With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on our strategy for a better defence estate. Our defence estate is where our people work, live and train, where advanced equipment is maintained, and where cutting-edge research is undertaken. It is where major exercises are conducted and major operations are launched. Our estate is vital, but it is also vast. It is almost 2% of the United Kingdom’s land mass—an area almost three times the size of Greater London. Yet while the size and structure of our armed forces have changed to meet different threats, our estate has failed to adapt.
Our estate is too inefficient. It costs £2.5 billion a year to maintain, and 40% of our built assets are more than 50 years old. It too often fails to meet the needs of our armed forces and their families, with capabilities spread across small, remote sites, often far removed from population centres and job opportunities. Last year’s strategic defence and security review committed to increase the defence budget in real terms and to spend £178 billion to create a world class joint force 2025. However, an ambitious joint force needs an estate to match, so today I will set out a long-term strategy to achieve that ambition.
First, we will transform an estate built for previous generations of war-fighting into one that better supports military capability and the needs of our armed forces. It will help deliver joint force 2025 by bringing people and capabilities into new centres of specialism, clustering units closer to their training estates. Since the beginning of this year, I have announced plans to dispose of 35 of our most costly sites. Today, based on advice from the chiefs of staff, I am announcing the release of a further 56 sites by 2040.
I now turn to what this means in practice. The Royal Navy will continue focusing on operating bases and training establishments around port areas and naval stations, with surface ships in Portsmouth and Devonport; all the UK’s submarines on the Clyde; a specialist amphibious centre in the south-west, based around Devonport; and helicopters based at Yeovilton and Culdrose. It means the Army having specialised infantry in Aldershot; mechanised, wheeled capability, including two of our new strike brigades, in Catterick; air assault forces in Colchester; armoured and tracked capability around Salisbury plain; medical services in the west midlands; and hubs of light infantry battalions in London, Edinburgh, Lisburn, St Athan, Blackpool and Cottesmore. It means the RAF building on its centres of specialism, with combat air in Coningsby, Marham and Lossiemouth; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance at Waddington; air transport at Brize Norton; force protection at Honington; and support enablers at Wittering and Leeming.
Let me turn to the impact on the devolved nations. In Scotland, this strategy will result in investment being concentrated into fewer, better locations. Our proposals will release eight sites over the next 15 years. We will invest in main centres of specialisation: at Lossiemouth, home to one of our three fast-jet squadrons, where the new P-8 maritime patrol aircraft and an extra Typhoon squadron will be based; at Faslane where all the Royal Navy’s submarines, including the new Dreadnought class, will be based; and at Leuchars, where the Army will consolidate its regional command. Contrary to some speculation and unnecessary scaremongering, Kinloss will be retained. This comes on top of the substantial investments I have already announced, such as £100 million for the P-8 aircraft at Lossiemouth and, of course, the Type 26 frigate, on which we will cut steel next summer. In Wales, we will release three sites and consolidate the defence estate into capability clusters, with a specialist light infantry centre at St Athan. In Northern Ireland, we are releasing three sites and consolidating our estate in larger centres of population. Full details are set out in the strategy, and I have placed a copy of the document in the Library of the House.
Secondly, this strategy will deliver a better estate for service families. Over the next decade, we will invest £4 billion in improving our infrastructure and modernising our accommodation. By locating our servicemen and women together with capability, we will provide better job opportunities for their partners and more stable schooling for their families, and increase their ability to buy their own home. We have purposely focused on sites that will support recruitment and retention, giving our personnel and their partners greater certainty and confidence to put down roots in local communities. As we implement these plans, we will seek to minimise any disruption to the armed forces, their families and civilians, and give as much notice as possible over planned redeployments.
Finally, a better defence estate will deliver better value for money for taxpayers. By releasing sites we no longer need, we can help build the houses that we do need. I can confirm that the Ministry of Defence now has firm plans to achieve its target to release sufficient land to build up to 55,000 houses in this Parliament. My Department will now work with local authorities, the devolved Administrations and industry, as well as our personnel, to deliver that, supporting construction and infrastructure jobs, and boosting local economies.
