Reserve Armed Forces

– in the House of Lords at 3:11 pm on 19th January 2006.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Conservative 3:11 pm, 19th January 2006

rose to call attention to the Reserve Armed Forces of the Crown; and to move for Papers.

My Lords, all my adult life I have been a member of the Territorial Army, by far the largest of our volunteer Reserve Forces. I will concentrate my remarks on the TA, but most of them will be equally applicable to other volunteer and regular Reserve Forces. I apologise for concentrating on the TA. I served the first 18 years in the ranks, was then commissioned in 1991 and am still serving. I therefore feel extremely honoured to introduce this subject for debate this afternoon.

Prior to 1995 there were many, inside and outside the regular Armed Forces, who questioned whether volunteer reservists could be competent in their role and, in particular, whether they would be willing and able to respond to a call-out. These anxieties were most evident after the end of the Cold War. For nearly all my service as a soldier we were training to engage in World War III on the north German plain. Those of us who took a realistic view did not expect much notice of mobilisation. We did expect to operate, at least as a sub-unit, with all our comrades, but I certainly never expected to come back from it. I would like to take this opportunity to thank sincerely the noble and gallant Lords and Ministers who prosecuted that Cold War so skilfully that we never needed to fight it.

An obvious weakness of any volunteer Reserve Force is that it cannot be as well trained, particularly in terms of breadth, as its regular counterpart, due to limitations on the time and funding available. Prior to 1995 many without direct experience of the volunteer reserves were somewhat dismissive. Phrases such as "Dad's Army" and "SAS" were used—not unlike the attitude of senior Members of another place before they come to your Lordships' House. Those with direct experience understood the weaknesses and how to mitigate them, but they also had a much better understanding of volunteers' strengths: enthusiasm, commitment, wider experience, knowledge and skills. Volunteers learn to give and take orders and communicate militarily. Volunteers are not generally trained to operate a wide range of equipment but they understand intimately that which they do operate. Thus when I was a soldier I was hands-on with my specialist vehicle on average at least one day a week over several years. Few regulars would be able to match that.

In 1995, after the first widespread use of the TA for IFOR, when the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, was CDS, the whole situation changed because the TA did what it said on the tin. A large number volunteered for that operation. Of course there were problems, particularly in administration, but they have now been largely overcome. A key element has been the Reserve Training and Mobilisation Centre at Chilwell. There is a now a very good relationship and respect between the regulars and volunteers. Since 1995, it has been usual for 10 per cent of a deployed land force to be TA.

After Op TELIC, the TA became the reserve of first choice. Understandably, ex-regular soldiers do not take their reserve liability very seriously. For Op TELIC 1, it was necessary to call up about 10 regular reservists to have one mobilised; if the address proved correct the rate was one in six. However, in REME TA, my regiment, the success rate was one in 1.17 and it was similar in the rest of the TA. It should be remembered that that was for a campaign with limited public support. I understand that the planning assumption now is for a ratio of 1.25 to 1, which sounds prudent.

So that is where we are. It is a good story. We have volunteer Reserve Forces that work and would have worked at any time after the major reorganisation of the 1960s. However, there are some serious problems that cannot be ignored. I think that some in the staff thought that volunteers could be used compulsorily to sustain enduring operations. That is a mistake; volunteers should be seen as an insurance policy against the unforeseeable and to enable infrequent large-scale operations—that is to say, more than one full brigade—to be undertaken. If our regular forces could undertake a large-scale operation on their own, without reinforcement from the TA, they would probably be too well endowed.

It is, of course, highly desirable for volunteers to be able to engage in operations when it is convenient to them and they can be used—it is useful to them when they have a career break. A formal pairing arrangement between regular units and TA units would be beneficial. We are now in a situation where nearly everyone in the TA who could be of use to current operations has already been called up. There is a legal gap between compulsory mobilisations of three years and a practical one of five. I am extremely anxious that we might mobilise volunteer reservists who have completed their recruit and trade training and are technically fit for role but do not have sufficient training and experience to be deployed. The consequences of doing that could be very serious.

The SDR imposed significant cuts in the strength of the TA. The actual strength has fallen by 20,000 since 1998. It is interesting that the age limit for officers has been extended from 55 to 60. I sometimes wonder whether I will be retiring from the House of Lords before I can retire from the TA. I doubt that all under-strength units are vigorously cutting out their non-attending dead wood. In my experience, the most effective TA soldiers train for about 50 days per year. They attend unit annual camp and a trade or specialist course. However, from time to time, man training days are severely restricted. That causes morale problems, low standards and poor retention and encourages bounty-hunters who do the absolute minimum. There are not many bounty-hunters but it is still a depressing problem. Volunteers cannot be expected to be more usable and more relevant, as per SDR, if they are not allocated plenty of MTDs.

It is not just the amount of training undertaken, it is the quality. Overseas training exercises are vital for a variety of obvious reasons. This is recognised, but due to operational commitments it is difficult to arrange RAF air-trooping to the exercise location. This must be addressed at ministerial level.

A volunteer's ability to go on operations and to train is limited by their family and their job. Many leave after a few years because of family commitments, but a bigger problem is the relationship with their employer. My noble friends Lord Glenarthur—chairman of the National Employer Advisory Board for British reserves—and Lord Freeman—president of the council of the Reserved Forces and Cadets Associations—will talk about the work of their organisations, so I will not steal their thunder. However, there are some post-demobilisation problems. It appears that the volunteer is on his own if he needs to fight to get his job back. My understanding is that there are generally no MoD observers at the reinstatement hearings of employment tribunals. I know of one case where the reservist is £3,000 out of pocket for legal fees, and had inadequate support from the MoD. In short, he was on his own. That cannot be right, but care needs to be taken to handle these cases sensitively or employer support could rapidly evaporate. I cannot help thinking that a woman returning from maternity leave would enjoy better employment protection than a reservist returning from serving Queen and country.

Many reservists have civilian skills of great potential use in an operation, but their reservist military role is quite different. Usually a volunteer will join their nearest unit rather than the one that matches their civilian skills. There is no database of reservists' civilian skills, only of their military qualifications. This is a significant missed opportunity and should be rectified.

A serious and imminent problem is medical support to operations, particularly when Afghanistan is scaled up. The TA field hospitals did a fabulous job on Op TELIC, but not without friction. The difficulty is that the NHS is stretched and has its own problems, but the defence medical services do too. There is a difficult balance to be struck. Medical support is an obvious role for the TA because it is not sensible to have regular clinical staff underutilised in peacetime locations. The current problem is that demand for medical services on deployed operations is unusually high, and I hope it will, at some time, reduce. What can the Minister say about medical support for operations later this year?

Noble Lords will be aware of the serious problems with recruitment and retention. Much of this is due to the general public view of current operations in Iraq and the questionable legality and necessity of the war in 2003. The picture that I am getting from the ground is mixed. The situation is recovering from 2004. In some places it is a retention problem, in others it is a recruitment problem, and in some places it is both. On retention, there has always been around 30 per cent annual turnover in the TA. It sounds alarming, but is not entirely negative. Even a year or two in the TA would be beneficial to the soldier, and would increase the knowledge of the military in wider society. The problem is if we are losing too many experienced NCOs, and the statistics may not readily reveal this. What is the situation, and what is being done to improve it? Many of these problems about the TA on operations would be less likely if the TA deployed as formed units, no matter how small. Pairing would also help.

There is a campaign to secure pension rights in respect of past volunteer reserve service. I will not weary your Lordships with the arguments—I do not support them, and on a practicality front it would be extremely expensive to administer really quite small benefits. On the other hand, to encourage volunteers to have a full TA career of at least 12 years, could we not consider some form of attractive pension that would start clocking up at the 12-year point?

