Armed Forces: Reserves — Statement

– in the House of Lords at 3:52 pm on 28th April 2009.

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Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Government Whip, Government Whip 3:52 pm, 28th April 2009

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces. The Statement is as follows.

"With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement about the report on the strategic review of reserves, which I am publishing today. A copy has been placed in the Library of the House.

I know that the House will join me in paying tribute to Britain's reserves. They make an important contribution to current operations, serving with dedication and commitment alongside our Regular Forces. As I speak, over 2,000 reservists are on operations in Afghanistan and Iraq on tasks ranging from fighting on the front line to force protection and medical support. This is 8 per cent of our forces deployed. Reservists have served with distinction in all the conflicts that our forces have faced in recent times, from the Balkans to Sierra Leone. Eighteen thousand have deployed to operational theatres since 2003. Since then, 15 have made the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives on our behalf. When I visit operational theatres, I never fail to be impressed by the men and women of our Reserve Forces who give up their time to serve their country.

But it is not only the Armed Forces that benefit from our reserves; society does, too. Individual reservists learn and develop leadership, problem-solving and confidence-building skills that make them more capable employees and citizens. And they make a crucial contribution in the United Kingdom, helping out in emergencies from foot and mouth to flooding and providing cover during the firemen's strike.

The demands faced by our reservists have changed considerably. We are using them much more than we have before in peacetime. We need them to do more than simply prepare to defend the UK in the event of major conflict. We require them to augment our Regular Forces on expeditionary operations. Yet the structures, training and organisation of our Reserve Forces have not changed to match this and now need to be overhauled. We owe it to our reservists, their employers and their families to ensure that they are supported to face the challenges of today and the future, not the past.

People wrongly say that this is about tackling stretch by using the reserve to plug gaps in the Regular Forces. This is not the case. It is, in fact, about optimising the contribution of all elements of defence today and into the future. The reserves are an integral part of that and they are overwhelmingly keen to play a relevant role in current operations. That is why, last year, my right honourable friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun commissioned a strategic review of the reserves. As a result, the reserves have, for the first time in recent years, been subject to a review in their own right.

The review was conducted by a small team, led by Major-General Nicholas Cottam. It consulted openly throughout defence and beyond. It listened carefully to the views of the reserves community, including the Reserve Forces and cadets associations. General Cottam's comprehensive review addressed all strategic aspects of reserve service. I am placing copies of it in the Library of the House today and on the MoD website. As one would expect from such careful analysis conducted over several months, it is very detailed. We have therefore produced a summary of the review, which will also be placed in the Library today. General Cottam confirms that this summary report accurately reflects his review. It also indicates how we shall take forward this important work.

General Cottam's work offered seven strategic recommendations; I am pleased to announce that we are accepting all of them. They flow into more than 80 detailed recommendations. General Cottam was not asked to produce an implementation plan; his review was properly designed as strategic. Consequently, some of his detailed recommendations will require considerable further scoping work, taking account of resources and priorities across defence. This will make for difficult choices, but the review provides the solid foundation on which they can be made. I am, however, pleased to announce that around half of the recommendations will be implemented immediately.

The review has redefined the purpose of the UK reserves and notes that they provide defence with a cost-effective way of retaining certain specialised skills. It is precisely those niche capabilities and depth of personnel that are proving so invaluable to current operations. The review also acknowledges that reservists remain vital for supporting national resilience and recognises the very important role that they play in connecting the Armed Forces with the nation.

A key tenet of the review has been bringing greater clarity to reservists about what we expect of them and what they can expect in return. That has been captured in the new proposition that sets out for the first time what reserve service offers. Specifically, it states that we must ensure that,

'we continue to offer the challenge and reward which attracts people to volunteer, while giving a firm undertaking to provide them with effective training and the best possible support throughout their service, including when mobilised and recuperating'.

Part of this challenge is the opportunity to lead and command, which is why General Cottam's detailed recommendations include proposals for officer recruitment and education.