In conclusion, this strategy looks ahead to 2040, to provide a better defence estate: an estate that supports a more efficient and effective military capability; an estate that gives our armed forces a world-class base from which to work; and an estate that helps defence keep Britain safe and promote our prosperity. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for sight of his statement. We on the Labour Benches recognise that the requirements of the defence estate will change, and that there is a need to modernise to reflect that. The Government are right to seek to restructure the estate to ensure that we optimise our military capability and deliver value for money for the British taxpayer. The changes proposed in the report are very considerable in scale, and there is a real need to ensure that they are delivered in a way that does not cause undue challenges to our forces and their families.
The closing of so many bases will affect the livelihoods of a very significant number of people. The potential impact on communities with a long garrison history such as the City of York will be far-reaching: servicemen and women and their families will be required to move, and civilian staff will face redeployment. In the meantime, many face gnawing uncertainty, as the exact relocation of their base has not yet been decided.
Will the Secretary of State tell us how the Ministry of Defence will be consulting with all stakeholders? What will he do to minimise the period of uncertainty for all those concerned? What help and support will be given to employees who are not able to move?
The Public Accounts Committee has criticised the Government’s record on achieving value for money when disposing of public land. Will the Secretary of State set out how he will safeguard the public purse by ensuring the best possible price for taxpayers, and what commercial expertise will he bring in? Given the need to protect the defence budget, what discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Treasury about how much of the money realised by the sale of MOD assets will actually be retained by the MOD?
Finally, the Government have made much of releasing publicly owned land on which to build new homes, but we know that the Government’s record on house building has not matched the rhetoric of their promises. Will the Secretary of State assure us that the 55,000 houses that he says will be built on former MOD land during this Parliament will be located in areas where there are housing shortages, and that they will be homes that people can genuinely afford to rent or buy?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for what I think was a welcome for the statement, as it showed an understanding of the task in front of us. The Ministry of Defence owns, I think, around 1,000 sites, 300 of which are very large. Today, I am announcing the disposal of 56 of those 300 large sites. Yes, it is a large number of disposals, but each one is based on military advice on how the capabilities that the armed forces need can be better clustered, and on how the families of those who work for us can be better looked after in terms of job opportunities for their partners and more stability for their children.
On the civilian employees, we will provide them with as much support as possible. In the document itself—I appreciate that the House will not have had time to go through this yet—we set out a timescale for the disposal of each of those sites. In many cases, it will be over 10 or 15 years hence. Yes, we will seek the best possible value for money for the taxpayer, but, in the end, this is not just for the taxpayer. The answer to the hon. Lady’s sixth question is that all of the receipts—not just some of them—will come back into the defence budget, which shows that we have every interest in maximising the value from the sites that are to be disposed of so that we can get on and spend the money not just on our other defence priorities, but on modernising the estate that we are going to keep.
On the 50,000 homes, yes, we do need to build more houses where they are needed most, and that includes in the south and south-west of England where there are sites to release. We do not entirely control the planning process, but with regard to affordable homes, it is for the local authority to specify exactly what proportion of the estates those homes should have.
Is the Secretary of State content that any historic buildings among the estate that is being disposed of will be suitably protected and preserved for the nation’s heritage? Following on from his recent testimony to the Defence Committee’s inquiry into the Army and SDSR, is he satisfied that our relatively small forces will have the capability to regenerate in time of war if they do not have a sufficiently large defence estate to occupy in times of emergency expansion?
I note what my right hon. Friend says about some of the historic buildings sometimes comprised inside these sites. Obviously, we need to be careful to make sure that military heritage is preserved wherever possible. Sometimes that is not within the direct ownership of the Ministry of Defence; it has already passed to the trusteeship of the relevant museum or whatever, but I certainly note that point. There are a number of sites in the list today where that occurs and about which we may hear later this afternoon. On regeneration, the strategy being published today does not so far include the training estate where, to regenerate forces in time of war, as my right hon. Friend said, we would seek to rely on the training facilities that we have, and we are currently looking carefully at those.
