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3.36 pm

Viscount Trenchard: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Freeman on introducing this timely debate. It is a great honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, whose speech was extremely impressive and who represented so well the service and duty to our nation and Armed Forces of which he is a great example. I hesitate to speak on defence matters in front of many noble Lords who have made a much greater contribution than I have to the Armed Forces of the Crown, especially the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley.

I should declare my interest as Honorary Air Commodore No. 600 City of London Squadron, Royal Auxiliary Airforce. Like my membership of your Lordships’ House, this appointment owes everything to heredity and nothing to merit. Prior to this my only military service comprised eight years in the 4th Battalion Royal Green Jackets, now 7th Battalion The Rifles. I had been a member of both the combined cadet force and the Cambridge University Officers Training Corps, which used to have a nice mess at Quayside.

I should like to salute the TA on its 100th birthday. We must remember that eight reservists have made the supreme sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003 and many more have been wounded or disabled, changing their lives seriously and dramatically reducing their quality of life.

When I served in the Territorial Army, its strength was around 80,000, but following Options for Change and the Strategic Defence Review its establishment has been reduced to 42,000 and its actual strength is somewhat less. Those reductions in strength were concentrated on the infantry and yeomanry units, which significantly reduced the TA’s geographic footprint. As the TA acts as a shop window for the regular Armed Forces, this reduction has also had a negative effect on the recruitment levels of regular units. However, since then the Government’s cuts in the size of the Regular Forces and reduction in the proportion of GDP spent on defence has changed the TA, the Royal Naval Reserve and Royal Auxiliary Airforce from being reserve force of last resort, which is how I felt we were regarded, to reserve of first choice.

The obligation on individuals and units to expect to be deployed overseas has increased massively and continues to grow. It is excellent that there is more joint training between the various arms of the reserves. Just last weekend I visited my squadron, whose personnel were on exercise together with the Royal Marines Reserve at Longmoor in Hampshire. The Royal Auxiliary Air Force is under pressure to change the expectations of its people from being likely to be deployed overseas

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from once every five years to once every three years. As other noble Lords have said, some 17,000 reservists have served in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past five years, the equivalent of 21 battalions. It is no exaggeration to say that these operations could not have been undertaken and maintained without our Reserve Forces. However, there has not been a commensurate increase in awareness of these forces and the essential role they play among the public. Many employers are regrettably not yet willing to provide two weeks’ extra paid leave to reservists and, more understandably, are reluctant to see key personnel called up for deployment one year in three or even one year in five. Here I echo the words of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, and support his question to the Minister: will the Government offer tax incentives or some other form of assistance to companies that employ members of the Reserve Forces? My noble friend Lord Glenarthur covered the point well in his informative speech.

I also think that the Government should end the insult to the Armed Forces of a double-hatted Secretary of State for Defence and for Scotland. Notwithstanding the fact that I consider it unacceptable to have a part-time Secretary of State, I congratulate the present Secretary of State on setting up a review into the role of the Reserve Forces and on his wisdom in appointing General Nick Cottam to lead it. It is essential that the capabilities required of the Reserve Forces must match a corresponding need in the Regular Forces. It would be wasteful if the reserves provided something that is not needed. The demands placed on the reserves must be both worthwhile and realistic, otherwise they will not be able to attract and retain people of the right sort and quality.

Not enough use is made of the special role played by the Reserve Forces in providing a link between the Regular Forces and the community. Now that the ban on wearing uniforms in public has been lifted, people will again become more accustomed to seeing uniformed personnel in their midst. This will enable the Reserve Forces to raise their profile in the community. The other day I was honoured to be invited to Royal Air Force Halton as the reviewing officer for the pass out parade. I went by train, and it was necessary to wear uniform. When I went to purchase my ticket in Marylebone Station, I tried not to wear my hat, but unfortunately the counter in the ticket office was not wide enough for me to put it down. The ticket clerk looked at me and said, “Excuse me, sir, do you mind telling me what your profession is?”. Just to confuse him I said, “Actually, I am a banker”. The wearing of uniform in public should help both the regulars and the reserves to improve their ability to recruit more and better people.

