“developing the low carbon economy and financing a green recovery.”

I could not agree more with the statements made then by those right hon. Members.

If we fast-forward to now, I regret the fact that the Chancellor is presenting us with a false choice between tackling climate change and growing our economy and that one Energy Minister—not the one in front of us, but the other Minister of State—has described climate change as a matter of “theology”.

I think that we need to deal with some of the risks. The fact is that the impact of climate change is already threatening to put more people in harm’s way up and down our country and across our planet. The Foreign Secretary’s climate adviser has described the security threat alone as being as grave as the threat from terrorism and cyber-attacks.

Let us take one example—flood defences. According to experts at the university of Colorado, sea levels are already rising at more than 3 mm a year. Just last week, a new study by the Met Office—I reinforce the fact that I respect that organisation; I do not think that it is putting out propaganda—showed that climate change exacerbated half the extreme weather events that happened last year. That has huge implications for us here in the UK and particularly for our flood defences. Last year

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was Britain’s second wettest year on record. Insurers had to pay out on £1.2 billion-worth of claims for flood damage across the country. Currently, 370,000 homes in England and Wales are at significant risk of river or coastal flooding. According to the “UK Climate Change Risk Assessment”, that number could increase fourfold by the 2050s.

David Mowat: The hon. Lady’s analysis would be completely correct if, by our reducing our carbon emissions, there would be that effect on our own climate. The difficulty that we have is that the rest of the world does not appear to have the same analysis as she does—at least judged by their actions, if not their words.

Luciana Berger: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. In a moment, I will show that countries across the globe do think that there is a problem and are investing massively—investing more than we are. That is all the more reason for us to come together with other countries at the future Paris COP—the conference of the parties to the UN framework convention on climate change—to secure that global climate change agreement. It is not that we should be doing it in isolation. Of course other countries should be doing it too, but that does not mean that we should not be doing it.

Let us consider what the opportunity is for a low-carbon economy. I am not sure what report the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) was referring to. I referred to the CBI, which has estimated that of the little economic growth that we did have last year, more than one third of it came from green businesses. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North highlighted, the low-carbon sector was responsible for 25% of the growth in our economy last year. The view of the CBI is very clearly articulated. It has said:

“For UK business, climate change is no longer a threat to be feared, but an opportunity to grow the economy and lead the world”.

We know that the competition is fierce. If we take the decisions that we need to now, the UK can still get ahead of the curve. We can create a new kind of economy, create huge numbers of jobs and secure our energy future. But if we do not—if we delay—we risk being left behind. Again, I refer to what other countries are doing. In fact, the hon. Member for Warrington South (David Mowat), in his remarks, talked about evidence. In America, the investment has increased by 155%. In China, it is up by 63% and, contrary to the examples put forward—I listened to the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley)—China is also proposing a cap on its carbon emissions for the first time. If we continue to lag behind, we risk becoming more heavily dependent on single imported sources of energy that come at a higher price.

I am conscious that I have only a minute left. Delivering a green economy is about not just seizing opportunities but managing the risks. The hon. Member for East Antrim talked about scare stories. I would ask him to talk to America’s first climate change refugees—the hundreds of people who have been forced to flee the Alaskan village of Kivalina before it disappears underwater.

I shall conclude with this thought. Contrary to what the hon. Member for Monmouth has said, there are countless reasons why it is right, sensible and in our best interests to acknowledge the gravity of climate change

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and to acknowledge that it is man-made and that we should commit to tackling it sooner rather than later. The Climate Change Act 2008 provides us with a clear framework for doing just that. The Government now need to push on with achieving those targets, not hold back, because a plan is only any use if we keep to it.

Aside from the practical case, something more basic is at stake. I visit many schools in my constituency and have many conversations with children. It is clear that they understand the issue. We have a responsibility to hand over our planet to future generations in the same state in which we found it. There is not only a practical and financial case for action, but a moral case, for our children, our grandchildren and their grandchildren. It would be selfish to do anything else.

3.50 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Gregory Barker): I am glad to be able to respond to the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) has performed a useful parliamentary service in allowing the issue to be aired. Although profound climate scepticism may be only a minority interest, such sceptics voice a view shared by a number of my constituents and people in the newspapers. It is a view heard on the Clapham omnibus and it is right that we hear such views and debate them in the open. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley) that a cloying consensus in Parliament does no service to legislation or national debate. However much I profoundly disagree with some of the arguments, it is right that we have the chance to air them in Parliament.

