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Reserve Forces

Volume 565: debated on Wednesday 3 July 2013

With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the future of our reserve forces. In November last year, I announced a formal consultation, which lasted until January this year. I am grateful for the more than 3,000 responses we received. I have placed copies of the summary of consultation findings in the Library of the House.

More than 25,000 reservists from all three services have deployed on operations over the last 10 years. Sadly, 30 have paid the ultimate price, and I know the whole House will want to join me in saluting their sacrifice.

In 2011, the Future Reserves 2020 Commission reported that our reserves were in serious decline. This Government responded by committing to revitalise our reserve forces as part of Future Force 2020, reversing the decline of the recent past, growing their trained strength to 35,000 by 2018 and investing an additional £1.8 billion in them over 10 years.

We recognise the extraordinary commitment reservists make and, in return, we commit to deliver the reservist a challenging and rewarding experience, combined with an enhanced remuneration and support package and an improved deal for employers. However, to recruit the reserves we need and to train and equip them to be fit for purpose in Future Force 2020 requires substantial change. I am today publishing a White Paper setting out our vision for the reserve forces and the detail of how we will make reserve service more attractive. It also confirms our intention to change the name of the Territorial Army to Army Reserve—better to reflect the future role.

Alongside the White Paper, I am publishing the first report of the independent external scrutiny group, which I announced last year to oversee and report on our progress in delivering Future Reserves 2020. The White Paper reiterates our commitment to improve access to modern equipment and to provide better training as part of the £1.8 billion package. About £200 million will be invested in equipment for the Army Reserve and to kick-start that programme, I can announce today that we will bring forward to this year £40 million of investment in new dismounted close combat equipment, meaning that upgraded weapons and sights, night vision systems, and GPS capabilities will start to be delivered to reserve units before the end of the year.

The integration of regulars and reserves is key to Future Force 2020. That integration prompts a closer alignment of the structure of remuneration across the armed forces. We have therefore decided to increase reservists’ total remuneration in two ways: through the provision for the first time of a paid annual leave entitlement in respect of training days, and through the accrual of pension entitlements under the new future armed forces pension scheme 2015 for time spent on training as well as when mobilised. These two measures represent a substantial percentage increase in total reserve remuneration.

The White Paper sets out details of an improved package of occupational health support for reservists to underpin operational fitness. We will also ensure that effective welfare support is delivered to reservists and their families. Welfare officers are being recruited now for Army Reserve units. Additionally, we have already implemented measures to streamline and incentivise the process by which those leaving the regular forces can transfer to the volunteer reserve, with accelerated processing, passporting of medical and security clearances and retention of rank, as well as a “signing-on” bounty of £5,000 for ex-regulars and for direct entry officers joining the Army Reserve.

The support of employers is crucial to delivering the future reserve forces. We seek to strengthen the Ministry of Defence’s relationships with employers so that they are open and predictable. The White Paper sets out how we will make liability for call-up more predictable; make it easier for them to claim the financial assistance that is already available; increase financial support for small and medium-sized enterprises by introducing a financial award of £500 a month per reservist when any of their reservist employees are mobilised; and improve civilian-recognised training accreditation to help employers to benefit from reserve training and skills.

The White Paper signals a step change in Defence’s offer to employers. I urge them to take up this challenge. In turn, by building on the armed forces covenant with the introduction of the corporate covenant, we will ensure that reservist employers get the recognition they deserve. However, while Defence is fully committed to an open and collaborative relationship with employers, it is essential that the interests of reservists should be protected. Dismissal of reservists on the ground of their mobilised reserve service is already illegal. We will legislate in the forthcoming defence reform Bill to ensure access to employment tribunals in claims for unfair dismissal on the ground of reserve service, without a qualifying employment period.

The job that we are asking our reservists to do is changing, and the way in which we organise and train them will also have to change. That will impact on force structure, and on basing laydown. The force structures and roles of the maritime and air reserves will remain broadly similar to now, although increased in size and capability. The Army, however, has had substantially to redesign its reserve component to ensure that regular and reserve capabilities seamlessly complement each other in an integrated structure designed for the future role. That redesigned structure has been driven primarily by the changed function and roles of the Army Reserve and by the need to reach critical mass for effective sub-unit training.

The details of the future Army Reserve structure are complex, and beyond what could coherently be explained in an oral statement. I have therefore laid a written statement, supported by detailed documents that have been placed in the Library of the House, showing the complete revised order of battle of the reserve component of Army 2020.

The restructuring will require changes to the current basing laydown of the Army Reserve. The TA currently operates from 334 individual sites around the United Kingdom, including a number of locations with small detachments of fewer than 30 personnel. Some of those sites are seriously under-recruited. To maximise the potential for future recruitment, the Army has determined that, as it translates its revised structure into a basing laydown, it should take the opportunity to rationalise its presence by merging small, poorly recruited sub-units into larger sites in the same conurbation or in neighbouring communities. As part of that exercise, the Army Reserve will open or reopen nine additional reserve sites.

However, the consolidation of all poorly recruited units would have led to a significant reduction in basing footprint and a significant loss of presence in some, particularly rural, areas. I have decided that that would not be appropriate as we embark on a major recruitment campaign. We will therefore retain a significant number of small and under-recruited sites that the Army considers could become viable through effective recruiting. The units on those sites will be challenged to recruit up to strength in the years ahead. Over the next couple of years, we will work with local communities, through the Army’s regional chain of command, to target recruitment into those units. I know that right hon. and hon. Members will want to lead their local communities in rising to that challenge.

The result of the decisions I am announcing today is that the overall number of Army Reserve bases will be reduced from the current total of 334 to 308—a net reduction of 26 sites. With your permission Mr Speaker, I will distribute a summary sheet that identifies the reserve locations being opened and those being vacated.

The White Paper and the written ministerial statement on structure and basing set the conditions to grow and sustain our reserves as we invest an additional £1.8 billion over 10 years in our vision for the integrated reserves of Future Force 2020. That vision calls for an even bigger contribution from our reservists and from employers as we expand the reserve forces. I am confident that both will rise to the challenge.

For the first time in 20 years, the reserves are on an upward trajectory. Those of us who are neither reservists nor employers can none the less provide vital support and encouragement to our fellow citizens who make such a valuable contribution to delivering our national security, and I know that Members on both sides of the House will want to take the lead in urging our communities to get behind the reserves and the recruiting drive that will build their strength to the target level over the next five years. I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Secretary of State and his officials for giving me advance briefing, but I am disappointed by the fact that we have been given only half a statement. The House does not have the luxury of possessing a list of the bases that the Government intend to close, because that has not been shared with Members on either side the House. It does not appear to be in the Library either, and it is not contained in the White Paper. I will happily accept your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on whether I should continue.

