HC Deb 12 December 1991 vol 200 cc1111-23 11.45 pm
Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South)

We shall now debate the reserve forces and especially the future of the Territorial Army. We have every reason to be proud of the service of the Territorial Army over the years, because we can trace the history of volunteer and reserve commitment back to the Norman conquest. We have a special position in that the oldest regiment in the British Army is the Honourable Artillery Company, which traces its history back to 1537, whereas the oldest regular units go back only to the middle of the 17th century. For that reason, the Territorial Army does not consider itself in any way a second-class alternative.

In the middle ages, all men over the age of 18 were required on Sunday, after attending church, to participate in archery practice; it was from those roots that the Territorial Army grew. The 19th century was an especially important period, for it was then that many of today's Territorial Army units were formed.

I commanded an officers training corps. Those corps came into existence in the early 20th century, when it was discovered that attendance at university did not necessarily mean an ability to lead troops. That was discovered especially during the South African war, when a number of university graduates were commissioned and sent out to South Africa, and it was found that they singularly lacked an ability to act in an officer capacity. It was decided that training was necessary, so the officer training corps were introduced at several universities. I am delighted that they have done so well that it is now proposed, even in these difficult times, to increase their establishment.

At the start of the second world war, there was an enormous expansion in the Territorial Army, as there was in the first world war. It was the custom then to double the size of most infantry battalions and of many gunner and other units. That was done quite simply by creating a new unit alongside the original. The commanding officer, the adjutant and the regimental sergeant major were required to form a parallel unit, while the second in command, the regimental quartermaster sergeant and the assistant adjutant took command of the original unit. In that way we were able to double our Territorial Army forces very quickly.

In two or three months in 1939, territorial units were brought close to the standard of regular infantry battalions and gunner regiments. That was an extraordinarily fine achievement in such a short space of time. It was achieved only because the senior ranks were there and able to provide the infrastructure and necessary training.

Things are more technical today. Equipment is more sophisticated, and more experience is required. However, many jobs require similar skills, and in respect of engineering and signals, the forces can take advantage of the skills that people acquire in their civilian jobs. The same is true in medicine: the TA played a spendid role in the Gulf, where a complete field hospital was made available from Glasgow. That provided support for the regulars in a vital role.

I believe that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is aware of the situation. He promised in the Chamber that he did not want any volunteers to be turned away from offering their service, and I am sure that he will do his best to keep that promise. He has given me and many of my colleagues the firm impression that he has listened to our recommendations and suggestions, and that he will continue to do that in the years to come. This exercise cannot be completed overnight; it will take many years to accomplish. We must ensure that we get it right and that the alterations that are required take advantage of all the volunteers on offer.

Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)

It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to say that the Government have given an undertaking not to turn away volunteers, but 102 Royal Artillery in Northern Ireland is at a strength of 103 per cent. I understand that it is to be merged with 105 Royal Artillery Scotland. How on earth is 103 Royal Artillery to be reduced from 103 per cent. to 50 per cent. to comprise one artillery regiment?

Mr. Thorne

As the hon. Gentleman knows, Northern Ireland is a special case. There are already a large number of troops in the Ulster Defence Regiment. I believe that a substantial proportion of the population of Northern Ireland already serve in a reserve capacity with the UDR. The TA there is well recruited, but there are other opportunities for people to serve in Northern Ireland, and I hope that they will use elsewhere the skills that they have acquired in the TA. We need their help.

Over recent years, the TA's establishment has been 91,000. However, the paper strength is only 74,000, of which a smaller number train regularly. The latter figure is thought to be between 63,000 and 65,000. It was originally suggested that the establishment might be reduced to as low as 50,000 to 55,000. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has ensured that that is not the case, and that we will have an establishment of 63,500, because that figure is more in line with the actual number of people available, willing and able to serve.

We must acknowledge that honorary colonels of regiments play an important part. In the middle ages, it was discovered that many regiments were not getting their fair share. When they were asked to turn out and fight on behalf of king or queen and country, some regiments performed much better than others. When an inquiry was carried out, it was discovered that the regiments that had the most influence, either through royal or noble connections, were doing much better in respect of ammunition and supplies than some others. Therefore, a system was introduced which enabled regiments to appoint honorary colonels of their own choosing so that they could speak on their behalf and as a last resort have a direct right to apply to the sovereign in order to make representations on behalf of their unit. The honorary colonel system therefore has an important role to play in the British Army.

