who said goodbye only last week to the Hercules fleet, will warmly welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement that the defence technical training establishment is to move to Lyneham. That is very good news for the area. Will he confirm first that that will mean 1,500 to 2,000 people moving in; secondly, that it will happen reasonably swiftly; and, thirdly, that it is possible that Lyneham will become a hub for defence training in the future?

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I am delighted that my hon. Friend is so happy at the announcement about Lyneham. I am also particularly pleased that the phenomenal service not only of those who have served in and around Lyneham but of those who live in the vicinity is being fully rewarded. I confirm that there will be around 1,500 posts initially, although that number may rise over time, and that the initial move will be in 2013-14.

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Will the Secretary of State detail in full his strategic reasons for closing Leuchars as an air base?

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As I said, as a whole following the SDSR we needed to reduce from four to three the fast-jet hubs in the United Kingdom. Clearly Marham and Coningsby were not really alternatives in that regard and we therefore decided it was going to be either Leuchars or Lossiemouth for the fast-jet basing in Scotland. The view was taken not just inside the RAF, as I have said, but across all the services that there was an opportunity to move an Army presence into Scotland if we had sufficient bases to do so and, in the south, Leuchars was key to that. That enables us not only to have an RAF presence in the periphery of Scotland but an Army footprint—a military footprint—right in the centre. That offers us potential when we are looking for ways of giving business to small and medium-sized enterprises, for example; having that base in south central Scotland is going to be advantageous.

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May I congratulate the Secretary of State on his emphasis on greater deployability? I have been privy today to a discussion in the Ministry of Defence about which regular infantry regiments might face the axe in the near future. Will he assure the House that that is just speculation and that our bayonet power will not be affected?

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Exactly how the Army develops its plans as we go towards 2020 will increasingly be an issue for the Army, not least with the greater devolution that we have inside the armed forces as a result of the announcements I made in June. I know, having had discussions today and recently with the Chief of the General Staff, that that is certainly one of the issues the Army will be looking at extremely closely.

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The Territorial Army regiment based in my constituency tells me that it struggles to recruit people, particularly those who are unemployed, because of the impact that the time spent with the TA as well as the wages have on benefits. Will the Secretary of State look at this issue with the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that those who are unemployed and who want to serve can do so?

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The hon. Lady makes a very interesting point and I certainly will undertake to do that because I want to diminish any barriers to serving in the Territorials, including those to people in employment, which I mentioned in my statement, and those to people who are out of work. I am grateful to her for that interesting idea and I will take this forward.

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May I thank the Secretary of State for his clear reality check, given the financial circumstances he took over in May last year? In Keighley there is a long-established detachment of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment—now the Yorkshire Regiment. Can the Secretary of State outline the impact that his statement will have on Territorial units such as the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment unit?

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I cannot make a specific case regarding any one Territorial unit, but I can say that the money we are announcing today, which is unprecedented in terms of the reserves and which reverses a decline of recent years, will be welcomed in all parts of the TA. We will of course be looking at the best way of spending that money, and I guess from my hon. Friend’s intervention that he will be making one of the early bids in that process.

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The statement referred to what was described as a “progressive adjustment of the regular-reserve balance” of the Army. By my maths, that equates to a reduction in the regular Army of 17,000. This is very surprising to me because just two weeks ago I asked the Secretary of State what plans he had to reduce the size of the Army post-2015, to which he replied:

“Nothing has changed in our assumptions since the strategic defence and security review.”—[Official Report, 4 July 2011; Vol. 530, c. 1222.]

Can he therefore tell the House when exactly the assumptions changed and why?

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Again, the hon. Gentleman misses the point. What we are talking about is the deployability of the Army. I want to see the reserves increased so that they can be more deployable. We have such a low level of deployability at present—about 14,000—and I want the numbers to be built up so that the deployable level of the Army is maintained. Perhaps he should look at the experiences of other countries and ask why they are able to have a regular-reserve balance that is quite different from the United Kingdom’s and yet maintain their deployability.

