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Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): I congratulate the Minister on his success with the start-up loan scheme. Will he reassure the House that he will continue to champion efforts to build on the scheme, particularly in my Isle of Wight constituency?

Matthew Hancock: Yes, I will take a special interest in ensuring that the Isle of Wight has access to the scheme. Many of the partners through which it is delivered are regional, but there are many national partners and much of it can be done online. I am sure that broadband internet is readily available on the Isle of Wight. If it is not, it soon will be. I will take a special interest in how many loans are taken up on the Isle of Wight.

Justin Tomlinson (North Swindon) (Con): This is welcome news, especially as the start-up businesses have gone on to employ a further 10,000 people. To build on that, what more can be done to encourage an entrepreneurial spirit within the education system to equip the next generation of young entrepreneurs?

Matthew Hancock: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for adding to the statistics at my disposal. He is a doughty campaigner for enterprise in the education system. One of the main purposes of bringing together the skills and enterprise briefs is to ensure that the education system reflects and prepares people for the world of employment and enterprise. That is very close to my heart and I look forward to working with him to make it happen more.

Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) (Con): The start-up loans scheme has been a fantastic success story. One reason for that success is the presence of business mentors. Will the Minister reassure the House that as the scheme grows, as new groups get involved and as the age cap is lifted, the number of business mentors will keep up in order to ensure that all the businesses have access to the support that they need?

Matthew Hancock: We are finding that lots of business men and women are interested in mentoring, partly because they feel that they got so much out of growing their business and want to give something back. Engaging more mentors is a vital part of the scheme, but that is not a constraint on expansion owing to the enthusiasm—to which I pay tribute—of business men and women who want to help others to get the sort of start that they had.

Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): As someone who started and ran a small business, I know about the challenges that are faced by people who want to run their own business, particularly in accessing finance. I was pleased to join the start-up bus when it visited Rugby. Does the Minister agree that the start-up loans scheme shows that the Government are providing real help to small emerging businesses, unlike the Labour party, which took advice on business and industry from the man who managed the decline of the Co-op bank?

Matthew Hancock: My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is surprising to see the Labour Benches almost entirely empty when the House should be uniting in support of the excellent start-up loans scheme. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who started his own business and who does much in this House to promote those who start their own businesses.

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Mr Marcus Jones (Nuneaton) (Con): I recently met a number of young entrepreneurs who had started successful small businesses using start-up loans. They had been refused loans by mainstream banks. Will my hon. Friend assure me that the scheme will be broadened to create tens of thousands of budding entrepreneurs of all ages across our great country?

Matthew Hancock: The scheme is growing and accelerating, and it has the capacity to do more. I hope that we can do more with it, not least because it is helping people who would otherwise not be able to start their own business. We started the scheme because of the difficulty that is faced in getting finance from banks at an early stage. The evidence that my hon. Friend sees in his constituency is what I see across the country. That is exactly what this successful scheme is for.

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): I have great pleasure in welcoming this excellent statement because it brings good news about the real economy. Does the Minister agree that encouraging schools and colleges to have governors with business experience would enhance and embed the entrepreneurial spirit that we need in those places?

Matthew Hancock: I encourage links between colleges and local enterprise partnerships, which can be strengthened a great deal by their governors and board members sitting on each other’s boards. There are schools around the country that bring in businesses and entrepreneurs, not only to talk to students, for example through the brilliant Speakers for Schools programme, but to help design the curriculum and motivate children to improve their performance in academic subjects. That is a great success when it is done well and I encourage more schools to do it.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Is my hon. Friend aware that Harlow has had the highest business growth in the United Kingdom according to a BBC and Experian survey? Will he congratulate Danielle Field, a young mother who from nothing set up an apprentice hairdressing academy with her partner thanks to a James Caan loan? That has been a tremendous success. Is this scheme not an example of the Government helping the lowest-paid to get back into work?

Matthew Hancock: I pay tribute to Danielle Field. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend. I did not know that Harlow was the best place in the UK to start a business according to the statistics. That shows just how brilliant Harlow is, almost all of which is down to its brilliant MP.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Northamptonshire was recently declared by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to be the most enterprising place in Britain. Will the Minister ensure that a ready supply of start-up loans is made available to the entrepreneurs in that county so that the entrepreneurial spirit that is abroad can be captured, developed and promoted to the full?

Matthew Hancock: There seems to be a competition to be the most enterprising place in Britain. That is superb, because enterprise is all about being competitive and getting ahead. I am glad that that has been brought

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to my attention. Of course, all Government Members know that Harlow is in Essex, not in Northamptonshire or Kent. Ensuring that Northamptonshire and all other places get the support that is needed for small business is vital.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: I remind the House that there is a ten-minute rule motion to follow. I remain fully committed to moving on to the main business at or very close to 2 o’clock, so if everybody wants to get in, Members will have to help each other.

Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): People in Northumberland welcome the Government’s support for start-up businesses. Does the Minister agree that the key to the reform of bank lending is the development of local and regional banks? Is he surprised that in April 2012 the Labour party voted against such banks?

Matthew Hancock: That is a surprise, given that ensuring that there is more competition in banking is a key part of the answer to that problem.

Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con): I strongly welcome the statement. Having started businesses myself, I know how hard it can be. A key element of the statement was mentoring. I urge my hon. Friend to build on the targeted approach to mentoring that he has outlined today.

Matthew Hancock: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who is the Prime Minister’s apprenticeship ambassador. He does a huge amount of work to promote apprenticeships, small businesses and start-ups across the country.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): I welcome the scheme and its extension to include sharia-compliant finance. The UK is a world centre for ethical finance on Judaeo-Christian principles, which, like sharia-compliant finance, concentrates on risk sharing. Will the Minister consider including an ethical product?

Matthew Hancock: I will certainly consider that proposal.

Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): Would-be entrepreneurs will recognise the cynical, negative response of the Opposition as evidence that the Labour party does not share their passion for creating businesses. The Minister referred to the 100,000th start-up loan. We were only at 1,000 start-up loans in February and we are now at 10,000 start-up loans, so we might well get to 100,000 start-up loans. What will be the Minister’s response if this policy continues to enjoy the success that it has had so far?

Matthew Hancock: I was getting ahead of myself. Mr Speaker, if we get to 100,000 start-up loans, I hope that I will be able to make a statement about that too.

Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): My hon. Friend was right to single out Mr Martin as a great role model for people of all ages and from all backgrounds in setting up a new business. I would like to give one of the last words this afternoon to

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Mr Martin. It is important for everyone in this House to listen to what he has to say about start-up loans. He says that they have given him

“the opportunity to start a new life”

and that it is “an amazing feeling”.

Matthew Hancock: It is terrific to hear directly from Mr Martin’s MP, who is such a champion of Falmouth and Truro, about the effect that the loan has had on him. Similar stories abound from all 10,000 of those who have received the loans.

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): Start-up loans are helping many people to set up their own small businesses. We are coming up to small business Saturday, which is on 7 December. Mr Speaker, you are welcome to come to my networking event for small businesses at the iCon centre in Daventry on that morning and I will happily buy you a coffee. Will the Minister say how important it is to celebrate small businesses on small business Saturday?

Matthew Hancock: I love small businesses. I come from a small business background. Government Members have demonstrated their commitment to growing small businesses and doing everything they can to support them. To show that support, I urge everyone to get out there on 7 December—small business Saturday—to buy something from small businesses and to tweet about it, so the whole world knows how much we support small and growing businesses.

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Point of Order

1.50 pm

Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Have you had any indication from the Justice Secretary on whether he intends to come to the House and make a statement to clear up the confusion regarding the announcement by G4S yesterday that it has been overcharging for services it is contracted to provide to the Ministry of Justice? The confusion is twofold. First, there have been reports in the press that G4S has offered to repay roughly £23 million to the MOJ, but that that has been refused. I think hon. Members would want to know the reason for that. Secondly, on the proposed changes to the probation service, last week on Second Reading the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright), who has responsibility for prisons and the probation service, indicated that

“if…G4S do not come out satisfactorily from the audit processes, which this Government instituted, they will not receive any contracts.”—[Official Report, 11 November 2013; Vol. 570, c. 744.]

We need to know whether the MOJ is now excluding G4S from that process.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order. He speaks both as a concerned constituency Member and a former Prisons Minister. The short answer is that I have received no indication that any Minister intends to come to the House to make a statement on the matter. My recollection from the media coverage is that the issue is one of ongoing investigation, but the words uttered by the right hon. Gentleman in his usual measured terms will have been heard on the Treasury Bench. We shall have to leave it there for today.

20 Nov 2013 : Column 1257

Regulation of Refractive Eye Surgery

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

1.55 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to regulate refractive eye surgery, including laser eye surgery.

Nine years ago, the late Frank Cook, a former hon. Member, brought together a group of senior MPs to take evidence and examine widespread concerns about the operation of the growing laser eye surgery industry. Those concerns included high-pressure sales tactics, variable standards of service and a frequent failure to provide adequate aftercare, particularly if the treatment had had unfortunate side effects. At the time, the consumer group Which? and the then National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence brought forward reports expressing their concerns about the development of the industry.

In 2005, Frank Cook introduced a Bill in the same form that I am promoting today. The aim was to give the industry the opportunity to address concerns voluntarily, before Government needed to act. Eight years on, I and other hon. Members have been shocked that there are still many incidences of the problems that we then identified. In some cases, they have got worse.

I pay tribute to the public and practitioners who came forward to their MPs to explain how they were treated and to expose current malpractice. I particularly want to pay tribute to Sasha Rodoy, from the My Beautiful Eyes campaign, who has supported many victims of the industry. I do not want to tarnish all practitioners in the field, because there are many good practitioners out there, but confidence will be undermined if we do not tackle the problems.

Eight years ago, we found that many of the corporates in the sector employed aggressive sales tactics to secure clients. Recent evidence from clients and former salespeople shows that the problem continues and has got worse. It often starts with a phone call, the offer of a time-limited discount or entry into a competition for free treatment. Patients visit the shop on a no-obligation basis for a consultation; then the phone calls start. We have evidence of people receiving 20 phone calls in a single day. Some salesmen are described as counsellors or refractive technicians, but have minimal training in what the surgery involves and come under intense pressure from their managers to clinch deals no matter what. Patients are often not given adequate information on the potential risks. One former Optical Express salesman described pressure from managers not to give customers all the available information for fear of scaring them off.

Material used by some companies to promote sales has been proven on several occasions by the Advertising Standards Authority to be unfounded, lacking in evidence and misleading. In 2011, the ASA upheld 17 complaints against Optical Express brochures.

Concerns continue to be expressed about the quality of patient assessment. Assessments are often undertaken by a different person from the surgeon who performs the operation or who provides aftercare—there is no consistent approach. Good practice in any surgery recommends that a patient’s consent is assured. A cooling-off period is recommended between the assessment and

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advice provided, and the final decision. Many companies state that a 24-hour or 72-hour cooling-off period is built into consent procedures, but we have evidence that that is not the case. Complex documents are placed in patients’ hands, and they are pressurised into providing a signature on the actual day of the surgery.

