Select Committee on Defence Second Report



12. The nature of the relationship between the Armed Forces and the rest of society is vital: while remaining part of that wider society the Armed Forces are also, of necessity, separate and distinct. They must recruit from that wider society and return people to it at the end of their service. The Armed Forces Overarching Personnel Strategy (AFOPS) characterises the relationship as follows—

    The Armed Forces should reflect the society they serve, but there must also be an acknowledgement, by society and by the Armed Forces themselves, of the need to be different and of the emphasis that must be placed on the core values and standards which in some respects diverge from those which obtain in society at large.[21]

The 'need to be different' arises from the unique demands of operational necessity and from the distinguishing feature of the Armed Forces that, unlike any other profession, members of the Services are routinely required to risk their lives and may be asked to kill.

13. The Armed Forces are institutions with hierarchical structures in which authority is not expected to be questioned and discipline is rigorously enforced; where personnel have an open-ended commitment and may be asked to participate, against their own self-interest, in activities which may result in their injury or death; and where they serve as members of a team who are expected to subscribe to the same values and work towards a common aim. In contrast, today's society can be described as one ' in which there is less deference to authority and a greater awareness of individual rights. It is also a less cohesive society, one in which traditional, shared values are less effectively transmitted, and concepts such as honour and loyalty less well understood.'[22]

14. The almost exclusive focus on the regular professional in the Armed Forces in the United Kingdom compounds this sense of difference. In countries which continue to have conscription there is likely to be a more integrated relationship between the Armed Forces and the society from which they draw their personnel. During the two world wars and during the period of National Service (which ended in 1960), the United Kingdom's Armed Forces were probably a more integral part of society as a whole than at any time before or since. But for the United Kingdom this was a temporary and exceptional situation.[23] The composition of Parliament reflects this: few MPs nowadays have direct experience of service life.[24] It is no longer the case, as it would have been in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, that the majority of young British people have a living relative who served in the Second World War or in Korea, or did National Service. This effect has been reinforced in recent decades by the inhibition, for security reasons, on Service personnel wearing their uniforms outside barracks and bases.[25] The level of awareness of, and contact with, anything to do with military life has therefore been significantly reduced and for the majority of young people in 2001 knowledge of the Armed Services is derived to a large extent from the media.

15. It is important that the Armed Forces address this problem of their reduced visibility in society, both as part of the need to 'prepare the ground' from which recruits will be drawn (and we discuss the recruitment challenge in greater detail below) and because of the inherent danger in the Armed Forces becoming too distant from the society on whose behalf operations are undertaken.[26] But it is too simplistic to portray the situation as one in which society is moving on and modernising whilst the Armed Forces remain stuck in a time warp. The Services have changed, and we will discuss later some of the ways in which this change has occurred. But social and cultural changes have taken place at a very rapid pace over the last forty years and, often for very good reasons, the Armed Forces cannot necessarily change at the same pace or in an identical way. Yet the Services must accommodate social change to an extent which permits them to succeed in remaining attractive to the young people they are attempting to recruit.


16. The MoD recognises this need in its youth policy, as set out in the AFOPS, the goal of which is 'to achieve the maximum awareness of the Armed Forces amongst all elements of the nation's youth and their gatekeepers and to provide access for youth to high quality Cadet forces.'[27] There are four Cadet Forces sponsored and funded, at least in part, by the MoD: the Combined Cadet Forces, the Sea Cadet Corps, the Army Cadet Force and the Air Training Corps, which together involve around 130,000 young people aged between 12 and 22, supported by over 23,000 adult volunteers.[28] Although Cadet organisations are not run principally as recruiting tools, in 1999-2000 18 per cent of naval service other ranks intake, 13 per cent of the Army other ranks intake and 17 per cent of the RAF intake had been members of the cadet forces.[29] Again, these figures mask the importance of cadet forces as recruiting grounds for future 'front line' personnel—in the RAF, for example, over 40% of officer recruits regularly come from amongst young people who had been in the Combined Cadet Force or the Air Training Corps; and around 45% of air crew recruits of all ranks have been through the cadets.[30] In universities, University Royal Naval Units, the Officer Training Corps, and Air Squadrons provide a function similar to cadet forces. Taken together, these organisations also do much to enlarge the geographical 'footprint' of the Services.

Volunteer Reserve Forces

17. An important link between civilian and military is provided by the volunteer Reserve Forces. The Reserve Forces were reorganised in the first half of the 1990s in a process which culminated in the Reserve Forces Act 1996. They were subsequently significantly restructured in the Strategic Defence Review and we commented on the implications of these developments in our report on the SDR.[31] We have monitored developments since then, and we will report shortly on the current state of the Reserves. But the net result of the reorganisation and restructuring has been a substantial reduction in the numbers in the Volunteer Reserve, as shown below.