It is important that, whenever there is a reorganisation, honorary colonels should be fully and properly consulted. I fear that this has not necessarily taken place in every case. Therefore, I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister to examine the matter, in particular in relation to 151 Royal Corps of Transport Regiment. I am not certain that the honorary colonel of the regiment was given the notice that he could expect. He was apparently told in June that there was nothing to report, and in September, he was told that the proposals were a fait accompli. Clearly, that could not be construed as proper consultation. Perhaps that was the only case that fell through the net, and I hope that it was an isolated case, but I should be grateful if my right hon. Friend would examine the matter and if necessary ensure that such a thing is not allowed to happen again. Honorary colonels, as I have said, have an important role if we are to maintain our fighting troops at the standard that we have come to expect.

It is essential to have a proper press campaign to explain to the general public—particularly those who are interested in serving in the Territorial Army—that the Territorial Army has a bright and promising future. Traditionally, every spring, a campaign is launched, but this year we must hold a special campaign to ensure that everybody knows what the way ahead will be. I fear that, if we do not do that, we will not put the Territorial Army on a proper basis. People will feel that it is threatened, and we shall not get the recruits we need. Those who do not wish the Territorial Army well will point to reduced recruiting figures and make claims for further reductions. That would be most unfair and unfortunate, and I am sure would not be what my right hon. Friend wishes.

We must ensure that, in any future mobilisation of the armed forces, such as occurred in the Gulf and in the Falklands, formed TA units shall be used. We had disagreements in the House about the number of Territorial Army personnel that were serving in the Gulf. At one time, my right hon. Friend thought that there were only 500, whereas I believed that there were 1,000. We eventually managed to reconcile the figures, when we took into account the large number of people who had volunteered to serve on regular engagements in order to participate, but who had been trained as territorial soldiers.

The Territorial Army was therefore entitled to the credit for having trained those people, because there is no way in which, having volunteered off the street, they could have gone out to serve effectively in the Gulf. We must ensure that the territorials have a much more satisfactory and satisfying role in the future and that those who wish to make themselves available in such an emergency have that offer taken up and that they are readily called upon in such times of emergency. I hope that we will not have a two-tier regular and TA system, in future emergencies.

The Territorial Army should provide a basis for the expansion of our forces and as a general reserve. As I have said, it performed extraordinarily well at the outbreak of both world wars, when it provided the bedrock upon which we were able to build. I am not alone in believing that the result of both world wars could have been very different if we had not had those effective territorial forces in place in 1914 and 1939.

I should also like my right hon. Friend to look carefully at what extra help the Territorial Army can give the civilian population in civil disasters. Extensive use is made of reserve forces elsewhere in the world. We could learn from the American experience of using the National Guard not only to help with civil disasters but also with drug enforcement, which are both areas in which we cannot have too much help, provided that it is properly directed and properly trained.

I hope that red tape will not prevent the use of the enormous reservoir of skill and good will that is held in our reserve forces from being available for use at such times purely and simply because Departments might haggle over who will be billed for the cost. Admittedly, this is a Treasury matter, but it cannot possibly be beyond the ability of Treasury Ministers to work out an effective formula to ensure that the Ministry of Defence is properly rewarded for any help that it gives. Such help is certainly required, so I hope that this facility of the Territorial Army will not be wasted.

The Territorial Army provides a reassuring military presence throughout the country. It does so effectively in much the same way as the presence of police on the beat reinforces a sense of law and order. In times of national emergency, it is reassuring to see the Territorial Army around. The Territorial Army also provides important social functions, discipline, comradeship, leadership training, both mental and physical fitness, and a great sense of patriotism, all of which are important and should be encouraged.

One of the Territorial Army's biggest problems in recent years has been the substantial turnover of recruits, which has amounted to as much as 30 per cent. per annum in some units. It is important not only to make the training interesting, stimulating and exciting, but also for the Territorial Army to provide the best possible club in any area. We rely upon the support of the families to retain personnel within the forces.

If the families believe that they can enjoy their social hours with the territorials, they will support their men and womenfolk and encourage them to maintain their membership of the Territorial Army. That would considerably reduce the turnover of personnel, encourage people to serve in the force and enable us to use their expertise in it for much longer, so that less time will be spent on training.