My final substantive point concerns junior officers. For many years it has become increasingly difficult to recruit and retain direct entry junior officers. Modern patterns of employment with lean working cause problems for soldiers but they are greatly magnified for officers, who tend to hold more demanding civilian jobs. Despite the good work done by those responsible, including my noble friends, many employers still seem to be ignorant of what they are missing in terms of quality and free training. I am not aware of any junior officers being mobilised for Operation TELIC 1, although there are good reasons for that. Therefore, post-Operation TELIC, it seems to me unlikely that junior officers would ever command on operations the troops that they recruited and trained. This is because the TA is being used mainly as individual reinforcements rather than formed units, however small. This would tend to make it even less attractive to attempt the rather elongated officer training package. I spent the first 18 years as a soldier and I had fabulous fun. I did not bother about a commission until much later. When I was in command I always had it in mind that I might have to take my company on operations and at short notice. Therefore, I strove to make it fit for operations.

Returning to the problem, it is possible to commission suitable senior NCOs and warrant officers. They do a good job with high attendance but are no substitute for direct entry officers. Unfortunately, I do not think that there is an obvious easy answer to that problem.

Finally, I thank all the regular permanent staff instructors who over many years have given me and my comrades in the volunteer Reserve Forces such good training and military ethos. I also pay tribute to all active reservists for their citizenship, sense of duty and the sacrifices that they have made. I beg to move for Papers.

Photo of Lord Truscott Lord Truscott Labour 3:27 pm, 19th January 2006

My Lords, I declare an interest as an associate fellow of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies. I begin by welcoming this debate and commending the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, for bringing it before your Lordships' House. I know that, as a Major in the Territorial Army in Iraq during Operation TELIC, the noble Earl served with great courage and distinction.

As we have already heard, the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, speaks with a great deal of personal experience and knowledge on the subject of Her Majesty's Reserve Armed Forces. I am sure that when my noble friend the Minister winds up the debate, he will give due weight to the noble Earl's views and concerns.

It is true that in recent years there has been a major strategic evolution in the way we use the reserves. The Ministry of Defence has moved from a large and little-used reserve to a smaller, more effective one.

Since 1995, the reserves have consistently provided 10 to 15 per cent of the manpower in the former Yugoslavia, and they have been deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some 11,000 reservists were mobilised to support Operation TELIC. In all these theatres, the men and women of the Reserve Armed Forces have served with supreme bravery, maintaining the highest military standards in the world. Together, the volunteer Reserve Forces, the regular Reserve Forces and the sponsored reserves provide Her Majesty's Armed Forces with vital support and capability.

In its February 2005 pamphlet, Future Use of the UK's Reserve Forces, the Ministry of Defence laid out how it had learnt from the use of the reserves in operations such as Operation TELIC. In my view these were welcome and important changes. First, the pamphlet made clear how individuals would be used in their military role rather than for their civilian skills—except in certain narrowly defined circumstances. This policy had not previously been spelt out as a specific undertaking.

Secondly, the MoD stated that it would aim to mobilise reservists for no more than a cumulative total of one in five years rather than the one in three allowed for in legislation for operations akin to Operation TELIC.

Thirdly, the MoD pledged to aim to give 28 days' notice of mobilisation, although there remains no statutory requirement to do so. All these changes were designed to help both the reservists and their employers. Overall, employers have been impressively supportive when their employees have been mobilised.

Of course there have been many stories of undermanning and of recruitment problems within the Reserve Forces, but it is now apparent that all three services are making major efforts to address any shortfalls. Here I mildly take issue with the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, because recent figures for the Territorial Army suggest that numbers for the entire force have recovered to above their April 2004 level. For those elements liable to be deployed on operations, the number is higher than it was in April. Manning levels in both the RAF Reserve and the Royal Marine Reserve are broadly stable and have been for some time.

Improved recruitment to the Reserve Forces is being supported by increased resources and professional advertising campaigns. The MoD has introduced a number of initiatives to retain the skills and expertise already in the Reserve Forces. These have covered: improved support packages, including improved financial support for reservists and employers; greater access to training courses; intelligent selection for mobilisation; improved pre-deployment training; improved welfare support; and new Reserve Forces pension and compensation schemes.

Your Lordships' House will be aware that there have been accusations that the Ministry of Defence has been asking reservists to undertake too many mobilisations. I note the issue that the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, raised regarding the reinstatement of employees. The fact remains that there are legal safeguards in the Reserve Forces Act 1996, which limit the amount of mobilised service and protect employees when it comes to mobilisation and reinstatement.

Numbers of new recruits into the Territorial Army remain relatively high. To improve TA recruiting, the MoD is introducing a new integrated recruiting process, which will provide greater integration and coherence between regular and TA recruiting. There will be: additional funds to improve TA centres; additional funding allocated to support administration, welfare recruiting and employer-support activities; an increase in training days; a PR campaign to improve awareness of welfare support to TA members and their families; and improvements in terms of service.

A comprehensive welfare study for reserves was commissioned in mid-2004 and reported in November 2005. This resulted in improved communication with reservists and their families, improved access to welfare facilities for families, and better management of the sick and injured.

After Operation TELIC, a holistic review was conducted into welfare provision, resulting in 35 recommendations aimed at providing consistent best-practise support across the services and covering call-out, mobilisation, deployment and employment, demobilisation and after-care.

Key recommendations then included: notice given on call-out; timely, relevant and clear instructions to reservists and their families; improved access to welfare support for dispersed families; and management of the sick and injured. I am glad to say that the majority of the recommendations have now been successfully implemented. There have been very few complaints about support for deployed personnel over the past year or so.

The MoD is actively working to improve other areas that have caused concern, such as the reserves accident insurance policy. The Ministry is actively enhancing employer support. The latest research shows that overall employer attitudes are more positive than they were a year ago.

The MoD continues to work closely with the National Employer Advisory Board, represented in today's debate by its chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, with the SaBRE Campaign and with the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association, which is represented today by the noble Lord, Lord Freeman. Reservists benefit from legal protection of their employment under the Reserve Forces (Safeguard of Employment) Act 1985—I am sorry, I quoted the wrong Act earlier on.

It has been said that the rebalancing of the Territorial Army is a cost-cutting exercise. I cannot accept that. In fact, the operating costs will remain about the same. The rebalancing of the TA is about ensuring that we have a Territorial Army that is better able to deal with a whole range of circumstances that it may encounter in the 21st century. It is part of the Future Army Structures work. The TA is being reshaped to be more effective and as it is reshaped it will create new opportunities, such as providing better access to training, equipment and facilities through more frequent integration with the regular Army. The regular Army and the TA will be able to work more effectively and efficiently together.

The restructuring will make the TA an even more professional force and the regular Army's first choice for support. Restructuring the TA will enhance its capacity to support ongoing and future operations. It will remain with the same establishment of 42,000 but it will be better equipped and supported than ever. Exciting and exacting times lie ahead for Her Majesty's Reserve Armed Forces, and they deserve and expect nothing less than the full support of your Lordships' House.

Photo of Lord Freeman Lord Freeman Conservative 3:35 pm, 19th January 2006

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, because of his exceptionally well informed and well balanced contribution to the debate. I also congratulate—not only on my own behalf but on behalf of these Back Benches—the noble Earl on his good fortune in securing the debate and on a remarkable speech which set the scene so well for the debate that was to follow. This House without an Attlee is as inconceivable as the TA without the noble Earl; long may he serve in both.