Additionally, I hope that the review will look at restoring the geographic footprint and increasing the ratio of our Reserve Forces, which provide only a quarter of our total Armed Forces. In the United States, reserves account for more than 50 per cent of total forces, while in Canada and Australia they make up more than 40 per cent.

One of the principal reasons why the UK is still seen as a global power, punching above its weight in

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international forums and retaining many and varied interests all over the world, is that, other than the United States and perhaps France, we are the only country that is recognised as being capable of mounting military initiatives far away from our shores. The Government’s shabby treatment of our Armed Forces has placed at risk this capability, a loss which would have negative effects on the standing of the UK far beyond the sphere of defence and military capability per se.

The restoration of the Reserve Forces to a higher percentage of our total forces would not only aid recruitment but enable some easing of the overstretch from which the Reserve Forces now suffer. This would mitigate the current retention problem. As my noble friend Lord Freeman said, the reserves provide excellent value for money. The country needs their contribution more than ever. The value of their loyalty, commitment, patriotism and sense of duty cannot be underestimated. We owe it to them and to their families to provide much better care and support after deployment.

As chairman of the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund—yet another obviously hereditary appointment—I was pleased to hear my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth mention our support for the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux and in other ways for personnel returning from deployment. However, the charities can do only so much. Does the Minister agree that the Government should give more support? Like other noble Lords, I much look forward to the report of General Cottam’s review.

Again, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Freeman on introducing the debate today, and I wish the Territorial Army a very happy birthday.

3.46 pm

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Freeman for introducing the debate. I remind the House that I am still a serving officer in the Territorial Army, although I do not train very much nowadays.

I read the excellent book of the noble Lord, Lord Graham. In my favourite passage, one very senior lord was extolling the virtues of the Battle of the Somme, whereupon the other lord said, “Ah, yes, but you weren’t at Passchendaele”.

I have heard nothing this afternoon that I would disagree with. Clearly the driver of the debate is the TA’s 100th anniversary; as my noble friend and others have explained, the TA was formed 100 years ago. I am frightened and honoured to say that I have served in the TA for a third of that period; my recordable service date is January 1974. Many noble Lords have talked about the Cottam review and, subject to the funding caveat, I think that all noble Lords broadly welcome it. However, the problems of the Reserve Forces pale into insignificance when compared with those of the Regular Armed Forces. Under UK defence planning assumptions, our Armed Forces are configured and resourced to undertake one enduring medium-scale—in other words, brigade-size—operation, and possibly one small-scale possibly enduring operation. What we are actually doing is

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double medium-scale plus; two brigades are deployed, but both operations are very difficult.

We cannot go on like this. If we do, we will eventually hit the buffers. We must either increase resources or cut commitments. Is the Cottam review predicated on the extant defence planning assumptions; on the reality since 2003, which is double what the defence planning assumptions provided for; or on some future defence planning assumptions? I am extremely concerned about the number of direct-entry junior officers commissioned into the TA as opposed to the UOTC. For some time last year, the Minister experienced some difficulty separating the group A commissions from the Group B commissions in answer to my Written Questions. The point is that only Group A commissioned officers are liable to be called up. Fortunately, we managed to resolve the issue through an Oral Question on 17 December last year. For each of the years 2003 to 2007, the numbers commissioned into the Group A TA were 95, 87, 39, 49 and 59. Since the strength of the TA is 30,000, that means that we are commissioning two direct-entry junior officers for every 1,000 members of the TA. Clearly, that is not enough; perhaps the Minister has some up-to-date figures. We have a serious problem.

It is not necessarily the MoD’s fault. There are changes in society generally and, in particular, modern work patterns make it difficult for officer-calibre people to join the TA. As a result, the TA is commissioning more senior NCOs and warrant officers. They are good-quality and good attenders, but they are not direct-entry junior officers. In any case, many units are still seriously short of officers.

The noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, told us that volunteers are quite prepared to deploy on operations; of course, he is absolutely right. However, part of the problem is that officers—young men and women—are not volunteering to join, due rightly or wrongly to the current overseas military operations. Apart from the impact on the current TA, does it matter? It does, because the proportion of the UK working-age population that has ever held a commission is probably lower than at any time in the past 100 years. This matters because it adversely affects our ability to defend ourselves should we find that we have our backs to the wall—a situation where the survival of the nation was at stake. The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, suggested some solutions, and we hope that the Cottam review provides the answers to this problem.