There is no legal requirement for a surgeon to be qualified or experienced in this field of surgery. There are no regulations to that effect: any doctor can undertake this surgery. The Royal College of Ophthalmologists introduced a certificate in laser surgery, but only half of practising surgeons have it. It is worrying that certification is on a downward trend: in 2009, 29 surgeons took the exam; in 2011, 13; in 2012, five; and this year, none. Worries have been expressed about the number of surgical operations an individual surgeon is contracted to undertake in one day: sometimes 17 to 20, sometimes more. There is no limit on the number of procedures a surgeon can undertake. That puts time pressures on assessments, pre-op procedures, operations and aftercare.

There are definite risks involved in this surgery. Some estimate that one in 20 patients experience post-operative problems, including dry eyes, blurred vision, starbursts and glare. In many cases, patients have found it extremely difficult to secure aftercare from companies. Many are forced to resort to the law, and it takes months—in some cases, years—to receive effective remedial action or compensation. On many occasions, they are forced to sign compromise agreements including gagging clauses so that they do not expose what has happened to them. In addition, in some instances they later find that the cost of corrective surgery is deducted from their compensation.

I could go through many case histories, but there is not time to do so. Many hon. Members have also brought cases to my attention. Ex-staff have talked about company patient satisfaction surveys being heavily influenced, or even filled in, by staff. On at least one occasion, an expression of dissatisfaction never came to light. I will quote what one person said to me:

“I was misled, misinformed and mis-sold.”

What needs to be done? Sir Bruce Keogh, the NHS medical director, examined laser surgery practice in his recent report on cosmetic surgery. He concluded that action needed to be taken to regulate the industry. His report was published in April and the Government are yet to respond.

The agenda that the Government need to address is set out in Frank Cook’s Bill, which I have updated. First, the industry needs statutory regulation, as voluntary mechanisms have failed. At minimum, all surgeons must be qualified, certificated and have regular competence assessments from here on in. There should be openness and transparency so that the success rates of individual surgeons and clinics can be published. Patients will then be able to make considered choices. The Government should consider limiting the number of operations that surgeons can undertake in one day: we restrict the hours of lorry drivers and pilots; we should also restrict the hours surgeons work, because patients are being put at risk. We should ensure that high-pressure sales techniques are made illegal in this area. There should be a legal requirement for companies and surgeons to provide full information, in a comprehensible form, on all risks to patients.

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There should also be heavier sanctions for breaches of advertising standards and mis-selling by such companies, because the result of their actions is to expose people to serious health risks. There should be a seven-day breathing space, enforceable in law, between the initial decision and final consent. There should also be guaranteed aftercare and, if things go wrong, remedial action at the expense of the company, not the individual. Finally, there should be a compensation scheme. The mechanism for securing compensation for individuals who suffer loss and damage as a result of such actions should be swifter and less litigious. We have argued this case before, but perhaps it would be easier and less litigious if there was an industry-funded scheme to provide compensation to those who can demonstrate that they have been harmed by such surgery.

It is difficult to get a figure for how many such operations take place, but it looks as though between 100,000 and 120,000 people a year undertake such surgery. That is too many people. Even if the figure for those affected is one in 20, as I suggested, that means that thousands of our constituents are being put at risk by an industry that is completely unregulated. I therefore urge the Government to act now. There are many former patients, excellent practitioners and Members of this House who are willing to work with the Government on a programme to secure action based on the Keogh principles, which are about ensuring high standards of service, openness and transparency, accountability and a proper sense of care for such patients in the long term. This is a serious matter. I know that the Government are currently considering their response to Keogh. I hope that it will be imminent and that this part of the cosmetic surgery industry and the surgery industry overall will be covered in that response.

A large number of Members wished to support the Bill—I have had to select a range of Members from different parties and areas in presenting it—and I thank them for that.

Question put and agreed to.


That John McDonnell, Ann Clwyd, Sir John Randall, Sir Bob Russell, Hywel Williams, Mark Durkan, Jim Shannon, Naomi Long, Sandra Osborne, Michael Fabricant, Nia Griffith and Chris Williamson present the Bill.

John McDonnell accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 28 February, and to be printed (Bill 131).

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Defence Reform Bill

[Relevant Documents: Seventh Report from the Defence Committee, Session 2012-13, on Defence Acquisition, HC 9, and the Government Response, HC 73. Oral evidence taken before the Defence Committee on 4 September 2013, on Defence Acquisition, HC 652-i. Oral evidence taken before the Defence Committee on 5 December 2012 on Future Army 2020, HC 803-i, Session 2012-13, and on 10 July and 8 October 2013, HC 576-i-ii. Uncorrected oral evidence taken before the Defence Committee on 5 November 2013, on Future Army 2020, HC 576-iii. Written evidence to the Defence Committee, on Future Army 2020, reported to the House on 24 April, 9 July, 8 October and 5 November 2013, and published on the internet.]

Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee

New Clause 1

Annual report by scrutiny group of reserve forces and cadets associations

‘(1) The Reserve Forces Act 1996 is amended as follows.

(2) After section 112(3) insert—

“(4) In respect of subsections (2) and (3), it shall be the duty of the Council of RFCAs to provide an external scrutiny group to report annually in July to the Secretary of State on the state of the reserves, making particular reference to—

(a) provisions for recruitment and retention;

(b) the upkeep of estates owned or controlled by RFCAs;

(c) support arrangements;

(d) training facilities; and

(e) any other factors which have a bearing on reserve effectiveness.

(5) The Secretary of State shall by Order lay the report before Parliament.

(7) The membership of the external scrutiny group shall include—

(a) the Chairman of the Council of RFCAs as chair;

(b) five other members to include—

(i) representation balancing reserve and regular service across the three armed forces; and

(ii) at least one independent civilian member with a broader understanding of defence issues;

(c) specialist members.

(8) Specialist members of the external scrutiny group may be appointed by the Council of RFCAs from time to time, but shall not be permanent members.

(9) The Defence Council shall by Order provide compensation for specialist members of the external scrutiny group for the purposes of subsistence or other reasonable expense encountered in the course of work undertaken in this capacity.”.’.—(Mr Brazier.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

2.3 pm

Mr Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 2—Duties and powers of reserve forces and cadets associations—

‘(1) The Reserve Forces Act 1996 is amended as follows.

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(2) After section 113(1) insert—

“(1A) In deciding which of the matters set out under subsection (2) should be transferred or assigned to the associations, the Secretary of State should take account of—

(a) the cost effectiveness of associations as compared with wider defence operations; and

(b) the ownership of the particular site.”.’.

New clause 3—Report on Future Reserves 2020—

‘(1) Within one month of the passage of this Act, the Secretary of State shall make and lay before Parliament a report on the viability and cost effectiveness of the plans set out in Reserves in the Future Force 2020: Valuable and Valued, Cmd 8655, together with his recommendation on its further implementation.

(2) Further implementation of the plans shall be halted 40 days after the laying of the report unless both Houses shall have resolved to approve the recommendation from the Secretary of State contained in the report.’.

Provides for a Government report detailing the viability and cost-effectiveness of the plans set out in the White Paper on Reserves (Cmd 8655). Both Houses must approve the report and the Secretary of State’s subsequent recommendation in order for the implementation of the reforms to reserve forces to continue.

New clause 4—Mental health provision for members of the reserve forces—

‘(1) The Secretary of State shall publish annually an analysis of mental health provision for members and former members of the reserve forces.

(2) The report shall include information and annual spend on such services.

(3) The Secretary of State shall within one year of this Act coming into force bring forward proposals clarifying provisions for the transfer of medical records belonging to former members of the reserve forces to the NHS and for the monitoring of the health needs of former members of the reserve forces.’.

New clause 6—Leave entitlement for reserve forces—

‘(1) The Employment Rights Act 1996 is amended as follows.

(2) After section 63C insert—

“63CA Right to time off for reserve forces

(1) An employee who is a member of a reserve force (as defined in section 374 of the Armed Forces Act 2006) is entitled to be permitted by his employer to take time off during the employee’s working hours in order to undertake training activities connected to the reserve force.

(2) An employee’s entitlement to time off under subsection (1) is limited to 14 days maximum.

(3) An employee is not entitled to paid remuneration by his employer for time off under subsection (1).

(4) This section does not apply to employees of companies with fewer than 50 employees.

63CB Complaints to employment tribunals

‘(1) An employee may present a complaint to an employment tribunal that his employer has unreasonably refused to permit him to take time off as required by section 63CA.

(2) An employment tribunal shall not consider a complaint under this section unless it is presented—

(a) before the end of the period of three months beginning with the day on which the time off was taken or on which it is alleged the time off should have been permitted, or

(b) within such further period as the tribunal considers reasonable in a case where it is satisfied that it was not reasonably practicable for the complaint to be presented before the end of that period of three months.

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(3) Where an employment tribunal finds a complaint under this section well-founded, the tribunal shall make a declaration to that effect.”.’.

A reservist would be entitled to two weeks statutory additional unpaid leave from their employment (where the company has more than 50 employees) for the purpose of reserve forces training, for which they shall receive their military pay.

New clause 7—Publication of data on reserves—

‘(1) The Secretary of State shall publish quarterly recruitment figures and trained strength numbers of the reserve forces against adjusted quarterly targets.’.

Amendment 3, in clause 49, page 31, line 32, leave out ‘1 to 3’ and insert ‘1 and 2’.

Amendment 4, page 31, line 35, at end insert—

‘(2A) Part 3 shall not come into force unless the receommendation referred to in section Report on Future Reserves 2020 has been approved by both Houses, and may then be brought into force on such day or days as the Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument appoint.’.

Mr Brazier: It is a huge pleasure to speak to new clause 1. Let me also say how much I enjoyed serving on the Public Bill Committee, through which we were so well guided by the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne).

New clause 1 seeks to establish, on a permanent basis, a power for the council of the reserve forces and cadets associations to report annually to this House and the Secretary of State on the state of the reserves, and will restore to the reserves a powerful independent voice.

I hope you will indulge me, Mr Speaker, if I give the House a bit of history. In 1908, when that great reforming Secretary of State, Haldane, set up the Territorial Force, as it was then called, on its modern basis, it was recognised that if the force was established simply under the Regular Army, it would not prosper. Therefore, the county associations—what we now call the RFCAs—were given control of recruiting and property management for the TF, as it then was. Just six years later, at the outbreak of the first world war, there were 250,000 Territorials stood to arms. Thirty units went over to the continent in the first wave. Sir John French, our commander over on the continent, remarked:

“Without the assistance which the Territorials afforded between October 1914 and June 1915, it would have been impossible to hold the line in France and Belgium.”

Sir John French was of course referring to the beginning of the war, but even at that stage, the same split view, which I am afraid we still see today, existed in the Regular Army. Lord Kitchener, as Secretary of State, announced on the very day that he took up his post that he could

“take no account of anything but Regular soldiers”.

He derided the Territorial Force, which was already fighting over in France, as “a town clerk’s army” and said that it got its orders from “Lord Mayors’ parlours”. However, had it not been for the vigorous lobbying of Parliament by the county associations—the forerunners of the RFCAs, with which my new clause deals—his efforts simply to break up the TF and use it as a source of spare parts for the Regular Army would have been successful, and the remarkable process whereby it delivered almost half our fighting units by the end of the war and scored 71 Victoria Crosses in the process would never have happened.

