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House of Lords

Thursday, 12th November 1998.

The House met at three of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwell.

North Irish Horse Squadron

Lord Holme of Cheltenham asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the North Irish Horse Squadron will be disbanded as a result of the reserve forces cuts set out in the Strategic Defence Review.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert): My Lords, an announcement on the future of the Territorial Army will be made very shortly.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham: My Lords, I am delighted to have that Answer from the Minister. However, in making a decision on the matter about which I was inquiring, I hope that he will bear certain issues in mind. Is he aware, for instance, that the North Irish Horse Squadron is the only cavalry unit in the whole island of Ireland? Is he further aware that the percentage of Roman Catholics serving in the squadron is twice that in relation to the RUC; that the regiment has a history of prowess of which many people in Ireland, north and south, are very proud; and that in the impoverished areas in which it recruits it provides a useful focus for the young men as regards achievement in their lives? I am sure the Minister is aware that their attendance at annual camp is exceptionally high. Therefore, when the decision is made I hope that those matters will weigh favourably, if not conclusively, in the balance.

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord for the encomium he has just delivered. I assure him that all the considerations he raised have been borne in mind. I hope that he will not be disappointed in the announcement when it is made.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden: My Lords, I accept that the noble Lord cannot anticipate the outcome of the overall review, but will Ministers be guided by the important fact already alluded to--that the regiment recruits right across the community and that its good standard of recruitment has been achieved notwithstanding the difficulties existing in Northern Ireland which all territorial units experience? If its distinguished history were to come to an end, what the planners call the "yeomanry" or the "reconnaissance footprint" would miss out Northern Ireland altogether.

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, once again, I am happy to endorse all the complimentary comments made about the unit. I hope to set your Lordships' minds at rest before long.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, in the light of the two previous questions, the Minister will agree that we are

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talking not only about cavalry regiments but this element of the Royal Armoured Corps (the armoured and reconnaissance arm of the British Army) which is the only one left in the Province? If that is removed there will be no presence of reconnaissance or armoured units in Northern Ireland?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I take on board the point that the noble Lord makes. I am even more full of admiration for the unit considering the strength of the lobbying that it has managed to assemble in your Lordships' House.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, I lived and grew up in a part of Manchester where there was a large number of Irish people from both north and south, many of whom served in both world wars to fight for peace. Does the Minister agree that bearing in mind their previous history and what they did for this country and the symbolic gesture which recently took place in Ireland and which was attended by Her Majesty the Queen, it is of paramount importance to keep these servicemen in the forces?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. All noble Lords are sensible of the contribution made to the allied side in two world wars. My noble friend is right to draw attention to and reinforce the significance of what took place yesterday in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen and the President of Ireland.

The Earl of Carlisle: My Lords, will the Minister bear in mind the expanding role of armoured car regiments, not least the need to form a nuclear, biological and chemical armoured car regiment? Will he bear that in mind in considering the future of the North Irish Horse Squadron, in particular when more yeomen will be needed to man the regular NBC armoured car regiment?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, at such time as I am at liberty to disclose the Government's decisions on these matters, the noble Lord will find that we have taken into account the need for a nuclear, biological and chemical capability.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, your Lordships will be beginning to believe that the motto of this Government is "the House will be told very shortly". It is now four months since the SDR. Another place has had a two-day debate on the SDR and a one-day debate on the Army. It is becoming most urgent that your Lordships should have an opportunity of discussing the forces in general and the Territorial Army in particular. Can the Minister assure the House that we shall have an opportunity of hearing from the Government before the House prorogues?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I understand the importance which the noble Lord attaches to discussing defence matters in this House. I am not responsible for the progress of business in this House. All I would say

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is that your Lordships seem to have been having a very happy time discussing other matters at rather greater length than I would have enjoyed myself. However, I can assure the noble Lord that I am looking forward with great relish to announcing the Government's intentions with respect to the Territorial Army and I hope that it will be very soon indeed.

Lord Ironside: My Lords, is the North Irish Horse Squadron still a mounted squadron? Will the Minister tell the House what is the horse establishment (which is now managed by the Defence Animal Centre) in the Army?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I do not carry at my finger tips the number of horses in the Army but I shall look into the matter and convey the results to the noble Lord as soon as I can.


3.13 p.m.

Viscount Long asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in line with their policy to encourage the use of bicycles, they have any plans to introduce a form of licensing for cyclists.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My Lords, the Government have considered the merits of licences for cyclists but we have no plans to introduce such a system. That approach would be likely to work against our policies to encourage an increase in cycle use. It would require a large administrative operation and the expenditure that would be needed could not easily be justified.

Viscount Long: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. Does he agree that in this day and age bicycles can travel at anything from 15 miles per hour to 30 miles per hour when one is going downhill? That poses a great risk of danger to pedestrians, especially the blind and the deaf who can neither see nor hear them coming along the pavement or crossing zebra crossings. Surely cyclists should be made to take out a proper insurance policy. A system of licensing is also required. Does the noble Lord agree that cyclists would then know, when they are riding along the pavements and so on, that they are not the only pebbles on the beach?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I have no way of knowing what speed the noble Viscount attains going downhill. As I have had occasion to remind the House on two occasions in the past three weeks, the vast majority of accidents affecting pedestrians in this country are caused by motorised traffic and not by cyclists. Less than 1 per cent. of accidents are caused by cyclists. We have 20 million people owning cycles in this country, a large number of which are owned by children. It would be an incredible administrative effort to introduce a licensing system.

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We encourage the taking out of insurance in those circumstances but, in a sense, that is not the point. In all insurance claims following a road accident, compensation is paid only if it can be shown that that person is negligent. That applies to cyclists the same as it does to anybody else.

Lord Clark of Kempston: My Lords, is the Minister aware that in January this year, I was knocked down outside your Lordships' House by a cyclist who jumped the lights, did not have a front light and as soon as the accident occurred, he got back on his bicycle and cycled off? If there had been some sort of registration, I might have been able to trace that cyclist. Will the Minister explain why the police go for motorists? Daily one reads about careless driving and so on on the part of motorists, but very seldom do we read anything about cyclists. They go along one-way streets the wrong way; they cross lights which are against them; and ride on pavements to the detriment of pedestrians. Is it not about time that the Government took some action in that regard?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am aware of the noble Lord's unfortunate experience. While, no doubt, it was traumatic for him, he is something of a statistical oddity. The vast majority of cyclists use their bicycles safely and the vast majority of accidents are caused by motorists. We do not read about cyclists being prosecuted because very few of them are involved in accidents. However, they are subject to the law and, in the particular case which the noble Lord described, I am sure that, had a policeman been on hand, he would have arrested and prosecuted that cyclist. It does not make any difference whether or not that cyclist had a licence in his back pocket. Unfortunately, there was not a policeman on hand and it was not possible to charge and prosecute the cyclist. However, cyclists, like everybody else, are subject to the law and must not ride on the pavement nor ride without a rear light.

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