It is extremely important to keep the senior ranks. I explained how, at the beginning of each world war, it was possible quickly to double the number of infantry battalions, gunner and other regiments. That depended on the skill and expertise of those senior ranks. In recent years, we have found that, throughout the Territorial Army, most regiments were undermanned on average by 15 per cent. The 15 per cent. was largely accounted for in the lower ranks. The more senior ranks, such as sergeants, warrant officers, captains and majors, were all in post. Of course, the more junior members of the TA have so many other pressures on their time. They change their jobs more frequently than older people. They get married and move, and may have young children to care for. Those and many other pressures may distract them from remaining for a long period in the Territorial Army.

The more senior ranks are usually more settled. It is very important to keep them, and we would be silly not to provide sufficient places for those more senior ranks to occupy. If we do not provide sufficient places, the necessary skill will not be in the right place at the right time. Moreover, if only a limited number of more senior places are available, very able corporals and subalterns will get tired of waiting for promotion to sergeant and captain respectively, and will be inclined to leave at that stage. We would therefore lose many capable people who have a lot to offer.

The 63,500 places now available should not be allowed to reduce to 54,000 over the next five years, as would be the case if the 15 per cent. rule came into effect. That is why it is so important that we provide challenging and interesting roles to make those senior people keen to remain.

I was encouraged by the Secretary of State's answer to my question on Tuesday that he would be flexible with the extra numbers that were available. I hope that he will find it possible to allow extra ranks to be recruited all the way along the line—not only at the most junior level—to ensure that we do not lose those very able people.

If we are to have a leaner, meaner, keener regular Army, inevitably we shall need a good Territorial Army to support it. After six years of the second world war and 45 years of the cold war, the taxpayer is entitled to a peace dividend. However, if the dividend is to be effectively delivered, it cannot leave us vulnerable to the many other surprises hiding around the corner.

Two years ago, few people could have accurately forecast the possibility of the Gulf conflict. Certainly the trouble in Yugoslavia has been a great surprise to many. Today, we hear that Mr. Gorbachev thinks that his time of public service is near its end. That will raise a number of new question marks throughout what was the Soviet Union. Therefore, we must expect some major changes in that region in the coming years and be prepared for anything that might arise as a result.

Much has been done in recent months to draw those matters to the attention of the Department and, as I said, I believe that Ministers have been listening. I am extremely grateful to the chairman of the Greater London Territorial, Auxiliary and Volunteer Association, Sir Greville Spratt, and to Brigadier Peter Bowser, the secretary, for all that they have done to lead the way in ensuring that the Government have been properly informed that the Territorial Army is adequately provided for in the future.

My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson) is grateful for what has been done to help him with the preservation of his local Anglian Regiment. Many other hon. Members are equally grateful for what has been done to ensure the future of the TA in their areas. I believe that the Secretary of State agrees with us about the importance of the future role of the Territorial Army, and I am sure that he will do all in his power to help us achieve that objective.

12.11 am
Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)

I thank the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) for having initiated the debate and for giving us an opportunity to discuss some of the implications of the Secretary of State's announcement earlier in the week. I thank him also for the history lesson on the Territorial Army, although my recollection is somewhat different. My stint in the TA was as a conscript, and those of us who did our national service in the TA made many friendships that have lasted to this day.

That has been the cornerstone of the TA concept, and many people have protested about the changes because activities in and around the TA and the drill hall created a culture of its own, certainly in many working class communities. That may not be so evident in larger towns, but in smaller towns and villages—for example, in the mining valleys of South Wales—the TA is held in high esteem.

Hon. Members in all parts of the House recognise the valuable role that all arms of the reserve forces have played in defending Britain, and the hon. Member for Ilford, South reminded us that, in the two world wars, it was possible quickly to enrol sufficient numbers to save Britain. More recently, they were deployed in the Gulf, and more than 1,700 reserve personnel, including the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes), served with the British forces in Operation Granby. We should put on record our tribute to those reservists and members of the TA who served in the Gulf. I know that, in saying that, I reflect the sentiments of all hon. Members.

My hon. Friends and I were interested to note that the NATO summit declaration in London on 6 July 1990 called for the alliance to place more reliance on reserve forces, and the Government have emphasised the importance of part-time soldiers. As the hon. Member for Ilford, South said, their skills are extremely high, although the army has become more technical. I think back to the more rigid skills studied by foot-sloggers such as myself. The height of my military skill was the ability to strip a Bren gun blindfold and put it back together in 30 seconds. The fact that it sometimes did not work after that operation was incidental.

