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12 Jun 2007 : Column 208WH—continued

Margaret Hodge: It depends on how one defines those terms. No doubt if the hon. Lady has examples of what she believes is excessive packaging, she will refer those to trading standards officers. However, one can take a whole range of examples. In my early life, I
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worked for Unilever. All washing powders are basically the same and the only way to differentiate them is through the packaging and marketing.

Mr. Ellwood: The Minister is on record as saying that.

Margaret Hodge: It is dependent on the competition and, of course, neither Unilever nor P&G would say that. However, it is na├»ve to speak in a debate in the House and pretend that packaging does not have a key role to play in the marketing of products—particularly because we, as consumers, want that choice. If the hon. Lady thinks that she can influence consumers into not wanting a selection on their shelves or in their shops, I wish her luck, but I do not think that she will get very far.

Packaging materials can be green, however, as a number of hon. Members have said. I think that recycling is very important, and I take the point made by my hon. Friend about the need for green bottles to be separated from clear bottles so that they can be recycled. I shall take that point away and discuss it further with my colleagues in DEFRA and the Corporate Responsibility Group. I shall take away also the point about cardboard and discuss it with colleagues in other Departments to see if we can be more sophisticated in the way in which we discriminate between objects that we recycle in order to support re-use, rather than simply recycling materials.

The hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh) raised a number of issues and talked about mature dialogue, as well as regulation, to ensure environmental sustainability. I think that he admitted that it is difficult to decide what should be packaged. I expect that we all have personal experience of poor and excessive packaging. The hon. Member for Castle Point made a very good point about packaging reflecting the needs of disadvantaged groups in society—for example, those with disabilities or the elderly. We all have endless examples of appalling packaging that, for example, someone with arthritic hands could not open, or where the typeface of the written directions or information on the contents is so small that even a younger person could not decipher it—but perhaps that is part of the reason why it is so small.

The hon. Lady took a very different approach to the debate. Her main emphasis was on the need to reduce packaging as much as possible. I agree with her about green packaging and the need to minimise packaging. Innovation is vital, and the Government have a role in setting targets for reducing waste, which I believe that we are doing effectively. We have made good progress. However, we need partnerships between all, rather than regulation. The industry needs to work with consumers and other stakeholders to make the changes that we want.

In the last few minutes left to us, I shall make some general points. Packaging is part of everyday life, as my hon. Friend demonstrated well, and it feeds into a massive range of supply chains. I have responsibilities for the whole of the manufacturing industry and a range of other sectors. Packaging probably impacts on most of the sectors that are part of our everyday life. The packaging industry is a sophisticated and highly competitive sector and is adapting effectively to changing consumer demands and fashions, and now to the challenges that we face to sustain our environment.

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The packaging industry also has to ensure that it can survive in the increasingly globalised market in which we now operate. I often use three statistics on China in this context. China now produces nearly 70 per cent.—two thirds—of all mobile telephones; it produces half of all our televisions; and last Christmas it produced three out of every four toys bought for children. Our packaging industry must ensure its future in that context. The industry employs 85,000 people and accounts for 1 per cent. of GDP, I believe—my hon. Friend will know.

Mr. Illsley indicated assent.

Margaret Hodge: The industry therefore makes an important contribution.

Given the statistics, globalisation could be seen as a threat, but it is an opportunity as well, providing new markets in which we can compete. The real challenge for us, which is reflected in our manufacturing strategy, is to provide the conditions in which the packaging industry can modernise, be appropriate in the modern context, continue to grow, and provide added value to the economy and jobs for British people. The packaging industry has faced other challenges owing to the high energy costs of the last few years and of raw materials—those two factors have not been brought up in the debate today—but despite that there has been growth, which is to be welcomed.

Why has that happened? One of the strengths of the packaging industry in the UK is design, which has been talked about by a lot of people. It is crucial that we keep innovating in order to reduce quantities of packaging and to maintain the industry and ensure that its products become more sustainable and re-usable. The incentives that the Government have put in place to support the industry deal largely with innovation. They include tax credits, which are, I hope, increasingly supporting the packaging industry; the science and research budget, which has almost trebled; and the technology programme, under which we have invested £370 million over the last four years to enable manufacturers to capitalise on emerging technologies and to turn ideas into products. For example, in the £40 million spring competition, which we are in the middle of, £15 million was allocated specifically to the development of lightweight materials and structures. We hope that some of those resources will go into packaging to enable further innovation.

We work also through the manufacturing advisory service to ensure that the packaging industry remains competitive. MAS has worked with and helped more than 30 packaging companies such as Amcor, Chevler and Rosewood to increase turnover by £300 million. In 1997, we set up the Faraday packaging partnership, which has now been subsumed into the materials knowledge transfer network launched by Lord Sainsbury in 2006. That partnership provides an interface between packaging producers, users and academic research. Again, about 35 successful, relevant products have come out of that.

