Mr Lansley: I gladly join my hon. Friend in congratulating Warwickshire police. The reduction in crime is not least because of the Government’s focus on ensuring that we reduce bureaucracy, freeing up 4.5 million hours of police time in a year. That increases the proportion of police time involved in front-line duties, so that while we achieve the necessary financial

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performance for the police service, we also get more police providing front-line services, enabling us to continue reducing crime.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent debate on the risk to the lives of Londoners of the proposed closure of 17 fire stations across London, including the very important one in Clapham in my constituency? Does he agree that Londoners will just not accept that, and that there must be other ways of saving money?

Mr Lansley: I will, if I may, ask my ministerial colleague from the Department for Communities and Local Government to respond to the hon. Lady. I do not know of any plans for a debate on the matter, although the hon. Lady may want to seek an Adjournment debate about it.

John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): I welcome the news that the Government are working with industry to make £1 billion available for leading science projects. Porton Down in my constituency has the potential to build on its reputation as a hub of world-class research. Will the Leader of the House make time for a statement on the outcome of the recent applications for the regional growth fund, which would enable the Minister to reflect on the merits of Wiltshire’s bid to have a science park at Porton Down?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am aware that he, Wiltshire council and the institutes and businesses in his area are working to bring together Wiltshire science university and to exploit what is one of the leading centres for science and life sciences. Because of my previous ministerial responsibilities, I am very well aware of the world-leading character of the work that is being done at Porton Down, not least under the Health Protection Agency. In response to his question, I hope that there will be announcements very shortly in relation to the regional growth fund, where we are seeing many projects coming through and further resources being put behind projects that will enable us further to exploit our leading position in science.

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on sports sponsorship, with the ultimate objective of putting in place a fit and proper companies test for future sponsorship of major sporting events? I name the likes of Atos and Wonga—companies which, in my belief, are pretty dubious in terms of being in a position to sponsor major events.

Mr Lansley: As the hon. Gentleman knows from the business I have announced, I have no immediate plans to do that. If he feels strongly about this issue, he might like to promote it by way of an Adjournment debate or through the Backbench Business Committee. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), the Culture, Media and Sport Committee is looking at many of the issues relating to the governance of sport, and he might like to correspond with it too.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): There continues to be a lot of concern on both sides of the House about education funding. We know that this situation has not

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been established overnight but goes back many years. However, children in the poorest part of my constituency continue to receive hundreds of pounds less for their education than those in the wealthy part. May we have a debate on this important issue?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I think he will recognise that under this coalition Government the pupil premium plays a vital part in ensuring that those who come from the most disadvantaged families and communities have education resources put behind them to enable them to achieve better results. That is particularly true this year because of the resources being made available for the catch-up premium for those in year 7. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary has set out proposals on the future of education funding that are still subject to consultation.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): May we have a debate on the place of plebs in society? The worst aspect of what the Chief Whip said to those police officers was that they should know their place, and such a debate would not only give him the opportunity to get on his feet and give us the truth about what happened but give those of us who consider ourselves to be plebs an opportunity to know exactly what our place is.

Mr Lansley: I explained in response to the shadow Leader of the House how I feel about this. It is all very well Labour Members trying to make political capital out of this, but we support the police. We are getting on with that job, and the Chief Whip is getting on with that job and doing a grand job in doing so.

Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park) (Con): More or less everyone, whether opponent or advocate of the third runway, agrees that delaying the decision until after the election is both cynical and disruptive. Will the Leader of the House allow us time to debate the timing of the Davies review?

Mr Lansley: Clearly, my hon. Friend may seek opportunities for a debate, but it would be inappropriate for the Government to do so when we are in the midst of the further review undertaken by Howard Davies, which will provide an interim report next year and a final report in 2015. As my hon. Friend and the whole House knows, these are immensely complicated issues that it is not easy to resolve in a short period of time.

Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab): This year in Manchester two people have been arrested, charged, prosecuted and imprisoned for abusing police officers, and in South Shields in the north-east of England an arrest has taken place for a similar offence. May we have a debate on policing, prosecutions and sentencing as a matter of urgency, as it is very topical?

Mr Lansley: I think that members of the public watching our discussion might wonder whether it would not be better for Members to devote themselves to the interests of their constituents and new issues rather than constantly trying to contrive new ways of returning to an issue that, frankly, was closed weeks ago. The Chief Whip apologised and that apology was accepted, and on that basis the matter was closed.

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Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): May we have a statement from the Sports Minister on what is happening to deliver the Olympic and Paralympic legacy at community sports level? May I bring to his and the House’s attention the “Get Involved—Be Inspired” initiative, which organises events to get people involved in participating and volunteering, the first of which will be held at Lawnswood school in my constituency?

Mr Lansley: I am delighted to hear about how the Olympic legacy is giving rise to additional sporting activity in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I know that that will happen across the country, because the Olympic legacy is being followed up by my colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Communities and Local Government, and by Lord Coe. That is happening not only through activities such as the school games—which this year, for the first time, demonstrated the fantastic capacity for sporting participation across the whole school system; half the schools in this country took part, and back in the early summer I went to the Olympic park to see 35,000 children participating in the finals—but more generally, not least through the measures being taken by the Department of Health to encourage physical activity for every child, particularly at primary school level, so that when children are contemplating taking part in physical activity in later years they have a grounding that enables them to do so.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (Lab): Important though it may be to some people, could the Leader of the House justify why he has allocated six hours of debate in this Chamber to badger culling? Given all the issues facing the country and our constituents, is that really a priority for this Government?

Mr Lansley: I gently remind the hon. Gentleman that the allocation of time for a debate on the badger cull was made through the Backbench Business Committee and not provided by the Government.

Guto Bebb (Aberconwy) (Con): The Welsh Language Act 1993, which was championed in this House by my predecessor Lord Roberts, has been diluted by the Welsh language measure passed by the Labour-Plaid Administration in the Welsh Assembly in 2011—a change that has resulted in significantly less protection for the Welsh language in non-devolved matters. May we have a debate in this House to reaffirm the principles of the 1993 Act, which are being diluted by the actions of the Labour-Plaid Administration?

Mr Lansley: I understand my hon. Friend’s point, as will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. He and the Wales Office are addressing this issue and will continue to work with the Welsh Language Commissioner and with the non-devolved Departments and organisations to champion the Welsh language. I will further contact the Secretary of State and ask him to be aware of my hon. Friend’s comments and to respond.

Mr Dave Watts (St Helens North) (Lab): It is 18 months since the then Health Minister promised to make the allocation for my local private finance initiative hospital in St Helens available to the trust, but it still has not got

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its budget and is weeks away from being required to set one. May we have a statement on when funding will be made available to those trusts?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that Ministers from the Department of Health will be here on Tuesday, when he may wish to raise that issue. Under this Government, we as Health Ministers for the first time addressed the problems created by the mismanaged PFI programme under the previous Government. We made it clear that where the problems were most deep-seated, not least in relation to the St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, we were prepared, on the basis of a good business plan, to give continuing support in order to resolve any problems.

Chris White (Warwick and Leamington) (Con): During the recess I was pleased to visit two very important charities in my constituency: Myton Hospice and Guide Dogs UK. Both are involved in supporting some of the most vulnerable people in our society and rely on the good will and support of our communities. Will the Leader of the House commit Government time to a debate on the importance of charities and the impact that they have on our communities, so that we can better support them?

Mr Lansley: That is an important representation for the use of Government time and, indeed, Backbench Business Committee time. My hon. Friend makes a good point. Guide Dogs UK illustrates how a charity can provide something integral to the life of a community—something that enables people to realise their potential—without which the whole community would be so much poorer.

Last year our noble friend Lord Hodgson looked at how to reduce the impact of red tape on charities and voluntary groups and made 117 recommendations in his report, “Unshackling Good Neighbours”. We are looking to implement as many of those as possible and have already reported back on our progress so far.

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): Could the Minister with responsibility for sport make a statement about not just the racist incident in Serbia the other night, but the appalling reaction of the Serbian Football Association, which said that nothing happened and that it is all the fault of the English black player and his team mates? The former Serb leader Karadzic is denying Srebrenica in The Hague and the Serb Prime Minister in Belgrade is denying the existence of Kosovo. What is wrong with the Serbs? Does the Leader of the House agree that their national and club teams need to be suspended for the rest of this season, until they apologise for the disgraceful racist statement? The PM has already condemned it and we now need action from UEFA.

Mr Lansley: I did not have the opportunity to see the England under-21 match, but I have seen the news reports and news footage of it. I absolutely share the right hon. Gentleman’s sense of shock at the events, as does the Minister with responsibility for sport, who has made it absolutely clear that what happened was unacceptable. Any kind of racist abuse is unacceptable. He has urged UEFA to act and to do so quickly and strongly in relation to any such unacceptable actions.

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Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con): The UK has become a net exporter of cars and is at the centre of automotive research. Some fantastic innovative work is taking place, as I have seen at Nidec SR Drives in Harrogate in my constituency. Could we have a debate about the manufacturing success of the automotive sector, specifically looking at what more could be done to support it and whether there are any lessons from its success that could inform other sectors?

Mr Lansley: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. What he describes is part of an essential rebalancing of the economy. A million manufacturing jobs were lost under the previous Government as they neglected the industry in pursuit of the prawn cocktail circuit in the City of London. We now know that we have to have a balanced economy that enables us to pay our way in future. Nothing is more significant in that regard than our ability to promote competitiveness in manufacturing and exports. We have some world-leading manufacturing sectors. Vehicle manufacturing in this country has made tremendous strides forward. We have some of the most efficient plants anywhere in the world, and evidence from them must be used to inform how we can deliver advanced manufacturing elsewhere. The aim of the Government’s programmes through the Technology Strategy Board is to promote exactly that.

Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) (Lab): The Northern Echo reports today that Durham Tees Valley airport, which is a strategic transport hub in the north-east and my constituency, will not receive the regional growth grant that it applied for to help create 1,500 jobs. Could we have an urgent statement from the Business Secretary on the ability of the regional growth fund to deliver regional growth, especially when only £60 million has reached front-line operations?

Mr Lansley: On the contrary, I heard the Deputy Prime Minister explain to the House the day before yesterday how a very high proportion of regional growth fund moneys are now reaching projects and delivering the promotion of growth. I will, however, seek a response from the Business Department to the case raised by the hon. Gentleman.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): May we have a debate on the unacceptable practices of the banks in general and the Yorkshire bank in particular? It is treating its business customers in a most appalling manner, piling on unjustifiable costs and new terms, including a constituent of mine who has been a customer of the Yorkshire bank for 35 years and never missed a payment. When banks make risky investments that go wrong, surely they should stand the losses and not pass them on to their long-established, sound small business customers.

Mr Lansley: I will draw my hon. Friend’s important point to the attention of my Treasury colleagues. He may also like to raise it with the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, which is considering such issues.

Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): Earlier this week the Home Secretary made it clear to the House that she is seeking to opt out of all justice and home affairs measures in the European Union. She is playing hokey-cokey by saying that she

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may want to opt in again, but there is no guarantee that it would be possible to opt back into the EU arrest warrant. May we have a debate in Government time on this vital issue? I am worried about the effect that the absence of an arrest warrant would have on justice for the victims of those who commit a crime and flee to European countries.

