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8 May 2008 : Column 913

In the longer term, however, we have to ask what we want our armed forces to be and how we want to equip them. Are we really trying to develop a miniature version of the American military? Is the UK really trying to retain, for an indefinite period, a comprehensive ability in our own name? Alternatively, how will we build our capabilities in conjunction with our allies? Increasing co-operation with NATO allies, the USA and other member states in Europe must be a serious consideration. The issue is not about handing control to our allies or relinquishing sovereignty, but about trying to maximise resources, especially when we undertake most of our operations as part of an international force.

We need to consider when and how we want to get involved around the world, in a more foreign policy-led approach that allows for rapid, easy and effective expeditionary capabilities, coupled with certain key components for hard power expressions. Our current capabilities are very much geared towards hard power. Our armed forces need to be prepared for the operations that we think they are most likely to face in the years to come.

Dr. Fox: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way a second time. If he believes that our forces are too configured towards continental defence, is he suggesting that we retreat from that posture, increase our expeditionary forces and reconfigure for more such operations? If so, what criteria would he use for that increased deployment?

Nick Harvey: I have been suggesting that we undertake a strategic defence review, which I believe the hon. Gentleman also supports. It would seem pointless to call for a fundamental review, only to pre-empt the conclusions that it might reach. My feeling is that our ability to conduct state-on-state warfare is a combination of the cold war legacy and a preoccupation with the idea that that is the only sort of warfare in which we will be involved in future.

To pick up the hon. Gentleman’s point about expeditionary warfare, I believe that we will need to increase our capabilities in expeditionary warfare even further than they have already been developed. A strategic defence review would have to sort through how best to combine our resources with those of our allies in such a way that we do not undermine our ability, in our strategic alliances, to fight the more conventional battles that we have fought in the past. We do not face those battles imminently, but I share his view that we cannot disregard them further into the future.

Dr. Julian Lewis: Given that we are engaged in not one but two major counter-insurgency campaigns, there is no danger of our doubting that we will have to be prepared for things other than state-on-state warfare. However, does the hon. Gentleman not accept that, because pretty much all the post-second world war examples of state-on-state warfare broke out entirely unpredictably, to talk about reconfiguring our forces to have a much reduced capacity to deal with such warfare is rather dangerous?

Nick Harvey: I have not called for those forces to be much reduced; I have called for more co-operation with the allies that we believe we will be engaged with. That
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needs to be a greater part of our thinking in respect of expeditionary warfare capabilities and, indeed, in terms of sustaining for the longer term the sort of defences that we would need if we found ourselves once again involved in state-on-state warfare.

Before I finish, I want to ask the Government what preparations they are undertaking in advance of the non-nuclear proliferation treaty review conference in 2010. Britain played a very constructive and laudable part in the success of the 2000 NPT review conference, and Robin Cook in particular deserved a great deal of credit for that. In my view and that of my colleagues, last year’s decision to keep Britain in the nuclear club well beyond Hiroshima’s centenary in 2045 was premature. Given that the Government have taken that decision, however, I would hope that they want to balance the message that that sent out with evidence of a clear commitment to non-proliferation. Indeed, I very much hope that at the 2010 conference the British Government will provide the leadership that they provided at the 2000 conference. I believe Britain has an opportunity to lead disarmament and reassert some authority that may have been lost through our involvement in Iraq. We need to try to gain some of that ground and push for obligations to be met, as well as meeting our own commitments to international disarmament.

In conclusion, we need defence for this generation. Our current capabilities still reflect past conflicts to some extent and we are not necessarily prepared to respond to future challenges. We need, as I have said, a new strategic defence review that really puts emphasis on foreign policy-led defence posture and that concentrates far more fully on how we can co-operate with our allies in NATO, in the United States and within Europe.

Traditional defence planning is now out of date. We need a force that is flexible and able to endure the various challenges that it might be faced with. That will involve difficult decisions. Whether we increase spending to match our operations in the short term or whether we reconfigure and realign the armed forces to meet the budget that is available, the decisions are tricky. It is no great surprise that the Government have taken some time to take some of the difficult procurement decisions, but there is, in my view, a fundamental mismatch between what we are trying to do and the resources that we are able to make available to it. If we cannot make more resources available, we will need to have a fundamental rethink about what we are trying to do.

3.27 pm

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): I apologise to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for missing the first few minutes of his speech. Like you, Madam Deputy Speaker, I was attending the very beautiful funeral service for our recently deceased and already much missed Gwyneth Dunwoody.