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The system continued for nearly a century. Indeed, in 2003-04, by far the largest deployment of reservists in post-second world war history took place. At one point, one fifth of all our forces in Iraq and, just afterwards, one eighth of all our forces in Afghanistan were from the reserves. It is no accident that two years ago the RFCA council elected as its chairman General Sir Robin Brims. The RFCAs elect people to such positions and have a structure that would be recognisable to those in all parts of the House. It is almost like a party structure, although RFCAs are not party political. General Brims commanded the remarkable capture of Basra. Getting into the centre of the city was an almost bloodless exercise and almost the only thing that went seriously right in the British engagement in Iraq. His deputy is Major General Simon Lalor, who is known to a number of people in the House and who headed the reserves very effectively during the last two years of the Labour Government.

Mr Bob Ainsworth (Coventry North East) (Lab) indicated assent.

Mr Brazier: I am glad to see the right hon. Gentleman nodding.

More recently in Afghanistan, General John Lorimer—he is our current commander there, but at that stage he was a brigade commander—made the following comment on a Territorial Army company that was put under his command:

“Somme Company was an outstanding body of men: well trained, highly motivated and exceptionally well led.”

Sadly, however, for a number of years the Territorials have lost their voice and position. Crucially, in 2006, their control of recruiting was taken away from them and given to the Regular Army.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Philip Hammond): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way at this early stage in the debate. I hope it might be helpful if I indicate to the House at this stage that we are minded to accept the principle of his new clause 1. Indeed—[Laughter.] The hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) laughs. We have already made arrangements to receive independent reports from the RFCAs on an annual basis; my hon. Friend is suggesting placing that requirement in statute. On reflection, we consider that to be a sensible idea that will strengthen the programme for the growth and reinvigoration of our reserves. I hope that making that clear to my hon. Friend at the beginning will help to set the tone for today’s debate.

Mr Brazier: May I express my thanks to my right hon. Friend? I am delighted by that, and I know that the knowledge that the reserve units out there will once again have a powerful independent voice will make a difference. When I talk about some of the current problems, people will understand just how much that voice matters every bit as much as it did in 1914.

Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and I pay tribute to the work he has done over the years on the reservists. Can he explain why, when the Opposition tabled an amendment in Committee that asked for figures to be—

Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): Sour grapes.

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Mr Jones: It is not sour grapes; it is a matter of fact. When the Opposition tabled that amendment in Committee, the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier) and other Conservative and coalition Members voted against it.

Mr Brazier: I do not think the gathering of individual statistics should be a statutory matter, but the fact is that the Government have made a perfectly clear pledge that they are going to publish them. The crucial thing from the point of view of the ordinary reservist is that this body, which is elected by former reservists and respected by them as a body that effectively looked after their interests for nearly a century, is back with a really crucial position, able to make this report. When it visits the Army Recruiting Group, it will be heard with considerably more authority when it is known that it will be put on a permanent statutory basis and will be able to tell us what is really going on. I would like to say, however, that the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) has taken a close interest in this matter, which I respect.

The plain fact is that when the Regular Army took over recruiting in 2006, the numbers collapsed. The collecting of statistics collapsed, too, and the structure made no serious effort to address the challenges it was taking on. It simply raided the budget and used it for Regulars. To provide just one example, from 2006 to this day—it is now seven years on—Army recruiting offices are open only from 9 to 5.30 Monday to Friday, so they are not even available for people with civilian jobs.

A number of other things happened at the same time. There was a steady reduction in the flow of equipment to the reserves. There was a huge cut in the training budget. In 2009, we almost lost the whole training budget for the Reserves for six months, and I pay tribute to a small number of colleagues on both sides of the House who supported us in that battle. Worst of all, from 2009, all deployments of formed bodies to Afghanistan stopped—echoing the argument that had taken place at the outset of the first world war—and units were effectively told, “You are just here to act as part-time personnel agencies for the Regular Army”. That really destroyed much of the Territorial Army’s officer corps.

I strongly support what the Government are trying to do with the reserves. The House will know how much I am in favour of a rebalancing. I also commend many things that have taken place: the equipment is improving; there has been a huge increase in the funds available for training, particularly for collective training; and there have been some interesting initiatives at Sandhurst, under the charismatic leadership of the recently appointed Commandant, General Tim Evans. He started a number of improvements in officer training, one of which was the personal brain child of the Chief of the General Staff—taking people through the training in a single eight-week package, timed to coincide with the summer vacation in universities. The pairing of units is another initiative.

The Army Recruiting Group, however, has not got its act together; it is every bit as disorganised as it has always been. I hope the House will forgive me if I give just one example in detail to show just how hopeless it is. When the RFCAs lost their recruiting brief, the requirement for medicals, which had been very efficiently organised, disappeared. Suddenly last year, as part of

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common selection, it was announced that the Territorials were to do medicals, too. A system was set up, using the NHS as the old one had done, but in a fashion that had not even been cleared by the lawyers in relation to the Data Protection Act 1998. It was completely unworkable. People were told to take a form to their GP and get him to sign it off and send it in. So inefficient was this system that GPs did not know what to do. If units rang up to see what was going on, they were breaching the Data Protection Act. The system was so hopeless that a unit I know well—for obvious reasons, I will not say which—that had had an average of 48 successful enlistees per quarter in the months up to that change, saw a rising trend in applicants turn into just eight enlistees per quarter in the subsequent quarters.

I could go on and on. The software is unworkable; Ministers have already acknowledged that. Unfortunately, that compounds the problems at the recruiting centres. Because it is de facto impossible for somebody to do the form online on their own—if they make one mistake, their application is lost in cyberspace—it has to be done either at recruiting centres or in the units. The recruiting centres, of course, are not available.

Heather Wheeler (South Derbyshire) (Con) rose

Mr Brazier: Heather.

Heather Wheeler: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way.

Mr Speaker: It was good of the hon. Gentleman to remind the hon. Lady of her own name.

2.15 pm

Heather Wheeler: I forget many things, Mr Speaker.

Having sat in Committee week in, week out, with my hon. Friend, it is fascinating to note that it has taken this Bill, proposing this reform to bring all the discrepancies of the past out into the open, and indeed to bring things together with a new form of Territorial Army and a new form of reservists. I give great credit to my hon. Friend for his perseverance throughout the Committee stage; he attended as much as he possibly could and provided helpful background to our understanding of the Bill. My question to him is this: does he find it as interesting as I do that it has taken this Bill to show what a mess all the previous discrepancies were?

Mr Brazier: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her kind words. My essential point is that Parliament recognised, when the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act 1907 was put through, that reservist recruitment would never work if it were simply run by the Regular Army. It does not work. There is no reserve army anywhere in the world that is effectively run by its regular counterpart. We need a strong independent body. This new clause, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has generously said he will accept, will put the body that used to do this job very effectively into a powerful position as inspectors.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): For the record, it is not just a question of the mess that it all was; it is a question of the mess that it still is. My understanding is that the new clause will help to put the mess right.

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Mr Brazier: I am not sure that I heard the last few words of the hon. Lady’s intervention; would she mind repeating it, as I could not quite hear?

Ms Stuart: I was suggesting that the purpose of the new clause, which I sponsored, was to put the mess right.

Mr Brazier: A whole string of changes affecting the recruiting group are already taking place, and I am sure that the Secretary of State will address some of them. The key point—I am really grateful for the hon. Lady’s support in signing my new clause and in raising questions in the Select Committee and so forth—is that we would not have lost 18 months if people had listened to the RFCAs, to which all this was painfully obvious 18 months ago, instead of having some regular officers arrogantly cracking on without talking to the units or the RFCAs.

Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con) rose—

Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr Brazier: I hope my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) will understand if I take an intervention first from my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood).

Mr Ellwood: I would be happy to give way to my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames), but that would be out of order. I declare an interest as a member of the reserves and a former member of the regulars. I am able to relate to what is being said by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier). Does he recall in his time that the recruitment officers were manned by “the sick, lame and lazy”, as they were called? These were the people in the regular battalions who were sent to the recruitment offices because they could not keep up with the rest of the battalion. Would he like to see the commander taking a greater interest in who is signed up as a yardstick for promotion, so that numbers are kept up to par?

Mr Brazier: I have some sympathy with my hon. Friend’s point, but to be honest, the long-term solution is to sort the software out so that people do not have to go into the recruitment offices at all.

Nicholas Soames: First of all, the country and the Territorial Army owe my hon. Friend an enormous debt for everything he has done over the years, often under difficult circumstances, to promote their interests and to try to get things right. It is the case—and has remained the case for a distressingly long time—that there has been a very unsatisfactory attitude between the Regulars and the reservists. This has got to end. It has to end in a proper way, with the new proposed structure. Does my hon. Friend agree that all the points he raises about recruiting are correct? Things got off to a bad start; it has not been a success. However, I am told that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State went to Upavon the other day and read the riot act. I am quite clear—I know from my own experience as honorary colonel of a TA squadron—that the situation is already beginning to improve and will continue to do so.

Mr Brazier: Indeed. I strongly agree with my right hon. and gallant Friend, and thank him for his kind words.

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Mr Philip Hammond: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way again. I cannot resist following up the intervention of our hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood). When I went to Upavon a couple of weeks ago, I found that a number of limbless ex-Afghanistan veterans had been integrated into the call centre and were managing the online process. I noted that they were able to use their own military experience to encourage and support the young recruits whom they were mentoring online.

Mr Brazier: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to make that point. Not only is it good for the veterans to be integrated into the call centre while remaining in a military environment, but, crucially, the fact that the job is being done by people with military experience makes a huge difference. That is a message which, in a different context, I have tried to get across to our police force in Kent from time to time.

I do not want to speak for too long, because a great many other Members wish to contribute to the debate, but I should like to look abroad for a moment. It is no accident that the Haldane reforms came just after similar reforms in America which established the National Guard Bureau, just three years before the power was given to the forerunners of the RFCAs by the House of Commons. I have been privileged to visit National Guard units on operations in Afghanistan, and to see them doing various kinds of work. One airborne cavalry unit was mentoring the police, and an infantry unit from Virginia—whose origins, incidentally, date back to before American independence—was deploying its platoons along the Pakistani border, protecting aid posts there. Those units were able to bring to those jobs something that regular soldiers could not have brought to them.

“Losing Small Wars” is a book by Frank Ledwidge, who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. It refers to a catalogue of things that went wrong with the British presence in Iraq and, in the early years, in Afghanistan. One of the saddest aspects of the book is that it paints a picture of the Army not as it used to be, when it was quintessentially good at dealing with civilian populations all over the world. The fact that our Army was entirely unable to relate to the population in Iraq—in particular, it failed to recognise the murderous nature of the Iraqi police—was fundamental to our problems there. By contrast, National Guard units, which contain, for instance, police officers, business men and farmers, related very well to their local areas.

Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border) (Con): I must challenge my hon. Friend at this point. In fact, the experience in Iraq was often that the British Territorial Army units had considerably more expertise than the National Guard units. In al-Amarah, for example, they had water engineers serving as majors and development specialists serving as corporals. I think that we should take much more pride in what the TA was able to do in Iraq, often outperforming the National Guard units on the ground.

