Patrick Mercer (Newark): I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak on a subject on which people often expend a huge amount of air and noisebut on which they do not cast much light. The Territorial Army is a deeply emotive subject for many reasons, not least because it is one of the few remaining links between an increasingly isolated Regular Army, an army that spends much of its time behind the wire or overseasor recovering from overseas operationsand the civil community. We shall probably hear more about those links. However, much of the subject is clouded in the mysteries of time.
I pay tribute to Corporal Ted Chapman, a Victoria Cross holder from the second world war who died recently. He was entirely a territorial soldierby instinct, enlistment, courage and achievement. The fact remains that there are no more of his type today, but there are good reasons for that and I hope to shed a little light on them.
In September, the Prime Minister said that however the United States decides to proceed, we will stand "shoulder to shoulder" with it, providing moral, physical and military support in the war against terrorism. However, it is a new style of terrorism. It is not the terrorism that we have grown used to, mainly republican or loyalist. It is asymmetric warfare, and the threat is just as likely to come from within our shores against civil targets in an unexpected and wholly asymmetric fashion.
His choice of words was interesting. The term "key points" is known to many hon. Members. It was a title that the old Territorial Army, the TA that we used to know, used to describe a task with which it was familiar. It indicated threats to our homeland, and the forces that would be available to achieve protection and give us a feeling of security.
I suggest that the Territorial Army is in dire straits, and that it may not be able to achieve that sort of operational stance. Our regular forces are deployed abroad, waiting to deploy abroad or recovering from
Since the strategic defence review, the Territorial Army has been used to support the regular forces in dribs and drabs by means of individual reinforcements, section reinforcements and, occasionally, platoon reinforcements. It has become used to operating at that low level. It has done a fine job, but difficulties and anomalies have arisen because of the new threat that is emerging. I am thinking particularly of the teeth arms, with the exception of the Royal Engineers, who can and will deploy independently because they have complete unit autonomy up to squadron and, I believe, regimental level. The Yeomanry, the Royal Artillery and the much-depleted 15 battalions of infantry are, however, incapable of deploying at anything above company or squadron level, and even that would be extremely difficult.
Let us take the example of an infantry battalion from the curiously named East of England Regiment, which is made up of several fine old county regiments and whose companies now extend throughout the midlands and into East Anglia. Each company is commanded by a territorial company commander, who is supported by territorial platoon commanders, when they can be recruited. There is, however, no battalion staff worth speaking of, apart from a regular commanding office, a regular regimental sergeant-major and a handful of captains at battalion headquarters, although that is not always the case.
Such an arrangement has a couple of implications. First, that battalion of the East of England Regiment cannot deploy as an entity. Let us suppose that an infantry battalion was neededthis would be a reasonable taskto defend Fylingdales and to provide armed force beyond that available from the police. The East of England Regiment could not fulfil that role, although a regular unit could. A Territorial Army battalion is not configured for such a role, because it has no autonomy of deployment much above platoon level.
It is also difficult to train junior and middle-ranking officers and middle-ranking non-commissioned officers. Ted Chapman VC won his Victoria Cross as a corporal at the Teutoburger Wald and ended up as a company sergeant-major, having held, with great distinction, every rank from private to company sergeant-major in the third battalion of the Monmouthshire Regiment. That would not be possible today. There can be no such thing as a battalion exercise created by the Territorial Army, because everything that it does must be strapped on to the Regular Army. It is difficult to train company sergeant-majors, company seconds-in-command or even company commanders, because no intrinsic training mechanism exists. By the same token, it is impossible to deploy a battalion without heavy regular Army support, and the Territorial Army is no longer configured for such tasks. That is, I imagine, why the Secretary of State for Defence referred to developing a force to protect key points.
I must also underline the pay anomalies faced by territorials who are called to the colours. The battalion to which I used to have the pleasure and honour of belonging was deployed to Bosnia and received
There has been much unhelpful talk about the call-up of the Intelligence Corps reservists in the wake of the emergency created by 11 September. I choose my words carefully, because the Minister will be exceedingly bored by now of my colleagues and me prodding him about procedures that have been reported extremely unfavourably and improperly by the press. The response of the 3rd (Volunteer) Military Intelligence battalion to the call was splendid. Its soldiers are extremely specialist, as the Minister is aware, so their call-up was going to be unusual and slightly more difficult, especially as the procedure had not been practised since the Suez crisis.
Newspaper headlines stating that territorials were reluctant to come forward, or were backsliding when the call came, were extremely unhelpful and insulting to the men and women of that battalion and the Territorial Army. I deeply regret that, as it makes our territorials look like something that they are not. I do not want to dive too deeply into history, although I have every inclination so to do, but the majority of honours on the colours of every infantry battalion or yeomanry regiment have been won by territorials. Precisely the same spirit to respond to the call of the nation is alive and well inside the territorials.
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. I have heard, anecdotally, that one person in the battalion wanted to join and was called up, but his employer was reluctant to let him go. That is a modern development.
Patrick Mercer : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. If one reads the newspapers, one would be forgiven for thinking that employers had been universally difficult with territorials called to the colours, and that there was a great deal of backsliding from the soldiers themselves. I think that I am right to say that there were only two or three examples of soldiers in the battalion whose employers impeded their call-up.