It is certainly open to the right hon. Gentleman to continue. If it was the Government’s intention that such further details should be available in the Vote Office and they are not, that is at the very least regrettable, and arguably incompetent. If it was not the intention for the material to be available, it should have been.

Order. I do not think that the Secretary of State can respond at this stage. He will have to do his best to respond to questions later, and we shall have to cope as best we can, but the situation is deeply unsatisfactory.

Is it your advice that I should continue, Mr. Speaker, on the basis that the House has not been provided with the information relating to the statement?

Order! I cannot take points of order in the middle of a statement.

The shadow Secretary of State is his own best adviser. He has material, he is a dextrous fellow, and I suggest that he will wish to continue.

Under your guidance, Mr. Speaker, I shall of course do so, but I am sure that Members in all parts of the House will, like me, consider it utterly unacceptable that we are being expected to comment on a statement that has not been shared with the House. We have been told that a number of bases are to be closed—26, I understand—but the House is not in a position even to scrutinise any of the measures that have been advocated by the Government. I do not think that that is malevolent; I believe it to be utterly incompetent. However, on the basis of your advice, Mr. Speaker, I shall continue.

We support an enhanced role for the reserve forces, working alongside regulars to project force globally. Our reserves make an enormous contribution here at home in many ways, including the 2,000 who helped to protect the Olympics. Many serve overseas in faraway terrain in the name of national security. It is right that we pay tribute to each of those who have served, and above all to those who have lost their lives. It is even more important for us to reflect on their courage, professionalism and patriotism so soon after Armed Forces day.

While we champion reserve forces, we recognise the need to modernise. However, it is worrying that rather than synchronising the reform of the Army with that of the reserves, today’s announcement appears to have been belated. There are also fears that the reserves uplift is designed not to complement our Army, but to supplement lost capacity. Many people will reasonably want the Government to explain the defence rationale. They will want to know why the cuts in the regular Army are happening regardless of the success of any uplift in the reserves. Concern about that is only added to by the fact that the TA recruitment targets were missed by more than 4,000 last year.

Labour Members welcome much of today’s announcement—that which has been shared with the House—including the information about mental health. Increased training alongside regulars and investment in equipment will enhance reserves’ capability. Transferability of qualifications will encourage recruitment, and the change in the name is welcome. However, there will undoubtedly be concern and real hurt in the 26 as yet anonymous communities in which centres are being closed. We will examine the detail of that as soon as the Secretary of State and his team deign to share it with the House, as they have already shared it with the media.

There will be concern in certain parts of the country, particularly Scotland and south-west England, about some of the decisions that seem to have been reached. We have said repeatedly that we want, and the country needs, a reservist plan to succeed, but much of that will depend on getting the offer right for employers and reservists. A central challenge to be overcome is ensuring that reservists’ employment patterns are compatible with longer deployment periods, and that they do not face discrimination in the workplace. Service experience is an enormous asset to business, but despite that, a recent survey by the Federation of Small Businesses found that one in three employers believed that nothing would encourage them to employ a reservist.

Will the Secretary of State comment on the balance between transparency and security, particularly in respect of reservists in Northern Ireland? Will he also tell us what measures he will introduce to ensure that the employers who are least well equipped to absorb the impact of large-scale deployment, such as small businesses, are able to manage requests for leave?

Engagement with public sector employers is compulsory. We should not be inviting demands on the private sector that we would not make of the public sector. Will the Secretary of State explain how the process will be managed and monitored across Departments, and will he tell us how many Departments currently bill the Ministry of Defence for the cost of members of their work force who are deployed as reservists?

It is essential that those who volunteer to protect our country are protected in their workplace. The announcement on access to unfair dismissal tribunals is welcome, but, on discrimination at the point of hiring, I fear that the Secretary of State may be missing an opportunity. We need to get this right, rather than be rushed, but many will worry that time spent on consultation on the principle could be better used by consulting business on specific proposals.

A number of reservists who have recently lost their jobs will be on welfare. We have heard assertions from the Government on the bedroom tax and the armed forces that have turned out to be unfounded. I do not doubt Ministers’ intentions on welfare, but question the implementation, so for the purpose of clarity will the Secretary of State publish full detailed tables on how reservists in receipt of benefits or credits will be affected?

On niche specialisms, can the Secretary of State say more about how he would seek to recruit reservists with specialisms where there are current skills shortages, particularly in languages, with targeted recruitment among diaspora communities?

These reforms must succeed to fill the capability gaps, but, more importantly, they should mark a change in culture where we strengthen our front-line force with a greater and more integrated use of civilian expertise. Our modern forces must be as diverse as the threats we face, and that means having a new, high quality Army Reserve. In the interests of national security, we will work with the Government to make that a reality—but I wish to say again on behalf of the whole House how unacceptable I find it that I am expected to respond to a statement about the closures of bases, the detail of which was not shared with any Member of this House, whereas those who gather to record our proceedings have the full detail. It is a shameful way to behave, and occasionally Ministers have to have the courage to come and advocate their own policy in this Chamber.

Order. Before the Secretary of State rises to respond, he said in his statement:

“With your permission Mr Speaker, I will distribute a summary sheet that identifies the reserve locations being opened and those being vacated.”

It was not clear from that wording quite when the intention to distribute was, but clearly significant numbers of Members had not received a copy of the tri-service site summary by location, which is a detailed piece of information on one sheet. It was, however, apparently available to members of the media. I hope that the Secretary of State—[Interruption.] Order. I hope that the Secretary of State can clarify the situation, but on the face of it, it is a very considerable discourtesy to the House of Commons, and I hope he can either prove it is not, or if he recognises or accepts that it is, I am sure he will be gracious enough fulsomely to apologise to the House of Commons.

I was intending to open my remarks by apologising for the evident delay in distributing these summary sheets. The summary sheet I referred to relates to the basing and structure statement that has been made today as a written statement. However, I felt that Members would wish to have a summary of the most important element of that—the base closures—and it was my intention, Mr Speaker, with your permission to distribute that sheet as I sat down at the end of my statement, and I deeply regret that it was not available until just a few moments ago. I am also not aware that it has been distributed outside this House.

