HC Deb 10 December 1991 vol 200 cc733-48 3.31 pm
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Tom King)

With permission, I should like to make a statement on Britain's reserve forces for the 1990s.

Earlier this year I set out the structure of Britain's defence for the 1990s and in particular, in July, I announced the new structure for the Army and its role in NATO's new Rapid Reaction Corps. I referred to the vital contribution that reserves make to our defence effort, and said that we were studying the best mix of regulars and reserves, and would make a further announcement about this later in the year. I now turn to the details of our proposals.

In July, I set out the approach taken by the Royal Navy to rationalise the Royal Naval Reserve and Royal Naval Auxiliary Service and to develop naval reserves that are streamlined but more closely integrated with the Royal Navy.

We have also been looking for opportunities for the wider employment of reserves in the Royal Air Force. Two of these are Royal Auxiliary Air Force personnel in our Rapier anti-aircraft missile force, and as support for our mobile air defence radar convoys in the new United Kingdom air defence system. We are also looking to employ auxiliaries in mission planning for Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft. We intend to retain all the six current Royal Auxiliary Air Force Regiment field squadrons for the area defence of airfields. We are also aiming to increase the number of Royal Auxiliary Air Force defence force flights for the perimeter defence of other vital installations.

I turn now to the Territorial Army. We need to adapt its roles to support and complement the new roles of the regular army. Under the previous strategy, it had important roles defending positions close to the previous West German border in support of the substantial British stationed forces. Clearly this task is no longer relevant in a unified Germany and under the new NATO strategy of greater flexibility and mobility. Instead, new opportunities arise to be part of the Rapid Reaction Corps and in national defence, and it is for these new roles and responsibilities that the Territorial Army units must now be structured and trained.

In some of those roles they will take over from regular units. A TA Yeomanry Regiment will provide reconnaissance for the Rapid Reaction Corps with tracked armoured vehicles. Two TA Royal Artillery regiments will be equipped, for the first time, with 155mm FH70 towed howitzers. Three Air Defence regiments will be equipped with the new Starstreak surface-to-air missile when it enters service. The TA Royal Engineers will have wider roles and take on greater responsibility for airfield damage repair and support of the RAF Harrier force. Some TA Royal Signals units will be equipped with the Ptarmigan communications systems for both ARRC and national deployments.

Elsewhere, the TA will also take over from the Regular Army greater responsibility for the direct defence of the United Kingdom. It will not be limited to the more static tasks previously associated with military home defence. Longer warning times mean that that role will increasingly be seen as that of a more flexible general reserve for national defence.

The strength of the infantry will reduce by around 18 per cent., but the Royal Engineers, Royal Signals, Intelligence Corps and Army Air Corps will all need to attract substantially more volunteers to meet the new roles which they will be taking on. As with the Regular Army, the TA will in future be properly funded and trained to take on the roles required of it. There will be even closer links between the Regular and TA parts of what we see as 'one army'.

The main changes are set out in a briefing pack which will be available in the Vote Office at the end of this statement.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Why should these be available in the Press Gallery now, as they are not available to Members of Parliament in the Vote Office now?

Mr. Speaker

I do not disagree.

Mr. King

I agree with the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike), and I apologise if that is the case.

In summary, the changes will be as follows. Although reorganised, there will continue to be five yeomanry regiments. There will be 36 infantry battalions, compared to 41 today. With one exception, all will adopt a three-rifle-company organisation, compared with four companies today. In respect of the Parachute Regiment, 15 Para will amalgamate with 4 Para, and the new battalion will include one company based in Glasgow with its headquarters there and detachments where the battalion is currently based in Scotland.

In the Royal Artillery, two Air Defence regiments will amalgamate. Royal Signals and Royal Engineers will also reorganise for their new and expanded roles. A second Army Air Corps Squadron will be formed, building on the success of the first, which was raised in 1987. The Royal Army Medical Corps will be reorganised as smaller self-contained units, although its overall size is being studied further as part of a wider review of the defence medical services.

The Home Service Force was formed in 1985 to guard selected key points in the United Kingdom. Its members were permitted more flexible age and medical standards. Given the increased warning time, we no longer need a separate organisation. The HSF will therefore be absorbed within the mainstream TA and its members given the opportunity to transfer initially on their present terms of service. I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to those who have served during those years in the Home Service Force.

The current facilities are established for a paper strength of the TA of some 91,000, significantly above the figure recently achieved, currently some 74,000. We have therefore been keeping a much larger infrastructure of regiments and buildings than the manpower justified. I said in July that we expected the long-term future strength of the TA would settle at between 60,000 jand 65,000. The force structure that we have developed, based on our future operational needs, requires a peacetime strength of around 63,500. It would be reinforced in war by the addition of regular reservists to a fully mobilised establishment of over 71,000. In particular while many units are presently under strength, we intend that the units in the new structure should be fully manned.

