Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 1500 - 1519)



  1500.  That is interesting. Thank you very much. Can I move on to the Call Out Orders of the former Yugoslavia and the Gulf. Clearly you said that was a success and I think probably we all agreed. Do you see any other areas where the reserve forces will be effective? If you think we listen to what the Minister says about how the TA should be responsive and useable, tell me where else the TA could be used?
  (Brigadier Holmes)  I think I find it difficult to conceive of a set of circumstances—save aid to civil power which is an exception—where the reserve forces could not be useable. In other words, right across the scale from aid to the civil community in the United Kingdom right through to military operations of an intense nature overseas. Again, going back to legislation, I think the advantage of the legislation is it makes the reserve forces useable and useful in that whole range of circumstances. I would expect therefore to see almost anything in which the British forces involve themselves, including some reservists, with that scale of involvement increasing as the intensity of the operation evolves.

  1501.  In the event of operations in Kosovo, do you see reserve forces playing their part there?
  (Brigadier Holmes)  Without dealing with Kosovo specifically, obviously I could not comment, if there is military operation then the process of selecting a force would be done in the normal way and it might very well involve reservists.

  1502.  Do we need a new Call Out Order for that?
  (Brigadier Holmes)  In legal terms no because the Call Out Order is unspecific. The notice which tells Parliament of the Call Out Order specifies both geography and numbers. So in practice the existing Call Out Order would work for Kosovo, although one would expect Parliament to receive a notification of the fact that it was going to apply to Kosovo.


  1503.  A follow up, Brigadier, to the response on 180 days' readiness, does the TA meet the requirements laid down of being ready at 180 days?
  (Brigadier Smales)  Each unit does produce, against its establishment, 50 per cent of its individuals fully trained, yes. There is no real difficulty about that.

  1504.  What about the other 50 per cent, do they exist?
  (Brigadier Smales)  You must remember that the TA, unlike the regular army, trains its recruits in the unit rather than at the central training as the regular army does. So a high proportion of its establishment at any one time will be untrained or partly trained recruits which would account for between 20 and 30 per cent at any one time. I think 50 per cent is a very reasonable demand to make for an organisation which is funded to only 90 per cent of its establishment.

  1505.  If you had a wish list of what could be done for the TA, especially in the infantry, to make it ready after 150 days, 120 days, what would have to be done? What kind of investment? What kind of training requirement and changes would have to be made should it ever be necessary for substantial numbers to be made available, assuming intelligence is as it has always been a total failure, but something happens where we do not have the luxury of 180 days, what would we need to do as a nation to bring it down to 100 days or even less?
  (Brigadier Smales)  Let me start by talking about the major inhibiting factor. Unless you call people up they are only prepared to devote a certain amount of their time, if they are in civil employment, to training with the TA and I would think an ideal number of man training days would be about 40. Experience has shown that this is about what most people can do on average. We have 40 man training days to fill fruitfully. If we are going to improve the quality of that training we would need a greater investment in equipment at unit level with the TA, and that is a problem which affects both regular and TA. We would need more access to collective training, ie training at unit level or above. Those are the two things that I would recommend if the threat was sufficient to demand that we had a TA at shorter readiness.

  1506.  If it was possible could things be done by the Ministry of Defence to encourage more men and women to put in a greater number of hours than what is regarded as a minimum?
  (Brigadier Smales)  I am sure we can encourage them to do so but whether the employers would accept this, I do not know. Anyone who is unemployed, of course, would dearly love to do as many days as they can get, and a lot of people do do more than the average of 36 which I think is what we lay down at the moment. It is up to the commanding officer to decide who does what in order to achieve 50 per cent FFR. A personal opinion now: I am dubious of the need to give people more than about 40 man training days because I do not think we could do that without impacting on their civilian jobs and they essentially become semi regulars. Under the new Reserve Forces Act we do have such categories as full-time reserve service, limited commitment, which will allow us to exploit those people who have that desire and who are needed.

