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Lord Adonis: My Lords, as I said in the Statement, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is writing to all local authorities today, setting up arrangements that will apply from now onwards and will enable local authorities to put in place immediately any changes needed to their own practices. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is writing to all police authorities today, too. I hope that will enable a quite rapid dissemination of the elements of these new arrangements to all local authorities and for any improvements that are needed to take place pretty well immediately.

I want to comment on the point made by noble friend about the importance of measured judgments in this matter. When the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, repeated the remarks of her colleagues in the other place, I thought she asked why it had taken so long for this information to be made available to the House. We have spent 10 days trawling through 4,000 or more files of all cases, concerning not only those where Ministers took a decision but those where any official took a decision, or where there was any other factor to do with police information or anything that might be ascertained by going through the relevant information. I do not believe that, given
 
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the scale of the task at hand, 10 days was an excessive period. I believe that we would have been criticised in Parliament if we had done this job more hastily and come back with a less complete picture.

Reserve Armed Forces

3.11 pm

Earl Attlee rose to call attention to the Reserve Armed Forces of the Crown; and to move for Papers.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, all my adult life I have been a member of the Territorial Army, by far the largest of our volunteer Reserve Forces. I will concentrate my remarks on the TA, but most of them will be equally applicable to other volunteer and regular Reserve Forces. I apologise for concentrating on the TA. I served the first 18 years in the ranks, was then commissioned in 1991 and am still serving. I therefore feel extremely honoured to introduce this subject for debate this afternoon.

Prior to 1995 there were many, inside and outside the regular Armed Forces, who questioned whether volunteer reservists could be competent in their role and, in particular, whether they would be willing and able to respond to a call-out. These anxieties were most evident after the end of the Cold War. For nearly all my service as a soldier we were training to engage in World War III on the north German plain. Those of us who took a realistic view did not expect much notice of mobilisation. We did expect to operate, at least as a sub-unit, with all our comrades, but I certainly never expected to come back from it. I would like to take this opportunity to thank sincerely the noble and gallant Lords and Ministers who prosecuted that Cold War so skilfully that we never needed to fight it.

An obvious weakness of any volunteer Reserve Force is that it cannot be as well trained, particularly in terms of breadth, as its regular counterpart, due to limitations on the time and funding available. Prior to 1995 many without direct experience of the volunteer reserves were somewhat dismissive. Phrases such as "Dad's Army" and "SAS" were used—not unlike the attitude of senior Members of another place before they come to your Lordships' House. Those with direct experience understood the weaknesses and how to mitigate them, but they also had a much better understanding of volunteers' strengths: enthusiasm, commitment, wider experience, knowledge and skills. Volunteers learn to give and take orders and communicate militarily. Volunteers are not generally trained to operate a wide range of equipment but they understand intimately that which they do operate. Thus when I was a soldier I was hands-on with my specialist vehicle on average at least one day a week over several years. Few regulars would be able to match that.

In 1995, after the first widespread use of the TA for IFOR, when the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, was CDS, the whole situation changed because the TA did what it said on the tin. A large number volunteered for that operation. Of course there were problems,
 
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particularly in administration, but they have now been largely overcome. A key element has been the Reserve Training and Mobilisation Centre at Chilwell. There is a now a very good relationship and respect between the regulars and volunteers. Since 1995, it has been usual for 10 per cent of a deployed land force to be TA.

After Op TELIC, the TA became the reserve of first choice. Understandably, ex-regular soldiers do not take their reserve liability very seriously. For Op TELIC 1, it was necessary to call up about 10 regular reservists to have one mobilised; if the address proved correct the rate was one in six. However, in REME TA, my regiment, the success rate was one in 1.17 and it was similar in the rest of the TA. It should be remembered that that was for a campaign with limited public support. I understand that the planning assumption now is for a ratio of 1.25 to 1, which sounds prudent.

So that is where we are. It is a good story. We have volunteer Reserve Forces that work and would have worked at any time after the major reorganisation of the 1960s. However, there are some serious problems that cannot be ignored. I think that some in the staff thought that volunteers could be used compulsorily to sustain enduring operations. That is a mistake; volunteers should be seen as an insurance policy against the unforeseeable and to enable infrequent large-scale operations—that is to say, more than one full brigade—to be undertaken. If our regular forces could undertake a large-scale operation on their own, without reinforcement from the TA, they would probably be too well endowed.

It is, of course, highly desirable for volunteers to be able to engage in operations when it is convenient to them and they can be used—it is useful to them when they have a career break. A formal pairing arrangement between regular units and TA units would be beneficial. We are now in a situation where nearly everyone in the TA who could be of use to current operations has already been called up. There is a legal gap between compulsory mobilisations of three years and a practical one of five. I am extremely anxious that we might mobilise volunteer reservists who have completed their recruit and trade training and are technically fit for role but do not have sufficient training and experience to be deployed. The consequences of doing that could be very serious.

