Territorial Army

– in the House of Commons at 7:14 pm on 18th May 1998.

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Photo of George Young George Young Shadow Secretary of State for Defence 7:14 pm, 18th May 1998

I beg to move, That this House views with concern recent reports that the size of the Territorial Army may be reduced to 40,000 and that it may be stripped of many of its combat units; recognises the role of the Territorial Army both in complementing the role of the regular army on active service in places such as Bosnia and in providing a strategic reserve of trained combat and supporting units in case of wider conflict; applauds the work of the Territorial Auxiliary and Volunteer Reserve Associations around the country in providing opportunities for young people to volunteer in the reserves and cadets, and in building bridges between local communities and the armed forces; and urges the Government to use the Strategic Defence Review to develop rather than undermine the role of this important national resource. Over the past 10 years, most Opposition days have been used to castigate Governments for mistakes that they have been perceived to have made. We have a different objective: to persuade the Government to avoid a mistake that we fear that they are about to make. The motion that we have tabled on the Territorial Army is as non-partisan as they come. It embraces views that have been expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House, at both ends of the building and by informed opinion outside Parliament about the feared impact of the strategic defence review on the size and the role of the TA.

I am slightly surprised that the Government are seeking to amend our motion, and no doubt we shall hear which of its propositions the Government have difficulty with, but the absence of invective on the Order Paper should not disguise the concern that has inspired the debate and, indeed, a recent spate of hyperactivity in the Ministry of Defence, doubtless in the hope of avoiding intervention by the Minister without Portfolio.

The cause of our concern is a series of reports by defence correspondents, especially Michael Evans of The Times, who seems to be well informed, that the TA will be cut to 40,000. I also understand that the SDR reserves paper, which was discussed in the MOD on 6 February, proposed that the size of the TA should be approximately 40,000. Perhaps the Secretary of State can confirm that. We know from Ministers that they plan to retain or to enhance the TA's specialist capabilities, so the only way that they could reach the figure that I have mentioned is by substantial reductions of about 80 per cent. in the infantry.

In response to that suggested reduction, we have had two lively debates in the House. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) for their diligence in initiating those debates and for their advocacy during them. However, nothing that Ministers have said in reply has allayed that concern.

There was also a much longer debate in the other place. There were no fewer than 33 Back-Bench speakers—many only recently retired from advising Ministers at the MOD—of whom only two took the Government brief. Commenting on the possible reasons for that, Lord Gilbert said: One is that my noble friends have total confidence in the way the Government are running the country".—[Official Report, House of Lords, 22 April 1998; Vol. 590, c. 1225.] A less charitable commentator might be driven to the opposite conclusion.

I choose just one quotation from the many speakers in our three excellent debates. The hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, whom I of course notified of my intention to quote him, said: The fact that there are so many Members here in the early afternoon is a warning to the Treasury and the Ministry of Defence that messing around with what is left of our reserves would be difficult and dangerous … Warfare has not changed so greatly as to render our traditional reserves superfluous; nor are they there only to plug holes left in the MOD's budget … If we find that the reserves have been relegated to superfluity, I am convinced that there will be tremendous reaction throughout the country, reflected in the House."—[Official Report, 8 April 1998; Vol. 310, c. 313.] I believe that he is right, and if Ministers will not listen to me, they should listen to him. I am delighted that he is in his place for the debate.

The Opposition want to give further momentum to the concern to which I have referred. We hope not only to persuade the Government to change their proposals, but to bring to a swift conclusion the increasingly embarrassing delay in publishing the SDR, for which we still have no date. Ministers keep telling us how thorough, inclusive and transparent was the exercise that led to the report that they sent to their colleagues at the end of March. Despite that, however, their colleagues want between three and four months to validate that comprehensive exercise. As we have constantly been told that it is not Treasury-driven, we wonder who is holding it up.

In the meantime, there is an increasingly damaging impact on morale, on recruitment and on procurement. The Secretary of State is probably equally frustrated by the delay, but is too polite to say so. However, he owes it to the service for which he has responsibility to bring the exercise to a swift conclusion.

In speaking about the TA, it is no part of my case to look backwards rather than forwards or to set regular against reserve. There must be a good, forward-looking relationship between the two because they depend on each other. The Regular Army depends on the TA to complete battalions that are sent to Bosnia; the TA depends on the Regular Army for its marching orders, and they share a common culture and ethos. The future of the TA and the long-term health of the Regular Army are inextricably linked, and there is no advantage in reducing the TA infantry to insignificance, as the strategic defence review apparently suggests, while hoping to man an enhanced regular infantry.

The Minister for the Armed Forces has said that the reserves can make their case in public while the regulars cannot. That is a fair point, but, of course, the regulars are much closer to the decision-making process and have more senior officers within the Ministry of Defence. An advocacy that is private rather than public may be every bit as influential.

There are two key questions for the House. They are, first, what is to be the role of the TA over the next 15 to 20 years; and, secondly, can that role be filled with the manpower that the Government are examining? The role of the TA is as a general reserve to the Army. It is there to reinforce the Regular Army when that is required with individuals, units or sub-units in the UK or overseas. It also provides the framework and basis for regeneration and reconstitution in times of national emergencies.

The TA performs other roles. In many parts of the country, it is the only link between military and civil in our demilitarised society. It is an important source of recruits for the Army and is an alternative to conscription. It offers opportunities for volunteering to the responsible citizen; it assists other Government objectives and programmes, such as welfare to work; and it offers opportunities of a structured life to young people who might otherwise lack contact with order and discipline.

I shall outline the case that Government must answer. The manpower that the Government apparently propose will mean that the TA will lack the critical mass that it needs to remain a viable organisation. Cuts focused on the infantry will mean that its heart will become starved of oxygen and its limbs will become less efficient. Infantry reductions of about 80 per cent. mean that it will no longer be a truly national organisation. The shrinking will not only have the impacts that I have mentioned but will affect the perceived role of the TA in society, the employer's willingness to release employees for training for a valued purpose, and people's motivation to join.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

My right hon. Friend is dealing with the important roles of the TA. Does he agree that the TA is vital to the future of the Army cadet force because throughout the country, and certainly in my constituency in the Camberley area, cadets rely on the TA for stores and training and for many other services? To damage the TA is to damage the cadets.

Photo of George Young George Young Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. I had intended to speak about that issue, but he has raised it more eloquently than I could.

I shall now deal with the TA's role as general reserve to the Army, and assume that at one end of the scale we plan for a high-intensity conflict for which we field one division. It is legitimate to contemplate such a conflict: we contemplated one in the House only a few weeks ago. If we assume 15 per cent. casualties in four days, on the TA figures that we are debating, the Army would have to call up ex-regulars on day five. The trouble with that is that 50 per cent. of the addresses of ex-regulars are incorrect. In addition, they may not be fit or trained on current equipment, and may not want to serve.

The strategy of cutting the TA and relying on ex-regulars to save money rejects the trained, fit and willing volunteer for the possibly unfit, unwilling and untrained ex-regular—if one can get hold of him. We could be into that scenario quite soon. Sustaining any operation requires depth, and if the reserves are cut, there will not be the depth to sustain an operation. In a lower-intensity conflict with fewer casualties, with inadequate reserves there would be a shortage of manpower after about 90 days. At the other end of the scale, there is the example of the recent floods in the midlands. The Army locally was on block leave and the territorials stepped in and were the only soldiers who were present.

Most regular units deploy with a TA increment on operations or on exercises. Some 10 per cent. of the implementation force, IFOR, and the stabilisation force, SFOR, manpower in Bosnia was found from reservists, of whom about 1,200 were infantry. Without such back filling, the regular infantry would be even more stretched, and that would lead to worse retention and an ever-increasing reduction in regular manpower.

The TA has gained much respect for its role in Bosnia. More broadly, while we have a small regular force, the volunteer reserve forces help to provide the capacity to punch above our weight, and that has enabled Britain to have an effective foreign policy. All that is at risk.

Reducing the TA has other consequences, such as those that were mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins). TA premises are used by others such as cadets, who also use vehicles and equipment with TA infantry instructors. To get a clearer idea of the exact impact, I have today written to the regional chairmen of the Territorial Auxiliary and Volunteer Reserve Association to get their assessment of the consequences of what we are discussing.

The whole of the reserve forces cost about 3 per cent. of the entire defence budget. The TA is astonishing value for money; my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) will expand on that at the end of the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury made the point in his perceptive piece in today's issue of The Daily Telegraph. As one noble Lord put it, it is like saving money by ceasing to pay for the insurance policy.

The role of reconstitution as well as that of general reserve may be compromised by the strategic defence review. It is fine to say that we shall have time to do that because there will be adequate warning, but history tells us otherwise. It was not until the spring of 1939 that it was decided to double the size of the TA. That decision ensured that many units went to war partly trained and ill-equipped and the price was heavy. My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) may recall how difficult it was in 1971 to train and recruit the new infantry battalions that he formed. It took five or six years to build up the expertise on which a unit relies.

The strategic defence review will take us up to 2015—17 years ahead. We only need to look back 17 years to 1981 to appreciate what we did not foresee at that time—the Falklands, Iraq and Bosnia, to name but three major demands on the armed forces. The record of forecasting military conflict is not good. There is a hint that there will be no need to call out complete units again. I am not sure that I agree with that. In replying to a recent debate and at defence questions today the Minister for the Armed Forces said that the Russians would not land tomorrow. That is correct, but who can predict the shape, location or duration of future conflicts? For expansion, the infrastructure and the framework must be in place, and it is precisely those which we are likely to lose.

We do not know exactly how forces may be required, and that means that we need a general rather than a specialised reserve. That is why cuts of 80 per cent. in the infantry would be so dangerous. Infantry is flexible; it can re-role. One company in Winchester has re-roled from infantrymen to amphibious engineers. The infantry has the key soldiering skills to an extent that specialists have not, and that makes it the heart of a genuine multi-purpose reserve.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

I fully endorse my right hon. Friend's excellent case on behalf of the Territorial Army. Does he agree that, if the TA is cut to the extent that many of us think it will be, that will deprive ex-regulars, who have cost a great deal to train, of the opportunity to become TA soldiers and officers, with the tremendous benefit that that can bring to the services and to younger recruits?

Photo of George Young George Young Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

My hon. Friend's point is well made, and I am grateful to him.

I shall now turn to the issue of recruitment. Currently, the Army is about 5,000 below strength and has a turnover of some 15,000 a year. Some 40 per cent. of Regular Army recruits come from the TA and the cadets, and they come disproportionately from the infantry. Cutting the infantry in the TA therefore runs the risk of double jeopardy. Not only does it cut off a promising source of recruitment for undermanned regulars, but it leaves the regulars even more exposed because the reserves are no longer there to support them. The reserves are being squeezed to make headroom for a sixth deployable brigade, but that is the wrong way to do it. The Army's top priority at the moment is recruitment and retention. My contact with the armed forces parliamentary scheme over recent weeks has brought that home to me, but cutting the TA makes that problem worse, not better.

I turn to the argument about footprint—the need to have a physical presence throughout the country that is seen, felt and respected, not least for recruitment. If the number comes down to 40,000, Scotland looks particularly naked, which I am sure would be of concern both to the Secretary of State and the Minister for the Armed Forces. That is because Scotland has a very high infantry profile and is the area where the reductions are likely to be made.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. Is he aware that, if the infantry and the yeomanry were to be abolished, similarly the whole of Gloucestershire and most of Wiltshire would be entirely empty of the Territorial Army?

Photo of George Young George Young Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. When I receive the replies to the letters to which I have referred, we will have a much clearer picture of exactly what the regional distribution of the cut might be.

On the role of the armed forces, I quote Brigadier Richard Holmes, now the Director of Reserve Forces and Cadets in the MOD, on the need for a presence: Not in a brassy and intrusive sense, but the daily and repeated demonstration, to the men and women who we defend and from whom we draw our strength, that we are them—and they are us: the nation's mirror, indeed. In many parts of the country, the only adult military presence at the Remembrance day parade is provided by the TA. Cut the TA and that goes. With no national footprint, the armed forces become more isolated from the communities that they serve.

Many hon. Members want to speak in the debate, so let me conclude by quoting from the same article on the TA, which was written by Brigadier Holmes in 1995: But there is an irreducible minimum amount of funding: fall below it, and units are gut-shot … In our view we are dangerously close to this irreducible minimum, and we should be well aware that the effects of a small saving could be disproportionately destructive. That was when the figure was 59,000, with which he expressed delight.

In the previous debate on this subject, the Minister for the Armed Forces told us that no final decision had been taken. I believe him. We hope that there is time to change what is proposed. If not, I guarantee that Conservative Members will want to return to the subject. When we do, the atmosphere may be different, not just here, but outside. I hope that the Secretary of State will now tell the House that that will not be necessary.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I wish to announce that Madam Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence, The Secretary of State for Defence 7:32 pm, 18th May 1998

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: supports the Government in its determination to ensure that the United Kingdom has armed forces that are modern, capable, relevant and structured for the new post Cold War strategic realities; considers that the Territorial Army, like the rest of the armed forces, should continue to adapt to these realities; welcomes the valuable role played by the Territorial Army in the wider life of the nation; and is confident that the outcome of the Strategic Defence Review will be capable, relevant and even more usable reserve forces to help support Britain's foreign and security policies.