Mr Brazier: I am delighted that my hon. Friend has intervened and put me right. I was not drawing a parallel between the National Guard and the British TA. By the stage when things were starting to unravel, the TA deployment, which had been large at the beginning,

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was very small. It is true that the TA punched above its weight. I have heard General Abraham, who currently leads the transition process, pay tribute to a military police TA sub-unit which was briefly under his command, while also making the point that it was only briefly: the presence was all-regular most of the time. However, because at one stage just over half the American deployment consisted of reservists, and because, typically, the regulars would capture the ground—and provided the surge—but the National Guard would hold ground, it was possible to introduce a range of different skills across a much larger number of people. Given my hon. Friend’s constituency, I could refer to agriculture and the role that the farmers in the National Guard played, most of them in infantry combat units rather than specialist units.

Let me now say a little about new clause 2, which, I hasten to add, I shall not be pressing, as it could not possibly become law. It is merely an attempt to initiate a short debate about property.

Dr Liam Fox (North Somerset) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. I had hoped to speak in the debate, but those of us who are serving on a Committee will not be able to do so.

Before my hon. Friend moves on to new clause 2, may I make a point about new clause 1? The principle behind the change in the proportion of reserves to regulars was exactly right: it brought us into line with many more contemporary countries. The proviso, in practice, was that the reduction in the number of regulars would not take place until we saw the necessary improvements in training, equipping and numbers in the Reserves. The problem for the House of Commons was that we had very little information to go on when it came to assessing the decision. I therefore congratulate my hon. Friend on tabling new clause 1, which will provide the transparency that will enable the House to make that assessment. I also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on his wisdom in accepting a new clause that will give the House a good deal more pertinent information than it would have had otherwise.

Mr Brazier: I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for his tribute. I understand how strongly he and a number of other Members feel about the timing of the decision. However, although he and I—and, I am sure, the Secretary of State in his private heart of hearts—would like more money to be spent on defence, it is a question of the cash envelope within which any Government are likely to operate. If we wound up the whole Territorial Army tomorrow, it would be possible to pay for only 6,000 or 7,000 regulars rather than 20,000, and that would mean losing most of our medical capability as well as a number of other benefits.

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): I accept what my hon. Friend has said about the MOD’s cash envelope, but surely this comes down to national priorities. The plan was not to wind down the regulars to such a degree without first ensuring that the reservists could take their place, but the plan has changed. None of the new clauses and amendments is asking for extra money from the MOD. It is, as I have said, a question of national priorities: it is a question of whether more money should be committed to defence, which is the first priority of Government.

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Mr Brazier: I will respond to my hon. Friend’s intervention, but I hope he will forgive me if I leave it for a couple of minutes. I shall deal briefly with new clause 2, and then I shall come to his new clause.

Ever since Haldane, the reserve properties of the Army, but not all those of the other two services, have been managed largely by the RFCA. The fact is that the Defence Infrastructure Organisation—or the Defence Estates, as it used to be called—has a poor track record. There are so many quotations available that I am spoilt for choice, but according to the latest report from the National Audit Office,

“Defence Estates is not well placed to weigh up and challenge Budget Holders assessments of estate requirements.”

While I am certain that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his team will sort out the problems, two quite different jobs are involved. We do not want an organisation whose job is to look after super-garrisons to be worrying about repairing the roof of a cadet hut. The vast number of locations—2,500—across which reserves and cadets are spread need to be looked after by a local organisation with local feel, which can call on local expertise, often free of charge, and which, above all, has a low overhead. As I have said, new clause 2 could not become law, but I wanted to put those points on the record.

I now come to the new clause tabled by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron), who has fought a very good-tempered campaign, and one that I respect although I disagree with him. It is no secret that I stepped down as a Cabinet Parliamentary Private Secretary 20 years ago because I was unhappy about “Options for Change”. I would dearly love to see more money spent on defence, and I know that my hon. Friend would as well, but the reality is that the money is not there. Despite all the Secretary of State’s battles, the fact remains that no Treasury team that is likely to take charge will give us more money. The effect of my hon. Friend’s new clause would be not to guarantee a larger Regular Army, but to devastate our attempts to rebuild the reserve forces by putting them all on hold.

My hon. Friend must be familiar with his own wording. Are we to push to one side the plans for better training and better equipment? Are reservists, many of whom have served on operations and have struggled through a difficult period with no kit and no training, suddenly to be told. “This has all been put on hold, because the House of Commons wants it all to be looked at again”? The people to look at it are the RFCAs, and the Secretary of State has generously said that he will arrange for that to happen.

Mr Baron: My hon. Friend is being very generous in giving way, and I appreciate the tone in which he is setting out his case, but may I address his central point by reminding him that the delay or postponement—the pause—need not be long at all because the report could be laid before Parliament the day after the Bill becomes an Act, and then it is up to the Government to decide how promptly we can scrutinise that report? The pause may not be long at all, and as for all the other comments about wrecking amendments and that this would turn the plans upside down, they are wide of the mark—they are Aunt Sallies—that do not do the Government’s cause any good.

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2.30 pm

Mr Brazier: I wish I could show my hon. Friend some of the e-mails and texts I received before the debate. I know this is not his intention, but if Parliament passes his amendment, that will strike a hammer-blow to morale in the TA. Many Members on both sides of the House are concerned about the future of the reserve forces. Many Labour Members fought very hard when we were having the battles towards the end of the last Labour Government, and I am delighted that the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth), is present, as he took a very close personal interest in this, and I note that the problems that arose at the end were not of his making. I urge Members on both sides of the House to think very seriously before they send that message to the reserve forces.

Mr Ellwood: This Bill is the starting gun for allowing TA recruitment to move from 18,000 to 30,000. Anything that is done to delay that recruitment will cause confusion in the TA, and that is exactly what we do not want at this difficult time of change.

Mr Brazier: I thoroughly agree with my hon. and gallant Friend.

I want to bring my remarks to an end as many other Members wish to speak. A number of noteworthy people have come through the Territorials and the other reserves—I have said nothing yet about the RAF and naval reserves. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State’s Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), was recently commissioned into the Royal Naval Reserve and the Air Force Reserves heritage goes back to two of the three highest scoring fighter squadrons in the battle of Britain. The reserves have produced a number of distinguished individuals, including the grandfather of my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex, Sir Winston Churchill, and our greatest general in the last war, Bill Slim. People fondly imagine he was a regular officer who went to Sandhurst. He was not; he was a Territorial who sneaked in through the back door of the Birmingham officer training corps because his brother was a student there and nobody realised he was not a student too. There is also David Stirling, who founded the SAS. Again, people think of him as a Scots Guards officer. Yes, he was; he was a Scots Guards reservist. He had done his officer training at Ampleforth combined cadet force and then, through mountaineering, he had developed the qualities of character and team leadership that were so vital for setting up the SAS.

There are three reasons why we need reservists. First, because we can keep far more capability if we keep some of it at much lower cost—about a fifth of the cost—at lower readiness. Secondly, because they bring the energies, extra skills and imaginations of the wider civilian community into the armed forces. Thirdly, because that keeps the link with the local communities, which just after Remembrance Sunday we should all remember.

New clause 1 will give a strong independent voice back to the reserves. I am very grateful to the Government for accepting it and I must ask the House once more not

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to be persuaded by my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay on new clause 3, because that will send a devastating message to the Reserve forces.

Mr Dai Havard (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab): I am a signatory to new clause 1, and I want to make a simple statement about its power. It will provide an independent element to the scrutiny of the whole process that comes back to Parliament. The debates that we will now have about new clause 3 and other things must be based on the truth on the ground; they must be based on the reality and an understanding so as to inform the decision making properly. This amendment is about doing that and also about cementing consent from the public and involvement of the public in building the consensus that we require to develop the quality of reserve recruitment into the Army, RAF and Navy and to make a whole force that is properly integrated. If we do not have that consent, we will not achieve that. If the amendment helps to provide that, it will be valuable and important. I am glad some Damascene conversion has taken place and the Government have now recognised the sense in accepting the amendment.

Mr Baron: New clause 3 and consequential amendments tabled in my name and those of other hon. Members will, if successful, postpone the implementation of the Government’s reservist plans until their viability and cost-effectiveness have been scrutinised and accepted by Parliament. I should clarify what these amendments are not about, because a number of Aunt Sallys have been proposed by various interested parties. Contrary to some claims and implications, these are not wrecking amendments; they are not designed to scupper, reverse or tear up the Army reserve plans, and they are certainly not an attempt to recreate, or go back to, Victorian-style and size armies. These arguments are Aunt Sallys that do not do the Government’s cause any good.

I also want to make it clear that if these amendments are passed the delay to the Army reserve plans could be kept to an absolute minimum if the Government allowed prompt scrutiny of the report. There is no intention to drag this out or turn it into a campaign that goes on for months and months. The report could be produced the day after the Bill becomes an Act and we could have a debate in this place within weeks. I have to say that the stories that this is scuppering the Army reserve plans or reversing them are very wide of the mark.

Mr Philip Hammond: As the House may imagine, my hon. Friend and I have discussed these issues at some length. I think he will acknowledge that while a debate could be held in short order the requirement is for the Government to carry the House at the end of that debate. Will my hon. Friend acknowledge that the Government would have to get that vote through before we could progress with the reserves agenda, and setting out that hurdle today would send a negative signal to the reserves community, which has heard a message of reinvigoration and growth for the future?

Mr Baron: I will very directly answer both those questions. I completely agree that the report the Government would submit would be subject to the scrutiny of this House and a vote, but the fact that the Secretary of State seems concerned about that points to a bigger story about the reforms. If the Government are concerned

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that they might not carry the House as to the logic of their report, I suggest that that shows a weak point. I therefore suggest that the Secretary of State should, perhaps, not pursue that argument for too long, because for the Government not to accept this amendment because they are concerned they might not be able to carry the House tells a bigger story.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I am very concerned about that point because if the Government are saying they think they have real problems with this and they might not carry Parliament, the Executive are trying to implement something that Parliament does not approve of, and that is totally unacceptable.

Mr Baron: I agree with my hon. Friend. The restructuring of other areas of government, such as the NHS, has been subject to the scrutiny of this place, yet here we are undertaking a major restructuring—the Secretary of State cannot disagree with that—of the Army and we are not prepared to subject it to that scrutiny, apparently for fear that we might not carry the House. It is not a very good reason.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): Surely, this is a common sense approach, and to say it will cause confusion among the reserves is borderline ridiculous, because they are quite capable of rationalising things for themselves.

Mr Baron: I very much agree. I sometimes think in this place, where there is no shortage of former serving soldiers, that Front Benchers can be a little too sensitive about how stoical troops are. Their job is to get on with it, particularly if they are professional soldiers. They know these debates are taking place, but they get on with the job in hand, because that is what they are paid to do.