I have made it clear that, in the changes, we would not wish to turn away willing and suitable volunteers, and the changes proposed will be achieved by natural turnover. Where units move or change their role every effort will be made to offer volunteers an alternative opportunity to serve, if not in the same TA centre then in another unit in the vicinity. Where necessary, local units will be allowed to keep a higher strength than their paper establishment.

In developing these proposals, we have consulted widely among those with an interest in the TA with senior serving volunteers, with regimental colonels, the Council of Territorial Auxiliary and Volunteer Reserve Associations, the TAVRAs, and, most recently, local associations. I am most grateful to all those who have contributed for the positive and consultative approach they have taken. Further consultation with local TAVRAs will now begin to determine the implications of the changes I have described for individual TA centres. The proposals will result in some modest reduction in the support staff of the TA. Every effort will be made to help those affected.

The highly successful Army Cadet Force often relies on the use of TA facilities. In restructuring we will ensure that this important and successful national youth movement is safeguarded. The current strength of the Army Cadet Force is around 40,000, supported by some 7,000 adult instructors. This has been recently reviewed, and there are no plans for further changes.

Detailed work will proceed in the new year to plan the implementation of these proposals and to enable decisions to be taken on regimental titles, affiliations and local estate matters, so that restructuring can begin from 1 April 1992.

To underpin the more flexible and responsive role which reserves can play in future, we shall seek in the next Parliament to amend the Reserve Forces Act 1980 to ensure their most effective use.

The whole House appreciates the commitment of those who give up their time to serve in the volunteer reserves, including a number of hon. Members. At a time of considerable change, when the structure and role of reserves is changing as well, this statement makes it clear that we see a continuing and important role for them, working as fully manned units in support of our regular forces and taking on a number of important and challenging roles in our future defences.

I commend my statement to the House.

Mr. Martin O'Neill (Clackmannan)

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. The whole House recognises the contribution made by the reserves—the Territorial Army, the Royal Naval Reserve, the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and the Royal Auxiliary Air Force—to the defence of these islands and beyond. The review has provoked a flood of correspondence from our constituents. The high regard in which the forces are held is clear.

This is only an initial statement, and the information pack, which will add a great deal more meat to the bones of the Secretary of State's statement, will require close study. I hope, therefore, that the House will have the opportunity for a debate when we have had time not only to digest the information pack but to get the reactions of constituents to the important and wide-ranging statement.

The Secretary of State has missed an opportunity to be more explicit about attempting to secure the employment prospects—

Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The documentation is not available in the Vote Office.

Mr. Speaker

That is not a matter for me, but I share the concern that is expressed. If the press have been issued with the information, it would be appropriate for it to be made available also to hon. Members. Perhaps the Minister will do something about it.

Mr. O'Neill


Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

On a further point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have already said that you have a certain sympathy because the documentation was not available before, and is not now available, in the Vote Office. Are we not left in an impossible position? We shall be forced to ask questions in the dark and we cannot properly probe on behalf of our constituents. Should there not be a period of reflection, an adjournment during which we can find out the facts to equip ourselves to ask appropriate questions?

Mr. Speaker

This is not a matter for me. However, hon. Members would be able to ask more pointed questions if they had the information available to them. I agree with the shadow Minister that perhaps the best thing would be to have a brief exchange today, especially in view of the business before the House, and to have a debate later.

Mr. O'Neill

I appreciate your remarks, Mr. Speaker. The Secretary of State has adopted a high-handed approach, either by accident or by intent. This issue will not go away, and doubtless we shall return to it—I hope in Government time and at mutual convenience.

The Secretary of State made an oblique reference to the Reserve Forces Act 1980. Can he confirm that that Act covers possible changes to employment protection legislation? That will ensure that the jobs of those members of the Territorial Army with less than two years' service with the company or firm will be guaranteed when they return from their summer camp. The voluntary scheme now in operation does not cover all members of the TA. We all know of TA members who went on summer camp and returned to find that their jobs no longer existed. They do not have recourse to employment tribunals to make an appropriate appeal against unfair dismissal.

How many pilots are there in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force? Can the Secretary of State tell the House whether there are plans to make use of flight simulators to train those pilots who have left the RAF and who are now working with commercial airlines? Those pilots have been trained at considerable cost to the taxpayer, but their skills are then lost to the armed services, because there are no means to enable them to keep up to scratch.

Can the Secretary of State confirm that the references he made to the 15 Para amalgamations and the location of the company in Glasgow will, nevertheless, mean a reduction in strength from a battalion to a company? How many people does he expect will be based in Scotland and the north of Britain, because 15 Para covers the area north of a line from the Wash to the Mersey?