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The 2009 TA funding debacle, the ill-effects of which are still being felt, was a result of Labour accepting the easy expedient of cutting reserve forces when cash is tight. Given that our armed forces in the future will have an even greater proportion of reservists, which I welcome, clearly the dangers are enhanced. What will my right hon. Friend do to guard against the TA being cut, as it is relatively easy to cut it, rather than regulars, when funds are tight?

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I have set out that funding today— £400 million in this Parliament and £1.5 billion by 2020. One of the ways in which we can do it is to challenge the Opposition to say whether they would match that funding in the unfortunate event for the country that they ever came back to power.

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Will the headquarters of the Yorkshire-based brigade remain in York? What implication will today’s announcement have for the number of regular soldiers in the Yorkshire Regiment, and what is the future of RAF Linton-on-Ouse?

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I am pleased, and no doubt the hon. Gentleman will be pleased, at the decision that 15 (North East) Brigade will remain in York. That is a decision that we have taken.

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It is always delightful when neighbouring colleagues take such an interest in one’s own base. Mindful that north Yorkshire and military establishments there have always played a key role in the defence and security of the realm, can my right hon. Friend give me an assurance on the future of Alanbrooke barracks and RAF Linton-on-Ouse?

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I thought my hon. Friend might raise that issue and can tell her that there will be no change in the current usage.

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How can we be certain that the right hon. Gentleman’s Government, propped up by the Liberals, will deliver and maintain the necessary training and support that our Territorials and reserves require, or is this just another way to cut the Army?

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The big difference between the Opposition and the Government is that we not only say that we believe in the Territorials; we are funding the Territorials, whereas they cut the Territorials. Moreover, we believe that having a stronger reserve is one of the ways of increasing the links between the armed forces and the communities of this country. That community linkage should not be underestimated, and it is not easy to put a monetary value on it.

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As the Secretary of State did not say too much about the Royal Navy, can we take it that the bases in Portsmouth, Plymouth and Rosyth are safe from any cuts? Can he give an assurance that the Navy basing, based on the plan announced earlier this year, will be maintained?

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The reason I did not mention any specific bases is that there are no changes planned in the usage of any of the bases that my hon. Friend mentions.

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I welcome my right hon. Friend’s determination to tap a wider pool of talent and skills in the nation alongside our splendid professional forces. May I suggest that the most important single recommendation in the commission’s report is that we restore proper governance to the reserves, including giving back to the reserve forces and cadets associations their role as a watchdog with an annual report to the House?

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I thank my hon. Friend for his welcome to my welcome to his report. It gives me an opportunity to say a heartfelt thank you to my hon. Friend, who not only has had tremendous input into the report, but has championed the cause of reserves for as long as I can remember in my time in Parliament and deserves great gratitude. He is absolutely correct that the ideas he has just reiterated, which are contained in his report, will form a central part of the Government’s course for the time ahead.

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The Secretary of State referred a few moments ago to what he described as the potential for independence in Scotland. Will he explain what he meant by that?

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I mean that the Labour party was unbelievably beaten by the Scottish Nationalists in the Scottish parliamentary elections on a manifesto from the Scottish Nationalists that they would hold a referendum on independence. That is what I meant, and there are serious implications for the Union in terms of defence, were that ever to occur.

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Heavy weapons are deployed to theatres from only one military port, that at Marchwood in my constituency. Will the Secretary of State confirm that Marchwood will continue to perform its functions and will not be sold off for a very small amount of money, about a £40 million one-off return?

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I can confirm for my hon. Friend that we do not envisage a change to the usage at present.

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Can the Secretary of State guarantee that personnel currently serving in Afghanistan and Libya will keep their jobs through these changes?

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Looking almost 10 years ahead, it is impossible to predict what changes might take place. That will be a matter for the Army, of course in consultation with the Government. I can say that no one will be made compulsorily redundant within a year of returning from any combat operations.

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While saddened by the cuts, I completely understand why the Secretary of State has had to do some of these dreadful things. I urge him to take on board the fact that we need proper procurement so that we do not have the disaster of helicopters languishing, as they did under the previous Government, because of sloppy procurement. I also welcome the 14 new helicopters.

