With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the future basing of the British Army. To assist right hon. and hon. Members in understanding the detail of the changes I shall announce and the effects on their constituencies, I have placed in the Libraries of both Houses, and on the Ministry of Defence website, documents setting them out. I understand that copies of the documents will, with your permission, Mr Speaker, be distributed in the Chamber during the course of this statement.
In 2010, we set out in the strategic defence and security review the configuration of forces that the UK would require to meet the future threats, and we committed to have completed the return of UK troops from Germany by 2020. Last summer, I announced to the House the structure of the Regular Army component of Future Force 2020. Today, I can announce the future pattern of basing of the Regular Army in the UK, so that our servicemen and women, and their families and the communities that host Army units, have clarity about where they will be based in the future and when moves are likely to occur.
As the House will recall, in July 2011 the then Defence Secretary set out our initial plans for the future of the MOD estate, on which we will accommodate, train and prepare our armed forces. Those plans have been significantly refined over the intervening 18 months and reflect the fully developed military advice on the optimum affordable basing lay-down to accommodate the Army in the future strategy. This announcement honours our commitment to bring all our troops home from Germany by 2020, with all but the 4,400 troops of 20 Brigade home by Christmas 2016. It supports the Army 2020 structure, the integrated reserves training model and the generation of the Army’s future military capability. It also delivers a £1.8 billion investment in the UK economy in infrastructure and accommodation, and annual savings of £240 million in reduced costs and in improved efficiency of training and maintenance operations, on top of the £100 million-plus annual saving generated by the previously announced moves from Germany.
The return of the British Army from Germany marks the end of an era and I want to put on record the huge debt of gratitude we owe to the German Government and the German people for the support, both moral and material, they have shown our armed forces over more than six decades.
In fact, that return has already begun. In 2010, 20,000 British service personnel were based in Germany, together with their dependants and civilian staff. Already that number of service personnel has been reduced to fewer than 16,000, with significant force elements having already relocated, such as Headquarters Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, which has moved to Innsworth, Gloucestershire. Planning for completion of the return is well advanced. We are on track to reduce our presence in Germany by more than 70% by 2015 against our SDSR target of 50%. The long-term retention of a small training presence in Germany, utilising NATO training facilities, is under active consideration, but we will be closing all major unit locations.
This is not just about rebasing the Army from Germany. It is about providing a basing plan for Army 2020 in the UK that will allow the Army to generate its military capability in the optimal way. As the plan has developed, two key principles have emerged to inform it. First, the armoured infantry brigades of the reaction force should coalesce around a single location. We have concluded that Salisbury plain training area is the only place in the country where we have the capability to carry out the complex and demanding training exercises that they need to conduct. Having all three brigades located in close proximity around the plain will enable them to train and fight more effectively and will present significant opportunities for efficiency in equipment support and people management. Secondly, the Army should retain a UK-wide footprint, maintaining the vital link to civil society, fostering closer links between reserve units and their partnered regular units and supporting nationwide recruitment and engagement.
Guided by those two principles, the Army has identified the lay-down that represents the best value for money in the utilisation of existing estate and the minimisation of running costs. The focus will be on increasing consolidation around seven centres: at Salisbury plain training area, where we will invest over £800 million; in the north-east of England, centred on Catterick; at Aldershot; around Edinburgh and Leuchars; at Colchester and Swanton Morley in the east of England; in the west midlands around Stafford and Donnington; and in the east midlands, focused on Cottesmore and North Luffenham, where £180 million will be invested. We will do all that while maintaining a regional presence in other parts of the country.
Consolidating around the seven centres will significantly reduce the need for moves, ending the culture of routine UK rotation and giving Army personnel and their families greater certainty about where they will live and work with real benefits in terms of increased stability, access to long-term spousal employment opportunities, continuity in schooling for Army children and the chance to set down roots and access the benefits of home ownership.
The announcement will maintain the broad pattern of Army activity in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. With 45 Commando Royal Marines remaining in Arbroath for the foreseeable future, the measures announced today will see an increase of about 600-plus in total regular armed forces numbers north of the border against the July 2011 baseline, even as the armed forces reduce in size by about 17% overall. In both Wales and Northern Ireland, overall numbers will reduce by approximately 400.
The announcement sets out our firm plans for the lay-down of the British Army, subject of course to gaining the necessary planning, environmental and other regulatory approvals. They are underpinned by a capital investment from the defence budget of £1.8 billion, including £1 billion of investment in new living accommodation to provide 7,800 single living spaces and 1,900 new and refurbished units of family accommodation. The investment will provide a welcome stimulus to the UK construction industry and, taken together with the significant purchasing power currently going into the German economy that will be diverted to the UK, will help to create jobs across the regions and nations of the UK.