If we deliver on that proposition—and I am determined that we will—the outcome should be a better trained and organised reserve, better able to deliver its tasks. I should like to give the House a few examples of what we are doing now to help to achieve this outcome. We shall develop better and more flexible terms and conditions of service, which will allow a range of different forms of reserve service—as well as easier movement between regular and reserve service—by removing complexity and administrative barriers. Reservist training will be refocused with a greater emphasis on preparation to support current operations. Initial training will be restructured so that new recruits receive sufficient military skills to participate in their units' collective training within six months of joining and are fully trained and eligible for mobilisation within three years. Routine training will also be reviewed and sufficient man training days allocated to ensure annual military competency standards can be achieved by all.

The Territorial Army will be better integrated with the Regular Army to ensure that, combined, they are best structured to support current and future operations. This will include stopping reservist tasks that are no longer needed, thereby bringing efficiencies and enabling manpower to be used for higher priorities. Some tasks of this nature have been identified during separate work as part of the department's annual planning round.

As mentioned in the review, certain elements of 2 (National Communications) Signal Brigade have been identified as no longer having a clear operational role. This is partly because they hold capabilities that are no longer current and partly because their tasks can be achieved elsewhere in defence, not least because of improvements in wider national resilience. In addition, some TA signals units operate communications equipment that is now obsolete. These posts will be removed; they include Headquarters 12 Signals Group and 33, 34 and 35 Signals Regiments. It is logical to reallocate these resources to higher defence priorities.

This decision has not been taken lightly. We are very aware of the exceptional contribution made by the Royal Signals within the TA, but we must focus resources where we need them most. Where possible, those affected by this decision will be offered other opportunities within the TA, and we will conduct further work to decide the most effective configuration for the TA Royal Signals. As I have said, these decisions were taken separately from the reserves review, but they are entirely consistent with it.

We shall also rationalise and improve the way in which we approach the civil contingency reaction force and the part that it plays in wider national resilience tasks. This will make it more effective and less burdensome to the units involved. We shall also work closely with the Department for International Development to determine how best to employ niche reservist skills in support of stabilisation operations.

We need to rationalise the reserve estate. Some of it is underused, out of date and in poor repair. Some of it is simply unacceptable for modern military use. In some places, several sites sit near one another; elsewhere, the reserve footprint is absent. I am therefore setting in train work to deliver a modern, better managed and fit-for-purpose volunteer estate. This important work will take time and I am determined that it should be done properly.

Employers play a vital role in delivering and supporting our reserves. They bear the gap while an employee is training and play an even greater role when reservists are away from the workplace on deployed operations. We are very fortunate that so many of our employers are so accommodating of the demands that go with the reservist commitment. They recognise the additional skills and qualities that individual reservists can bring to any organisation. But we want to work better with employers. We shall continue to provide assistance and support to them through our employer support organisation, Supporting Britain's Reservists and Employers, commonly known as SaBRE. In addition, we shall give greater direction to the Reserve Forces and cadets associations to ensure that their excellent work in support of the reserves is more coherent and co-ordinated.

The review that we are publishing today is important for our Armed Forces and for Britain's reserves. It makes it clear that the two are not separate but that reserves provide an integral part of our military force structure. It provides a firm basis from which we can work further to develop and improve our Reserve Forces and how we support them. I believe that this is an exciting opportunity for our reservists. The reviewoutcome is a comprehensive piece of work, which has been welcomed by the single service chiefs. It is a blueprint to ensure that our Reserve Forces have a clear and bright future to match their illustrious past. I commend it to the House".

Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever Shadow Minister, Defence, Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs, Shadow Minister, International Development 4:04 pm, 28th April 2009

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I join the Government in paying tribute to Britain's reserves, who make an important contribution to current operations, as well as helping out in emergencies. Maintaining strong reserves is vital to our country's safety both at home and abroad. I also join the Government in thanking the employers who play such an important role in delivering and supporting our reserves. I declare an interest as an honorary colonel of a TA Royal Engineers regiment.

As the Statement says, the review flows into more than 80 detailed recommendations. There is a lot to digest and, frankly, we have had little time to consider it all. Through the usual channels, I will ask the Government for a debate in government time on the reserves review. This is an important issue. There is great concern in the reserves as to where it will all go. On this side of the House, we have been bombarded with approaches from all ranks.

We welcome the restructuring of initial training. I imagine that this also applies to officers' training. It is particularly relevant for officers where recruiting has suffered because of the cumbersome process of interviews, pre-AOSB, training, AOSB and then Sandhurst. There is no doubt that that is putting off some potential officers from joining.

