Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 1480 - 1499)



Mr Campbell

  1480.  The commenced date?
  (Brigadier Smales)  December 1995.

  1481.  Of those who are asked to go, for example, to serve in Bosnia, what percentage are asked to go and fulfil specialist roles and how many of them are asked to replace regulars?
  (Brigadier Holmes)  Unless Brigadier Smales has a more accurate breakdown all I can give you is a general outline of our principal requirements, firstly for the period December 1995 to March 1997 and then in the period 1997 to 1998. In December 1995 to March 1997 by cap badge we had a requirement for Royal Military Police, Royal Signals and Royal Logistic Corp drivers. 1997 to 1998 Royal Engineers, REME, Royal Signals, Infantry, Royal Logistic Corp drivers and cooks, REME and Adjutant-Generals Corps. That shows a general tendency to go for people who have specialist——

  1482.  Who bring the skill with them.
  (Brigadier Holmes)  Yes. What is actually quite interesting is to see the infantry appearing in 1997-98 figures.

  1483.  That is a reflection, of course, of the recruitment problem and difficulties elsewhere?
  (Brigadier Holmes)  It may well be.


  1484.  On the question of infantrymen—and thank you for giving us the little intro into this, it was coming anyway—we keep getting told that the infantrymen in the TA really are not up to the task. Where have you found these guys? What tasks have they slotted into? How quickly was it before they managed to raise their game sufficiently to fit in easily with the full-time boys playing at being very good soldiers?
  (Brigadier Holmes)  The way that we have used infantry in Bosnia so far has been by reinforcing regular infantry battalions going to Bosnia with Territorials. Very often, wherever possible, we have done this with the grain of the regimental system. This would result in soldiers in the first Loamshires being reinforced by Territorials wearing the same cap badge and that is where the regimental system works best of all. Typically a unit going might take from say 30 to say 80 Territorials.

  1485.  As many as that?
  (Brigadier Holmes)  As many as that. By and large they will be relatively low in terms of rank. In other words it might take out an officer or two, a corporal or two but most of them are private soldiers and most of them fit into the structure provided by the regular army. You see the Territorials feeding into a regular framework, and while obviously there are lots of different individual experiences, I think the consensus is that the system has worked very well indeed because we are using Territorials to fit into a structure which is already working and therefore it does not require much time. If the Territorials join the unit for work up training before it goes, I think—and I would not wish to put words into all their mouths—most regimental commanding officers would say that you really cannot see the joins by the time——

  1486.  How quickly.
  (Brigadier Holmes)  —— they get into theatre. It is worth adding, I was having a conversation with a Green Howards officer the other day, not merely was he very pleased with the Territorials he had got but he had a Territorial corporal in his platoon who turned out to be a stonemason. The Green Howards entirely unofficially had been repairing a variety of buildings in theatre and the stonemason had done some rather nice little stone plaques with the Green Howards' badge on. That has nothing at all to do with readiness but I think——

  1487.  He has been promoted I presume.
  (Brigadier Holmes)  —— it has an awful lot to do with style and putting a little bit of value added in. I think that is another thing these boys can do.

  1488.  And they are very happy when they come back to talk to their mates and to say what it was like being an infantryman in theatre?
  (Brigadier Holmes)  Yes and I think another advantage of doing these things with the grain of the regimental system is that a Territorial soldier is much more likely to be well regarded by the receiving unit. Even if in the early stages they think "he is a bloody Territorial", at least he is one of our Territorials.

  1489.  In terms of the training prior to going out, how would that be tailor-made in order to meet the requirements of Bosnia? How many hours would it take?
  (Brigadier Holmes)  It is worth emphasising the trawling process will only start with a Territorial who is trained to a basic level in any event. A commanding officer is not going to feed into the trawling process somebody who is not trained. He will then receive some top up training in UK before he goes to theatre and this is where the Reserves Training and Mobilisation Centre—which I will be entirely happy to talk about—comes in. Once that is up and running it will give more focused training. I think one of the difficulties which has occurred so far is that we have had to do pre-deployment training and mobilisation preparation on a rather ad hoc basis.

