Skip to main content

Armed Forces: Territorial Army

Volume 697: debated on Monday 17 December 2007

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I remind the House of my interest as a serving TA officer and apologise for changing the Question at a late point.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many direct-entry Group A Territorial Army junior officers were commissioned in each of the past five years.

My Lords, first, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in sending sincere condolences to the family and friends of Guardsman Stephen Ferguson who died last Thursday from injuries received while serving in Basra.

The number of Territorial Army Group A young officers commissioned in each year from 2003 to 2007 was: 95, 87, 39, 49 and 59, respectively.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply and for researching the Answer at disproportionate cost and short notice. The Minister could not answer my Written Questions because Ministers did not know how many TA officers were getting commissioned, so how did they know that they were getting enough?

My Lords, the Question previously asked by the noble Earl, Lord Atlee, was about commissioning targets, and we answered it. As the noble Earl acknowledged, he changed the Question very late on, and I have today sought to get all the figures for Group A and Group B. There was a particular dip in 2005, but actions have been taken to remedy that and progress is being made.

My Lords, I associate these Benches with the condolences that have been expressed. How do the Government regard the TA’s role, especially its commissioned branch, in supporting the Army in these times of conflict?

My Lords, the TA has played a very significant role in supporting and operational activities in both Afghanistan and Iraq. There have been 10 TA deaths since 2003. The role that the TA plays is extremely well-valued and its expertise is important to our armed services.

My Lords, I am glad that the Minister used the word “significant” to represent what the TA means to the Army and, indeed, to the country. I am sure that she is aware that one of the key factors in obtaining people for the TA is the important relationship with employers, so that they are prepared to release people in order to serve. That relationship has been described as a “profitable partnership”. Clearly, the very depressing numbers which the Minister has given suggest that employers are not so willing to let people go. Are the Government prepared to consider ways of encouraging employers by, for example, as was suggested some years ago, relieving them of their part of the national insurance contribution for those people they release to serve in the TA?

My Lords, I understand that two organisations are very helpful in this respect: SaBRE, which supports Britain’s reservists and employers, and the National Employer Advisory Board. As I understand it, the relationship between the Ministry of Defence and those organisations has proved very positive. We do not think that there are significant difficulties in employers putting up barriers to people undertaking their responsibilities but, obviously, it is always important that we should be open to new ideas and suggestions.

My Lords, we on these Benches also send our condolences to the family and friends of Guardsman Ferguson. My noble friend Lord Attlee is absolutely right to continue to pursue this question, particularly at a time of increasing use of the reserves. Do the Government accept that the short notice given for the mobilisation of many TA soldiers has contributed in the drop in the numbers able to make the commitment to TA service?

No, my Lords, I do not think that that is the difficulty. In fact, there are 3,084 reservists on operational duty at the moment. Overall, 14,000 Territorial Army people have been involved in operations since 2003. Those numbers are holding up; indeed, recruitment at the officer level, which is the original starting point of this Question, has improved recently.

My Lords, does the Minister not accept that the TA has always been a poor relation with regards to funds from the Ministry of Defence and that very often regular units take priority over the TA? Is it not time that we had a totally separate budget under a different department that would pay for the TA and increase its numbers as a reserve for civilian contingencies as well as military ones?

My Lords, that is not an argument that I have heard used by anybody involved in this matter or briefing me on it, but obviously I shall look into it. With regard to training, there have been attempts—and I think successful attempts—to ensure that the training given to officers in the Territorial Army units is more comparable to that given to other officers. So the comparability is actually improving.

My Lords, the Minister said that the late announcement of mobilisation was not a factor discouraging enrolment. What does she consider the factors are, and what are the Government doing to counter them?

My Lords, the low point was 2005. At that time, new training arrangements were put in place and the commandant of the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst got control of all the training. Since then, further improvements have been made in recruitment activities, including more open days, more access to information on the web and things of that kind. That might be one reason why we have seen an upturn in uptake recently.

My Lords, it seems to me that the MoD is trying very hard to solve this problem, but what more can be done to encourage parents of potential junior officers? Sometimes I think that they may be the stumbling block.

My Lords, the Command Paper that my right honourable friend the Minister for the Armed Forces is putting out, together with the work that is going on to ensure that everybody in the country is more aware of the contributions to the Armed Forces, may help in that respect.