HC Deb 17 November 1998 vol 319 cc749-71 3.30 pm
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. George Robertson)

With permission, Madam Speaker—[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. Will those Members who are not staying for the statement please leave quietly and quickly?

Mr. Robertson

I should like to make a statement about the future organisation and structure of the Territorial Army.

When I announced the conclusions of our strategic defence review on 8 July, I said that I was determined that the Territorial Army should become more relevant, more usable and better integrated with the rest of our forces. Since then, we have analysed how to put that vision into practice and engaged in detailed and widespread consultation with those most expert on the TA. The decisions that I have taken will produce a tauter, stronger Territorial Army, ready to play its part in facing tomorrow's crises. The changes are faithful to the design that I set out in my statement on 8 July.

We said that we would consult widely, and we have, especially with members of the TA, and the Territorial, Auxiliary and Volunteer Reserve Associations. We said that we would listen, and we have, to the many representations that have been made by hon. Members and others. The final structure reflects many substantive changes from the initial proposals circulated for consultation.

The theme of the strategic defence review was modern forces for the modern world. We no longer face a threat to our national survival, but crises and risks are still real and operationally demanding. We can expect little warning of trouble, and we are likely to have to go to the crisis, rather than have it come to us. That places a premium on armed forces that are flexible, useable and ready to react. However, we also need to retain a foundation on which we could generate larger capabilities should a strategic threat to NATO begin to re-emerge.

Tomorrow's Territorial Army will be central to both those needs, like the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force reserves, both of which will grow as a result of the defence review. The TA will no longer be a general reserve for general war in Europe, but a wholly integrated and vital part of a single capability—regular and reserve—for overseas deployment.

We can achieve that by giving the Territorial Army clearly defined operational roles in support of expeditionary forces and structuring it accordingly. There will be a clear shift of emphasis so that we can use the whole of the TA, not just part of it.

We shall make sure that the people who make up the units will be trained and available at the time that we need them. At present, most units are manned only to the extent needed to achieve low levels of readiness. That will change. More units will be held at higher readiness. The previous Government's decisions limited most TA units to only 90 per cent. of their establishments. As a consequence, the strength of the TA today stands at around 54,000. This Government will ensure that the TA of the future is fully resourced for its roles. If needs be, the Government will be prepared to call up the TA in formed units in situations short of a direct threat to the United Kingdom, such as the Gulf war. We are proposing a radical shift away from the TA's traditional image as "weekend warriors", towards a new, more heavyweight role in the world after the cold war. I believe that the TA will welcome such change.

I have set out details in a document that I placed in the Library of the House more than an hour ago. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Defence Procurement, my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces and I have written to hon. Members with an interest in the matter. The letters should have reached them before this statement. I hope that that notice has given hon. Members information that will help them in the following exchange.

The structure set out in our document will, first and foremost, enable tomorrow's TA to meet the operational demands that will be placed on it in future. Secondly, it will encompass a degree of insurance for the unexpected—should a strategic threat to NATO ever re-emerge. There are third and fourth elements to our proposals, too. The reforms will enable the TA to maintain a widespread presence throughout the nations, regions and counties of the United Kingdom. The armed forces must continue to be linked to the local and national communities that they serve, and the TA is vital in achieving that. Many hon. Members have stressed the important role of the Territorial Army as part of the visible presence of the armed forces across the country, and as a source of practical help to local communities. We share those views and took explicit decisions to reflect them fully in our plans.

Fourthly, in the forefront of our minds and of those of many hon. Members has been the need to secure and promote the cadets, and in particular to protect the units which share premises with the TA. I have made that clear on many occasions my strong support for the cadets. They are not a recruiting organisation but a self-standing and successful youth movement. Even so, whereas on average only 8 per cent. of today's Regular Army have been in the TA, 25 per cent. have experience of the cadets. Consequently, our aim has been to protect cadet units as far as possible from disruption during the transition to the new structure. We shall retain many TA centres for cadet use even when they are no longer to be used by Territorial Army units. I assure the House that we will not dispose of a centre until alternative facilities have been provided for the cadets—although some temporary dislocation is inevitable. I have set aside up to £12 million to meet those needs. In addition, I will be allocating £3 million extra to the cadets over the next four years.

In the summer, I told the House that, to meet the requirements that we envisaged placing on the Territorial Army, it would need to be about 40,000 strong. Following our detailed analysis and consultation, we have decided that a modest increase in that number is needed. The result will be a TA of 41,200. In other words, that is a reduction of 13,000 on today's strength. To put that into perspective, last year we lost almost that number through natural wastage alone. In total, only 87 of Britain's 455 TA centres will close outright. A further 27 will be retained for the cadets. Four in every five centres will therefore remain. The decisions will fulfil both the country's operational need and the armed forces' role in the communities that they serve and in which they live. The outcome is not some number determined by an arbitrary exercise in cost reduction, but is securely rooted in a thorough analysis of policy and military need. It has the full backing of the head of the Army, the Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Roger Wheeler, and the whole Army Board. In that respect, as in its operational justification, it is no different from the rest of the strategic defence review.

I know that some would have wished us to go further and to maintain the reserves at much higher levels than we have proposed, just in case; but the nation simply does not need such large numbers and I cannot justify them either militarily, or as a Minister spending the money of taxpayers. To be frank, the self-esteem of the TA is not likely to survive if it has no real military purpose and is stuck frozen in some cold war glacier. However, we have not presumed that we can predict the future, or that it will be a continuation of the patterns of the recent past, so the TA will continue to be a basis for the regeneration of larger reserve forces, should the country ever need them.

We have also taken pains to implement change in a way that is sensitive to the pride and commitment of volunteers and to their regimental traditions and ethos. Tomorrow's Territorial Army will retain substantial, though reduced, numbers of infantry. In future, there will be 15 new infantry battalions and they will choose their own names. I am pleased to tell the House that, within those, all existing TA infantry cap-badge affiliations will be maintained at company level; not a single cap badge will be lost.

Traditions in the TA yeomanry will also be maintained through a nationwide representation of yeomanry squadrons. We shall also ensure that those squadrons will have a real job to do and strong links to the regular regiments of the Royal Armoured Corps. TA yeomanry squadrons will have access to the same equipment as their regular counterparts, including the Challenger 2 main battle tank, and to the major armoured training areas.

We have also reflected carefully on the recommendation of the Select Committee on Defence on the nuclear, biological and chemical role of the Territorial Army. The SDR included the creation of a regular unit—a joint Army-RAF organisation—to improve significantly our current capability in that important area. Under initial proposals, the TA yeomanry would have contributed a single squadron to that unit; but I have decided, in light of the Committee's observations, to retain two squadrons of TA yeomanry devoted to the support of regular forces in that role.

