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In numerical terms, the eventual contribution of the Territorial Force to the war effort was considerable,
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with 318 battalions and 23 infantry divisions serving overseas, and when voluntary enlistment ended in December 1915, some 725,842 men had enlisted in the Territorial Force since August 1914. During that war, 71 Victoria crosses were won by members of the Territorial Force, the first by Second Lieutenant Geoffrey Woolley on the night of 20 April 1915 on Hill 60 at Ypres.

The willingness of Territorials to be mobilised at times of national emergency has been a feature throughout our history, and the response of the Territorials to the outbreak of the second world war was similar to that seen for the first, when, as war clouds loomed over Europe in the early months of 1939, the Government authorised the “duplication” of all Territorial Army units, thereby doubling the size of the TA.

The TA today is very different even from the one I joined in 1990 at the end of the cold war years. Once again, mobilisation is the norm, with members of the TA being involved in all of the major recent conflicts—Kosovo, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan. Indeed, the equivalent of 21 battalions has been mobilised to support operations in Afghanistan and Iraq in recent years. It is equally fair to say that the chaos that accompanied earlier mobilisations has been largely removed with the establishment of the reserves training and mobilisation centre—RTMC—at Nottingham, a dedicated facility designed for an annual throughput of some 3,600 soldiers, with some 200 at any time.

There remains a concern, however, that the TA is being overused, and while keen to serve, many members—some now being mobilised for their second or third tour of duty—are hesitating at the prospect of being asked to sacrifice their primary career for their second. The TA is not a militia, but a volunteer force, but increasingly, month by month, it is being used as a militia and, ultimately, I fear that this will prove to be a major mistake. Basil Liddell Hart once described the TA as:

but it would be rash to assume that the plant is as hardy as it once was. A Territorial “volunteers” every time he or she reports for duty and seeks challenge, backed by organisation, resources and commitment. Starve the TA of these and the plant will wither.

The TA has a proud history of service to our country, and today of all days it is right that this House should celebrate its 100th anniversary, and the service of those brave “volunteers”. They have given much over 100 years of service, and all they ask in return is that, for once, we learn the lessons of the past.

10.22 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Derek Twigg): I congratulate the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster) on securing this debate, and I thank him for giving me the opportunity to address the House on a day of great significance for the Territorial Army. I also offer my thanks to the hon. Gentleman for his long service as a member of the TA, which I know has included time served on operations. I also thank other Members present who have served in
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the armed forces or the TA for their service. I do not think there is a single current Member of this House who is not known as a strong supporter of the armed forces, and I am pleased there is such a good turnout in support of this important debate. My late father-in-law, Thomas Cassidy, was a sergeant-major in the TA, and I remember how important the TA was to his life and his family. Therefore, I am steeped in the TA tradition and in the importance that people who have served in it attach to it.

I join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating the TA on its 100th anniversary. As he mentioned, the first TA units were formed 100 years ago to the day, following an Act of Parliament in the previous year. In reality, however, this was merely a continuation of a long tradition of part-time military service in Britain: from the militia, which dates back to the early 16th century and from which a number of present day TA units can trace their ancestry, to the London trained bands that fought with the parliamentarian Army in the civil war, and the Yeomanry formed during the Napoleonic wars to bolster home defence, which served with distinction during the Boer war.

The reforms of the first years of the 20th century, led by the Liberal Secretary of State for War, R.B. Haldane, made a number of significant structural changes to the country’s regular and reserve land forces. Among the most significant of them was the fusion of the Army’s various non-regular forces into the Territorial Force, which we now know as the Territorial Army.

It was not long before the wisdom of these reforms was confirmed. The Territorials went on to fight with distinction alongside their regular counterparts throughout the first world war, playing a vital part in holding the line against the German advance in the initial stages of that conflict, and at the end leading to the breach of the Hindenburg line in 1918.

Since those early years, the Territorial Army, like the Army as a whole, has been in a continual state of evolution, adapting to reflect changes in the threats faced by this country, changes in technology, and changes in our own society. Through that process, it has continued throughout its first 100 years to play a fundamental part in the defence of the nation, notably during the second world war when it was mobilised and its units were absorbed into the Regular Army.

In recent years, the Territorial Army has assumed an even greater importance. Under the “one Army” philosophy, regulars and Territorials serve on equivalent terms. They are trained, equipped and deployed in many of the same theatres, and they share the same risk. The Territorial Army is now the reserve of first choice, deploying in significant numbers wherever the Regular Amy is engaged; since 2003, some 15,000 Territorials have deployed on operations. We must not forget the sacrifice they have made. Sadly, since 2003 eight Territorials have died on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and since the end of world war two, 336 have been killed on duty. Our thoughts tonight must also be with their families as we mark this centenary.

