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That this House notes that since 1997, the Government has undertaken a comprehensive programme of reform to the tax system, which has encouraged saving and rewarded enterprise, reduced child poverty, supported hard-working families and provided security for all in old age, and welcomes the fact that these reforms strike the right balance between encouraging enterprise and investment, maintaining the UKs international competitiveness and delivering a modern and fair tax system, in which all pay their fair share of tax.
That the draft Limited Liability Partnerships (Amendment) Regulations 2007, which were laid before this House on 6th June, be approved.
That the draft National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Amendment of Schedule 7 to the Government of Wales Act 2006) Order 2007, which was laid before this House on 7th June, be approved.
That the draft Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007, which were laid before this House on 12th June, be approved.
That the draft Community Order (Review by Specified Courts) Order 2007, which was laid before this House on 14th June, be approved. [Mark Tami.]
That Mr Stewart Jackson be discharged from the Health Committee and Mr Lee Scott be added.
That Greg Clark be discharged from the Committee of Public Accounts and Angela Browning be added.
That Mr Brooks Newmark and Mr David Gauke be discharged from the Treasury Committee and Mr Graham Brady and Mr Philip Dunne be added .[ Tony Cunningham , on behalf of the Committee of Selection.]
Britains gardens are under increasing threat of destruction arising from inappropriate and unpopular development with local opinion being disregarded and communities left powerless to prevent the infill of green spaces with the loss of precious biodiversity, the increased strain on infrastructure, notably with regard to parking and traffic flow, and the resulting change in the fundamental character of neighbourhoods against local wishes.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Government to bring forward legislation to give stronger protection to gardens in planning law and to allow elected local councillors to have greater discretion to protect local neighbourhoods.
And the Petitioners remain etc.
Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): It is a pleasure to welcome my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth) to his place on the Front Bench. I congratulate him on his new position as Minister for the Armed Forces. I am sure that he will do an excellent job and I can say to all members of our armed forces, wherever they are in the world, that they have a veritable Rottweiler in my right hon. Friend, who will be a tenacious defender of their interests and argue for them in the future.
The debate is about the future of MOD Stafford, which is a story of optimism, thanks to my right hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr. Ingram), my right hon. Friends immediate predecessor. I express my sincere thanks to my right hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow for his work in securing the future of MOD Stafford. He was always ready to listen to my concerns. He was patient when I raged and encouraged me when I had half a decent idea. I am grateful to him for all his help and support.
Not long ago, the picture was different and the future looked bleak for the base. First, there was an announcement that approximately 450 uniformed personnel, who were based at the then RAF Stafford, would be relocated to RAF Wittering towards the east of the country. Shortly afterwards, the Ministry of Defence announced that all the storage and distribution operations at Stafford would be moved to Donnington and Bicester, threatening around 1,000 civilian jobs. Even the remaining RAF personnel, who were with Tactical Supply Wing, were caught up in a review of Joint Helicopter Command. It felt at that time as though we were spiralling downwards, towards total closure of the base, which would have ended more than 60 years of association between the military at that site and the town of Stafford.
Happily, however, we turned things around in Stafford. Most people in Stafford are extremely supportive of their military base. It is situated on the edge of the town and so has a physical closeness to local people, as well as emotional ties. It was therefore not difficult for me to energise the local community to defend our base. We formed a taskforce and we lobbied Ministers. I brought delegations to meet the former Minister for the Armed Forces in Whitehall. We argued for the base to be retained and for new uses to replace those that were to be lost.
Then we started to receive good news. We were pleased to learn that Tactical Supply Wing would remain at the Stafford base. It is important to point out how brave the people who work for Tactical Supply Wing really are. They are the people who fuel helicopters in all sorts of situations. If the helicopters are flying at the front line in great danger, Tactical Supply Wing is there with them, at the front line and in great danger, too. Tactical Supply Wing keeps helicopters flying to transport our troops for offensive operations. It keeps helicopters flying to rescue injured troops and bring them back to safety for treatment. All
through the troubles in Northern Ireland, wherever Army helicopters flew there, Tactical Supply Wing was there fuelling them. I think that I am right in saying that Tactical Supply Wing has been the longest continuously active serving unit from this side of the Irish sea in Northern Ireland all through the troubles.
