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A key tenet of the review has been bringing greater clarity to reservists about what we expect of them and what they can expect in return. That has been captured in the new proposition that sets out for the first time what reserve service offers. Specifically, it states that we must ensure that,
If we deliver on that propositionand I am determined that we willthe outcome should be a better trained and organised reserve, better able to deliver its tasks. I should like to give the House a few examples of what we are doing now to help to achieve this outcome. We shall develop better and more flexible terms and conditions of service, which will allow a range of different forms of reserve serviceas well as easier movement between regular and reserve serviceby removing complexity and administrative barriers. Reservist training will be refocused with a greater emphasis on preparation to support current operations. Initial training will be restructured so that new recruits receive sufficient military skills to participate in their units collective training within six months of joining and are fully trained and eligible for mobilisation within three years. Routine training will also be reviewed and sufficient man training days allocated to ensure annual military competency standards can be achieved by all.
The Territorial Army will be better integrated with the Regular Army to ensure that, combined, they are best structured to support current and future operations. This will include stopping reservist tasks that are no longer needed, thereby bringing efficiencies and enabling manpower to be used for higher priorities. Some tasks of this nature have been identified during separate work as part of the departments annual planning round.
As mentioned in the review, certain elements of 2 (National Communications) Signal Brigade have been identified as no longer having a clear operational role. This is partly because they hold capabilities that are no longer current and partly because their tasks can be achieved elsewhere in defence, not least because of improvements in wider national resilience. In addition, some TA signals units operate communications equipment that is now obsolete. These posts will be removed; they include Headquarters 12 Signals Group and 33, 34 and 35 Signals Regiments. It is logical to reallocate these resources to higher defence priorities.
This decision has not been taken lightly. We are very aware of the exceptional contribution made by the Royal Signals within the TA, but we must focus resources where we need them most. Where possible, those affected by this decision will be offered other opportunities within the TA, and we will conduct further work to decide the most effective configuration for the TA Royal Signals. As I have said, these decisions were taken separately from the reserves review, but they are entirely consistent with it.
We shall also rationalise and improve the way in which we approach the civil contingency reaction force and the part that it plays in wider national resilience tasks. This will make it more effective and less burdensome to the units involved. We shall also work closely with the Department for International Development to determine how best to employ niche reservist skills in support of stabilisation operations.
We need to rationalise the reserve estate. Some of it is underused, out of date and in poor repair. Some of it is simply unacceptable for modern military use. In some places, several sites sit near one another; elsewhere, the reserve footprint is absent. I am therefore setting in train work to deliver a modern, better managed and fit-for-purpose volunteer estate. This important work will take time and I am determined that it should be done properly.
Employers play a vital role in delivering and supporting our reserves. They bear the gap while an employee is training and play an even greater role when reservists are away from the workplace on deployed operations. We are very fortunate that so many of our employers are so accommodating of the demands that go with the reservist commitment. They recognise the additional skills and qualities that individual reservists can bring to any organisation. But we want to work better with employers. We shall continue to provide assistance and support to them through our employer support organisation, Supporting Britains Reservists and Employers, commonly known as SaBRE. In addition, we shall give greater direction to the Reserve Forces and cadets associations to ensure that their excellent work in support of the reserves is more coherent and co-ordinated.
The review that we are publishing today is important for our Armed Forces and for Britains reserves. It makes it clear that the two are not separate but that reserves provide an integral part of our military force structure. It provides a firm basis from which we can work further to develop and improve our Reserve Forces and how we support them. I believe that this is an exciting opportunity for our reservists. The reviewoutcome is a comprehensive piece of work, which has been welcomed by the single service chiefs. It is a blueprint to ensure that our Reserve Forces have a clear and bright future to match their illustrious past. I commend it to the House.
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I join the Government in paying tribute to Britains reserves, who make an important contribution to current operations, as well
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As the Statement says, the review flows into more than 80 detailed recommendations. There is a lot to digest and, frankly, we have had little time to consider it all. Through the usual channels, I will ask the Government for a debate in government time on the reserves review. This is an important issue. There is great concern in the reserves as to where it will all go. On this side of the House, we have been bombarded with approaches from all ranks.
We welcome the restructuring of initial training. I imagine that this also applies to officers training. It is particularly relevant for officers where recruiting has suffered because of the cumbersome process of interviews, pre-AOSB, training, AOSB and then Sandhurst. There is no doubt that that is putting off some potential officers from joining.
We also welcome the fact that the TA will be better integrated with the Regular Army. I was in Afghanistan in February and spoke to a lot of reserves out there, including representatives of my own regiment. On the whole, they already feel pretty well embedded in the Army. The regulars of all ranks to whom I spoke were very complimentary about the work that the reserves were doing and felt that they were fully embedded. I was enormously impressed by their courage and professionalism.
General Cottam was not asked to produce an implementation plan. Half his recommendations will be implemented immediately, but who will take forward the other half? How long will the scoping work take? When will an implementation plan for these recommendations be produced and within what timescale will they be implemented? How will progress be reported to Parliament?