Tomorrow's TA structure will reflect a greater emphasis on specialists and units of the supporting arms and services than has previously been the case. Those will provide, as now, the full range of combat and combat services support for a military deployment: signallers, artillery, air defence, logistics and engineers and, of course, medical services. Both regular and reserve medical services were, I regret, neglected by the previous Government. We shall, therefore, seek to increase substantially—by more than 2,000 soldiers—the manpower available to the volunteer Army medical service.

The strategic defence review was also crucially about people. Volunteer service will be more demanding in future, but it will continue to provide rewarding opportunities unparalleled in most other walks of life. There will also be opportunities to contribute to our new mission of defence diplomacy overseas. The TA of the future will be an enterprise to which we wish to attract the best. A new recruitment campaign will ensure that that message is clearly conveyed.

Retention is just as important. In recent years, for example, up to a third of the TA's recruits have been leaving within a year of joining; that must change. Therefore, there will be a package of improvements to personnel management in the Territorial Army, in particular for individual members of the TA who volunteer for service in Bosnia and elsewhere abroad. We are overhauling antiquated arrangements for keeping track of individual TA members. A new reserves training and mobilisation centre will start training individuals for overseas deployments from April next year. We shall improve education and training opportunities and ensure, through the provision of personal development records, that the value of the individual's experience and training in service is recognised, which will be to the benefit of the individual and, we hope, of his or her civilian employer.

The Territorial Army has a first-class record of responding to the need for change. As an essential part of the Army throughout this century, it has always had to be flexible in size and in organisation. It expanded to meet both world wars. Since then, it has been disbanded, re-raised, reduced and expanded again to meet developments in warfare and a changing threat.

The changes that I am announcing today will mean that, for the first time in many years, tomorrow's Territorial Army will have a clear role and purpose for the future. Tomorrow's Territorial Army will be better manned, trained, supported and integrated, and will be able to meet the challenges of the world after the cold war. In short, it will be a Territorial Army fit for the future—both valuable and valued by the whole country. I commend the reforms to the House.

Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon)

First, I thank the Secretary of State for his courtesy in letting me have a look at the proposals at 12 o'clock, which was helpful. I am grateful to him for that. I wish that I could say the same about their content. However, I am afraid that our worst expectations have just been confirmed.

The Territorial Army is to be cut from an establishment of 59,500 to 41,204—a cut of 31 per cent. The number of TA centres is to be cut from 455 to 341—a cut of 25 per cent. The Secretary of State thinks that he has made a brave decision, but it is one that his predecessors resisted. The Ministry of Defence has been trying to sell this downgrading of the TA to Ministers for years, and has finally found a Minister to whom it has succeeded in selling that proposal.

Such criticism does not just come from the Opposition—this is not a party political matter. The proposals have been criticised by Government Back Benchers, the Select Committee on Defence, the media, the Territorial Army, the TAVRAs, the Director of Infantry, the Secretary of State for Scotland, many retired officers and many regular soldiers, who are not allowed to speak but whose opinions are well known privately.

Those drastic cuts are being imposed at a time when we are beginning to realise that the end of the cold war has not brought a new era of peace and security. Our armed forces are heavily committed in Northern Ireland and Bosnia. We nearly became involved in Kosovo, and may still become so. The Gulf has been looking very dangerous recently, and who can be sure that armed intervention will not be needed? What about the threats that no one has yet even thought about?

Let us look at the proposals in a little more detail. First, I wish to refer to the few things that we can whole heartedly support. We wholly endorse the reintroduction of the two Yeomanry squadrons as part of our nuclear, biological and chemical capability. The 2,000 extra posts in the Royal Army Medical Corps and the new 500-strong ambulance regiment are welcome. Speaking personally, I am delighted that the Stratford-upon-Avon TA centre and Signal Squadron have been reprieved. The commitment to better training and equipment is very welcome, but we shall watch to see that that happens. The strategic defence review was full of cuts today for better equipment tomorrow, and that must not happen to the TA.

I am delighted that the cadets are not to suffer the same fate as the TA. [Interruption.] The former Minister for the Armed Forces, the right hon. Member for Hamilton, North and Bellshill (Dr. Reid), is obviously so embarrassed by the statement that he feels compelled to leave the Chamber. [Interruption.] We missed the right hon. Gentleman, and we are delighted that he has returned to the Front Bench. I am delighted that the cadets will not suffer the same cuts as the TA, because their role in recruitment is vital.

The Secretary of State somehow pretends that it has fallen to him to reconfigure the TA after the end of the cold war, but this process has been going on for years. We agreed that the TA should be relevant to the post-cold war environment, and that is what we ensured. The TA has evolved significantly during the past few years and, frankly, it is insulting to the TA for the Secretary of State to pretend otherwise, or to describe those serving as "weekend warriors". Those weekend warriors are, as we speak, serving in Bosnia and Northern Ireland, and their lives are in danger on our behalf. The few good things that the Secretary of State proposes are largely building on what we started.

One of the effects of closing 114 TA centres will be that the TA will now be confined to our cities and large towns. Rural areas do not seem to be on the Government's map. There will be only one TA centre in Norfolk and only one in Lincolnshire, which is also a large county. There will be only one unit in central Wales between Wrexham in the north and Carmarthen in the south. In North Yorkshire, three centres are to close, leaving only one in Scarborough. What does that say to people in rural Britain? They are told that the TA is not for them and that, as in so many matters, the Government do not care about rural England. I use the word "England" advisedly because the highly critical letter of August from the Secretary of State for Scotland to the Secretary of State for Defence has resulted in reprieves for several TA centres in Scotland.

Will the Secretary of State answer a few questions? Will he confirm that the TA infantry is to be cut from more than 16,000 to 7,100, that the TA yeomanry is to be cut from 2,500 to 1,300 and that the strength of the Royal Engineers will be cut from 5,900 to 2,700? Will he confirm that the Royal Artillery will be cut from 3,900 to 3,000, that the Royal Logistics Corps will be cut from 19 to 14 regiments and lose a third of its manpower and that the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers will lose one of their five battalions and a quarter of their men? Will he tell the House whether the Director of Reserve Forces and Cadets has endorsed those cuts?

Will the Secretary of State confirm that his new figure for the TA establishment of 41,200 includes 3,500 in university officer training corps and more than 6,000 specialists? The Select Committee on Defence recommended that those categories should be excluded from that establishment. If they are, is not its true strength little more than 31,000? Does the Secretary of State think that that is an adequate reserve?

The truth of the matter cannot be hidden by the glossy booklets and heavy spin that accompany the announcement. This is all about money. The SDR imposed cuts and efficiency targets on the Ministry of Defence which it cannot meet. It is scrabbling around for any pound that it can save, and the TA seems to be a vulnerable target. The cuts in themselves will not save much; the prospect of selling off the 114 so-called surplus properties must have been too tempting to resist.