The reserve forces were mentioned by the Secretary of State in his "Options for Change" announcement on 25 July 1990. It seems to be a very sensible move by the Ministry of Defence to alter the structure of our forces in the way in which it is at present proceeding.

We are concerned, however, to learn from various Territorial Army representatives that the Ministry of Defence is considering cutting TA and other reserves by a disproportionate amount compared with the regulars. There were at one time, as the hon. Member for Ilford, South said, rumours that the TA could be cut to almost 55,000 or 50,000. I am sure it was the pressure from the warrior class and the impending general election that led to a final figure of 63,500, which is a cut of about 17 per cent. We are not quarrelling with this decision in any way, because I believe that our full-time forces are already overstretched for the roles and tasks that the Government have outlined for them both in and out of area, and that the territorial forces play a vital support role.

As I mentioned earlier, we recognise that, besides the vital role in defending the United Kingdom which the Territorial Army plays, it also provides very positive outlets for the energies of young men and women, many of whom unfortunately are unemployed. That is why, in the defence estimates debate on 14 October 1991, my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) said: We should be careful to preserve the opportunity for as many of our civilians as possible to serve in the volunteer forces."—[Official Report, 14 October 1991; Vol. 196, c. 72.] I was very glad to hear that the Secretary of State, in his announcement on Tuesday, accepted this view when he said: we would not wish to turn away willing and suitable volunteers".—[Official Report, 10 December 1991; Vol. 200, c. 734.] I congratulate the Government on the recognition of the need to keep this doorway open.

My hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan asked a number of questions on Tuesday regarding the reserves, and perhaps the Minister could provide some of the answers this evening. I do not know whether it would be proper to extend it a little beyond the army, but I am very concerned in particular about the ex-pilots in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and the RAF Volunteer Reserve, because, according to a parliamentary answer on 14 June 1991, only 10 ex-RAF pilots are in these organisations. It seems to me that, if we are spending £3 million on training someone to fly a fast jet and if, when he leaves the force —there are a lot of people leaving before their time is up—he is not being used in the reserve forces, that is a tremendous waste of a national resource.

I hope that the Minister agrees with us and his colleague the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), who raised this point on Tuesday. I ask the Minister if he will undertake to develop proposals to encourage greater involvement by ex-RAF pilots in the reserves.

The same applies, of course, to ex-regular soldiers going into the TA. I am not attempting to compare the quality of the Territorial Army now and following national service, but the TA then consisted almost entirely of people who had served for two years on a full-time basis, and the level of skill and general martial ability was very high. Very many men of that vintage had served in action areas such as Malaya and Korea, so it was a reserve of tremendous value, as well as containing the numbers that were required.

Another question that I want to return to is the problem of employment protection. The Secretary of State said that he would note my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan's suggestion that the employment protection aspects of the Reserve Forces Act 1980 be extended to cover those TA members have less than two years' continuous employment. I wonder if he could tell us whether he is prepared to amend the legislation in this fashion, and perhaps tell the House exactly what other amendments he needs to make in order to take account of changing circumstances.

Perhaps the Minister could also go into a little more detail about the criteria that are being used when making his decisions. In the White Paper on the Army a number of criteria were listed. It would be interesting to know whether the same criteria were used in the restructuring of the reserves.

On occasion, the Minister has criticised the lack of detail in our overall defence expenditure proposals and what we propose for the Territorial Army and the reserve forces. We suffer a great handicap in dealing with a Government who are obsessed with secrecy. Whenever we put down questions, it is impossible to get answers. That is sometimes the case with the Select Committee on Defence as well. In its recent report, it said that the White Paper contains no hint of the Government's financial strategy for defence over the coming decade. The Minister has also criticised our lack of proposals for individual units, but when we table questions to get information on which to base proposals, which perhaps we will be implementing in six months' time, we cannot get proper answers from the Government. The stock answer to defence procurement questions is that the information is commercially confidential or that the Department does not normally give the information.

When it comes to operational issues and manpower, the stock answer is that information on the running costs of individual units is not held centrally and could be provided only by the use of disproportionate time and effort, yet the Minister criticises us for not being more specific. We cannot be more specific unless we get the information. I assure the Minister that in six months' time, when he is in opposition, we will be kinder to him and much more open with information.