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy) for his broad support for these measures. We have discussed these issues before, and I know the Opposition wish these measures to succeed. It is our intention that the reserves, and, as the right hon. Gentleman said, civilian contractors, will play a crucial role in the delivery of Future Force 2020, and the integrated regular reserve whole force will be at the centre of that construct.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to “longer deployment periods”. It is not the intention to increase the maximum length of deployment period. That will remain as now, usually six months in an enduring operation, with a period of pre-deployment training to precede it.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about transparency and security, and mentioned specifically the context of Northern Ireland. This is a perfectly fair point. We want to be as transparent as possible with employers, and we want to recognise employers, but we also recognise that there will be both employers and reservists who for various reasons will be reluctant to be identified, and we will, of course, respect that as we deliver this agenda.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about small and medium-sized enterprises. We have today introduced a very significant bonus for SMEs, with a £500 per month per reservist cash bonus on top of the other allowances that are already available for SMEs when an employee reservist is called up for operations, but the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: on top of the cash inducement, flexibility is crucial to SMEs, and we will continue to exercise flexibility in dealing with requests for postponement.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about public sector employers. I absolutely agree that the public sector must lead the way. Central Government have already set out a very generous offer to reservist employees in excess of that which is statutorily available. We are challenging the wider public sector to match that, and the NHS is already a very considerable provider of reservists, but I should just clarify that public sector employers are not eligible for the financial inducements we have announced today, and, indeed, for the ones that were already available.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the issue of discrimination at the point of hiring. As he knows, the consultation response identified that some 46% of reservists reported a perception of discrimination at some point either in the workplace or in applying for work. We have announced in the White Paper that we are today establishing a website at which reservists can report incidences of perceived discrimination, which we will then investigate. If we discover that there is a case for further action, we will take it, including considering the possibility of further measures in the next quinquennial armed forces Bill, which is due for introduction in 2015.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the specific issue of the spare room subsidy as it affects members of the reserve forces. We have been clear about that. There is a section in the White Paper on benefits and related matters. If the situation is still not clear to him after he has looked at that, I will be very happy to clarify further, although the Department for Work and Pensions is, of course, the lead Department on this matter. I can say this to the right hon. Gentleman, however: where any adult member of the reserves is deployed on operations or pre-deployment training and is called up and as a consequence vacates a room in their parents’—or another person’s—house, that room will not be treated as unoccupied for the purposes of calculation of the spare room subsidy.

I declare an interest in that my daughter is a member of the Territorial Army.

I know my right hon. Friend and the entire House will wish to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier) for what is by any standards an astonishing parliamentary achievement. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is no plan B, and that it is absolutely essential that this reserves plan succeeds? Will he therefore persuade our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to join forces with the Leader of the Opposition to make it absolutely plain to employers that the success of this strategy is vital in the national interest?

My right hon. Friend is, of course, absolutely right. The success of this strategy is vital in the national interest, and I very much welcome the fact that the Opposition have approached the matter in a bipartisan fashion, challenging and questioning us where appropriate, but supporting the basic principle of expanding the reserve forces. I would be very happy to suggest to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that he make a joint approach to employers with the Leader of the Opposition. I am sure both of them share the view that the support of the employer community is critical to the success of this project.

As we withdraw from Afghanistan it will be increasingly important to have community buy-in and community awareness of our ongoing defence needs, so the building up of reserve forces within communities will be vital. It is disappointing that hon. Members, who will take a lead often in their communities to encourage people to focus on the reserve forces, do not have a copy of the statement and have belatedly had copies of the details of the areas that have been closed. I find that two are being closed in Wales, which is worrying for me because Wales’s defence footprint is already particularly small compared with that of the rest of the UK. Will the Secretary of State assure me that he will look at the impact on recruitment in Wales and the opportunity for reservists in Wales to continue to serve following the closure of these bases?

I can tell the hon. Lady that I have already done that. For example, the Territorial Army centre at Caernarfon is to close and I have looked at the distribution of the home addresses of TA members serving at that base. The nearest alternative base where they would be expected to go is at Colwyn Bay and, in fact, the majority of them live closer to Colwyn Bay than they do to Caernarfon. So we would expect the majority of them to continue to serve at the Colwyn Bay TA centre.

I have to explain to the House that when I said in my statement that some of these small units are significantly under-recruited, I was not overstating my case. We have TA centres with six or seven people enlisted at them, and we have one where the average attendance on training nights has been one over the past year. This is not just a question of the careful husbandry of resources; it is also a question of delivering the kind of training that we have promised members of the Army Reserve. We cannot deliver effective training unless we have a critical mass at the sub-unit level, and that is the driver of all the changes we are announcing today.

I warmly welcome many of the detailed announcements that the Secretary of State has made this afternoon about the way in which both regulars and civilians will be incentivised to join the TA and how employers—small and medium-sized enterprises, in particular—will be able to look after their employees. Nevertheless, is he not concerned that there will be a time gap between a large number of regular soldiers, sailors and airmen being made redundant, which is happening at the moment, and having the 30,000 fully trained TA members that he intends to have in place? What is he going to do about the time gap?

Of course, as my hon. Friend correctly presents, it will take us until 2018 to have achieved a 30,000-strong trained Army Reserve. We are seeking to capture as many ex-regulars leaving the regular service as we possibly can, and we expect that the £5,000 transfer bounty, together with the streamlining of the procedures for transfer from the regular to the reserve, will have a significant impact. He rightly says that there will not be a smooth trajectory between now and 2018—some of the measures we have to take will have short-term negative impacts before they deliver long-term positive gain—but we are clear that this is the right path to adopt.

Given the confusion that we have just had, can the Secretary of State categorically confirm that our campaign to keep the Cobridge TA centre in Stoke-on-Trent open, not least because of its community work, has meant that it is definitely not for closure and will stay open? Will he also give me an assurance about the recent Supreme Court judgment relating to the late Corporal Stephen Allbutt, whereby the Ministry of Defence has a duty of care properly to equip all serving armed forces under the Secretary of State’s jurisdiction? Will he assure me that the change being brought forward today will make sure that all our armed forces will be properly equipped and kitted out?

I am a bit astonished that someone who was a supporter of the previous Government has the effrontery to sit there and challenge me to declare that all our armed forces will be properly equipped when they go into battle, given the shocking examples that we had during the last years of the last decade in Afghanistan.

