HC Deb 02 November 1998 vol 318 cc543-5
7. Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

What plans he has for the Territorial Army in the Aldershot constituency. [55884]

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. Doug Henderson)

A statement on the future of the Territorial Army will be made once Ministers have had a chance to consider the matters that have already been discussed by officials, including those matters that concern the hon. Gentleman's constituency.

Mr. Howarth

We have been assured for the past two weeks that the Government will make a statement. This is a matter of great concern not only in my constituency but throughout the country. Is the Minister aware that his lack of decision making on this matter is deeply unsettling to Territorial Army units? I hope that the Minister can give me an answer before I go on an exercise with the 10th (Volunteer) Battalion the Parachute Regiment in two weeks' time.

Mr. Henderson

The hon. Gentleman might like the Government to rush into a decision, but territorials throughout the country, especially in his constituency, would not want us to do so. Extensive consultations have taken place with units throughout the country, including in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. The general guidelines, which were well debated in the House two weeks ago during the strategic defence review debate, were made clear to TA units and other interested parties locally, and the prime motives of the review were emphasised. How the objectives will be implemented locally has been the subject of consultation, and we shall make a statement to the House once the matter has been assessed.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)

Although I accept the Government's good faith, does the Minister not realise that uncertainty over the proposals is damaging to morale and that some units are experiencing a haemorrhage of both officers and men? Why do the Government not open the books, publish the detailed proposals, declare a six-month moratorium and allow us to have a properly informed debate about the future of the TA?

Mr. Henderson

I know that the hon. and learned Gentleman raises that question with the best of motives, but the consultation process has been widely received throughout the country and suggestions have been made on how the changes can be implemented. That is the proper way to proceed. A statement will be made once we have assessed what the consultation has thrown up.

Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon)

The Minister complacently accuses us of trying to rush him into a decision. No decision can have hung around for longer than this one. He seems to be totally unaware of the delay's dreadful effects on motivation in the Territorial Army. Communities are desperately worried about the closure of TA halls. Moreover, the secrecy with which everything is being done has made matters much worse. Will he ensure that definitive announcements are made as soon as possible and that we do not have to wait until a convenient moment when they can be buried in the Government's news management agenda?

Mr. Henderson

Of course the announcements will be made as soon as possible, but, unlike the previous Government, we believe in consulting people about our proposals before making a decision that we announce to the House.