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Mr. Kevan Jones: Will the hon. Gentleman give this Labour Government some credit? Before the compensation scheme was introduced, no lump sum payments were made to members of the armed forces; it was a Labour Government who brought that in.
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When I discussed it, along with other members of the Select Committee and members of the Public Bill Committee, at no time did Conservative Front Benchers bring up any of the points on which they seem now to have had foresight whereby they knew that it was wrong all along.

Mr. Brazier: That is not what I am saying—and the hon. Gentleman knows it. I served on the Committee, too, and the total package of remuneration, pension and compensation embodied in the Bill was cash limited. It took no account of the fact that there would be fewer pensions in future because the armed forces are getting smaller, but it did take account of the fact that people were living longer. The overall value across all service personnel was actually lower. However, I am not going any further with the actuarial calculations at the moment.

The second example on the covenant issue, much discussed in our debates and touched on again today, is the overwhelming feeling in the military that we should have a military designated ward—not just a military managed one—at Birmingham Selly Oak. No one would suggest that, in a massive accident or a crisis, those beds should always be refused to civilians, but it cannot be right for a young Royal Marine with fearful injuries from Afghanistan who has been moved back there from the field hospital to wake up and find himself between two elderly ladies, who ask him, “What has happened to you, lad?”, and for him to end up saying that he has had an accident at work. That is just one example.

The wider issue of the military covenant, floated by Sir Richard Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff, should be thought about hard, and I welcome, as have other Members, the Royal British Legion’s campaign to focus on it. We have to ask ourselves why we do not have homecoming parades in very many places when our soldiers return from Iraq or Afghanistan. Although it is a factor that action in those theatres does not command overwhelming public support—indeed, in the case of Iraq, it is positively unpopular—that is not the only factor.

In Canterbury, we are proud of being garrison city for the 5th Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland—the Argylls, as we still think of them—and of being the headquarters of the 3rd Battalion the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment. We are unusual, however. The Army is getting smaller, and it is increasingly concentrating on a few so-called super-bases. Just last month, I visited Catterick. It has an enormous military contingent, with very few civilians living in the immediate area. The Air Force has bases such as Lossiemouth and Kinloss, whose local civilian community is again extremely small. For the vast majority of people living in Britain, immediate contact with the regular forces is absolutely minimal.

I can, however, provide an excellent example of a homecoming parade, as reported in The Daily Telegraph yesterday:

who had been placed under the command of the TA company.

If we look across the Atlantic at the National Guard in America, we see that every state has deployed units—not stray individuals—to Iraq, usually as parts of whole brigades. I heard all about the fantastic welcome when the Louisiana brigade returned to the state, despite its having being away during Hurricane Katrina. The TA is tiny in relation to the regular Army—the volunteer reserves in America, the National Guard and the US Army Reserve, are bigger than their regular counterparts—and as a result, our regular forces are in danger of slipping into cultural isolation.

Much of the debate has turned on the mismatch between resources and tasks, but I put it to the House that, in looking at the future shape of our armed forces as a whole, there are three good reasons why we need greater civilian involvement in defence. The first is the one that I have just mentioned, namely that otherwise our regular military forces will become more and more isolated from the civilian community, which is rapidly happening.

The second reason is cost. In America, where 55 per cent. of ground forces are volunteer reservists, there is obviously a big difference in cost from the comparable figure of less than 30 per cent. in Britain. The proportions are also very different in the Navy and the Air Force. I shall not speak about the Navy today because our all-party reserve forces group has just started a study of the maritime reserves.

We can see some really striking statistics if we look at the Air Force. It costs £4 million to train a fast jet fighter pilot. When such a pilot leaves the RAF in Britain, that money is completely lost to the taxpayer. In America, such a pilot can go and join the Air Guard, which provides a third of all the fast jet fighter squadrons in the country. Because its pilots are overwhelmingly ex-regular, the training cost is minimal.

In other areas of the American air forces, the figures are even more striking. Most of its supporting functions are provided by part-timers, who mainly fly for a living. They are extremely experienced pilots who provide a very effective back-up for the front-line aspects of the air force. Some of the Air Guard’s equipment is even cheaper.

My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton) referred to the merits of slow-flying ground-attack aircraft. The A10—or Warthog, as it is nicknamed—costs about 10 per cent. of the price of a Eurofighter, but with its titanium case around the engine and the protection that it provides for the pilot, it is immensely resilient to anti-aircraft fire and, because it can loiter, it is very effective in a ground attack.