What is meant by a range of different forms? We accept that reserves are needed to augment expeditionary operations, but little information or thought appears to have been given to their role in homeland security and resilience. This is important when, as we saw in Mumbai, the terrorist threat is evolving.
The Government must also justify the cuts to 2 (National Communications) Signal Brigade. The Statement says that its tasks can be achieved elsewhere in defence and that some are not needed because of improvements in wider national resilience. It is imperative that the Minister should provide evidence to support this assertion. The brigade is tasked with the provision of emergency and post-disaster recovery communications infrastructure for government, the Armed Forces and the emergency services, by deploying and operating a variety of communications systems. It is on 12 hours notice to deploy. This is an important role.
How will the CCRFs be rationalised? Has this been done in consultation with first responders? I understand that first respondersthe police, the fire service and the ambulance servicewant predictable support from the military and clear lines of authority, command and co-ordination.
The main focus of the Statement is on the TA; little if anything was mentioned about the Royal Naval Reserve, the Royal Marines Reserve or the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. How will this report impact on these forces? It also surprised me that there was no specific mention of the welfare issues impacting our reservists and their families. What measures in the recommendations will improve the welfare of our Reserve Forces and their families?
Finally, in 1997, the establishment figure for the TA was 59,000; today it is 38,500, even though the current strength is 28,920. What will the establishment figure be in light of todays Statement, given that the TA has been funded to only 83 per cent capacity?
Lord Lee of Trafford: My Lords, this is a very comprehensive review and the review team is to be congratulated on the huge amount of work that it has put in. The document is substantial and the executive summary itself runs to about 30 pages. However, unfortunately, I was able to obtain a copy of both those documents only at 3.15 this afternoon, despite having tried for the last three or four hours to get copies, including by phoning the MoD direct. It is impossible to ask sensible questions if one is given such a short space of time in which to examine the documents. I shall write to the Secretary of State for Defence to ask him what procedures his department operates in providing opposition spokespersons with this type of document in these circumstances. I do not hold the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, personally responsible for this; he represents the department but, of course, is not a Minister in it.
We welcome the review and congratulate the review team. As the noble Lord, Lord Astor, said, the reserves play a vital and cost-effective role when our Regular Forces are overstretched. They are also there for civil emergencies and terrorism and for pandemics and similar. However, the Statement is long on words but short on specifics. There is no mention of costs at all; for example, I should like to know how much it will cost to rationalise the reserve estate, which is said to be,
There is no mention in the Statement of future numbers, as the noble Lord, Lord Astor, said. That is absolutely crucial. The Evening Standard today, which was presumably briefed in some shape or form a little earlier than we were, has a headline that says, TA fighting strength will fall to 25000 after Treasury cuts. Would the Minister like to respond to that headline? The noble Lord, Lord Astor, also said that present manning levels were 10,000 below establishment strength. What will the Government do in that regard?
Our nation owes a huge debt to our Reserve Forces, but this Statement is full of generalities and holes. I very much support the call for a full debate in government time on our reserves. Specifically, when will the Government come clean on costs and numbers?
Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I shall first respond to the opening criticism of the noble Lord, Lord Lee. I am very sorry that he did not receive his copy appropriately and, while I thank him very much for noting that I am not the Minister, I shall take personal responsibility to ensure that we review those procedures and ensure that principal spokesmen have a clear expectation. Of course, I am embarrassed to find myself in the situation in which the noble Lord is not properly briefed.
The noble Lord, Lord Astor, asked an awful lot of questions, and, not surprisingly, I shall not be able to answer them all, but I shall do my best. First, I thank him very much for his general support for the reserves and the issue of training. I do not have to hand specific figures relating to officer training; I will write to him on that issue. He asked, very reasonably, about who will take this forward. The MoD will set up a small team to take it forward. I do not have the name of the head of the team. The plan is to take it forward in three phases. The initial phase will introduce about half the recommendations straightaway. The other operational and organisational recommendations will be considered in the normal planning process as part of the total development of defence. That will take us about two to three years, through to April 2012. The estate will take a number of years, and we will set up a team to rationalise that.
On the issue of how it will progress, I would expect it to progress and to be reported in the normal way. We will make statements about plans, and the essence is that we will be talking about the reserves in the context of the forces as a whole, rather than specifically referring to the reserves per se. That is the theme that runs through this Statement: we are looking for more flexibility.
When it comes to resilience, the civil contingencies reaction force, which was developed in 2002, has not been used. The review recommends that the current structure should be abandoned, maintaining only the command and control framework, with all reservists declared available for UK operations and resilience tasks. This finding has been adopted by the Army as part of the ongoing review. It is important to note that the contingencies that have happened have actually been addressed by Regular Forces, supported by reserves. We think that this is a much better way for reserves to be used in future.