Mr Lansley: I will consider the hon. Lady’s request. The Home Secretary’s statement was clear. Using the opt-out in the way she proposes will give us the leverage to get the kinds of measures, if we want to opt into them, that are in this country’s interests. The Home Secretary set out an excellent approach that will enable us to focus on what is in this country’s interests and to secure those interests.

Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con): Will the Leader of the House join me in paying tribute to the Dorset security services and, indeed, the armed forces for their part in ensuring that the Weymouth-based Olympic events were safe and went without incident? Could we have a debate on the efficiency of local resilience forums and the work of tier 1 and tier 2 responders? It was clear in Dorset that existing structures would not have coped and that extra measures, which have now sadly been removed, were needed to keep the games safe.

Mr Lansley: I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to respond on the issue of local resilience forums and their effectiveness. I know from experience that they are being developed, enhanced and strengthened even now. I endorse entirely what my hon. Friend has said. I did not have an opportunity to visit Weymouth during the Olympics or Paralympics, but what I saw demonstrated that it was the most remarkable event. We are all grateful to the armed forces for their contribution to making it a remarkable success.

Simon Danczuk (Rochdale) (Lab): A motion that I tabled appears in today’s Order Paper and reads:

“That, in the opinion of the House, the salary of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Government Chief Whip) be reduced by £1,000.”

That equates to the amount for which the Chief Whip would be prosecuted for doing what he did. Surely that is worthy of debate.

Mr Lansley: I answered that question earlier. It is interesting that nobody on the Opposition Benches has requested a debate on employment. Given that we have seen a further reduction in unemployment and a dramatic improvement in jobs in the private sector in this country since the election, it is interesting that they want to pursue a party political point rather than an issue that is in this country’s interests.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): In recent weeks there has been a spate of burglaries in my constituency and in other parts of the country, targeting the Asian community in particular. The issue has been heightened by the fact that many safety deposit boxes, which used to be available in banks and in which people could store their jewellery,

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are no longer available. Could we have a debate on the importance of the availability of safety deposit boxes in high street banks, so that people can keep their valuables safe?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend raises an important issue that also affects the constituencies of other hon. Members. The Association of Chief Police Officers lead on burglary is due to meet banks to establish the extent of the problem caused by the closure of secure storage and to offer crime prevention advice, including, where appropriate, the use of home safes. Moreover—I know that my hon. Friend will fully endorse this—this is further evidence of how police and crime commissioners, following their election, will be able to address such issues so that police forces can respond to them as part of their operational priorities.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): Yesterday, the Prime Minister refused to answer a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and for several weeks, the Chief Whip has struggled to answer questions about exactly what he said in Downing street. Is it time for a ministerial statement on ministerial answers?

Mr Lansley: No.

Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): I recently visited Graham Engineering, an excellent firm based in Nelson which specialises in the nuclear sector. It recently submitted an excellent grant application under the advanced manufacturing supply chain initiative. The proposal would create or secure a large number of jobs in my constituency, and support the supply chains in which they operate. I have raised the Graham Engineering proposal with a number of Ministers, but may we have a debate on supporting advanced manufacturing to ensure that such great firms continue to thrive under this Government?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am sure that Graham Engineering and other firms in his constituency are appreciative of his support. That firm has put in a bid for funding under the advanced manufacturing supply chain initiative, which is one of the initiatives to which I referred earlier that support the competitiveness of industry. Those bids are being assessed. Ministers will play no direct part in that process. The independent assessment board will meet on 14 November to decide on those bids.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): I strongly endorse the call from the shadow Leader of the House for a further Government statement on energy tariffs. The Leader of the House should not underestimate the degree of disarray that will be caused to the energy industry by the combination of the Prime Minister’s answer yesterday and the answer to the urgent question today. The matter needs to be cleared up now, because companies will not know what the Government expect them to do on social tariffs and fuel poverty. On all these important issues, we need answers in days, not months.

Mr Lansley: I do not share the hon. Gentleman’s view. The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) answered the urgent question and made it clear that simplification

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and tariff reform will form part of the Energy Bill, enabling us to deliver precisely what he and the Prime Minister said we would do, which is to use legislation to get consumers the best possible tariff.

Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): Two women who ran a business called Purple Mountain for many years recently lost the business due to a tendering process conducted by the Forestry Commission. May we have a debate on tendering processes, and will the Leader of the House ensure that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs meets me and the two business owners so that we can explain the terrible circumstances that they have had to endure?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman raises an issue of which I was not aware. I will contact my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and ask him to respond.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): I am very hopeful because of what the Leader of the House has said about having an employment debate. May I ask him for an employment debate, specifically on the problem of Departments holding up decisions that affect the creation of jobs? Heath business and technical park in my constituency has a dispute with Manweb over electrical lines, which is holding up much-needed investment in jobs and housing. The Department of Energy and Climate Change is saying to me that it does not have the resources to make the decision quickly. It is many months since the matter went to DECC. If we cannot have a debate, will the Leader of the House intervene to remind the Department that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor want to ensure the speedy resolution of infrastructure and housing decisions?

Mr Lansley: I am encouraged by the hon. Gentleman’s support for a debate on employment. He might like to talk to his party’s Front Benchers, because so far this Session, including for the seventh allotted day, they have not sought one debate on employment. That is a great pity because, judging by what the Leader of the Opposition said yesterday, one would have thought that it was the matter with the greatest importance.

We need to debate employment because the figures are compelling: employment is up; there are more than 1 million more jobs in the private sector; we are tackling youth unemployment, not least through the youth contract; we are tackling long-term unemployment, not least through the Work programme, from which 693,000 people are already benefiting; and there has been a two-thirds year-on-year increase in the number of young people going into apprenticeships since the time of the Labour Government. Those are important things, but we are not complacent. There is more to be done and we are going to do it. A debate will help us to achieve that.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Is the Leader of the House aware of the concerns of the more than 1 million shooting enthusiasts in the UK over Royal Mail’s decision to ban the postage of firearms and their parts throughout the UK? More than 1,000 comments from shooting enthusiasts have already been registered. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement or a debate on this important matter, which will potentially jeopardise rural businesses and legal leisure pursuits?

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Mr Lansley: I am grateful for that question. I cannot promise a debate or a statement, but I will seek a response from my right hon. Friend to the point that the hon. Gentleman rightly makes.

Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Moor View) (Lab): A constituent wrote to me about the powers of the receiver under the Law of Property Acts. I forwarded the letter to the Ministry of Justice on 8 May. We chased it up on 19 July and my excellent caseworker chased it again on 24 August and 29 September. We did not get a reply or an acknowledgement. Will the Leader of the House please ensure that a Minister comes to the House to reassure Members from all parties that Departments will respond to letters from MPs in a timely manner and not leave it six months?

Mr Lansley: Across Government, it is always our intention to respond in a timely manner. I will talk to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about the matter that she raises.

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): Further to the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson), I again ask the Leader of the House to persuade the Business Secretary to come to the House to explain the decision not to give a regional growth fund grant to Durham Tees Valley airport. I would like to know why the decision was leaked to the media and why the Prime Minister’s pledge of support to the airport from the Dispatch Box just a few months ago counts for nothing.

Mr Lansley: As I said, I will talk to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and secure a response to the issues that have been raised. The hon. Gentleman may wish to raise the matter at Business, Innovation and Skills questions on 8 November.

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): May we have an urgent debate on the sale of publicly owned freehold assets—the so-called family silver? In a written answer to me, the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Norwich North (Miss Smith) said that that information was not held centrally. Will the Leader of the House say how such matters are being audited and how there is accountability for this public money?

Mr Lansley: The House will remember that the gold was sold by a former Chancellor, losing this country £5 billion. From our point of view, not least following resource accounting, it is important that we use assets efficiently. It is the responsibility of Ministers across Government to ensure that they are aware of where they have freehold assets and to use them.

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): In 1908, an organisation was set up to promote independent working-class education. It was called the Plebs’ League. Would the Leader of the House support an all-party parliamentary group whose purpose was to promote the principles behind that organisation once again?

Mr Lansley: I was not aware of that organisation, but I am happy to be advised of it. As is shown by the Workers’ Educational Association and the like, education

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is one of the routes of social mobility. That is something that this Government have focused on and we will continue to do so.

Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab): Many Members have raised sports-related issues with the Leader of the House today. Will he consider having a general debate on sports matters, so that we can talk about Wonga sponsoring football stadiums? I am concerned that future sporting events, such as the rugby world cup in 2015, should be a great success. Does he agree that it is ridiculous that Leicester Tigers’ Welford Road stadium has been excluded from the list of venues for the rugby world cup in 2015?

Mr Lansley: I am not in the least surprised that sports issues have featured strongly in business questions, because the Olympics and Paralympics demonstrated the power of sport to inspire and enthuse people. I hope that we will follow through on that. Many of the issues that have been raised are about the governance of sport. I will discuss with my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Backbench Business Committee how we might provide an opportunity to discuss this range of issues.

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Points of Order

11.59 am

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is the first week of our new sitting hours. Would it be possible for the Clerks to circulate to the Government Whips Office a short memo telling them that we are starting an hour earlier, so that the Government Chief Whip can be here for the start of business questions?

Mr Speaker: That is not a point of order, and it is not a matter for the Chair. I think the hon. Gentleman is intimately conscious of both those facts.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your advice on a serious matter—misinformation being provided by civil servants both to Members of the House and to members of the press and public. The hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr McCann) raised that matter on Monday, but this is a different example. Department for Business, Innovation and Skills officials have said publicly that the commitments made in the Government response to a Select Committee inquiry have now been fulfilled, but they clearly have not been. They have also said that an independent pubs advisory system has been set up, but it has not. This is a very serious matter that needs to be properly investigated, because officials, as well as Ministers, need to be properly held to account. I seek your advice on how best that should happen.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, of whose point of order I had no advance notice. I make no complaint about that, but it is difficult to be certain as to the detail of how best the matter can be addressed.

I say to the hon. Gentleman that Ministers are responsible for the work of their officials. If he seeks to hold Ministers to account for information that is or is not being provided, he has the recourse of the Table Office and the opportunity to table questions. If he remains dissatisfied, I know that he is nothing if not persistent and indefatigable, and he can always seek an Adjournment debate on the matter. I hope that is a helpful and substantive response to his important point.

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Given that the Government Chief Whip has been chewing for most of this morning, is it appropriate for masticating to be allowed in the Chamber?

Mr Speaker: I will not go into that. I would say only that quite a lot of noise has been heard in the course of the past hour, but the Government Chief Whip has been as quiet as a church mouse.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have five named day questions on the Order Paper for tomorrow, numbers 64 to 68, all to the Prime Minister and all following on from the question that was not answered yesterday. I know you said yesterday afternoon that you would be cogitating on the matter overnight, but previous Speakers have ruled clearly that

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written questions have to be answered on time and substantively. Can you also confirm that they actually have to be answered?

Mr Speaker: Yes. They should be answered; they should be answered on time; and they should be answered substantively. That requirement applies to all members of the Government.