Mr. Hoyle: But we have to remember that our aircraft industry is a world leader. What we should not be doing—there is great danger in doing it—is buying off the shelf, which might take away our capability of producing aircraft. That would be a major retrograde
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step, which I hope the hon. Gentleman would think carefully about before seeking enhancement through buying American products.

Mr. Brazier: I agree completely, but the fact remains that nobody—including the Conservative and Labour Governments of the past 40 years—has ever asked our aircraft industry to produce a cheap, durable ground-attack aircraft. What we are getting for the second time round is an aircraft that is very expensive, highly specified and, in the case of Eurofighter, principally designed for air combat, at which it is arguably the best in the world. It is not designed for ground attack.

One more example from the Air Force is the air tanker programme. I have been struggling to find the latest estimate of the private finance initiative cost. Two years ago, the figure was £11 billion, but I have since seen a forecast of £13 billion. Let us be clear what we are talking about: air tankering is a very important function that, in essence, involves converted airliners. A degree of skill is necessary, specifically in practising the tankering function, but the people involved have a skill base that is otherwise the same as that of an airline pilot.

We are talking about expensively converting airliners that can be used to carry troops, but an awful lot of air tankering is needed at some times but not at others. There must be a cheaper way of arranging air tankering, so that we use, as the Americans do, reserve pilots—experienced airline pilots who fly for a living anyway—and consider a cheaper aircraft option, so that the aircraft do not sit about and are used either for air tankering or for air transport. We have overstretch in air transport at the moment, but that is not always the case. The Americans have the capability, which we do not have, to pull much more capacity on stream at relatively low cost.

That brings me to the Territorial Army and the report prepared by our little all-party group. We had terrific support from the MOD, which agreed to provide us with all the information that we wanted. The Minister’s predecessor, the right hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr. Ingram) came to speak to us. We subsequently received from the Minister for the Armed Forces, the right hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), whom I am glad to see in his place, a very courteous and detailed reply to our report. However, it was a little disappointing that very few of the ideas that we proposed found favour, and I should like to spend the last part of my speech on three of them: deployments, recruiting and retention, and resources.

The Territorial Army has a remarkable record on deployments: out of an organisation that is barely 30,000 strong—including recruits and undeployable people, such as those in the Officer Training Corps—13,000 have gone to Iraq and Afghanistan over the past five years. Let us remember that it was deployed to Iraq only a couple of years after a big deployment associated with the Kosovo operation.

A growing feature of deployment, beside the pace of it, is causing considerable unhappiness in the Territorial Army: the Regular Army’s demands to cherry-pick lance corporals and privates to backfill regular units, with the officers and senior non-commissioned officers being offered buckshee posts
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away from command. To its credit, the MOD did not give this justification in the reply to our report, but the justification that regular officers sometimes give sotto voce is, “Oh well, why should we use a TA officer as a platoon or company commander to command these soldiers, when we have got somebody who’s spent so many more years training in the shape of the regular officer. What we want is the rank and file to pad out the numbers in our regular units.”

The MOD gave a different reply:

So deployment will take place by so-called cohorts—groups of mostly junior rank individuals, possibly with an officer going for a buckshee staff job. I am certain that the Minister did not mean to mislead us—a lot of trouble was taken over that reply, but it is factually wrong. For the bulk of next year, formed units of the TA Royal Army Medical Corps will provide most of the medical cover in Afghanistan. In fact, to give another example, a formed unit of 131 Commando Squadron Royal Engineers—a formed troop of 50 soldiers—has just come back from quite a distinguished tour in Afghanistan. Its tour in Iraq on the first day of the original invasion made the front page of The Times. So there are examples of those, apart from the infantry, who have been deployed as formed units.

In fact, the kind of performance that I quoted from The Daily Telegraph—the welcome and fanfare in the City of London for the London-formed company—is a model for what can be done and for how the Territorials can keep the wider community interested in the whole business of defence. Full marks to the Londons for fielding that company, many of whom had been out to serve before, and for the excellent service that they did there. All credit, too, to the Brigade of Guards, which had no previous experience of working with Territorials, and which said, “We’re going to treat these people seriously.” It even detached a platoon of regulars to serve under its wing, because it was a three-platoon company with four tasks, so it clearly needed a spare platoon. That is the way forward that the Territorials want, rather than the cherry-picking of individuals.