  1507.  What percentage in the last couple of years have done their 40 days?
  (Brigadier Smales)  If you want to know what percentage of individuals I would have to do some more research but the resources are taken up to produce the output required. How many people do 18 days, how many people do 17 or more days, I would have to look that up if you wish.

Mr Brazier

  1508.  Before my questions could I ask a supplementary to some things which were raised earlier, in terms of this business of persuading people to come in and keeping them happy when they are mobilised. Brigadier Holmes mentioned the importance of liaison with employers, something which my colleague, Laura Moffatt, and I have spent a lot of time looking at over the last year. Could you just say, did they consider the possibility of a part-time reservist to command the mobilisation centre so we have somebody with a real civilian job or not? Was anybody interviewed? Do either of you know anything about that?
  (Brigadier Smales)  Nothing is written down as far as I know but the current belief is that it had better be a regular who starts it because starting anything does require a degree of regular expertise. Our oral policy at the moment of Land command is that after the first chap has set it up there is no reason why a TA officer, properly qualified and recommended, should not command the mobilisation centre and I believe that will be desirable if we can find the properly recommended and qualified chap.

  1509.  Thank you. Brigadier Holmes, powers exist under the Act for compulsory mobilisation of reservists, in what scenario would you see this being used and critically do you think that such compulsory powers—taking people away from their civilian jobs—should be confined, as they traditionally have been earlier this century, to units or do you think that individuals could be compulsorily called out?
  (Brigadier Holmes)  In very general terms I think we must all be clear that the reserve forces are for use not for show. In other words, nobody should join the reserve forces if they do not recognise that by so doing they take on an obligation for compulsory mobilisation. I do think that is important. I think we need to be quite clear and very upfront about that post SDR, whatever form the SDR may take. Any government will need to take a view of the seriousness of a particular crisis and the way in which that crisis will be perceived by the nation as a whole and to relate the level of mobilisation to that perceived seriousness. In other words, if we went back to the Gulf War, there was, as many of the Committee will know, a feeling of irritation, I might say, on the part of many Territorials that they were not mobilised. There was a perception in the TA that this was a serious enough crisis to merit mobilisation. Lower down the scale, something like the former Yugoslavia, I would have thought—and any government will make a judgment at the time—that it would be more appropriate to call for volunteers. One can imagine a situation perhaps somewhere between the Gulf War and the former Yugoslavia where a government might wish to mobilise compulsorily. It will no doubt think very deeply about the fact that if it mobilises individuals, particularly individuals who are in short supply, it might solve a short term problem but would create a very long term one. The repeated mobilisation piecemeal of individuals in the TA might create a climate in which similar individuals would feel less likely to join or to stay in. It is a political judgment and I think compulsory mobilisation for something like the Gulf—difficult to be precise—would be expected and I would even say welcomed. At a lower level, of course, there might be individual mobilisation, but I would suggest that it is something which might be used with caution and we would need to be clear that getting volunteers had failed. Overlying all this, people ought not to join the reserve forces if they are not prepared to run the risk of compulsory mobilisation.

  1510.  The basic message should be that reserve forces would welcome mobilisation of units in a big Gulf type scenario, below that as far as possible individual mobilisation it should be voluntary?
  (Brigadier Holmes)  Yes but having very much regard to the circumstances of the crisis and the political realities of the moment.

  1511.  The Call Out Order also authorises the Call Out of regular reserves. Do you anticipate calling up any regular reserves? If so what roles would they be asked to undertake? Is there any distinction between the kind of roles for which you might seek ex-regulars and the kind of roles for which you might seek volunteer reservists?
  (Brigadier Holmes)  If I can start with that and Brigadier Smales might want to add. The sort of way the balance has gone so far, in 1995 and 1997, the mixture was 78 per cent volunteer reserve, 22 per cent regular. 1997-98 it was 70 per cent volunteer and 30 per cent regular. Regulars are inevitably trawled for jobs where there is no TA equivalent. For example if you wanted AS 90 gunners or tank crewmen then you would naturally trawl the regular army, now that may or may not change post SDR. That gives you a feel for the way in which the balance might be arrived at.