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My hon. Friend makes an important point. There is no point in any Government wishing that they had more equipment or telling Parliament that they will buy things when they have no idea where the money will come from. That is why the things I have announced today, including the 14 Chinooks, now have a proper budget attached to them, which they never had when part of a wish list under Labour.

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These dreadful things feel a bit like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, given the scale of the cuts that the armed forces are facing. How many personnel currently serving in Germany will in future be based in Scotland?

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It is impossible to give an exact number, but I would imagine that between 6,500 and 7,000, or something of that order, of the 20,000 personnel we currently have in Germany will be coming back to the multi-role brigades in Scotland. The precise number and lay-down will be subject to the plans that the Army will bring forward in the months and years ahead, assuming of course that we have the agreement of the local authorities and the Scottish Government.

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I remind the House of my interest as a member of the reserve forces. I am confident that the reserve forces will step up and meet the challenge they have been set today. Indeed, the investment will be most welcome, in stark contrast to the measly £24 million that the previous Government attempted to save in 2009 when they wanted to cut all TA training for six months. Will the Secretary of State reassure me that the practice of late mobilisation, which prevents some members of the TA receiving full deployment training with their attached unit, will cease?

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I will certainly look at the specific point raised by my hon. Friend, who has considerable experience of these matters. He is right that we face a challenge with the reserves and correctly points to the fact that it will be a major feat for them to reach the time scales and budgetary spend that we have put forward. Like him, I am confident that they will meet that challenge.

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Will the Secretary of State confirm the exact details of the announcement he made in his statement when he said, “I can therefore now give the go-ahead for the procurement of” a list of things, including the “cat and traps for the Queen Elizabeth class carriers”—plural? Does that mean that both carriers will receive cat and traps?

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That is our plan, and I have agreed to my officials now getting involved in contract negotiations. They were not previously able to do so because we were not guaranteed that we would have the budget. When we make decisions of this nature we must ensure that we have the wherewithal to pay for them. Otherwise, as I have said, they are simply a wish list.

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As the Secretary of State is proposing to close the large Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers garrison at Arborfield in my constituency, will he ensure that the officials working on the disposal, who aim to make a substantial capital gain for new housing, will understand that some of the money will be needed for transport and educational facilities for the large new settlement they have in mind?

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I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his support and understanding on this issue and know that he will be disappointed that the units are being moved out of Arborfield. We intend to achieve that in a measured way by 2014-15. I am sure that discussions will be ongoing with the local authority on the financial implications he has pointed out.

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Can I assure the Secretary of State that the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) are not necessarily those of a tiny minority or completely isolated? Does the Secretary of State not accept that it is time that this country took a reality check on the levels of global reach that the armed forces are expected to be able to undertake and the massive cost that we are bequeathing to future generations? Is it not time for a serious defence and foreign policy review on these matters?

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Only the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) could describe two out of 600-odd as not being a small minority. As a country, we have had a good debate about the defence review, and we think that we should be implementing its practicalities. The understandings and the strategic aim, as set out in the national security strategy, were broadly welcomed on both sides of the House. It is perfectly correct that we have a debate on the ways in which we carry it out, but there is not a huge debate in this country about the strategic direction that we and our allies are taking.

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Parliamentary questions I have tabled show that there is little understanding in other Government Departments of the contribution that defence, particularly the Royal Navy, makes to fuel security, communications and trade. As my right hon. Friend works to put the defence budget and our defence capabilities on a sustainable footing, will he also make the case that our economic recovery is dependent on increased defence spending?

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Our economic well-being, as an island where 94% of our exports go by sea, is also dependent on the security of the international sea lanes and the Royal Navy’s contribution to that. Some would say that that is not a necessary function because it is outside the United Kingdom, but it is about the protection of UK interests, and I am afraid that in a truly globalised economy it will continue to be that way.

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In his recent address to NATO, Robert Gates expressed grave concern about NATO’s increasing inability to defend itself and about our unwillingness to pay the true cost of our own defence, relying on America to fund up to 80% of NATO. Does the Secretary of State appreciate that today’s announcement of 17,000 cuts across our armed forces and an increased reliance on a reserve force that is yet to have the capacity to fill a 30% gap will cause great consternation not only in relation to the defence of the UK but across NATO?

