HC Deb 07 March 1989 vol 148 cc741-2
4. Mr. Thurnham

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent representations he has received about the role of the Territorial Army; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Michael Neubert)

The Ministry of Defence receives a great many representations about the Territorial Army, including its role, from a wide variety of sources. Careful note is taken of all those views. Where appropriate, they are fed into the continuing process of evaluation of the effectiveness of the TA, and the vital part that it plays in the defence of the nation.

Mr. Thurnham

When my hon. Friend is next in the north-west I hope that he will be able to visit the Bolton artillery unit, which has a long association with the town dating back to 1860. He would then appreciate the urgent need for new, larger premises. Will my hon. Friend press the Territorial Army premises unit to find larger premises and to respond more quickly to commercial opportunities as I understand that the unit has £2 million available to spend?

Mr. Neubert

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his invitation to his constituency. He can be assured that North-West TAVR, which is responsible for TA accommodation in the area, is maintaining close contact with the local authority and estate agents in the Bolton district. I am aware of the long association of the Royal Artillery with Bolton. I confirm that we intend to find a site and that funds will be available to construct a suitable permanent centre for 216 air defence battery.

Mr. Duffy

Why did Territorial Army manpower fall off so sharply in 1988?

Mr. Neubert

It is true that we have suffered a small setback in our aim to reach an increased target, but our present level is none the less very much higher than it was when we came into power in 1979, increasing from 60,000 to 73,000. We have plans to attract more recruits and to retain more people in the Territorial Army. We have simplified administration and increased the tax-free bounties, and we have improved training. We have a major advertising campaign under way, which has already enhanced public awareness of the importance of the Territorial Army.

Mr. Conway

As the Territorial Army supplies 50 per cent. of the manpower but takes up less than 4 per cent. of the Army budget, does my hon. Friend agree that it represents extraordinarily good value for the taxpayer? As the birth rate is expected to decline towards the end of the decade, does my hon. Friend agree that the efforts of the employers' support groups in encouraging recruitment among young people will become more and more vital and deserve the congratulations of the House?

Mr. Neubert

Yes, and I readily pay tribute to Tommy Macpherson and the national employment liaison committee and to the efforts that they are making to foster greater awareness among employers and to make more facilities available for people to serve in the Territorial Army which, as my hon. Friend says, has a vital part to play in peace and in war.