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Volume 604: debated on Monday 18 January 2016

6. What support the armed forces provided for the response to recent flooding (a) in Lancashire and (b) elsewhere. (903054)

Approximately 1,700 soldiers were mobilised to support the flood response efforts in Lancashire, Cumbria and Yorkshire. Additional support was provided by an RAF Chinook helicopter, a Royal Navy search-and-rescue Sea King helicopter and the use for temporary accommodation of Victoria barracks in Scotland. This was a tri-service response and included both regular and reserve forces. I am sure the whole House will want to join me in paying tribute to the tremendous effort of our armed forces and for the support they provided, especially over Christmas and the new year.

I associate myself with my hon. Friend’s comments about giving support to our armed forces, who provided a fantastic response to the Boxing day floods in Lancashire. Will she explain what further steps are being taken to ensure that the armed forces are held at a heightened state of readiness in case we see a return of the floods later this winter?

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words about our armed forces, which afford me an opportunity to thank the public, too, for the great efforts they made to express their gratitude—largely in calorific form, I understand—to all of our armed forces. I assure my hon. Friend that we remain engaged with other Government Departments and with our network of regional liaison teams with local authorities, which is something we do permanently. The UK stand-by battalion remains at high readiness and we are able to provide further support very quickly if the need arises.

I witnessed for myself the crucial role that the services played during the floods over the Christmas period. Without their intervention, the situation would have been far more serious. The British Army and the rest of the forces were seen yet again at their best, despite being overstretched. In the light of the fact that the Army has been cut by 20,000 personnel in the last five years, that there is a 10.6% shortfall in the number of reservists, and that the civilian staff will be cut by 30% before the next election, will the Government explain how they can ensure being able to provide a comprehensive response to future national emergencies, let alone international crises?

I must correct the hon. Lady. It is not true that we have a shortfall in reservists; we are actually ahead of target in recruiting them. Close to 9,000 individuals have stepped forward in the last year alone, so we have a very strong pipeline in recruiting. We can give assurances to the British public up and down the country when such terrible events happen because we have taken the decision to invest in defence—in our kit and in our people—and keep our armed forces strong. That is how to reassure people. As we saw over the Christmas period, we were able to generate enormous numbers of people when the need arose in short order. They did a terrific job, and I think any suggestion to the contrary fails to take account of the facts.

May I start by thanking you, Mr Speaker? The feedback from the Beckfoot school students who attended the session you ran last week in my constituency has been universally positive, and I am most grateful to you for that.

I ask the Minister to pass on my sincere thanks and those of my constituents to the armed forces for their magnificent support for my constituents during the recent flooding. They came over Christmas at very short notice to help out on a whole range of tasks. They were a lifeline to many of my constituents, and we would all like to place on the record our sincere thanks for everything they did for so many people at that difficult time.

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words. They will have been heard by those who went to his constituency, but I will also pass them on.