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I have of course had discussions with my American counterpart about some of our ideas. For the United States, the idea that we should have such a ratio between regulars and reserves is nothing unusual. When Bob Gates was criticising some of the countries that the hon. Lady mentioned—and when he looked at the United Kingdom, still spending above 2% of GDP on defence, with the fourth biggest defence budget in the world, and investing in the carrier and the joint strike fighter—I do not really think it was us he had in mind.

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My right hon. Friend knows more than most that the first duty of any Government is to defend the United Kingdom and the United Kingdom’s interests. Does he accept that if the Treasury subsequently tries to erode the statement that he has made today, and indeed what has been said about planning round 11, that will make it very difficult for this Government to fulfil that very solemn obligation and duty?

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It would be extremely unfortunate were there to be any going back on the uplift that we have had as part of our approach to the next decade. I do not see any chance of that happening given the Treasury’s willingness to engage with the MOD once the MOD was able to show that it could manage its budget better and assess its costs better, and given that the National Audit Office will in future be making a very strict audit of what we do regarding our finances.

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At Hull’s freedom parade on Saturday for 150 (Yorkshire) Transport Regiment, several of the Army vehicles that were going by were plastered with recruitment posters. As my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) said, the Secretary of State said in the House two weeks ago that there would be no further cuts. When exactly did he decide that he wanted to have an Army that would fill Wembley stadium with probably several thousand seats left over?

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What I want to achieve—I go back to this point again—is a complete Army of reserves and regulars that is genuinely deployable. We have to increase the deployable number because that is what gives us our military effect. There is no point in having bigger armed forces when the budget does not allow us to fully train and equip them, because it is the military effect that we need to preserve. The real betrayal was the Labour party under-equipping our armed forces, as it did so often when it was in government, not the proposals I have put forward today.

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If the previous Government had made this statement, I do not think the right hon. Gentleman would have welcomed seeing the British Army reduced to the size that it was when Colonel Robert Baden-Powell was involved in the siege of Mafeking in the Boer war. The Secretary of State says that the Army will be formed into five multi-role brigades. Will he clarify where 16 Air Assault Brigade and the Colchester garrison fit into that?

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The five multi-role brigades are the core of what the Army will do, but one air assault brigade and one commando brigade will of course remain separate from that shape, so there will be no real difference to the lay-down that my hon. Friend describes. As for the Labour party having introduced such a programme in government, it would never have done so because it had no idea how bad the economic circumstances were that it was creating.

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Although the announcement that 45 Commando will move from RM Condor is not unexpected, it will none the less cause sadness in the local community. The Secretary of State said in his statement that other troops would come to Condor over time. Can he give an indication of the time scale and give an assurance that there will be no gap between 45 Commando leaving and alternative troops taking up residence?

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We looked at this as one of the proposals that we could have announced today with dates attached. The costs, however, were prohibitive in making the moves that I wanted to see. This matter will almost certainly have to be looked at in the SDSR in 2015. Therefore, I would not imagine that there would be any change before 2015-16.

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Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the welcome additional funding he has announced for the reserve forces will be used specifically for the reserve forces and not by the regular forces for other things?

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That money is earmarked for the reserves, but it is also earmarked for our deployable force. I have said that if we are unable to get the increase in deployability through the reserves alone with the money that I have put in place, there may be a mechanism for an adjustment between the two. We will certainly try to achieve the ratio and the time scale that I have set out today.

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I clearly welcome the news that HMS Caledonia will host elements of the Army. I hope the Secretary of State will confirm that a ministerial meeting is possible to discuss the details. Will he confirm which Department will be responsible for funding the transition of those communities from RAF to Army?

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I confirm that we intend to utilise HMS Caledonia as a unit for the MRB. We aim for the moving in to start in 2015-16. Of course, this will be a cross-departmental subject when it comes to looking at the wider costs.

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Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the additional funding announced for defence equipment budgets will not be a sufficient uplift post-2014 to achieve the full aspirations of the Future Force 2020?

