Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 139)



Mr Gapes

  120. Can I change the focus a bit and talk about mobilisation? We have recently produced a report on the lessons of Kosovo and during our inquiry the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Guthrie, told us that he came very near to mobilising 12 to 14,000 reserves within a month or so. Can you tell us what involvement, if any, you had on that question? There must have been some advance planning, could you tell us whether you had any role or information about that?
  (Colonel Taylor) I will speak generally and then maybe ask for comments from the regional areas. In broad principle terms, of course this is a highly sensitive issue which is a chain of command responsibility and we are not actually directly involved in that process. So to answer your question as directly as I can, we were not part of any early deliberations and consultation about numbers or specifics, that would have been inappropriate because of our role, but there was, I am sure, as my colleagues can tell you, a fair amount of discussion going on at the local level about the details once it became obvious something was bound to happen, but we were not—rightly, I have to say—part of the initial consultation about numbers who might be mobilised at that stage.

  121. Once those numbers were worked out, then you would have had to have been?
  (Colonel Taylor) Absolutely, then we have a role to play. Ours is a supporting role and the most important part of that supporting role of course is to make sure that the employers are on-side when this issue crops up. This is where our significance comes in because the RFCA is NELC on the ground effectively, because it is through the associations that all the contact with the employers is managed and maintained.
  (Colonel Robinson) As the Chairman of NELC in the West Midlands as well, which is another hat I wear, we were not specifically asked to do anything because no instruction was ever issued as far as we were concerned. Obviously we knew it was imminent and therefore on the ground we were making provisional plans as to what we might do and might have to do from the sub-ELC point of view. Because it never happened and we were not actually involved in the mobilisation, the answer to your question is, not a great deal but that did not mean we were not doing it.

  122. Could you be a little more specific?
  (Colonel Robinson) We were aware there would be a problem with employers in the West Midlands if the thing was called up. Therefore we were making plans to be able to answer the questions which were going to come winging in from employers to our organisation about what was happening. It is very hypothetical because it did not happen and I heard the previous speaker say, "Because it did not happen we are going to try and exercise it." Since then, quite a lot of discussion has gone on at local level with employers as to what would have happened if it had gone on. The one thing which has fallen out it is that employers and volunteers were all a bit unclear about what those real circumstances really were and I think we have actually put a lot of that right since.

  123. Can I press you on that and perhaps your colleagues can come in? Do you think that employers would have thought that this timescale of a month or two, or perhaps somewhere between there and three hours, to coin a phrase, was realistic? How much notice would most employers that you deal with have required?
  (Colonel Robinson) Would you like me to put my employer's hat on to answer that question?

  124. Please.
  (Colonel Robinson) The difficulty is that it is a political problem and we, as employers, know perfectly well that the first pressure is going to come from the Opposition side of the House saying, "You have got rid of too much of the regular Army so you have to call up the reserves." We would be very aware in NELC for saying, "Yes, but the organisation is there to be used and we are going to use it and you have been told it is there to be used. Now if you do not like it, this is what you have to do". That is really where we came in because in our office all the communication is usually by telephone, somebody rings up and says "here, so and so has been taken away, what are you going to do about it?" It is answering those questions quickly and practically that our role would have been I think.

  125. You do not have a view as to how realistic the timetable would have been and whether people would have been available in the time required?
  (Colonel Robinson) I think it would have worked pretty well. You would not have got everybody you wanted but it would have worked because everybody would have put their backs to it and gone. The political circumstances, I think, would be much more difficult to handle than the actual circumstances on the ground.

  126. So you think the 14,000 figure would have been met, or do you think that was unrealistic?
  (Colonel Robinson) I would not like to comment.

  127. You would not like to comment.
  (Colonel Robinson) I think a terrific number of people in the TA were ready to go and wanted to go and if they had been called up it would have been a terrific boost to the system because, apart from anything else, the system would have been tested. Our problem is that it was not and, therefore, we are all talking still hypothetically and it is rather sad.

  128. Perhaps your colleague would like to comment?
  (Commodore Pemberton) I would entirely agree with the final thing. The system needed to be tested and once it had been tested we would have seen the flaws. I do not entirely agree with the consultation aspect because we did not have much consultation or knowledge. There was conjecture in the press and one could get a feel. Having said that, if it had come to call-out, the build-up was such that the country was behind the idea and we would have got large numbers. I would not be able to put a number to it any better than Patrick can. On that occasion it would have happened satisfactorily. The one thing that was quite clear from where I sat was that both Reservists and employers were unaware of their rights and protection under the Reserve Forces Act and a major education process needs to be done, or is being done, as a result.

