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Lord Glenarthur: My Lords, I too welcome the opportunity given to us by my noble friend Lord Attlee to debate this important and topical subject. I also join him in warmly thanking and congratulating the reserves of all four services on their enthusiasm, commitment and, indeed, bravery which they have shown in recent years.

I have been privileged to watch them both in training and on operations in the various capacities which I declared to the House last Thursday, as chairman of the National Employer Advisory Board for Britain's Reserve Forces, as honorary colonel of 306 Field Hospital and as honorary air commodore of 612 (County of Aberdeen) Squadron, Royal Auxiliary Air Force—and in the latter capacity I must say how proud I am to wear my Army pilot's wings on my Royal Air Force uniform, but that is perhaps a bit of an aside.

I thought it might be helpful to your Lordships if I described some of the work of the National Employer Advisory Board. I have been chairman for three years
 
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and was a member of its predecessor organisation, the National Employers' Liaison Committee, for some six or so years before that. It is an unpaid, independent body—technically, a lower tier advisory non-departmental public body—made up of 15 representatives of the public and private sectors, including representatives from the CBI, the IoD, the TUC, chambers of commerce, the EEF, formerly the Engineering Employers' Federation, and employers large and small. We take our informed advice directly to the Secretary of State for Defence and the Chief of the Defence Staff on the employer aspects of reserve activities, and suggest, among other things, how it can be made easier for employers to find it possible to release their people to play a part within the reserves. Our annual reports are lodged in the Libraries of both Houses.

We also work closely with SaBRE (support for Britain's Reservists and Employers) which is the MoD element dealing most closely with employers. Indeed, we are required to advise on and endorse its marketing plan. By affiliation of our members, we link very closely to the Reserve Forces and Cadet Associations, which my noble friend Lord Freeman has spoken about.

There will almost always be a debate about the level of resources available, either to the regular forces or to the reserves. I shall not go down that route today. Rather I should like to confine my remarks to ways in which we can help to make the best use of available resources. It is of course true that in recent months, or even in recent years, for one reason or another there have been those who have resigned from the reserves. It is equally true—and this matter has already been touched on—that large numbers have sought to join the reserves. The work that my board has been involved with certainly indicates that there is a complex web of interlocking reasons why these movements in each direction should be so.

We have played our part in describing the importance of recognising the pressures under which employers are put—and most particularly small employers—when reservists are mobilised for operations. There seems to be universal acknowledgement that the mobilisation notices for Operation TELIC 1, the war-fighting stage of the second Iraq war, were less than ideal. My noble friend Lord De Mauley highlighted those. Many lessons were learnt in this first major compulsory mobilisation under the Reserve Forces Act 1996. Certainly, my board did what it could to distil those matters and played its part in ensuring that the Ministry of Defence understood what procedures would make it easier for employers and reservists in the future, including the matter of the 28-day notice period which the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, mentioned.

That was at a time when there was no requirement on a reservist to ensure that his employer knew that he was liable to call up. We argued that it was essential that if employers were going to be called on more regularly under the Reserve Forces Act 1996, and with the inevitable reductions in strength in the regular forces post-SDR, honesty was required so that
 
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society—the community or whatever one likes to call it—could work together in recognising and delivering the capability of reserves to support the regulars. Employer notification, as it is called, is now in place, and appeals by employers against mobilisation is at an all time low of about 2.1 per cent in relation to the Territorial Army.

As the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, said last Thursday, substantial moves have subsequently been made to enhance and simplify the practical aspects and to improve the financial awards available to both employers and reservists. For example, an employee who is a doctor can now receive reimbursement of salary up to a maximum of £300,000 a year if he is deployed and will lose out otherwise. Those in the non-medical world can receive reimbursement of salaries up to £200,000. The reimbursements available to employers may not exactly match those totals at present. For example, for a doctor, there is the cost of obtaining locums. In due course, we shall play our part in reviewing the operation of the relevant statutory instrument, SI 859, to ensure that there is not a substantial imbalance and will advise the Ministry of Defence accordingly.

We increasingly understand that the world of work in its broader sense is changing. Society, within both its military and civilian elements, sees the benefits of core transferable skills—the point referred to by my noble friend Lord Attlee—that are relevant to both aspects. Families and family life are an equally important part of a complex equation. During the coming months, my board will turn its mind to how those various strands can be pulled together. For example, it may be possible for strategic partnerships to be struck with some businesses, perhaps especially those already contracted with the Ministry of Defence, to develop more sustainable ways of maintaining particularly the level of specialist reservist recruiting and retention.

Intelligent mobilisation; potentially intelligent recruiting; flexibility about the length of deployments, where practicable; interchangeability; and recognition of qualifications: all those are important factors that need to be addressed. Of course employers, whether large or small, should not be expected to bear an unnecessary burden. That is why my board endorses and advises that, other than for moments of crisis, reservists should not normally be expected to be called up for operations for more than 12 months in five years, rather than the 12 months in three years that the Reserve Forces Act 1996 allows. I am glad to know that the defence intent, published last year, acknowledges that.

I realise that there may be certain pinch points, but the Ministry of Defence will have to be assiduous in ensuring that the five years for which reservists have signed up is not breached other than in exceptional circumstances. If it must be, that indicates that there are either too few regulars, too few reserves or too many commitments.

It is encouraging to know at first hand that Ministers and the chiefs of staff have taken seriously and debated thoroughly with us many of the topics
 
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that have been referred to today. But I leave the House with one other thought. Society—the community, if you like—consists of two elements: civilian and military. Both have their part to play in defence matters. As the concept of more usability of our reserves becomes further developed and enshrined, I suspect that a debate will begin to develop about whether those whom we now call reservists are not more aptly described as auxiliaries. My belief is that if a sounder partnership has to be struck between the regular forces of the Crown, those who volunteer for what is now called reserve service and the communities from which they come, their title should reflect their current role rather than that which existed previously. I suspect that that is a more honest way to reflect within society as a whole the relationship that needs to be struck between both elements of that society. If more interchangeability is to be achieved, such a description may be a very apt way to help to bring it about.

