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Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): I wish to speak briefly on behalf of my party on this extremely important matter, which I and a number of other hon. and right hon. Members have raised at business questions over the past few weeks.
I very much welcome the Government's reversal of their original decision on this £20 million cut. In this short debate, we have listened to some very powerful speeches, particularly from Members who have served or are serving in the Territorial Army. It is important to hear their contribution because, as the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger) has rightly said, we should be listening carefully to those Members who have first-hand experience and who know what it is all about.
I also respect the views expressed by other Members, such as the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle), who spoke powerfully, too. Members of parties have taken a common position of great concern and anger, reflecting the views of our constituents and of those who have served and are serving in the reserve forces, at the decision that was originally announced by the Government a number of weeks ago.
Among Labour Back Benchers and in the ranks of the official Opposition, the Liberal Democrats and the minority parties, there is a common view that that was the wrong decision. I welcome the fact that the Government have taken that on board and have come forward quickly to reverse that decision. We know, as has been spelled out, the damage that would have been done to recruitment, retention and morale-I do not want to rehearse all those arguments. The important issue that has been
rightly highlighted and emphasised today is the longer-term damage that has been done. We can reverse the financial cut and restore the training and so on, which is quite right, but damage has been done, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton) and others, to the concept of one Army.
Morale and the difficulties that it will cause for the future will need to be addressed. The Government, those in charge of the Territorial Army and others in the regulars need to turn their minds to how they will tackle that issue. They must make it clear, as the hon. Member for Chorley said, that they will not repeat this mistake ever again. We must recognise the extremely valuable and important part that the Territorial Army plays in our armed forces and that we cannot turn on and off the training and all that goes with it and expect things to carry on as normal. If the men and women are needed, they should be there and able to respond with the necessary degree of preparedness.
I want to comment on an issue raised by the hon. Member for Bridgwater. The Territorials are the public face of the military in our constituencies. They are the face of recruiting and the men and women who will be seen on parade at Remembrance day events in the run up to Remembrance Sunday.
In my part of the world, Northern Ireland, we have the military band of the Territorial Army, which is now the only band in Northern Ireland that represents the armed forces. I received a number of representations, as did a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends, from members of the Territorial Army who were very concerned at the fact that they were being asked to come along to events to commemorate the service of so many in Northern Ireland over the years-the sacrifice that has been made by so many in our armed forces-but were being told, "If you're going to go along, you're not going to get paid. Indeed, you might not be given permission to go along at all." That was extremely detrimental, demoralising and a terrible blow to those men and women. It would be a terrible signal to send out to the people in Northern Ireland, given the fantastic and gallant service and great sacrifice of our armed forces in Northern Ireland over the years.
Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): I attended a concert recently where the band of the Royal Irish Regiment was playing in aid of the Army Benevolent Fund. Is it not the case that if bands are cut back and are unable to perform in such a way, it affects not only the public face of the Army through the Territorial Army bands but the ability to raise money through the Army Benevolent Fund and other charitable organisations that supplement what the Government do for those who have paid a very high price, either through death or serious injury, and to help their families? For that reason, we should continue to support the bands and what they do.
Mr. Dodds: My right hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. The Royal Irish Regiment band has raised a tremendous amount of funds and resources, and he is right to highlight that important aspect of the debate.
It is right to put on record again the thanks of the whole House to the men and women of the Territorial Army for their sacrifice and work over the years on
behalf of our country. More than 1,000 men and women from Northern Ireland have been in operational deployment in Afghanistan and Iraq, and that is a significant proportion of the reserve force in Northern Ireland. They go willingly, but they deserve the full support of the Government and the Ministry of Defence.
They need to know that they will have the training that they need to achieve the necessary degree of preparedness. We have heard all sorts of elaborate and Machiavellian conspiracy theories in this debate about who might have been responsible for the cuts proposal in the first place. Whoever they are-whether they are in the Ministry of Defence or among the generals-they must learn the lesson from this episode, and from the strong feelings represented on both sides of the House this afternoon. That lesson is that never again can such an approach be taken, and that the Territorial Army and the reserve forces must get our full support as an integral part of the Army.
Chloe Smith (Norwich, North) (Con): I rise to speak on behalf of the 20 members of A Company Third Royal Anglian Regiment who are being deployed to Afghanistan from my constituency. Previously, more than 100 members of that company have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and a further 150 from the overall regiment will be going to Cyprus in 2011. That serves to underline the need for ongoing training, as I am sure that hon. Members from all quarters of the House agree. I join the tributes paid by this House at Prime Minister's Question Time and on other occasions to the work of our armed forces. I know that all hon. Members agree with me in that regard, too.
This political fiasco has rolled on for 48 hours, during which time I have been touch with the captain of A Company Third Royal Anglians. He is based locally in Norwich, and I want to highlight to the House a number of the things that he told me. Other hon. Members know far more about battlefield activities than I do, so my intention is to speak about the other activities that my local troops tell me that Territorial Army members undertake for their country.
Members of the Territorial Army devote a huge amount of unpaid time to their country. For example, they prepare lessons during the week, outside the training hours that we have been debating. They also make phone calls to troops and their families, and write endless e-mails-we all know how much time e-mails take up every day.
