Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Truscott: My Lords, I declare an interest as an associate fellow of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies. I begin by welcoming this debate and commending the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, for bringing it before your Lordships' House. I know that, as a Major in the Territorial Army in Iraq during Operation TELIC, the noble Earl served with great courage and distinction.

As we have already heard, the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, speaks with a great deal of personal experience and knowledge on the subject of Her Majesty's Reserve Armed Forces. I am sure that when my noble friend the Minister winds up the debate, he will give due weight to the noble Earl's views and concerns.

It is true that in recent years there has been a major strategic evolution in the way we use the reserves. The Ministry of Defence has moved from a large and little-used reserve to a smaller, more effective one.

Since 1995, the reserves have consistently provided 10 to 15 per cent of the manpower in the former Yugoslavia, and they have been deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some 11,000 reservists were mobilised to support Operation TELIC. In all these theatres, the men and women of the Reserve Armed Forces have served with supreme bravery, maintaining the highest military standards in the world. Together, the volunteer Reserve Forces, the regular Reserve Forces and the sponsored reserves provide Her Majesty's Armed Forces with vital support and capability.

In its February 2005 pamphlet, Future Use of the UK's Reserve Forces, the Ministry of Defence laid out how it had learnt from the use of the reserves in operations such as Operation TELIC. In my view these were welcome and important changes. First, the pamphlet made clear how individuals would be used in their military role rather than for their civilian skills—except in certain narrowly defined circumstances. This policy had not previously been spelt out as a specific undertaking.

Secondly, the MoD stated that it would aim to mobilise reservists for no more than a cumulative total of one in five years rather than the one in three allowed for in legislation for operations akin to Operation TELIC.

Thirdly, the MoD pledged to aim to give 28 days' notice of mobilisation, although there remains no statutory requirement to do so. All these changes were designed to help both the reservists and their employers. Overall, employers have been impressively supportive when their employees have been mobilised.

Of course there have been many stories of undermanning and of recruitment problems within the Reserve Forces, but it is now apparent that all three services are making major efforts to address any shortfalls. Here I mildly take issue with the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, because recent figures for the Territorial Army suggest that numbers for the entire force have recovered to above their April 2004 level. For those elements liable to be deployed on operations, the number is higher than it was in April. Manning levels
19 Jan 2006 : Column 837
in both the RAF Reserve and the Royal Marine Reserve are broadly stable and have been for some time.

Improved recruitment to the Reserve Forces is being supported by increased resources and professional advertising campaigns. The MoD has introduced a number of initiatives to retain the skills and expertise already in the Reserve Forces. These have covered: improved support packages, including improved financial support for reservists and employers; greater access to training courses; intelligent selection for mobilisation; improved pre-deployment training; improved welfare support; and new Reserve Forces pension and compensation schemes.

Your Lordships' House will be aware that there have been accusations that the Ministry of Defence has been asking reservists to undertake too many mobilisations. I note the issue that the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, raised regarding the reinstatement of employees. The fact remains that there are legal safeguards in the Reserve Forces Act 1996, which limit the amount of mobilised service and protect employees when it comes to mobilisation and reinstatement.

Numbers of new recruits into the Territorial Army remain relatively high. To improve TA recruiting, the MoD is introducing a new integrated recruiting process, which will provide greater integration and coherence between regular and TA recruiting. There will be: additional funds to improve TA centres; additional funding allocated to support administration, welfare recruiting and employer-support activities; an increase in training days; a PR campaign to improve awareness of welfare support to TA members and their families; and improvements in terms of service.

A comprehensive welfare study for reserves was commissioned in mid-2004 and reported in November 2005. This resulted in improved communication with reservists and their families, improved access to welfare facilities for families, and better management of the sick and injured.

After Operation TELIC, a holistic review was conducted into welfare provision, resulting in 35 recommendations aimed at providing consistent best-practise support across the services and covering call-out, mobilisation, deployment and employment, demobilisation and after-care.

Key recommendations then included: notice given on call-out; timely, relevant and clear instructions to reservists and their families; improved access to welfare support for dispersed families; and management of the sick and injured. I am glad to say that the majority of the recommendations have now been successfully implemented. There have been very few complaints about support for deployed personnel over the past year or so.

The MoD is actively working to improve other areas that have caused concern, such as the reserves accident insurance policy. The Ministry is actively enhancing employer support. The latest research shows that overall employer attitudes are more positive than they were a year ago.
19 Jan 2006 : Column 838

The MoD continues to work closely with the National Employer Advisory Board, represented in today's debate by its chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, with the SaBRE Campaign and with the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association, which is represented today by the noble Lord, Lord Freeman. Reservists benefit from legal protection of their employment under the Reserve Forces (Safeguard of Employment) Act 1985—I am sorry, I quoted the wrong Act earlier on.

It has been said that the rebalancing of the Territorial Army is a cost-cutting exercise. I cannot accept that. In fact, the operating costs will remain about the same. The rebalancing of the TA is about ensuring that we have a Territorial Army that is better able to deal with a whole range of circumstances that it may encounter in the 21st century. It is part of the Future Army Structures work. The TA is being reshaped to be more effective and as it is reshaped it will create new opportunities, such as providing better access to training, equipment and facilities through more frequent integration with the regular Army. The regular Army and the TA will be able to work more effectively and efficiently together.

The restructuring will make the TA an even more professional force and the regular Army's first choice for support. Restructuring the TA will enhance its capacity to support ongoing and future operations. It will remain with the same establishment of 42,000 but it will be better equipped and supported than ever. Exciting and exacting times lie ahead for Her Majesty's Reserve Armed Forces, and they deserve and expect nothing less than the full support of your Lordships' House.