Then we persuaded the Army to take a look at the base at Stafford. As a result, we heard the hugely welcome news that the base would be the headquarters of 12 Signal Group and the home for a new 22nd signal regiment. As a result of that decision, around 700 new uniformed personnel have moved into the base in the 12 months since. That is very welcome to local people. Interestingly, the move to Stafford has included around 160 Gurkhas, who have proved immensely popular with local people. Most Gurkha soldiers have brought their families to Stafford, and we as a community are busy welcoming them to homes, jobs and schools in the town.
Among the civilian jobs that went with the Defence Storage and Distribution Agency were those of some engineers. There was great uncertainty about their future, but we recently received the good news that their jobs would mostly be saved, by folding their operations into those of the Army Base Repair Organisation. However, I still regret seeing so many good-quality civilian jobs being lost to our local economy, as the storage and distribution operations come to an end at the end of this year.
However, I pay tribute both to the Ministry of Defences human resources officers and to our local jobcentre at Stafford for helping staff to make decisions on whether they wanted to transfer to other MOD operations or take early retirement, and for helping people to find new jobs as those at the Stafford base ended. Again, I thank and congratulate the former Minister for the Armed Forces. When I asked him whether the human resources people and our Jobcentre Plus office could work together and go into the base at an early stage to give good advice to people, he had the foresight to say yes. We have had a really smooth operation in helping people at a time that would have been very worrying for them.
Just in case there is any chance of a late change of opinion in the Ministry, bearing in mind the fact that new ministerial minds are operating there and that, for all I know, things are changing behind the scenes, I should like the new Minister for the Armed Forces to hear the four reasons why I say the wrong decision was taken on moving storage and distribution away from Stafford. The first reason is that the performance figures show that Stafford workers were among the most efficient anywhere within the entire Defence Storage and Distribution Agency.
The second of my reasons is that Stafford is such a central location for logistics. After all, that is why many private logistics companies choose the west midlands in generalas my right hon. Friend will appreciate, as a fellow west midlands MPand Staffordshire in particular for their operations. For once, the Ministry of Defence was in the right place with logistics in Staffordshire, with its access to the communications network of motorways connecting it to the entire country.
The third reason is that Stafford has the only purpose-built, large-volume activity centre in the entire agency. So crucial is it to the fast moving of many
individual items of equipment and machinery that the Ministry of Defence is having to spend scarce resources recreating an alternative building at Donnington to replace the one that it will lose at Stafford. No one in the MOD can tell me what is going to happen to the storage and distribution activity centreSADACat Stafford when it closes at the end of this year. I fear that it will stand empty, although it is perfectly good for use, while the new one at Donnington eats up scarce resources to replace it.
The fourth issue is one of recruitment and retention. As it is a more northerly location, Stafford has lower housing and labour costs compared with some of the alternatives in the south, and a willing and available work force on the doorstep of the base. There were good reasons, and there still are today, for retaining it, and I hope that something can be rescued.
Now that the future of the base has been secured, I want to start where any forward-thinking organisation would start: with our youth. Stafford has really good cadet forces for the Army, the air and the sea, and MOD Stafford provides a good home for the Army and Air Cadets. I am happy to confirm that I visit them regularly. I find really enthusiastic young minds and bodies willing to learn new skills, to attempt to gain new qualifications and to gain good disciplineboth self-discipline and the discipline that comes from working with a teamfrom the work that they do in the cadets at MOD Stafford. I feel strongly that we should work hard to involve more young people in cadet forces, where they can learn skills that will stay with them for life. They will be able to have a crack at gaining valuable qualifications, including Duke of Edinburgh awards, and some choose careers in the services as a result of positive experiences in the cadets.