Steve Baker: We have agreed here that science proceeds by conjecture and refutation, so in an attempt not to have a cloying consensus, will the Minister fund some climate scientists who wish to refute the current thesis?

Gregory Barker: I am afraid that I do not have a budget for that sort of research.

I do not accept the premise that my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth put forward that somehow there are the Conservatives and then there are greens. He makes a political point, but I say something quite different:

“It’s we Conservatives who are not merely friends of the Earth—we are its guardians and trustees for generations to come. The core of Tory philosophy and for the case for protecting the environment are the same.”

Those are not my words, but the words of Margaret Thatcher at the 1989 Conservative party conference. She went on to say:

“No generation has a freehold on this earth. All we have is a life tenancy—with a full repairing lease.”

We have seen an unprecedented increase in the pace of change over the past 100 years: unprecedented growth in population and the spread of industry; dramatically increased use of oil, gas and coal; and the continued cutting down of forests. Those factors have created new and daunting problems, and hon. Members know what they are: acid rain and the greenhouse effect. In 1989, Margaret Thatcher used a huge slice of her party conference speech to talk about threats to the environment and the specific challenge of climate change, which she took very seriously. She went to the UN, where she was the

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first world leader to call for concerted international action on global warming. Asserting that that is at odds with being a Conservative is profoundly wrong.

I do not rely on hon. Members for my science. I am not a scientist. I do not profess to understand all the science, let alone to be a definitive arbiter on climate change, but it is incumbent on politicians, particularly Ministers, to take advice from the most respectable and reputable scientific institutions and academies. My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth did himself no service by talking down the Met Office. It is not perfect; none of us are and nor is any human institution, but it is an excellent institution, with an excellent global reputation in its field.

Climate change is not a British conspiracy theory of climate science. Hon. Members should look to the American Association for the Advancement of Science; the World Meteorological Organisation; our own Met Office; the European Science Foundation; the American Physical Society; the Polish Academy of Sciences; the World Health Organisation; the national science academies of the G8 plus 5; our own Royal Society; the American Geophysical Union; and of course the IPCC. It is not true to assert that there is unanimity among scientists—there never will be, because science constantly evolves—but the great weight of scientific opinion, and certainly the expert opinion on which Ministers should draw when framing public policy, is clear on where the balance of risks lie. Of course, there is a risk that we have got it wrong, but the prudent action based on the greater risk is to take steps to avert dangerous man-made climate change.

Barry Gardiner: I agree with the point the Minister makes. Would he care to reinforce it by pointing out that the IPCC does not simply represent a consensus of scientists, but talks about degrees of probability, levels of confidence and the percentage of risk? It does not try to say, “Everybody has agreed”, but varies the stated risk depending on the level of agreement and the certainty of each contributor.

Gregory Barker: Well put.

The other key suggestion is that we are acting in isolation. If that were the case, I would have some sympathy for the arguments made. We may have been a leader in climate change legislation, but 32 countries, from China to Ethiopia and Vietnam, now have some sort of climate change framework. Mexico and South Korea have modelled their climate change Acts and legislation on those from Westminster. India’s 12th five-year plan incorporates a range of recommendations from its low-carbon expert group. Indonesia has just passed a ministerial regulation, based on climate science, to expand thermal energy. We may be at the forefront, but we are not totally alone. We must make more progress. The world has a last chance in 2015 to get its act together and come together with effective, concerted international action if we are to have any chance of keeping the rise below 2°.

David T. C. Davies: Will the Minister give way?

Gregory Barker: I have little time left, so I am afraid I will not give way.

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We will ensure that we drive the negotiations to the most successful possible outcome in 2015. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) alluded to the 2008 Act. She can be proud of the leadership shown by the previous Government on that Act. I was involved as a Front Bench spokesperson and served on the Committee that considered the measure. She mounted a sensible defence of the strong weight of science behind the arguments and pointed out the massive trend in global investment. China anticipates spending $450 billion on renewable energy, dwarfing our expenditure.

I must take issue with one figure; the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) said that climate change policy would add one-quarter of a trillion pounds to our projected energy spend. The widely accepted figures from the Department of Energy and Climate Change show that, taking everything into account, we will have to spend something in the region of £110 billion in total over the next decade on energy measures. I do not recognise that quarter of a trillion figure. We must bear in mind the fact that the £110 billion investment will not only help us to prepare for a low-carbon energy economy, but pay for energy efficiency measures, which I hope hon. Members support whatever their views on global warning. Energy efficiency is the surest way to help the fuel poor. There is no good excuse for wasting energy, however it is generated. We should be ever mindful of the need to drive energy efficiency as a way not only of reducing carbon emissions or helping people to cut their fuel bills, but increasing the economic competitiveness of UK plc. The Government have put a greater emphasis on energy efficiency than any of their predecessors.