Table 1
Trained Strength of Volunteer Reserve Forces

Naval Service
Total Volunteer Reserve[32]

Note: Naval Service includes the Royal Navy Reserve and the Royal Marine Reserve.
Source: Defence Analytical Services Annual Return, UK Reserves and Cadets at 1 April 2000, TSP 7 (Revised), 27 September 2000 and SDR Supporting Essay 7, paras 16-18

The trained strength against the trained requirement in the Volunteer Reserves at 1 December 2000 was as follows:

Table 2
Trained Strength against Trained Requirement
Volunteer Reserve Forces (December 2000)

Trained Strength
Trained Requirement
Naval Service
Territorial Army

Source: HC Deb, 16 January 2001, c145w[33]

The figures demonstrate a deficit of 1,313 or 33.8% in the trained strength of the naval volunteer reserve and 532 or 24.8% in the trained strength of the RAF volunteer reserve. Whatever the effects may have been on efficiency, Professor Hew Strachan, Director of the Scottish Centre for War Studies at the University of Glasgow, believed that the SDR had done nothing to strengthen the role of the Reserves and the Cadets in linking the Armed Forces and society: 'the cuts have simultaneously weakened the regional imprint and weakened unit cohesion' and this has resulted in a recruiting crisis in the Reserves which is only disguised by the fact that their establishment has been so reduced.[34] The MoD acknowledges that—

    ... in many areas of the country, it has been the Reserves rather than the Regulars who provide the visible Armed Forces' presence. This helps to build links with, and informs the wider community of the role of the Armed Forces, to promote their values and support recruiting.

The MoD is of the view that 'although the overall numbers within the TA reduced, the so-called 'footprint' of the TA was maintained as far as possible in the circumstances'.[35] Attempts at improving the footprint are, however, being made. For example, the Royal Navy Reserve is taking steps to broaden its links by creating six sub-units in cities or towns which have not had a naval presence for some years.[36]

18. The Committee has devoted considerable attention over the whole of this Parliament to tracking the implementation of the post-SDR restructuring of the Reserve Forces. The government's declared aim, particularly in relation to the TA, was to make them better trained and better integrated with the Regulars, and therefore more usable.[37] This is a laudable aim, although we have expressed some scepticism about whether the MoD have made the right choices about how to achieve it. Greater use of part-time personnel, and greater flexibility of employment patterns, are features of the solutions sought by almost every civilian organisation facing rising personnel costs and/or skill shortages. Similarly, the government has frequently restated its commitment to forging a more effective alliance between the public and voluntary sectors. These are areas in which some really radical thinking could be done by the Armed Forces—we are not convinced that, as yet, sufficient imagination has been shown in adapting these developments in society as a whole to the specific needs of the Armed Forces.

Increasing Armed Forces' visibility

19. Faced with factors such as a reduced number of volunteer Reserves, the Services are undertaking a number of measures to increase their visibility in wider society. A new 'youth initiative' is being piloted in schools in Newcastle and Norfolk which involves 15 to16 year-olds who are disaffected with the education system spending a day a week with military instructors over a two-year period. The Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (DCDS) (Personnel) told us that this was a 'social responsibility' rather than a recruiting initiative, but in the US model on which it is based about 40 per cent of participants go on to military service.[38]

20. During the summer a 'Meet Your Navy' exercise was conducted involving 20 ships, including an aircraft carrier, which visited a large number of ports and cities around the country and resulted in 51,000 people visiting naval ships.[39] Professor Strachan believed this was a very positive move and that the general public are very willing to take up such opportunities to get a closer look at the Armed Forces if they are made available.[40]

21. Any increase in contact between the Armed Forces and wider society should be welcomed and we hope that the Services will continue to come up with innovative and imaginative schemes to ensure that this happens. Links to the wider community, however, do not only affect recruitment. They are likely also to affect retention, and also contribute to a climate of debate in which the questions of the right level of funding for defence can be addressed in a more informed and understanding way. We appreciate, however, that Services which are currently very stretched may find it difficult to release the necessary personnel from their everyday commitments for such activities. This is part of the wider problem of fewer people having to do more, which we discuss below. But building and maintaining links with the wider society should be regarded as core tasks of the Armed Forces, and should be afforded a high priority.

22. Having looked at the general context in which the Armed Forces inter-relate with wider society, we will now focus on the most direct benefit they can derive from such contacts: recruits.

21  AFOPS, p 14 Back

22  Values and Standards of the British Army, Commanders' Edition, March 2000, p 1 Back

23  Ev p 1 Back

24  See Eighth Report, Session 1997-98, op cit, para 62 Back

25  The then Secretary of State announced the reversal of this inhibition in October 1998. See Ev pp 30-31, para 8.1 Back

26  Q 2 Back

27  AFOPS, p 32 Back

28  Ev p 31, paras 8.7-8.8 Back

29  HC Deb, 15 January 2001, c 35-36w; see also Q 303 Back

30  Source, RAF College, Cranwell Back

31  Eighth Report, Session 1997-98, op cit, paras 258-289. See also First Report, Session 1998-99, The Strategic Defence Review: Territorial Army Restructuring, HC 70, para 47 Back

32   For the Naval Service and the Army, University Forces are included in the Volunteer Reserve Back

33  Naval Service includes Royal Naval Reserve and Royal Marine Reserve. Territorial Army figure does not include Non-Regular Permanent Staff, which are included in the figures in Table. Back

34  Ev p 2, para 13 Back

35  Ev p 32, para 8.11 Back

36  Ev p 31, para 8.4. The six places are Dundee, Edinburgh, Londonderry, Llandudno, Swansea and Chatham Back

37  See eg First Report, Session 1998-99, The Strategic Defence Review: Territorial Army Restructuring, HC 70, and Sixth Report, Session 1998-99, The Reserves Call-out Order and Progress of Territorial Army Restructuring, HC 860 Back

38  QQ 81-82; Ev 31, para 8.9 Back

39  Ev p 31, para 8.4; Q 266 Back

40  Q 34 Back

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Prepared 23 February 2001