I declare an interest, as the noble Lord has indicated, as the president of the United Kingdom Council of the Reserve Forces and Cadets Associations. The noble Earl represents the serving TA; I represent the thousands of volunteers and civil professionals who support the Reserve Forces in 13 associations throughout the United Kingdom. They do a magnificent job. The noble Lord, Lord Truscott, referred to the strength of the TA now at just over 32,000. I agree with what both he and the noble Earl said when they talked about the stabilisation of that figure over the past 18 months. That is true, but we have to be cautious. While recruitment has been strong, and that has been partly a function of the challenge of serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, we must be extremely careful about retention. If those figures fall, and they are at about 82 per cent of establishment, then we would be putting ourselves in a very serious position. I accept what has been said, but I caution the House about the instability and fragility of those figures.

I shall touch on three subjects in the few minutes available to me. First, there is the new structure of the Reserve Forces and Cadets Associations. Your Lordships are well aware of the difficulty of reorganising a voluntary organisation. It is not a question of simply telling and explaining to regular soldiers what is going to happen; you have to carry the voluntary organisation of hundreds, if not thousands, of people with you. That has been achieved; the reorganisation is now in the process of being implemented to make the associations fit for purpose for the next decade. Your Lordships will know that the associations throughout the country help support recruitment and they provide employer support on the ground. My noble friend Lord Glenarthur is to be thanked and congratulated on the work that he and his colleagues do on the National Employer Advisory Board. On-the-ground employer support is vital, with one-to-one relationships between those who serve in the associations and sometimes very small companies which have an employee who is off serving in Iraq.

I want to say a word about youth and cadet organisations in a moment. There is also the estate. We have a major problem with accommodation for cadets around the country. Almost 1,000 properties up and down the country are not fit for purpose, and frankly they put off the young people. I pay tribute to the instructors who turn up week after week to look after enthusiastic youngsters in sometimes inadequate accommodation. For me, it is a priority to put that right over the next few years.

First, I briefly but seriously congratulate Brigadier Michael Browne, chairman of the council, Air Vice-Marshal Tony Stables, the retiring secretary who has done a Herculean task in consulting everyone around the country, and Major-General His Grace the Duke of Westminster, the Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff, who is a tower of strength in the Ministry of Defence in supporting the work of the reserves.

My second point concerns rebalancing. I accept that the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, was right that "rebalancing"—another word for re-organisation, particularly of the TA—is not a cost-cutting exercise. It involves some pain because we lose one battalion. I hope that the Ministry of Defence will make announcements in the next few weeks on the exact nature of the reorganisation. However, I accept that we gain with the logistics corps, the intelligence corps, artillery and other specialist units. On balance, it will be beneficial if it is handled sensitively and with the right pace of introduction. We will do all that we can in the country to implement and support the reorganisation. It has been difficult to explain and to gain acceptance but the Government will have our support.

As the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said, the integration of the TA battalions into the Regular Army is much to be welcomed. I hope that that relationship between an individual TA battalion and a regiment of the Regular Army will be encouraged and will work properly. The TA soldier will very much welcome it.

I turn to defence in the community. In large parts of the country—with the reorganisation of the Regular Forces into super-garrisons for the Army, fewer airfields and now only three major ports for the Royal Navy—the only footprint comes from the reservist or the cadet. Go to a remembrance service on 11 November, or whichever Sunday is closest to that day, and where you used to find regular troops in attendance you will now find only the reservists and cadets. It is extremely important that we maintain that link between representatives of Her Majesty's forces and the community.

I commend two initiatives to the Minister. I hope that his colleague Don Touhig, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for the Armed Forces who looks after the reserves—and he does so very well, as did his predecessor the noble Lord, Lord Moonie, whom we have welcomed to this Chamber—will give continued support not only to the Army Cadet Force's outreach programme but also particularly for Skill Force.

Perhaps I may trouble your Lordships for a few moments to describe Skill Force, which you may not have heard of. It is supported by the MoD—and long may that continue—and currently has about 150 ex-servicemen. Typically, they are ex-warrant officers and sergeants who have come out of uniform but want to stay connected with teaching and encouraging schoolchildren. They are concentrating today on about 4,000 children in about 100 schools across the country, taking 14 to 16 year-olds who cause trouble in the classroom out of the classroom for one day a week of life-skills training. That may be orienteering, canoeing or map reading; it may be trying to encourage their self-esteem. Whatever it is, it has been a terrific success. Every head teacher in every school I have been in has praised the initiative. I pay tribute to the Chancellor, who got the scheme going under the Spend to Save initiative. However, it must continue to grow. Every year, 7,000 servicemen leave and go into civilian life. We are able to employ only 50. We would love to employ 500 of them who could relate to schoolchildren, who would look up to them as mentors and exemplars of self-discipline and self-esteem.

I associate myself with the remarks of the noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Truscott. We should pay tribute to all of the reservists and all the cadet instructors, but particularly to the 12,000 who have left their families and employment, hoping to come back to both, to serve in Iraq. Your Lordships owe them a great deal of tribute.

Photo of Lord Inge Lord Inge Crossbench 3:44 pm, 19th January 2006

My Lords, I too thank the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, for securing this important debate. As other noble Lords have said, he has considerable experience of the Territorial Army and, much more importantly, he has been deployed with them on operations, as I know have a number of the speakers who follow. My experience of the Territorial Army is not as close as his, but I was fortunate enough to command a division that was two-thirds and one-third regular, although that was during the Cold War. But it did give me a considerable inside knowledge of the Territorial Army, and I developed a huge respect for their enthusiasm, commitment and ethos. It also made me realise even then how vital they were to the Army's order of battle.

Since then the Territorial Army has been reduced and reorganised on a number of occasions. As I understand it, the establishment at the moment is about 39,000; but equally at the moment, it is about 80 per cent manned—in other words, they are short of something like 7,000 all ranks. The problem has been compounded by the fact that since 1999 there has been an average haemorrhaging from the TA of around 1,600 a year, and of course many of those who went were those who were the most experienced. Having talked to a number of people, I am told that there is no single identifiable reason for that. It is attributable to a broad range of issues: demands of the family, employers, the Territorial Army's conditions of service, inadequate training, the lack of availability of certain equipment, and to an extent too many operational commitments. The points which the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, portrayed so clearly will be a great help, if they are implemented and successful, in correcting that problem.

There is no direct indication or evidence to suggest that Iraq is the main reason for people leaving. But it must be wrong to lose so many trained people on a regular basis. As other noble Lords said, significant remedial action is required, because we cannot afford to lose that number of trained, important TA soldiers.

I am well aware that the manning of the Territorial Army is right at the top of Ministers', CGSs' and Commander Regional Forces' agenda. The TA manning action plan introduces many wide-ranging initiatives, some of which have already been mentioned. It wants to tackle recruiting and, more importantly, retention. It talks about closer integration of the TA with the Regular Army, something that we have been trying to achieve for many years. I hope that it will be possible to achieve it, but we should not underestimate, given the pressures on the Regular Army, the difficulty in achieving it. It is very important, but let us not underestimate the challenges of doing it, simply because the Regular Army is so heavily involved on operations. The establishment of a One Army Regular and Territorial Army recruiting process is enormously important. I wish that we would stop talking about "the Regular Army" and "the TA"; I wish that we would just talk about "the Army", because they both need each other. I am also told that the Government plan to introduce the Territorial Army's conditions of service. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us a little more detail of what they have in mind.

I am conscious that I have sounded rather negative, but I know that in the past year the TA feels that it may have turned a corner because it has gained more recruits than it has lost. But we should not underestimate the loss of those very important experienced people. It is also worth remembering that, since January 2003, the TA has deployed over 11,400 people on operations. With my simple mathematics, I make that the equivalent of about 19 to 20 battalions. It is an incredible achievement and they have obviously been very effective. Frankly, the Regular Army could not have operated without them. It was an invaluable and significant contribution and a great achievement.

