Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 1469 - 1479)




  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.

  1470.  Welcome.
  (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.

Mr Blunt

  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 done?
  (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.

Mr Campbell

  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 operation—whether that is an operation which arises at short notice or one like Bosnia which has gone on for short time—will 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.

Mr Brazier

  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.

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