I thank the Secretary of State for prior sight of the statement. Although we have been primed to expect big reductions in Scotland’s defence footprint, having now heard the statement, I fear that when a Government Department tries to spin cuts as investment “concentrated in fewer, better locations”, what it is actually saying is, “Prepare for a savaging of what remains of Scotland’s defence footprint.” Once the detail is published, it will go far beyond anything that we were prepared for. Let me be clear: it will be totally unacceptable if, once again, Scotland’s service personnel and our conventional defence capability are hollowed out and sold off because of this Government’s obsession with nuclear weapons—an obsession which is swallowing up more and more of the defence budget. My fear is that when the detail emerges of today’s announcement, it will do nothing to ease the grave concerns of many of us on the SNP Benches that as our conventional capability shrinks to pay for our nuclear obsession, the United Kingdom’s first line of defence becomes its last line of defence.
At the referendum just two years ago, we were told that defence jobs could be protected only if we remained in the Union. The then Secretary of State for Defence, the present Chancellor, even claimed that Scottish independence would blight “the futures of thousands of families across Scotland”, and that Scotland would not benefit from the level of security or the prosperity provided by the UK armed forces and the defence industry. How hollow those words sound today. Fewer and better is rarely the case for those who are on the sharp end. I have one question for the Secretary of State: how is this cutback good for Scotland?
First, as the hon. Gentleman knows, we are investing in defence in Scotland. I was there on Friday, announcing that eight of the most advanced warships that this country has ever built are to be built in Scotland over the next 20 years. We are stationing our new maritime patrol aircraft at Lossiemouth. We are making the Clyde the home of all the Royal Navy’s submarines. In terms of personnel, we are adding 400 service personnel through the RAF to Lossiemouth. We are increasing employment on the Clyde from 6,800 to 8,200. That is not savaging Scotland; that is investing in Scotland. On the reduction in the overall base footprint, the reduction in the defence footprint arising out of today’s announcement for the United Kingdom in terms of acreage is around 30%. For Scotland it is only 19%.
I commend the Secretary of State for his statement today and for the magnificent job he does in defending our country. It is not in today’s announcement, but I think it is relevant that it has been announced that Chetwynd barracks in my constituency will close. We will miss the Army very much, especially the Royal Engineers. It sounds a strange request, but we want to get that land as soon as possible as it will help us to achieve our housing targets. Can my right hon. Friend give a commitment today that when it comes to the disposal of land, the Army and everybody else will do it as quickly as possible?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, particularly for the terms in which she has been considering this matter for some time. The proposal in the strategy is, as she knows, to close Chetwynd barracks by 2021 and to move the principal units from there to Bassingbourn in Cambridgeshire. I can well understand the feeling of the local community that it wants to get on with this now—that it wants to get the Army out and the new housing in—and I will certainly undertake to have a look at whether we can speed up that timetable.
In 1996, the then Tory Government, of which the Secretary of State was a member, sold 60,000 married quarters to Annington Homes. As part of that deal, before the MOD hands back those homes to Annington, it has to improve them. Has he established exactly how many will be passed back through this process and what it will cost the taxpayer to compensate Annington Homes?
I was not, in fact, a member of the Government in 1996—I was taking a temporary leave of absence from Parliament at that time—but I obviously recall the Annington Homes contract. The hon. Gentleman is correct that a number of these homes have to be handed back when that lease expires, but that is slightly separate from the strategy I am announcing today, and I will write to him in detail.
I am pleased that the MOD is releasing land for the building of 55,000 new homes, but will it still fund the armed forces Help to Buy scheme after 2018? Members of the armed forces would then be in a position to buy one of those homes, some of which I assume will be near military bases.
I announced at the Conservative party conference that we are extending the forces Help to Buy scheme for another year, from the beginning of April 2017, and I hope that is welcome. We will need to take another decision as we come up to each future year.
We all know that we are fast approaching another Remembrance Sunday, when we rightly, across this country, remember the great sacrifice of our Armed Forces in two world wars and, more recently, in Afghanistan. In Northern Ireland, of course, we will also be remembering those who served with the British Army and who gave their lives during the troubles.
The Secretary of State’s reference to the consolidation of our estate in Northern Ireland as “releasing three sites” is beautifully ambiguous, but I do not like ambiguity. Will he confirm whether Kinnegar in my constituency is included among those sites and, if so, what exactly he plans to do with the personnel? Can he guarantee that there will be no job losses and that there was consultation before this announcement?
Yes, I can be very open in replying to the hon. Lady. The Kinnegar logistics site is going to be disposed of, and those who occupy it at the moment will be moving to the Palace barracks in Holywood.