Call-out procedures must reflect the information age in which we live and its style of asymmetric terrorist and conventional warfare, if that is not a contradiction in terms. There is no doubt that the procedures used to get these men and women under arms were rusty and difficult. The soldiers have not yet joined their units, despite the fact that it is nearly six months since the emergency occurred. I will not labour the point, because I am grateful to the Minister for all the work that has
I shall return briefly to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan). There have been difficulties with some employers, but the Minister has assured me that they are being tackled.
I move on to the vexed question of recruiting. I see a hobby horse dashing past the window, but I will not jump on it. The Territorial Army is in a strange position. The directive about infantry recruiting from the director of infantry suggests that the aim for a territorial infantry battalion is for 66 per cent. of the 76 per cent. recruited to attend camp every year, which is fine. A territorial unit, especially an infantry unit, is always under strength, being only ever three quarters manned. That allows a budget for the commanding officer who, unlike a Regular Army commanding officer, is charged with recruiting for his unit. If he is undermanned, there is money in his budget to allow him to recruit more effectively.
We are in an invidious position. Should a territorial battalion have 100 per cent. manning, there would no money left in the budget for recruiting. The point is arcane, but there is a substantial difference between the Regular Army and the Territorial Army in terms of recruiting. The territorials should have an independent budget at unit level or at central level to allow them to recruit effectively. The lack of such a budget is one of the reasons why so many of our territorial units, hand-in-hand with our regular units, are chronically under-recruited.
Turning to the issue of retention of morale from the perspective of a former regular officer, I am conscious of the fact that regular units, particularly infantry units, are overmanned with majors and lieutenant-colonels, all looking for commands. They want battalions or regiments to command, in order to progress with their careers. The trend for territorial commanding officers to be regular Army officersless so in the yeomanry, but increasingly in the infantrymeans that there is a grave disincentive for the territorial officer to serve through the ranks and endeavour to achieve the rank of lieutenant-colonel, commanding his local unit.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Is my hon. Friend aware that my hon. Friends the Members for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) and for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne), who are present, are holders of the territorial decoration? The Government scrapped that decoration in 1999. What does he think that that has done for the morale of Territorial Army officers?
Patrick Mercer : The old territorial decoration was an important incentive for those who give up so much of their spare time to serve for paltry rewards in the defence and the support of their country. That decoration was an important adjunct to territorial morale. Also, I am so glad that the title was changed to territorial decoration from volunteer decoration, as the initial letters for the latter were somewhat unfortunate.
Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford): On retention, does my hon. Friend agree that there has been a breakdown in the ability of men and women to remain loyal to the unit in recent years? He mentioned the East of England Regiment, in which, through the Essex and Hertfordshire Company, some of my constituents serve. Pride in the TA is based on its team strength, its unit loyalty and its cap badge. Does he agree that retention has been undermined by the loss of such loyalty through amalgamations?
Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): May I assist my hon. Friend? The battalion in question was the 5th (Volunteer) battalion, the Royal Anglian Regiment, in which I had the honour to serve and which became the Royal Logistic Corps battalion.
Patrick Mercer : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for supplying those facts. The Royal Anglian's 5th battalion transferred from being an infantry battalion to being a Royal Logistic Corps regiment. It was widely supposed that that would damage morale. In fact, it did not matter because local men continued to serve with their comrades and with those with whom they had joined. Cap badge was relatively irrelevant.
Furthermore, I urge the Minister to continue the trend for the director of reserve forces and cadets to be a territorial. I appreciate that the current post holder is a Royal Marine reservist. However, it is important for the post to be filled by someone who has a civilian job. If he does not, that individual cannot empathise with the
Over the years, our territorial forces have given huge service to this nation, largely unrewarded. The casualties that they have suffered and the honours that they have garnered for the nation are innumerable. Things have changed; the threat has changed. However, we need a force that can deploy quickly, flexibly and, above all, autonomously, if the threat about which we hear so much is to be countered effectively.
Dr. Ashok Kumar (Middlesbrough, South and Cleveland, East): I congratulate the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) on having secured the debate and on having put his case so eloquently and authoritatively. I cannot claim to speak with his authorityhe is obviously well versed in the subject. I am also delighted that the Minister is to sum up. He is no stranger to my constituency. He has visited it and is familiar with my territory, so he will recognise what I am going to say. I am also pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor) is present. I have often heard her making a passionate case for the Territorial Army.
I have listened to many debates on defence matters, but this is the first opportunity that I have found to contribute to one of them. I should like to record the contribution of the Territorial Army in my constituency. My sentiments are similar to those of the hon. Member for Newark. My constituency has a great military history, with traditions that run deeply. Generations of young men and women from Cleveland have served in the armed forces, many of them with our local regiments, most notably the Green Howardswho are closely associated with Cleveland and North Yorkshireand, in the past, regiments such as the Durham Light Infantry and King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, as well as in the technical disciplines of the Royal Engineers, the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers and the Royal Corps of Signals.
I think of the sacrifices of many of those young men, who died fighting for their country and their democracy in the conflicts of the past century, and I grieve to see the familiar local surnames on the war memorials in the towns and villages of my constituency. However, threats to our way of life and to the democratic process, from wherever they comefrom hostile nations or organised terrorismmust, in the last resort, be overcome by force of arms. In that endeavour, as the hon. Member for Newark eloquently explained, the Territorial Army plays a vital role in backing up the regular forces and ensuring that there is an adequate reserve of trained men and women ready to meet every eventuality.
