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Lord Inge: My Lords, I too thank the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, for securing this important debate. As other noble Lords have said, he has considerable experience of the Territorial Army and, much more importantly, he has been deployed with them on operations, as I know have a number of the speakers
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who follow. My experience of the Territorial Army is not as close as his, but I was fortunate enough to command a division that was two-thirds and one-third regular, although that was during the Cold War. But it did give me a considerable inside knowledge of the Territorial Army, and I developed a huge respect for their enthusiasm, commitment and ethos. It also made me realise even then how vital they were to the Army's order of battle.
Since then the Territorial Army has been reduced and reorganised on a number of occasions. As I understand it, the establishment at the moment is about 39,000; but equally at the moment, it is about 80 per cent mannedin other words, they are short of something like 7,000 all ranks. The problem has been compounded by the fact that since 1999 there has been an average haemorrhaging from the TA of around 1,600 a year, and of course many of those who went were those who were the most experienced. Having talked to a number of people, I am told that there is no single identifiable reason for that. It is attributable to a broad range of issues: demands of the family, employers, the Territorial Army's conditions of service, inadequate training, the lack of availability of certain equipment, and to an extent too many operational commitments. The points which the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, portrayed so clearly will be a great help, if they are implemented and successful, in correcting that problem.
There is no direct indication or evidence to suggest that Iraq is the main reason for people leaving. But it must be wrong to lose so many trained people on a regular basis. As other noble Lords said, significant remedial action is required, because we cannot afford to lose that number of trained, important TA soldiers.
I am well aware that the manning of the Territorial Army is right at the top of Ministers', CGSs' and Commander Regional Forces' agenda. The TA manning action plan introduces many wide-ranging initiatives, some of which have already been mentioned. It wants to tackle recruiting and, more importantly, retention. It talks about closer integration of the TA with the Regular Army, something that we have been trying to achieve for many years. I hope that it will be possible to achieve it, but we should not underestimate, given the pressures on the Regular Army, the difficulty in achieving it. It is very important, but let us not underestimate the challenges of doing it, simply because the Regular Army is so heavily involved on operations. The establishment of a One Army Regular and Territorial Army recruiting process is enormously important. I wish that we would stop talking about "the Regular Army" and "the TA"; I wish that we would just talk about "the Army", because they both need each other. I am also told that the Government plan to introduce the Territorial Army's conditions of service. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us a little more detail of what they have in mind.
I am conscious that I have sounded rather negative, but I know that in the past year the TA feels that it may have turned a corner because it has gained more recruits than it has lost. But we should not
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underestimate the loss of those very important experienced people. It is also worth remembering that, since January 2003, the TA has deployed over 11,400 people on operations. With my simple mathematics, I make that the equivalent of about 19 to 20 battalions. It is an incredible achievement and they have obviously been very effective. Frankly, the Regular Army could not have operated without them. It was an invaluable and significant contribution and a great achievement.
I understand that, to sustain its support on operations, in future the TA will be limited to a maximum of 1,200 annually to be deployed on operational service. That seems to be making operational assumptions before the operational situation on the ground is clear. As we all know, military operations tend not to pan out in such a tidy way. In addition a TA soldier, unless he is a volunteer, will be asked to deploy on operations only once every five years. I wonder whether that is realistic given the Army's current operational tempo and with Afghanistan just around the corner.
In conclusion, I pay a huge tribute to the Territorial Army for what it has done and achieved. As I said, the equivalent of 19 or 20 infantry battalions deployed on operations is a huge achievement and speaks volumes for their ability, commitment and dedication. I am not sure, however, that we will able to maintain that tempo. As I and other noble Lords have mentioned, something significant will need to be done if we are not to reproduce in the Territorial Army some of the problems that we have in the Regular Armyproblems of size, over-commitment and under-funding.
Lord De Mauley: My Lords, I thank and congratulate my noble friend Lord Attlee for initiating this valuable debate. I also pay tribute to the work of the Reserve Forces and Cadets Associations and the National Employers Advisory Board in which my noble friends Lord Freeman and Lord Glenarthur play such key roles.
I declare an interest as a recent commanding officer of a Territorial Army regiment. Indeed, not much more than a year ago I returned from a visit to Iraq to see my soldiers on operations there, territorial soldiers who themselves were involved first-hand in combat with the enemy. I ask your Lordships to forgive me for constantly referring to the TA instead of the reserves. As you will understand from my background that is what I know, and to a large extent the expressions are probably interchangeable.
The Strategic Defence Review set out among many other things to make the TA more integrated, relevant, useable and capable. This was broadly enthusiastically welcomed by the Reserves, as evidenced by the many soldiers who subsequently came forward to go on
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operations. In that context I would like to associate my words with those of the Minister when he answered the Question of my noble friend Lord Astor of Hever on 12 January, when he paid tribute to the great contribution that the Reserve Forces make. He referred to the two MCs, a George Cross and a number of other medals earned.
I should like to talk about the future in a moment. Before I do soand I apologise for talking at such a low level after the contributions of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, and my noble friend Lord FreemanI should raise some problems that arose in the first two years of Operation TELIC while I was commanding my regiment. Although many if not all of them have since been given a great deal of thought, it is worth mentioning just a couple of them as there is a real risk that they may recur. After all, some of them arose due to a lack of understanding of reservist issues combined with insensitivity, especially among those responsible for the mobilisation processprincipally regular staff officers, as my noble friend Lord Attlee mentioned. Given that those sorts of officers change jobs every two or three years, there is a high risk that the lessons learned may be forgotten.
