§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Lord Vivian
rose to call attention to the implications of the Strategic Defence Review for the Territorial Army, the reserve forces and the cadet forces; and to move for Papers.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is a great honour and privilege for me to introduce this debate on the Territorial Army, the reserve forces and the cadets. I welcome and look forward to hearing the maiden speeches of the noble Earl, Lord Stair, and the noble Lord, Lord Glanusk. I hope that they will enjoy being in your Lordships' House and that we shall hear from them on many occasions.
There have been two major defence debates in your Lordships' House—one I introduced in July last year and the other, in November, was presented by the Government—both of which dealt with the regular Armed Forces and the Strategic Defence Review. Before final decisions are made on the Strategic Defence Review, it is timely that your Lordships should debate the Motion that I tabled today on the reserve forces.
At this stage I must declare an interest. I am Honorary Colonel to 306 Field Hospital. It would be impossible to find, in any organisation, men and women who have such willingness, such a special volunteer spirit and such enthusiasm which they contribute to their work in this specific field hospital. They are special people who display a unique devotion to duty and dedication and loyalty to their unit. I am confident that in any large-scale conflict they will perform their duty with zeal and excellence as a result of the time that they have already given to train with this field hospital. Those men and women, so typical of all our volunteers, are the backbone of Great Britain and will continue to be so. Their like is not found in the day-to-day run in civilian life. When the going gets tough it is those unique people who come to our rescue, as history has shown in the First and Second World Wars, Korea, Suez and, more recently, in Northern Ireland, the Falklands, the Gulf and Bosnia.
We must not allow the Territorial Army, one of our most treasured assets, to become a victim of some short-sighted policy merely to provide short-term savings measures. On the contrary, I hope that we will hear from the Minister that Her Majesty's Government will strengthen our reserve forces and the cadets. They need their special volunteer ethos, like the Olympic flame, to be preserved forever. Any significant reductions will cause a degradation of morale and extinguish the flame, eradicating our reserve forces and thereby imperilling the safety of the nation. It is our duty to ensure that that flame is kept alight.
As a background to this debate it is necessary to realise that between 1990 and 1997 defence spending has been cut from £27 billion to £21 billion, a reduction of 22 per cent. We have reduced the number of frigates from around 45 to 32, the number of tanks from 700 to 450 and the number of fighter aircraft by around 30 per cent. The Army has been reduced from 165,000 to 1158 around 116,000 and is too small. Any further reduction to our regular Armed Forces will place the security of the realm in jeopardy. Our country no longer possesses regular force levels approaching those employed during the Gulf War when numerous units were stripped out in order to form one division of two manoeuvre brigades. Such luxuries will not be available if a conflict approaching that of the Gulf War again calls upon Britain to contribute military forces.
Some would wish us to believe that we can rely on our allies to support us in times of strife, but in reality only the United States of America and ourselves have properly trained and experienced troops to fight and win wars. Our European allies do not possess either the quality or the quantity of trained troops to assist in large-scale conflicts, and frequently their foreign policy aims do not accord with our own. It could be said that France was not as helpful as she could have been to ourselves and the United States of America during the recent Iraq crisis.
Our regular forces from the three services are severely overstretched and critically undermanned, doing more with less. The Army is around 5,000 soldiers below strength, which represents around 5 per cent; the infantry is 7.5 per cent. short of its required manpower. That worrying situation emphasises the importance of the reserves. It should not be forgotten that without the Territorial Army, which provided the essential framework from which could be generated hundreds of battalions, we would not have won either the First or the Second World Wars.
We need to understand the requirement for reserves for our regular forces. They represent a reservoir of capability for the nation of a quality envied by many other countries. Their relevance is in the context of their contribution to the total Armed Forces that might be required in any large-scale conventional war and also in times of peace when our regular forces are overstretched and undermanned. In particular, their contribution to the well-being of the nation, their utility and their value for money, should also be taken into account. Warning times for large-scale conflict have lengthened, but for other world flashpoints smaller numbers of armed troops can be required at very short notice, as was demonstrated in the Falklands, Bosnia and, very recently, in last month's crisis in Iraq.
As a result of overstretch and undermanning, regular units have to be reinforced when carrying out operational tours of duty. Recently, the 3rd and 4th Battalions of the Royal Green Jackets, both territorial battalions, provided 70 reinforcements to bring their sister regular battalion up to strength before going to Bosnia. Last week two TA Anglian infantry battalions and a logistic battalion, assisted with the flooding in East Anglia. The logistical and support units help to provide the operational sustainability so essential to any deployed force.
The second requirement for the reserve forces is to provide a framework for regeneration and expansion in times of large-scale conflict. The third is to produce recruits for the Armed Forces and to be a link to the civil community representing the Navy, the Army and Air Force across the United Kingdom.
1159 After the Gulf War a policy of greater use of the reserves was implemented in 1994 and a platoon of infantry was sent to the Falklands. Volunteers have quickly fitted in and have often brought experience and skills of an unexpected and extremely valuable nature. Reductions in regular manpower and opportunities afforded by the Reserve Forces Act 1996 have encouraged the Navy and the Air Force to place greater reliance on volunteer reserve forces in certain roles and in certain types of operations. Wider use of volunteers is a low-cost, not a no-cost policy. Activity levels must be adequate to sustain standards without which morale and retention suffers. Equipment should be the same and as good as that of the regular forces. To maintain regular units continuously at the strength desirable for operations and major exercises is neither economical nor practical.
Since 1994 the policy of the wider use of reserves has been successful in providing personnel for augmentation in a wider variety of roles. They meet short-term surge requirements; they fill vacancies in regular units caused by sickness, leave and courses, to enable more effective employment on major exercises and short operational tours. They provide endurance and operational sustainability. Volunteer reserve forces can also prevent the need to plunder manpower from other regular units which may themselves be needed for roulement, and their military effectiveness has proved very satisactory.
The establishment of the TA has already suffered dramatic cuts. In 1990 the establishment was 91,000. In 1991 it was reduced to 63,500 and now the establishment is 59,000, of which the Army reduced its funding to provide financial cover for 56,000 last year. The current strength of the TA is about 54,500.
The ideal tasks for which the volunteer reserve forces are suited in war and operations short of war include provision of specialist units, many of them logistic, which are not needed on a daily basis by the regular forces. They can undertake humanitarian tasks and also deal with nuclear, biological and chemical attack, as carried out by the Royal Yeomanry. They provide specialistic back-up by units or individuals for aeromedical evacuation, air movements, civil affairs, intelligence, interrogation, legal, linguistic, maritime and headquarters units, psychological operations, and public relations. They can carry out roles relating to the guarding, controlling and securing of areas in war; peace-keeping, civil disturbance, and dealing with terrorist outbreaks and local, national, and international emergencies. They also provide individual, sub-unit or unit reinforcement whenever called upon to do so.
The unit organisation must be retained throughout the volunteer reserve forces. It would be most unwise to assume that there will never again be a need to call out complete units as some people argue at the moment. The unit structure in the reserves of all three services provides mutual support and comradeship without which an important incentive both to join and remain in the volunteers would be lost. Training standards are dependent on the number of training days allocated. It is essential that sufficient days are given to a unit to ensure minimum activity levels to foster the sense of belonging, team spirit and cohesion without which 1160 recruiting and retention will falter. Yeomanry regiments and Territorial Army infantry battalions must train alongside their affiliated regiments to develop a sense of purpose and pride in themselves.
The Yeomanry and the TA infantry battalions are key elements in preserving the tradition of military service and establishing a nationwide presence. The kind of people who join have drive and energy and are adaptable. They bring a wide range of skills and the younger members are keen to volunteer as individual reinforcements to fill the shortfall in the regular battalions. The volunteer ethos is part of British tradition and at the outbreak of the last war the existing TA regiments became vastly oversubscribed as all those who had been in the TA volunteered to rejoin. The response to full-time call out in 1996 and 1997 has been very good with some 1,000 to 1,500 serving at any one time throughout an 18 month period. Some 4,000 volunteer reservists have been on long-term attachment to the regular forces from 1995 to July 1997 in Bosnia and elsewhere.
Recruiting for the regular forces stems directly and indirectly from the Territorial Army and this recruitment could be irreversibly damaged if there was any significant reduction in the establishment of the TA. It would deny the nation an asset both valuable in itself and intrinsic to the recruiting foundations of the regular infantry, already dangerously weak. Infantry operating without high-cost weaponry has a crucial role in peace-keeping and holding the ring during periods of intense diplomacy and for disaster relief both at home and abroad. TA infantry possesses maturity and civilian skills well suited to such tasks. Recruiting to the regular Army is proving difficult and any severe reduction to the TA infantry and the Yeomanry is a high risk measure which saves little. Some 40 per cent. of regular Army recruits come from the TA and Army Cadet Force. Forty to 45 per cent. of officers of all branches of the Royal Air Force and some 25 per cent. of RAF rank and file come from the Air Training Corps. For the Sea Cadet Corps the percentages are lower, but useful numbers join all three services. Every cadet hut and training centre is a base for regular recruiting. If this nationwide network was eroded, alternative locations would prove costly with service awareness diminished and recruiting could well prove disappointing
Membership of the volunteer reserve forces and cadets gives civilians experience of working as members of a team, within a formal integrated structure, the philosophy of which is rather different from the arrangements experienced in many areas of civilian life. Such organisational structures and behaviour patterns are becoming progressively rarer in our informal and individualistic society today. Few emergencies, whether local or national, can be handled effectively without adopting such disciplines. In the course of a decade, nearly a quarter of a million adults and half a million cadets undertake voluntary part-time service at low cost. This makes for fitter, more self-confident, better disciplined and patriotic citizens.
The volunteer reserve forces have a footprint, which is seen, felt and respected across the nation. They must have a wide geographical spread so they do not attempt 1161 to recruit excessively from particular areas of from a workforce of too few employers. Any severe cuts to the reserve forces now would leave wide gaps and cut into the very roles of reinforcement, recruitment and regeneration so critical to the three services. Surely it would be wiser to see the results of the Strategic Defence Review before deciding on force levels for the volunteer reserve forces. If as a result of low establishment or failure to recruit to their authorised strength, units cannot muster enough people to train properly, retention becomes a problem, morale suffers and potential recruits turn away due to the unfavourable atmosphere. Any deterioration in recruiting for the regular Army would be disastrous, especially as the Army is 5,000 below strength with an additional 4,000 posts gapped and a turnover of 15,000 a year. The volunteer reserve forces cost under £400 million a year and the severe cuts that have been rumoured would seem to save only about £100 million, which seems a short-sighted policy when compared with the long-term harm it will do to the volunteer reserve forces. Once regiments and battalions are lost it will be impossible to replace them.
The volunteer reserve forces and cadets provide the essential environment and seed corn for healthy regular forces; they provide reinforcements and act as a framework for expansion in time of need. They must not be eroded either through deliberate policy or by the failure to nurture them adequately. The volunteers keep alive our heritage of martial spirit, the ethos of volunteer service, and strands of discipline and organisation within the fabric of our society. This, together with unit and national loyalty, is a focus for respect for defence and a valuable element in the national character. Maintenance of viable volunteer reserve forces is an insurance policy for many aspects of national security. The risks may be low, but if we were to economise by cancelling the premium, a new insurance policy could be put into effect only after a long arduous and expensive delay. The value of the volunteer reserve forces and cadets to the nation goes far beyond their short-term military usefulness. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.31 p.m.
§ Lord Wallace of Saltaire
My Lords, it is with some hesitation that I speak in this debate, for although I welcome the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, my experience of any form of armed service extends only as far as becoming a sergeant major in my school cadet force. The noble Earl, Lord Stair, who is to speak next and who will be making his maiden speech, is a former regular soldier who will no doubt speak with a great deal more authority.
I do not entirely follow the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Vivian. I believe that there are some questions about the future role of our Territorial and Armed Forces that need to be addressed. My father fought in Territorial Army regiments. Right up until his death, he was very proud of the 4th Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders and served on attachments to the London Scottish and the 6th Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. As a very young man, he 1162 rose from lance corporal to warrant officer because everyone else got killed. However, we no longer need mass armies such as we had between 1914 and 1918 and between 1939 and 1945. During the Cold War, the job of the reserve forces and the Territorial Army was to reinforce defence of the continent in a central European crisis. That role is no longer relevant.
Not many years ago, I spoke to one of the planners at the Ministry of Defence. He started the discussion by saying that the biggest problem in designing Britain's defences today is that there is no direct threat to Britain. Therefore, we need to design our forces for rather more imprecise objectives, such as NATO peacekeeping and peace enforcement and for the sort of expeditionary capability with which I understand that the Strategic Defence Review is concerned.
In that context, we need to find a new role for our reserve and territorial forces. Tradition matters, but we cannot afford to spend too much public money on nostalgia. I must advise the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, that £400 million is a sum of public money that requires justification. Speaking as someone from the university sector, I must advise him that £400 million would do higher education in this country quite a lot of good, thank you. There are hard choices to be made. On the other hand, long-term defence decisions should not be driven by Treasury hopes of selling off properties in city centres and a little bit more of the family silver in order to support current expenditure. One fears that that is part of what is happening with regard to closing Territorial Army services.
We need trained reserves. The experience of Bosnia has shown how useful they can be in supplementing our Armed Forces in unforeseen contingencies not only with specialists, but also, as the noble Lord mentioned, with infantry reserves. We need the continuing capacity to provide emergency assistance to the civilian power. I agree strongly with the noble Lord that we need to maintain the closest possible link between the armed services and British society, both nationally and locally. One of the continuing and fundamental roles of our reserves, cadets and Territorial Army is to provide that link.
There seems to be an underlying tension between the military preference for long-term army, air force and naval service in which highly trained personnel remain in service for nine, 12 or 15 years and maintaining contact with civilian life. As an observer, I doubt whether the aim of a long-term professional military, containing an increasing number of married personnel with children, with costs of high overheads and consequent resistance to long periods of service abroad, is compatible, in terms of cost and of the expeditionary potential of which we may be thinking, with our other requirements. I am not sure whether such pressures from wives, husbands and children are sustainable in a period of continuing social change. Perhaps I may suggest to the Minister that shorter periods of service would be valuable for a larger percentage of members of our armed services.
We could make more use of unattached young people between the ages of 18 and 22, providing them with an opportunity to serve their country and society, thus 1163 harnessing the idealism and sense of service of many young people. I have taught two Norwegian graduates in the past two years. They had spent the year before coming to the London School of Economics to study international relations serving in the Lebanon. They were serving both their country and the United Nations in peacekeeping activities abroad for a year at a time. That gave them the opportunity to make a valuable contribution to their society and country as well as to international order. Perhaps our Ministry of Defence should consider something similar.
We must also consider the further function of providing technical training, work experience and further education for people undertaking a short period of service in our full-time services. The American armed services, in particular, now do that extremely well. I have the impression that the British armed services do it rather less well. That would help to provide a continuing flow of larger numbers of reservists who could be used in emergencies. It would be one way of providing a new role for our reserve forces and a continuing flow of reservists. It would ensure a broader link between our armed services and society—a link which needs to be continually renewed despite the small size of our Armed Forces in the foreseeable future. It is, after all, extraordinarily important that we in this country maintain the principle that our armed services are an intrinsic part of our society.
§ 3.38 p.m.
§ The Earl of Stair
My Lords, I rise with trepidation and a great deal of awe of this place to make my maiden speech in your Lordships' House this afternoon. Since I took my oath in February, I have heard several maiden speeches, all of which were delivered by noble Lords with a considerable depth of experience in a variety of different areas. A phrase frequently used in many of those maiden speeches was, "It has been some 20 or 30 years since I last made a maiden speech, in the other place". I can only say that this is my first—and that I am privileged to be one of 17 hereditary Peers to be taking part in this debate. In the short time that I have been in your Lordships' House I have been extremely grateful for all the help and guidance that I have received.
Before returning to my home in Galloway in south west Scotland, where I am involved with agriculture and various other rural businesses, I served for six years in the Regular Army. However, my first real experience of the Territorial Army and cadets came when I returned to my home. With the reduction in the scope of training areas in Germany and for environmental reasons in this country, considerably more training is now carried out both on private and Forestry Commission land. In Galloway we have been invaded, rescued and liberated from every insurgent, invader and simulated terrorist by Army forces ranging from the 5th Airborne Rapid Reaction Brigade to an entire Northern Irish TA brigade and a variety of smaller Territorial units such as signallers, transport and medical. We should not forget that when Northern Irish civilians give up their time to be members of the TA they are placing themselves at considerable personal risk.
The Strategic Defence Review which is currently being produced is only the sixth since the Second World War. The world situation is changing and 1164 therefore the roles of our Armed Forces. I welcome this wide-ranging and very necessary review. Already it has identified a variety of shortfalls in the current Army order of battle. These shortfalls are: first, in logistics; secondly, in deployment; and, thirdly, in medical support. All of these are roles in which the TA is currently established and widely respected. There is also a considerable shortfall in recruiting into the Regular Army infantry battalions. The Scottish Division and Scots Guards alone currently are nearly 800 men under strength. That is only a matter of six battalions. Although the defence review has not been officially released, it appears that the Territorial Army is to be severely reduced.
The TA and Army Cadet Force are, in the eyes of a potential Army recruit, the first taste that he will have of a future military career. In Scotland the Junior Leaders were restarted last year with a new name: the Scotland School Leavers Scheme. Of the first 106 recruits, 51 per cent. were ex-Army cadets. At the half-term stage there is a wastage rate of approximately 11 per cent. represented by only 16 recruits who have left the course. Of these, only four were ex-cadet force members. Two left for medical reasons and two for compassionate reasons.
There are further reasons for continuing with the Territorial Army and cadet force in their present format. Savings in financial terms are to be made by encouraging potential regular recruits to "try" the Army as territorials or cadets. From the Scotland School Leavers Scheme there is a lower wastage of recruits who have already seen the Army through the Army Cadet Force than those who might just think it a good idea to try to join the Army. I believe that the majority of senior non-commissioned ranks in the Regular Army at present have previously served as cadets.
If the TA is reduced under the current review the Army Cadet Force will cease to be sustainable because funds will no longer be available. What a tragedy and disgrace that would be to the nation. The network of cadet units, supported through training and staff by the territorial units in the more remote parts of the country, is often the only link between the Armed Forces and the community. Undoubtedly, the consequence will be the removal of the Army from the public eye. The loss of good public relations often gained by the presence of the Territorial Army and Army Cadet Force either at charity events, where they assist, or in disaster relief such as flooding can only exacerbate the current recruitment problems. Although there will be a short-term saving in financial terms, there will be a long-term loss in personnel mainly through low morale.
A reduction such as has been reported in the press will lead to a very major loss to the Armed Forces. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will consider carefully the long-term implications of altering the Territorial Army and cadet force.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, I cannot say how delighted I am to be the first to speak after the maiden speech of the noble Earl, Lord Stair. He comes to your Lordships' House with a great body of experience both in the Regular Army and in the territorial forces. It is good to have the opportunity to hear from the coalface, so to speak, this afternoon. I understand that the noble Earl was commissioned into the Scots Guards in 1982 and served with distinction in the South Atlantic. He is therefore especially welcome in your Lordships' House. I hope we shall have the opportunity to hear him again soon and often.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, for raising this important matter. The importance of the Territorial Army, the RAFVR, the Royal Naval Reserve and the Royal Marines Reserve cannot be over-stressed. They make an enormously cost-effective contribution to our Armed Forces, the value of which has been recognised for very many years. Of course, it is not possible for part-time reserve forces to fill every single role performed by regular forces, but they make an absolutely irreplaceable contribution to some of the logistic exercises and front-line roles. It would be folly indeed to cut them back, as one understands may be proposed.
