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Territorial Army

Volume 747: debated on Wednesday 17 July 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the planned expansion and reorganisation of the Territorial Army, whether they have plans to close any Territorial Army Centres.

My Lords, my noble friend will recall the Statement I made on 3 July, which stated that to maximise the potential for future recruitment, the Army will rationalise its presence by merging small, poorly recruited sub-units into larger sites, frequently in the same conurbation or in neighbouring communities. The overall number of Army Reserve bases will reduce from the current total of 334 to 308, a net reduction of 26 sites.

My Lords, the cadet movement, which one could say is the corn seed of our services, offers an exciting taste of service life and often provides a discipline that has not been part of young people’s lives. There are many alternative attractions on their doorstep. Does the Minister agree that it is vital that the cadet detachments are situated locally? Many of those detachments at present are situated within the existing territorial centres. Given the recently announced closure of some TA centres, can the Minister confirm that there will be no loss of cadet locations in the short and long term?

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. Defence has well established, challenging and vibrant cadet programmes with very high reputations, which will continue to be fully supported. Cadet units provide an important link with local communities. Where cadets are co-located on a site for which there is no longer a defence requirement, I can confirm that we will pursue reprovision of the facilities for the cadets to ensure that a local cadet presence is maintained.

My Lords, on two occasions recently the Minister has declined to give an undertaking that the size of the regular Army will not be reduced to 82,000, as intended, unless the size of the trained Army Reserve has been increased to 30,000, as intended. Since it would be a serious failure of government responsibility if the implications of this possibility had not been considered, will he spell out what the impact would be on the capability of our Army if the size of the regular Army were reduced to 82,000 but the size of the trained Army Reserve had increased to only 25,000 or even fewer, not to the 30,000 intended?

My Lords, we intend to maintain an appropriate force level to meet our planning assumptions. We will continue closely to manage the growth in the reserves and the reduction in regular numbers. These numbers will be kept under continuous review as we move beyond the end of operations in Afghanistan. Mitigation strategies are in place to ensure that we can take early action to maintain an appropriate force level. These include innovative recruiting campaigns and measures to improve retention.

My Lords, if any TA centres currently owned and administered by regional RFCAs are closed and subsequently sold, can the Minister assure us that the proceeds of these sales will be retained by the local RFCAs, thus enabling them to improve their remaining stock?

My Lords, 38 sites are no longer required for defence forces, of which 35 have been vacated by the Army. This does not necessarily assume that every surplus site will eventually become a disposal. The future of each vacated site will be taken forward on a value-for-money basis in consultation with the interests of the local communities involved. If the site is owned by the MoD, once vacated it will be handed over to the Defence Infrastructure Organisation and offered to other government departments. If no other use is found, it will be disposed of.

My Lords, will the Minister give us a little more information about the nature of the local centres of recruitment for this new territorial reserve? Unless you can get to them easily, the idea that people will become a part of it voluntarily will be damaged.

My noble friend makes a good point. Working with local communities is vital. We are very grateful for the support that reservists and, indeed, regulars receive from their local communities, and we hope that this will continue. While we are vacating a small number of sites, we will retain more than 300 locations across the UK where individuals can undertake service in the Army Reserve.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a former member of the Territorial Army. I know that that surprises some people opposite. I may be a bit simple, but could the Minister explain the logic, when the Government are seeking to increase the number of members of the Territorial Army, of closing TA centres?

My Lords, I am not at all surprised that the noble Lord was in the Territorial Army. He has that military demeanour, and cut a fine dash when he came into the Ministry of Defence the other day. We need to expand the Army Reserve to reflect the future liability of 30,000 trained reservists. To deliver that, the supporting structure needs to be changed. We are confident that the Army Reserve will continue to demonstrate its ability to adapt to new requirements.

My Lords, there are seven sites in Scotland where there is no longer a requirement for Army Reserve basing as a result of structural change. These are Wick, Bothwell House in Dunfermline, Sandbank, Keith, Kirkcaldy, Carmunnock Road in Glasgow and McDonald Road in Edinburgh. One site, Redford cavalry barracks in Edinburgh, will be reopened.

My Lords, how are the Government to expand the provision of officer training courses in groups of universities?

My Lords, I am not briefed on officers at universities but I think that the answer is yes; we want to continue that and grow it because it is an important source of officers for the reserves.