The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the better defence estate programme is a 25-year programme to rationalise the defence estate, which is far too large for our present circumstances. We need to look at our training areas and our garrisons, and we need to provide places for civilian housing too. He will be aware that Chester is involved in that programme.
Does the Minister share my concern that reducing the number of barracks and concentrating them in one place—for example, in the north-west, at Weeton in Preston—reduces the operational footprint of the Army in the north-west or elsewhere in the country and therefore reduces operational effectiveness? Might it not be better to keep open some barracks, such as the Dale barracks in Chester, to maintain a better operational spread?
It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman raises our footprint in the north-west of England, which is a very large recruitment area, because the Defence Secretary was talking about that this morning. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the decisions that have been made concerning the Dale barracks. The 2nd Battalion Mercian Regiment and the Royal Logistic Corps units will be moving. The Fox barracks will remain, and the Army Reserve will be there, but his point is well made, and we will try to act upon it.
Millions of pounds have been invested in the Norton Manor site, where 40 Commando is based, in Taunton Deane. It is ideally located for the marines, and more than 150 people aside from the marines work on the extensive site. This place has a great deal to recommend it, so will my right hon. Friend give a commitment that all those aspects will be assessed in the overall plan to rationalise the defence estate?
My hon. Friend makes a powerful case for the Taunton barracks and 40 Commando. She is aware that the decision has been made already, but perhaps we can meet separately to see what more can be done to provide support.
As befits a former teacher of more than 30 years’ standing, Thelma Walker has been most patiently and courteously waiting for her opportunity.