Monday, October 11, 1999 Published at 23:10 GMT 00:10 UK
Tories attack TA call-up plan
Volunteer TA troops could face compulsory call-up
The Tories have accused the government of performing an embarrassing U-turn with its proposals for Territorial Army troops to serve with peacekeeping units in the Balkans.
The plans, which are being considered by military chiefs, directly contradicted the policy set out in the recent Strategic Defence Review (SDR), said shadow Defence Secretary Iain Duncan Smith.
He said they "underline the utter shambles" the government had made of the review.
"This flies in the face of Labour's policy set out in the SDR, where whole TA units were only to be called up in the event of major threat to the UK or major conflicts such as the Gulf war," said Mr Duncan Smith.
"This is policy change by stealth."
The TA, which saw its numbers cut from 57,000 personnel to around just 41,200, was offered a more active role within the services as part of the review.
Under the proposals being studied by the government, infantry units composed of 120 men and other similar sized units could be ordered to leave their civilian jobs for periods stretching from three months to a year.
If approved it would be the first compulsory call-up of TA troops since World War II.
The move, which has yet to be approved by ministers, was unlikely to take place until next year and would only initially involve a few hundred troops from the total TA force.
Doubt over employment prospects
But Mr Duncan Smith said he feared the change could deter employers from hiring TA members and damage the careers of territorials.
"This latest announcement has clearly exposed Labour's shambolic defence review as the Treasury-inspired savings exercise it always was," he argued.
"They must admit their failure and completely re-think the use of reserve forces."
A Ministry of Defence spokesman confirmed TA units could be sent to areas where British troops are involved in peacekeeping duties, including Bosnia and Kosovo.
Compensation scheme mooted
Under the present law, TA personnel can be compulsorily called up but officers can resign their commissions with notice and other ranks can simply fail to turn up with impunity.
There were now 533 TA soldiers on peacekeeping duties with the regular British Army around the world, the vast majority of them serving in Kosovo.
The government later rejected Conservative accusations of performing a U-turn, saying the previous Tory government had effectively abandoned the TA.
Commenting on the compulsory call-up proposals, Defence Minister John Spellar said: "This is a vindication of our policy in relation to the TA. We promised a TA that was more usable and more relevant to today's needs.
"Now we are delivering just that, whereas the Tories were content to leave the TA languishing in an outdated cold war role.
"Labour has modernised it so that it can be a fully integrated part of the regular army."
UK Politics Contents
A-Z of Parliament