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8.46 pm

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mrs. Gilroy). I congratulate her on her maiden speech, and on her obvious commitment to her constituency and her work here. I thank her for her kind remarks about her predecessor, who, I think, was popular throughout the House.

It is, perhaps, sobering to think that, if it was in the hon. Lady's constituency that the fleet was launched to deal with the armada, it was just north of the coastline of my constituency that the Royal Navy was humiliated a century later, when one of the bravest fleets that we have ever sent went to fight the Dutch in rotting warships almost without ammunition. Reference has been made to an article opposing the Eurofighter; we should think about how nearly we experienced a repetition of that half a century ago, when, in the skies above Kent and Essex, our gallant pilots flew the Spitfires and Hurricanes that they had received, with barely days to spare in the case of some squadrons.

I share the concern that my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) expressed about the £170 million that has been removed from the defence budget. The Secretary of State has assured us that it is just an accounting change resulting from an overspend in the previous year, but, be that as it may, many Conservative Members will watch carefully what happens to the defence budget.

I want briefly to consider the nature of the threat that we may be facing, and then suggest a method by which we could secure substantially more value for money from our armed forces, splendid as they are. Arguably, the three most serious contests in which we have been involved

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since 1945 are the Korean war, the Falklands war and the Gulf war. They have a number of characteristics in common. First, they all blew up at extremely short notice, with no proper warning. Secondly, each of them breached the defence planning assumptions of the time. Thirdly, in the case of Korea, conscription was available and, indeed, in use; and, in the case of the two subsequent conflicts, we were able to cannibalise the substantial slack in the system that existed because of the commitment to cold war regular forces, which have been substantially reduced since. Finally, each of those wars involved substantial-scale deployment of forces in high-intensity conflict.

The feeling in Foreign Office circles, in academic circles and even in some defence circles seems to be that we will have considerable warning of the next conflict in which we get involved. It has even been suggested by some of the people whose names appear on the list of participants at the various seminars that the Ministry of Defence is holding that we shall have a choice as to whether we participate and on what scale.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) outlined some chilling scenarios. The idea that we would have a choice as to whether to participate if there were a substantial nuclear or high-intensity conventional threat either in the Gulf area, where most of the world's oil comes from, or in parts of the middle east and north Africa, which are much closer to western Europe, is completely wrong. We would have no choice: we would have to participate, because of our vital interests. We would need highly capable, large-scale and sustainable armed forces.

How can we square the circle? As hon. Members have acknowledged, our spending, like that of most of our allies, is much smaller than it used to be. How do we maintain a wide range of capabilities within a necessarily constrained defence budget, even if some of us would like it to be a little larger? Most other countries take one of two routes: either they have conscription, which France is now rightly moving away from, or, as in almost every other country in the developed world, they make much greater use of reserves. In the case of ground forces, reserves are typically one fifth of the cost of their regular counterparts.

Let me give the example of land forces. I am conscious of the fact that a distinguished ex-volunteer, the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis), is sitting in front of me, and a former territorial officer, my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers), and a serving territorial officer, my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne), are sitting next to me. In America, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, the reserve army is roughly the same size as the regular army. Britain's reserve forces are less than half the size of their regular counterparts. The combined populations of Australia and New Zealand are barely a third of ours, but they can raise almost as many reserve infantry as we can.

I have a splendid Territorial Army infantry unit headquarters in my constituency: the 5th Battalion of the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment. It took a full-strength battalion to camp: in fact, it had more than one camp this year. It is unbelievable that anyone could even contemplate cutting our reserve forces, particularly our reserve infantry, even further.

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We should also consider our air forces. Most of us want to be able to afford the expensive aeroplanes that we need. In America, a third of all strategic airlift capability--this subject has come up several times in the debate--two thirds of all tactical airlift capability and 100 per cent. of the strategic interceptor force are manned by volunteers. Britain is full of flying organisations, from the airlines at the top end of the spectrum to the organisations that service North sea oil rigs. We are just beginning to toy with the idea of having a few individual air volunteer reservists as flying crew on modern jets. The experience in America is that there is better value for money and lower wastage if people are in formed units rather than in pools. That applies even more strongly to the army. High- calibre people do not want to be part of a manpower pool: they do not want to be trained in individual skills, but they want to be part of a unit that trains as a unit or as part of a larger formation.