I suspect that that is why the review has been conducted in such secrecy. The Secretary of State said that a consultation paper was circulated. It was not circulated to Members of Parliament whose constituencies might be affected and it was not circulated to the public—their opinion was not sought. Circulation was so confined that the document—uniquely for the Government and the Ministry—was not even leaked.

If there was a genuine consultation exercise, why did the Select Committee feel it necessary to write to the Secretary of State on 2 November to complain that the TA and the TAVRAs felt that they had been excluded from the process? Why was it necessary for the Commander-in-Chief of Land Command to circulate a letter threatening to court-martial any soldier who even discussed the matter with his Member of Parliament? Any consultation was very narrow, and when the Select Committee reopens its inquiry, it will have its suspicions confirmed.

The TA is our insurance policy against a national emergency. At a time when we have a small Regular Army of little more than 100,000, that reserve becomes even more important. The Government's decision on the TA is dictated by a short-term policy for short-term savings, and we could pay dearly for it in the longer run. The TA is a very British institution based on volunteers, service and patriotism. It has given and continues to give valuable service to our country, but today is a black day for the Territorial Army. The Secretary of State has made a mistake today for which he will pay politically. I only hope that our country will not also have to pay the next time that we find ourselves in a major crisis.

Mr. Robertson

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for beginning his minor rant with a commendation because we provided information on some of our proposals in advance. The areas that he singled out are among the most important components of the reform of the Territorial Army that I have presented to Parliament today.

First, let me deal with the issue of weekend warriors. I was not being derogatory about the Territorial Army. I was simply saying that, if the public perceive members of the TA to be weekend warriors, involved in training for roles that are no longer relevant, that does not work in favour of the proud and professional people who give of their time and trouble. I believe that, by giving them a modernised role, giving them a vision for the future and giving them a usability that they have never had, we shall rebuild morale in the Territorial Army from the chaos that was left to us to clean up.

Obviously, although we gave the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) the document at 12 o'clock today, he has still not sufficiently understood the figures in it. I shall bear that in mind next time, and perhaps allocate more time for him to do so. He mentioned an establishment of 59,000 in the Territorial Army. That is at best a notional and technical figure. My predecessor, Michael Portillo, did not even fund the Territorial Army to the 56,000 level, let alone the 59,000 level. As I said in my statement, the actual strength of the Territorial Army is 54,000. Therefore, the reduction is 13,000 on the basis of its existing strength, and scaremongering with irrelevant figures does not help the debate. Four out of five TA centres throughout the country will remain open. I believe that that outcome takes into account the views that we heard on the Territorial Army and on the cadets.

What a strange lack of memory the hon. Member for Stratford—on-Avon has. I know that he was out of the House for a whole Parliament, and I know that he was once a Treasury Minister, but his selective memory does not help us to have a constructive debate about this great service. Under the previous Government, and since the end of the cold war, the three Ministers who were responsible for the Ministry of Defence reduced the Territorial Army by 20,000 over 10 years. The hon. Gentleman therefore has a bit of a cheek to criticise me for trimming 13,000 from the Territorial Army.

The hon. Gentleman criticised our treatment of rural England, but that criticism will not stand a moment's examination of the maps in the document. In operational and footprint terms our proposals tell an extremely good story. The hon. Gentleman's allegations that Scotland got a special reprieve are a cheap jibe, in light of the fact that I gave him figures about the regional distribution of the Territorial Army and the reductions. The new establishment in Scotland is 75 per cent. of the previous strength; the national average is 76 per cent. Therefore Scotland is exactly on the national average.

The London area—which will get three extra infantry companies—is the one that has done best out of the add-backs that we made to bring the figure up to 41,200. We have put back an infantry company in the north-west; one infantry company in the west midlands; and one infantry company, a company of the Royal Military Police and a field hospital in the north-east of England. There is, therefore, no partiality involved in the process.

The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon itemises several areas where there have been reductions. Of course there have been reductions—I said that we had trimmed the numbers while increasing the role, training and integrity of the Territorial Army. However, the hon. Gentleman did not mention the addition of 2,000 to the defence medical services—an initial cut for which his Government were responsible.

The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon asked whether the plan had the whole-hearted backing—

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk)

The cuts.

Mr. Robertson

The full package has been endorsed, not only by the Army Board, but by Brigadier Richard Holmes, Director of Reserve Forces and Cadets, who made that public statement only a few minutes ago, at the Ministry of Defence.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether the OTCs are included. Of course they are: they are part and parcel of the Territorial Army now, and into the future. The hon. Gentleman made a variety of nit-picking criticisms. However, as we are talking about authorities consulted on the review and the conclusions reached, he should bear in mind the words today of Field Marshal Lord Vincent of Coleshill, the last but one Chief of the Defence Staff and a great friend of the reserve forces of this land. He said: the strategic environment has changed very significantly over the last decade. It is therefore essential that the Territorial Army is organised and allocated operational tasks in a manner that is clearly consistent with our new defence priorities. We simply have to ensure that the Territorial Army remains relevant and useable, or it will increasingly lack credibility in the years ahead. I believe that the Strategic Defence Review, followed by the extensive consultation process, has achieved these important objectives.

Senior and distinguished members of the British Army endorse what I have proposed today, and so too, I believe, will the country.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. I remind the House that that one exchange has taken 30 minutes. We must have brisk questions and answers from Back Benchers and the Secretary of State—I am sure that he will oblige—if I am to call everyone.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley)

Today is obviously a bad day, and it is a black day for Chorley. I listened to the Secretary of State's criteria and, according to those criteria, Chorley TA centre should not be closed. It has nothing to do with some threat from Russia—far from it. I have only just read that our Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers 101 Battalion is to go to Wales. Why will it not remain in Chorley? I have been told that the cadet forces will remain untouched, but not in Chorley's case—the building that they use is marked down for closure.

I presume that something has gone wrong: either the Secretary of State has not been given the necessary information or Chorley has been treated differently. I do not believe that this is a political decision: it must be a mistake. I implore the Secretary of State to look seriously at what has happened. Will he meet a delegation from Chorley to discuss what will happen to the cadet force and why the battalion headquarters are to be moved from Chorley? When Cheshire—I have nothing against Cheshire—has nine TA centres and there is not one TA centre left in south Lancashire, there is something tragically wrong. Something has gone wrong with the formula because, according to the criteria, there is no way that Chorley's centre should close. I plead with the Secretary of State to meet us and to reverse his decision.

Mr. Robertson

I respect my hon. Friend's strong feelings. In any reform or redesign of the Territorial Army there will clearly be losers as well as winners. I feel as pained as many others about the decisions that have been taken, but such decisions are in the greater interests of the Territorial Army.

My hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces will certainly meet my hon. Friend, not to change the decision—the overall package has been thought through very carefully—but to consider how best we can ensure that the area's cadets are accommodated properly and how the Territorial Army soldiers currently based in Chorley may find a proper career in the other units remaining in Greater Manchester.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)

May I also thank the Secretary of State for his courtesy in allowing me to see the documents and the statement in advance?

Notwithstanding the Secretary of State's skill in presentation and the very welcome qualitative changes that he has announced, does he accept that today's statement will cause great dismay and disappointment to those whose units are to be disbanded? Does he accept also that, regardless of how it is described, the Territorial Army is to be reduced by a third or, at best—according to the Secretary of State's figures—by 25 per cent? Some 25 per cent. of TA drill halls will be sold to developers. With a reduction of that kind, is it not inevitable that the TA's ability to reinforce Regular Army infantry and yeomanry units will be reduced substantially?

Will there not be an erosion of the unique links between the community and the armed services that the TA provides? Will not these announcements reduce the ability of the Territorial Army to give support to the civilian community in time of emergency? Finally, how many of the senior TA officers who threatened to resign because of their anxiety about the inadequacy of the consultation process does the Secretary of State think will endorse his proposals without qualification?

Mr. Robertson

We are speaking about one British Army. The Territorial Army is a component of that, but the country must properly look at the whole of the British Army. General Sir Roger Wheeler, the Chief of the General Staff, is the head of the entire Army. In the strategic defence review we examined the global issue. The consequences of the defence review are also being announced today.

I am uncertain how many of the TA colonels will endorse or live with all the proposals, but at every stage they have been properly consulted and talked to. I anticipate that the British Army will recognise, as it always has in the past, that ultimately it is for Ministers of the Crown to make the decisions.

I made these decisions on the basis of a military judgment given to me by the Chief of the General Staff and the Army Board. At the press conference before we came to the House today, I made it clear, along with the Chief of the General Staff and the Director of Reserve Forces and Cadets, that we were as one with respect to the proposed shape of the Territorial Army.

Morale in the Territorial Army will not be eroded, because the TA is being strengthened. Its role is being refreshed. It is being given greater utility and usability. In the future, it will have the right training and equipment to be in the right place at the right time. The thousands of people across the country who give their time and effort diligently in the interests of the country will recognise that this is the way forward, as part of one Army.

Mr. Hugh Bayley (City of York)

I warmly welcome the decision to increase the Army medical service personnel by 2,000. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that will have a considerable impact in correcting the problems that we inherited from the previous Government, who cut the armed forces medical services in all three services?

I particularly welcome my right hon. Friend's decision to move the headquarters of the TA armed forces medical services to my constituency, York, and to move the field training centre for the armed forces medical services close to York, to Strensall.

Mr. Robertson

I thank my hon. Friend for his commendation. I know that he has had differences of opinion with me in the past, but we have made a conscious decision to locate the headquarters of the medical services in York. With the relocation of the Defence Vetting Agency to York, he can be proud of the job that he has done—the representations that he has made—on behalf of his constituents, who can be proud of him.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

Is the Secretary of State aware that, behind all the glitz of the new Labour modern speak, the cuts that he announced today are old-fashioned cuts in the Territorial Army across the land? Is he further aware that, in striking down the 10th Battalion Parachute Regiment, he is losing to the reserve forces a dedicated team of able, relevant and well-recruited volunteers whom I had the privilege of joining last weekend on exercise? Why axe them down, when the other component of the joint rapid deployment force–3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines—is to double the number of reserves that it recruits, while the paras are to be cut from 900 to 330? These are old-fashioned Labour cuts.

Mr. Robertson

I do not think that that is a fair representation, as the hon. Gentleman, who is usually fair, will recognise. A large number of defence jobs are located in his constituency. We have looked carefully at the role of the Parachute Regiment, in its regular configuration and in its Territorial Army configuration. I am satisfied that we will have an adequate number of people to perform the role that that regiment fulfils with great distinction in the Army.

Dr. Howard Stoate (Dartford)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the TA unit in my constituency at Greenhithe is one of those scheduled for closure. He will also be aware that that unit carries out an extremely important bomb disposal function for the area. Can he assure me and the members of my unit that that expertise and valuable function will not be lost, but will be moved to other units?

Mr. Robertson

I do not want to lose any expertise or function that is carried out by the TA where it is relevant to today's forces. My hon. Friend may well be disappointed at one aspect of this general review, but I hope that he will recognise that, in the part of the world that he represents, the TA's general footprint will still be there and that the TA will still do a good job on behalf of the nation.

Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, when proposals were made to me for reducing the size of the TA at the end of the cold war, when there was obvious justification for making some reductions, I judged the figure of 60,000 or thereabouts to be the minimum at which the TA could be sustained and its national presence and role maintained? The right hon. Gentleman will, therefore, understand why I believe that his announcement is profoundly unwise. It is based on a judgment of the world as he sees it at this moment. The particularly serious aspect of this is that he is proposing not only these reductions, but the sale of drill halls, so that when it is evident, as it may be in the future, that the cuts were unwise, it will be extremely difficult to reverse them.

Mr. Robertson

The right hon. Gentleman, who occupied my job, made a judgment at that time about the size of the TA in the circumstances then prevailing. I have had to do exactly the same, and times do change. We have only to look at the events of the past seven days to begin to realise just how quickly we have to react in times of crisis, and how, increasingly, we will have to do so in the future.

I must also say to the right hon. Gentleman, quite gently, that my predecessor, Michael Portillo, chose to fund only 90 per cent. of the figure that the right hon. Gentleman is talking about because he believed that a figure lower than 60,000 was justifiable in the then circumstances. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman has listened to the words of Field Marshal Lord Vincent, which I have read out, because he served the right hon. Gentleman with distinction.

Times change, threats change, and we must reconfigure, not just the regular but the reserve forces, to be ready for the future. That is what we have done, that is the military judgment, and I stand by that.

Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye)

As my right hon. Friend has paid great attention to the footprint argument, does he agree that East Sussex appears somewhat devoid of any footprint, save for one unit in Eastbourne? In particular, will he assure me that there will be some means by which civic occasions and other such functions can be serviced by some form of military presence, which is so well received by my constituents?

Mr. Robertson

I am sure that we can consider how civic occasions can be dealt with, because that is part of the footprint of the armed forces. My hon. Friend may well be disappointed at the closure of the Hastings centre, but we shall retain it as a centre for the cadet unit that uses it. Clearly, the cadets' future role will be important both in the life of Hastings and, I hope, in the wider community.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

I join others in thanking the Secretary of State for making the documents available at noon today. It is a courtesy that could be observed by other Departments. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman encourages that example.