Many noble Lords have touched on Reserve Forces training. When I was last mobilised in 2003, I received a negligible amount of pre-deployment training—only a few simple military tests. I never took part in any exercise between being mobilised and demobilised. However, I never expected anything else; I knew that it was going to be a come-as-you-are party. Of course, the subsequent tranches of the TA mobilised for operations all received extensive training. Any plans for the TA must not rely on extensive pre-deployment training. When it really matters, there will not be time, possibly because of the strategic constraints of the operational plan.

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My noble friend Lord Freeman and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, talked briefly about the use of the TA in post-conflict reconstruction. This role and requirement will not go away; there are plenty of candidate operations, but we just do not have the capacity. Currently, as I understand it, reservists are called up for their military qualifications and skills. This is unsurprising, as we do not have a database of volunteers’ civilian skills. I urge the Minister to ensure that General Cottam looks closely at the use of volunteers’ civilian skills as well as their military ones. It may be controversial and require a change of policy, but it must be done.

Many noble Lords have talked about civil contingencies. There are two aspects to this: first, the provision of TA officers who have a long-term liaison role with local civilian agencies; and secondly, the use of the TA for disaster relief within the UK. I am not convinced that the current plans are sensible because they appear to rely upon the use of regular troops to be deployed in the first instance. However, the Regular Army is quite clear that it has very limited capability and resources. It is not resourced to provide this capability. Certainly, by definition, it does not have the local knowledge that the TA would. A local TA unit will immediately have a system of command and control and a range of equipment already issued to them because they have to be able to survive in the field. When I was commanding my company, my estimate would be that I could get 50 people within three or four hours if I had access just to the radio, by going on it and telling them to get to the TA centre immediately. In addition, the TA personnel have knowledge of where specialist equipment—both military and civilian—can be acquired. I hope that the Cottam review will look closely at civil contingencies as well.

My honourable friend Mr Brazier in another place never misses an opportunity to raise the issue of deploying formed units and of course he is right to do so. The point at which this capability is dispensed with is will be shortly before the time when it becomes necessary to use it. As a sub-unit commander, it certainly concentrated my mind that I might have to deploy my unit on operations, and indeed we nearly had to do so for Option B Minus in Kosovo. However, if I were commanding only a training unit, I could easily become rather more relaxed about the operational capability.

I have enjoyed the debate today. We will have to wait, after listening to what the Minister has to say, to see what General Cottam comes up with in his report.

3.57 pm

Lord Addington: My Lords, in intervening in this debate I have become acutely aware that I am part of that generation which has not experienced any form of military training and has probably been less exposed to any form of military activity in its formative years than any other. People who are in their early 20s, however, now live at a time when our troops are committed in warfare. My generation— which may be mirrored down the Corridor—is one in which the attitudes towards the Territorial Army were

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such that we could easily take a pop at the part-time soldier. I remember a Billy Connolly sketch about the TA running around chasing another unit up and down the Clyde. It was a total waste of time because the only guy they caught worked in the same shipyard as they did, and Billy Connolly said, “I could have sneaked up on him at lunchtime and saved us all the bother”. That was the attitude.

Historically, if you go through the prints and the books about the militia and yeomanry in years gone by, you find people playing at soldiers—probably in certain periods with justification—with gorgeous uniforms. If you want to look at the use of gold braid as an artistic expression, the late 19th-century militia and yeomanry uniforms are a great place to start. A sportsman from a rifle shooting association once gave a historical document about how wonderful shooting was. You saw people who were competitively shooting, many from volunteer rifle associations, once again with wonderful uniforms. They were easy figures of fun.