The speech by the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), the Opposition spokesman, and the terms of the Opposition motion strike a commendably less hysterical note than much of the commentary and speculation in recent months about this one aspect of our armed forces, which have been part of a strategic defence review, which was widely welcomed by many people, including many hon. Members on both sides of the House. It is the most unprecedentedly open defence review in the recent past. It is open and consensual, and is designed to establish the widest possible agreement on what our armed forces should do in future and how best they can do it.

On that subject, we have had several good and well-informed debates and I am certain that this will be another. The Territorial Army has a long and honourable tradition in the service of our country. Generations of willing volunteers have served. Soldiers of the TA have fought with great distinction in some of the most desperate struggles that this nation has known.

Even today, individual TA members serve on special engagements with regulars in Northern Ireland and the Falklands, and in Cyprus with our commitment to the United Nations. Some 2,500 volunteers have served with the regulars in Bosnia. I pay tribute to their efforts in that stricken country, where the work of the British Army, regulars and Territorials together, and of our other services has done so much to bring hope where, at one point, there was none.

I look at that military experience, which the motion that has been tabled in the name of the Opposition acknowledges, and I see an inconsistency in the motion and in the argument of the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire. The strategic defence review does not and will not undermine the Territorial Army; it will strengthen it. We do not intend to destroy the TA; we intend to enhance it. The strategic defence review will not downgrade the Territorial Army; it will, as the motion suggests and recommends, develop it and modernise it. We intend to ensure that the TA is relevant, usable, capable, effective, integrated and valued throughout the country. I am confident that, when the strategic defence review is eventually finalised, agreed and published in a White Paper, there will be wide agreement that what we have produced is a plan for modern forces in the modern world.

Photo of Mike Hancock Mike Hancock Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way on that point: the strengthening of the TA via the defence review. Is he then saying that, if there is a cut in manpower, there will not necessarily be a cut in the defence budget to the TA and that that money will be recycled within the TA, or is he saying that there will effectively be a reduction both in manpower and finance? I cannot see how he can square what he is saying if no more money is put in or if the money does not stay in, and how is it going to be used to strengthen the TA?

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence, The Secretary of State for Defence

Perhaps if the hon. Gentleman waits and listens to what I have to say and to tell him, he will understand precisely why it is that I say that our whole purpose and design is to ensure that the TA is strengthened and that its role is enhanced. The exercise was not done as some way of salami-slicing one section to fund another section. We have taken, unprecedentedly, as I said, a holistic view of the whole defence budget and of all the military capability that this country has and needs in future.

There are going to be winners as well as losers in any strategic defence review. The point that the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire has underlined—that the Territorial Army and the reserves are among the only group of people who are capable of lobbying Members of this House and the populace in general—should be borne in mind. Let people come to their conclusions when they see the way in which we have reconfigured the whole picture, not one section of the picture, which has happened to put specific figures speculatively into the public domain.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence, The Secretary of State for Defence

I want to make a little progress before I take all the jumping up and down on the other side. [Interruption.] I make a sensible point. I intend to be constructive because we are interested in the quality of all sections of our armed forces. I am willing to take interventions, as I am sure my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces will at the end of the debate, so that hon. Members have an opportunity to put their view across.

When we have published the defence review, we will have reserve forces that will be integrated as part of a coherent approach to defence and will be relevant to needs today, tomorrow and long into the future. Numbers are not the only or even the main issue that is at stake here. Indeed, the previous Government made much of that fact in the reductions for which they were responsible in the reserves and in the Territorial Army.

We will also continue the invaluable local links and the wider involvement of the Territorial Army in our society. The Territorial Army draws much of its strength from its local roots and enjoys the support of the communities in which it is based. I know that the concern that has been expressed in this and other debates by hon. Members on both sides of the House reflects the concerns of those communities.

Photo of Mr Barry Jones Mr Barry Jones Labour, Alyn and Deeside

On that point, may I tell my right hon. Friend of the anxieties of the Royal Welch Fusiliers? The third battalion TA, which I visited today, has anxieties and the communities that it serves support it. We hope for a continued strong presence in north Wales. I visited the battalion today and, as an ex-service man, I would say that it gave a brilliant demonstration. I hope that he might be able to help.

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence, The Secretary of State for Defence

My hon. Friend is a powerful advocate for his constituency and for the regiment based in it. When any review takes place, there is inevitably anxiety across the forces—not just in individual Territorial Army units, but in the Regular Army, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. Frankly, over the past couple of decades, the only experience they have had of reviews is of exercises that have pretended to be strategy-led, but which resulted in huge cuts in capability. I ask my hon. Friend to tell his territorials that we have considered the matter on the basis of the operational capability that this country will need for the future. We will achieve that inside the budget that we have inherited.

I have no doubt that the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire, in the unlikely event that the Conservatives had won the election, would have been faced with many of the same tough decisions that I am having to make now. These are not easy options. The last Government reduced the defence budget by one third in their last seven years. There was no prospect that they would increase the defence budget.

It is true that the Territorial Army offers many in the wider community contact with the armed forces which they might otherwise not experience. Furthermore, the training it provides and the values it instils in the volunteer are of great benefit to society. I have no doubt that many hon. Members will wish to reinforce to me tonight just how important they are.

I acknowledge the importance of the TA's specific role in supporting the cadet movement, which we greatly value—not just for the youth development work which is its primary role, but for its recruiting effort on behalf of the armed forces. As a former Army cadet, I could hardly conclude otherwise. We are looking to see what we can do for the cadets, and we will increase the support that is given to them.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The right hon. Gentleman has listed a number of benefits that the Territorial Army brings to the community, to youth work and to the public perception of the Army. Is there some mechanism whereby all that added value can be costed into the whole equation of the strategic defence review, or is he merely looking at that side of the balance sheet that assesses the TA's operational role? Significant as that is, there must be some way of measuring other benefits as well.

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence, The Secretary of State for Defence

We have to make exactly the same calculation for the Regular Army, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, and for all the capabilities that this country has at its command. However, at the end of the day, the decision is that the budget of the Ministry of Defence will be in excess of £21 billion—the figure we inherited from the Conservative Government. There was a massive one-third reduction over seven years.

We have to consider all the measurements within the whole. We have to measure the value and the utility of the TA and the other reserves. It is interesting that tonight the Opposition have tabled a motion about the Territorial Army alone. They seem to have no interest in or concern about the RAF and Navy reserves. They all have to be measured in the equation.

All these aspects are important, but, above all, the Territorial Army is there to fulfil an operational role, and it is on the operational role that I want to concentrate tonight.

The Territorial Army has seen change since the end of the cold war. Its strength has fallen from a peak of 78,500 in 1987 to 56,700 today. The establishment of the TA in 1987, under the last Administration, was 91,000, but it was reduced to 59,000—the figure that we inherited. Therefore, if people are to make judgments about what might happen in this defence review, they would be wise to look at the Conservative party's record before doing so.

Photo of George Young George Young Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

The Secretary of State must recognise that there was a dramatically improved security position in Europe, and almost every NATO country was able to reduce its budget by between 20 and 30 per cent. That is not the position now, so there is no justification for such a reduction. The right hon. Gentleman must not continue to assert that the reductions under the Conservative Government were the result of some Treasury-driven craze; it was a logical and balanced response, enabling us to put resources into health and education.

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence, The Secretary of State for Defence

It takes formidable acting skills to tell us now that the cuts that were made under the last Administration were driven solely by the end of the cold war and not by the Treasury exacting a heavy price. The evidence of the Treasury's hand is the incoherence of the cuts that were made. Of course strategic circumstances change; of course there were bound to be reductions in defence expenditure in this country, as in other countries. The main criticism of the previous Government was of the way they left holes in capability that robbed us of the opportunity to put our troops into the right place at the right time.

Further changes are taking place in the strategic landscape, and they will increase over the next 10 to 15 years. It is because we are configuring our armed forces for the new challenges, and because of the huge operational strains, that we have embarked upon the review. Just as we have looked at every capability of each of the three services and the civilian back-up, so, too, should we look at the role of the Territorial Army.

Photo of Mr Allan Rogers Mr Allan Rogers Labour, Rhondda

Does not my right hon. Friend find it rather strange that the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) should talk about cuts in the way he has when, from 1985 onwards, year on year, the Conservative Government cut the money available to the armed forces? If I catch the Chair's eye, I will illustrate that. The right hon. Gentleman is silly to come up with such an argument.

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence, The Secretary of State for Defence

The defence communities are aware of that. They want a coherent outcome that makes sense in the circumstances. They know that some reductions in capability will be necessitated by the fact that capability shortfalls must be made up if we are to send troops into conflict safely, securely and effectively. The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire knows that, and the public know it. They will be sensible when they see the outcome.

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament

The right hon. Gentleman knows that there was a change in strategic circumstances, and that the most significant change under "Options for Change" was the withdrawal from Germany at the end of the cold war, and the consequent number of forces that we brought back. He will also know that the architects of "Options for Change" were Lord Vincent—who was an outstanding Chief of Defence Staff, much respected throughout the Ministry of Defence, and subsequently chairman of the military committee in NATO—and the current permanent secretary at the Ministry, Richard Mottram. I should be very worried if the right hon. Gentleman were accusing them of incoherence. I have the greatest respect for their abilities.

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence, The Secretary of State for Defence

It is a bit much for a former Defence Secretary to blame officials for the outcome. I dare say that Lord Vincent, who has been assisting me in the defence review as a member of my expert panel—I very much value the advice that he has given—and the permanent secretary may well have assembled much of the information, but the responsibility for the outcome has to lie at the door of those responsible for "Options for Change" and for the defence cost studies. Therefore, in this debate, let us not try to blame officials. We should grant them immunity to that.

I realise that the changes and reorganisation have not been easy for territorial and reserve units, which are composed largely of people who work a few hours or a couple of days a week. Such organisations face challenges in adapting to the new circumstances. However, I should like to make two points about the position in which we have been left by the various reorganisations and changes made under the previous Administration.

First, most of the Territorial Army is currently held at low readiness against the possibility of a cold war threat—to defend against an invasion, primarily by the Soviet Union, and spetznaz attacks on vital installations in the United Kingdom. Part of the judgment in determining that readiness level was that, understandably, the Government would resort to compulsory call-out of the Territorial Army only in the most extreme circumstances. However, that begs the question of what to do if the possibility of such circumstances arising becomes so remote that we do not have to maintain any standing forces against them.

After our foreign policy analysis—which we have shared widely, and which is widely shared—that issue has arisen—[Interruption.] If Opposition Members really anticipate a massed attack by components of the former Soviet Union, I should be interested to hear their views.

Secondly, across the entire British Army, we have 73 battalions: 33 TA battalions, the majority of which are geared to fight on British soil; and 40 regular battalions.

Altogether—in one guise or another—61 battalions are light infantry battalions. Therefore, 61 battalions could not be put into the front line of a modern armoured battle. We should also compare that number of battalions with our eight tank regiments, seven air defence regiments, 14 artillery regiments, 19 engineer regiments and 16 field ambulance units.

We need many regular battalions to manage all our current operations. The House, if not the public, will be familiar with the level of commitment currently faced by our regular forces. Although we welcome the support given by individual members of the TA infantry to the regulars in all those operations, in no credible or plausibly foreseeable circumstances will we need at one time 61 light infantry battalions. Most obviously, the level of force that we are committed to fighting at home is out of all proportion to the threat.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Conservative, Canterbury

As my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) said, most of our wars have been unanticipated, and the past two wars—the Gulf war and the Falklands war—were both fought in open terrain, with no civilian populations, where large ground forces were unnecessary. Let us suppose that the Balkans—where 14 Axis divisions proved to be inadequate in the second world war—were to blow up tomorrow, or that we had to invade Iraq. We should remember that the American, Australian and Canadian armies all have greater combat capabilities and more infantry in their reserve forces than they do in their regular forces.

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence, The Secretary of State for Defence

The hon. Gentleman—any hon. Member—can postulate a series of possible future threats and quite easily state the necessary capability to deal with those threats. However, there is a finite defence budget, which the previous Government reduced to £21 billion.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

We have to anticipate anything.

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence, The Secretary of State for Defence

We cannot plan for every eventuality and every surprise. We have to have a portfolio of forces that is able to deal with as much as we can currently possibly anticipate. It is perfectly sensible to take that point of view.

I tell the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier)—who speaks with some authority on the matter, and takes a very strong interest in that one key component of our capabilities—that, since the second world war, we have never compulsorily called out formed units of the Territorial Army. We did not do so in Korea, in Suez, in the Falklands or in the Gulf. We have not called out any of the formed units of our Territorial Army.

Sensibly, calmly and moderately, I make the point to the House that we have to strike a balance between our Regular Army and our Territorial Army, and between the Navy and the Air Force, taking into account the likely eventualities. There is not likely to be a Government, Conservative or Labour, who will expand the defence budget to take into account every conceivable eventuality.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is precisely because of the changed strategic environment that the Government have to develop a changed role for the TA? Unless the TA has a believable and a real role, there is no argument for it. Does he agree also that the role performed by the pre-formed Territorial Army battalion of the Prince of Wales's Own Regiment of Yorkshire—which went as the first pre-formed unit to Bosnia—is the type of role that the Government should be considering in their defence review, to build a real role and to give a real future to the TA?

