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Armed Forces Deployment (Gulf)

Volume 400: debated on Monday 3 March 2003

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6.

If he will make a statement on the role of the Territorial Army in the deployment of forces to Iraq. [99852]

The Territorial Army provides individuals for specific roles in our armed forces and also some specialist units in areas such as logistics, signals, medicine and engineering. My hon. Friend will appreciate that I cannot discuss the specific details of our military planning and of the possible roles that might be undertaken by individuals or units in the event of military action against Iraq.

I pay tribute to the vital role that the men and women of all the reserve forces play in the defence of this country and in serving our interests with such dedication and skill.

Many of my constituents believe that the case for war against Iraq is yet unproven, and that is why I voted accordingly last week. Can he assure me that, if members of the Territorial Army are deployed in Iraq, that will be done with the further endorsement of the United Nations?

If my hon. Friend had listened carefully to the debate last week, he would have found that that was the position of the British Government. I certainly have nothing to add to that.

The Government have already acknowledged that the review that they carried out of the Territorial Army was not necessarily entirely wise. Will Ministers now consider the fact that, by stripping the Territorial Army of most of its combat areas, they have lost most of the surge capability that enables a small professional army to expand? Are the Government willing to consider the lessons after this conflict—we hope that it will be over quickly and soon—as to whether we need a larger reserve capability so that we can expand our very fine but very small professional Army if we face a major threat again?

The hon. Gentleman's interest in this issue is well known. Defence planning assumptions are merely that—assumptions. Clearly, if the facts change, the assumptions will change with them. However, he is wrong. Surge capability has increased, and not decreased, as a result of our refocusing defence forces. Having large numbers of ill-trained and ill-equipped units was not the way in which to operate our reserve forces. They now operate much more closely to our front-line troops, as is seen by the number of people who we are calling up and who are ready to serve in Iraq.

What contribution has been made by the new Territorial Army medical training establishment at Strensall near York? In particular, what contribution will be made by medical members of the reserve forces, and will they be equipped to deal with casualties, both military and civilian, of chemical and biological weapons, should the need arise?

The new set-up is proving very successful. Reserves have to be well prepared for the roles that they may have to play, and that preparation is much more effective than it was at the time of the last Gulf conflict. Units will play a major part, and I can tell my hon. Friend that they have received the training and equipment that they need to discharge their duties effectively.