Territorial Army: Rebalancing

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:38 pm on 23rd March 2006.

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Photo of Lord Drayson Lord Drayson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Defence Procurement), Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement) 1:38 pm, 23rd March 2006

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces.

"With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a Statement about the Territorial Army. However, before I do so, I would like to mention the situation regarding Mr Kember. I am very pleased to confirm the involvement of British forces in the multinational rescue operation of Norman Kember. The rescue was the result of weeks of careful work and preparation, and I pay tribute to the professionalism played by British Armed Forces. To ensure that we do not compromise future operations I am not prepared to go into any details about the operation or to confirm the troops involved. However, I would like to stress how proud I am of the achievement of all of those involved in the rescue. I understand that Norman Kember is well and is presently being cared for by staff at the British Embassy in Baghdad.

"For many months, the TA has been consulted widely over the changes we should make to better integrate it into the Future Army Structures—or FAS—which, I remind the House, we announced in November 2004. As a result, much of what I have to say will be of no surprise to TA units. Their views, at all levels, have been sought and their input has helped to define the review outcomes. I am grateful for their comprehensive engagement in this process.

"I also inform the House that I have written today to all honourable Members whose constituency TA units are affected by this rebalancing with details of the changes to those units. I am also placing details of all the changes in the Library of the House.

"The size of the Territorial Army will not be changed. It will remain at an authorised strength of 42,000, including a University Officer Training Corps of 3,500. Within that unaltered total, the changes that we introduce will reflect the modern-day role of the TA as an integral part of our defence posture.

"The great change in the TA, which came about as a result of the reforms of the late 1990s, was to move it away from its Cold War role. In its place, a mobilisation culture was introduced, such that it would expect in future to be mobilised and deployed on a range of operations in support of our defence policy overseas, rather than be held in reserve for defence against an attack on western Europe.

"Since then the reserves generally, and in particular the Territorial Army, have made a major contribution to operations overseas. For example, in Iraq we have deployed some 12,000 soldiers since 2003. They have in a real sense earned their spurs—once again. I pay tribute to their ability to adapt, in just a few years, to the changing and very demanding circumstances of the new century, and I publicly acknowledge their appreciable skills and courage.

"The operational experience gained from extensive use of the TA has allowed us to apply lessons learnt in respect of its most effective employment. First, we are assigning to the TA its proper role in the more demanding contingencies for which it might be required to deploy. Each TA unit will be given a clear role to augment the regular order of battle for large-scale operations—that is, operations on a similar scale to the Gulf campaign in 1990 and in Iraq in 2003. That is the role for which they will train.

"Secondly, although we will structure the TA for larger-scale operations, we will continue to support individual members of the TA who wish to volunteer for tours on operations of a lesser scale. Many soldiers indicate that they are very keen to deploy on such operations, and the experience that they gain is invaluable. At the same time, we need to regulate the use of the TA so that unnecessary strains are not put on individual volunteers, their families or their employers. So we will aim to limit the use of reserves on operations to one year in every five, unless individuals volunteer for more. Although that will be our aim, the legal position is that they can be called out once in every three years.

"Thirdly, in designing our TA units, we will take account of the realities of TA service. There will always be some volunteers who are still going through their basic training and others who, for very good reasons, are not available for mobilisation when a particular crisis occurs. We have therefore made allowance in unit structures for both a training margin and a mobilisation margin, so that the TA units are more robustly structured to deliver the trained manpower needed for operations.

"Fourthly, we will strengthen the affiliation of TA units to those regular units with whom they are likely to operate, thus improving mutual understanding and operational capability. Closer affiliation with regular units for training purposes will also increase joint TA and Regular training and so deliver more enjoyable, relevant and challenging training to the Territorial Army.

"Finally, we will strengthen the support that we give to TA units, with approximately 240 permanent staff recruited to provide administration, welfare, training and employer support.

"The organisational changes of TA rebalancing will include strengthening of the Royal Engineer element of the TA, the establishment of which will increase by some 1,600, as well as increases to the TA Yeomanry—or Royal Armoured Corps—and the Army Air Corps.

"The following new TA units will be formed. There will be an Army Air Corps Regiment to support the Apache attack helicopter regiments in the Regular Army, to be based in Bury St Edmunds. A new Royal Engineer Regiment—72 Engineer Regiment Volunteers—will have its headquarters in Gateshead, with a re-roled Parachute Engineer Squadron in Wakefield, taking under command squadrons in Newcastle and Sheffield.

"In addition, five new engineer squadrons will be raised in Kinloss, Cumbernauld, Failsworth, Northampton and Northern Ireland, as well as a new TA military intelligence battalion which will have five companies based across England and Scotland.

"A military provost staff company will be formed in Colchester. That will be a new capability for the TA and will provide a deployable expertise to assist and advise in the custody of detainees. A complete new Transport Regiment will be raised in the south-west, based in Plymouth with squadrons in Truro, Dorchester and Poole.

"As we have already announced, the TA infantry will be reduced by some 900 posts and reorganised to form 14 TA infantry battalions as an integral part of the Future Infantry Structure. We will now revert to the practice of naming TA battalions after the regular regiments of which they will form a part, rather than after the regions in which they are based. As a result of fewer volunteers being required as signallers, logisticians and combat medical staff, there will also be reductions in a number of other arms and services.

"The changes that I have outlined will not happen overnight, but over a number of years. For many volunteers, little will change at all. Those whose units are likely to change will of course be given every opportunity to discuss, understand and make an informed decision on their future. The vast majority will, I am sure, continue to be active members of the TA.

"Territorial Army volunteers have shown over the past century that they are extremely adaptable to the requirements of national security. The changes I have announced today will ensure that the TA continues to be a force for good in dealing with the challenges of the next century, as an integral part of our land forces. I commend them to the House".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.