On my patch, the Territorial Army is based at Colby Newham on the southern outskirts of Middlesbrough. At Colby Newham there is a detachment of B company, the Green Howards, otherwise known as the Tyne Tees Regiment. Also at Colby Newham is 104 Pioneer Squadron of the Royal Logistic Corps, a detachment of
Those people do not only train, valuable as that is. They take part in valuable community events. The refurbishment of Albert park, the main park in the centre of Middlesbrough, was carried out by 104 Pioneer Squadron. Over a few days it helped to repair boats from the park's boating lake and to erect new railings. It makes school visits in the area. It assists in fundraising for local charities, and only last year the Army Cadet Force took part, with good results, in the Imperial Cancer Research Fund "race for life".
This morning, my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South reminded me that last year, during the flood crisis, the Territorial Army played an important roleincluding its work in Skinningrove in my constituency. It makes an important contribution to the spirit of Teeside. I note its support and recognition of multiculturalism in our society. A few members of our ethnic community are serving with the Royal Logistic Corps, and I am sure that that phenomenon will grow in the years to come.
The Army Cadet Force also participated in the Middlesbrough Mela 2000, which is a festival of the Asian community. That has been happening for several years and the Territorial Army has played its part, mingling with the Asian community. I know that because I have seen it myself; I have not attended every year, but when I have, I have seen the Territorial Army regularly.
Issues need to be tackled if the Territorial Army is to grow and be sustainedcertainly in my constituency. I hope that the Minister will take the points I want to raise with him in the spirit in which they are meant. There is a need for the Ministry of Defence to pay closer attention to the standard of the buildings in which the Territorial Army in my locality is housed. A shoddy, down-at-heel building will certainly not attract young recruits. I have been to the premises at various times and there are always big repair bills. Recent bad weather has caused costly damage to the buildings, which could have been avoided if thought and cash had been applied to keeping them in reasonable repair.
As the hon. Member for Newark mentioned, there is a need to examine how the Territorial Army recruits officers. Locally, the Royal Logistic Corps has an establishment of six officers, but only three are in post. The Green Howards had similar vacancies, but that has been eased by the recent arrival of a permanent staff instructor. More thought needs to be given to that and, possibly, greater budget provision needs to be made available.
If there is no one to command our soldiers, training is attenuated and commitment must suffer. More thought must be given to the wages and allowances made to Territorial Army soldiers as well as to the legal obligations of employers to allow time off for training and service. The recent experience of Territorial Army personnel being reluctant to serve in Afghanistan because of job pressures shows that change is needed. Locally, our TA detachments are in fine heart. If we give
As the hon. Member for Newark said, the Territorial Army serves this country without fear or favour. The Government are doing everything possible, while they make hard choices in restructuring our defences to meet our new challenges. Those challenges are brought about by the end of the cold war and the ever greater challenges that confront all of us after 11 September.
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) on securing the debate and on giving a detailed analysis of the problems suffered by the Territorial Army. I recall that his last job in the Regular Army involved reservists, so he knows more about that subject than many in this Room, and on both sides.[Interruption.] The Minister shakes his head, so we must look forward to the Minister's speech to find out more.
I was on the Army reserve until recently, but I have fallen off the top because I am too old. I put my name down to volunteer for the TA in October, in case there was a possibility of going to Afghanistan. However, I do not think many soldiers from the TA have gone to Afghanistan.
As a young regular officer, I had a certain disdain for reservists until, along with one other person in this Room, I attended staff college. I was required to engage in a presentation of what was known as "One Army", which was a concept whereby the TA and the regular Army were as one. Having to do this presentation revealed to me that the TA was extremely important and that reservists were crucial to the defence of this country, which in the arrogance of youth I had not realised before. Later, I worked with the reserve special forces and was impressed by what I saw. People gave their time freelywell, not exactly freely because they were paid for itbut had to juggle that with their responsibilities as employees or employers.
On this point, I recall the German concept known as "citizen in uniform". By having reservists, one relates the armed forcesand particularly the armyto society. The "citizen in uniform" concept, which is part of the Bundeswehr, is crucial because the fewer reservists we have, the wider the division grows between the armed forces and society. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, South and Cleveland, East (Dr. Kumar) referred to the importance of military aid for the civil authority, which is when people see the TA in action. However, if there are fewer and fewer soldiers, the Territorial Army will be seen less and less, so we need the TA to be part of society.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Newark has already mentioned, suddenly, after 11 September, we are involved in a long-term conflict, perhaps for the first time since Korea and certainly for the first time since the end of the cold war. It is not the same as the conflict during the second world war, but it is a long-term
My hon. Friend the Member for Newark mentioned the reinforcement in Afghanistan. I understand that several TA people from London were called up and that their employers were difficult about it. I hope that the Minister has made note of that point.
There is a general philosophical point about the importance of the reserve forces. It is often easy to deal with big projectsa big airbus or fighter planesbut we must understand that reserve forces are crucial. The reduction in the TA was intended in the strategic defence review. I quote from paragraph 109, which states that
in other words, in what used to be called the teeth arms. Since 1997, we have been selling off buildings, such as the Duke of York's headquarters, which used to be a big TA headquarters. Some units have been scrapped and some have been pushed further out of London. That has reduced the impact of reserve forces on society.
Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) on securing the debate and on introducing it so well. I am pleased to participate in the debate as part of the Back-Bench platoon. I served in the Territorial Army for seven years, including service in two officer training corps and then in a NATO role infantry battalion, the 5 Royal Anglian. Its successor today, at least in the infantry role, is known as the East of England Regiment.
I want to raise three issues. First, I shall speak about formed units. Secondly, I want to refer to filling appointments with TA and regular officers, and, thirdly, I want to speak about home defence, not least in the light of events on 11 September.
One of the main thrusts of the Governments strategic defence review, at least in theory, was to make the Territorial Army more integrated with its regular counterpart. As a result, however, most TA soldiers now know that, in the event of war, their units would, effectively, be broken up and they would be fed piecemeal into regular units to reinforce them, perhaps as battle casualty replacements. It is difficult to maintain morale and unit cohesion in TA units when many of the
Mr. Francois : The Minister says that that is untrue, but I understand that that is likely to be the case. For example, under current arrangements, most infantry battalions would be broken up, but I shall return to that point when I speak about home defence.
Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk): Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the central elements of serving in the armed forces is the cohesion and camaraderie that is created by serving together? When I served in the Territorial Army, I remember being astonished during my first assessment weekend that from a Saturday morning until a Sunday evening such camaraderie could develop between a group of people in the space of 36 hours. Surely that is the whole point.
Mr. Francois : I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. When people volunteer to serve in the reserve forces, we need to keep them interested so that they continue volunteering. An undermining of unit morale and cohesion has an effect on not only recruitment, but retention. For many years, the TA has faced the problem that, although it has recruited people to serve, it has had a challenge retaining them. If the cohesion of units is undermined, the challenge of retention for commanding officers becomes all the greater.
Before the Minister quotes figures at me and says that everything is all right, I wish to make a comparison with other reserve forces. I recently tabled a written question to his Department in which I said that, good though it is, the Royal Marine Reserve is 10 per cent. below establishment. The Royal Naval Reserve is nearly 20 per cent. below establishment and the Royal Auxiliary Air Force is approximately 30 per cent. below establishment. The hon. Gentleman certainly cannot tell us that all is well because a simple comparison with other reserve forces reveals that not to be the case.
Appointments have been a long-running issue within the Territorial Army and, it is fair to say, within the Ministry of Defence. It was touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Newark. The TA has a particular challenge with officer retention. The sort of people who make good TA officers also tend to be good in business. They are promoted and come under increasing pressure to choose between their TA career and their professional career. The Minister is nodding. One of the incentives for officers to remain in the TA is to hope to have the honour one day of commanding a unit.
If, however, more and more unit commandsbattalion commanding officers, for examplego to regular officers because the Regular Army needs to find slots for people of that rank, that is a disincentive for TA officers to stay on. If it becomes apparent that those slots will not be available, they will think that they may as well concentrate on their professional career. A judicious balance must be struck between these
There has been a great deal of talk since 11 September about so-called asymmetric warfare. It is said that some may not wish to attack members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation by the usual conventional means, but may use terrorist techniques, such as chemical or biological weapons. To give credit to the Select Committee on Defence, it identified that threat in the previous Parliament and used the phrase "asymmetric warfare" in some of its excellent reports. In a sense, the Committee was ahead of the game. It said that if there were an asymmetric threat to the United Kingdomand, after what happened in the United States, we know that that can happenmore troops would be needed to respond to it. It said also that, in many ways, the TA was ideally suited for that purpose.
Let me conjure up circumstances in which there was a concerted asymmetric attack on the United Kingdom by people using chemical and biological weapons in tube stations, railway stations and other transport modes in large public buildings. To reassure the public, a large presence of troops would be needed. We would need troops in the past with the relevant equipment, who had been trained in chemical and biological warfare. The Territorial Army has trained for that purpose for many years and has that capability. However, there were fewer troops than there are now. In the circumstances I am describing, there would not be enough regular troops to go round the United Kingdom. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newark said, that is because a proportion of the Regular Army is always deployed abroad in one capacity or another.
If we take the threat of asymmetric warfare seriouslyI believe that we should, particularly after what happened on 11 Septemberthere could be a new role for many TA units. They could work as formed units and be trained for a home defence role, specifically to assist citizens in the event of an attack. The Minister may recall that a Home Service Force was formed in the 1980s. It was trained and constituted to protect key points against saboteurs, and was specifically orientated for a home defence role. There could be a modern and relevant role for the TA in the 21st century. In particular, its infantry battalionsif I may be allowed that small plugcould train specifically to provide a layer of defence for the United Kingdom in the event of such a threat. That would mean more units, and the defence budget would need more money. However, given what happened on 11 September, I believe that the money would be well spent.
Mr. Prisk : My hon. Friend is right to highlight the potential of the TA in defending the homeland. However, I ask him to comment on the danger of restricting the TA solely to that role, because there are other functions that it could fulfil. It may be difficult to
Mr. Francois : My hon. Friend makes a good point. The two roles are not mutually exclusive. If some TA units were to train in that role, that does not mean that they could never do anything else. Part of the concept of the armed forces is that they are inherently flexible. My argument is that there are not enough TA units. I would like to see extra TA units re-established, which may specialise in home defence but could also be deployed for other tasks. For example, a TA infantry unit that specialised in home defence could assist in flood defence, if the town in which it was based was threatened by rising floodwater. The two roles are not mutually exclusive.
