Examination of witnesses
(Questions 1520 - 1539)
WEDNESDAY 24 JUNE 1998
and MR JOHN
(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
1521. If you could find them. You think
you could if you tried.
(Brigadier Holmes) Exactly that.
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
(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
(Brigadier Holmes) I think the longer you have
been outit 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
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
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
(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 thinkI am sure the whole
Committee agreeswe 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
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 daysI emphasise that is the minimumat
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 TAthe 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 itthe 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 Fundis that the area
you are interested in?
(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
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
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 PARI am not quite sure what
that stands forwhich 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 policyI
think you understand itwas 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.