Despite the very generous notice my right hon. Friend is giving, does he accept that the closure of Carver barracks in my constituency will come as a shock to the military personnel and the civilian population alike, between whom there has been a very harmonious relationship over the years? Will he undertake to start discussions with Uttlesford District Council as soon as possible as to the ultimate destination of the quarters that already exist there, and with Essex County Council about the impact on certain primary schools?
I can certainly give my right hon. Friend that undertaking. The disposal date is foreseen to be 2031, but it is not too soon for us to start those discussions with local authorities to make sure that the best possible use is made of the site and the facilities there.
I know that my hon. Friend will be pleased that Yeovilton is to become one of the specialist helicopter centres. I visited the base with him only a year ago. I note again his bidding for the dualling of the local road. This is good news for Yeovilton.
I am glad to have cheered up somebody on the SNP Benches. Leuchars is going to become an even more important base for the Army in Scotland. I visited it in July. There is room to house additional units in Leuchars. None of the changes that have taken place in Scotland involves any Army personnel moving out of Scotland. We simply have to decide on the best possible location for them in Scotland, and Leuchars is a very strong candidate.
The investment in Lossiemouth, Leuchars and Faslane is hugely welcome. As the Secretary of State will know, if Scotland were an independent country, it would have inherited a huge budget deficit. How big does he think the defence forces would be in an independent Scotland? Would they be any bigger than a couple of stray corvettes and possibly an Argyll, but not a Sutherland, Highlander?
My right hon. Friend is right—it would certainly be something of that order. I am very clear that that investment on the Clyde would not have gone ahead in an independent Scotland because our warships are built within the United Kingdom, and of course we would not be building anti-submarine frigates to help protect the deterrent if the SNP had triumphed in the referendum and voted against the deterrent.
It has been solemnly been pointed out to me that the question was some distance from the defence estate. Nevertheless, as I have had reason to observe previously, I am inclined, on the whole, to enjoy the creative licence of Michael Gove, provided of course that it is exercised within reasonable limits. He got away with it today.
Can the Secretary of State assure me that this is not driven solely by the need to raise cash for the MOD and that the armed forces were actively consulted about alternative uses for the land that is being disposed of? Will he use every method of leverage possible to ensure that the homes that are built are affordable, both to buy and to rent? Will he acknowledge the concerns among service personnel about the future accommodation model and the potential impact on some service families?
First, let me make it very clear to the House that every decision within this strategy is based on military advice—the advice of the service chiefs— as to how we better organise our capabilities. Secondly, in the end it will be for local authorities to rule on the exact proportion of affordable housing, but yes, we need more housing, and more affordable housing, in areas of shortage. Thirdly, we are consulting on the future accommodation model whereby we may be able to help service families in different ways. For example, rather than saying that their only option is to live on the barracks—on the estate—we could consider an option for them to have the money themselves to rent or, as has been suggested, to start to buy their own homes. We are looking at different ways of satisfying modern housing needs, but at the moment we are merely consulting on the different options.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. He has previously announced the closure of Clive barracks at Ternhill in my constituency. That will be very sad news, as we have never had a regiment like 1st Battalion the Royal Irish who have got so integrated locally. Wearing my hat as a previous Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, may I ask him, as he looks for an alternative site, to try to make sure that he finds one with easy access to airports that go to Dublin and Belfast, as Ternhill has access to Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham? Can he give an idea of when the moving out might take place, and whether it will happen as one hit or be staged over a couple of years?
The decision is to dispose of the barracks ultimately by 2022, but I will certainly consider whether it should move in more than one phase. I note what my right hon. Friend says about future location: there are, obviously, considerations to be taken into account with the Royal Irish Regiment. I assure him that no decision has yet been taken, but we will endeavour to take it in good time before 2022.
A decision to abandon the highlands, with the closure of the garrison at Fort George after 250 years of service and sacrifice, would be bad enough, given the disgraceful lack of engagement with our communities and even the Scottish Government. If that is correct, what assurances will the Secretary of State give to the 750 people in supporting jobs that are affected, the communities economically hit, and those who were told that the fort was the permanent home of the Black Watch?