We also welcome the fact that the TA will be better integrated with the Regular Army. I was in Afghanistan in February and spoke to a lot of reserves out there, including representatives of my own regiment. On the whole, they already feel pretty well embedded in the Army. The regulars of all ranks to whom I spoke were very complimentary about the work that the reserves were doing and felt that they were fully embedded. I was enormously impressed by their courage and professionalism.

General Cottam was not asked to produce an implementation plan. Half his recommendations will be implemented immediately, but who will take forward the other half? How long will the scoping work take? When will an implementation plan for these recommendations be produced and within what timescale will they be implemented? How will progress be reported to Parliament?

Can the Minister expand on the proposal in the Statement to,

"have more flexible terms and conditions of service, which will allow a range of different forms of reserve service"?

What is meant by a "range of different forms"? We accept that reserves are needed to augment expeditionary operations, but little information or thought appears to have been given to their role in homeland security and resilience. This is important when, as we saw in Mumbai, the terrorist threat is evolving.

The Government must also justify the cuts to 2 (National Communications) Signal Brigade. The Statement says that its tasks can be achieved elsewhere in defence and that some are not needed because of improvements in wider national resilience. It is imperative that the Minister should provide evidence to support this assertion. The brigade is tasked with the provision of emergency and post-disaster recovery communications infrastructure for government, the Armed Forces and the emergency services, by deploying and operating a variety of communications systems. It is on 12 hours' notice to deploy. This is an important role.

How will the CCRFs be rationalised? Has this been done in consultation with first responders? I understand that first responders—the police, the fire service and the ambulance service—want predictable support from the military and clear lines of authority, command and co-ordination.

The main focus of the Statement is on the TA; little if anything was mentioned about the Royal Naval Reserve, the Royal Marines Reserve or the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. How will this report impact on these forces? It also surprised me that there was no specific mention of the welfare issues impacting our reservists and their families. What measures in the recommendations will improve the welfare of our Reserve Forces and their families?

Finally, in 1997, the establishment figure for the TA was 59,000; today it is 38,500, even though the current strength is 28,920. What will the establishment figure be in light of today's Statement, given that the TA has been funded to only 83 per cent capacity?

Photo of Lord Lee of Trafford Lord Lee of Trafford Spokesperson for Defence, Spokesperson for Culture, Media and Sport 4:10 pm, 28th April 2009

My Lords, this is a very comprehensive review and the review team is to be congratulated on the huge amount of work that it has put in. The document is substantial and the executive summary itself runs to about 30 pages. However, unfortunately, I was able to obtain a copy of both those documents only at 3.15 this afternoon, despite having tried for the last three or four hours to get copies, including by phoning the MoD direct. It is impossible to ask sensible questions if one is given such a short space of time in which to examine the documents. I shall write to the Secretary of State for Defence to ask him what procedures his department operates in providing opposition spokespersons with this type of document in these circumstances. I do not hold the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, personally responsible for this; he represents the department but, of course, is not a Minister in it.

We welcome the review and congratulate the review team. As the noble Lord, Lord Astor, said, the reserves play a vital and cost-effective role when our Regular Forces are overstretched. They are also there for civil emergencies and terrorism and for pandemics and similar. However, the Statement is long on words but short on specifics. There is no mention of costs at all; for example, I should like to know how much it will cost to rationalise the reserve estate, which is said to be,

"underused, out of date and in poor repair".

Is the Treasury going to fund the costs for all those works? Specifically, how long has the TA Royal Signals been using communications equipment that is obsolete, as the Statement says?

There is no mention in the Statement of future numbers, as the noble Lord, Lord Astor, said. That is absolutely crucial. The Evening Standard today, which was presumably briefed in some shape or form a little earlier than we were, has a headline that says, "TA fighting strength will fall to 25000 after Treasury cuts". Would the Minister like to respond to that headline? The noble Lord, Lord Astor, also said that present manning levels were 10,000 below establishment strength. What will the Government do in that regard?

Our nation owes a huge debt to our Reserve Forces, but this Statement is full of generalities and holes. I very much support the call for a full debate in government time on our reserves. Specifically, when will the Government come clean on costs and numbers?

Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Government Whip, Government Whip 4:13 pm, 28th April 2009

My Lords, I shall first respond to the opening criticism of the noble Lord, Lord Lee. I am very sorry that he did not receive his copy appropriately and, while I thank him very much for noting that I am not the Minister, I shall take personal responsibility to ensure that we review those procedures and ensure that principal spokesmen have a clear expectation. Of course, I am embarrassed to find myself in the situation in which the noble Lord is not properly briefed.

The noble Lord, Lord Astor, asked an awful lot of questions, and, not surprisingly, I shall not be able to answer them all, but I shall do my best. First, I thank him very much for his general support for the reserves and the issue of training. I do not have to hand specific figures relating to officer training; I will write to him on that issue. He asked, very reasonably, about who will take this forward. The MoD will set up a small team to take it forward. I do not have the name of the head of the team. The plan is to take it forward in three phases. The initial phase will introduce about half the recommendations straightaway. The other operational and organisational recommendations will be considered in the normal planning process as part of the total development of defence. That will take us about two to three years, through to April 2012. The estate will take a number of years, and we will set up a team to rationalise that.

On the issue of how it will progress, I would expect it to progress and to be reported in the normal way. We will make statements about plans, and the essence is that we will be talking about the reserves in the context of the forces as a whole, rather than specifically referring to the reserves per se. That is the theme that runs through this Statement: we are looking for more flexibility.

When it comes to resilience, the civil contingencies reaction force, which was developed in 2002, has not been used. The review recommends that the current structure should be abandoned, maintaining only the command and control framework, with all reservists declared available for UK operations and resilience tasks. This finding has been adopted by the Army as part of the ongoing review. It is important to note that the contingencies that have happened have actually been addressed by Regular Forces, supported by reserves. We think that this is a much better way for reserves to be used in future.

On the issue of signalling tasks, I will touch on one or two points made by the noble Lord, Lord Lee. There are two areas where we are rationalising in the light of budgetary and planning preparation, but consistently with the use of reserves. The first is the Ptarmigan trunk communications system which supports the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps headquarters communications, command and control suite operated by members of TA signals. This is now obsolete. I do not have data on how long it has been obsolete, but support is now provided by the newer Falcon system, run by regular elements of 1 Signal Brigade. Therefore, as part of the department's normal annual planning round process, it has been decided to delete, as I said, Headquarters 12 Signals Group and 33, 34 and 35 Signals Regiments.

The Cabinet Office work on resilience has called for a more up-to-date and technologically advanced national resilience network, and it is important that 2 (National Communications) Signal Brigade will be removed—it will be a regular-only operation from now on, because it is able to operate with more up-to-date, efficient and capital-intensive procedures that are less manpower-intensive. There will be no reduction in signals capability provided by the Royal Signals to support either the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps or national resilience communication.

In areas other than the TA, recruitment is taking place in all four reserves—the Royal Marines, the Navy, the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and the Army. Over time, those numbers will become part of our planning round and concerns, but the MoD is looking to see them rise if possible.

The noble Lord, Lord Lee, gave us some of the numbers involved. As we know, the numbers are about 10,000 down between establishment and strength. I think that that is common between us. What I am announcing today regarding signals will not directly address the numbers on strength. TA personnel will be offered posts in other TA units with regular personnel being returned to other posts in the Army structure. I admit that a small number of civilians, including some non-regular permanent staff and TA soldiers employed on timed reserve contracts—these are small numbers—may be made redundant if alternative employment cannot be found, but what I am talking about today is a structural change. It is about taking resources away from obsolete units and assigning them to active reserve units.

By accident, I seem to have answered all the questions put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Lee, that I am capable of answering. I hope that I have at least given a feel for how we are taking this important review forward.