Throughout the process, has not the argument been about the highest and the lowest bidder, and have we not reached some form of compromise? In the north of Scotland, we welcome the fact that two companies and eight platoons remain, although we would have much preferred to retain a battalion, but that is better than we had originally expected.

However, my constituents and I will be bitterly disappointed at the decision to remove RAF Squadrons 236 and 237 from Kinloss and Lossiemouth, as they are important engineering aspects of the TA and they have given huge and invaluable service to the community in civilian disasters, such as the floods that we had last year.

Those squadrons have been based at RAF Kinloss and RAF Lossiemouth at no expense whatever, and I believe that the decision should be reconsidered—perhaps there should be a combined squadron to serve the north of Scotland—because they are vital, given the geographic area that they are expected to cover.

Mr. Robertson

Far from hearing the apprehensions that have been expressed in some quarters about the TA in Scotland, I listened—very carefully, as the hon. Lady perhaps expected—to the voices that we heard in Scotland, including the strong and convincing voice of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who is a personal and professional friend.

I can understand that, in the hon. Lady's constituency case—she is talking about a broader constituency, I presume—there will be disappointment at the closing of the two squadrons. The TA centre in Elgin will remain, however, and her constituency has been the beneficiary of a new RAF squadron coming into RAF Lossiemouth from Germany. That will boost the local economy and will increase the footprint of the armed forces in that area. I believe that we have the right shape for the reserve forces throughout Scotland, and they will serve Scotland well.

Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the criticism from the Select Committee on Defence was considered, unlike the rant from the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), and one that we will explore further? Does he also agree that we welcome the restoration of the yeomanry nuclear, biological and chemical unit, which is fundamental to our response to the kind of terrorist incident that can take place? Will he reassure the House that his figure of 41,200 is real—unlike the notional figures of 59,000 and, going further back, 60,000, which were never funded by the previous Government—and the number that we intend to achieve?

Mr. Robertson

My hon. Friend makes a good and valuable point. The figure that we have announced on the Territorial Army will be fully funded, which will be a change from figures that have been bandied about today and were bandied about by the previous Government. That will be well noted by the public.

I take my hon. Friend's point about the considered view of the Select Committee on Defence. I paid particular attention to what it said on TA numbers and on provisions for NBC protection, and I hope that the Committee—which will no doubt give this statement the scrutiny that it gives all other statements—will recognise that it made a valuable contribution to the consultation.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton)

The Secretary of State intends to close the unit in Cobham—detachments of the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment and of the cadet force—which is extremely bad news. First, is that closure taking place not for operational reasons, but simply because it is likely that that centre will be valuable on the property market? Secondly, had he noted the reply from the Prime Minister to me on 15 June about the activities of the civil contingencies committee, in which I anticipated the remarks of the Secretary of State for Scotland about the role that the TA could play in alleviating any of the problems arising from the millennium bug? Will he comment on that? What reply did he give to his colleague?

Mr. Robertson

I refute entirely the allegation that we have closed any of the centres on the basis of property value; indeed, if that had been the objective, an entirely different map would be before the House. We have looked carefully and in enormous detail at operational need in relation to the TA. That will have consequential results in respect of vacant property, which will feed into the defence budget and help to finance the global budget of the Department.

The hon. Gentleman makes a point about the problems that might be experienced at the millennium. That is a serious issue in which the Government take a particular interest, but the TA is an integral part of the armed forces and it would, if required, be available with the rest of the armed forces in any civil emergency, either actual or potential.

None of the changes that we have announced today will affect our ability to respond to any such request. We have shown that we intend to maintain a widespread TA presence throughout the UK to maintain the operational coherence of all our forces, and if there is a problem we shall be able to deal with it.

Ms Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West)

I warmly welcome the commitment that my right hon. Friend and his ministerial team have shown in giving the TA a future and a significant operational role. I welcome their willingness to listen and consult, which is in marked contrast to the previous Government. I further welcome the retention of the Army cadet force in Dunfermline. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the majority of recruits to the regular armed forces come from the cadet force, not the TA? Does he also agree that a priority for this Government must be to make up the cut of one third that the previous Government made in the Regular Army by taking all possible action to encourage recruitment to the regular fores?

Mr. Robertson

My hon. Friend is right, and I thank her for her comments. Army recruitment is at its best level now since 1993–17 per cent. up on last year. It is an indication from those who would join the Army that they see a future in it because of the strategic defence review. I welcome my hon. Friend's comments about the cadet centre in Dunfermline. She is right to say that, although the cadet force is a youth movement and is not designed for recruitment, it gives young people in many parts of the country a flavour of the forces that will tempt them into a satisfying and high-quality career later in life. My hon. Friend has helped throughout this exercise, and I thank her for the energy and effort that she has put into it. By any standards, we have listened more to the outside world and the TA than any previous Government. I presume that, as a result, our proposals will get the support that they merit.

Mr. John M. Taylor (Solihull)

The proposals are open to all sorts of criticism, but in the case of my constituency they are ignorant. Page 75 of the so-called fact sheet places Shirley in Birmingham, whereas it is an important part of the borough of Solihull. I went to camp this summer with Army cadets from Shirley; I will see the air cadets on Thursday this week and the sea cadets on Friday. They will be devastated to know that the TA centre at Haslucks Green road will close completely. Will the Secretary of State write to me about where he proposes that those cadets should now parade?

Mr. Robertson

My hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces is willing to discuss that matter with the hon. Gentleman, because we have absolutely guaranteed that accommodation will be made available to replace existing cadet centres. I hope that he will tell the cadets that he mentioned—I dare say that they value the contact that they have with him—that we shall spend an extra £3 million on the cadets over the next four years because we believe in their value both to the community and to the armed forces. Their relocation will be a matter of consultation, in which the hon. Gentleman is welcome to be involved. I guarantee that suitable premises will be found.

Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)

I acknowledge the Secretary of State's courtesy in sending me a letter and documentation before his statement, and I support his strategy for the new century. May I thank him and his Department for the decision to keep open the Queensferry centre? The whole of Deeside will thank him for that, whether they be the voluntary services that use it or the soldiers themselves. May I also acknowledge my right hon. Friend's decision to keep the Royal Welch Fusiliers' 3rd Battalion of the Territorial Army at Wrexham? North Wales recruits strongly for the Royal Welch Fusiliers, and people throughout north Wales will thank the Secretary of State for listening.

