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That the draft Groundwater (England and Wales) Regulations 2009, which were laid before this House on 16 June, be approved.- (Mr. Watts.)
That the draft District Electoral Areas Commissioner (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Order 2009, which was laid before this House on 8 July, be approved. - (Mr. Watts.)
That the draft Electoral Law (Northern Ireland) 1962 (Amendment) Order 2009, which was laid before this House on 8 July, be approved.-( Mr. Watts.)
That the Motions in the name of Mr Pat McFadden relating to Financial Assistance for Industry shall be treated as if they related to an instrument subject to the provisions of Standing
Order No. 118 (Delegated Legislation Committees) in respect of which notice of a motion has been given that the instrument be approved.- (Mr. Watts .)
That, on Wednesday 11 November,
(1) the House shall meet at 2.30 pm;
(2) references to specific times in the Standing Orders of this House shall apply as if that day were a Tuesday;
(3) votes in any deferred division may be recorded for one and a half hours after 3.30 pm, no account being taken of any period during which the House or committee proceeds to a division; and
(4) the sitting in Westminster Hall shall begin at 3.30 pm and continue until 8.00 pm.- ( Mr. Watts.)
That Dr Richard Taylor be a member of the West Midlands Regional Select Committee.-( Mr. Watts.)
That Linda Gilroy be discharged from the South West Regional Select Committee and Roger Berry be added.-( Mr. Watts.)
That Angela Eagle be discharged from the Committee of Public Accounts and Sarah McCarthy-Fry be added.-( Rosemary McKenna, on behalf of the Committee of Selection.)
Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): I would like to be able to say that it is a pleasure to have this Adjournment debate, but I cannot do so. The matter under discussion is very serious. [Interruption.] The Government have proposed cuts to the Territorial Army. That is of concern in all parts of the House, and I hope the Minister will note- [Interruption.]
Mr. Speaker: Order. I apologise for delaying the hon. Gentleman, but this is an extremely important Adjournment debate and Members who are leaving the Chamber should do so quickly and quietly so that the hon. Gentleman can be heard.
I start by declaring my interest: I am a serving member of the Territorial Army. Indeed, I am very proud to have served in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan for this Government, and I would be delighted to do so again, but I ask, both for myself and other members of the Territorial Army, simply to be given the training to be able to do that.
Let me begin by saying that it is absolutely clear that this decision is a grave mistake. The sum that the Government are proposing to cut is not only £20 million; this is the second cut of the year, so the figure is £43 million in one financial year. That represents 30 per cent. of the Territorial Army's budget, or 50 per cent. of the TA budget for the last six months of the year to come. It is ill-conceived, and the timing is appalling. What sort of organisation, six months through the financial year, suddenly announces that it is going to cut all funding? Who is responsible for this? Who is going to get sacked? Who is going to be held to account for this decision?
The communication of this decision was equally appalling, as I appreciate that the Minister accepts. For members of the Territorial Army-volunteers-to find out on a Saturday morning via the BBC, rather than their chain of command, that they might have no more training is absolutely appalling. I hope that if nothing else the Minister will apologise to members of the Territorial Army for the manner in which they found out.
The Minister may think he had a problem with the Gurkhas; I fear, however, this will be an even bigger issue for him. Some 37,000 members of the Territorial Army will all be voting at the next general election, so I hope the Minister will find some more concessions. I have been in the TA for nearly 19 years, and I have never known morale so low, given the manner in which this cut has been announced and the way in which the Government have fumbled around for the past two weeks trying to explain exactly what it is going to be.
Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD):
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on focusing the House on this important issue today. I want to
reinforce the case that he is making to the Minister for just how important the TA is. I also want to reinforce the case for the vital role that the TA plays not only in the front line, but in linking the military to the civilian community in many parts of the country where there is no other military footprint.
Less than six months ago, we had the strategic review of reserves, which finally gave a clear direction on how the Territorial Army would support the regular Army on operations. This is a fundamental point that shows how short-sighted the Government's decision is. The Minister will argue that members of the TA who continue to be mobilised on operations will have the training that they need. That may be the case in the short term-I will argue against that view in a moment-but the Minister must remember that operational tours in Afghanistan are just six months long. By stopping all training now for the next six months, the current Operation Herrick might not suffer, but future operations will. That will remove the TA's ability to regenerate and to undertake the core basic training that is then built up during pre-deployment training. So in the short term we may just get away with this if the Government are very lucky-although I doubt it-but in the long term this will have a damaging strategic impact on the Territorial Army.
I am pleased to say that the Minister has given some concessions today-a very small step in the right direction. I am hoping, however, that he will recognise that more steps are required and that we will hear more concessions tonight.
The ethos and culture of the TA revolves around drill nights. The Minister has announced today that we can have one training night per month, but not having weekly drill nights will fundamentally undermine the TA's ability to operate in the long term. Having regular training on a Tuesday night is absolutely vital. The Territorial Army is just that-territorial. Linking back to the point made by the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith), it is how the community keeps together. Commanding officers have told me that, although they welcome one drill night per month, they need more and are very concerned. For soldiers returning from Afghanistan, that is absolutely imperative. Unlike regular Army soldiers, who have links to their regular unit, the only link that TA soldiers have when they come back is going in on a drill night. If commanding officers cannot regularly see their soldiers returning from Afghanistan, they are simply unable to monitor them for potential stress-related problems and ensure their welfare.
Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): If TA centres such as the one in Green lane, Scarborough, are used only once a month, might that not be just the excuse the Government are waiting for to start selling off these units up and down the country?
Drill nights are absolutely vital for the reasons that I have stated, and unless we can get them back I fear for the TA, which cannot simply be mothballed and reopened
in six months. Once we lose the culture of attending a drill night on a Tuesday or Wednesday, pretty soon that slot will be filled with something else. People will start going to the cinema with their wives, and it will be almost impossible to get them back in on a Tuesday night. We should not forget that a TA soldier will be paid just one quarter of a day's pay for a drill night. They may receive two or two-and-a-half days' pay for a weekend, so they can do three months of training on drill nights for the equivalent. That is why the concession is so minor. I believe that the Minister said today that giving one drill night back would cost £2.5 million, but that is relatively small beer in the MOD budget. That is why this is such a penny-pinching move, why it will ultimately be so damaging to the Territorial Army and why I call on him to think again, give greater concessions and allow more drill nights.
Much of the debate has focused on training, and the Minister has made it clear that he is convinced that all soldiers being deployed to Afghanistan will receive the appropriate pre-deployment training. Let us be clear that regular units-formed units-may undergo some 18 months of pre-deployment training before they are deployed on operations. At best, a TA soldier can currently expect to be mobilised some three months before being deployed to Afghanistan, the process culminating in two weeks' testing at the reserve training and mobilisation centre at Chilwell. That is not always the case; colleagues of mine have been mobilised at just three days' notice and have gone straight to the RTMC to be tested.
The proposal is to have a system where the RTMC will no longer be testing soldiers-it will be training them. Already soldiers are being deployed to Afghanistan at risk. The Minister said in the statement that no TA soldier will be deployed at risk, but that was wrong. This is a technical point, but I am concerned that if we are no longer simply testing at RTMC, but training there too, we will be deploying even more soldiers at greater risk. That is fundamentally unacceptable.
The TA contains specialists-I am a bomb disposal officer, although I am not currently in that role. Is the Minister really expecting specialists such as me-a bomb disposal officer-to be able to maintain their skills and potentially be deployed to Afghanistan having had no training for six months? That is ridiculous. I heard what was said by my colleagues at the meeting that the Minister attended this afternoon, so I know that he is beginning to realise the strength of the feeling in all parts of the House-it is being shown in this debate tonight-that this is a fundamentally flawed decision.
Mr. Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con): My hon. Friend has referred persuasively to specialists' training, but does he agree that this is also about the training of junior leaders and officers in the TA? If they do not have interaction or training over a period of months leading up to deployment, they have no capacity to do their job and lead men in the field.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point, on a subject that I was going to discuss: the officer training corps at universities. One of the key shortages in the TA at the moment is of junior officers-there are simply not enough of them in units. One of the key sources of junior officers used to be the officer
training corps, but they are now not going to receive any training at all. We are cutting off that inflow of junior officers, so I would be fascinated to know how the Minister intends to replace it.
I hope that the Minister will take this opportunity also to explain to the House exactly how the bounty system will work for the end of this financial year. As many hon. Members realise, not only do TA soldiers get paid a daily rate but, providing they meet their minimum requirements in days and in their military training tests, they receive a bounty. That is a tax-free amount and, depending on how long one has served, it can be up to £2,000-or just under that sum. Having had their training cut off, how are members of the TA going to achieve their bounty requirements?
It appears that commanding officers might have the ability simply to wipe off days and say, "There is no need to fulfil your man training days for the year," and that soldiers will only have to pass their basic military annual training tests. Those tests have already been reduced this year simply to passing a first aid test, doing one's personal fitness assessment, which consists of doing a mile-and-a-half run, press ups and sit ups, and a weapon handling test. Is that really going to be the minimum requirement for a TA soldier to get their bounty? Are we going to have TA soldiers who pass a weapon handling test, yet the first time they will get an opportunity to fire a weapon is when they finally go to the RTMC, perhaps days before they get deployed to Afghanistan? Is the Minister really suggesting that that is adequate pre-deployment training? I cannot believe for one second that he is.
I want to focus on the one Army concept, too. We have made major advances in recent years in bringing the two parts of the Army-the TA and the regular Army-together. Now, when one goes on operations, as I am sure the Minister has seen for himself, one cannot tell who is in the regular Army and who is in the TA. That is a fabulous achievement for the TA over a number of years. We run the risk of pulling the two sides of the Army apart as a result of this decision.
After the reserve review, we formed some hybrid regiments. For example, my former regiment, 101 Engineer Regiment, will now have a regular headquarters, two TA squadrons and two regular squadrons. With this decision, the Ministry is basically saying to the commanding officer, "We realise that you have one regiment, but you now have two very different halves to it. You can train this half, but you cannot train that half. This half can go adventurous training, but that half cannot." How does that underpin the one Army concept? What will it do to morale in the Territorial Army when they see their regular counterparts able to train when they cannot? Does the Minister not even begin to understand what this decision is doing to separate the one Army concept?
Let me say a couple of words on the cadets. They play a vital role in supporting future recruitment to the regular Army and Territorial Army. Only last year, the Prime Minister wrote to the Secretary of State for Defence to ask him to increase the size of the cadet force. How does this decision to reduce all funding for the cadet force underline the Prime Minister's request?
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