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence, The Secretary of State for Defence

My hon. Friend speaks eminent common sense. We are examining precisely that type of role. As I progress towards the end of my speech, some of the thinking that has influenced us—on precisely how we will strengthen the TA—should become apparent. We are not interested simply in sidelining the TA—far from it. We shall find a new role in the new circumstances for the TA, making it much stronger and much more valued in society. I believe that we will also make it much more welcome.

Some people say that Territorial Army units are far less expensive than regular ones. Of course they are. However, no military capability is cheap. Each of the battalions costs annually between £2 million and £3 million to maintain. A total of £350 million of the annual defence budget is spent on the Territorial Army, not including the cost of their equipment, which could be valued at about £1 billion. We should remember also that Territorial Army units do not, like their regular colleagues, provide a 365-day, year-round capability.

Defence resources are limited. Moreover, there are glaring gaps in other areas of defence that—as Opposition Members know—we will have to fill.

So much for the financial balance sheet. There is another penalty to pay in maintaining units that we do not need, in roles that we do not need, against a threat that is receding and may never return. Furthermore, the penalty is paid by the units themselves.

The House will be aware of the consultations that the Government launched in parallel with the review, and will know that we have consulted widely with experts—for example, with former Secretaries of State for Defence, and Chiefs of the Defence Staff—within the services, and with members of the public.

The House may not be surprised to hear that the public's understanding of the Territorial Army seems to be very patchy. Whereas some people know a lot about it, others know very little. However, most worrying, I think, is a perception—with which hon. Members also may be familiar—of the Territorial Army as "weekend warriors". Some people say that the TA is not necessary and not serious. Such a view is sad and wrong, but it exists. I intend to change it, because the Territorial Army deserves better.

The House may recall last year's public speculation that we were about to declare the Territorial Army a leisure brigade. I hope that not only that but much other speculation is now dead. However, such speculation demonstrates my point about how the debate on the issue has been conducted.

We will do the Territorial Army no service by leaving large parts of it to languish in declining roles. However, I see an alternative to a declining role, in which the Territorial Army forms a key part of our armed forces. It is a role in which the Territorial Army can say to the public and to their comrades in defence, "You will need us, and we will be there." It is role for which, today, I say to the Territorial Army, "I need you; the Armed Forces of our country need you; and the country needs you."

The territorials—like hon. Members—have to adapt to the new strategic realities. We all know what those strategic realities are. First, we can count on much longer warning times, compared to the cold war, before a major and direct threat to the United Kingdom emerges. Secondly, the pursuit of our foreign policy objectives in this uncertain world calls for the ability to project power for many lesser eventualities. How many can we see immediately on the horizon? Thirdly, therefore, our armed forces must be structured and resourced to meet the unpredictable at short notice, when required.

We need the territorials. We need them to provide formed units that may be integrated into our Army brigades and higher formations for what we might term "power projection" operations. We also need the territorials, and the regular reservists, to provide individuals to reinforce our units for warfighting, because in war we need our units to be larger than they are in peace. Looking to the long term, we need the Territorial Army, our regulars and our regular reserves, to act as a basis from which we might expand our forces should the need arise.

Let me concentrate on power projection. We shall gain much by giving the territorials a greater role in power projection. For example, if we envisage a crisis on NATO's periphery for which we need to put a full division into the field, the presence of thousands of Territorial Army soldiers would greatly increase our capability. But if we are to do this, then we, here, must be prepared to call them out in such circumstances. In the recent past, we have not done so.

When I attended the TAVRA council seminar that was held to get over a strong message about the territorials, one thing that I heard loud and clear was that the territorials wanted to be in a position to be called up. That is one of the points of view that I have taken on board.

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence, The Secretary of State for Defence

The hon. Gentleman will probably have the opportunity to speak. My hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces will wind up the debate, and I should not take too long, despite the interventions I have accepted and the points to which I have responded.

As I was saying, this is an important point, and one that deserves cross-party agreement, which I hope we can get. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) will agree with me about call-ups, but I hope he will. Let us make no mistake: if we go down this route, the territorials will not be just a nice add-on to a Regular Army which would be self-sufficient, anyway—they will be a vital addition to the Army.

We will need signallers, drivers, artillery men and women, military police, intelligence and survey teams. We will need TA soldiers who can repair battle-damaged vehicles, operate sophisticated military equipment, deal with local civilian populations, and engage in a very wide range of other specialist and core military tasks. Military jargon might label this "support", but it is real soldiering: dirty, dangerous, in the line of fire, and absolutely essential to any conflict in which we might be engaged.

I expect that we will conclude that we need many more medical reserves. As I said at Question Time today, the defence review has shown that there are serious weaknesses in many aspects of our medical forces, which we must address.

We are going to need units to be trained, capable and deployable at the readiness for which we require them. We are looking at how we may best bring territorial and regular training together, so that we can make better use of all the training that defence provides. However, we must recognise—this is perhaps the hardest part—that the need to defend the United Kingdom from a potential Soviet threat has diminished, and in many ways disappeared.

As most of our territorial infantry battalions and, indeed, many of yeomanry regiments are intended to fight at home, hon. Members will understand from what I said earlier that we will find it more difficult to see roles for these units than for others, but re-roling is one of the alternatives available to make these units more usable and much more satisfied.

We must also ensure that, where we do need a capability at very short notice, the unit that provides it is regular. We need to improve and enhance our management of the Territorial Army. I am thinking here of mobilisation procedures which at present are ad hoc, and need to be put on to a more dedicated footing. We also need better career management of individuals within the TA.

In previous debates, many hon. Members have referred to the work of the Territorial, Auxiliary and Volunteer Reserve Associations, as did the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire. I join all those who have paid tribute to the TAVRAs. Their members give their time freely out of a deep commitment to this country's reserve forces. I have met senior members of the TAVRAs a couple of times in the course of the defence review.

The role of the TAVRAs—it is one that works—has much to offer the Defence Council which they exist to advise. The TAVRAs have stood the test of time in a way that few other tri-service institutions can boast, as their last reorganisation was in 1968. While we are considering some administrative changes to them, we see the attractions in retaining all the essentials of this relationship. We want to continue both their role as advisers to the Defence Council and their function in administering a range of day-to-day functions on behalf of the reserve forces.

The strategic defence review has given us the opportunity to modernise and restructure our regular and our reserve forces in a coherent—

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence, The Secretary of State for Defence

I am sorry, but time is against me, and many other hon. Members wish to contribute to the debate.

The review has given us the opportunity to modernise and restructure our regular and reserve forces in a coherent and enduring way. It has confirmed the need for many current roles and some new ones, but also the need for some changes to existing roles.

The new Territorial Army will be capable and usable, and fitted to work with regular forces on all types of operations to a much greater extent than before. It will be sufficient to meet any likely operational eventuality. Details of the new structure are now being put together against a set of principles that have been agreed in consultation with senior Territorial Army officers.

The traditions of the Territorial Army are proud, and its members are committed. It must be possible, with that pride and commitment, with the right training, the right structure and the right direction, to fashion a new future for the Territorial Army, a future in which the TA will again be a key instrument for our security policy, and a credit to the nation.

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath Conservative, Old Bexley and Sidcup 8:06 pm, 18th May 1998

I strongly support the positive approach adopted by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young). I hope that it will be adhered to for the rest of the debate, which I hope will not descend into the noisy wrangle that has unfortunately now become characteristic of the House of Commons.

My maiden speech was on European union for political, economic and military reasons. That was on 26 June 1950. My second speech was made on 18 April 1951 and it was on the Territorial Army. I had to get special permission to make that speech because, in the meantime, I had become a Whip and was not allowed to express myself without the permission of the Chief Whip. I made that speech because of my connection with the TA, which I declare to the House now.

The Honourable Artillery Company was formed in 1537 and is the oldest of all such institutions. It was formed by Henry VIII. At the end of the war, I commanded a regiment of it, and in 1947 I commanded the newly formed 2nd Regiment of the HAC for four years. I then commanded the guard at the Tower of London as master gunner. I therefore have many connections with the TA. I have been a member of the HAC for 53 years, and it is of immense importance to me and many others.

We have become accustomed to discussing the TA in rather difficult situations. We did so in the early 1950s while the Labour Government were still in office, and we did so in the 1960s when the numbers started falling rapidly. The Government of 1970–1974 managed to restore them to a certain extent, but not enough. They declined again under another Labour Government. So in our debate tonight, we are continuing a rather repetitive performance, but one that can be very healthy, as the Secretary of State said.

I was glad to hear the Secretary of State say that there is a strategic review. He went on to mention foreign policy. Of course, the two are closely interbound, and I am glad that he emphasised that, because a review is desperately needed in both respects. It must take account of our political position as a member of the European Union and of our economic possibilities as far as our defence forces are concerned. Both must be taken together.

I am afraid that, all too often, declarations from political leaders give the impression that we can deal with any problem throughout the world and, in fact, we have a mission to do so. Today, nothing could be further from the truth. We are just not capable of doing so. I have heard such declarations made by former Prime Ministers and by the present Prime Minister, who gives the impression that the world is at his feet and he will organise it. I hope that that is not really his view, and if it is, I hope that the Secretary of State for Defence will correct him, because that can lead to serious mistakes. When the review is finished, we shall examine very carefully how it is proposed that we should handle world affairs in future and where we believe that we can play a part.

The military is important in all that. We are emphasising tonight, as my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) did in an earlier debate, and as we have done before, the importance of the Territorial Army, as well as the other territorial arrangements that the Secretary of State has rightly emphasised. The Territorial Army is not, for obvious reasons, as important as the Navy and the Air Force, but that has always been accepted.

We come to the question how the strategic significance of the Territorial Army has to be assessed. It has long been widely recognised that one can review such matters, but one of the difficulties is that the representation—to use a grandiose word—and influence of the Territorial Army at the highest levels are very small. There is no point in trying to deny that, and every senior officer whom I have met and had counsel with, from the highest levels downwards, has always, when pushed to the point, accepted that. There is no conspiracy, as some people are saying. It is natural that if one has no direct relationship with the Territorial Army and one wants to find a solution, one seeks it without taking particular notice of the TA.

The Secretary of State has tonight given us many assurances, and I hope that he will be able to maintain them. I shall come to one of those assurances in a moment. As the TA has very little influence in any Ministry of Defence organisation, it is easy to see why unwelcome incidents occur.

My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire put forward the strong argument that maintaining the Territorial Army is far less costly than maintaining the Regular Army or other forms of military activity.

The idea of weekend holiday boys was mentioned. Those are the jeers of members of the press, which were wryly reported this weekend, and of people who have no sympathy whatever with any form of military activity, regular or territorial. We ignore that, but I agree that a large operation is required to inform the public of exactly what being a territorial involves. I was glad to hear the Secretary of State say that he is determined to bring that about. I shall not inquire at this point how he proposes to do it, because he may not have made up his mind, but it will be quite a task to bring home to the public the part that the territorials play and how important they are.

That is an issue that we were dealing with when I was commanding the HAC two nights a week plus weekends and a fortnight in camp. That is quite a demand on an ordinary chap, and the return that he gets to cover expenses is not all that great. He makes a big contribution.

I come now to the important point—the general suggestion that the strategic review will examine the territorial on the basis of how he fills the gaps. That is emphasised by recent operations in which territorials were sent to Bosnia and elsewhere. They do not do so as a separate entity; they go where there is a need that regular forces have not been able to fulfil. That is what worries all the territorials I know. They do not want to be simply a stop-gap operation; they want always to be a separate entity and to operate as such, and then they will meet the requirements of the strategy, providing that it is worked out on that basis. That is why the strategic review will be of great importance.

If those at the top of the Ministry of Defence say, "We have a gap here, so we must encourage a particular body to fill it," that will not meet the needs of the Territorial Army, because it is far greater than a series of gap-fillers or specialists who may be needed. To exist at all, it must be a complete social organisation that depends on its internal relationships to produce the answer that it wants and that those outside want. It must be complete in that sense, and if it is not, it will not continue, but will gradually fragment and break down.

I hope that when the Secretary of State considers his strategic review and what is proposed, he will always bear it in mind that territorials must be entities and have their own future. He can stand up against the demands that it should always be the Territorial Army that suffers and say that the regulars could also be reduced to meet our present requirements.

As I have tried to emphasise, those requirements are important in a proper assessment. We are no longer the world power that we once were. There is no point in pretending otherwise. We are no longer able to tell people exactly what to do. Even the Americans have discovered that today they cannot govern every trade deal in the world as they want to. It was a big blow when America became the major power rather than one of two super-powers, and it still has not accustomed or acclimatised itself to its role in the world.

We must allow for that, and we must not allow ourselves to be moved to one side. We must work out our own policies as part of the European Union and with other, limited responsibilities in other parts of the world. Unless we now face up to all that, we shall simply have another period of wrangling, arguing and doing no good, particularly when we are overstretching our capabilities.

I wish the Secretary of State well in his strategic review and the decisions that he must make. From what he has said, we can rely on proper respect for the Territorial Army and its future. I also hope that he will ensure that it retains its entities and does not become simply a filler of gaps that exist for other reasons. If he does so, he will indeed be praised.

Photo of Mr Allan Rogers Mr Allan Rogers Labour, Rhondda 8:18 pm, 18th May 1998

It is a privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), especially as he has such a positive approach to the problem that we are discussing. Like him, I hope that we can all contribute positively to what the Government are proposing.

