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Mr. Liddell-Grainger: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He served honourably in Territorial units and he
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knows exactly what he is talking about. What he has just described is one of the problems. There are now very few Members of the House who have had the time, or whatever it may be, to serve in the military. Those who have done so, as Territorials or as regulars, will know exactly what the background is, and why this is so important. The formed unit principle is the backbone of the Army. The Marines, the Navy and the Royal Air Force are slightly different, in that they have specialist units. The Marines go as battlefield replacements, which is very different. The Army does not do that; it goes as a unit, because of the strength of the regimental system.

The Territorial Army also takes a lot of boys-and now girls-who in other walks of life would be in prison, or at least in serious trouble. It gives those people respect, meals, a uniform and above all, discipline. That is never talked about, but it is the reality. Those young kids are given a chance. How many young kids get the chance to serve their country while trying to do something else at the same time? The answer is very few.

Mr. Blunt: That is why the cuts to Army cadet training are so appalling, too. Those cuts need to be restored at the same time as this problem is addressed.

Mr. Liddell-Grainger: I thank my hon. Friend, who served honourably in the cavalry. There is absolutely no doubt that the cadets feed the TA, which feeds the regulars. It is a top-to-bottom Army. Who trains the cadets? It is mainly ex-Territorials or ex-regulars, who have the necessary experience. If we do not have those people, they will not be able to do that.

The crux of the argument is that TA units can augment local situations as well. If we get rid of the TA through not training it, it will not be available for deployment. Unless the Government give a firm commitment, not only now but for next year and the year after, that they are not going to cut the TA-an organisation of people who do this because they want to, and that has augmented from Dunkirk until now, and given 100 years of unselfish service-this will be a poorer country, and we will certainly have a poorer military, and a poorer TA.

5.27 pm

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): It is pleasing that we are having this debate, which will allow us to express our views, and our commitment to and support for the Territorial Army. There is an issue here, and a lot of hon. Members on both sides of the House believe in the TA and want this money reinstated. There is a minority who want to make political gain from this, but the TA is not a political football and it ought not to be used in that way. We need to ensure that its future is safe for ever and a day, and that there will always be people in this House who are willing to stand up and be counted when pressure, cuts or the reorganisation of the TA are discussed. We must ensure that that voice remains.

I spoke about this on Monday, when the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Bill Rammell) drew the short straw. I accused him of being an apologist, and very emotional language was used in that debate. He has now taken the right decision, after the matter was taken away and considered by Ministers. It took the involvement of the Prime Minister to sort it out, but we have got the money back. We have achieved our objective, and I thank the
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Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for listening and for doing the right thing by the TA. That is what this is about.

Sir Robert Smith: It is important, in the follow-through, that the Treasury really delivers this as extra money for the defence budget this year and does not find a way of taking it back from that budget by the back door.

Mr. Hoyle: This commitment to the armed forces, and the expenditure, have continued to increase, and I want to see that continue, to ensure that these proposals do not return once we get into the next financial year. The challenge that we are now leaving with the Ministers and the Treasury is to ensure that that does not happen.

This was also a problem in the 1990s, and people might say that they did not like what happened in the '90s. This experiment was tried by the previous Government at that time, and it failed. It failed miserably because, as far as the TA is concerned, we cannot turn the tap on and off. To say, "We don't want you today, but we'll come back for you in six months," is totally unacceptable. We should have looked at the history and realised that, if the experiment did not work in the '90s, it will certainly not work now. There is a lesson for us all, especially the Ministers, to learn here. When these matters are put before us, let us just dust them down and remember what happened previously.

I will explain what happened previously. A colleague of mine, Major Tom Ronagan, who is retiring a week on Thursday, is the longest-serving major in the British Army. He joined as a boy soldier in 1962; he served in Aden right through to the Balkans; he is a major of 64th Sea Squadron Chorley Medical Regiment, formerly the King's Own Borderers, which has a great proud history. He said, "I saw this happen in the '90s. It was decimation. When the notice went out to say the TA cut was taking place, you could not keep up with the kit that was being thrown through the door at us." The then Government said, "We have got this wrong. We are changing our minds. We are going to put the money back into the TA." They ended up getting on the phone, ringing round to say "Please rejoin. Don't give up on the TA." Mistakes have been made in the past; those mistakes must never ever be made again. That is what we have to learn from this exercise; that is why it is so important to overcome political point scoring.

