Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 79)



Mr Brazier

  60. I have always thought it bizarre, going back to the earlier part about actions to form units, because when I belonged to the TA in infantry battalions, they are best operated at full unit level. Had we had such a major demand on reserves and the Territorial Army for Kosovo, such high numbers, would it not have been prudent to have thought of sending a battalion as a battalion rather than trickle feeding them into individual units because we were wanting big numbers? It seems to me a TA battalion would have been ideal had this situation deteriorated.
  (Brigadier Durcan) Yes. The construct of SDR shifted the centre of gravity of the Territorial Army into combat service support and the exercise that we went through for Kosovo allowed us if you like to test the theory of the SDR, and it does work on paper, although it obviously needs to be practised. The problem frankly for infantry and yeomanry is that the construct of SDR does not require those cap badges in formed major units, but they need to train them in the context of a formed unit in order to generate individuals. I do not underestimate the difficulty which is facing the commanding officer of a TA unit. I have to say I had exactly the same problem commanding my own regular battalion where the situation that I was in was such that I provided reinforcements to other people. It is a pretty heartbreaking process but that was the requirement of the operation.
  (Brigadier Holmes) All my instincts as a Territorial are that the closer you can make what you do on mobilisation resemble what you do before you mobilise, the better. I entirely understand the point about the current function of infantry, but there is, I think, as somebody said, something to be said for looking towards composite sub-units within units perhaps so that you can keep as much as you can of the grain of the regimental system and as much of the bonds of mate-ship as you can that are generated in peace time. I am confident that we would have done that. Andrew made the point that it would be useful to test, and indeed it would, always provided that there is an operational peg which is strong enough to bear the test. There is a mobilisation culture; I think the mobilisation culture is far stronger now than it was a year ago, but we must be quite clear that in order to test the mobilisation culture there must be a just and sufficient cause which reservists, their families and their employers will understand if we ever go to compulsion.

Mr Viggers

  61. Some reservists of course are in Territorial Army units but some are merely names on a list of reservists. How much contact do you have with those who are serving on a reserve unit but are not in the unit?
  (Brigadier Holmes) Do you mean regular reservists or voluntary reservists?

  62. Yes, regular reservists.
  (Brigadier Durcan) We have rather lost the art of maintaining contact with these people following the end of the Cold War. This exercise again pointed out the need to make sure that we can get this bit right. Although this is actually the Adjutant General's business, I recall that I think the figure of contact with the usual part of the regular reserve, and it is a complex structure, is in the order of 65-70 per cent that we have regular contact with.

  63. What does "regular contact" mean?
  (Brigadier Durcan) It means that we send them a letter once a year and say, "Are you still where you are and are you still alive?", and if the answer comes back, "Yes", they get a cheque for £20. If they cash the cheque then we know that they are there.

  64. Bearing in mind that 9,144 regular soldiers are currently medically downgraded and have been so for more than four weeks, what medical requirements have you of reserves?
  (Brigadier Durcan) The regular reserves, as far as I know, none. I am afraid I am talking out of my brief here because this is AG's business, but they are not really required to undertake any assessment or training during the course of the year and this of course is an area of some concern about the volume of regular reservists that we would need to mobilise in order to get down to the net number that would be capable of doing a job.

  65. So the contact level is 65-70 per cent? That means 30 per cent or so—
  (Brigadier Durcan) There are various groups of regular reservists, bearing in mind that some of these regular reservists are technically only on paper. Army pensioners are regular reservists, people well into their sixties. Those are not necessarily the sort of people we want to send to Kosovo.
  (Ms Seammen) I wonder, Chairman, if we could send you a note on this topic because I do recall that we have discussed it before and the Army was not as assiduous in keeping in touch with its regular reservists as the other services. I think that the Chilwell experience is something which we have improved on. As Andrew says, this is not our direct business and I would like to be able to send you a note.


  66. Could you give us an update because I recall four or five years ago going through this and finding out how pathetic the number of contacts there were, and it seems to me we are in the same old hall, not taking our reserves and reinforcements seriously. If we needed 55,000 troops pretty damn quickly, and then turned those over after three months or six months, people would need to contact them swiftly and process them even more swiftly.
  (Ms Seammen) Absolutely. As Andrew says, with regard to the TA element of that, of course we know exactly where they are and we can make some assumptions, Mr Viggers, about those who are medically unable to be deployed. Again, that is another thing that we would want to test. In relation to the regular reservists, that is what Chilwell is supposed to do and, as you say, Chairman, in passing, the Army has not been as assiduous about it as the other services. We will give you a note because I do believe that there has been quite a significant improvement in that respect.

Mr Cohen

  67. On this point, the Committee reported last year on the Chilwell reserve training and mobilisation centre and we recommended that its capacity be increased. The response we got was that there was sufficient capacity at the centre although they had been examining expansion requirements for the third mobilisation. Is it proposed in the light of the Kosovo experience, and indeed in the experience also of running the centre, that it should be expanded or are there any other alterations to the initial plan?
  (Brigadier Durcan) This issue was discussed with the Army Reserves Committee within the last fortnight. The central question is, do we want to have individual reservists mobilised through one place, and the answer is in principle yes, because it then guarantees a correct standard of professional attention that this process requires. The next debate is whether we seek to give them the capacity that they would need to have to deal with a large scale mobilisation. They are currently structured to deal with a medium scale of mobilisation and there will be a resource issue and therefore there is a debate to be had. Again, this is a matter for the Adjutant-General (Staff) and I know that the Director of Army Staff Duties has asked for work to be done to look at the relative costs of expanding it and mothballing spare capacity to see whether the thing is affordable, but I do not have figures to hand.