The hon. Lady correctly says that we have a duty of care, and we take it very seriously; we have made a very clear political and moral commitment to properly equipping our armed forces. I have to say to her that I do not believe that enshrining that as a legal duty, as the Supreme Court appears to have done, will help the operation of our armed forces. She also asked me specifically about Stoke-on-Trent and I can tell her that if it is not on the list we have supplied, it is not going to be vacated.

Order. I gather—I have just been informed and seen evidence for myself—that the oral statement, or copies thereof, is now being distributed around the Chamber, in what is an unedifying spectacle. I have, in all sincerity and candour, to say to the Secretary of State that, as he will know, the content of statements is not a matter for me and I take no view of them, but the administration of this matter has been woefully inadequate and, frankly, utterly incompetent. I have not known a worse example during my tenure as Speaker. I know that the Secretary of State has expressed himself in his usual, rather understated, terms, but I hope he genuinely does feel some sense of embarrassment and contrition at what has been a total mishandling by his Department, for which he is solely responsible—it is as simple as that.

I hesitate to pile Pelion on Ossa, but you will recall, Mr Speaker, that earlier this year I had occasion to raise a similar issue with you about the provision of information—the MOD has form and, no doubt, the opportunity will be taken to revise procedures.

A quick perusal of the list allows me to say that I am grateful that the bases at RAF Leuchars where an engineer regiment is based, and at Cupar, where a yeomanry squadron is based, both of which are in my constituency, are to be preserved. May I make a point to my right hon. Friend that is less about process and more about substance? Those, such as me, who have been in the House for a long time have on many occasions heard statements of the kind we have just heard from him advocating a much greater use of the value of reserves—like me, the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier) will recall many of them. The issue now is not what the statement says; it is the extent to which it will be implemented and the extent to which the MOD will be answerable if it is not.

First, I am indeed embarrassed by what appears to have just occurred. As you would expect, Mr Speaker, I will be investigating precisely what has happened and I will write to you to let you know what has gone wrong this afternoon. I understood that copies of the statement and copies of the spreadsheet would be distributed as soon as I sat down, and I apologise for the fact that that did not happen.

My right hon. and learned Friend is, of course, right to say that a statement in itself, or a White Paper in itself, does not deliver the solution. But I am not coming to the House today presenting a set of ideas that we will now begin to implement; many of these ideas and processes are already under way and beginning to have effect. I have given commitments previously, and I will give them again, to keeping the House updated through the publication of both recruitment figures and trained strength figures as we turn the corner with the Army Reserve.

The Secretary of State will be aware that today is the first anniversary of the Moray Firth Tornado crash tragedy, in which Flight Lieutenant Adam Sanders, Squadron Leader Samuel Bailey and Flight Lieutenant Hywel Poole and a seriously injured fourth serviceman were involved. RAF Lossiemouth, friends and families are remembering them today, as I am sure everybody does in the House.

On the statement, there has been a discourtesy to not only Members of the House, but to the parties in this House. Some hon. Members may not be aware that all political parties in this House—the Labour party and the parties of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—receive an advance copy, and we were not provided with the appropriate information either. That is a huge discourtesy. It is unprecedented—I have never experienced it in my 13 years in this House—and it is unacceptable. Frankly, it is a dog’s breakfast and the MOD should be ashamed of itself.

As we know, in recent years there have been disproportionate cuts to personnel, to basing, to spending and now even to the Territorial Army in Scotland. In the absence of providing the list in detail and on time, will the Secretary of State please confirm that six of our 38 Army and Navy reserve sites are to close? That is 16% of the total and it represents twice Scotland’s population share, so the disproportionate cuts continue.

The approach to dealing with the estate and the rationalisation of structure has not been territorial but was based on the structure of the Army. Some new major units are relocating to Scotland. To answer the hon. Gentleman’s specific questions, there are 52 reserve sites in Scotland. Seven will be vacated and a new site will reopen, which means a net loss of six. According to my calculation, that is a 12% reduction in site footprint. I accept that the hon. Gentleman does not have ready access to the information, so he cannot know this, but some of the sites in Scotland are so incredibly poorly recruited that I think that even he would struggle to argue for their retention. There are sites with an establishment of 30 or 40 and a recruited strength of six, seven, eight or 10. We clearly cannot deliver a proper offer to Scottish reservists unless we consolidate on to sites that will deliver a critical mass at the sub-unit level for training.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend and the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois), on an immensely good package. In the last statement, we heard that the Government were going to get back to using formed sub-units, which is what reserve officers want. This time, we have heard that we have gripped the critical mass issue at sub-unit level, that we are resourcing equipment properly and that we will have opportunities for employers at all levels and money for SMEs. This is a package for the future of the reserves and the future of our armed forces, of which we should all be proud.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and repeat the congratulations expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot) on his work in this area as a member of the independent commission, a tireless advocate of the reserves and a giver of good advice over a long period on a complex issue. I am grateful to him for his endorsement, as he is one of the significant number of people in this place who understand the reserves and what the debate is all about.

I would be grateful to know why the Secretary of State proposes to close the Widnes site in my constituency. Halton has 125,000 people and I would love to know the logic behind that decision. However, my question is as follows. Is not the Secretary of State missing the point? He tells us that he wants massively to increase the recruitment of reservists, but at the same time he is closing down a number of centres around the country. How is that logical and how does it make any sense whatsoever? He particularly makes the point that he wants to recruit ex-members of the armed forces. Halton is one of the best recruiting areas for the armed forces in the country, so why would he want to close down the TA centre?

Even in conurbation where there are numbers of TA bases, in some cases it has been necessary to consolidate them to reach critical mass and to provide the training offer that we have committed to deliver to reservists. I should explain to the House that the TA, as structured by the previous Government’s review in 2007, had an established strength of 36,500. It never resourced that and never recruited up to that strength. We are doing two things today. We are setting out a structure and basing laydown that will work for Future Force 2020 with a force of 30,000, but we are also dealing with the overhang of a hugely over-ambitious and underfunded proposition that the previous Government put in place in 2007.