It is not true to say that it is climate costs that are driving up energy bills. In the past three years, the biggest single rising cost on energy bills for consumers, who are worried about the cost of living, has been the rising price of wholesale gas. We are committed to ensuring that we have a resilient energy economy, helping consumers and—

Katy Clark (in the Chair): Order. We need to move on to the next debate.

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First World War Centenary Commemorations

4 pm

Gareth Johnson (Dartford) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Clark, for what I believe is the first time. It is also a pleasure to have the opportunity of bringing this debate to Westminster Hall.

On 4 August next year, it will be exactly 100 years since the outbreak of hostilities in what became known as the great war and then, more commonly, the first world war. Few wars in history have been as tragic, bloody and devastating as that war; it is perhaps strange, therefore, to commemorate the outbreak of something so awful. It is right, however, that the date is marked and lessons are learned from a conflict that left 16 million dead and almost every community in this country severely affected. The pain and suffering that we experience from the first world war is mirrored throughout the Commonwealth, where thousands lost their lives supporting the allied forces.

Like many families, mine felt the brunt of the hostilities. My great-grandfather, Robert Barr, answered the call of duty as a middle-aged man. He left his family, joined the East Kent Regiment, went into battle and never returned. The pain on my grandmother’s face when she talks about him is a memory that will stay with me for ever. It is right, therefore, that we mark the centenary, so that the complete failure of politics that took place then is never repeated. The events will be very much a commemoration, not a celebration.

One of the most eye-catching initiatives will be to sow millions of poppy seeds around the country, so that they bloom in time for the commemoration. That humble yet significant idea for commemorating the date came out of a classic case of community action. Two men, Mr Graham Mentor-Morris and Mr Phil Berry were sharing a pint of beer in the Royal British Legion club in Greenhithe in my constituency. They were discussing the centenary, and how there should be some commemoration to mark the occasion. One of them suggested getting schools and local community groups involved, and the suggestion was made of planting poppies by scattering seeds in public places—an idea had been born.

The Royal British Legion was soon on board, as were the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the National Farmers Union. The idea reached Downing street, and the Prime Minister used it as an example during his speech to launch the funding available for the first world war commemorations. Following the announcement, Dartford council gave financial assistance to the poppy seed scheme and, perhaps more importantly, allowed the local park and community areas to be used for the scattering.

The Ministry of Defence and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport have been enormously supportive of the concept, and I pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison), and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, who is here today, for their assistance with the project. As a token of my appreciation, I will leave for the Minister a packet of poppy seeds

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from the Royal British Legion in Greenhithe for him to scatter around part of Faversham and hopefully turn it red in time for the commemorations. I am sure that he will have to complete about 75 forms to receive the donation, but I hope he is able to accept it.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on bringing the matter to Westminster Hall for consideration.

In my constituency in Northern Ireland we have had a similar scheme through the Somme remembrance garden on a housing estate in Newtownards. We will recreate it with a sea of flowers, but it is not only the flower planting that is happening; paramilitary murals are being taken down and replaced with historical or factual ones that remember the first world war, and children go to the Somme Heritage Centre. The theme is that the war is a backdrop not simply for a great Hollywood blockbuster but for our freedom to live in the United Kingdom today. That is what the children need to learn.

Gareth Johnson: The hon. Gentleman makes an incredibly pertinent point. He has spoken to me about that scheme, and I pay tribute to his work in his constituency to ensure that not just one event but a diverse range of events take place to commemorate the centenary. Educating youngsters is particularly important in ensuring that the lessons that were learned back then never fade away. We need to ensure that history is not repeated, and that will happen only if we ensure that we remember precisely what happened 100 years ago.

Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): I would be delighted to take some of the poppy seeds to line the road of remembrance in Folkestone, which is the centre of the first world war centenary commemorations in our town, and where the Step Short project will construct a memorial arch. My hon. Friend is more than welcome to come to the opening of the arch on 4 August.

Gareth Johnson: I thank my hon. Friend very much. Folkestone and Hythe has, of course, a strong military history, with the Hythe barracks and the Gurkhas. I pay tribute to him for his work with the military presence in his constituency and for his efforts to ensure that the commemorations are successful.

Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con): During the first world war, tens of thousands of British and American troops came through the Morn Hill site in my constituency on their way to the western front. At the time, a promise was made that a permanent memorial would be erected there, but that never happened, so “To honour a promise” is the project in my constituency to mark the centenary. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is a worthy piece of unfinished business, as well as a commemoration of the many who sadly did not make the return trip through Winchester?

Gareth Johnson: It is vital that it is local people who put such memorials in place and not some sort of central bureaucracy. The people of Winchester—the children and grandchildren of those troops—have suffered

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the loss, and it is right that have we have local communities coming together to mark the significant sacrifices of the first world war.

The poppy seed project has received support from Prince Charles and from numerous charities and respected organisations, so it was surprising that the Heritage Lottery Fund failed to support it when the project came before it last month. I very much hope that it will, in due course, reconsider what I believe to be an ill-judged decision, and that it can find some way of supporting this very worthwhile campaign by the Royal British Legion in Greenhithe.

A range of organisations are participating fully in the commemorations, and I was pleased to see that the Woodland Trust is planning its own poppy seed distribution and tree-planting scheme. B&Q stores have agreed to support the Royal British Legion nationally, and I pay tribute to their generosity. I understand, too, that the BBC plans a range of programmes—it will make an announcement next month—and the Imperial War museum is playing a full part in the commemorations. Last October, the Prime Minister announced at the museum that funding would be provided for a commemorative programme to recognise the sacrifices that took place. I welcome that, and the financial support that will be given. It is also welcome news that there will be commemorative events to mark the outbreak of some of the world war one battles, and Armistice day.

Next year, it will be 100 years since thousands went off to battle expecting to be home by Christmas. They had no idea of the bloodshed and horror they would experience. The first world war changed Britain; it changed families and communities across the Commonwealth. It also changed Germany and the axis powers. It is right, therefore, that we commemorate such a momentous occasion, and it is right that the Government are supporting the project.

4.9 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Hugh Robertson): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) on securing the debate, and the other Members on their interventions. Through him, I also extend my congratulations to the Royal British Legion in Greenhithe, which is clearly a fertile source of very good ideas—over a pint of good Kentish ale. Perhaps on my behalf he would thank the Royal British Legion for its contribution. Given that the idea has come from the Royal British Legion, I ought to declare that I am a member of it and, for the avoidance of any doubt, I also serve on the regimental council of my regiment and still sit on the Regular Army Reserve.

One point that has come through in this debate, as it does every time we discuss the first world war, is the very welcome engagement of members of the public—the ex-service community in particular, but also more broadly—and the interest in the anniversary. The first world war is absolutely integral to our history and, as a Government, we are 100% committed to commemorating its centenary appropriately.

It is worth reflecting on the scale involved—more than 16.5 million deaths, military and civilian, including more than 1.25 million from the then British empire, colonies and dominions alone. That often gets me thinking

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about my own time in the Army, so much of which was curiously shaped by the events of the first world war. For example, all the training companies in my college, Sandhurst, were named after its prominent battles.

Like others, I was therefore absolutely delighted when the Prime Minister announced the £53 million programme of funded activities, which includes £5 million for school visits, at least £6 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and national events to commemorate six key moments—the first day of the war; the battle of the Somme; Armistice day, which will be commemorated in 2018; the battles of Jutland and Passchendaele; and, of course, the Gallipoli landings. At the centre of the programme lies the £35 million project to refurbish the Imperial War museum’s first world war galleries, which will provide the hugely visible centrepiece.

Another stream of work is to encourage public engagement, such as the Victoria Cross winners commemoration scheme that was announced at the beginning of August, and the website—something I was very keen on—to signpost people towards sources of help for war memorials. In the county that we know so well, several war memorials were put next to roads that were not that well used in Kent at the time, but have since become busy throughways, and those war memorials have suffered as a result. Such things are important.

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that if one thing is synonymous with memories of the first world war it is the Flanders poppy, which is one reason why I think that the idea is so clever. I therefore fully understand his disappointment and that of the Royal British Legion branch, but there are two important factors that I hope will give him some comfort.

The first factor is that, as my hon. Friend will know, Ministers are not allowed to direct lottery distributors on how to spend the money, and it would be wrong if we were allowed to. We can set the strategic direction of the lottery distributing bodies, as the Prime Minister has done in this instance, but we cannot direct how they spend their money. The Heritage Lottery Fund has offered to meet the project applicant, and I encourage my hon. Friend to get involved in that meeting and to get the Heritage Lottery Fund to explain precisely why it took its decision. In that meeting, he can examine whether there is any scope to reshape the application or to bring it back in some other form.