What will be the significance of the contribution of the territorials to the Rapid Reaction Corps? The right hon. Gentleman gave an undertaking to NATO that that contribution would be equivalent to no more than 20 per cent. of our forces in the second corps. Will the right hon. Gentleman guarantee to adhere to that figure?

Would the right hon. Gentleman also take account of the concern about the reductions in the infantry? Will he make every effort to ensure that those who are made redundant as a result of reductions in the infantry have an opportunity to volunteer for the other services where the right hon. Gentleman expects an increase in numbers? What does the right hon. Gentleman anticipate will happen to those members of the Home Service Force who are over the right age and whose fitness may not be the same as that of the members of other forces? Will they be discarded, or will they be able to continue in uniform as part of the reserve?

Finally, what savings will be made as a consequence of today's announcement?

Mr. King

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for a number of his comments. He referred to the flood of correspondence, and that is testimony to the degree of consultation that has taken place. People have had ample opportunity to make their comments.

It is fair comment to say that I made this statement in general terms deliberately. It is backed up by a number of documents. I know that hon. Members will want to read those documents, and I apologise for their absence. However, I do not believe that their availability now would have helped hon. Members enormously in making an immediate response to my statement. Those documents deal with a huge amount of detail, because we are talking about the locations of more than 600 different units around the United Kingdom. That involves the exact location of individual drill halls in towns and cities across the country, the catchment areas and the way in which different units operate their pattern of recruitment and service, which is special to the TA.

The fact that I have been able to make the statement now means that, during the recess, hon. Members will have an opportunity to hear the views of those who will be affected. They will also have an input, because from now on it will be for the local TAVRAs and TA associations to become involved in determining the most suitable pattern for the future in their areas.

The hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) spoke about the job protection legislation. I am sure that he would want me to pay tribute to a distinguished Scot, Mr. Tommy MacPherson, who plays an outstanding part as chairman of the National Employer Liaison Committee, and to all the members of that body for the work they do in encouraging employers to be ready to assist their employees and give them support for playing their part, and giving up their time, in support of the volunteer reserve. I take note of the point that the hon. Gentleman made.

He asked for details and numbers of pilots. I will check on that and let him have the information. I will also answer his question about our NATO contribution.

The hon. Gentleman questioned me about the cost. Our best estimate, for manpower and equipment, is that the cost of the TA will be about £250 million a year. It is difficult to make a more precise estimate, but I would see the savings as being approximately proportionate to the reductions in numbers, which are about 17 per cent. So, whether it is £40 million or £45 million a year, it is a significant figure.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. In relation to points of order that have been raised with me, it may help the House if I say that this might provide an admirable subject for a debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill, subjects for which should be submitted to my office by the rising of the House this evening. I hope that some hon. Members may take that opportunity.

Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South)

On behalf of a large number of territorial soldiers who have asked me to make representations to my right hon. Friend, may I thank him for listening so carefully to the representations that have been made, and for undertaking to listen in future to representations?

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that, when units are allowed to recruit extra personnel above establishment, they may do so in all ranks and not just in the junior ranks? He will appreciate how important it is in the TA to have sergeants, warrant officers and more senior officers—captains and majors—in post and ready for an emergency. That is much more important than just allowing them to recruit extra riflemen.

Mr. King

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his opening remarks. In general, I can respond positively to his question, although he will understand what I mean when I say that it should not be abused. We are seeking to overcome the difficulty of having an establishment and, because of the scale of the turnover in the TA, there is a great gap between what we think the number is—the number for which we have provided—and the number actually recruited.

The figure that I have given—of 63,500 as the number we think we can recruit—is genuinely the strength we want to achieve and is not so far below the present level; in the future, with the demographic trends we face, it may prove to be quite a challenging target. In general, I seek to respond positively to my hon. Friend, because he understands the purposes for which I have agreed that units can keep a higher strength than their paper establishments, but it should not be abused.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)

The Minister will appreciate that there will be great sadness at the apparent demise of 15 Para, not least in the battalion but also among those who have an interest in airborne forces. However, I welcome the apparently discriminatory approach which the statement reveals—not least, for example, in the enhanced role which is to be given to the Royal Engineers. If there is, in general, to be an enhanced role for reserve forces, does that not, however, create a continuing obligation to see that they have the best equipment and best training opportunities? Can the right hon. Gentleman guarantee that, so far as it lies within his power, that training and those opportunities will be available?

