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The Territorial Army

4.55 p.m.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert): My Lords, with permission I will repeat a Statement made a few minutes ago in another place. The Statement is as follows:

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    "Following our detailed analysis and consultation, we have decided that a modest increase in that number is needed: the result will be a TA of 41,000--in other words, a reduction of some 13,000 on today's strength. To put this into perspective last year we lost almost that figure through natural wastage alone. In total only 87, of Britain's 455 TA centres will close outright. A further 27 will be retained for the cadets. Four in every five centres will remain.

    "These decisions will fulfil both the country's operational need and the Armed Forces' role in the community that they serve and in which they live. This outcome is not some number determined by an arbitrary exercise in cost reduction, but is securely rooted in a thorough analysis of policy and military need. It has the full backing of the head of the Army, the Chief of the General Staff, Sir Roger Wheeler and the whole Army Board. In this and in its operational justification, it is no different from the rest of the Strategic Defence Review.

    "I know that some would have wished us to go further, and to maintain the reserves at much higher levels than we have proposed, just in case. But the nation just does not need such large numbers, and I cannot justify them either militarily or as a Minister spending the money of taxpayers.

    "Nor is the self-esteem of the TA likely to survive if it has no real military purpose and is stuck frozen in some Cold War glacier. But we have not presumed that we can predict the future, nor that it will be a continuation of the patterns of the recent past. So the TA will continue to be a basis for the regeneration of larger reserve forces should the country ever need them.

    "We have also taken pains to implement change in a way which is sensitive to the pride and commitment of volunteers, and to their regimental traditions and ethos. Tomorrow's Territorial Army will retain substantial, though reduced, numbers of infantry. In future, there will be 15 new infantry battalions and they will choose their own names. I am pleased to tell the House that all existing TA infantry cap-badge affiliations will be maintained at company level. Not a single cap-badge will be lost.

    "Traditions in the TA Yeomanry will also be maintained, through a nationwide representation of Yeomanry squadrons. We will also ensure that the Yeomanry has a real job to do and strong linkages to the regular regiments of the Royal Armoured Corps. TA Yeomanry squadrons will have access to the same equipment as the regular counterparts, including the Challenger 2 main battle tank, and to the major armoured training areas.

    "We have also reflected carefully on the recommendation of the Select Committee on Defence on the nuclear biological and chemical role of the Territorial Army. The SDR included the creation of a regulation unit--a joint Army/RAF organisation--to improve significantly our current capability in this important area. Under initial proposals, the TA Yeomanry would have contributed a single squadron to that unit. But I have decided, in light of the

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    committee's observations, to retain two squadrons of TA Yeomanry devoted to the support of regular forces in this role. Tomorrow's TA structure will reflect a greater emphasis on specialists and units of the supporting arms and services than has previously been the case. These will provide, as now, the full range of combat and combat services support for a military deployment: signallers, artillery, air defence, logistics and engineers, and, of course, medical services.

    "Both regular and reserve medical services were, I regret, neglected by the previous government. We will, therefore, seek to increase substantially, by over 2,000, the manpower available to the volunteer Army Medical Services.

    "The Strategic Defence Review was also crucially about people. Volunteer service will be more demanding in future, and it will continue to provide rewarding opportunities unparalled in most other walks of life. There will also be opportunities to contribute to our new mission of defence diplomacy overseas. The TA of the future will be an enterprise to which we wish to attract the best. A new recruitment campaign will ensure that this message is clearly conveyed. But retention is just as important. In recent years, for example, up to a third of the TA's recruits have been leaving within a year of joining. That must change. There will, therefore, be a package of improvements to personnel management in the Territorial Army--in particular for individual members of the TA who volunteer for service in Bosnia and elsewhere abroad. We are overhauling antiquated arrangements for keeping track of individual TA members. A new reserves training and mobilisation centre will start training individuals for overseas deployments from April next year.

    "We will improve education and training opportunities; and ensure through the provision of personal development records that the value of an individual's experience and training in service is recognised--to the benefit of the individual and, we hope, of his or her civilian employer.