I understand that, to sustain its support on operations, in future the TA will be limited to a maximum of 1,200 annually to be deployed on operational service. That seems to be making operational assumptions before the operational situation on the ground is clear. As we all know, military operations tend not to pan out in such a tidy way. In addition a TA soldier, unless he is a volunteer, will be asked to deploy on operations only once every five years. I wonder whether that is realistic given the Army's current operational tempo and with Afghanistan just around the corner.

In conclusion, I pay a huge tribute to the Territorial Army for what it has done and achieved. As I said, the equivalent of 19 or 20 infantry battalions deployed on operations is a huge achievement and speaks volumes for their ability, commitment and dedication. I am not sure, however, that we will able to maintain that tempo. As I and other noble Lords have mentioned, something significant will need to be done if we are not to reproduce in the Territorial Army some of the problems that we have in the Regular Army—problems of size, over-commitment and under-funding.

The provision of volunteers for operations and so on is being resource and not demand led. The first may not be enough and I just hope that the second will not break the camel's back.

Photo of Lord de Mauley Lord de Mauley Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Trade & Industry 3:50 pm, 19th January 2006

My Lords, I thank and congratulate my noble friend Lord Attlee for initiating this valuable debate. I also pay tribute to the work of the Reserve Forces and Cadets Associations and the National Employers Advisory Board in which my noble friends Lord Freeman and Lord Glenarthur play such key roles.

I declare an interest as a recent commanding officer of a Territorial Army regiment. Indeed, not much more than a year ago I returned from a visit to Iraq to see my soldiers on operations there, territorial soldiers who themselves were involved first-hand in combat with the enemy. I ask your Lordships to forgive me for constantly referring to the TA instead of the reserves. As you will understand from my background that is what I know, and to a large extent the expressions are probably interchangeable.

The Strategic Defence Review set out among many other things to make the TA more integrated, relevant, useable and capable. This was broadly enthusiastically welcomed by the Reserves, as evidenced by the many soldiers who subsequently came forward to go on operations. In that context I would like to associate my words with those of the Minister when he answered the Question of my noble friend Lord Astor of Hever on 12 January, when he paid tribute to the great contribution that the Reserve Forces make. He referred to the two MCs, a George Cross and a number of other medals earned.

I should like to talk about the future in a moment. Before I do so—and I apologise for talking at such a low level after the contributions of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, and my noble friend Lord Freeman—I should raise some problems that arose in the first two years of Operation TELIC while I was commanding my regiment. Although many if not all of them have since been given a great deal of thought, it is worth mentioning just a couple of them as there is a real risk that they may recur. After all, some of them arose due to a lack of understanding of reservist issues combined with insensitivity, especially among those responsible for the mobilisation process—principally regular staff officers, as my noble friend Lord Attlee mentioned. Given that those sorts of officers change jobs every two or three years, there is a high risk that the lessons learned may be forgotten.

The first and perhaps single most frustrating issue that I encountered was the continual short notice for mobilisation. Despite the fact that this problem was well aired from early on in the piece in 2003, we were still encountering compulsory mobilisation at no more than a week's notice to the individual concerned in the autumn of 2004. That is absolutely unacceptable and unforgivable. The Army by then had several months' notice of their requirements—or ought to have had. Not only did it give the individuals mobilised unnecessary problems in organising their lives, it also completely undermined the efforts that commanding officers and regional Reserve Forces and Cadets Associations were making with employers.

I understand that the Government's intent is that there should now be four weeks' notice of mobilisation to individuals. However, I emphasise that inflexibility in the system could still mean delays, with the period of notice to the mobilised soldier himself being the bit which inevitably gets squeezed. The noble Lord, Lord Truscott, pointed out that there is no legal requirement for such notice. When we were given more notice, we were able to give extra training to the soldiers to be mobilised, getting vastly better performance from them as a result, including—in response to the Question of my noble friend Lord Attlee on the point—junior TA officers commanding sub-units in action.

The second concern that I want to raise is our relationship with employers. I visited employers of my soldiers being deployed on operation TELIC 5 in mid-2004. Although those meetings were friendly, in the vast majority, employers were by that stage beginning to show concern that compulsory mobilisations were becoming accepted by the MoD as routine and that they might continue indefinitely. Despite their willingness to help on a personal level, several of them mentioned that they saw compulsory mobilisation as yet another of many additional recent burdens on business. I concluded that there was evidence that, if compulsory mobilisation of sizeable numbers of TA soldiers was maintained at those levels, TA soldiers would begin to be forced to choose between the TA and their preferred civilian career. Clearly, in the medium term, that could have serious effects on sustainability.

That all sounds as though I have nothing but complaints to give the House, but that is not the case. I will therefore not dwell at length on some of the other problems, including soldiers being underpaid or not paid and the lack of information for the chain of command. That created problems: we were unable to brief our soldiers on what jobs they were going to do when they got to theatre—vital preparation that could have taken place. Also, when the soldiers were in theatre, wives would ring my headquarters and know more about where their husbands were and what they were doing than I did, given the wonders of mobile telephony and the Internet, which undermined my attempts to sustain their morale.

Despite all that I, and I know the vast majority of reservists, were, and I am sure remain, pleased and proud that they are able to participate alongside the Regular Army on operations and perform to a high standard. The message I would like to send is that with a little more detailed thought and plenty of notice we could do the job so much better.

I turn to what is happening now and what will happen in the immediate future. I want to talk about two things. The first is the so-called "TA rebalancing". We know that we are expecting the outcome of a review shortly. The purpose of the reshaping is, we are told, to make the reserves "even more effective", "even more professional" and "even more useable". Although I think I understand what is intended, I counsel caution in expecting even more from a part-time force which has already provided, according to the Minister when he answered a Question recently, 20 per cent of the forces, for example, on Operation TELIC 2. Will the Minister reassure me that "even more effective", "even more professional" and "even more useable" are not going to involve the reserves providing 30 per cent, 40 per cent or 50 per cent of the force on future operations?

My second topic is that of manning. I acknowledge that the worrying decline in manning levels does appear to have slowed and even bottomed out. However, the deficit, which everyone in the Reserve Forces is addressing as their main effort for 2006, is, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, said, a colossal 7,000. I cannot say whether part of the cause of that goes to concerns—much discussed in your Lordships' House—in the minds of soldiers that they might be sent on operations and then charged for murder for simply doing their job, but there is no doubt that, on the current strength of about 32,000, this will require a superhuman effort. It will take money and lateral thinking of the sort not necessarily associated with Army staff officers. As to the money, will the Minister make any sort of commitment as to the amount of money that he will be able to squeeze out of the Treasury for this? It needs to be new money. Squeezing any more out of the existing budget will mean other key objectives being put at risk. Without it, it will fail.

As to the lateral thinking, can the Minister give us any indication of the original ideas being contemplated actually to find those extra people? Because in 29 years I have personally tried most of them, and I know that to be successful they will need to go in the opposite direction from that in which we have been sent in the recent past, when we have been forced to consolidate into fewer TA centres, closing off whole areas to recruiting and crucially, reducing what is known as the footprint. We have to go where the people are, which, given that many of the conurbations have already been fished out, means we have to look at having more, smaller detachments spread around in smaller towns. That does not need to involve a huge cost—there is scope for sharing premises with cadets and users who need the premises in the working day but not in the evenings and at weekends when reservists need them.

