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Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether you have had notice from Transport Ministers of their intention to make a statement in the House on the London-wide transport implications of the axing of the popular, fuel-efficient and iconic Routemaster bus, and its being replaced by the gas-guzzling, ugly and unpopular bendy bus?
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether I might seek your guidance on an issue affecting 628 of my constituents. I arranged a meeting with the right hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr. Ingram) on 28 November, which he suggested
The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): Recent defence debates have provided an opportunity to discuss the qualities of the armed forces and the vital work that they do around the world. We ask a lot of our armed forces. Day in, day out, they perform a huge range of challenging tasks, many of them dangerous, in countries around the world and in the UK. I will never tire of paying tribute to their dedication, commitment and bravery, and I do so again today. However, we owe it to our armed forces to do more than simply pay tribute to them. We must show the same level of commitment in enabling them to perform their role, and support them as they do so.
I want to pick up on the earlier point of order by the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), on which there was an exchange. He should be very careful in the words that he uses. He described the Chief of the General Staff, who is one of the bravest soldiers of his generation, as lacking moral courage. I understand that the hon. Gentleman was also a serving soldier, and I pay tribute to all that he did, but he should use his brain before he opens his mouth and attacks people of such
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. I should point out before we start this debate that it is incumbent on everybody in the Chamber to use moderate language in discussing these matters. [Interruption.] Order. The use of such terms only exacerbates the situation and is usually counter-productive. I should like us to proceed in a civilised way.
Mr. Robathan: I had a long telephone conversation with General Jackson on Tuesday afternoon and I hope to meet him soon to discuss the matter in greater depth; indeed, I am looking forward to his making that arrangement. He assures me that he does stand up for his soldiers, and I am of course delighted to accept his assurances.
I have been intervened on, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I do not know whether you are going to allow me to continue this debate. There is a simple way of proceeding. I do not want to raise the temperature, but we are talking about our armed forces and how we best serve them. The hon. Gentleman could simply say that he was sorry that he made those intemperate remarks, which were inappropriate and a terrible slur on one of the finest soldiers of his generation. The hon. Gentleman may well look forward to the meeting but, if I know General Sir Mike Jackson, he should do so with some trepidation. He can be very robust when it comes to saying what he thinks, but an apology in a public forum such as this would not go amiss. I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman if he wants to apologise now. The hon. Gentleman remains in his seat, so it is clear that he
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does not want to apologise. His remarks therefore remain on the record. I look forward to seeing the minutes of his meeting with the general, if I am able to do so.
The role of defence in the UK is to ensure that the armed forces are structured, trained and equipped to meet the challenges that they face today and will face tomorrow. We need to ensure that every penny that we spend is spent wisely, in support of the front line. At the same time, we must provide support to our personnel and their families to enable them to focus on the job at hand.That is no small task. Our annual budget is about £28 billion and we employ more than 270,000 people. Indirectly, we support a further 400,000 jobs in the defence industry. Against that background, I want to take the opportunity provided by today's debate to describe the progress we are making in delivering on our commitment to the armed forces. I also want to talk about the role that the armed forces play within the UK.
The pace of change across the globe is remorseless, and with change comes new challenges for our armed forces. We must ensure that they are properly structured to meet those challenges, and that is precisely what we are doingno more so than in respect of the Army.In December last year, the then Secretary of State announced that we would rebalance the Army to develop a more deployable, agile and flexible forcea force better able to meet the challenges and threats of the 21st century. This is known as the future army structure. We are now moving ahead to implement those changes, which will make the Army a more balanced, robust and resilient force.
On 1 August, we announced the start of full security normalisation in Northern Ireland. That will allow the reinvestment of posts back into the Army, to make it better suited to meet the enduring expeditionary operations that have characterised our deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years. As a result of the progress in Northern Ireland, the Army can reinvest more than 2,500 posts into specialist capabilities, including communications, engineering, logistics and intelligence, while making the infantry more robust. Continued progress in Northern Ireland, coupled with the end of the infantry arms plotthe process by which infantry battalions used to re-role, retrain and relocate every few yearsis allowing the Army to reduce the number of infantry battalions by four. Under the existing system, up to 20 per cent. of the Army is unavailable for deployment. With the end of the arms plot, we will have more battalions available at any one time.
Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): As we discussed in the House the other day, the new arms plot and the reconfiguration of the infantry still leave certain units desperately short of personnel. The 1st Royal Anglian Battalion has fought brilliantly well in Iraq and is returning to the UK, but the 2nd Royal Anglian Battalion has to go to Afghanistan, despite being short. On Monday, you said that the 2nd battalion would have to be augmented with troops from the 1st battalion. Service men and women are very brave, especially the young ones, who will volunteer for anything. Can you assure the House today that you will not be using
Mr. Ingram: I do not think that I said quite that at Defence questions the other day, but we would need to check the record. What I suggested was that there are willing horses in battalions who sometimes put themselves forward. I also said that we must be very careful not to put under too much strain people who choose to make that decision. We are sensitive to the difficulties involved.
I do not envisage the sort of augmentation suggested by the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), but I need to be cautious. Certain individuals or specialists may be required to strengthen the battalion posted to Afghanistan. Such things happen, and that is what makes my remarks about reconfiguration and restructuring so important. The reduction in size of the four battalions has led to the creation of 2,500 more posts. Those posts will be taken up by key enablers, who will deal with the problems that arise at the real pinch points. Over time, that will achieve the improvement that we seek in personnel harmony. The picture is not perfect and there is a lot of strain in some areas, but we are actively addressing the problem.
Although I do not envisage that what the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead suggests will happen, he would say that I had misinformed or misled the House if even one person found himself in the situation that he has described. I am very conscious of that and I am sure that the message has been heard outside the House that it is wrong to move people backwards and forwards too quickly. That is what I said on Monday, and I repeat the point now.
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