Bills Presented

European Union (Croatian Accession and Irish Protocol) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Mr Secretary Hague, supported by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mrs Secretary May, Secretary Vince Cable, Mr Secretary Duncan Smith, Mr Secretary Davey, Mr Secretary Paterson, Mrs Secretary Villiers and Mr David Lidington, presented a Bill to make provision consequential on the treaty concerning the accession of the Republic of Croatia to the European Union, signed at Brussels on 9 December 2011, and provision consequential on the Protocol on the concerns of the Irish people on the Treaty of Lisbon, adopted at Brussels on 16 May 2012; and to make provision about the entitlement of nationals of the Republic of Croatia to enter or reside in the United Kingdom as workers.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 76) with explanatory notes (Bill 76-EN).

Growth and Infrastructure Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Mr Secretary Pickles, supported by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Vince Cable, Mr Secretary Davey, Mr Secretary Paterson, Secretary Maria Miller, Michael Fallon, Nick Boles and Stephen Hammond, presented a Bill to make provision in connection with facilitating or controlling the following, namely, the provision or use of infrastructure, the carrying-out of development, and the compulsory acquisition of land; to make provision about when rating lists are to be compiled; to make provision about the rights of employees of companies who agree to be employee owners; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 75) with explanatory notes (Bill 75-EN).

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Backbench Business

2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers

12.3 pm

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House opposes the disbandment of the 2nd Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers (2RRF); notes that 2RRF is the only infantry battalion being cut that was not initially due for disbandment on military grounds; further notes that 2RRF was instead caught by the Government’s additional criteria of only one battalion loss per regiment and no deletion of cap-badges, which has resulted in more poorly-recruited Scottish battalions being saved; further notes the social and economic costs of disbandment; and urges the Government to reverse its decision.

I shall start by thanking a few people. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting the debate, and I wholeheartedly thank all Members from both sides of the House who have supported our campaign, especially those who have signed the motion. I also thank the many hundreds of ex-Fusiliers who have participated in the march and lobby today outside Parliament in support of the motion, most of whom have been up since the very early hours of the morning and travelled long distances. Our thanks go to them, and most of them are in the Gallery. We wish them well and thank them for their support. I also thank the many other regiments that volunteered to march with the Fusiliers today. Their kind offer was declined, but their support was very much welcome.

I should perhaps single out one person. It is always unfair to do so, of course, but I would single out Colonel Brian Gorski and his team—they know who they are—for everything that they have done and for their support and tireless efforts. Finally, I thank the Serjeant at Arms and his office; Samantha Howlett, the ticket lady; and everybody else on the parliamentary estate who has engineered an administrative miracle by getting 400-plus Fusiliers into the House today and accommodating them so well.

Why this debate? Needless to say, I am very proud to have served as a Fusilier. As a regiment, we trace our ancestry to the 17th century, and we have won more battle honours than any other regiment in the British Army, including the Guards. We won more Victoria Crosses in the great war than any other regiment, and we completed more operational tours of Northern Ireland than any other regiment.

Looking forward, we perhaps need to remind everyone that the Fusiliers is one of the few regiments to have served in all the recent military campaigns, including both Iraq wars, Kosovo, Bosnia and Afghanistan. Operationally, it is one of the most experienced regiments in the British Army. Our fighting record is second to none—that is undisputed, but it is not the subject of this debate. The subject of the debate is our contention that 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers is the only infantry battalion to be cut for non-military reasons as part of the Army 2020 proposals.

We are told that the cuts were based on military logic, notably capability and demographic sustainability, yet answers to written questions, a letter from the Secretary of State and discussions confirm that 2RRF has a

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better recruitment record than other battalions that have been spared. In fact, in recent years 2RRF has one of the best recruiting records of any battalion, and indeed it was the best recruited battalion when the announcement was made.

Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): There was one person missing from the list of thank-yous at the beginning of the debate—the hon. Gentleman himself. I thank him for securing the debate and for the campaign that he has led.

This morning, the hon. Gentleman and I presented several petitions to Downing street, including one containing 10,000 signatures of people in Lancashire and Greater Manchester, collated by the Manchester Evening News. Does that not indicate not just the scale of support for the Fusiliers but the unhappiness at the way in which the decision has been made and the unfairness behind it?

Mr Baron: I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. The strength of feeling has been illustrated not just by today’s march but by the number of people who have signed the petitions. There can be no dispute but that feelings run high on the issue, and I thank him and all other Members who have supported the campaign.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware that Coventry and Warwickshire have been great recruiting grounds for the Fusiliers over the centuries. Does he agree that although we often praise our soldiers in the House, for a change we now have an opportunity to stand by our soldiers’ regiments?

Mr Baron: I completely agree. This is a clear opportunity to say that we stand side by side with the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. At the end of the day, soldiers take orders, which is absolutely right. However, we are having this debate because we contend that 2RRF has been felled by political considerations, to save more poorly recruited Scottish battalions ahead of the 2014 Scottish referendum.

Let me be clear that I, for one, think that the cuts to the Army, and certainly their scale, are a big mistake. In this increasingly uncertain world, when many countries that are not necessarily friendly to the west are increasing their defence spending, I am really concerned about the scale of our cuts and about the ability of the Territorial Army, much as I respect it, to plug the loss of those regular battalions. I believe that no battalions should be cut, Scottish or otherwise, but if there are to be cuts, they must be based on military logic and not political calculation born out of the misguided view that it will somehow help to save the Union if we save more poorly recruited Scottish battalions.

Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab): I, too, congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his leadership of this campaign. Can we not find further evidence that the decision was not made on military grounds in the fact that it was not part of the Government’s initial proposals but was added later to take political considerations into account? Does the hon. Gentleman agree?

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Mr Baron: I do, and I shall come on to that very point briefly in my speech.

Jim McGovern (Dundee West) (Lab): I have heard the hon. Gentleman say on a number of occasions that some of the Scottish battalions or regiments should have been disbanded. Is this not a time for mutual support rather than picking on Scottish regiments?

Mr Baron: Let us be absolutely clear about this. I do not believe that any battalion should be cut at all, and that is a fact, but if there have to be cuts, they must be based on military logic, not political calculation. The bottom line is that the figures provided in answers to written parliamentary questions about recruitment and retention and in the Secretary of State’s response to me clearly show that two Scottish battalions are undermanned—far more so than the equivalent in the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. That is what we are discussing. Decisions should be based on military logic, not political calculation.

Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and congratulate him on securing the debate. Does he agree that, given the amount of money we are spending on foreign aid and our contribution to the EU budget, it is lunacy for the Government to put themselves in the position of having to make these difficult decisions? Is it not about time the Government reassessed their priorities and put defence of the realm at the top of that list?

Mr Baron: I completely agree with my hon. Friend, who is spot on. I shall come on to that point later. I for one, to answer the question from the hon. Member for Dundee West (Jim McGovern), am not pointing the finger at any other regiment. I am not asking for further cuts in the Ministry of Defence, but if the Government cannot make the right decision here and now about 2RRF, there is money outside the MOD budget, as my hon. Friend has highlighted, that could be used to reverse this bad decision.

If hon. Members will forgive me, I want to make a little progress before I take further inventions, as time is pushing on and I know that a number of Members want to speak.

The Government have been reluctant to justify their reasoning. In fact, getting information from the MOD has been like extracting teeth, and one can see why from the damning evidence that was eventually obtained. The House will remember that on 5 July the Secretary of State for Defence announced the Government’s Army 2020 proposals. As part of the proposals, five infantry battalions were earmarked for disbandment, one of which was 2RRF. The impression created in this Chamber—I and other Members were present—was that the decision was based in large part on military calculations of capability and sustainability, or, in other words, that military logic had prevailed.

Many of us know that 2RRF has not only a good recruitment record but sound demographics in its core recruiting areas. On 6 July, I tabled named day written parliamentary questions asking for the recruitment and manning figures for all battalions involved. Given that we had been told that the decision on which battalions were to be cut was in large part based on those figures,

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one would have thought that they would have been ready to hand. I did not get the answers until 3 August, a month later, when Parliament was in recess. While I was waiting, I pressed the Prime Minister and the MOD by way of e-mail and letter.

In my view, the initial response from the hon. Member for North Devon (Sir Nick Harvey), who was then Minister for the Armed Forces, skated over the logic and continued to suggest that the MOD had “used a methodical approach with objective criteria to select those battalions which had to be lost”, but did not tell us what those objective criteria were, despite the fact that I had specifically asked for that in my letter and questions.

I then finally received answers to my named day questions, comparing 10-year records of establishment and strength for each of the battalions being cut and the five battalions of the Royal Regiment of Scotland. The figures were revealing; they clearly showed that two battalions from the Royal Regiment of Scotland had worse recruiting records by far. On 14 August, I met the Secretary of State and the Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Peter Wall. On that very morning, after a number of phone calls from the MOD, I finally received a letter by e-mail from the Secretary of State. That letter finally admitted that on purely military grounds two Scottish battalions would have been axed. The letter clearly stated that 2RRF was the only one of the battalions being axed that was not initially earmarked for disbandment. In fact, the letter was quite specific. It made it very clear that the five least sustainable battalions are two battalions from the Royal Regiment of Scotland, one from the Yorkshire Regiment, one from the Mercian Regiment and one from the Royal Welsh Regiment.

The letter went on to explain that what did for 2RRF was the Government’s decision to limit regimental losses to one battalion each and to ensure that no cap badges were lost. The Government’s insistence that no cap badges are lost makes no sense when we think that, as Members will remember, only six years ago in 2006 four cap badges and six battalions were amalgamated to form the five battalions of The Rifles. That was held up as an example of best practice by many senior Army officers. The Government’s justification for capping regimental losses to one battalion also does not make sense or withstand scrutiny. Five-battalion regiments can more easily withstand the loss of two battalions, particularly if they are struggling to sustain them, than two-battalion regiments can withstand the loss of one. Single battalion regiments also find it harder to meet the operational flexibility required and to offer their officers and soldiers a varied and demanding career profile.

It is perhaps also worth nothing that contrary to Government assertions, no Scottish battalion is being cut. The letter made it clear that on military logic two should have gone, and we know that if the regimental losses had been limited to one battalion, one should have gone. However, the one that should have gone has not gone. All that has happened is that it has been reduced in size for ceremonial duties. No cap badges or colours will be lost north of the border.

Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and securing this debate. I am proud to say that the Royal Northumberland

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Fusiliers, one of the bedrock regiments that form the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, was my dad’s regiment. He served in Palestine and north Africa before the war as a regular soldier and was captured in north Africa in 1940.

Some of my constituents are in the Public Gallery today. Messrs Spalding, Gannon and Allen are welcome to London for this debate—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. Unfortunately, we are not meant to mention people who are in the Public Gallery. We can see that a good number of people are present, but we cannot get into mentioning individuals personally.

Ian Mearns: I apologise, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I am afraid that the damage is done.

I have talked to colleagues in the regiment and note that the creed of the battalion includes the words:

“I will never accept defeat nor let down my mates or my regiment.”

We should take that on board as regards 2RRF.

Mr Baron: I completely agree. Once a fusilier, always a fusilier and despite the odds we will carry this campaign to the end.