  1512.  Brigadier Smales, would you like to add anything?
  (Brigadier Smales)  No, I think Brigadier Holmes has said everything.

  1513.  Again, I am not sure which of the two Brigadiers I am addressing the next question to, you may both want to say something. What was your experience of calling out regular reserves for the Gulf War because there was, as I understand, a number of regular reservists as well as a number of volunteer reservists who were mobilised, albeit on a small scale.
  (Brigadier Holmes)  A total of 1,700 reservists of all sorts were called out in the Gulf War and 120 of those regular reservists were compulsorily called out. The number of compulsory called out regular reservists was actually very small.

  1514.  Were the procedures the same for calling them out?
  (Brigadier Holmes)  The procedures were broadly the same but remember this is when the old legislation was still in force. I have no doubt that things will be much more flexible and easier now.

  1515.  Last question on that group: obviously a Territorial in a unit where he has to pass an annual fitness test, and most units have PT or football or something to see the boys are fit, what measures are there in place to ensure or at least try to check whether or not regular reservists are keeping physically fit? Are there any opportunities for preventing skill fade or whatever?
  (Brigadier Holmes)  No. There was a system where regular reserves used to carry out ARCEX, which is an annual reporting exercise, where they would appear once a year. That was discontinued. We do not expect to see regular reservists. The check however would be the same as the check applied to any sort of reservist by the Reserve Training and Mobilisation Centre. In other words, if he was not medically fit and could not do his combat fitness test he would not get over that hurdle. Regardless of the state he might have got into since leaving the army if he cannot get over that hurdle he will not get in.

  1516.  Is there any measure for what proportions are passing the medical fitness of Territorials as against regular reservists or not?
  (Brigadier Holmes)  Certainly I do not have anything.

  1517.  Can I just check one last point, not directly relating to this but it does relate to this, a quick legal point for Mr Tesh, perhaps arising out of something previously discussed. You mentioned this involved changes to the TA regulations would any change to the TA regulations automatically require a statutory instrument in Parliament or not?
  (Mr Tesh)  Not at all. Most of the changes to the regulations, substantial changes, arise from the Reserve Forces Act. Quite a few of the regulations are administrative changes which do not require any Statutory Instrument.


  1518.  The question, following on from Mr Brazier, of calling up regular reservists is more of an aspiration than a reality above a handful of cases. Our Committee when we produced a report a few years ago was dismayed at how many formal regulars had managed to avoid passing on their information when they changed jobs or residence. I think the figure was 52 per cent had managed to catch up, which is pretty spectacular compared to the Child Support Agency. I suppose there must be congratulations on that. Have things improved? Have you improved procedures so you can get more than 52 per cent of people who have left the armed forces on your computer so should there be a requirement you will be able to find them and call them up?
  (Brigadier Holmes)  No things have not substantially improved. The principal reason for that is the change in the way that the army handles its personnel policy. No sooner had ARCEX, which was the annual reporting of reservists, been discontinued for financial reasons than the army centralised its personnel affairs at Glasgow, which resulted in the closing down of all regimental pay offices and so on. In the process, the contacting of regular reservists suffered. We are now in contact with something like 50 per cent of them which I concur is less than ideal[2].

  1519.  Is the MoD not trying hard enough? I would be appalled if just because somebody was in the regulars ten years ago that you had private investigators to chase him all over the country, I would not say that but even the MoD computers must work and I would have thought it would be possible if they wanted to, to increase that figure of 50 per cent?
  (Brigadier Holmes)  I am sure it would be possible. It is a question of——

2   Note by witness: See Ev p. 13. Back

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