The second factor is that many of us think that the idea is extremely good, as I have already said several times, and I pay tribute again to those who thought of it. It is precisely the sort of innovative idea that we want to encourage as part of the celebrations. All I can tell my hon. Friend is that officials in various parts of Whitehall are looking at how to take on the idea and see what can be done to bring it to fruition. I hope that we will have an answer for him soon.

I have other information about the first world war anniversaries, but I am aware that Members and I have discussed them in previous Westminster Hall debates. If anybody wants to raise anything with me at this point, I am happy to let them intervene.

Jim Shannon: I thank the Minister for his very positive response. Things have changed in Northern Ireland. The Minister will be aware of that and of how things

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are progressing. The Irish Division and the Ulster Division fought together at the battle of the Somme. For many years after the war, it was a case of never the twain shall meet, but the Royal British Legion—it operates along with other bodies in the Republic of Ireland—will hold commemoration events in the Republic of Ireland in conjunction and partnership with bodies in Northern Ireland. Great steps of advancement have taken place, and I know that the Minister will be aware of some of them. I was there about a month ago with some of the people concerned, and we heard about the ministerial involvement of the Republic of Ireland Government. If we can do that in Northern Ireland, we can do it in relation to the Somme seeds idea put forward by the hon. Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) for the mainland of the United Kingdom.

Hugh Robertson: I can only say that I absolutely agree. I suspect that this time would in any event have huge resonance in Northern Ireland, because of the sheer numbers of people involved. Clearly, given the peace agreement and what has happened since the mid-1990s, the anniversary provides a unique opportunity that was not previously there. No part of the United Kingdom was left untouched by the first world war, but the effect on Northern Ireland was considerable.

I do not know whether I had the chance to tell the hon. Gentleman this the last time we had such a debate, but as we have a few moments to spare I can say that I have discovered—perhaps he knows this—that the first Member of Parliament to die in the first world war was an Ulsterman. He was the MP for one of the Downs, I think, and his grandson went on to be the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland in the 1960s. He had done military service in the 1880s and fought through the South African campaign, but he left and stood for Parliament in 1910. He volunteered to join up again in 1914, and was mown down within a matter of minutes. He was from an Ulster family. I came across that from the periphery, because a relative of mine serving in the Irish Fusiliers actually got through the whole lot. He was one of the very lucky few who managed to do so.

Damian Collins: Several excellent initiatives have been outlined in the debate, including the encouragement of students to visit the battlefields on tours, as many of us already have done. Does the Minister agree that many heritage sites in the United Kingdom deserve to be highlighted and visited? I have obviously mentioned my project in Folkestone—10 million men passed through the town, and people can walk the routes—but many other sites linked with early air raids, training facilities and military facilities still exist. Many of them have been forgotten, and the centenary period will be a great time to revisit them.

Hugh Robertson: Absolutely. I teased my hon. Friend beforehand by saying that if I heard the words “Step Short”, I would laugh; he nearly said them, and I nearly laughed. He is absolutely right. The excellent initiative that he has driven in Folkestone will be a fantastic contribution to the very first day, I hope, of the world war one celebrations.

A whole range of facilities exist, including not just war sites but regimental museums—think of all those in Northern Ireland. I suspect that they will profile the

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achievements of regiments and local people throughout the war, the activities that will be undertaken by Royal British Legion branches up and down the country and all sorts of sites of historic significance. The anniversary will be a great moment for people to look back into their family history and find out what their family’s involvement was with this extraordinary and all-encompassing conflict. That, in turn, will lead to a much better understanding of what happened and why, and what the consequences of it all were.

As no other Members are seeking to ask me questions, I will finish where I started by again congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford on obtaining the debate. I ask him to please pass on my personal thanks to the Royal British Legion branch in Greenhithe and to those who thought up the plan. I encourage him to take up the Heritage Lottery Fund’s offer of a meeting, and I reassure him that even if, for whatever reason, the Heritage Lottery Fund cannot take it forward, the idea is not in any way dead.

4.19 pm

Sitting suspended.