Mr Brazier

  129. Were unaware?
  (Commodore Pemberton) Were unaware at that time.
  (Colonel Taylor) I think there is another point to add and that is that most of our soundings around the country would indicate that had we been enabled, or had the system enabled our COs to put together composite units from those who were willing, able and free to go, it might have been a good solution to the problem. That is actually quite a difficult thing to do but that nonetheless is a suggestion that has been floating around.

  130. A composite sub-unit from within a unit?
  (Colonel Taylor) Indeed.

Mr Gapes

  131. Can I just ask one final question. Does the Reserves Training and Mobilisation Centre have the capacity to mobilise 12,000 to 14,000 people?
  (Colonel Taylor) Good question.

  132. If it does not, how else could it be done?
  (Colonel Taylor) I have got to preface the comment by saying that several of our colleagues have been to Chilwell and all the reports coming back are highly complimentary about the efficacy of the system and, indeed, the current CO running it. A lot goes down to that individual, I guess, being an energetic person making it happen. We just hope that he will be replaced in due course by somebody with similar energy. That does not answer your question but it does give us comfort that there is a very efficient system in place. We would assume—correct us if we are wrong from the chain of command behind us because it is their problem and not ours—that that would be the model if it was a mass mobilisation and there would have to be satellites around the country in order to handle the numbers because it almost certainly would be rather too much to expect one location to handle everything.

  133. When you talk about satellites, was there any consultation about where those satellites might be?
  (Colonel Taylor) Not directly, no. I am not sure that is something that has really been considered to that degree, so I do not think we can answer.

  134. Did you think it should be?
  (Colonel Taylor) I think purely logistically tells us that we would need something around other parts of the country to handle those numbers because it would not work practically. I do not think we could feed them all through there in the timescales we have talked about.


  135. Just on the new administrative areas, the areas reduced down to 13 so you are covering larger geographic areas, have there been any significant administrative or logistical problems?
  (Colonel Taylor) No, because actually only the South East is affected by that change. The other 12 Associations have not altered in size. He has got an extra county, he has got Dorset, but he has already said that is not a problem. The real challenge and change was for the South East where you had the amalgamation of the two. Yes, that is much bigger than it was but they are still no bigger than my former Association in the North West or some of the others, like his in the South West. There is nothing indicating that it is a problem area. Do not forget, in the South East they have moved their head office to a more central location in the new larger area and all the initial signs are that it is not a problem. There are other problems but not that.

  136. Thank you. Maybe we will come to those in a minute. Can I move on to the issue of the buildings. A lot of the buildings were sold off, 87 I think is the figure we have got. Of those TA Centres that have been retained, do you think that they are the appropriate ones?
  (Colonel Taylor) Can I start because this becomes a regional issue. What I have to say to you is first of all those 87 have not been sold off, they have been transferred to Defence Estates. Some have been sold but not all by any stretch of the imagination and a lot are still waiting to be sold, but that is an issue for somebody else and not for us because they have been taken off our books and put on to Defence Estates' books. Where Defence Estates are working with our regional Associations to try to make sure those sales occur then there is a very positive story to tell. That is particularly true up in the Yorkshire area and the North East, that has been a very positive story up there. I have also to add to my comments by reminding you perhaps that we did not agree and this was the point about consultation. We were consulted but we did not necessarily agree with the outcomes. We can all tell tales of TA Centres that were alienated and those that were retained that we think were the wrong decisions. I can be very parochial about that in my own home city.

  137. We would be very interested in those, if we could have a list of those you disagreed with.
  (Colonel Taylor) In my own home city of Chester I still remain unconvinced that it was wise to dispose of the TA Centre in the city for the sake of—I got into trouble last time when I used this phrase—a rat trap of a building in Crewe because the logic was simply not there in terms of Reserves TA, the logic was there purely in terms of what can we sell. The one in Chester would sell and the one in Crewe basically would not. I guess there are stories all around the country of that. The decisions were not necessarily taken on TA Reserve issues but how property could be capitalised.

  138. Did the MoD change its mind on any of these?
  (Colonel Taylor) Yes, there were a few changes. Where representations were made I think there were probably four or five where changes were made to the initial decision.

  139. They were not totally deaf?
  (Colonel Taylor) No, no, they were listening.

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