  68. It is at the moment only capable of a medium scale mobilisation, not a large scale one?
  (Brigadier Durcan) Yes. There will come a time when with the scale of subsidy it would not be reasonable to expect a single centre to be able to cope with it at all. One of the things we have given some consideration to is whether Chilwell might not become the defence reserve training mobilisation centre. At present single services mobilise in different ways in different places and that works well enough, but certainly there is a case, not yet resolved, for using Chilwell to mobilise everybody to go to the Balkans for example, regardless of where they come from. As I say, it is not resolved, not funded, but certainly being considered. Chilwell is a very considerable success. If one speaks to reservists who have got mobilised pre-Chilwell and then been mobilised through Chilwell, the level of care that they get and support afterwards is much better. I am delighted with the results of Chilwell.

  69. When do you expect to get the results of your review on surge mobilisation, and indeed its capacity review?
  (Ms Seammen) Can we send you a note on that? We cannot speculate at the moment.

  70. A lot of the people will be specifically professionally skilled. Are there facilities in place for them, because they are professionally skilled, when they are mobilised?
  (Brigadier Durcan) At Chilwell?

  71. At Chilwell.
  (Brigadier Durcan) Yes. And if you have not been I suggest you visit it. I think you will be very impressed.

  72. One final point. Were your initial projected costs for setting up and running the centre at Chilwell accurate or has there been any other unexpected additional expenditure?
  (Ms Seammen) As far as I know the budget was adhered to. There was an initial investment of about £5.5 million and annual operating costs of about four million pounds a year.

  73. And that has been adhered to?
  (Ms Seammen) I am sure it was well controlled.

Mr Brazier

  74. Were there any problems with the implementation of Call-out Orders issued in spring this year, in March and April? As they affected more than 30 airmen perhaps Air Marshal Sudborough might like to come in on that one too.
  (Brigadier Holmes) No, there were not. We have implemented two Call-out Orders, both of which worked extraordinarily well. Again, as the Committee will know, what we have done in those cases is that we have asked for volunteers. When somebody has volunteered they have then been called out. They are no less called out, having first volunteered, than they would be had they been compulsorily called out, so they get all the rights that they would otherwise have. They have gone perfectly well.
  (Air Vice-Marshal Sudborough) There were six applications by employers for exemptions or deferral of call-out. One reservist had his call-out cancelled when he became medically unfit and five had their call-outs deferred after discussions between the Air Force adjudication officer and the reservist employer, and subsequently all five reservists served on operations.

  75. Can we just ask for an up to date figure for numbers serving and capable? You may want to provide a written answer for that.
  (Brigadier Holmes) I have got 591 soldiers serving in Bosnia and Kosovo, 256 of those serving in Kosovo.
  (Air Vice-Marshal Sudborough) Can I add a point of correction? The figures I gave to Mr Brazier were for the financial year 1999-2000, so it gives you some idea that we really have not—

  76. So it included March and not April basically?
  (Air Vice-Marshal Sudborough) Yes, but there is not an issue.

Dr Lewis

  77. At the reserves conference that was held at the RUSI in June there was quite a debate about whether reservists should be obliged to inform their employers of their volunteer status and liability. What is your view about this and is it now MoD policy?
  (Brigadier Holmes) If I can deal with this one since it has been one of the major issues at the mobilisation steering group which I chair, I think there is a general recognition that in principle reservists ought to inform their employers. It is a principle for two reasons, firstly, that the chance of an employer's successful appeal is clearly enhanced if he can go to a tribunal and say, "I did not know. I have been able to make no alternative arrangements. I simply did not know this person had a reserve liability." Secondly, I think it is difficult for us to talk about a profitable partnership between ourselves and employers if in a sense it is a partnership in which we are liable to ambush employers. In principle, and this is a recognition across the board, employers ought to know. In some cases, for example, in the case of a civil servant, civil servants are obliged to tell their employers that they are reservists. The question is how best to implement this at a time when the reserves have been through uncertainty and are moving out of it without putting pressure on serving reservists and presenting them with a crisis of conscience. What we are considering doing, but I have to say that no definitive decision has been taken, is to say to reservists that we expect them to tell their employers and we would expect good reason for them not doing so. One can think of circumstances like perhaps Northern Ireland where a reservist might not tell his employer, but I think we would need to know what those circumstances were. There might be a smaller number of cases where particular individuals at particular times did not want to inform their employer. What we ought not to do is to establish a hard and fast rule until we know what the consequences of that rule might be. I am guardedly optimistic that we are within measurable distance of establishing the general principle that reservists should tell their employers.

  78. I am glad you are showing some flexibility. What would be your reaction, for example, if an employee had reason to believe that his employer, with whom he got on otherwise very well, was hostile to the military? Then he might have to choose between damaging his career or giving up being a reservist.
  (Brigadier Holmes) Dr Lewis, I think that would cause a considerable balancing act. Speaking as a reservist who has juggled his employment for the last 36 years, yes, of course we must be very careful not to disadvantage a reservist. On the other hand, what we need to do is to get as close as we can to some sort of guaranteed capability from our reserves. What we do not want to do is to put ourselves in the position where we are expecting reservists to appear when mobilised only to discover that we cannot get access to them because their employers lodge an appeal. I can think of individual cases where at particular times and in particular circumstances we may not wish to press the issue, and so of course we should be flexible, but as a general principle employers are fundamental to the way that we use our reserves and we must be honest and up front with them.

  79. Finally on this, talking of employers, we have heard about these proposed fact sheets for employers called "Working for You: Working for Us". How are they coming along? I have been invited to ask you as well whether there are any plans to make them available in languages other than English and Welsh, resources permitting, which I have to assume is because it may be that some reservists are employed by employers with a limited command of English or Welsh, although I find that rather an unlikely prospect.
  (Brigadier Holmes) If I could answer the second question first, not to the best of my knowledge and belief.

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