I understand that there are indications that currently there are fewer TA soldiers coming forward to fill operational posts than is required. That must be a concern. I also understand that Headquarters Land Command intends to mobilise 600 reservists every six months for enduring operations globally. While it is important to continue to exercise the mobilisation machine to prevent it atrophying, I urge the Minister to require the MoD to be sensitive in the amount of pressure that is exerted to achieve this. We must not lean too heavily on the reserves in the quest for smaller regular forces.

In summary, many good things are happening to the reserves and many changes that have happened have been beneficial, but future change must be managed carefully, with expectations on the MoD's side matched with imaginative and sensitive handling of individual reservists and their employers.

Photo of Lord Glenarthur Lord Glenarthur Conservative 4:00 pm, 19th January 2006

My Lords, I too welcome the opportunity given to us by my noble friend Lord Attlee to debate this important and topical subject. I also join him in warmly thanking and congratulating the reserves of all four services on their enthusiasm, commitment and, indeed, bravery which they have shown in recent years.

I have been privileged to watch them both in training and on operations in the various capacities which I declared to the House last Thursday, as chairman of the National Employer Advisory Board for Britain's Reserve Forces, as honorary colonel of 306 Field Hospital and as honorary air commodore of 612 (County of Aberdeen) Squadron, Royal Auxiliary Air Force—and in the latter capacity I must say how proud I am to wear my Army pilot's wings on my Royal Air Force uniform, but that is perhaps a bit of an aside.

I thought it might be helpful to your Lordships if I described some of the work of the National Employer Advisory Board. I have been chairman for three years and was a member of its predecessor organisation, the National Employers' Liaison Committee, for some six or so years before that. It is an unpaid, independent body—technically, a lower tier advisory non-departmental public body—made up of 15 representatives of the public and private sectors, including representatives from the CBI, the IoD, the TUC, chambers of commerce, the EEF, formerly the Engineering Employers' Federation, and employers large and small. We take our informed advice directly to the Secretary of State for Defence and the Chief of the Defence Staff on the employer aspects of reserve activities, and suggest, among other things, how it can be made easier for employers to find it possible to release their people to play a part within the reserves. Our annual reports are lodged in the Libraries of both Houses.

We also work closely with SaBRE (support for Britain's Reservists and Employers) which is the MoD element dealing most closely with employers. Indeed, we are required to advise on and endorse its marketing plan. By affiliation of our members, we link very closely to the Reserve Forces and Cadet Associations, which my noble friend Lord Freeman has spoken about.

There will almost always be a debate about the level of resources available, either to the regular forces or to the reserves. I shall not go down that route today. Rather I should like to confine my remarks to ways in which we can help to make the best use of available resources. It is of course true that in recent months, or even in recent years, for one reason or another there have been those who have resigned from the reserves. It is equally true—and this matter has already been touched on—that large numbers have sought to join the reserves. The work that my board has been involved with certainly indicates that there is a complex web of interlocking reasons why these movements in each direction should be so.

We have played our part in describing the importance of recognising the pressures under which employers are put—and most particularly small employers—when reservists are mobilised for operations. There seems to be universal acknowledgement that the mobilisation notices for Operation TELIC 1, the war-fighting stage of the second Iraq war, were less than ideal. My noble friend Lord De Mauley highlighted those. Many lessons were learnt in this first major compulsory mobilisation under the Reserve Forces Act 1996. Certainly, my board did what it could to distil those matters and played its part in ensuring that the Ministry of Defence understood what procedures would make it easier for employers and reservists in the future, including the matter of the 28-day notice period which the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, mentioned.

That was at a time when there was no requirement on a reservist to ensure that his employer knew that he was liable to call up. We argued that it was essential that if employers were going to be called on more regularly under the Reserve Forces Act 1996, and with the inevitable reductions in strength in the regular forces post-SDR, honesty was required so that society—the community or whatever one likes to call it—could work together in recognising and delivering the capability of reserves to support the regulars. Employer notification, as it is called, is now in place, and appeals by employers against mobilisation is at an all time low of about 2.1 per cent in relation to the Territorial Army.

As the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, said last Thursday, substantial moves have subsequently been made to enhance and simplify the practical aspects and to improve the financial awards available to both employers and reservists. For example, an employee who is a doctor can now receive reimbursement of salary up to a maximum of £300,000 a year if he is deployed and will lose out otherwise. Those in the non-medical world can receive reimbursement of salaries up to £200,000. The reimbursements available to employers may not exactly match those totals at present. For example, for a doctor, there is the cost of obtaining locums. In due course, we shall play our part in reviewing the operation of the relevant statutory instrument, SI 859, to ensure that there is not a substantial imbalance and will advise the Ministry of Defence accordingly.

We increasingly understand that the world of work in its broader sense is changing. Society, within both its military and civilian elements, sees the benefits of core transferable skills—the point referred to by my noble friend Lord Attlee—that are relevant to both aspects. Families and family life are an equally important part of a complex equation. During the coming months, my board will turn its mind to how those various strands can be pulled together. For example, it may be possible for strategic partnerships to be struck with some businesses, perhaps especially those already contracted with the Ministry of Defence, to develop more sustainable ways of maintaining particularly the level of specialist reservist recruiting and retention.

Intelligent mobilisation; potentially intelligent recruiting; flexibility about the length of deployments, where practicable; interchangeability; and recognition of qualifications: all those are important factors that need to be addressed. Of course employers, whether large or small, should not be expected to bear an unnecessary burden. That is why my board endorses and advises that, other than for moments of crisis, reservists should not normally be expected to be called up for operations for more than 12 months in five years, rather than the 12 months in three years that the Reserve Forces Act 1996 allows. I am glad to know that the defence intent, published last year, acknowledges that.

I realise that there may be certain pinch points, but the Ministry of Defence will have to be assiduous in ensuring that the five years for which reservists have signed up is not breached other than in exceptional circumstances. If it must be, that indicates that there are either too few regulars, too few reserves or too many commitments.

It is encouraging to know at first hand that Ministers and the chiefs of staff have taken seriously and debated thoroughly with us many of the topics that have been referred to today. But I leave the House with one other thought. Society—the community, if you like—consists of two elements: civilian and military. Both have their part to play in defence matters. As the concept of more usability of our reserves becomes further developed and enshrined, I suspect that a debate will begin to develop about whether those whom we now call reservists are not more aptly described as auxiliaries. My belief is that if a sounder partnership has to be struck between the regular forces of the Crown, those who volunteer for what is now called reserve service and the communities from which they come, their title should reflect their current role rather than that which existed previously. I suspect that that is a more honest way to reflect within society as a whole the relationship that needs to be struck between both elements of that society. If more interchangeability is to be achieved, such a description may be a very apt way to help to bring it about.

Photo of Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde Labour 4:08 pm, 19th January 2006

My Lords, I, too, welcome this debate and commend the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, for seeking and obtaining the time to discuss this issue. We have not discussed the reserve services specifically in this House for some time, so that is extremely welcome. It is also welcome that it comes from the noble Earl, because of his serving officer status in the reserve services. They are a key asset to our Armed Forces as a whole. Frankly, some operations would not have been sustainable without the involvement and support of those personnel. That is very different from years ago when many people joined up and never saw an operation—they never expected to and never did. That is certainly not the reserve services of today.

Noble Lords have referred to the reserve services' attitude to their jobs. They are proud, pragmatic, professional and flexible, but all too often in operations they are separate from the regular forces with whom they are working. That occurs less often today, but it still happens. Operation TELIC 2002 is continually cited as the crossroads for the new strategic role of the reserve services. There is no doubt that that was a major change. Looking behind that, at the way in which numbers have dropped over the years, the problems of recruitment and retention do not go back to 2002—they go beyond that.

