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Earl Peel: My Lords—

Lord Bach: My Lords, perhaps the noble Earl will let me finish: I want to finish within my 20 minutes and to say a word about food, which was raised by a number of noble Lords: the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood—with an invitation that is going to be extremely hard to refuse, although he should not see that as an acceptance—and the noble Lord, Lord Livsey. The advice I have received is that grey squirrels are edible; I understand that Gordon Ramsay recently cooked a grey squirrel on television and offered it to the public, but maybe that is where the problem is. Attempts have been made over the years to encourage people to eat them. It always attracts good press coverage but it has not yet caught on as a market. The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, may change all that.

Preservation of the red squirrel is not something that Government can achieve on their own, but we are taking a strong lead, and will continue to do so. Even if we fail to preserve the red squirrel on the mainland of England, we will not have given up without a fight. The passion in this House and, I suspect, of those elsewhere in the country to preserve the red squirrel is obvious.

I was asked about grey squirrels destroying our woodland: in most cases they do not; grey squirrels strip bark and can cause severe damage to trees of 10 to 40 years of age; normally less than 5 per cent of damaged trees die, but many have reduced timber value. There has been a great deal of co-operation and joint working in this field. I want to thank all those organisations and individuals, many of whom are present in the Chamber, who are working so hard to preserve the red squirrel in the UK today.

1.33 pm

Earl Peel: My Lords, I sincerely appreciate all those who have taken part in this debate. We have had a wide-ranging discussion on the various reasons why
 
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the red squirrel is in demise. I am glad that we all came to a comprehensive conclusion, that it is entirely because of the greys, and action clearly has to be taken. My noble friend Lord Inglewood made reference to the debate that he had in your Lordships' House in 1998. We are now in 2006, and little has happened. I urge the Government to take note. Good wishes and intentions are one thing: action is another.

The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, made reference to the European Squirrel Initiative. I echo what he said about the sterling work that it has carried out. I entirely agreed with my noble friend Lady Byford when she said that the difficulty is that the Government and so many of the government agencies will not face up to wildlife management issues. The Minister said that I was in favour of eradication of the grey squirrel. I said that I was in principle, but in practice I acknowledged that until we can find an alternative method the only solution is through pinpointing viable populations and ensuring that those are properly protected.

I want to take up the Minister on the European directive. I was a little confused by his response, because he said that there was no need for the red squirrel to be protected under the Berne Convention because there was no risk to the red squirrel in Europe. He went on to describe the difficulties that the Italians were finding and that the red squirrel was moving northwards into France. I am confused about what he was trying to say. My interpretation of the situation is that in Europe there is a severe problem and they are going to face up to the same difficulties that we are facing in this country. Unless there is a move to protect the red squirrel under the European Habitats Directive my conclusion is that there will be continued difficulties in that regard.

The Minister gave us some encouraging views on what was happening. However, at the end of the day we can have all the strategies and conservation guidelines that we want, but if there is not a co-ordinated approach embracing all interested parties with a clear determination to eradicate the grey squirrel in areas where there are still viable red populations it is not going to work. I applaud the Minister's intentions. My hope is that on the ground it will happen in practice. I also hope that the Government will continue to look towards what the Minister described as fertility control methods. I hope that they will continue to invest in those possibilities, because in the long run they will be the answer.

I repeat how much I appreciate everyone taking part in the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, said that I was brave—maybe I am. I like to think that I am being practical, because if I am not, that delightful experience and vision given to us by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, when she talked about watching the red squirrels in Scotland, will simply go. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
 
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Territorial Army: Rebalancing

1.38 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Drayson): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces.

"With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a Statement about the Territorial Army. However, before I do so, I would like to mention the situation regarding Mr Kember. I am very pleased to confirm the involvement of British forces in the multinational rescue operation of Norman Kember. The rescue was the result of weeks of careful work and preparation, and I pay tribute to the professionalism played by British Armed Forces. To ensure that we do not compromise future operations I am not prepared to go into any details about the operation or to confirm the troops involved. However, I would like to stress how proud I am of the achievement of all of those involved in the rescue. I understand that Norman Kember is well and is presently being cared for by staff at the British Embassy in Baghdad.

"For many months, the TA has been consulted widely over the changes we should make to better integrate it into the Future Army Structures—or FAS—which, I remind the House, we announced in November 2004. As a result, much of what I have to say will be of no surprise to TA units. Their views, at all levels, have been sought and their input has helped to define the review outcomes. I am grateful for their comprehensive engagement in this process.

"I also inform the House that I have written today to all honourable Members whose constituency TA units are affected by this rebalancing with details of the changes to those units. I am also placing details of all the changes in the Library of the House.

