Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 1520 - 1539)



  1520.  Priorities.
  (Brigadier Holmes)  The last thing I want to do is to present you with an excuse but I visited Glasgow recently and the sheer impact of centralising all the army's personnel matters at Glasgow and to do it whilst Bosnia was in progress has been extraordinarily difficult so it has certainly not helped. It is worth saying there is a legislative ability to compel reservists to keep in contact. Clearly if it was felt that we needed to have recourse to more of these reservists then we could take this more seriously.

  1521.  If you could find them. You think you could if you tried.
  (Brigadier Holmes)  Exactly that.

Mr Cann

  1522.  Some of my questions have already been partially answered. The first one I would like to ask is this: what guarantees are there in place to ensure that regular reserves as opposed to volunteers called out have retained the appropriate level of skill required for the job and what systems are in place for keeping track of the skills of ex regulars in the reserves?
  (Brigadier Holmes)  I have really, as you say, partly answered both of those already. I will take the second part first. Clearly what happens is the regular army and regular reservists' records are held at Glasgow and therefore we know what skills they have at the time of leaving. There is a skill fade factor which suggests that the longer he has been out the more that skill has diminished. Therefore if one is expecting to use regular reservists one's interest would be in those who have left more recently, perhaps within two or three years, where that skill fade factor might be less serious. The further one went beyond that the more we would be inclined to retrain with the skill. To start with we would use people who have less skill fade. We would check their basic training at the time they pass through the Reserve Training and Mobilisation Centre.

  1523.  You are saying essentially, are you not, that the older you are after you have been a regular, the less useful you are, particularly in areas where technology is changing?
  (Brigadier Holmes)  I think the longer you have been out——it is not a question of sheer age, a reservist who is relatively old but left last year might be more useful than somebody who is slightly younger but left four years before. It is a question of skill fade which is related to the time you are left.

  1524.  For example, signals, once you have left, unless you regularly retrain, after how much time do you get to be totally useless?
  (Brigadier Holmes)  It is an area which I would not wish to go into in any detail but I do think we would be looking at significant skill fade at the two to three year point. Again, without laying down hard and fast rules, it seems to me the skills of somebody in signals, where the technology impacts very quickly, would fade more quickly than the skills of somebody in say the infantry. I guess two years for signalmen and three years for infantrymen, something on that scale.
  (Brigadier Smales)  I think we must add to that, it all depends on what new equipment has been issued to his parent arm or corp since he left. If nothing new has been issued his skill fade will be slower, on the other hand he will be useless if something totally new has come in that time. Time is not the only factor.

  1525.  What about training? Skill fade does not need to happen, it happens because people are not updated on skills. To what extent are we under performing on training?
  (Brigadier Holmes)  It is not a question of under performing. We decided some years ago not to train reservists on an annual basis. This was a conscious decision taken some years ago not to do ARCEX, in other words not to bring reservists back once a year for training. It has to be said that the sort of training one could do on ARCEX was essentially going to be top up training of a broadly soldierly nature. It was not going to be long enough to take somebody who was used to one particular radio set and train them on a new one. It was a form of top up training. To the best of my knowledge what we have not done during my service is given skills top up training to regular reservists.

  1526.  One of the arguments for regular reservists is you can plug them into a unit on a regimental basis and they will take up a job.
  (Brigadier Holmes)  Provided you do so while their skills are still fresh.

  1527.  In other words for two or three years after they have left and after——
  (Brigadier Holmes)  You need to make a judgment on that. You need to make a judgment. Brigadier Smales' point, what new technology has come into their arm of the service, what sort of job they have been doing and how long they have been out.

  1528.  Can you assure us we are not spending money on reservists who cannot function?
  (Brigadier Holmes)  Yes, yes I can.