I am sure that the Minister will be pleased with the upbeat and optimistic mode of this debate. In this Chamber, we say how proud we are of our reserve services, but we also need to face the problems and issues about which they are unhappy, which I am sure the Minister will want to hear about. This year's Armed Services Pay Review Body report, which was presented to the Prime Minister, refers to the reserve services and their manning levels. It reviewed the bounties and the call-out gratuity. It received evidence from the MoD and the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association, of which the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, will be well aware, as well as visiting two of the reserve units. In November 2005, it took evidence from the Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff for reserves and cadets and the director of Reserve Forces and cadets.

The current review—TA rebalancing—has met with some concerns that it is a cost-cutting exercise, which I do not accept. I think that it is a genuine review of a service which fulfils an important role in a changing world, which probably needs to change with that changing role. I do not think that it is wrong to carry out the review. I welcome it. It is timely and necessary, although that is conditional on the criteria that it is not a cost-cutting exercise. Let us hope that the Treasury keeps out of the review.

The Armed Forces Pay Review Body report highlighted the evidence given by the MoD and others. It reported that there is a serious shortfall in manning. The figures are in the report. In June 2004, there was a shortfall of 11 per cent in the Royal Naval Reserve; a shortfall of 15 per cent in the Royal Marines; a shortfall of 9 per cent in the Territorial Army; and a shortfall of 30 per cent in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, where retention is better, although I gather that recruitment is more difficult. The MoD said that the TA 80 per cent minimum sustainability level was fragile and under threat. As a result the Armed Forces Pay Review Body has said that it will examine on a yearly basis the bounty and call-out gratuity, rather than triennially, because it is important.

I have some experience of recruitment and retention, although it is somewhat outdated because things move on so fast. Retention is essential. Noble Lords will remember that about 80 per cent of Reserve Forces serve for just under five years. If, while investing in more and better training because of changing needs, we could get a better return of service, that would help the overall manning of the Armed Forces. How we achieve that depends on the conditions we offer.

The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, who is not in his place, mentioned mobilisation. He is right. Operation TELIC revealed many shortcomings, but I believe that the MoD has learned from that experience. People were given short notice not only to go on operations, but the situation regarding their pay while they were away was very unclear. People did not know how much money for their families would be put into their bank accounts on a monthly basis. That created an atmosphere of disruption and disgruntlement in the families. So the mobilisation process is key, and linked to that is pre-deployment training. That too left much to be desired, but again I believe the MoD learnt from the experience.

The length of posting to an operation is very important and I welcome the commitment to posting for 12 months every five years rather than the prescribed three years. I hope noble Lords will forgive me for drawing on my experience, but I am rather sceptical about some elements of this. The problem is that the Reserve Forces experience the same skills shortages as those in the regular forces, such as in medical teams, among others. Those reservists are called on more regularly, but I certainly welcome the commitment to move in this direction.

I want to make a number of smaller points which I believe would help in recruitment and retention. During Operation TELIC it was found that a number of personnel had no life insurance because they could not get it. That problem has been acknowledged and changes made. Families need welfare support. They should be treated in the same way as the families of those serving in the Armed Forces while their next of kin are away, acting as a regular member of the forces.

The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, mentioned pensions. A campaign is under way at the moment, and this is a complex issue. When reservists are away on training or at their annual camp, if they were to be included in the Armed Forces pension scheme, they would lose out. If this matter were to be addressed, I think it would help in recruitment and retention.

My final point concerns return to employment. We have the Reserve Forces (Safeguard of Employment) Act 1985 and I know that only a handful of appeals have been made. But anyone who knows about employment practices and the workplace will know that the majority of people do not like to return to an employer who is being forced to take them back. Reserve Forces personnel have said to me, "It is much easier just to pack it in and look for another job rather than represent myself in a situation where, frankly, I am confronted by professionals". I wonder whether the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, which does such wonderful work, may through the bodies represented on it be able to consider this. Perhaps it is a case not of looking at the number of appeals registered but of conducting a survey to find out how many Reserve Forces personnel never return to the employer they left when they were posted.

The Government have always followed the recommendations of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, and long may that continue. I hope that when the review body carries out its examination next year, the Government will listen again. I welcome the rebalancing review and I am sure that the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, will seek another debate when the report is published in a few months' time. If he does not, other Members of the House will do so.

Photo of The Earl of Shrewsbury The Earl of Shrewsbury Conservative 4:18 pm, 19th January 2006

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 Army—there can be little doubt that there is considerable overstretch which the then Minister was warned about during Options for Change—the 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.

Photo of Lord Garden Lord Garden Spokesperson in the Lords, Defence 4:22 pm, 19th January 2006

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:

"It is not a rebalancing exercise".—[Hansard, 12/1/06; col. 294.]

This has, of course, sat rather uncomfortably with the debate we have had today and, indeed, with the statement made by the Minister's colleague in the other place, Don Touhig:

"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".—[Hansard, 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 colleagues—I asked the Minister's office to do so—said:

"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"— despite, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, making a premature announcement about the future size of the Territorial Army—

"we do not expect the overall establishment to change greatly as a result".

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, 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 Forces—the 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,

"future use and structure of the reserves was the most important strategic question facing the Armed Forces post-Operation Telic".

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 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:

"The research shows that there is a strong correlation between the key management capabilities developed by Reservists and the key weaknesses identified in general British management.

"It illuminates the potential for the Reservist to be utilised to address four of the five major management deficits: leadership; process design; communication; team-focused culture".

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.

Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Defence, Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs, Shadow Minister, International Development 4:32 pm, 19th January 2006

My Lords, I also thank my noble friend Lord Attlee for arranging this timely debate. He speaks with real and contemporary experience, and I hope that the Minister will also carefully note the many important points made this afternoon by other distinguished speakers from all sides of the House. I also pay tribute to the outstanding work that our reserve armed forces do. Those men and women are asked to sacrifice a great deal for their country. As honorary colonel of a TA unit, many of whose members have served in Iraq, I have first-hand knowledge of this. My experience is the same as that of my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury: they are dedicated, well trained and highly professional.

The reserves perform a variety of different roles in the Armed Forces. Some, like doctors, nurses and linguists, have specialist skills. There is also a small but growing number of sponsored reserves, employees of defence-related companies contracted to maintain and repair equipment while deployed on operations. I also congratulate employers who willingly and unselfishly safeguard the employment of our reserves. My noble friend Lord Glenarthur spoke of the effective work that the National Employer Advisory Board carries out, and I pay tribute to my noble friend for the work that he does as chairman.

The noble Baroness, Lady Dean, mentioned the Reserve Forces (Safeguard of Employment) Act 1985, introduced to prevent reservists losing their jobs because of deployments. Yet I understand that the maximum penalty for employers who breach the provisions on job security is just £1,000. Currently, 24 TA soldiers are involved in court action for compensation or reinstatement at their own expense. I am sure that my noble friend's board is looking closely at the issue of soldiers who are improperly dismissed by employers.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Garden, that we have heard a number of different statistics today. We find it difficult to get really accurate and informative figures on the issue. Will the Minister and his colleagues consider issuing regular Written Statements giving information on numbers, state of readiness and the use of deployable reserves to enable us to follow trends accurately?

Certainly, the strength of the TA is at its lowest level since it was founded in 1907, with resignations running at three times the level experienced prior to the beginning of the Iraqi deployment. My noble friend Lord Freeman pointed out that we should be careful to ensure that retention figures did not drop any further. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, said that we could not afford to lose as many good soldiers as we are at the moment.

