|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I am obliged to my noble friend who is a great student of these matters. The points he makes are serious and important. When he studies again my right honourable friend's Statement he will see that my right honourable friend lays specific emphasis on the importance of retention. My noble friend raised the question of recruitment generally. We recognise that when a TA centre is closed recruitment in that area will be made more difficult. However, I hope my noble friend will recognise that some of the other steps we are taking will, we hope, improve recruitment. For example, for the first time in many years members of the Armed Forces will be allowed to wear uniform outside their establishments. That will raise the public perception of the importance and existence of the forces. I am sure
I can think of nothing more important than retention. I remind your Lordships again that in the Territorial Army as it is presently structured we lose every year through natural wastage just about the equivalent of the reductions we are suggesting for the Territorial Army as a whole in the course of this review.
Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, I must declare an interest. I served for a couple of years on the National Employers' Liaison Committee of TAVRA and since then I have maintained an interest in the TA. I am very reassured by what has been said about the contribution made by the ethnic minorities through their recruitment to the TA. I want to ask specifically about the London TA regiment and I hope I do not irritate my noble friend Lord Burnham on the Front Bench who asked us not to be specific about regiments. If that were to be disbanded, there would be a tremendous problem with the ethnic minorities. In the Regular Army the ethnic minority component is 1 per cent. whereas in the London regiment of the TA the ethnic minority component is 13 per cent. Indeed, in some companies, such as the company in Balham, the figure is 20 per cent. The work that the TA London regiment does in such areas is invaluable. I should like reassurance from the Minister that it will not be disbanded.
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I have no idea what effect the noble Baroness has on her noble friend Lord Burnham, but I am sure that nothing she said would ever irritate me! With regard to the greater London area, we envisage that the great majority of the TA centres--some 37 of the 46 centres--will remain in use by the Territorial Army. Two centres, in Dulwich and Hornsey, will be retained for use by cadets. Centres at East Ham, Finchley, Kingsbury and Blackheath will close. Of the four Middlesex centres, only that in Vicarage Farm Road, Heston, will be closed. The 600-strong London Regiment will comprise six companies of TA infantry in eight locations: Battersea (the headquarters), Edgware, West Ham, Fulham, Balham, Davies Street, Westminster (for the London Scottish) and Camberwell (for the London Irish), and the Parachute Regiment will retain a company at White City, with a detachment in Croydon. I hope that that goes some way to meet the noble Baroness's concerns.
Lord Molloy: My Lords, as a former sapper sergeant in the 53rd Welsh Division of the Royal Engineers, may I ask whether the Minister is aware of the contribution which the Territorials have made to the British Army? Their grand performance in action should not be in any way dismissed. I urge him to recognise that the sappers have left behind them a proud tradition for those who follow after. These young men today eagerly point out
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I am obliged to my noble friend for giving voice to sentiments which I am sure will be echoed in every corner of the House. The sappers have for centuries performed an invaluable role in the British Army and will continue to do so. I am confident, as I am sure noble Lords are, that the present generation of sappers will fully uphold the glorious traditions of their forebears. I believe I am right in saying that there will be a small reduction in the number of sappers in the future, but that is driven exclusively by our assessment of operational requirements and in no way represents any diminution in the respect that we have for those regiments.
Lord Hooson: My Lords, while I in no way disagree with the comments and questions of my noble friend Lord Wallace, the Minister will be aware of the representations made by my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford on behalf of 18 members of all parties in your Lordships' House about the lack of wisdom and foresight shown in seeking to combine the Royal Welch Fusiliers and the Royal Regiment of Wales. The reasons are entirely geographical--or perhaps territorial.
I have a map of Wales before me. It is right, as the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, pointed out, that a larger percentage of territorial centres are to be maintained in Wales. One has only to look at the map to see that they are all along the North Wales coast, in South Wales or in north-east Wales. There is a huge area in the middle with one small red dot. Communications between those areas make the situation very difficult. Experience shows that when one tries to combine headquarters, as I saw happen in the county of Powys, the cost of travel and of sustaining the relationship between the parts makes it not worthwhile. It would be better to maintain the two headquarters, with the staff establishment reduced to 60. I think I am right in saying that at present the establishment for the two headquarters is 200. If the number were reduced to 60--an enormous reduction--it would be far better for the efficiency of the Territorial Army to keep the two headquarters, would it not?
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, whom I greatly respect in these matters, makes an extremely important point. This matter has been considered, and representations have been made to me outside your Lordships' Chamber on the points to which the noble Lord adverts. This was an operational decision, made in order to bring the TA into line with Army structures. I am not as pessimistic as the noble Lord may be about North Wales co-operating with South Wales. Let us give it a try. If in the fullness of time we find that it does not work, as the noble Lord
Baroness Goudie: My Lords, I declare an interest in that both my sons were cadets. Can my noble friend say something about the link between the TA and the cadets through shared facilities? Will the Government ensure that the position of cadets is well protected?
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for giving me the opportunity to repeat the message which I thought I had already delivered. The matter to which my noble friend refers is one of the highest priorities that the Government have had in this exercise. I vividly remember being instructed in these matters in your Lordships' House shortly after I arrived here as Defence Minister. I confess that, to my shame, I knew little about the Territorial Army or the Army Cadet Force. I learned a great deal, and it was clear what the sentiment of the House was. My colleague, the Secretary of State for Defence, shares your Lordships' view of the Army Cadet Force. For that reason, no centre serving the cadets will be closed until another one is open. Some 25 centres--I believe that that is the figure but I am subject to correction--will be kept open just for the cadets. We shall spend up to £12 million on cadet premises, if necessary, and on an annual basis over the next four years some £3 million extra on the running costs of the cadets. I do not believe that we could make any clearer the message that the Government highly value the contribution of the Army Cadet Force.
Lord Ironside: My Lords, having been the president of a sea cadet unit, I shall read with interest about the changes that are to take place in the Territorial Army and the need to protect the Army cadet units. Can the Minister say what information will be provided in order to enable schools to explain the new arrangements for cadets within the Territorial Army proposals so that young people can still have confidence in taking up Army cadetships instead of sea or air cadetships?
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I have a nasty suspicion that the noble Lord is tempting me down somewhat controversial paths into declaring loyalties or preferences between one set of cadets and another. We shall do everything in our power to continue to persuade parents and school teachers of the value of young men and women entering the cadet forces. We believe that we have been fairly successful in that regard recently. Recruitment figures for the Regular Army show that only 7 per cent. of the Regular Army had a previous history in the Territorials while over 20 per cent. had a previous history with the cadet force.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page