I would like to concentrate my contribution on our intention to reduce troop levels in Germany and its effect on our relations with our European and NATO allies. British forces have been permanently stationed in Germany since 1945. Until the mid-1990s, the British Army of the Rhine and Royal Air Force Germany were the two main British commands in that country. Following
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the “Options for Change” defence review in 1991, the level of British forces in Germany was halved and the RAF was withdrawn in response to the changing dynamics of the post-cold war environment and the Government’s attempts to make cost savings at that time. The strategic defence review of 1998 made further recommendations on the reduction of troops in Germany.

At present, there are approximately 20,900 British military and 2,200 British civilian personnel stationed in Germany. The two principal units in Germany are now 1st UK Armoured Division and UK Support Command Germany. In 2004, the Ministry of Defence published its plans for restructuring the British Army by 2009. As part of the overall rebalancing process, a review of British forces in Germany was subsequently undertaken.

Since January 2006, the Ministry of Defence has made several announcements regarding the conclusions of its review. In January 2006, it announced that 4th Armoured Brigade, which is currently re-roling into a mechanised brigade as a result of restructuring, would return to the UK in line with the continuing policy of concentrating mechanised capability domestically. Comprising approximately 4,400 military and civilian personnel located at Osnabruch and Munster garrisons, the brigade is expected to return to the UK towards the end of this year and be located at Catterick in North Yorkshire. In order to support the remaining two UK armoured brigades—7th and 20th Armoured Brigades—in Germany after the departure of 4th Armoured Brigade, it is expected that 2,200 troops will deploy to Germany within a similar time frame. The result will be a net reduction of 2,200 troops in Germany by early next year.

In July 2006, the Government also announced that as a result of the relocation of 4th Armoured Brigade, Osnabruch barracks and most of the British military family housing belonging to the Federal Government would subsequently be returned to the Federal authorities in early 2009. The remaining barracks in Munster will also be rationalised. This withdrawal is expected to lead to the loss of approximately 530 local jobs.

At the same time, the Ministry of Defence also announced that 12th Regiment Royal Artillery would relocate from Paderborn back to the UK as part of the reorganisation of the UK’s air defence units. The regiment will be located at Thorney Island, along with 47th Regiment Royal Artillery.

As part of the wider restructuring of forces, the MOD also made it clear that it would take the opportunity to make further adjustments to the UK’s force posture in Germany. In July 2006, the MOD looked at redeploying the headquarters of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps—HQ ARRC—1 Signal Brigade and 102 Logistics Brigade from their bases in Germany back to the UK between 2008 and 2012. Such a move will account in total for approximately 3,600 personnel. Codenamed Operation Borona, the review was intended to determine where those forces would be located and whether the move would be practicable and offer best value for money.

In September last year, the findings of that review were announced. Under current planning assumptions, HQ ARRC and its supporting elements will now relocate to RAF Innsworth in Gloucestershire, while 1 Signal Brigade and 102 Logistics Brigade will relocate to RAF Cosford in Shropshire in the west midlands. The move
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of the two brigades to Cosford is expected to involve approximately 2,600 personnel and their families. The relocation of these forces back to the UK is earmarked to take place between 2009 and 2014. A detailed timetable and an identification of additional infrastructure requirements will now be established by the Borona project team over the coming months.

The proposed move of HQ ARRC will be the priority, and consultations with interested parties, including local councils, health, education and welfare providers and the trade unions will form an important part of that assessment. Final details, including a specific timetable for the relocation of the forces, will form part of a set of recommendations to be presented for a final investment decision by the Investment Approvals Board and MOD Ministers in spring 2009.

Alongside these moves to bring forces home from Germany, there has to be an accommodation policy so that there are places for these armed forces personnel. In this regard, the idea of the super-garrison has been developed—massing groups of forces in one area, although not necessarily in one barracks. It would make sense for these so-called super-garrisons to be based in areas where our armed forces recruit most successfully.

Mr. Hoyle: Would my hon. Friend like to emphasise the point that the north-west is one of the most fertile recruitment grounds in the country, and will he therefore be backing the idea of a super-garrison in that area?

Mr. Kidney: I certainly endorse my hon. Friend’s oft-made point that there is good recruitment in the north-west, and I wish him well in promoting a super-garrison there. If he does not mind, however, I would like to move on to the fruitful recruitment in the west midlands, and talk about the prospects for a super-garrison in that region. There is fruitful recruitment to all our armed forces in the west midlands, and we in Stafford are interested to know whether there will be a west midlands super-garrison—and if so, whether the military base at Stafford will have a role in accommodating further personnel.

On 19 April Stafford held a superb double celebration, as we granted the freedom of the borough to Tactical Supply Wing and 22 Signal Regiment. From the church service to the parade and the ceremony in the market square, the whole event was magnificent. I was particularly pleased that the evening TV news reporting of those special events focused on the public support for our military; people lined the town’s streets in their hundreds to cheer and applaud the RAF and the Army. All of us present enjoyed the military marching and the bands playing.