Mr Philip Hammond: Would my hon. Friend not accept, though, that there is no attempt to avoid scrutiny here? By indicating that I will accept the intention of our hon. Friends’ new clause 1 and legislate to require an annual independent report—not for a limited period, but as a permanent arrangement—we are in effect creating a mechanism whereby annually the House will receive a progress report on the state of the reserves, and I would expect the House to debate that progress report. That will provide the level of scrutiny that he seeks. What we cannot accept is the destabilisation of the programme that introducing an artificial hurdle—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. Interventions need to be brief. The Secretary of State is an experienced Member of the House, and he knows that. Also, it would be good if he addressed the whole House, particularly the Chair, not just the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron).

Mr Baron: What the Secretary of State cannot get away from, however, is that this is not that sort of report. It would be the equivalent of a speech to the House followed by questions; it would not be subject to proper parliamentary scrutiny and a vote. We are talking about proper scrutiny of the plans. We know that things are not going well. Reservist recruitment targets are being badly missed, TA numbers are falling, there is a widening capability gap as a result and we have deviated

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from the original plan, as was just clearly confirmed by the former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox); the original plan was to maintain the regulars until the reservists could take their place, but that has now been scrapped, and as we keep missing the reservist recruitment targets, the capability gap gets ever wider. These are legitimate questions that we in Parliament should be asking, and we need proper scrutiny of the answers the Government are giving. At the end of the day, that is all we are asking for.

As I have said, the report on its own is not enough, because we need proper scrutiny and a vote in the House, and if it does not bear scrutiny, perhaps that tells a wider story. A number of us, on both sides of the House, have tabled these amendments because we have deep-seated concerns that we believe have not been adequately addressed by the Government. I take no pleasure from saying this, but that includes the response to a well-attended general debate in the Chamber only a few weeks ago, when the Government could not muster one single vote in support of their position. One reason was that we put forward a series of questions, but very few, if any, answers came back.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): The hon. Gentleman’s points about scrutiny might be well-intentioned, but new clause 3 talks about further implementation of the plans being halted. What would be the implication for the process already under way of giving reservists access to the armed forces pension scheme? What signal would it send to our reservists if we practically halted the implementation of a widely supported measure to give them better pension provision?

2.45 pm

Mr Baron: My hon. Friend will just have to accept that we are suggesting a brief pause. Why should Parliament not be able to ask for a brief pause in a process that is clearly not going to plan, with recruitment targets being missed, an ever-widening capability gap and rising costs? If we all accept that defence is the first duty of Government, which I know we do, it is incumbent on Parliament to ask these questions.

Mr James Arbuthnot (North East Hampshire) (Con): My hon. Friend is making some perfectly sensible points, many of which I agree with, and I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier) that his campaign has been conducted in an extremely measured way. My difficulty with his new clause is that I think it addresses a point he is not that interested in. I think he wants to reduce or stop the running down of the regulars, yet, so far as I can see, his new clause would stop the beneficial changes to the reserves that all of us—including him, I suspect—want to see.

Mr Ellwood: It is too late; the redundancy notices have already gone out.

Mr Baron: If I could just answer the question. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot) for his kind words, but let us be clear: there have been three major tranches of redundancies in the regulars already. I think a fourth one is due shortly, although I do not know the

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Secretary of State’s exact intention on that. The plan to replace 20,000 regulars with 30,000 reservists essentially hinges on our ability to recruit those reservists, but the plan is clearly in trouble, and if we do not stop now, if only briefly, to re-examine the logic and ensure it stands up and properly scrutinise the viability and cost-effectiveness of the plan and the widening capability gap, we risk heading towards false economies and unacceptable capability gaps, which people will not thank us for. It is not unwise, therefore, to say, “Pause briefly and let Parliament properly scrutinise these plans.”

Mr Brazier: I have just received another text from a Royal Air Force reservist that reads, “A pause will cause widespread concern”. The problems with recruitment are not about footfall, as I set out in my speech. What message does my hon. Friend have for the officers in a reserve unit who have seen the regular recruitment apparatus block up and wreck their ability to enlist people and who are now being told to stop once more, just as things are starting to move again?

Mr Baron: To save my hon. Friend mentioning texts and e-mails a third time, I can assure him that I have no shortage of texts and e-mails from reservists and members of the TA saying, “Yes, you’re absolutely right. These plans are not working and it would be right to pause and examine them again.” I will happily swap those with him after the debate.

On the effect of my new clause on the morale of the TA, let us consider the present situation. The latest figures, which came out last Thursday, show TA numbers falling, not rising, despite all the expensive recruitment programmes. Then we have the figures—and they are not full figures either; some of them were actually missing—for reserve recruitment going forward. I can tell my hon. Friend that it has got to such a state that the Army Reserve and TA courses scheduled for next January and February have had to be cancelled owing to a lack of recruits. The Secretary of State may be willing to check that, because I heard it very recently in one—in fact, more than one—of the texts and e-mails that my hon. Friend keeps mentioning. That shows the current state of recruitment. I therefore suggest to my hon. Friend that there are fundamental problems with this plan and it is only right that Parliament should scrutinise it more carefully.

Mr Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab): I am a practical individual. In my lifetime, I have lost hundreds of full-time jobs within the armed forces in my constituency, with the latest losses due to air traffic control at Prestwick moving down to Swanwick. That means that there is not a single full-time job within our armed forces in my constituency, whereas before there were hundreds, yet there is still a recruitment centre. What chance is there of recruiting full-time members of the armed forces in my constituency when we have closed down the whole position as regards full-time jobs?

Mr Baron: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but I am focusing my remarks on the reservists—that is what the Bill is about—rather than full-time regulars. I suggest that we could very easily reverse the cuts to the regulars because, as things stand, more people are willing to become regular soldiers than reservists.

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Mr Brazier: My hon. Friend is of course right that anecdotally one can prove anything. Nevertheless, I will tell him a story from half an hour ago. The last reservist I dealt with before coming to the debate—he is one of the cleverest members of the TA and the kind of person who should be its future—has a brother trying to join the TA who, for 13 months, has had his paperwork lost in the hopeless regulars system. While the TA is trying to struggle with that, it is grossly unfair to tell it that we are putting all this on hold too.

Mr Baron: I completely disagree; it is not grossly unfair at all. In fact, my hon. Friend highlights the fact that we have fundamental problems with the way the system works. If people are having to wait 13 months for computer systems to talk to each other, then that, if anything, reinforces the case that we should be saying, “Let us pause for a moment and properly scrutinise these plans.” That is all we are asking for.

Mr Philip Hammond: I have acknowledged in this House recently and shall do so again later that we have challenges in the recruitment pipeline and problems with the IT systems. We cannot wait until next May to deal with them—we are dealing with them now on a daily, weekly basis. The senior management at the Department and the senior leadership of the Army are all over these problems; they cannot wait until next year for my hon. Friend’s pause.

Mr Baron: My right hon. Friend is ascribing a victory to me before it has taken place. The bottom line is that the new clause, like the Bill, would not take effect until the Act receives Royal Assent in the spring of next year. If he is as confident as he says that this is all going to work out, then he has until the spring of next year, before the Bill becomes an Act, to work on these problems. So I do not buy that one either, I am afraid—it is a not a particularly strong card to play when the new clause, like the Bill, would not take effect until the Act receives Royal Assent.

Rory Stewart: My hon. Friend talks a great deal about pausing, scrutinising and thinking, but would it not be more accurate to say that he has already reached his conclusion and that he wishes to increase the size of the Regular Army? If so, will he confirm that and explain how he intends to pay for it?

Mr Baron: I disagree with my hon. Friend. The intention behind the new clause is very straightforward; it does what it says on the can. These plans are not working and a series of things are going wrong, and it merely says, “Let’s pause for a moment to make sure that the plans stand up to scrutiny in terms of viability and cost-effectiveness so that rising costs do not lead to false economies and we are not opening up ever-widening capability gaps.” I am afraid that my hon. Friend is not quite fair in ascribing such a motive to me.

One of the first questions I would like the Secretary of State to answer is why the plan has changed. As we heard from the former Secretary of State in his own words—it came from his mouth, not mine—the original plan was that the regulars would be held at their current level until the reservists were able to take their place. That plan has changed. To return to a point that several Members have already made, by the end of last year a good number of the regulars had already gone—the

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final tranche may be next year; we are not sure—and by the end of next year most of the regular units and battalions will have been disbanded. Meanwhile, the reservists are not due to reach adequate strength to take their place until 2018, if present plans are met, but there is every indication that, because we are struggling, we will not even achieve that. That was not the original plan, as the former Secretary of State said. It would be good if, for once, we could get an adequate answer to this question, because we have asked it many times in this House and have not got one.

Let me talk about the recruitment problems. Last Thursday, figures confirmed yet again that TA numbers are in decline—not rising, but in decline. We also know that the Army Reserve recruitment targets are being badly missed, as confirmed in a spate of reports, some derived from leaked MOD documents. Figures due last Thursday regarding Army Reserve recruitment were not released in full. It is clear that the required recruits are not coming forward and that computer problems have added to the problems, as confirmed by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier). As everybody can imagine, there has been no shortage of texts and e-mails about this debate, and I have learned in such messages from the north-east that raw recruits to the Reserve have been told that it could take up to 15 months for them to get into uniform once they sign up. These are the sorts of delays we are talking about and which Parliament has every right properly to scrutinise. As even the Secretary of State may not be aware, the Army Reserve courses for January and February have had to be cancelled in their entirety because of lack of recruits. The fact that the Government are offering significant payments to businesses underlines the reluctance of many businesses, particularly smaller businesses, to let valued and key employees go on more frequent and extended deployments. All that is part of the cycle which in itself is adding to costs.

Our concerns are not just about reserve targets not being met; we also have deep-seated concerns about the resulting capability and manpower gaps, which are getting worse as we miss the reserve recruitment targets. Let us take as an example the mobilisation rate. At present, the MOD confirms that the TA mobilisation rate is 40%. In other words, for every 100 reservists there are on paper, the MOD deems that 40 are deployable. That can be to do with fitness, kit, sickness or all sorts of reasons. In order to make the Army Reserve plans work, the mobilisation rate has to double from 40% to 80%. I see nothing in the plans about how that massive increase in the mobilisation rate can be justified or whether it has been costed. It is a massive ask to go from 40% to 80% mobilisation. These questions need to be answered.

There are also concerns about the plan risking capability gaps. The nature of conflict is changing. Many countries that are not necessarily friendly to the west are increasing their military spending, and war is becoming more asymmetrical. Gone are the days of binary conflicts involving good guys versus bad guys—terrorism has ensured that things are much more complex nowadays—and we need professional, mobile, high-readiness, agile forces that are ready to respond to the threats that we face.

3 pm

The encroachment of the Human Rights Act 1998 also puts pressure on the plans, because we will now have to ensure that the same standard of training and

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equipment is available to reservists on deployment as is available to regulars. It is not clear whether the extra cost of that has been accommodated, given recent developments—this is a relatively recent ruling. It is no wonder that ex-military chiefs are worried, with many suggesting that strategic thought has been abandoned. These are questions to which we need answers.