I must confess that I approached this debate with a measure of hostility. As an ex-member of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, and having served in the Monmouthshire Regiment of the Territorial Army, I am very much on the TA's side—like many who have been associated with it.

We know the value of it and its contribution not just in our communities but in a military sense. Now that I have listened to the Secretary of State, however, my hostility is washing away, particularly because of his positive approach and the way in which, as he described, he is considering the problem of trying to define a new role for the Territorial Army for the next millennium.

I had the privilege—perhaps—of being an Opposition Front-Bench spokesman on these matters while the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), who is no longer present, and some of his predecessors were chopping our military potential. That was not after the cold war had ended; it was between 1985 and 1989. The Russian problem—the cold war—still existed, yet huge cuts were made in the armed forces. More than that, we had very long-term commitments in other areas.

Therefore, it is no good the Opposition attacking the Government from a holier-than-thou stance. If we consider "Options for Change" and what the Conservative party did in power, Conservative Members look rather ridiculous when they criticise the Government in such a debate. The irreducible minimum, which the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) attributed to Brigadier Holmes, was brought about by the Conservative Government. If there is an irreducible minimum, it is because of the previous Administration.

The Secretary of State has given me a great deal of hope by describing how he is trying to fit our forces into a role that relates to the strategic review. Time and again, in opposition, we asked the Government to do that, but all we had were substantial Treasury-driven cuts, year in, year out. Those cuts had nothing to do with the changing role of the armed forces or a strategic review, for which we continually asked. Let no one on the Opposition Benches attack the Government for not approaching the matter positively. The phrase that was trotted out was that the Government were creating a leaner and meaner machine, yet such a process produced an irreducible minimum, which left our military capability in an extreme state.

Photo of Mr Allan Rogers Mr Allan Rogers Labour, Rhondda

Others want to speak, so I shall not give way.

I hope that the Secretary of State will think about some of the points that are being made. To an ex-infantryman, the idea that the infantry will play a lesser role, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State seemed to be saying, is rather sad. I have always thought—at least I was always taught—that infantrymen were needed, after all the gunners, engineers and everyone else, to fill up space. I therefore wonder quite what the strategic role will be and why we need forces at all if sufficient infantrymen are not to play a proper role.

The most prominent example concerning the argument about the role of the reserves, how soon they can be put into action and whether they are capable, was in 1914. I am not quite old enough to remember that far back, but I have read how the British expeditionary force was wiped out. The massive input of reserves from the Territorial Army and the county yeomanry was the only reason why we managed to hold our position in France. That is a classic example of why a full civilian reserve Army is necessary.

The Secretary of State described medical skills in the Territorial Army and how they can be developed as a back-up, in making the point that civilians enter the Territorial Army with a high degree of skill that they have acquired in their civilian lives. Engineers, those with skills in new technology and the various technical regiments have been trained by industry, without the public purse being charged, and transfer their skills to the armed forces.

There is a general level of fitness, especially among infantrymen and special combat forces, and the level of ability among the TA's infantry men is very high. I have seen them in action; they can make an enormous and very positive contribution. It is not as if Dad's Army is to be called up in a crisis.

Photo of Mr Allan Rogers Mr Allan Rogers Labour, Rhondda

I cannot resist giving way to the hon. Lady.

Photo of Mrs Teresa Gorman Mrs Teresa Gorman Conservative, Billericay

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the enormous contributions that the Territorial Army makes is in education? Many young people who join as cadets and become full members enhance their qualifications, and therefore fit in well with the Government's drive for education, education, education.

Photo of Mr Allan Rogers Mr Allan Rogers Labour, Rhondda

If the hon. Lady had been present for the Secretary of State's speech, she would have heard him make that very point. We all recognise the enormous contribution that the Army cadet force makes, using the facilities of local territorial buildings. We cannot underplay the value of such units in the community. One of the great strengths of an army—or a defence force, call it what we will—is that it is often locally based. Comradeship in the infantry is developed because regiments are county-based, and those in them have often been to school or worked together before joining the armed forces.

I am pleased with what the Secretary of State has said. We seem to have moved away from just Treasury-driven cuts and are adopting an holistic approach, to make our forces not just leaner and meaner but more effective, in a clearly redefined role. Opposition Members would do well in this debate to sit down and shut up, because their record in this area is pretty bad.

Photo of Mike Hancock Mike Hancock Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 8:27 pm, 18th May 1998

I should like to pick up one of the points made by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers), which was also picked up by my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) when he asked a question about the link between the Territorial Army and the community. Sadly, the Secretary of State did not describe that future role. I should think that the majority of hon. Members would agree that there is a very strong link between TA units and the local community, and I am sure that every one of us would want it to continue. I hope that the Minister for the Armed Forces will react to that point and develop it when he replies to the debate.

We are fortunate to have the opportunity to debate the Territorial Army. I congratulate the Conservative Opposition on tabling the motion. How disappointing it is that we are debating it without knowing what the defence review is about. We were promised that, by now, the outcome of the review would be available for the nation to discuss. Had it been possible to keep to the timetable, we could have been debating the outcome of the review.

In responding to the motion, I am afraid, the Secretary of State did not go far enough for some of us to be able to support him in the Lobby. Despite many fine words, there was a lack of clarity in his response. Like the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), I wish the Secretary of State luck. Most of us know that the defence review is in the hands of the Treasury. Indeed, one could question whether the TA is safe in its hands. One could seriously suggest that it is not. We have strong reservations.

It would have been good if the Secretary of State had been able to say that the Conservative motion was nonsense, and that the suggested 40,000 reduction would not happen in any shape or form. However, one would need to support the Government powerfully to believe that what he said would not lead to that outcome. He did not refute it, and the Liberal Democrats will support the Conservative motion, although with a heavy, not a glad, heart. We had hoped against hope—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) can smile, but some of us were optimistic that the Secretary of State's opening speech would give us some enthusiasm for the idea that the Territorial Army would be safe in the Government's hands.

Many of us—if not the whole nation—recognise the work and value of the TA. The Secretary of State was kind enough to say that it still links with regular services in Northern Ireland, Cyprus, the Falklands and Bosnia. However, despite its fine record of achievement, the force's future remains murky at best. What the Government have in mind for the TA is not clear.

The Conservatives stand convicted of making judgments of which they might now think better, because they presided over a substantial reduction in the TA between 1988 and when they left office. In 1988, its membership was 74,700; by 1997, it was down to less than 56,000. There were 41 battalions and 164 companies in 1988; there are now 33 and 95 respectively. The Conservatives cannot stand one pace removed from the blame that they are trying to attach to the Government.

TA centres play a vital role in communities, but their numbers have fallen by nearly 100 since 1988. We must all accept, as the Secretary of State and the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) have pointed out, that there is a changing climate. We Liberals are no different; we recognise the changing climate, the peace dividend and the fact that the TA and other reserve forces cannot stand back from the realities of life.

That said, the TA does much more than support the community and the regular forces, when required. Hon. Members who have spoken—and, I am sure, those who will speak—have paid tribute to the commitment of TA service personnel, both men and women, who are serving in Bosnia. Hundreds, if not thousands, have done valiant work there. The TA's role is changing, and it has allowed itself to change from within. It has adapted, and it continues to do so.

I stress the importance of the TA in education and training, and the opportunities to return to full-time employment that it has offered to countless people whom I represent, who have gained successful employment because of TA training initiatives. I spoke recently to a group of truck drivers at the ferry port in Portsmouth, and found that six out of 30 of them had gained heavy goods vehicle licences through the TA. They all admitted that they would not otherwise have been in employment, because no one—certainly not the Conservative Government, who did not put money into giving those men an opportunity—would have funded such a programme. They are now back in work, and remain committed to the TA. It was interesting to hear their thoughts on the future.

The hon. Member for Rhondda was right to talk about the skills that the TA brings to the regular Army. Officers and non-commissioned officers in the TA willingly share their skills with others, and that helps to produce many ready recruits for the regular Army; 10 per cent. of Army recruits join because of the opportunities offered by the TA and the cadet forces, and bring with them techniques that they learned in the TA.

It would be a travesty of all that the Secretary of State has said if the review seriously undermined the Army cadet force.

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence, The Secretary of State for Defence

The hon. Gentleman may not have been listening, but I said that we would give increased resources to the Army cadet force.

Photo of Mike Hancock Mike Hancock Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I am grateful for that clarification. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I was listening, but I had hoped to hear a commitment that spelled out what that meant. What does giving more resources to the Army cadet forces really mean? Many such forces survive only because they are located close to TA units.

Photo of Mike Hancock Mike Hancock Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Yes, and to infantry units.

The TA has an ability to change. For example, the unit at Winchester has transformed itself, not because of any clear directive from the Ministry of Defence, but because it made a determined effort to address a changing world. The TA has not stood still, and flatly refuses to do so. It wants the Government to give a continuing commitment to ensuring its future in the defence of the country.

The TA is not only about skills and education, passing on skills or community links. It is about the jobs that are provided in the civilian world. My right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) tells me that 30 civilians were employed by the TA in his area, and he is seriously concerned about the future of the unit and those jobs. A leading Scottish newspaper, Dundee's The Courier and Advertiser, last month claimed that the TA was bringing millions of pounds to the Scottish economy by creating jobs for part-time and regular officers—men and women—and scores of civilian jobs. That is not peculiar to Scotland; it is the same in most constituencies in which the TA is located.

The Government have made great play over the past few months with the claim that the defence review is not financially driven. If that is so, they would be wise to think of the TA as a financial success story. It has cost us £340.4 million in the past year, which is 1.6 per cent.

of the entire 1997–98 budget. For comparative purposes, let me say that the average TA member cost the Government about £6,100; that is cheaper than the reserve forces for the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines and the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, but I share the view that they are equally important. As I represent a Portsmouth constituency, I strongly advocate strengthening our commitment to the Royal Marines and the Royal Navy.

Having taken those costs into account, how can the Government possibly object to the continued spending of 1.6 per cent. of the defence budget, when they are willing to accept—if not gladly—the £3 billion cost of over-expenditures contained in the National Audit Office's latest report on 25 major projects?

Photo of Rachel Squire Rachel Squire Labour, Dunfermline West

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government have inherited the £3 billion costs mentioned in the NAO report because of the mismanagement and incompetence of the previous Government?

Photo of Mike Hancock Mike Hancock Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I could accept that if, at the end of the report, the Government had said what they were going to do about it. I remember a similar report this time last year, when the Government also said that they had inherited problems. The inheritance argument can be used for only so long. There comes a time—

Photo of Mike Hancock Mike Hancock Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Of course it refers to schemes for 1997, but I thought that the Government came to power on 1 April 1997.

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence, The Secretary of State for Defence

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point about waste in the Department, but the report that he is waving covers the period before we came to power. In the strategic defence review, I promise that there will be radical proposals to the sort of problems highlighted in that report and to those that have been created over the years. I hope that it will be successful and that he will be able to congratulate us, but I also hope that he will not blame us for everything that went on before.

Photo of Mike Hancock Mike Hancock Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I would not dream of blaming you for what went on before.

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I trust that the hon. Gentleman is not blaming the Chair for all those problems.

Photo of Mike Hancock Mike Hancock Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Some hon. Members can claim no involvement, whether for or against, what went on. I was not here during the period concerned. If I had been, perhaps I might have had more to say at the time. Of course I am not blaming the Secretary of State or the Government for the problems that they inherited. I am saying that there is a more worthy response than the one that we have had to those problems rather than simply shirking and passing the blame, which is not good for anyone.

As every right hon. and hon. Member has said, the Territorial Army is a great asset to the nation and a real bargain, yet the Government fail to realise that. Buying an overpriced missile seems to be more impressive to them—some people will always prefer the Ferrari to the Ford.

The TA is truly a people's Army. It really embraces the community and men and women from all walks of life. It gives great opportunity and is worthy of support. If we are unable to give that commitment to those men and women, how on earth can the Secretary of State suggest, as he did tonight, that he will go further with them and that we will get more out of them? How does he hope to do so if the Government cannot give the assurance that they need? They offer diversity of skills and combat support enhancement and they seek a guaranteed and continuous role.

Anything short of that from us here tonight will be seen as a slap in the face for men and women who give up their time week in and week out, many of whom are prepared to put their lives on the line in Bosnia and Northern Ireland, for example, for the sake of this country's defence. Those people are worthy of more than a slap in the face. They are worthy of continuous support and of a bright and clear future.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. Before I call the next hon. Member to speak, I remind the House that this is a relatively short debate and that many Members want to contribute, so it would be helpful if speeches were limited.

Photo of Mr Huw Edwards Mr Huw Edwards Labour, Monmouth 8:41 pm, 18th May 1998

I acknowledge the contributions made by right hon. and hon. Members to the debate. As a relatively new Member, it is a particular privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), who has a distinct expertise in this matter. The debate has certainly shown that there is much expertise in the House on the subject. I confess that I do not have a military background, but simply represent an area with a fine military tradition. I wish to speak to that tradition and about the role of the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers.