Not only do Territorial Army members run training, take part in training and see action on the battlefield, but they provide welfare for troops on deployment and for those troops' families. The Territorials' work includes running the family coffee mornings and doing the small but essential things that I hope that colleagues with more direct experience than me acknowledge have to take place.
My contact with troops in my constituency, and the political fiasco that has taken place here, have made it clear to me that the unpaid time that troops put in, and the good will that they commit, are not the only things that we must acknowledge. We must also be aware of the vulnerability that they suffer if they do not receive the training that they need, and of the fact that they need time and resources to carry out the welfare work for troops and families that I have described.
Of course, I join other hon. Members in welcoming the reinstatement of the training budget. I am sure that no one here would disagree with that, but the Government must take further steps to put matters right. It is not just a public relations disaster: it is also, as other hon. Members have made very clear, a disaster for morale, recruitment and retention. It is also a potential disaster for the future safety of our troops and our country if it is considered acceptable for a Government to execute such a U-turn when it comes to our troops' welfare.
The Government should be ashamed of themselves. If they are not ashamed already, I shall finish by quoting one further point from the A Company captain:
"We will have no formal representation at the Norwich Remembrance Parade as I won't insist that troops attend when they are getting no financial compensation (even travel expenses) and I am not authorised to spend money on fuel to run the Company minibus from Aylsham Road to the City Centre and back."
I see that hon. Members are shaking their heads at that. To me, that is shocking and something of which the Government should continue to be ashamed, even after the U-turn that they have made this week.
I welcome the constructive tone of the rest of the debate. There is much good feeling in the Chamber that should be built upon for the future, but there is still something rotten in the state of the MOD, if it is considered acceptable not to support troops, whether part-time or full-time, in getting to a Remembrance day ceremony. Many Members, myself included, are wearing poppies today, to show our support for the Royal British Legion and the work that goes into the run-up to 8 November this year and Remembrance day every year. Will the Minister-and, indeed, the now absent Secretary of State-join me by putting his hand in his pocket and giving 20 quid to my Norwich heroes?
David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): I begin by paying tribute to Rifleman Jamie Gunn, Private Kyle Adams and Private Richard Hunt, who lost their lives in Afghanistan. I spoke to some of their parents this morning. The experience of attending their funerals and meeting their families has made me realise beyond any doubt that the real cost of the war in Afghanistan is not measured in money. That is irrelevant. The cost is in human lives. That is one lesson that we should all remember.
My own military experience is far more humble than that of those soldiers or of many hon. Members. I spent 18 months in the Territorial Army in 104 Air Defence Regiment in Newport back in the 1980s, at a time when the TA was seen in a very different light from the way it is seen now. We were not seen as being quite the same as Regular Army troops, and we were often jokingly referred to as the SAS-the Saturday and Sunday soldiers, or in terms rather less polite than that.
However, I learned quite a few lessons from the experience. Perhaps the most important was this. We used to train in three different ways. We would turn up every Tuesday night, every other weekend and for two weeks at the annual camp. I presume that the training schedule is fairly similar today. The one thing that I knew even at the age of 18, without a lot of experience of life, was that that weekly training session, the so-called drill night, was extremely important.
I do not know what was going through people's minds when they thought it would be a good idea to get rid of that training. Did they think that drill night meant just a number of people marching up and down, and that that was not important? That is not the case, and it has not been the case for any unit, as far as I am aware. Drill night consisted of a little bit of drilling, yes, but also vehicle maintenance, weapons training, fitness training, map reading-a host of activities, all of which are vital soldiering activities. More than that, there was something else going on that may not have been quite so obvious to us at the time. We were knitting together and becoming cohesive as a unit. It is very important that people who are full-time civilians and part-time soldiers think of themselves as soldiers on a regular basis. That is what that one night a week enabled us to do.
The amount of money that we were being paid was very small. At that time of my life, I was doing manual jobs, but I did not think the money was particularly great. Nobody was doing it for the money. It was not about the money and never has been for TA soldiers, because any one of them could go and earn far more doing something else if they wanted a part-time job. But the money is important, because it sends out a message to people who are willing to give that commitment. It sends a message that the state respects them and wants to thank them for the time that they are giving up.
I can speak from personal experience only about the late 1980s. It is quite different now. The level of commitment is much greater. I never thought for one minute that by joining the TA in Newport, I would ever be sent off to war. It is highly unlikely that I would have been, and in fact I never got beyond Salisbury plain, but people who join the Territorial Army these days know that it is very likely indeed that they will end up in a war zone. The regiment that I represent, the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers, has sent dozens of soldiers out to Iraq, where they have performed brilliantly. They will be deploying to Afghanistan later this year. These are people who have comfortable civilian jobs back in Monmouthshire, yet they are willing to spend six months of their life in a war zone for very little reward.
Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): I am sure that the hon. Gentleman accepts that many of the members of the TA have served with great distinction in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and that the Government need to show that they are a cherished part of Her Majesty's forces.
David T.C. Davies: I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. This is about showing the Territorial Army that we respect its commitment. At least three TA soldiers have lost their lives already in the conflict in Afghanistan.