I am particularly concerned about the future of the Army Cadet Force. I should declare an interest. I am vice-chairman of the ACF Association. A recent report suggested that the TA faces a 40 per cent. reduction in numbers and that 172 of the 443 TA centres face closure. This cut will have a devastating impact upon the Army Cadet Force. There are over 1,700 ACF detachments spread across the United Kingdom, all of which are reliant upon the infrastructure of the TA for accommodation and training support. One quarter of the ACF detachments are in existing TA centres. Where a TA centre is earmarked for closure and there is no alternative accommodation, that particular detachment may be forced to close. Your Lordships should be under no misapprehension: a significant proportion of the ACF is under threat.
For 130 years the ACF has been providing an environment for young people that is often missing in society. Both boys and girls from a variety of social and ethnic backgrounds can be made to feel proud of their achievements. They are able to develop skills such as leadership, self-confidence and, above all, care for others—which for some youngsters will be their only chance to do so.
This is a widely held view. A little while ago a leading article written by the Middlesbrough Evening Gazette gave a marvellous account of the work of a local ACF detachment:Hardwick community centre in Stockton was plagued with bored, abusive youth and vandalism. Now there is no trouble at all. What can the secret be? The secret has apparently been the forming of a detachment of Para Cadets, and winning the young people over to a form of constructive and disciplined leisure activity".1166 The article went on:This is quite an achievement. So often the efforts of communities to provide facilities for young people are found to be a complete turn-off to them, and leave them as bored as they were before. This idea seems to have captured their imagination, for what young boy does not dream of being a 'para' and is not willing to submit to the discipline that will make him one? The lads deserve their cap badges, the people behind the idea deserve a medal".Despite the fact that no statistical assessment has been compiled on the employment prospects of young people who have been members of the Army Cadet Force, it is the case that the training undertaken by cadets enhances their job prospects. First, training inculcates the attributes that employers especially value: personal standards, self-discipline and motivation, reliability and the ability to work in a team and lead others. Secondly, it does so on account of the skills and qualifications they can gain. All cadets undergo recognised civilian first aid training, some up to statutory First Aid at Work level; many participate successfully in the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme which is built into ACF training; and ACF training now attracts recognition and certification by various awarding bodies.
All Army cadets have the opportunity to gain a record of achievement which will provide a potential employer with information about specific attainments. It is significant that employers often ask cadet units to forward details of cadets seeking employment, and a growing number of educational establishments have formed ACF units in their precincts in recognition of the contribution that they can make to the personal and educational development of students. Only last week the Minister for the Armed Forces sang the praises of the ACF. In an article in The Times on the threat posed to the ACF, the Minister is quoted as saying:The cadet forces have a vital role to play in promoting the personal and social development through a range of adventurous, military, sporting and community training activities".Indeed, the ACF has taken a further initiative in recent times to work with and help alienated, vulnerable, under-performing youngsters identified by the social services, educational welfare officers and the police. That good work is wholly in line with the Government's policy in support of needy young people. Is all of this to be put at risk? Perhaps there might even be merit in the Government redirecting some of the £3.5 billion, no less, that they are spending on the New Deal programme towards the ACF.
In the past few months, Ministers have said the ACF has nothing to fear. Again I quote Dr. Reid from the same article in The Times:No decisions have been taken on the strategic review. But what I can say, very categorically, is that the Army Cadet Force will not be cut".On another occasion the Minister even suggested that funding to the ACF should be increased. In a debate in the other place, he said:I should like the resources that are given to [the ACF] to be increased".—[Official Report, Commons, 8/4/98; col. 315.]1167 Perhaps my fears are misguided and the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, will tell us there is nothing to fear. Just a few weeks ago he told your Lordships that Ministers were,very seized of the interaction between the territorials and the Army Cadet Force".—[Official Report, 1/4/98; col. 277.]Therefore, I ask the noble Lord for one simple assurance when he replies. Can he say that no Army Cadet Force detachment will be moved out of its existing centres without appropriate alternative accommodation first being provided? I hope that he can say that. If he cannot, then Ministers' previous assurances will be hard to take.
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ Lord Glanusk
My Lords, I can only echo the noble Earl's trepidation. It is nerve wracking, is it not? I rise for the first time, and it is not yet 34 weeks since I first took my seat in your Lordships' House. It was 34 years before my father found time from his business commitments to make his maiden speech, and I may be here for only 34 months. Clearly, I cannot delay in the present climate of change. I wish, therefore, to thank the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, for sponsoring today's debate. Aside from the national importance of the subject, I have a personal interest as well.
I served in the Territorial Army for 25 years, which included most of the Cold War period. I progressed from private soldier via officer cadet to major. I served in a number of units, including The London Rifle Brigade and both the Berkshire and Cheshire Yeomanries, and completed my service in a Royal Signals brigade headquarters.
Although I am no longer a serving member, I am still in touch with the regimental association and a number of my colleagues still serve. So I hope that my thoughts may be of some help. There are three key points I wish to share with noble Lords. First, it is easier to call up volunteers; secondly, training bases are needed throughout the land; and, thirdly, volunteers are retained by good regimental spirit.
Recent events have shown that political changes in patterns of perceived aggression can occur much more rapidly than they did in the past. The ending of the Cold War with Russia; the build-up of forces needed for the South Atlantic, and, similarly, for the Gulf War, were all short-term activities.
The speed of modern international communications means that our reactions as a nation need to be that much faster. That reduces the period during which overt preparations for war are politically acceptable. But the luxury of having enough full-time regular troops is not now a serious option. There is, therefore, a necessity to have adequate, well trained and ready reserves.
For a rapid transition from peace, volunteers may be preferred to conscripts. They sign on with the express purpose of one day being mobilised, and most employers are made aware of this possibility. The call-out arrangements for volunteers do not have to attract unnecessary publicity. In circumstances where mobilisation could be seen as an aggressive act, a voluntary call-out could be a great political benefit.
1168 Secondly, to be well trained the reserves must be regularly retrained. This includes knowing, as well as the principles and theories of the various types of equipment, the vagaries of their own particular models. This level of familiarity can be even more necessary with modern computer-controlled equipment with many personalised settings.
To be able to keep up this skill level, reserves must be able to get regular practice. A pattern of local training establishments is therefore a necessity. It has taken 100 and more years to establish the present wide coverage of drill halls. If this is reduced or depleted, there could be difficulties in a future call-out situation when travelling any distance could be much more difficult than we currently envisage.
I should like finally to explain why volunteers continue to serve from year to year. It is, I believe, essentially to stay with their friends; to remain with a unit or cap badge; and to be part of their own team. The nature of the team differs according to the corps and its duties. The spirit needed for infantry fighting skills differs markedly from the overall confidence needed to keep a long-range signal network up and running. But all these need regular unit exercises to complement the individual technical training. They may join in the first place to become part of a reinforcement programme but they stay to be with their mates.
This dedication and esprit de corps has been remarked on to me more than once with envy by officers of other NATO forces when we used to appear at the headquarters of Supreme Allied Commander Europe for our annual camp. They were always most complimentary.
I hope that we can all agree with the Minister for the Armed Forces, when he said in another place before Easter that he had,no doubt that the results of the review will include an imaginative and exciting blueprint for the future of the reserve forces".— [Official Report, Commons, 8/4/98; col. 316.]
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ Lord Kimball
My Lords, it is a special privilege to be able to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Glanusk, on a splendid maiden speech. It shows what your Lordships' House is all about that the noble Lord, with such a distinguished TA record of over 20 years' service, should choose this subject upon which to make that maiden speech. I hope that we shall hear from him more often, bearing in mind his skill in electronic engineering. As things become more and more technical, your Lordships will need his expertise on many other subjects.
Those of us who have served in the TA will have happy memories of the county of the noble Earl, Lord Stair. The ranges of Kirkcudbright were a happy place at which to spend one's fortnight's camp. I remember that in the early days we had a special problem: the colonel of the Leicestershire Yeomanry said that we had to keep Sunday on Monday because at that time there were peculiar drinking laws in Scotland as a result of which one could not obtain a drink on a Sunday.
1169 The noble Lord, Lord Vivian, has been clever in choosing this time for the debate, because we hope that the Government have not made up their mind about the proposals submitted by the Ministry of Defence. Many of us see the dead hand of the Treasury poised over the property represented by drill halls. I wish to emphasise the importance of those drill halls.
The Territorial Army, with its TA centres and miniature ranges, plays a vital part in the maintenance of the cadet force. All those people who work in the cadet force—all the school masters—hold a type B TA commission. They are paid for a maximum of 28 days' training. In the TAVRA area of the East Midlands, every one of those officers undergoes no less than 40 days' training. They are unpaid for all the extra days over the 28. I seek an assurance from the Minister that there are no proposals to cut the number of days for which those training officers are paid.
The cadet force is dependent on the TA for transport and the facilities of TA centres. In the East Midlands TAVRA area covering five counties, only one outdoor range is available. However, there are 22 TA centres providing 16 indoor ranges where the cadets can learn to use safely and correctly the cadet version of the SA80 rifle. A poll taken of all the cadets joining in that area shows that 90 per cent. joined in order to learn to shoot and to enjoy shooting.
I am amazed by the scope of the activities in which the cadet force is involved. The Leicestershire and Northamptonshire cadets are the national youth indoor and outdoor tug of war champions for Great Britain. They recently toured South Africa where tug of war is taken almost as seriously as cricket and other games. They did extremely well there, all costs being met by voluntary contributions. Last year, a contingent of the Leicestershire cadets spent six weeks in the Himalayas. That is a wonderful record of enterprise and initiative by the young. A further reduction in the TA front line units of the yeomanry and the infantry will make a significant reduction in the defence presence in the community and will reduce the opportunities for cadet training. The leading article in The Times summed up the situation very well. Surely, it is not too late for us to learn that existing "institutions have their value."
In one exceptional case, all is not quite so depressing on the volunteer front. I refer to the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. In the East Midlands area there is an example of specialised citizen service in the new squadron based on RAF Cottesmore. Formed at the new year, in the first four months it achieved 50 per cent. of its strength for its role support for the Jaguar and Harrier squadrons. The role support for the Royal Auxiliary Air Force is different from the support that the TA provides to the regular Army. In the regular Army, people are called upon to go to Bosnia as a replacement. In the Royal Auxiliary Air Force they are a supplement and augment the existing personnel.
Air cadet officers hold a different kind of commission; that is, a VTR commission. I hope that my noble friend can guarantee that no attempt will be made to cut their pay. The air cadets are popular in Rutland, 1170 with its strong RAF connection. The Royal Auxiliary Air Force makes available to the cadets its modern firing range, with the most exciting computerised small arms trainer, and its excellent miniature and outdoor range facilities. It is a most welcome opportunity for young school cadets to shoot. Cadet forces have no transport. Many schools have mini-buses, but they are needed for away matches. The Air Force is able to help out on such occasions. Unfortunately, the modern fighter/bomber has no facilities allowing cadets to fly, but I am advised that no Hercules or VC10 ever passes through Lincolnshire or Rutland without every opportunity being taken for the cadets to fly.
Contrary to the general overall impression, in Lincolnshire and Rutland I detect a feeling of a modest increase in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and of a much more positive attitude towards part-time volunteers and involvement with TAVRA on behalf of the Royal Air Force.
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ Lord Bramall
My Lords, first, I must declare an interest. Until the end of the year, I am president of the London Territorial and Volunteer Reserve Association; although I like to think that my interest in, and concern for, our reserve forces has equally as much to do with my own experience with them in peace and war and, likewise, my study of military history which tells me of the invaluable, sometimes incalculable, part that they and their predecessors played this century in the Second World War, vitally at sea and in the air as well as on the land, and, more recently, in the Gulf and in Bosnia.
I am delighted that the debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, is taking place now. It might just be in time to prevent a particular error of judgment in a Strategic Defence Review which, in other respects, appears to have been undertaken, unlike some in the past, on the right strategic lines and therefore to be worthy of broad-based support. But it would be an unfortunate and retrograde lapse if, in order to exorcise the evil spirit of lack of manpower, sustainability and overstretch in the regular Army, a process long overdue, this was merely transferred to the Territorial Army which then, like the Gadarene swine, were sent rushing over a cliff to virtual destruction.
Of course the reserve forces must be looked at in the full context of the defence review and any strategy emanating from it, never forgetting the inevitability of the unexpected turning up. Of course, too, the Territorial Army needs both a role and the money to train all those whom it recruits, but I believe that a strong and healthy Territorial Army should have no difficulty in meeting those criteria.
The Territorial Army, presently standing at an established strength of 59,000, settled on by the then Prime Minister and Secretary of State only two years ago and recruited up to just under 56,000, does indeed have a very important current role of reinforcing and supplementing the overstretched and still undermanned regulars wherever they are deployed.
In the Gulf War, regulars were heavily dependent on the Territorial Army for medical backing and field hospital coverage and for certain other specialist skills. 1171 In Bosnia, between 1995 and 1997 no fewer than 4,000 members of the Territorial Army served alongside their regular counterparts. Without that reinforcement, the regulars could not have done the job required of them and could certainly not have been properly supported and sustained.
Moreover, it was not only the support and logistic services which required volunteer enhancement. There has scarcely been an infantry battalion going to Bosnia—invariably under strength and without that fourth company so essential for any operation worthy of the name—which did not find indispensable a platoon or so from one of its own territorial battalions. This closer integration with the regulars is, in any case, highly desirable. Indeed, a composite company of the Territorial Army formed the garrison of the Falklands for a period of six months in order to relieve the sorely stretched regular arms plot. So the urgent role is there for all to see.
The MoD wants primarily to lay its hands on individual volunteers up to no more than sub-unit level. The readier those volunteers are to drop other commitments, and the readier employers are to let them do so—now made easier by the new legislation—the more useful those volunteers will be. At first sight, this may not appear to demand a unit structure, although it would be easy enough to generate a general reserve requirement of about 40,000 volunteers for the support areas alone. This bears an uncanny similarity to the reduced figure for the TA being bandied about in the press.
However, that is far from the end of the story, because the combat unit structure—the yeomanry regiments and the light-scale infantry battalions—represent the very core of the volunteer spirit and the challenging training which volunteers join to experience. They provide much of the incentive, motivation and professional supervision which only a unit structure can give.
Men and women do not volunteer to remain in a pool of reinforcements. As the noble Lord, Lord Glanusk, said in his excellent maiden speech, one of the main incentives for part-time voluntary service is a sense of belonging to a named unit with an esprit de corps of its own. The regimental system is the cornerstone of the British Army and that applies just as much to the territorials as it does to the regulars.
A unit structure also has other major advantages. It provides nationwide (only the infantry and the yeomanry are located countrywide) a trained reserve of loyal, disciplined and well-motivated manpower for any emergency—natural or manmade, internal or external—as well as providing an opportunity for citizens to benefit from the experience of uniformed service as a result of which so many civilian firms and business benefit.
As has been said, it provides also those roots within the civilian population which, with National Service paling into the past, are so vital for well-supported defence forces. As has also been said, it provides a unique framework for supporting the cadets who have such an important social role as well as providing 1172 26 per cent. of Army recruits. Therefore, the number of combat units being retained is of the greatest importance in the outcome of the SDR and in this debate.
Some tinkering around with figures may be acceptable but taking 50 per cent. or more out of the combat units would put an entirely different complexion on the whole exercise. Such a large-scale culling of those units, which is virtually inevitable if the floated figure of 40,000 is to be adhered to, and reversion largely to a pool of manpower would knock the stuffing out of the Territorial Army and virtually destroy it, just as the central staff virtually destroyed the medical services, despite warning after warning. In turn, that would lead to the evaporation of the very individual reinforcements of quality upon which the regular Army would wish to call quickly. It would wreck the defence links with the civilian population and would undermine the cadets.
With the regular Army now so small—barely 100,000 trained men, even with any modest enhancement in the manpower ceiling—a shrinking market for regular recruits, the fact that it is wildly optimistic to plan on the regular infantry being able to achieve full manning in under five years, if then, and with regular reservists historically less than reliable, the territorials become the only dependable reserve that we have, with all that that implies.
In short, I urge the Government not to sacrifice longer-term defence needs for a comparatively small amount of money. The whole reserve forces represent about 3 per cent. of the entire defence budget. That would be taking a major risk. Perhaps the Minister can give some inkling as to the number of combat units, out of the 40 or so infantry units existing at present, that Ministers—not the central staff—have in mind to retain. That is the key issue. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, will address it for were he to say that the number of units has not yet been decided upon, I would say only that to settle on an overall figure before knowing how many units will be kept seems extraordinary.
In conclusion, when announcing the outcome of the SDR, I hope that the Government will bear in mind the points made in this debate about the reserve forces and the Territorial Army. If there is any move towards substantial cuts of reserve combat units, I suggest that such plans will end up both militarily unsound and something of a national and social disaster. That would be extremely sad and could well dissipate much of the goodwill both in Parliament and in the country that otherwise the Government's sensible attitude to the SDR in general might have generated.
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ Lord Monro of Langholm
My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the distinguished Field Marshal and I certainly agree with everything that he has said. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, and our two maiden speakers on a very fine performance today.
I wish to concentrate on the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, touched upon so eloquently by my noble friend Lord Kimball. I am the Inspector General of the Royal 1173 Auxiliary Air Force and have been for the past eight years. The auxiliaries are to the Royal Air Force what the TA is to the Army and the Royal Naval Reserve is to the Royal Navy. We are the first line of reservists, all volunteers, and part of the order of battle. We were established in 1924. I shall not dwell on the historic past but I remind the House that 20 squadrons of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force were ready in 1939 and 14 of the Hurricane and Spitfire squadrons fought in the Battle of Britain and made a substantial contribution to victory.
We were reformed in 1946 and, sadly, disbanded in 1957, after the infamous White Paper put all our eggs into rockets and missiles. All that remained were the three maritime headquarters' units. They were reformed in 1979 into ground defence, the air movement squadron and aero-medical squadron. Both those squadrons did particularly well in the Gulf War.
Under Options for Change, we suffered cutbacks like everybody else and it was sad to see good, experienced volunteers disbanded.
However, today I speak highly of progress under two governments. We now have five new squadrons and more are in the pipeline, introducing new and exciting formats. We now have more than 20 squadrons and units, augmented, I am glad to say, a year ago when the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, which had its own distinguished past and present, amalgamated with the Royal Auxiliary Air Force bringing expertise in the fields of photo interpretation, intelligence and public relations. Indeed, it has been a happy union of enthusiastic and extremely competent reservists with an immensely broad base of experience.
Therefore, it is good news so far. There is air crew training in Hercules—I am glad to say that we have captains coming to fly with us at weekends—helicopter training and now a limited trial in fast jets. Indeed, I am pleased with progress.
The Royal Air Force has accepted the great value for money of skilled reservists who have been glad to serve in the Falklands, Bosnia, Kuwait and anywhere they are required. That has been greatly helped by the new Reserve Forces Act.
Good training is essential, as is the occasional opportunity for continuous training overseas. That provides an opportunity to build up team spirit which is so critical in reservist operations. Morale is high, as is represented by our excellent retention rate. Many have stayed with the Royal Auxiliary Air Force for more than 10 years and have become eligible for the Air Efficiency Medal. I hope that no change is contemplated as regards that jealously-regarded medal.
