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Mr. Ingram: I am fully conscious of that work and witnessed during the early stages of Telic 1just after the war fighting had ceasedthe role playing by TA personnel in the reopening of Umm Qasr. I also witnessed it in Afghanistan. Water engineers who were being deployed for a different purpose suddenly realised that they had specific expertise, so some remained to work on Department for International Development and non-governmental organisation projects and made a valuable contribution.
Of course, if people have a specific skill but joined the TA to serve in a different role, we cannot instruct them to use that civilian skill. They are not in the TA to use such skills, although additional benefits can be gained from them. If people serve in an infantry role in a difficult environment, they must attend to their prime duties. We are sensitive to the matter, which, as my hon. Friend highlights, is important.
Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): The Minister entitled his short statement "TA Rebalancing". Like my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), I welcome it in broad terms. However, we should note that everyone accepts that, under the 1998 strategic defence review, when the Secretary of State was Minister for the Armed Forces, the TA was cut to fund the Regular Army changesthat is a fact. I welcome the rebalancing. Will we see a scale of weapons and equipment in the new units that is equivalent to that of regular units? Given the increasing role of the TA, especially on operations, what opportunities will there be for TA officers to command units on operations?
Mr. Ingram: As ever, I bow to the historical wisdom of the hon. Gentleman. I am not going back to the SDR because I am reporting on where we are now, although I appreciate his welcome for the statement[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) is making noises off, but the numbers were halved in the 1990s. There has been a continual reshaping of the TA and we are now trying to get the best coherence.
The hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) asks about equipping the TA. If TA units are training alongside regular units, they will clearly need to have compatible equipment. They will use that equipment because they would otherwise be unable to fulfil their role. I do not expect that that will mean that TA units will have all the kit in their own establishments, but they will be able to draw upon it so that there can be effective training.
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The hon. Gentleman asked whether officers will have the capacity to take on command and leadership. Yes, up to a point. The role of commanding officers will be to ensure that they form a unit with all the capabilities. TA officers at captain and major level will have the opportunity to serve in that capacity, as they have done with distinction in recent years.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): The Government have done quite well over the past few years by ensuring that most deployments by Territorials have been formed sub-units commanded by Territorials. The Minister referred to individuals in his statement, so will he make it clear that the Government will continue to resist the demands of large elements of the Regular Army that the TA becomes a part-time personnel agency from which individuals, rather than formed sub-units, are drawn? I also thank the Minister for our meeting of a few weeks ago. I look forward to the detailed blueprint on the infantry and hope that the structure will encourage the retention, as well as recruitment, of good-quality people and, as such, look as much like a regular battalion as possible.
Mr. Ingram: I thank the hon. Gentleman for coming to see me. The meeting was part of my examination of the matter. It is good to get the experience of hon. Members such as him. I thank him for giving me a range of questions that I was able to pose to my officials.
The whole drive behind what we are doing is to ensure that the TA is integrated in the regular forces. We want to ensure that it is compatible, deliverable and able to achieve its objectives. It would thus be wholly wrong to see it as something that can be dipped in and out of. There will be training for a specific role in major operations because that is the right way of doing things. At any point in time, a third of the TA will be under training and two thirds will be trainedthat is the constant cycle that is likely to apply. As I said earlier, it is impossible to differentiate between TA personnel and regulars in the main, whether they are in the infantry or any of the other skilled trades. That reality will grow over the months and years ahead. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's fear will be realised. I do not think that that is what the Regular Army wants, and I am certain that the TA would not allow itself to be misused in such a way.
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): I welcome the news that the Minister brings about the Lerwick unit. He is right to say that it would be unacceptable for the Ministry of Defence not to have any presence in Shetland, and that view is widely held there. However, he will be aware that this is the second time in recent years when question marks have been raised over the future of the Lerwick unit. I think that that stems from the fact that there are specific recruitment challenges because of both the geography and local economic circumstances. If we are to have a strong future for the TA in Lerwick, special measures will need to be taken to entrench the unit's position. Will special consideration be given to the way in which we manage the unit?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution and the representations that he and his
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local authority have made. I knew the deep feeling in the community and understood the strength of the argument, which, in a sense, was why I did not need a meeting. However, if there had been an overriding defence argument for not proceeding with the unit, I would have done that in the interests of defence.
The hon. Gentleman is right that the unit is small. I think that it is 19 strong, with two civilian and one uniformed support personnel. It is their role to assist, but the hon. Gentleman has a role to play, too. I know that he will be only too willing to help the unit to grow in strength. I am sure that the decision will be seen as good news in his constituency, so let us play on that and encourage others.
When I said earlier that there will be re-roling, I should perhaps have better explained that we will examine that to make it more consistent with what is happening in Orkney and the rest of the structure. I can give a "might", rather than a "definite", but I see the benefit of re-roling, although we must take into account what we are recruiting for and why people are recruited. We will deal with all that sensitively.
Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): Every time the Minister makes a statement in the Chamber about the TA, it is accompanied somewhere, no matter how positive it is, by another salami slice and cut to the overall size of the TA. Today is no exception, because we read on page 3 of the statement that we are to lose 900 posts in the Territorial Army. I fully agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) that it is misleading to include members of the Officer Training Corps and the Army Air Corps in the overall figures for the reserve, so will the Minister please correct that? A new police force, or company, is being set up to deal with detainees. What type of detainees will be looked after and for how long will they be kept? Will the new company be going to Guantanamo Bay for preliminary training?
I respect the hon. Gentleman, but his last comment was silly. We are dealing with serious matters. I think that this is the first statement that I have made on the Territorial Army in which I have not announced a cut. There are no cutsthe size of the TA remains the same. We are trying to grow numbers. I accept that the TA is under strength, as is the Regular Army. It has ever been thuscertainly, it has been the case for many decades. By rebalancing numbers and trying to integrate the TA with our regular forces we will give people who serve in the TA a new future and improve recruitment. The hon. Gentleman made a point about the setting up of the military provost staff company to deal with detainees. This is an issue, no matter where we are. If we go into a hostile environment we must have a legal construct for the way in which we deal with the individuals whom we apprehend. Clearly, that will be the case in Afghanistan. It is the case in Iraq, as it is in Sierra Leone, the Balkans and elsewhere. There are different memorandums of understanding and host country arrangements, and we need people who are well trained and capable of living within that legal construct and who understand it well. It is an area to which we
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must attend, hence the reason for the proposal. Those staff will be trained to our standards, which are exceptionally high.
Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): I endorse the comments about the effectiveness of the Territorial Army, including comments by hon. Members with whom I recently visited Basra.
I welcome the Minister's statement about establishing a military provost staff company in Colchester, although I trust that that will not be followed by reductions in the signallers there. I welcome, too, the formation of the Army Air Corps regiment at Bury St. Edmunds, which will be welcomed across East Anglia. However, the Minister is rather modest, because if I have read the "Summary of Structural Change by Arm" correctly, an area medical squadron is to be established in my constituency. What numbers will be recruited, both to the military provost staff company and to the area medical squadron?
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