This should be part of a national debate and not merely an Opposition day debate, because there is considerable misunderstanding and a lack of appreciation of the role of the Territorial Army and other reserve forces. The TA has played a long and distinguished role in our armed services and will play a distinguished role in the future. I shall illustrate that by referring to the regiment in my constituency. Monmouth is the regimental headquarters of the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers (Militia)—the senior regiment in the Reserve Army.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

I have heard the hon. Gentleman say before that the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers is the senior regiment in the Territorial Army. He is incorrect, as the Honourable Artillery Company is the oldest regiment and takes right of line, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) and I have both been members of it.

Photo of Mr Huw Edwards Mr Huw Edwards Labour, Monmouth

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but I have sought clarification. The Honourable Artillery Company is the oldest regiment and the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers is the senior. I have that on the authority of the recently retired commanding officer, with whom I clarified the matter a few weeks ago.

The regiment can trace its history back to 1539. It is the oldest unit in the entire British Army after the Honourable Artillery Company. Last Saturday, I attended the beating of the retreat ceremony and I have attended other regimental events, notably the dining out ceremony of the previous commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Lodge, to whom I pay particular tribute for his work to bring the regiment closer to the community in Monmouth and for work undertaken in a number of areas.

The Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers is one of the nine Territorial Army engineer regiments, providing general support and multi-capability support for the Regular Army. Squadrons of the regiment are based in a wide area from south Wales to the west midlands, including 100 Field Squadron at Cwmbran and Cardiff and 108 Field Squadron at Swansea. As part of the Royal Engineers, the regiment provides a wide range of skills and trades, including bridge building and the construction and repair of airfields, roads and railways, plus the skills that individual members bring from their civilian life.

I must highlight some of the achievements of the regiment at home and abroad in recent years. In Bosnia, the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers was the first TA regiment to work for a full six-month secondment in support of the Regular Army when a troop of two officers and 20 other ranks under Captain Louise Clarke supported 21 Engineer Regiment in such tasks as mine clearance, snow clearance and road building. I pay a particular tribute to Captain Clarke, who is an example of the way in which many women officers have played a higher role in the Territorial Army than in the Regular Army. More recently, Captain Nevill Simpson has returned from the multinational liaison headquarters in Bosnia.

Bosnia has provided an example par excellence of the role of the TA in supporting the Regular Army which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State acknowledged and paid tribute to earlier. The regiment has also provided troops to support the Regular Army on exercise recently in Wainwright in Canada.

Of course, the Territorial Army plays an important civilian role under the military aid to civil communities programme. For example, the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers has been involved in the construction of an adventure playground, in river diversion, bridge building, forestry work and woodland tracks. Those have included a track in Llanybydder in west Wales for people with disabilities, bridges over tributaries in the Wye valley and work on the construction of the new monkey house at Dudley zoo—activities that will be maintained and enhanced given the commitment—[Laughter.] I can assure Conservative Members who are laughing that I have been well briefed. I refer those who doubt what I say to the excellent report produced by the Territorial Army Volunteer Reserve for Welsh Members at a briefing that I sponsored here.

When necessary, the Territorial Army is on call for disaster relief. It could have assisted during the recent floods in my constituency had it been requested to do so by the local authorities. I was sorry to hear that, because of the financial constraints imposed by the previous Government in the early 1990s, local authorities and other public bodies are charged heavily for the use of the Territorial Army and are therefore reluctant to request the use of equipment and personnel that are readily available.

The TA also makes a valid contribution to the local community in my constituency, often without adequate recognition. In the past two years, the regimental headquarters has been the setting for productions of "Macbeth", and of "Henry V", who was born at the castle in Monmouth. The Gwent young people's theatre put on those productions in conjunction with the regiment, and I encourage hon. Members to visit Monmouth in July to see this year's production of "The Royal Hunt of the Sun" at the castle. Finally, the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers contributes so much to maintaining the dignity of the annual remembrance service in Monmouth.

About 70 per cent. of the Army medical service is provided by the Territorial Army. In Wales, we have 203 Field Hospital Royal Army Medical Corps (Volunteers) although I regret that, in recent years, that corps has been severely reduced from a general to a field hospital. There is natural concern that "Options for Change" imposed excessive cuts on the Royal Army Medical Corps—I know that the Government want to deal with that.

The Army cadet force helps young people to develop leadership skills and discipline, training them primarily to become good citizens. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has acknowledged its role and committed additional resources to it. Recently, I met a group of Army cadets at the opening of the new Gilwern detachment in my constituency—I look forward to visiting the cadet forces' camp in Leek, Staffordshire, in July.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

I concur with my hon. Friend's point about the inextricable link between the TA and the Army cadet force. I am sure that he will agree with the chief constable of Gloucestershire, Mr. Tony Butler, who wrote to me on the importance of that link and of our recognising the social value of the cadet force.

Photo of Mr Huw Edwards Mr Huw Edwards Labour, Monmouth

I certainly agree. In my constituency, the social services have forged links with the Army cadet force, as they have appreciated the role that it can play, especially in areas of social deprivation and with children and young people who are on the edge of juvenile delinquency.

This is clearly a crucial time in the strategic defence review, and there has been considerable speculation about the future of the Territorial Army and other reserve forces. I have no doubt that the TA provides a role in supporting the Regular Army and in contributing to the civilian duties that are not adequately appreciated by the public—we, as Members of Parliament, have a responsibility to inform and enlighten our constituents and our political parties about those important roles.

The Royal Engineers has nine TA regiments. I convey the concern that I have heard that, because of successful lobbying by the infantry territorial regiments, the Regular Army is required substantially to reduce the reserve engineers—from nine regiments to perhaps three. Like those with whom I have recently discussed the matter, I believe that that would be disastrous. The engineering regiments have combat and military skills that can have immense benefits in the aftermath of conflicts, as was demonstrated in Bosnia.

The Government have said that there must be a substantial reserve force, which is properly resourced to meet the new roles and requirements identified in the strategic defence review. The reserve forces must be relevant, usable and integrated—they must be capable of being speedily deployed at times of international and national crisis. I sincerely hope that the engineering regiments, most notably the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers, have demonstrated that they meet those requirements. I commend the Government's commitment to enhance, rather than to destroy, the Territorial Army.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Conservative, Canterbury 8:52 pm, 18th May 1998

This debate goes to the heart of what the armed forces are for. I am proud to follow the excellent opening speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) and the contribution of my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), the Father of the House.

On several occasions, Ministers have suggested that the TA is the only part of the armed forces that can speak for itself. As the son of a Regular Army officer, I find it particularly hard to make two harsh comments about the conduct of a small group of regular staff officers—neither of which, I believe, were what Ministers wanted. First, a decision was taken to make no comparative appraisal of the relative cost-effectiveness of regular and territorial combat units such as have been carried out in other countries. From the outset, it was decided to avoid any appraisals—the downgrading of the role of the Territorials from combat was never intellectually challenged.

Secondly—and more unedifying—we had the spectacle of a regular major-general openly boasting about leaking to the press proposals to decimate the Territorial Army. He must have known that that would hit TA morale and that the TA has no general officers to defend it. The TA had to turn to Members of Parliament—it had no one else. Many parts of the TA, including the infantry, had better recruitment records than their regular counterparts but, needless to say, TA recruitment has plummeted in recent months because of that dreadful publicity.

On the big picture, the armed forces have very important peacetime duties. As we know, they are overstretched because of Ulster and Bosnia—Ministers were right to take full account of that in the strategic defence review. However, grave as those duties are, the most important function of the armed forces is to participate in major conflicts, which, sadly, we almost never foresee. The first world war was unforeseen a few weeks before it happened; the Gulf war was unforeseen a few days before it happened.

The two most recent conflicts—in the Falklands and in the Gulf—were both fought over open, unpopulated terrain. Not since the Indonesian confrontation have we needed a large number of soldiers on the ground—of course, the Regular Army was much larger then. However, we may need substantial forces again, especially if the Balkans catch fire or if it proves necessary for the west to invade Iraq on the ground, which no Minister of the Crown should rule out.

As third-world countries steadily acquire weapons of mass destruction, the prospects of our suffering heavy casualties in defending our vital interests from some totally unanticipated threat are increasing, not declining. This is no time to bank on optimistic projections. Recent events in India and Indonesia are further reminders of the dangerous instability of the world in which we live.

Reserves are critical for two reasons. First, as is widely accepted, they provide military understanding in the wider civilian community—I know that the Minister is very conscious of that. Given the demise of the Royal Naval Reserve and the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, which are now very small, that frail link is largely provided by the TA. Secondly, and even more importantly, the high cost of modern manpower means that we can afford only a small Regular Army in peacetime. Today, there are only two regular divisions; we should remember that 14 Axis divisions proved totally inadequate to pacify the Balkans in the second world war.

The combat arms are by far the most important element of the reserves. I do not underrate the importance of logistic and supporting units—many of them, particularly the medical units, play an important role in bolstering inadequate regular functions. The fact remains, however, that those regular units at least have civilian counterparts—from the national health service, BT and so on—who can, in principle, be put into uniform, whereas there is no civilian equivalent to combat units.

In America, comparisons were made between regular and National Guard combat units. When the excellent performance of the National Guard artillery in the Gulf war was examined, it was decided that more than 70 per cent. of American artillery should in future be held in the reserve forces. In a recent trial in the Nevada desert, a National Guard tank unit completely outmanoeuvred and thrashed a regular tank unit. The Americans have identified how to get more bangs for the buck.

In Australia, a largely reserve brigade is being stood up for deployment at 90 days for overseas power projection, which the British Government also want. At a fraction of the cost of their regular counterparts, reserve combat forces are regarded in Australia as highly cost-effective. Why, I repeat, was no appraisal carried out of reserve brigades in this country? From the beginning, it was argued by an almost entirely regular staff—most of whom had no experience of the TA—that the TA should be pushed out of combat into logistic roles.

Each country's circumstances are, of course, different. None the less, we are not alone in the fact that regular defence staff want to plunder the reserves to favour regular forces, under the guise of allegedly objective advice to Ministers. Many regular officers, serving and retired, disagree with the advice of that small group of staff officers.

In America, Congress unearthed the details, which had been concealed by the Pentagon, of the exhaustive trials that had taken place in 1992, showing that the performance of the National Guard armoured infantry battalions was very close to that of their regular counterparts. American Ministers recently overruled their chiefs of staff to enhance two National Guard divisions for short notice power projection abroad.

It would be very sad if MOD Ministers were to accept their advisers' line that proud British reserve units should be seen as gap-fillers to the Regular Army. Territorials are pleased to serve in Bosnia, but that is not why they enlist. They join—as speaker after speaker in another place remarked—to serve with their friends as members of their local units, generously preparing to serve Britain in the next major conflict.

The Minister for the Armed Forces knows that I have the highest respect for him. When I was a rebellious Government Back Bencher, he and I joined forces more than once. I ask him and the Secretary of State to ask themselves, and to press their regular staff officers and ask, why does an up-to-date role for reservists in America and Australia mean combat brigades of reserve troops, while in Britain it means driving trucks for the regular Army?

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Labour, Lancaster and Wyre 8:59 pm, 18th May 1998

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the brief opportunity to take part in what has been a restrained and serious debate on a serious subject. We have had much discussion across the Floor of the House about the Territorial Army's role. A person from Lancaster does not need to hear many lectures on the Territorial Army's importance to the well-being of the United Kingdom. People in Lancaster were angered and demoralised by a previous Government who made regular cuts but failed to review roles, and who stretched vital defence responsibilities more tightly over decreasing resources.

In Lancaster, we are very proud of the Territorial Army. Lancaster is the home of the fourth battalion of the King's Own Royal Border Regiment. We are steeped in history. We have had a volunteer force in Lancaster since Napoleonic times. In the two world wars this century, three Victoria Crosses, six Military Medals and two Distinguished Conduct Medals were awarded to Territorial Force/Territorial Army soldiers of the King's Own.

However—despite the excellence of the King's Own Royal Regiment museum—we do not live in the past. I won the most recent general election in Lancaster openly and explicitly on a platform that emphasised the need for a strategic defence review to provide for effective defence, led by foreign policy to react speedily to events, to co-operate with allied forces and with the United Nations.

Despite all the worries about the future of the Territorial Army, I really hope—indeed, I think—that the TA has nothing to fear from the challenges of modernisation, from the demands of new tasks and from the requirements to take on new skills and to respond quickly and flexibly as a vital part of a coherent, properly resourced defence force.

The fourth battalion of the King's Own Royal Border Regiment does not live in the past. It is a substantial force of some 422 soldiers, who occupy a new, purpose-designed headquarters, which was also a very effective base for the local Army cadet force. In recent years, the number of women serving in the TA in Lancaster has doubled. A few weeks ago, on 27 April, 23 men of the fourth battalion returned from an invaluable six months' service in Bosnia. Ten of those soldiers will be staying on in the Regular Army.

The party that made defence cuts year on year—however Conservative Members might portray it—does not do much service to the bravery and integrity of the Territorial Army when—

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

What will the hon. Gentleman do if the fourth battalion of the King's Own Royal Border Regiment pays the price for the Government's unwillingness to increase the defence budget to accommodate a TA of 55,000?

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Labour, Lancaster and Wyre

It is slightly absurd that such an issue is raised by an official Opposition who made cuts year on year when in government.