I hope that the Government will respond to my encouraging report through a continuation of the present development programme. Men and women want to serve in the reserves. As my noble friend said, it is exceptionally easy to attract good recruits into the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. At Benson, we had 160 posts available and over 1,000 applications, and similarly at Cottesmore. Doctors are transferring to work in Edinburgh so that they can join the surgical squadron at Leuchars. A recent recruiting drive at Brize Norton 1174 attracted 500 applicants for 60 vacancies. Therefore, there is no doubt that there are people who want to serve their country in the reserves. I feel sad at times that there are whole areas of this country—the West Midlands, Liverpool, Manchester, the North West and the west of Scotland—where there is no opportunity to be a reservist in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force.
In passing I should say to the Minister that I hope the Government will remember the developments in the United States where the US reservists and the National Air Guard have far more man training days, far better pay and, indeed, pensions at the end of their service.
Having said how pleased I am with the developments in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force at present, I wish to touch on the matter of TAVRAs. We have 14 TAVRAs in this country which do so much for reservists at very little cost. They do that not just for the TA but for all services and as a noble Lord has said, helping the cadets of the three services. They help with recruiting reservists, accommodation and facilities.
Moreover, they have important contacts with the civilian community, which are often the only indication that we have defence forces in the area. We must retain and build on that link because the TAVRA council, the TAVRAs and the MoD together form an organisation which really works.
Finally, I should like to say a few words on the Territorial Army, in which my family have always taken an interest. Indeed, my grandfather, General Sir Spencer Ewart, wrote the White Paper with Lord Haldane way back in 1907 and was the director-general. We appreciate that there must be change. However, I hope that our worst fears will not be realised. I am concerned that whole areas—and I am thinking particularly of Scotland—will have no reservists at all. I have in mind the area mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Stair, near Stranraer and my area in the south of Scotland in Langholm right through to Berwick. In those areas we only have two companies of territorial soldiers. If they were to go, there would be nothing to make anyone realise that we had defence forces or that there was an opportunity for our keen men and women who want to serve this country to do so. I am pleased with progress for the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. I hope that that will continue and that the Government and, indeed, the Royal Air Force can count on having a first-class reserve always ready to go into battle at short notice.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ Lord Alderdice
My Lords, unlike other Members of your Lordships' House who have already claimed, or who will be able later this afternoon to claim, gallant and distinguished service in Her Majesty's Forces, I have been moved to intervene in this debate because of an interest triggered through family and through my experience in Northern Ireland. I have two sons who are members of the Combined Cadet Force in Campbell College in Belfast, which is the oldest of the cadet forces in Ireland. I have been struck by the contribution that the cadet forces have made in Northern Ireland. There are some 4,000 cadets in the Province from all strands of the community. As I am sure noble Lords 1175 appreciate, that is a significant matter in a place like Northern Ireland. Indeed, over the past 30 years, about 150,000 young people have passed through cadet forces, which in a population of just over 1.5 million is a significant contribution.
We can only glance at or imagine the tremendous impact that the cadet forces, along with other youth organisations, have made in Northern Ireland in ensuring that young people who otherwise often fall prey to the attractions of paramilitary organisations are kept instead in proper disciplined organisations which give them positive and proper values in life and a way in which to serve their community. Any changes which would reduce the capacity of the cadet services in the Province to attract young people and give them this experience would be a sorry and sad thing and one which would inevitably detract from our community over the coming years.
We still have concerns that young people will continue to be attracted into paramilitary groups and organisations which are still very much with us. These cadet forces, along with other youth organisations, provide a welcome and responsible alternative. We should not turn blithely away from them, nor see them as anything but a wonderful contribution. I also have to say that the territorials in Northern Ireland have had a singularly successful time. Indeed, there are some 2,600 members of the TA. While it is well rehearsed that other parts of the services have had difficulty in recruitment across the community divisions, that has not been so in the case of the TA. Indeed, I can tell noble Lords that there have even been those from the Republic of Ireland who have been attracted into service in the TA. That is notable.
The Territorial Army has served with great distinction not only in topping-up, where there has been need, in the regulars, but also, in the case of Bosnia and the Falklands, I am aware of formed units from Northern Ireland going there directly and providing a full service. That is something of value and of substance and again not something that we should regard lightly.
I hope, therefore, that serious consideration will be given to any cuts that are envisaged. Indeed, I ask the Minister to appreciate that, when we last had cut-backs in Northern Ireland, they turned out to be some 40 per cent., whereas in the rest of the UK the figure was around 30 per cent. If there is to be any retraction, I hope that the previous retractions we suffered will be taken into consideration.
Over the broader issue of defence review, it seems to me that in our approach to our services there are two divergent requirements. The first is for defence forces which have the high technical equipment and capacity to deal with what I might describe as "high technology warfare". It requires relatively small numbers of people with enormous training and very expensive equipment. That is an important part of the way that things will be. However, the second element is also very important; namely, the capacity to be involved in peacemaking and peacekeeping operations throughout the world—whether through the United Nations, with NATO, or whatever. These are rarely situations where high-tech 1176 involvement is the way to deal with the problem. Rather, what is needed is skilled people on the ground, often with the capacity to relate not only to other belligerents but also to the civilian population.
From the Northern Ireland experience, I can tell noble Lords that one of the great difficulties, especially in the early years of the troubles, was young soldiers coming into a situation which did not require traditional military warfare but rather a need to relate directly to civilians. It took some time to redevelop the sort of skills that were required in that respect. It seems to me that no element of the forces will be better fitted for such duties outside of the borders of the United Kingdom than territorials who are already within the community and, therefore, not a separate component to be drawn on. I hope that those divergent components will be present in the Strategic Defence Review and that the particular capacity that a volunteer reserve can contribute to the interaction with civilian populations in areas where peacekeeping and peacemaking facilities are required under the auspices of international organisations will be taken into account. This is a special consideration that our services can provide. I trust that it will not be lost through short-term views and possible short-term financial requirements.
§ 4.27 p.m.
§ The Earl of Limerick
My Lords, I have an interest approaching a dedication which leads me to take part in this most timely debate introduced by my noble friend Lord Vivian. I joined the Territorial Army in 1950 on completion of my National Service and served for 11 very happy years, until the pressures of my job and my family caused me to put my uniform into a tin trunk. There I expected it to remain, but one day the telephone rang and someone asked me: "Do you still have your uniform?". The moths had had a lot of it and my soldier son had had some of the rest. The voice then asked: "What about it, does it still fit?". I replied, "Of course not". However, the voice continued to say, "We would like you to put it on again". So, after 32 years, and on remarking that no one had probably ever waited so long for the next promotion, I put on the remnants of that uniform as honorary colonel of my old regiment. I then embarked on five years' reinvolvement with those excellent reserve forces.
It was a source of pride as well as pleasure to see how things had changed. I have in mind the dedication shown by these young people—a body of men, and latterly also very much of women—who formed a unique national resource and were willing to devote their talents and energies and sacrifice their leisure to undertake serious preparation and training in order to put themselves into a state of readiness to serve in whatever capacity. I stress those words, "in whatever capacity" and will illustrate why I do so from the history of my own regiment, although very much abbreviated: it was raised in 1900 as a light horse regiment in the Boer War; in 1915 it was given camels in Sinai, then quickly dismounted as infantry into Gallipoli; the remnants were reformed in the trenches in 1918 as machine gun companies and bicycle platoons; and in 1177 1923 it was reformed as Royal Horse Artillery with a sense of purpose that enabled us twice in the course of the 1930s to win the King's Cup.
In 1935 my regiment became an anti-aircraft regiment; in 1940 it was a case of armoured tanks, to North Africa and Italy, until 1954. There was a brief period in an anti-tank role and then we were told, "Sorry, chaps; you are going to be infantry again". We said, "Fine: in that case we would like to be a rifle brigade". That lasted for five years until there was an amalgamation in 1961 when, on joining with another regiment, we were given an armoured reconnaissance role. And so until 1961—downsized as a squadron of a Yeomanry Signals regiment, as part of which role the Territorial Army was recently entrusted with trialling the new National Radio Communications System—and very successfully it was done.
My father's record of service with the Territorial Army was longer and more distinguished than mine, spanning 48 years. He was in the First World War, the first—indeed, I believe the only—non-regular officer to serve as brigade major of a Guards Brigade in action, and was made DSO. He ended by serving five years as chairman of the Territorial Army and the Auxiliary Forces Association. He was very much involved in the policy discussion of the 1950s.
At that time the Territorial Army numbered 90,000, ready for any role. The current TA strength is about two-thirds of that. There is talk of 30,000, just one-third of their old number. That, if it came about, would be a very sad day and a very unwise further reduction. The conditions for continuing the commitments of these men and women remain what they have always been: that they should be given a role which they see as being significant. They should be given leadership in approaching it, they should be supported by adequate equipment for the purpose and they should be able to have some fun in discharging those roles.
I have two significant thoughts to contribute this afternoon. The first is to emphasise that the Territorial Army and the other reserve forces, as other speakers have pointed out, are effective forces. Let me start with a little known history from 1940. My brother-in-law was part of the British Expeditionary Force in France, as were his two brothers. All three were Grenadier Guardsmen, as was their father, who commanded a territorial division entrusted with holding the western flank of the vital corridor which led to Dunkirk. I have a few sentences here, and I will use his words rather than my own, as a witness to those events.
It shows how a very thin stream of newly raised territorial brigades strung out along the canal line on the western side of the Dunkirk perimeter managed to prevent a breakthrough by elements of Von Runstedt's Army Group A, which included four of the Panzer formations. This would have completely disrupted any chance of a successful evacuation from Dunkirk. By contrast, the bulk of the regular divisions on the eastern side of the perimeter never saw a German tank in the whole campaign. I doubt whether Territorial Army history includes any other feat of arms in either world 1178 war comparable to the defence of the canal line by two TA divisions virtually unsupported by any regular formations.
One does not need to rely on 50 year-old history to realise that this remains the case. One thinks of the Falklands; one thinks of Desert Storm, where territorial soldiers plugged vital gaps that regular forces were at that time unable to cover. One thinks of course of Bosnia, where my own regiment has had 24 soldiers either currently serving or having recently served.
The second point refers, as the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, has said, to the reason why the reserve forces are a most significant part of the social fabric of today's society. The important thing is to catch them young such as is done by the cadet forces, and you get very few delinquents. Catch them later, persuade the young to leave street corners and watch the growing sense of identity, pride and self-respect and of motivation. I speak from observation of my own squadron recruitment, mainly around our Territorial Army centre in Leytonstone, East London. These boys and girls—and one-third are now girls, who keep the boys on their toes—thrive and respond to challenge with enthusiasm, skill and commitment. It is a delight to see their level of achievement and no less to witness their exhilaration when exercising in, say, the beautiful country of North Yorkshire, or indeed in camp in the Ardennes, as they were last September. This for many of them was their first venture overseas. It would be perverse indeed, in the light of other costly initiatives designed to motivate young people, if we were to allow any diminution in the splendid reserve corps structure which currently performs so effectively.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Lord Chalfont
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, for introducing this debate, especially at a time when there are so many rumours, leaks and speculations about what the result of the Strategic Defence Review is going to be, with special reference to the reserve forces. I should like this evening just to make a few general remarks about the role of the Territorial Army as a whole and then, if I may with your Lordships' indulgence, concentrate for a very few minutes on some special considerations for Wales.
As one who began his military career before the Second World War in the Territorial Army, I might perhaps be somewhat biased, but I suggest that the value of the Territorial Army, the cadet force and other reserve forces goes far, far wider than the obvious role so eloquently described by the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, of reinforcing the regular Army in time of war. As well as that, territorial and cadet units are, as the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, said, an invaluable asset to the community. They provide interesting and constructive activities within a general structure of discipline and comradeship—invaluable training not only for possible military service in the future but for the somewhat stressful business of life in general. It might be possible to suggest that "Cool Britannia", which I gather we are now supposed to call our country, can ill afford to lose 1179 that kind of centre of sanity and responsibility which is represented by such organisations as the Territorial Army.
Perhaps I might at this stage step aside for a moment and refer to something that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, said in his interesting speech. I think I was right in hearing him say that the role of reserve forces in the Cold War had disappeared. I hope I shall not be guilty of making a politically incorrect remark if I remind him that it was an Irish politician who once said that,It is dangerous to make predictions, especially about the future".It is especially dangerous to make predictions about the threats to the security of this country. They may have disappeared or diminished for a while, but that may not always be so. There may well be—indeed, I am sure there are—strong arguments of a specific military kind for reducing the strength of the reserve forces, but I very much hope that the noble Lord, when he comes to reply, will assure us that these will be considered alongside the broader social and community arguments for these organisations. In any case I understand that one of the principal military arguments for cuts in the reserves is that economies made in this way will help to fund an expansion of the regular Army. If I may say so, this seems to me to be an argument of very doubtful validity. Perhaps the noble Lord can tell me if I am wrong in making this assumption.
Many regular Army units are already seriously undermanned, and of course increasing the number of regular units is not going to solve that problem. At the same time, any reduction in the Territorial Army would, as the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, has said, remove at a stroke one of the richest sources of recruits for the regular Army, as well as having a knock-on effect on the cadet forces, which, like the territorial units, are wonderful centres of discipline and training for young people, as the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, has said. In a society in which we are daily assailed by rumours of drugs, drug related crime and vandalism among young people, I believe it would be a disastrous decision to do anything which would remove from the social structure the calming, disciplining, constructive effects of cadet force units.
I know from my conversations with serving officers that these arguments are well known and frequently discussed in the Army. I hope that when the Minister comes to reply he will assure us that the Ministry of Defence has taken them fully into account in deciding upon any reductions in the territorial and reserve forces. As my noble and gallant friend Lord Bramall said, there is every evidence so far that this Strategic Defence Review is being undertaken as a rational, intelligent, foreign policy-led exercise and is not a pretext for cuts in defence expenditure. I hope that in the context of the reserve forces that will be part of the approach of the Government.
I turn for a moment—it can be only a moment—to the special considerations in Wales, in which I readily declare an interest as I have spent most of my time in the Army in a Welsh regiment. I have recently been appointed honorary colonel of the University of Wales 1180 Officer Training Corps. Indeed I shall be with them at their annual training camp in Norfolk in a few weeks' time and I shall take the assault course.
If it is true that the intention is to disband one of the two territorial infantry battalions in Wales, I think that would be a grave mistake. Because of its geography and demography and its successful recruiting record, Wales could and should have two Territorial Army infantry battalions. There are a number of reasons for this but I do not have time to rehearse them all now. It seems to me that the long-term strength of infantry regiments is closely linked to the future of their Territorial Army infantry battalions. I ask the Minister to accept that there are strong arguments, both from the territorial point of view and from the regular Army point of view, for keeping two Territorial Army infantry battalions in Wales. However, if the die has been cast and if it is decided there should be only one, it is important that it should be organised in such a way as to cover the whole of Wales and not just the north or the south. This may require some organisational changes. If there is to be one territorial battalion, it should be organised in such a way that both the cap badges of the Royal Regiment of Wales and the Royal Welsh Fusiliers can be preserved in one unit. I do not think that would be too difficult to achieve.
I should apologise for concentrating on the Welsh dimension of this problem. However, I think noble Lords will agree that the Celtic nations of the United Kingdom have always made a contribution to the Armed Forces of the Crown out of proportion to their size and population. As one whose background both in and out of the Army has been almost exclusively Welsh, I am concerned at the possibility that the Principality may not have a military presence that is appropriate to its history and traditions.
I close by returning to the wider implications of the future of the reserve forces. I am confident that those charged with the Strategic Defence Review will consider all the arguments sympathetically. I realise, of course, that some hard decisions will have to be taken and not everyone will come out of this review unscathed. However, I hope that the history and traditions of the Territorial Army as well as its future value both to the Army and to the community as a whole in peacetime will not be forgotten when the shape and size of the Armed Forces for the 21st century are finally decided.
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ Lord Astor of Hever
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Vivian on introducing this important debate and on leading with such an authoritative speech.
I have a particular interest in the TA. My grandfather, Lord Haig, turned into practical reality Lord Haldane's reforms and, with the grandfather of the noble Lord, Lord Monro, laid the foundations of a unified Territorial Army from the somewhat ramshackle collection of militia and yeomanry. As the senior general on the Army Council he ensured the reforms were accepted by the higher echelons of the regular Army.
1181 The Boer War had shown how deficient Britain was when it was necessary to despatch a force large enough to engage in a major campaign. The war had exhausted available reserves and left the homeland essentially undefended. Since then the TA has been inextricably, and successfully, linked to the regular Army. I believe that a strong TA should be inextricably linked to the future long-term health of the regular Army.
Leaks concerning a one-third reduction in the TA are deeply worrying. A reduction of the TA infantry to insignificance will be detrimental to the full manning of regular infantry as, for some time, undermanning has been relieved by the TA. Most regular units deploy with a TA increment, be it on operations or exercises. Some 10 per cent. of IFOR and SFOR manning has been found from reserves, of which 1,200 were infantrymen.
The regular Army is currently severely under-recruited, and the best estimates are that this deficiency will be corrected by the year 2002. During this difficult period, some 40 per cent. of regular intake is from the TA and Army cadets. If the TA infantry is reduced the support given by them to the cadets will disappear and the cadet movement could wither as a result. It would, therefore, make more sense to postpone any reductions in TA infantry until such time as the regular Army infantry is fully recruited and sustained.
Over the past two years, in excess of 1,800 TA personnel opted to expand their TA experience and join the regular Army. The infantry form the backbone of the TA and a drastic reduction in their numbers will send the wrong message to the target audience.
Large TA reductions would reduce significantly regular career opportunities. The TA infantry provides up to 132 officer and 231 senior non-commissioned officer posts at any one time. This is some 40 per cent. of the prime career posts available for regular infantry. Significant cuts will have an adverse effect on retention, manning and recruiting.
Whatever rosy view people may take about the reduced, or non-existent, threat to the home base, it is inconceivable, given the lessons of history, that our political or military masters should gratuitously surrender the wherewithal for regeneration. We have been down this track before and we should never, never make the same mistake again. It is no exaggeration to say that once this capacity is lost, it is gone for ever. With fewer TA volunteers available, and, if faced with manning emergencies, the regular Army could be forced to return to regular reservists, who may be less willing to serve than volunteers.
Finally, there is the socio-economic argument which flows from the requirement to maintain full territorial coverage across the length and breadth of the kingdom. This centres on the need to maintain close links with employers, and throughout the civil community. Many communities would lose the benefits of possessing a reserve unit. Such units bring together, in co-operation, people from all walks of life providing a focus for social cohesion and loyalty, developing skills valuable to industry and, in some areas, making a significant 1182 contribution to local income. Wherever a TA centre is lost, that talent will be the poorer. I hope that the Government will think again.
§ 4.49 p.m.
§ Lord Molyneaux of Killead
My Lords, in my experience of wartime service, one thing was always reasonably certain. The tasks allocated were always matched by resources. Of course there were occasions when that was not the case, but then we always blamed headquarters. Nowadays tasks are still allocated, but there is a distinct unwillingness to provide the resources.
For example, when the news industry projects into every home in the nation scenes of mass murder and rebellion, it generates the worldwide cry, "Something must be done". The United Nations springs into action and at the General Assembly a forest of hands is raised in support of a resolution demanding action. The self-satisfied owners of the hot little hands look around for policemen to enforce their decision. Only two are to be found—America and the United Kingdom. As long as the American and British people are prepared to tolerate such impositions, they must also be prepared to provide the resources to meet the commitment, and in so doing ensure that numbers and weaponry are sufficient to safeguard lives of their own troops, and in no circumstances put them at risk.