I rightly challenged the Prime Minister to intervene personally; in fairness, the Prime Minister did. I pay my thanks to him, as he took the right decision. It is always interesting to look back in the light of mistakes. The late 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century have seen the TA assume an exceptionally high profile. It has moved from being a force of last resort to becoming the reserve of first choice in support of the regular Army. That is the key. The support the TA gives to the Regular Army makes the concept of one Army so important: there is no difference between the Army in uniform and others training side by side. That concept has been badly dented, although I do not say destroyed. It has been badly affected. That is why it has to be rebuilt. Land Command has to realise that it is not a cheap shot to take on the TA when tough decisions have to be taken; it must not take this easy option again.

Mr. Brazier: I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to interrupt his really excellent speech. As a point of detail, the Government got one thing
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right by having a focus for reservist advice in the centre, but does he agree that it is extraordinary that the director general of the Territorial Army, with 33,000 people in his organisation, is still only a one-star officer?

Mr. Hoyle: I totally agree: promotion is wanting and it should be given. I wholly agree, and the higher up the ranking we can go, the better it will be. Not so long ago, it only went up to brigadier; at least we have now achieved a general-only for the second time, I believe, so we should of course go up to a two-star officer. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct about that.

We can all score points, but we should think about the effect on our armed forces. We all remember the Balkans. When the Cheshires were serving out in the Balkans with redundancy notices in their top pockets, it had a devastating effect on recruitment and the future of the Army-just as this recent episode has done. Please, Ministers, learn from this. It is crucial to do so.

Afghanistan has, of course, proved a major challenge to the regulars and the TA. Serving out there is without doubt a challenge for both of them. We pay tribute to those who have lost their lives and those who have suffered horrendous injuries. There is no doubt that the investment we have put into the medical services has been crucial to getting people badly injured on the front line back to Selly Oak and to ensuring that they get the best of treatment. We must recognise that lives are saved that would previously have been lost. We must ensure that we never lose that commitment.

I also lost a constituent, Royal Marine Holland, who tragically died in Afghanistan. We know the heartfelt experience of seeing a body coming back to this country for burial; there is nothing more moving than seeing someone come home in those circumstances after serving their country. It is a tragedy when we lose so many young lives. We have to invest: whatever the requirement, whatever the need, we must meet it. We can do so only through commitment-and not, as I say, by point scoring.

I want to touch on another issue very close to my heart-the Royal Gibraltar Regiment, which is not allowed to serve in Afghanistan. Although it has served in both Iraq and Afghanistan in the past, for some unknown reason someone has decided that it is not insured to serve in Afghanistan, which is an absolute tragedy. We were promised that the bar would be reviewed and lifted, but-I do not blame Ministers for this, because the matter never reached them-someone somewhere in the chain of command prevented that from happening. The regiment contains both regulars and TA members, and it seems ridiculous that people who wish to serve cannot do so. I hope that the Minister will investigate, will shake people up within the command structure, and will ensure that the decision can be changed.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Bill Rammell): I have asked for a meeting with officials tomorrow to discuss that very issue.

Mr. Hoyle: I am in danger of always congratulating the Minister: I must do so once again now. I welcome the news of that meeting, and hope that he will secure the right decision for the Royal Gibraltar Regiment.


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I sometimes turn up to join the medical squadron at Chorley, which, backing up the 5 GS Medical Regiment, has played its part in Afghanistan. This year it has been deployed in Germany. We have also been deployed during a training exercise in Jersey, and we have been out to Cyprus. The TA is not backfilling purely for Afghanistan; it is backfilling in other parts of the British Army. That is what we are good at. We roll into whatever the requirement is, whenever we are called upon. Of the 69 in our strength, 29 have served in deployment during the last 12 months. I think that it is good that we can call on the TA in that way.