Although it is regrettable that the Secretary of State was not furnished with the correct information to enable the House to judge these matters, is it not the case that generally speaking with statements the devil is in the detail? The House will need to examine all the detail set out not only in the statement but in the White Paper. Although my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot) is absolutely right that this is the only show in town, the Secretary of State should be under no illusions about the fact that this is a substantial challenge we face in cutting our regular Army to 82,000. Will the Secretary of State assure me that he will continue to keep the House regularly informed about the success of the recruitment so that the conditions that he has just set out, which applied after the last review conducted by the previous Government, do not apply to this one?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and he is absolutely right. The complexity of such an issue requires a written statement, which is why I have made one today. The changes to the structure of the Army run into the hundreds—re-rollings, relocations and amalgamations—to create an effective force, and I pay tribute to the Army staff, who have done an enormous amount of work in producing this structure. I urge right hon. and hon. Members to look carefully at the detailed documents that have been provided today, because they explain the detailed position more clearly than an oral statement ever can. My hon. Friend challenges me to publish regular updates. I have already said that I have previously committed to publishing recruitment figures and trained strength figures—on a quarterly basis, I think—and I repeat that commitment.

We welcome the broad thrust of the statement. As the Secretary of State will know, the reserve forces in Northern Ireland are among the best recruited of any region in the United Kingdom. Indeed, 2nd Battalion the Royal Irish Regiment is one of the best recruited reserve infantry units in the British Army. Although we welcome the decision to reopen Kinnegar, will the Secretary of State explain the decision to close the Territorial Army centre in Armagh?

I am afraid I shall be repeating myself. The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that Northern Ireland is one of the best-recruited areas—in fact, most of the units in Northern Ireland are over strength and we appreciate the commitment of the community in Northern Ireland to reserve service. The changes to Army structure and the delivery of efficient and effective training require the closure of the TAC at Armagh and the opening of an additional site. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will accept that the transfer from Armagh to Portadown is part of the Army’s best effort to deliver the most effective way of training, recruiting and managing the reserve Army in Northern Ireland. We are not talking about something for just the next couple of years but about a structure and laydown that we expect to endure for many decades and to form the basis of the fully integrated Army we all want to see.

I suggest that the Government have still failed, however, to show that their plans represent value for money or are in the best interests of this country. The fact that further cash incentives have been announced today, that that ex-regular reservists will be on a better scale of pay than brigadiers and that TA numbers have been falling all point to doubt being cast on Government plans—and that is before we consider the issue of capability. Would it not be wise to halt the disbandment of the regular battalions and to stop the loss of 20,000 regular troops until we know for sure that these plans will work?

My hon. Friend returns to a familiar theme—he has suggested that course of action to me on many previous occasions. We are restructuring our armed forces to reflect the threat they will face in the future, as identified in the strategic defence and security review, and to respond to the fiscal challenges we must address if we are to have a stable platform for the proper defence of this country. I am afraid to say to my hon. Friend that although it might be tempting to wish that we had the resources to retain the regular Army at its historic strength while we recruit up to 30,000 trained reserves, we do not have that luxury. I think the Opposition would acknowledge—and have implicitly acknowledged—that reducing the size of the regular Army while increasing the size of the reserves is not without risk but is the best way to manage the resources we have to deliver the military output we require.

When the Secretary of State says that there will be effective welfare support for reservists, including in the context of the bedroom tax, I welcome that, and I am sure that my hon. Friends do, too. However, under DWP measures reservists are already exempt from the bedroom tax, and that is not the issue. Regular members of the Army are the ones who are affected by the definition of the bedroom tax. The veterans Minister, the right hon. Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois), is already well aware of that and has promised a meeting with me that will, I am sure, occur soon. We must resolve the issue now, because armed forces families are about four months in arrears.

The position is the same for members of the regular armed forces: if they are deployed on operations, the rooms they leave behind will not be treated as vacated—

I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and discuss the matter. I personally read the DWP regulations on this yesterday and I am clear that when a member of regular military personnel is deployed on operations, their room will continue to be treated as occupied for the purpose of the spare room subsidy.

We are committed to recruiting a reserve force of 35,000. I remind my hon. Friend that as recently as 1990, we had a trained reserve force of 72,500, so it is not as if we are trying to do something that has not been done before. All our English-speaking allies operate with far greater reserve forces as a proportion of their regular forces than we do.

I should tell my hon. Friend that the responsibility for delivering the strength required lies with the individual commands, and they understand and accept that they may have to flex resources if that is necessary to deliver the objective. We have no plan B: we will deliver these reserve numbers.

One of the huge threats we face at the moment is a cyber-attack. The United Kingdom is the primary target of operatives in 25 countries. What specific training will be given to reservists in this important but specialist field?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for allowing me to refer to that matter in detail. Part of the structure change relates to a new focus on reservists’ contributions to cyber-defence. Alongside the traditional image of the reservist, we are looking for people who spend their week sitting in front of a screen, perhaps working for one of the big IT companies, but who relish being able to deploy their skills in a more operational environment. We will specifically recruit cyber-reservists, who will not necessarily have to have the same levels of fitness or deployability as reservists in general if they are willing to deploy to add to our cyber-defence capabilities at UK locations on a routine basis.

I hope very much that we will get 30,000 trained and deployable reservists by 2018, but over the past year recruitment to the Territorial Army—the Army Reserve, as it will be—has not been great, so I am slightly pessimistic. In 2018, will the armed forces be blamed if 30,000 reservists are not fully trained and deployable?

It will be for individuals to point the finger, although I can guess where it is most likely to be pointed. I should say that, having previously declined sharply, numbers have stabilised. Of course that is not enough, but it is at least a start; the hole is not getting deeper. The purpose of announcing the measures in the White Paper is to provide the backdrop for what will now be an aggressive recruiting drive to bring through the recruits who in two years’ time—it will of course take two years—will have become fully trained members of the reserve forces.

I am incredibly disappointed about the shambles today, not least because I learned only 20 minutes ago that Dunfermline was to close. I hope that the Secretary of State will explain the rationale behind that decision. However, written in hand on the summary sheet for this omnishambles of a statement is the word “Kilmarnock”. Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify whether that is a late addition or someone’s homework? What exactly is going on with Kilmarnock?

The hon. Gentleman is right that Dunfermline is closing: 154 Transport Regiment is to move to Bruce House Territorial Army centre, in one of a significant number of consolidations. In most cases, consolidations do not give rise to site closures because there is more than one unit on a site, but in some cases, where a consolidation removes the last unit or all the units on a site, logically the site closes. I emphasise again that the driver for these changes is not to vacate sites; it is to create a structure that will deliver the military capability we require and allow reservists to receive the training offer that we have set out to them today. I regret that, in some cases, that will mean that people have to travel to an Army Reserve centre in an adjoining community, but I should mention that reservists receive home-to-duty travel allowance and will therefore be reimbursed for the costs of making the journey.

