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4.06 pm

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I begin by recording two declarations of personal interest. One is historical, the other current. While the political credit for the legislation that brought the Territorial Army into being in 1908 is rightly assigned, as my noble friend said, to the Secretary of State for War at the time, Richard Burdon Haldane, much of the detailed preparatory work was delegated by him to my grandfather, Major General Douglas Haig, initially as Director of Military Training at the War Office and subsequently as Director of Staff Duties there. Haig was brought back from India, where he was Inspector General of Cavalry, in May 1906 especially for that purpose. His diary records the somewhat difficult negotiations he had with the commanding officers of the Yeomanry and Militia Regiments, as they were then, over their conversion into the Territorial Army. It will surprise no one who is familiar with the historic relationship between the Regular and Reserve Forces that the most salient difficulty to be resolved in 1906 and 1907 was whether the Territorial Forces should be deployed as units or whether the regulars might draw on them for drafts of reinforcements. In the event Territorial divisions were deployed to France after August 1914 and served with distinction as such in the great Army that my grandfather led.

My current interest is that I have the honour to be the Colonel of a Royal Engineer TA Regiment and I am proud that elements of that regiment have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and on peacekeeping duties elsewhere. This was recognised a couple of weeks ago by the Mayor and Council of Reigate and Banstead, who invited the regiment and the borough's Territorial unit, along with the REME unit that my noble friend Lord Attlee served in, to march through the town centre, with a reception for them and their families in the town hall afterwards. The huge crowds and their enthusiasm made it a very special occasion for the soldiers.

This year is the 100th anniversary of the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association. These regional

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associations play a very important role in supporting and promoting the volunteer reserves of the three services and the cadet organisations with their respective communities. I pay tribute to them for the enormous contribution they make to our defence capability and our thoughts are with the families of those who have lost their lives from all the services, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, said. My noble friend Lord Freeman is the hard-working president of the RFCA and I thank him for bringing forward this interesting and important debate.

As my noble friend said, we should also warmly recognise those who serve in the Royal Naval Reserve, the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, the Royal Marine Reserve and the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, and the significant contribution that they make. I much enjoyed the description by my noble friend the Duke of Montrose of the founding of the RNVRs and his grandfather’s part in it. Through their training centres across the country and their members who straddle civilian and military society, they provide vital links between military and civilian communities. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, made important points about the reserves encouraging local participation and how we have lost much of that as the numbers have declined.

Just as regular forces are now being encouraged to wear uniforms whenever appropriate, should not the TA and other reservists be encouraged likewise, as my noble friend Lord Trenchard suggested? I also recognise the indispensable part played by the sponsored reserves in providing the whole of the manpower on which our armoured forces rely in providing, right up the front line, lifting and transport under a most successful PFI contract.

I was very impressed by the number of speakers who had important interests to declare and many points and questions were raised today. My noble friend Lord Fowler pointed out the vital role that the medical reserves are playing in Iraq and Afghanistan. My noble friend Lady Park mentioned the important work done by service charities. I have seen a lot of this work and I pay tribute to them for that. The noble Baroness and the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, mentioned aftercare—a subject that merits a debate on its own. My noble friend Lord Crathorne eloquently described how, with excellent aftercare, a soldier from the Yorkshire regiment TA battalion was coming to terms with losing a leg in Basra.

I much enjoyed the eloquent recollections of the Home Guard and the Royal Marines recounted by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. I look forward to seeing his book.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: I will sell you one.

Lord Astor of Hever: I shall meet the noble Lord afterwards.

My noble friends Lord Freeman, Lord King, Lord Trenchard and Lord Attlee, mentioned the reserve review team. Along with other noble Lords I was fortunate to meet Major General Nick Cottam the

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other day who will chair the review team. I was much impressed by his energy and ideas. The team has quite a responsibility to examine, and make suggestions on, the modern role of the Reserve Forces. Like other noble Lords, I hope that pressure will not be put on it to come up with solutions that make savings.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, mentioned RAF auxiliary recruitment and its importance to the Royal Air Force. Recruitment was also mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, and my noble friend Lord Trenchard. The impact of ongoing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq has placed enormous strain on the reserves’ ability to recruit and retain their service personnel. I think that my noble friend Lord King said that there are 30,000 reserves. It would be helpful if the Minister could confirm this number, and say what percentage of the planned manpower strength that is, if not today perhaps in writing to noble Lords who took part in the debate. Can she inform the House what the Government are doing to address the alarming speed with which personnel are leaving the TA? How many members left in 2006 and 2007? My noble friend Lord Attlee pointed out the shortage of direct entry officers into the TA.

