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My hon. Friend has a good knowledge of those matters. Although the Secretary-General has made such comments, my hon. Friend knows that there are also continuing discussions with allies to consider different formations that could be used in Afghanistan. Our allies are individually and collectively considering, for example, taking on provincial reconstruction teams and with which phase1, 2 or 3of the PRTs they engage. It is a matter of getting the right combination of countries to make an important impact in key areas as we progressively move into others. Again, I shall write to my hon. Friend to outline the current position. I hope that it will aid him to understand which countries have made a contribution, which are considering making a contribution, and the possible combination of such contributions. Clearly, we must acknowledge the sensitivity of some discussions, which can take place between Defence Ministers and, indeed, at prime ministerial level, to try to develop force generation. Those individual representatives have to report to their democratic forums. That means that sometimes we can
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divulge what is happening and at other times we cannot. However, I shall give my hon. Friend as much information as possible.
In the Balkans, UK forces continue to assist with achieving self-sustaining peace and stability. Their efforts were brought into sharp relief last year when our people were instrumental in helping to restore calm after the March violence in Kosovo. In Bosnia, the UK took leadership of the EU mission, launched last December, which aims to move that country forward towards its Euro-Atlantic goals.
Those operations have meant a major strategic evolution in the employment of our reserve forces. We are moving from a large but little-used reserve to a smaller and more effective force. Since 1995, the reserves have consistently provided 10 to 15 per cent. of manpower deployed in the Balkans. They have deployed to Afghanistan and, since January 2003, nearly 11,000 have been mobilised to support Operation Telic. Some 5,300 took part in the combat phase.
Our reserves and their employers have responded magnificently and I thank them for that. Indeed, such have been reservists' contributions to operations that we intend to integrate them still further into our force structures. As already announced, that will involve some reorganisation and re-roling to achieve the optimum operational capability that we seek.
Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Is the Minister conscious that many reservists have given up to six months' service? Many can do that only once in their career without its being detrimental to their families or their jobs. How can we ensure that the strength of the Territorial Army is maintained and that we do not lose the service of those who have already made serious commitments? If we do not achieve that, people will tend not to volunteer for fear that they will simply fall out.
Mr. Ingram: That is a genuine problem. We have undertaken the review because of the intensity of the effort and of the demand that we have made on the reserve and TA forces recently. We are therefore considering how better to organise them so that they are better integrated into work alongside the regular forces. The close integration of the reserve forces with the regular forces is nevertheless amazing. I witnessed that in Iraq and it was impossible to tell them apart. However, concern was expressed that the engagement of such a large number of reservists would mean some disjointedness and disconnection. That was not the case.
We have learned valuable lessons from the deployment. There was also a worry that employers would say, "Hold on a moment, this is too big a commitment. You're taking away key personnel." Some reservists are unquestionably key players in their companies. We have to consider the whole matter, which relates to my earlier point that size does not deliver quality of itself. Getting optimum strength and
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the right structure, with the right resources, commitment and use is vital. That should be presented up front so that people know to what and for what they are joining up, and what the demand on them is likely to be. We want to give them a future horizon of utilisation. That may not be easy, or possible, but we want them to have confidence that they are being used in a balanced way. That work is under way, and valuable lessons can be learned from recent experiences.
I would also like to recognise the contribution made by our civilian staff. Many are currently living and working alongside their military colleagues in operational theatres, providing advice on policy and on financial, legal, contractual and other issues. Indeed, several of our deployed civilians were recognised in last month's special honours list for Iraq. I am sure that the House will join me in paying tribute to the contributions that our civilians make, in the field and behind the scenes, to our success on operations.
While physical and mental challenge is an integral and essential part of military training, the services are very conscious of the need to treat people as individuals, taking full account of varying abilities, needs and aspirations. Even so, we have been criticised as the result of tragic incidents in some training establishments. We have taken this criticism seriously and have madeand will continue to makestrenuous efforts to correct shortcomings and put in place robust systems to ensure that best practice is recognised and spread, that the highest standards are maintained, and that our training process is open to professional scrutiny.
As the House will be aware, the adult learning inspectorate is currently undertaking a detailed survey as to the manner in which the MOD discharges its duty of care to young people in training. This important work, which sits alongside the current inquiry by the Defence Select Committee, will report before Easter, and it is my intention to bring their findings, and our response, to the House at the earliest opportunity.
The MOD is one of the largest single providers of training and education in the UK. The lifelong learning process maximises individual potential through professional and personal development, and requires the active participation of both the organisation and the individual, supported by best-practice quality assurance systems. It captures education, academic and vocational learning activity, delivered through career and beyond. It includes, but is not limited to, modern apprenticeships, national vocational qualifications and higher education, including post-graduate training.
A fundamental premise is that, where possible, relevant defence training will be accredited towards civilian qualifications. Qualification, knowledge and experience gained through lifelong learning benefit both the Department and the individual. We also ensure that our people have access to the best available medical care at home, on exercise and on operations.
At home, our regional rehabilitation units have greatly reduced waiting lists and inappropriate referrals to secondary care for musculoskeletal injuries. The MOD is a leader in this type of initiative. In mental
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health, we have pursued a modern, community-based care approach. We have established, with King's College London, a mental health unit to keep abreast of the latest thinking. The Royal Centre for Defence Medicine is also a key element in our modernisation and the nucleus of a centre of military medical excellence in the midlands.
We have a successful partnership with the Department of Health and we work hard to ensure that our two Departments and the NHS work together effectively. Initiatives include the possible joint procurement of drugs, and we have already delivered improvements in reception arrangements for military casualties from overseas. On operations, and particularly recently in Iraq, regular and reserve personnel in the Defence Medical Services have played a vital role and provided high standards of clinical care in difficult circumstances.
I am sure that hon. Members will join with me in acknowledging the debt that we owe to those who have been killed or injured in operations or other circumstances, and in expressing our sympathy for the price paid by them, their partners and their families.
We continue to support those families to minimise any further distress. For example, we have reviewed our policies regarding the provision of living accommodation to bereaved spouses and their children. We will ensure that they have somewhere to live close to their families while they come to terms with their loss, and we aim to react quickly, sensitively and effectively to accommodate injured personnel in modified housing where there is a need.
We have also reviewed our boards of inquiry process to ensure that they are instigated more quicklywithin 48 hoursand that Ministers are kept informed of progress. In addition, we have taken action to establish a single point of contact for next of kin, to ensure that they are briefed clearly, comprehensively and regularly so that they understand the stages in the process.We continue to keep these and associated policies under regular review, to ensure that bereaved families and injured personnel are provided with the support that they deserve.
Looking to the future, we must ensure that we have the people policies in place to deliver people who are motivated, multi-skilled and adaptable. We will need recruits with greater potential and we must be able to offer rewarding careers to succeed in a highly competitive job market. Our terms and conditions of service must remain attractive overall, and at least comparable with the private sector.Currently, there is a shortfall of just over 3,000, or 1.6 per cent., against our trained requirement. That figure has been adjusted to reflect the force structure changes announced last July.
We need between 18,000 and 19,000 personnel to join the trained strength of the three services each year, after completing basic training. Typically, that requires annual recruitment of up to 24,000 suitably qualified, fit and motivated young people of the right calibre. Success in recruitment is fundamental to the delivery of the people component of operational capability.To recruit and retain the required number and calibre of people, we must continue to provide attractive terms and conditions of service, and efficient, responsive and
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modern personnel support processes that meet the changing expectations of people, today and in the future.
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