In conclusion, history shows that when our country has been in great danger, the Territorial Army has often rallied to the colours. It has an honourable record of service. Whenever the bugle has sounded, it has responded to the call. As a result, it has sometimes been taken for granted. Its contribution should be properly recognised and honoured. The TA also needs to be resourced.
Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent): For the purposes of transparency, I want to register an interest. I serve on the regular reserve of officers and think that I will do so for at least another 10 years. I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) on obtaining the debate, and I thank the Minister for listening.
In any debate about the Territorial Army, it is appropriate to begin by paying tribute to all those who give up so much of their time, because serving in the TA demands sacrifices in family life, social life, and work. It has a huge amount to offer the Regular Army. It provides a link between the Regular Army and the civilian world, and the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, South and Cleveland, East (Dr. Kumar) has paid tribute to that. Critically, when members of the Territorial Army join the Regular Army, they bring with them skills that are not usually available to the Regular Army. I had direct experience of that when I assembled a battle group to go to the British Army training unit, Suffield in the mid-1990s, about 15 per cent. of which was made up of members of the Territorial Army. They were easy to slot into the order of battle, and as the battle group went on, they contributed more and more. By the end, some of them were more useful than some of the regular troops that were there in the first place. Let no one doubt the real contribution that they make.
There is much that is right about the Territorial Army. The debate comes down to two simple questions: first, what is the Territorial Army's role in the modern army, particularly post-11 September, and secondly, how will it meet that role? As is appropriate for a Westminster Hall debatethey tend not to be party politicalI shall make my remarks as constructive as possible. In trying to assess the Territorial Army's role post-11 September, I considered the strategic defence
Hugh Robertson : It was largely made up of formed units at low readiness that were intended to defend the United Kingdom against invasion or to reinforce the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation in Germany.
We need a smaller, more readily deployable and usable Territorial Army that is closely integrated with regular force elements. Although numbers will fall to about 40,000 volunteers, with reductions concentrated in the yeomanry, infantry and support-combat arms, we will be able to deploy more rapidly and bring the Territorial Army to full operational readiness. To achieve that, we will create an Army mobilisation centre and ensure that TA units are fully manned, trained and equipped to the standards needed to undertake their tasks effectively.
We must ask whether, as a result of the strategic defence review, the TA is indeed now fully manned, trained and equipped. I suspect that it is not. We must also ask whether the review's vision is still correct after 11 September. To answer that question, we must consider the three types of operations that the Army is likely to undertake post-11 September. The first must now be the war against terrorism. The second is an uneasy grouping of United Nations and Northern Ireland-type peacekeeping, peace-enforcement, counter-terrorist low-intensity operations. The third is conventional war.
There is still a clear need, which we often forget about, to reinforce the Regular Army with proper formed units. I strongly suspect that the TA is not geared up for a wholesale call-up. We would be extremely foolish to forget its role in conventional war. We rediscovered it when we had to fight the Gulf war. I have no doubt that, post-11 September, such expeditionary warfare may once again be on the agenda. We never know when such events are round the corner, and we must make sure that the TA is ready to meet them.
Mr. Robathan : Surely that is the crux of the matter. Suddenly, we are in a new ball game in which, notwithstanding the strategic defence review, we might have to deploy force overseas. The strategic defence review does not have the capability to commit a formed TA battalion or unit of that size.
I shall now deal with the rough alliance of peacekeeping, peace-enforcement, counter-terrorist low-intensity operations. Those were the operations envisaged for the Territorial Army in the July 1998 defence review, but the fact that it is not fully manned at the moment must undermine that. The estimates that I have seen suggest that there is a shortfall of about 18,000 recruits, and that must be addressed. The TA has a vital role to play in reinforcing the Regular Army, and in releasing its units to take part in the war against terrorism.
Many solutions to that shortfall could be implemented. For a start, the Territorial Army must be more proactive about the way that it recruits people. When I left the Regular Armyhon. Gentlemen may look puzzledno one made any attempt to recruit me into the Territorial Army. That must be addressed. [Interruption.] At the end of the debate, my hon. Friends may know why.
Secondly, the Territorial Army must be more flexible about how it incorporates people into its ranks. An extremely good scheme for watchkeepers has now been abolished. Regular Army units regularly need watchkeepers, and an obvious pool of people with ex-Regular Army experience could fulfil that role. When we took a battle group to BATUSBritish Army training unit, Suffieldeach of the company squadron groups had a Territorial Army regular reserve watchkeeper. The scheme was abolished four or five years ago, and such flexibility needs to be restored.
Thirdly, a legislative review is necessary in the wake of changes in employment law to ensure that people can leave their work easily and be called up for operations and for the Territorial Army, as many of my hon. Friends said. Fourthly, we need to tackle pay differentials, which have, as far as I am aware, applied for five, six or even 10 years. It is simply wrong that people who serve in the Territorial Army are treated differently from those who serve in the Regular Army. That must be addressed.
The question of real estate has been touched on in previous speeches. People who give up their spare time for such activities want to do so conveniently. Many of the buildings being sold off are in the centre of town. The question of the Duke of York's has been raised. We must stop that process now.