I shall wind up shortly, as I am conscious that a number of Members wish to speak, but I must add that the letter from the Secretary of State was revealing in another sense. I have talked about history and recruitment, and some might say, “Well, that is history. What about the future?” The letter, however, cast doubt on the demographic sustainability of the regiment, which I suggest is utter and complete nonsense. The regiment recruits from the three largest cities in the United Kingdom: London, Birmingham and Manchester.

Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): And Newcastle.

Mr Baron: Yes, and Newcastle. I could go around the country—Rochdale, Bury—but I am sure the regiment will forgive me for not listing every city, town and village. However, it certainly recruits from the three largest cities, and I will not forget Newcastle, of which I have many happy memories.

The letter from the Secretary of State was revealing because it omitted to mention London as one of the regiment’s recruiting grounds. How can the MOD talk about demographic sustainability if, in its list of what it considers to be the regiment’s regional recruiting grounds, it fails to include London, probably one of the key recruiting grounds? We should not forget that the headquarters of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers is based at the Tower of London, yet London was conveniently forgotten.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Perhaps the Ministry of Defence had indeed forgotten that the regimental headquarters of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers is distinctly in the Tower of London, which I think is in London.

Mr Baron: It is; my hon. Friend is quite right. [Interruption.] I am pleased that the Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), agrees. It is strange: we go through the

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recruiting regions of the whole country for the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, yet somebody forgot to mention London. That is absolute nonsense.

I love Scotland; I am married to a Scot and I believe in the Union. However, this is not the way to go about cementing that Union, and it is impossible to believe that the demographics of Scotland are healthier than for the three largest cities in the country, and the four largest counties—let me mention Newcastle again. Figures also confirm that for battalions exclusively recruited from a country, England has a population of 3 million per infantry battalion, against fewer than one million for Scotland.

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): May I add my voice to those of other hon. Members who have congratulated my hon. Friend on initiating this debate? I assure him that when I became Defence Minister in 2010, I and my colleagues found it extremely painful to make these difficult decisions. One of the reasons we did so was that we inherited a budget deficit of £156 billion, and to retain the confidence of the international capital markets, something had to be done. We also inherited a £38 billion black hole in the finances of the Ministry of Defence, which has now been put right.

I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) a belief that there is an alternative. When in government I never said that there was no alternative—there is, and it is to reprioritise Government spending. In my view, we cannot justify spending ever more taxpayers’ money on overseas aid and cutting our armed forces. I recognise that my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces, carries responsibility for those matters, as did I. We had a real problem to face.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. This is a very important debate and a lot of Members wish to speak. It is going to be time limited, and interventions from both sides of the House must be shorter. I want to hear everybody’s contribution, not just certain ones.

Mr Baron: Briefly, if there have to be military cuts, I suggest to my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) that they should be based on military logic, not political calculation. As he knows, he and I are at one when it comes to priorities and Government spending.

We should not be blind to the social costs of axing 2RRF. Not only will 600 soldiers find themselves out of work—many of whom are recruited from areas that do not have healthy employment opportunities—but there will be a knock-on effect on their families, on veterans and on local affiliated cadet organisations. Furthermore, if 2RRF goes, I suggest that Warwickshire will be the only county in England without a direct battalion link. We should perhaps remember that Field Marshal Montgomery was a Warwickshire fusilier, and his regiment became 2RRF.

Bob Stewart: Not Staffordshire?

Mr Baron: We will argue about that later; we are all claiming Field Marshal Montgomery. [Interruption.]

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Looking at the bigger picture, and to follow the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti), I have severe doubts about the extent of the cuts to the Army and our armed forces generally. We must never forget that the first duty of Government is to national security. As the Foreign Secretary reminded us:

“The range of threats and dangers is, if anything, increasing.”

Many countries, not necessarily friendly to the west, are increasing their defence spending. Much as I respect the Territorial Army, having been on operations with it, I question the extent to which we are asking it to step up to the plate and plug the gap left by the loss of regular battalions. I am sad to say that the coalition Government continue to cut. Defence spending has halved over the past 20 years, and it continues to decrease.

I suggest that our relationship with the United States is a process of give and take and is not free. It is based on shared values and a close working relationship on nuclear and security issues, and it is underpinned by our military capability. These are austere times, but given that the first duty of Government is to national security, I suggest that money could be saved in other areas.

I am not suggesting that the Government do the right thing within the MOD budget; I have made it clear that I am not pointing the finger at other regiments. I am saying that we need to reprioritise our spending. I, for one, have trouble with all the extra billions of pounds that we are sending in our contribution to the EU budget. I also have a problem—I know this is unfashionable but I will say it anyway—with sending £1 billion in aid to India, a country with its own space, nuclear and rearmament programmes, an aircraft carrier, and its own aid programme. We are, in effect, subsidising those programmes, which I think is wrong.

In conclusion, the Government are wrong. Military logic and not political calculations should determine Army cuts. I am a firm believer in the Union, but this is not the way to achieve it. In my view, the Government’s culpability is illustrated by their reluctance to justify their decision, and the evidence has been damning. That was illustrated by a freedom of information request that I submitted on 6 September, asking for the first draft of the Chief of the General Staff’s recommendations as to which battalions should be cut. I received the answer late last night, saying that that they will not release that information. I ask the Government to think again and reverse the decision to axe 2RRF. I am not calling for any other battalions to be cut, just for this very bad decision to be reversed.

12.28 pm

Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab/Co-op): Let me say at the start that despite the dulcet tones hon. Members are listening to and the agreement across the House there should be few or no cuts across England and Scotland, I have an English constituency and am therefore an English Member of Parliament—except, of course, when we are playing football.

Since this decision was announced in July, a large number of constituents have contacted me, asking me to speak in defence of the 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. As part of the Fusilier family, the Lancashire Fusiliers recruit heavily from my constituency, and other constituencies across Lancashire.

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It was in July this year that the Secretary of State decided on these heavy cuts to the regular Army, which included the dismantling of the 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. That is happening at a time when the world is very unstable, so the cut is serious.

May I convey the feelings and views of my constituents? I will not name them, but present in the Gallery are a representative of the reserve armed forces, the chairman of the Lancashire Veterans Association, and a number of other people from my patch. They told me first hand this morning that they are very proud to be taking part in the first march on Parliament since soldiers demonstrated in the Bishopsgate mutiny of 1649, when 300 members of the new model army protested against Oliver Cromwell’s orders to send them to Ireland.

This is also the first time that the British Army has taken to the streets in protest—I met some of its members—since it was formed in 1707. That year is famous for the union of the Parliaments, so it could be said that it was around that time that my ancestors became British. Hon. Members will no doubt hear throughout the debate of the regiment’s illustrious history, but more recently the Fusiliers were the first regiment into Iraq, fought the longest battle in Afghanistan, and have had more service in Northern Ireland than any other regiment.

The Ministry of Defence website states:

“The Second Fusiliers are a superb, operationally hardened Light Role Infantry Battalion”,

but 2RRF is the only infantry battalion to be cut for political rather than military reasons.

Ian Mearns: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point, which I want to magnify. Exactly what type of battalion should we keep in this day and age other than battalions that can, as the Army website states,

“deploy quickly and adapt to any operational scenario”?

Jim Dobbin: My hon. Friend makes the point very clear and I agree with him.

As the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) has said, 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers is the only infantry battalion to be cut for political rather than military reasons; otherwise, the more poorly recruited Scottish battalions would have been axed. In my view, that is outrageous. Is it prudent to interfere politically with the collation of Future Force 2020 with regards to the Army?

Mr Jim Cunningham: Does my hon. Friend agree that one way to thank the Army and the Fusiliers in particular is to reinstate the battalion? That would be a big thanks to the Fusiliers for all the service they have given to this country over the past 400 years. Instead, we have redundancies, and all the social consequences of that.

Jim Dobbin: That is the real subject of the debate. Our armed service personnel are the nation’s mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters, and political interference brings extra risks.

May I thank Mr Speaker for allowing this open debate, which is an opportunity to put the right alternatives forward? Members of Parliament can simply encourage the Government to remove additional criteria to limit regimental losses to one battalion or even fewer, and

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that no cap badges should go. If there are to be Army cuts, military capability and sustainability should be the key determinants. Please, I beg the House to ensure that 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers has its rightful place in future forces beyond 2020.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. Because of the number of hon. Members who wish to speak, we have to put an eight-minute limit on speeches.

12.34 pm

Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): As a platoon commander, company commander and a commanding officer, it was my pleasure to service alongside 1st, 2nd and 3rd Battalions the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. I found it a splendid and gallant regiment that was always ready to face the Queen’s enemies. It should not be cut, and neither should any other regiment of British infantry, cavalry, artillery or sappers. Of course cuts have to be made, and defence is not an exception. We are in difficult times and were left with an appalling legacy that must be cured, but not at the expense of those who defend this country.

I shall expand on the political nature of the decisions later in my speech, but the overall design is not political but military—it is made by senior officers. That is why I was so surprised when the Secretary of State for Defence came to the House and not just announced the regiments that would lose a battalion, but specified the battalions. That shows an extraordinary lack of understanding of how the regimental system works.

I compliment my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron), and thank the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Jim Dobbin), whom I rudely failed to thank following his speech. It is not just Warwickshire that has lost its regimental representation; Staffordshire, Derbyshire and a number of other counties no longer have a regimental link and a regimental cap badge to wear.

I question why those decisions were made. Let us take the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers as an example. The Fusiliers are immensely adaptable. In its time, the regiment has been called the East Devonshire Regiment. The 7th( )Regiment bore the title “Derbyshire”. It adapted and overcame, and were reconfigured again and again to the demands of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

The current document, “Transforming the British Army”, which was published in July 2012, says that the formations of the British Army are to be based on infantry battalions. In my day, they were based on armoured units, and largely on tanks, because we faced a different sort of threat, but things have changed. The leading arm is now infantry. I quite understand that, and as an ex-infantry man I applaud it, but the point is adaptability. The face of war has changed, and the very arm chosen to lead our combat arms is being cut to the bone in an illogical fashion.

I am interested in the regimental system. “Transforming the British Army” refers to structural changes and states that the fewest number of cap badges that can sustain the regimental system should be lost from across the Army, and yet in May, the Secretary of State said:

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“The ancient cap badges have largely gone—they are attached in brackets to some unit names. I can’t say to you that there will be no loss of battalions in the infantry as we downsize the Army. We are looking at the options.”

Which is it to be? Are we maintaining the regimental system or are we scrapping the ancient cap badges?

Just a few short years ago, under the previous Government, it was explained that our infantry structures would be changed in such a way that there would be no more single battalions left in the Army, with the exceptions of the five battalions of Guards and the one battalion of the Royal Irish Rangers, which is now the Royal Irish Regiment. It was explained that single-battalion regiments were not sustainable, and that the careers of non-commissioned officers and officers depended on there being at least two battalions—possibly three, and, better still, five—in every regiment. How have things changed in the last 24 months to such an extent that we are prepared to reduce a well recruited, sustainable and fighting regiment such as the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers to one battalion? Similarly, the Royal Welsh Regiment, the Yorkshire Regiment and the Mercian Regiment will lose sustainable, capable, fighting battalions. It is a disgrace. It is a disgrace that makes no sense, and a disgrace that is based on ill judgment and ignorance among both politicians and senior officers.