It is envisaged that Fort George will not close until 2032. There is plenty of time to consult the local authority and others on the future use of that site. Fort George is a very old barracks and it costs £1.6 million a year to run. It is extremely expensive to upgrade and it is not appropriate for a modern infantry unit. Inverness as a city has expanded by, I think, nearly 20% in the past 15 years and it has an unemployment rate of 1.3%.
I am pleased that the Secretary of State has confirmed that the strategy is informed by defence needs, and I am particularly pleased that he has detailed how important the investment will be for service families. However, those areas that have hosted a battalion will be disappointed that it will no longer be based in their constituency. Will he confirm when Beachley barracks in my constituency is likely to cease to have a defence use, and will he also confirm that detailed negotiations will take place with my local authorities to make sure that the best possible use can be found for the barracks in the future?
The disposure date for Beachley barracks is set at 2027, so there is plenty of time for those discussions to begin. The purpose of publishing the strategy today is so that we can get on with those discussions with local authorities and see what alternative use might be made of the site. It could be residential or, indeed, commercial. My hon. Friend Steve Brine is already having discussions about a new technology park in the place of Sir John Moore barracks outside Winchester. There are many alternative uses that we will want to discuss with the local authorities concerned.
The Secretary of State referred in his statement to three sites in Northern Ireland, one of which is Ards airfield, where the cadets meet. When hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) and I met the former Minister, Mr Brazier, to secure extra funding and equipment for the air cadets, that was agreed and the funding was put in place. My reaction to the statement’s proposals is one of great regret that the hangers are on land designated for recreational use only and that they will therefore have no potential for housing development. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me to discuss the matter and to ensure that, in this their centenary year, the Newtownards air cadets, who, importantly, co-operate with Regent House School and Ards flying club, will continue into the future?
I am happy to offer the hon. Gentleman a meeting, perhaps with the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend Mark Lancaster, who has responsibility for defence personnel and is in charge of this particular portfolio. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the volunteer glider school at Newtownards has been disbanded, but it is important that the cadets should have proper provision, so I am happy for that meeting to be organised.
Although the defence estate takes up only 2% of the United Kingdom, it takes up nearly 50% of my constituency. To the east of Shoeburyness, on Foulness Island, QinetiQ does some excellent work. What reassurance can the Secretary of State give me about that land? Perhaps he could deploy the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend Mark Lancaster, to come and review that excellent facility, which I understand is the best not only in the United Kingdom, but in the northern hemisphere; my hon. Friend will also be able to blow a few things up.
My hon. Friend the Minister is readily deployable at a few hours’ notice, and I would be very happy to see him deployed to the ranges of Essex. My hon. Friend James Duddridge talks about the ranges and training estate of Essex; they are not directly covered by this document, but we will go on to look at the training estate. The Shoeburyness ranges are a key part of the Army’s training needs.
My hon. Friend Nia Griffith referred to the Public Accounts Committee inquiry on land disposal, and I commend our report, which was published last week, to the House. We had a number of representatives from each Department at our hearings, because we are hoping for some joined-up Government thinking about the disposal of that land and its purpose for meeting the housing target. May I invite the Secretary of State to encourage his own Department and others to work locally on the ground to make sure that the best use is made of that disposal for local people, including key workers and people in other sorts of housing need?
I am happy to give the hon. Lady that assurance. I have read the reports of the Committee’s public sessions with interest. It is important that we move on from the statement and see these local discussions take place. We have a target, to which we have committed, of 55,000 new homes across this Parliament, so we, too, have an interest in making sure that we maximise the number of homes that can be released. I was drawing the House’s attention to the other possible commercial uses—for small businesses, technology parks and so on—that may, in some circumstances, be more appropriate.
I am grateful for the statement from my right hon. Friend. I understand the arguments that he is making for carrying out the review at this time. I am disappointed that the earlier decision to shut the base of the 14th Signal Regiment at Brawdy in my constituency, which I was told a year ago had been reversed, now seems to be back on the cards. That has all been unsettling for the soldiers at Cawdor barracks and their families, who are a well-loved part of the Pembrokeshire community. Will my right hon. Friend provide a bit more detail of the timeframe for the closure of the base, if it is indeed to happen? Will he give an assurance that there will not be any freeze of investment and that the base will be maintained to an acceptable standard as we approach the closure date?
