UK Politics

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond ticked off by Speaker

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond
Image caption The defence secretary said he intended to issue the information to MPs but it had been delayed

Philip Hammond has been asked to apologise by Commons Speaker John Bercow for a "regrettable" lack of information in a Commons statement on changes to army reservists.

The defence secretary announced an overall reduction of 26 in the number of Territorial Army centres in the UK.

Labour said no details had been given of the locations to close and accused ministers of "utter incompetence".

Mr Bercow said the situation was "deeply unsatisfactory".

A total of 35 army reservist centres are to close as part of the restructuring, while nine will either open or re-open.

Three Royal Navy reserve sites are to shut, with two opening, while two new RAF centres will be established.

'Half-statement'

Mr Hammond did not name the centres affected, in his 30-minute statement to the Commons, although he said he would distribute a "summary sheet" of those locations slated for closure to MPs.

His Labour counterpart Jim Murphy immediately raised the issue with the Speaker.

"I am disappointed we only have a half statement today. The House does not have the luxury of a list of the bases intended to be closed because it has not been shared with honourable members on either side of the house," he said.

Mr Murphy said the information was not contained in the White Paper setting out wider changes to the reservists - published in a written statement - and had not been lodged separately in the House of Commons library.

"There are a number of bases being closed," he added. "The House is not in a position to scrutinise any of the decisions that have been advocated by the government. I don't think it is malevolent. I believe it to be utterly incompetent.

"I, and right honourable members of all sides of the House, will find it utterly unacceptable that we are expected to comment on a statement that has not been shared with the House."

Mr Murphy has asked the defence secretary to come back to the Commons to make another statement on Thursday.

'Grave discourtesy'

The Speaker said many MPs had not seen the detailed summary sheet and it was not clear when it would be distributed.

He said the information had apparently been made available in advance to the media and that, if this was the case, this was "a very considerable discourtesy to the House of Commons" and Mr Hammond should make a "gracious and fulsome" apology.

"It is was the intention of the government that further information was available in the Vote Office and it is not, that is at the very least regrettable and arguably incompetent," he added.

"If it was not the intention of that material to be available, it should have been.

"The situation is deeply unsatisfactory."

Mr Hammond said he apologised for the "evident delay" in distributing the information, which he said was "related" to the written statement on reservists' basing and structures.

"I felt members would wish to have a summary of the most important elements of that - the base closures.

"It was my intention to distribute that sheet as I sat down at the end of my statement and I deeply regret that it was not available until just a few moment ago."

The defence secretary said he was "not aware" the information had been given out anywhere else. Armed Forces Minister Andrew Robathan, sitting next to Mr Hammond during the statement, said it had not been.

More on this story