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Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): I will respect your request for brevity, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and ditch two thirds of my speech so that others may speak. It is a great honour to represent the garrison town of Colchester and I pay tribute to those troops from the Colchester garrison on deployment to Iraq and those who will go to Afghanistan in the near future.

I thank the Government for concluding that Colchester should be a super-garrison and for the massive investment in the new garrison. Although I am no fan of the private finance initiative, it is the only game in town and I welcome the spending. However, the problem with the new barracks is that there will be insufficient accommodation for all the soldiers who will be based there.

We have heard about recruitment today, but I shall leave that topic to others. Retention is of equal importance. I ask officials to consider the residential accommodation, including married and family quarters, in Colchester and throughout the country, and the consequences of the privatisation by the Conservative Government: the sell-off to Annington Homes. Are the Government satisfied that the efforts to reach the decent homes standard, or the MOD equivalent, are proceeding with sufficient speed? The information that I am getting suggests that there is a lot to be done, and the time scale is such that families are having to put up with conditions that are not conducive to people remaining in the Army.

Another concern is schools, which are technically part of the local education authority and are not funded by the MOD. That said, the MOD has an interest and a role. In June 2003, the then Secretary of State for Education and Skills, now the Home Secretary, visited Colchester and told the Army schools that they would get more money. I followed that up with written questions and the then Minister for School Standards, who has since been promoted, said that there would be no extra Government money for the Army schools. He said:

That is not the considered view of those dealing with children from Army families who face the turbulence of their father, and sometimes their mother, leaving the scene, perhaps for months at a time. I ask the Under-Secretary and the MOD to see what they can do to assist with the education provision, particularly as the Home Secretary promised additional resources.

A previous speaker mentioned the difficulties faced by non-British citizens in the British Army who wish to become British citizens. A separate issue is those non-
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British citizens who are required by the Home Office to return to their country of origin when their leave to remain in the UK has expired. I am grateful to the Under-Secretary because I had a useful meeting with him last week and hope that those two difficulties will be resolved in the not-too-distant future.

I endorse all the points made about the important role played by the Territorial Army in the life of the British Army today, both at home and overseas. Will the Under-Secretary confirm that there will soon be a statement about the future Army structure? Is he satisfied that if, as I believe, it is to result in a greater Territorial Army presence in many parts of the country, not least in the garrison town of Colchester, the current TA accommodation in my constituency is sufficient for the growth that I believe will be proposed and which will be warmly welcomed?

5.3 pm

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): I join colleagues and hon. Members in paying tribute to Her Majesty's armed forces around the world and here in the UK, and to civilian contractors who work for the Ministry of Defence.

I pay tribute, too, to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), who has served on the Front Bench with distinction for many years, and to the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (John Smith), who gave an excellent assessment of the Government's disjointed defence policy, and was very brave to do so. I hope that his constituents will take note of his words.

I would like to take the House on a journey to Shropshire, a fine county. As I said in my maiden speech, Shropshire has a long, proud tradition of service in Her Majesty's armed forces, both on the front line and in the defence supply chain. We have the Royal Air Force at RAF Cosford, and we have the Defence Logistics Organisation, the Army Base Repair Organisation and the Defence Storage and Distribution Agency at Donnington. Since the general election—perhaps it is not a coincidence—480 job losses have been announced at the Defence Storage and Distribution Agency at Donnington. Only last week, Ministers announced a further 628 job losses, which will impact on my constituency. So there have been more than 1,000 job losses in six months.

I am worried about the defence training review, and I have expressed my concerns to the Under-Secretary outside the Chamber. I repeat those concerns today. I hope that that review will be objective and fair, and that there will be a level playing field for the people of Shropshire, the aerospace industry and the military in the west midlands. I hope that the Minister will either confirm or deny that the Welsh Development Agency and Welsh taxpayers' money is being used to promote St. Athan in Wales over Shropshire, which is not using taxpayers' money. It is unable to use such funds through the regional development agency to promote RAF Cosford as a site for the future defence training requirements of Her Majesty's armed forces.

Will the Government reconsider their decision to close the Army Base Repair Organisation at Donnington? I object to the decision not because it is a Labour policy, but because it is a flawed policy with a
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weak and thin business case. Like the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan, I believe that if a sound, rational business case on cuts had been put before the House both last week and today, hon. Members on both sides of the House could perhaps have supported the Government. However, we seem to have cuts for cuts' sake, and as I said in an intervention, much of that is meant to release estates and assets, thus realising value from large property holdings. That money will probably not be re-invested in the back office or in front-line military capability. Who knows, perhaps it will end up going to the failing Child Support Agency or another failing Government agency or quango. No business case has been made for the cuts, and nothing that Ministers have said can reassure my constituents or me that any savings from the reconfiguration of the armed forces will assist national security or the effectiveness and efficiency of Her Majesty's armed forces. Nor will they be of wider benefit to my constituents.

A charity dealing with combat stress is based in Newport in my constituency. Many soldiers, airmen and naval personnel who served in the first Gulf war have suffered from post-traumatic stress. If not intercepted and dealt with, after 12 months the condition turns into post-traumatic stress disorder. Will the Government commit more resources to tackle that serious problem? My right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot)—I, too, hope they name a ship after Hampshire and, indeed, after Shropshire—

Robert Key: And Wiltshire.

Mark Pritchard: Wiltshire can wait for now. My right hon. Friend for North-East Hampshire was quite right to say that the way in which we treat our armed forces and approach their welfare impacts on recruitment. The Ministry of Defence should therefore put far more resource into the mental welfare of our armed forces.

As others wish to speak, I shall make one final point. The Government, paradoxically, seem to have a doctrine of privatising virtually everything that moves in the armed services. That is worrying. If there were a business case, as I said, that would be fair enough. If it were in the national interest, I would agree. A satisfactory case has not been made that the policy of privatisation will improve our national security or our armed services in aggression or in peacekeeping, and there is increased demand on them to fulfil our international aid obligations. Unless a clearer case can be made by the Government, I cannot support them.

My constituents are extremely disappointed. Only a few weeks ago the Minister for the Armed Forces came to my constituency and said that Donnington had an optimistic future. Of course, that was before the election. After the election, we get the job loss announcements. It is a scandal. That is why I have asked the Defence Committee to initiate an inquiry. The closure of the Army Base Repair Organisation, the potential closure of the Equipment Support Procurement and Provision Agency in the constituency of the hon. Member for Telford (David Wright) with the potential loss of 550 jobs, the loss of jobs at the Defence Logistics Organisation in Donnington and the potential impact on RAF Cosford under the defence training
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review will leave a huge hole in the side of Shropshire and in the entire west midlands. I ask the Government to reconsider their commitment to Shropshire. I should be grateful if the Minister would respond candidly and, as other hon. Members have said, transparently.

5.11 pm

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