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The Earl of Shrewsbury: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Attlee on securing this important debate and I declare an interest as honorary colonel of A Squadron, Royal Mercian and Lancastrian Yeomanry, the Territorial Army cavalry regiment comprising the counties of Shropshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Cheshire and Lancashire. RMLY has its headquarters in Telford and trains people to operate Challenger 2 armoured vehicles, among other skills. I am delighted to tell the House that my youngest son is also a trooper in the RMLY.
When one reads so much these days about overstretch in the Armythere can be little doubt that there is considerable overstretch which the then
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Minister was warned about during Options for Changethe Minister will no doubt be pleased to hear good news from the RMLY. Recruitment levels are excellent. Out of a total establishment of 278, on 1 January 2006 manning levels for TA volunteers were 26 officers and 255 other ranks. On Operation TELIC 7 to date, RMLY has provided 108 personnel, more funds have been made available for training days and the kit provided for the regiment has been more than adequate. Again, that contrasts with what the press has reported about the lack of decent and workable kit.
I wish the press could be somewhat more positive from time to time about our Armed Forces. There are still some niggles in the area of administration, but the past problems of soldiers not being paid, the result of problems while serving on Operation TELIC, have largely been sorted out. However, administration is still not a seamless joint; this needs to be addressed and further improved. Within this tale of largely good news, there are some general concerns. First, political correctness is always hanging around in the background, possibly as a result of press reports of Deepcut and other issues. This has a restrictive effect on the way the regiment can be run from time to time.
Secondly, as my noble friend Lord Attlee pointed out, there is the issue of the recruitment and training of junior officers. Recruitment of potential officers is by no means easy. While general recruitment is strong and appears to benefit from the fact that recruits might eventually go into theatre, with all its excitement, POs have an increasing number of modules in their training programme, resulting in less time being available in their civilian lives. They spend three weeks at Sandhurst and there is less time available for camaraderie and bonding with their TA colleagues, and it causes conflict with their employers. There is an opinion that questions the worth of training everyone to such a high standard through these modules. In some cases this means wasting money on unnecessary training. When training is needed for mobilisation, should the TA soldiers not be mobilised earlier? Might that not be more cost-effective and morale positive?
Finally, I want to ask the Minister about future structures for the Territorial Army. There have been a number of delays in the expected announcement. This has caused an amount of uncertainty and serves to lower morale. I understand from my regiment that the date for the announcement is supposed to be 25 January. Will the Minister confirm that that date will be kept to and, if not, when the announcement is likely to be made?
We are most fortunate to have, in the TA, an army reserve that is dedicated, well trained, competent and highly professional. I have heard, on numerous occasions, comments from regular soldiers and officers paying tribute to the quality of work of the RMLY and I am sure that that is mirrored all the way through the Territorial Army. We have in this country a Territorial Army to be proud of.
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Lord Garden: My Lords, I too thank the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, for arranging this important debate and sharing with us his great experience of both the strengths and constraints of using reserves. The Minister, at Questions last Thursday, tried to reassure your Lordships that all was coming right with the reserves. The noble Lord, Lord Truscott, has delivered a similar message in today's debate. I want to express my admiration for the speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, who gave us statistics and facts, and allowed us to take a measured approach to some of the problems and some of the strengths.
The debate has of course focused on the Territorial Army, because of both the composition of the speakers and the size of the Territorial Army. In all of this the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy reserves are also important factors to consider. Last week, when I asked about the forthcoming rebalancing exercise for the Territorial Army in Thursday's Questions, the Minister replied:
"no final decisions had been taken on the rebalancing of the Territorial Army . . . they are expected shortly and an announcement will follow in the new year".[Official Report, Commons, 20/12/05; col. 2766W.]
I was particularly grateful to the Minister for sending to me in Paris the following day, by express means, a letter clarifying this apparent discrepancy. As we now know from the debate today, there is a major exercise under way about the future structure of the Territorial Army. This letter, which I hope has been shared with colleaguesI asked the Minister's office to do sosaid:
"Whilst we aim to ensure that any rebalancing resulting from this exercise will serve to make the Territorial Army more desirable to recruits, this is not its primary purpose. Although the results of the review have yet to be formally agreed"
I take that to be the assurance sought in my Question last week that the rebalancing exercise will not be used as an excuse to hide shortfalls by reducing establishments to match the strength, as in the rebalancing exercise for the regular forces. I would be grateful if the Minister would confirm my interpretation. Again, it is a reflection of the request for assurance made by the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, that this is not a cost-cutting exercise.