The Ministry of Defence plays a major role in the Government’s public land release programme and will be looking to release additional land and surplus service family accommodation where it is no longer needed. Under the plan, the armed forces will be leaving a number of locations. The disposal plans will be subject to further detailed work and will also be subject to the completion of the plans for the reserve estate in due course. However, I can confirm that we plan to dispose of Howe barracks in Canterbury, Claro barracks in Ripon and parts of Copthorne barracks in Shrewsbury. In Scotland, we will be disposing of Craigiehall barracks, as well as elements of Redford barracks and Forthside barracks in Stirling. Kirknewton will not now be developed as an Army base but Dreghorn will remain as one.
The MOD also intends to close Cawdor barracks at Brawdy in Wales, which is no longer fit for purpose, with 14 Signal Regiment relocating to St Athan, not before 2018, as part of a regional consolidation of the defence presence on that site that will also allow commercial development and job creation by the Welsh Assembly Government, with whom we are working collaboratively, in support of the enterprise zone.
The local communities in each of those areas have been hugely supportive of the military presence over many years. The loss of historic ties will be much regretted and, on behalf of the Army, I want to thank those communities for their generous hosting.
As part of our continued scrutiny of the central London estate, we will be pursuing options to vacate Hyde Park barracks and re-provide for the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment elsewhere within central London, allowing for disposal of that prime development site, provided that the regiment’s requirements can be met and it proves value for money to do so.
Those disposals, and other planned disposals, will bring substantial receipts which have already been factored into the MOD’s future budgets and will significantly reduce the operating costs of the MOD estate.
I have focused on the future basing of the regular Army but I am conscious that many right hon. and hon. Members will also be interested in the reserves and in our plans for reserve basing, as well as the future basing plans for the other services, the training estate and logistics operations. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces will be making announcements shortly concerning other routine changes elsewhere in the MOD estate across the UK and I will update the House before the summer recess on the future basing plans for the reserves.
This announcement represents a costed and funded plan to bring our Army back from Germany, deliver the basing lay-down for Army 2020 and provide the accommodation our troops deserve, fulfilling our commitments to consolidate the Army estate and providing certainty to Army personnel and their families about where they will be based in the future. It is a plan that is driven by the Army’s requirement to generate military capability in the most effective and efficient way as it reconfigures for contingent operations based almost entirely in the UK. It represents a significant step forward towards the achievement of Future Force 2020 and delivers substantial year-on-year savings to defence
in the future and a significant boost to the UK economy, and to the construction industry in particular, right now. I commend the statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for providing advance sight of his statement earlier today. While the strategic defence review did not survive its first contact with world events, the assumptions within it did not survive contact with the Secretary of State. The country remembers that the Government were elected on a promise of a bigger Army. The SDSR promised five multi-role brigades and cut 7,000 troops. Army 2020 is based on a cut of 20,000 troops and promises seven infantry brigades.
In that context, we welcome a steady, costed withdrawal of UK troops from Germany. Today’s announcement will impact on Army deployability, our ability to meet planning assumptions, service families’ livelihoods and the integration of service personnel with local communities. That is why I want to ask some detailed questions of the Secretary of State about how to make these measures successful.
On Germany, the right hon. Gentleman says the total cost of returning troops from Germany is £1.8 billion. Will he spell out specifically where this money has been found and say whether any cuts to the MOD non-equipment budget are being made as a result? Undisclosed underspends cannot be the gift that keeps on giving for the Secretary of State, and all those in the military who have recently lost their jobs will want to know that today’s announcement has not been funded at their expense. Will he say how much is allocated to each of the RAF bases being converted to make them fit for the Army, and for each of them, when the conversion will be completed? The public will also want specifics on how the £240 million savings will be achieved and in which year they will begin to accrue.
It is vital there is a positive impact on the local communities to which our forces and their dependants will be returning. How many new homes for soldiers and families will be ready by 2016? It is hard to see this being achieved in the time frame set out. Given that MOD figures show there are 7,000 service children currently being educated in Germany, will the Secretary of State say what will happen to those whose new homes will not be built in time? There will be an expectation that the Secretary of State can today guarantee that no one returning will be forced to take on expensive private rented accommodation because the specified new accommodation is not ready.
It is essential that local services can provide for our military families. Will the Secretary of State say what assessment he has made about the local impact of returning military families specifically in the areas surrounding the seven permanent bases referred to today, and what discussions he has had with his counterparts in the Departments of Health and for Education, as well as the devolved Administrations? With the grant to local government falling by a third over the current spending review period, which Department will meet the additional costs to local authorities?
Can the Secretary of State confirm that he has had the requisite discussions with German authorities about these plans? What will the cost be of redundancy of the
civilian force in Germany? Although there is much less strategic need for our forces to be based in Germany, it can still play an important role in providing training facilities. How does he envisage this function being supplemented if it is no longer available there?
