HL Deb 20 July 1995 vol 566 cc370-3

3.7 p.m.

Lord Molloyasked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have for the future of the Territorial Army and the equivalent naval and air services.

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

My Lords, the Government are fully committed to the Reserves as an integral part of our Armed Forces. Following the restructuring which resulted from the end of the Cold War, they can now look forward to the future with confidence.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging reply. He knows full well of the Territorial Army, the Royal Naval Reserve and the Auxiliary Air Force. Many young men wish to join those organisations. Many have written to me. They do not know what action to take. Would it be possible for the Minister to consider that point? Perhaps he could give some answer which would help those young people who are keen to join. Not only would that be good for their upbringing, but I believe that it would also be a good contribution to the defence of our country.

Earl Howe

My Lords, I entirely associate myself with the last part of the noble Lord's question. Indeed, we expect and receive the same dedication from our reserve forces as from our regular forces.

The Royal Naval Reserve is now more closely integrated with the Royal Navy and can offer excellent opportunities for sea-going service. The Territorial Army is taking on new tasks including an armoured delivery regiment and the Army's only nuclear, biological and chemical defence regiment. The RAF's reserves are manning Rapier air defence missiles and conducting air crew trials. I believe that we are making useful progress in enhancing the role of our reserve forces.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, in last Friday's defence debate I pointed out that I may not have received the draft Bill to which the noble Earl referred. I apologise to the noble Earl. I intervened only because I receive many documents—for example, those entitled Stable forces in a strong Britain, Managing people in tomorrow's Armed Forces, and Strength in reserve; or (if I may wear my other hat) Our future homes, Biodiversity challenge, or (I do not accuse the Government in this regard) Lady Porter's Old Friends. Will the noble Earl please accept my apologies for that previous intervention? I am sure that I received the document.

As to my noble friend's Question, will the noble Earl accept that the reserves are not just there to provide specialist services, as contained in the draft Bill, but to perform the function of being a link between the Armed Forces and the public at large? It is a good way for the public to understand what the role of the Armed Forces could and should be. Is it not important to preserve that link?

Earl Howe

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. I am delighted that he is being kept so well informed by my department. I only add that I believe that the reserve forces are not only a useful link between the Armed Forces and the public but they also serve to demonstrate to employers the value of having well trained manpower at their disposal. I hope and believe that the new reserve forces Bill which we hope to introduce at the earliest opportunity will encourage more employers to take on employees who are prepared to give a commitment. We recognise that the reserve forces have to be structured, equipped and trained to take their place alongside the regular forces. We are committed to that.

Lord Renton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that by making the Territorial Army part of the reserves, the Government bring the Territorial Army into a state of readiness which increases its importance? It will be a great encouragement to those serving in it. Speaking for myself, I congratulate the Government on this development of policy.

Earl Howe

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend. As he will know, the main component of the Bill will be more flexible provisions for the call out of our reserves, coupled with the ability to use reservists without call out where that is appropriate. We also propose to create new categories of reservists, as well as safeguards for the interests of the reservist and his or her civilian employer.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, I have given my apologies to the noble Earl. Will he now expand on the matter of sponsored reserves in the draft Bill? Will he please tell us what it means? Will he also give the House an assurance not that the Bill will be introduced at the appropriate time when parliamentary time permits, but, given the urgency, that it will be introduced in the next Session?

Earl Howe

My Lords, it would not be appropriate for me to anticipate Her Majesty's gracious Speech. However, we have placed the Bill very high on our list of priorities. I hope that it will be included in the next Session.

To answer the specific question on sponsored reserves, this idea will permit the Ministry of Defence to let more of the support activities to contract, in the knowledge that the reserve element will allow that task to be continued in an operational environment by uniformed personnel. In other words, the contract would be let to people who are prepared to sign up for the reserves, that is, one or other of the reserve forces. During a time of conflict, it would be an easy matter for those people to don military uniform.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, I congratulate the Government on their good intentions for the reserves, but I hope that the noble Earl can assure me that they will not wallow in self-content. The regular forces in the Army are heavily stretched. Can the noble Earl assure us that the Government will not forget that a few second battalions in the Regular Army are an important aim in order to keep the country abreast of developments when the necessity arises?

Earl Howe

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. The United Kingdom has always relied on its reserve forces for its mobilised capability. However, I do not agree that our forces are stretched. We must ensure that we have the flexibility available to call up our reserves when we need them. That is what I believe the new Bill will deliver.

Viscount Allenby of Megiddo

My Lords, will the Minister recognise the importance of the roles and the job of the Territorial Army associations and the Territorial Army Council? Will he assure the House that there will be no reduction in the numbers of the associations and recognise the important job they have done in promoting the territorial forces over recent months?

Earl Howe

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount because I am an enthusiast for the role of those bodies. I have had the privilege of meeting one or two of them in my short time so far with the Ministry of Defence.

Lord Craig of Radley

My Lords, can the Minister confirm the value of the University Air Squadrons to the Royal Air Force in improving good relations between the Royal Air Force, service personnel and university people? Can he confirm that following the Defence Costs Study last year, in which it was decided that the University Air Squadrons have great value, there is now no intention of making any reduction in the numbers of the University Air Squadrons?

Earl Howe

My Lords, I too place great value on the role of the University Air Squadrons. The noble and gallant Lord may like to know that the flying hours of the squadrons are not being increased and we believe that that will be to the advantage of the squadrons. We are committed to maintaining the squadrons at their present level.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, it is satisfactory to note that the territorial force will be regarded as an integral part of the reserves. Can the noble Earl assure us that it will be provided with the necessary equipment and resources to perform its role? Can he say that we shall not again have the situation which arose at the start of the last world war, in which I was involved? My sole armament then was a Lee-Enfield rifle without ammunition!

Earl Howe

My Lords, the thought of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, without ammunition is almost beyond my understanding! I do not believe that there is any risk of underfunding of our reserves in the respect which the noble Lord fears. What we have done is to determine the future size and shape of the reserve forces. That decision has now been taken. As I said, we now need more flexibility in the governing legislation to ensure that the reserves can be used to best effect in operations which may be likely to arise.