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Viscount Goschen: My Lords, it is extremely important to put these sums in the context of the major transition that is taking place in the railway industry. It is a major privatisation and we simply do not believe that it would be good value to maintain the kind and level of specific expertise within the department for what is a short-term transition period. That is why these moneys have been spent on consultants. We see them as being good value.
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the noble Lord is right and the levels of subsidy are another issue. They will be based on the services that the franchising director will require, which will be based broadly on the existing timetable and the contracts made with the train operating companies. The consultancy fees represent the provision of very specialised services, which we do not believe exist within the department or within Railtrack, British Rail and the Office of Passenger Rail Franchising. That is why we brought them in and why we feel that they are good value.
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, at the moment, of course, the taxpayer pays everything for the railways. That is the historic position. As the noble Lord knows, we are now going forward to a position where we are putting the railway companies into the private sector. Once those companies are in the private sector they will be responsible for their own costs.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the figures he put forward seem to coincide more with Disney World than with reality? It was reliably estimated that the total costs of actual and projected expenditure in relation to privatisation, including the costs borne in the City, are nearer £1,000 million than the figure he stated. Whatever the position, does he agree with the statement made by the chairman of British Rail, Sir Bob Reid, on 4th December that the Government would have to make a long-term commitment to subsidise the railways if Railtrack is to be saleable at all? Is it right that the taxpayer should provide this life support machine for the franchisees?
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the figure quoted by the noble Lord totally misrepresents the situation. He was talking about the total cost of privatisation, which is by no means the same as the total cost of consultancies. The larger figure includes the smaller, but I dispute vigorously his assessment of the larger figure. It is grossly overstated. The noble Lord then asked a supplementary question which had nothing to do with the consultation cost. We stated that we will provide a
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Henley): My Lords, as we announced yesterday, the support weapons platoons of TA infantry battalions will be concentrated in four fire support battalions. The two TA battalions of the Parachute Regiment will restructure on a three rifle company basis without support weapons. On mobilisation, both battalions will be available to meet NATO or national requirements; in other circumstances they will, like the rest of the TA, serve as a general reserve to the Army. This may involve the battalions or parts of them augmenting the Regular Army on operations either in support of 5 Airborne Brigade or other formations, or independently.
Lord Richard: My Lords, I am obliged to the Minister for that Answer. I do not have a direct interest in this matter since I am not a member of the TA. I have never jumped out of an aeroplane either with or without a parachute. But this is a matter which was brought to my attention and is causing anxiety, particularly in those two battalions.
Can the Minister give us a specific statement this afternoon that the role of those two TA battalions is to act as reserves in support of the 5 Airborne Brigade? If he can say that, he will quell a great deal of anxiety. If that is not their role, presumably they have some role other than that of teaching men to jump out of aeroplanes with parachutes on, and perhaps he can tell us what that is.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I suspected that the noble Lord would not have an interest to declare. I thought it unlikely that he jumped out of aeroplanes either now or in the past. My first Answer gave the noble Lord the assurance he wanted. I was trying to make clear that those battalions do not have a specific endorsed role in support of 5 Airborne Brigade. If 5 Airborne Brigade needed reinforcement, it may come from those battalions or it may come from others. But, like other
I understand that the changes can cause some anxiety. We looked at other alternatives, possibly re-roling one battalion of the TA paras as a fire support battalion. But that would cause even greater anxiety because it would reduce the number of parachute trained soldiers in that the establishment of a support battalion would be 336 as opposed to 519 for an ordinary battalion.
Viscount Ridley: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the great majority of the Territorial Army will welcome yesterday's statement about its future, not least as an end to a long period of uncertainty? Is he further aware that what is needed now is a long period of stability to implement these sensible changes?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Viscount's comments. I agree that the vast majority of the TA is happy with the changes. It is obviously difficult, when announcing a restructuring of this sort, to avoid any disturbance whatever. We tried to avoid any excessive disturbance. As I said, some units will find their role changed but I hope that the vast majority of units will be happy without their existing role or in the new role to which they have been assigned.
Lord Henley: My Lords, in the restructuring we were reducing the number of infantry units and increasing other corps. To retain the loyalties and cap badges that have been built up it was necessary to restructure on that basis.
Lord Molloy: My Lords, bearing in mind the magnificent history of Britain's Territorial Army, particularly in times of need, can the Minister say that there will be no serious change in relation to our Territorial Army without a debate in this House?
Lord Henley: My Lords, if a debate is necessary I am sure that the usual channels will note what the noble Lord said. I shall be more than happy to debate the role and future of the TA on some future occasion.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m. my noble friend Lady Chalker of Wallasey will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is to be made in another place on the situation in Bosnia.
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