With reference to lay-down, there will be real disappointment at closures across the UK today, from Canterbury, Ripon and Shrewsbury to Brawdy, where historic bonds are being broken. The Secretary of State says that his disposal plans will bring in substantial receipts, which have already been factored into future MOD budgets. After the Government’s 4G debacle, he will forgive the public if they wait for further details before taking that assertion at face value.
The armed forces remain crucial to Scotland’s future but today the Government have reneged on their promise. Although there is positive news about the return of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards and the Royal Marines staying in Arbroath, a previous pledge of thousands more troops to Scotland has become a plan for just hundreds. This is a real blow to Scotland and will not be forgotten.
UK defence planning assumptions rely on doubling our number of reservists by 2018. Despite this, there is uncertainty over employer engagement, workplace protections and missed recruitment targets. It is disappointing that today we heard little of where reserve units will train or of the fate of existing units. The Army 2020 plan on which today’s announcement is based remains in jeopardy while these issues are unresolved.
In conclusion, UK troops have been stationed in Germany for almost 70 years and we support their return home, but this will, as I know the Secretary of State would expect, be matched by detailed scrutiny. So I hope he will be able to outline further the implications of today’s announcement for personnel and their families, as well as for local communities, which will, I am sure, give our returning troops a warm and patriotic welcome upon their return.
I hope the document that has been distributed will answer some of the right hon. Gentleman’s questions, particularly about providing the certainty that personnel and their families will want in terms of where they are going and when they are going to go there. I note that his references at the beginning of his remarks about multi-role brigades and the subsequent evolution of the Army force to match the resources available made no reference whatever to the legacy that we inherited from the previous Government, which has been one of the key drivers in our efforts to deal with the challenges ahead.
Let me try to deal with some of the right hon. Gentleman’s perfectly legitimate questions. He asked me about the £1.8 billion capital spend. Essentially, he sought assurance that this money had not been found at the expense of the budget for employing our forces. It is, of course, a capital budget quite separate from the resource departmental expenditure limit budgets of the Department and it is largely a budget that was in the Defence Infrastructure Organisation’s capital spend programme, supplemented by some of the capital underspend from last year, which we have been allowed to carry forward.
It will be taken away from Army housing.
I have just told the House that we are investing £1 billion in Army housing. That will be alongside the existing programme of refurbishment of Army housing, which will continue.
Mr Murphy asked me about the pattern of investment in RAF bases. There will be very substantial investment in both Leuchars and Cottesmore. I am happy to write to him with the precise estimated figures for both bases, but he will understand that this is subject to contractual negotiations as we develop the detailed plans for those individual bases.
The right hon. Gentleman asked when the £240 million annual savings start to accrue. They reach that full level by 2019 but they start to accrue immediately, within the next year, and they build up steadily to the 2019 figure. [Interruption.] Mr Jones says they cannot. The savings start to accrue as soon as we start to close down infrastructure in Germany—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman has been in government. One would think he would understand the difference between a capital expenditure programme and the accrual of resource savings, which will begin as soon as we start drawing down infrastructure in Germany.
The right hon. Member for East Renfrewshire asked me quite legitimately about the phasing of the development of accommodation, the supporting local infrastructure and the timing of relocation. This, of course, has been a major driver of the programme that is set out in the document circulated. In most cases new accommodation will be provided before units relocate. In some cases, as he will see from the document, it will be necessary for a returning unit to locate temporarily in another facility while the ultimate destination is fully completed, with the infrastructure and the accommodation that it requires. He will notice as well that the most substantial move to the Salisbury plain—20th Armoured Brigade—is the last move to take place, in 2018-19. That reflects the fact that substantial infrastructure investment will be required—£800 million of MOD investment, together with investment by the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Department of Health and the Department for Education to provide the supporting local infrastructure.
The German authorities have been fully informed throughout the process. I spoke to my German counterpart yesterday. He expressed his regret at the decision but he is understanding of it. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces spoke this morning to the Minister-Presidents of the German Länder affected. The right hon. Gentleman asked about training in Germany. As I think I said, we are pursuing the option of taking up a very generous invitation by the German Government to continue using training estate in Germany to train with the Bundeswehr and other NATO allies. The current plan envisages about 100 personnel remaining in Germany as the core of a residual training presence.
Of course I accept that there will be disappointment in the towns and communities where there are to be base closures, but if we are to deliver the armed forces that this country needs within the budgets that are available to support them, we have to deliver that military capability efficiently, and isolated single bases do not allow us to do that. The lay-down that I have set out in
these documents is the optimum value-for-money strategy that will allow the military to deliver the capability that we require.