It is astonishing that anyone thought that it would be a good idea to save £20 million by scrapping the drill nights. The Secretary of State, who sadly is no longer in his place-perhaps he has other things to do-asked for suggestions for saving money, and I tried to intervene. If he wanted such suggestions, they are easy to find. The MOD spent more than 100 times that £20 million cut refurbishing its own offices at a cost of about £2.4 billion. It has spent millions of pounds on consultants during
the last few years. Presumably they are helping the equally well-paid MOD officials who cannot do their jobs properly without the consultants. Perhaps we could get rid of some of those consultants, or get rid of some of the MOD officials who cannot do their jobs without them. I am pretty certain that there is a £20 million saving to be made there without affecting anybody's life. The MOD was even able to spend £250,000 on a work of modern art, because its spokesman said that they did not want pictures of dead admirals hanging around in the MOD headquarters.
I am pretty confident that, humble Back Bencher that I am, if I were given an afternoon in the Treasury I could come up with £20 million of cuts for the Government. I would start off by going through the back pages of The Guardian jobs section for the past 12 months, find everyone who got the jobs that were advertised and fire them all. Then I would look at anything with the word "equality" in it, because there would be a saving there as well.
Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk) (Lab): I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman has just said, but does he think, as he has just implied, that expenditure in the MOD should be led by the Treasury?
David T.C. Davies: If the hon. Gentleman goes back to what I said earlier, I do not believe that we should be thinking about money at all here. We are at war at the moment. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) made the point that we are at war, and he has more experience of the armed forces than any other hon. Member.
Many people have concerns about the operations that we are undertaking in Afghanistan, and many of those are not willing to express them too publicly because they greatly respect the valour and commitment of our armed forces out there. But it would be helpful if the Government could be a little more clear about what we are setting out to achieve. One moment they tell us that it is all about solving the drugs problem. Yet, as I know from my own work as a special constable, we do very little about drug dealers and drug users on the streets of this country. If we were serious about tackling drugs, it would be far better to put those drug dealers in jail for a long time than send young men and women out to Afghanistan. They say that it is about bringing democracy to Afghanistan, yet it has never had democracy. There is no culture of democracy there. I do not think that it is all that likely that we will build some kind of a liberal democrat paradise in the Hindu Kush overnight. Even if it were possible, I would have to ask why we are not trying to do that everywhere else in the world. Then they say that it is about al-Qaeda. It is perfectly legitimate for us to deal with that, but if it is about dealing with al-Qaeda training camps, why cannot we do what we did in Iraq for 10 years, when we simply used air strikes to bomb the bases that were causing us all of the problems, with very little loss of life? Unlike many hon. Members I am not a military expert and I do not have the answers, but many people are asking me the questions and they are difficult to answer, because the Government are not willing to put them over themselves.
Bill Rammell: Will the hon. Gentleman confirm whether, like his Front-Bench spokesmen, he believes that we should be in Afghanistan?
David T.C. Davies: The Minister has been a Member for longer than me, and he knows that as a Back-Bench Member, I do not have to follow the party line. I am not the sort of person who slavishly follows party lines; I am perfectly able to put over an opinion myself. He will be intelligent enough to realise that I have some concerns about his Government's policy.
Bill Rammell: And Conservative Front Benchers' policy.
David T.C. Davies: I have concerns about the Government's policy. My Front Benchers are not in government yet, but I am sure that they will be shortly.
Although I may have doubts about some aspects of Government policy, I have no doubt about this, and I do not think that anyone else will: if we are going to fight a war of any sort, we ought to ensure that the personnel are properly equipped; that there is enough manpower to see that when they have done their six-month tour of duty, they have enough time off for their family and are not simply sent out to another war zone a few months later; and that they are properly and adequately paid. They are not paid anything like enough for the work that they do and the sacrifice that they make. When I see money being wasted in other Departments, I am irritated that the first place to which the Government turn to look for cuts is the one place where all the money ought to be ring-fenced.
Mr. Donaldson: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the issue is about not just how we look after our soldiers while they are on the field of battle, but how we look after them and their families at home and in their barracks? Is it not true that there is pressure on the budget to improve the infrastructure for military families, and that it is being cut? He referred to the huge amount of money spent on refurbishing the MOD building. Is it not unfair that soldiers and their families face the prospect of living in sub standard accommodation because of further cuts?
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I was beginning to feel that the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies) was enlarging the scope of the debate, and I am quite sure that he would be if he followed the line suggested to him by the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson). I need to nudge the hon. Member for Monmouth back to the terms of the motion and the amendment.
David T.C. Davies: The right hon. Gentleman speaks sense on many occasions, and I have no need to elaborate.
Will Ministers look into the fact that many members of the Taliban are in this country, claiming asylum and getting houses while British soldiers live in substandard accommodation? I join colleagues who are incredulous that the Government considered making the TA cuts in the first place. I therefore welcome the fact that they have gone into reverse gear, and I hope that the Minister will be able to state that for the little time that he has left in office, he will never, ever again consider cutting funding for the Territorial Army or any other branch of the armed services while we remain at war.
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