Mr. Robertson

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for recognising that the decision that we took was right and proper in the circumstances. The TA is a good area for recruitment into the regular forces. That was one of the factors that we took into account in the reconfiguration of the TA. Overall, the package that we have put together satisfies the operational requirements of the Army, and is endorsed by the Chief of the General Staff and the Army Board. It will be recognised by the country as a suitable future for the whole of the TA.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

I declare an interest as the squadron leader of the Warwickshire and Worcestershire Yeomanry, although I see from these proposals that I shall not hold that appointment for much longer. What measures will the Secretary of State take to ensure that, in future, there is a sufficient number of senior TA officers at the top of the chain of command who are capable of giving advice to Ministers, so that such a stitch-up will not take place in the future?

Mr. Robertson

I am sure that we shall be able to attract the right quality of officers and other personnel into the Territorial Army, and that that will be easier to achieve at all levels now that the TA can look forward to a more usable and relevant role.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham)

It was a great relief to read the report, because I fully expected the centre in Durham to be closed. It was unthinkable that there would be no infantry presence in Durham in the near future. I thank the Secretary of State for that and for the fact that the Burma Band and Bugles of the Light Infantry will be retained. That is very important, because it would have been a terrible loss to Durham county if such a magnificent group of musicians had been disbanded.

I did not understand what my right hon. Friend meant when he referred to the names of the new battalions. He seemed to say that they could pick their own names. Will the battalion that will be based at the new headquarters in Durham be able to take the title of 7 Light Infantry, as it has been known through history?

Mr. Robertson

I thank my hon. Friend for his welcome for the proposals. I hope that it will be noticed that the pain and the pleasure are evenly shared in the House, both geographically and politically. We have sought to achieve a sensible balance that is consistent with the operational objectives of the strategic defence review.

The new regiments are described by their geographic titles, but it will be within their power to make recommendations to us about what they want their names to be. That is a sensible way of going about it, rather than commanding from the centre what the new titles should be.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

The United States Chief of the General Staff recently said that he needed all his reserves, which are larger than the Regular Army. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the cuts fall most heavily on those elements of the Territorial Army that cannot be found from civilian life, especially the infantry and yeomanry, for which there is no civilian equivalent and which would take the longest to rebuild? Will he also confirm that, although the 15 remaining infantry battalions may be allowed to recruit to their new establishments, those establishments are configured in such a way that they could not be deployed as a formed unit within any reasonable time scale? Will he confirm that the largest cut in the infantry falls on the paras, who are the most ready for war?

Mr. Robertson

I thought that the hon. Gentleman was going to forget his main point, but he rescued himself at the last minute. The hon. Gentleman has a good track record on, and a great interest in, the reserve forces. I have responsibility for all the armed forces, and for ensuring that they are ready for day-to-day operations, in which our country is engaged much more than even the American forces. It is not possible to make easy comparisons between what the reserves do in the United States of America and what our reserve forces are expected to do.

Our reserves must be much more usable, at a much higher level of readiness and trained to a much higher level of skill than the reserve forces of the United States of America. As we have seen in Kosovo, Iraq and a number of other places, we have a larger proportion of our forces engaged in day-to-day operations than the United States and practically every other country. That is why we want to make our Territorial Army much more usable and relevant.

We have considered the position of the Parachute Regiment with enormous care. The regiment has a very effective outside lobby, including a number of close friends of mine, and the decision was not made lightly. I have to balance the judgment of those outside, and those who happen to be involved in the interests of particular regiments, with the general advice that I receive and the decisions that I, as Secretary of State, must make on behalf of all our armed forces and of the country. I believe that my judgment, and the judgment of my military advisers, is right.

Mr. Martin Linton (Battersea)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement and, in particular, on his wise decision to site the headquarters of the London Battalion in Battersea, along with four companies of the London Regiment and two of the Royal Green Jackets. May I urge him to draw attention to the record of the London Regiment, a TA regiment that is rooted in its community and reflects its ethnic composition, with 15 per cent. of members drawn from ethnic minorities in the headquarters company in Battersea and 20 per cent. in the company in Balham, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox)?

Mr. Robertson

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's words of welcome. I think that he and others will recognise that we have done the right thing in London and elsewhere. He is right to say that we have taken account of a variety of factors, including the ability to recruit from parts of the community with which we may not have had such success in the past.

I hope that it will be noticed that we have included three additional infantry companies in the London plan. One will be from the Royal Green Jackets, one from the London Scottish Regiment and one from the London Irish Regiment. I think that that will prove to be a popular decision.

Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnorshire)

Can the Secretary of State confirm that there will be only one TA battalion in Wales, not two as at present? His document refers only to a Wales battalion. Will he also confirm that nine of the 31 TA centres in Wales are being closed? That does not reflect his claim that four out of five centres would remain in Wales; two out of three will remain—not the average relating to the United Kingdom as a whole. The recruiting record in Wales is outstanding, but I believe that the Secretary of State's proposals will seriously diminish it.

Mr. Robertson

The hon. Gentleman, normally a very fair individual, is wrong in this instance. Of all the parts of the country, Wales is doing best in terms of the numbers retained. It currently has a strength of 2,982, and its proposed establishment is 2,547. Whereas the national average is 76 per cent. of the previous average, in Wales the figure is 85 per cent. Wales has done extremely well out of the restructuring.

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Territorial Army had an important role to play in Northampton in rescuing people when more than 2,000 homes were flooded at Easter? Its lifesaving work has not been publicly recognised. I assure my right hon. Friend that his decision to keep the TA centre in Northampton will be warmly welcomed by a town that understands the important role that the TA has to play in crises not just abroad, but at home.

Mr. Robertson

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I, too, pay tribute to the valuable social role undertaken by many units of the TA. I hope that, by restructuring and revitalising it and boosting its morale, I am giving those units collectively a pat on the back.

At the beginning of my statement, I made the critical point that the reduction in actual numbers is only fractionally more than the natural wastage in the TA in one year. Far from attacking the TA, as some irresponsible people have suggested, we are strengthening its role. Those who have praised and admired its work, as my hon. Friend has in the past, will have even more cause to do so in the future.

Mr. David Faber (Westbury)

I, too, welcome the personalised letter that all hon. Members have received from the Secretary of State. Does he not think that mine would have been of a little more use if it had been honest enough to acknowledge the fact that the Territorial Army centre in Trowbridge, the county town of Wiltshire, was to close? My constituents will be confused about why no mention of the centre has been made in my letter, although, according to the document that has been produced, it is scheduled to close?

Does the Secretary of State not understand the devastating effect that that will have on a rural community such as west Wiltshire? The centre provides a focal point for the local community, for young people, for training young people in many of the arts, such as leadership, and for maintaining a serious career, which is good for the whole community, not just for the young people who try to join the TA.

Mr. Robertson

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's thanks for the fact that he received the letter. The detail about which he talks is in the document. The letter alerted him to the fact that it would be in the Vote Office, so the information was there.