We simply cannot have our fighting forces cut at a time when the world is unstable. It strikes me as utterly illogical. People have simply not opened their history books and seen that every time this country cuts its forces, we are immediately met by another drama. Where do I start? The Korean war? The Crimean war? I could give any number of historical examples, which I know you do not want me to do, Mr Deputy Speaker. I will only say that most recently we cut HMS Ark Royal and our Harrier fleet, yet within days—days!—we needed both. My own regiment was scrapped in the 1960s, yet was needed within weeks, when the Northern Ireland crisis exploded in a way that we could never possibly have imagined.

This is an act of extreme short-sightedness. Money can be found from elsewhere to sustain our combat arms. If that money has to come from within the military system, let us not cut combat arms. Let us cut the endless number of senior officers, cooks, bottle washers, signallers, computer operators, drivers, batmen and bootblacks who support our Army today. We cannot have this. These battalions are precious, and if I hear one more plaintive voice raised about recruiting, I think I will be sick. When I commanded an infantry battalion, albeit some time ago, I was told that it was impossible to recruit from below the minus 40 I had in my battalion, but within six months we were plus 120. We had a spare company. When I was told that it was impossible to recruit in Scotland, I pointed to the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, which raised an extra squadron in next to no time.

We are now looking at taking away the current recruiting system and replacing it with a civilianised system. This is wrong. We have had defence cut after defence cut after defence cut. Before we know it, our old, proper, sensible and fighting regiments will disappear forever. The Fusiliers and the others must be spared for the sake of the nation.

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12.42 pm

Mrs Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab): It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer), who has defended the motion so eloquently.

I thank the Backbench Business Committee and congratulate the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) on securing this important debate. He has worked extremely hard over the past few months on behalf of the 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers and its supporters, and has drawn together MPs from across the House to forward the campaign. Had it not been for his exceptional effort, I do not think we would be having this debate today. Nor would we have witnessed the wonderful sight of 400 Fusiliers marching down Whitehall to join us in Parliament.

I give my full support to the motion, but in doing so I do not wish to slight our Scottish colleagues in the House or the brave soldiers who serve in the Scottish battalions. The motion serves to highlight the Government’s flawed strategic defence and security review, which sees 30,000 servicemen and women lose their jobs in cuts.

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): I stand fully behind the retention of 2RRF, which is really important, but does my hon. Friend agree that the mention of the Scottish battalions does no favours to the motion? Had it not mentioned any other battalions, it would have been more comradely and in the right spirit, and would probably have garnered more support.

Mrs Glindon: The Scottish battalions are mentioned because of the unfortunately political manner in which the Government are carrying out the disbandment.

The cuts will not only cost jobs but cost people their careers, could result in thousands of ex-servicemen and women facing long-term unemployment, and in time could pose a threat to the security of our nation. In the north-east, 200 soldiers will lose not only their jobs but, as I have said, the careers they have trained hard for and of which they are rightly proud. Soldiers from the north-east have a long history of service in the British Army. During the first world war, the Northumberland Fusiliers raised more battalions than any other in Britain—52—and in those days a battalion was more than 1,000 strong.

Today, the north-east still provides more soldiers for the Army than any other region in the UK, so it is no surprise that, when the Secretary of State announced the disbandment, veterans, the public and politicians joined the campaign to make the Government see the unfairness of their actions.

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab) rose

Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater and West Somerset) (Con) rose

Mrs Glindon: I give way to the hon. Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger) first.

Mr Liddell-Grainger: I was probably going to make the same point as the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson). I was honoured to be

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a company commander in the then X company of the Northumberlands. I totally agree with what the hon. Lady says. The Northumberland Fusiliers had more battalions because it recruited from the strongest recruiting area almost in the country. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) mentioned the situation in Newcastle. Does she agree that the Fusiliers must continue to survive, because of their strength at all levels? The hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West will probably say exactly the same thing.

Mrs Glindon: I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson).

Mrs Hodgson: I was going to make a slightly different point from the hon. Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger). The 200 Fusiliers who will lose their jobs will have 200 families, probably with many children, and in this time of restraint, with the double-dip recession and the high unemployment, especially in the north-east, we should not be making 200 people redundant and leaving them looking for jobs.

Mrs Glindon: Both those points strengthen the case for maintaining the 2RRF.

I have been proud to support the local campaign, which has received the kind support of the Newcastle Journal and the Evening Chronicle, which has been fantastic in helping to publicise the fight across our region. The veterans and the Fusiliers have played a massive role in promoting the campaign, and have organised two public events in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, which I have been honoured to attend.

It was at one of these events that the real impact of the Government’s decision hit home. I noticed among the honoured veterans and members of the public a young man standing particularly proud during the minute’s silence, in a way that no other civilian around him did. After the ceremony, as the crowds chattered and photographs were taken, I managed to speak to this young man. He told me that he had been a Fusilier, but that more than a year ago had had an accident and had to leave.

Fortunately, the young man has fully recovered, but he has not been able to find any work since leaving the Army. Shamefully, employers do not always seem keen to employ ex-soldiers. He told me that he would be eligible to re-apply to rejoin the Army in November, and that it was his greatest wish to resume his Army career in the 2nd Battalion. My heart went out to the young man and to all the other young people who, like generations before them, have wanted to serve their country in the military but who now have little prospect of ever being able to serve as full-time soldiers.

Former members of the Territorial Army are sceptical about the Secretary of State’s plans to replace full-time soldiers with an expanded reserve force. They gave me the example of the 6th Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, which had been a well-recruited and fully equipped, operational, NATO-role battalion, and which was recognised as one of the best in the country. The battalion was disbanded and became the Tyne-Tees Regiment in 1999, but it lost all its support weapons, which meant that associated skills were lost too. It now exists as the 5th Rifle Battalion, with only three companies

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and no support weapons. There is a severe shortage of officers and senior non-commissioned officers, and a lack of funding has meant no training and led to the deskilling of the battalion.

The fear is that disbanding regular units that are not immediately replaced by a reserve capacity creates a wide capacity gap—indeed, a gap in our entire national security. The campaign is clear in its aims. The 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers has no trouble recruiting in London, Manchester, Birmingham or the north-east, as has been said. It is currently at full strength. The regiments that the Government are choosing to save have to recruit largely from foreign and Commonwealth troops. Our Government have said they are committed to British jobs for British people. Clearly in this instance they are not. The campaigners and supporters of the motion know that this is not a fair decision.

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr Andrew Robathan): I should point out that the recruitment of foreign and Commonwealth troops took off under the last Government. There was a deliberate policy to recruit up to, I think, 10%. I should say that those troops do a very good job, most of them, and I pay tribute to them, but I do not think the hon. Lady should accuse us of in some way being illogical in this regard.

Mrs Glindon: I do not think I mentioned the Minister being “illogical”. The point is that those battalions are poorly recruited and have to go abroad, when in 2RRF we have the strength of the Army being made up from people who are local, as is the regimental tradition.Moreover, I would point out to the Minister that there has been criticism of the decision from top-ranking figures, who state that the abolition of the 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers will not stand up to public scrutiny.

I stated at the beginning of my speech that the motion is not against the brave Scottish soldiers, which is true. However, in the north-east there is a fear that the referendum on Scottish independence will see the Government favouring Scotland over the north-east, in order to keep Scotland in the Union. I do not want to see Scotland leave the UK, nor do I want to see my region pay any economic or social price to ensure that we maintain the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom must be fair and honest to all its people, in all its regions. However, if Scotland becomes independent, it is possible that such a small country will not be able to sustain five battalions, nor will the remaining UK be able to be properly served by the 25 remaining battalions.

In summary, the feelings of everyone who supports the motion are expressed in the words of Major Chester Potts:

“‘Quo Fata Vocant’ (Whither the Fates call) is the regimental motto of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers. Wherever the fates have called we have been there and shed our blood in the defence of the country. We have fought the nation’s enemies for nearly 350 years now. We never expected our greatest enemy, and architect of our demise would be our own Government.”

12.53 pm

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): I welcome the work of the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) in securing this debate and leading the

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campaign. I do not think that there will ever be a cause in his parliamentary career that is dearer to his heart than this one, as an ex-Fusilier.

Alnwick in my constituency is the traditional heartland of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, which is one of the parent regiments of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. In Alnwick, the red and white hackle is a familiar sight, especially on St George’s day. It was a particularly welcome sight on the streets of London this morning—so much so that it caused me to miss a question in the House, because I was with the large numbers of Fusiliers outside, whom we were so pleased to welcome here. The regimental museum is also in Alnwick. People in Northumberland, as in other parts of the country, have watched with pride as they have seen what are often frightening television shots showing members of the Fusiliers serving in so many of the increasingly televised conflicts that we have seen in recent years—in Iraq, Kosovo and Afghanistan, and of course on the streets of Northern Ireland as well.

The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers is one of the best recruited regiments in the British Army, and the recruitment figures demonstrate that. That is what has led a number of us, such as the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay, to get into correspondence with the Ministry of Defence and with Ministers as soon as the decision was made. It appears from MOD figures that the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers has consistently had the best recruitment record over the period that the figures cover, apart for the final year. It has the best track record on being at or near establishment over the last few years. Indeed, the Ministry of Defence admits that the figures for 2010-11 are artificially low, owing to a nine-month pause in infantry training, which affected regiments differently, depending on where in the year their training slots were in the infantry training centre programme. When that feature is added in, we see that the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers has a superb recruitment record. That led us to pursue the matter further with Ministers and to seek a further response from them.

However, that response came in words carefully tailored by the Minister’s civil servants—the reply I received was from the Minister for the Armed Forces, who is in his place. He wrote to say:

“As I am sure you will appreciate this was a complicated piece of work and for this reason I am unable to provide the detailed information for recruitment catchment areas that you sought,”

although he then drew my attention to various websites where we could look at some of the sources on which the work was based, which we did. There were probably a number of mistakes in that work. I strongly suspect that the modern county of Northumberland was used in references to Northumberland as a recruiting area, rather than the county that stretches from Tweed to Tyne, which is the traditional Northumberland Fusiliers recruiting area, which also includes substantial urban areas. However, the letter went on to demonstrate quite clearly that the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers should not be one of the five battalions that go, saying:

“After the removal of four battalions, the method for predicting future sustainability became less statistically discerning.”

Let us think about that. I think it should win a “Yes Minister” prize for obfuscatory circumlocution—or, to put it another way, dodging the issue with fancy words. A little further, the letter says:

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“Therefore to determine the fifth battalion to be removed from the order of battle required the application of criteria that went wider than demographics”—

in other words, “We told the officials to find some other reason which would enable us to disband the 2nd Battalion.” The letter continued:

“Historical manning performance and the need to maintain equity of opportunity meant that the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers…was the next appropriate regiment”.

What that “equity of opportunity” is I do not know, but it certainly does not apply to those who wish to serve in the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers in the north-east of England or the many other recruiting areas that have been mentioned today.