Governments usually find it necessary to present interventions in faraway places as brief surgical operations. However, as we have seen, invariably the commitment runs into months, and sometimes even into years. So although a rapid reaction force is vital initially, the reserves, especially those of a specialist nature, will soon be necessary to success. Political masters of whatever shade usually underestimate the scale of forces required and, naturally, second and third waves will be called upon. But those calls will be in vain if we have deprived ourselves of the cushion of the reserve forces.
Like many of your Lordships, I have been greatly perturbed by disclosures and leaks suggesting that there may be a one-third reduction in the strength of the Territorial Army, down to around 40,000. Presumably that includes civilian support and cadets. In 1991, after Options for Change, in Northern Ireland the Territorial Army was cut by over 40 per cent. from some 4,500 to 2,500—a cut far more savage than the national average cut of about 30 per cent.
In Northern Ireland the Territorial Army and other reserves are accepted and perceived as non-controversial in the political sense, and any further reduction would send the wrong signals, certainly to the most valuable cadet movements which draw members from across the whole spectrum, many from deprived areas.
Northern Ireland's Territorial Army suffered greatly under Options for Change—a cut 10 per cent. greater than elsewhere in the United Kingdom. I trust that it has a strong case for retention of its present strength of about 2,500.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Baroness Park of Monmouth
My Lords, during the war I had occasion to train a group of Poles. We were 1183 in the coldest part of Scotland. They persuaded me that they were homesick, and that no one ever spoke Polish to them; I forgot that they spoke Polish to each other. They asked whether I would say something in Polish to them every day. I said, "Of course. What shall I say?" and they taught me to say, "Good morning". Every morning I said "Good morning" to them and it seemed to give them a great deal of innocent pleasure. Then one day a Polish general came to inspect them, and I said, "Good morning" to him in Polish. I was taken aside—and I had not been saying "Good morning"! The reason for telling your Lordships that story is that I desperately want to communicate successfully today. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Vivian for giving us this opportunity. Like every other noble Lord, I have the greatest concern about the vital role that the reserve forces play in the continuing critical areas of retention and recruitment of the regular forces, and their vital role in reminding the British public that our Armed Forces exist at all.
As a member of the All-Party Defence Study Group, I have been fortunate enough to visit a wide range of units. We all know there is serious undermanning in the services with consequent dire effects on morale, efficiency and family life. Unless there is more time for training, a far better roulement interval, and a reduction of commitments, more and more men—especially the skilled and experienced NCOs—will vote with their feet to leave, and their wives can only encourage them. They already await the outcome of the defence review with a certain anxiety, although because of the ethos of the Army they nevertheless maintain high morale in their day-to-day operations. Once they leave the services, recruitment, even if it improves considerably, will have little point for there will be no one left to train the new intake. I doubt whether the new intake would cope with, for instance, Northern Ireland postings without that training. There is more to soldiering than youth and enthusiasm. Once those skilled personnel leave the services, it will be a serious situation.
In such circumstances I ask the Minister who in their right mind would reduce or weaken the one organisation that can not only draw in new recruits but provide cadres which already have some training and, yet more importantly, some knowledge of the ethos of the services?
The Bett Report made two relevant observations about recruitment. They were as follows:The terms of employment, work style and lifestyle available in civilian life may be much more attractive to the more able potential recruits of 2010, and indeed to existing Service personnel".And again:The Service lifestyle, by comparison with much of civilian life, is likely to seem conformist, hierarchical, spartan, uncomfortable, physical, turbulent and dangerous in differing degrees, and this will be unattractive to many young people. But a proportion of young people will, no doubt, as now, welcome these challenges, the sport, the outdoor life, the adventure, the travel, and the intellectual demands of the work and the opportunities for public service in widely different environments, especially early in their working life".1184 Why should we spend money on welfare to work when there is something as wonderful as that waiting for so many young people if they can be encouraged to see that it exists?
The TA, the cadets and the OTC are the only visible part of the service iceberg today in this country, and the only place where those young people can learn to value a service life. Can I remind the Minister that even Front Line First, that disastrous Treasury-driven exercise which so effectively saved money on the defence medical services and left us with virtually no medical services and a near catastrophe, which I am glad to understand that the present Government are taking steps to remedy, recognised that there were close links between recruiting and defence PR activity. Unfortunately Front Line First's idea of improving recruitment, while naturally achieving the target of saving money at any cost, was to close recruitment centres and use the Jobcentres to do the recruiting. What young man or woman in their senses would consider a career in the armed services by that route? While referring to Front Line First, perhaps I may say that although the Minister is a host in himself, and a redoubtable one, I cannot help noticing the absence of troops behind.
By far the most damaging blow the Government could deal to the visibility of the forces and their hopes of future recruitment would be to close more TA centres and to cut the TA numbers. They provide the officers for the Army Cadet Corps and the training, and, as the Defence Committee said when reviewing the reserve forces,Without an even geographical spread of TA centres some areas risk being cut off from any contact with the military, and a vital link between civilians and Armed Forces which the TA is supposed to provide, will be lost".That was in 1995 and by then there were only 518 TA centres left. Now, if yesterday's report in The Times is accurate—and I hope that it is not—the number is to fall yet further from 443 to 271. One cannot but wonder how much those cuts, if contemplated, might be related to the Treasury's insatiable appetite for the sale of assets. The Defence Committee in 1995 certainly related the closure of TA centres then to:Closures as a result of a restructuring process following the completion of a detailed review of the land and buildings requirements of the TA".Is this another case of the Treasury cart being put before the defence horse? Most of the estate is Crown property. I should be interested to know whether the MoD did indeed plough the proceeds of the 1995 sale back into the TA for equipment, as it told the committee it would. Would it be doing so today?
I return to my main point. Without successful retention and recruitment we shall soon no longer have the finest volunteer army in the world—and both largely depend on the visibility of the forces and their credibility as a first-class career among first-class people. The TA, the cadet forces and the OTC are the seed corn of the forces. They should be the sources of recruitment and the visible face of the forces on people's doorsteps, in their home towns, as part of everyday life, as many noble Lords have said.
1185 Finally, perhaps I may make an urgent plea for the rescinding of the rule which prevents the Armed Forces from appearing in uniform on the streets of the UK. It would do much for morale and they will soon be a true forgotten army if their existence is not recalled to the public—and they are irreplaceable. It is surely an irony, though it is also an unsurprising tribute to the quality of our forces in Germany, that when our troops went from Germany to Bosnia, and again when the Tornados based there flew to the Gulf last December/January, the local German TV and press spoke and wrote proudly and with concern about "our boys". There, they are known. Here, they are not. That cannot be right, and nor can it be right to reduce the TA, their only public face at present, to invisibility.
I have been encouraged by much that this Government have done for defence—I refer to the Gulf War veterans, the medical services and other matters. I do hope that they will show the same wisdom over the TA—a great national asset.
§ 5.1 p.m.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, I wish to begin by thanking my noble friend Lord Vivian for his splendid introduction to this important debate. Perhaps I may ask the Minister to remember my noble friend's closing remarks—namely, why can the Government not leave the TA alone, and the other reserve forces, until they have sorted out what they intend to do in relation to the regular forces, and then tackle the problem as a special issue?
The reserve forces are important to our total effort, a point touched upon by many noble Lords. Practically all the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Park, need re-emphasising, and I shall pick out some of them. It is important that the country should see its Armed Forces in operation; and there are not enough regulars for that. In the past, the TA has been positioned as far as possible away from the main bases of the Army, and the RNVR and RNR have been positioned away from the main bases of the Royal Navy; the same has been true of the Air Force reserves. So there has been a spread that people could see. Unfortunately, the moves have all been in the other direction. The Navy, most unwisely, moved its RNR base in Southampton to Portsmouth, which was already overwhelmed by the Royal Navy. I suspect that the same has been done in other parts of the country.
The TA not only spreads the vision of the Army around the country; it is also its main recruiting base. Ten per cent. of the Army comes from the TA every year. Indeed, many members of the TA—26 per cent. I believe—come from the cadet forces.
The cadet forces consist of some 100,000 young people every year, under disciplined training, undertaking exciting and interesting activities which enable them not only to stay off the streets themselves and to stay away from drugs centres and the like, but to spread a good image of how young people should behave to other young people around them. It would be tragic if there were any reduction in the support that the 1186 cadet forces receive from the Territorial Army, the sea cadet forces receive from the Navy and the air training corps receive from the Air Force. All those are interlinked. All are the basis on which our Armed Forces as a whole grow and from which the interest of the country stems in many cases.
It is very important to remember that the reserve forces as a whole provide an important backbone, not only at cadet level, but at adult level, for the local communities in which they operate. If we reduce them, we are doing the country a grave disservice. We are doing the Armed Forces themselves a grave disservice, in that they will not have the recruiting base on which they have been able to rely for so many years.
I therefore hope that, in replying, the Minister will be able to give us encouragement that, far from reducing the reserve forces, the Government might consider increasing their size. I believe I am right in saying that a Territorial Army soldier costs one-seventh of the price of a regular—he is not paid when he is not on duty—and that the Territorial Army currently provides 30 per cent. of Army manpower at 4 per cent. of its cost.
So, within certain limits, the more that one can rely on the reserve forces, the better. They spread the net, and they cost less. They are the ones that should be nurtured, almost more than the regulars whom they support.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Viscount Brookeborough
My Lords, first, I wish to apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, and to the Minister, in that I may not be able to stay until the end of the debate. I have an engagement in Northern Ireland first thing in the morning. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, for introducing the debate at such a critical time for the volunteer forces. I must first declare an interest. I am honorary colonel of the 4th/5th Battalion The Royal Irish Rangers—the only TA infantry unit in Northern Ireland.
I fully support the pleas of many noble Lords for the Government to maintain the volunteer forces throughout the United Kingdom. However, I hope the House will forgive me if I focus on the situation of the Territorial Army in Northern Ireland. Before discussing that, I wish to comment briefly on one of the goals, if not the main one, which is said to be achievable by cutting the TA establishment throughout the UK.
It is suggested that by cutting the TA establishment by many thousands, the establishment for the Regular Army could be raised by over 3,000. The theory is good, until one realises that there is a current shortfall of the order of 5,000 in the Regular Army. The result will be that, in the immediate future, there will be a total shortfall of 7,000 to 8,000. In recent years, regardless of reduced establishment, recruiting has always fallen short of expectations. I am aware of, and pay due credit to, the efforts that are presently going into recruitment. However, I do not believe that there is a magic wand in this case which will enable full manning to take place as a result of savings on expenditure within the territorials.
1187 Turning to Northern Ireland, I would point out that 4th/5th Rangers provide the only opportunity in the Province for people to join the infantry and the TA. So I am not talking merely about the future of this battalion. Everybody in a position such as mine would fight for their own unit. However, I am talking about the future of the territorial infantry in Northern Ireland.
The remaining branches of any Army—the Signals, the Artillery, the Sappers, cooks, medics etc.—are there for one reason; namely, to support and enable the infantry to do their job. So the retention of a combat Territorial Army infantry unit in the Province has to be the bottom line. I am sure that Her Majesty's Government believe very strongly that people from each and every region of the UK should have the opportunity, if they so wish and establishments allow, of becoming a basic territorial infantry soldier, while specialisation could become more regionally based.
Furthermore, a TA infantry unit in Northern Ireland must be of battalion strength for the following reasons: first, if it is located across the Irish Sea, it makes no sense to leave a part battalion or company separate from the remainder on the mainland. Secondly, it needs the number of bases which it presently has around the Province in order to enable its soldiers to travel in to duty.
So we must have a stand-alone basic infantry combat battalion, which we have at present in the 4th/5th Rangers, provided they play their part. This they have done to a greater extent than many other infantry units. They have deployed complete sub-units on operations at platoon strength to the Falklands, where they were the guinea-pigs for that type of support, and last year to Bosnia. In 1997, 11 per cent. of the 4th/5th Rangers were deployed outside the Province in operational or training roles, other than at annual camp in Great Britain. The locations included Canada, Iceland, Lithuania, Germany, the former Yugoslavia, the Ascension Islands and Cyprus. There is also an annual exchange with the US National Guard. The deployment to Lithuania was a training team to help train that country's recently raised totally reservist army. That will be repeated in September this year.
Given that they were paid only while training for those deployments and while carrying them out, the Rangers represent excellent value for the taxpayer. They have seriously contributed towards alleviating the problems of overstretch in the regular Army. The 4th/5th Rangers are also very well recruited and have excellent morale. I hope that the Minister will agree that they more than fulfil the criteria required for their retention. In addition, it is important to note that they have done this living and training in the unique security situation which exists in the Province, while maintaining their cross-community composition. Perhaps it is the environment that they come from that has made them so well respected in the peace-keeping role that they took on in Bosnia.
No doubt there will be those who will wish to take into account the 6,000-plus home service soldiers in the Royal Irish Regiment in the Province. There are two main reasons why they should not be taken into account 1188 when considering the Territorial Army. First, they are not available for use outside the Province. Secondly, they consist of a totally different type of person. They are available for operational call-out at all times immediately after receiving a telephone call or a list of duties. Thirdly, if we do achieve a real, final peace settlement at home, their numbers will dramatically reduce, so re-defining their range of commitments will not be feasible.
The territorial units are one of the significant faces of normality in the Province. From both a military and a political point of view it would be unwise to consider a reduction in the establishment of this battalion or the TA as a whole in the Province. I ask the Minister for a reassurance on the point.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Lord Boardman
My Lords, I join other speakers in thanking my noble friend Lord Vivian for introducing the debate on such an important subject. I must declare an interest in that I joined the Northamptonshire Yeomanry way back in 1939 and served in it throughout the war. I commanded it after the war and am now chairman of the Yeomanry Association.
Like so many noble Lords in this House, I have considerable experience of the Territorial Army. By reason no doubt of age, members of the present Government and many Back Benchers in the other place do not have the benefit of that experience and one worries to what extent they will be more dedicated to what it looks like to the Treasury than how it appears in the light of experience in the military world.
It has been somewhat of a disappointment to me to find that throughout the debate when the Benches are crowded in all other parts of the House, the Labour Benches have been virtually empty. I hope that that does not show a lack of interest on the part of the Government in the important role of defence of our country.
The Territorial Army is a huge national asset. If I were to sum it up, it has three vital complementary roles. First, it is a powerful reserve to the regular forces. I know the Minister does not like jobbing back, and I share that view, but it is worth taking lessons from history, in looking at any strategic defence, to realise that in the last war, when the regular Army was thin on the ground, with territorial units serving alongside them they managed to hold the line. I do not think one should forget that.
Today, the Territorial Army, if properly trained and if the resources are committed to it, would be a powerful support to our defence. It has men and women willing and longing to come forward. It needs limited equipment and instructors. I read yesterday in the press that there were proposals for the Government to cut down Yeomanry manpower to under 1,000, doing away with so many that it would be about two-fifths of its strength today. Then they would be closing drill halls and putting surplus tanks which are no longer required for the regular Army into cold storage. That seems absolute nonsense. Surely if we were to put together the 1189 men and women and the tanks which are in cold storage, they could give basic training to those who could provide essential defence for this country.
The second role that I see for the Territorial Army is giving aid to the civil power. There will be in the Territorial Army bodies of disciplined men and women, to which references were made by earlier speakers. We should not overlook it. They would be disciplined men and women familiar with their local area, with effective communications, who are able to give support in times of crisis, as the civil power may require. We may think of instances of severe flooding which have been quoted, infestation of parts of the country with some virus introduced by a hostile power and other examples such as controlling crowds in the event of emergencies and so on. As an aid to a civil power, bodies of disciplined men and women are a valuable asset not to be ignored.
The third role which I would attribute to the Territorial Army, and which again has been mentioned, would be in providing a social environment. The TA gives great support and encouragement to the development of the youth. The challenges and excitement that youngsters find while serving in the TA is motivating and this is a mixture of all backgrounds. They learn on a range of equipment and gain a confidence and maturity which I believe equip them well in whatever role they may take in civil life.
In all my time of being connected with the Territorial Army, I cannot recall any instance when, among all the hundreds of people with whom I have served, anyone has done something which has committed him to a civil court. I know of no drug takers, vandals or similar people in the TA. Many members have been up before the CO for being late back from leave or having had too much beer or something like that. But as regards the offences which bog our courts down at the moment, in my experience those who have been trained in the Territorial Army have acquired the discipline that goes with it. They appear to have escaped that kind of behaviour. They do not tend to go the way that all too many of the young in this country go today.
I believe that there is a great role in the TA. It is to supplement the reserve forces, as an aid to the civil power and in the social environment it provides. Those are three most excellent reasons why the Territorial Army should be maintained at its present strength at least.
As has been eloquently said, the cadet forces provide valuable recruiting grounds for much of the Regular and Territorial Army. They enjoy taking part; they are a real national asset.
The reserve forces also appear in my noble friend's Motion and they are an invaluable reservoir of men and women who have been trained and are ready to be called up when needed to help the nation. It would be wrong in any way to disregard the contribution such people can make.
1190 If a Strategic Defence Review weakens the Territorial Army, the reserve forces or cadet forces, I believe it would be highly irresponsible. The Government would be failing in their primary duty to see that the nation remains properly defended.
§ 5.20 p.m.
The Earl of Effingham
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, for introducing this important subject. Many today have spoken in support of the Territorial Army. A number of noble Lords who sit on these Benches have themselves given service in both the regulars and the reserves. Yet seldom in this debate, and in other forums, is there mention of the reserves belonging to services other than the Territorial Army. That of course has much to do with their relative sizes. The TA currently numbers in excess of 55,000 compared to fewer than 3,000 serving in the Royal Naval Reserve (RNR); about 900 in the Royal Marines Reserve (RMR); and in the region of 2,500 in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, about which we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Monro of Langholm.
Notwithstanding the smaller numbers involved, the Royal Navy is as dependent on its reserves as are the other services on theirs; indeed, that dependency, going back to the end of the Second World War, has seldom been more vital, as touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone.
The position of the naval and marine reserves is different from the Territorial Army. As we await the announcement of the outcome of the Strategic Defence Review, it is an apposite moment to take stock of the enormous changes to the RNR and the RMR that have already been put in place. They have undoubtedly taken great strides to integrate themselves as closely as possible with their regular counterparts, to the extent that today, in many cases, they are almost indistinguishable,
During 1993 and 1994—some two years before the Reserve Forces Act came on the statute book—the RNR and RMR underwent their own review. They were totally restructured to meet the Navy's post Cold War requirements. No one should under-estimate the scale of the changes and the painful effects for those serving at the time. Numbers were dramatically cut, dedicated RNR ships removed, and reserve establishments shut. The result is that now the RNR and the RMR train with the Royal Navy and work with the Royal Navy day in, day out. Indeed, on an average day in the year, a significant number of the RNR alone can be found working alongside their regular service colleagues at sea or ashore.
Nowhere was that close integration more amply demonstrated than during last year's Royal Naval "Ocean Wave" deployment where I believe some 150 RNR personnel were embarked in ships and submarines for periods of up to seven months. As part of that deployment there were a dozen RNR billets on the nuclear submarine, HMS "Trenchant", alone. Anyone in this House with even the most elementary knowledge of how submarines operate will know only too well that nuclear attack submarines do not take 1191 passengers. Such an integrated approach to the employment of naval and marine reservists must be the right approach for the future. Many noble Lords have served in the RNR or the RNVR in both war and peace, not least the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, who, as a sub-lieutenant, commanded a minesweeper on the east coast during the Second World War.