In Scotland, it is indeed good news that the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards will go to Leuchars and that 45 Commando Royal Marines will remain at Arbroath. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the reference to thousands of additional troops going to Scotland. That was when we were still talking of a 94,000-strong Army. The end result in dealing with the legacy that we inherited from the Labour party was an 82,000-strong Army, which is affordable and sustainable, and can be properly equipped and supported, unlike the forces that the previous Government fielded.
Finally, on the question of reserves, we will be publishing a White Paper shortly, and following that I will make a further statement to the House about the reserve estate.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on completing a difficult jigsaw puzzle that Labour was never able to manage, and ensuring that the Ministry of Defence spending is boosting economic activity in this country, not on the continent. Does he agree that the ability to spread this force footprint across the United Kingdom and the large sums involved, fatally undermines the case of the Scottish nationalists that Scotland would ever be better off trying to fund its own armed forces?
I do agree with my right hon. Friend, and we will no doubt hear in a moment from the representatives of the Scottish National party. I find their posturing on this slightly incredible when their agenda is about taking Scotland out of the United Kingdom, removing our Army, our Air Force, our Navy and our marines completely from Scottish soil.
My constituency of Darlington is very close to Catterick garrison and we are proud to help to accommodate and educate Army children in our town, but the right hon. Gentleman will understand that at times that can put pressure on local services. What specific discussions will he have with local authorities near the seven bases that he has referred to try to make sure that these children are welcomed back from Germany in the way that we would want?
We have had discussions with colleagues from the Departments for Education and Communities and Local Government and the Department of Health, and we believe that on the time scales set out here, the additional infrastructure required, which is relatively modest with the exception of the Salisbury plain area that receives more than 4,000 additional troops, will be deliverable over the time scales set out in the document that I have circulated.
You know, Mr Speaker, that my interest in these matters is directly related to the fate of Royal Air Force Leuchars in my constituency. You may also be interested to know that I almost need not have attended the statement since full details are contained in this morning’s edition of the Dundee Courier, a daily newspaper circulating in my constituency.
Let us make no mistake and let us be in no doubt, the decision to transfer Typhoons from Leuchars to Lossiemouth is a political decision, and I do not repent of my view that to base air defence aircraft away from centres of population and away from sensitive installations, such as nuclear power stations, is both operationally and strategically inept. I hope that we never have cause to regret doing so.
I assure my right hon. Friend that the local community of Leuchars will go out of its way to establish a warm and co-operative relationship with the Army. But does he also understand that the considerable disappointment there is that the numbers announced today are significantly less than those that were promised before? When will the Army be fully deployed at Leuchars, and will there be any gap between the departure of the Air Force and the arrival of the Army? Today, will he give us, and in particular my constituents, his guarantee that the damaging uncertainty of the last 20 months is now at an end?
There are many questions there for the Secretary of State. If he thinks, in attending to them, that he can throw any light upon what appears on the face of the observation of the right hon. and learned Gentleman to be a leak of Government policy, I am sure we shall all be immensely obliged to him.
It does indeed appear to be a leak in the Dundee Courier; I have its front page here. It is an inaccurate leak: the headline refers to a tank regiment. Of course, the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards is not a tank regiment.
I assure my right hon. and learned Friend that there will be no gap in the drawdown between RAF personnel and the build-up of Army personnel at Leuchars. This will take place in stages throughout 2015. By the end of 2015, the Army will be fully in place and the RAF will have vacated it.
My right hon. and learned Friend will also be interested to know that the plan provides for the runway at Leuchars to be maintained as an operational runway with a contingent of about 50 RAF personnel remaining on the base. This will operate as a diversionary runway for the Typhoon squadrons at Lossiemouth. That does mean that the air show will go ahead this year and that the runway will be there in future to make flying from Leuchars possible.
How many military and civilian personnel will move to York as a result of a welcome decision to move Headquarters 1st Division to York? How many will be lost as a result of the decision to move 15 Brigade to Catterick? Will the Secretary of State clarify whether he means York Outer or York Central? For instance, he says that 2 Signal Regiment is currently based in York Outer; in fact it is based at Imphal barracks in York Central. I would like clarification on those points.
There are some detailed questions there. I hope that the retention of Imphal barracks in York puts to rest a concern that I know there has been in the city. There will be a marginal increase in the numbers of Army personnel at Imphal as a result of this statement. If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I
will check the figures on the other bases he mentioned in surrounding constituencies and drop him a note later this afternoon.
I very much welcome the extra stability that the announcement will make in the lives of service personnel and their families. The people of Wiltshire will very much welcome the extra 4,000 soldiers to come there and the resulting investment in the infrastructure. Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to reconfirm that the tri-service technical training base, which is due to move into RAF Lyneham by 2015, will go ahead as planned?