"The size of the Territorial Army will not be changed. It will remain at an authorised strength of 42,000, including a University Officer Training Corps of 3,500. Within that unaltered total, the changes that we introduce will reflect the modern-day role of the TA as an integral part of our defence posture.

"The great change in the TA, which came about as a result of the reforms of the late 1990s, was to move it away from its Cold War role. In its place, a mobilisation culture was introduced, such that it would expect in future to be mobilised and deployed on a range of operations in support of our defence policy overseas, rather than be held in reserve for defence against an attack on western Europe.

"Since then the reserves generally, and in particular the Territorial Army, have made a major contribution to operations overseas. For example, in Iraq we have deployed some 12,000 soldiers since 2003. They have in a real sense earned their spurs—once again. I pay tribute to their ability to adapt, in just a few years, to the changing and very
 
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demanding circumstances of the new century, and I publicly acknowledge their appreciable skills and courage.

"The operational experience gained from extensive use of the TA has allowed us to apply lessons learnt in respect of its most effective employment. First, we are assigning to the TA its proper role in the more demanding contingencies for which it might be required to deploy. Each TA unit will be given a clear role to augment the regular order of battle for large-scale operations—that is, operations on a similar scale to the Gulf campaign in 1990 and in Iraq in 2003. That is the role for which they will train.

"Secondly, although we will structure the TA for larger-scale operations, we will continue to support individual members of the TA who wish to volunteer for tours on operations of a lesser scale. Many soldiers indicate that they are very keen to deploy on such operations, and the experience that they gain is invaluable. At the same time, we need to regulate the use of the TA so that unnecessary strains are not put on individual volunteers, their families or their employers. So we will aim to limit the use of reserves on operations to one year in every five, unless individuals volunteer for more. Although that will be our aim, the legal position is that they can be called out once in every three years.

"Thirdly, in designing our TA units, we will take account of the realities of TA service. There will always be some volunteers who are still going through their basic training and others who, for very good reasons, are not available for mobilisation when a particular crisis occurs. We have therefore made allowance in unit structures for both a training margin and a mobilisation margin, so that the TA units are more robustly structured to deliver the trained manpower needed for operations.

"Fourthly, we will strengthen the affiliation of TA units to those regular units with whom they are likely to operate, thus improving mutual understanding and operational capability. Closer affiliation with regular units for training purposes will also increase joint TA and Regular training and so deliver more enjoyable, relevant and challenging training to the Territorial Army.

"Finally, we will strengthen the support that we give to TA units, with approximately 240 permanent staff recruited to provide administration, welfare, training and employer support.

"The organisational changes of TA rebalancing will include strengthening of the Royal Engineer element of the TA, the establishment of which will increase by some 1,600, as well as increases to the TA Yeomanry—or Royal Armoured Corps—and the Army Air Corps.

"The following new TA units will be formed. There will be an Army Air Corps Regiment to support the Apache attack helicopter regiments in the Regular Army, to be based in Bury St Edmunds. A new Royal Engineer Regiment—72 Engineer
 
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Regiment Volunteers—will have its headquarters in Gateshead, with a re-roled Parachute Engineer Squadron in Wakefield, taking under command squadrons in Newcastle and Sheffield.

"In addition, five new engineer squadrons will be raised in Kinloss, Cumbernauld, Failsworth, Northampton and Northern Ireland, as well as a new TA military intelligence battalion which will have five companies based across England and Scotland.

"A military provost staff company will be formed in Colchester. That will be a new capability for the TA and will provide a deployable expertise to assist and advise in the custody of detainees. A complete new Transport Regiment will be raised in the south-west, based in Plymouth with squadrons in Truro, Dorchester and Poole.

"As we have already announced, the TA infantry will be reduced by some 900 posts and reorganised to form 14 TA infantry battalions as an integral part of the Future Infantry Structure. We will now revert to the practice of naming TA battalions after the regular regiments of which they will form a part, rather than after the regions in which they are based. As a result of fewer volunteers being required as signallers, logisticians and combat medical staff, there will also be reductions in a number of other arms and services.

"The changes that I have outlined will not happen overnight, but over a number of years. For many volunteers, little will change at all. Those whose units are likely to change will of course be given every opportunity to discuss, understand and make an informed decision on their future. The vast majority will, I am sure, continue to be active members of the TA.

"Territorial Army volunteers have shown over the past century that they are extremely adaptable to the requirements of national security. The changes I have announced today will ensure that the TA continues to be a force for good in dealing with the challenges of the next century, as an integral part of our land forces. I commend them to the House".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

1.48 pm


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