Territorial Army: Rebalancing

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:48 pm on 23rd March 2006.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Defence, Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs, Shadow Minister, International Development 1:48 pm, 23rd March 2006

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and for letting me have an advance copy of it.

I start by paying tribute to the TA. It does an outstanding job and the Government would not have been able to carry out operations in Iraq without its support—not only in the specialist skills that it brings but in making up the shortfall in the Regular Army caused by the reductions under this Government. I also pay tribute to the employers, without whose support the TA could not operate. In particular, we should acknowledge the contribution of small businesses, which often have to make great sacrifices when members of their staff are deployed.

I declare an interest as an honorary colonel of a Royal Engineer TA regiment. The Royal Engineers are an important part of the Statement. I have not picked up any murmurs of dissent, which suggests that the Ministry of Defence is on the right path, certainly relating to the Royal Engineers. I, and they, especially welcome the changes to reinstate and rationalise the geographical location of Royal Engineer units.

We on these Benches welcome the increases in the numbers of TA Yeomanry and the affiliation of TA units with those regular units with whom they are likely to operate. We agree that that will improve mutual understanding and operational capability. We also welcome the TA provost staff company initiative. It is clearly vital to define, follow and monitor the best practice in custody matters. Will the Minister say whether those with civil experience who serve in this company will support the special investigation units? We welcome the formation of a new TA Army Air Corps Regiment. Will pilots have full access to training to ensure that they are readily available to support the Regular Army Apache attack helicopter regiments? We welcome the increase in permanent staff of 240. They are the backbone of the TA, and it is imperative that they are suitably qualified and trained to provide continuous support and training.

The manning levels of the TA are now at some of the lowest levels since the TA was founded in 1906. Yet the rate of deployment is higher than at any time in recent years. More than 13,500 men and women have left the Territorial Army since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and more than 6,000 have left in the past year alone. This translates to a rate of around 600 a month leaving the TA. Previously, about 150 left the TA every month, which kept TA levels relatively stable. Although we welcome the additional units proposed by the Government, we cannot understand the proposal to reduce some of the specialist units, such as medical staff. Last year's annual report specifically noted that this was an area of critical shortage.

Regular units rely heavily on TA medical staff while on operations, so is it realistic that fewer medical volunteers are needed with increasing commitments? Furthermore, we fail to understand why the infantry are to lose 900 TA posts. Does this mean that 900 personnel will be looking for new units, or is this figure of 900 plucked from the shortfall, in which case we are not missing what we have never had? If it is the former, we do not accept the principle that we need fewer infantry. The Statement mentions that there will be reductions in a number of other arms and services. Can the Minister be more specific about these cuts? Finally, may we have a similar Statement on Naval and Air Force reserves before too long?