I shall say a little bit about what we are doing through the waste and resources action programme, which is important in funding good new products to ensure the long-term sustainability and liability of the packaging industry. There have been trials of
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lightweight glass bottles and jars and lightweight easy-open steel food cans, which Heinz and Impress Group BV have used. It has developed a packaging minimisation standard for organic products, which has included partners such as Green and Black’s and Duchy Originals, as well as a new benchmark for lightweight PET drinks bottles. We have also held trials of re-usable packaging systems for companies such as Argos. Good things are going on within the packaging industry that we can help to ensure continued sustainability.

Finally, we value the contribution that the packaging industry makes to the UK economy and to reducing packaging waste, and the importance that it attaches to research into development and innovation, which is the means by which we can turn global change from a threat into an opportunity. The packaging industry has always embraced innovation and has long been aware that sustainable success comes through innovation, added value and being close to the supply chain.

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Territorial Army

10.59 am

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): I am delighted to have secured the debate, which gives us an opportunity to discuss the report “Recognising the Opportunity”, which was recently published by the new all-party group on reserve forces. I should start by passing on the apologies of the hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Sarah McCarthy-Fry), who has had to pull out of the debate at the last moment because of another defence engagement of which the Minister will be well aware.

In the course of putting the report together, we took testimony from sources ranging from the commander of regional forces, Lieutenant General John McColl, to some Toms in 4 Para. I thank the Ministry of Defence and most particularly the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr. Ingram), for all the help and support that we received from the MOD and, indeed, individual units. We were delighted to have the Minister of State address the group and that we had such a frank discussion with him.

We also took evidence from Richard Holmes, the first reservist to be director of reserves and cadets, from the chairman and chief executive of the reserve forces and cadets associations, and from Lord Glenarthur, the chairman of SaBRE—Supporting Britain’s Reservists and Employers. Our visits to 4 Para and 256 field hospital, both of which are excellent units, provided valuable insights. Members of the group keep in touch with many units up and down the country on an individual basis.

Much has changed in the 10 years since the Government came to office and carried out the strategic defence review. On the downside, there has been a huge cut in establishment numbers—proportionately it is much larger than that for the Regular Army. On the positive side, the group welcomes the way in which reserve forces have been used on active duty. Starting with the Kosovo war, substantial numbers of troops from the Territorial Army and its sister bodies have been deployed to war zones, and they have performed admirably. In Kosovo, almost 10 per cent. of those deployed were from the reserve forces, and reservists made up one fifth of the Army in Iraq and one eighth in Afghanistan at the peak in 2004. Lieutenant General McColl told us that the situation has now stabilised with about 1,200 being called up each year for duties in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is a very large continuing commitment for a very small force—barely 30,000 troops are deployable—with full-time civilian jobs.

Praise has come from all quarters. One REME—Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers—commanding officer from the Kosovo campaign commented:

The CO went on to say that TA personnel

That ability to provide value added has been seen in our more recent conflicts. We report on the experiences
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in relation to Iraq of Major Andrew Alderson, a former director of the merchant bank Lazard and a long-serving TA officer. He was appointed at very short notice to take charge for a year of the entire economic planning and development brief for all four provinces of the British sector. I have been encouraged by reports that I have received from units that have sent soldiers—including, in April, from the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment in Canterbury—about how quickly reservists were able to reach Regular standards. The reservist mobilisation centre at Chilwell played a pivotal role in that.

4 Para, which the group visited, has had two highly successful deployments. One involved sending a formed company to Iraq and the other, more recently, involved sending a large group of individual reinforcements to Afghanistan. Next year, despite the fact that almost all its trained soldiers have been on one deployment or more, it will once again manage to send a formed company to Helmand province, where I am sure that 4 Para will distinguish itself again. We were told on our visit to 256 field hospital that from next year TA medical reserves will be running our medical effort in Afghanistan, sending out two TA field hospitals at a time on three-month rotations for the whole year—a remarkable challenge.

However, that success story hides a deeply worrying fact: the TA is becoming smaller. In all but one of the past six years, recruitment numbers have fallen below those for resignation and retirement. The reserves are considerably below their official establishment; the TA is almost a quarter down on what it should be. The problem is even more acute in respect of junior officers, although the figures for them are masked by a tendency to promote much older people to fill the gaps. Without good officers and non-commissioned officers, the whole operation is in danger. They are needed to provide leadership for the men and women under their command.

The problem can be tackled, but to do so the TA needs to focus on a way of doing things that takes account of its inherent strengths and recognises the inherent difficulties in volunteer service. Throughout the report, we stress the advantage—the key factor—of the TA being local. That is its greatest strength. Indeed, at a time when fewer and fewer people have any uniformed experience, the TA and the cadet forces with which it works so closely are now the only active link to the Army in many parts of the country.

The advantages of the TA’s diffused structure and links into the community are many. The reserve forces and cadets associations know best where to advertise and which employers are positive, which can make a huge difference to recruiting. That is why the group was concerned to hear that Regular brigade headquarters has just taken charge of recruiting. Such a move took place in Australia 10 years ago, when regular and reserve recruiting were regionalised and integrated. The recruitment rate of reservists halved almost overnight, and a Senate inquiry was set up, but the numbers have never recovered there.