    "The Territorial Army has a first-class record of responding to the need for change. An essential part of the Army throughout this century, it has always had to be flexible in size and organisation. It expanded to meet both World Wars. Since then it has been disbanded, re-raised, reduced, and expanded again, to meet development in warfare and a changing threat.

    "The changes I am announcing today will mean that, for the first time in many years, tomorrow's Territorial Army will have a clear role and purpose for the future. Tomorrow's Territorial Army will be better manned, trained, supported and integrated--able to meet the challenges of the world after the Cold War. In short, a Territorial Army fit for the future--both valuable and valued by the whole country. I commend these reforms to the House".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

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5.10 p.m.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement. I am particularly grateful to him for his courtesy in briefing me this morning on the two documents setting out the proposed changes in the Territorial Army. The details of the changes and the cuts are given in full in these papers, which noble Lords will have the opportunity of reading. I believe that we in this House would be wrong in the limited time available this afternoon to pick up the problems, important as they are, of individual units and TA centres.

This House has been ill done by in the time given for discussion on defence matters--I must emphasise that in no way do I blame the noble Lord for that. We received some time for debate on the SDR before the Summer Recess, but no further time has been given. In another place there was a two-day debate on the SDR on the first two days when the House returned last month and, subsequently, a day on the Army. It may be that Members of the other place do not work as hard as your Lordships. This is the first real opportunity that we have had to discuss these serious matters. I hope the Minister will assure the House that there will be a chance for proper debate (welcome as it is, this is not such) and if possible before Christmas.

Since July, noble Lords, Members of another place and Territorials have been desperate for information on exactly where the cuts forecast in the SDR would fall. The comprehensive nature of the documents that we have now been given explains in part why it has taken so long. But they do not, I believe, make clear quite what is happening. We were told originally that the Territorial Army would be cut from 59,000 to 40,000. This last figure has now been revised to 41,200 from a total of 54,000. But what is the proposed cut? I was startled to find out from the Assistant Chief of the General Staff in the presence of the Minister this morning that, while the nominal roll is 54,000, the effective parade state is 32,900 and that, consequently, the reduction in numbers will be 13,000. I hope, and have been told, that achieving the reduction in numbers will be treated sympathetically; but to do it, as is planned, in six months will take some doing. Having said that, it is clearly desirable to complete the changes before next year's camp season. If the new numbers are to be so low, let us hope that they give the TA its full ration of time.

But is the cut in the infantry from 33 battalions and 16,000 men to 15 battalions and 7,100 men and in the Yeomanry from 2,100 men and seven regiments to 1,300 men and four regiments desirable? These cuts, and the cuts in other arms, seem to damage the capability of the TA to form a structure on which rapid expansion of the Army can be based in the event of an emergency. Paragraph 9 of the report states that these changes will,


    "enable the TA to provide a framework upon which larger reserve forces can be built should the country need them".
I would suggest that that is exactly what the restructuring does not do. While the number of TA centres to be closed is fewer than we had been expecting, 87, it leaves large parts of the country without any real TA base at all. In the whole of North

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Yorkshire, for instance, there will be only one centre, at Scarborough, plus one for cadets only at Northallerton. I hope I am wrong, but it looks as if the Government are abandoning the TA in the country areas where it has traditionally been so strong, and concentrating on the cities.

In the Statement the Secretary of State proposes a shift from the traditional image of the TA as weekend warriors. TA personnel such as my noble friend Lord Attlee, who earlier this year spent six months in Bosnia, would deny that faintly pejorative description. But if it is justifiable it must be countered by the ability of the Territorials to act as formed units, which these cuts make more difficult. Camps may be interesting when at last the single Welsh battalion, two companies from the north and two from the south, at last get together. It may make the Highland Light Infantry seem like a Women's Institute.

The proposals to strengthen the cadets and to ensure that many of their headquarters which are closing for the TA itself remain open are welcome, as is the plan to spend £12 million to meet their needs. The Secretary of State has drawn attention to the number of recruits to the regular Army who come from the cadet forces. A considerable number, admittedly smaller, come from the TA but, when it has been resolved to increase the numbers in the regular Army, the Government are making it more difficult by cutting back the areas from which the recruits come.