Given the Government’s own admission in last year’s MoD annual report that the TA constitutes an,

is the noble Baroness concerned that the retention crisis being experienced throughout the reserves will have an alarmingly detrimental impact on such a capability? Several noble Lords, including the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, the noble Lord, Lord Clarke, and my noble friend Lord Glenarthur, mentioned the importance of employers. I pay tribute to them. I also pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Glenarthur for the vital role that he plays as chairman of the National Employer Advisory Board.

My noble friends Lord Freeman and Lord Attlee mentioned training, as did the recent House of Commons Public Accounts Committee report and the NAO report, both of which were very concerned about training. Bearing in mind the complications of the JPA as regards claims and allowances and other complicated paperwork, is the Minister concerned that too much time that should be allocated to training is taken up by administrative matters?

As a number of speakers have said, it is vital that TA soldiers should be trained and equipped for operations in the same way as their regular counterparts. My noble friend Lord Trenchard and the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, mentioned university OTCs. Does the noble Baroness think it right that those serving in OTCs are included in statistics outlining the relative strength of the TA, given that they are unavailable for deployment?

My noble friends Lord King, Lady Park and Lord Glenarthur, and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, mentioned a period between active deployments. It is government policy to ensure that reserve personnel are deployed once every five years at most. However, it is well known that many TA units have been deployed many more times than this. Can the noble

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Baroness inform the House whether this is the exception, or has it now become the rule? The TA, as others have said, is arguably under greater pressure from operational deployments than at any other time since its creation, certainly outside the two world wars. At the same time, it is smaller than at any time in its history.

Finally, can I touch on the airbridge? I had assumed the situation was getting better from Written Answers to Questions that I and other noble Lords had tabled. When I met a number of TA soldiers the other day, they told me that the situation is still pretty dire. There are a number of delays. In particular, soldiers have been delayed for a long time coming home on leave. Could the noble Baroness touch on the airbridge?

4.16 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My Lords, before I respond to the very wide-ranging and genuinely interesting debate, I am sure your Lordships will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the family and friends of the British soldier who was killed on operations in Afghanistan on Monday. Tragic events like that bring into sharp focus the bravery about which so many colleagues in the House have spoken today. It is something we should always be conscious of.

I welcome this opportunity to debate the Reserve Forces and to celebrate TA 100. I must congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, on securing the debate. It is clear to me from all the contributions that I have heard that this debate has been not only timely, but very worthwhile. Everyone without exception has emphasised the high regard in which the Reserve Forces are held. That is a sentiment that I wholeheartedly support and associate the Government with. It is also been clear that many of the contributions are made with a great deal of authority that comes from direct experience. That has been valuable and I pay tribute to the many noble Lords on all sides of the House who have rendered that service to the Crown as members of the Reserve Forces.

I hesitate to take issue early on with the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, but it has been only two years since we held a full debate on the reserves. At that time it was initiated by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, who had not long returned from a tour in Iraq as a mobilised reservist. Quite a lot has changed, even in that time, as the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, has said. The ever-increasing integration of the reserves into the regular force has gone on at quite a pace.

Whenever we debate military affairs, we always pay tribute to personnel from all three Services for the work they are doing, often in very difficult conditions, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan at the moment. We are all immensely proud of them and of all that they have achieved. We cannot overlook the fact that, in our current and recent successes and our plans for the future, we are often heavily reliant on the volunteers in the Reserve Forces, without whom things might have been very different indeed. That point has been

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made by many of your Lordships this afternoon and it is one with which I must concur.