I also want to talk about the extraordinary consequence of creating a single-battalion regiment, which is in defiance of policy to date. In the last round of changes, under the previous Government, there was an explicit desire to get away from the idea of single-battalion regiments. For example, in his letter to the Chief of the General Staff, Brigadier Paterson, the Colonel of the regiment, sets out the position:

“During the last Options For Change the Army Board stated that large Regiments were the future for the infantry for all the well rehearsed arguments of operational capability and sustainability…What has changed for that policy to be reversed and for single battalions to be created deliberately?...Single Battalions fail to meet the criteria of sustainability…neither do they offer the variety and career opportunities of larger Regiments.”

We have been through the process of losing cap badges before in Northumberland, because my constituency is also the regimental headquarters of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, which lost its cap badge when it was amalgamated with a less well recruited regiment—the Royal Scots—to form a battalion in the Royal Regiment of Scotland. Indeed, one of the arguments strongly used then was the argument against single-battalion regiments, yet here we are, creating one.

The other important consequence we must consider, which I would like to mention in the brief time available to me, is the consequence for the Territorial Army. In 39 years in Parliament, I have seen the TA in my area go up and down and up and down as changes of policy have led to changes in the extent to which use was made of the TA. We cannot do it like that, however, because that does not build up the core of officers and non-commissioned officers needed to run a really efficient TA. Remarkable things have been achieved, and TA soldiers have given wonderful service in regular units in all the conflicts that we have mentioned, but we are now expecting a major TA expansion without having the people in place to ensure that the necessary training and officer management are available for the increased force.

We all know why this decision has been taken. Political reasons took the place of military logic, and in such a blindingly obvious way that I do not know how anyone in the Ministry of Defence thought that anybody would be fooled by it. How did they imagine that nobody would spot what was happening a mile off?

Bob Stewart: May I put to my right hon. Friend the possibility that the decision was made not in the Ministry of Defence but in another street—namely, Downing street?

Sir Alan Beith: I am familiar, from my various spheres of work in the House, with the way in which missives from Downing street can bring about sudden changes

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in the development of policy, and it would be no surprise if evidence emerged that that had happened in this case. This is the wrong decision, for the wrong reasons and with the wrong results for the efficiency of the Army and the defence and security of this country.

1.1 pm

Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): I also begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) and the Backbench Business Committee on securing this debate. I also pay tribute to the Royal Fusiliers. As a Newcastle city councillor, I was always conscious of the tremendous contribution that they made, and I remember the well-turned-out serving and former members of the Fusiliers who attended the Remembrance Sunday events. As a Defence Minister, I also saw the tremendous work that they did on the ground in theatres such as Afghanistan. The hon. Gentleman mentioned their history of bravery, sacrifice and courage, and I concur with his comments on that. The Fusiliers remain a constant source of pride in the north-east, as the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) has said, as well as in Manchester, London and Birmingham. The local communities in those areas have great pride in the Fusiliers.

Our concern is that the decision to disband the 2nd Battalion the Royal Fusiliers derives from a rushed defence review and an inadequate Army reform plan, known as Army 2020. The basis of any review should be sustainability and value for money.

Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman about the way in which these matters should be decided. Will he cast his mind back to 2004, when he was a Defence Minister? A total of 19 battalions were closed or amalgamated at that time, and there was no defence review then.

Mr Jones: The hon. Gentleman will remember that the decisions to make those changes were made by the Army during its restructuring. They were not made for political reasons; such decisions have been made for many reasons over many decades.

Mr David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab): I must ask my hon. Friend not to fall into the trap that so many others have fallen into—namely, of setting one against another. We should all be arguing that a major mistake is being made, and that we cannot allow that to happen. If the regiment’s numbers fall below a critical mass, it will not be able to recruit when it needs to.

Mr Jones: Indeed, and the decision was budget-led, rather than being made in the best interests of the Army.

Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Jones: I will not, because of the time limit.

The conclusions of any review should also take into account the long-term strategic objectives that will be in the interests of this country, but neither Army 2020 nor the strategic defence and security review did so. The SDSR was rendered out of date within weeks of being written by events in Libya, with equipment that had

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been scrapped weeks before being brought back into service. Army 2020 has got rid not only of some of the British Army’s best battalions, but of some of the bravest and most dedicated members of the armed forces. The Minister must explain what his criteria are, and how he is going to maintain the necessary skills, even though many have already been lost.

We are told that the numbers have to be cut, but I want to concentrate on the way in which that is being done. There was confusion this summer as the Government let the process linger on, allowing rumours and uncertainty to continue, mainly to save the Prime Minister the embarrassment of making this announcement before Armed Forces day. There have also been substantial cuts in the numbers of our armed forces personnel. Let us remember that, when in opposition in the last few years before the general election, the Conservatives were calling for a larger Army and a larger Navy with more personnel. They have achieved exactly the opposite since they have been in power. They are saying one thing and doing another. [Interruption.] I will come to the question of budgets in a minute, if the hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) will just hold his water.

These decisions are resulting in the Government having a credibility deficit on defence matters, not only with the public but with our armed forces. It is no wonder that there is confusion. The planning assumptions in the SDSR were based on an Army whose manpower was 95,000. Will the Minister tell us whether those assumptions are still being achieved, now that the number has been reduced to 82,000? Will he also be precise about the time scale for the build-up of the reserves? It has already been pointed out that there could be a capability gap in that area. I pay tribute to the members of our reserve forces. It is not surprising to discover from the continuous attitude survey of the armed forces that morale is at an all-time low.

The hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay talked about the criteria that had been applied when making the decisions. Serious questions need to be asked about how and why they were made.

Mr Robathan: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Jones: No, I will not. I would if I could get extra time—[Interruption.] No, I could not. I have already taken two interventions; those are the rules.

We are told that the units that were having the greatest recruitment difficulties would be abolished. The 3rd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment was only six short of its full establishment, and the 2nd Battalion the Royal Fusiliers was only eight short. However, other battalions with much less favourable recruitment records were maintained. It is no wonder that the honorary colonel of the 2nd Battalion the Royal Fusiliers said that the decision to axe his battalion would not “best serve” the armed forces and

“cannot be presented as the best or most sensible military option.”

It has been pleasing to see the turn-out today outside Parliament, and I know the strength of feeling that exists in the north-east of England. My hon. Friend the Member for North Tyneside (Mrs Glindon) has already mentioned the tremendous campaign being run by the Newcastle Journal andthe Evening Chronicle. We are seeing the ad hoc nature of decision making in whole

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areas of defence. The fact that Ministers have announced further reductions, over and above the numbers proposed in the SDSR, shows the short-sightedness of their proposals. We said when the SDSR was produced that it was not a blueprint for our strategic future so much as a Treasury-led defence review.

I have already paid tribute to our reservists. The Secretary of State has said that the proposal to back-fill the Army with reservists presents a risk. The fact that the only announcement he has made so far is that he is going to change the name of the Territorial Army leaves questions unanswered. There has been no clarification on training, or on whether employment law needs to be changed, as is quite likely if people are to be released from their employment to serve in the armed forces. So there are still a lot of loose ends, and there will be a capability gap if we are not careful. It is quite clear that Government policy is about deficit reduction and not about what is in the best interest of this country’s defence.

I will touch on the thorny issue of budgets, because we are told that the cuts are justified because of the big, bad Labour Government who left the Ministry of Defence with a £38 billion black hole. From this Dispatch Box, I have repeatedly asked the Government to explain this. The Public Accounts Committee has asked them to explain it, too, but to date nothing is forthcoming. I will be happy to hear, when the Minister replies to the debate—

Mr Robathan: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Jones: No, I will not.

Mr Robathan: Why not?

Mr Jones: Because I do not have the time. I shall wait with anticipation for the first ever breakdown of this figure. As I was saying, this has been the justification for the cuts that we have seen. It is quite clear what has to be done: if we are to take these cuts, the Government must set the record straight and be honest not only with the British public but with our brave servicemen and women.

Historic battalions are being axed for short-term savings without any coherent strategy for our armed forces. We have no confidence that the abolition of battalions, such as the 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers is either in the best interests of the country or is being done on a fair basis. Until Ministers fully explain the criteria behind Army 2020 that justify the abolition of these regiments; until they clarify the reforms to the reserves and the rebasing of forces in Germany on which we still await explanation; and until they are more honest about the state of MOD budget—simply coming here to say that the budget is unbalanced is not good enough—it will be difficult for the Government to have any credibility on defence. More importantly, the people who are quite rightly campaigning against this decision will think that decisions have been taken in an ad hoc way, without taking into consideration the interests of either the 2nd Battalion or of this country’s defence.

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1.12 pm

Mr Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): I congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) on securing this debate. He and my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) have made the case for the 2RRF in the context of the current review extremely powerfully. I am not entirely sure that they were wholly served by the arguments of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer), whose assault on the supporting arms could be described only as unfortunate. I would have thought that he among others would understand that the armed services, the Army, depend on team work between the different armed services and between the teeth arms and all the supporting arms. They all have an extremely important role to play.

When on coming into office the Government were faced with financial stringency, decisions about the number of infantry battalions as opposed to arm or core regiments, as opposed to engineers, were among the wretched decisions that Defence Ministers then had to take. The point I am about to make is beautifully illustrated by the Public Gallery, which I have never seen looking more impressive. The Officers of the House deserve congratulation on imposing a little bit of discipline up there. If I were the Defence Minister, I might find it quite intimidating, but the view presented in the Gallery makes one think about the wonderful institution that we are discussing today.

Anyone such as me who has had the privilege of serving in the Army understands the essential element of regimental identity. I was lucky enough to serve during the 1980s when I was only training to fight and die alongside my colleagues. Tragically, since 1990, far too many times that training has had to be turned into reality. That is what the deliberate creation of identity within Army fighting units is about. When Ministers are faced with wretchedly uncomfortable decisions about how to reshape the Army as times change and as warfare and the balance between the arms changes, we run straight into the political difficulty surrounding issues of identity.

The Ministry of Defence and the chiefs of staff have attempted to put in place some basis for making choices, but the toxin in the issue has already been alluded to. As my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay has explained, this decision has been about political calculation, not about military logic. I believe that these decisions have not been taken by the chiefs. I know from my own experience just how painful it is when one’s regiment is amalgamated. For those who have ceased serving—they, of course, will have spent 20 to 30 years in service—these issues will be at everyone’s heart. For those who are currently serving—their service is likely to be shorter—they will be concerned but they will turn to the right and get on with whatever organisation they are placed in, in order to do their duty for Queen and country.

Issues of identity, graphically represented here today, are incredibly important. I think that my hon. Friend has made his case when it comes to explaining how the decisions have been taken in this particular round. These are incredibly difficult decisions for the Minister for the Armed Forces and his colleagues, although the point has been made that we cannot be entirely sure that it was he who took them.

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This brings us to the issue of national sentiment. I shall now do the strategic equivalent of invading Russia and China, and take aim at Joanna Lumley and the Gurkha lobby. I think it is a particular pity that we are talking about the disbandment of a British line infantry battalion when there are battalions of, frankly, foreign mercenaries still in our Army. The national sentiment attached to the Gurkhas is, of course, entirely proper. Their century-plus service to our country is beyond compare, but it is many senses now an historic anachronism. There in 100 years-plus of sentiment associated with them, which led to the then Government being defeated on a measure dealing with the Gurkhas in the last days of the last Administration.