Their legacy continues. Indeed, since 1990, RNR and RMR personnel have served with distinction during the Gulf War, the conflagration in the former Yugoslavia where a number continue to serve with NATO peacekeeping forces, and most recently with HMS "Invincible" and now HMS "Illustrious" in the Gulf. They offer a wealth of specialist skills from the piloting of fast jets to public relations support and are tremendous value for money—a fact that should not be lost on the Treasury. But they are also a vital link between the services and society. In their training centres throughout the UK they are a visible example of the Royal Navy in the community.
It is worth remembering that the Navy is arguably the least visible of the three services to members of the British public. Quite apart from the Royal Navy's relative size, it operates largely out of sight of land. Its sailors, like their colleagues in the other services, seldom wear uniform ashore in public places and, geographically, the Navy is based around just three main coastal bases—Portsmouth, Plymouth and Faslane—with the Royal Marines similarly concentrated. For those reasons and more, the RNR and RMR units, in such diverse locations as Birmingham, Glasgow, London and Bristol, literally fly the flag for the naval service in the community. In the same way the naval cadet forces, the independent Voluntary Sea Cadet Corps and the Royal Naval university units all maintain a vital profile among the successor generation.
The closer integration of naval reserves with their regular service colleagues has proved a tremendous success. I know not what the Strategic Defence Review promises for naval and marine reserves. Of course, an unfavourable outcome to the review has the potential to reverse all the gains to self-esteem among naval reservists whose morale is so rapidly improving. The good work of the last few years, which followed the huge restructuring just over three years ago, has already ensured that the naval reserves are on a sound and efficient footing, contributing as an integrated element of the naval service. What I do know is that if we are to continue to capitalise on the reserves' unique abilities and fully utilise their vital contribution in days of manpower shortages we need to ensure that sufficient funding exists for their training.
The way naval reservists are employed alongside their regular service colleagues means that they must be as well trained as those regulars working with them. They are expected to operate increasingly complex equipment in an increasingly complex world where change is one of the few constants. They are expected to operate away from home on longer deployments than has often been the case. And they are expected to fill a wider number of posts than hitherto. That flexibility, that level of training, does not happen without investment.
1192 This Government have rightly placed considerable emphasis on education, both in our schools and in the workplace. In the case of the naval and marine reserves, that emphasis should rightfully be focused on training. I have little doubt that, for many reservists, only the current funding ceiling prevents them from undertaking much more. If the Strategic Defence Review is to fully recognise and support the already slimmed and revitalised naval and marine reserves, further investment in training will ensure that they can make a real contribution into the next century.
In conclusion, all three services' reservists and cadets represent an enormous pool of talent and are a fine example within the community. Let us give them the means to realise their full potential. If we do not, we will forego an enormous benefit for the sake of a very modest investment.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Vivian, secretary of the All-Party Defence Study Group in your Lordships' House, again rendered signal service to your Lordships' House. However, on this occasion one hopes in the event that it is service in the interests of our country, having introduced this debate at this time when it is understood that MoD proposals are under consideration by the Cabinet.
Is not the purpose of the Strategic Defence Review, when it is published, to make provision not only for our defence commitment, but also for the peace-keeping commitment referred to so movingly by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, and the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, and also as an aid to the civil power referred to by my noble friend Lord Boardman?
What are these defence commitments? Surely, the lesson of our history is that the defence of the realm is dependent on our ability to take armed, swift, pre-emptive action and engage the enemy on the high seas, on foreign soil or in the air. This essential safeguard must be retained. If our frontiers were once in the Peninsula, at Waterloo, on the Rhine or in the Gulf, where are they now? The fact that we do not know does not make good the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. It is an essential safeguard that must be retained. We have to keep the seas open for our supply routes. We have to defend ourselves here from attack by land, sea and air from modern weaponry of all forms, including nuclear, chemical and biological. We also have to retain the capability to deal with a situation such as that which arose in the Falklands and maintain our commitments to NATO, the WEU, and the United Nations.
If the object of the defence review is to fulfil these commitments, does not defence remain as the number one priority at the head of the queue of the departmental pecking order for financial provision? In order to fulfil these commitments, as many noble Lords have said, must we not retain adequate reserves of skilled, disciplined manpower in all three services? If so, a sufficiency of these reserves is essential to supplement the regular Armed Forces.
1193 The proposed cuts must be justified in relation to our vast defence commitments and the manner in which it is proposed to implement them. Your Lordships are entitled to know whether the MoD's proposals concerning these cuts, as reported by the defence correspondent of The Times on Monday, are substantially correct. If so, what is the order of saving of expenditure? Infantry battalions are to be reduced from 36 to 15. The number of personnel is to be reduced from 17,587 to 6,650 with the closure of 120 centres. The personnel of the Royal Armoured Corps is to be reduced from 2,568 to fewer than 1,000, with the closure of another 23 centres. The Volunteer Army Air Corps, which consists of 203 personnel, is to be abolished. Where do these precise figures come from other than from the MoD? How did the defence correspondent of The Times get them, and are they true? We are entitled to know.
Serious concern has been expressed by noble Lords in this debate and in particular by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, by General Sir Peter de la Billiere and the chairman of the Territorial, Auxiliary and Volunteer Reserve forces who is in his place. Without the presence of the Territorial Army in Bosnia, operations there could not have been initiated and persisted in. There is concern, particularly expressed by General Sir Peter de la Billière, about the knock-on effect on the Army Cadet Force. Concern has also been expressed about the excessively long tours of duty not only for the reserve forces but for our regular Armed Forces.
Such is the essence of concern with the age-old problem of undermanning. That was once the bane of the monarch and now it is the burden of the Treasury. It was a problem that persisted even when armed service was obligatory as an incident of land tenure. That gave rise to dissention over the years, which was reflected ultimately in our constitution. That gave rise to erstwhile expedients of necessity short of conscription such as the press gang, the Queen's shilling and National Service. It is idle to talk of overstretch as if it were some temporary state of affairs which could return to normality if only the tension were eased. Overstretch is but a senseless euphemism.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Lord Hardy of Wath
My Lords, I echo the comments of the noble Lord in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, on his initiative reflecting his continuing interest in these matters. I do not go along the same route as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, in his approach. He mentioned overstretch. Some of us were complaining about that for a very long time before the last general election. It is not a recent phenomenon. It is one reason why I believe that the Government's decision to have a Strategic Defence Review is a very sound one, and for it to be based on the basic principles of attachment to NATO, membership of the Security Council and a proper relationship between defence and foreign policy, with the recognition that this world is an uncertain one and very much a world of change.
1194 Every week I read Defence News. It is a most impressive journal. Regular reading of that journal illustrates very powerfully indeed the accelerating pace of technological change. The review has to recognise the pace of that change. We cannot maintain our defence arrangements on matters based purely on precedent and past practice. Obviously, we have to have reserve forces and a proper regard for loyalty and ethos. For that reason, I am strongly in favour of retaining the cadet forces. I believe that they are invaluable to the Army. Young people who enter the Army are more likely to be competent and committed to their professional service as a result of experience in the cadets.
I would not restrict that commendation merely to military cadets. I believe that organisations like the Boy Scouts, the Girl Guides and the Church Lads' and Girls' Brigade, which has its headquarters close to my home, are also most commendable. I believe that I benefited greatly from a long and active involvement in the Air Training Corps. It was good for me, although Morse code is less important nowadays than it was. It was good for me when I was a recruit in the Royal Air Force because it was decided that my proficiency in the Air Training Corps allowed me to move from week three to week five of the very unpleasant eight weeks of recruit training. That did not please my drill corporal because the toe caps of my boots were two weeks' duller than the boots of the rest of those on the course during the remainder of my recruit training. But it was good for me. It is good for the country that we retain the cadet forces. I certainly hope that the sounds which have emanated from the MoD give grounds for optimism in this matter.
About two years ago there was a most foolish calculation about the university air squadron. Comparison was made between the cost of the squadron and the number of pilots who then entered the service. But the calculation completely ignored the fact that the vast majority of the officer entries into the Royal Air Force were technical, scientific and engineering graduates, most of whom had no intention of entering the Royal Air Force as a pilot. But they are certainly very badly needed in the service. The contribution of the university air squadron to preparation for a professional career in the Royal Air Force should not have been ignored in that calculation.
Most noble Lords will be concentrating their remarks on recent experience and on the fact that two years were spent criticising the present Government's commitment to a review. I am satisfied that the review will be a great deal more intelligent than some of the arrangements made for the Armed Forces over the past 20 or 30 years. I refer, for example, to Options for Change and Front Line First. To me, there always seemed to be an underlying smack of dogma, as all those proposals were accompanied by a commitment to contractorisation which may have been excessive.
However, perhaps those reviews were not as historically damaging as was another Conservative White Paper. I refer to the 1957 White Paper which suggested that pilots may not be needed in the future and that they could all be replaced by guided missiles. That was said 40 years ago. There may well be an 1195 argument now about the extension of unmanned air vehicles over the next 20 or 30 years, but it was sad that the Royal Auxiliary Air Force squadrons were disbanded at that time. My noble friend Lord Milner of Leeds reminded me earlier today that the West Yorkshire 609 Squadron of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force was disbanded in 1957. Unfortunately, I missed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Monro of Langholm, because I had to attend a committee of your Lordships' House, but I would not be at all surprised to learn that the noble Lord mentioned the significant fact that we now have reservist pilots in the Royal Air Force 40 years after a defence White Paper felt that there was little room for them.
It is significant that the leadership of the Royal Air Force may have anticipated part of the review because significant changes have been made to the Royal Air Force Reserve, recognising the savage cuts made in health, hospital and medical provision for the services, which were certainly not imposed by the present Government, but which to some extent have been compensated for by the arrangements for reserve recruitment.
Although I should like to make two other points, I do not want to exceed your Lordships' limit on the length of speeches today. Reference has been made to the all-party committee. I visited Germany recently. I was not concerned about maintaining the high quality of the personnel and equipment we encountered there, but about the fact that major private companies in this country are now busily engaged in seeking to poach skilled personnel, not least in the area of communications. If those companies are not prepared to train people themselves, it seems to me that they should not expect taxpayers to do it for them. Perhaps they would like to change their ways and not merely train people but encourage more of the people they have lured from the Army to return to the reserve services.
I shall finish with this point: we must recognise that the nature of technological change means that tactical operations and warfare are changing. Weaponry is more potent. Technical capacity is extending rapidly. The number of aircraft in the Army is now greater than the number of main battle tanks. That is a significant factor, illustrating the impact of the changes. Such changes will need to be reflected in the review. I hope that the review will ensure that the defence of the realm remains uppermost in our minds and that our contribution to our alliance remains significant. We should put a little more effort into ensuring that our partners do a little more. I trust that my noble friend will ensure that the House has an adequate opportunity to have a real debate when the Strategic Defence Review is published. I hope that noble Lords will find that some of the complaints that they made a year or two ago about our policy will be very much diminished by the reassurance and sense of reality which I hope that the review will present.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Lord Marlesford
My Lords, I suspect that never has the House of Commons had so few Members with any practical experience of Her Majesty's forces. I suspect also that never before have a government been so 1196 lacking in such experience at a senior level. That is not surprising, as National Service ended in November 1960. It is simply a fact of history. However, I am reassured in one sense because the right honourable Member for Hamilton South is a personal friend of mine and I have great confidence that the defence of this country will be safe in his hands.
History shows that for half a century world war has been kept at bay by the existence of nuclear weapons. As a nuclear power, and thus by that definition a great power, Britain has played a distinguished part in this supreme peacekeeping role.
In your Lordships' House there is a great reservoir of first-hand military experience ranging from that of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, and my noble friend Lord Vivian, to whom we owe this debate and who has been such an indefatigable organiser of the All-Party Defence Study Group—and here I thank the Minister for the support he and his office have always given to those of us who have found the group of such value in keeping in touch with our Armed Forces—down to those who, like myself, never heard a shot fired in anger but who had the privilege of doing National Service. My only battle honour was to survive 12 weeks at the Guards' Depot, Caterham, then in its heyday. My only active Territorial service was as a member of the Singapore Armoured Corps when I had the odiferous duty of protecting the night soil carriers of that city during a strike.
The defence of the realm, even in time of peace, must be a top priority for any government, and the depth of its military experience is perhaps one of the ways in which I, for one, would claim that your Lordships' House can justify its continuation as a legislature composed of both hereditary and appointed Members. It is interesting that 19 of the 35 Members of your Lordships' House taking part in this debate are hereditary Peers. The membership of this House complements and reinforces the other place where so many forms of outside experience and interest are not just in short supply but seem actively to be discouraged.
I make no apology for restating my own long-held belief that this country would be much better off if there were still National Service, with multiple options not just military. For young men, and perhaps women, although they need it less, a period, however brief, in their lives when they are part of a disciplined team gives an invaluable sense of their own worth and self-esteem. It is at the least an inoculation against the social ravages of unemployment to which some will always be victim at what should be the start of their working lives. Even without National Service, the territorial, reserve and cadet forces have a real part to play. I was struck by the example from Stockton to which my noble friend Lord Trefgarne referred.
Let the British people be proud of the magnificent quality of our Armed Forces, territorial as well as regular. They are better led, trained, disciplined, and equipped than the forces of any other country in the world. That is why I would like to see them play an ever-growing role in world peacekeeping and peace enforcing through the United Nations and, of course, as 1197 a veto member of the Security Council we are in a position to ensure that we are never involved in a UN military operation of which we disapprove. Even in this, the territorial forces have a real part to play. In recent months, my noble friend Lord Attlee has been serving, in every sense, the cause of peace in Bosnia; and what a contribution the territorial forces have made in Northern Ireland.
As this will be the last debate we have before the publication of the Strategic Defence Review, there is one final point that I would make most fervently to Her Majesty's Government. With all the demands for public spending there will always be constraints on the optimal military budget. But one thing that this country cannot afford to do is to reduce the effectiveness of its Armed Forces by imposing upon them the burdens of political correctness. The Government are subject to lobbying from countless single interest groups that preach the gospel of various doctrines of political correctness. I know from discussions with serving members of the forces that already the results are an inhibiting and limiting factor in doing the job. Some of the changes being urged would be even more damaging.
The Government claim to be the people's government. I have enough confidence in the man and woman in the street to believe that they are far too sensible not to realise that the requirements and purpose of military life are different from the civilian. They would not expect, let alone wish, our military forces to be shackled in this way; nor I believe does the military at any level. In this matter I say to the Minister: trust the people.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ The Earl of Erne
My Lords, I too am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Vivian for introducing this very important debate. I also congratulate the noble Earl and the noble Lord on their excellent maiden speeches.
As a former president of TAVRA in Northern Ireland I was closely involved with the TA in the previous defence review where we suffered cuts of 40 per cent. Those cuts were disproportionate to the cuts in the rest of the country. No one in Northern Ireland, or anywhere else for that matter, wishes that to happen again, especially at a time when the people need all the stability and reassurance that they can get. I also speak as honorary colonel of the cadets in Northern Ireland.
While I am naturally keen to see the current level of the TA maintained in Northern Ireland for all the obvious benefits that it brings, I believe that a reduction of the TA across the nation is totally misguided. We know from the press that the regular Army is under-recruited and that a good deal of money is to be spent on improving its public image. Why, then, is it proposed to cut the very organisation from which it is drawn, namely the TA? It is my belief that there is a requirement to maintain the "footprint" of the TA in all regions to foster the precious links with the people, which in turn improve the recruiting environment for the regular Army.
1198 The TA "footprint" currently provides a wide regional presence in Northern Ireland. Like everywhere else, the TA is embedded in the workplace within the fabric of our cities, towns and countryside. It influences family, friends and important bodies in shaping public opinion about the Armed Forces. Most importantly, it provides active support for cadets and all of the inherent forces for social good that they offer. It also fosters a climate in which all the Armed Forces can prosper.
To have the opportunity to serve in the reserve forces and cadets in the Province has long been regarded as an apolitical activity, but it has offered normality and an outlet for adventure and development to an estimated 150,000 young people over the past 30 troubled years. Additionally, it provides cross-community activities and an opportunity to travel and does much to open young people's minds. The value that is conferred for very little cost is incalculable. Northern Ireland has punched far above its weight in providing a TA contribution to peace-keeping activities and support to the regular Army. I urge Her Majesty's Government to think carefully before making any further cuts in the TA in Northern Ireland, especially in the cadets.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ Viscount Ridley
My Lords, the reason I speak this evening is that I joined the Territorial Army over 50 years ago when it was revived in 1947 by a Labour Government following its disbandment in 1945. I made my maiden speech on this subject in your Lordships' House 33 years ago. I remember two points about that speech. First, as I rose to speak Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery of Alamein entered the Chamber and sat down beside me. He was properly dressed. I suppose that today it would have been referred to as "the Full Monty", but not then. Although he was very kind, it was an unnerving experience. Secondly, there were far more Peers on the Labour Benches at that time than there are this evening. I am very lucky to have been involved, in one way or another, in the Territorial Army ever since, and therefore I must declare an interest. I hope that this will be my last speech on the subject. I have no doubt that all noble Lords share that hope!
I remember the drastic reductions in the 1960s and the phoenix-like resurrection since. We have had almost annual threats, inquiries and reviews like Options for Change, Front Line First and now the SDR. I believe that it is a miracle that any soldiers still volunteer to serve under this continual bombardment which, as I well know, affects their morale. I hope that once this review is over all political parties will agree to stop pulling up the plant to have a look at the roots. I said that in 1965 but it did not appear to have a great deal of effect.
It has been reported in the press, even on Monday in The Times, and is widely believed that the Army Board has suggested to the SDR that the TA should be reduced from 56,000 to about 40,000, which is a 30 per cent. reduction, in order to provide one more brigade of regular soldiers. I do not know whether that is the case but the TA now firmly believes that that is likely to happen. I very much hope that it is wrong. When one examines it in detail, a reduction to 40,000 must mean the loss of several infantry battalions and armoured regiments, which are the bedrock of the TA.
1199 Whatever the justification for that suggestion, I ask the Government to consider some of the side effects if that should happen. First, it will be the end of the "one Army" concept which has been carefully built up and was so well demonstrated in Bosnia. As the Secretary of State said recently in quite another context, it is "throwing meat to the wolves". The TA units that are threatened with extinction will resent the regular Army's attack, and it will do huge damage to the image of the Army. About 10 per cent. of recruits to the regulars now come through the TA, and that figure could be severely affected. It is possible that there will be a bitter reaction against the Army from local people who for years have seen only the TA. I do not exaggerate when I say I believe that the seeds of that antagonism have now been sown. I do not enjoy saying that.
The main justification for the TA has always been its relatively low cost: one-seventh of the cost per man of a regular, with no house or pension. Its weakness has been its relatively slow reaction to any emergency. But other nations see it differently. The United States, Canada and Australia all have reserve forces that are at least equal in numbers to the regulars. Another justification for the TA is its recent help in the field of welfare-to-work, which is developing with organisations like the Prince's Trust.
Almost worse than the effect on Army recruiting of major cuts to the TA will be the effect on the Army Cadet Force. This has already been well covered today and I shall not take up further time going into it, except to say that I have the great privilege of seeing a great many cadet units. Arguably, it is the best youth movement in this country. We should be trying to expand it, not threaten it. If the TA is cut as threatened, inevitably a great many of the cadet units will have to close, and there will be an unhappy reaction against the Army and recruitment will suffer.
What should be done? Of course some reductions are possible and acceptable, but if the worst has to happen I ask that the threatened TA units should be allowed to continue in some way or another, even in a much reduced form—say, perhaps, two platoons per company or something of that kind. If they are to be used as individual reservists it will have a disastrous effect on what the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, has referred to as the military ethos. Please do not let the Treasury wolves get their teeth into the real estate meat.