We have tried to do our best. Few Departments and, indeed, few previous Governments have gone to the trouble of giving hon. Members information in advance of statements. I am sorry that that information, however the hon. Gentleman got it, is bad for him in terms of the specific constituency, but I assure him that we have ensured that the overall TA footprint is still there in Wiltshire, and that there are still relevant centres close by, which will give people who wish to volunteer the opportunity to do so.

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Army in Lancaster will face the future positively and loyally, even in the face of decisions that have reduced the headquarters of a battalion to the status of a company, which is largely based in Barrow—the battalion being based in Preston? Does he understand that the Member of Parliament for Lancaster and Wyre is more demoralised than it may be, and that I require a written explanation and rational justification for the changes that have taken place, which will not only say why those decisions have taken place, but give a real commitment to the Army in Lancaster? Can that justification be phrased rather better than the warm words and pats on the head that I have so far received in response to speeches in the House and many letters to the Ministry of Defence?

Mr. Robertson

My hon. Friend is a decent and fair person and makes a point on behalf of his constituency. He may wish to express that here today, but it is impossible to restructure, to reorganise and to modernise the Territorial Army if there is not going to be a single casualty affecting some constituency. I assure him that there will still be opportunities in Lancashire and near Lancaster for people to volunteer and to serve their country through the Territorial Army.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine)

In disbanding the company in Laurencekirk, will he confirm that, should volunteers from Laurencekirk wish to continue to make a commitment to the Territorial Army, they will be able to do so in neighbouring companies? Will he confirm what the Minister for the Armed Forces said at a meeting: if we find that there are practical consequences for the cadet force that were not foreseen in the statement, he will listen to representations?

Mr. Robertson

We are always willing to listen. The answer to the first question—can people who are being moved seek places in neighbouring countries?— [Interruption.] Neighbouring companies, not neighbouring countries. Norway is probably closer than England to Laurencekirk, but those people will be able to find a role in neighbouring companies. We shall be willing at every stage to consider constructive criticism of and suggestions about the plan, and indeed about the strategic defence review. The situation is not static, as the threat is not static and the unexpected can always happen. We have to be able to evolve our regular and reserve forces in a manner that serves the country best, which is why we shall keep it all constantly under review.

Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan)

My right hon. Friend's proposals will receive a warm welcome in the hillsides and vales of Wales. The news of the retention of two viable battalions there to play a crucial new role in fulfilling the modern role of our armed forces will be very welcome. Is he aware that, last Friday, in Edinburgh, General Wesley Clark, NATO Supreme Allied Commander, described the strategic defence review as a remarkable achievement that should be used as a model for all other NATO countries? Today's proposals are an integral part of that review.

Mr. Robertson

I do not know whether I should be more flattered by the fact that the reform will be welcomed in the vales and valleys of Wales or by General Wesley Clark's commendation of them last week at the North Atlantic Assembly. I am looking not for plaudits or commendations, but to do what is right for the United Kingdom and for the armed forces, who serve us all.

Sir Peter Emery (East Devon)

As the Secretary of State's hon. Friends have failed to do so, may I thank him for coming to Edinburgh to the annual meeting of the North Atlantic Assembly, at considerable inconvenience for himself, having to fly from Ypres and meeting so many of our European friends, the delegates at that conference? However, may I also remind him that Mr. Solana, the NATO Secretary-General, in addressing the conference, not only reinforced his comments on the training of reservists having to be at the highest standards but said that ever more nations would have to rely on reservists if they were to be able to meet some of NATO's modern requirements and the surprise aspects of what NATO troops might have to do in the future? Today's statement seems to run entirely contrary to that advice.

Mr. Robertson

No, it does not—exactly to the contrary. Secretary-General Solana was absolutely correct in saying that we will have to rely more on our reservists, and we shall do so. We are therefore modernising and restructuring the Territorial Army, so that we can use its members, and more of them, more often in the future. I think that Secretary-General Solana—who has himself praised our defence review and commended it to other NATO countries—would recognise that the United Kingdom, more than most countries, has made our forces more relevant to the type of problems that NATO will face in the future.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his warm words at the beginning of his remarks, and for the help that he gave me at the reception in the old Parliament building, at Edinburgh, in meeting so many delegations that had come to my native land to hear the debate in the North Atlantic Assembly and to enjoy Scotland's hospitality and scenery.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

The Secretary of State is surely aware that, from the Haldane principles of 1908 onwards, the Territorial Army has had a particular political structure because it has required political protection. Why has he therefore not taken any notice of the recommendation in paragraph 277 of the Defence Committee's report, which would at least have led to a Territorial Army of 50,000—a figure that the central staffs in the Ministry of Defence tried to slide past Sir Malcolm Rifkind when he was Defence Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) when he was Prime Minister? The tactic was rejected then because those politicians had a proper understanding of the role of the Territorial Army in the United Kingdom. Why has the Secretary of State failed in his duty to protect the country and the Territorial Army?

Mr. Robertson

The hon. Gentleman, who was an adviser to the previous Government, has clearly changed his mind—or his view, with so many others, was ignored. The previous Government reduced the Territorial Army by 20,000 in the past 10 years. I shall therefore take no preaching or lessons from those who say that I should not accept military advice but who themselves went well beyond the figure that they now claim is the absolute bedrock.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

First, may I thank the Minister for the Armed Forces for the opportunity of consulting on the issue? The Secretary of State will be mindful of my comment that premier divisions will not be going for the top place in the division if they keep reserve forces at half strength. Some have kept their reserves at half strength because they do not have sufficient money—which I suspect is the reason for the current cuts in the armed forces. May I thank the Secretary of State for the fact that my own two units—in Sunnyside street and in Hydebank—have been retained? However, as the modern Army has to do a lot of policing, he will understand our regret that the Provost company in Kinnegar will be disbanded. Where will the sea cadet unit go when the centre in Newtonards is closed? Is it a matter of HMS Never Budge becoming HMS Scuttled?

Mr. Robertson

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's words. Northern Ireland has done very well as part of the review—for good reason, too, as its recruitment record has made a serious contribution to the Regular Army.

On housing for the sea cadet unit, I have made a pledge about ensuring that alternative accommodation is available for cadet forces. The hon. Gentleman is, of course, more than at liberty to come to the Ministry to discuss how best that can be done.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

Is it not ironic that the decimation of the Territorial Army has been announced so soon after Armistice day? Was not the Secretary of State's language redolent of that of a first world war general trying to justify colossal losses? Will the Secretary of State be remembered for what he has done to our volunteer forces today as a cut-price Douglas Haig of the 1990s?

Mr. Robertson

That is pathetic, and it is unworthy of a statement in the House. In 1987, the strength of the Territorial Army was 78,000; in 1996, it was 57,000. A Conservative Government were in power all that time.