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Royal Mercian and Lancastrian Yeomanry

4.30 pm

Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab): It is great to see you in the Chair, Ms Clark. Congratulations—I had not realised that you were chairing this debate. I am grateful for the opportunity to talk about the contribution that the Royal Mercian and Lancastrian Yeomanry makes to my constituency in Dudley. I will begin by paying tribute to all the men and women who serve in the armed forces. It is very important that debates such as this one are held, so that we can express our gratitude for the service they give, the risks they face and the bravery they show on behalf of the rest of us.

The people of Dudley make an enormous contribution to the armed forces through the Territorial Army. Until recently, that was done through the RMLY—and still is—a TA regiment with a squadron at Vicar street in Dudley. The regiment has a history in the region dating back to 1794, and A squadron has had a base on Vicar street for more than 20 years. I thank all the members of A squadron for the work that they do in Dudley and further afield, and for the warm welcome that they always give me when I visit their base. They are a credit to the Army, their regiment and their community. They do a brilliant job, not only in Dudley but overseas, serving their country.

The squadron attracts recruits from across the black country. It has recently taken on 47 trainees and it is processing another 60 at the moment. Two dozen volunteers recently returned from active service in Afghanistan. It is a popular and expanding squadron in a popular and expanding regiment, with deep roots in the local community and the wider region. In fact, the regiment is the best recruited yeomanry regiment in the whole of the TA. The Minister will be pleased to hear that it is making exactly the sort of contribution that he and his colleagues are asking for as they seek to double the size of the TA in the next few years.

Under plans announced in July, however, the regiment will be disbanded to make way for a new Scottish yeomanry regiment. A squadron in Dudley is being merged with B squadron in Telford, with the former Telford squadron being run as a detachment. Telford will cease to function as a regional TA headquarters, with staff being asked to move to Edinburgh to set up the new Scottish yeomanry. A squadron at Dudley itself will now be part of the Royal Yeomanry Regiment, whose headquarters will be in Croydon. From its Croydon headquarters, the Royal Yeomanry Regiment will now have to support recruiting bases in Fulham, Dudley, Nottingham and Croydon itself, while being paired with a Welsh misplaced regular armoured reconnaissance regiment, the Queen’s Dragoon Guards in Norfolk, which is a traditional regular affiliate of the RMLY. Together with other changes to squadrons in the midlands, that means that the RMLY will be disbanded, despite its history and the contribution that people in Dudley and the wider black country make to it. Thankfully we have retained the Vicar street base in Dudley, without which TA soldiers who have done a full day’s work in Dudley would have to travel 30 or 40 miles to train and to fulfil their other responsibilities in Telford.

The Dudley squadron is a central part of the community and it is at the heart of events that unify people in the town such as Remembrance day and St George’s day

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parades. The Minister will be delighted to hear that the RMLY received the freedom of Dudley last summer. Although I am disappointed that the regiment will be disbanded, I am very pleased that the squadron will continue to play a role in Dudley. That could not have happened without the hard work of Hannah Bragg and other wives of reservists at the TA centre. Hannah set up a petition against disbandment, gaining huge support and more than 1,300 signatures.

However, I have serious concerns about the risks to the Dudley and Telford bases. I am worried that they could be at risk in the long term because local reserve squadrons are best managed locally, not from a headquarters 150 miles or so away. TA sub-units are hard to manage, especially when problems occur. There are examples such as 37 Signals Regiment, which has its HQ in Redditch, in a constituency neighbouring my own. The regiment has had management issues at one of its squadrons in Colchester, 160 miles away. In the recent TA review, the Colchester squadron has been moved, to come under command and administration from a more local Royal Signals TA Regiment in the south-east to ease that problem.

The success of the RMLY Regiment was down to its local laydown, with its regimental HQ at Telford and squadrons at Telford, Dudley, Chester and Wigan. I am concerned that it will be more difficult for the Dudley squadron to develop an esprit de corps with other squadrons in Nottingham and Fulham, and new headquarters 150 miles or so away in Croydon. Similarly, the rest of the RMLY will be lost to the Queen’s Own Yeomanry, which has its HQ at Newcastle upon Tyne. That will end 217 years of regimental unity and shared history. This is not just about the RMLY; it is about local TA regiments.

It is only because the RMLY is local that it has been the best recruited yeomanry regiment and the third best recruiting TA regiment nationwide, and it has had more soldiers on operations than any other yeomanry regiment. Reserve regiments will now receive regimental recruiting teams from the regular Army. Under the former local Telford, Dudley, Chester and Wigan laydown, those teams would have had less travelling to do and would have been more effective than they will be under the non-local laydown of Croydon, Dudley, Fulham and Nottingham.