The SDR imposed significant cuts in the strength of the TA. The actual strength has fallen by 20,000 since 1998. It is interesting that the age limit for officers has been extended from 55 to 60. I sometimes wonder whether I will be retiring from the House of Lords before I can retire from the TA. I doubt that all under-strength units are vigorously cutting out their non-attending dead wood. In my experience, the most effective TA soldiers train for about 50 days per year. They attend unit annual camp and a trade or specialist course. However, from time to time, man training days are severely restricted. That causes morale problems, low standards and poor retention and encourages bounty-hunters who do the absolute minimum. There are not many bounty-hunters but it is still a depressing problem. Volunteers
 
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cannot be expected to be more usable and more relevant, as per SDR, if they are not allocated plenty of MTDs.

It is not just the amount of training undertaken, it is the quality. Overseas training exercises are vital for a variety of obvious reasons. This is recognised, but due to operational commitments it is difficult to arrange RAF air-trooping to the exercise location. This must be addressed at ministerial level.

A volunteer's ability to go on operations and to train is limited by their family and their job. Many leave after a few years because of family commitments, but a bigger problem is the relationship with their employer. My noble friends Lord Glenarthur—chairman of the National Employer Advisory Board for British reserves—and Lord Freeman—president of the council of the Reserved Forces and Cadets Associations—will talk about the work of their organisations, so I will not steal their thunder. However, there are some post-demobilisation problems. It appears that the volunteer is on his own if he needs to fight to get his job back. My understanding is that there are generally no MoD observers at the reinstatement hearings of employment tribunals. I know of one case where the reservist is £3,000 out of pocket for legal fees, and had inadequate support from the MoD. In short, he was on his own. That cannot be right, but care needs to be taken to handle these cases sensitively or employer support could rapidly evaporate. I cannot help thinking that a woman returning from maternity leave would enjoy better employment protection than a reservist returning from serving Queen and country.

Many reservists have civilian skills of great potential use in an operation, but their reservist military role is quite different. Usually a volunteer will join their nearest unit rather than the one that matches their civilian skills. There is no database of reservists' civilian skills, only of their military qualifications. This is a significant missed opportunity and should be rectified.

A serious and imminent problem is medical support to operations, particularly when Afghanistan is scaled up. The TA field hospitals did a fabulous job on Op TELIC, but not without friction. The difficulty is that the NHS is stretched and has its own problems, but the defence medical services do too. There is a difficult balance to be struck. Medical support is an obvious role for the TA because it is not sensible to have regular clinical staff underutilised in peacetime locations. The current problem is that demand for medical services on deployed operations is unusually high, and I hope it will, at some time, reduce. What can the Minister say about medical support for operations later this year?

Noble Lords will be aware of the serious problems with recruitment and retention. Much of this is due to the general public view of current operations in Iraq and the questionable legality and necessity of the war in 2003. The picture that I am getting from the ground is mixed. The situation is recovering from 2004. In some places it is a retention problem, in others it is a recruitment problem, and in some places it is both. On
 
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retention, there has always been around 30 per cent annual turnover in the TA. It sounds alarming, but is not entirely negative. Even a year or two in the TA would be beneficial to the soldier, and would increase the knowledge of the military in wider society. The problem is if we are losing too many experienced NCOs, and the statistics may not readily reveal this. What is the situation, and what is being done to improve it? Many of these problems about the TA on operations would be less likely if the TA deployed as formed units, no matter how small. Pairing would also help.

There is a campaign to secure pension rights in respect of past volunteer reserve service. I will not weary your Lordships with the arguments—I do not support them, and on a practicality front it would be extremely expensive to administer really quite small benefits. On the other hand, to encourage volunteers to have a full TA career of at least 12 years, could we not consider some form of attractive pension that would start clocking up at the 12-year point?

My final substantive point concerns junior officers. For many years it has become increasingly difficult to recruit and retain direct entry junior officers. Modern patterns of employment with lean working cause problems for soldiers but they are greatly magnified for officers, who tend to hold more demanding civilian jobs. Despite the good work done by those responsible, including my noble friends, many employers still seem to be ignorant of what they are missing in terms of quality and free training. I am not aware of any junior officers being mobilised for Operation TELIC 1, although there are good reasons for that. Therefore, post-Operation TELIC, it seems to me unlikely that junior officers would ever command on operations the troops that they recruited and trained. This is because the TA is being used mainly as individual reinforcements rather than formed units, however small. This would tend to make it even less attractive to attempt the rather elongated officer training package. I spent the first 18 years as a soldier and I had fabulous fun. I did not bother about a commission until much later. When I was in command I always had it in mind that I might have to take my company on operations and at short notice. Therefore, I strove to make it fit for operations.

Returning to the problem, it is possible to commission suitable senior NCOs and warrant officers. They do a good job with high attendance but are no substitute for direct entry officers. Unfortunately, I do not think that there is an obvious easy answer to that problem.

Finally, I thank all the regular permanent staff instructors who over many years have given me and my comrades in the volunteer Reserve Forces such good training and military ethos. I also pay tribute to all active reservists for their citizenship, sense of duty and the sacrifices that they have made. I beg to move for Papers.
 
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3.27 pm


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