Photo of Lord Trefgarne Lord Trefgarne Conservative 4:21 pm, 28th April 2009

My Lords, I am afraid that I have to say that I heard the noble Lord's Statement with dismay and regret. It was full of ringing declarations of good intent but was more notable for what it did not say than for what it did say. Perhaps I may self-indulge with a little trip down memory lane. In 1984, I stood at that Dispatch Box and announced the increase in the size of the Territorial Army from 79,000 to 83,000. Today, as someone has already said, the Evening Standard is reporting a strength of 25,000. I announced to your Lordships the acquisition of a fleet of River class minesweepers for the Royal Naval Reserve— 11 minesweepers built especially for and assigned to that force. I stood at that Dispatch Box one evening and announced the formation of 607 (City of York) Squadron, Royal Auxiliary Air Force, to be equipped with Wessex helicopters and deployed in support of 2nd Infantry Division in York, at that time commanded by the then Major-General Peter Inge, now of course Field Marshal the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge. Does the noble Lord recall the words of the late Sir Winston Churchill, who was right in that matter as in so much else? Members of the Territorial Army, said the late right honourable gentleman, are "twice a citizen".

Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I can answer only one question here and now because that was a description of the past and I have to admit that we are in a different place, and we have been quite open about the fact that we are in a different place. We are looking forward to an entirely different reserve in the future. An entirely different reserve has, de facto, been in existence since roughly 2002 in terms of how it is deployed. Interestingly enough, I can answer the final challenge as I do recall the words of Sir Winston Churchill. The seven recommendations accept the reserves' important role in representing the military within our communities. They are the footprint of the military in most of our society—in places of work and in the community. We acknowledge for the first time that that is a useful part of their role.

Photo of Lord Craig of Radley Lord Craig of Radley Crossbench

My Lords, the Minister mentioned how much more the territorial and Reserve Forces are being used now than ever before. That is quite true. They are bolstering overseas operations, well embedded into the Regular Forces, and they are all to be congratulated on that. But to describe that as not gap-filling is disingenuous. The point is that there are not enough Regular Forces to undertake the commitments to which our Government have committed them. Until that balance is right—not only the manpower balance but the financial balance that is required to support that manpower—we are going to find ourselves in an extremely difficult position.

I thoroughly support the need for this review, but the reserves are promised a variety of things—improved training, improved opportunities to prepare for operations, and other funded matters—when the funding itself must, in some part, be dubious. In that case, it seems to me that there is a genuine danger that the reservists, who are keen and willing, will find that the promises they have been given are not being fulfilled. That is much more of a let-down for them than not having had it promised in the first place. I believe that without a proper defence review into which these new reserve arrangements can be slotted, the whole structure, good as it may be, is under question because of the lack of funding for it.

Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I am sure that the noble and gallant Lord will forgive me if I do not operate above my pay grade and promise a defence review. That will be for the Government and the Secretary of State to consider. On the matter of funding, I must be absolutely honest. This review promises no more funding and the Government are not promising any more funding. No additional funding is allocated to implement the recommendations, which will have to be taken forward within existing budgets. We have to be realistic. None of the parties that could credibly form a Government is currently promising to spend more money on defence. This review recognises that the way to optimise our defence capability is to operate the reserves in a more integrated way. I do not believe that a promise will be broken because the promise is about being more effective. It is about taking resources—it may indeed be a matter of taking resources from other areas in defence—and achieving, with the training standards of the people in the reserves, more capability to be better integrated. So, in that sense, I do not believe that this is disingenuous.

Photo of Lord de Mauley Lord de Mauley Shadow Minister, Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, Shadow Minister, Children, Schools and Families, Shadow Minister, Innovation, Universities and Skills

My Lords, we all hope that what will come out of the review will be welcome. I disclose an interest as a former TA commanding officer with firsthand experience of being used more than before; and also as a selected military member of the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association for the county of Gloucestershire.

I have two questions for the Minister which immediately spring to mind. First, how will the recommendations of the review of reserves be managed in the context of the current financial pressure facing all government departments, not least the MoD? The noble Lord, Lord Lee, specifically asked questions in that area. We do need answers on that. Secondly, and more specifically, am I right in understanding from what the Minister said that considerable numbers of Royal Signals soldiers and units are to be laid off? It is well known that a need for a large number of extra TA signallers was identified only comparatively recently. Laying off specialist soldiers because the equipment that the Government have issued them with is obsolete sounds suspiciously like babies and bathwater. But vitally, in these days where technical, especially IT, skills are so needed in the services, is it really wise to ravage the TA's main repository of such skills?

Lastly, I would like to strongly support my noble friend Lord Astor's request for a full debate as soon as possible, because there are several other matters that need covering in this.

Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I hope that I have, in part, answered both the noble Lord's questions. We have been quite clear that we are not saying that these recommendations come with any new money. We are saying quite openly that they will have to be managed within the present allocations to defence, as part of the budgeting and planning round. They will be implemented because they will add value to defence within the constrained financial situation. If any party that could credibly form an Administration wants to promise more money, I will be very happy to note it. But I think we all recognise that we live in constrained times, and we have to manage and get best value.

On the matter of the Royal Signals units, I have set out the units that will be disbanded and the unit which will no longer be reserve-manned. We have no intention of laying off the skills; we will do all we can to redeploy skilled individuals within other TA units. As noble Lords know, I have no part in whether or not there will be a full debate. If there is to be one, I hope that the Minister will be here to answer it, but if not, I shall perform as best I can.

Photo of The Earl of Shrewsbury The Earl of Shrewsbury Conservative

My Lords, can the Minister assure me that the proceeds of any property sales under the rationalisation referred to in the review will be reinvested in new property for the Reserve Forces and that great care indeed will be taken to maintain the footprint across the country? I declare an interest as a former honorary colonel of a cavalry squadron.

Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, no, I cannot give the first assurance because I cannot pre-empt the Treasury rules which will be in place at the time. The Government constantly reassess how they rationalise their estate and I simply cannot predict how the property sales will be treated. On the matter of care, yes, I should strongly say that we will rationalise the estate with great care. We are putting together a team to look at this. As noble Lords will know, the estate consists of some 2,000 sites. The review confirmed the importance of the volunteer estate, but noted that it was old, expensive, underused and located to serve the population centres of the 19th century, as opposed to those of the 21st century. To ensure that the reserve has an estate that is modern, provides value for money and is correctly located to match changes in the demographics and national infrastructure, the review recommended that the Ministry of Defence conducts a detailed requirement-based review. That will be done.

Photo of Lord Ramsbotham Lord Ramsbotham Crossbench

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, I declare a past interest as a former Inspector General of the Territorial Army. When I was doing that, we concentrated very much on the employers, and we formed the National Employers' Liaison Committee. I shall return to that in a moment. I warmly support the words of my noble and gallant friend Lord Craig about the problems that may arise when we have, as I hope we will, a very comprehensive defence review, resulting in a possible revisiting of this comprehensive report, which I have not yet read—but knowing General Cottam, I am sure that it has been extremely well done. I also echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Astor, in calling for a debate, which is entirely needed.

Without employers there are no volunteers. Last year in Afghanistan, I found nine bus drivers from a bus company in Enniskillen who were all working in one company. That was a remarkable tribute to them. When I was inspector general, I suggested to the MoD that one thing that it could do for the employers would be to relieve them of the employers' contribution to national insurance as a reward for letting people go. The Minister mentioned assistance and support, but can he be more specific about what there is in this for the employers? Without that we will not have their support in the future, particularly as we go into the economic black clouds that seem to be ahead of us.

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Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot answer the question in detail. The review involved the National Employer Advisory Board. Its views were taken on board. I recall that there has been a reorganisation of the payment of reserves, particularly when they are deployed, but I do not know what that did for the employers. I will come back to the noble Lord in writing.

Photo of Viscount Tenby Viscount Tenby Crossbench

My Lords, leaving strategic considerations on one side for the moment, does the Minister agree that one of the strengths of the auxiliary forces, in particular the Territorial Army, is that they reinforce the geographical and social links between the Armed Forces and our local communities? Thanks to the necessary reorganisation in the Regular Army, those links have recently been weakened, but in the past they have, let's face it, made the British Army the envy of the world. An additional benefit lies in this being a means by which young people can gain a taste of what service life is like. Will the Minister undertake to ensure that these important concerns are taken care of and paid attention to in the future?

Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I agree with everything the noble Viscount has said. Section 1.6c of the report recognises that point for the first time. We all recognise that reservists are particularly well placed to connect with the nation, but we have actually spelt it out in this report.

Although Regular Forces make a connection with the nation, reservists are often better placed to connect, integrate with and influence the community in which, in their civilian lives, they live and work. The special ethos of volunteer service is what distinguished a reservist, in Churchill's words, as twice the citizen. I also commend the value that is brought to the individuals in their reserve experience. It genuinely adds to the wealth of our community.