Order. The hon. Gentleman is an eager beaver. The Secretary of State has given his reply. If he decides he wants to say anything further in response to a subsequent question, he is well able to do so.

Inspiration has just come to me. A new Army Reserve unit will move into Kilmarnock on an existing site, which will reopen to accommodate it.

Nine days ago, I took part in a flag-raising ceremony at the beginning of Armed Forces week, organised by the borough of Reigate and Banstead, at which more than 20 organisations signed a community covenant to support the armed forces. I challenge my right hon. Friend to find any local authority that has been more forward in its support for the armed forces locally, and it is a pretty poor reward that 80% of the reservists in the borough are to disappear. May I gently register my concern about the fate of the cadet forces associated with the TA centre in Redhill that he is proposing to close? I very much want to come and see him or one of his colleagues to discuss whether, in terms of the establishment of the wider armed forces, including the cadets, they have got the decision right locally.

I recognise that individual Members whose constituencies are affected by site closures are disappointed. The site at Redhill is occupied by a Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers battalion. REME is being reinforced as a result of the structural changes, but there is a need for consolidation to make it work, and 103 Battalion REME, 150 Recovery Company, is to move to the Mitcham Road TAC in Croydon. My hon. Friend’s constituency will of course retain the TAC at Reigate.

Cadets are co-located on many reserve sites. The fact that we are vacating a site does not mean that the building will be shut or the site disposed of. Where cadets are in occupation, they will continue to occupy and we will seek appropriate ways of reproviding for cadets in the same area; that may be on the same site or on one in the near vicinity.

Order. I am keen to accommodate the large number of right hon. and hon. Members who wish to contribute to exchanges on the statement, but doing so necessitates brevity.

I too pay tribute to reservists, particularly those I had the privilege to meet in Afghanistan and Iraq on visits in recent years.

May I bring the Secretary of State back to the impact on businesses, especially SMEs? As we know, they are at the heart of the British economy. I have heard his statement, but I want to return to the concern that many SMEs have, because quite often it is a key individual in the business who is a reservist, and I am not sure that £500 is enough to cover the loss of that individual. Will he, as part of the White Paper process, look carefully at how he engages with businesses, particularly those that are not members of a wider business organisation?

We engaged extensively with business during the consultation period. The definition of an SME, of course, is very broad: up to 250 employees and £25 million. The £500 a month is not intended to compensate for the loss of the employee; it is intended to be an additional recognition, on top of all the other allowances and compensation amounts that employers can already claim. One of the crucial statements we made in the White Paper, and in the actions we have already taken, is the need to streamline the claiming procedure. One of the things we heard loud and clear in the consultation was that many employers find the process so cumbersome that it is hardly worth claiming. We are confident that, by streamlining the process, we will make it much more accessible and user-friendly for employers.

Although I welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to reservists and the extra funds available, clearly the announcement of the closure of the TA centre in Burton, Coltman House, will be greeted with disappointment and sadness by many of my constituents. Will he make available the rationale behind that decision and the recruitment figures to reassure me and my constituents that it is the right one? Following the earlier comments about cadet forces, Coltman House is also home to two fine cadet forces, the Army and Air Cadets, which have strong leadership and great young men and women involved. Will he meet me to ensure that those cadets have a future?

As I have just said, the cadets will remain in occupation. We are committed to providing them with accommodation, usually on the site but possibly close by, so that is the driver. I do not want anyone to get the impression that these changes are being made in order to vacate sites, because that is not the driver. The changes are being made because of Army structure considerations. It is not just about recruitment; it is also about the changing structure of the Army’s reserve component and the way it has to work in future. When my hon. Friend looks at the detailed information that has been laid in the Library, he will see that the change is part of a much bigger pattern of change to deliver the effective forces we need for the future.

We have still not been provided with the detail in the written statement. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the effect of his statement today will be an overall reduction in the strength of reserve units in the west midlands, an area that makes a huge contribution to the armed forces generally? Will he also confirm that he has decided to abolish the Royal Mercian and Lancastrian Yeomanry in order to set up a Scottish yeomanry, a move that has failed twice before? If so, will he explain why, because absolutely no information has been provided about that so far? Although I have been told that the TA base in Dudley, which is currently part of the RMLY, will be retained, what confidence can we have that its long-term future will not be jeopardised by transferring the regional headquarters from Telford, which is 30 miles away, to Croydon, which is 190 miles away?

Order. The hon. Gentleman has availed himself of the opportunity to ask four questions, which he had no right to do, but I think that he will get one answer.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the opportunity to choose between his four questions. I will answer the RMLY question, because I know that other Members will be interested in it. The reason I did not include it in the oral statement is that it is a complex matter and one must limit the content of an oral statement, or else one would be severely admonished from the Chair. The RMLY’s regimental headquarters, the headquarters squadron, will be relocated to Edinburgh, where it will be renamed the Scottish and North Irish Yeomanry. The troop squadrons will remain where they are and will come under the command of other yeomanry units. At Telford, a troop will remain and come under command of A squadron, which will remain based at Dudley. It is a complex change that the hon. Gentleman will be able to understand if he looks at the documents that have been laid in the Library. We expect the troop squadrons remaining in the west midlands to adopt the name of the Royal Mercian and Lancastrian Regiment in their squadron titles.

Although today’s confirmation of the closure of the St John’s Hill barracks is sad, it has been widely understood locally that that would be the case. It has been a great honour to represent the London Regiment, based at its headquarters there, which has given distinguished service in operations over recent years. Will the Secretary of State confirm that he is content with the arrangements being made for the London Regiment?

The London Regiment is a very important component of the Territorial Army. It is well recruited and plays an important role, having made a large contribution to the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. The rationalisation of the estate across London to provide training opportunities and optimum use of the new equipment we will be delivering has come from the Army itself, from the bottom up, as the best way of delivering the capability we need. I know that my hon. Friend will regret the loss of the TA centre in her constituency, but the London Regiment will continue to be a very important part of the reserve forces construct in London.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s comments about integrating welfare for reserve and regular soldiers. A constituent of mine, a former Royal Marine who is now in the Territorial Army, was injured on a training exercise and was unable to access Army rehabilitation and medical services in the same way he had been able to as a regular soldier. Will the right hon. Friend clarify whether the proposals will specifically address that point, and will he review the case to ensure that it is dealt with fully?

I take what the hon. Lady says at face value, but I am pretty surprised by the case she outlines. If she would like to write to the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois), he will look into the matter.