The final matter that I should like to discuss is the war against terrorism. Many hon. Members have been enormously impressed over the years by the United States National Guard, a force that can deal with all types of civil emergency. The United States places a much bigger emphasisand not merely because of the events of 11 Septemberon what it calls homeland defence. The Secretary of State suggested in a recent speech that in his view the Regular Army is not available for that task. The Territorial Army is ideally suited for that role, for two reasons in particular. It has excellent links with local communities, which need to be developed and improved. In that respect, we should note the importance of county regimental links, which draw people into the Territorial Army and allow them to feel that they are making a genuine contribution to their local community.
Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster): I am grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson) for giving way, and to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) for having secured the debate. Glancing around the Chamber, I noticed my old
Does my hon. Friend feel, as I did when visiting America, the close link between the general public and the National Guard? A National Guardsman told me, "The best thing about this is that the public keep coming up to me and saying how pleased they are to see us here." That is exactly the same link as the Territorial Army has with society as a whole. Does my hon. Friend agree that because of that link the money that is so desperately needed and richly deserved is vital?
The Territorial Army is ideally placed to achieve co-ordination between the various civil authoritiesfire, police, ambulance and the new strategic health authoritiesand the military, which is critical in fulfilling the role of homeland defence effectively. In the summer, I spent a lot of my time in my constituency on the question of Kent Ambulance national health service trust. It was obvious that we did not have proper contingency plans to deal with a big civil emergency in Kent. Enormous infrastructure issues are involved, including the channel tunnel and the ports. There was a sort of plan to deal with a disaster in any of those places, but an all-embracing plan looking after fire, police, the strategic health authorities and the Territorial Army, which could be easily called up to provide the manpower, was noticeably missing.
We must review the role of the Territorial Army post-11 September and not forget its traditional role of reinforcing the Regular Army in times of conventional warfare and in low-intensity, peacekeeping operations. That review must be conducted in concert with the main defence review, not as a postscript tacked on to the endthe Territorial Army is too important for that.
Mr. Prisk : As my hon. Friend pointed out, the integration of the regulars and the reserves is crucial. Does he share my concern that, because some members of the Army Board lack direct experience in sharing civilian and military roles and of the practical difficulties involved, they are not aware of sensitivities?
Mr. David Laws (Yeovil): I am delighted to take part in today's debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) on securing it, and on the effective way in which he deployed his arguments. He raised issues of great importance to the armed forces not only after the events of 11 September, but because of the wide range of challenges constantly faced by the armed forces that go beyond that of terrorist threat.
I also enjoyed the speech by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, South and Cleveland, East (Dr. Kumar), who set a good example to hon. Members, especially new ones, by skilfully weaving together his constituency experiences and, at the end of his speech, making some powerful points about the general debate. He tempted me to alter my own comments by making additional references to helicopters, but as I am speaking on behalf of my party, I will keep to more general points.
We benefited from the comments made by the self-styled platoon of Conservative Back Benchers, who deployed their considerable experiences and talents in this subject. I cannot imagine anyone daring to challenge our facilities knowing that such skilful and able individuals defend them.
I wish to frame my comments today on the basis of questions raised by the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson), who asked what was the Territorial Army's role in today's armed forces and how it could be fulfilled. Whether it could fulfil that role effectively is also the subject of today's debate.
The key point about the Territorial Army is the flexibility and resource that it offers to our armed forces. It produces a reserve that we can deploy in several ways. I recently read the excellent biography of Churchill, by Lord Jenkins. I have reached the section on the second world war, which tells us that whenever Churchill met a general, he took the opportunity to ask him about his reserves. From the general's answer, Churchill determined his effectiveness in winning the battle, by finding out whether the general had deployed reserves that are available and could give flexibility. That is the key role that the Territorial Army can fulfil. It is wide and varied, and I hope that the Territorial Army will play it with flexibility.
It would be all too easy to conclude from recent events that the whole posture of our armed forces must be changed, and end up with a set of armed forces and a Territorial Army that is attempting to fight the last battle, although the next battle may be different. I argue, as did the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent, that we need a Territorial Army with flexibility to deploy the specialist and skilled troops who were sent to help our armed forces in such places as Bosnia and Afghanistan. The TA must also have the flexibility to deal with homeland issues that have been raised since 11 September, on which many hon. Members commented, and the flexibility to deploy more forces if we must fight a larger-scale conventional war. We all hope that that will not be the case, but we cannot guarantee that. It is only a few years since we had to deploy large forces in places such as Kuwait.
The second issue that I shall cover is whether the Territorial Army's present configuration meets the challenges of a flexible reserve to fulfil the roles of back-up for special forces, a conventional reserve and homeland defence.
Several hon. Members touched on the problems that the Territorial Army faces. The size of the Territorial Army has reduced over the past few years from 75,000 personnel in 1998 to around 59,000 in 1997. The figure is closer to 41,000 today. To be fair to this Government and the previous Conservative Government, that decline occurred alongside shrinkage of defence expenditure and the number of people in the main armed forces. That was a consequence of the end of the cold war and we should therefore welcome some of the contraction of the forces.
However, there is a worry that further shrinkage of the TA will mean that it will not be able to fulfil the roles that I mentioned. We must consider the 41,000 troops in the light of Government figures that suggest that only 50 to 60 per cent. are deployable at any point.
