Examination of witnesses
(Questions 1469 - 1479)
WEDNESDAY 24 JUNE 1998
and MR JOHN
1469. Brigadier Holmes, welcome to you and
your team. I have not left the chair vacant for Mr Pitt-Brooke
as the time before last. The reason we invited you, not only is
the subject of the reserves intrinsically very important, and
I suspect will become even more important as far as the Committee
is concerned over the next couple of months, the Orders are obviously
very important but I think it is important that no government
department be allowed to introduce Statutory Instruments without
them being subject to serious scrutiny by a Select Committee as
opposed to often less than serious scrutiny or no scrutiny at
all by those people who are dragged in momentarily to undertake
the task. I thought perhaps I would like to give you the opportunity
of introducing your team and then you can give us a little overview,
if you would not mind, to the rationale behind what is being discussed
today. Then we can go into rather more specific questions.
(Brigadier Holmes) On my right is Brigadier John
Smales who is the Brigadier Reserves at Headquarters Land. He
is a regular officer responsible for reserves at that headquarters
but he works very closely with the chap who has taken over from
me in my previous existence who was the Brigadier TA. He is the
regular one. John Tesh, John Pitt-Brooke who was here last time,
he is effectively his second in command.
(Brigadier Holmes) The two areas that we are looking
at, firstly is a Call Out Order and secondly is an amendment to
TA Regulations. The Call Out Order has been made with a view to
the call up of reservists for operations in the Former Yugoslavia
and residually also in the region of Iraq, although as may become
clear, the Order does not have to specify geographically. It is
an example, which we might explore a little further later on,
of the use of reservists in the new world, the fact we are able
relatively easily now to call for reservists and to use them in
operations other than war, something we would not have been able
to do anything like as easily before the new legislation came
into force. The amendment to TA Regulations concerns the amendment
of regulations in the light of recent changes in legislation.
It brings TA Regulations, which are, if you like, the TA's bible,
which establishes terms and conditions for the TA, up to date.
1471. If I can take us back to before the
1996 Act and ask you what were the main lessons of calling up
of reservists for the Gulf War and Bosnia? What has been done
to implement those lessons and what do you think remains to be
(Brigadier Holmes) I think the essential point
is that the previous legislation was essentially legislation geared
to the old world. It presumed that if there was a crisis when
reserves would be needed, they would be needed suddenly and in
large numbers. If you like the system was geared to there being
a large on-off switch, and the legislation was geared to throwing
the switch from the off position to the on position in a hurry.
Clearly with the collapse of the bi-polar world and a change in
the sort of military operations in which Britain might become
involved that was inappropriate. We could really see in the Gulf
and in the early stages of Bosnia how inappropriate it was. Up
until that time the legislation did not easily permit us to mobilise
reservists in circumstances short of actually apprehended war.
In other words, you could call the TA up for permanent service
in the event of a war or for training but you could not really
call it up for anything short of that. If you needed to send Territorials
off on operations often the most effective way of doing so was
to send them on an S-type engagement under whose terms they would
effectively become regulars for the duration of that engagement.
It was byzantine in its complexity. They would have to leave the
Territorial Army on one day, enlist in the regular army, serve
as regulars and then carry out the same process on their discharge.
The chances of a bureaucratic slip up were considerable. The experience
of the Gulf and the experience of the early days of the Bosnia
did suggest that the old legislation, however applicable it was
to the old world, was no good for the new and we needed to do
something new. The last part of your question, what are you doing
about it? The new legislation in my opinion is pretty well right
and what we are now seeing is the process of making it work, using
regulations to make it work, seeing what the advantages and disadvantages
are, and the practical implications of using that new legislation.
1472. Just following on from that, I think
the first Call-out Order under the 1996 Act was in April of last
year, would that be correct?
(Brigadier Holmes) I believe it was but I am not
absolutely sure. Since the new legislation did not become operational
under 1st April last year my guess is that must be the case, yes.
1473. I am not so much concerned about the
precise date, Brigadier. I wonder if any problems were identified
in the implementation of that and if you have made any changes
since 1997 to take account of these problems?
(Brigadier Holmes) The answer is yes to both questions.
At the risk of being slightly discursive, the process of getting
a reservist to a place like Bosnia is broadly similar whether
he is a regular reservist or a volunteer reservist. In the case
of volunteer reservists to date, we have always trawled for volunteers.
