RESERVISTS (WESTMINSTER HALL) – 23 April 2013

[Dr William McCrea (in the Chair): I want to give a highly respected Member of the House some time to speak, so may I ask Julian Lewis to speak for three minutes only, as we have already been beaten by time?

3.42 pm]

Dr Julian Lewis: You are extremely kind, Dr McCrea, and I shall stick to two minutes if I possibly can. Not for the first time has my gallant and hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) done a great service to the country and to the House – to the country previously in his distinguished military career and to the House today in securing this debate. Inevitably, the debate has concentrated on the Territorial Army, or the Army Reserve as it may be known in the future. Let us also put in a word for the Royal Naval Reserve, the Royal Marines Reserves, and the RAF Reserves, all of whom make a valuable contribution.

As a former junior member of the Senior Service reserve, I well recall what a bridge the reserves constituted, and still constitute, between the Armed Forces and society. The role of the reserves should be flexibility to deal with the unknown. As my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (John Baron) said, we do not know from where the next crisis will come, and we do not know the nature of that crisis until it is upon us.

Reserves should be an augmentation of, not a substitute for, regular forces. If trained-up former regulars constitute our reserve, we will have a better chance to get them to the sort of standards that we need very quickly than when we are dealing with civilian-only reserves. Nevertheless, there is potential in both cohorts.

I am concerned that the strategic context is being skewed by budgetary constraints. The truth of the matter is that we are having the debate in these terms because not enough money is being spent on defence.

Finally, I am concerned that in the future we will see a repeat of the sort of false opposition that was put forward by certain people in the past between what was called preparing for 'a war' in the future against an unknown modern state, and fighting 'the war' in which we are engaged at the moment – namely, counter-insurgency. We have seen how quickly the threats change. We are making important decisions about the future. For example, we must decide about the future of the nuclear deterrent. I do not want to see that debate skewed by people who think that if we cancel Vanguard-class replacement submarines we will get more troops.

The truth is we get the defence that we pay for. We are not paying enough; we should pay more.

[3.44 pm]