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Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): The hon. Gentleman is making a compelling case. However, the facts that he describes have been a feature of the cuts and reorganisation in the TA. Last night, the Defence Committee visited 10 Para, which is now to be combined with 4 Para. That will create a unit which will stretch from Scotland to London. How can it possibly be managed as a single unit?

Mr. Hoyle: I do not know whether it is manageable, but if that is the stretch of the Paras, surely they should consider Chorley. We have a spare barracks and headquarters for them. I can think of no more compelling case that I have heard today. It would make sense to look for a central location that was good for logistics. In all fairness to north Wales, that is not the case in Queensferry.

The barracks at Chorley has been well maintained. It is a good facility that we should not lose. It was a gift from the people of Chorley by public subscription. What right have the Government to sell it? People are careful about what they buy. It is a listed building, so it does not lend itself to many other uses anyway. The land is also tied up with Chorley borough council. There is a lease on it, which muddies the waters even further.

The facility has been valued at just over £200,000. We have to find accommodation for a cadet force, because the Minister has said that they will not travel more than five miles from where they are. That means that we have to buy a brown-field site and put a building on it. After moving everything in and ensuring that it is up and running, the cost will be near to £100,000. If the existing building is sold, we shall not get much more than £200,000. It would make more sense to leave the cadet force in the TA centre, but the centre is too big, so we need something else there as well.

What is the cost of moving the 101 Battalion REME to Queensferry? Nobody has given me the figures. What will the redundancy costs be? It all stacks up to suggest that the move is not sensible. There is not a single genuine reason for it.

I have studied the map. If the battalion ends up in north Wales, and given that it will not fit at Queensferry, the only place that it can go is Wrexham. That is a bit further away and off the main routes. That would be a mistake. I do not know how my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) would feel about that. He hopes that Wrexham might end up with a Welsh battalion or one coming back from Germany full time. If Wrexham is used--that is the only logical conclusion that I can come up with--101 Battalion REME will be thrown out again and will be looking for a new home. That is not acceptable.

Why are we moving the battalion? The issues have not been thought through. There is a danger that it is nothing more than a political decision. I do not want to think that politics have overtaken common sense on this. I like to think that Land Command had to come up with a quick fix without thinking it through, costing it or realising what it was doing. I hope that we have enough evidence for the issue to be send back to Land Command for a rethink.

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If we have to appease north Wales, there are alternatives. It could be represented by moving a battalion headquarters from south Wales, where there are four or five. Would it not make more sense to transfer a battalion whose history is already in Wales? Some regiments in south Wales have 50 per cent. of their sub-units in the midlands--two thirds in one case. The 157 Transport Regiment has one detachment at Stoke-on-Trent, which is closer to Queensferry than to Cardiff, where the headquarters is currently located. I am sure that that would make more sense to the people of Wales. Common sense is what we are here for.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will not just give the usual sympathy. We have had a good, open discussion. I hope that the issue will be taken on board and given more serious consideration than has been the case so far. The decision was made at the last minute. The two earlier reviews conducted three months ago pointed to Chorley. Chorley is in the right place. Everything cannot be changed in the last throes of the review. All the reasons why Chorley was right did not disappear overnight. There have to be other reasons behind the decision.

I sympathise with Wales. I do not want to say "Wales should not have this and should not have the other." However, what we do should make sense. Overall, Parliament supported the strategic defence review. The armed forces backed it because a lot of it made sense, although there were parts with which some of us disagreed. The decline came when the strategic defence review reached the Territorial Auxiliary and Volunteer Reserve Association. That is when everybody became emotional. My hon. Friend the Minister has said that we must take a realistic view, based on common sense. I accept that what is left must have a use.

If the Chorley centre was to close because there was no need for it, because it was outdated or because it was not relevant, I would not be standing here today. However, that is not the issue. The battalion headquarters is to be moved from Chorley to north Wales purely for appeasement. That is not how we should do business. That is not the way forward.

I hope that the Minister will take on board what I have said and look at the genuine problems that have been created. He should think about those who will lose their jobs. It is not long since we suffered under a defence review by losing jobs at Royal Ordnance. There was a genuine reason for that, but in this case there is no need for redundancies. The jobs can remain at Chorley. It would even save money. I ask the Minister to send the issue back to Land Command to be reconsidered. The cadet force must remain in the Chorley centre. I hope that the 101 Battalion REME will also remain in its rightful home at Chorley, which is in the centre of its operating area, not out on a limb. It should not have to report to south Wales from north Wales. It should continue to report from Chorley to Preston. I implore my hon. Friend to take on board what I have said.