Mr Campbell

  1490.  If you are a commanding officer and you have someone going, you are not going to send a trouble maker are you because the difficulty is that the representation of your unit will then be rather poor in the unit to which your soldier has gone. I suppose there is self-selection, that is to say people who say: "Well I would like to do this" and then you have the commanding officer saying: "I will not nominate so and so because he is a trouble maker or may not do the job properly". Then is there a further stage at which centrally someone says: "Well this chap may want to do it, the commanding officer may think he is good enough to do it but we do not think he is good enough to do it". Does he get weeded out?
  (Brigadier Holmes)  Yes, he does. He has to go through the mobilisation process over here. Now, at present, that is a process which has been carried out in a number of different places and has not worked ideally. We have in-train the establishment of a Reserve Training and Mobilisation Centre. For example, that will give him a medical, it will make sure he passes his combat fitness test and it will bring his training up to the required standard for deployment. If he does not come up to that then he will not get mobilised so it is a final filter.

  1491.  May I say the Committee is rather pleased to hear that because that was one of the recommendations the Committee made in the last Parliament. How long do you think it may be before that Centre is fully up and running?
  (Brigadier Smales)  1st April 1999 is the plan to have it in operation.

  1492.  And who will run that? Will that be run by the regular army or by the reservists?
  (Brigadier Holmes)  It will have a regular lieutenant colonel commanding.

  1493.  You have a location?
  (Brigadier Holmes)  We are considering a number of locations including Chilwell although a final ministerial decision on its location has yet to be made. It will be commanded by a lieutenant colonel and it will have enough dedicated staff to look after over 3,000 reservists annually to both mobilise and demobilise.


  1494.  And train?
  (Brigadier Holmes)  And train. In other words, it will take reservists, both regular and volunteer, in. It will get them kitted, any extra kit they require. It will get them documented which is very important because TA pay is not the same as regular army pay. Another of the things that, as you will all be well aware, did go wrong in the past, pay did not always work as it should. It will get them properly documented. It will get them medically examined and it will then dispatch them to theatre. It will complete their demobilisation when they come back. It also seems to me that another area where we have not in the past covered ourselves with glory is in our relationship with employers. That is because we have, if you like, two sorts of relationships with employers. The first is the formal one where the Army Personnel Centre at Glasgow sends at the very beginning of the process a formal notification that an individual has agreed to be mobilised into service and it tells the employer what the legal requirements are. There is a similar document sent at the end of it which tells the employer that he has a certain amount of time to lodge a claim for financial assistance if he wishes to do so. It does seem to me that we need to do more than that. In other words that we need to be sure that employers are told after the individual has gone what he is doing and how he is doing it. It seems to me this is a chain of command responsibility. It is a chain of command responsibility which will be much easier to exercise if the receiving unit, the hard pressed lieutenant colonel in Banja Luka or elsewhere knows who a man's employer is and who he ought to write to. From this point of view I think the Reserve Training and Mobilisation Centre is going to do more than simply train and mobilise, it will act as a focal point where information about reservists going out to theatre and coming back can be more readily controlled.

  1495.  It will be really helpful if we could be sent information on this Reserve Training and Mobilisation Centre. Certainly when it is open we would like to come along. If it can accommodate 3,000, is the assumption we will only ever require 3,000? If there be some catastrophe whereby we require 6,000, 9,000, 12,000 or, as in the First World War hundreds of thousands, let us say we need 10,000 in the event of a major crisis, where would the training be done?
  (Brigadier Holmes)  I think the first thing is we would assume we would get some warning before we are required to deploy a force which needs that number of reservists. We could, between warning and mobilisation, take some steps to increase the capacity. The key thing there is we will at least have a fund of knowledge and a fund of skills which is required so we will at least know what we are doing. We could expand the capacity in order to take more people[1].