Our concern must also focus on the real possibility that rising costs and flawed assumptions could easily lead to false economies. I suggest that the Government have yet to produce a fully costed plan, and that is what lies at the heart of new clause 3. It is clear that costs are rising: the extra resources being poured into boosting Reservist recruitment are an example. In addition to that, and to the extra payments to small and medium-sized enterprises, other rising costs include the £5,000 bonus, the reservist award, pensions and mental health costs. To the best of my knowledge, none of this has been properly costed. The charity Combat Stress has said that reservists are twice as likely as regulars to suffer from some kind of mental disorder, but I am not sure that that kind of extra cost has been fully accounted for in the plans.

We should also question the underlying assumptions in the Army Reserve’s plans. I think the Secretary of State is willing to admit that it costs more to deploy reservists than to deploy regulars. I do not think that there is any disagreement on that. It is therefore crucial, in costing the plans, to identify the central case regarding projected usage rates. The lower the rates, the lower the cost will appear, because, as I have said, it costs more to deploy reservists than regulars.

Let us look at the figures in the impact assessment. The case for deploying reservists centres on the figure of 3,000 annual deployments. That sounds somewhat low, given that the original purpose of the plan was to replace 20,000 regulars with 30,000 reservists, and that we would be using those reservists more frequently. Here, however, we have a projected usage rate of 3,000 annual deployments. Of course it will bring the projected cost down if we artificially bring usage rates down.

Mr Ellwood: My hon. Friend is making an interesting argument. At its core is whether those on the Front Bench made a promise to increase the size of the TA before the regulars were downsized. Did he ever hear the Secretary of State say that he would guarantee that that number of reservists would be recruited before the regulars were downsized by the proposed number?

Mr Baron: I am pleased that my hon. Friend has asked that question. It completely misses the point, and illustrates the weakness of the Front-Bench position. I am not saying for one moment that the present Secretary of State has said anything other than what he has said. My point is that the plan under the previous Secretary of State was very different only two years ago. I do not want to labour this point, but we heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset no more than half an hour ago that the original plan was not to wind down the regulars until the reservists were able to take their place. We heard that from his own lips. I do not want to enter into a war of words between the present and former Secretary of State, but we know that the plan has changed over the past couple of years, and that is another reason for scrutinising it.

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Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con): Going back to the cost of deploying reservists, the Government have said that they want to increase the percentage who are deployable at any given time from 40% to 80%. “Deployable” does not necessarily mean that they would be ready to be deployed in theatre, however. In many cases, it will mean that they are ready to begin training. I had five months of additional training before I was deployed in theatre. That kind of training involves additional costs, as does the reservist award, so this is not quite as clear-cut as the Secretary of State suggests.

Mr Baron: I completely agree with my hon. Friend. To double the mobilisation is a big enough challenge. The plan represents a fundamental change in another respect, which provides a further reason to scrutinise it in some detail. I am proud to have served alongside TA soldiers, but the bottom line is that they were in large part in-filling. We helped each other along.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr Baron: I will not, if my hon. Friend does not mind; I am responding to another intervention.

Those TA soldiers were in-filling, but let us not forget that part of the present plan is to deploy reservists as units. That is very different from what has happened before; it represents yet another whole-scale change to the plan. It is therefore only right that we should scrutinise it in detail.

Martin Horwood rose

Mr Brazier rose

Mr Baron: I will not give way. I have given way three times to my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury, and I must conclude my remarks, as I know other Members want to speak.

Martin Horwood rose

Mr Baron: No, I have already given way to my hon. Friend as well. Actually, I am doing a disservice to my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile). He has not yet asked me a question, and I give way to him.

Oliver Colvile: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. I apologise for being late; I have been upstairs in the Northern Ireland Select Committee. What impact would my hon. Friend’s amendment have on the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines, both of which play a significant role in my constituency? They have already been the subject of significant cuts, and the Army appears to be being protected as a special case.

Mr Baron: My hon. Friend missed the earlier part of the debate, and he has not heard the exchange of questions and answers. We are asking for a brief pause—it could be very brief indeed—while the plans are scrutinised. That is within the Government’s gift.

Martin Horwood rose

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Mr Baron: I have made it clear that I shall be taking no more interventions. I think that hon. Members would agree that I have been quite generous in that regard, and I shall now move on because I know that others want to speak. We also need to address another important group of amendments.

The Government’s Army Reserve plans raise many questions on recruitment problems, assumed mobilisation rates and rising costs which could lead to false economies, but one of my greatest concerns is the ever-widening capability gaps that could result from the proposals. If passed, new clause 3 would confirm that the time had come for Parliament properly to scrutinise the Government’s plans. There comes a stage in any struggling project when the evidence and common sense suggest, and perhaps demand, a rethink. We have reached that stage with these plans.

If the Government are confident about their plans—that is what Ministers claim, and I have no problem with that—they should not be afraid of the new clause. Let them present their plans to Parliament, and if their case is as strong as they think it is, Parliament will allow the plans to be passed and the reforms will carry on as intended. However, I urge all Members to support new clause 3 and consequential amendments 3 and 4. I shall seek to press new clause 3 to a vote.

Mr Ainsworth: I offer profound congratulations to the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier), not just for the concession he has achieved today but for the formidable way he has pursued this issue over the years. He harassed me when I was in office—I perhaps remember that with a fondness I never felt at the time—and has continued to harass his own Government and the defence establishment on the issue of the reserves and the role they can play in the country’s defence. No matter who wants to claim credit for some of the changes now being brought about, he can feel real satisfaction at something very few Back Benchers can say they have been able to do: profoundly to change a significant area of Government policy. He has most certainly done that through his work on the reserves over the years.

I totally support the hon. Gentleman’s new clause 1 and am enormously pleased that the Secretary of State has accepted it. I also support new clause 3, and I have to say that I believe the Secretary of State is being a little heavy-handed in suggesting that to support it is somehow to sabotage the direction of the Army or to play politics with the defence of the realm. I say that as a former Secretary of State who had to put up with allegations by the then loyal Opposition that I had deliberately delayed life-saving vehicles getting to our troops in Afghanistan. It is enormously important—particularly in the field of defence, where there is such a degree of cross-party support—that the Government’s own defence of their policies is somewhat measured, but I am not at all sure it has been in this regard. We can all read: we can see what new clause 3 says and does not say. As I say, my respect for the hon. Member for Canterbury is about as high as an Opposition Member’s can be for a Government Member, and I have not heard from him, or from anybody else here today, anything to suggest that the new clause does all the terrible things it is said to bring about.

New clause 3 calls for a report within a particular time frame after the Bill has been enacted, and a pause if Parliament does not accept it. It does no more than

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that. The hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) may have an agenda that is not mine—I do not know—because I support the general direction of policy in this area wholeheartedly. This development could bring about huge improvements in capability. I see nothing to justify the counter-argument that is being made.

Mr Brazier: I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his generous treatment of me, as leader of the all-party group for the reserve forces and cadets, which made the campaigning possible. The effect of this would be to send a message to those regular officers, many of them serving, who have rubbished this proposal for the past year and a half to the press off the record—they are a minority within the Regular Army but a significant one, some of whom the right hon. Gentleman will know—that if this can be kept down for just a little bit longer, they may get some regular manpower back instead.

Mr Ainsworth: The effect can and should be that this House is enormously interested in the development of the Reserves and wants to see their capability properly developed and scrutinised—and no more than that. That should be the message, and I do not think there is anybody in the House who is responsible for another message that I know of, other than the defence being offered by Government Front Benchers in the overreaction, as I see it, to new clause 3.

3.15 pm

Martin Horwood: I am very grateful to the former Minister for giving way—[Hon. Members: “Secretary of State.”] Former Secretary of State; I beg the right hon. Gentleman’s pardon. He obviously has great knowledge of these issues, but on one he is quite wrong. He says that new clause 3 calls only for a report, but it does not. It is quite explicit: it calls for “Further implementation of the plans” to be “halted”. Why does the Labour party appear to be supporting the interruption of access to better pension provision and explicitly interrupting access to paid leave for training? Surely, that is not what he intends.

Mr Ainsworth: The new clause calls for a pause in certain circumstances, if the House has not been persuaded. To me, it gives time scales that are perfectly achievable, so I reject what the hon. Gentleman says.

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): Let us be clear: we are not talking about any conflict or preference for reserves or regulars; we are talking about numbers, competency and capability for the defence of the realm. What we need to be assured of—but which this House, largely, is not confident we have—is that the Government’s plans will provide us with the necessary numbers, competency and capability. That is what the pause is about. It is not a throwing away of the plan: it is a pause.

Mr Ainsworth: The growth of the reserve element in all the services has huge potential benefits, such as a connection with the population at large that the small regular armed forces that we inevitably have today and will have tomorrow can never achieve on its own. Equally, as other Members have said, it brings skills into the

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armed forces that cannot be kept up to date within the regulars themselves. So there are those potential improvements.

Government Members have talked about a potential gap of three years, but it is not just a question of that: I am worried about the potential ongoing downgrading of capability if we do not get this right. In order to get into the reserves the calibre of people that will be absolutely necessary for the kind of operations we have unfortunately had to carry out in recent years, and will undoubtedly have to carry out in future, the skills required by every rank must not only remain at their current level, but must improve. That is for the obvious and simple reason, which everybody knows, that the huge reputational damage to such operations, to our armed forces and to our nation, of errors in such operations can be profound. We must therefore ensure, given the cuts that are inevitably taking place, that we maintain within the regulars the quality of not only the original recruits but of the training given to them, in order to lift capability. We are blessed with armed forces with a capability level that, in some ways, is higher than that in any other nation on earth, in my opinion, but it will need to be higher still.

Mr Ellwood: I have a lot of respect for the right hon. Gentleman and the experience he gained as Secretary of State, but I genuinely worry that he is fighting the last war. The conduct of warfare has changed. I hope he would agree that we will not be doing “boots on the ground” in the manner in which we have done so badly in Afghanistan and Iraq. The size of armed forces concertinas—it has done so over the past 400 years. I hope he would agree that withdrawal from Afghanistan will have a huge impact on the size of the standing Army, both Regular and Territorial, and batting for the old numbers that we had five years ago is out of touch.

Mr Ainsworth: I totally accept that. I like to study history and I know that after conflicts, the services—generally the Army more than the other services, but those, too—have generally been decimated in times of peace, only to have to be regenerated in times of danger thereafter. So I am not trying to fight the last war. I am saying that as we struggle with these enormous economic challenges and the cuts that are almost inevitable, we have to do everything we can to maintain the quality of our personnel. That applies to the regular forces as it applies to the reserves. Even at a time of downsizing, we can surely do that—we have to try to do it because of the reputational damage that inevitably flows from our failure to do so. There is nothing “yesterday” or “last war” about that approach; this is about the kind of operations we could be involved in tomorrow, of whatever scale, and the need for quality personnel.

New clause 3 calls for a level of scrutiny that is wholly justified by the importance of the decisions, and the changes of direction and structure, that we are implementing and that the hon. Member for Canterbury has fought for so valiantly and successfully for so long. That is why I support it, even if he does not.

Mr Arbuthnot: As I have said before, my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) has made some sensible points that need to be taken seriously.

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I recall my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) telling the House that the regulars would not be reduced until the reserves had been built up to take their place. He said:

“of course, the rate at which we are able to build up the reserves will determine the rate at which we are able to change the ratio with the regulars.”—[Official Report, 10 October 2011; Vol. 533, c. 9.]