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

I am sure my hon. Friend well remembers the Committee stage of the Atomic Weapons Establishment Act 1991 when we had great difficulty in discussing the measure properly because the Department would not release the necessary information. He will remember that we also had difficulty over the Tombs report when again we could not get the necessary information. The Department can be very awkward at times. That makes it difficult not only for Opposition Members but for hon. Members on the Government Benches to discuss matters properly. [Interruption.] The Minister is mumbling—I hope that he will get up and clear the air.

Mr. Rogers

My hon. Friend is right. We had great difficulty getting information on the atomic energy privatisation measure. I understand that, because the proposals were so ludicrous, there was no rationale to justify them. As to the Tombs report, that was the correct name for it because the information was buried very deep.

If I may put on my nationalistic hat for a moment, one issue which concerns us greatly in Wales is the disproportionate cut in regular and volunteer troops. The decision to close 217 Air Defence Battery in Cwmbran, leaving only one gunner battery in Wales, concerns people very much. The battery was formed in 1987, and its purpose-built barracks, costing over £2 million, was opened by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and General Sir Peter de la Billiere. It is noted for its very high calibre loyalty and involvement in the local community. My hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) has emphasised those points to me. It provides much-needed jobs and good training for many young people. There has been a great outcry in Cwmbran about its possible closure.

The Secretary of State talked on Tuesday in terms of people moving from one unit to another, and said that it would not be a problem if a unit was closed, because people could simply go to the next one along the road. But that will not happen, because members of the Territorial Army are not so mobile or nomadic in that sense as regular forces. They live at home with their families and, if they should have to travel from Cwmbran to Newport, for example, or from Pontypool further on to Newport, many people would be deterred from getting involved in the voluntary forces. As a result, the loss of trained people and the expense in recruiting and training new people at a new location would be considerable. Many units would suffer a loss of morale and motivation, which may put the operational effectiveness of those units in jeopardy.

The other issue that concerns us in Wales is the future of the 4th Volunteer Battalion the Welsh Regiment. It may be my wish upon them, but this is the second time this year that the two regiments in which I served, the Royal Welch Fusiliers and the Welsh Regiment, have been under pressure. I thank the Minister very much for saving the Royal Welch Fusiliers. May I implore him now, on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), to save the 4th Volunteer Battalion? My hon. Friend, together with my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) and the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell) are extremely concerned.

We are committed to the maintenance of the defence of this country. It is the one issue on which there is a consensus in this House. Every Government since the war, whether Labour or Conservative, have given a full commitment to the defence of the nation. On both sides of the House, we are anxious to defend the values, traditions and freedoms that we all cherish. The Territorial Army had been a cornerstone of our defence for so many years. It is a civilian army and democracies need civilian as well as full-time professional armies.

Again, I thank the hon. Member for Ilford, South for giving us an opportunity to place on record our tremendous tribute to the TA for the way in which it has served this country over many years.

12.27 am
The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Archie Hamilton)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) for giving us this opportunity to discuss the Territorial Army and for demonstrating his prodigious knowledge of the TA, its history and traditions, going back over a number of years. I must admit that I learned a considerable amount just listening to his speech.

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made clear in his statement on Tuesday, the Territorial Army, along with our other volunteer reserves, will continue to make a vital contribution to our defence effort.

The reshaping of the Territorial Army is intended to produce a force that meets the new needs stemming from the radically transformed European security environment and the more flexible and mobile force structure which the Alliance is introducing. The new structure that we have designed for the TA also reflects the changed requirements of a smaller mobilised Army and the need for volunteer reserves to be able to complement our regular forces.

In developing the restructuring plans, we consulted widely with those with an interest in, and knowledge of, the TA. In addition to senior serving volunteers, that included regimental colonels and the Council of Territorial Auxiliary and Volunteer Reserve Associations. The advice of local associations on deployment and accommodation issues was also sought. We endeavoured, so far as it was possible, to accommodate those various and on occasion, conflicting views in the plans that were developed. May I take this opportunity to express our gratitude to all those who contributed to the exercise for their positive and constructive approach?

As my hon. Friend said, the current establishment of the TA is 91,000, but its actual strength is no more than about 74,000. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in his statement in July on the restructuring of the regular Army and in the Command Paper "Britain's Army for the 90s" that we envisaged that the long-term future strength of the TA would settle at between 60,000 and 65,000.

