HC Deb 31 January 1995 vol 253 cc837-8
3. Mr. Patrick Thompson

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what was the expenditure during the current year on (a) the reserve forces and (b) the cadet forces.

Mr. Soames

In the current year, we expect to spend about £140 million and £16 million on personnel costs for the reserve forces and the cadet forces respectively.

Mr. Thompson

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. Is not that money very well spent, particularly as we get seven Territorial Army soldiers for the cost of one regular?

Is my hon. Friend aware of the disappointment in my area about the reductions affecting the Royal Anglian Territorial battalions? Can he give some good and positive news about proposed legislation to update the role of the reserve forces and to strengthen links with local communities?

Mr. Soames

I acknowledge the concern felt in East Anglia about the new arrangements for the Royal Anglian regiment and the re-roling of one of its battalions. I am grateful for my hon. Friend's comments on the volunteer forces, which have a strong presence in East Anglia, with units based at more than 40 locations and 292 cadet units or detachments in the area.

I further thank my hon. Friend for giving me an opportunity to endorse the new Reserve Forces Bill, which we hope to publish shortly. It is essential for the new role of the Territorial Army, which is extremely relevant and important to our modern armed forces. We plan to consult widely, and I should be glad to hear from my hon. Friend if he has any views on the matter.

Mr. Trimble

Will the Minister assure me that the cadet forces will be sustained? May I remind him that, as well as providing a source of recruitment to the armed forces, the cadet forces have played a valuable role in educating people in the broadest sense? I speak as one who spent 10 years in the Air Training Corps. I can tell the Minister that, in Northern Ireland, the cadet forces were one of the few youth organisations that were genuinely integrated and, in my time, provided a useful basis for people to meet across the community.

Mr. Soames

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman, whom I have always understood to be an Air Training Corps man. I believe that the cadet forces give excellent value for money; as the hon. Gentleman has said, they offer young people outstanding opportunities for character development, adventure and play, and fulfil an important role in the community. All our activities are under financial review, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that we acknowledge that the cadet forces give value for money and play a vital role.

Mr. Couchman

Further to the last question, may I ask my hon. Friend to think again about proposed cuts in the Air Training Corps budget for the coming year? The unit in my constituency is particularly worried about proposed cuts in air experience.

Mr. Soames

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The costs of the Air Training Corps are clearly not immune from scrutiny, and we shall want to achieve some savings. We intend to achieve them by increasing efficiency, which we believe we shall be able to do, and to minimise the effect on cadet activities. I am a tremendous supporter of the Air Training Corps, and propose to visit two detachments next week. I look forward to hearing what they have to say.

Mr. Martlew

Will the Minister clarify whether the Reserve Forces Bill, when it is published, will be the Bill or a draft of the Bill? Will further consultation take place? We have already had four years of talking. One of the serious problems is that employers have grave reservations about giving people time off to carry out their duties in our armed forces. That applies particularly to multinational companies based in the far east.

Mr. Soames

I was not aware that we were intending to recruit a great number of reserves from multinational companies based in the far east, but, plainly, we shall be looking to recruit reserves and looking for co-operation from industry and from the corporate sector, because that is important to us and we value it very much. The Bill will be a draft Bill. We will publish it as soon as possible and it will be subject to the fullest consultation. We can but hope, although possibly in vain, that we shall have the support of the Labour party.

Mr. Lord

Is the Minister aware of the considerable concern among the Territorial Army and cadet units in East Anglia about the moving of their command headquarters from Colchester to Nottingham? Is he satisfied that those new arrangements will work as well as the old ones?

Mr. Soames

We certainly would not propose such a move unless we were so satisfied, but I shall be happy to reconsider that matter. If my hon. Friend would care to talk to me about it, I would be happy to explain the arguments to him.

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