While I am on the subject of youth, I want to draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister a decision that was recently taken by Defence EstatesI know that he will not be able to respond to this tonightin answer to my asking whether a local brass and drum marching band, Stafford Lancers, might have access to the MOD Stafford site for its playing and marching practice. They are very noisy people when they practise, and when they do so at local schools, some residents are not very happy about it. These youngsters, some of whom have been working with Stafford Lancers for more than a dozen years, might otherwise have no activities to engage in during their leisure time, and some might come from deprived backgrounds, but in Stafford Lancers they learn new skills and get the satisfaction of achievement. They have also been winning national and regional awards for years. It is a pity, therefore, that Defence Estates has recently concluded that it cannot provide them with the necessary space for their practice at Stafford.
I turn to the subject of our Territorial Army. Stafford lost its only training base for the TA as a result of the strategic review in 1998, when the drill hall at Kitchener house in Lammascote road was closed and subsequently sold. Our TA involvement in Stafford finished as a result, even though there are valuable TA contingents located around the county of Staffordshire and neighbouring ones in Wolverhampton and Telford. Will my right hon. Friend tell me whether he is thinking of
bringing back regular TA training to MOD Stafford? Closer ties with the TA obviously help to support our regular forces, and having a training base at Stafford might help to attract more residents of the area to be part of the TA while still carrying out their work and studies locally.
On the regular armed forces, can we expect to see additional armed forces at MOD Stafford in the coming years? As more forces are relocated to the UK from Northern Ireland and later perhaps from Germany, places such as Stafford could offer them new bases. Does the Minister agree that the midlands as a whole could offer several options for accommodating returning members of the armed services? I would like to assure him that people in Stafford would welcome playing their part in bringing the troops back to homes in our region.
What of the MODs plans for the so-called super-garrisons of the future? Will my right hon. Friend tell me about the latest developments and plans for them and whether it is within his consideration that one could perhaps be located at Stafford at some time in the future? What exactly are the plans for the future and what kind of timetable is being worked to presently? Stafford has always been very supportive when it comes to its military base, and the community benefits from it and appreciates its presence in our midst. If there were to be a super-garrison at the Stafford base, it would be useful for the Government to talk to the regional bodies responsible for planning, housing and infrastructure and for economic development. Clearly, such a major change in use would need careful planning.
I would like to advise my right hon. Friend that it would be useful to talk to Stafford borough council as soon as possible, because it is preparing its local development framework right now. I foresee that a larger base at Stafford would need more accommodation and I can see opportunities as the council develops its plans for housing for some of the military land to become valuable house building land of the future. I believe that the base could be reconfigured to give up some land for housing and to make use of either the money or building works in return for providing more forces accommodation on the remaining base. To do that, we really need to talk to the planners now; otherwise, the opportunity will be missed.
Generally, the base at Beaconside, Stafford has gone through many changes in recent years regarding both occupancy and resources, but it is now time to look forward once again with optimism and determination to the future. The base has been an integral part of Staffords economy for more than 60 years, providing civilian jobs and services personnel who buy homes, find jobs for their spouses and partners, send their children to schools and shop locally. It is a busy place today with Army Signals, Tactical Supply Wing, Army Cadets, Air Training Corps, MOD police, the defence fire and rescue service and, of course, the supporting civilian staff. Sadly, we are losing civilian storage and distribution jobs, but the military presence helps offset at least some of those job losses. MOD Stafford now has security and the community is ready and willing to welcome further military uses.
Then there is the question of the name for the Army barracks. We had an interesting and full debate locally about the many possibilities. We have discussed famous battles of the past in which Stafford forces, such as the Staffordshire Regiment, have been involved. We have discussed famous generals of the past who were involved with the county; and we also considered former war leaders, such as Churchill. Personally, I think that we should go back to local ties. The reason why the area is called Beaconside is that it was the site of one of the national network of beacons that this country had centuries ago to warn against a possible invasion or threat. I believe that something like Beacon barracks or Beaconside barracks would be the best name for the barracks in future.
Talking of beacons, for centuries the countrys network of beacons on high ground, such as Beacon hill on the edge of Stafford town, has been a symbol of our fortitude and resistance in the face of external threats to our security. Just as the beacons signalled readiness, resolution and reassurance, so in this modern age MOD Stafford and our other military bases around the country fulfil exactly the same role for all of us.
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