I can assure my hon. Friend that it is going ahead as planned. It is under way now. As I said in my statement, my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces will be making an announcement in due course about other moves on the technical training estate.
As I think the hon. Gentleman is aware, Caledonia will remain as a naval facility without any Army presence. The Army plan has been looked at from the bottom up by the Army. The considerations are particularly around patterns of training activity, so that units that need to train together are located together. Because we are severely capital constrained, we have had to look at how to make the best use of the existing estate infrastructure, which in some cases has meant not going ahead with proposals that would have involved significant new capital investment. But this is an Army-designed, military-led plan that will allow us to generate our military capability at the best value to the taxpayer.
The closing of Claro barracks in Ripon is an extremely sad day for the city, which since around 1914 has provided to British troops a tremendous support and morale boost at all times, whether they are at conflict or at home. I pay particular tribute to the cathedral in Ripon and to the city council, which has given freedom of the city to a large number of our troops. Will my right hon. Friend meet me in the coming weeks to discuss how we can make the most of the military site in Ripon economically, and to see whether there are areas of military presence that we can retain there?
I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend. I should reassure him that despite the closure of Claro barracks, the adjacent defence training estate site, Deverell barracks, and the associated training areas in Laver Banks and Ripon park will not be affected by this announcement.
On the disposal of the Claro barracks site, as with all the sites that are wholly or partially for disposal, the Defence Infrastructure Organisation will engage with local stakeholders and local planning authorities and endeavour to dispose of them in a way that maximises
the receipt to defence, but also protects the interests of the local community and maximises the beneficial economic impact of development on those sites.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement, welcome the return of troops from Germany and pay tribute to them for their decades of service there and to the German communities that hosted them, but the statement marks the breaking of a raft of defence promises in relation to Scotland. Will he clarify that the UK Government are not returning 6,500 to 7,000 troops from Germany to Scotland, as promised, that they are not building new barracks at Kirknewton, as promised, that they are not opening a new training area, as promised, and that they are not delivering the Army personnel levels promised for Leuchars, but that they are closing the Sterling headquarters of 51st Infantry Brigade and HQ Scotland? The Ministry of Defence has acknowledged that over the past decade there has been a 28% cut in the number of defence personnel in Scotland, compared with an 11% cut across the UK as a whole. The Army return to Scotland was supposed to offset the loss of the RAF and increase the defence footprint, so will the Secretary of State confirm that across the services, and taking into account the RAF changes, there will in fact be fewer personnel, not more, and certainly fewer than the 15,000 planned for an independent Scotland?
We have already discussed the story in The Couriertoday, “Tank regiment rolls into Leuchars base”, and the story in The Scotsman, “Scotland to keep Royal Marines base at Arbroath”. One would think that the hon. Gentleman might have something positive to say about that. When my right hon. Friend Dr Fox made his statement in July 2011, the hon. Gentleman, as he might remember, accused the Government of planning to remove the Royal Marines from Scotland completely and close Fort George, neither of which has happened. It is true that the decision has been taken not to develop Kirknewton, but the balancing factor is the retention of Dreghorn as an Army barracks. The hon. Gentleman’s assertion about personnel numbers in Scotland is incorrect. My right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset made his statement on
I welcome the certainty that the statement will give regular Army personnel and their families. I hope that the Secretary of State will further enhance his reputation as the champion of good return on investment for the defence budget by confirming that any new building will be good quality and built to provide comfortable homes for decades to come. Historically that has not always been the case.
Of course, new build and refurbished accommodation will be to the highest grade 1 standard of military accommodation. With respect to my hon.
Friend, I suspect that part of our problem with accommodation is that some of it was originally built to last rather too long, so we are struggling to refurbish and patch up old buildings, some of which are around 100 or 150 years old. Building new building to modern standards is the way forward to provide the kind of accommodation that our troops deserve and that our covenant promises them.
This is indeed an historic announcement. The British troops and their families will be greatly missed by the German people. My understanding is that the original treaty required two years’ written notice of the intention to withdraw and a commitment to pay for any environmental clean-up. Has the Secretary of State given that written notice, and what calculation has he made of the environmental clean-up costs?
I cannot give the hon. Lady a definitive answer on the written notice, but my discussions with the German authorities make it clear that they have been aware of our intentions for many years. They are completely comfortable with what we are doing, although of course they regret the fact that we are leaving Germany. We will of course be responsible for remediation of the barrack sites being handed back to the German federal authorities and work is already ongoing with the German authorities on scoping for exactly what is required, which will be different according to the intended future use of the locations.
Shrewsbury, the county town of Shropshire, has a long and proud tradition of hosting the Army, so this news comes as a great disappointment to me and to the people of the town. Will the Secretary of State meet me and the leader of the town council, who represents Copthorne, to discuss how the site, which is in the centre of town, can be used to bring maximum prosperity to the people of Shrewsbury? Will he assure me that everything will be done to ensure that there will be provision for Territorial Army reservists at Copthorne barracks?