Mr Gray: I strongly support the campaign and the debate, but I think it will be extremely unfortunate if we allow the failure of the Government to do their first duty to defend the realm by preserving our armed forces to descend into a battle between whether we prefer the Gurkhas, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, the Loamshires or whatever. We should be saying that the Army will be too small at 82,000 and that these cuts are unacceptable, as we cannot defend the realm as a result of them. We must not allow ourselves to set one regiment against another.

Mr Blunt: It becomes an issue about identity in the end. With parts of the United Kingdom such as South Yorkshire providing the recruits for the Fusiliers or the north-east providing recruits for the Light Dragoons and so forth, there is an important issue of identity and then of wider public policy in relation to having a recruiting regime in another country, bringing Nepalese soldiers into the British Army. That was fine when, frankly, the Gurkhas were cheap. They were paid less than their equivalents—their pensions cost less, too—and there was a deal. It meant that these soldiers went back to Nepal, highly trained to be really good citizens of enormous value to Nepal. We have changed the rules through sentiment. In my judgment, we now have the most expensive infantry in the British Army supporting a training organisation in Nepal, which is quite limited in what it can do in comparison with British line infantry whose future we are debating today. That poses real public policy problems that we should be brave enough to address; we need to be brave enough to work through the sentiment. Of course there is enormous sentimental attachment to the Gurkhas.

Ian Mearns: For the information of the House, much as I want to save the 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, the Gurkha regiments have been recipients of the Victoria Cross on no fewer than 26 occasions. I think the hon. Gentleman maligns the Gurkhas with his words today.

Mr Blunt: I am not maligning them, and I am not maligning their historic contribution. I am acknowledging that contribution. However, our public policy is now to support the right of Nepalese families to come to the UK as a result of their service to the Crown.

Mr Kevan Jones: You voted for it.

Mr Blunt: Yes, I did, and I was wrong. I am happy to put on record that I regret it. One of the consequences is today’s debate, and another is the fact that we have done Nepal no favours by taking some of its finest

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people into the British Army and giving them the right to settle here as a result of their service. The British Army, which is a fantastic training machine, is taking some of Nepal’s finest young men, and they are not returning to Nepal to give it the benefit of their Army training. Moreover, we are probably building up social problems of our own, because the population who are coming into the United Kingdom with their families are going to find it tough to adjust to life here.

We have ended up with an expensive part of the infantry which is much more restricted in its employment than a British light infantry regiment such as the one that we are debating today, in the wake of a policy decision made on grounds of wholly understandable sentiment and for exactly the historic reasons alluded to by the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), including its awesome contribution during two world wars and the Falklands war. It is our responsibility here to try to exercise proper judgments about public interest and public policy. We need to decide what is the right thing to do, and what is in the defence interests of the United Kingdom.

It is easy to be carried away by sentiment. If I did not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay had made his case in support of the 2nd battalion, I would not be supporting his motion today, because battalions have to face disbandment. I will of course listen to what is said by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, but the fact is that we are having to trade off British tommies against Gurkha battalions because of national sentiment, and because decisions were made in Downing street for reasons that were political rather than connected with military logic. I can summarise the arguments presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay by saying that decisions such as this should always be based on military logic, not on political calculation.

1.22 pm

Simon Danczuk (Rochdale) (Lab): Let me begin by thanking the hon. and gallant Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) for providing such strong leadership on this issue. It has been much appreciated. Let me also say that it is a delight to follow the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt), who made some good and honest points.

I am very pleased to see Rochdale veterans down here in London, and in Parliament. That gives me great pride; and it gives me great pride to speak in the debate, because there are few, if any, more important topics than this on which a Member of Parliament can speak. I do not make that point lightly, for debating issues relating to our armed forces and speaking about the men and women who sign up to defend our country and our way of life is critically important.

As Rochdale’s Member of Parliament, I think it fair to say that few subjects for debate would take precedence over the subject of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. Rochdale is sometimes associated with bad news stories, but one of the good stories about our town is its strong association with that regiment. Many of our young people join up with the Fusiliers, and it performs the important function of providing much-needed jobs in Rochdale.

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Mr Kevan Jones: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not just about jobs? In the north-east as well, the regiment gives young people—men and women—life chances that they would not have in the communities from which they come, and in many cases it changes their lives for ever.

Simon Danczuk: I entirely agree. That is particularly important in places such as Rochdale, where the level of unemployment is unhealthily high.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of people throughout our town have served in the Fusiliers, and continue their association with the regiment. Through the Royal British Legion and the Fusiliers Association, we regularly celebrate the commitment and dedication of these soldiers.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) on initiating the debate. As the only Northern Ireland Member present, I should like to record our thanks to the regiment for the work that it has done in Northern Ireland, for the distinction with which it has served, and also for its contribution to the peace process and where we are today, because it can take some credit for that.

A retired major who had served for approximately 20 years approached me and told me that this was a disgrace. The force that he had signed up to had promised to take care of him and his family when he put his life on the line for his country, and now, through Government policy, his country was abandoning those who had sacrificed their physical and mental health in fulfilling Government policy. It was not their choice to fight in various different countries, but they were commanded to do it and they did it. Does my hon. Friend agree with the question that they ask—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I think that we have got the point.

May I appeal to everyone? A lot of Members are taking a lot of interest in this very important subject. If interventions are short, they will all be able to contribute to the debate. The longer the interventions, the less likely it is that we shall hear all who wish to speak, and I believe that it is important for everyone to speak.

Simon Danczuk: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I think that it was also important for the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) to put his point on the record.

In 1947 Rochdale gave the Fusiliers the freedom of the borough, and the amount of pride that the regiment brings to the town cannot be overestimated. It is for all those reasons that Rochdalians are so appalled by the cutting of the 2nd Battalion. The strength of feeling has been made clear in our local newspaper, and I pay tribute to the excellent campaign led by the Rochdale Observer.

Let me now turn to the politics of the issue. I must first say how pleased I am that there is cross-party support for our campaign to stop the axing of the 2nd Battalion. We all know now why the Government are doing it: it is because they do not want to upset the Scottish situation, and that is simply not good enough. The Fusiliers is one of the best-recruited regiments in the armed forces. It is clear that the decision to axe one of its battalions was not based on what those at the top

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of the Army think, but has more to do with a political fix that is intended to satisfy people concerned with the Scottish question.

I have to say that probably one of the worst ways of reaching a decision in politics is to base that decision not on the facts, on what is best for the people of our country or on what is best for the long term, but on a short-term event that has no association with the armed forces. I urge the Government and the Minister to think again, and to reverse their decision to axe the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.

1.28 pm

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on behalf of my constituents. For many of them, this issue is of extremely great importance and significance. It is a great pleasure to follow my neighbour, the hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk), who speaks with great authority on this matter. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) for securing this debate and the Backbench Business Committee for allocating time for it to take place here in the main Chamber, rather than in Westminster Hall—that is crucial, particularly given the number of members of the public, specifically the Fusiliers, who want to view it.

One of the first things that anyone who moves to the town of Bury, as I did, quickly realises is people’s enormous respect for and pride in the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. Families from right across the town have links in some way, down the years, with the Lancashire Fusiliers. Bury is home to the Fusiliers museum, which has recently been moved from its previous premises in the old barracks to a new site right in the town centre. I urge anyone who has not yet had the opportunity to visit the museum to do so as soon as possible. I also recommend that after visiting the museum they go outside to the small Gallipoli gardens, which contain the Lutyens memorial, and then take a short walk to the Bury parish church, the garrison church of the Lancashire Fusiliers, where a number of retired colours are on display. Every Wednesday at 1 pm the church holds a short service to commemorate all those soldiers, particular those from Bury, who have given their lives while serving in our armed forces and to remember all those now serving in our armed forces around the world who put their lives in danger to protect our freedom.

Talking of freedom, the Lancashire Fusiliers—now the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers—holds the freedom of not only the borough of Rochdale, but the borough of Bury and the neighbouring city of Salford, as the hon. Member for Rochdale mentioned.

Bob Stewart: My uncle was in the Lancashire Fusiliers and he got a distinguished service order with the regiment. It crosses my mind as we listen to my hon. Friend that there are so many Fusilier enclaves around the country. One battalion will have great difficulty covering everywhere in the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers’ vast recruiting area, and that will be extremely sad. We need as many battalions as possible, and thus we need to have the 2nd Battalion back.

Mr Nuttall: My hon. Friend makes the valid point that the loss of the 2nd Battalion will result in great social and economic cost, with the loss of those opportunities for young men in towns such as Bury.

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The Fusiliers have a proud record of military achievements, and Fusiliers have been decorated many, many times down the years for their bravery and courage. Each year, on the Sunday nearest to 25 April, the town centre of Bury is brought to a standstill as the Fusiliers parade through the town, and a special service is held in the parish church to commemorate the tragic events of the morning of 25 April 1915, when hundreds of men were killed and wounded as the 1st Battalion landed on W beach at Gallipoli. On Gallipoli Sunday, the exploits on that morning are still remembered to this day. The exploits of the Fusiliers that day were so heroic that they were awarded six Victoria Crosses—this is often now famously referred to as the winning of “six VCs before breakfast”.

However, I realise that past achievements alone are not sufficient reasons for not disbanding the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. As my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay set out in his excellent opening speech, there have to be—and there are—good military reasons why the 2nd Battalion should be retained. We must never forget why the Government have made these decisions. The defence budget must be balanced, and in the long term that will be for the benefit of our armed forces. In essence, though, politics is all about making choices—it is all about deciding on priorities. On this issue, I believe that the Government have made the wrong choice. There ought to be no higher priority than the defence of the realm. It cannot be right that, at a time when we are sending billions of pounds every year to pay for the bureaucratic monster in Brussels that is the European Union, we are sacrificing the 2nd Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers here at home. I urge right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House to support the motion.

1.34 pm

Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) on securing this debate and on the way he opened it.

I spoke in the pre-recess Adjournment debate on 17 July about the anger felt in Salford and across Greater Manchester about the Government’s decision to axe 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. The Manchester Evening News has run a strong campaign urging the Government to rethink their plans. The campaign has attracted 15,000 people to sign petitions, including the petition of 10,000 handed in today to Downing street. Many former Fusiliers from Greater Manchester, including those from Salford whom I am pleased to have met, were on the march today. There is great strength of feeling in our area and today I shall talk about what the battalion means to people in Salford, and to one family in particular.

We have heard, but it bears repeating, that the 2nd Battalion has a long and distinguished service history dating back to the Lancashire Fusiliers—indeed, Fusiliers first took that title in 1685 and have fought in every major engagement since. In 1968, when the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers was formed from the four English Fusilier regiments, they inherited from the Lancashire Fusiliers a regimental history steeped in tradition. As the hon. and gallant Gentlemen said, the regiment won more Victoria Crosses in the great war than any other regiment: 19 of the heroes of the Lancashire Fusiliers were awarded

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the VC, including the six the hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) just described who won the VC in the action at Gallipoli. Many of the regiment’s soldiers have given their lives fighting for this country.

In 2009, the 2nd Battalion completed a tour in Afghanistan in which it lost seven men killed in action; others were wounded, some very seriously. Three of the seven died together in an explosion while on patrol near Sangin in Helmand province on 16 August 2009. One of them was Fusilier Simon Annis, from Salford. Simon and fellow Fusilier Louis Carter were trying to drag their injured comrade, Lance Corporal James Fullarton, to safety after a roadside bomb blast. As the pair lifted Lance Corporal Fullarton on to a stretcher, they triggered a second device, causing an explosion. All three soldiers died at the scene.