That was a good thing for him to say.

Mr Ellwood: Was that before or after a decision was taken to downsize fundamentally our contribution to the international security assistance force in Afghanistan?

Mr Arbuthnot: From memory, I believe it came after that decision, but I cannot be certain. It was a good thing for the then Secretary of State to say. Quite apart from that, it is a good thing for Governments to keep their promises. However, I thought I should briefly tell the House why I shall be voting with the Government tonight. First, as my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier) said, although new clause 3 highlights the problem, it does not provide the answer. I think that what my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay really wants to achieve is not the halting of changes to the reserves, but the halting of changes to the regulars, which his proposal does not mention.

Mr Baron: My proposal does not mention the regulars because the Bill is about the reservists. A couple of hon. Members have suggested motives for these proposals which I cannot agree with. The bottom line is that most of those regulars—this is my understanding and I am willing to stand corrected—have been disbanded in any case. Let me be clear about what my proposal says, because motives that I do not take kindly to are being attributed to it. The proposal is about saying that these plans are not working and we should take time, if only a brief amount of it, to scrutinise them properly to check for their viability and cost-effectiveness. That is the right thing to do—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. The hon. Gentleman has now made his point several times in one intervention, so I call James Arbuthnot.

Mr Arbuthnot: As I am coming on to discuss the reserves and why I think they are so important, I should perhaps declare an interest, in that my daughter is a second lieutenant in the Territorial Army. I think it is essential that we should change the reserves, boosting them, their numbers, their training and the equipment available to them. As a Defence Minister in the previous Conservative Government, I thought that that Government went too far in reducing the reserves, and I think that the previous Labour Government made the situation worse. It is high time that we begin again to build up and properly resource the reserves. I wish to pay particular tribute to two people, the first of whom is my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames). When he was Minister of State for the Armed Forces, he valiantly championed the Territorials and found himself fighting rather a losing battle.

Even more, I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury, who, as a Back Bencher—the right hon. Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth) made the point—has achieved more in

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supporting and championing the reserves than I or my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex did, when we were Ministers. My hon. Friend’s contribution to the reserves debate deserves an immediate dukedom.


Yes, a dukedom.

The reserves bring incredible value to this country. They bring vital specialist skills which are made contemporary by their civilian lives and they bring those skills to a changing world where they are essential. Crucially, as my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury said, the reserves also tie the civilian world into the military world in a way that is becoming increasingly needed day by day. May I aim a shaft at my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State by saying that his clampdown on informal discussion between the military and politicians rather flies in the face of that need?

My second reason for supporting the Government is that wars are changing. We are increasingly less likely to see tank battles in Germany and increasingly more likely to be facing the emerging threats of cyber-attack, piracy and the covert destruction of our critical national infrastructure—the sort of things to which extra battalions of any particular regiment would not be the answer.

James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): My right hon. Friend is making an important point about cyber-security capability. Is not one of the strong arguments for reserve forces that a lot of skills reside in the private sector, in things such as cyber-security and dealing with cyber-attack, which need to be brought into the armed forces? That is a strong argument for continuing to develop reserve forces.

Mr Arbuthnot: My hon. Friend is right about that. The new cyber-command that has recently been brought on stream will achieve precisely what he describes. It will not be possible to achieve that expertise within a purely military environment; we have to rely on those who have civilian expertise, too. Because of all this, we will need new investment, in satellites and in software—in the sort of things that will not be visible to the man in the street—all at the same time as we are trying to sell to the public increased spending on defence. That will be difficult to achieve while we are reducing in Afghanistan.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend also agree that reservists who come from a commercial background will bring different working practices. That will be incredibly important as we begin to get ourselves ready for this expansion.

3.30 pm

Mr Arbuthnot: Indeed. My hon. Friend’s constituency experience is very important in this.

The money for the investment to deal with emerging threats and emerging skills has to come from somewhere. I make no secret of the fact that I would like to see increased spending on defence. However, it is wholly unrealistic to expect that when every extra pound going on defence has to be added to an already increasing national debt. The Government are bringing down not the national debt but the rate at which it is going up. We cannot expect to have increased spending on defence, so money has to come from within the defence budget. That means reducing both waste and people. I hate

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saying that, but it is real life. I do not want any pause in the boosting of reserves. I want the building up of both them and their proper resources.

Mr Brian Binley (Northampton South) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr Arbuthnot: I am sorry that my hon. Friend does not recognise a peroration when he hears it. I am just bringing my remarks to an end, but I will give way.

Mr Binley: My right hon. Friend is very kind. I have heard a lot about the Army and reservists, but little about small and medium-sized enterprises. We need to look at that particular aspect. I know little about defence, but a lot about SMEs, and I know about the damage that can be caused if we take one man out of a five-man team in an SME. I do not believe that the Minister has thought enough about that particular impact. One reason for a pause is so that the Secretary of State, through you, Madam Speaker, can relook at his whole connection with small and medium-sized businesses. He should look at the incentives that are given, because they are simply nowhere near enough.

Mr Arbuthnot: I must apologise to my hon. Friend for having entirely failed to cover in my few remarks about why I am supporting the Government the issue of SMEs, which are of less relevance to this reservist issue than larger companies. None the less, my hon. Friend makes a perfectly sensible point, and I hope that he will be able to make it again later during the course of the debate.

Mr Baron: May I briefly suggest that we would not have to make cuts to the defence budget if the Government were to put a higher priority on defence, as they do with other budgets and Government Departments?

Mr Arbuthnot: I said that there were a number of things that my hon. Friend had said and would be saying with which I entirely agree, and that is one of them. That was a peroration, so I had better sit down.

Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab): I hesitate to follow the peroration of the right hon. Gentleman, the Chair of the Defence Committee, but as always, we were informed by his remarks. I know that whatever his view on the amendments before us, his suggestion of a national debate and conversation about how to change the culture with respect to the reserves and to drive it forward in a national effort is one well made, and I think the whole House agrees with him.

I also thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth), the former Secretary of State for Defence, for his contribution. He had all of us listening. Bringing his knowledge to the debate was worth while. He managed to lay to rest some of the Aunt Sallies that are being held up with respect to new clause 3.

I have heard people talk about the involvement of the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier) with the reserves. He has achieved something that very few of us have managed to do, even with our own Governments—he has brought forward and had accepted an amendment to a Government Bill, and I congratulate him on that.

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He will disagree with my remarks on new clause 3, but we all recognise that new clause 1 will be an improvement.


He has heard what my hon. Friends on the Front Bench have said about his previous voting record, but his conversion on this matter is welcome. The fact that the Government have accepted his new clause is a good thing and will improve the Bill.

Let me explain to the House why we will support new clause 3 and the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron), why we have tabled some similar amendments, such as new clause 4, and why we have supported similar motions before. As the Secretary of State will realise from the tone of the debate, this House, including Her Majesty’s Opposition, will always put Britain’s security and national interest first. One of the first things I said when I was appointed shadow Defence Secretary was that when I thought the Government were doing the right thing on defence, I would work with them in a constructive and reasonable manner, and that is what the shadow Front-Bench team and I have done throughout the passage of this Bill. To be fair, the tone of the debate, notwithstanding the disagreements that exist between Members on both sides of the House, is one of reasonableness and constructiveness. We have been debating the best way forward with respect to these reforms and the proper defence of our country.

I am sorry to have to say to the Secretary of State that he should not try to turn the debate into a party political row. It is disappointing and unnecessary. Contrary to what he said, we have raised this issue in parliamentary questions, in Committee and, as recently as last month, on the Floor of the House, when we passed a vote to approve a motion almost identical to the new clause. Importantly, the Secretary of State knows that we are not calling for the reforms to be reversed. He knows that we are not saying the reforms should be shelved. Like Members on both sides of the House, we want to see an enlarged reserve force with an enhanced and more heavily integrated role alongside regular forces.

Let me once again praise and pledge my support, and that of the House, for our armed forces and the work they do. What we need is evidence that the reforms are progressing as planned and promised, and we are trying to get the Defence Secretary to take more responsibility for that. There is clearly an issue about viability. All signs coming from the MOD suggest that the plan has, to some extent, fallen off course. Members of the armed forces and of this House have justifiably and sincerely held concerns, and the Secretary of State has exacerbated those by his response to some of the concerns.

Mr Philip Hammond: I recognise some of the hon. Gentleman’s concerns, but does he not see that this is a long-term project? By accepting the substance of new clause 1, what we have put in place is a mechanism by which an annual independent report will be laid before Parliament and, we fully expect, give rise to a debate. That will allow the progress of this programme to be tracked over many years. New clause 3 would create a one-off hurdle, that sends a negative signal now. That is not an equivalent provision.

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Vernon Coaker: I do not accept that. New clause 3, which the right hon. Gentleman will have read, seeks to examine the viability and cost-effectiveness of the reforms that are being put before of the House. We want the House then to assess them. He should have a bit of confidence in them, because if they are working, Parliament will be keen to accept them.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new role, as this is the first opportunity I have had to do so. May I reinforce the point that he has just made? Surely if the Secretary of State were confident that his plans were on track and that they were going to work in the time scale he has proposed, he should have accepted not only new clause 1—and it is a good thing that he has—but new clause 3 too. Everybody on both sides of the House would then be in total agreement.

Vernon Coaker: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The Secretary of State should have the confidence to put his reforms before Parliament. Is it not reasonable, when the Secretary of State and the Minister say at the Dispatch Box that they will publish recruitment figures for the reserves, that they should do so?

On 16 July, the Secretary of State told the House:

“I will be transparent about recruitment and trained-strength targets.”—[Official Report, 16 July 2013; Vol. 566, c. 958.]

Last month, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne), told the Committee:

“We intend to publish the figure for the quarter to 1 October next month.”––[Official Report, Defence Reform Public Bill Committee, 22 October 2013; c. 434.]

That was due last week. As we have since found out, that has not happened and will not happen until next year. Why? The UK Statistics Authority states that the Government’s figures are not robust enough so there must be some delay in their production.

We do know that the overall trained strength of the armed forces reserve has fallen by 160 since last year and that time is slipping away, with the Secretary of State’s own 2018 target less than five years away. The last figures that were published showed that the Government were failing even to reach a quarter of the number of reservists they said they needed to recruit to meet their own targets.

Mr Philip Hammond: Let me clarify. The statistics that were published last week were on trained strength and on recruitment into the reserves. Those are the statistics for which the national statistician is responsible. She has indicated on her website that she intends to publish further data series once she is confident of their robustness. Separately, I have undertaken to publish for the House the targets to which we are working and I will do so before the end of the year.

Vernon Coaker: The whole House will be pleased to hear what the Defence Secretary has said. He said in his answer—I think I am quoting him, and Hansard will show whether I am correct or not—that the Statistics Authority had some doubt about the robustness of the Ministry of Defence’s figures and that once that robustness is sorted out, those figures will be published. That is my point.

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Mr Hammond: I think the hon. Gentleman is referring to the figure for applications, not for enlistments or trained strength.