1.47 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. John Spellar): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) on securing

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this debate on the future location of the headquarters of 101 Battalion of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. We have had interventions from my hon. Friends the Members for Stroud (Mr. Drew) and for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow) and from the hon. Members for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) and for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier). My hon. Friend the Member for Chorley clearly feels strongly on the issue, as his remarks today and after the statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on 17 November show.

I fully understand my hon. Friend's concern that his constituency has lost the opportunity that the presence of the headquarters of 101 Battalion REME affords to those who want to volunteer their services to the Territorial Army. However, the issue must be viewed against the wider background of the restructuring of the Territorial Army and the Government's aims in their review.

It may be helpful if I briefly remind hon. Members of the background to the review and the extensive consultation exercise that was conducted before my right hon. Friend announced the results on 17 November.

Mr. Brazier: If that was the case, why, as late as 26 September, did almost all the senior serving officers in the Territorial Army meet and pass a message up the chain of command that they felt that they still had not been consulted?

Mr. Spellar: The hon. Gentleman does himself and the Territorial Army no good by fighting old battles. He no longer represents the view of the Territorial Army. Since the announcement of 17 November, I have had several discussions with those involved: some are pleased and some are disappointed. The outcome has been described as better than they had feared and worse than they had hoped for. There is a feeling that the TA must get on and implement the decisions that have been made and look to the future to create a more operationally valid and useable force. The hon. Gentleman is fighting an old battle in which he is not carrying the majority of the TA or its senior members.

Mr. Brazier rose--

Mr. Spellar: I am mindful of the fact that I do not have much time to cover all the issues and that it is unusual to accept interventions during a half-hour Adjournment debate, so I want to press on.

It has been our intention to give effect not only to a reduction in the TA but to a substantial restructuring to reflect the changes that have taken place in the international environment. We have achieved that on the basis of a thorough analysis of the operational requirement for each arm and service as part of a modern, deployable Army, taking into account the scale of a likely deployment and the readiness of forces that would be required for it.

Those calculations led us to believe in the summer that a TA of about 40,000 was required. The House will know that, in our subsequent work and consultation, we refined that figure to 41,200. As part of that work, we defined the organisation of the arms and services that can best deliver the results that we want and need.

In the case of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, the decision was to retain four of the five battalions. Those judgments have been essentially

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military. As my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley knows, the bulk of the work to devise the new structure within the parameters set out in the strategic defence review has been undertaken by the Commander-in-Chief Land Command and his planning staff.

The method that they have chosen to adopt for the review--it has the whole-hearted approval of Ministers--has been to consult widely on an initial set of proposals which was issued for that purpose in July, shortly after the announcement of the outcome of the strategic defence review. The purpose of the consultation was to bring together the professional judgment of three sets of people with differing responsibilities for the Territorial Army.

The first set was the directors of arms and services. All arms and services have such directors, and the fact that they have serving members of the TA on their staff has enabled them to give advice on the best organisation and structure for the reformed TA in their particular arm.

The second set of people who were consulted were the divisional and brigade commanders who command both the Territorials and Regulars in their respective areas. In the case of 101 Battalion REME, divisional command is provided by headquarters, 5th Division, in Shrewsbury. Two brigade headquarters are involved: 160 Brigade based in Brecon in Wales and 42 Brigade in Preston. I re-emphasise the fact that both headquarters have TA staff and so can make both chain-of-command and local decisions about the arrangements that will best suit the Army's purposes.

The third set of people whom the Commander-in-Chief Land Command consulted was the Territorial Auxiliary and Volunteer Reserve Association, whose role in these matters is, I think, well understood by hon. Members.

I outline the consultative arrangements in some detail to illustrate the fact that, even within the military staffing process, the consultation exercise has sought to bring together a number of different aspects: the interests of the individual arm or service; the interests of the chain of command, which brings together a range of different arms; and important local or regional factors. We have put even greater stress on regional factors than would have been expected to emerge from the military staffing process to emphasise the fact that the TA has a wider role as part of the Army's public face in the community.

I was slightly surprised by the intervention of the hon. Member for Reigate, who dismissed the argument in favour of maintaining a footprint. We emphasised many times--indeed, it was said by hon. Members from both sides of the House and from all parts of the country--that it was important to maintain the footprint. I find it strange that that should now be used as a criticism of the process. The footprint was not only an inherent part of the process but widely demanded.


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