I also refer to the help provided by the TA in emergencies. There is no time to go into this in detail. During the Easter floods a senior police officer at Stratford-upon-Avon said that the police could not have coped without the help of the TA. In addition, I believe that near Huntingdon the local regular regiment was unavailable because it was on leave but the TA was most useful to the civil authorities.
Finally, can the Government tell the House what the threatened reduction of 30 per cent. of the TA will save as a percentage of the defence budget? Perhaps we could compare it to the cost of the Falkland Islands garrison. I have heard that all the reserve forces add up to just 2 per cent. of that budget. I do not know what the figures are. When I spoke in 1965, it was 1.5 per cent. of the 1200 defence budget (£35 million). I found out at that time that that was equal to the egg subsidy that we were paying farmers that year.
I have great confidence that the Government are looking at all this with great sense. They have already shown that they are prepared to listen. They are obviously doing so. I realise that decisions have yet to be made. I end by being incurably optimistic.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord Selkirk of Douglas
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, for raising this matter. I should start by mentioning my association with the reserves as an honorary air commodore. I served also for a considerable number of years in the TA in the 6th/7th Battalion of the Cameronian Scottish Rifles.
Like the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, during the 1960s I learnt about Whitehall's readiness to save relatively small sums of money by cutting the TA. One day I was told that the Labour Government were going to disband a huge proportion of the TA. The 6th/7th battalion and myself were to he casualties in that process. I recall the warrant officers and sergeants drawing lots for the few places available elsewhere in the TA, and morale plummeted.
In 1971 the Tory Government decided to expand the TA. So I went back in again. However I soon learnt that it takes a long time to accumulate the expertise and skills in a new battalion, all of which were taken for granted in the old battalion. So my first point is that battalions contain within them a solid pool of expertise which we ignore at our peril. Furthermore, the belief that one can cut today and bring back easily tomorrow is fallacious.
The TA is valuable in a number of different ways; for example, it has given invaluable help in emergencies. That should be remembered. In recent years assistance has been provided after flooding in Perth, Paisley and Morayshire, and at many other events. Similarly, we have heard today about East Anglia. The TA was deployed to assist in the recent floods.
That residue of support in civil emergencies is of enormous benefit to our countrymen. In addition, the TA provides valuable back-up support for the full time forces. If, God forbid, conflict were to break out in the Gulf, it is virtually certain that specialist TA units and personnel would be required to back up or replace regular units otherwise engaged. In other words, the TA would provide a flexible response to whatever emergency might arise. What is more, it has done so.
Between 1995 and 1997 thousands of TA volunteers gave significant service in the Falklands, Northern Ireland and Bosnia. It is vital that Britain does not lose its capacity to reinforce its regular Armed Forces, especially when the regular Army is between 5,000 and 6,000 men short of its annual recruiting figures. If we lose our capability to have a speedy, flexible response in times of emergency, our effectiveness as a significant player on the world scene will be diminished.
There are wider public benefits from the TA which are not always appreciated by Whitehall departments. The reserves provide an essential link into local 1201 communities. They do that not merely by giving the opportunity to serve, but by providing practical skills and experience which will assist the young people concerned into jobs. Furthermore, the strong links between the reserves and the community inevitably make for strong recruiting for the regular Army.
Those links are to the mutual benefit of all. But so far as concerns practical skills, the MoD may be less interested in benefits which flow to the DfEE and to the individuals themselves. But if those benefits to the public interest are cut, the community as a whole will lose. That brings me to a further point. The MoD may have downgraded the concept of a citizens' army, but I know that it can work.
After my TA battalion was disbanded, to my dismay the regular battalion of Cameronians was selected for disbandment. So, with a heavy heart, on the day in question I put a line through my diary as an advocate at the Scots Bar and went to join what I believed would be the small handful of people at the disbandment ceremony.
When I arrived at the lonely hillside on the lands of the late Lord Home, to my astonishment I saw that the whole countryside had come alive with more than 20,000 men and women. That could not have happened without the deepest community links. I saw a platoon of generals, led by Generals Dick O'Connor and Sir George Collingwood. I saw the late Lord Reith, looking in Winston Churchill's words, rather like a "wuthering height". Above all, I saw a minister of the Church of Scotland speaking into the microphone with incredible passion and fervour. He gave this message to the soldiers:You who have never been defeated in battle are eliminated by the stroke of a pen in Whitehall".That was almost 30 years ago, and today thousands and thousands of young reservists are again being threatened with elimination by the stroke of a pen in Whitehall. To the Treasury civil servants, and to some of the military planners, the TA would seem to be a soft, easy option for saving small sums of money, but it is a false economy. As has been said, it is like saving money by ceasing to pay for an insurance policy.
If the lessons of the 20th century have taught us anything, it is that we must be prepared for the unforeseen. That inevitably means support for a cost-effective TA and other reserves. So I hope most sincerely that the Minister will have the moral courage to think again.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Lord Rotherwick
My Lords, the Defence Secretary, speaking in another place in November made the government position clear. When speaking of the TA, he said that of course the matter would be centrally addressed in the defence review, and that the role of the TA and other reserve forces was of enormous interest. His use of the words "centrally" and "enormous" caused me considerable anxiety, particularly as, in the same debate, Mr. Robert Key pointed out that while the Treasury contingency reserves were used to reimburse 1202 the MoD with the £244 million incurred in March 1997 as a result of our assistance in Bosnia, they were not sure from which source the anticipated £200 million for 1997–98 would be met. When that is added to the £168 million deducted from that year's total budget, it would appear that the MoD will be short of 2 per cent.
Anything subject to strategic review is under threat of reduction. Anything being centrally addressed in that review is probably under threat of drastic surgery. When the department in question is demonstrably short of funds, that surgery could encompass amputation from the neck.
In debates in both Houses in November there were many references to the glorious history of volunteer forces and to the high levels of competence, skill and enthusiasm of the trainers and trainees alike. On an earlier occasion I referred to the 49 per cent. of Army officers, 26 per cent. of Navy and Air Force officers, 20 per cent. of soldiers and 24 per cent. of airmen who had received cadet training. To put that in context, in April 1996 227,000 personnel were employed in our Armed Forces. At the same time, there were 130,000 volunteers in the four cadet forces.
Granted that Armed Forces personnel are employed on average for twice or three times as long as the average youngster remains a cadet, it is still obvious that the cadet forces are a considerable high quality recruitment source. I remind your Lordships of the current shortage in Armed Forces manpower.
By the time a cadet joins up it is likely that he or she will know enough about what to expect that wastage will be lower than that of recruits from other sources. The cadet force provides not just recruitment and junior training facilities for the senior services, it provides 130,000 youngsters, as I have already said, every year with excitement, challenge, leadership opportunities and a way of becoming involved in something beyond the normal day-to-day routine. As we have been told, it is a way of channelling boisterous youthful energy into useful activities rather than vandalism. I wonder what will be the cost of advertising and recruiting candidates of a similar high calibre to our Armed Forces. Furthermore, what will be the cost to our children of replacing the learning experience? I look forward to hearing the Minister's answer to the question posed by my noble friend Lord Trefgarne about the future availability to the cadets of the TA's training halls.
Many noble Lords have already explained the benefits of the Reserve Forces Act of April 1996, and I will not reiterate what was said. However, like at least one other noble Lord, I suggest that the use of reservists should be expanded. In America they supply one-third of the strategic airlift capacity, two-thirds of the tactical airlift capacity and all the strategic interceptor force.
Finally, we have all seen the advertisements for the Territorial Army with emphasis on how much the volunteers gain in personal terms, the extra brownie points in job interviews and the added value to the company which employs them. In a country whose youngsters' feet are so soft through the continual wearing of trainers that they have to broken in for the wearing of boots; where the population expects light, 1203 heat and power at the touch of a button and convenience foods at the opening of a fridge door and wears lightweight clothing all year round, is it not advisable to have a sizeable cadre of civilians who are trained to cope with disaster, flood and communication breakdown, even if they only hold the fort until the regulars arrive?
§ 6.11 p.m.
The Earl of Carlisle
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, for giving us the opportunity to speak in the debate. I also congratulate the two maiden speakers. I, too, listened with fascination to their experiences and I hope that we shall hear more. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, for his role as secretary of the all-party, and no party, defence committee. He arranged the recent visit to the First United Kingdom Armour Division in Germany when the noble Baroness, Lady Park, the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, and I were present.
I served in the regular Army for 20 years. I was aware of the one army concept, but I rarely met anyone in the Territorial Army. I was fascinated to listen to Lieutenant General Michael Jackson, the Commander of the ARRC, the rapid reaction corps—and I emphasise the word "rapid". He and all his subordinates, from divisional commander down to sectional commander, informed us that they would find it extremely difficult to operate at short notice or on operational tours lasting six months without the Territorial Army. Therefore, I, too, am anxious to know whether the rumours printed in The Times that the Territorial Army is to be cut by 30 per cent. are true. Surely, if the rumours are true, that should have been told to Parliament first.
I commanded a TA rifle company in East Durham in the area in which I fought a general election in 1987. My TA company, with two platoons in Horden and one platoon in Hartlepool, was but one unit in the TA centre. Other units included the ACIO—the Army Careers Information Office. I mean no disrespect to the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, when I say that Staff Sergeant Paddy Fox of the 15th/19th Hussars, the recruiting sergeant, was as well known as the noble Lord. Every year he could have recruited almost a battalion of young men from East Durham; the colliery had closed and there was no other employment.
I will not call the cadet group a platoon because it was a company of young people expertly led by the local policeman. He knew everything that was happening. When a young man joined, he progressed through the cadet force. On completion, he went into the regular Army, but if for family reasons or whatever he was not suitable he joined my TA company. The whole system was linked together. I also had regular NCOs in the organisation because regular soldiers completing their 22 years' service came during their final year to help out.
That was an Army organisation in miniature. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us that the concept of reforming the TA includes members of the TA, the cadets, the recruiting organisation and the regular Army re-entering the community in the same drill hall. That would be an advance.
1204 I now put on my other hat as a former regular officer. For 20 years I was a regular officer in the Royal Armoured Corps. I have heard a rumour that a nuclear, biological and chemical regiment is to be introduced as a specialised armoured recce regiment serving the Royal Armoured Corps. If it is true that the 2,500 yeomen are to be reduced to 1,000, how will the Minister ensure that that specialised unit, if it is to exist, is not only up-to-date but manned, because it must be deployed at short notice?
The Royal Armoured Corps, Bovington, introduced new technology, computer-aided precision training, for gunnery which can quickly train yeomen so that they can play their part in the new nuclear, chemical and biological regiment. If the yeomen are not available, how will that and other units help to man their regular counterparts when an emergency arises?
I re-read the Minister's Answer to my oral Question. A few weeks ago, I asked him whether he had read the letter published in the press written by the chairman of the TAVRA. He said that he had and that the CDS had answered it. I have not read that answer and perhaps we might hear a little about it tonight. However, the Minister stated that he did not always read letters to the press because they were written by nutcases. Of course, I am sure that he excludes my letter of resignation when I left the regular Army protesting about the cuts introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher. And I am sure that the Minister was not referring to the chairman of the TAVRA as a nutcase. I hope only that if on completion of the Strategic Defence Review the TA is decimated, no one in their right mind will need to refer to the noble Lord and his fellow Ministers as nutcases.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Lord Shuttleworth
My Lords, at this point in a long debate there are few new points to be made, although I believe that the noble Earl, Lord Carlisle, may have found one or two in that splendid oration.
I cannot compete with the expertise and experience of previous speakers. I believe that I still hold the record as the longest serving private in the school cadet force, a record which I shared with the then Crown Prince of Nepal. But he rather spoilt it by, shortly after we left together, being created field marshal in his national army.
Despite that rather unpromising start, I need to declare two current interests: first, as vice-president of TAVRA north-west England and—I must not forget it—the Isle of Man; and secondly, as honorary colonel of the 4th (Volunteer) Battalion of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment.
We have heard concerns expressed about the future of the reserve forces from all noble Lords speaking this evening from other parts of the United Kingdom. I intervene in this debate to reiterate those concerns in respect of the north-west of England and the five counties which constitute its TAVRA. I apologise to the Minister for repeating a case made to him already today, but this surely is one of those occasions, with a 1205 fundamental Strategic Defence Review shortly to be published, when I am sure that he will wish to be aware of the extent and depth of feeling on this matter.
I understand that there is national expectation and perhaps even an opportunity for a peace dividend, but it is worth thinking long and hard, as many noble Lords have said, about from where the dividend cuts should be found. The regular services have a vital role, carried out with great distinction over many years. The machine which they can mobilise in their support is impressive, and there is something of an inevitability and an assumption that if cuts are to be made, they are to be made elsewhere, particularly from the reserve forces or their equipment and training centres.
But it is necessary also to remember how the reserve forces and the cadets contribute to the regular forces. In the north-west, more than 20 per cent. of manpower for the regular Army comes from the TA infantry battalions. Also, both the reserve forces and the cadets, as we have heard, offer opportunities to young civilians which give them a focus, an interest and some training from which both they and their communities benefit.
There are two specific points on which I should welcome the Minister's view. If it comes to allocating a reduced number of TA infantry battalions, will that be done on operational grounds? The north-west of England is an area of proven recruiting capability. The 4th QLR, with which I am associated, is fully up to strength. There are appropriate training areas in the north-west and there is a large and, in some parts, densely concentrated population to service and support the TA.
The area has a population of 7 million people, which compares with 5 million in the whole of Scotland and under 3 million in Wales. In that context, I noted what the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, told your Lordships' House on 1st April 1998. With his customary pre-emptive skill, he warned that there would be,a great deal of disturbance"—[Official Report, 1/4/98; col. 276.],if either of its two battalions were removed. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, raised that point again today.
It will not be so only in Wales. The number and disposition of TA infantry battalions are, I hope, yet to be decided. But can we be assured that proper operational and practical criteria will be used in coming to conclusions; that full weight will be given to the factors I have mentioned such as recruiting record, training opportunities and population; and that it will not be thought necessary to over-compensate in one area for other reasons such as response to nationalist sentiment?
The second and final point I wish to make, along with my noble friend Lord Monro, is in support of the TAVRAs. Those were set up with independent funding to safeguard TA budgets and its functions. TAVRA's links with the civilian community are invaluable. In the north-west I have seen a huge amount of support and professional expertise volunteered by civilians through TAVRA without which neither the reserve forces nor the cadet forces would be able to operate as they do. Both in practical terms and in terms of the spirit of good will for the reserve forces among the civilian population, 1206 it would be a tragedy if those links were weakened or broken. I hope that the Minister will be able to give some assurance that the significance and current disposition of TAVRAs are recognised.
Like other noble Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Vivian for giving us the opportunity to bring these concerns before the House this afternoon. They are very much shared in the north-west of England.
§ 6.25 p.m.
The Earl of Clanwilliam
My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Shuttleworth said, we have heard it all before and I am 27th on the speakers' list. We have heard support from all sides of the House for the remarkable and commanding address given by my noble friend Lord Vivian in opening the debate. Those remarks need no rehearsal in front of the Minister who, I suspect, has at heart the best interests of the TA, whatever may be the problems with the Ministry of Defence.
It is self-evident that the TA provides both immediate and long-term support to regular troops committed to action or to reaction in peacemaking or peacekeeping operations, as seen in so many instances, particularly in Bosnia. That is at a time when, as the noble Lord, Lord Glanusk, said in his excellent maiden speech, the reaction timescale is ever-shortening. The essence of the matter is that the TA must consist of units of company or battalion strength. As my noble friend Lord Vivian said, there are many instances in terms of signalling, reconnaissance and other specialised areas where smaller teams can be usefully deployed but where regular troop support is needed and reinforcements need to have the morale bred from training as a team of skilled and disciplined men. For that, there must be a minimum critical mast of men on the home ground. That has already been put clearly and excellently by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, who expressed the matter with such clarity and authority.
The very name "Territorial" indicates the importance of the TA to community life. It is composed of men and women from all walks of life, different ages and especially in the countryside Members of the TA give their spare time generously and have that vital esprit de corps, as do the regulars, which is lacking in so many of our allies' forces. That is something to be protected. Indeed, it is a vital asset as is the sense of humour and the cheerfulness they carry with them. I remember the rather laconic RNVR joke during the last war when they were serving with regulars. RNVRs declared that the regulars were necessary to keep the Navy going in peace time. It was rather a cheeky remark. I refer to the RNVR, which is now the RNR. The noble Earl, Lord Effingham, made a trenchant speech. I hope that the Minister does not feel that he is being drummed up the Channel, as the Spaniards were by the noble Earl's excellent ancestor.
One aspect of the reserve forces which requires special attention is the RNR. We are dangerously short of trained merchant marine officers and crew. Attempts are being made to solve the problem. However, it does not seem to respond easily to the remedies being tried. I ask the Minister to take the matter in hand.
1207 It is a considerable problem that we do not have a shipbuilding industry of any size at the moment. A good deal of flagging out is taking place. But in the event of any interventionist action by our Armed Forces we shall need to resupply the troops with heavy weapons and ammunition, as well as with vital engineering equipment. which can only be carried by sea.
I refer back to the TA. It is a vital provider of training and resources for the cadet forces, as stated by so many noble Lords. The CCF is an even more important part of community life, as recognised by Dr. John Reid in a statement to the press when he said that the cadet forces will not be reduced. That is remarkably good news. Given that assurance of their continuation, there must be concern that any cut in the TA will rebound on the activities of the cadet forces. Such a cut must be resisted. Incidentally, it is interesting to hear that there must be a reduction of 16,000 TA men just to produce one brigade in the Army.
As the noble Earl, Lord Stair, said in his maiden speech, the cadet forces are the main source of recruitment for the Armed Forces at a time when there is a shortfall of some 4,000 men in the Army. Anything that disturbs the balance must be deeply regrettable. In a country where all our forces are volunteers, it would be very dangerous to tamper any more with the longstanding traditions of the weekend volunteer. We must not be seduced by the apparent lack of immediate threat to justify the lowering of our guard of which the reserve forces are such an essential part.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, I should like, first, to thank the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, for the very able way in which he introduced the topic for this afternoon's debate. He has given us the opportunity to talk about the Strategic Defence Review and also the implications for the Territorial Army, the reserve forces and the cadet forces.
It is unfortunate but inevitable that, in some respects, there tends to he quite a large degree of repetition in such debates. I hope that I shall not repeat too much of what has already been said in my contribution, but there may be a little overlap. I should like to say a few words about the Strategic Defence Review and about the importance that we as a nation place on our Territorial Army, reserve forces and cadet forces, and also to mention a slightly different point of concern which I do not believe has been raised by any other speaker.
Allusion has been made to the small number of noble Lords on this side of the House who are speaking in today's debate. In the context of our modern British Armed Forces, I should like to think that we represent quality rather than quantity. Indeed, the three generations represented on our Benches are all singing from the same hymn sheet in support of what I believe has been recognised by all thinking people and people with an interest in defence as the rather different way that this Strategic Defence Review is being conducted, compared with virtually every other defence review since the last war, all of which were predominantly Treasury driven.
1208 Most serious commentators have recognised that this defence review is firmly based on foreign policy and the defence needs of this country; and that virtually none of it is Treasury driven. It does not matter how many noble Lords from the Opposition Benches may allude to that, I believe that they are fundamentally wrong and that serious commentators would confirm that fact. Today's debate also gives us the opportunity to pay tribute to the historic role that the TA and the volunteer reserve have played in the defence of our realm. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, spoke for the House and the nation when he highlighted that historic role. We also need to recognise that they play a very important current role.
