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Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk, West): Does not the fact that the hon. Gentleman is both a serving member of the TA, so presumably he has lobbied in that capacity, and here debating Government policy on the TA give rise to some inconsistency with his comments some years ago of which I have some recollection?
Mr. Swayne: No. I suffer no discomfort at all. The TA is familiar with its role in homeland defence. Although the larger part of the TA was tasked to reinforce the British Army of the Rhine during the Soviet threat, a distinct and significant element of the TA was tasked with home defence to counter the threat of Soviet special forces attacking key points and of assassinations and to keep main supply routes open. So the TA is already familiar with this role and I am absolutely sure that it will have no difficulty carrying it out. My only concern is that the TA also has other roles to which I shall return in a moment.
That begs the enormous question of whether manpower will be forthcoming to sustain that important new order of battle. Those additional resources can come from one of two places. First, we could start to scrap cap badges and amalgamate regiments. However, I am certain that there is no appetite on either side of the House for that approach, because it kills off the goose that lays the golden eggthe very core of our regimental system. Secondlythis is what the Army believesthe additional resources can come, in time of war, from the Territorial Army. After all, that is not dissimilar from the TA's traditional role of filling out the British Army of the Rhine's order of battle.
However, if the TA is earmarked for homeland defence it will be difficult to sustain that new order of battle for the infantry in addition to the existing requirement on the TA to fill the gaps in the regular Army by providing what I described in last week's Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall as the 3,000 or so "serial mobilisers" who constantly go from one mobilisation to another to sustain the regular Army. The whole concept of homeland defenceor home defence, as we used to call itraises serious questions about the proper establishment of the reserves.
We were wholly opposed to the cuts in the TA. That is not a party political point, because several Labour Members, not least some of those who serve on the Select Committee, have a distinguished record in that battle. The TA suffered significant damage as a consequence of the strategic defence review. If the Government are to make use of the asset of the TA in the way that the document describes, that damage will require substantial repair. It is evident in the problem of undermanning, in the dearth of junior officers and in the fact that short courses are 40 per cent. undersubscribed. Potential officers are turning up at the Royal Military college, Sandhurst untrained by their battalions, with the result that the course has to be changed from a testing course into a teaching course. One course per year has to be cancelled owing to the shortage.
The debate on the use of the reserves must go beyond the TA. For example, we could consider using the Royal Auxiliary Air Force to provide strike flying formations. That would be comparable with the way in which the National Guard operates in the United States.
Flexibility is vital, but I want to sound a note of caution. The axesI use the plural advisedlyof evil in the world, be they rogue states, failed states, or whatever, have plenty of conventional armaments. There are 255,000 tanks out there, only 386 of which are ours. The Soviets alone exported some 80,000 T72 tanks. Twenty-nine countries have more than 2,000 tanks; we would be 45th in any league. There must be a balance between firepower, protection and mobility. Given the current state of technology, that balance comes out at about 70 tonnes.
Mr. Swayne: The hon. Gentleman will recall that it is not long since this country was at war with Iraq, which has many tanks. We might find ourselves in conflict with failed states not entirely dissimilar to Afghanistan as part of the war against terrorism. Infantry set against their armour without our own armoured support would take enormous casualties. One day, we will develop technology that can replace the tank, but not yet. I suspect that when we have it, it will be fiendishly expensive.
Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent): Few individual pieces of military equipment are of any use in a terrorist attackthat is why such attacks are so dangerous. Individual pieces of military equipment are used when we carry out our response.
Mr. Swayne: My hon. Friend's point is well made. It is not only a question of high-intensity war fightingwe have found armour to be extremely useful in peacekeeping operations in the Balkans. I am sure that Ministers will confirm that.
I want to move on to an area of defence policy on which I am tempted to congratulate the Government almost unreservedly. [Interruption.] Wait for it. The position that they appear to be taking up as regards ballistic missile defence suggests that they have taken a quantum leap. Only two years ago, speaking on "Newsnight", the Minister for Europe said:
Another item on which I am not so sanguine about the Government's stancealthough I share the Secretary of State's preoccupation with itis the European security and defence policy. The Secretary of State made it clear in November 2000 that that was all about capability. In December 2000, the Nice conclusions stated that