Jim Murphy MP, Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary, responding in the Chamber today to the Government’s Army basing statement, said:
Thank you Mr Speaker and I thank the Secretary of State for his statement.
While the Strategic Defence Review did not survive its first contact with world events, the assumptions within it did not survive contact with the current Secretary of State. The country remembers that this Government was elected on a promise of a bigger Army. The SDSR promised 5 multi-role brigades and cut 7,000 troops. Army 2020 is based on a cut of 20,000 troops and promises seven Infantry Brigades.
We welcome a steady, costed withdrawal of UK troops from Germany. Today’s announcement will impact on Army deployability, our ability to meet Planning Assumptions, service families’ livelihoods and the integration of service personnel with local communities. That is why I want to ask some detailed questions on how to make these measures successful.
The Secretary of State says the total cost of returning troops from Germany is £1.8bn. Could he spell out specifically where this money has been found and say whether any cuts to the MoD non-equipment budget are being made as a result? Undisclosed underspends cannot be the gift that keeps on giving for the Secretary of State, and all those in the military who have recently lost their jobs will want to know that today’s announcement hasn’t been funded at their expense.
Could the he say how much is allocated for each RAF base being converted to make them fit for the Army, and for each when will conversion be completed?
The public will also want specifics on how the £240m savings will be achieved and in which year they will begin to accrue.
It is vital there is a positive impact on the local communities to which our Forces and their dependents will be returning. How many new homes for soldiers and families will be ready by 2016? It is hard to see this being achieved in the timeframe. Given that MoD figures show there are 7,000 service children being educated in Germany, can he say what will happen to those whose new homes will not be built in time?
There will be an expectation the Secretary of State can guarantee that no-one returning will be forced to take expensive private rented accommodation.
It is essential that local services can provide for our military families. Could the Secretary of State say what assessment he has made about the local impact of returning military families specifically in the areas surrounding the seven permanent bases referred to today, and what discussions has he had with his counterparts in Health and Education as well as Devolved Administrations? With the grant to local government falling by a third over the current spending review period, which Department will meet the additional costs to Local Authorities?
Mr Speaker, could the Secretary of State confirm that he has had the requisite discussions with the German authorities about these plans, and what will the cost be of redundancy of the civilian force in Germany?
While there is much less strategic need for our Forces to be based in Germany, it can still play an important role in providing training facilities. How does the Secretary of State envisage this function being supplemented if it is no longer available there?
There will be real disappointment at closures across the UK today, from Canterbury, Ripon, Shrewsbury to Brawdy, where historic bonds are being broken.
The Secretary of State says that his disposal plans will bring in substantial receipts which have already been factored in to future budgets. After the Government’s 4G debacle, he will forgive these benches if we wait for further detail before taking that on face value.
On Scotland, Mr Speaker, the Armed Forces remain crucial to Scotland’s future but today the government has reneged on its promise. While there is positive news about the return of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards and the Royal Marines staying in Arbroath, a pledge of thousands of troops to Scotland has become a plan for just hundreds. This is a body blow to Scotland and won’t be forgotten.
Mr Speaker, UK Defence Planning Assumptions rely on doubling our number of Reservists by 2018. Despite this, there is uncertainty over employer engagement, workplace protections and missed recruitment targets. It is disappointing that today we heard little of where Reserve units will train or of the fate of existing units. The Army 2020 plan around which today’s announcement is based remains in jeopardy while these issues are unresolved.
Mr Speaker, UK troops have been stationed in Germany for almost 70 years and we support their return home but this will – as he would expect – be matched by detailed scrutiny.
I hope the Secretary of State will be able to further outline the implications of today’s announcement for personnel and their families, as well as local communities – who will I am sure give them a warm and patriotic welcome upon their return.