I am certainly happy to discuss continuing investment in the facilities with my right hon. Friend. The estimated disposal date for Cawdor barracks is 2024, so I hope that that gives some more certainty to those who support the Signal Regiment there. We are shortly to confirm where the 14th Signal Regiment will be re-provided for.
The Glencorse barracks in Penicuik in my constituency are a fundamental part of that community and the wider constituency, but there was no mention of the barracks in the Secretary of State’s statement. I am now wondering whether this is closure by stealth, as the Government look to continue to invest in weapons of mass destruction at the cost of conventional defences.
No, that is not the case. We are reinvesting, as I have said several times today, in Scotland, which is a key part of the defence of the United Kingdom. Just as the RAF is centring all its squadrons on Lossiemouth and the Navy is focusing its submarines on the Clyde, so the Army will be not wholly, but principally based around Leuchars Station in Fife. The result will be that the capabilities that the Army needs will be clustered more efficiently together.
I very much understand the need for consolidation of the Ministry of Defence estate and the importance of value to the taxpayer, but I want to point out that that will inevitably have a massive knock-on effect in Taunton Deane with the transfer of 40 Commando and the closure of Norton Manor camp. Those 40 Commando Marines and their families play such a big part in our community, living in our houses, going to our schools and taking part in everything. Please can I urge the Minister to give every thought to the careful nurturing and transfer of those people and their families? May I also urge him to give careful thought, working with me, the local authorities and everyone else concerned, to ensure that we can fill the economic hole that will be created when they all leave Taunton Deane?
I understand my hon. Friend’s disappointment, and I appreciate the role that 40 Commando has played in her constituency. The disposal date is 2028. I emphasise to her that this is another decision that has been taken on military advice, on the advice of the Royal Marines themselves, so that they will be clustered in the Devonport area rather than spread out over a series of locations. There is plenty of time—another 12 years—for us to plan this departure and get it right.
While I am looking up the eight sites, I can certainly emphasise that consultation will take place, and that is the point of publishing this strategy document today. It will release these sites for detailed consultation with the local authorities concerned and, indeed, with the Scottish Government where relevant.
The sites to be disposed of in Scotland are Craigiehall, which has already been announced; Condor airfield near Arbroath; MOD Caledonia in Edinburgh; Redford cavalry barracks; Redford infantry barracks; DSG Forthside and Meadowforth barracks at Forthside, Stirling; Fort George, in the highlands; and Glencorse barracks.
I welcome the consolidation of the amphibious capability around Devonport, but could I ask the Secretary of State to bear it in mind that we have a fantastic facility at HMS Raleigh in Torpoint, in my constituency? Will he confirm that he will consider the possible relocation of some of those Royal Marines to the modern facilities in HMS Raleigh?
Some 240 jobs are associated with the Forthside barracks in Stirling, which the Secretary of State mentioned a moment ago. That makes it an important employer and one of the few operational elements of the armed forces still associated with Stirling, particularly since the appalling treatment of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, which was mentioned a few moments ago, disgracefully, by Michael Gove. How many jobs will remain in Stirling following the move, and how many, in total, of the jobs that are there just now will be retained?
I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman about the number of jobs per site, but I can tell him that the local authority has ambitious plans for the future development of that accommodation. Some of the units are likely to be re-provided for at Leuchars, but we hope to see that site become part of the commercial lay-down in the Stirling area.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend Mark Lancaster on the work that they have done to provide a good set-up for defence and to meet the housing target of 55,000 homes. I urge my right hon. Friend, in looking at the accommodation strategy, to bear it in mind that the provision of good-quality service family accommodation is crucial not just for retention, but, in many cases, for maintaining morale among soldiers and other service people who go to war, particularly when there are casualties.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his earlier words. Some of the decisions in this strategy document were difficult decisions. That is inevitable when we have to match the defence estate to the capabilities and needs of the modern Army. It is important that we give families certainty about where they are likely to be going, which is why some of the timescales are some way out. So far as future accommodation is concerned, all the receipts from the decisions that have been taken in this document will come back to defence, and they will be part of the regeneration and renovation of the defence estate more generally. Much of that will find its way into better and new accommodation for our service members.