The situation is worse than the figures show, in that up to 20 per cent of those on the roll of reservists fail to perform their training requirement, disqualifying them from being called up. Numbers alone do not reveal the complete picture. Additional responsibilities have been given to the TA on top of its liability for service in Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia. Post-9/11, the civil contingencies reserve force has been created to provide a vital capability for operations in the event of a terrorist attack or major disaster. What effects will there be on the CCRF, given that the TA is probably around 5,000 personnel short of the MoD's required strength? If there is a serious outbreak of avian flu, for example, will our Reserve Forces be able to provide cover while plugging gaps abroad? Over 1,500 reservists are currently mobilised in support of operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans and elsewhere. In Iraq alone since the start of Operation TELIC, as many noble Lords have said, more than 11,000 reservists have been deployed. Last Tuesday in another place, Adam Ingram announced a new order to commit Reserve Forces to operations in Iraq until 3 January 2007.

If TA soldiers are to be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan for six months, they need good, pre-mobilisation training to prepare them for the job. That is done in their spare time. In the weeks running up to a deployment, TA soldiers will want to spend time with their family. Many will work long hours to secure their finances and their job for when they return. There is a real danger of TA soldiers being deployed without having completed sufficient training, having been signed off as ready for operations by their commanding officers, who have allowed for difficulties in the provision of training.

My noble friend Lord Attlee mentioned recruiting and retention problems caused partly by the public's view of current operations in Iraq. We are aware that reservists returning from deployment to main employment sometimes face hostility from their work colleagues who are hostile to the military operation in Iraq and do not see why they should have to carry a share of the cost of conducting it.

I congratulate my noble friend Lord Freeman on the work that he does with the Council of the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association. I welcome his priority to upgrade as many of their properties as possible. I was grateful last week to the Minister for his reply to my Written Questions about sea cadets. I am patron of a vibrant and active local sea cadet unit, but, as a charity separate from the MoD, the sea cadets need considerable support to continue their work. My noble friend Lord Freeman will not be surprised to hear that they were the only unit wearing military uniforms at the Remembrance Day service last year.

Students who join the university air squadrons are now denied flying training. Instead they are offered personal development and just 10 hours of flying. That is emphatically not the way to recruit and encourage potential pilots. The deplorable decision to change the role of the UASs was taken during the Recess, and Parliament was not given the opportunity to debate it. Considering that 60 per cent of RAF pilots come from the UASs, will the Minister therefore reconsider the decision? Will he also give assurances that students in University Royal Navy Units will not have their time at sea reduced in the same way?

My noble friend Lord De Mauley, who commanded the Royal Wessex Yeomanry, mentioned the short notice for mobilisation. My noble friend Lord Attlee mentioned medical support. Welfare treatment of TA soldiers injured on operations is not uniform with regular personnel. If a regular is injured, their care is managed by their regiment and the established casualty treatment process. That is with a view to getting the injured person back to their unit. But a TA soldier who is injured will receive care within the military system until the deployment is over. The individual would then have their care managed by the NHS, where they would go to the bottom of the waiting list. If the injuries are more severe, treatment will be given through the established casualty treatment process. The individual will not receive the same pastoral care from their unit, as they will all have returned to their normal job. My noble friend Lord Attlee pointed out that nearly everyone who was of use had been called up for operations. Does the Minister feel that there is a risk that the pool of eligible reservists will dry up if the current rate of deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq continues?

The SDR diminished the role of the TA post-Cold War and reduced its establishment. Should the Government now consider a fundamental reappraisal of the role of the TA and the other Reserve Forces? The Government must not carry on using the TA as a cheap standing army. As my noble friend Lord De Mauley said, employers are beginning to complain about another burden on business. Finally, I hope that the Government will rethink the way that they look after the people serving in the Reserve Forces.

Photo of Lord Drayson Lord Drayson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Defence Procurement), Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement) 4:43 pm, 19th January 2006

My Lords, it is clear to me from the contributions that I have enjoyed listening to throughout this afternoon's debate that the thorough and informative review that we have heard emphasises the high esteem in which the Reserve Forces are held in the House. That is a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly associate the Government.

It is equally clear, as is so often the case in the House, that many of the contributions are made with the authority that comes from direct experience of the matter in hand. In that respect, I pay particular tribute to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, not only for securing the opportunity to have these matters discussed this afternoon but for the service that he has rendered to the Crown as a member of the Territorial Army.

Against that background, I pay particular heed to the misgivings that have been voiced about the current health of the reserves. In closing, I hope that I can assuage some of those concerns, although I was grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, for his emphasis on the experience that he has seen in his unit. I am particularly grateful for the comments he made about the excellence of the kit. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, emphasised that the situation was overall a good story. That is a sentiment with which many of us would agree.

Let me turn directly to the foremost of the issues to which my attention has been drawn in the debate: the manning of the Reserve Forces and in particular of the Territorial Army. It has been pointed out to me, most clearly by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, and my noble friend Lady Dean, that the current strength is somewhat short of the establishment of the force. The noble Lord, Lord Garden, asked me for the specific numbers. I am happy to confirm that the establishment number is 41,610. I acknowledge that that is the situation. However, it is not a new phenomenon. That is not to belittle its importance, but to simply state that undermanning has been a historical reality in the Territorial Army. That is the case whether one looks at the period in 1999 prior to the restructuring of the force following the implementation of the Strategic Defence Review; at 1995, before the enactment of the Reserve Forces Act 1996; or indeed earlier.

Nevertheless, improving the situation is the department's top priority. It requires resources and management action to be directed towards the twin areas of recruitment and retention. To illustrate the moves being taken, the Army and the Navy are combining their regular and reserve recruiting operations under a single professional organisation. I commend to noble Lords the double-decker buses going down Whitehall bearing the advertising campaign, which shows that integration of approach. I was asked by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, in particular, for us to talk about one Army; that is exactly what the advertising campaign does. Furthermore, the TA recruitment budget was increased from £5 million in 2003–04 to £10.5 million in 2004–05. A number of other initiatives are aimed at making staying in the reserves a more attractive proposition.

As my noble friend Lord Truscott has highlighted, there is evidence to suggest that the downward trend in the strength of the TA is being arrested. I am happy to give the House figures. The fundamental strength within the total of 37,430 as at 1 December is greater than the figure for either April 2005—36,180—or even the figure for April 2004—37,210. Concentrating particularly on the operational elements of the TA, we can see that there is also a slight increase over the past few months, with the number having risen by 270 over that for April 2005, without having yet recovered to the level of April 2004. It would be dangerous to extrapolate too much from those figures, and I do not want to give the House the impression that we are doing that. We will not become complacent, but it is welcome to see those early signs that our strong efforts are having an effect.

There may be disquiet in some quarters about the wide scope of the activities that reservists are undertaking and the resultant scale and tempo of usage of the Reserve Forces. Such fears are misplaced. Reserves are there to be used. The Government are clear on that, and it has been explicitly stated in our document The Future Use of the UK's Reserve Forces, which has been laid before the House. The Reserve Forces are busy, but those commitments are not unmanageable. A culture of mobilisation is developing that reflects the aspiration in the Strategic Defence Review that the reserves should be a more flexible and usable component of defence capability.

I draw noble Lords' attention to a different set of figures, of which the Reserve Forces can be justifiably proud, which set out in numerical terms the tremendous contribution that our reserves have made to operations in recent years. The figures tell of the 12,565 mobilisations in support of Operation TELIC since 2003. The numbers show how reserves have consistently constituted over 10 per cent of personnel deployed on major operations. The figures show the output of the Reserve Forces in operational terms. That contribution is both valuable and valued and gives a positive picture of forces full of vigour. However, the numbers alone can never do full justice to the qualities of the individuals that they represent—be it Royal Marines Reserves stationed to protect the southern Iraqi port of Umm Qasr, Royal Engineers preparing for the arrival of new NATO forces in Afghanistan, or instructors teaching cadets here in the United Kingdom. I pay tribute to them all.