The Secretary of State points out that the planned numbers have been increased from 40,000 to 41,200. That shows what heavy lobbying can do, particularly if it is done by Scots. I doubt whether this is the end of the lobby and, if changes have been made since the SDR, there may well be more. The decision to retain two squadrons of the Yeomanry for a nuclear, biological and chemical role must be right, but I can only hope that these squadrons and all other units receive the proper equipment to carry out their designated role--for instance, not only to get the Challenger 2 tank to train with, but the transporter to carry it.

I may be wrong, but I have seen no figures on the savings which these cuts will achieve. I hope that the noble Lord may be able to help us in this regard. It has been said that a TA infantry battalion costs the same as a single torpedo. If the savings are as small as we have been led to believe, are they worth it? The sociological benefits of the TA and the cadets are enormous and the hidden cost savings that they generate would seem to have been ignored. It is true that the role of the regular Army and the TA have changed enormously since the end of the Cold War, but they still have a role.

The SDR, we have been told, is Foreign Office led. I hope it is realised that times change and that there may be a new conflict where we need a strong TA to back up the regulars. The Secretary of State underlines the fact that the TA remains an essential part of the Army. I must express some doubt that this review will enable it to fulfil that role if matters go wrong. It is a long time ago, but let us remember the unreadiness of the TA in the 1930s.

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I have heard a comment from a Member of this House that the review is "better" than we might have expected. I believe it is still not good enough; and while I agree that it is desirable, almost but not quite above all, to get a move on, I hope there is still room for further improvements. The noble Lord the Minister has my sympathy, as he will no doubt be inundated with questions on individual units which he cannot be expected to answer off the cuff. Today there is not enough time and I again express my hope that we will "very soon", in the words of the noble Lord when we were looking forward last week to this Statement, have the opportunity for a comprehensive debate on all matters concerned with the defence of the realm.

5.19 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, we on these Benches welcome the Statement. It seems to us in many ways an improvement on the original proposals. We recognise, too, that the role of tradition has to be balanced against the post-Cold War needs of reserve forces, the absence of a threat to British national territory and the need therefore for reserves which are flexible and can be mobilised in a crisis, and which should therefore be maintained in a higher form of readiness. It is, I assume, the absence of a home defence requirement that most justifies the cut in the number of infantry battalions. We are all aware that a number of the infantry battalions were at a low state of manning and readiness. We hope that the number that we are now to have will be maintained at a much higher recruitment level and will therefore be much more combat ready. We also welcome the footprint of the territorial centres as set out in this report. It covers the country much better than many feared.

I hope that the Minister will not be too committed to the maintenance of cap badges in all instances. After looking through the report that he kindly gave me this morning, I think that both battalions, the 4th Gordons and the London Scottish, in which my father once served, have now come down to the level of platoons. I am not sure that each platoon should be entitled to maintain its own individual cap badge. We need to have a more flexible infantry--regular and reserve--and to move towards broader regiments, even towards a corps of infantry, without too many local, historical regiments of the type of "I want to serve in the regiment that my great-grandfather served in". That builds in a huge amount of inflexibility and is not helpful for future requirements.

I have three questions upon which I hope that the Minister will be able to satisfy me. First, there is very little in this Statement or in the document about aid to the civil power. That was one of the questions raised in response to the initial proposals, in particular in terms of civil emergencies and disasters. We have found territorial forces worthwhile in those sort of situations in the past. I am not sure that that has been entirely thought through. There is perhaps an overlap between the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence in terms of civil defence which requires further investigation.

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The defence of the home territories nowadays is much more concerned with illegal immigration and drug smuggling on the coast. I have been struck by the extent to which cuts in naval reserves and coast guardforces, as well as cuts in land forces, have left very large areas of what is now the European Union's and Britain's external frontier entirely unguarded.

My second question is about the closer integration of reserves and regulars, which I welcome. I would urge the Minister to consider the possibilities of taking this further. It seems to many of us that, if we wish to have reserves in a high state of readiness, the more the volunteers in the reserves are able to have short periods of service with the Regular Army--the more people can move through periods of full time service for one, two or three years--the better the reserve forces will be supplied.