We cannot compare that percentage with previous years in entirety. The Minister wrote a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch) in December 2001, which revealed that, unfortunately, somebody in the Ministry of Defence seems to have destroyed the records of the proportion of the Territorial Army who were available during years before 1998. However, recent figures show that only 50 to 60 per cent. of 41,000 people are deployable at any one time. I hope that the Minister agrees that that figure is too low. Does he plan to increase the availability of the 41,000 troops?
The role that we envisage for Territorial Army forces has a bearing on their availability. Several hon. Members touched on the problem faced by some members of the Territorial Army who were asked to go to Afghanistan or other foreign countries. That may be disruptive, and I understand that individuals and their employers could be reticent about long-term deployment. We must consider how to deal with that problem, and we must not demotivate people who want to be part of the Territorial Army by giving the impression that it is a home guard that will stand guard over various establishments in the event of terrorism. I hope that the Minister will address that and acknowledge that the motivation of personnel in the Territorial Army is linked to the role that the Government envisage for them.
The other issue that relates to the number of troops that can be deployed is the amount of wastage from year to year in the Territorial Army. The Minister provided figures in a recent written answer that suggest that wastage is as high as 25 to 30 per cent. That might be significant with regard to several issues that hon. Members have raised, such as motivation, pay andevenfacilities. We must reduce that wastage, if we are to ensure that as many as possible of the 41,000 people are available at any time.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Newark for securing the debate. It has given hon. Members the opportunity to hold the Government to account on the issues under discussion. My party supports the key work that has been done by members of the Territorial Army, and we look forward to hearing the Minister's comments on how their role can be strengthened.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) on securing the debate, and the hon. Members and my hon. and gallant Friends who have spoken. They have brought a wealth of experience and expertise to the debate. It has been a high-quality debate, and I will endeavour not to lower the tone.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newark made a plea to the Minister that the director of reserve forces and cadets should be a proper, pukka reservist. That relates to an important issue, about which I wish to add my own request. The reservists are embedded in the civilian community from which they draw their livelihoods, and they have a different ethos from the regulars, whose life style is predominantly closed and military, and who are much more amenable to central direction. It is important that the man who is charged with advising the Minister about the reserves should be a reservist with a proper day job. We have recently done well in that respect, but I wish that to be maintained.
I share the concern that has been expressed about the number of Territorial Army command appointments that have been taken up by regular officers. However, during the many years that I have been a Territorial Army officer I have received many regular commanding officers and, although I always found that experience profoundly shocking at the outset, it gingered up the regiment. The regiment benefited a great deal from occasionally having a regular commanding officer. Therefore, I would not wish to see that possibility ruled out, although it would be undesirable if too many regular officers commanded Territorial regiments.
The Opposition's position remains the same as it was at the time of the strategic defence review, and throughout the previous Parliament. We believed that 59,000 was the correct figure with regard to the size of the Territorial Army. If that figure were significantly reduced, that would damage the Territorial Army's ability to deliver its historic tasks of providing the civilian and military link, regenerating the reserves, and providing support to the Regular Armyand more of that support is required in the post-SDR environment, with its increased demand for expeditionary forces, and for support to the civilian power.
We hold to that positionalthough, given the events of 11 September 2001, perhaps we should review our assumptions, particularly in respect of what may come out of the additional chapter to the SDR. New roles have already been mentioned this morning by my hon. Friends. Even if we held to our view that 59,000 was the right figure, we might have to review whether a larger establishment was required to deliver a trained strength of 59,000, so there may need to be some expansion of the Territorial Army. Such issues need to be considered at great length. The measures would not be inexpensive. We shall issue a consultation document in the next few weeks that invites a debate on the subject.
The principal asset that the Territorial Army brings to the table in which the Regular Army is interested is the 3,000 serial reservistsserial mobilisers, should I saywho go from one mobilisation to another. One can understand the belief on the part of some regular officers that if all that is wanted and needed from the TA is those 3,000, there is no need for an establishment of 59,000 or, as it now is, 41,000. We must be aware that the reduction in the establishment of the TA took place at the same time as the change in emphasis in its structure, which reduced formed units that were deployable as such, and placed much greater emphasis on an individual training organisation capable of filling gaps in the Regular Army.
That has led to two problems. First, we are now fishing in too small a pond to find the required number of deployable reservists. The SDR reduction in the TA hit most severely the units that provided the bulk of its commitment in the Balkans. Secondly, the formed units are the goose that lays the golden egg, in terms of generating serial mobilisers.
The previous director of reserve forces and cadets described the TA as a broad church. Let us say that one third of it is young, with few financial commitments or family responsibilities. Such people are readily able to deploy, and gain a great deal from such experience. At the other end of the broad church is a third made up of older people with family responsibilities and developed careers. They are less able, but not impossible, to deploy. A constituent of minea judgehas recently returned from the Balkans. He can deploy, but is much less flexible than someone in the third at the other end of the spectrum. The other third is somewhere in between the two.
We rely disproportionately on the third that is much less deployable to provide the training infrastructure of the formed unit and deliver the third that is deployable. The reduction in the emphasis on the infrastructure and the formed unit is already beginning to show, in terms of the damage that it will do to the TA's ability to deliver the number of men that the Regular Army requires.