As my right hon. Friend knows, during a recent visit to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee learned about how the US deals with its veterans, especially as far as mental health and other welfare issues are concerned. I suggest that he talks with colleagues in the Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions to explore whether it might be possible to put an “R” after reservists’ national insurance numbers so that they are more easily identifiable in order to receive that kind of mental health support.

I am happy to explore that with DWP and the Treasury, but I recommend that my hon. Friend does not hold his breath while waiting for the answer. The way US veterans administration works is very different from the way we do things in this country, because they do not have the benefit of a national health service or a comprehensive welfare state.

Number 13 on the list of sites for closure is in my constituency. Is the intention to consolidate its activities at other sites in Edinburgh, and particularly in my constituency? With regard to the new or reopened Navy Reserve facility in Edinburgh, which facility is that and what activities does the Secretary of State envisage being undertaken there?

As the hon. Gentleman knows better than I do, there are a number of sites in Edinburgh, and there will still be a very substantial Army Reserve presence there. The unit he is talking about, 5 Military Intelligence Battalion, will be going to Fenham barracks in Newcastle.

I commend the strategy and understand the logic of putting units together. I can save the Secretary of State the trouble of telling me that the Wick unit is down to six and that regularly only one attends, because I know that from conversations I have had with serving and former Territorials. That is a relatively recent development, because 10 years ago a substantial number of troops served on deployment in Iraq with distinction. I point out that it is a 250-mile round trip to the nearest reserve base of any kind, so if Wick closes it will effectively mean that the inhabitants of Caithness and Sutherland will no longer be able to give reserve service, and people who leave the Army and wish to be reservists will no longer be able to live in Caithness and Sutherland.

I realise that my hon. Friend will be disappointed by the decision in respect of Wick. However, he saved me the trouble of pointing out that seven people are registered at Wick, only a couple of whom regularly turn up on any training occasion. I have to say to him that it is just not possible to operate such a unit effectively.

The issue is not penny pinching or closing a base for economic reasons; it is that we cannot deliver effective training or any effective military capability out of a base with that kind of level of strength. I am afraid that we just have to be realistic about that. I do recognise that, unlike many other closing bases, Wick’s nearest alternative base is so far away that it is not practical to expect those seven people to transfer. Many of the other bases—of the 26—that we have been referring to are within easy travelling distance of other reserve facilities.

What concerns me particularly about the shambles of this statement is the lack of detail in the documents provided. I am learning now that yet another document has been made available in the past few minutes, which I do not have in front of me—my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State has it.

In the absence of that document, will the Secretary of State provide detail on the announcement about a new or reopened base in Cardiff? The list literally just says “Cardiff”; there is no other detail. What impact might there be, if any, on HMS Cambria, which is just over the border in the neighbouring constituency of the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns), but draws on many reservists from my constituency?

I think I am right in saying—I shall write to the hon. Gentleman if I am incorrect—that the decision has been taken to open an additional site in Cardiff, but the exact location has not yet been confirmed. The changes will happen over the next two and a half to three years. In some cases, there is an obvious site that we are going to reopen; in others, the Army is looking at different candidates. The Army is looking at structural conditions of buildings, for example. I will be happy to write to the hon. Gentleman and confirm that, if that would be helpful.

I share with the House my sadness at the closure of the Caernarfon Territorial Army centre, where I was a platoon commander. My concern is about the loss of the term “Territorial Army”. The Secretary of State will be aware that the greatest threat to part-timers comes from regular officers within the MOD who starve the reserves of their resources. Will the Secretary of State make sure that that cannot happen under his restructuring?

I say two things to my hon. Friend. First, the overwhelming majority of respondents to the consultation supported the proposal to change the name of the Territorial Army, better to reflect the role that it will play in future. The second thing is that—he will just have to take my word for this—at senior level there has been a sea change in the attitude in the Army. The Army now understands that it has to grip this as its problem and deliver the solution. I accept that there is still more work to be done in the middle ranks of the Army officer corps, to persuade people to adopt the integrated model for the future. That is a work in progress.

I thank the Minister for his statement and concur with the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr Donaldson) on the closure of the Armagh unit; I express my disappointment at that as well. However, the announcement that Kinnegar in Holywood will become a centre for reservists is good news, which I welcome. Civilian staff there have been uncertain about their position in recent months. Can the Secretary of State confirm that Kinnegar will not be subject to any run-down or loss of civilian personnel as it becomes a centre for reservists in Northern Ireland?

My understanding is that, at the moment, Kinnegar is mostly used as a storage facility and the number of civilians employed there is relatively small. However, I cannot guarantee—this is part of another statement, in a sense—that as that role decreases there will not be some changes in the civilian staffing level. However, if the hon. Gentleman would like me to write to him with further details of the overall position affecting Kinnegar, I will be happy to do so.

I declare an interest as a member of Her Majesty’s armed forces reserves in the Military Stabilisation Support Group. As the Army rebalances its regular-reserve ratio, I hope that emphasis is placed on not only war-fighting skills but nation-building, peacekeeping, upstream intervention and stabilisation, where reservists can bring their civilian skills to the fore. May I also ask the Secretary of State what more could be done to ensure that the Army stabilisation activities that qualify against Development Assistance Committee rules can be claimed against the official development aid target?

As my hon. Friend will see when he reads the White Paper—the document that the shadow Secretary of State was waving a few moments ago—we do indeed emphasise that the role of the reserves in future will include participation in stabilisation and conflict-prevention operations.

On eligibility for ODA-compliant funding in these operations, recently my hon. Friend kindly sent me a paper that he has written suggesting areas that might be ODA-compliant. I have passed it to officials so that they can look further at whether there might be avenues to pursue.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his statement, although I regret the closure of the Shrubbery TA centre in Kidderminster. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that the neighbouring King Charles I secondary school combined cadet force unit is safe? Can he also confirm that the 30 or so reservists who are currently based at the Shrubbery TA centre will be given financial support for travelling a greater distance?

On that last point, as I have said already, a home-to-duty allowance is payable for travel between home and the place of duty. Over and above that, the Army will be looking on an individual basis to ensure that, within reason, anyone whose unit is closing, relocating or re-roling, and who wishes to transfer to a different unit, will be supported. We expect that to be done at local unit level, engaging with individuals to try to retain them in the reserve service if we possibly can.

Instead of withdrawing entirely from a rural centre such as Berwick-upon-Tweed, which will lose its TA centre, Royal Logistics Corps and Fusiliers component, should not Ministers be looking at flexible ways of organising training and recruitment in rural areas, so as not to close off that source of recruitment?

