Armed Forces: Redundancies — Statement

– in the House of Lords at 3:09 pm on 22nd January 2013.

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Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence 3:09 pm, 22nd January 2013

My Lords, first, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in paying tribute to Kingsman David Robert Shaw of 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, who died in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham on Wednesday 16 January 2013 from wounds received in Afghanistan on Monday 14 January, and Sapper Richard Reginald Walker of 28 Engineer Regiment, attached to 21 Engineer Regiment, who was killed in Afghanistan on Monday 7 January. My thoughts are also with the wounded and I pay tribute to the courage and fortitude with which they face their rehabilitation.

In reply to the Unstarred Question asked in the other place today, my honourable friend Mark Francois said:

"As the House will be aware, the Government announced the process and outline timetable for the Armed Forces redundancy programme on 1 March last year, the need for the programme being born out of the Strategic Security and Defence Review and subsequent activity to balance defence books. While in an ideal world we would not need to run a redundancy programme, defence, like all areas of government, must live within its means.

Today's announcement represents the start of the third tranche of that programme and affects only Army personnel. Announcements about who has been selected will be made on 18 June this year. Applicants will then be given six months' notice and non-applicants 12 months' notice before they leave the service. While we need to make up to 5,300 Army personnel redundant, the programme will not adversely affect operations in Afghanistan. As with previous tranches, there are a number of important exclusions from the programme. Critically, those preparing for, deployed on or recovering from operations on 18 June will be exempt from the tranche. Similarly, those personnel who are below the necessary medical standard for continued service will be ineligible for redundancy and, if necessary, will be discharged through the standard medical process.

The House will wish to note that because of the drawdown in Afghanistan that we have already announced, a final decision on those who will be deploying there in autumn this year will not be made until April. As a result, the final decision on personnel who are excluded as a result of preparing for operations will not be made until then.

We expect, at this stage, there to be a further tranche of redundancy in 2014. This would likely affect Army personnel and a small number of medical and dental officers from the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force.

Throughout the process, the Army will seek to maximise the number of applicants. At the same time, we have cut back on recruiting as far as it is safe to do so but, as the House will recognise, the services are recruited from the bottom up, and therefore a steady inflow of Army recruits will continue to be required.

It is worth highlighting at this stage that the majority of those leaving the services as a result of tranches one and two have enjoyed significant success in moving to civilian jobs. All those who have been made redundant, whether applicants or non-applicants, will enjoy the benefits of the career transition programme. This includes career transition workshops; up to 35 days of paid resettlement training; and financial support, education and training up to 10 years after leaving. This programme has proved very successful in assisting service leavers to find work outside the Armed Forces. Historically, 93% of those who look for work are in full-time employment within six months of leaving, rising to 97% after 12 months. To that end, 91% of tranche one applicants-that is over 1,500 people-have already found employment, this being testament to, and a reflection of, the training and quality that we as a nation continue to find in our service personnel".

Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport) 3:14 pm, 22nd January 2013

My Lords, I express our sincere condolences to the families and friends of the two brave members of our Armed Forces who have lost their lives as a result of action in Afghanistan in the service of our country.

I thank the Minister for repeating as a Statement the Answer given in response to the Urgent Question asked in the other place on Armed Forces redundancies. With these further redundancies, how will the Government ensure that the specialist skills that will be required more than ever in future in, for example, North Africa, in intelligence capability and foreign languages, as well as in our Special Forces, are retained, not lost in the continuing reduction in the size of our Armed Forces?

Secondly, the reduction in the size of our Regular Army also assumes an increase in the size of our Reserve Forces. That will require incentives for employers to employ and retain reservists and cast-iron guarantees for reservists that they will not be discriminated against in their employment. What assurances can the Minister give on these two points, without which achieving the required strength of our Reserve Forces is likely to prove very difficult?

Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his comments at the beginning of his speech. He asked how we ensure that we retain the skills that we need. There are certain pinch-point skills that will be excluded from the redundancies. Off the top of my head, they are the intelligence corps, a certain number of Royal Engineers, particularly IEDs, language skills, which the noble Lord mentioned, and, of course, the Special Forces, which we do not talk about. They will be excluded.

Turning to reservists, as the noble Lord knows-we had a debate on this subject the other day-we expect to have a White Paper on this issue in the spring. We spent a lot of time debating this issue. This is a subject in which I personally take a great deal of interest. I have been involved with the reserves for a number of years, and I am confident that we can do everything possible to get up to the number we want, which is 20,000 by 2018.

Photo of Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Liberal Democrat 3:17 pm, 22nd January 2013

My Lords, from these Benches, I join the commiserations expressed by my noble friend. In the short time available, perhaps I may say that the Government are rightly proud of getting the inherited defence budget in balance, but unfortunately events take place and nothing has more events than defence. Does the Minister not think that the Prime Minister's Statement yesterday about the willingness to use force in Mali and other places shows that you cannot use a budgeting system on defence in quite the same way that you can in other departments because events take place that need action or no action? With a force depleted to 82,000 personnel, the headlines today of what we are probably going to do in Mali might not be possible in two years' time.

Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

My Lords, my noble friend makes a very good point. We prepare for events, and we are confident that we can handle most things that are thrown at us. Certainly, the National Security Council is meeting as we speak and considering the situation in Mali. I am confident that we can prepare for any eventuality.

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Labour

My Lords, did the National Security Council review the strategic defence and security review 2010 in the light of the Arab awakening, the Libya crisis et cetera? If it did, did it then agree that there should be a further £1.3 billion cut in the defence budget, which is, in fact, what has happened?

Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

My Lords, it is my understanding that the National Security Council meets on a very regular basis and considers every eventuality, but it is not for it to decide the cuts. They are a matter for the Treasury.

Photo of Lord Dannatt Lord Dannatt Crossbench

My Lords, I know that Members on the Cross Benches would like to be associated with the message of condolence to the families who have lost loved ones in recent operations. With regard to the matter in hand, does the Minister accept that everything practical and affordable is being done to ease the transition of those who are going to be made redundant, either voluntarily or compulsorily, under this round?

Does he also accept that there is a need, to which other noble Lords have already alluded, to keep current world events under close review in the forthcoming comprehensive spending reviews and the work towards the next defence review? If the world does not looks as safe in the next five, 10 or 15 years as one might perhaps hope, is there not a need for the numbers in our Armed Forces, particularly in our land forces, to be kept under review? Must not the possibility of increased spending in defence, maybe from somewhere else across government, be a possibility and not always the downward effect that we seem to see?

Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

My Lords, as I said earlier, the National Security Council is meeting at this moment. It will obviously be considering world events as they evolve. We are confident that we have the members of Armed Forces to deal with any situation. As the noble Lord knows, we are reducing the numbers next year, coming back from Afghanistan. We have plenty of members of the Armed Forces to deal with these eventualities.

Photo of Lord Davies of Stamford Lord Davies of Stamford Labour

My Lords, the Government's record in this area is not a good one. Within a few months of getting rid of our carrier strike capability, we found ourselves regretting the absence of a carrier in the Libyan operation and were forced to spend even more money hiring an Italian naval base and providing in-flight refuelling which we would not otherwise have needed. In the present state of affairs, is there not all too great a chance that we might soon regret this hasty decision to reduce our Army, which was taken in rather different circumstances a couple of years ago?

Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

My Lords, I am sorry to hear that from the noble Lord. These redundancies are not new, and were part of the difficult decisions that had to be made to tackle the multi-million pound defence deficit which we inherited from the previous Government.

Photo of Lord King of Bridgwater Lord King of Bridgwater Conservative

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the challenge faced by the Ministry of Defence and the Army now is whether they can produce the number of reservists who are to take the place of those made redundant from the regular Army? That will need to be kept under review.

Is not the lesson of current events-not least in Mali and perhaps leaking over into Algeria-and of events in Afghanistan that there is definitely a time limit for the use of foreign troops in other people's countries? The real challenge here is to make sure that we can train local military competence, whether in west Africa or elsewhere. Increasingly, they are the people who want a more ordered and stable world. The local people will increasingly have to be responsible for their own defence.

Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

My Lords, on the first part of my noble friend's question about reservists, we are confident that we can get up to the number of 30,000, which is our ambition. When my noble friend was Secretary of State, the numbers were about 72,000, of which 30,000 is less than half.

My noble friend makes a good point on training. Much more of the emphasis of our Armed Forces in future will be on training and mentoring our allies throughout the world.

Photo of Baroness Falkner of Margravine Baroness Falkner of Margravine Liberal Democrat

My Lords, in the light of previous questions about the funding of unanticipated deployments-action is potentially necessary in Mali- can my noble friend confirm to the House that such eventualities are dealt with through funding from Treasury reserves and not from the MoD's assessed budget? If he does not have the answer here, can he please write to me to explain?

Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

My Lords, I will certainly write to my noble friend on this issue. It is my understanding that most of these events are covered by the Treasury reserves.

Photo of Lord Stirrup Lord Stirrup Crossbench

My Lords, the Minister has said that the Armed Forces should have sufficient numbers to deal with most eventualities in future. Those numbers were set out as part of Future Force 2020 in the defence review. Will the Minister reconfirm to the House that, as the Prime Minister stated when he announced the outcome of the review, it would only be viable if we had real-terms increases in defence expenditure from 2015 onwards? Without those real-terms increases, Future Force 2020 will not be achievable.

Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

My Lords, I can confirm to the noble and gallant Lord that that is indeed what the Prime Minister said. I cannot envisage the outcome of the next SDSR, which will be after the next election, but I very much hope that that is what will happen.