It is essential that in the debate we consider the national interest, strategic defence policy and effective defence policy. I believe that the fine women and men of the Territorial Army will meet the challenges of the future, welcome newly defined roles and responsibilities and serve this country well as a substantial reserve force. We need to ensure that they have an effective future, and I very much hope that Lancaster has a very effective future as a base for a modern Territorial Army. Ultimately, however, the national interest, the strategic interest and the defence interest of the United Kingdom will lead the way, and it is essential that we have a modern, well resourced reserve force to meet the UK's interests.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury 9:05 pm, 18th May 1998

In the 1970s and 1980s, while many of the Labour Members and their supporters were attending Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament rallies, hundreds of thousands of men and women—among whom I was proud to include myself, having served in the TA for 18 years—were supporting the regular forces and supporting a commitment from a Conservative Government and a commitment through NATO which, in due course, led to the disintegration of the Warsaw pact and the collapse of the Berlin wall. What the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) calls defence cuts were in fact a substantial peace dividend, accumulating because we had shown the determination to ensure that the Warsaw pact would disintegrate and collapse. Significantly, many of those countries now wish to join NATO, and NATO exercises frequently take place in erstwhile Warsaw pact countries.

This is a short debate, and I simply wish to make two or three points. First, for a long time the Regular Army has required the support of the TA in many specific roles. I have the privilege of being honorary colonel of my unit. When all the men and women in my unit are on parade, they manage to muster between them every campaign medal from Aden to the present day, because they have no equivalent in the Regular Army. They are the laundry squadron—not an especially glamorous unit, but the only unit to provide laundry for field hospitals and to provide support for men and women training in them. There are several such units.

I say to the Minister for the Armed Forces, the members of that squadron and all members of the TA fear that the current defence review is Treasury-driven, and they are worried that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) said, the Regular Army will protect its Budget and its back, and has pushed the cuts down to the Territorial Army. Not only will there be cuts in the infantry units, but the specialist units will be rendered inoperable because they will not have enough training days. If we call upon people to carry out specialist tasks, they require sufficient training days for the purpose. Without an allowance of enough training days, commanding officers may be tempted to keep on their books men and women who are less than effective so as to use their training days for others who are effective and efficient.

The Secretary of State talks of re-energising the Territorial Army. I hope that the Minister will ensure that units are given a decent number of training days. It is impossible to provide the regular Army with specialist support on a shoestring.

Those of us who have been involved with the armed forces must continually repeat that we cannot see into the future. Almost every conflict in which we have been involved has been unforeseeable. If the Regular Army is to have the right support, it will require fully trained men and women—and much of that training will apply to TA general units. It is not possible to train up men and women with good signalling or other military and disciplinary skills in a matter of days—they take time to acquire.

Of course I understand the temptation to say that the threat has disappeared so the needs of the Army have changed. We all recognise that they have—but who would have envisaged UK troops staying in Bosnia for as long as they have? We are, after all, a permanent member of the Security Council, and there is always the temptation, or the need, to punch above our weight in the world and to send troops to parts of it where we never imagined they might be needed.

Only recently, we debated in the House whether to send troops to Albania. Had we done so, among their number would have been many members of the Territorial Army. If the Government chip away at the backbone of the TA to such an extent that it can no longer provide generalist units to serve overseas in support of regular units, they will undermine the effectiveness not just of the TA, but of the Regular Army, too.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury

I was about to conclude, and many other Members are waiting to speak.

When considering the defence review the Government will appreciate, I hope, that this is not just a matter—those of us who have been Ministers understand the financial pressures—of taking a budget and wondering how to shoehorn the TA into what the Treasury has allowed. The Territorial Army is a priceless asset, and we destroy it at our peril. It is based on a culture of tradition and discipline, passed on from generation to generation, from sergeant major to gunner. Once destroyed, that culture can never be rebuilt. By reducing the TA, the Government will damage the whole of our armed forces. I hope very much that they will think again.

Photo of Rachel Squire Rachel Squire Labour, Dunfermline West 9:11 pm, 18th May 1998

I agree with the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) that the Territorial Army and our reserve forces are a priceless asset. I would certainly not support the Government's strategic defence review and examination of the future role of those reserve forces if they thought otherwise. It is, however, rather bizarre to hear Conservative Members arguing that the TA should not just be kept at its present size but enlarged, on the ground that we cannot foresee future conflicts. After all, it was the Conservative Government who cut our regular forces by as much as one third, arguing that they were no longer required in the same numbers because of the end of the cold war. There seems to be a contradiction there.

I should like to make my points in the spirit of those of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), who said that we should debate the issue in an atmosphere of mutual recognition of our commitment to, and admiration for, the TA and the reserve forces. I would welcome more time for such debates. I support the comments about their key role in the community and their educational role.

Although I have had limited contact with the Territorial Army in its Dunfermline and West Fife area, I have listened with keen interest to the contributions of other hon. Members, and I have been closely involved with the reserve forces of the Navy and the Air Force. I should declare an interest with respect to the Maritime Volunteer Reserve Service, which was formed as a result of the previous Government ending the Royal Naval Auxiliary Reserve. I am well aware of the negative emotions that that produced.

Our reserve forces are invaluable and should be given an enhanced role in the future defence of the country. We live in an unpredictable world, and we must recognise the changed nature of conflict. I was interested to read an article in the RUSI Journal—the Journal of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies—by Brigadier Richard Holmes, the director of reserve forces and cadets. He states: In place of quantifiable threats we have more elusive risks. In place of a war of necessity, we have the prospect of wars of choice, where the decision to intervene—and, no less important, at what level and for what duration to intervene—is seldom likely to be simple. That encapsulates the changed nature of the defence and security environment, the importance of the strategic defence review and the need to consider the future role of both regular and reserve forces.

Our reserve forces must not be allowed to feel that their role is being downgraded or, as was said by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup and others, that they are being used to fill the gaps in the role that should be played by our regular forces.

There are three aspects worthy of our consideration, and I support the approach to them taken by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces. The first is the increased need for rapid reaction. We require a substantial, highly trained and well-equipped force that can respond quickly. The training of our regular and reserve forces is crucial for them to fulfil that role.

The second aspect is recruitment. I have been delighted by the success of the Army recruitment centre in my constituency in attracting more young people into the armed forces, in line with our new deal initiative, and in providing the initial gateway training that transforms those people's lives and ensures that they can meet the standard. The reserve forces must work in tandem with the regular forces, but we need to be clear about the balance between quality and quantity.

The third aspect concerns the regular forces' need for greater logistical and technical support. The reserves could play a role in that area. We must build up the defence medical services, which I think all hon. Members will agree were reduced drastically beyond the level necessary to provide vital back-up in the field of conflict.

I am well aware that other hon. Members wish to participate in the debate. I support the Government in their review because I think that it will enhance the role and the reputation of our reserve forces. We have an opportunity to show the Territorial Army that we recognise its value and that we are determined that it shall continue to make a vital contribution to the defence of this country. To do that, we must include the Territorial Army in the strategic defence review, and we must work with the Territorial Army to strengthen, develop and modernise its role.

Photo of Keith Simpson Keith Simpson Conservative, Mid Norfolk 9:20 pm, 18th May 1998

Virtually every hon. Member who has spoken tonight has said that the Territorial Army is very important in terms of the operational effectiveness of our armed forces, the role that the Territorial Army plays in linking with civil society and its general social support role. That is not the area of disagreement. The Government's amendment argues that the Territorial Army must be seen as relevant and even more usable reserve forces to help support Britain's foreign and security policies. If we are to examine the Territorial Army, we must return to those basic issues. I am sorry that I must reiterate the point, but we still do not know what the foreign policy baseline is. The Government have failed to provide that information. Until we know what the baseline is, we have no idea what our security policy is.

I agree with the Secretary of State and other hon. Members who said that the Territorial Army must not be preserved in aspic: it must change and be made relevant. We do not disagree about that. The problem is that the Opposition believe the Territorial Army will be squeezed to fund other areas of the armed forces because of the constraints on the defence budget. The strategic defence review has still not been published—and I do not think it will be published until July. There is no more money available.

Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), I do not necessarily blame those staff officers in the Regular Army who, upon being faced with having to provide extra combat support for the Regular Army under the general framework of the strategic defence review and upon being told that there is no more money, have logically looked to the Territorial Army to find those cuts. I suspect that the Secretary of State's speech has cast great gloom over many men and women who serve in our infantry and armoured corps Territorial Army units. They realise that there must be changes and reductions, but they believe that they will occur because the defence review is ultimately Treasury-driven.

Several hon. Members have stressed that if the combat capability of the Territorial Army infantry and armoured corps falls below a certain critical mass, it will not be able to cope with the sorts of unexpected emergencies that have arisen all too often in the past. My former colleague and old friend Brigadier Richard Holmes, the director of reserve forces and cadets, has been quoted several times tonight—and who am I not to do the same? In his Royal United Services Institute lecture on 21 January 1998, he said: If there is a need to retain a reserve without commitment as to future employment, one could do worse than hold back some infantry battalions. I fear that the strategic defence review may be one cut too many for the TA. I fear that it will consist of individuals and specialist units who will provide a great deal of support for our Regular Army, but will not be able to reconstitute our armed forces in response to a major national emergency. That could be the result of a cut too many for the TA.

I declare an interest in that I am an honorary colonel of the Royal Military Police TA, which comprises 1,100 men and women. Many have served in Bosnia, Northern Ireland and elsewhere. I am conscious while wearing that hat, and as a constituency Member, of the role carried out by the TA centres, many of which are threatened with being cut. If these centres are cut, along with the cadets, the Ministry of Defence will be cutting off its nose to spite its face.

In Norfolk alone, about 50 regular soldiers every year come from the TA and the cadets. I urge all right hon. and hon. Members to support the Opposition's constructive motion. I fear that the cuts proposed for the TA are based not on modernising it and preparing it for new operational roles but on providing the necessary money to fund the Regular Army for its new commitments following the strategic defence review.

Photo of Dari Taylor Dari Taylor Labour, Stockton South 9:25 pm, 18th May 1998

Much of the debate centres on the competence of the Territorial Army and reservists generally and on their relevance as a modern-day fighting force. It is often said—sometimes, I am sad to say, in the House and often among the public—that the volunteers represent a fighting force of the past. It is said that they are more to do with keeping retired soldiers busy than with providing an active soldier force. I find that offensive, although I am not a reservist and I am not a member of the TA. However, I have seen them at work and I acknowledge their commitment. I find it offensive when people make casual and cutting comments about the abilities of members of the TA and reservists generally.

There is a clear belief that modern warfare is not warfare for reservists. It is felt that we need rapid reactionary forces and that the reservists do not form part of that concept. I see no evidence of that. It is felt also that the reservists are not part of high-tech surveillance. The fact is that many people move from the outside world of high-tech to give the Army information and techniques that it does not have. Accordingly, there is no evidence that reservists are not part of high-tech surveillance.

There is a belief that the infantry is a highly trained team-based war machine of which reservists cannot be part. I see no evidence of that. Surely Bosnia especially told us that there is no evidence of that.

Many of our experts talk about the future of warfare, and somewhere we seem to be falling between the potential for guerrilla war on the one hand and high-tech surveillance on the other. There is the notion that perhaps we are moving towards casualty-less war. Surely recent evidence tells us that that is not the case. Bosnia, especially, tells us that.

I have seen the British Army at work in Bosnia. It was made up of regulars and reservists. There was no differentiation. No one knew who was what. Everyone was working together as a team, and an extremely effective one. There was an incredible volunteer organisation. I am speaking of people who gave their time and commitment. They gave Bosnians—both Serbs and Muslims—a belief that they had a future. I saw our reservists in a war-torn, frightening country. Houses and gardens were ribboned off because they were mined. Blocks of flats were no more than shells, and hospitals, schools and homes were rubble.

To see our reservists working there gave me a sense of pride. One cannot pretend about that sense of pride; one looks at them and knows that they represent the best of Great Britain in the Army. They were committed, concerned and determined, and there was no differentiation between reservists and regulars. I would hate to believe that we will start to make that differentiation.

My honourable colleague, the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), is right: the Ministry of Defence has many people—experts, generals and others with a history in the armed forces—who blind it to the quality of the reserve forces in Great Britain and to the fact that those people give so much more than simply the time in which we see them perform. Their quality is their professionalism in so many different spheres.

I should have loved the opportunity to speak for longer, but I am being told to wind up. I should like to have said how valuable the reservists are in my community. In the north of England, more than 4,000 youngsters are involved, and it is all down to the TA. I should hate to see them denied a sense of pride in their regiments and squadrons. They work within the community, they raise funds and they have fun, which is everything that we want youngsters to do. The reserve forces must be sustained and built on. They have a good future.

The Secretary of State made a clear statement that the TA has a future. It is now up to us to keep reminding him that we want a commitment in terms of the reservists' value and tremendous future. I am sure that he will say that they can face new challenges and are up to those new challenges. I am sure that we shall see an expanded reserve force, not a contracted one.

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Conservative, Penrith and The Border 9:31 pm, 18th May 1998

It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor), because her central thesis was right. If she discovered in Bosnia that members of the Territorial Army were giving excellent service and were every bit as good as the Regular Army in their support roles of driving HGVs and providing a service in the Royal Logistic Corps and the Royal Engineers, she is absolutely right to conclude that members of the Territorial Army infantry units can give the same valuable service to the Regular Army infantry battalions if they are trained to do the job.