Arguably, the Territorial Army is now as crucial to overall military effectiveness as it has been at any point in its history. The sheer scope of roles it fulfils, which range from engineer, infantry, medic and logistician to
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driver and linguist, is evidence of just how vital its expertise is to today’s Army. Indeed, earlier today, the Chief of the General Staff said:

It is partly against that background that the Secretary of State announced to the House two weeks ago his intention to set up a review to examine how our reserve forces, including the Territorial Army, should be most effectively configured, structured, equipped, located and trained for current and future defence needs. Although we are satisfied that our existing policy on the reserve forces is sound, we need to take stock of how they have been employed on current operations and consider their potential use in other roles related to projected requirements. We also need to consider issues such as the scope for greater integration into regular forces, and how we can better capitalise on the vast range of civilian skills that the reserve forces possess. There is widespread support among the services for the review, which will be conducted transparently and inclusively, and will involve consultation with a broad range of interested parties. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the review is not based on the drive for military economy; it is a strategic review to examine how the reserves’ contribution to defence can be optimised to meet current and projected requirements.

It is therefore clear that as the Territorial Army celebrates its first 100 years of service those associated with it have every right to look back with pride on past achievements and to look forward with confidence to a future that will continue to see the Territorial Army operating at the heart of this nation’s armed forces.

As the House is aware, a number of events are planned this year to mark this significant milestone, under the TA100 banner. The Defence Secretary and the Chief of the General Staff formally launched the season of celebrations this morning at the Tower of London. Synchronised regional events in the nation’s capitals of Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast were incorporated in that. Looking ahead, there will be a reception at the National Army Museum on 3 April, to which a number of hon. Members have been invited, and a service of thanksgiving at St. Paul’s cathedral on 15 May. The centrepiece of the commemorations will be a pageant on Horse Guards parade on 21 June, followed by the national reception in St. James’s palace that same evening. There will also be a garden party at Buckingham palace on 10 July, and a parade and service at the armed forces memorial at the national memorial arboretum on 13 September. Those events will be supported by a range of regional and local celebrations continuing throughout the year until Remembrance day.

Our aim is to maximise opportunities for the general public to become involved in those events, and to that end a website has been launched carrying further details on the Territorial Army and its centenary. We should not forget, of course, that this is also the centenary year of the reserve forces and cadet associations, which play a very important role promoting the volunteer reserve forces of all three services within the community. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all the reserve forces and cadet associations on this their landmark year.

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Mr. Lancaster: Would the Minister be so kind as to address the concern over formed units and the fact that we seem to be moving towards mobilising individuals to placements in the Regular Army rather than mobilising formed units? Does he anticipate that we will continue to mobilise formed units as well as individual placements?

Derek Twigg: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman understands that in the review it is very important to consider our future needs, our capabilities and how we should use the role. Let us have that review. I am sure that he, like other hon. Members, will contribute to that process. I recognise the importance of what he has said. Of course, I have been to Iraq and Afghanistan and have talked to Territorials and reserves and so I understand the importance of that point. The review is very important—

Several hon. Members rose

Derek Twigg: If hon. Members do not mind, I am stuck for time. If I have some time at the end, I will give way, but I want to get a number of points on the record.

We should not forget that Territorial soldiers are to many the face of the British Army. That is an important point. I always remember the visibility of the TA when I was a child, because of my family connections. It is important to remember that to many the TA is the face of the British Army and of the other services, too, in a society that has become increasingly isolated from the hard realities of military service, despite the exposure that operations receive in our 24-hour news culture. Of course, we are looking again at how we can improve recognition. We have an important role to play in that. The Territorials’ personal experience of service, when it is shared with workplace colleagues, family and friends, helps to bolster the understanding of the vital role played by the Army and the special ethos and culture that it possesses.

It is also important in this year of commemoration to remember those without whose support the concept of part-time military service would be unworkable. I mean, of course, the partners and families without whose tolerance and understanding our Territorials could not play their full part in the Army. I pay tribute to those families.

I want, too, to acknowledge the crucial supporting role played by employers. We have an ongoing debt of gratitude to the many enlightened employers—I am glad to say that most of them are—from small businesses, multinational companies and public sector organisations. They understand that the benefits of service in the Territorial Army cut both ways. People bring skills learned in the civilian workplace to bear in a military context, and the service provides high-value personal development for employees in areas such as leadership and motivation. We should never forget the benefits that serving in the armed forces bring to civilian life, too. I pay tribute to those employers.

I want to conclude by paying tribute to the Territorials, past and present, for their magnificent contribution to our national security and for their sacrifice, about which we heard just a short time ago.
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TA100 is an excellent opportunity for the whole nation to recognise the distinguished role played by the Territorial Army over the years and to say thank you to the 35,000 men and women who serve and who are so vital to our defence effort at home and overseas.

Peter Bottomley: If the Minister is coming to the end of his speech, may I say that the way in which he has approached the debate would make him a great recruiting sergeant for those who are in the Territorials and those who want to join?

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Derek Twigg: I thank the hon. Gentleman for those kind comments.

It is appropriate that as a mark of the esteem in which the Territorials are held that Her Majesty the Queen has graciously agreed to be the patron of TA100 and has written a personal message to every serving member, offering her congratulations on the Territorial Army’s centenary.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-seven minutes to Eleven o’clock.

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