I have a few concerns about that. First, if a sub-unit faces problems with training, equipment or staff, the distances between bases could become an issue when it comes to fixing the problem. Secondly, joint training between squadrons is important to yeomanry regiments, but it will be more difficult to deliver because of the distances involved. Thirdly, TA employer support issues are handled locally by the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association. During deployments, regimental TA liaison officers are mobilised, but their interface with soldiers’ families and employers will be more difficult without local laydown, because of the greater distances involved.

Those changes mean that there will be no yeomanry regiment in the west midlands and very few “teeth arm” reserve jobs in the west midlands, which are the jobs that reservists like. More reserves will be support troops, logistics and signals staff, but those positions are less well recruited because, as I understand it, they are less popular with reservist soldiers.

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Will the Minister join me in congratulating the 47 new recruits to A squadron and the 60 new leads that are currently being processed? Does he agree that that is exactly the sort of contribution he wants local communities to make if he is going to hit Government targets? Will he not only listen to what campaigners are saying, or to what I am saying, but seek the advice of the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Mr Swayne), who is a former commanding officer of A squadron in Dudley? I am sure that the Minister has already discussed this issue with him. Will he visit Dudley? He once promised to do so—it was before the last election, so he might have forgotten—and it would be great if he came to see for himself the brilliant work of the RLMY at Vicar street.

In conclusion, the people of Britain show huge respect and support for the work of our armed forces. Nowhere is that truer than in Dudley, where our local squadron and the wider regiment are at the heart of the community and have the freedom of the borough. It is hugely important that the TA is not reorganised in a way that puts that in jeopardy.

4.38 pm

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr Andrew Robathan): Ms Clark, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship; I think that this is the first occasion on which I have had that pleasure.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) on securing this debate on an issue that I know is important to many Members of the House. Indeed, I should put on the record the fact that he has already raised this issue with me, both informally and on the Floor of the House, and that he has very much stood up for the Territorial Army in Dudley. However, the issue is also important to many of the individuals who are affected by the important changes that we are making as a result of the wider reserves structure and basing announcement of 3 July.

Any discussion about the Royal Mercian and Lancastrian Yeomanry has to be set in the context of the large-scale and necessary structural changes that are under way to transform our Army—both regular and reserve—so that it can face the challenge of the future. Our reasons for changing the structure of the Army, including placing a greater reliance on the reserves, are well known.

4.39 pm

Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.

4.58 pm

On resuming

Mr Robathan: As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, our reasons for changing the Army’s structure, including a greater reliance on the reserves, are well known. Much detailed and complex work has been done by the Army in support of the complex task of restructuring the regulars and the reserves into what will be a fully integrated, flexible and credible force by 2018. Many difficult decisions have had to be taken in support of that work, but I believe the end product will justify the means.

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The hon. Member for Dudley North will already be aware that the principle of greater integration was established in the report published by the independent commission to review the United Kingdom’s reserve forces, which was published in July 2011. In delivering the Future Reserves 2020 proposition, and Army 2020, we are committed to expanding the volunteer Army Reserve to a trained strength of 30,000 and to integrating it fully into the structure of the Army as a whole. Achieving that has already involved hard choices on the regular side to ensure that the Army plays its part in allowing the Ministry of Defence to continue to live within its means while maintaining an Army that can operate across the full spectrum of operational capability and offer its reserve members fulfilment and challenge.

We do not underestimate the challenge of growing the reserve to 30,000. However, as I have said in the past, the target of a trained reserve of 30,000 is well within historic norms. In 1997, the Territorial Army was over 50,000 strong, and it had already been reduced to about 40,000 by 2000. By 2009, it had declined in size to just over 26,000. That shows that the current initiative to increase its trained strength to 30,000, while challenging, is perfectly achievable. However, given its importance to our nation, that will require support and encouragement from all of us, which is why it is valuable that the hon. Gentleman has raised this issue.

We recognise, of course, that while previously the Territorial Army was essentially designed to augment the regular Army, it will in future be a vital part of an integrated Army, ready and able to deploy routinely at sub-unit level, and in some cases as formed units. Having said that, I should not overlook the contribution to operations already made by reservists, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned. In the past 10 years, almost 30,000 members of the TA have deployed on operations overseas. Since 2003, more than 70 members of the TA have received operational honours, while 21, sadly, have died on operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. I know that those present today will want to join me in saluting their sacrifice.

