TERRITORIAL ARMY – 12 June 2007

Dr Julian Lewis: It had not been my intention to contribute substantively to the debate, but as the opportunity has opened up I should like to take advantage of the Minister’s presence by raising a specific point about what happens to members of the Territorial Army when they come back from their tours of duty.

The theme that we can expect to hear a great deal of in speeches on this subject is that, although the people who are volunteer reservists may be part-time in terms of their commitment of time, the dangers that they face and the standards that they reach make them entirely comparable with the most battle-hardened, seasoned, long-time Regular. However, there is one grave difference and great disadvantage that they face at the end of their tour of duty. Having experienced all the pressures – and indeed horrors – of conflict, when they come back to this country they do not have the support and infrastructure of their units permanently around them, to help them to adjust to the aftermath of their experiences.

We all know from history the trauma that the civilians who became warriors in World War Two went through when they had to readjust to ordinary life – particularly when they were moving back into communities that had little idea of the reality of what they had experienced. In a couple of atrocious cases recently, to which I hope the Minister will refer, although they did not necessarily involve reservists, people who were wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan were abused while recovering in hospital on civilian wards. I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity to send out a message that, however strongly people may disagree with a particular campaign, they should realise that abuse of our Servicemen and women – particularly those who are wounded, and recovering in hospital – will not be tolerated.

A serious comparison can be made between the difficulties of Servicemen and women who are recovering from physical wounds in hospital and those faced by people who must recover from the emotional trauma of seeing their comrades maimed or even killed in battle alongside them, and who are returning to civil society among people with little idea of what they went through. We owe a special duty to those people who volunteer, as reservists, to put themselves in harm’s way; we have a duty to ensure that they have maximum support when they come back from ever-lengthening tours of duty and have to come to terms with their experiences without the support of a regular unit of professional comrades around them.

I hope that the Minister – to whom I apologise, because I shall not be able to be present for his concluding remarks – will deal with that issue and say what extra support the Government are giving specifically to reservists, to help them to cope with something that is a greater task and heavier burden for them than for their regular comrades in the Army, and indeed all three Services.

[The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Derek Twigg): ... The hon. Member for New Forest, East said that patients had been abused at Selly Oak. I can say only that I have asked for such allegations to be investigated, but no one has been able to come up with any evidence that that took place. The fact remains that people get top-quality care at Selly Oak. We have also improved security there. As the hon. Member for Forest of Dean mentioned, we intend to make further improvements. We will also consider how to take forward the new ward at the new hospital; clearly, the view of the Chiefs of Staff will be important in that. Like regulars, reservists are treated in Selly Oak, and they get world-class treatment from both armed forces and NHS personnel.]