Mr. King

I understand the hon. and learned Gentleman's concern about 15 Para, and we sought to respond constructively by making an announcement. Incidentally, Scotland will have a new yeomanry regiment, which we have based on the Ayrshire Yeomanry, and a new engineer regiment, which will work on airfield damage repair not far from the hon. and learned Gentleman's constituency, so developments have been made. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, the measure seeks to complement effectively the structure of our regular forces, so it discriminates in that there is some reduction in infantry, a significant increase in the Royal Signals—an increasingly important part of modern warfare and communications—in the Royal Engineers and in the Army Air Corps. That shows how we have sought to approach the matter.

One of my concerns was to maintain a substantial range of regular forces but to give them support and backing in terms of spares, equipment and training capability. My slogan, "smaller but better", is directed precisely to that point. If we expect people to volunteer and to give up their own time to serve, it is our duty to see that they have the support, equipment and training that they deserve.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that those members of 15 Para who wish to pursue their activities can do so through the company based in the other units throughout Scotland? Will they be given an opportunity to serve in, for instance, other specialist units like the Royal Marine Reserves? Will my right hon. Friend also confirm that his comments about the Royal Auxiliary Air Force show that the Scottish component of that reserve activity is enhanced and increased, and is thus seen as more important, in keeping with the increased assets of the Royal Air Force deployed in Scotland?

Mr. King

I can confirm that the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve will be increased in absolute terms for the whole country. There are opportunities, for members of 15 Para who wish to pursue their activities either within the company in Glasgow or in the other detachments that form part of that company. There are also opportunities in 15 Para—there is a commando detachment in Greenock and there are TA SAS units in Glasgow. Scotland suffers no amalgamations in terms of infantry regiments, so opportunities exist. f do not want any willing volunteers to he turned away.

Mr. James Molyncaux (Lagan Valley)

May I congratulate the Secretary of State on the wisdom of his decision to retain all 16 squadrons of the Royal Air Force Regiment? With regard to the TA, the Secretary of State will remember that he and I had an exchange on 14 October about the lack of proportionality. At that time, the TA in Northern Ireland was to be cut by 40 per cent. but by only 19 per cent. in Great Britain. Does the Secretary of State's statement redress that imbalance?

Mr. King

It is slightly better than that, but there will be greater reductions in Northern Ireland. In reality, however, Northern Ireland will still have a higher percentage of volunteers per head of population than in all but two other TAVRA areas in Great Britain, and all cap badges now represented in the Province will be retained. However, there will be reductions because of the much higher percentage of volunteers in the TA in Northern Ireland in the past.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)

We all have a great respect for and pride in our TA, and I should like to join my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) in thanking my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces for listening to our representations so patiently and for dealing with a difficult problem with such sensitivity and understanding.

Will my right hon. Friend take advantage of his proposals by making them known to a wider audience through an intensive recruitment campaign, which would be of much value? On a more parochial note, will he reassure me that the Surrey and Sussex Yeomanry has a future?

Mr. King

I think that "re-roled" is the answer to my hon. Friend's latter point. I think that it does have a future. I am grateful for my hon. Friend's initial comments. I can confirm the importance of continuing recruitment. We shall be looking to recruit 20,000 to the TA this year in recognition of the substantial turnover —30 per cent.—in the TA every year. Although hon. Members may hear about what appear to be reductions, we shall be launching a significant recruitment advertising campaign immediately to ensure that the TA is kept at the necessary strength.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

Tomorrow I shall receive a 25,000-signature petition in support of the 4th battalion the Royal Regiment of Wales, based at Swansea. Is the Secretary of State aware that his objective of finding alternatives within the vicinity will not apply if that battalion is closed, as the alternative is Cardiff, which is itself due for a 25 per cent. contraction? There will be considerable resentment in Wales if the contractions are imposed on us when the south-west, to which we lost our district headquarters, is to receive 5,000 full-time civilian defence posts.

Mr. King

As the right hon. Gentleman says, it is proposed that the 3rd and 4th battalions the Royal Regiment of Wales TA will amalgamate and adopt a three-company organisation. The local TAVRA has been considering plans that involve detachments in different locations, which will help those who serve in the regiment. We do not want to turn aside any willing volunteers—as the right hon. Gentleman may know, there are significant differences between the recruiting abilities of those two regiments. We hope that the new arrangements and the local agreements on the locations and drill halls of the new regiments will be helpful.

Mr. John Farr (Harborough)

Will my right hon. Friend say something about the Royal Navy? In his sensible restructuring of the reserves, he rightly said that the Army and Air Force would have opportunities to modernise the equipment that reservists use, but the Navy is in a difficult position because the old purpose of the NATO exercise—to provide an opportunity for reservists in the Royal Naval Reserve to go to sea—is out of date. Will my right hon. Friend say something about the future role of the Royal Naval Reserve?

Mr. King

I referred to the statement made in July on the overall structure. We are reconsidering the regular-reserve mix of the Royal Navy. I cannot go further today, but I can say that we are keen to ensure that both the Royal Naval Reserve and the Royal Fleet Reserve are used as effectively as possible, as well as the Royal Naval Auxiliary Reserve, which also plays an important part.

Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich)

Does the Secretary of State accept that the new roles and responsibilities to be given to our reserve forces mean that high-quality training becomes even more important? Will he give an assurance that adequate resources will be invested in training, and guaranteed for training? Will he assure us that, whenever money runs short, training will not be the first activity to be cut?

Mr. King

As the hon. Gentleman has a close interest in the matter, he will know that, while introducing the changes, one of my objectives has been to ensure that those changes were fully funded. I. think that it is generally accepted that the public expenditure announcements recognise that the resources allocated to defence enable us fully to fund our programme. That applies both to the Regular Army and to the reserve forces.

I stress what I said earlier: there has been a tendency to keep too big a structure which is too widely spread. We have been keeping an infrastructure—a capability—way beyond that used, which is a waste of money. I would much rather that the money was used for proper training and facilities for the people who serve and are able to train, than wasted on buildings which are not used.

Sir David Price (Eastleigh)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his declared intention to integrate our reserve forces more closely with the regular forces will be widely welcomed? With that in mind, will he assure the House that he will try to integrate training between reserve forces and regulars far more than in the past?

Mr. King

That is very much one of our purposes. Integration and complementary roles are necessary for effectiveness in the new strategic dispositions of our forces, not least for the Rapid Reaction Corps. In training, twinning the work of the regulars, the TA and the volunteer regiments is also the way to use them most effectively. It is important to ensure that the reserve forces reach the highest possible standards, and I shall certainly concentrate on that.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

The Secretary of State has told us once again that the whole package, including the Scottish element, is based on the assumption that there will be longer warning times of any conflict—up to a year instead of a matter of weeks or a month. Will the right hon. Gentleman remind the House how much warning time he had of the conflict in the Gulf, how much warning he expects to have from the IRA before any outrage and how much warning he expects of the consequences of the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the activities of extremists like Mr. Le Pen in France?

Mr. King

Warning time is a NATO concept to do with the situation on the central front and the threat of aggression from the east. It has nothing to do with warning time for the invasion of Kuwait, which has no relevance to my statement. We do not envisage using the TA to respond immediately to outrages in Northern Ireland or to make it the first wave of our assault for the repossession of Kuwait.

Mr. Robert Boscawen (Somerton and Frome)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that there is much to be commended in general in his decision to reduce the infantry battalions by only 12, 13 or 14 per cent., which is a great deal better than what he did for the Regular Army? Will he ensure that these infantry battalions are more swiftly available in future? Will he give us an idea of the future role of the Royal Corps of Transport? Will it, like other forces, merge with the Regular Army?

Mr. King

The role of the Royal Corps of Transport will take account of the lower overall force levels and hence its new scale of responsibility. It will also take account of the successful introduction of DROPS—the demountable rack offloading and pickup system—which has made a significant contribution to the capability of the Royal Corps of Transport, given the quantity of stores that can be shifted with the available resources.

When hon. Members read the fact sheet attached to my statement, they will see that it is difficult to compare like with like. Many of the units are not fully manned units, and hon. Members will see that the number of regiments, squadrons or batteries that we propose to keep in future show the truth of this. We will, for instance, keep the same number of signals regiments, but that will involve a 20 per cent. increase in manpower—a reflection of the fact that many of the present units are not fully manned.

Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)

I was pleased to hear the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about the Army Cadet Force. Over the years, many children from underprivileged families have been able to join youth clubs from which they were able to go away on camps during the Glasgow fair fortnight and at Easter and in September. I am encouraged to learn that TA companies will be expected to offer support, because I know that, when cadet units have been based with TA units that supported the Army Cadet Force, the boys got more training and help.


Mr. Speaker

Briefly, though, please.

Mr. Martin

Sorry, Mr. Speaker.

If the force is to be linked with the Regular Army, legislation must come before the House to make employers give leave of absence. It was ridiculous that highly trained personnel were prevented from going to the Gulf because of their jobs.

Mr. King

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he says about the Army Cadet Force, with which many hon. Members will agree. I have referred to the complicated question of administration, which will require careful drafting, but we want to try to ensure that those who serve in the voluntary reserve forces are available when they are needed and that their position is properly protected.

Dr. Charles Goodson-Wickes (Wimbledon)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his enlightened proposals for a revised and enhanced role for the TA in these uncertain times. I particularly welcome the close relationship between the TA and the regulars. Will my right hon. Friend add a new dimension to the debate by commenting on whether any studies have been carried out on how the TA could provide relief in the event of natural disasters, which would have the agreeable effect of combining military efficiency with humanitarian benefits?