The new system can be made to work, but only if brigade HQs work closely with the RFCAs and, crucially, with the units themselves. The signs so far are not encouraging. Let me take Kent as an example. The Kent county committee of the RFCAs meets in
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Maidstone in an office very close to the offices of the Kent Messenger Group—one of its longest-serving reporters, who still works with the group, was also a long-serving TA officer—and the studios of Meridian Television, with which it has links. Its membership has good links with local employers, but its recruiting task and budget have been moved to 2 Brigade headquarters and to 145 Brigade, which is on the other side. However, let us focus on the eastern side.

2 Brigade is based in Dover, and there is already a feeling in TA circles that the recruiting effort has gone off the boil and is now focused almost entirely on the Regular Army. Who can blame Regular recruiting teams, given the problems in the Regular Army, for focusing on the Regular Army? However, even if that were not the case, it is very difficult to see how a group of people who change posts every couple of years and are based in Dover, which is far away from all the media and centres of power, can possibly do as good a job as the local team.

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): I am very interested in my hon. Friend’s comparison between the Regular Army and the Territorial Army and the treatment that they receive. Does he share my concern about the way in which the joint personnel administration scheme has been rolled out to the Territorial Army? That appears to be somewhat to its disadvantage; it has disadvantaged a number of Territorial soldiers, which, of course, is likely to annoy and upset them and cause them to leave. If we want a professional Territorial service, inevitably people will start relying on some of that income. In contradistinction to the weekend warrior, part-timer ethos that used to apply, the service is now very much professional. In turn, it requires professional services from the Regular Army, including the JPA, but that does not appear to be happening.

Mr. Brazier: Yes, I share the concern expressed by my hon. Friend, who, of course, has been a distinguished serving reservist in the past two years in Iraq with the Royal Naval Reserve, which the group hopes to consider in its next report. It is interesting that the measures that have been most successful in preparing reservists for operational service are those whereby they are handled separately. I am thinking particularly of the situation at Chilwell. The scheme to which my hon. Friend refers appears to be throwing up various problems because there is an attempt to consider reservists simply as part-time regulars.

That brings me neatly to the nature of a volunteer reservist. Unlike a Regular soldier, who has, of course, also volunteered, a member of the TA will have volunteered on top of his full-time civilian career. Like those who work in charities, youth groups, sports clubs and even, dare I say it, political parties, TA volunteers have full-time jobs and, in most cases, families, which take priority in their lives, except when they are mobilised. Given their outside interests and experiences, TA volunteers bring a huge amount to the services at a very low cost, but they are also prone to leave the TA if the service ceases to be challenging and fun. That is why some things work best for the TA when they are designed with the citizen soldier in mind—I have just mentioned Chilwell.

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The challenge of TA officer recruitment can be addressed, although it is not so much of a local issue in an era when such a high proportion of potential officers go to university outside their own area. Many serve in university officer training corps, which train personnel to a high standard, and setting up a central system to contact those people a year or so after they have left university and settled into their civilian jobs would make an enormous difference and would cost almost nothing. Similarly, like the Americans and Australians, we should co-ordinate officer development courses and university vocations so that students who are short of money but keen on officer training can accelerate their training programmes and do their special-to-arms training during their time at university. That would enable them to become first-class troop and platoon leaders when they leave.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate and leading it so ably. I served in the Oxford university officer training corps and joined a unit near my place of work when I left university. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Ministry of Defence should also look at encouraging students to join a TA unit on a dedicated scheme during their gap year before going to university, perhaps in return for an enhanced student loan while they are studying?

Mr. Brazier: Yes. My hon. Friend points to one of the—dare I say it—rather imaginative proposals that the all-party group included in its list of recommendations. Of course, his suggestion would have a small cost attached to it, whereas the two things that I mentioned earlier would be virtually free—they are just a question of getting organised. None the less, such a proposal would provide an excellent return, as well as providing officers for the Regular Army, and I thank my hon. Friend for raising it.

The TA must be treated as an army that supports the Regular Army as a junior partner. It must always be more than an army reserve that is just there to fill the gaps when the regulars are short of numbers. It is interesting that the United States has two volunteer reserve armies—the national guard and the US army reserve. Their structure, in terms of units, and their pay and conditions are identical, but their philosophies are totally different. The reserve is used mainly as a pool for individuals to backfill the active army, while the guard has a distinct, local identity and is usually deployed as formed units. The difference in recruitment and wastage is startling. The wastage rate in the national guard is well below two thirds of that in the army reserve, and despite the fact that the guard has suffered heavy losses in Iraq—16 people from the Louisiana brigade, which I know well, were killed during its deployment there, which, coincidentally, happened at the same time as hurricane Katrina—its website proudly proclaimed last month that it had recruited fully up to strength. The active army and the army reserve are some way from that.

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