HC Deb 04 November 1998 vol 318 cc853-5
1. Dr. Michael Clark (Rayleigh)

What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Defence regarding proposed reductions in the Territorial Army in north Wales. [56576]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Alun Michael)

With your permission, Madam Speaker, may I first say what a privilege it is to stand here as Secretary of State for Wales, although I wish honestly that it could have been under different circumstances? I am sure that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to my predecessor and to the tremendous work that he did on several serious and difficult policy issues during the past 18 years.

We expect an announcement to be made on the Territorial Army in the near future. I have held discussions with both my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces during the past few days.

Dr. Clark

May I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his appointment to high office and wish him well? One of his responsibilities will be to ensure that Wales makes a fair and proper contribution to the defence of the United Kingdom. As the Territorial Army is a cost-effective way in which to provide manpower for the Army, will he do his best to ensure that TA regiments, particularly in north Wales, are preserved rather than reduced in size?

Mr. Michael

Wales has always made a distinguished contribution to the defence of the United Kingdom, and that will continue. I am satisfied that the Secretary of State for Defence and the Minister for the Armed Forces are engaged in ensuring that we have the right pattern for the TA for the future.

Sir Raymond Powell (Ogmore)

May I be the first Labour Member publicly to congratulate my right hon. Friend on becoming Secretary of State? I am sure both that all hon. Members will share in those congratulations, and that he will do an excellent job.

Will the Secretary of State tell us what he will do not only for north Wales TA units, but for those in south Wales? The needs remain in Wales for the excellent TA, for its recruitment and for the type of person it recruits. Will my right hon. Friend spend some of his energy on ensuring that it continues its excellent work?

Madam Speaker

Order. I should perhaps remind the Secretary of State that the question refers to north Wales only.

Mr. Michael

I am grateful to you, Madam Speaker, for making sure that I do not overlook that. My colleagues at the Ministry of Defence are aware of concerns raised in correspondence in relation to both north Wales and south Wales. They are taking account of those comments as they work to restructure the TA, and they are very much aware of the importance attached to the historic traditions and the ethos of our regiments. I can assure my hon. Friend that they will give every care to the situation in north Wales, but will attend to the needs of south Wales too.

Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnorshire)

May we, too, congratulate the Secretary of State and associate ourselves with his remarks on the excellent work of his predecessor, which was much appreciated? May I also congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones), on his debut this afternoon?

Will the Secretary of State take note of my early-day motion on the future of the Territorial Army in Wales, both north and south? It is an all-party early-day motion, which has the support of Welsh Members of Parliament who do not wish to see both TA battalions go under in the review. Will he also note that Cwrt-y-gollen camp in Crickhowell trained many TA soldiers from north Wales very successfully and is to be closed by Christmas, with the loss of 40 jobs? Will he ensure that the Welsh Development Agency does something about creating employment there, for example, by building new industrial units?

Mr. Michael

Madam Speaker, as you said that I should not stray outside the boundaries of the question, I will not refer to my experiences going over the assault course in Cwrt-y-gollen. These are matters for Defence Ministers, but, as I have said, we are in contact with them and wish to ensure that the outcome of their decisions is the best possible for Wales. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments about my predecessor and myself, as well as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. It is some comfort to know that I am not the only person who is new and nervous here today.

Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his high office, in the knowledge that he has a fine record of public work in Wales. To the business now: will my right hon. Friend make sure that, in my constituency, the drill hall at Queensferry does not close—or else? Will he ensure that the 3rd battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers retains a headquarters in north Wales, on the understanding that our community would not accept anything else? But we still wish him well.

Mr. Michael

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has always been an example to us all in being absolutely specific about the interests of his constituency and his constituents. He serves them with distinction and never allows us to forget them. He is absolutely specific in his question, but I cannot be absolutely specific in my answer. These are matters that have to be dealt with by Defence Ministers, but I am certain that notice will be taken of the comments that my hon. Friend has made today.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his appointment. I remind him, as he is a native of Colwyn bay, that, if there are any cuts in the 500-strong complement of the Royal Welch Fusiliers territorial branch in north Wales, the Colwyn Bay branch will be the first to close. Will he make the strongest possible representations to maintain this fine regiment, which has worked very cost-effectively?

Mr. Michael

The hon. Gentleman, like other hon. Members, makes a good point about the traditions of the TA and the contribution that has been made over the years. When I spoke to my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces, he made it clear that he was aware of the different aspects and units of the Territorial Army in north Wales and of their traditions. I am sure that the points that the hon. Gentleman makes will be considered most sympathetically.

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