3.35 pm

Lord Freeman: My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, because of his exceptionally well informed and well balanced contribution to the debate. I also congratulate—not only on my own behalf but on behalf of these Back Benches—the noble Earl on his good fortune in securing the debate and on a remarkable speech which set the scene so well for the debate that was to follow. This House without an Attlee is as inconceivable as the TA without the noble Earl; long may he serve in both.

I declare an interest, as the noble Lord has indicated, as the president of the United Kingdom Council of the Reserve Forces and Cadets Associations. The noble Earl represents the serving TA; I represent the thousands of volunteers and civil professionals who support the Reserve Forces in 13 associations throughout the United Kingdom. They do a magnificent job. The noble Lord, Lord Truscott, referred to the strength of the TA now at just over 32,000. I agree with what both he and the noble Earl said when they talked about the stabilisation of that figure over the past 18 months. That is true, but we have to be cautious. While recruitment has been strong, and that has been partly a function of the challenge of serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, we must be extremely careful about retention. If those figures fall, and they are at about 82 per cent of establishment,
19 Jan 2006 : Column 839
then we would be putting ourselves in a very serious position. I accept what has been said, but I caution the House about the instability and fragility of those figures.

I shall touch on three subjects in the few minutes available to me. First, there is the new structure of the Reserve Forces and Cadets Associations. Your Lordships are well aware of the difficulty of reorganising a voluntary organisation. It is not a question of simply telling and explaining to regular soldiers what is going to happen; you have to carry the voluntary organisation of hundreds, if not thousands, of people with you. That has been achieved; the reorganisation is now in the process of being implemented to make the associations fit for purpose for the next decade. Your Lordships will know that the associations throughout the country help support recruitment and they provide employer support on the ground. My noble friend Lord Glenarthur is to be thanked and congratulated on the work that he and his colleagues do on the National Employer Advisory Board. On-the-ground employer support is vital, with one-to-one relationships between those who serve in the associations and sometimes very small companies which have an employee who is off serving in Iraq.

I want to say a word about youth and cadet organisations in a moment. There is also the estate. We have a major problem with accommodation for cadets around the country. Almost 1,000 properties up and down the country are not fit for purpose, and frankly they put off the young people. I pay tribute to the instructors who turn up week after week to look after enthusiastic youngsters in sometimes inadequate accommodation. For me, it is a priority to put that right over the next few years.

First, I briefly but seriously congratulate Brigadier Michael Browne, chairman of the council, Air Vice-Marshal Tony Stables, the retiring secretary who has done a Herculean task in consulting everyone around the country, and Major-General His Grace the Duke of Westminster, the Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff, who is a tower of strength in the Ministry of Defence in supporting the work of the reserves.

My second point concerns rebalancing. I accept that the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, was right that "rebalancing"—another word for re-organisation, particularly of the TA—is not a cost-cutting exercise. It involves some pain because we lose one battalion. I hope that the Ministry of Defence will make announcements in the next few weeks on the exact nature of the reorganisation. However, I accept that we gain with the logistics corps, the intelligence corps, artillery and other specialist units. On balance, it will be beneficial if it is handled sensitively and with the right pace of introduction. We will do all that we can in the country to implement and support the reorganisation. It has been difficult to explain and to gain acceptance but the Government will have our support.

As the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said, the integration of the TA battalions into the Regular Army is much to be welcomed. I hope that that relationship between an
19 Jan 2006 : Column 840
individual TA battalion and a regiment of the Regular Army will be encouraged and will work properly. The TA soldier will very much welcome it.

I turn to defence in the community. In large parts of the country—with the reorganisation of the Regular Forces into super-garrisons for the Army, fewer airfields and now only three major ports for the Royal Navy—the only footprint comes from the reservist or the cadet. Go to a remembrance service on 11 November, or whichever Sunday is closest to that day, and where you used to find regular troops in attendance you will now find only the reservists and cadets. It is extremely important that we maintain that link between representatives of Her Majesty's forces and the community.

I commend two initiatives to the Minister. I hope that his colleague Don Touhig, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for the Armed Forces who looks after the reserves—and he does so very well, as did his predecessor the noble Lord, Lord Moonie, whom we have welcomed to this Chamber—will give continued support not only to the Army Cadet Force's outreach programme but also particularly for Skill Force.

Perhaps I may trouble your Lordships for a few moments to describe Skill Force, which you may not have heard of. It is supported by the MoD—and long may that continue—and currently has about 150 ex-servicemen. Typically, they are ex-warrant officers and sergeants who have come out of uniform but want to stay connected with teaching and encouraging schoolchildren. They are concentrating today on about 4,000 children in about 100 schools across the country, taking 14 to 16 year-olds who cause trouble in the classroom out of the classroom for one day a week of life-skills training. That may be orienteering, canoeing or map reading; it may be trying to encourage their self-esteem. Whatever it is, it has been a terrific success. Every head teacher in every school I have been in has praised the initiative. I pay tribute to the Chancellor, who got the scheme going under the Spend to Save initiative. However, it must continue to grow. Every year, 7,000 servicemen leave and go into civilian life. We are able to employ only 50. We would love to employ 500 of them who could relate to schoolchildren, who would look up to them as mentors and exemplars of self-discipline and self-esteem.

I associate myself with the remarks of the noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Truscott. We should pay tribute to all of the reservists and all the cadet instructors, but particularly to the 12,000 who have left their families and employment, hoping to come back to both, to serve in Iraq. Your Lordships owe them a great deal of tribute.

3.44 pm

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page