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Territorial Army

8. Mr. Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle): What his policy is on the Territorial Army. [40904]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie): The strategic defence review concluded that the main role of the Territorial Army should be to provide an essential reinforcement for its Regular Army counterparts when deployed on operations. In keeping with that, both volunteer and regular reservists have contributed significantly to operations at home and overseas in recent times.

The strategy for the Army, announced in March last year, identified a number of areas where further study was required to ensure that it can undertake its role as effectively and efficiently as possible. Those studies are ongoing and include how to maximise the contribution of the reserves in an expeditionary environment. In parallel, work on a new chapter of the strategic defence review, following the 11 September attacks, is exploring the role that the armed forces, including the reserves, have in defending and protecting the United Kingdom.

Mr. Barker: I thank the Minister for his answer. Will he now admit that it was a catastrophic mistake by the Government since coming to power in 1997 to slash the Territorial Army by more than 18,000 men? Now that it has 2,000 fewer members than his own target of 41,000, how does he expect the hard-pressed TA to cope with the additional responsibility of homeland defence?

Dr. Moonie: The cut in TA numbers was entirely appropriate, given the end of the cold war and the reconfiguration of reserve forces.

Mr. Jenkin: The Secretary of State said it was a mistake.

Dr. Moonie: No, it was not mistake. To put the record straight, the Secretary of State said that initial assumptions involved a much larger cut than the one that was in fact made; the number of reserves therefore remains much higher than might otherwise have been the case—[Interruption.] I am sorry to have to point out to the Opposition that the cold war ended some years ago and that armed forces, even reserves, configured for the cold war have no relevance whatsoever to the situation in which we find ourselves. Reserve forces today are appropriately trained and are of an appropriate number to

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handle the many tasks that we give them as forces much closer to the regulars than they ever were under the previous Administration.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): Uncharacteristically, that was a less than frank answer from the Minister. It may have escaped his notice that the previous Administration made a serious cut in TA numbers at the end of the cold war; the cut made by the hon. Gentleman's Government was indeed a cut too far. Are you aware, Mr. Speaker, that the hon. Gentleman wrote me a letter on 4 March in which he said, in reply to a parliamentary question, that he was unable to provide the

as that information was not available? May I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he now reassess the stance of the TA, finding out where it is and what it does, thus producing for Parliament an altogether more coherent, responsible and sensible plan on the deployment of the TA?

Dr. Moonie: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are well aware of the structure, function and roles of the TA. The fact that it may be inappropriate to provide a reply on the grounds of cost is well recognised in the civil service; the answer that the hon. Gentleman received was no exception to that. I point out again that our TA forces today are better trained, have higher morale and are far more appropriate than they ever were under any Administration to whom the hon. Gentleman belonged.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): I have to say that it is perfectly clear from the Minister's answer that the Government are in a shambles when it comes to our reserve forces. Not only is he out of step with his Secretary of State, who at least had the courtesy to acknowledge that we were right all along in warning that drastic cuts to the TA would damage our armed forces, but he was unable to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Mid–Sussex (Mr. Soames) where those reserve forces are located. It is high time that the Government answered the question that my hon. Friend put to the Minister. Will the Minister tell us when the cuts will be reversed, and give the House an assurance that any extension of TA responsibilities to homeland defence will not be at the expense of its valuable role reinforcing our regular troops?

Dr. Moonie: I suppose that, by convention, I must welcome the hon. Gentleman to his position on the Opposition Front Bench. I hope that, during future questions, he will perhaps be better informed than he is just now. Let there be no doubt—I am well aware of where our units are and of what they comprise. It is hardly surprising that I am unaware of the exact numbers in each unit, given the amount of work that we in the Ministry of Defence have to do.

A key part of the new chapter work is exploring the role of the armed forces, including the reserves, in defending and protecting the United Kingdom. The SDR aims to make the TA more relevant, more usable and more integrated with its regular counterparts. The fact that Opposition Members seem to think it appropriate to return to the old TA, consisting of static infantry battalions that would be of no use to anyone, reflects very much to their discredit.