Mr. King

As my hon. Friend knows, the TA already does do that on occasion, and I am interested in the ways in which it could be developed. I do not wish to comment further now, but I am sympathetic to his point.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

The Secretary of State has clarified the position on savings, but will he give us some idea of the savings which will result from a reduction of effectiveness in Scotland? Can he clarify the position in relation to 15 Para and talk in terms of numbers rather than amalgamations? What will be involved in the reduction from a battalion to one company in Scotland? Are we to take it that the company headquarters, not the battalion headquarters, will be in Glasgow? What will be the cost-effectiveness of having four subdivisions of a company? How can that possibly be cost-effective in terms of the operation of a paratroop battalion?

Mr. King

I am not sure that I can give the hon. Gentleman the first information that he requested. The picture is complicated because there are a number of changes—pluses and minuses—in the situation in Scotland. Until the further consultation to which I referred in my statement takes place, it is difficult to know which drill halls will continue and where the detachments will be based. When the hon. Gentleman sees the full details for the range of different places involved, he will realise that there are some complicated plans for north of Inverness —for example, at Dingwall, Kirkwall, Stornoway, Thurso and Wick—and it is not yet possible to determine how they will work out. Fifteen Para will be a company with a company headquarters, with the option, if it wishes, to have detachments in places where the paras are presently located.

Mr. Colin Shepherd (Hereford)

Does my right hon. Friend recall that, at one time, considerable concern was expressed that the Marches, including Herefordshire, would not have the opportunity to contribute fully towards the defence of the realm in terms of reserve activities? Can he confirm that 5 Light Infantry will continue its activities in that part of the world, which, if so, will be welcome? Will he confirm that the disposition of companies is not yet set in tablets of stone, and that circumstances relating to premises and recruitment records will have a distinct bearing on where those will be finally located?

Mr. King

On the first point, I can confirm that 5LI will continue and will include a company from the 4th battalion the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment. I can also confirm that it is for the TAVRAs and for the local people to determine the most appropriate location for the individual company headquarters.

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead)

Fifteen Para, which has its headquarters in my constituency, was being marched to oblivion until public opinion brought itself to bear on the Ministry, and I am grateful that it has taken a step backwards, but we still do not know what size that step is. For the fourth time of asking, what will be the impact on 15 Para of the change from battalion to company status, where will the battallion headquarters be, why is it being taken out of Scotland, and, at a time when the Secretary of State says that flexibility and mobility are the key attributes of Britain's Army, why are we making major reductions in a force which is the most flexible and mobile in the British Army?

Mr. King

I think that the hon. Gentleman knows that the TA parachute regiments are not charged with a parachute role, but serve mainly in an infantry and national defence role—as do ordinary infantry regiments. Unfortunately, 15 Para was significantly not as well recruited as the other two parachute regiments. It had four companies with only a 67 per cent. level of recruitment. Although the hon. Gentleman accepts that my announcement represents an improvement over the previous situation, I am anxious to see that those who want to serve have an opportunity to do so. I believe that the arrangements that we have announced give the best chance of ensuring that that will be the case. The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) sought to undermine that, but he will see how far we have gone.

Sir Charles Morrison (Devices)

My right hon. Friend reminded the House that the Territorial Army is currently under-recruited in comparison with establishment. Is he aware that the Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry Squadron at the Royal Yeomanry Regiment, based in Swindon, is notably, if not extravagantly, over-recruited? Will he confirm that that squadron will continue to enjoy old and new opportunities?

Mr. King

I should like to check on that before replying specifically to my hon. Friend, but I will certainly write to him. I know of his close interest in that matter.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

As a demob-happy Member of the House, may I ask the Secretary of State whether he realises the absolute shambles that he has made of Territorial Army recruitment? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware, for example, that when my wife and I were strolling along Blackpool promenade during the recent summer, I was accosted by a Territorial Army recruiting sergeant and put under enormous pressure to join the TA? Is the Secretary of State's announcement of a reduction in the age, health and fitness qualifications for membership of the Territorial Army meant as a calculated insult to me, or to the TA?

Mr. King

The hon. Gentleman will know—although the House may not—that, if there is one person who greets the news of his demobilisation with a particular sense of grief, it is his old pair. I cannot accept it with any great tranquillity. However, I am not sure that even any relaxation of more flexible age and medical standards could quite accommodate the hon. Gentleman in his present seniority.

Mr. John Browne (Winchester)

Does my right hon. Friend envisage the creation of a Territorial Army element in the Household Division, which would go some way to alleviating the greatly increased overstretch that the 40 per cent. cuts in the regular Household Division have caused? That would maintain the dual role that is vital to recruiting to the Household Division itself.