The use of reservists to support UK operations is fully in line with the Government’s policy and approach. The reserves are appropriately trained, and are an integrated part of our Armed Forces. They are expected to deploy to augment their regular colleagues. At the moment, nearly 6.5 per cent of the Army’s total deployed personnel on current major operations—that is, in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan—are from the Army’s reserves. We should also remember that, like all regular members of the Armed Forces, behind every reservist on operation is a family and people who are worried and for whom we have a responsibility, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Hoyle and emphasised by the noble Baroness, Lady Park. We ought to acknowledge that those families bear such a burden and that their support is utterly essential to everyone in the Reserve Forces.

Time prevents me talking too much about the history of our reservists, although in reading for the debate I learnt a lot. Others have given us a great deal of history. The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, reminded us of the history of the naval reserves. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, reminded us of the contribution of air reservists. The noble Lord, Lord Freeman, gave a good, brief history of the TA. We also heard some interesting personal histories. The noble Lord, Lord Astor, contributed his, as did my noble friend Lord Clarke and others. Of course, my noble friend Lord Graham gave a highly personalised account of his life in the Armed Forces. I served with my noble friend in the Government Whips’ Office in the other place some time ago where there may have been some similarities—but we will put that record aside for the moment.

My noble friend Lord Hoyle reminded me of something that is pertinent to my background and childhood. He reminded the House that the Bolton Wanderers football team volunteered en masse. I grew up in Bolton some time later, and I was aware that the town was very proud of the fact that its football team had led in such a way. It meant a great deal to Bolton. If my noble friend Lord Graham can plug a book, perhaps I may mention Wartime Wanderers, which gives an account of that experience.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, said that he had no military training, being from a generation that did not have national service. Like him, my peer group did not have to serve in the Armed Forces. That is an important factor in the public’s understanding of our Armed Forces. The parliamentary group looking at reservists can perhaps do more to inform people, but it should be a two-way relationship because local TAs should help by informing and involving their Members of Parliament.

As regards current deployments, things have changed a great deal. It is two years since the previous debate, and regular forces are now thoroughly used to working alongside reservists at almost every level, with a wide variety of trades and cap badges. From the time of previous campaigns—be it the first Gulf War, the Balkans or current developments in Iraq and

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Afghanistan—reservists of all three services are much more used to a culture where mobilised service is, if not the norm, at least quite commonplace and expected. I am sure noble Lords agree that when visiting units on operations it is impossible to tell who is a reservist and who is a regular. That is a great tribute not only to the quality of the volunteers and their training and enthusiasm, but to the fact that they are working together and are received by the regulars and treated as part of the team.

I was asked about numbers: 17,000 reservists have been mobilised in the past 10 years. Some of that operational deployment has been very costly and there have been deaths. Sadly, some brave men and women of the Reserve Forces have made the ultimate sacrifice and we should all pay tribute to the 12 reservists who have been killed on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. We owe them an enormous debt of gratitude and we must not forget the sacrifices that their families, too, have made.

Deployment has been a feature of this debate and mention was made, not least by the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, of the recent announcement about the deployment in Cyprus. The Government remain committed to supporting peacekeeping duties in Cyprus and we announced recently that a new call-out order had been made under Section 56 of the Reserve Forces Act 1996 to enable members of the Reserve Forces to continue to be called out into permanent service and deployed to Cyprus. Currently there are 35 reservists deployed there. We are planning a deployment of more than 250 reservists in October. The noble Lord, Lord Freeman, welcomed that. The TA soldiers will fulfil all the normal military duties required of UN troops in Cyprus. Some units that are being deployed are very pleased to have the opportunity to go on operations. On some occasions not all units are able to volunteer, because it is not appropriate. The call-out has been broadly welcomed and, by utilising our reserves in this way, we are freeing up regulars to be deployed in other operations.

