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22 Apr 1998 : Column 776

UK Land Command

12.30 pm

Mr. Hugh Bayley (City of York): I have no doubt that beekeeping is important to some people, but the defence of our country should matter to every hon. Member, none more so than those who represent the north of England.

The city of York has been a garrison headquarters almost continuously for 1,900 years. In the region, there is intense pride about and loyalty to the military traditions of the great north of England regiments such as the Coldstream Guards, the Duke of Wellington's, the Green Howards, the Prince of Wales's Own, the Royal Dragoon Guards and many more. We have at Catterick the biggest Army camp in western Europe, and people in York--and, I think, further afield--take immense pride in the fact that the 2nd division headquarters is based at Imphal barracks in York.

I was therefore astounded to be shown at Christmas a work plan produced by UK Land Command, the part of the Army that defends the territory of Great Britain, that detailed the precise steps to be taken to dismantle the 2nd division headquarters at York by April 2000. I was also surprised to find that no alternative to the dismemberment of the York command was under consideration.

I was especially surprised because on 3 August, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence wrote to me saying:

at York--

    "will expand from within its existing accommodation in Imphal Barracks into part of the vacated area on the ground floor . . . in building 107 at Imphal Barracks."

So, even in the latter part of last year, an expansion of the space available in York to the 2nd division headquarters was proposed.

The information that I received about the consideration of a rundown of the 2nd division headquarters prompted me to ask some parliamentary questions. I must pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence for the open and helpful way in which they have responded to my questions and met me to discuss what is happening. They have helped me, not least because now, through their actions, I believe, they have ensured that the closure of the York command is not the only option under consideration.

Let me say from the outset that it is right for the Government, as part of a strategic defence review, to review the Land Command structure. I do not object in principle to a merger between the 2nd division, based in York, and the Scottish district, but the point of this debate is to enable me to express a view that I hold very strongly: if the merger goes ahead, the combined headquarters for the new division should be based in York for military, financial, economic and political reasons.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): I endorse all that the hon. Gentleman has said. My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) and I agree about the need to maintain the facility at York, but I must introduce a sour note to the debate. Why does the hon. Gentleman

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think that we have reached the point where a decision is certain to be taken very soon but there has been no public debate or consultation?

Mr. Bayley: I am pleased to see the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) here to support me on this issue, but, in defence of the Government, I must say that their approach in the strategic defence review has been open. They have made it perfectly clear that, as soon as there is a firm proposal, there will be consultation. The purpose of this short debate is to ensure that the proposal that ends up on the table will be sensible for military, financial and other reasons. If the 2nd division and the Scottish district are combined, the sensible decision is for the headquarters to be in York. I shall outline the advantages of that in terms of military effectiveness.

The 2nd division is much bigger than the Scottish district. It has four times as many regular soldiers under its command. Almost 11,000 out of the 13,000 regular soldiers who would be in the combined division are based in Yorkshire and the north-east of England. If one combines the regular soldiers and the Territorial Army soldiers, the 2nd division currently has 28,500, while the Scottish district has 9,500.

Just one of the two brigades in the 2nd division--15 brigade based in York--has 11,266 troops, which is more than in the whole of Scotland. The sheer weight of Army activity in northern England shows where the headquarters ought to be situated for reasons of military effectiveness.

In the post cold war environment, the soldiers in Land Command are there primarily to form regenerative units, to back up other forces when the need arises. If they fight, they are much more likely to fight abroad than in the United Kingdom. Where are the embarkation ports? They are in England--on Tyneside and on Humberside at Hull and Immingham.

When I met my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces last month, he acknowledged that the weight of Army activity in a combined division would be in Yorkshire and the north-east, but he asked me to consider recruitment. Since then, I have found out that 39 per cent. of all recruits to the British Army come from the north of England. It is true that 12 per cent. come from Scotland, which is also an important recruiting ground, but more than three times as many come from the north of England--far more than from any other region in the UK. It is the core recruitment ground for the British Army.

I know that my hon. Friend is doing a great deal of work on this already, so I do not need to tell him about the need to improve recruitment to the Army. The Army has its KAPE programme--keeping the Army in the public eye--to aid recruitment, but we will not keep the Army in the public eye in the Army's key recruitment ground of the north of England if we close the Army headquarters in that area.

There are also good financial reasons for choosing York. I understand that the cost of establishing the combined headquarters at York would be £7.1 million less over 10 years than the cost of establishing it at Edinburgh. I am also told that the commander-in-chief of Land Command accepts that York as a base would be more cost

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effective, but I have not seen the official costings. Will my hon. Friend place them in the Library? I would prefer there to be a willingness to share the information; then I should not have to ask my colleagues on the Defence Committee to call for it.

I have to say that I am also under pressure from trade unions representing the staff in York to refer the matter to the National Audit Office. I understand that there is a precedent for the NAO looking into a financial decision before that decision has been made; it did so at the request of the trade unions when Catterick was involved in the competing for quality initiative.

