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Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab):
It is with dismay and incomprehension that I find myself asking the Minister to explain why we are facing job losses at Llangennech,
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where up-to-date, state-of-the-art equipment has recently been installed. Although unemployment levels have come down rapidly in that area in recent years, it is still very much harder to find alternative employment there than in many of the more prosperous areas of Britain. This decision is also out of keeping with our policy of decentralisation. Please will the Minister explain?
Mr. Touhig: I understand my hon. Friend's concerns. I was made aware of them earlier this week by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales. I ask my hon. Friend to bear in mind that this is part of an overall examination of the support and capability of our forces, and that difficult decisions have to be made in that respect. I understand that it is difficult for her and her constituents in Llangennech. I am sure that she will agree that there are greater opportunities for alternative employment in Wales today as a result of our economy being that much stronger, although that in no way mitigates the difficulties that people will face as a result of this decision. However, as I have said to other hon. Members, we will work as closely as we can with local authorities, local Members of Parliament and others to overcome any difficulties caused by these announcements. They are painful and difficult, but I believe that they are necessary in the circumstances that we face.
Mr. James Arbuthnot (North-East Hampshire) (Con): In recent weeks, we have heard of aircraft being unable to fly because of an absence of spares, pilots having only 15 hours' flying time a month, and training being unable to take place because there is no blank ammunition. The Minister has made an important statement todayreluctantly, I suggest. What change will the things he has announced today make to the deplorable circumstances in which our armed forces are acting at the moment?
Mr. Touhig: The right hon. GentlemanI beg his pardonmakes an important point, and I know that he will be carrying out an important task in his new role in the coming months. What we are seeking to do today is to improve the support and opportunities for our armed forces. These measures will release considerable resources for improving our capability on the front line, and they will make the best use of taxpayers' money. These are the tough decisions that we have to consider at the end of the day. As I have said, improved support for our front-line resources in the difficult circumstances in which they find themselves in different areas around the world must be our top priority in the modernisation process. These proposals will release resources so that we can do that better.
Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP):
May I pluck out the one golden thread from the Minister's remarks and test its strength? He referred to expansions at, among other places, RAF Aldergrove. Will he give the House some details of the nature and extent of those expansions?
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Mr. Touhig: At this stage I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the full details, and I apologise for that. The proposals will mean extra job facilities at Aldergrove, and I will ensure that, when we have fuller details, he and others will be given the information as quickly as possible. If he will bear with me, I will ensure that he gets the information.
Mr. Touhig: As I have made clear in my statement, there are to be no job losses in the armed forces as a result of these statements. They will affect civilian jobs. I recognise that any decision that we make affecting our forces will have an impact on the morale of everyone in the forces, both serving personnel and civilians. However, I believe that our forces recognise that they have a Secretary of State and a Government who are prepared to back and support our forces with the necessary resources. I am sometimes tempted to be a bit party political about these points[Hon. Members: "No!"] I am sure I should not, but the hon. Gentleman's party fought an election campaign proposing a £2.6 billion cut in support for our forces. It is appalling to watch the Conservatives crying crocodile tears and wringing out their handkerchiefs today. When they were in government, there were massive cuts in our services, dictated by the fact that they had mucked up the economy. That had nothing to do with the defence of the realm.
Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): The BBC has announced that there are growing fears about cuts at the munitions facility at Glen Douglas in Argyll. I hope that that report is not true, and that there are to be no cuts there. Will the Minister please tell us what his Department's plans are for the future at Glen Douglas?
Mr. Touhig: I am not aware at this time[Interruption.] I am trying to be honest with the hon. Gentleman; he can huff and puff all he wants but I am not in a position to give him an answer. I will consider the question that he raises, and I will return to him as soon as I can.
The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): I am repeating much of what I have set out to the House previously, but it may assist Members of the House if I say that the business for the week after the summer recess will be as follows:
Chris Grayling: What will the Leader of the House do to sort out the unedifying mess that we have seen in this place this morning? A Minister of the Crown has been dragged to the House, in response to an urgent question, to make a statement that clearly affects Members in all parts of the House. It is simply not good enough.
What will the Leader of the House do to address the fact that 156 written statements have been rushed out in the last few days before the recess? One cannot help but believe that the Government have not lost their habit of seeking to bury bad news. Will he explain why no statement was made to the House on the changes to the rules applying to special advisers and their relationship with civil servants? This week, that was raised with the Government by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which stated:
"Our concern about the 'hole in the corner' way in which the changes were being proposed has been reinforced by the failure to inform parliament or make a public announcement about this amendment to the legislation."
"Even if the intention is not to extend special advisers' powers, the manner in which the changes have been made could lead to this very perception and consequently a loss of trust in the machinery of Government."
Despite the events of the past few weeks, Members will now not have the opportunity to question the Government on matters of terrorism, other important national issues or constituency issues until the week beginning 10 October. You will know, Mr. Speaker, that it is important to stress that the recess is much more than a holiday for Members; it is an essential time for us all to do important constituency work. But does the Leader of the House not accept that people outside Westminster will not understand this long gap during which MPs cannot question the Government about what they are doing? Will he now accept that it is time for MPs to be able to table and receive answers to written parliamentary questions right through recess periods, and for the Government to make written ministerial statements as appropriate during recess periods? Will he ensure that that change is introduced immediately?
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