Let me say this to Ministers, and to all other Members who are present. We have learned a lesson, and, as I have said, I believe that that lesson will not be repeated. I hope that Ministers will take on board the message that the TA is important not just to the House but to the country.

Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): The hon. Gentleman seems to be approaching the end of an excellent speech, but before he finishes, will he tell the House how he believes the dented one-army concept that he mentioned could be undented? What does he believe the Government, the MOD, the regular generals and everyone else must do to reassure the TA that it is very much part of the overall Army structure, and that we are very proud of it?

Mr. Hoyle: The first solution was to reinstate the money, and I think that that has gone furthest towards achieving the aim to which the hon. Lady refers. As for the second solution, I think that Land Command, along with Secretary of State, ought to issue a statement saying how valued the TA is, and that it will continue to be valued. I think that that is where the repair ought to start and that it is the way in which to remedy some of the damage that has taken place, but I am sure that the Minister will come up with some other great ideas.

Mr. Swire: Does the hon. Gentleman not think it would also be appropriate for the Secretary of State, or even the Prime Minister, to summon business leaders to reassure them of the Government's commitment to the reserves and the TA, and encourage them to continue to release them when they are needed?

Mr. Hoyle: Absolutely. We cannot give thanks enough to the businesses in this country that allow their employees to go out to Afghanistan, or wherever they may be deployed. It interrupts business, and puts a strain on small businesses in particular. I cannot give enough thanks to the businesses in our area in Lancashire, because without doubt we would not have been able to deploy the numbers that we have deployed without their support. I want to be able to reassure businesses-and I am sure that the Minister has taken this on board-that the TA has a future, that we welcome their commitment to the TA, and that there will be an equally strong commitment from the Government. We must retain that link, and ensure that it will never be destroyed.

It will be a privilege to walk to the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday with the TA, and we must give thanks to it now that it has passed its 100th birthday. We have already celebrated the centenary of what is a modern TA-a TA that we look forward to seeing
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throughout the next 100 years. There are many tough decisions ahead, but this Government must never, ever make the wrong decision again.

5.39 pm

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): This has been an unhappy day for the Ministry of Defence and the ministerial team. It started off with a statement on Nimrod that exposed institutional flaws in MOD culture, and now Ministers have had to come to the Front Bench to acknowledge a volte-face as a result of the Prime Minister's direct interference.

There has been much recent talk that this House should become more responsive to events and that topical debates should respond to the events of the day. If such proposals had been put in place, we probably would not be having this debate, as it was chosen at a time when the future of the Territorial Army was under greater threat, with the threat of withdrawing £20 million-then reduced to £17 million-from the training budget. None the less, we are where we are and most of us welcome the fact that the Prime Minister has intervened and instructed the Secretary of State for Defence to return us to the position we were in about three days ago.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point about topical debates. It is worth remembering that this debate was called by the Conservative Opposition-and also that we forced the Government to make their U-turn on the decision-in a week when the topical debate is on the safety of fireworks. That is what the Government believe to be important.

Mr. Swire: Indeed, and I asked in last week's business questions whether we could have a debate in Government time on the TA, and I was told that that was being looked at. This debate is not being held in Government time of course, but it is worth pointing out that when the recent announcement was made from No. 10, the Prime Minister said it was the right thing to do. Yes, it was the right thing to do, and therefore cutting the TA training budget was manifestly the wrong thing to do. I think Members of all parties can be united in agreement on that.

Mr. Hoyle: We must dismiss that last point. Members from both sides of the House came together. Rightly, Back Benchers went to see the Prime Minister and put on a lot of pressure. The House working together is what changed the decision, and we should acknowledge that instead of engaging in this cheap political point scoring.

Mr. Swire: Yes, as I said, we are where we are. I do not believe there has been much political point scoring from those on the Conservative Benches. Quite a number of my hon. Friends are actively serving in the reserve forces and the TA, and often are not here in the Chamber because they are deployed in Afghanistan. It is hard to claim that they are trying to score political points.