Mr. King

That suggestion has not been made to me.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

The Secretary of State will remember my exchanges with the Prime Minister in respect of volunteering, so he will understand my regret at the reduction in opportunities for those who want to volunteer for the TAVR in Northern Ireland. It seems rather strange that, if one does one's job well, one's opportunities are reduced.

Having said that, I welcome the retention of the Ulster Air Defence Regiment. However, is it to be reduced to two batteries—one in Coleraine and the other in Belfast—as originally planned, bearing in mind the tremendous tradition that regiment has? When may we expect a statement on the medical services aspects which are so important to the Northern Ireland situation? Will there be protection for those who have served in the Territorial Army for some 10 years, so that they may be allowed to complete their service and receive their TA decorations?

Mr. King

I will need to consider the hon. Gentleman's latter point, and I cannot comment on it now. I appreciate the disappointment felt in Northern Ireland, because I know the willingness to serve that exists there. It is striking how many more people proportionally have served in the TA in Northern Ireland than in other parts of the United Kingdom. I make that point with proper sensitivity. Those who wish to continue to serve can volunteer to do so on a part-time basis in the Ulster Defence Regiment. We are maintaining a significant presence in Northern Ireland: there will still be a higher percentage of volunteers per head of population there than in all but two of the other TAVRA areas.

We are moving on with the medical services. All the services are involved—the regular medical services of the RAF, the Navy and the Army. The question then arises of the most suitable arrangements to be made for the Territorial Army. In the past, the TA has been responsible for massive field hospitals; the current approach is to make such hospitals much smaller and more flexible, and to increase their number. Work is now in progress, although I cannot give an exact date for its completion. I have noted the hon. Gentleman's interest in the matter.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I must protect our subsequent business, on which there is considerable pressure. I will allow questions to the Secretary of State to continue for 10 minutes; if hon. Members ask brief questions, they will all be called.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend particularly on the formation of a second Territorial Army Air Corps squadron? Is it not a little perverse that, while the Army seems to recognise the value of flying reserves, the Royal Air Force is not yet convinced—unlike the air forces of the United States, Switzerland and Israel?

Would it not be more cost-effective to use auxiliary jet pilots who have come out of the service under "Options for Change" than to train women as fast jet pilots, however keen they may be? Most of them will probably go off and get married.

Mr. King

In that interesting contribution, my hon. Friend has probably managed to offend two distinct groups. He has expressed some fairly pungent criticisms, but his point is interesting, and I take note of it.

Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston)

Is it not astonishing that the Secretary of State, having made a decision on 15 Para, cannot or will not answer the pertinent points put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) and the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars)?

Cannot the right hon. Gentleman accept that the Para battalions should have been the last to be cut, and that, if cuts must be made, they should be made on the basis of operational effectiveness, not political expediency? Is not this the worst possible decision for both 4 and 15 Para? For how long can the right hon. Gentleman guarantee the existence of a 15 Para based in Glasgow? Why did he not decide to reduce the three para battalions to the new standard size?

Mr. King

I am interested to hear what the hon. Gentleman has to say. I am sure that that announcement will be greeted with great interest by the 1st and 2nd battalions the 52nd Lowland Volunteers and the 1st, 2nd and 3rd battalions of the Highland Volunteers. They happen to believe that they, too, make a pretty pertinent and effective contribution to the Territorial Army from Scotland.

Of course the paras make a valuable contribution. That is why we have sought to respond to representations, and to continue to give people in Scotland who wish to serve in the parachute regiments the opportunity to do so. There will be a number of such opportunities, whether they be among the commandos or the Marine commandos, or in the SAS, the new Royal Engineers Regiment—whose headquarters will be in Scotland—or the new Scottish Yeomanry Regiment which is to be set up. Certainly, it is no secret that, in proportional terms, Scotland has done rather well out of the arrangements.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

Is there any message of consolation that I can take to the very bruised people in Staffordshire, who watched with pride as the 3rd battalion received its new colours in September? Will that battalion be allowed to survive?

Mr. King

I am not sure which battalion my hon. Friend means, but I shall look into the matter and reply later.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)

The Secretary of State's catchphrase "smaller is better" has now given way to "so small that it is almost non-existent" in regard to 15 Para. With only one company left in Glasgow, is it not a fact that numbers will fall from over 600 to 150? That will do nothing for morale and recruitment in Glasgow.

Does not the Secretary of State agree with one of my constituents, Brigadier Alastair Pearson, who was the regiment's honorary colonel until 1989? In a letter to me, the brigadier said, "It is nothing but political. It is Treasury-led. It is not based on military criteria, and it will do nothing whatever for Scotland."