The Ministry of Defence used to consider the TA battalions to be an invaluable part of the infantry fighting forces. I was proud to serve in the 51st Highland Volunteers. I could probably take the Minister back to a particular part of Germany and show him the piece of ground that my platoon was allocated in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I could show him the trench that had been planned for me, as platoon commander—not 50 miles behind the line or back in the KP, but on the front line—as part of a battalion committed to 1st BR Corps. We were committed on the expectation that, if the enemy forces came across, we would be wiped out within the first 12 hours, along with all the regulars.

If we could train for a combat infantry role then, surely we can now train for a combat infantry role in the new, changed circumstances. The Secretary of State seemed to say that, as so many of our TA battalions now play a home defence role, and there is no real home defence role for them to play, they must either be scrapped or we must boost the support role of TA battalions and have more HGV drivers and Royal Logistic Corps people.

A few years ago—before the Berlin wall fell and we had the peace dividend—the bulk of our territorial infantry was committed to Germany and front-line forces. The Minister is a reasonable man. I gave him a standing ovation when he performed admirably at the annual dinner of the London Scottish a couple of years ago. I shall remind him what he said there.

We used to have that combat role, and we can have it again. We cannot have a viable TA made up only of support troops, although Welsh Members, who argued for their engineering battalions, should look at the history of the Royal Engineers, especially those engineers from Wales who were caught up at Rorke's drift. They thought that they were engineers first, but they were soldiers first and engineers second. Every person serving in the Army should be a solider first and a specialist second.

There is scope to maintain the current level of TA infantry. I should not regard it as strengthening and enhancing the role of the TA if the number of infantry were cut and the number of HGV drivers increased. I know the reserve forces and I apologise, through the Minister, to the general in charge of recruiting: I have not sent back my yellow form yet, because I could not find the right boxes to tick when asked for my specialist skills. I am tempted to take up my HGV course, because then I would have a relevant skill that the TA might need. It should not be that way. There is still a need for infantry soldiers, and I look forward to the Minister honouring the commitments that he made at that wonderful London Jocks dinner.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury 9:35 pm, 18th May 1998

It was always intended that the debate would be constructive, and so it has proved. The Secretary of State gave little away in his opening speech, except some rather disturbing pointers of which we shall hear more anon. He said that the strategic defence review would strengthen the TA and used the words "relevant", "usable", "capable", "effective" and "better integrated". We all, of course, agree with that. He also said, however, that numbers were not the only or even the main issue. We could probably agree with that proposition, but we do not know enough about it to know what it means.

The Secretary of State mentioned cuts to the TA under the previous Administration. He realised that there were bound to be cuts in the defence budget—that is true—but the Labour party in those days wanted even bigger cuts to the post-cold-war defence budget. That seems conveniently to have been forgotten, as history has been rewritten.

It was a pleasure to listen to my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), the Father of the House, who is my constituent when he is not in his constituency. He has a feel for the history of our nation and our communities and for the TA. We have always acknowledged his deep knowledge, which, fortunately, has not been shared by successive generations: because of the sacrifice made by his generation, they have not had to engage in warfare on the same scale as his generation did. We acknowledge his wise words, and I agree with him that the TA should be a complete social organisation, not a bunch of gap-fillers.

As ever, I listened with pleasure to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers): his was a loyal speech from an old soldier. The hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) made a good speech, in which he said that the White Paper should by now have been published. Of course it should; it should have been published when it was promised—months ago. He also accurately said that the strategic defence review is in the hands of the Treasury; of course it is, even though we are told that the consultation is still going on. He was also right to draw attention to the Army cadets. We shall welcome his support in the Lobby.

The hon. Members for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards), for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) and for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire) made sincere speeches, but my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) made an exceptional speech, as one would expect from an hon. Member who has been unstinting in his support for the TA and is recognised for the depth of his knowledge on the subject. His speech was cogent, succinct and pithy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry), who is honorary colonel of a TA regiment, was right to say that we cannot foresee the future and must remember the lessons of the past. He gave us an understanding of and an insight into the history and traditions of military activity, which are a feature in families with members of the TA, often generation after generation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) made the crucial point that the foreign policy baselines remain secret. I shall return to that. He also said that the Territorial Army must not be frozen in aspic. None of us wishes to see that.

Ministers seemed to say that they do not listen carefully to their advisers. I know that a senior regular infantry officer offered advice and said, "I believe that there is logic in discussing the increased use of TA infantry in innovative ways." We have not heard much of that in the debate. The hon. Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor) graced the debate with wise words, and we look forward to hearing from her again soon on the subject.

It has been widely reported that last week, when the Foreign Secretary was in the eye of the storm over Sierra Leone, Defence Ministers were boasting that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had 10 times as many parliamentary questions to answer about the affair as the Ministry of Defence. Rather than boasting, they should have asked themselves, "What is the cause of that?" One reason for fewer questions to Defence Ministers is that hon. Members know that it is not worth asking questions, because Ministers will not give answers. Apparently, they have few friends in the Cabinet. They are embarrassed, and they have much to be embarrassed about.

The big promise of a six-month defence review has been so seriously broken that Defence Ministers have a credibility problem. They should be embarrassed every time they repeat their mantra that the strategic defence review is the most open policy-making process and the widest consultation exercise that has ever been held by the Ministry of Defence. It is no such thing. They know that people rumbled them a long time ago. The strategic defence review was an extraordinary consultation exercise. One cannot consult unless one starts with some givens. We have not been given any foreign policy guidelines. A couple of speeches skating round the Foreign Secretary's pantomime on ice are about as credible as a Foreign Office Minister's policy on Sierra Leone.

We were not given any guidelines on the amount in the kitty for defence. The review has spawned a small industry among academics and journalists, who have been delighted to oblige with a period of free thinking and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get their dreams and prejudices off their chests and on to the desks of Ministry of Defence officials and, with luck, on to the desks and perhaps into the red boxes of a Defence Minister or two. The strategic defence review that matters is the one that is carried out within the Ministry of Defence itself, and that has been entirely different.

As usual, all three services responded magnificently to the challenge and completed their input on schedule. As usual, the internal strategic defence review that was completed by the military and the Ministry of Defence has been clinical and merciless. Unlike the rest of us, they knew the baselines and the arithmetic. They considered every option that they were asked to consider. They were told, "Rule out any increase in the TA budget or in TA strength, but consider all other options from a baseline of about 20,000 and float upwards to an irreducible minimum, viable figure of about 40,000." The professionals have had their say, and now it is a political issue for Ministers to handle.

The Government's proposals for the TA are being subjected to scrutiny by hon. Members who face the reality of ministerial dreams. In recent weeks, an increasingly bad-tempered Minister for the Armed Forces has criticised the TA for unfairly arguing for its existence. That is unfair, because the process was started by Ministers. This afternoon, the Minister for the Armed Forces described this debate as a cheap publicity stunt. It is far from that.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

The Minister will see it in Hansard in the morning.

Photo of John Reid John Reid Minister of State (the Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence, The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I did not refer to this debate as a cheap publicity stunt. I shall stand corrected if I did. [Interruption.] I shall check it in Hansard, and if the hon. Gentleman is wrong, I take it that he will apologise.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

Of course. Similarly, I hope that, if the Minister is wrong, he will apologise to the House. He will find that I was absolutely right.

Much has been said about the importance of the territorials' footprint. Dots on a map of the UK representing military presence are getting fewer every year. Largely because of the Northern Ireland situation, there are fewer uniforms on our streets. That is likely to be the case for many years, however much we all hope that the Northern Ireland settlement will hold after Friday's referendum. When I was a child in Salisbury in the 1950s, it was very much a garrison town. Military uniforms were the norm, not the exception. These days, service men and women are more likely to go to work in civvies and, if they wear uniforms, they will be under a mac. Less than 2 per cent. of the adult male population has any direct contact with the military.

I note the total absence tonight of the Scottish National party, yet again. As usual in defence debates, it is absent.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

Oh. One has turned up. I certainly will not give way. The hon. Gentleman has the gall to turn up at the last minute and to expect me to give way when he has not been here.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

Well, as I am such a nice chap, I give way.

Photo of Andrew Welsh Andrew Welsh Scottish National Party, Angus

I have not just arrived; I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman's speech. He got it wrong with me. I hope that he has not similarly got it wrong with the Minister for the Armed Forces. He should get his facts correct.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

Is that the sum total of the hon. Gentleman's contribution on behalf of the Scottish National party? He has been watching the television set in his room, instead of participating in the debate.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House paid tribute to the role of cadets. The cadet force is a vital and vibrant part of our community. I was in the cadet force a very long time ago. I rose to the dizzy heights of company sergeant major in the Combined Cadet Force. For many people, it was, of course, drudgery, but for most of us it was a challenge that we enjoyed.

Almost 40 per cent. of young men in my year at school went into the services. Many of them have had distinguished military careers. Commanders of nuclear submarines and the commander of the Desert Rats in the Gulf war, Paddy Cordingley, were among my friends who joined the CCF with me. Fifty-six per cent. of warrant officers and regimental sergeant majors started as cadets.

Often, cadets eke out their existence under the shadow of a TA unit. They use its buildings and equipment. They learn skills from TA professionals. We must be sure that those cadets continue.

There are many ways in which one could define viability for the TA. I must mention the whole question of a proper promotion structure within the TA. If the TA shrinks, so do promotion opportunities. We should also not forget that the regulars and the TA have a long history of rivalry. That rivalry is, I am sure, reducing: I think that we have seen in Bosnia that the old rivalries are no longer treated in the way they were. The rivalries were not always a happy thing to see.

When the Conservative Government reduced overall force levels, it was a clear and logical response to the end of the cold war. The figures were replicated throughout NATO, and the Ministry of Defence operated in its usual clinical and merciless style. The territorials were reduced as much as anyone else. They understood that. For the past three years, their position has stabilised, and we have solid, sensible and successful TA units.

The Secretary of State asked whether we would agree with him tonight. The whole point is that there is not enough yet to agree with. The strongest message that we have received from him is that the combat role of the TA as formed units is over. If that is true, it is against much of the advice that he has received from his Regular Army professionals. No wonder the Labour party will not be voting for our motion.

I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to illustrate their support for the future of the Territorial Army and to express their confidence in that priceless national asset by voting for our motion. Let us give the Government the opportunity to think afresh about the future of the Territorial Army.

Photo of John Reid John Reid Minister of State (the Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence, The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence 9:48 pm, 18th May 1998

I think that we all expected a lively and well-informed debate, and, by and large, we have not been disappointed. I certainly have not been disappointed with the public intimation from the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) that, as he is not receiving satisfactory answers, he will no longer table parliamentary questions. That was the best news that I heard tonight.

Like many hon. Members here, I have a Territorial Army and a cadets movement in my constituency, and I want to preserve, to fortify and to enhance the TA. I want to give it a future that is not just a monument to the past, but where it has a clear, recognisable, usable and relevant role. Indeed, it is more so than in the past.

I want first to refer to the speech of the Father of the House, the right hon.—indeed, tonight I would say right hon. and gallant—Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath). He was originally a gunner, was a major by 1945 and, between 1947 and 1951, he was commander of 2nd Regiment of the Honourable Artillery Company. He speaks with seriousness, gravity and import in these affairs. I understand that he was mentioned in dispatches, so he has practical as well as theoretical knowledge.

The right hon. Gentleman said two things that were important. First, he said that we must be careful when viewing the world from our present position, because we cannot do everything. I wholly accept that. Indeed, one of the problems for those who ask why we spend money employing the forces is that it is not so much a question of what the armed forces do, as of explaining to a public, keen to see us play a role in the world, that the armed forces cannot do everything. There is a constant demand upon them. However, because we cannot do everything does not mean that we should not do what we can to discharge our responsibilities in the world, both as a citizen of the world in defending our rights and discharging our responsibilities, and as a member of the permanent five of the Security Council.

The point that the right hon. Gentleman made about the Territorial Army is that we do not want it to be a stopgap; we do not want it to be used merely to fill the gaps in the Regular Army. That accords with what the Government believe. If Opposition Members would stop for a minute and listen to what we are proposing, they would understand that we are proposing a radical enhancement of the Territorial Army.

The reality is that, over the past 50 years since the right hon. Gentleman served in the armed forces, the TA has been used in a voluntary capacity, either as individuals or as larger units, to fill gaps in the regular forces. We have been told tonight about the unpredictability of the world. Many hon. Members asked who could have foreseen the Falklands, the Gulf, Malaysia or Cyprus. What they did not point out was that no Territorial Army units were called up in the Falklands, the Gulf, Malaysia or Cyprus. In other words, for many years we have not been able to call up the Territorial Army, whatever the circumstances, unless it were for a major full-scale war with Russia. Does anyone genuinely believe that we are about to face a major full-scale war with Russia?

Photo of Keith Simpson Keith Simpson Conservative, Mid Norfolk

The legislation was changed.

Photo of John Reid John Reid Minister of State (the Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence, The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

The legislation was indeed changed, but thus far no Government have stated their intention to make the Territorial Army so usable, so relevant and so enhanced in its role in the British defence forces that the threshold would be lowered and the Territorial Army called up. That is our radical proposal for bringing the Territorial Army into the mainstream of our defence forces and enhancing its role in a way that has not been done in the past half century.

Photo of Mr Allan Rogers Mr Allan Rogers Labour, Rhondda

I am sorry to be unhelpful to my hon. Friend—[HON. MEMBERS: "As ever."] No, not as ever. Surely the point of the Territorial Army and its relationship with the regular forces is that, when our regular forces have to be deployed abroad, the role of the territorials is upgraded and they act as our home forces.