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Joint Strike Fighter

9. Ross Cranston (Dudley, North): What progress has been made in advancing United Kingdom participation in the joint strike fighter project since the selection of Lockheed Martin as a contractor. [40905]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie): A number of UK companies are already closely involved with the joint strike fighter project as part of the Lockheed Martin team. Work is in progress on arrangements for placing lower-tier contracts, for which a range of UK companies are expected to tender. The Ministry of Defence is facilitating such involvement, and earlier this month it hosted a well-attended briefing day for industry.

Ross Cranston: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer; Members on both sides of the House will doubtless welcome news about progress on the joint strike fighter project. However, may I ask him a very blunt question? What does that news mean for jobs in this country, and for manufacturing and engineering jobs in the west midlands in particular?

Dr. Moonie: I am very well aware of the valuable contribution made by west midlands companies to our effort and procurement. The Government's decision to participate in the joint strike fighter project could reap as much as £3 billion for the UK economy in the system development and demonstration phase, and a potential further £24 billion for downstream production activities. On employment, the demonstration phase should sustain or create some 3,500 high-technology jobs nationwide, potentially rising to 8,500 in a few years' time. The west midlands will be one of the main regions to benefit; in particular, Smiths Industries will be heavily involved in work on the standing take-off, vertical-landing variant.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): May I remind the Minister that the joint strike fighter is, among its other roles, supposed to be a naval fighter? For that purpose, it is most important to have naval aviators with recent fixed-wing experience. Is it not therefore extraordinary that, before the joint strike fighter comes into service—indeed, perhaps some four or five years before—the Fleet Air Arm should lose its fixed-wing aviation and have its Sea Harriers withdrawn from service?

Dr. Moonie: Sea Harriers are being withdrawn from service because the Air Force considered it a waste to spend a great deal of money on updating them. That decision does not affect the pilots' future employment. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, they will be integrated into the joint Harrier project, and all of them will be retained in service. There will be no problem with the retention of pilots and, ultimately, the joint strike fighter's coming into service will enhance capability on board our carriers.

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10. Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury): When he expects to sign a production contract for the A400M. [40906]

13. Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): If he will make a statement on the A400M programme. [40909]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie): The A400M development and manufacture contract between OCCAR, which is acting as agent for the eight nations participating in the A400M programme, and Airbus Military was signed on 18 December 2001. The contract will become effective once Germany has gained Bundestag funding approval and is therefore able to make its full commitment to the programme.

Mr. Robertson: I thank the Minister for that reply. Of course, he touched on the vital point, which is when Germany will confirm the number of aircraft that it will order. What will be the minimum number of aircraft Germany will need to make the project viable in terms of development costs? What discussions has he had about the content of Rolls-Royce engines? That aspect is very important to a company in my constituency, Dowty Propellers, which hopes to have a great input into the project.

Dr. Moonie: Germany has promised to order 73 of the aircraft. In Berlin the week before last, I had discussions with my opposite number in the German Defence Department and stressed to him the importance of proceeding with the contract. He appeared in no doubt that—provided of course that the present Administration are returned at the next election—there will be no problem with Germany's continuing participation in the programme. With regard to Rolls-Royce, I am well aware of the importance that the project has for future employment and we are losing no opportunity to bring that to the company's attention.

Mr. Turner: Will the Minister return to the issue of the number of planes being ordered by Germany? He does not appear to have a fallback position if the Administration are not returned or do not confirm the numbers about which he sounds so optimistic.

Dr. Moonie: We have to rely on the information that we have at the present time. There is little point in speculating about what will happen, as the Germans assure us that the contract will be signed and that the appropriate number of aircraft will be involved. Clearly, should that not be the case, we will have to re-evaluate our position on the cost of the aircraft and whether the programme is still viable. However, at present I am convinced of the Germans' intention to go ahead with the project at the number specified.

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