HL Deb 07 December 1994 vol 559 cc923-4

3.1 p.m.

Lord Richard asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, as part of the proposed restructuring of the Territorial Army, the two TA battalions of the Parachute Regiment are to have an endorsed role as reserves in support of 5 Airborne Brigade; and whether they are to retain their support weapons.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Henley)

My Lords, as we announced yesterday, the support weapons platoons of TA infantry battalions will be concentrated in four fire support battalions. The two TA battalions of the Parachute Regiment will restructure on a three rifle company basis without support weapons. On mobilisation, both battalions will be available to meet NATO or national requirements; in other circumstances they will, like the rest of the TA, serve as a general reserve to the Army. This may involve the battalions or parts of them augmenting the Regular Army on operations either in support of 5 Airborne Brigade or other formations, or independently.

Lord Richard

My Lords, I am obliged to the Minister for that Answer. I do not have a direct interest in this matter since I am not a member of the TA. I have never jumped out of an aeroplane either with or without a parachute. But this is a matter which was brought to my attention and is causing anxiety, particularly in those two battalions.

Can the Minister give us a specific statement this afternoon that the role of those two TA battalions is to act as reserves in support of the 5 Airborne Brigade? If he can say that, he will quell a great deal of anxiety. If that is not their role, presumably they have some role other than that of teaching men to jump out of aeroplanes with parachutes on, and perhaps he can tell us what that is.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I suspected that the noble Lord would not have an interest to declare. I thought it unlikely that he jumped out of aeroplanes either now or in the past. My first Answer gave the noble Lord the assurance he wanted. I was trying to make clear that those battalions do not have a specific endorsed role in support of 5 Airborne Brigade. If 5 Airborne Brigade needed reinforcement, it may come from those battalions or it may come from others. But, like other TA infantry battalions, they continue to have an important role in the restructured TA as part of the general reserve for the Armed Forces.

I understand that the changes can cause some anxiety. We looked at other alternatives, possibly re-roling one battalion of the TA paras as a fire support battalion. But that would cause even greater anxiety because it would reduce the number of parachute trained soldiers in that the establishment of a support battalion would be 336 as opposed to 519 for an ordinary battalion.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, the Minister said in a written reply in the Official Report that, The 8th Battalion, the Light Infantry, will re-role as a National Defence Reconnaissance Regiment in the Royal Armoured Corps, taking over the current role of the Royal Yeomanry which will become the Army's Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Defence Regiment".—[Official Report, 6/12/94; col. WA 76.] Though I accept that the 8th Battalion, the Yorkshire Light Infantry, is to be given a new role, can I take it that its members will be able to maintain their present cap badges and titles?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I can give that confirmation to the noble Lord. They will be able to retain their cap badge and title.

Viscount Ridley

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the great majority of the Territorial Army will welcome yesterday's statement about its future, not least as an end to a long period of uncertainty? Is he further aware that what is needed now is a long period of stability to implement these sensible changes?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Viscount's comments. I agree that the vast majority of the TA is happy with the changes. It is obviously difficult, when announcing a restructuring of this sort, to avoid any disturbance whatever. We tried to avoid any excessive disturbance. As I said, some units will find their role changed but I hope that the vast majority of units will be happy without their existing role or in the new role to which they have been assigned.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, can my noble friend say why the recce role, which is essentially that of the cavalry, was given to an infantry regiment rather than to one of the cavalry regiments?

Lord Henley

My Lords, in the restructuring we were reducing the number of infantry units and increasing other corps. To retain the loyalties and cap badges that have been built up it was necessary to restructure on that basis.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, bearing in mind the magnificent history of Britain's Territorial Army, particularly in times of need, can the Minister say that there will be no serious change in relation to our Territorial Army without a debate in this House?

Lord Henley

My Lords, if a debate is necessary I am sure that the usual channels will note what the noble Lord said. I shall be more than happy to debate the role and future of the TA on some future occasion.

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