  1529.  That answers my first question. Did you review this year's call out and if you did, did you learn any lessons from it and are there any systems to enable you to learn lessons from it?
  (Brigadier Holmes)  It sounds a cliche to say we are continually improving the product. We look at the performance on each of the call outs and learn lessons. They are in broad areas, which we have covered already in essence, but the first is the way that we trawl, in other words we have got better at trawling and identifying the requirements in enough time and telling people down at unit level what those requirements might be so we can get people to respond. I think the establishment of the Reserve Training and Mobilisation Centre will represent the institutionalisation of a major lesson and that is that if we are going to have recourse to reservists on a regular basis, for an operation like Bosnia, it is unreasonable to ask the training organisation to see to their training and mobilisation on an ad hoc basis. One needs a specialised organisation. I think those are the two big lessons.

  1530.  Is there anything the House needs to do to improve changes in the way we organise the volunteer and ex regular reserves?
  (Brigadier Holmes)  I think in terms of legislation that RFA 96 is about right and apart from minor tweaks it is pretty well there. I think we have a good piece of legislation. The devil is in the detail as is so often the case. It is simply a case of making it work in the real world.

  1531.  One final question, just to enable you to get it on the record. There is an argument you know that has been put about that it is better to have a few more regulars who can be deployed at 36 hours' notice, 48 hours' notice than a host of TAs and reservists who can only be deployed at a much later date. Would you have a view on that?
  (Brigadier Holmes)  Yes, my view is that it is a military judgment. It is a question of establishing a balance between people you need to get into theatre at very short notice and people who need a little more time. It is a question of having the right sort of regular reserve force mix. Now, as you will be aware, there has been a considerable amount of debate over that during the SDR process, with which I am not unhappy in principle.


  1532.  It seems to me others are circulating the story that if there is skill fade amongst the regulars who have left it might be easier to top up a good TA man or woman who wants to be there than go for the process of maybe press ganging somebody whose skills are faded and who may not be keen on being called up.
  (Brigadier Holmes)  I think the facts speak for themselves. We have been using at least 70 per cent volunteer reservists in the former Yugoslavia. We are getting volunteer reservists who do volunteer. I am responsible for regular reservists as well so I would not wish to drive a wedge between the two but we do get good volunteer reserves who wish to go and who can clear it with their employers. At present they are in that sort of ratio.

  1533.  I think—I am sure the whole Committee agrees—we are exceedingly lucky with the men and women who are in the Territorial Army. They must be feeling a bit bruised and vulnerable at the moment and the sooner they can be reassured as to what their future role is, what their requirements are, everybody is going to be much happier. I think we can say without anybody dissenting thank you very much to those people who give up their time and their 40 days or less, liable to problems in their places of work, prepared to give up those jobs or to leave those jobs in order to go off to God forsaken places on behalf of the public good. It needs to be said as often as possible. My colleague, Julian Brazier, says it on an hourly basis so we should give him the opportunity of saying it yet again.
  (Brigadier Holmes)  I know that they will be grateful for your support.
  Chairman:  Which will be forthcoming I can assure you.

Mr Brazier

  1534.  The last batch of questions is very technical and you may want to give us a written answer. Could I just ask one last general question arising out of a very interesting comment Brigadier Smales made in reply to something the Chairman asked earlier, the wish list. You mentioned more collective training. I have to say that is what every TA unit I visit says, they would like to have more opportunities for collective training, taking part in the big exercises. Do you think there is something in the argument that there is a parallel here with the regular army? We are endlessly told, and rightly told, and the minister confirmed it last week, that to have a good spectrum of opportunities for the regular army as to what it can do, you have to focus the game at the top end on high intensity war and then you can be rather good at everything else. If you focus on the bottom end, you actually soon find you cannot do anything. Do you think there is a parallel there with the TA? That whilst the immediate requirements may be for sending reservists out to augment the greater unit, actually what brings people into the TA is the prospect of that very distant possibility of a really big show, and the exercises that build up to that are what make it most worthwhile?
  (Brigadier Smales)  I think what you are saying is absolutely true and it is catered for in the training programme. I think I am right in saying that every individual or every unit gets a chance for a major overseas exercise every three or four years, so that caters for that aspect. The commander in chief has laid down in the Land Command Plan that before an individual soldier can be considered fit for role he has to conduct a minimum of six days' collective training in a year, of which a minimum must be two days—I emphasise that is the minimum—at battalion level or higher. So we do acknowledge the very real need for collective training. It would be extremely dull if a chap was kept doing minor individual training in detail for the whole of his service, indeed we would not keep him in if we did.