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We have to look at the defence budget as a whole, not simply the equipment budget, and see where there is leeway. I set out the equipment programmes that we are willing to start spending money on today. I am simply not willing to start to spend on other projects where I can see no budgetary line in the future. After all the pain we have gone through to rebalance the Ministry of Defence budget, we are not going to go back to the bad old habits and recreate the black hole that we inherited.

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The withdrawal from continental Europe is historic and could be very expensive. Why, then, did the Government turn down the offer of the Polish Government to provide accommodation, training terrain and facilities, all at pretty much zero cost, which would have allowed a permanent alliance there with probably our closest military partner in Europe?

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Although it may appear superficially attractive, I am afraid that none of those things is free. The cost of allowances and of keeping our personnel in Germany amounts to about a quarter of a billion pounds a year to the British taxpayers, and they are pumping about a hundred million pounds a year into the German economy when I would like to see that money pumped into the British economy.

There may well be not only a chance to have joint training with our Polish colleagues but room for continued training in Germany itself, following discussions that I had with the German Defence Minister last week.

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Will the Secretary of State tell the House what would happen to the 2,500 extra jobs that he is creating, and the significant investment that UK forces are about to make in Scotland, if Scotland decided to separate from the rest of the United Kingdom?

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The arrangements that we have set out today, with the Crown forces underpinning the security of the United Kingdom, will continue as long as the United Kingdom itself exists.

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TA soldiers from Northern Ireland constitute some 20% of total TA personnel in the UK, both deployed and operational. Will the Minister commit to increasing TA soldier numbers in Northern Ireland?

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If that is how the Army thinks it can best utilise the increased resources it has, it can make that decision. If, however, it decides that it should increase the quality of its training, the bases from which it operates or its equipment, those will be alternative choices for it. I will certainly make the hon. Gentleman’s point to the chiefs.

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rose

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Order. I can accommodate very few more questions, I am afraid. Time is extremely pressing, and brevity is essential.

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I am delighted that RAF Marham is to be retained, and I thank the Secretary of State for listening to the strategic and economic arguments put by the “Make it Marham” campaign, which includes 37,000 people of Norfolk and nine local Members of Parliament. Under the plan for the Tornado squadrons, how many will be based at RAF Marham?

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There are no changes whatever to the plans that we have previously announced for RAF Marham. I have to say, it would have been very hard to miss my hon. Friend’s voice on the subject in recent months, when there can hardly have been a single occasion when she did not raise it with me vociferously in the Lobby. I congratulate her.

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Does the Secretary of State agree that this rebalancing will work only if we can finally stop viewing the reservists and regulars, and the three single services, as separate organisations and start viewing them all as a combined means to an end?

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I could not have put it better myself.

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My constituents will welcome the news about the 14 Chinook helicopters and the global combat ship, not least because they equate to jobs in my constituency. Will the Secretary of State outline in a bit more detail the delivery times for giving out the contracts and delivering the procurement?

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I hope to be able to do that in the very near future. I hope my hon. Friend will understand that we are now entering a very sensitive period in the negotiations with the company involved, and I would not want to do or say anything that might diminish the MOD’s negotiating hand. However, I will make that information available to her and the House as soon as possible.

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I thank the Secretary of State for his decision on Lyneham, which will be welcomed in Chippenham and right across the north of Wiltshire. Does he still envisage any land disposals from the base there as part of its transition to the new role?

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No, I do not at the moment.

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The welcome step change in TA numbers will require a parallel step change in employer commitment. Given that we have Queen’s awards for business, exports and technology, can we have a Queen’s award for supporting the reserve forces?

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It is very unusual to get two good and constructive ideas for the Government to take away from a session such as this in the House, but I will certainly take my hon. Friend’s idea away. We want to work with employers to make it easier for reservists to be in employment. We want to do that on a voluntary basis, but if necessary we will come to the House with legislation to ensure that it happens.

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Can the Secretary of State give me some assurance about the future of the Defence Storage and Distribution Agency camp at Ashchurch in my constituency?

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On current plans, no changes are envisaged.

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rose

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Order. I am afraid that we must move on. We have had contributions from 47 Members. I would like to accommodate everybody, as I usually do, but time is pressing. I am grateful to the Secretary of State for Defence and colleagues.