I have looked at the situation in my right hon. Friend’s constituency. The driver is that the Pioneers, both regulars and reserves, are being withdrawn from the Army’s order of battle, so the Pioneer unit based at Berwick will no longer have a role to play. However, we hope that many of those serving in that unit will re-role and move to Alnwick, where the Army reserve centre will continue.

Drill Hall and Jersey Camp, the TA facilities on the Isle of Wight, are shared by our very strong cadet forces, who number more than 200. Given the unique transport challenges facing the island, the loss of those facilities would be a terrible blow to those young people. Will my right hon. Friend meet me and a group of constituents to discuss the matter?

I sense that the Minister for the Armed Forces is anxious to meet my hon. Friend. I can say this: if the facility has 200 cadets, the vacation by the reserves will not make any difference to the cadets’ continued use of it. It will remain in use by the cadets, as will be the case for a significant number of the bases being vacated.

The hon. Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson) has beetled forward by two Benches from his normal position; I am grateful that I am nevertheless able to see and recognise him.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

There is a lot to welcome in today’s statement, particularly the incentives for small and medium-sized enterprises. Last Friday, I organised a jobs and apprenticeship fair at Colne municipal hall. More than 1,200 people attended and I am pleased to say that there was a great deal of interest in both the regular and reserve forces. What more does the Secretary of State believe right hon. and hon. Members across the House can do to help deliver the plans and ensure that we recruit more reserve forces in our local areas?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the work that he is obviously already doing in supporting the reserves agenda, which is about raising awareness of reserves, particularly in communities where reserve units are significantly under-recruited—essentially getting behind a “use it or lose it” challenge to those communities. We have now created a space and will be putting in place a substantial recruiting drive. Those units need to show that they can make a sustained militarily significant contribution to the Army reserves.

SME support is essential for the success of the growth of our reserve forces, so I really welcome the financial and procedural package that has been put in place for them. What support or advice has the Secretary of State received from business organisations such as the Federation of Small Businesses to ensure that we get exactly the right package to encourage our employers to support this issue?

The FSB has been involved with us in the consultation process, along with many others. I am glad to be able to say that it, along with the other four major employer organisations, has signed the corporate covenant that my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces launched last Friday, which includes a pledge to support reserve service. In this White Paper we explicitly recognise that reserve service impacts on different types of employer differently, and the offer that we make has to be tailored to recognise that. That will make a significant difference to our relationships with small and medium-sized employers.

The 214 Battery Royal Artillery in Worcester has a magnificent new TA centre right at the heart of our city. Its officers and gunners have seen a great deal of service in Afghanistan. The whole city is very proud of having this military presence right at its heart. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that in making his difficult decisions on basing, he has paid attention to the quality of facilities available at TA centres and to the historic role of our county towns in supporting recruitment to the armed forces?

My hon. Friend tempts me, but I have to say in all honesty that the driver has been the structural requirements of the Army Reserve. There is no point in keeping a TA centre because it is a shiny new building if it does not fit into the structural laydown that the Army needs to deliver military effect in the 21st century, so that has been the overriding consideration.

HMS Cambria in my constituency has a long, proud history in supporting the unit from the communities of Barry and Sully in Cardiff South and Penarth. The statement talks about a unit in Cardiff that is to be new or renewed, but it is not yet clear whether it is the same unit or another one in place of it. Will the Secretary of State clarify that?

Employer support will be crucial. There is a Queen’s award for business, a Queen’s award for technology and a Queen’s award for exports. Might there not be a Queen’s award for supporting the armed forces reserves?

We explored that in the consultation. We have decided to proceed via the corporate covenant, which already provides for recognition for employers who support the services broadly, including the reserve service, and provides them with a logo that they can put on their letterhead.

I, too, welcome the measures that the Secretary of State has announced for business. However, for our smallest businesses across the UK—our one, two or three-man bands—losing a key worker will pose a particular challenge. May I urge him, as he develops the White Paper, to give special credence to their views and those of employers who are not represented by the business organisations we discussed earlier?

The FSB has of course been involved in this process. My hon. Friend’s point is absolutely valid. It will not be right or practical for all SMEs to employ a reservist, and we must recognise that fact. It will be easier for larger businesses. Many SMEs, perhaps including some very small ones, will be keen to employ a reservist, perhaps for a particular reason. We have to be flexible and tailor our package to respond to the needs of individual employers and employer types.

May I express my disappointment at seeing on the list of surplus sites the Territorial Army centre at Edward street, Rugby?

I thank the Secretary of State for listening to the representations on reservists by businesses, particularly small businesses, many of which stand to lose a key member of staff for a substantial period. I particularly thank him for his provisions regarding greater predictability of call-up.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am sorry about the disappointment regarding Rugby. As he will know, the reserve unit there will be consolidated at Coventry—another example of consolidation to create critical mass.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that predictability of liability for call-up is one of the key issues for smaller employers. If, at the beginning of the year, we can give them proper notice of training periods, and as lengthy notice as possible of a period of high liability for call-up, they can plan accordingly.

Last Saturday, Crawley borough council rightly signed its military covenant. That was, in part, a sign of the great respect in my constituency for the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers Territorial Army centre. Will my right hon. Friend say a little more about how he sees the REME reserves developing?

The Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers are one of the resources on which we will be relying more in future for reserve capabilities than we have in the past. My hon. Friend gives me the opportunity to use this as another specific example. We will be looking to ensure a basing laydown for REME units that reflects the nature of the work force in different areas. We clearly need to recruit to REME reserve units in areas where there are significant numbers of electrical and mechanical engineers in the work force. That is the right way to build the integrated whole force of the future.

There will be genuine disappointment in the town of Llandudno in my constituency at the news that the Territorial Army centre in Argyll road will see its services relocated to Colwyn Bay, but I think that that disappointment will be tempered by appreciation of the fact that it will remain a strong presence within the county of Conwy. However, it should be noted that the centre in Argyll road is also home to two vibrant cadet units which use the facilities on a regular basis. It would be appreciated in the town of Llandudno and in the wider constituency if we could have some certainty that those facilities will still be available for those two cadet forces.

Our commitment to the cadets is clear and enduring, and we will not throw them out on the street. We may at some point re-provision those facilities. That will depend on the individual site and whether the location is suitable to continue in the long term as a stand-alone cadet facility. We will find alternative facilities for them in the vicinity if, over the longer term, the decision is taken to close the building.