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3 Mar 2003 : Column 572—continued

Armed Forces Deployment (Gulf)

6. Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth): If he will make a statement on the role of the Territorial Army in the deployment of forces to Iraq. [99852]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie): The Territorial Army provides individuals for specific roles in our armed forces and also some specialist units in areas such as logistics, signals, medicine and engineering. My hon. Friend will appreciate that I cannot discuss the specific details of our military planning and of the possible roles that might be undertaken by individuals or units in the event of military action against Iraq.

I pay tribute to the vital role that the men and women of all the reserve forces play in the defence of this country and in serving our interests with such dedication and skill.

Mr. Edwards : Many of my constituents believe that the case for war against Iraq is yet unproven, and that is why I voted accordingly last week. Can he assure me that, if members of the Territorial Army are deployed in Iraq, that will be done with the further endorsement of the United Nations?

Dr. Moonie: If my hon. Friend had listened carefully to the debate last week, he would have found that that was the position of the British Government. I certainly have nothing to add to that.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): The Government have already acknowledged that the review that they carried out of the Territorial Army was not necessarily entirely wise. Will Ministers now consider the fact that, by stripping the Territorial Army of most of its combat areas, they have lost most of the surge capability that enables a small professional army to expand? Are the Government willing to consider the lessons after this conflict—we hope that it will be over quickly and soon—as to whether we need a larger reserve capability so that we can expand our very fine but very small professional Army if we face a major threat again?

Dr. Moonie: The hon. Gentleman's interest in this issue is well known. Defence planning assumptions are merely that—assumptions. Clearly, if the facts change, the assumptions will change with them. However, he is wrong. Surge capability has increased, and not decreased, as a result of our refocusing defence forces. Having large numbers of ill-trained and ill-equipped units was not the way in which to operate our reserve forces. They now operate much more closely to our front-line troops, as is seen by the number of people who we are calling up and who are ready to serve in Iraq.

Hugh Bayley (City of York): What contribution has been made by the new Territorial Army medical training establishment at Strensall near York? In particular,

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what contribution will be made by medical members of the reserve forces, and will they be equipped to deal with casualties, both military and civilian, of chemical and biological weapons, should the need arise?

Dr. Moonie: The new set-up is proving very successful. Reserves have to be well prepared for the roles that they may have to play, and that preparation is much more effective than it was at the time of the last Gulf conflict. Units will play a major part, and I can tell my hon. Friend that they have received the training and equipment that they need to discharge their duties effectively.

Armed Forces Deployment (Gulf)

7. Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): How many reservists have been called up to participate in Operation Telic. [99853]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie): As the Secretary of State for Defence announced in a written ministerial statement on 30 January, it is our intention to serve enough call-out notices to secure a total of around 6,000 reservists to support Operation Telic. As at 25 February, 7,804 call-out notices had been issued and 3,316 reservists had been accepted into service.

Mr. Leigh : It is becoming increasingly clear that a great deal of planning is going on in Washington, if not in London, for changing the regime in Baghdad and running Iraq after a successful war. The commitment on behalf of our Army and our reservists may be very long term. What discussions have military authorities had with Territorial and reserve forces about the time commitment that they may have to make to this operation? How many reservists have applied for exemption from service?

Dr. Moonie: Up to now, roughly 15 per cent. of those called up have applied for deferment of one sort or another. Clearly, the numbers that we call out reflect the need to secure the numbers that we require in service, so we call out many more than will be ultimately needed. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the procedure is going well.

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe): As my hon. Friend will know, one of the changes made in recent years was to establish a national reserve mobilisation centre at Chetwynd barracks in my constituency. Will he pay tribute to the staff working on that complex operation, and is he satisfied with their work so far?

Dr. Moonie: Yes, I certainly pay tribute to the dedication of the staff. The mustering centre at Chilwell is operating very well; staff are putting in long hours to carry out an enormous amount of work to ensure that reservists are properly equipped, briefed and prepared for any role that they may have.

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Armed Forces Recruitment

8. Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry): If he will make a statement on recruitment to the armed forces since January. [99854]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie): Audited recruitment figures since 1 January 2003 are not yet available. However, armed forces recruitment is progressing well, and the early indications are that the level of interest being shown by young people in pursuing an armed forces career reflects no discernible difference when compared to the same period last year.

Mr. Boswell : Is it not odd that at this of all times, and when recruitment shows encouraging signs of increasing, Soldier magazine has confirmed the fears of many of us that some recruits

Are the Department's finances so dire that such deferment has to take place, and do not the Minister and his colleagues appreciate that invaluable training momentum is being thrown away?

Dr. Moonie: No, it is not. As a former Minister, the hon. Gentleman will know that Departments always make certain planning assumptions for the year. To ensure that the training pipeline is able to cope with the number of recruits, some training periods are being deferred from March to April or May, which hardly amounts to much in the great scheme of things. I should have thought that it would be a matter of joy, rather than condemnation, in the House that recruitment levels are exceeding expectations.

Mr. Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow): Is the Minister aware that since 1997 recruitment to the armed forces in south Tyneside has more than halved? Does he have any observations on that dramatic decline? More importantly, what measures does he intend to introduce to make recruitment to the armed forces more attractive to young people?

Dr. Moonie: I should like to say that it is a tribute to the Government's economic policies that job opportunities in the north-east of England are looking up. Without appearing facetious, however, I am concerned when areas show a diminution in recruitment. I will consider that with those responsible to see what can be done to improve the situation.

Angus Robertson (Moray): I am sure that the Minister would agree that an important part of the appeal of the recruitment package is the armed forces pension scheme. Will he take the opportunity to quash rumours expressed to the Commander-in-Chief of Strike Command at RAF Lossiemouth last week that under Government plans, any length of service that terminates

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before an individual reaches 55 would result in a deferred pension to a new public sector retirement age of 65?

Dr. Moonie: Until the report is received and published, I cannot give that confirmation. However, those who complete their service, according to the rules, will suffer no deferment of their pension.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East): Is the Minister on target for the recruitment of more black and Asian people into the armed forces? Is he as concerned as I am about the number of claims of racial discrimination that have been made against the armed forces? If he is, what practical steps are he and his colleagues taking to ensure that racism is eradicated from our armed services?

Dr. Moonie: We show zero tolerance to racism in the armed forces. The figures have increased dramatically over the past year, which shows that our policies on the recruitment of ethnic minorities are paying off and that those within our ethnic minorities are beginning to realise that they have nothing to fear from racism in the armed forces.

Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford): Given the evident problems with recruitment and manpower generally, why does the Ministry of Defence believe that our armed forces should be 4,000 fewer in personnel now than just two years ago?

Dr. Moonie: As I think I explained in an earlier answer, defence planning assumptions are not set in stone and vary according to the requirements that the armed forces tell us about. We are not the experts in that; they are. If the experts whom we employ, and our service personnel in particular, tell us what the requirements are, naturally we pay heed to them. What on earth would the hon. Gentleman do in the same circumstances?

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