When introducing the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, pointed out that, since the 1996 Act, the Armed Forces have placed a great deal of reliance on the use of reserves. Indeed, I believe that everyone recognises the vital contribution that they make at the present time. Rather differently from most speakers in this debate, I am confident that our reserve forces will play an equally significant role in the future in the very important elements of peacekeeping and peacemaking and, ultimately, in the most important facet of government activity; namely, the defence of our realm.
However, it is also important to look at the situation with which we are faced and recognise that we should, in the words of a famous American President, "Ask not what our country can do for us—ask what we can do for our country". In that context, I should like to express the concern that, in a crisis situation in which our military forces are taken up to the utmost, the implications of taking 50,000 key personnel from industry and commerce and deploying them in the Armed Forces will be quite significant. Perhaps I should explain to the House that we have seen a fragmentation of industry and commerce over the past 20 years; indeed, we have seen the growth of a whole plethora of small businesses. Where in the past we had large businesses and large companies with many employees which could release a few personnel to serve in the Armed Forces with no problem at all, we shall sometimes now be faced with a situation where the release of one or two key personnel from a small company will have a significant effect on the performance of that economic unit. We must recognise that there is a need for co-ordination and support mechanisms for small businesses to ensure that, when their key personnel are taken up in a critical national emergency—and I am sure that they would fly to the colours rather than walk to them—the productive capacity of our economy is not badly affected.
I am glad that today's debate will be answered by my noble friend Lord Gilbert. I am sure that he will prove to be quite capable of providing the assurances that some people in this House appear to want; namely, that the Strategic Defence Review that the Government are currently conducting is foreign policy led rather than Treasury led and that the Territorial Army, the volunteer reserves and the cadet forces will have a significant and important part to play in the future defence of our realm.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Lord Murton of Lindisfarne
My Lords, I should like to join with other speakers in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, for initiating this long and most interesting debate. Perhaps I may seek your Lordships' indulgence to make a few remarks of a rather personal nature. I suppose that nowadays I can be classed as something of an increasing rarity, in that I am a pre-war territorial officer who received his commission in 1934: 64 years ago, no less.
At school I was a cadet under officer and on leaving, for me, it was a natural progression to join a TA battalion of my county regiment. After seven years' war service, I commanded an Army cadet force battalion for a further four years. This latter role was both an amusing and a rewarding experience. The unit was well found and the cadets were extremely keen. The only problem was that they had to provide their own boots. I have discovered that, some 50 years later, there is still no public provision of boots. So some things, at least within the MoD, are immutable.
Like every other speaker who has spoken in this debate, I should like to know what the future of the TA will be. Its present strength on 6th April of this year was some 55,700 volunteers and it was planned to fall to 54,000 under the review instituted by the previous government. We are now led to believe that the Strategic Defence Review will propose a reduction in establishment to 40,000. The sting in the tail is that this figure would include non-regular permanent staffs and civilian support, as well as over 3,500 university cadets.
In terms of TA infantry, I am told that this could mean a reduction of nearly 85 per cent. and of the Yeomanry of some 80 per cent. These are the central core of the TA establishment. If that calculation is anything like an accurate assumption, I do not see how it will be possible to maintain the present organic structure linking volunteer units in affiliation with their regular counterparts.
We have also had the drastic prediction that there will be a reduction in TA battalions from 36 to 15. Where indeed, one asks, would the axe not fall next? To be equitable, the surviving units would have to be spread even more widely than at present. As a possible example, would the well-recruited TA battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers based in Northumberland be expected to merge with its sister TA battalion of the regiment based in Warwickshire? Or is some other more hybrid formation contemplated?
As has been already stated, the regular Army recruits nearly 10 per cent. of its annual intake from the TA. What is of equal importance in this regard is the value of the cadet forces. The ACF contributes 26 per cent. of the Army's intake annually, while in the last financial year of 1996–97 officer cadet entrants into the regular Army who had previously been members of the combined cadet forces amounted to as much as 49 per cent. If there are to be severe reductions in the TA, how will the cadet units survive if a TA presence in the form of a TA centre has to be withdrawn? Without support and encouragement, is there not a risk that they will diminish in numbers through sheer inertia and the 1210 lack of a positive regimental ethos? Youthful enthusiasms have to be nurtured. If they are not, then these young people will look elsewhere and perhaps to less worthy pursuits. The value of public service will once more be diminished.
On the wider aspect of the reserves, I do hope that the TA will not be envisaged in future merely as a piecemeal support organisation for the regular Army, to fill in shortages whenever or wherever required. It is very creditable that currently in Bosnia the 1st King's Own Royal Border Regiment Battle Group has serving in it 81 TA and other individual reservists, and that there are a further 300 volunteers from 13 different arms actively employed. This is a fine experience for them, but it emphasises yet again the serious overstretch in the regular Army, which will remain for the next few years whatever is decided in the SDR.
One is bound to treat these reviews with some scepticism. At the time of Options for Change, I and a few others were assured on the highest authority, in answer to questioning, that all remaining infantry and armoured units would in future be maintained at full strength. "Tell that one to the marines", I thought to myself. Now, in actuality, the Royal Marines are suffering similar shortages to the Army.
My other concern, if there is to be a contraction, is the future of the TAVRAs and possible changes in location, and the effect upon regimental and home headquarters, whose secretaries and small supporting staffs play such a vital role in holding everyone together, both regular and volunteer and whether serving or retired. Their importance was proved at the time of the Gulf War, when gifts, letter writing and other comforts were channelled through these headquarters to those units who were on active service. Sadly, there were battle casualties, particularly in my own regiment, and immediate support and assistance was forthcoming for the families who were bereaved.
Whatever is decided, the TA must remain in existence as an organic and cohesive force of all arms, which is capable of expansion in an emergency. Those who are responsible for making these present grave decisions will do well to remember the history of the so-called "ten-year rule". It was decided by the War Cabinet in 1919, in the face of an economy campaign, that it could be assumed there would be no major conflict for 10 years. The War Office suggested in 1927 that the 1919 decision should be extended. Eleven years later we were at war, and ill prepared: only a near miracle saved us from complete disaster in 1940.
In a debate in the other place on the 8th April this year (Commons Hansard; col. 318), the Minister for the Armed Forces, when asked how we would expand our forces in a new period of tension, replied that we would need new recruits, people to train them, buildings in which to train them and a structure around which to organise them. We have all that in being. We destroy it at our peril.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Viscount De L'Isle
My Lords, I am most grateful, with other noble Lords, to my noble friend Lord Vivian for sponsoring this debate. This afternoon we have heard a number of powerful speeches, including one from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, calling for dependable reserves. The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, has spoken powerfully about the Army Cadet Force. I should also like to congratulate the two maiden speakers, the noble Earl, Lord Stair, and the noble Lord, Lord Glanusk.
Before I begin to speak I must declare an interest as the honorary Colonel of the 5th Battalion Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment. I believe that one of the original constituents of that regiment was the Buffs, which my family formed in the 17th century—and they fought for Parliament. This particular battalion has always been well recruited, although the number of young men and women joining and leaving has more to do with their partners' demands on their free time than is available to both TA and partner. Many return once they have a more settled existence in married life.
The officers, warrant officers and senior non-commissioned officers show a great deal of commitment to the battalion, often travelling long distances to be able to take part in training and drill nights while holding down important appointments in their firms or running their own companies. Civilian employers benefit from the skills their employees acquire from the military training, including things such as confidence, leadership skills, planning and teamworking. In fact, certainly in the south east, "Executive Stretch" is an exercise which is run each year to try to persuade employers to allow employees to take part in or to join the TA.
A number of the battalion, along with many others, have been deployed in Bosnia. Indeed, I believe that currently 7.2 per cent. of the TA infantry is deployed on operations in Bosnia. The Territorial Army infantry is an effective reserve for the regular Army, and the cost of 2 per cent. or 3 per cent. of the defence budget must look good value even to the Treasury.
The original concept of county regiments has been eroded over the past 30 years or more since the end of conscription and our withdrawal from being a colonial power and, more lately, the end of the Cold War. The Territorial infantry, while changing its cap badges and its size in line with those changes, has remained county based, with its roots in the community from which it recruits. The reduced number of regular infantry battalions has meant that they are seldom stationed in the areas from which they recruit. Thus the territorial battalion is the link between the civilian population and the regular battalions.
The Territorial Army acts as a recruiting catalyst. In excess of 1,800 members of the Territorial Army have joined the regular Army in the last two years and, in reverse, many retired soldiers have joined the Territorial Army. Regular Army reservists who might be recalled to serve with the colours could not be so well trained or might not be so willing as the TA soldier. About 10 years ago I took part as a reservist in the exercise 1212 "Lionheart". I think that proved that it was very difficult to get a large number of reservists together and across to Germany in quick time.
Territorial Army units, as we have heard already this afternoon, are available to help with disasters such as flooding, heavy snow and storms such as the ones in 1987. In the past year the 5th Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment has held a series of fund-raising events in the community and has collected quite a large sum of money which has been given to Kent Air Ambulance. The crew of the Air Ambulance includes an ex-Army Air Force pilot and a staff sergeant who is a paramedic with the fifth battalion.
If the Territorial Army is to be cut, a number of civilian employees will obviously lose their jobs and I wonder if they will be "rebranded" or made redundant. If the Territorial infantry is to be reduced there will obviously be large areas of the country where there will be little or no opportunity to join the Territorial Army. The fifth battalion has detachments and company bases from Dover to Guildford. That causes problems as regards communications, administration and command, though, if battalions were spread further apart, I am sure that the gilded staff would attempt to cover over the gaps.
If the Territorial Army is to be cut—we have already heard much from the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, and others about the effect of that on the Army Cadet Force—in my view that would be rather sad. What we need to maintain is a volunteer reserve which is trained and able to react quickly, or quickly enough, to prevent a crisis. People always say that one should not look back but if we learnt lessons from history, we would possibly be better off. In conclusion, speaking as an ex-regular soldier who has spent three years as the honorary colonel of a Territorial battalion, I want to say how professional and good the Territorials are.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Lord Kingsland
My Lords, like a number of your Lordships, I first declare an interest. I spent nearly 20 years in the Territorial Army and Volunteer Reserve, serving first of all in an OTC, then as a reserve officer in a regular regiment of the Royal Armoured Corps and finally in a divisional headquarters. I had the honour to serve under the command of my noble friend Lord Vivian during three of those years. Therefore it is a particular pleasure for me to congratulate him not only on initiating this debate in your Lordships' House today but also on making a quite outstanding opening speech. I ought to add that my noble friend Lord Vivian has not ordered me to speak tonight; he merely suggested it.
I should like to add that, as someone who lives in Shropshire, I, like many others in the county, am particularly concerned about the future of the Fifth Light Infantry and the Shropshire Yeomanry.
In order that your Lordships may make a sensible assessment about the merits of the rumoured cuts in the TA, your Lordships first of all need to know what the Government's motives are for proposing them. The Ministry of Defence, as we know, is full of extremely intelligent civil servants and military advisers. It must 1213 follow from this that if cuts in the TA are to be proposed they must be consequential upon decisions made for the regular forces. In order to make an assessment, therefore, we must first of all know what decisions the Government have made about the future of the regular Army. I hope that one of the things we shall hear from the Minister tonight is what those decisions are.
We hear that one possible decision is that the regular Army will be increased by 6,000 men and women and the trade-off for that is to be a cut in the Territorial Army of 30,000. I must say that if that decision has any military logic, even to a humble former TA officer, it escapes me. Therefore I turn to the second possible motive for these proposals, which is financial. A number of your Lordships have pointed out in a different context today that one regular soldier is purchased at the price of seven territorial soldiers. If that is true and if that is the reason the Government are approaching the question of cost on this basis, can we be assured that the basis is a rational one?
If the Government are going to cut the Territorial Army, there will be consequential costs which they will have to add to the defence budget. What about the effect, for example, on the education budget, because the Territorial Army does a great deal of educational training? What about the consequences for the social security budget? There are a whole range of other expenses which will increase as a result of reducing the number of Territorial Army soldiers. Have those been taken into account, or is there some more sinister motive behind all this?
A number of your Lordships have referred this afternoon and this evening to the real estate value of the TA centres in the middle of towns. Now we hear that whatever happens to the Territorial Army and Volunteer Reserve, there is to be an ongoing commitment to the Army Cadet Force. But how can that commitment be met unless the TA centres are preserved? There are a number of quite sophisticated questions about money which have to be looked at before the Minister can confidently say that he will be saving money as a result of any Territorial Army cuts.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, drew our attention to the catastrophic effect that cuts of the scale that are rumoured would have on the Territorial Army. In my submission, it would destroy any chance of the Territorial Army being able to regenerate itself should a new national crisis emerge. I say that for two reasons. First of all, the physical assets would no longer be there because they would have been sold off. The physical assets represent not just the capacity to train but also a focus in the community which would make it so much easier for the military spirit to be restored in localities at a time of crisis. All that would go.
But the other thing that would go—which would be perhaps an even deeper blow—would be the regimental tradition of the Territorial Army. If the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, is right about the scale of these cuts, and if he is right in suggesting that they will fall on the units, the whole regimental system in the Territorial Army will be decimated.
1214 We heard the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, say that your Lordships should be cautious about confusing tradition with nostalgia, by which I took him to say that your Lordships' House should be careful about an excessive attachment to the past for the past's sake. But the whole point about the regimental tradition in the Army is that each succeeding generation in a regiment lives up to the highest standards of that regiment's past. We have the finest Army in the world because of our regimental system. Cuts on this scale would destroy it and therefore destroy morale for good and destroy the Territorial Army's capacity to regenerate itself.
I remember 20 years ago watching a television programme where General Sir John Hackett was interviewed. The young interviewer asked him, "Well, General, why did you join the British Army?". The general looked at him pityingly and said, "I did not join the British Army, I joined the 8th Hussars". That emotion is absolutely central to the Territorial Army in this country if it is to have a future.
§ 6.59 p.m.
§ Lord Redesdale
My Lords, like other noble Lords I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, for initiating the debate today. I also welcome the maiden speeches. It is always welcome to hear speeches made with a great deal of knowledge of the subject.
The Minister may breathe a sigh of relief on hearing me welcome the Strategic Defence Review. The noble Lord may be surprised by that, having listened for five hours to speeches which, from this side of the Chamber expressed views which were somewhat unwelcoming. However, I believe that the review is necessary.
At this point I declare an interest. I am a serving officer in the Territorial Army. I served three years with the OTC and have now served seven years in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. Some of the views that I shall express are based on my experience as a serving officer. As the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, pointed out, it is no good saying, "What the Army needs now is stability. We need to preserve the status quo". I have been a serving officer when we have had no stability. I cannot imagine a time when I could say to any officer with whom I have served, "There will be no new initiatives this year or next year. We shall not have to change our entire schedules for man training days or face a reduction or increase in the number of personnel".
A major difficulty is the fact that the TA has lost its role somewhere along the line. The TA was formed as a mirror of the regular Army. That presents a severe difficulty in the current system. As has been pointed out, the TA will never go to war as units, as it did in the First World War. It will never be mobilised. It would be almost impossible to try to mobilise the TA, as many exercises have proved.
I believe that the TA should be regarded as a basis for training individual soldiers. The regimental system is useful in giving people a sense of well-being and of belonging to a group in which they can train together. That is not a problem. But if we regard the TA's relevant role as training individuals, we have to say that 1215 the status quo is no longer necessary. We need to consider the TA in a new light. That is not to say that the TA has no role. I would not be a serving officer, and I would not have given up the time and given the commitment, if I did not believe that the TA is a vital part of our defence needs.
We have to change the TA because more than anything else at present it suffers from a lack of retention. People pass through the TA very quickly. That is because they have no purpose. We can talk about a civil defence role. I am all in favour of the TA helping the civil authorities in times of desperate need. But one cannot base a whole unit on the threat that a river might burst. Indeed, although the civil authorities need the manpower, they would not like an untrained force to assist them with a specific task in anything other than a manpower role.
I believe that the TA has a vital role. Britain has an extremely small regular Army. At present it is undermanned. That leads to enormous strains. We have committed ourselves in many areas and we do not have the manpower to meet those needs. The TA has the ability to fill the gaps left in the regular ranks. That is especially important in the specialist role. I believe that we should not try to fill gaps in the infantry. That is an extremely specialist role which takes much training. I do not believe that one can teach people to fulfil the complex tasks that are now expected of the infantry within the man training days provided under the present financial constraints.
However, the TA has proved its worth on many occasions through its specialists. The TA sent medics to the Gulf. Members of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers have been sent to Bosnia. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, has just returned from fulfilling that very role in Bosnia. The Royal Logistic Corps can fulfil some of the roles which in times of crisis the regulars often find difficult to fulfil. That is where we must start to train the individual: to fill those areas that the regulars cannot fill.
In the Strategic Defence Review there is a danger of the voice of the regular Army being heard over and above the voice of the Territorial Army. The regular Army considers that cuts can be made in the Territorial Army in order to release funds which are urgently needed by the regular Army. That concept is financially driven and may be shortsighted. One of the main roles of the TA is to provide a link between the community and the regular Army. It is becoming apparent that in many areas of the country there is no Army presence; there is no Army tradition. If one goes into schools and asks, "Do you want to join the regular Army?" one is looked at as though mad because to go into an organisation to get shot at does not fit in with the present evaluation of job satisfaction. The TA brings people into contact with the Army. A fundamental problem is that many young people today have no history relating to the Army.
The Army will also have to change and must understand the needs of young people. It has been mentioned that young people's feet are now so soft that they cannot wear the boots provided by the British 1216 Army. I think that that is a problem for the British Army. My knee has been severely damaged on Army combat courses which are particularly badly designed, wearing the cheapest boots available. Perhaps the Army should provide better equipment to the troops who will be trained.
The basis for the Territorial Army has to be recruitment. I say with a degree of pride that I have quickly lost some of the best recruits I had in the Territorial Army to the regular Army. The Territorial Army has been a first step. Having served with me for one year, they have then moved on to the regular Army. I would regard that as a success rather than as a loss to the Territorial Army.
I know that there has been a commitment by the Government that the Army Cadet Force will not be cut. I ask the Minister to give an assurance that where the loss of TA centres or drill halls affects the Army Cadet Force they will be replaced. One cannot ask cadets to travel any distance to drill halls if one expects to retain them for long periods of time. That brings me to another point. If we lose drill halls for financial reasons, how far can we expect personnel to travel in order to train? As we lose drill halls, and as people become more specialised, some people travel vast distances in order to train with a specific unit. The Strategic Defence Review presents an opportunity for review, but only if it is based upon a fundamental analysis of our long to medium term foreign policy needs. That is the basis upon which a strategic defence review should be undertaken, not upon the financial implications of selling drill halls.
One of the greatest financial benefits from cutting the TA would not result from the reduction in manpower but from the sale of a large number of drill halls based in city and urban centres, sometimes in prime sites. Perhaps I may ask the Minister this question. If a drill hall is sold, does the money released from that sale—prime sites might release millions of pounds—go to the TAVRAs to be reinvested into the Territorial Army or the MoD? Or would it go straight back to the Treasury? If that is the case, I should be surprised if the Territorial Army ever saw much of it again.