The third question concerns the educational role of reserve forces. There is reference in the Statement and in the supporting documents to the provision of NVQs and the provision of skills for the otherwise unskilled. For the cadets and the reserve forces, especially in our cities, this is one of the very useful functions in peacetime of reserve and regular forces. It is about the harnessing of the energy of the young--in particular the young who do not have very many skills--and the giving to them of a sense of real pride in what they have achieved. The American professional forces have begun to do this successfully with what otherwise would be the unemployed underclass in their cities. I hope that, in consultation perhaps with the DfEE, the Ministry of Defence will also consider that local reserve forces are part of a strategy of life-long learning.

We welcome these proposals very strongly, although with some reservations on all sides about particular units and particular parts of the country. But that, I suspect, is another debate.

5.23 p.m.

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I am much obliged to both the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, and the noble Lord, Wallace of Saltaire, for the extremely fair way in which they have greeted the Government's proposals in respect of the Territorial Army. I shall do my best to take on board the points they have raised.

First, with respect to the amount of time available for defence debates, I would welcome more time spent discussing defence in this House, as would the noble Lord, Lord Burnham. Unfortunately, as your Lordships are well aware, others of your Lordships are quite happy to spend a lot of time debating obscure constitutional matters at the expense of the time available for discussing the sort of matter we are talking about today.

This is not the first time that the state of the Territorials has been discussed in your Lordships' House, even in the short time that I have been a Member. If it is any help to the noble Lord, when I was last on my feet talking about the Territorials I said that I hoped very much that there would be a debate on SDR before Christmas. I still hope that that will be case, but the noble Lord knows that I can give him no assurances. I expect, the Lord willing, to be speaking in the debate

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on the Address on the Queen's Speech. We will have another opportunity of discussing defence and foreign affairs on that day.

As to the proposed size of the Territorial Army, it may help your Lordships if I go through, very briefly, the methodological process involved in arriving at our figures. I think your Lordships will be bound to concede when you have heard what I have to say, that it was in no sense a Treasury cost-cutting exercise. We started off with an attempt to reach the figure necessary for operational requirements. It was decided that we had a military requirement for 31,500 in the Territorial Army to fill 25,000 posts. I will repeat that. We had a military requirement for 31,500 to fill 25,000 posts.

We invited all our most distinguished former soldiers into the Ministry of Defence and exposed them to the thought processes and analyses that had led us to these conclusions. I am pleased to say that, without equivocation, not one of those distinguished and gallant former serving officers questioned the operational requirement. We thus started from a military requirement of 31,500. To this we added an OTC figure of 3,500 to bring us up to 35,000. The strategic defence review added a further 5,000 to the figure for non-operational reasons--reasons, I emphasise of footprint, links with the community and support for the cadets--bringing us up to 40,000. To that figure we have added a further 1,200 to take account of consultations with the TAVRAs, the chain of command, the individual arms and services. That is how the figure of 41,200 has been reached.

The noble Lord, Lord Burnham, asked me, in effect--I forget quite the language he used--how many of the Territorials were turning up and fulfilling in full their self-induced obligations. Out of the strength of the Territorials, last year some 32,000 were in a position to claim their bounty.

The noble Lord questioned the fact that we were trying to complete reorganisation in the space of some six months. He fairly acknowledged that we are trying to do it in that relatively short space of time to get it out of the way before next season's summer camps. A moment's thought among your Lordships will produce the realisation that it makes no sense at all to have people coming along to summer camps who, a few weeks later, will be released from the Army.

The noble Lord asked, quite fairly, whether the cuts in the infantry and the yeomanry are desirable. I repeat what I said a few moments ago. The operational requirement was for a figure much lower than the one we have reached on the basis of clear and unambiguous advice--for which of course Ministers accept responsibility.

The noble Lord said that there will be large parts of the country without a TA presence. I invite him and other noble Lords to look at the maps in the back of the first volume that we have distributed. Noble Lords will be able to judge for themselves exactly where the footprint will be. Even in those areas where it is apparent that a Territorial footprint may disappear--for example, in places in Scotland and Wales--it must be

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remembered that the regular services do have a presence. The links between the community and the Armed Forces is not being totally destroyed by the removal of Territorial units from a few places.