The Secretary of State's speech and the rest of the debate have highlighted the confusion as to whether the Army is at full strength. The Army is clearly not at full strength, but, by the Secretary of State's own admission, the Treasury has not provided sufficient funds if the Army were at full strength. In other words, the Army is-as it ever was, and as it will continue to be-reliant
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on the reserves and the TA. As has been pointed out, this economic recession-in large part created by this Government-has driven up the number of men and women who are queuing up to join both the TA and, in particular, the Regular Army. That could, perhaps, have been anticipated.

I want to say again that the recent political events have caused huge upset in the TA. I am not sure that the Government fully recognise the damage that has been done, and I therefore draw their attention to some of the websites on Facebook and the Army Rumour Service web forums so that they can see for themselves how those involved in the TA feel about what is going on. The word "closed" has been put over the TA sign in many instances. Of course the TA is not closed-quite the reverse-but I think the Government need to reassure the TA that it is an integral part of one Army and that it is appreciated for what it does. As I will continue repeating, and as the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) mentioned, the Government must also reassure employers, and particularly small employers who suffer disproportionately when their employees are sent abroad on active service, that they too are playing an integral part in this war in Afghanistan.

It is a war in Afghanistan. It is not an operation or a deployment; it is a war, and if the Government were to admit that, we might not have the cheese-paring of the defence budget that has got us into this situation in the first place.

I wish to discuss one more thing about the TA: how we look after its members when they are not deployed. Those in the Regular Army are quite well looked after even after they leave it, although there is a lot more that we could do on issues of mental health; we had a debate about that the other day. The difference is that when those in the TA return from active service they are, often within 48 hours or just a little longer, back to where they had left-in their regular jobs-without the supporting infrastructure of the regimental family, which can so often look out for those suffering mental distress as a result of having served. A disproportionate amount-I believe it is the majority-of those in the TA are serving, particularly in Afghanistan, as medics and come across far more horrific incidents than many of those in the regular forces. We need to examine what is being done should they encounter problems when they get home.

The reserves mental health programme, which has been available to TA and regular reservists since January 2003, is doing a good job. It is a helpful programme, but it does little to overcome soldiers' reluctance to come forward to discuss mental health issues. Again, it is much easier if problems can be identified within the regimental family or the unit, but it is much more difficult when people have disappeared back into the society from which they came. A Royal British Legion survey of 500 general practitioners conducted in spring 2009 across England and Wales found that 85 per cent. knew nothing about the programme. That is a completely unacceptable figure, and I ask the Minister to see what he can do to increase awareness of the programme for the TA when its members are not serving.

Mr. Brazier: My hon. Friend is making a very powerful point. Would he like to endorse remarks made by an individual from the King's centre, which is working on military mental health? It said that when the Territorials
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go as part of a formed unit with their own mates and their own officers the incidence of these problems is very much the same as in the Regular Army, but when they are taken off as individual reinforcements-this is for exactly the reasons that my hon. Friend has described-the incidences are much higher.

Mr. Swire: Yes, of course I do. That is why I welcome what the shadow Secretary of State has said about mental health follow-up telephone calls, as are made in America, to all those who have served in the forces, be they TA or Regular Army, for some years after they have been deployed and when they return.

I do not wish to detain the House for longer than I have to, because this debate almost need not take place now. I conclude by saying that on 8 November there will hardly be a Member from either side of this House who will not be taking part in Remembrance Sunday, honouring those who have given their lives for this country. When we stand in front of our Cenotaphs-I shall be in Exmouth, where we maintain that we have more wreaths than anywhere else, save the Cenotaph in London-we will not be remembering the gender or age of those who have died, we may not even be remembering the unit in which they served and we certainly will not be remembering whether they were in the regular forces, in the TA or in the reserve forces; we will be honouring them equally, because they have paid the ultimate price in giving their life for this country. If they are treated equally by us in death, so they should be treated in life by the Ministry of Defence.


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