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Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con):
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the Scottish regimentsI have an interest because members of my family fought in the Black Watchcan retain their cap badges, whereas English regiments are not allowed to do so?
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Mr. Moore: Indeed. I do not wish to comment, but I am sure that the Minister has heard the hon. Lady's point. Perhaps he will be able to explain the situation to her in due course because I know how important it is.
My father was a chaplain in the Army for five years, during which time he was attached to the Royal Highland Fusiliers. I visited its museum a few weeks ago, as have Ministers and many other hon. Members. The traditions and legacies are importantso many people are distressed that they will be lost. There is still one major effort going on outside Parliament to illustrate the folly of what is being done and the strength of feeling among the public. When the national petitions are brought to Parliament, I hope that Ministers will take careful account of them.
I am sure that this will continue to be a wide-ranging debate because there are many contributions still to come. I hope that the Minister will have the opportunity to deal with the huge range of issues raised, whether that is in his winding-up speech or by correspondence in due course. We devote a great deal of parliamentary time to such matters, but given what we ask of our servicemen and women, that is only right and proper.
David Wright (Telford) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore) in this afternoon's important debate on defence in the UK. I shall address my remarks to issues surrounding Shropshire and the civilians who work for the Ministry of Defence there. I shall then raise a couple of points about policy to which I hope the Minister will listen.
Before that, I pay tribute to those who run the armed forces parliamentary scheme, especially Sir Neil. I have been on the scheme over the past 12 months or so with the Royal Marines. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and was joined by my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) and the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood). We had some interesting times, especially in northern Norway when we slept out in a tent in temperatures between minus 32° and 34° C. We got a rounded view of how the Royal Marines operate. The scheme should continue to receive the support of Parliament and hon. Members.
Increasinglyand thankfullyMembers of Parliament do not in large part have the opportunity to serve their country in the field of conflict. Although that is a good thing, it is important for people to go out and get a taste of military life, and the armed forces parliamentary scheme enables them to do that.
Before I speak generally about civilian posts in the Ministry of Defence in Shropshire, it is important that I pay tribute to members of our armed forces throughout the globe who are serving us in these difficult times. They do a tremendous job. The Royal Marines are deployed out there, as are other parts of our armed forces. We should pay tribute to them wholeheartedly this afternoon for the work that they do on our behalf.
I am worried about several of the changes that the Government are proposing to the civilian structures that service and serve the Ministry of Defence. I want to raise three particular concerns. The first relates to the Donnington site, which is in the constituency of the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard), who is in the
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Chamber today. The site is large and significant; it is affectionately known locally as the depot and has provided a large number of jobs over many years for people across Telford, the Wrekin and the wider Shropshire area. We received some difficult news earlier this year when the Government announced that they were planning to review and indeed lay off members of staff in the Army Base Repair Organisation at Donnington. They also announced a further phase of reviews. Last week, the Minister of State announced a further 628 job losses at the ABRO site up to 2010. I, other Members and the local community were devastated at that news.
The future for Donnington is not all dark, however. The future defence supply chain initiative has been rescued for Donnington. We shall still have a Ministry of Defence presence at the site and there may be some scope for jobs growth in the FDSCI structure. Of course, that is at the expense of the closure of the base at Stafford and I hope that some posts may move from there to the Donnington site. However, the news about ABRO is devastating for local communities and I am pleased that the Minister has agreed to meet us to talk about the issues.
Mark Pritchard: The hon. Gentleman mentioned jobs growth at Donnington. Can he clarify which Minister confirmed, and when, that new jobs will be created at Donnington? That news would come as a surprise to the work force.
David Wright: The hon. Gentleman is right. The FDSCI announcement was about job losses at Donnington, but I hope that as we debate the future structure of the site there may be growth in some areas of the supply chain. That would be positive. No announcement has yet been made, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will join me in wanting to debate the issues over the coming months.
I am delighted that the Minister has agreed to meet the trade unions and the leader of the new council taskforce to discuss the situation at Donnington, and I hope that my hon. Friendif I may call him thatthe Member for The Wrekin will join us at that meeting. It is important to show a united front in our efforts to ensure that jobs at ABRO are protected. If they are to go, however, we must prepare the local community as best we can. We need to ensure that people are offered opportunities for retraining and reskilling, and the taskforce idea could enable us to do that.
Jeremy Corbyn: As someone who grew up near the Donnington depotwhich we used to refer to as the dump, but that is the way it was in those daysI obviously hope that my hon. Friend is successful in his meetings with the Minister. Are any of the proposed job losses at Donnington due to the contracting-out culture that is rife in the MOD, and the possible privatisation of some services? There is a committed and skilled long-term, loyal work force at Donnington who should be looked after.
My hon. Friend is right. We may be taking a step too far with some of the proposals for privatisation and the business structures relating to the supply chain, maintenance structures and services that
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the Donnington work force perform so well. We shall be debating those issues with the Minister over the coming months. There is an opportunity for us to discuss the outline business case that has been drawn up. My understanding from the trade unions, whose representatives have seen the outline case document, is that it does not discuss in detail the advantages of retaining jobs and services at Donnington. We shall certainly want to focus on that issue when we talk to the Minister in the coming weeks.