The review has rightly been the focus of many contributions this afternoon. It was announced in March this year. It has the full support of service chiefs and of reservists. I am pleased by the welcome for the reserves review team leader, Major General Nick Cottam. The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, said that it was a wise choice and the noble Lord, Lord Astor, said that he was impressed by the early contributions that had been made to the discussion. I have discussed this review and I, too, am very impressed. I want to allay the fear that the review team will not be wide enough. There was one mention of the fact that perhaps there should be more civilians. There are civilians who are working with, and as part of, this team. The openness and transparency that the team wish to deploy will mean that everyone who wants to will be able to contribute. There is a website and people will be able to follow what is going on.

The review is examining how our Reserve Forces should most effectively be configured, structured, equipped, located and trained, not just for current operations, but for future defence needs. We think

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that our present approach is sound, but, given the changes that have taken place, it is a good idea to take stock, step back and look at the potential use of reservists in future. The planning assumptions that will be taken are the existing ones; there is no change there. We need to consider issues such as the scope for greater integration into Regular Forces and how we can better capitalise on the vast range of civilian skills—a topic raised by both the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, and the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. We have found widespread support for this review among the services as a whole. It is important that this review is being conducted with the reserves; it is not something that is being done to the reserves.

Perhaps I may say a word about funding. This is not a cost-driven exercise, and I was pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, accepted and acknowledged that at the beginning of his speech. I can understand people asking that question, but I assure the noble Lord, Lord Astor, and others, that the review is policy-led, not resource-driven. We want to make sure that we get the best out of our reserves, and that is very important.

The review will consider a range of matters. I remind the House that we will soon have a Command Paper, which will deal with some of the important issues that were raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Park, such as mental health, where awareness has increased dramatically. Because we are now more aware, we are obliged to take more action. There have been some interesting pilot studies, and there are attempts to get people in the National Health Service to be more aware of the rights that we are giving to members of our Armed Forces, but there is clearly some way to go. We will definitely look at any ideas that come back. The review is off to a good start. It has a great deal of support, and it will be open and willing to listen to the ideas that have been put forward today.

The Reserve Forces and Cadets Association was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, because of his role. I pay credit to him for the work that he has done. It has an important role, and it provides support for volunteers. As has been mentioned today, it is able to make that important connection with local communities. We value that, and everyone should appreciate that.

We have already seen Major General Cottam talking to the Council of Reserve Forces and Cadets Association. It has been involved in the review already because of its close supporting role to the reservists. I hope it is correct that the national council is looking at the review as an opportunity to explain and to educate people about the role that it carries out. It may be of interest to the House to know that the review is using the network that exists for workshops and for making sure that people who are most directly involved know what is going on with the review and can find out. That is not an exclusive route into the review, but it is an important one, which should be recognised and utilised. I hope that all those involved will have the confidence to think that it is going in the right direction.

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The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, mentioned a point that he has talked to me about and brought up on the Floor of the House: the problem of recruiting direct entry junior officers. The figures are very much the same as they were when we last talked about this, and the noble Earl quoted them today. We acknowledge that there is a problem, but it is not simply, as I am sure he agrees, about numbers and getting people interested. It is about whether we can offer proper leadership and management opportunities so that people will want to go down that route. I have discussed that concern with Major General Cottam, and I spoke to him about the interest of the noble Earl in that. He told me that he understood and that he was “on the case”. It is an area of the review that will get particular attention, but it is a problem, given the changes in society and work patterns.

Mention has also been made of employers. We all recognise that employers have done a great deal to contribute to our efforts by releasing people at critical times. The board chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, has been very helpful in that. I am pleased that he said that he has ready access to those who he needs to talk to about this. I was pleased that the report last week from Quentin Davies acknowledges the role of that body, which is important.

On the question of whether we should do more to reward employers, we compensate them by up to £12 million. One or two Members mentioned the problems of members of the Reserve Forces getting back into work. Particular mention was made of the BMA’s view regarding medical personnel getting back into the National Health Service after being deployed. When I was in Afghanistan recently—and I am sure that I am not the only person who has been told this—the medical staff there said that a three-month deployment there had given them the experience of many months, if not years, in a busy accident and emergency unit. It actually enhanced their experience. I think and I hope that employers will bear that in mind, because people can become more mature and they can obtain more leadership qualities and practical experience from a deployment. That can be of benefit.

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