We are investing heavily in the reserves to ensure that they will be trained, equipped and supported accordingly for the new role they will be expected to play. We plan that, over time, reservists will have access to the same training equipment currently used by regulars. In exchange, we expect them to commit to specific amounts of training time and, for the Army in most cases, to accept liability for a maximum deployment of up to six months plus pre-deployment training in a five-year period, dependent on operational demand. There will be opportunities for shorter periods of deployed service commitment for those in some specialist roles. Reserves will also routinely fulfil roles that were historically the preserve of the regulars, and officers and soldiers will have command opportunities that have not always been available in the recent past.

The changes will provide career prospects that have not necessarily been available hitherto for reservists. Similarly, the skills and experience gained by reservists will be of considerable value to their civilian employers, making the proposition all the more attractive. Alongside the improvements and changes being made to the offer, we are overhauling the structure of the Army reserves to align with the regular structure, which is what will allow the Army to become a single entity.

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On the specific circumstances of the Royal Mercian and Lancastrian Yeomanry and the changes we will be implementing, I understand that there has been some concern among those serving in the regiment and in the local community. I assure those people that the locations currently used by squadrons of the regiment will remain in use, and it is intended that the squadrons will continue to bear the historic names handed down over time.

The RMLY was formed in 1992 and is the youngest of today’s four yeomanry regiments. It was established following the amalgamation of the Queen’s Own Mercian Yeomanry and the Duke of Lancaster’s Own Yeomanry as part of the “Options for Change” programme initiated to redesign our defence forces following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold war. The antecedent regiments of the RMLY, the oldest of which was raised in 1794, are steeped in a rich and distinguished military history, having served with distinction in South Africa and seen action during the world wars in many theatres in roles as diverse as cavalry, artillery and signals. That heritage will of course be preserved for future generations. Since we have time, I will digress in a way that I was told not to: one of the regiment’s squadrons, based on the Cheshire Yeomanry, was involved in the Peterloo massacre, but it was a long time ago, so we need not argue about that now.

Under the new structure, the overall number of yeomanry regiments will remain the same, although the number of squadrons will be reduced. Three of the regiments will be in the adaptable force, paired with regular light cavalry regiments, while the Royal Wessex Yeomanry will provide support to the reaction force. The changes have been designed to allow better regular-reserve unit pairing with all the associated benefits that that brings: improved access to training facilities and equipment, better use of full-time manpower and increased opportunities for recruitment.

As the Defence Secretary said on 3 July, it will be necessary to merge or close some units and raise some other new ones so that they can more easily be paired with regular counterparts. The Army will also consolidate some small detachments, most of which have been poorly recruited over recent years, to enable better pairing arrangements.

The pairing arrangements have meant that the current regimental headquarters of the RMLY in Telford is not well placed to pair with any of the regular light cavalry regiments, all of which are many hundreds of miles away in Leuchars, Catterick and Swanton Morley. Other yeomanry regiments already in the north-east and south-east are well placed to pair with Catterick and Swanton Morley respectively, but the distance between Telford and Leuchars is thought to be too great to enable an effective pairing relationship. Therefore, the decision has been taken to leave RMLY squadrons in situ by resubordinating them to the nearest of the two other yeomanry regiments, and to move the regimental headquarters to Scotland where it will take command of the existing yeomanry squadrons in Belfast, Ayrshire and Fife and be very well placed to pair with the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards in Leuchars. The RHQ is largely, although not exclusively, composed of regular staff and instructors. I particularly congratulate the RMLY on the recruiting successes mentioned by the hon. Gentleman.

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Subject to the necessary endorsement, the regiment in Scotland will be renamed the Scottish and North Irish Yeomanry. As I mentioned, the locations currently occupied by RMLY squadrons will remain in use, and it is planned that, subject to endorsement, the squadrons themselves will retain their titles, although their command will be transferred to other yeomanry regiments. That means that there will be little disruption for the people attending the units. They can continue to serve, as before, as yeomen.

I recognise the strong feelings that exist on this subject on both sides of the House, particularly among those who have first-hand experience of Army service and

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those whose constituencies will be directly affected. I am confident, however, that we have grasped the proverbial nettle and taken the necessary difficult decisions to deliver a single, credible future Army fit for the challenges of the 21st century. In closing, we value enormously our regular and reserve forces, especially today. I thank the members of the RMLY for all the work that they have done in the service of our country.

Question put and agreed to.

5.7 pm

Sitting adjourned.