One of the best apprenticeship schemes is run from the ABRO site at Donnington. It is a shame that we may lose an extremely good scheme that not only serves the MOD but provides skills for people who go into the private sector. Those are high-value, high-quality jobs and we need to try to work together to defend them.
It would also help if the Minister could say something, perhaps in his winding-up speech, about possible Government support for the proposed rail freight terminal in the north Telford area, which straddles my constituency and that of the hon. Member for The Wrekin. It would be particularly positive if the Government could help us to ensure that that terminal is built in Telford, using a mix of MOD land and land owned by the public. That could bring several hundred jobs into the local economy. I hope that Ministers will look closely at the options and the proposals made by the local authority to develop a rail freight terminal on that site, which, I repeat, is fondly known as the depot.
The second sort of work that goes on in the wider Telford and Wrekin area is that of the Equipment Support Procurement and Provision Agency, which is located in my constituency at Stafford Park. Constituents of the hon. Member for The Wrekin also work at that facility and we are both extremely concerned about its future and ongoing activities. ESPPA was formed in 1995 from the technical equipment division at Donnington, the procurement branch at Andover and the vehicle spares division at Chilwell. More than 400 employees work at Sapphire House, where ESPPA is located.
Proposals are being considered to collocate that facility at Abbey Wood in Bristol. That is extremely alarming to local employees and local trade unions. I have met the trade unions who represent members at that facility, and they are finding it difficult to determine exactly what the Government's proposals are. There is great concern that Ministers are getting to a point where they almost have a fait accompli and that the facilities offered at Sapphire House will almost automatically move to Abbey Wood. I should like to raise that incredibly important issue again with the Minister at our meeting on 29 November.
It is important that the jobs at ESPPA stay in Telford for a number of reasons. I do not think that the 400-plus people will redeploy to Bristol. They will probably have to find jobs in the wider economy. I do not want that to happen; I want those jobs to stay in Telford. The MOD will find it incredibility difficult to recruit staff in Bristol, certainly skilled staff. These are skilled jobs. Those people procure products for the armed forces. It will be difficult to replace them when most of them will not want to move from the Telford area. Of course, it is also more expensive to live in Bristol and I am sure that many people will not want to move because the costs of living are greater there.
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Salaries will be greater for the MOD in the Bristol area. One of Telford's great advantages is that it represents excellent value for money in terms of costs to the MOD. Such a move would run counter to the principles of the Lyons review. That is also the case for ABRO. We should ensure that defence has a footprint right across the UK, including the midlands and the north. Moving jobs to the south of England is symptomatic of our not having a footprint right across the UK. That is somewhat alarming. I want to raise issues that relate to ABRO as well as ESPPA with the Minister on 29 November, and I hope that we will be joined by trade union colleagues.
The third issue that I want to talk about is the defence training review at Cosford, which is in the constituency of the hon. Member for The Wrekin. We obviously share the fact that many of our constituents are employed there. I do not want to say too much about Cosfordthe hon. Gentleman will probably have quite a lot to say about itbut it is important to note that there are 1,038 military jobs at Cosford and 942 civilian and contractor posts, as far as I am aware, and it is a jobs engine for our local economy.
The defence training review is being examined at the moment. My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (John Smith) will also be interested in the outcome of that review. Cosford presents the opportunity to provide an excellent location for defence training in the UK. The site could expand by up to 300 per cent. in a number of scenarios. That would give us a real opportunity to provide new jobs, which are so important in the Shropshire economy, and which will service not just Telford and Wrekin residents, but the black country and the wider west midlands area.
I hope that the Minister will look carefully at the proposals relating to Cosford and the defence training review. It is an incredibly important site for us. In some ways, we are an RAF county, with the RAF presence at Shawbury and Cosford, and the RAF has a long tradition of being in Shropshire. I hope that we will continue to have that presence in the county and see it expanded over time.
This is a big contract. I understand that two competitors, with two separate sites, have emerged to be examined by Government, and I understand that that decision may be some time away, but it is important that the Minister should once again engage more generally with regard to the importance of defence training jobs within the wider Shropshire economy.
I close by looking at two broader policy issues that have already been raised in the debate. The first relates to our independent nuclear deterrent and the second to community ownership of the armed forces. Clearly, we will have to make some decision in the coming months and years about whether we retain an independent nuclear deterrent. The manifesto on which I stood understandably commits us to retention of that independent deterrent, but I hope that we will have a wide-ranging debate about how appropriate that is, in the sense that the world has changed somewhat. Certainly, a replacement for Trident would be extremely expensive.
I put it clearly on the record that I would support the Government and vote for the replacement of the independent nuclear deterrent. I am not suggesting that
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we abandon it, but I am not sure that we need to go for an extremely expensive deterrent option. We must look at a raft of options. We may have to consider nuclear-tipped cruise missiles, which may be deployed from different platforms. We need a wide-ranging debate on that and to think about the money that we are spending. Certainly the concern of members of the armed forces is that, if we are to deploy troops effectively in a modern environment and meet the challenges that now face us as a country, we need to invest significantly in flexible response conventional forces.
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