Laura Moffatt

  1496.  I am so glad you preempted my questions to you on employers. It is something which is concerning this Committee, as you know no doubt and I thank you for that. I would like to go on a little bit and perhaps bring that back into what I am going to ask you by saying do you believe that there is any flexibility in this system for call up for reservists? It is something that I have been pursuing through the Committee and on the floor of the House in the difficulties that the length of time is causing for employers, particularly the National Health Service. I can see that there are some people who feel that they are being pulled in all directions, reservists who are very keen to serve but find they are going to cause great difficulty for the NHS back home. I wonder if you could let me know if you believe there is any scope for looking at the tours of duty that people do and perhaps splitting them up?
  (Brigadier Holmes)  If I could perhaps start with this one and Brigadier Smales may like to say a word afterwards. At present we are mobilising reservists for seven months, which includes six months in theatre. Now the argument over this cuts in two directions. There is the straight operational requirement argument which is entirely logical and says quite clearly that if you are going to mobilise a reservist, the longer you use him or her for the more value you get out of the training period and the less disruption you cause in theatre by people coming in and out. That is an argument which I am very sensitive to. On the other side of the coin there is an argument which says that the shorter the period of mobilisation the more people you will get to volunteer and that will be the case particularly for people—and medical personnel will be a key instance here—who are hard pressed in their everyday lives. I think the answer is to acknowledge the importance of the first principle, that of the operational requirement, meaning that one should remain in theatre as long as possible, but to recognise that the shorter the period the more people you would get. For example, in the case of railway engineers we took railway engineers for less than six months because we were fishing in a very tiny pool. I think there is a principle which ought to be tempered by common sense. Speaking as a Territorial I would acknowledge certainly that it is easier to persuade people to give up their jobs for three months than for six.

  1497.  I would like to look at that in terms of employers as well. They may be more likely—I realise this is a call out—to acquiesce to all the requests of the reserve forces if there is some flexibility. Do you take that argument, if you acknowledge it, any further forward to say that would be worth pursuing?
  (Brigadier Holmes)  I think it would be easier obviously to persuade employers to release people for six months. Through the National Employer Liaison Committee we are in close contact with employers and there are some areas, particularly the National Health Service, where employers are extraordinarily hard pressed. Clearly there are two factors, the shorter the mobilisation period and as importantly the more warning time an employer gets the easier it will be for the employer. What is quite difficult is to tell an employer late on that you would like one of their employees. It does put the employer sometimes in a situation where they are being dragged in two directions. I have been reminded, although this is not the thrust of your question, that an employer can apply for exemption or deferral for compulsory mobilisation but at this stage, as I judge it, we are talking about volunteers.

  1498.  Sure. We get beyond that, of course there will be some looking for that but co-operation and working with employers seems to me the best way forward.
  (Brigadier Holmes)  Yes. It is worth reiterating that Bosnia has been a very considerable success. To get this number of reservists to Bosnia who have volunteered and who have organised things with their employers before-hand has been a very considerable success which we need to build on. The employers are an essential plank in this. We must keep employers on side.
  Laura Moffatt:  You will note from our report on Bosnia that there was considerable disquiet amongst those services, including the NHS, about the pickle that they had left behind and also about making some sort of arrangement to sort that out.
  Chairman:  We hope the SDR, which we do not expect you to discuss, will perhaps undo some of the damage that has been caused and will make your task rather easier should medical personnel be required to turn up on the core. I would not expect you to answer that. We are crossing our fingers that is what is going to happen.
  Mr Campbell:  Casting a fly.

Laura Moffatt

  1499.  Can we turn to readiness then. Do you keep records of TA readiness and the levels at which they are prepared?
  (Brigadier Holmes)  Yes. This is where I will defer to Brigadier Smales to talk about this.
  (Brigadier Smales)  At present, and I cannot predict what the SDR might give us, the bulk of the TA, almost all of the TA, are at what is known as readiness level 8 which is at 180 days' notice. There are one or two signals' units which are essential for the regular army deployment on shorter notice but for the most part they are at 180 days' notice. This means that each unit is required to have 50 per cent of its establishment with individual's fit for role and it is given 90 per cent of its pay, its funding, to achieve that.

1   Note by witness: The Reserve Mobilisation and Training Centre is designed to cope with the mobilisation of individuals; large-scale mobilisation would involve units, which would mobilise under their own arrangements. Back

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