The TA and especially the modern TA is where we move away from this because the TA was initially based on the failures of the Boer War military. If you look back you will see that we were not good shots, that we marched in old-fashioned uniforms and got drubbed on several occasions by a bunch of irregular farmers. A unit was then formed which integrated with the most professional army at the start of World War I, to tremendous kudos. We then had a force that went straight into action at the beginning of World War II. Then we went through the doldrums—which was probably my formative years—when once again the reserves started to slip towards being figures of fun. We then come into a period when we have the peace dividend and we start to reduce the numbers. The peace dividend is in about 1990; the break-up of Yugoslavia starts in 1991, as does the Gulf War. Effectively we have gone into a “Hot War” setting on a peace dividend—and we are starting to see the results now.

The noble Lord, Lord King, basically said that we do not have a peace dividend any more, if I have remembered his expression, and many noble Lords have said that we are using the TA to paper over the cracks. We do not have large units that we can pull up for emergencies. If someone storms up Brighton beach, we do not have anyone to call to throw them back. Our Armed Forces are at the limit of their operational capacity. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, has pointed out exactly where we are. We cannot do anything else.

My much missed friend Lord Garden—Tim—said that some of the wars we are involved in are wars of choice. Before I focus directly on our reserves—predominantly the TA, although I recognise that there are others—I want to say that when it comes to wars of choice we must decide which ones we can take part in, and we are at the limit of that. My party’s position on involvement in Iraq is well documented. When that decision was taken was one of those moments when you are reassured by your choice of colleagues. We cannot take on any more commitments with the current structure. The idea of

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a reserve is effectively removed from our military thinking at the moment because we are struggling to stand still in terms of commitment—I do not think anyone is seriously going to challenge that at the moment—and it is the Army that is under most stress.

What are we going to do? If we cannot carry on as we are, how are we going to change? The important military traditions of the British Army—professionalism and long-term deployment, as my noble friend pointed out—seem to be inappropriate for what we are doing at the moment. Those in long-term service and the largely part-time volunteer force have reached the end of their deployment without further huge injections of money to have units prepared in large numbers.

We can consider a series of solutions. I have spoken to several soldiers who have said that we should look seriously at the American model. There has been a tradition of saying, “Oh no, the Americans aren’t proper professionals like we are”, with regard to counterinsurgency, when it is quite clear that the American army’s tradition of learning on its feet in certain aspects is coming to the fore. The American idea of short-term service with long terms in reserve and a National Guard, one unit of which has deployment capacity for combat, support or otherwise, is something we should address if we are to have a long-term overseas worldwide commitment. At the moment we are just not doing it.

Carrying on at this rate probably means spending more money. Whether we are prepared to do that or decide that we will not get involved in future is one of the major questions that must be addressed.

If our servicemen volunteer, they are part-timers on an incredible rotation of service. You are not a reservist if you are serving every three or five years; you are effectively a part-time soldier. With the pressure that puts on employers, it is understandable if some of the good will breaks down. Any reasonable employer may start to think, “Do I want them on my books? Do I want them promoted? Do I want them in a position of greater authority?”. Whether or not they should think like that is by the bye; the fact is that it will occur. We all know that.

Unless we are prepared to take on the question of financing and our level of commitment, none of it makes sense. Are we prepared to change the nature of our regular recruitment patterns to allow ourselves a greater number of reserves and have another supporting force, as per the American model, or do we go for something else? Do we prepare to pump more money and energy into a reserve force that has less required of it? One or two tours, yes, but three or four, no, except for people who like the idea of being a part-timer in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces—a new concept for us. Do we take that on board? Are we prepared to engage in that discussion?

As has been pointed out, we also have to address the fact that, if the TA and other Reserve Forces are taking on the role of being effectively full-time soldiers for certain periods, we must look after them in the same way in which we look after our regular servicemen. We have had the Royal British Legion’s

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covenant debates over the past year or so. I hope that the Minister will give an undertaking now that the Government will work towards supporting the TA to the same level as the Regular Army, and that that is made very clear. To be fair to the Government, making sure that there is greater support for the armed services in public is a step forward, but making sure that there is integration and recognition of those who serve at all levels is something which must come now. We must engage and bring them together. We must try to look at this in the round.

Possibly I have made the most party-political speech in the debate, but we have heard a lot today about the problems occurring in the TA in the light of what is being asked of our Armed Forces at the moment. I hope the Minister will be able to respond in kind by telling us what is going to be practically done because there is a real problem here and the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, deserves credit for bringing it to our attention.

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