Future of the Territorial Army

Part of Opposition Day — [20th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 4:52 pm on 28th October 2009.

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Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Chair of Parliamentary Campaigns; Shadow Defence Minister 4:52 pm, 28th October 2009

For the first time ever, I had the Defence Secretary on his knees. Before his speech, he was begging for forgiveness, but unfortunately it was only for the fact that he has to leave early for an appointment at 5 o'clock. I forgive him if he leaves, but I am sorry that he will miss the brilliant speech that I am about to give.

I associate myself with the remarks made by Dr. Fox, who paid tribute to those who have fallen in recent weeks. I also make special mention of Corporal Tam Mason, who was brought up in Rosyth in my constituency. He is one of many from Fife, and particularly West Fife, who have fallen serving their country, and I pay tribute to him.

Mr. Lancaster is not present, but I pay special tribute to him for the way in which he has gone about dealing with this matter, offering his advice and expertise to try to reach a sensible solution. He and I sat together on the Defence Select Committee for some time, and I am sure that other Committee members will attest that he was a valuable member.

I also wish to praise other hon. Members: the former Defence Secretary, John Reid, and Mr. Hoyle, who is present. There has been a truly cross-party effort, and it is a tribute to the House that we have come together to find a practical solution. That is why I was disappointed by the Conservative leadership, which has chosen to seek all the credit for the outcome. The overnight change in the motion, which praises the Leader of the Opposition, reveals the real motivation for the debate. Unfortunately, the Conservatives may be more interested in themselves than in the TA. We will not rise to the cheap political wheeze that they have undertaken overnight. We will vote for the motion because we believe in the TA, not because we believe in the attempts by the Conservatives or their leader to make cheap party political capital out of this debate. However, I do not want to be distracted by that cheap stunt.

Following the Government's welcome change of heart, we must examine the reasons why we are in this position in the first place. There were numerous reports about the potential effects of these cuts, including tanks not being able to be driven more than 9 miles in any one month and having no live rounds on ranges. I am sure that the Defence Secretary would say that none of this was true because these decisions had not been made and it was up to local units to make them, but if the detail of those cuts had not been established, that would have been equally terrible. Ministers should have had some foresight about their potential effect. If they were working in the dark and had not done their homework on this last-minute cut, then that is irresponsible.

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