Mr. King

Sadly, that comment is completely uninformed. I do not know when it was made, but it is incorrect. The hon. Gentleman serves on the Select Committee on Defence, and he knows that a settlement has been made. The Select Committee has taken an interest and has recognised that we have fully funded the programme that we set out. Far from being Treasury-led, it is defence-strategy-led, and the Treasury has now agreed to fund the programme, so the comment was uninformed. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman cannot see the broader picture of what is happening to the other units and that it is not an unfair arrangement.

I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) for not responding to him. I confirm that the 3rd battalion will continue.

Mr. Ian Grist (Cardiff. Central)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the dismay that his proposals have caused in Wales? Why have the cuts been so disproportionately heavy there?

Mr. King

When my hon. Friend has a chance to read the full details, he will see that, although there is an amalgamation of regiments, other units will be moving into Wales and there will be new opportunities for serving in Wales. Proportionately, the reduction in Wales is less than the average for the United Kingdom as a whole.

Mr. William McKelvey (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)

Has the Secretary of State made any advance in redressing the ridiculous situation of the Scottish soldiers in the territorial units who served in the Gulf for 51 days and who were constantly under attack by Scud missiles? They have been informed that they do not qualify for their bounty because they have spent insufficient days at summer camp, despite serving 51 days in the Gulf. Are not 51 days in the Gulf more of a training exercise than running around the sand dunes at Barry with thunderflashes?

Mr. King

I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces is considering the issue, having given an undertaking to the House to do so. I shall ensure that the hon. Gentleman's interest is drawn to his attention.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

As to the background, does my right hon. Friend agree that, such is the high level of unit loyalty, any change will be greeted with apprehension by the Territorial Army community and the reserve community? However, does he agree that the news that he has announced today is good news for the reserve forces, because the units will be well equipped and will have an important role, and there will be full support for good recruiting areas such as Hampshire?

Mr. King

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He has summed up the issue much better than I could. That is precisely the point—the new reserve forces that we have announced will have important roles, will be relevant to our new defence strategy and will be well supported and equipped. That is our absolute intention. It is also our intention—this differs from what has been the case for a long time—that they will be fully manned units.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

Is it likely that the changes and related developments will lead the Ministry of Defence to release land in Scotland which it presently owns and leases for training purposes?

On a more parochial basis—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Only one question, please.

Dr. Godman

The Secretary of State mentioned "Grennock"—was he referring to a detachment in Greenock?

Mr. King

That pronunciation is a mistake that I made all the time that I worked in Scotland and I know the sensitivities which it aroused. I apologise.

There will be some rationalisation of the estate, but not in terms of training areas, of which there is, if anything, a shortage. Following the changes under "Options for Change" and the withdrawal of our units from Germany, there will be considerable pressure on our training areas. However, there may well be some rationalisation in terms of drill halls and buildings, and some buildings may become available.

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)

Although I welcome the way in which my right hon. Friend has responded to pressure from those of us who are concerned about the future of the volunteers in the Territorial army and elsewhere, and I especially welcome his statement about the future of the Army Cadet Force and the support it receives from the reserves, what are his particular plans for the three reserve battalions of the Royal Anglians? I understand that the changes are fairly limited, and I should be grateful if he could give me any further information.

Mr. King

I think that there was concern that, under the previous proposal, one further Royal Anglian Regiment battalion would be disbanded. I can confirm that the 5th, 6th and 7th volunteer battalions of the Royal Anglian Regiment will continue. That should deal with some of the problems about which my hon. Friend is concerned.

Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate)

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the structure and military role that he has announced today? Will he consider the historical importance of many units, especially in Yorkshire, which have provided reservists for emergencies? Will the 8th (Yorkshire) battalion the Light Infantry Regiment be maintained?

Mr. King

I am grateful for what my hon. Friend says. I give him that assurance.

Mr. Conal Gregory (York)

Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity of the review of the Territorial Army to commend to the Confederation of British Industry, to the Institute of Directors and to others the training that is given by the TA so that greater public recognition can be given to it? For the TA's members in Yorkshire, can my right hon. friend give any reassurance to the House in connection with the Yorkshire Volunteers, which will next year celebrate its silver jubilee? Are there any plans to re-badge the Yorkshire Volunteers?

Mr. King

The 1st and 2nd battalions of the Yorkshire Volunteers continue, and the 3rd and 4th will be amalgamated. My hon. Friend also has an interest in the Light Infantry, which is relevant to Yorkshire.

In respect of the role of the CBI and of employers, I pay tribute to the work done by employers and by the National Employers Liaison Committee. What my hon. Friend said is profoundly appreciated by those who have employees who serve in the TA. The quality, calibre, extra capability and extra commitment that they give are well worth any time that may be given up to volunteer reserve service.

Mr. David Marshall

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. When I put my question to the Secretary of State for Defence, I referred to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars). I should have referred to the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas), who comes from Govan. I apologise for the error.