My Lords, I do not have the military experience of many other noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, but I do have a number of friends and contacts who play important roles in the Reserve Forces’ and Cadets’ Associations. I share—with all noble Lords, I am sure—a wish to preserve all that is best about the existing arrangements, while accepting that there may be some improvements that can be made. Inevitably, I will concentrate on legal and regulatory matters.
The draft tailored review highlights a number of strengths in the existing structure, in particular the extensive volunteer membership and community links. As the review concludes, at paragraph 2.2.4, the functions of the RFCAs
“remain relevant and valuable contributing to Defence objectives whilst building and maintaining vital links for the Defence community with the general public.”
Weaknesses in corporate governance are, however, identified. As the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, pointed out, these could be remedied without the creation of a single executive non-departmental body. The reason for the potential change is said to be because they are not “genuinely unique”—not a particularly happy expression—and thus unclassifiable, as they pass the three tests to be a non-departmental public body.
The Cabinet Office handbook, Classification of Public Bodies: Guidance for Departments, says:
“It is possible that for reasons associated with function or services, there may be a small number of ALBs”— arm’s-length bodies—
“that cannot be classified into one of the main categories without adversely impacting on the body’s ability to fulfil of those functions/deliver those services.”
It goes on to say that
“such unique and unclassifiable entities will be allowed to remain administratively unclassified, in exceptional circumstances, so long as they have appropriate governance and accountability structures in place.”
Yet there are several statements in the draft report which would lead one to conclude that they are unique, not least in the diversity and variety of their stated tasks. Indeed, in annexe C-5 of the draft report there is a clear statement that “the continuity of their tri-Service regional engagement is unique.”
We are potentially about to lose some really valuable aspects of the organisations of the RFCA based on a concept of uniformity and a rather uneasy concept of uniqueness. What is the reason behind this? One might look to the ministerial foreword—not always a good source. One paragraph from the Minister of State reads as follows:
“I fully support the recommendations the Review makes about how the RFCAs can develop their effectiveness, efficiency, and corporate governance to fully realise the latent potential. In particular, regularising the RFCAs as a single Non-Departmental Public Body … to best deliver an increased focus on financial resilience, facilitating Reserves and Cadets skills development, renewal and modernisation of the Volunteer Estate, and spearheading innovative tri-Service engagement practices.”
I am not sure that that would survive analysis by Mr Dominic Cummings. I am sure that the noble Baroness responding, whom we all much admire, will be able to be a great deal clearer than that foreword as to why this very valuable organisation suffers the possibility of being so sadly diminished.