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Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): West Yorkshire police have recently announced that they are having to close the public help desk at several police stations, including two in my constituency at Shipley and Bingley. I am sure that the Leader of the House understands how important public access to local police stations is in reassuring people about the issue of crime. Will he show how seriously he takes the issue by agreeing to an urgent debate about public access to police stations?

Mr. Hoon: It is of course vital that the public should have access to and confidence in their local police force, which is why the Government have spent so much extra money on providing more police officers and more community support officers in every part of the country, ensuring that the police are accessible to the local community in a way that has never been possible before.

Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): The Leader of the House assured us today that he is anxious to have fairness and understanding across the community in Northern Ireland. Will he therefore find time to debate the deep offence caused by the Prime Minister in his foreign policy speech in London on 21 March, in which he referred only to the Protestant community? Does the Leader of the House not realise that the Protestant community has suffered the onslaught of IRA terrorism for the past 30 years and therefore resents being used as a political football in an international game?

Mr. Hoon: I am absolutely confident that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister did not intend any offence to any community in Northern Ireland. I know from my experience in the European Parliament, where Members from Northern Ireland are vigorous in promoting the cause of their communities, that it can sometimes unconsciously cause difficulties if references are not properly made to all of the communities in Northern Ireland. I assure the hon. Gentleman that that would be my right hon. Friend's clear intention.

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Territorial Army Rebalancing

12.19 pm

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): With permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the Territorial Army, but before I do so I shall mention the situation regarding Mr. Kember. As a Defence Minister, I am pleased to confirm the involvement of British forces in the multinational rescue operation of Norman Kember. The rescue was the result of weeks of careful work and preparation and I pay sincere tribute to the professionalism of the British armed forces. To ensure that we do not compromise future operations, it is not appropriate to go into any detail about the operation or to confirm the troops involved. However, I stress how proud I am of the achievement of those involved in the rescue, which I know will be shared throughout the House.

For many months, the TA has been consulted widely about the changes we should make better to integrate it into future Army structures, which, I remind the House, we announced in November 2004. As a result, much of what I have to say will be of no surprise to TA units. Their views, at all levels, have been sought and their input has helped to define the review outcomes. I am grateful for their comprehensive engagement in that process.I would also like to inform the House that I have written today to all Members whose constituency TA units are affected by the rebalancing, with details of the changes to those units. I am also placing details of all the changes in the Library.

The size of the Territorial Army will not be changed. It will remain at an authorised strength of 42,000, including a university officer training corps of 3,500. Within that unaltered total, the changes we introduce will reflect the modern-day role of the TA as an integral part of our defence posture.

The great change in the TA, which came about as a result of the reforms of the late 1990s, was to move it away from its cold war role. In its place, a mobilisation culture was introduced, such that members of the TA would expect in future to be mobilised and deployed on a range of operations in support of our defence policy overseas, rather than be held in reserve for defence against an attack on western Europe. Since then, the reserves generally, and the Territorial Army in particular, have made a major contribution to operations overseas—for example, we have deployed about 12,000 in Iraq since 2003. Once again, they have in a real sense earned their spurs. I pay tribute to their ability to adapt, in just a few years, to the changing and very demanding circumstances of the new century, and I publicly acknowledge their appreciable skills and courage.

The operational experience gained from extensive use of the TA has allowed us to apply lessons learned in respect of its most effective employment. First, we are assigning to the TA its proper role in the more demanding contingencies for which it might be required to deploy. Each TA unit will be given a clear role to augment the regular order of battle for large-scale operations—those on a scale similar to the campaigns in the Gulf in 1990 and in Iraq in 2003. That is the role for which the TA will train.
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Secondly, although we will structure the TA for larger-scale operations, we will continue to support individual members of the TA who want to volunteer for tours on operations of a lesser scale. Many soldiers indicate that they are very keen to deploy on such operations, and the experience they gain is invaluable. At the same time, we need to regulate the use of the TA so that unnecessary strains are not put on individual volunteers, their families or employers, so we will aim to limit the use of reserves on operations to one year in every five, unless individuals volunteer for more. Although that will be our aim, the legal position is that they can be called out once in every three years.

Thirdly, in designing our TA units, we will take account of the realities of TA service. There will always be some volunteers who are still going through their basic training, and others who for good reasons are not available for mobilisation when a particular crisis occurs. We have, therefore, made allowance in our unit structures for both a training and a mobilisation margin, so that TA units are more robustly structured to deliver the trained manpower needed for operations.

Fourthly, we will strengthen the affiliation of TA units to the regular units with which they are likely to operate, thus improving mutual understanding and operational capability. Closer affiliation to regular units for training purposes will also increase joint TA and regular training, thereby delivering more enjoyable, relevant and challenging training to the Territorial Army.

Finally, we will strengthen the support we give TA units, with about 240 permanent staff recruited to provide administration, welfare, training and employer support.

The organisational changes of TA rebalancing will include strengthening the Royal Engineer element of the TA, the establishment of which will increase by about 1,600, as well as increases to the TA yeomanry, or Royal Armoured Corps, and the Army Air Corps. The following new TA units will be formed: an Army Air Corps regiment to support the Apache attack helicopter regiments in the Regular Army, to be based in Bury St Edmunds; and a new Royal Engineer regiment—72 Engineer Regiment Volunteers—will have its headquarters in Gateshead, with a re-roled Parachute Engineer squadron in Wakefield, and will take under command squadrons in Newcastle and Sheffield. In addition, five new engineer squadrons will be raised in Kinloss, Cumbernauld, Failsworth, Northampton and Northern Ireland, as well as a new TA military intelligence battalion, which will have five companies based across England and Scotland. A military provost staff company will be formed in Colchester, which will be a new capability for the TA and will provide deployable expertise to assist and advise in the custody of detainees. A complete new transport regiment will be raised in the south-west, based in Plymouth, with squadrons in Truro, Dorchester and Poole.

As we have already announced, the TA infantry will be reduced by about 900 posts, and reorganised to form 14 TA infantry battalions as an integral part of the future infantry structure. We will now revert to the practice of naming TA battalions after the regular regiments of which they will form a part, rather than after the regions in which they are based. As fewer
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volunteers will be required as signallers, logisticians and combat medical staff, there will also be reductions in a number of other arms and services.

The changes I have outlined will happen not overnight, but over a number of years. For many volunteers, little will change at all. Those whose units are likely to change will, of course, be given every opportunity to discuss, understand and make an informed decision on their own future. The vast majority will, I am sure, continue to be active members of the TA.

Territorial Army volunteers have shown over the past century that they are extremely adaptable to the requirements of national security. The changes I have announced today will ensure that the TA continues to be a force for good in dealing with the challenges of the next century, as an integral part of our land forces. I commend them to the House.

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