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Lord Bramall: My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating that Statement. On the whole, I gratefully welcome it as focusing interest on this most important part of our defence forces. It was good to hear of the recognition given in the Statement to their once again winning their spurs with no fewer than 12,000 deployed in Iraq. Of course, the one-Army concept, which the Minister has mentioned, is nothing new. When I was Commander in Chief of UK land forces 30 years ago, I struggled to make that excellent concept work. But it is good to know that there is firm political support for it now.
In a perfect world, on the infantry side, for example, a regular battalion ought to have four companies for the job that it has to do, but for manpower limitation reasons has only three. It should be able, therefore, under certain circumstances to call on that fourth company from the territorial battalions which are now closely affiliated and integrated with the regulars, and bear the same name and cap badge. It is good to know that each TA unit will be given a definite role in large-scale operations and that, realistically and hopefully,
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the use of Reserves is limited to one year in five, or is it three? But it is important that a limitation like that is taken into consideration.
It is also good to know that the established strength will be kept at 42,000, plus the important officer training corps of 3,500. But the Government must do all in their power to see that the manning is not allowed to fall much below that which it is at the moment. The noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, has pointed out some of the dangers in that respect. The Government must ensure that money is provided properly to train the force and to equip it.
In addition, it is good to know that within the manpower it will be possible to raise an aviation regiment of some forma very good idea. I am rather sad that there is no opportunity to get civilian helicopter pilots into thisthey might be useful and prepared in an emergency, as would engineers. I was always brought up to believe that you never had enough sappers. The Military Police and transport are of course very important.
Perhaps the Minister could be slightly more explicit. I hope that it does not mean that a TA company commander cannot, for some reason, train his complete company on training or even, under certain circumstances, on operations. Altogether, it is a positive Statement, which focuses attention on this vital part of our defence forces. I, for one, on the whole, greatly welcome it.
Lord Drayson: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, who, in his wide and deep experience, is fully cognisant of the challenges which we face in modernising our Reserve Forces and in making sure that the one-Army concept, as he described, really works well. I note his comments in support of the way in which we have gone about this. I want to make two points on manning, which other noble Lords also raised. We are committed to making sure that we address recruitment and retention. In the first two months of this year, we had a 1 per cent increase in manning levels, which shows that we are making progress and that the one-Army advertising campaign for regulars and the TA has been successful.
On the size of the force in the context of the regular Army, the current Chief of the Defence Staff made the point to me yesterday that the British Army is approximately the same size as it was at the Battle of Waterloo. Therefore, the changes which we have seen over the past 100 years or so reflect the environment as it has changed through two world wars. Despite today's challenging situation and the tempo of operations, we believe that we have a British Army fit to meet those operations because we have been innovative and prepared to make the reforms necessary.
Lord Freeman: My Lords, I declare an interest as president of the United Kingdom Council of the
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Reserve Forces and Cadets Association. Both the uniformed and the civilian members of the TA will implement this rebalancingit is not a reduction exercisewith every effort. Will the Minister please reflect to the general staff that we still have a great problem in officer recruitment and retention? In this rebalancing exercise, one way in which that will be ameliorated is if units that train togetherofficers, NCOs and soldiersgo to war together. We do not want trickle posting to be routine. We would like sub-units, or formed units, to go on active service abroad. If the Minister would convey that, I would be grateful.
Lord Hoyle: My Lords, I welcome the Statement. I, too, from this side, pay tribute to the loyalty, dedication and enthusiasm of the Territorial Army. I am concerned about medical units, an issue which has already been raised. In particular, I am concerned about the unit based at Chorley Barracks in Lancashire, which has already seen service in Iraq. Can my noble friend assure me that the future of that unit is being safeguarded and that it will remain at Chorley?
Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, the Minister mentioned two Scottish engineering companies. Will he confirm what else is to happen in Scotland? Are all the current TA headquarters and centres to remain? Secondlyand here I declare an interest as former Inspector General of the Royal Auxiliary Air Forcehas the Minister any plans to change the format or numbers of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force in the foreseeable future?
Lord Drayson: My Lords, my understanding is that we do not expect to make any changes in Scotland. We intend to maintain units in Orkney and Shetland, an issue raised recently. With regard to changes to the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, we are looking at reforms across our services. I am not aware of any specific reforms planned for the near future. I will write to the noble Lord if there is anything I feel should be brought to his attention.
Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, could the Minister clarify the following point? The noble Lord, Lord Garden, pointed out that, increasingly, the TA and reservists are seen as a central part of our expeditionary forces. Consider that, historically, the TA was seen as an essential part of this country's Armed Forces and the defence of this country. Ministers from the Ministry of Defence, myself included, used to tour the country, encouraging employers to make the best people they had available
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in a public-spirited way. People who have important jobs simply cannot take on in any continuing way a central role in expeditionary forces. The noble Lord, Lord Freeman, refers to the problem of recruiting and retaining officers and the sort of leaders we are looking for in the TA. However, most of those people will, almost by definition, have significant jobs in civilian life and are simply not available.
I am sorry for cutting into this general atmosphere of "what a wonderful Statement," but I have been deeply worried about the TA for some time. I think the Government's expectation that the TA should be a regular and available resource for expeditionary forces, supplementing gaps that exist because of difficulties of recruitment and retention in the regular forces, is, in the long run, disastrous for the retention of a strong and resilient TA, available, ultimately, to defend our country. I hope Ministers appreciate that situation and understand that if they take on these commitments, they must principally and significantly be met by the volunteers who make up our country's regular forces. The TA must not be seen as a resource that is totally available at all times for expeditionary activities.
Lord Drayson: My Lords, I accept a number of the points the noble Lord makes, drawing on his deep experience in this area. This reflects the realities of the modern world. The noble Lord highlights the difficulty of people being able to deploy on operations being consistent with their civilian duties. That is the case. However, we have concluded, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, mentioned earlier, that having a one-army approach, where Reserves are deployed as an integral part of the regular army, such that, on operations, it is virtually impossible to tell the difference between a reservist and a regular soldier, is absolutely the way to go. Therefore, we also have to manage these issues, which are also of concern to us. Retention, particularly of experienced officers, is something we must manage better. We are specifically looking at those issues in order to meet the conflict between the two areas.
Today we do not face the problem of having insufficient personnel for operations. The feedback I have received, and my own experience of talking to people in the Reserve Forces, show no shortage of volunteers to go on operations. Quite the opposite: there is a certain sense of being "well up for" the challenge. We are not facing challenges as regards the capacity required to mobilise, even given the tempo of operations we face. We recognise the issue we must manage in the long term. Ministers are aware of it and we are on the case.
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