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Volume 172: debated on Tuesday 15 May 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many infantry battalions, both Regular and Territorial Army, are in existence at present; and if he will estimate the number of infantry battalions in 1995.

At present, there are 55 Regular and 41 Territorial Army infantry battalions in the British Army. The total number of battalions in 1995 will depend on the circumstances at the time. However, we recognise that the changing circumstances in Europe will have implications for the deployment and structure of our forces and we are therefore examining options for change.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, as the next five years will show, the defence of the realm in the near future is more likely to depend on soldiers on the ground than on the intercontinental ballistic missile? Will he undertake to preserve the county infantry regiment with its territorial battalion as the logical military bobby on the beat which we are likely to need in the face of increased urban terrorism?

I accept my hon. Friend's view that we shall continue to need the capability to meet the terrorist threat in Northern Ireland, and that that capability will continue. However, we are now moving into a period when arms control agreements are likely to be signed and I cannot anticipate what the effects of those will be on the size and shape of the British Army.

If a major in an infantry battalion were to get into any kind of dismissal or resignation difficulty, would his case be confined, like paragraph 19A of the report on Colin Wallace's case in relation to his statement, to a very few senior officials? Would that be the position?

I cannot comment on what parallels can be drawn between the question and Colin Wallace.

When my hon. Friend is considering the future and number of infantry battalions, will he consider all the ways in which he can enhance the strength and quality of the volunteer reserves and Territorial Army? Will he continue to emphasise the importance of links between infantry battalions and their local area, county, and so on?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We are well aware of the importance of links between infantry battalions and various parts of the country. If there are changes, there is no doubt in my mind that the role of the Territorial Army and the volunteer reserves will become more important—in terms of reinforcement plans in Germany, for example.