We expect to release part of the Copthorne site for disposal. The final details will be announced once we have completed the reserves basing review. It is possible that part of the site will be required for the Territorial Army’s reserve estate. As with all sites for disposal, the Defence Infrastructure Organisation will engage with local stakeholders. I will be happy to meet my hon. Friend and the leader of his local authority. It is in our interests, as well as those of the local communities, to ensure there is an appropriate future use for the bases that are closing in order to maximise local prosperity and jobs.
None whatsoever is the simple answer. The withdrawal of our forces from Germany represents the logical conclusion of the ending of the cold war some 20-odd years ago. Keeping a large standing force in Germany is expensive and no longer serves its original strategic purposes. As our Army becomes smaller, the diseconomies of scale of having two separate centres for armoured vehicle training, for example, and consequently two separate centres for armoured vehicle maintenance, become unsupportable. This is a logical final move following the conclusion of the cold war era.
The closing of Howe barracks is clearly a blow to the local community, as the 5th Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland made a huge contribution to the community, and indeed a number of its members have given life and limb. Nevertheless, the logic of my right hon. Friend’s announcement is clear. In looking to part 2 of his statement, which will be made before the summer recess, may I urge him to consider two things? First, it is very important that the TA is based where it has historically recruited and where it can recruit and that that is not distorted by pairing arrangements with regular units, important though they may be. Secondly, it is critical that we keep our training areas going, particularly the smaller ones, because otherwise we will find that the new model will become unviable.
First, today’s announcement says nothing about the training estate. If announcements about the training estate need to me made, my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces will make them. I recognise the tension my hon. Friend outlines between the need to have reserve accommodation in the areas where we recruit and the need to enable joint training for regulars and reserves, which is at the heart of our new model for the reserve forces. I can assure him that resolving that tension is at the core of the work going on and will inform the reserve basing review, which I will announce to the House before the summer recess.
Northern Ireland has a long history of providing our Army with a lot of recruits. Will the Secretary of State reconsider the reduction of approximately 400 in the overall number of armed personnel in Northern Ireland proposed in the announcement, and recognise Northern Ireland as a part of the consolidation process? Army personnel and their families have found Northern Ireland a great place in which to live and educate their children. We have a lot of capacity, and at a time of financial restraint it is surely wise to use that.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments. He will recognise that part of the reductions in the 2020 numbers for armed forces personnel in all four countries of the Union results from the civilianisation of the search and rescue service. When we talk about reductions of 400 personnel in Wales and Northern Ireland, we must recognise that a significant proportion of that number is represented by the transfer of search and rescue services to a civilian contractor.
Clearly, I welcome the inclusion of Colchester as one of the seven centres where the Army is to be consolidated. The Secretary of
State refers to investing £1 billion in new living accommodation, but the refurbishment of the existing houses has simultaneously been halted. Will he lift that moratorium?
Some additional money has been provided by the Chancellor in, I think, the last Budget, and a refurbishment programme is continuing with that finance. The £1 billion is in addition to the baseline programme of Defence Infrastructure Organisation maintenance and upgrading, which has a two-year pause partly ameliorated by the Chancellor’s additional contribution. Those two programmes will run in parallel.
I do not think that is right; I am conferring with my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces. I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman to confirm to him, as set out in the document, exactly what the lay-down will be in Wales after the completion of this move.
May I welcome the Defence Secretary’s recent statement to the Treasury that it should stop basing its tanks on the MOD lawn? May I congratulate him on an entry in the basing plan that seems to suggest that Marchwood military port in New Forest East will continue as the military port for the Army for the indefinite future?
I would not want to encourage my hon. Friend to draw that conclusion. Marchwood military port is scheduled for disposal, and—this is not part of this announcement, of course—it may well still be used by the Army but under the ownership of a civilian contractor.
The Secretary of State said that the consolidation of the Army bases in Scotland would be around Leuchars and Edinburgh. He also made the welcome announcement that 45 Commando would remain in Arbroath, presumably at RM Condor. He then went on to say that the decisions on the training estate would be announced by the Armed Forces Minister later. May I urge him to ensure that those decisions are taken logically, and gently remind him that the excellent base and range at Barry Buddon in my constituency sits between Leuchars and Condor and ought to remain a very valuable part of the training estate in future?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s contribution to this debate. I have to say it is a delight to be in a Parliament where Members are arguing for military establishments in their constituencies. Many of my colleagues in NATO and EU countries do not enjoy that same level of parliamentary and public support for the armed forces. I am grateful to all Members of the House for that.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement that once again, Fulwood barracks will be home to a regular unit as the site of 3 Medical Regiment. These new units
will need not only housing and barracks but training areas. Is my right hon. Friend looking for further training areas on top of the existing military estate?