We have had several attempts at changing the nature of the trawling
process. In other words, is it best to get the army personnel
centre in Glasgow to trawl directly or should we use the chain
of command to trawl. In fact we have used both those methods.
In my view anyhow the best way of doing this is the chain of command
which after all is the organisation that soldiers associate with.
1474. In practice how does that work? Let
me tell you I visited the Cooper Squadron of the Scottish Yeomanry
just the other day in my constituency. The squadron there is the
remnants of the Fife and Forfar Unit. I met a member of the Territorial
Army who had just given up his job so he could take up a six month
tour of duty in Bosnia. I was going to say how would he come to
that decision, he would come to it using his own mind but how
would the opportunity be placed in front of him and how would
he come to know what the opportunity was and what its consequences
were and what his terms and conditions would be?
(Brigadier Holmes) The way this goes is that the
Director of Military Operations, when a force is being put together
for an operationwhether that is an operation which arises
at short notice or one like Bosnia which has gone on for short
timewill tell Headquarters Land what the requirement is
and Land will then look at the way that it will meet that requirement.
It will have various options of how to put the force together.
One way of compensating for a shortfall in units which might be
going would be perhaps to use regulars from other units to bring
that unit up to strength. It might be more likely to look for
a mixture of regular and volunteer reservists and in the case
of volunteer reservists it will then trawl through the chain of
command. In other words, it will say what the vacancies are for
a particular deployment and this comes out on a large list saying
what individuals they are after, what jobs they will be doing
and what the rank range required is. This comes through the chain
of command to unit level so that individuals have the opportunity
of assessing whether the prospect appeals to them.
1475. So at a parade typically the commanding
officer would say: "I have before me a document which says
there is an opportunity for four people to go to Bosnia starting
on 1 May, anyone interested"?
(Brigadier Holmes) That is absolutely right. Related
to Mr Blunt's earlier question, what is improved is the way of
handling that. Now in the very early stages the trawl was difficult
to implement because it was the first time it had been done. We
are now getting more familiar with it and commanding officers,
without establishing any formal relationship over this, will clearly
have a good idea who in terms of military skills, family commitments
and jobs might be likely to want to go to Bosnia. They will have
a pretty good idea which will in many cases amount to an unofficial
list of who might be asked. They will then ask them and it will
be clear how long the mobilisation is for and what the requirement
is for. Again, relating this to an earlier question, there have
been problems in the past because the Director of Military Operations
will put his request in something like three and half months before
the individual needs to deploy and if we take the most hypothetical
of examples, the First Battalion of the Loamshire Regiment is
going to Bosnia, three and a half months before it gets there
it may not accurately know precisely which jobs it will require
reservists to fill. When it actually deploys it may be the case
it has asked for a section second in command which it does not
want when it gets there because one of its soldiers has extended
his service. There is sometimes a misfit between reservists who
are asked to volunteer and the jobs that they get asked to do
when they are in theatre.
1476. That in no way is helpful because
they say: "I came here to do a medical job and I am being
asked to do a general job" and when they go back they may
be rather apostles for the process.
(Brigadier Holmes) Precisely. It is something
we are very concerned about. I have to say that there is within
the workings of the system always a chance that there will be
a mismatch because of the process that I have just explained.
However, nobody wants that to happen because the system does rely
and has relied at its outset on people volunteering and clearly
it is in the interests of all of us for reservists who go to Bosnia
to come back speaking well of their experience. If we send somebody
out to do a particularly skilled job and they finish up painting
Landrovers they are not going to be pleased and the fact that
they are not pleased will reflect on the likelihood of other members
of their unit to volunteering.
1477. In the memorandum which you helpfully
provided in advance of today you told us roughly 1,000 reservists
will be called out. Can you give us a breakdown of that figure
briefly for each of the services?
(Brigadier Holmes) I cannot at this stage in the
proceedings unless Brigadier Smales, with more detailed information
from Headquarters Land, is able to help.
1478. If you do not have it immediately
you can send it to us in a note but the general indication.
(Brigadier Smales) A general indication, since
December 1995 3,307 reservists have been called out, of which
2,546 are TA.
1479. Could you repeat those figures?
(Brigadier Smales) 3,307 reservists of which 2,546
are TA. That is up to the beginning of this month.