When we compare Britain, which tries to run a set-up that is four-fifths regular, with other English-speaking countries that make much greater use of reserves, we realise why we are so desperately short of money for equipment. There is something faintly funny about the fact that civilians who join volunteer forces as children of their own era and who are used to dealing with high technology are often presented with military technology that is a generation older than the technology with which they are familiar in civilian life. They are all too often told by patronising voices from the Ministry of Defence that the technology is too complicated for reservists to use.

The Americans sent 90,000 volunteer reservists to the Gulf. [Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) wants to enlighten us. He does not want to say anything. Fair enough.

The Americans sent 90,000 volunteer reservists to the Gulf. They included an artillery brigade, tank battalions from their marine reserves and air guard fighter squadrons. They are currently sending reserve units through Bosnia, including air guard and national guard units. Britain has sent many hundreds of volunteer reservists: at one point, they were 10 per cent. of the force. A regular commanding officer quoted by Field Marshal Lord Bramall said:

Perhaps he should have said "woman" as well, because there are a number of women in our force in Bosnia--

    "they are enthusiastic, cheerful and willing."

We hear from the press and through direct contacts that our volunteer reserves in active service frequently spend months either with the wrong pay or even no pay in one or two cases. There have been muddles over their documentation, there has been a failure to liaise properly with their employers, and they often have family problems that are much more easily solved in the regular forces where we have our married quarter patches. Mobilisation should be organised by reservists, because they are familiar with the problems of people who have a full-time civilian as well as a military job.

That brings me to a wider point. The successful and imaginative use of reserves--finding new jobs that reservists could do at less expense than their regular

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counterparts--requires a set-up that goes with the grain of the civilian world and brings in the volunteer spirit. It is like the difference between the BBC, a public service of which we are extremely proud, and my favourite commercial radio station, Classic FM. They have a different ethos: Classic FM would not be the organisation it is if all its senior producers were provided by the BBC.

Alone among English-speaking countries, Britain has insisted that every general since 1945 with reservist responsibilities should be a regular who is parachuted into the job. I shall quote from a debate that took place in the House 90 years ago. Sir Charles Dilke quoted a letter in The Times from a colleague who said:

Sir Charles went on:

    "The language used is, perhaps, too highly coloured, but the fact is that the Regular soldier has never understood the Volunteer, and it is accordingly urged that steps should be taken to prevent the Volunteer from being put under the Regular Army, bound hand and foot."

We have recently done that with the "one Army" concept.

    "I think the Volunteers ought to be represented on the Army Council itself."--[Official Report, 9 April 1907; Vol. 172, c. 115.]

Coincidentally, 90 years later Congress is debating a measure to put the head of the national guard on the chiefs of staff. The Senate has already passed the measure. I do not propose that we should put the head of the Territorial Army on to the chiefs of staff, but Australia, which has only 17 million people, has three part-time generals. It is ridiculous that Britain does not even have one. As an Australian paper recently stated, a country cannot expect to retain good-quality officers in the reserve forces if they have no opportunity to occupy senior positions. There has been a small step with the appointment next month of the first ever volunteer reservist as director of reservists. However, the appointment is at only one-star level.

America, Canada, New Zealand and Australia have reserve forces wastage rates of about 20 per cent. Our wastage rate is one half higher than that at about 30 per cent. Some of the initiatives in those countries go with the grain of civilian life. They have long officer courses that are tailored to university vacations. In Canada and Australia, reports are prepared for employers on the value of volunteer service to individual soldiers. Family support operations have been established in the national guard in many southern states, run by volunteers and not state funded.

Britain can do great things with its reserve forces. In the second world war, two of the three battalions that held Calais when the British Army was in terrible straits at Dunkirk were TA battalions. In a recent Swiss commando raid competition the 10 Para teams finished top worldwide of all the non-Swiss reserve teams, beating three of the four regular teams. We can do it and elements of the TA are showing what can be done now. If in an uncertain world with an uncertain threat Ministers wish to make our limited defence resources go further, they must begin to take advice from senior reservists rather than just from people inside the white building about imaginative ways in which volunteer reserve units can be given a greater role in all three services.

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