Photo of Viscount Tenby Viscount Tenby Crossbench

My Lords, I should have declared an interest as having served in the Territorial Army for eight years.

Photo of Lord Walton of Detchant Lord Walton of Detchant Crossbench

My Lords, I also declare an interest as a former commanding officer, and subsequently honorary colonel, of the 1 Northern General Hospital TA. The unit is celebrating its centenary this year—or, at least, its successor unit, the 201 Field Hospital, is doing so. That unit has served with distinction in the Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan. Anxiety, however, is being expressed by many of the officers, both medical and nursing, over their repeated deployment on operations overseas, which is having an adverse effect, in some cases, upon their civilian employment in the National Health Service. What are the Government doing to increase the recruitment in the regular medical services, so that the TA—much relied upon—may not be required to be deployed overseas so often?

Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, first, in view of the stream of confessions to military service that I have heard today, I think it is important, having failed to congratulate each one in turn, for me to congratulate noble Lords collectively on their contributions. I explain to briefers that, when I get up to speak on military matters, I will be surrounded by so much military experience that I will be intimidated.

I have not been briefed on the issue of full-time medical recruitment. I will be very happy to write to the noble Lord on this issue. The report makes the particularly strong point that the reserves uniquely bring niche capability to the Armed Forces. The noble Lord is quite right: nowhere is this more so than in the medical world. The country as a whole thanks those medical professionals who serve in the Reserve Forces for the contribution that they make. We hope that they get professional growth out of that experience.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Spokesperson for Defence, Spokesperson for Culture, Media and Sport , Deputy Chief Whip

My Lords, is the Minister in a position to comment on the part of the Statement that says that reservist training will be refocused with a greater emphasis on preparation to support current operations? We have been in Afghanistan, for instance, for a while. We have all known for a long time that it could be a very long haul. Why has it taken us this long to come to this staggeringly obvious conclusion?

Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, you get asked questions all the time that you cannot answer.

As the noble Lord, Lord Astor, pointed out, the use of reservists on the front line is integrated, in current operations, with Regular Forces. The review says that, if that is what we are going to do, we should review the training and make sure that the training is directed very strongly to that purpose. It says that we should start from the user and work back to the training—unlike some of the training procedures, schedules and programmes, which still have more relevance to history than they have to the outcomes that we are looking to achieve.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Shadow Minister, Transport

My Lords, surely the answer to the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, is that we have been exceeding defence planning assumptions by about 100 per cent since 2003. I remind the House of my interest as a serving officer in the TA, although I am not doing very much now. I first signed up to the TA in January 1974, so I think that I know a little about the TA.

Noble Lords:

Hear, hear!

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Shadow Minister, Transport

My Lords, I certainly know that this Government have cut the size of the TA in half during their time. However, there appears to be much that is good in General Cottam's report. The Minister says that all seven principles have been accepted; I should dearly like to see the general's first draft.

On the reserves estate, I hope that it does not mean that we are going to sell off the TA centres that happen to be in prime town centre locations, very close to railway stations and ideal for supermarkets.

Many of us look forward to examining the detail of the review. It identifies room for improvement in training. My noble friend Lord Astor of Hever touched on the training of officers and the fact that we have very few of them.

The Statement suggests that new recruits will take part in their units' collective training within six months of joining. Noble Lords will be interested to hear that I took part in battalion-level internal security exercises well in advance of attending a recruits' course. I was cadet-trained but many TA soldiers join the TA from the cadets.

The success of training and the speed at which TA soldiers can be trained are crucially dependent on the money available and the number of man training days allocated to a TA unit. However, we do not have any money. Our national public finances are in a mess and the MoD budget is unsustainable.

Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, the TA centre review will concentrate in particular on demography—that is, where the public are now and how best to make adjustments. As I said, there will be an important emphasis on training, and the number of man training days will be maintained but deployed in a different way. Where it is needed, money will be found within the overall service allocations to the extent that it is used to the best effect. That has to be a caveat that any sensible Government stick to in the difficult circumstances in which we find ourselves. However, through this review, the Government are committing themselves to the Reserve Forces being an integral and valuable part of defence, and I am sure that the whole House will agree that that is the way forward.