The force structure that we have developed takes full account of our likely future operational needs and assumes a peacetime strength of about 63,500. It would be reinforced in war by the addition of regular reservists to a fully mobilised establishment in excess of 71,000. In addition to integrating our regular and volunteer reserves in a way which enables us to make the most effective use of both, the peacetime establishment is set at a level at which we are confident of achieving full manning, in contrast to the present circumstances.

Substantial numbers—approaching 20,000 volunteers—join and leave the TA every year, and the reduction of 10,000 personnel will be achieved by natural turnover. No active volunteer who remains suitably qualified for TA service will be forced to leave. Where units disband 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; although precise arrangements will need to balance the requirement of the service and the wishes of the individual.

Volunteers will receive assistance with any additional travelling costs that they may incur as a result, and arrangements will be made for them to retain rank and pay classifications. Where necessary, local overbearing of manpower will be allowed.

It may be important for my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South to note that, if we want the figure of 60,000 to be maintained—as we do—it will be necessary for some units to overbear and contain excess numbers to compensate for the units in which numbers will inevitably be lower. There will continue to be a requirement for high-quality recruits.

The restructuring of the TA has been undertaken to ensure its continuing relevance in a very different world. It is self-evidently no longer appropriate for volunteers to train for many of the tasks which previously they would have undertaken in support of 1 British Corps in Germany—those are no longer relevant in a unified Germany or under the new Alliance strategy.

In addition to providing essential logistic and combat service support capabilities, the reshaped TA will have a range of new and demanding operational roles in support of the Allied Command Europe Rapid Reaction Corps. The Queen's Own Yeomanry Regiment will provide a medium reconnaissance regiment equipped with tracked armoured vehicles for the corps. Two TA Royal Artillery regiments will be equipped with the 155mm FH70 towed howitzer, and all three future TA air defence regiments will be equipped with the Starstreak high-velocity missile when it enters service.

Mr. William Ross

Given the experience of the Gull, where air power was a decisive factor, surely it is foolish to cut our air defence commitment. Is that not the one aspect above all others in any rapid deployment force that should be, if anything, overstrengthened, in order to protect our ground troops from air attack?

Mr. Hamilton

Yes, but we must take into account the fact that the number of units in the Royal Air Force regulars and the stations are being reduced. Therefore, we are merely matching the new requirements for the United Kingdom's air defence.

The TA Royal Engineers, in addition to their traditional roles, many of which will be expanded, will in future take on greater responsibility for airfield damage repair and contribute for the first time to the support of the RAF Harrier force. Some TA Royal Signals units will be equipped with the sophisticated Ptarmigan communication systems to improve the support that they can offer to both ARRC and national deployments. Many of those capabilities have previously been provided exclusively within the regular Army.

The TA will also take on greater responsibility for the direct defence of the United Kingdom. The diminished threat and increased warning times will mean that this role will increasingly be seen as that of a general reserve for national defence. It will not be limited exclusively to the essentially static tasks previously associated with military home defence.

Overall, there will be a shift of emphasis within the TA towards combat support and combat service support. Whereas, for example, there will be a reduced requirement for infantry, the Royal Engineers, Royal Signals, Intelligence Corps and Army Air Corps will all need to attract substantially more volunteers in order to meet the new roles which they will be taking on. As with the Regular Army, the TA will be appropriately funded and trained to take on the roles required of it. It is also intended to increase the level of support for the TA provided by the Regular Army by the establishment of closer training links between the two, thereby further emphasising that the Army is one Army.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State set out the main changes as they affect the combat arms in detail in the briefing pack which supported his statement on Tuesday, so I shall not go over that ground again. Suffice it to note that, on completion of the restructuring, there will be a total of five yeomanry regiments and 36 infantry battalions, of which eight will be earmarked to support the ARRC All but one of the infantry battalions will in future comprise three rifle companies.

In addition to providing a better basis for expansion in an emergency, this will provide a more manageable span of command. It will also enable us to retain appropriate representation across the country. The TA Royal Artillery will comprise two field and three air defence regiments. A second Army Air Corps squadron will be formed, with its headquarters in Scotland. Significant reorganisation will be required within the Royal Engineers and Royal Signals to accommodate their new expanded roles.