Photo of John Reid John Reid Minister of State (the Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence, The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I take my hon. Friend's point. The essential point that I am making tonight is that, in a strategic defence review, not only do we want to derive from our foreign policy a configuration that is relevant, but we want the units within that defence posture to be relevant. It so happens that our proposals on the Territorial Army are relevant.

I stand second to no one in my respect for the Territorial Army, and would never have called today's debate "a cheap publicity stunt". I told the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) that, in 10 months, all we have had from the Opposition is three debates on the TA, because they think that cheap popularity is to be gained in having such debates. Will the hon. Gentleman now apologise, as he promised?

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

Yes, of course—I unreservedly apologise. However, I hope that the Minister will get the message that, if he uses such words unwisely, it will do neither the TA nor his own position any credit.

Photo of John Reid John Reid Minister of State (the Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence, The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

Nothing is more demeaning than a grudging apology when someone is proved wrong.

I should like to deal with some of the points that have been made in this debate. As for cheap popularity, I realise that an argument can be made for taking the low road. An argument can be made for saying: "Fifteen thousand, 10,000 or 5,000 people will possibly be without a job. Regardless of the strategic merits, that is their Achilles heel, and we will run the popularity con." However, if we do not have the courage to configure our defence forces to meet today's threat and security needs—and to find the money to supply the defence medical services, the second line of logistics and heavy lift—we shall be putting our soldiers lives at risk, which is something that the Government are not prepared to do.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

The real problem is that the Government are proposing to cut 16,000 people from the Territorial Army. In subsequent years, the problem will be magnified as the number of people in the United Kingdom without military experience increases. That is the strategic problem.

Photo of John Reid John Reid Minister of State (the Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence, The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

The hon. Gentleman was the special adviser to a Secretary of State who cut 35,000 regulars from the British Army. [Interruption.] Today, he has the audacity to come here—

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Minister has misled the House. Will you advise me on how he can put the matter right?

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. No hon. Gentleman would mislead the House.

Photo of John Reid John Reid Minister of State (the Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence, The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I will not ask for another grudging withdrawal or apology. However, it seems that the Opposition, not me, are becoming irritable.

At great length, the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) told us that he does not know: what the outcome of the review will be; the configuration that we are suggesting; or the roles that, he complained, we are imagining. He was also not aware of the enhancements that we might want to make, and did not have a clue—because we did not outline it—about the footprint. He said that, on the basis of all that knowledge, he will steadfastly vote against our proposals at the end of this debate. His argument was not an entirely convincing one on which to build a case.

Photo of John Reid John Reid Minister of State (the Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence, The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I have only three minutes left, and the hon. Gentleman has had his opportunity to speak.

We have made it plain that we want to enhance the role of the Territorial Army. We want to make it more relevant, more usable, more modern and more integrated.

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) will not shout like that in the Chamber.

Photo of John Reid John Reid Minister of State (the Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence, The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

We shall ensure that those adjectives describe the modern Territorial Army. We shall make it more relevant by reducing its outdated home defence role and focusing on a role comprising skilled trades. We shall make it more usable by lowering the call-out threshold, and by ensuring that, for the first time in half a century, we can call the Territorial Army into action when we need it. We shall make it more integrated by making it one combined force of regulars and territorials, rather than separating them. We shall make the TA relevant, usable, integrated and modern. The entire purpose of the strategic defence review has been to produce modern forces for a modern world.

Photo of John Reid John Reid Minister of State (the Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence, The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

The Opposition are seething because, year after year, the Treasury led them by the nose. Cuts were proclaimed in advance. The previous Government cut personnel by 32 per cent. and finance by 30 per cent., and they reduced the Territorial Army by 31,000 members, but they still ended up with a force configuration that did not meet the security needs of the day. This Government will not take that road. Our Army, Air Force and Navy, regular and reserves, will be combined in an integrated framework that is coherent beyond any of their expectations.

Photo of James Arbuthnot James Arbuthnot Shadow Chief Whip (Commons)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 154, Noes 286.

Division No. 278][10 pm
Allan, RichardCran, James
Amess, DavidCurry, Rt Hon David
Ancram, Rt Hon MichaelDavis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Arbuthnot, JamesDay, Stephen
Ashdown, Rt Hon PaddyDorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Duncan Smith, lain
Baldry, TonyEmery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Ballard, Mrs JackieEvans, Nigel
Beith, Rt Hon A JFaber, David
Bercow, JohnFabricant, Michael
Benesford, Sir PaulFeam, Ronnie
Blunt, CrispinFlight, Howard
Body, Sir RichardForth, Rt Hon Eric
Boswell, TimFoster, Don (Bath)
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Brady, GrahamGale, Roger
Brake, TomGarnier, Edward
Brazier, JulianGibb, Nick
Breed, ColinGillan, Mrs Cheryl
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterGorman, Mrs Teresa
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Gorrie, Donald
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Gray, James
Bums, SimonGreen, Damian
Burstow, PaulGreenway, John
Butterfill, JohnGrieve, Dominic
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)Gummer, Rt Hon John
Cash, WilliamHamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Chidgey, DavidHammond, Philip
Chope, ChristopherHancock, Mike
Clappison, JamesHawkins, Nick
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington)Hayes, John
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Heald, Oliver
Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward
Clifton-Brown, GeoffreyHeathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Collins, TimHogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Cotter, BrianHoram, John
Howard, Rt Hon MichaelRuffley, David
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Hunter, AndrewSt Aubyn, Nick
Jack, Rt Hon MichaelSalmond, Alex
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)Sanders, Adrian
Jenkin, BernardSayeed, Jonathan
Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyShephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Shepherd, Richard
Jones, leuan Wyn (Ynys MÖn)Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Key, RobertSmith, Sir Robert (WAb'd'ns)
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)Soames, Nicholas
Kirkbride, Miss JulieSpicer, Sir Michael
Kirkwood, ArchyStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Laing, Mrs EleanorSteen, Anthony
Lansley, AndrewStreeter, Gary
Leigh, EdwardStunell, Andrew
Letwin, OliverSwayne, Desmond
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)Syms, Robert
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)Tapsell, Sir Peter
Llwyd, ElfynTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
Luff, PeterTaylor, Sir Teddy
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir NicholasTonge, Dr Jenny
MacGregor, Rt Hon JohnTredinnick, David
MacKay, AndrewTyler, Paul
Maclean, Rt Hon DavidTyrie, Andrew
McLoughlin, PatrickWalter, Robert
Madel, Sir DavidWardle, Charles
Maples, JohnWaterson, Nigel
Mates, MichaelWells, Bowen
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir BrianWelsh, Andrew
May, Mrs TheresaWhitney, Sir Raymond
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)Whittingdale, John
Moss, MalcolmWiddecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Norman, ArchieWilkinson, John
Ottaway, RichardWillis, Phil
Page, RichardWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Paice, JamesWinterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Paterson, OwenWoodward, Shaun
Randall, JohnYeo, Tim
Redwood, Rt Hon JohnYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Rendel, David
Robathan, AndrewTellers for the Ayes:
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)Mr. Peter Ainsworth and
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)Mr. John M. Taylor.
Abbott, Ms DianeBurden, Richard
Ainger, NickBurgon, Colin
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Byers, Stephen
Alexander, DouglasCaborn, Richard
Allen, GrahamCampbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Armstrong, Ms HilaryCampbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Ashton, JoeCampbell-Savours, Dale
Atkins, CharlotteCann, Jamie
Austin, JohnCaplin, Ivor
Banks, TonyCaton, Martin
Barnes, HarryCawsey, Ian
Battle, JohnChapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Bayley, HughChaytor, David
Beard, NigelChurch, Ms Judith
Benton, JoeClapham, Michael
Berry, RogerClark, Paul (Gillingham)
Betts, CliveClarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Blears, Ms HazelClarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Blizzard, BobClelland, David
Blunkett, Rt Hon DavidClwyd, Ann
Boateng, PaulCoaker, Vernon
Bradley, Keith (Withington)Coffey, Ms Ann
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Cohen, Harry
Bradshaw, BenColman, Tony
Brinton, Mrs HelenConnarty, Michael
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)Cooper, Yvette
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)Corbyn, Jeremy
Browne, DesmondCorston, Ms Jean
Buck, Ms KarenCranston, Ross
Crausby, DavidJohnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Cryer, John (Homchurch)Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Dalyell, TamJones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Darling, Rt Hon AlistairJones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Darvill, Keith
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)Jowell, Ms Tessa
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)Keeble, Ms Sally
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Davies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly)Kemp, Fraser
Dawson, HiltonKennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Dismore, AndrewKhabra, Piara S
Dobbin, JimKidney, David
Dobson, Rt Hon FrankKilfoyle, Peter
Doran, FrankKing, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Drew, DavidKing, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)Kingham, Ms Tess
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)Kumar, Dr Ashok
Edwards, HuwLawrence, Ms Jackie
Efford, CliveLepper, David
Ellman, Mrs LouiseLeslie, Christopher
Fatchett, DerekLewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Field, Rt Hon FrankLinton, Martin
Fisher, MarkLivingstone, Ken
Fitzpatrick, JimLloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Flint, CarolineLock, David
Follett, BarbaraLove, Andrew
Foster, Rt Hon DerekMcAllion, John
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)McAvoy, Thomas
Foster, Michael J (Worcester)McCabe, Steve
Fyfe, MariaMcCafferty, Ms Chris
Galloway, GeorgeMcCartney, Ian (Makerfield)
Gapes, MikeMcDonagh, Siobhain
Gardiner, BarryMcDonnell, John
George, Bruce (Walsall S)McFall, John
Gerrard, NeilMcGuire, Mrs Anne
Gibson, Dr IanMcKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Godsiff, RogerMcNulty, Tony
Goggins, PaulMacShane, Denis
Golding, Mrs LlinMactaggart, Fiona
Gordon, Mrs EileenMcWilliam, John
Grant, BemieMahon, Mrs Alice
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)Mallaber, Judy
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Grocott, Bruce
Grogan, JohnMarsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Hain, PeterMartlew, Eric
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)Maxton, John
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Hanson, DavidMeale, Alan
Harman, Rt Hon Ms HarrietMerron, Gillian
Healey, JohnMichael, Alun
Hepburn, StephenMichie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Heppell, JohnMilburn, Alan
Hesford, Stephen
Hill, Keith Miller, Andrew
Hinchliffe, DavidMitchell, Austin
Hodge, Ms MargaretMoffatt, Laura
Home Robertson, JohnMoonie, Dr Lewis
Hoon, GeoffreyMoran, Ms Margaret
Hope, PhilMorgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)
Hopkins, KelvinMorley, Elliot
Howarth, Alan (Newport E)Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)
Hoyle, LindsayMudie, George
Hughes, Ms Beveriey (Stretford)Mullin, Chris
Humble, Mrs JoanMurphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Hutton, JohnNorris, Dan
Iddon, Dr BrianO'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Illsley, Eric
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)O'Neill, Martin
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)Osborne, Ms Sandra
Jenkins, BrianPearson, Ian
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)Perham, Ms Linda
Pickthall, ColinSquire, Ms Rachel
Pike, Peter LSteinberg, Gerry
Plaskitt, JamesStewart, Ian (Eccles)
Polland, KerryStinchcombe, Paul
Pond, ChrisStoate, Dr Howard
Pope, GregStott, Roger
Pound, StephenStrang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Powell, Sir RaymondStraw, Rt Hon Jack
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)Stuart, Ms Gisela
Prescott, Rt Hon JohnSutcliffe, Gerry
Primarolo, DawnTaylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Purchase, Ken
Quin, Ms JoyceTaylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Quinn, LawrieThomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Radice, GilesTipping, Paddy
Rammell, BillTodd, Mark
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)Touhig, Don
Reid, Dr John (Hamilton N)Trickett, Jon
Robertson, Rt Hon George (Hamilton S)Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Rogers, AllanTwigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Rooker, JeffVaz, Keith
Rooney, TerryWard, Ms Claire
Roy, FrankWhite, Brian
Ruddock, Ms JoanWhitehead, Dr Alan
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)Wicks, Malcolm
Ryan, Ms JoanWilliams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Safter, Martin
Sarwar, MohammadWilliams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Savidge, MalcolmWilliams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Sawford, PhilWills, Michael
Sedgemore, BrianWinnick, David
Sheerman, BarryWinterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Sheldon, Rt Hon RobertWise, Audrey
Singh, MarshaWood, Mike
Skinner, DennisWoolas, Phil
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Smith, Angela (Basildon)Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Smith, John (Glamorgan)Wyatt, Derek
Snape, PeterTellers for the Noes:
Soley, CliveMr. Kevin Hughes and
Spellar, JohnMr. Jim Dowd.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments) and agreed to.

Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.


That this House supports the Government in its determination to ensure that the United Kingdom has armed forces that are modern, capable, relevant and structured for the new post Cold War strategic realities; considers that the Territorial Army, like the rest of the armed forces, should continue to adapt to these realities; welcomes the valuable role played by the Territorial Army in the wider life of the nation; and is confident that the outcome of the Strategic Defence Review will be capable, relevant and even more usable reserve forces to help support Britain's foreign and security policies.