The granting of the freedom of the borough to Tactical Supply Wing recognises the 37 years that it has been part of the community of Stafford, continuing a Royal Air Force presence in the town that started before the second world war. Tactical Supply Wing was formed in 1970 at Stafford as a result of changes in the United Kingdom’s defence posture. The unit became fully operational in 1971, and almost immediately deployed on operations to Northern Ireland. There has not been a day since when members of Tactical Supply Wing have not been deployed on operations somewhere in the world; deployment has often been in support of two or three operations simultaneously, as is the case today.

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The unit’s role of providing aviation fuel support to the British military’s helicopters is unique and requires its members to be trained to a high proficiency in order to carry out their roles anywhere in the world, in any climatic conditions, often at short notice. In its 37-year history, the unit has served in all the major conflicts in which the British military has deployed, including the Falklands war, both Gulf wars, Belize, Northern Ireland, the Balkans, Sierra Leone and, latterly, Afghanistan. The unit has also supported humanitarian operations as far afield as Nepal and Mozambique.

Members of Tactical Supply Wing consider Stafford to be the spiritual home of their unit, and many serving and former members of the unit have made Stafford their home. At the freedom ceremony, the commanding officer, Wing Commander Nick Atkinson, said:

Lieutenant-Colonel Neil Fraser arrived at Stafford two years ago to head up a small team charged with reforming the 22nd Signal Regiment, which had disbanded in 1992 in Germany, just after the first Gulf war. The RAF ensign had just been lowered from the base, then called RAF Stafford, and the Army flag was raised on 1 April 2006. We were all in a period of much uncertainty; station facilities were closing, more than 600 uniformed RAF personnel had moved to RAF Wittering, and it had not been formally announced that the new regiment would form.

From the moment the Army arrived, it was made to feel welcome by the whole town. As funding was found in late 2006 and early 2007, the bulk of building work was completed, and soldiers, families, vehicles and equipment moved into the renamed MOD Stafford; most came from Bulford, near Salisbury, and Colerne, near Bath, but people also came from across Germany and the rest of the UK, including Northern Ireland.

In July 2007, the new 22 Signal Regiment had its official formation day. The Commander-in-Chief, Land and the Master of Signals welcomed the regiment back into the Army’s order of battle. Even as it was being formed, the regiment had soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Soldiers are now settling into the newly named Beacon barracks, deploying on exercises, and a squadron has even been in London on public duties.

Creating a new regiment is a huge task. Creating this regiment in Stafford, where the base is in close proximity to the town, has allowed soldiers and families to be part of the community, At the freedom ceremony, Lieutenant-Colonel Fraser said:

The sizeable Gurkha community, consisting of 160 soldiers and some 60 families, is well settled in Stafford too. Stafford college offers free English tuition to the soldiers and their families, which is yet another indication
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of the local community’s support for the military. Several people from the regiment have already bought homes in the area, and the foundations are in place for stability.

It must be a remarkable achievement for the regiment, just over a year after its reformation on 1 April 2007, to be honoured with the freedom of the borough on 19 April 2008. It is certainly a famous landmark that can be added to the regiment’s history, which stretches back to its days as an air formations signals unit that landed on D-day. Then our country’s leaders were discussing putting forces into Germany; today, we are discussing bringing them out of Germany.

Altogether, the relocation of 4 Armoured Brigade, HQ ARRC, 1 Signals Brigade and 102 Logistics Brigade will account for approximately 30 per cent. of British forces currently located in Germany. When the redeployment of troops back to the UK and the possible relocation of HQ ARRC were first announced in 2006, the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence, Lord Drayson, reiterated:

Aside from the UK’s commitment to the NATO alliance, and Germany in particular, the basing of British troops on German soil in the longer term also continues to be regarded as important from a training perspective. During questions in the other place on 16 February 2006, Baroness Crawley confirmed that

In January this year, Baroness Taylor reiterated that

It is expected that the size of the British contingent in Germany in future years will total some 15,000 service personnel.

In conclusion, we have not exactly reached the end of an era, but in future we can anticipate fewer of our forces being based in Germany. Our presence there will continue, but the mass, shape and role of our forces in Germany will change. The training and the support will be more broadly based, both across the European continent and throughout the NATO alliance.

On the day of the freedom ceremony in Stafford in April, we were all reminded in church of the military covenant and the obligation on all of us in civilian life to value and support our armed forces because of the dangerous work that they do in our name, and the personal sacrifices, including the ultimate sacrifice, that
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they make for us. I know that the Government plan to publish a Command Paper shortly to bring together all the additional ways in which all of us, in Parliament and in our communities, can keep our side of that covenant. I look forward to that publication soon.

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