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Territorial Army

Volume 713: debated on Thursday 29 October 2009


Tabled By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what will be the consequences for Her Majesty’s Armed Forces of the reduction in training of the Territorial Army.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as an honorary colonel of a TA regiment.

My Lords, first, I know that the whole House will wish to join me in offering our sincere condolences to the family and friends of Corporal James Oakland from the Royal Military Police, who was killed on operations in Afghanistan last week, and Corporal Thomas Mason of The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, who succumbed to his injuries at the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine, Selly Oak on Sunday.

On the Question, as the Secretary of State for Defence announced in another place yesterday, £20 million has been found by the Treasury to ensure that routine training for TA members can continue. The Government have consistently made it clear that all Territorial Army members deploying on operations will get the full training that the Army considers appropriate and necessary.

My Lords, we on these Benches also send our condolences to the family and friends of Corporals Oakland and Mason.

Turning to the Question on the TA, we obviously welcome the government U-turn. There is no way that the Regular Army could continue the war in Afghanistan without the TA. Does the Minister agree that the original decision to suspend training was a shocking error of judgment? What signal did Ministers think it would send out to serving and future TA recruits, to employers of territorials, and, crucially, to the Taliban?

My Lords, I happily acknowledge the expertise that the noble Lord has—and, indeed, that other noble Lords in this House have—in the Territorial Army. I know that there is a great deal of experience here. He asks what led to the decision. In part it was the improved recruitment to the Regular Army, which is more than 1,000 up on last year. Land Forces decided that, because of those pressures, this was something that they would look at. They made recommendations up to Ministers, but Ministers of course accept the responsibility for the decisions that were made.

The TA has played a very significant role in Afghanistan: 540 TA members are deployed there at the moment, and we have had over 15,000 deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003. So there is no doubt about the contribution that has been made. I think it important to remember that, in all of those discussions, it was made absolutely clear that no one who was going to be deployed would have other than the full training that they needed prior to deployment.

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that many of the men and women gazing down upon her now from up above us are officers—battle-tried officers—of Her Majesty’s Army? Is it not a fact that they are most welcome in your Lordships’ House today? I am sure they will be most interested in the Minister’s answers.

My Lords, this is a very good opportunity to reiterate the appreciation of the whole House for all of those who serve in the Territorial Army, and indeed for all of our reservists. Earlier this week I had the pleasure of meeting some of the employers who have been mentioned, and who are extremely important in making sure that this system that we have is so successful. The last week has had some unintended benefits, one of which has been an opportunity for everybody to express their appreciation of the TA.

My Lords, may I first enjoin these Benches in the earlier tribute? The very embarrassing U-turn by the Government on the TA seemingly came about as a result of a phone call from John Reid to the Prime Minister. As a former Government Chief Whip in the other place, what would the noble Baroness say now to John Reid for humiliating Defence Ministers in this way?

My Lords, I, too, welcome the noble Baroness’s response on training. One of the concerns among the territorial service personnel in my diocese is how many of them return to work after a very considerable commitment in the field. What provision is made in training to enable those personnel to return in a way that enables the fullness of their lives to be taken up appropriately?

My Lords, that is an extremely important point and one which was, in a way, touched on in the reserves review earlier this year. It is important that those who are in the TA have all the benefits of all of the support mechanisms that we now know are necessary for all of those who serve in the Armed Forces. Whether the people who have served come back well or have been injured, or their families need support, or mental health problems arise later, we have learnt a great deal in recent years about how to improve the service that we give to our personnel. The TA, and indeed all reservists, should have the same entitlements. We endeavour to make sure that that is the case.

My Lords, the TA is but one element of the Reserve Forces. The Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, in particular the Royal Air Force Regiment, field personnel in the operational theatres and now in Afghanistan. Can the Minister assure the House that there is no reduction in the training funds made available to these two forces?

My Lords, this difficulty came about, as I mentioned earlier, because of the increase in recruitment to the Army. That is why it was Land Forces that made the original suggestion. It does not affect the other services.

My Lords, the whole House will doubtless recognise the crucial significance and usefulness of the TA and its counterparts in other parts of the Armed Forces. Does my noble friend recognise that it is passing strange that when a Government heed advice and change policy, it is a humiliating climb-down, but when they fail to do so they are being stiff-necked and arrogant? Could my noble friend, with all her experience, refer us to the oracle of immaculate judgment that appears to advise the Opposition Front Bench?

My Lords, I fear that some things are beyond me. I think that we should all be somewhat cautious in the statements that are made. After all, those who are calling for no cuts anywhere are very often the same people who are not proposing any increase in defence spending whatever. As for the Territorial Army, it was the party opposite which reduced numbers from 90,000 to 60,000.

My Lords, all Ministers in the department share collective responsibility and acknowledge responsibility for the decisions that were made.