We have already begun to see evidence of that. My hon. Friend the Member for Newark referred to the level of undermanning. The Minister referred to some units that are overmanned, but most of those are a consequence of the reduction in establishments in SDR and it will be a relatively short-term phenomenon. We must not ignore the warning signals. The footprint of the TA is already far too dispersed to fulfil properly its function of recruiting and retaining. In many respects,
There is already a severe shortage of young officers. I am involved in that aspect of the TA. At the territorial commissioning board, a large number of high quality candidates are coming through. However, not enough of them reach Sandhurst. The courses there are under strength and some are being cancelled. Sandhurst is now complaining about the quality of the training of the candidates when they initially present themselves at the college. They are effectively untrained, and what was designed as a testing course is increasingly becoming a training course. That is a severe problem that must be avoided. I can think of many initiatives that we could adopt to deal with that, but time prevents me from listing them, and I am interested to hear what the Minister has to say.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie) : As usual I have a long, and I must say, as I did not write it myself, beautifully crafted speech. However, in the interests of trying to reply to the points that have been made, I will have to abandon it. I shall start with some general issues and then move on to more specific ones. I shall try not to miss anything out, but if anyone wanted to catch my eye towards the end, I would be happy to respond.
We must recognise that as rules change, we must change the ability of our men and women to cope with them. Hence the development of the centre at Chilwell, which has yet fully to make its mark but which is rapidly proving a valuable resource in the mobilisation of Territorial Army personnel. It will continue to play a growing and important role in the future. There is a gap in capability, which we are trying to meet. Our aspiration is to create fully formed units to perform the tasks that we expect of them. Yes, at present they do much in the way of individual reinforcement, but that always has been and always will be a role for reserves.
This is the first opportunity that I have had for a debate, as Minister responsible for reserves, with so many of my reserve officers actually present and speaking to me. I can assure them that, as with any reserve officer that I meet, I will listen to them very carefully.
To make a general point, as hon. Members will know, we will shortly publish a consultation paper on material that ought to go into the new chapter. I would welcome their responses and I will be happy to talk to them individually about that if they so wish. I include the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for New Forest, West, who, despite many grey hairs, is still well within the age limit, unlike the unfortunate hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), who has had to drop off the twigI will not make the obvious remark.
The TA is about 1,300 short of its establishment of 41,200. There is a high turnover of TA personnel, and we are trying to find out why. However, the rate has always been high. Perhaps it is something with which we have to live. Given the rate of flux, a shortage of about 1,300 is not considered to be critical. We are trying, for instance, to recruit into medical units, but it takes a great deal of time because we need specialised personnel.
We need to strike a balance. Yes, we want more highly skilled personnel, but we also need flexibility. I agree that we need both, but there is a dissonance between the two. We cannot have extreme flexibility and extreme skill, so when looking to build up a highly skilled specialist unit we must recognise that it may be a role for other parts of the TA. We must be careful when doing that, because the concept of the home guard must be avoided at all costs. Indeed, I would utterly reject that as a role for the Territorial Army. That is not what it is for, and it is not what we want.
The regulations with regard to commanding officers of the TA are clear. TA officers who are recommended in confidential reports will always get command in preference to regular officers, but we must remember that the pressure of their civilian jobs often makes life difficult for TA officers. Frankly, I do not see a way out of that dilemma. By and large, officers hold responsible jobs in the community and many do not have the option of continuing as part-time senior officers, given the necessary commitment that it requires.
The present director of reserve forces and cadets is Brigadier Tom Lang, who is a Royal Marine. I know Tom well, and meet him regularly. His is a part-time appointment. There is no question of the directorship being taken over by a regular officer, but we are giving the director more roles and increased responsibilities, and we will need either more part-time officers or a full-time reserve officer. Another possibility might be for the cadets to be moved from the TA. I am talking about possibilities, not about Government policy. I am thinking on my feet. It is a complex situation, but I guarantee that that post will be kept as a reserve post, although the increasing workload may make it a full-time past rather than the present part-time post of two days a week.
Dr. Moonie : I am happy to acknowledge it. The ideal would be for someone in normal full-time civilian employment to do the job, but I recognise the importance of the director having empathy with what goes on. I recognise that an increasing amount of work needs to be done.
Mr. Robathan : Will the Minister answer a question from a much more junior officer? Our defence needs have changed since 11 September, not only at homethis place was a targetbut on overseas expeditions. We played a supporting role in Afghanistan, and we may need to do so in other places.
Dr. Moonie : I accept that point, but there is a shortage of officers. The reasons may be demographic or societal; and young people may have a more selfish attitude or be more materialistic. I could ramble on for hours about the possibilities, and I cannot honestly say that I have an answer. There are some typical officers on the Opposition Benches. If that is good enough for the hon. Gentlemen, I do not see why it should not be good enough for others.
My hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, South and Cleveland, East (Dr. Kumar) asked some questions. I must make it clear that reservists will not be going to Afghanistan. Some have been compulsorily called up, and I support that call 100 per cent. I have argued for it at the Ministry of Defence for the past year or so, because I think that it is right, but no reserves will be going to Afghanistan. They will be based in this country. There might be a possibility of them going to Afghanistan in future, but certainly not now.
Ethnic minorities are important in helping us to increase the numbers. Tomorrow, I am going to an exhibition in Hounslow about the role of Sikh regiments, which will be interesting. I am happy to visit the centre to see for myself how dilapidated it is, although I am sure that it will get a coat of paint at some time.