Given the range of tasks on which they are engaged, usage of the Reserve Forces is being very carefully monitored to ensure that those forces remain able to meet current and future needs. That is achieved through forecasting future requirements and mobilising reserves only at a level that ensures that a continuous supply is available for subsequent years. The individual is protected by our policy, announced last year, through which we intend to limit mobilised service to a maximum of one year in five—subject, of course, to any over-riding operational imperative—and the use of intelligent selection to identify those willing to serve on particular operations.

It is therefore not the case that more pressure is being put on the Reserve Forces than they are able to bear. Indeed, in many quarters there is a thirst for the opportunity to go on operations. Such deployments also have the benefit of relieving pressure on the regular forces. It is quite appropriate for the military to look across the entire spectrum of forces to provide a given capability. It has been routine practice for many years for the reserves to deliver support to enduring operations.

As the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and my noble friend Lord Truscott have said, the level being provided by reserves in Iraq—approximately 10 per cent of the force—is of similar proportions to that which has historically been the case in the Balkans. I assure the House, particularly the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, that that is not done at the expense of harming our reserve component. Following the peak of operations in Iraq we have throttled back on use of the reserves, ensuring that we do not overheat the system. At the peak of operations, in the first six months of 2003, over 7,000 reserves were mobilised for operations in Iraq. In the comparable period of 2004, that was reduced to 1,500 and to approximately 800 in 2005.

The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, and my noble friend Lady Dean also mentioned issues related to notice of mobilisation. We accept that, especially during the early phases of Operation TELIC, mobilisation was, of necessity, often at short notice. That may even have occurred in the case of some soldiers in 2004, although advance notice of mobilisation has progressively improved since the start of the operation. Our intention is to give 28 days' notice. That was introduced in 2005 and is, generally, being complied with, although operational circumstances will occasionally dictate otherwise.

The integration of reserves into a whole-force concept, in planning for operational commitments, is mirrored in changes to the structure and management of the forces themselves. Those are designed to reinforce the relationship with the regular component in order to better enable the delivery of defence capability.

A number of noble Lords mentioned the rebalancing of the Territorial Army. The ongoing work on that is designed to ensure that the TA has the most appropriate structure to support the Regular Army operationally. It focuses the TA on providing support at the large scale of effort, while acknowledging that it will continue to provide forces below that large scale and emphasises a closer relationship between the TA and regular units. The final outcome of that exercise is due to be announced shortly. I shall answer directly the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, and say that it will be within the next month or so.

We have already said that there should be little change to overall TA numbers or, indeed, the distribution of the estate as a result. I trust that that is clear enough for the noble Lord, Lord Garden. However, some change in units' roles will be necessary. I recognise that that may be an emotional issue for some but believe that the TA will remain more relevant as a result. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, for voicing his support for the rebalancing exercise.

The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, raised the issue of training and ensuring that operational training had sufficient funding provided for it, particularly overseas. We fully recognise that challenging and exciting training, including overseas exercise, is a key element in encouraging retention. Cancellations occurred as a result of financial pressure some two years ago, but in the past 12 months reserves have participated in exercises in America, Cyprus, Germany and Poland. We are investigating opportunities for expanding that programme.

It is important that our policy on the use of reserves is well communicated and properly understood—by the reservists themselves, through their families, with information passed down the chain of command, and by the reservists' civilian employers, who play a vital role in supporting our Reserve Forces. That is why the SaBRE publicity and information campaign is so important. I pay particular tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, and the work of the National Employer Advisory Board, which he chairs. Indeed, only this morning they met officials from the department. I assure noble Lords that the advice that they give us is listened to and acted on carefully.

We believe that we can build successful relationships with employers because both sides stand to benefit, as a number of noble Lords have mentioned. The forces can draw a wide range of skilled and talented people from the civilian workforce, as was highlighted by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, who asked why we did not have a list of the civilian capabilities of our people. That list is being put together as I speak. However, we must recognise that it is our policy to use people in the Reserve Forces not for the skills that they have in civilian life but for the skills for which they have been trained in the reserves. We know that skills and characteristics are in great demand, and the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, has already reported that employer objections to the mobilisation of employees are at a low ebb. Most concerns are resolved informally between the employer and the services—indeed that has been so successful that the last case formally registered for an appeal hearing was in August 2004, and even that was subsequently withdrawn.

We recognise reservists' concerns that they are vulnerable to dismissal or discrimination, something that has been highlighted by a number of noble Lords. However, there is little evidence that such discrimination occurs. We are aware of only 28 registered cases appearing before a reinstatement committee out of over 13,000 mobilisations in the past 10 years.

As we ask our reserves to do more in operational terms, employer support is just one area where we will ensure that we deliver the required support. In order to maintain strong and healthy Reserve Forces, we must also recognise their essential differences from the regular forces and cater for them wherever possible. Last April, we introduced new regulations to make payments to reservists who are called out and to their employers. The regulations allow a reservist's pay on call out to match his civilian earnings up to a maximum ceiling of £200,000 per annum. It can go further than that, with special arrangements applying to certain medical officers. Employers can claim up to £40,000 per year to cover any additional costs arising from a reservist's absence.

I reassure the House and the noble Lord, Lord Astor, that mobilised reserves receive access to medical care on the same terms as their regular counterparts. They have the same operational welfare package and the same entitlements to pay and allowances. This year, the Government have also introduced the new Reserve Forces pension scheme and the Armed Forces compensation scheme. The latter is a significant enhancement of reservists' conditions of service because it takes into account a reservist's civilian as well as his military earnings, even when training. We are also developing better support to families back home when reservists are serving overseas. Special requirements are necessary because, unlike regulars, reservists do not live in close-knit communities. We are developing training opportunities that deliver full benefit and rigour but fit in with the reservist's pattern of service, availability and ability to undertake it.

I finish by reiterating the Government's debt of gratitude to the Reserve Forces of the Crown. Their quality is unsurpassed world-wide, and they are delivering more than ever before in operational output. We are committed to setting the conditions to enable them to continue to do so. The Government have a strong record in providing enhanced support for the reserves. We will not rest on our laurels, but nor shall we be reticent in defending our record of support to the Reserve Forces. Above all, I reassure noble Lords of our determination to ensure that we continue to deliver a reserve component that meets the needs of defence as a whole.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Conservative 4:59 pm, 19th January 2006

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords for their kind words. It has been a great privilege to introduce the debate. I agree with nearly everything that has been said and, where I do not, it is probably because I am wrong or inaccurate.

The noble Baroness, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, talked about insurance. When I was on operations in Iraq, I received a letter from my insurance company telling me that I was not insured for war risks; so, if I was killed, my family would not get the benefit of my house, and my mortgage would not be paid off. That is pretty outrageous.

My noble friend Lord De Mauley suggested smaller, more numerous detachments. He is right. Some units are now too widely dispersed. Small detachments in towns adjacent to the unit's headquarters would be rewarding for a junior officer, because he would have his own bit of real estate.

My noble friend Lord Shewsbury gave further insight into the problem of junior officers. He is right about unnecessary training, but we should never rely on pre-deployment training being available. On Operation TELIC 1, I received negligible pre-deployment training but, in my TA career, I never expected to get much in the way of pre-deployment training, because Ministers never make decisions early enough for the military. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.