HC Deb 10 May 1999 vol 331 cc7-8
3. Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

What proportion of the Army's Land Command is currently committed to operations. [82580]

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

We estimate that 56 per cent. of Land Command personnel are currently committed to operations.


Given the magnitude of that commitment and the possibility of future commitments for the Army in Kosovo, Will the Minister reconsider plans for decimating the Territorial Army at such a time? Before he falls back on chanting the ususal mantra about the cuts made in the early 1990s by the Previous Government, may I point out that there is all the difference in the wolrd between reductions at the end of a cold war and cuts Proposed, incredibly, at the Possible start of a hot War?

Mr. Henderson

The hon. Gentleman would contribute more to the discussion if he resisted the temptation to make party political points and considered the task that the British armed forces have to carry out and how they will ensure that they do so, which was the subject of the strategic defence review. The review aimed to put our forces in a position in which they could be deployed, with the necessary impact, in situations such as that in Kosovo.

The hon. Gentleman probably knows that Territorial Army commitment to such deployment would be relatively minor, and where the TA is required, it must be organised so that it meets the particular needs in question. It is a matter not only of having bodies to reinforce the regular forces, but of applying the right bodies with the right skills in the right way. That is the policy that the Government are implementing in the strategic defence review.

Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley)

Has my hon. Friend any plans to use the Royal Marines?

Mr. Henderson

Our marines are an important part of our armed forces and they will be deployed as necessary with our Royal Navy and our other forces in circumstances that demand their commitment and expertise.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

Overstretch in front-line forces remains unacceptable, but what proportion of the operational strength of the British Army, and our NATO allies, in Albania is now devoted to planning the development of the Albanian infrastructure, such as the port, roads, airfields and health care? Who will prepare long-term plans for that infrastructure? What will happen to Albania's economy when NATO withdraws, or is our current effort part of a long-term, open-ended commitment by the Ministry of Defence?

Mr. Henderson

At the moment, a small number of our forces are involved in those activities. Those key People are Planners, who are making a major contribution to NATO's effort. The hon Gentleman raises important issues, which will have to be dealt with in the long term, but it is somewhat premature to ask what detailed plans there will be for rebuilding the economy and social structure of the Balkans, including Albania. The hon. Gentleman will know that such condiserations are one the key principles incorporated into last week's G8 statement, and more will need to be done as time passes.