We do not expect, in overall terms, to be looking for additional training areas. Clearly, the Army and the armed forces are getting smaller, and one would expect us to be consolidating training rather than expanding it. I would therefore not encourage my hon. Friend to think in terms of expansion of training areas.
I am sure the Minister appreciates that the countries representing the fringe of the United Kingdom will feel they have been somewhat abandoned in this announcement. May I ask him about the cost of all this? Given that, as a result of the legacy of Operation Banner in Northern Ireland, there has been substantial investment by the military, especially in family housing and so on, why has he turned his back on some of the investment that is already available in Northern Ireland and not decided to relocate some of the units at Palace barracks or Thiepval barracks?
The hon. Gentleman is right that there is some vacant accommodation at Thiepval, and the Army looked very carefully at the possibility of further location at Lisburn. However, the equation is complex. It is about not only utilising existing estate but the operational cost of having troops on that estate—the cost of getting them to the training areas where they need to operate. Overall, the value for money case points to the solution I have set out, even though that means that some vacant accommodation will remain at Thiepval.
In July 2011 I described the plans announced for the Edinburgh estate as “historical vandalism”, so I welcome today’s partial retreat, while still being saddened by the continued closure of Craigiehall in my constituency. Will my right hon. Friend say more about the help to be given to the communities and individuals affected by closures, such as the 100 staff at Craigiehall? Will he now commit to giving proper answers to the 82 parliamentary questions I have asked over the past 20 months to try to see whether this new plan works any better than the last one?
I hope the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that he has 82 unanswered parliamentary questions; if so, I would be extremely interested to hear about it. The closure of Craigiehall results in a reduction of 27 military personnel on the site but, as he rightly says, there will also be some civilians there. As of today, we will engage with the trade unions in the usual way to talk about how we manage the impact of these closures on civilian staff, and we will of course do everything we can to minimise the effects.
I warmly welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement of £800 million of investment in and around Salisbury plain, which will also be welcomed by my hon. Friend Claire Perry. Will he set out the profile of the spending of that £800 million and assure my constituents and the people of south Wiltshire that there will be a significant dividend in extra civilian jobs over the coming years?
The expansion of the military facilities on and around Salisbury plain, and the additional military numbers to be based there, certainly implies an increase in civilian employment as a consequence. I cannot give my hon. Friend an exact profile of the investment in Salisbury at the moment, but I can tell him that the move of 20 Armoured Brigade will take place towards the back end of the programme. That reflects the fact that there is a very big investment programme to be completed. Partly for technical and planning reasons and partly for financing reasons, it will be somewhat slower to get under way than some of the smaller investments we are making elsewhere. It will therefore be towards the second half of the programme that he sees that investment going into the area.
My right hon. Friend will understand that if, like me, one was born in a British military hospital in Germany, lived there as a child, and then served there as an adult in the British Army of the Rhine, the importance of this statement, certainly in personal terms, can hardly be overestimated. Charting as it does the plan for ending the contribution of the British Army of the Rhine, it is a very profound thing that he has brought to the House today.
May I ask the Secretary of State two things? First, will he ensure that the arrangements made with the German towns that have played host to the British Army for so long are kept under close ministerial oversight and that proper compliments are paid to them? Secondly, and substantively, will he and my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces make sure that the plans for the necessary, very substantial investment around the Salisbury area are executed to a scale and a standard that we will be able to look back on with pride in decades to come, rather than future Administrations having to put right a failure of investment over the next few years?
Let me deal with the last point first. I am clear that the accommodation we build and the technical facilities we construct must be of a high quality and fit for purpose. I do not, however, intend this £1.8 billion to form a cornucopia for architects.
On the question of Germany, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need to plan carefully how we end the relationship with the many German towns that have hosted the British Army. The Army in Germany is very much on the front foot on this. We are aware of the significant impact, particularly in the Bergen-Hohne area, which, by German standards, is relatively less well off. We are looking, where appropriate, at what can be left behind as a physical memorial to the British Army presence in Germany. A series of events will be organised with local communities, and Ministers and senior military personnel will expect to attend them and provide a fitting tribute to the support the German people have given us.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. Will he say a little more about the training implications for British forces coming from Germany, with particular regard to his reference to potentially retaining training facilities in Germany? What sort of time scale does he have in mind for the establishment of training facilities?