The first and perhaps single most frustrating issue that I encountered was the continual short notice for mobilisation. Despite the fact that this problem was well aired from early on in the piece in 2003, we were still encountering compulsory mobilisation at no more than a week's notice to the individual concerned in the autumn of 2004. That is absolutely unacceptable and unforgivable. The Army by then had several months' notice of their requirementsor ought to have had. Not only did it give the individuals mobilised unnecessary problems in organising their lives, it also completely undermined the efforts that commanding officers and regional Reserve Forces and Cadets Associations were making with employers.
I understand that the Government's intent is that there should now be four weeks' notice of mobilisation to individuals. However, I emphasise that inflexibility in the system could still mean delays, with the period of notice to the mobilised soldier himself being the bit which inevitably gets squeezed. The noble Lord, Lord Truscott, pointed out that there is no legal requirement for such notice. When we were given more notice, we were able to give extra training to the soldiers to be mobilised, getting vastly better performance from them as a result, includingin response to the Question of my noble friend Lord Attlee on the pointjunior TA officers commanding sub-units in action.
The second concern that I want to raise is our relationship with employers. I visited employers of my soldiers being deployed on operation TELIC 5 in mid-2004. Although those meetings were friendly, in the vast majority, employers were by that stage beginning to show concern that compulsory mobilisations were becoming accepted by the MoD as routine and that they might continue indefinitely. Despite their willingness to help on a personal level, several of them mentioned that they saw compulsory mobilisation as
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yet another of many additional recent burdens on business. I concluded that there was evidence that, if compulsory mobilisation of sizeable numbers of TA soldiers was maintained at those levels, TA soldiers would begin to be forced to choose between the TA and their preferred civilian career. Clearly, in the medium term, that could have serious effects on sustainability.
That all sounds as though I have nothing but complaints to give the House, but that is not the case. I will therefore not dwell at length on some of the other problems, including soldiers being underpaid or not paid and the lack of information for the chain of command. That created problems: we were unable to brief our soldiers on what jobs they were going to do when they got to theatrevital preparation that could have taken place. Also, when the soldiers were in theatre, wives would ring my headquarters and know more about where their husbands were and what they were doing than I did, given the wonders of mobile telephony and the Internet, which undermined my attempts to sustain their morale.
Despite all that I, and I know the vast majority of reservists, were, and I am sure remain, pleased and proud that they are able to participate alongside the Regular Army on operations and perform to a high standard. The message I would like to send is that with a little more detailed thought and plenty of notice we could do the job so much better.
I turn to what is happening now and what will happen in the immediate future. I want to talk about two things. The first is the so-called "TA rebalancing". We know that we are expecting the outcome of a review shortly. The purpose of the reshaping is, we are told, to make the reserves "even more effective", "even more professional" and "even more useable". Although I think I understand what is intended, I counsel caution in expecting even more from a part-time force which has already provided, according to the Minister when he answered a Question recently, 20 per cent of the forces, for example, on Operation TELIC 2. Will the Minister reassure me that "even more effective", "even more professional" and "even more useable" are not going to involve the reserves providing 30 per cent, 40 per cent or 50 per cent of the force on future operations?
My second topic is that of manning. I acknowledge that the worrying decline in manning levels does appear to have slowed and even bottomed out. However, the deficit, which everyone in the Reserve Forces is addressing as their main effort for 2006, is, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, said, a colossal 7,000. I cannot say whether part of the cause of that goes to concernsmuch discussed in your Lordships' Housein the minds of soldiers that they might be sent on operations and then charged for murder for simply doing their job, but there is no doubt that, on the current strength of about 32,000, this will require a superhuman effort. It will take money and lateral thinking of the sort not necessarily associated with Army staff officers. As to the money, will the Minister make any sort of commitment as to the amount of money that he will be able to squeeze out of the
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Treasury for this? It needs to be new money. Squeezing any more out of the existing budget will mean other key objectives being put at risk. Without it, it will fail.
As to the lateral thinking, can the Minister give us any indication of the original ideas being contemplated actually to find those extra people? Because in 29 years I have personally tried most of them, and I know that to be successful they will need to go in the opposite direction from that in which we have been sent in the recent past, when we have been forced to consolidate into fewer TA centres, closing off whole areas to recruiting and crucially, reducing what is known as the footprint. We have to go where the people are, which, given that many of the conurbations have already been fished out, means we have to look at having more, smaller detachments spread around in smaller towns. That does not need to involve a huge costthere is scope for sharing premises with cadets and users who need the premises in the working day but not in the evenings and at weekends when reservists need them.
I understand that there are indications that currently there are fewer TA soldiers coming forward to fill operational posts than is required. That must be a concern. I also understand that Headquarters Land Command intends to mobilise 600 reservists every six months for enduring operations globally. While it is important to continue to exercise the mobilisation machine to prevent it atrophying, I urge the Minister to require the MoD to be sensitive in the amount of pressure that is exerted to achieve this. We must not lean too heavily on the reserves in the quest for smaller regular forces.
In summary, many good things are happening to the reserves and many changes that have happened have been beneficial, but future change must be managed carefully, with expectations on the MoD's side matched with imaginative and sensitive handling of individual reservists and their employers.
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