HL Deb 25 February 1991 vol 526 cc761-3

Lord Molloy asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their policy on the future strength of the Territorial Army.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (The Earl of Arran)

My Lords, although the reserves and the regular army cannot be considered in isolation, we must first be sure of the composition of the future regular army before we draw up final plans for the reserves. As noble Lords will know, due to Operation Granby, we are not yet in a position to take final decisions on the future size and shape of the army.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. However, does he not agree that our Territorial Army is regarded as an efficient reserve army? Is he further aware that the Territorial Army associations are showing some concern that there may be some reduction in their numbers? Will the Minister give an assurance that there will be no reduction of the Territorial Army until a review has been thoroughly carried out? Perhaps the views of the territorial associations may be considered.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, any possible reduction in the size of the Territorial Army is totally speculative at the moment. The matter is under consideration, as is the matter of the size of the regular army. Certainly this country has played a wonderful part in campaigns with the aid of our Territorial Army. I agree completely with the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Molloy. As regards the future, the precise timetable for the implementation of decisions will depend upon many factors, including the outcome of the Gulf crisis, discussions with our NATO allies and developments as regards the Soviet Union.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, in considering what should be done with regard to the Territorial Army, will the Government bear very much in mind the magnificent response of those territorials, particularly on the medical side, who have been called up in the past few weeks and months? Will the Government also bear in mind therefore the great value of a strong Territorial Army to this country? Is my noble friend aware that it is with some embarrassment that I find myself in complete agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Molloy?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I do not think it is altogether a bad thing to be in total agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, from time to time, particularly as regards the good and apposite remarks the noble Lord made about the Territorial Army. The Territorial Army has played a great part so far in the Gulf conflict. No doubt the Territorial Army will continue to play a magnificent part in that conflict throughout its duration.

Lord Renton

My Lords, will my noble friend bear in mind that when the regular army is called, sometimes at short notice, to take part in activities overseas, it is reassuring to have a reserve army of territorials at home to replace soldiers who have had to go abroad?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I understand exactly what my noble friend is saying. I can inform him that there are approximately 600 members of the Territorial Army currently serving in the Gulf.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is great concern in the ranks of the Territorial Army Volunteer Reserve at the outcome of the discussions within the Ministry on Options for Change? Those in the TAVR fear the worst. Although the discussions are in abeyance because of the Gulf crisis, is the Minister aware that if the professionals are to be cut in the search for the peace dividend, that provides a stronger reason why there should be a strong and well trained volunteer reserve force?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, there will continue to be a strong and well maintained volunteer reserve force. The future of the reserve force, together with that of the regular army, is being discussed at the moment. I take heed of the remarks of the noble Lord.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, is the Minister aware that it is not self evident that the size of the army should be decided before the size of the Territorial Army is considered? Surely those matters should go hand in hand. Will the review recognise that the territorials account for less than 3 per cent. of the defence budget and probably represent one of the most cost effective parts of the budget?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I can inform the noble Lord that in broad terms the cost of the Territorial Army each year is in the region of some £400 million.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, will my noble friend bear in mind that one obtains eight territorials for the price of one regular soldier? I know one cannot draw an exact equivalent between the two forces, but the territorials represent a remarkable economy of resources. If we are to cut the number of regular soldiers—I think it is very unwise to do so at the moment—then surely we need to increase the number of territorials. The two forces should not be reduced at the same time. If the regulars are to be decreased, the other force should be increased markedly. I hope that the matter can be considered straightaway. Many people wish to volunteer, both for the regular army and for the Territorial Army. It is a shame to turn such people away. The Government should grab the chance of getting good men now.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I understand the point that my noble friend has expressed. Every possibility concerning the future of the Territorial Army is being examined. No decisions have yet been made.

Viscount Allenby of Megiddo

My Lords, does the noble Earl agree that the TA council and the TA association do an excellent job and have done so for a very long time? Will he confirm that there are no plans in Options for Change to amalgamate the role of the TA associations with that of the regular army?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, since that lies in the future and no decisions have been made, I cannot confirm or deny any particular proposition.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, if changes are to be made will the noble Earl take into consideration the fact that too much ought not to be done until we know the future of SACEUR and the future of NATO? Will his department consider one further important point: that in almost every town hall in the country there is a drill hall?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I understand precisely what the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, says. As I indicated in my original Answer, discussions are taking place with our NATO allies all the time regarding SACEUR.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, when the Government consider the future of the Territorial Army will they bear in mind the support that the TA has given to the civil community in tragedies such as the Lockerbie air disaster and the Clapham rail crash? Does he agree that that is a very important role for the Territorial Army?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, of course. I would add the further example of the events that took place last winter in that unfortunate town on the north coast of Wales.

The Earl of Malmesbury

My Lords, will my noble friend bear in mind the versatility of the Territorial Army? Complete units have changed their role in the past. I do not see the connection with the regular army that he has mentioned.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, the Territorial Army is part of the concept of "one army" which is well known to your Lordships' House.

Lord Ironside

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether sufficient funds are available for modernising, rebuilding and refurbishing various TA centres and headquarters in our towns and cities, which will be needed ever more?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, the rebuilding programme is always under review; it is examined closely every year.

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