Looking at the Strategic Defence Review as an opportunity, the number of units to be cut is not as important as that the numbers retained should be properly trained. One of the major difficulties, based on the reality of units on the ground, is that, in the past, cuts have led to disenchantment and disheartenment. One major difficulty in relation to TA regiments is that many are extremely undermanned. If the review is to lead to a TA which is valuable, we might have to reduce the numbers, but on the other hand we have to make sure that TA personnel are far better trained. It is no good cutting the number of TA personnel and cutting the number of training days. I wish to make that particular point because, as a serving officer, I have found when organising training that when man training days are nearing under 30 days a year it is impossible, in a specialist area, to produce a TA soldier who can fulfil any role whatsoever. I very much hope that the Minister will assure the House that the Strategic 1217 Defence Review will be based on the philosophical needs of defence, rather than being financially led by the Treasury.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may ask a question for clarification. I have listened with great attention to everything he said. He seemed at one stage to be saying one thing, and at another stage to be saying another. That was my impression. As regards the role of the Territorial Army, does the noble Lord agree in substance with the remarks of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, or does he not?
§ Lord Redesdale
My Lords, perhaps I should discuss that point with the noble Lord at some time other than during a timed debate. Perhaps we might have a discussion afterwards.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Lord Burnham
My Lords, the peculiar merit of the debate of my noble friend Lord Vivian is that it is an occasion when this House might just possibly be able to bring some influence to bear on the Government. I wish to pay tribute to the Government Front-Bench defence spokesmen in both Houses for the tenacious and skilful way in which they have fought their corner, and the way in which, as we see it, the Strategic Defence Review may in most of its aspects be going. I am only disappointed that the Minister in this House does not seem to have received the support that he deserves and is his right. As some noble Lords remarked, for large periods of the debate the Benches behind him were absolutely empty. There were only two government supporters, one of whom, sadly, was unable to be here for a large proportion of it.
The debate has been excellent. I believe that all points have been covered, most of them several times over. If there is one speech which encapsulates the spirit of today's debate, it is that of my noble friend Lord Selkirk. I recommend that those who have not attended, and indeed those who have, should read it in Hansard. It was outstanding and covered virtually the entire matter.
I have been disappointed that, with the exception of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, none of the other noble and gallant Lords has been here to address the House today. They have immense experience of this particular problem. I can only hope that their absence does not reflect the views of many senior Army officers with regard to the Territorial Army. I also regret the absence of my noble friend Lord Attlee, who did not address your Lordships today for a different reason. As several noble Lords noted, having returned last Friday from Bosnia, where he has served for the past seven months, he is not demobilised until the day after tomorrow and is therefore unable to speak today. It is a great pity, since the noble Lord's most recent experience of the Territorial Army in service would have been most valuable.
When I addressed this House during the defence debate last December, either naïvely or with a degree of sarcasm—I cannot now remember which—I said that this 1218 Government never leaked, and that we should remain in ignorance of what was to come in the Strategic Defence Review. Since then, the Government have been leaking like a sieve—most spectacularly in an article in Monday's Times. The leak in The Times confirmed what we have seen in official, and theoretically confidential, letters. Can the Minister deny that there is an official paper in existence proposing that the size of the TA should be reduced to 40,000 men? I hope that he does not deny it, because that paper is presently wandering around the corridors of this building.
The article in The Times repeated all the information that most of us had already picked up—that the TA infantry would be cut by two-thirds; the number of TA centres by one-third; and that there would be a 19,000 cut in the numbers of the TA itself. It is to those alleged decisions—which may not be accurate—that we must address ourselves.
If the leaks are accurate, I must state that the Opposition will fight the cuts tooth and nail. That is our official position. Whether or not they are accurate, I believe I am justified in saying that we should prefer the Government to leak to your Lordships and to Members of another place rather than to the press.
One of the most serious and worrying leaks is that the General Staff seem to be happy with the SDR in the state in which it left the Ministry of Defence before Easter. For some reason it does not seem too worried about what will happen when it reaches the Treasury. It is generally accepted, as I said, that the General Staff does not care too much for the Territorial Army, particularly the infantry, for which it can see no need and can find no role. Nevertheless, it is true to say that the specialist corps are needed. They will accept that. But the "poor bloody infantry" will continue to play a vital role, as reserves to the regular Army and the rest of the TA. It is much easier to teach a soldier to be a truck driver than it is to make a truck driver a soldier. Most young men are embryo mechanics anyway.
As the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said, it is self-evident that a reduction in the TA would damage recruitment to the regular forces. That point was made by a number of noble Lords. But even in the TA there is a need for infantry battalions and companies. My noble friend Lord Vivian drew attention to the numbers of territorial Green Jackets serving in Bosnia.
Those who cannot see a role for the infantry fail to understand that, by destroying the infantry, you destroy the guts of an army. Even though we are unlikely to see again a 1914 army on the Continent, where the first territorial battalions arrived in Ypres by November that year, it would be a disaster if the Government were to write off even the possibility of a threat, as they would seem to do if they effectively destroyed the TA's capability to operate in an infantry role.
In 1991 it was originally planned to send three battalions to the Gulf. Those would have been used in a communications and guarding role, as was the plan for the defence of West Germany against a Russian invasion during the Cold War. This may have been a rather pedestrian role—I intend no pun—but the prisoner 1219 guard force in which as distinguished a unit as the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards was eventually employed was in fact a euphemism for the pool of battle casualty replacements. The reason the TA was not involved may have been that the units were not of a high enough standard of training to be used in this role or because of the impact of possible reservist casualties on the public. But the former is an argument for more training rather than abolition. It should be noted that the United States used whole National Guard units in the campaign to liberate Kuwait.
Reserves are necessary, and if the Army throws away its box of soldiers in the shape of a territorial battalion, it will not be able to find another box and will have nowhere to go to find further reserves. In addition, logistics, which will probably be retained, are much more expensive than men. A territorial battalion, as has been stated in the course of today's debate, is cheap to run. One battalion costs the same as a single Spearfish torpedo, £1.5 million, and considerably less than training a Tornado pilot. The average cost of each member of the TA is £6,100 a year—about one-fifth of his regular counterpart. One noble Lord said that it was one-seventh, but I believe it is one-fifth.
In February last year, the Secretary of State—Conservative admittedly—said there would be no change to the establishment levels of the TA or to its vital role in deploying as formed units—I emphasise "formed"—in a major crisis. There is nothing that has happened in the last 15 months, certainly not the Irish concord, which has changed the truth of that statement.
The severe cuts in the infantry battalions which are forecast must have a serious effect both on the military capacity of the Army and the social life of both towns and country areas. The noble Earl, Lord Stair, in a notable maiden speech has tabled the percentage of Army cadets in his area of Scotland who go on to enlist in the Army and the percentage of Army recruits who come from the Army Cadet Force. When I was a young officer, the noble Earl's father was my regimental lieutenant-colonel and he was simply terrifying.
Recruiting to the regular forces has been in difficulties for a long time and it would be immensely foolish, just for a pittance, to cut off one of the main areas from which the recruits come. Many of them must be lost if the Territorial Army is cut in this way. While the Government have stated that the Army Cadet Force will be retained in its present form, the cadets live in one of the 443 territorial drill halls or centres. If those go—and they surely must if their purpose disappears—what will happen to the Army cadets and the other cadet corps? The services play a large part in the development of so many youths of both sexes. It would surely be foolish to cut MoD costs and increase—as it inevitably would do—the cost of the social services.
Here I must make reference to the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, followed by other noble Lords from Northern Ireland who spoke about the immense purpose and usefulness of the Territorial Army and cadet force in Northern Ireland. I thought his was a remarkable and moving speech.
1220 Members of the cadet forces grow up to be useful members of the community in a way which is very much fostered by the TA, particularly in difficult areas where the facilities the services can offer are much required. Of course, the existence of the Territorial Army is largely a defence affair, but its social aspects must not be forgotten. Something costing money would have to be put in its place.
A further small but vital point, unquantifiable in monetary terms, is that without the TA and the cadets very few people around the country ever see a soldier. Security has brought this about, sadly, and I hope it can be reversed.
Throughout the debate has run the theme that the TA still has a vital role to play, whether as specialists or infantry, high readiness reserve or sponsored reserve and that the costs of the TA are minimal in comparison with the associated benefits. Again we must ask the Government to pay due attention to the value of the Territorial Army and the cadet forces in both military and non-military affairs. These are matters which the pundits at the Ministry of Defence—in the services, I do not mean the Ministers—cannot he expected to appreciate, although the Treasury, which will discover it has to find money for those purposes from elsewhere, might do.
Noble Lords have been confused by the problems they have raised, which seem incomprehensible. I hope that the Minister will be able to reply to those questions. We must hope that this debate will lead the Government to do some real thinking and, while improving the training to bring in current needs, leave the Territorial Army substantially alone, and certainly not destroy it.
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert)
My Lords, perhaps I might add my voice to the many we have heard this afternoon thanking the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, for putting the Motion down on the Order Paper for the House to debate. I also wish to pay tribute to his always courteous and energetic role as Chairman of the All-Party Defence Studies Group in this House and for the work he does in that respect.
This is not a dress rehearsal for the debate on the Strategic Defence Review; that will come shortly. However, it might be helpful if I were to make one or two remarks today about the future of modern warfare because it bears on the decisions that Ministers have to take. I was particularly seized of some of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, at the beginning of our debate. They were, namely, that we no longer needed mass armies and that reinforcements in central Europe are much less likely to be needed than they have been in the past.
I am sure that your Lordships are aware of the changes that have taken place in modern warfare, not only since 1945 but also since the last major conflict in which our forces were involved in the Gulf. Weapons are becoming more and more powerful and more accurate. The amount of intelligence available to military commanders is increasing at an exponential rate. I thought one of the remarks of a noble Lord was 1221 very significant: he pointed out that we now had more aircraft than tanks. It is a sign of the times and we are moving more and more into an era of electronic and information warfare, as noble Lords will know.
Before I reply in detail to the debate, there are one or two points that I wish to take up. I particularly wanted to address the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, who made an extremely eloquent contribution, without notes, to which we should all pay attention. I wish to address many of his remarks. The first question he asked quite properly was: what are the Government's motives? They are perfectly simple: they are to try to provide for the future defence of the realm, for British interests abroad and British citizens abroad, forces with an expeditionary capability, with a flexibility, with a rapid reaction capability of the kind that this country has never seen before.
The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, said something extremely important about the traditions that descended from generation to generation. I take his point entirely. Of course, the traditions that come down from generation to generation with respect to the fighting spirit of our forces are an essential ingredient of our military capability. Morale is of crucial importance and we understand the significance of cap badging and the regimental tradition in regard to the morale of our forces. I am talking now about the Army because most of this debate has been about the Army. I shall have some remarks to make about the other forces in a moment.
I hope that I quote the noble Lord accurately when he said that, "generations live up to previous generations' standards". However, I am sure that the noble Lord will agree with me that generations do not use the previous generation's weapons; they do not use the previous generation's skills; they do not use the previous generation's tactics; nor do they use the previous generation's organisation. If they do, I am sure that I carry your Lordships with me in saying that the country that relies purely on tradition for such matters—tactics, organisation, skills and weapons—will be in dire trouble. That is the crucial message that this Government will produce in the Strategic Defence Review, shortly to be available for your Lordships' detailed scrutiny.
One of the most extraordinary things to me, as a relative newcomer to your Lordships' House, was the number of declarations of interest that we heard today. To me that is remarkable. It is also magnificent in that virtually every declaration was a declaration of a public service interest, rather than an interest whereby somebody had derived a commercial benefit. I can say without fear of contradiction that it would be impossible to have a debate in another place of the sort we have had today. It makes me stand here with far greater trepidation than I ever stood at the Dispatch Box in another place with the Defence Minister's portfolio.
Not only did we have many expert Members of this House on their feet today, but I also detected no fewer than three former Defence Secretaries coming in and out at various times to listen to your Lordships. The sheer volume of expertise that we heard today was 1222 extraordinary. I doubt that it can be duplicated in any other House, in any other legislature in any other country.
I want to address one or two specific points. First, it is a pleasant duty for me to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Stair, and the noble Lord, Lord Glanusk, on their maiden speeches. I was glad that the noble Earl, Lord Stair, welcomed the review and I take seriously his remarks concerning the importance of volunteers in Northern Ireland. Those remarks were echoed by the noble Lords, Lord Molyneaux and Lord Alderdice. Everybody in this Chamber is aware of the courage, dedication and importance to stability in the Province of the volunteers in the Territorial Army.
I was glad to note that your Lordships had read the statements of my honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces on the future of the cadet forces. I have nothing useful to add to what he said. The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, spoke on a previous occasion of the connection between the Territorial Army's drill halls and the resources that are vital for the maintenance of the Army Cadet Forces. We are aware of the social role of the Army Cadet Forces. In fact, I have not heard a single point made by your Lordships this evening that has not been taken seriously into account by Ministers over the past few months.
Difficult decisions will have to be taken during the course of the defence review. We hope to be able to put before your Lordships and the other place the fact that there will be some enhancement capabilities, which no doubt will be welcomed. It must follow therefore, as night follows day, that if there are to be enhancements in certain directions, there will have to be changes in others.
We must not believe everything we read in the newspapers in relation to changes in the structure of the Territorial Army. The noble Lord, Lord Shuttleworth, asked whether the allocation of drill halls, units and battalions would be based on recruiting record, training opportunities and population. Of course, those are extremely important criteria which we will be taking into account, just as we recognise the significance to the TAVRAs of their present dispositions.
My noble friend Lord Monkswell asked for an assurance that the review is foreign-policy led and that reservists and cadets will play an important part in the defence of the realm in the future. I have not the slightest difficulty in giving my noble friend that assurance.
The noble Lord, Lord Monro, raised some interesting points in relation to the Royal Air Force Auxiliary Reserve. Without tipping my hand too much, I believe that he will be pleased with the results of the review when they come out, as will the noble Lord who asked about the Royal Naval Reserve and the Royal Marines Reserve.
Most of the criticisms regarding the putative changes revolved around what are thought to be our proposals for the Territorial Army. It is our intention to try to make the territorials more effective than they have been in the past. As the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, pointed out, the Territorial Army's great strength in recent years 1223 lay in its specialist capabilities. We are hoping to increase the availability to the reserves of the specialist military equipment that is available to their brothers in the regular forces.
We particularly need reservists with the skills to operate sophisticated military equipment of the most modern nature; we need them with the skill to speak foreign languages, to deal with local civilian populations, to fly fast military jets and to engage in a wide range of specialist and other core military tasks. I am glad to say that we already have some Royal Air Force Auxiliary Reserve people flying Tornadoes and we hope to expand that role in the future. They are already using Multiple-Launch Rocket Systems and we hope before long that they will be equipped in part with the High Velocity Missile defence system, if that comes through in the way we are hoping.
We need to enhance our medical reserves. The review has shown that there are serious weaknesses in many aspects of our medical forces which we need to address. We are hopeful that in future their reserves will play an even more important part in that respect than they have done up until now.
We intend to improve our mobilisation procedures, particularly for Army reserves which are now very much on an ad hoc basis. We want to put them on a more dedicated basis and to provide training on mobilisation that will reinforce the skills they already possess. It is not for me tonight to speculate on how individual units may be affected by the outcome of the review. Various noble Lords invited me to give commitments, not least the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne. He specialises in inviting me to give commitments that he knows perfectly well I am unable to give. He is extremely skilful at that. I am unable to give him the blanket commitment he wants in relation to drill halls. But the thrust behind his question is one of which we are seriously seized. However, it would be wrong of me to promise that numbers will not change.
I have a couple of questions to answer. The noble Baroness, Lady Park, asked about previous sales of Ministry of Defence property. I have had inquiries made and I am told that the record shows that the Ministry of Defence did state that the sale of TA centres would offset certain equipment costs for the TA. I have no doubt that the equipment was bought and that the centres were sold. The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, asked what would happen in the future with the proceeds of the sale of Territorial Army centres and whether they would go back to the Treasury or whether the Ministry of Defence would keep the money. The proceeds of the sale of drill halls would come back to the Ministry of Defence. The Land Command Top Level Budget holder would be the beneficiary in the first instance. In that regard the proceeds of the sales would help to balance the overall Ministry of Defence budget.
I want to emphasise, and I hope that your Lordships appreciate, that size is not strength. Size is important. There is such a thing as critical mass and we recognise that. It is a matter of judgment that we shall have to make. Your Lordships will have the opportunity to criticise, if they see fit, the decisions that we reach. 1224 I also want to stress very much that we are focusing today on one small element of the defence review, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, will be the first to acknowledge. When the review is published it will be important to look at it in the round and see all the enhancements involved and not to focus just on certain areas where there have been cuts. There will be cutbacks in various places and it is no good me standing at this Dispatch Box and pretending that that is not going to happen. Your Lordships would not believe me and I would be shown to be a charlatan in a very short space of time. The judgment that Ministers have to make is where the cuts have to come and where they can he made in a way which minimises the effect on the frontline strength of our forces.
Noble Lords have stressed the need to ensure that we do not deprive any locality of its sole military representative. We shall be very reluctant to do that. But there are other arguments—
§ Lord Bramall
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. This is important. He is clearly not going—or he is not able—to answer the question of giving your Lordships' House some inkling of the sort of numbers of units that may be retained. Until one knows that one cannot know the extent of the problem. It is not numbers, but units.
As the Minister is not going to answer that question, can he say why he is so ready to write down the value of territorial infantry, or the Armoured Corps for that matter? It is my experience over a long period that a territorial infantry company can be absorbed into a regular battalion and one would not know the difference after about two weeks, such would be the high standard of their training. They provide very valuable reinforcements. They have been to Bosnia in large numbers, as has been said in the debate. They have also manned the garrison in the Falkland Islands. So I do not know why there is this attempt to denigrate the combat arm of the Territorial Army at the expense of the specialists. Of course, the specialists are valuable, but the combat arms are as well.
§ Lord Gilbert
My Lords, I am always obliged to the noble and gallant Lord, who was one of my mentors during my earliest days at the Ministry of Defence, and I have learnt a great deal from him and will always continue to do so. But he is quite right in that I am not going to give any figures today and no one is going to tempt me into so doing. I hope very much that I was not denigrating the combat forces, because that certainly was not my intention. I was merely echoing what some other noble Lords have said—that in future the emphasis has to be on the specialist role of the territorials because we believe that that is of even greater value in current and anticipated future scenarios than that of the combat forces.
I do not know the final version of the Strategic Defence Review. It has yet to be printed. If I were to quote any numbers this evening that would be purely speculation on my part.
That covers all the points that have been made in general terms this evening. Quite understandably, we heard over and over again the same arguments. I say to 1225 your Lordships in conclusion that there are two reasons why the Benches behind me have been fairly empty. One is that my noble friends have total confidence in the way the Government are running the country and the other is that they may be thoroughly sick of the sound of my voice. I leave it to your Lordships to decide which of those is the likelier reason, but I know which I prefer. Finally, I invite the noble Baroness, Lady Park, to tell me what "good morning" is in Polish outside the Chamber after the debate.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Lord Vivian
My Lords, I do not intend to weary your Lordships very much longer. But I would like to thank all noble Lords for their high grade contributions today. In particular, I express my thanks to the Minister for his courteous reply and for the assurances that he has been able to give us, although they are not quite as many as we had hoped. I am sure that your Lordships would like me to congratulate again the two maiden speakers.
It has been an excellent debate. I end it with a request to Her Majesty's Government to ensure that, whatever action is taken with our reserve forces and cadets, they will be left with the regimental system and in a position to continue to provide the capabilities of recruiting, reinforcement and regeneration which are so critical when the regular Armed Forces are so small. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.