  1535.  The last set of questions refer to the Territorial Regulations 1978, Supplement to Amendment 18. As I say, if you want to give us some written answers on some of these, I am sure the Committee will understand. As I understand it, the Supplement to Amendment 18 extends the following benefits enjoyed by the regular army to members of the TA—the Officer's Dependants Fund, the Soldier's Dependant Fund, personal accident insurance and so on. The question says, could you outline the main areas of application of the Territorial Regulations 1978, but I think we have a list of them here. Would you like to say something about the scope of the Territorial Regulations as they affect payments to people who are injured and damage to equipment and so on?
  (Brigadier Holmes)  If I can answer first and then Brigadier Smales may come in with more detail. This particular document I refer to now as the Bible. If you are a Territorial company commander it is the sort of thing you will have sitting on your desk, it will be heavily amended and it will be held together with pink string and sealing wax with lots of amendments stuck into it—the sort of thing you come across on a regular basis. It explains in detail the terms and conditions of service, how long people can join for, how they get promoted and what benefits they can get, discipline and that sort of thing. It cross-references to both the Army Act and the Queen's Regulations. So it is an extraordinarily important document and therefore it has just been up-dated to take cognizance of RFA 96. In terms of the more specific implications, Brigadier Smales can comment.
  (Brigadier Smales)  You mention the schedule attached and one of the things it covers is the Army Officer's Dependants Funds and the Soldier's Dependant Fund—is that the area you are interested in?

  1536.  Yes.
  (Brigadier Smales)  We feel it is right that a TA solider on full-time service should benefit from these two funds which are available to a regular soldier who is also on full-time service. Both are the best form of insurance I know, in that an officer pays £6 a year, in the event of his death by any cause his widow will get £8,000 and if he is single his dependants will get £5,500, and that is true of the soldier, who only has to pay £3 a year. I would not like to be pinned down to the exact accuracy of the figures but it is in that area. I think it is a very good insurance policy and should apply to the TA.

  1537.  It has the huge advantage, correct me if I am wrong, that there is none of the normal bureaucracy involved in an insurance claim? So for a small sum of money up-front, everything is considered?
  (Brigadier Smales)  I think the payment comes within 48 hours of death.

  1538.  Before the big compensation?
  (Brigadier Smales)  It only applies to the TA on full-time service.

  1539.  Could you tell us a bit about information and advice to reservists based on this and on personal accident insurance and the rest of it? How is the insurance physically got to them?
  (Brigadier Smales)  I will give you the history, if I may. In 1991 it was realised that in the TA as well as the regular army individuals needed to be advised to make provisions for personal insurance in various fields but particularly against death or disability, because the benefits to which they would be entitled if they died while on duty, while they would get them, would by no means equate with what they might be earning in civilian life. So a scheme was started in 1991 by the Director of Army Welfare and the MoD called PAR—I am not quite sure what that stands for—which was not a great success. So subsequently a system called RPAX, which is the reserve element of the Army PAX system where you buy units of an insurance policy—I think you understand it—was established. This has been of late in particular heavily marketed to the TA. It is in, as you see here, TA regulations, notices go up on boards, the Under Secretary of State in January this year demanded that every TA be informed of it and every TA recruit now gets a personal letter signed by General Jack Deverell, IGTA, telling him he really ought to do this, and forms are available both in TA centres and particularly at the temporary mobilisation centres. That is the good news. Only 591 members of the TA have actually signed up to RPAX so far. I do not know what other private arrangements they might have made. It is encouraging that we have just been asked for 1,700 more application forms, so the numbers might rise, but we continue to push this very important aspect of TA life as we have a duty of care towards them.

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