We live in uncertain times, and our armed forces have been reduced considerably. I understand the need for consolidation, but will my right hon. Friend tell the House what plans he has for the defence estate abroad, as these bases are crucial in maintaining our military flexibility and, of course, our liaison and so forth with NATO?
That matter is important, although not directly part of my statement today. We have invested in the defence estate in the Falkland Islands, some 30 years after it was first built following the Falklands war. We have also invested in our facilities in Gibraltar and elsewhere. We have moved personnel back from Germany. As my hon. Friend says, it is important that we continue to upgrade the facilities at bases that are so important, including in the Falklands, Cyprus and Gibraltar.
The proposed development at and disposal of MOD Weathersfield to the Homes and Communities Agency puts at risk the future of high-tech security businesses, air cadet flying and the headquarters and training functions of the Ministry of Defence police. I thank Ministers for making themselves available to discuss the disposal with me during the past few months. Whatever the future of the site, may I ask that the high-tech security businesses, air cadet gliding and Ministry of Defence police functions, which should not constrain other activities on the site, are prioritised in whatever negotiations take place with its future owners?
I am very happy to agree to that. I think this site had already been announced for disposal some time ago. I hope that those discussions will continue as we move the police, in particular, further west. I note what my hon. Friend says about the importance of the elements on the site, and about making sure that we maximise its potential.
There will be concern in North Devon that, as part of today’s announcement, the Royal Marines are to vacate their base at Chivenor. First, will my right hon. Friend confirm whether this move has been requested by the Royal Marines? Secondly, will he agree to visit Chivenor with me to meet the base commander, the leader of North Devon District Council and the local business community to discuss future support both for the military families who are concerned and for the local economy?
The answer to my hon. Friend’s first question is yes. These decisions have been taken on the advice of the military, including on the concentration of marine units in the Devonport area. The disposal date for the Chivenor site is 2027, so there is plenty of time for the discussion that he has outlined. I always enjoy my visits to North Devon, and I would be very happy to come down to discuss this further with him and the local authority.
The Secretary of State’s statement will deliver a devastating blow to the people of Brecon. The town has been proud to host a barracks since 1805, and this country has been proud to receive from those barracks the servicemen and women who have defended this country. Today, as always, a large number of military and civilian personnel are based there, and they will be very concerned about the decision that has been announced. Within the barracks, there is a regimental museum, which hosts the display celebrating and commemorating Rorke’s Drift. As we all know, Rorke’s Drift was immortalised in the film “Zulu”. In the regimental museum inside the barracks, there is the largest collection of Victoria Crosses in this country. May I ask my right hon. Friend two questions? First—this was touched on earlier—will the Infantry Battle School in Dering Lines and Severn Bridge be unaffected by these cuts? Secondly, will he join me again—I repeat, again—in visiting the barracks to discuss what future role we can have?
The hon. Gentleman will know that my natural generosity got the better of me.
Let me confirm again that the infantry training centre will not be disposed of. My hon. Friend makes the very important point that the barracks contains the Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum. I have visited the museum, and seen the memorabilia associated with Private Hook and others in the battle of Rorke’s Drift. The position is that the museum is currently negotiating a long-term lease with the Ministry in order to secure lottery funding for an extension. The lease has not yet been finalised, but it is likely to contain a clause enabling the trustees to purchase the freehold if and when the site is disposed of. I hope that is helpful to my hon. Friend, but I am very happy to discuss all this further with him.
I have bobbed up and down so often this afternoon that I feel I have undertaken my own military fitness training.
I thank the Secretary of State very much for his statement. May I just clarify whether the barracks at Bassingbourn in my constituency, which has been closed for some time, will now receive personnel from Burgoyne barracks in 2019, RAF Henlow in 2019, Weathersfield in 2020 and Chilwell station in 2021? I understand that from an email that has just arrived on my phone. If that is the case, that is an enormous and very welcome uplift in the number of personnel at Bassingbourn. May I have a contact in the MOD, so that the local authority can start to plan education, schools, GP surgeries and so on?
Yes. This is good news for Bassingbourn. I can confirm the gist of what my hon. Friend said. Bassingbourn will be one of the key receiver sites for some of the units that are now on the move. She said that she would like a contact in the Ministry of Defence, and I suggest that she contacts the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend Mark Lancaster.