Simon Annis was on his first operational tour. He was described by his commanding officer as follows:

“Always at the heart of whatever was going on, it was no surprise to me that he died whilst trying to save his mortally wounded Section Commander. He should be seen as a shining example to the nation of what selfless commitment really means.”

Simon was 22 years old and had been married for just one month before he deployed to Afghanistan. I met his parents, my constituents Ann and Peter Annis, when the 2nd Battalion had its homecoming parade from Afghanistan later in 2009. Salford people lined the streets to give the returning soldiers a warm welcome, and I was so proud to be at that parade and to meet Mr and Mrs Annis. When the news came through about the axing of the battalion in which her son had served, Simon’s mother commented:

“Simon was so proud to serve in the battalion and now this feels like a smack in the face… Lads are still in Afghanistan and dying out in Afghanistan and the Army are talking about cuts and job losses. Morale must be at rock bottom.

I look at Simon’s headstone at his grave and it says ‘2nd Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers’. He was so proud to serve in the battalion.”

This week, Mrs Annis told me her thoughts:

“As the mother of a Fusilier who paid the ultimate sacrifice for his Queen, his country and his battalion, I can only see this decision as a betrayal of trust for the soldiers still serving and to the memory of the brave men who have given their lives while serving in this historically proud regiment.”

She said that this is

“a decision that surely cannot be justified with the recruitment figures for the battalion. This can only be seen as cost-cutting rather than restructuring.

When I read the names on the Wall of Remembrance at the National Arboretum, I was immensely proud to be the mother of a young lad whose name appears alongside the names of such brave men from the 2nd Battalion, Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.

Over and over again I have heard government excuses and reasons why this battalion should be axed, yet I still see no valid reason.”

She added:

“I urge you to think and reconsider the decision.”

I strongly support Mrs Annis’s views and, together with hon. Members across the House, am asking the Government to reconsider. As Mrs Annis said, the decision to axe the battalion feels like a betrayal of the memory of her son Simon and the other soldiers who have given their lives.

There is a deep attachment in Salford and across Greater Manchester to the 2nd Battalion, which was

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formed from the Lancashire Fusiliers and has such a long and proud history of service to this country. It is linked to Salford and, as we have heard, to Bury, Rochdale and Manchester. The loss of the battalion at this time of higher unemployment in our area of Greater Manchester would significantly reduce the opportunities for local people who want to enter a career serving their country, as young Simon Annis did, and it would of course put 600 soldiers and officers at risk of being made redundant.

I probably do not need to rehearse the key issue in the matter. As we have heard, the 2nd Battalion currently has a very good record on recruitment; it has 523 trained soldiers out of a maximum strength of 532. Brigadier David Paterson, the battalion’s honorary colonel, has described it as

“the strongest in raw manning and deployable strength”.

Surely that is a key factor. He also pointed out that the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers is the only regiment set to grow over the next six months. Brigadier Paterson has questioned the criteria being used to single out the unit for cuts when it is actually in such a strong position for recruitment. It seems that officers who understand the situation do not agree with the reasoning behind the decision to axe the battalion. The previous Labour Government’s plans meant that the Army would not have ended up with single-battalion regiments. This Government’s plans leave regiments such as the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers in a weaker position. When the hon. and gallant Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) spoke about that earlier, he called it a disgrace.

I urge Ministers to reconsider the decision to axe the 2nd battalion. I hope that they will respect its proud history and valour, its current strong recruiting position and, most of all, the sacrifice of fallen Fusiliers such as Simon Annis. The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers has had the freedom of the city of Salford since 1974. I and the people of Salford and Greater Manchester are very proud of the 2nd Battalion. Losing it would be a great loss to us. They are England’s finest.

1.42 pm

Dan Byles (North Warwickshire) (Con): It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley). I join colleagues in thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) and congratulating him on his campaign and on securing the debate. I have no intention of repeating the facts he laid out so clearly before the House. Instead, I wish briefly to flesh out the vital local perspective on such a decision, because the local angle is fundamentally important to a county regiment and local links with historical recruiting areas are the bedrock of the regimental system.

When I was 11 years old I joined the Army cadets. My boots were a bit too big, my beret was rarely straight, I never really got the hang of putties—I am sure some Members present remember those—and I often struggled to look smart, but I remember clearly and proudly putting on my beret, with its distinctive red and white hackle, for the first time because, although I was just a cadet, I had joined the Fusiliers. It was a formative moment for me. My time as a cadet in Warwick

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genuinely changed my life. Before that moment I had no ambitions to join the Army, but as a direct result of my time as a cadet with the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers I went on to join the regular Army and served for nine years, leaving with the rank of major. And so it is for many of our brave servicemen and women. The link with a local and much-loved regiment is the route into service life for many of our soldiers.

In my constituency of North Warwickshire and Bedworth, the fate of the 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers is not some distant, academic debate. The Fusiliers are a much-loved and integral part of the community. Bedworth is perhaps the only town in the country to hold a full armistice parade on 11 November every year, regardless of the day on which it falls. Last year more than 5,000 people attended. They do so because our community is fiercely proud of our veterans and our local regiment. Two years ago the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers was awarded the freedom of the borough of Nuneaton and Bedworth.

Sadly, our borough has seen its share of tragedy. In recent years, we have seen the deaths on operations of two local heroes—Fusilier Louis Carter and Sergeant Simon Valentine. Their sacrifice touched local people immeasurably. It is no exaggeration to say that the entire community came together on both occasions in grief and to support the families. Louis’s and Simon’s mothers are well known and loved locally, and I know that they are watching this debate with great interest and sadness.

I am not standing here today asking the Government to abandon defence reforms completely. I have great sympathy with colleagues who have said there is no need to go ahead with the reforms at all. I share the views of many who have said that there are probably alternatives—that other parts of Government spending could be looked at again to ease what is having to be done in defence. However, I do not believe that it is practical or credible to say that the Ministry of Defence can escape any reform whatever.

The Secretary of State has a difficult balancing act: to bring the MOD budget back on to a sustainable footing after many years of a growing financial black hole, regardless of how big that hole is; I know that people argue about that. Tragically, there is no part of the armed forces that has not made sacrifices and lost lives in recent years, and there are no easy decisions on this matter.

Although I have specific concerns about the decision on the 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, I understand the MOD’s difficulty. The difficult decisions must be made in the right way. Decisions about fighting units should be made by the Army itself, on sound military logic. What worries me is the clear impression that, for political reasons, well recruited English regiments are being sacrificed to save less well recruited regiments elsewhere.

In addition, I share concerns raised by a number of colleagues at the apparent change of Ministry of Defence policy regarding multi-battalion regiments. In 2004, under the previous Government, when the Ministry of Defence was last making difficult decisions about axing and amalgamating regiments and battalions, General Sir Mike Jackson, the Chief of the General Staff at the time, made it clear that the future lay with multi-battalion regiments rather than single-battalion ones. They are

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more efficient and cost-effective and provide a more effective promotion structure for soldiers within a family of connected battalions. At that time, the single-battalion regiments were targeted and the multi-battalion regiments were preserved or created. I ask the Minister why that policy now appears to have changed.

Many Fusiliers are seriously considering leaving the Army altogether rather than face being transferred to a Scottish battalion—as I understand it, the only option that members of the 2nd Battalion are being given once the 1st Battalion reaches capacity. There may be as few as 50 places available in the 1st Battalion to absorb members of the 2nd Battalion.

I strongly urge the Secretary of State and Prime Minister to look at the decision again for the sake of the families, the communities and the soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, who face an uncertain future. Once a Fusilier, always a Fusilier.

1.48 pm

Mr David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) on leading on this issue and on how he addressed the motion. As members of the Backbench Business Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), my parliamentary neighbour, and I were delighted to be asked to schedule this debate, which is timely.

I have no direct history in the armed services but I have had experience in war zones. I spent quite a bit of time in Northern Ireland in the 1990s and in 2008 I was part of a delegation that went from this House to Baghdad. While we were there, we became subject to a mortar attack. I was led by a Gurkha to an air raid shelter. I was disgusted by the comments made by the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt). I did not consider that soldier to be a foreign mercenary; I considered him to be a member of the British armed services taking care of me and the people I was with. How the hon. Gentleman contributed to this debate reflects badly on him.

My father was a member of the armed forces for three days; having been a coal miner, he joined the RAF during the war but they sent him back saying, “You’re more important to us working in the mine than mending aeroplanes.” But two uncles of mine were prisoners of war—one who worked on the Burma railway and another, ironically, who left the coal mines in 1928 because he hated them, but was captured as a soldier as part of the rearguard action at Dunkirk and spent the next four years working in a coal mine in Poland under German occupation. Everyone in this House has heard about that history and can share in our appreciation for the service of these people over so many years. Colleagues from the north-east have already mentioned the tremendous support for the Fusiliers, who have a huge history and huge respect. I pay tribute to all those who have marched here, from whatever part of the country, but particularly those from our part of the world. We are immensely proud of what you have done in the past and what we hope you will continue to do in future.

I want to get to the heart of the issue—the politics. I have spent a lifetime working in the public sector, and throughout that time I have seen various services used as a political football, including the health service, local

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government and the coal industry—and now the police and the fire service are in the front line of the debate about politics in public services—but I have never seen any of them being gerrymandered to the extent that has been happening in this debate. The hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) was absolutely right—the fingerprints of the Chancellor of the Exchequer are all over this debate. He is not just the part-time Chancellor of this country; he is a part-time political strategist. This is a man whose whole life has been involved in being political, as we see when we read his history. When he was 13 years old he changed his name from Gideon because he thought it was a disadvantage in getting on in life. Perhaps it was also because his nickname at school was Giddy.

However, this is not a question of Giddy but “Diddy”. Did he interfere with the decision? Did he think it was a good tactic to try to placate the Scots by leaving them out of this mix? Did he give any thought to the impact on unemployment, now and in future, in regions like mine? Did he give any thought to the tremendous history of service and sacrifice that the Fusiliers have given to this nation? Did he care about the damage that these actions will cause? Did he feel so much contempt for the Scottish people that he thought they would be fooled by this sucker punch? Clearly he does not care about what is happening in relation to this issue; he is only interested in gaining pure party political and parliamentary advantage. That is a huge disservice to the people who are here today—people who we in this House ask not only to go and die for us but to go and kill for us. It is an absolute disgrace to treat them in this way when they deserve so much better.

I was very proud to go and meet the marchers today, but I have previously met many marchers in London and other parts of the country, and I have been on many marches in my life, and I have to say that most of them have ended up in disappointment. I have seen this Government and other Governments ignore health workers, policemen, firefighters and many other public servants who have asked them to reconsider their view of how they are being treated. It is incumbent on all those of us who have stayed here for this debate to vote in the right way to give these glorious men and women, the Fusiliers, the chance not to join that list of disappointed public servants. We must support the motion, but that is not the end of it—we have to keep the pressure on to make sure that this decision is reversed and that we look at other ways to make these savings.