I emphasise again that four out of five Territorial drill halls will be maintained. We were at great pains to try to spread the agony as evenly as possible over the whole of the country. No one region has lost more than eight centres. Wales and Northern Ireland have been particularly well served. I think I am right in saying that they maintain about 85 per cent. of their current establishment whereas over the rest of the country the comparable figure is of the order of 70 to 75 per cent.

The noble Lord, Lord Burnham, said that it shows what heavy lobbying can do that we have increased the figure from our original proposals. Well, it could be heavy lobbying; it is just the fact that we actually sat down and listened. We had a consultation exercise and we took account of the representations made to us. I am sure the noble Lord recognises that.

Although I came armed with a good many answers to questions, I regret that I cannot answer the noble Lord's specific question on tank transporters. I shall find out in due course. He asked about savings. We expect the annual cost of the Territorial Army to be reduced by around £70 million from now on. With respect to the reduction in the Territorial Army estate, about which we consulted the TAVRAs from start to finish, we assume that disposal will amount to more than £40 million after allowing up to £12 million for the relocation of the cadets. I hope that I have covered all the points the noble Lord raised.

I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, that we need a high degree of readiness for the Territorial Army. When he has had a chance to study the Statement he will find that we fully recognise that. I regret that I did not come armed with details of the units in which his father and his great-grandfather served. I do not propose to answer any questions on them this afternoon. There is an 84-page booklet with all the details. I have made no attempt even to memorise page one, let alone pages one through to 84.

The noble Lord raised three specific points. He asked about aid to the civil power. Of course we expect that the Territorial Army will still be in a position to provide aid to the civil power, but it will be doing that as part of the Army. We talk far too much in the Lords about the Territorial Army and the Army as though they are separate, often in a posture of semi-antagonism towards one another. They are the Army. When there is a civil emergency one needs the people who are already in uniform because they can get there quickest. That is not to say that the Territorial Army does not play an extremely valuable role. I shall pray in aid for the future the words of General Sir Michael Walker, C-in-C Land, in The Times on Saturday. He said that the Territorial Army will continue to help cope with local emergencies such as flooding. He listed a good many of its other jobs and said that the Territorial Army will be properly resourced for its task.

I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, referred to cuts in naval reserves. I hope I misheard him because in point of fact both the Royal Air Force Reserve and

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the Royal Navy Reserve--I know that this will be welcome to the noble Lord, Lord Monro--will be increased by around 10 per cent. They are small and they are valuable and I am sure that the increases will be welcome to your Lordships.

The noble Lord said that we should try to take further the integration of the reserves into the regulars. That is the whole theme of my right honourable friend's Statement and the approach we have taken to the matter of the restructuring and "reroling" of the reserves. I can assure the noble Lord that we have his concerns very much in mind.

Finally, the noble Lord talked about education. As he will recall, that formed almost the peroration of my right honourable friend's Statement. We recognise the importance of education to the Territorial Army. I pay tribute to the Territorial Army which in various parts of the country has done better than the regulars in recruiting from ethnic minorities. That is something in which we can all take pride. It does not apply throughout the country because one does not find many members of ethnic communities north of Inverness. As it happens, that is down to the population distribution, but in city centres--for example, Bradford--it has done very well indeed. It is because of the fact that the parents of young men and women coming into the Territorial services recognise that they will get educational opportunities that recruitment has been so good. It is certainly our objective to see that process continued.

5.35 p.m.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, one accepts that the reserves have to change in order to be flexible, modern and effective. One particularly welcomes the increase in the Royal Air Force Reserve and the Royal Navy Reserve. However, does my noble friend accept that the links between the military and the community are important? One welcomes the recognition of the role of the cadets, a matter in which I should declare an interest. Does my noble friend consider that the changes may well impel others to leave in addition to the substantial wastage that is normally experienced? In view of that, are the Government prepared to consider taking positive action to encourage recruitment and retention in those TA units which will remain, perhaps attracting transfers from those which will go, and to promote involvement in the cadet organisations?


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