The reduction in the threat to the United Kingdom means that we no longer see a requirement for the Home Service Force as a separate organisation, and it will accordingly be absorbed within the mainstream TA. I am sure the House would wish to join me in expressing appreciation to all who have contributed to the success of the HSF during its short history.

We recognise that, because the TA is a volunteer force, it is important that we implement these changes as soon as we can in order to minimise the uncertainty caused by reorganisation. However, further work remains to be done to develop detailed implementation plans before decisions on regimental titles, affiliations and local estate issues can be taken. All these issues will be addressed in the new year, and restructuring will therefore not begin before 1 April 1992.

I am sure that the House would wish to join me in acknowledging the debt that we owe to the Territorial Army personnel who give so willingly of their time in service of the nation. The imaginative proposals that we have set out for the TA will launch it on a new era. They reflect the need to support a smaller mobilised army and to provide a firmer basis for expansion and a more manageable span of command. They also offer the prospect of full manning for the first time for many years.

There will inevitably be disappointment where changes result in reorganisation or the amalgamation or disbandment of units, but I am confident that the proposals will be welcomed by the volunteers themselves as representing new and challenging opportunities to make an even more significant and professional contribution in the future.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South mentioned 151 Royal Corps of Transport Regiment, whose honorary colonel said that, although he was consulted at the beginning, he was subsequently not consulted about what was happening, but was presented with a fait accompli. I hope that my hon. Friend will allow me to investigate and write to him about it.

He also mentioned—rightly—the need for a press campaign. Such a campaign will be starting shortly and it will combine recruiting for the Regular Army and the Territorial Army. It will remind the country at large that, although reductions are being made in the Regular Army, we still need young soldiers and officers to join up.

We have listened to my hon. Friend's plea that the TA should be more involved in civil disasters. We are looking into that. It has played a role in the past in flood disasters and so on. We see it continuing in that role, and we shall think about whether it has a role to play in combating the misuse of drugs.

My hon. Friend rightly discussed how to make training more effective. That must be one of our ambitions. We want a smaller but better regular Army; similarly, we want a smaller but better TA. It is essential that we increase the number of training days and make the TA's training more effective.

I have already mentioned my hon. Friend's fear that 63,500 will become 54,000, but if the TA goes out to sell itself well and to recruit, and given our enabling certain units to contain greater numbers than their strength, I hope that it will be possible to meet and keep to the 63,500, which we shall certainly pay for.

The hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) brought up again the issue raised by the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) about former pilots in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and the RAF Reserve. He should realise that pilots cannot train in the RAAF or the RAF Reserve. It is very expensive to train fast jet pilots, and we do not have the money in either of these reserve organisations to enable them to fly the fast jets that would be the only way to keep their training going.

These people are not necessarily wasted. A certain number of pilots leave the RAF and go off and fly with commercial airlines, where to some degree they maintain their skills. If they have only recently left, the regular reservists of the RAF can be called back into service should they be needed, and they can play an effective role again in fast jets if they brush up their training.

We intend to look into the matter of changes in legislation. Once we have decided what needs to be done, we shall return to the House and make our intentions about call-up legislation clear.

The hon. Member for Rhondda asked what criteria we applied to the TA. One of the most essential criteria during the consultation period was the geographical spread. We recognise the need to go on providing opportunities for people to serve in the TA, even if they cannot go on doing the same duties in the same units as before.

We also had to take into account the future roles of reservists, bearing in mind the end of the reinforcement role in Germany. Some units will, of course, have a role in the Rapid Reaction Corps.

To excuse the fact that the Labour party is incapable of spelling out its policy, the hon. Member for Rhondda said that the degree of secrecy in the MOD makes it impossible to procure the detail on which to plan Labour policy. That is a pathetic excuse. It is clear that the Labour party intends to cut defence spending further; the Opposition voted for a recent amendment to that effect.

I do not know what effect that would have on the TA in Wales or anywhere else. It would presumably mean further cuts. There is quite enough information in the defence White Paper and in other publications for any party to know in broad terms what sort of defence it wants for this country. It is about time the Labour party stopped being so pathetic, stopped hiding behind a ridiculous claim that it cannot get the information it needs, and started telling the country what plans it really has for the defence of this country in future.

But the Labour party will not do that, because its cuts and reductions, and the risks that it would take with Britain's defence, are too frightening. Labour Members will never tell the people that, because they know that it will lose them votes at the next election.