On the issue of signalling tasks, I will touch on one or two points made by the noble Lord, Lord Lee. There are two areas where we are rationalising in the light of budgetary and planning preparation, but consistently with the use of reserves. The first is the Ptarmigan trunk communications system which supports the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps headquarters communications, command and control suite operated by members of TA signals. This is now obsolete. I do not have data on how long it has been obsolete, but support is now provided by the newer Falcon system,
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The Cabinet Office work on resilience has called for a more up-to-date and technologically advanced national resilience network, and it is important that 2 (National Communications) Signal Brigade will be removedit will be a regular-only operation from now on, because it is able to operate with more up-to-date, efficient and capital-intensive procedures that are less manpower-intensive. There will be no reduction in signals capability provided by the Royal Signals to support either the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps or national resilience communication.
In areas other than the TA, recruitment is taking place in all four reservesthe Royal Marines, the Navy, the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and the Army. Over time, those numbers will become part of our planning round and concerns, but the MoD is looking to see them rise if possible.
The noble Lord, Lord Lee, gave us some of the numbers involved. As we know, the numbers are about 10,000 down between establishment and strength. I think that that is common between us. What I am announcing today regarding signals will not directly address the numbers on strength. TA personnel will be offered posts in other TA units with regular personnel being returned to other posts in the Army structure. I admit that a small number of civilians, including some non-regular permanent staff and TA soldiers employed on timed reserve contractsthese are small numbersmay be made redundant if alternative employment cannot be found, but what I am talking about today is a structural change. It is about taking resources away from obsolete units and assigning them to active reserve units.
By accident, I seem to have answered all the questions put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Lee, that I am capable of answering. I hope that I have at least given a feel for how we are taking this important review forward.
Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I am afraid that I have to say that I heard the noble Lords Statement with dismay and regret. It was full of ringing declarations of good intent but was more notable for what it did not say than for what it did say. Perhaps I may self-indulge with a little trip down memory lane. In 1984, I stood at that Dispatch Box and announced the increase in the size of the Territorial Army from 79,000 to 83,000. Today, as someone has already said, the Evening Standard is reporting a strength of 25,000. I announced to your Lordships the acquisition of a fleet of River class minesweepers for the Royal Naval Reserve 11 minesweepers built especially for and assigned to that force. I stood at that Dispatch Box one evening and announced the formation of 607 (City of York) Squadron, Royal Auxiliary Air Force, to be equipped with Wessex helicopters and deployed in support of 2nd Infantry Division in York, at that time commanded
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Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I can answer only one question here and now because that was a description of the past and I have to admit that we are in a different place, and we have been quite open about the fact that we are in a different place. We are looking forward to an entirely different reserve in the future. An entirely different reserve has, de facto, been in existence since roughly 2002 in terms of how it is deployed. Interestingly enough, I can answer the final challenge as I do recall the words of Sir Winston Churchill. The seven recommendations accept the reserves important role in representing the military within our communities. They are the footprint of the military in most of our societyin places of work and in the community. We acknowledge for the first time that that is a useful part of their role.
Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, the Minister mentioned how much more the territorial and Reserve Forces are being used now than ever before. That is quite true. They are bolstering overseas operations, well embedded into the Regular Forces, and they are all to be congratulated on that. But to describe that as not gap-filling is disingenuous. The point is that there are not enough Regular Forces to undertake the commitments to which our Government have committed them. Until that balance is rightnot only the manpower balance but the financial balance that is required to support that manpowerwe are going to find ourselves in an extremely difficult position.
I thoroughly support the need for this review, but the reserves are promised a variety of thingsimproved training, improved opportunities to prepare for operations, and other funded matterswhen the funding itself must, in some part, be dubious. In that case, it seems to me that there is a genuine danger that the reservists, who are keen and willing, will find that the promises they have been given are not being fulfilled. That is much more of a let-down for them than not having had it promised in the first place. I believe that without a proper defence review into which these new reserve arrangements can be slotted, the whole structure, good as it may be, is under question because of the lack of funding for it.
Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I am sure that the noble and gallant Lord will forgive me if I do not operate above my pay grade and promise a defence review. That will be for the Government and the Secretary of State to consider. On the matter of funding, I must be absolutely honest. This review promises no more funding and the Government are not promising any more funding. No additional funding is allocated to implement the recommendations, which will have to be taken forward within existing budgets. We have to be realistic. None of the parties that could credibly form a Government is currently promising to spend more money on defence. This review recognises that
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Lord De Mauley: My Lords, we all hope that what will come out of the review will be welcome. I disclose an interest as a former TA commanding officer with firsthand experience of being used more than before; and also as a selected military member of the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association for the county of Gloucestershire.
I have two questions for the Minister which immediately spring to mind. First, how will the recommendations of the review of reserves be managed in the context of the current financial pressure facing all government departments, not least the MoD? The noble Lord, Lord Lee, specifically asked questions in that area. We do need answers on that. Secondly, and more specifically, am I right in understanding from what the Minister said that considerable numbers of Royal Signals soldiers and units are to be laid off? It is well known that a need for a large number of extra TA signallers was identified only comparatively recently. Laying off specialist soldiers because the equipment that the Government have issued them with is obsolete sounds suspiciously like babies and bathwater. But vitally, in these days where technical, especially IT, skills are so needed in the services, is it really wise to ravage the TAs main repository of such skills?
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