It is not a question of us retaining training facilities. We definitely will not retain British-run training facilities. However, the Bundeswehr operates NATO training facilities in Germany and we have been offered the use of them. One of the challenges the Army high command faces as part of this process, with the end of our combat operations in Afghanistan, is how to provide a suitably stimulating environment for young recruits coming into the Army. It is clear to us that an element of overseas training has to be part of that equation. We have overseas training facilities in Kenya, Cyprus and Canada and, as I discovered last week, superb Arctic training facilities in Norway, but over the coming months we will consider whether to take up the offer to use the NATO facilities in Germany.
People in Northumberland will be delighted that our long campaign to retain Albemarle barracks has been successful, for which I thank the Secretary of State. We will welcome the 3rd Regiment Royal Horse Artillery as much as we have supported the 39th Regiment Royal Artillery. I visited Albemarle again only three weeks ago. Will the Secretary of State meet me again to ensure that the present troops have the broadband, local transport and mobile facilities they need and that future, post-2015 troops will have the facilities they should enjoy as well?
Having served in Germany twice, I know that this is an important announcement. In welcoming the basing plan, I suggest to the Secretary of State that its success will be contingent in part on the ability of 30,000 royal reservists to plug the gap left by the loss of 20,000 regular troops. Given that some of us have concerns about the cost and recruitment assumptions underlying the reservist plan, is it the Secretary of State’s intention to publish or keep the House regularly updated on the costs of implementing it?
That is slightly off the beam of the regular Army basing announcement. It is certainly my intention, once the recruiting campaign for reserves gets under way this year, to publish routinely—I think quarterly would be most appropriate—the recruiting data for the reserves. My hon. Friend is right that success in delivering our reserves programme is a crucial part of the Army 2020 plan. I will reflect on his suggestion that the cost of the reserve programme should be published, although I am not so sure it will be that easy to identify and isolate it.
I warmly welcome the announcement and congratulate the Secretary of State on the quiet competence he and his team have shown in putting it together, which is in stark contrast to the disgraceful financial planning we inherited from the Labour party. I particularly welcome the announcement that Swanton Morley in my constituency will be the home of the Queen’s Dragoon Guards, whom we will welcome as we did the Light Dragoons, and one of the seven consolidated centres. For some strange reason,
that did not appear in the written statement, so will the Secretary of State confirm that I have understood him correctly?
I can indeed confirm that the 1st Battalion the Queen’s Dragoon Guards will be going to Swanton Morley and that Swanton Morley, together with Colchester, will form one of the seven hubs.
I thank the Secretary of State for the certainty and security he has given to the St Athan site. Bringing the Royal Signals to St Athan is welcome news, because the community has been on something of a rollercoaster ride in recent years. I also pay tribute to the Armed Forces Minister for the interest he showed when he met community leaders last year and said he would do everything possible. How many armed forces personnel will bringing the Royal Signals to St Athan attract to the site, and how much capital investment is needed?
The investment at St Athan will be in excess of £50 million. I cannot give my hon. Friend a more precise figure because of commercial issues relating to negotiations and contracts. The moves I have announced today will bring some 560 additional personnel to the site, taking the total liability on it to about 1,250. I say to my hon. Friend, who has been an ardent campaigner on this issue, that the consolidation of 14 Signal Regiment on the St Athan site represents a very important step in resolving the site’s future. The work we have done with the Welsh Assembly Government sets out a very good route to securing the site in the future, both for military use and for civilian development
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. The people of Stafford will warmly welcome the two additional Signals Regiments to be based at MOD Stafford from 2015. Will he assure me that the construction of housing and creation of school places can now go ahead without delay?
Yes, I can assure my hon. Friend that the necessary accommodation will be constructed in time for the planned redeployment to Stafford.
Having been brought up on RAF bases at home and abroad, including RAF Wildenrath and RAF Rheindahlen, I welcome the certainty that today’s statement brings for forces families. The 1st Battalion of my locally recruited regiment, the Yorkshire Regiment, will remain in Warminster, while the 2nd Battalion will relocate from Münster to Cyprus. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that there will be investment in married quarter and single living accommodation overseas in Cyprus as well as at home?
The single living and married quarter accommodation in Cyprus is of a very high quality. My hon. Friend may have been there and may know that substantial investment has been made recently in new single living accommodation blocks, so I am not sure that any further investment is planned to accommodate this rotational battalion at the Cyprus garrison.
May I suggest that the pressure on realistic training facilities overseas will increase as the demand for training in a smaller area in the United Kingdom also increases? Will the Secretary of State reassure me and Her Majesty’s armed forces that there will be no cutbacks on training, particularly overseas, including multi-arms training and live-fire training, so that our armed forces can be given the most realistic training possible in a suitable environment?
When billions of pounds are spent annually on equipment and manpower, we are conscious of the importance of ensuring that we hone that equipment and manpower by exercising and training it. It was unfortunate that the previous Government had to cut in-year operational activity in order to balance the books. I hope the measures we have taken and those I have announced today mean that we will never get into that position.