A case could be made for changing the number of Reserve Forces, but the direction would be upwards not downwards. The size of the Territorial Army was set at 41,200 in the November 1998 announcement by the then Defence Secretary, the noble Lord,
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Lord Robertson of Port Ellen. Since then, we have had Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, placing new demands over a sustained period on our reservists. In response to the terrorist threat to the United Kingdom, in October 2002 it was announced that the reserves would be given another task: a requirement that about 5,000 reservists form the Civil Contingencies Reaction Force. Logic would suggest that you might need extra resources if new and extra unexpected tasks are added, yet the variation in the establishment of the Reserve Forces has been minor.
We have heard a number of figures today but it would be useful if the Minister could give us the definitive establishment for the Territorial Army. I am working on a figure of 41,610 but I have heard other figures. With such a figure we will be able to judge how the force has varied after restructuring. Yesterday, in a Written Answer, Adam Ingram said that the CCRF size would be part of the Territorial Army review. Is the Minister looking, post the attacks on London this year, to increase the CCRF or to reduce it as part of the rebalancing exercise? It is not clear from the Statement.
I turn now to the state of our Reserve Forces. I join all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate in paying tribute to the Reserve Forcesthe men and women from all three services. We are demanding an enormous commitment from them and they are distinguishing themselves in every operational theatre. The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, reminded us of all their distinguished service.
It is right that the Government should review their policy for attracting, retaining, training and deploying reserves. The Defence Select Committee 2004, in its fifth report, includes an interesting quotation from a senior officer, who said that the,
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, asked key questions about how it is intended the reserves will be used in the future. It is clear from that Select Committee report that the need for reserves is not just about numbers to replace regulars but also about unique skills"key enablers", in today's jargon. In some cases, those key skills are no longer available from regular forces. However, as we have heard, reliance on specialist skills can put a disproportionate load on some reservists, even if their overall strength were up to establishment. It is a repeat of the overstretch problem for certain trades within the regular forces. I hope that the Minister will tell us how the restructuring exercises will tackle that problem, because it is one of the most important parts of any restructuring. He may have plans to reduce dependence on reserves because, if they are being used all the time, it might be more sensible to increase the number of regulars in that area.
The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, indicated, from personal experience, some of the duty of care problems, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Dean. We have heard about various problems that reservists have but others do not, which need to be addressed. The Defence Select Committee report that I talked
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about expressed concern about the need for support for families of mobilised reservists. I hope that the Minister can tell us what has been done since June 2004 to respond to that criticism from the Defence Select Committee. There has also been unwelcome publicity about former reservists suing the MoD to recover hospitalisation costs following injuries. How many of these cases are there, and is it widespread? Both last week and today, the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, raised the important question of representation at employment tribunals.
I had intended to spend a little time on the cadet and university organisations, but the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, has said everything that I wanted to say. I declare my interest as president of the London and south-east region air cadets, and a former president of the Combined Cadet Force Association. He is absolutely right: not only are the organisations marvellous, but the staff that look after them are incredibly dedicated.
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, has again given us comprehensive insight into the question of employers. We have to pay attention to the position of employers when we think about reserve forces. Some small businesses have to bear a considerable burden, despite the welcome financial compensation from the MoD. They can lose key employees at short notice. I congratulate the Ministry of Defence on the excellent website that we heard about, SaBRE, for supporting Britain's reservists and employers. It is a good one-stop shop for both reservists and employers to understand their rights and obligations. I draw noble Lords' attention to the link to a university report dated October 2005, entitled The potential impact of the Reserve Forces training and experience on business and organisation leadership. The report concludes:
We have an academic conclusion that service in the reserves helps business and other organisations rectify their management weaknesses. This is a message not just for employers but also for government. If you want young people to gain skills and motivation, the cadets can do it. If you want employees to develop good management capacity, the reserves can do it. Investment in the Reserve Forces is also investment in the nation. You get two for the price of one: better military operational capability and better civilian workforces. I trust the Government will not put either at risk by making cuts in this important area or by failing to retain those who join the reserves.
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