If one compares the cost-effectiveness of the existing York headquarters and the existing Edinburgh headquarters, York comes out a great deal better according to the parliamentary answers that I have received from my hon. Friend the Minister.

The headquarters of the Scottish district cost £5.6 million a year to run, or £578 in administrative costs per soldier under its command. The 2nd division in York is larger and costs £7.6 million a year, or £268 in administrative costs per soldier under its command. The administrative costs at York are half those in Scotland. The headquarters at York is bigger because the 2nd division is bigger than the Scottish district. It would therefore cost considerably more to move a greater number of staff from York to Edinburgh--if that were the final decision--than it would to move a smaller number of staff from Edinburgh to York.

In his letter to me of 3 August, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State let me know that there is spare office accommodation at Imphal barracks in York because 250 manning and records civilian staff based in York moved to Scotland last year. There is no vacant accommodation at the Scottish district headquarters.

The economic impact on York would be substantial if the divisional headquarters were to move. It employs 170 civilian staff and 100 military personnel. York is a much smaller city than Edinburgh, so the effect on the local economy of the closure of a bigger headquarters in York--if that happens--would be greater.

The rate of unemployment is higher in York than it is in Edinburgh. In York, it is 4.24 per cent. while in Edinburgh, it is 3.90 per cent. In the six years since the Conservative defence drawdown began, York has lost 500 MOD civilian posts: 200 jobs were lost at the 41 district Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers workshop in the constituency of the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) and 50 were lost from the King's division at Stensall, just outside my constituency. As I have mentioned, 250 civilian jobs moved in 1997 from Imphal barracks in my constituency to Kentigern house in Glasgow, when the Army manning and records service was centralised.

Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South): My hon. Friend is making an extremely pertinent speech. Since the drawdown, my constituency has lost more than 500 jobs from Eaglescliffe naval stores. It was a serious blow to the northern region and should be taken into consideration.

Mr. Bayley: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Parts of the region other than Teesside and York were affected, as more than 1,000 jobs were lost at RAF Harrogate when the Conservatives were in power.

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If a further 170 jobs at the York headquarters are moved to Scotland, 670 MOD civilian jobs will have been removed from York over six or seven years, leaving just 50. When I met the Minister last month, he explained that Scottish politicians, quite understandably, face pressure to move a fairer share of public service jobs to Scotland. I understand that pressure. We feel it even more strongly in the north of England because we have an even smaller share of public service jobs than Scotland.

Since meeting my hon. Friend, I have asked my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster a parliamentary question, to which he replied on 17 March. In London, 1.2 per cent. of the resident population are civil servants. The figure for Scotland is 0.9 per cent; in Yorkshire and Humberside it is 0.6 per cent. I asked the Library to calculate similar figures for MOD civil servants. There are 1.5 MOD civil servants per 1,000 residents in London. In Scotland, there are 1.7 MOD civil servants per 1,000 residents and in Yorkshire and Humberside, there are 0.6 MOD civil servants per 1,000 residents--barely one third of the figure for Scotland. In other regions, such as the south-west of England, the figure increases to something like five per 1,000. The Government should not take jobs from Yorkshire to settle the imbalance. Instead, they should move jobs to Yorkshire and to Edinburgh.

In the past six years, 45 per cent. of MOD civil service jobs in Yorkshire have gone. There are only 3,300 left. In Scotland, although the reduction is serious, only 23 per cent. of MOD civil service jobs have been lost in the same period and 9,500 remain. I ask my hon. Friend with great conviction not to take any more MOD civil service jobs away from Yorkshire. If he does, he will give people in Yorkshire the same reason to feel bitter about Scotland as the Scots quite rightly had when the Tory Administration gathered in public service jobs and the bulk of public service investment to London and the south-east. I ask my hon. Friend not to do that to Yorkshire.

I understand the Scottish pride in Scottish regiments and the pressure to have a general based in Scotland to command the Scottish units. I do not argue against it. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister also accepts that the pride of the English in English regiments and Army traditions are just as strong in the north of England as Scottish military traditions are in Scotland. It would be demeaning and insulting to suggest that English support for and links with our regiments in the north of England are any less important than the tremendous links between the Scottish people and the Scottish regiments.

There is a solution that will preserve honour on all sides. It has already been proposed for London. Although the London district will disappear as part of the strategic defence review, London will nevertheless keep its two-star general for ceremonial reasons and reasons of status in the capital.

If there is to be a joint Scotland and north of England division for Land Command as a result of the review, I believe that military, financial, economic and political reasons overwhelmingly determine that it should be in York, but Scotland should retain a two-star general to command the two Scottish brigades and for ceremonial and status reasons in the capital of Scotland in just the way that a two-star general will remain in London.

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