HC Deb 13 December 1999 vol 341 cc7-8
5. Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

What assessments he has made of the prospective level of recruitment and retention in the TAVR during each of the next three years. [100957]

6. Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford)

If he will make a statement on the level of recruitment to the Territorial Army. [100958]

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. John Spellar)

My Department has recently completed an assessment of anticipated recruitment and retention for the reserves as part of the armed forces' forward manpower planning. We are confident that, over the next three years, the reserve forces will be able to both recruit and retain sufficient numbers of volunteers to fulfil and sustain the roles set out for them in the strategic defence review.

Mr. Hughes

That is an encouraging answer. However, I gather that only three out of five reservists are available to go into service, having finished their training, and that in the field hospital just over the river in my constituency in Walworth, for example, only about half have signed up for humanitarian aid or multinational work because of the financial implications of that. Will the Minister re-examine the terms and conditions that can be offered to doctors, nurses and the like, who want to be available as reserves to do humanitarian work with our services, but at present cannot do that without prejudice to their jobs or their careers?

Mr. Spellar

The hon. Gentleman touches on an important point. I am pleased to say that we have had constructive discussions with the NHS regarding the availability of those who work in the NHS and who are also members of the reserve forces. It would be fair to say that there were difficulties in the past, but those have decreased and we are getting far fewer complaints in that regard. If, however, the hon. Gentleman wants to raise specific concerns with us, I should be more than happy to look into them, recognising that there has been a great improvement in relations, to the benefit of both the NHS and the defence medical services.

Mr. St. Aubyn

Will the Minister confirm that, for the first time since the second world war, whole units of the Territorial Army are being called up for a peace-keeping role in Kosovo and Bosnia? Will he also confirm that the cuts in the Territorial Army, which his Government have imposed, will represent savings of less than 1 per cent. of the total defence budget in any one year? Finally, will he recognise the effect on towns such as Guildford of cutting the historic tie between the TA and our town, and the effect that that will have on future recruitment not just in the Territorial Army, but in the main Army?

Mr. Spellar

The hon. Gentleman asks a number of questions. He spoke about calling up units. That was part of the legislation agreed by both parties under the previous Administration for reserve forces.

Mr. St. Aubyn

But not for cuts.

Mr. Spellar

I will come to the hon. Gentleman's second question. He insists on asking three questions in one, but I shall answer serially. The restructuring under the strategic defence review was to reshape our reserve forces to meet the needs of the post-cold war era, rather than the pre-cold war era, and therefore to focus less on home protection and reinforcement of infantry, and far more on the specialist roles of the various reserve services. We have been doing that successfully, to ensure that our reserve forces are both usable and used.