4.08 pm

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: My Lords, I, too, welcome this debate and commend the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, for seeking and obtaining the time to discuss this issue. We have not discussed the reserve services specifically in this House for some time, so that is extremely welcome. It is also welcome that it comes from the noble Earl, because of his serving officer status in the reserve services. They are a key asset to our Armed Forces as a whole. Frankly, some operations would not have been sustainable without the involvement and support of those personnel. That is very different from years ago when many people joined up and never saw an operation—they never expected to and never did. That is certainly not the reserve services of today.

Noble Lords have referred to the reserve services' attitude to their jobs. They are proud, pragmatic, professional and flexible, but all too often in operations they are separate from the regular forces with whom they are working. That occurs less often today, but it still happens. Operation TELIC 2002 is continually cited as the crossroads for the new strategic role of the reserve services. There is no doubt that that was a major change. Looking behind that, at the way in which numbers have dropped over the years, the problems of recruitment and retention do not go back to 2002—they go beyond that.

I am sure that the Minister will be pleased with the upbeat and optimistic mode of this debate. In this Chamber, we say how proud we are of our reserve services, but we also need to face the problems and issues about which they are unhappy, which I am sure the Minister will want to hear about. This year's Armed Services Pay Review Body report, which was presented to the Prime Minister, refers to the reserve services and their manning levels. It reviewed the bounties and the call-out gratuity. It received evidence from the MoD and the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association, of which the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, will be well aware, as well as visiting two of the reserve
 
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units. In November 2005, it took evidence from the Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff for reserves and cadets and the director of Reserve Forces and cadets.

The current review—TA rebalancing—has met with some concerns that it is a cost-cutting exercise, which I do not accept. I think that it is a genuine review of a service which fulfils an important role in a changing world, which probably needs to change with that changing role. I do not think that it is wrong to carry out the review. I welcome it. It is timely and necessary, although that is conditional on the criteria that it is not a cost-cutting exercise. Let us hope that the Treasury keeps out of the review.

The Armed Forces Pay Review Body report highlighted the evidence given by the MoD and others. It reported that there is a serious shortfall in manning. The figures are in the report. In June 2004, there was a shortfall of 11 per cent in the Royal Naval Reserve; a shortfall of 15 per cent in the Royal Marines; a shortfall of 9 per cent in the Territorial Army; and a shortfall of 30 per cent in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, where retention is better, although I gather that recruitment is more difficult. The MoD said that the TA 80 per cent minimum sustainability level was fragile and under threat. As a result the Armed Forces Pay Review Body has said that it will examine on a yearly basis the bounty and call-out gratuity, rather than triennially, because it is important.

I have some experience of recruitment and retention, although it is somewhat outdated because things move on so fast. Retention is essential. Noble Lords will remember that about 80 per cent of Reserve Forces serve for just under five years. If, while investing in more and better training because of changing needs, we could get a better return of service, that would help the overall manning of the Armed Forces. How we achieve that depends on the conditions we offer.

The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, who is not in his place, mentioned mobilisation. He is right. Operation TELIC revealed many shortcomings, but I believe that the MoD has learned from that experience. People were given short notice not only to go on operations, but the situation regarding their pay while they were away was very unclear. People did not know how much money for their families would be put into their bank accounts on a monthly basis. That created an atmosphere of disruption and disgruntlement in the families. So the mobilisation process is key, and linked to that is pre-deployment training. That too left much to be desired, but again I believe the MoD learnt from the experience.

The length of posting to an operation is very important and I welcome the commitment to posting for 12 months every five years rather than the prescribed three years. I hope noble Lords will forgive me for drawing on my experience, but I am rather sceptical about some elements of this. The problem is that the Reserve Forces experience the same skills shortages as those in the regular forces, such as in
 
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medical teams, among others. Those reservists are called on more regularly, but I certainly welcome the commitment to move in this direction.

I want to make a number of smaller points which I believe would help in recruitment and retention. During Operation TELIC it was found that a number of personnel had no life insurance because they could not get it. That problem has been acknowledged and changes made. Families need welfare support. They should be treated in the same way as the families of those serving in the Armed Forces while their next of kin are away, acting as a regular member of the forces.

The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, mentioned pensions. A campaign is under way at the moment, and this is a complex issue. When reservists are away on training or at their annual camp, if they were to be included in the Armed Forces pension scheme, they would lose out. If this matter were to be addressed, I think it would help in recruitment and retention.

My final point concerns return to employment. We have the Reserve Forces (Safeguard of Employment) Act 1985 and I know that only a handful of appeals have been made. But anyone who knows about employment practices and the workplace will know that the majority of people do not like to return to an employer who is being forced to take them back. Reserve Forces personnel have said to me, "It is much easier just to pack it in and look for another job rather than represent myself in a situation where, frankly, I am confronted by professionals". I wonder whether the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, which does such wonderful work, may through the bodies represented on it be able to consider this. Perhaps it is a case not of looking at the number of appeals registered but of conducting a survey to find out how many Reserve Forces personnel never return to the employer they left when they were posted.

The Government have always followed the recommendations of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, and long may that continue. I hope that when the review body carries out its examination next year, the Government will listen again. I welcome the rebalancing review and I am sure that the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, will seek another debate when the report is published in a few months' time. If he does not, other Members of the House will do so.

4.18 pm


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