Vernon Coaker: It all needs clarification, which is my point. It is interesting that when we have a debate such as this, when the Secretary of State is feeling under pressure, we see amendments being accepted and more information being brought before the House. It is good that he is saying how he will publish this and how he will respond to that, but we now know that some robustness is lacking from the Government’s figures. That situation will no doubt be corrected much more quickly than it would have been before.

Mr Brazier: I thank the shadow Secretary of State for his generous words earlier, but I must pick him up on that last point. The new clause I have drafted is based on what the Government have already announced. It seeks to make that permanent and put it on the statute book, but it is working with the grain of what the Government are already doing.

Vernon Coaker: We think that the hon. Gentleman’s amendment, although it is welcome, does not go far enough. That is why we support new clause 3.

When the Defence Secretary responds to the debate, I think the House would like to know a little more about what negotiations are going on with Capita, which is running the recruitment programme for the Defence Secretary. What are the problems? Will the IT issues be resolved soon? Are there any other issues? He will know that various rumours are circulating about the problems with regard to Capita and I think it would help the whole House to know where we are with those negotiations, what the Secretary of State intends to do about them and whether there are any penalty clauses for Capita should it continue not to perform as the Secretary of State and the House would expect.

New clause 3 does not call for a reversal of the cuts to the regular forces, despite some of the accusations from those on the Government Front Bench. We support it precisely because we want the Government to prove that their plans are both cost-effective and viable. For that reason, we deem it reasonable that both Houses of Parliament should scrutinise and approve a report that assesses the viability and cost-effectiveness of the reforms.

It used to be the policy of this Government that regular forces would only be reduced contingent on the required increase in reserve recruitment—

Mr Philip Hammond rose

Vernon Coaker: I will give way in a moment. We are clear that reductions to the Regular Army must take place only at a pace that allows adequate uplift in the reserves to meet the shortfall.

3.45 pm

Mr Hammond: The hon. Gentleman has half answered what I was about to ask him. Is he making a commitment to retain Regular Army strength at a higher level than the 82,000 funded into the future? If so, how will he meet the £1 billion a year cost of doing that?

Vernon Coaker: The right hon. Gentleman is flying another kite. I am not making that commitment at all. We support the thrust of the reforms to the Regular

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Army and the uplift in reserves, but new clause 3 seeks to obtain a proper understanding of whether the reform is working, whether it is saving money, whether it is offering value for money and what is happening with the recruitment targets. We need much more clarity and openness about all those things. The Defence Secretary can say that these are spending pledges or things we do not know. He can attack the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay for not properly understanding the reform. However, he needs to address what is being said rather than what he thinks we are saying, and that is the whole point.

We talk about allowing adequate uplift in the reserves to meet the shortfall, and we heard from the right hon. Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox). He remarked only last month:

“When I was secretary of state, I said we would only decrease the numbers of regulars when we had guarantees that we would be able to get the numbers—training and equipping up of the reserves—to match.”

Members of the armed forces and of this House deserve to know from the Defence Secretary when that policy changed and why.

We support new clause 3 because we want the Defence Secretary to take more responsibility for these reforms. We consider it better to pause until the MOD has managed to get recruitment back on track as a plan accepted by Parliament than to be forced to ditch the entire reform a few years down the line when it is clear that it is not working. A pause before progressing the reforms would give him time to fix the problems, to provide us with the figures, to prove his plan is cost-effective and to show that he can meet the time frame he has set.

Mr Ellwood: I, too, welcome the hon. Gentleman to his position. Will he place on the record his thoughts on the fact that our commitments in Camp Bastion and in Afghanistan are to be downsized, with 9,000 troops coming home? In that situation, would a Labour Government keep the armed forces, particularly the Army, at the same size, bearing in mind that downsize, or return it—[Hon. Members: “This is about reservists.”] I am asking about regulars for the moment. Would he retain the regular forces at their current levels bearing in mind that we are reducing a major commitment in Afghanistan in the middle of next year?

Vernon Coaker: I have said on countless occasions—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. That is enough, Mr Ellwood.

Vernon Coaker: As I have said on numerous occasions in this debate, in other debates and in the media, and as my right hon. and hon. Friends have said, we support the thrust of the reforms. We know about the withdrawal from Germany and that the Army will end operations in Afghanistan in 2014, but that does not alter the fact that we must understand that the downsizing of the Army and the Government’s stated policy mean that as the regular numbers downsize and reduce an uplift in reserve numbers should go alongside that. The central thrust of the whole debate is that we do not have confidence that the uplift in reserves will be sufficient to conform to the policy on the reduction in the number of regular forces. That is the central point.

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Mr Ellwood: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way; he is generous. He talks about this uplift replacing the duties on the regular forces. That is why I posed my question. I am asking him what the commitments will be. What does he see as the commitments that will keep reservists busy, in the sense that our overall commitments have been reduced?

Vernon Coaker: I have given the hon. Gentleman the answer to his question, which he asked again. If he does not like or accept the answer, that is fine, but I will not keep repeating it. He was the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the previous Secretary of State for Defence when he made the commitment about uplift and about the relevant number of reserves having to be reached before the number of regulars was reduced. I wonder what comment he made to the then Secretary of State about that at the time.

Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) (Con): I think the hon. Gentleman is trying to make quite a conciliatory speech. I have put my name to new clause 3. Does he believe that it would provide a focus and an impetus for ensuring that the measures are put in place more quickly, rather than slowly, and that it does not jeopardise the direction of travel that I think that we are all trying to agree on?

Vernon Coaker: I thank the hon. Lady for her valuable and important point. The hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay made the point that new clause 3 is not about trying to wreck the reforms, although that is one of the things that has been said about it. It is not about trying to stop the reform; it is about asking whether it is sensible for the House to demand of the Defence Secretary, “Are these reforms working? Are they delivering what they are supposed to deliver?” When the Defence Secretary comes forward again with viable plans, is it not the purpose and responsibility of this House to judge whether those plans are accurate and make sense?

Mr Havard: Does my hon. Friend agree that the central question under discussion is about what the military call integration, not only of reserves and regulars, but of contractors, people outside in society, and the businesses that are prepared to participate? We have a new commitment to an annual report, but that report would be 15 months from now. All that we are saying is: let us have that annual report debate now, in advance of things being done badly, so that we do those things well.

Vernon Coaker: I thank my hon. Friend for his comment, and agree absolutely with him.

Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way; he is being very generous in accepting so many interventions. This House, quite properly, has had many occasions on which to scrutinise these proposals, and will have many more. I have joined in debates, and have raised issues about what I feel is a mistake for the Territorial Army centre in Truro, and the Government are acting on those concerns. Is it not better that they carry on speedily resolving the issues than that they put a halt to sorting out the problems and cause further delay?

Vernon Coaker: I am sure the hon. Lady represents her constituency really well. She says that she has raised particular issues regarding the TA centre there, and she has worked hard to represent those to the Defence team

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in the Government, but this is about the strategic reshaping of our whole armed forces, and it is a reform that we need to scrutinise. We need to understand whether it is working. It is incumbent on the Defence Secretary to have a review and to bring the results before us, and there is a need for a pause. It is up to the House to agree on whether the Defence Secretary has got it right.

If we do not get this right now, we are taking risks with our country’s defence and security, and that is not an option for Britain or our armed forces. I know that we all want to support the Government in getting this right; I, too, want to give the Defence Secretary the opportunity to get it right. That is why my right hon. and hon. Friends and I will support new clause 3— it is in the best interests of our armed forces, and in the national interest.

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): I agree with everybody who has said that reservists have performed a singularly valuable task in recent operations—about 25,000 have been deployed—whether by augmenting existing units or by contributing specialist skills that would not have been available to the regular armed forces. I remember very well visiting Basra with the Select Committee on Defence just a couple of months after the war ended, and finding that the entire Iraqi economy was being put right by an Army officer who, in civilian life, was a banker. He was responsible for putting Iraq’s finances in order. Clearly, he had more success than the previous Prime Minister had in this country.

That brings me to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot), the Chairman of the Select Committee, about the budget deficit. It is important that we all understand why we are here today and why we are debating these matters. We would not be here if Labour had not left this country with a catastrophic budget deficit of £156 billion. That is why we had to make tough decisions—

Mr Kevan Jones: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Gerald Howarth: I cannot resist giving way to my friend.

Mr Jones: I remind the hon. Gentleman that when he was in the shadow defence team in opposition, he was calling for a larger Army and a larger Navy. Did not the present Prime Minister and his team, when in opposition, agree with all our spending commitments, including those on defence, right up to 2008?

Sir Gerald Howarth: The hon. Gentleman had better wait to hear what I have to say. What I am about to say now is what I said when I was a Minister in the Ministry of Defence, which I would say more privately than I have been saying more recently. It is important that people recognise that in the Ministry of Defence we were faced, like every other Department bar those whose budgets were ring-fenced, with a requirement to produce savings immediately, because unless the Chancellor of the Exchequer was able to deliver a comprehensive spending review that reassured the capital markets that Britain was intent upon putting its public finances back in order, we would have been in an even worse position than we inherited in May 2010.

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I have much sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) and I can see where he is coming from: he wants a larger standing Army, and so do I. I am a Conservative. I believe that defence of the realm is the first duty of Government. I found it deeply distressing to be a Minister in a Ministry of Defence that was having to cut its budget, but we were in coalition. I see my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Sir Nick Harvey), who was an extremely collegiate colleague in the Ministry of Defence. I make no criticism of him; my criticism is of his leader. We had to make some pretty tough decisions, and ultimately it was not we in the Ministry of Defence who decided what our budget was. That was decided at No. 10 and in the National Security Council. That is what happened.

We are here today because we had to make some tough decisions. In other circumstances we would not have wished to have a standing Army reduced by 20,000 and a requirement to supplement it with another 30,000 reservists. The White Paper which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State produced earlier this year is littered with remarks about the financial constraints in which we have to operate, so it seems to me that we are making the best of a difficult situation. I hope, though, that the strategic defence review of 2015 will give us, particularly in the Conservative party, an opportunity to tell the nation that we intend to reorder the public spending priorities of the next Conservative Government.

I believe that in this uncertain and volatile world an increase in defence expenditure is a must. We are not there yet, and I hope to make the case over the next couple of years that that is what we have to do. We must restore some of the capability gaps from which we are suffering, and we must seek to repair some of the damage that has inevitably been done by the cuts that my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) had to make. He and my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for Defence should be hugely congratulated on having sorted out the Ministry of Defence’s appalling finances, which they inherited from the previous Administration.

The budget of the Ministry of Defence is now back on track, which is good news, but the strategic defence and security review of 2015 must give us an opportunity to enhance our niche capabilities, such as cyber, where my right hon. Friend has done an excellent job. I hope we can increase our investment in defence diplomacy.

I also believe that we need a larger standing Army. I must say to my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) that I am not sure that he can predict what kind of world we will find ourselves in when we draw down from Afghanistan. The past four years have taught me that predicting the future is pretty difficult. None of us could have foreseen the Arab spring, the conflict in Syria or what is going on in the South China sea as we speak. This is an unstable world. Ultimately, the niche capabilities are important, but being able to take and hold territory requires having boots on the ground.

4 pm