I do not mean to suggest—please do not misunderstand me—that there is no scope for individuals who want to volunteer to fill gaps in the Regular Army, but the same point that has been made many times about the Regular Army applies to the TA. Just as the Regular Army needs to train for general war so that it can be used for peacekeeping—a point that we used to hear many times in debates a few years ago, before Afghanistan hotted up—Territorials must have opportunities for formed-unit deployments, in which officers get the chance to command and soldiers to serve under TA officers, if they are also to be useful as a supplier of spare parts.

That brings me to recruitment and retention in the TA. We are desperately short—5,000 or 6,000 under-strength on paper—and I am sure that the gap would be even larger if those who are held on strength but
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have really ceased to attend were taken off. The decision to hand recruiting from the reserve forces and cadets associations to the regional brigades is potentially very dangerous. The original brigades, however well they are commanded—some of them have more expertise than others in the TA—do not have the same links in the local community with business, the local media and so on as a regional organisation. It is an accident of geography that, apart from London, none of our regional brigades coincides with, for example, a television area; they all cut across boundaries, thus making things still more complicated.

If we want to recruit good quality officers and soldiers for the TA, it is essential that regional brigades are persuaded to continue to work with the RFCAs and to find best practice among individual TA units, some of which have been very adventurous in getting into groups that are of no interest to Regular Army recruiting teams. For example, 4 Para, which we visited as an all-party group, has gone into gym clubs and rugby clubs to speak to young men in their early 20s who are too old to be interested in joining the Regular Army but who are extremely fit, would make excellent TA soldiers and would like the opportunity to go off to Afghanistan.

That brings me finally to resourcing. In the announcement on the future Army strategy’s TA section, a number of promises were made to the TA, which has suffered a long series of cuts. I shall quote two or three of those promises:

The sad decision to cut £5 million from the TA’s budget—a terribly small sum for the Department, but a huge sum for the TA, at nearly 3 per cent. of its budget—has meant that those promises have gone out of the window. I draw the House’s attention to early-day motion 1761, which was signed by 91 Members of all parties, including most of those present at the moment. It states that the cut

That includes the Royal Yeomanry, which made a huge contribution to the first wave in Iraq. It also states that the cut will

two of the most exciting things in the TA, which help it to recruit and retain good quality people—

Those staff were, of course, promised in the original statement.

The TA, which is just coming up to its centenary, has made a huge contribution. It made up almost half the units deployed in the first world war, when Territorials won nearly 80 Victoria Crosses. One thinks of the defence of Calais during the second world war, where the London Rifle Brigade was praised for its gallantry by the German high command. One also thinks of the contribution made by those 13,000 Territorials in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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However, there is a limit, in the recent words of one TA officer, to how many times one can twist the Rubik cube without breaking it. The TA must be given the resources it needs—we are talking about terribly small sums—and it must be given opportunities for command on operational service because of those three things that I mentioned at the beginning: we need reserve forces because they are an affordable way of providing extra capacity, because they bring civilian expertise into the defence sector and because they are a key factor in preventing regular forces from slipping into cultural isolation.

7.12 pm

Mr. David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab): The right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) said earlier that people should not get up and speak unless they have something to say—a piece of advice to one of our young colleagues across the way. In many cases that advice is sound, but then again, everyone has to start somewhere.

I have been here for six years and I have entered into three defence debates. I have been involved with the Select Committee on Defence for the last two years. Two of my colleagues are here; it is unfortunate that the Defence Committee is away again. These debates seem to take place when it is away, which is an unfortunate bit of timing. However, the reason for my involvement in defence, and for thinking that it is an important issue for us to consider, is personal experience. I was at Capitol Hill in 2001 when the plane hit the Pentagon next door, and my colleagues and I had to run out of the Capitol building.

I quickly realised that as an MP, I was not here just to represent my constituency, but that the decisions that I, and others, took in this place would result in people going to war and not coming back again. If I had to make such decisions, therefore, the least I could do was to try to understand exactly what the conflicts to which we send people were about. That is why I joined the armed forces parliamentary scheme, which I recommend to anyone who has not been involved with the armed forces before.

The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) referred to deployment, and how the linkage between the armed forces and the public is now void, which is true. When I left school in 1965, I could go either to the pit, into the textile industry or to the local Army recruitment office—the Glencorse barracks is in my area. There is a link between the armed forces and my local community. There are marches in the area every year, but such links are few and far between, and do not exist in very many places. A disconnect has taken place over the years, and it is important that we understand that.

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