Mrs. Ray Michie (Argyll and Bute)

Although I recognise that many hon. Members are disappointed with the Minister's statement, it would be unreasonable for me not to welcome his announcement that the Dunoon TA centre is to remain open, and to thank the Minister for his personal letter, in which he mentioned Dunoon. I am sure that the Secretary of State—who knows the town well—appreciates that it would have been very wrong to lose the last Argyll TA link with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

Mr. Robertson

The decision was all to do with operational reasons and absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I went to school in that area and was a member of the Army cadets attached to the Territorial Army centre there. Just as there are winners and losers, the decision was taken on the basis of what is required to ensure that there is a reasonable footprint across the United Kingdom and that the Territorial Army continues to make a huge contribution in rural and urban areas alike.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)

In the forward to the document, the Secretary of State said—quite understandably, given the increase in peacekeeping by the armed forces—that there will be a shift in emphasis to logisticians, among other things. Against that background, will he explain to the House why the Royal Logistics Corps TA is being cut by a massive 30 per cent? That does not seem to be consistent with the objectives that he sets himself in the document's forward. Will he take this opportunity also to make it quite clear that he does not in any way regard the TA as weekend warriors? Considering the huge numbers of TA soldiers who served in Bosnia, the Gulf and elsewhere, it would be very unfortunate if there were any scintilla of a suggestion that the House or the Secretary of State ever thought of the TA as weekend soldiers.

Mr. Robertson

I certainly do not have that view—I am trying to fight against it. However, I fear that repeated accusations may be one reason why we lose one third of the recruits to the Territorial Army in the first year. The whole thrust of the exercise that I am undertaking is to eliminate that image completely and to make sure that the Territorial Army is valued by and valuable to the country and to the regular forces. The hon. Gentleman is an honorary colonel of a Territorial Army unit and he has made several good suggestions which I have taken on board. I greatly value his advice. He asked a fair question about the cut in the Royal Logistics Corps. There have been reductions in numbers in some units because they support a larger deployment than is likely to occur. We have made operational decisions, and that happens to be one of them.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

The Secretary of State made a joking reference to Norway in response to the question from the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir R. Smith). Is he aware that the Norwegian army can field no fewer than 101,000 reserves to operational status within 72 hours and that Sweden has 450,000 army reserves, 48,000 of whom do up to 31 days' training a year? Is not the great weakness of his statement that it fatally fails to recognise the importance of numbers in reserves? It is surely a consequence of Treasury pressure. The Secretary of State spoke of footprints. The only footprints that I can discern are Treasury footprints—great big brown hob-nailed boots.

Mr. Robertson

Perhaps the Opposition could agree to one line on this issue. Those on the Front Bench say that I have been sold some sort of pass by the General Staff, and now the hon. Gentleman suggests that it is all due to the Treasury. The fact is that the Army needs the Territorial Army, which has to be revamped and modernised to make it useful.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned Norway and Sweden. I repeat what I said in response to the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier): we are not comparing like with like. Countries such as ours that are able to contribute through their regular forces on deployment have different requirements of their reserves than countries that are unable to make the same overseas deployment. That is well worth bearing in mind.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

Along with many Members on both sides of the House, I am most concerned about the future of the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers. I was relieved to hear what the Secretary of State said. Will he give an assurance that their role will be further enhanced so that, when necessary, they will be able to assist in emergencies such as the flooding incident at Llandudno and undertake other civil work, as they have in the past?

Mr. Robertson

The hon. Gentleman repeats the point that we have kept the cap badge. That is important not just for the operational importance of the unit, but for morale in the unit and in Wales. The relevance of the armed forces and their role will be in accordance with the needs of the Army.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

Although there will be great sadness at the fact that the Somerset Light Infantry is to be extinguished after more than 300 years, there will also be relief at the fact that a Territorial Army presence will be maintained in the county. Can the Secretary of State reassure me that the very small infantry units—the 15 complements proposed for Somerset and Cornwall—will remain viable in the long term?

Mr. Robertson

The purpose of the exercise is to make sure that we have viable units for the future.

Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset)

The Secretary of State said in his statement that we need a modern Territorial Army more fully integrated into our armed forces. The 4th Battalion of the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment TA works effectively with the 1st Battalion of the regulars. Perhaps the Secretary of State can explain why it will be more fully integrated if it is abolished and replaced by two companies of the South-West Battalion which will have no attachment to the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment.

Mr. Robertson

It is for the simple reason that the soldiers concerned will be at a higher level of readiness than they are trained for at present. They will be able to train on equipment to which they did not have access before; therefore, they will be more usable within the Territorial Army than the present configuration allows.

Mr. Martin Bell (Tatton)

I wish to speak up for an unfashionable arm of the service. The Secretary of State will know from his visits to British soldiers on active service overseas and elsewhere that none are more heavily committed than the Royal Engineers, yet the engineering reserves are being cut from nine regiments to five, which seems hard to justify. My plea is SOS—save our sappers.

Mr. Robertson

The fact is that the five regiments that we will retain will be much better able to serve at higher levels of readiness in places such as Bosnia, where our reserve forces make such a big contribution. At present, we believe that the number of Royal Engineers units is designed to support a larger force than is likely to be deployed, even on NATO operations. That is why it is the operational judgment of the Army and Ministers that they should be reduced. However, I believe that the five remaining units will be much more useful and better motivated as a result of the change.

Mr. Andy King (Rugby and Kenilworth)

I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement. Like him, I spent my teenage years in the Army cadet force. They may not have helped me, but they were particularly enjoyable years. I believe that the cadet forces are very productive in channelling the positive energies of young people, and 1 benefited greatly from my experience. I particularly welcome the £tra that is to be put into the cadet force in the next four years. Will the Air Training Corps benefit from that money or is it exclusively for the Army cadet force?

I also spent a short time in the Territorial Army, and I am delighted that 89 Signal Squadron in Rugby is to remain. I was there just two weeks ago. Its members fit the bill very well. They are highly trained, highly competent and extremely capable individuals fulfilling a useful role in complementing our regular soldiers.

Mr. Robertson

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his praise. He is right to mention the contribution made by the cadets. As 25 per cent. of the armed forces have experience in the cadets, perhaps we should try to discover how many right hon. and hon. Members have the same experience. Such was the variety available in Dunoon grammar school at the time I attended it that I was able to serve in the Air Training Corps as well. I am glad to tell my hon. Friend that it will also benefit from the extra resources that will be made available to the cadets, who are a very fine movement.

Recently, I went to see the cadets in Hamilton, and I was enormously impressed by what they do and by their spirit. I was also able to make a personal visit to a large detachment in Cheltenham at a school attended by a young cousin of mine. Again, the high morale of those involved was a joy to see.

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