[Relevant Documents: Seventh Report from the Defence Committee, Session 2012-13, on Defence Acquisition, HC 9, and the Government Response, HC 73. Oral evidence taken before the Defence Committee on 4 September 2013, on Defence Acquisition, HC 652-i. Oral evidence taken before the Defence Committee on 5 December 2012 on Future Army 2020, HC 803-i, Session 2012-13, and on 10 July and 8 October 2013, HC 576-i-ii. Uncorrected oral evidence taken before the Defence Committee on 5 November 2013, on Future Army 2020, HC 576-iii. Written evidence to the Defence Committee, on Future Army 2020, reported to the House on 24 April, 9 July, 8 October and 5 November 2013, and published on the internet.]
Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee
New Clause 1
Annual report by scrutiny group of reserve forces and cadets associations
‘(1) The Reserve Forces Act 1996 is amended as follows.
(2) After section 112(3) insert—
“(4) In respect of subsections (2) and (3), it shall be the duty of the Council of RFCAs to provide an external scrutiny group to report annually in July to the Secretary of State on the state of the reserves, making particular reference to—
(a) provisions for recruitment and retention;
(b) the upkeep of estates owned or controlled by RFCAs;
(c) support arrangements;
(d) training facilities; and
(e) any other factors which have a bearing on reserve effectiveness.
(5) The Secretary of State shall by Order lay the report before Parliament.
(7) The membership of the external scrutiny group shall include—
(a) the Chairman of the Council of RFCAs as chair;
(b) five other members to include—
(i) representation balancing reserve and regular service across the three armed forces; and
(ii) at least one independent civilian member with a broader understanding of defence issues;
(c) specialist members.
(8) Specialist members of the external scrutiny group may be appointed by the Council of RFCAs from time to time, but shall not be permanent members.
(9) The Defence Council shall by Order provide compensation for specialist members of the external scrutiny group for the purposes of subsistence or other reasonable expense encountered in the course of work undertaken in this capacity.”.’.—(Mr Brazier.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 2—Duties and powers of reserve forces and cadets associations—
‘(1) The Reserve Forces Act 1996 is amended as follows.
(2) After section 113(1) insert—
“(1A) In deciding which of the matters set out under subsection (2) should be transferred or assigned to the associations, the Secretary of State should take account of—
(a) the cost effectiveness of associations as compared with wider defence operations; and
(b) the ownership of the particular site.”.’.
New clause 3—Report on Future Reserves 2020—
‘(1) Within one month of the passage of this Act, the Secretary of State shall make and lay before Parliament a report on the viability and cost effectiveness of the plans set out in Reserves in the Future Force 2020: Valuable and Valued, Cmd 8655, together with his recommendation on its further implementation.
(2) Further implementation of the plans shall be halted 40 days after the laying of the report unless both Houses shall have resolved to approve the recommendation from the Secretary of State contained in the report.’.
Provides for a Government report detailing the viability and cost-effectiveness of the plans set out in the White Paper on Reserves (Cmd 8655). Both Houses must approve the report and the Secretary of State’s subsequent recommendation in order for the implementation of the reforms to reserve forces to continue.
New clause 4—Mental health provision for members of the reserve forces—
‘(1) The Secretary of State shall publish annually an analysis of mental health provision for members and former members of the reserve forces.
(2) The report shall include information and annual spend on such services.
(3) The Secretary of State shall within one year of this Act coming into force bring forward proposals clarifying provisions for the transfer of medical records belonging to former members of the reserve forces to the NHS and for the monitoring of the health needs of former members of the reserve forces.’.
New clause 6—Leave entitlement for reserve forces—
‘(1) The Employment Rights Act 1996 is amended as follows.
(2) After section 63C insert—
“63CA Right to time off for reserve forces
(1) An employee who is a member of a reserve force (as defined in section 374 of the Armed Forces Act 2006) is entitled to be permitted by his employer to take time off during the employee’s working hours in order to undertake training activities connected to the reserve force.
(2) An employee’s entitlement to time off under subsection (1) is limited to 14 days maximum.
(3) An employee is not entitled to paid remuneration by his employer for time off under subsection (1).
(4) This section does not apply to employees of companies with fewer than 50 employees.
63CB Complaints to employment tribunals
‘(1) An employee may present a complaint to an employment tribunal that his employer has unreasonably refused to permit him to take time off as required by section 63CA.
(2) An employment tribunal shall not consider a complaint under this section unless it is presented—
(a) before the end of the period of three months beginning with the day on which the time off was taken or on which it is alleged the time off should have been permitted, or
(b) within such further period as the tribunal considers reasonable in a case where it is satisfied that it was not reasonably practicable for the complaint to be presented before the end of that period of three months.
(3) Where an employment tribunal finds a complaint under this section well-founded, the tribunal shall make a declaration to that effect.”.’.
A reservist would be entitled to two weeks statutory additional unpaid leave from their employment (where the company has more than 50 employees) for the purpose of reserve forces training, for which they shall receive their military pay.
New clause 7—Publication of data on reserves—
‘(1) The Secretary of State shall publish quarterly recruitment figures and trained strength numbers of the reserve forces against adjusted quarterly targets.’.
Amendment 3, in clause 49, page 31, line 32, leave out ‘1 to 3’ and insert ‘1 and 2’.
Amendment 4, page 31, line 35, at end insert—
‘(2A) Part 3 shall not come into force unless the receommendation referred to in section Report on Future Reserves 2020 has been approved by both Houses, and may then be brought into force on such day or days as the Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument appoint.’.
It is a huge pleasure to speak to new clause 1. Let me also say how much I enjoyed serving on the Public Bill Committee, through which we were so well guided by the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne).
New clause 1 seeks to establish, on a permanent basis, a power for the council of the reserve forces and cadets associations to report annually to this House and the Secretary of State on the state of the reserves, and will restore to the reserves a powerful independent voice.
I hope you will indulge me, Mr Speaker, if I give the House a bit of history. In 1908, when that great reforming Secretary of State, Haldane, set up the Territorial Force, as it was then called, on its modern basis, it was recognised that if the force was established simply under the Regular Army, it would not prosper. Therefore, the county associations—what we now call the RFCAs—were given control of recruiting and property management for the TF, as it then was. Just six years later, at the outbreak of the first world war, there were 250,000 Territorials stood to arms. Thirty units went over to the continent in the first wave. Sir John French, our commander over on the continent, remarked:
“Without the assistance which the Territorials afforded between October 1914 and June 1915, it would have been impossible to hold the line in France and Belgium.”
Sir John French was of course referring to the beginning of the war, but even at that stage, the same split view, which I am afraid we still see today, existed in the Regular Army. Lord Kitchener, as Secretary of State, announced on the very day that he took up his post that he could
“take no account of anything but Regular soldiers”.
He derided the Territorial Force, which was already fighting over in France, as “a town clerk’s army” and said that it got its orders from “Lord Mayors’ parlours”. However, had it not been for the vigorous lobbying of Parliament by the county associations—the forerunners of the RFCAs, with which my new clause deals—his efforts simply to break up the TF and use it as a source of spare parts for the Regular Army would have been successful, and the remarkable process whereby it delivered almost half our fighting units by the end of the war and scored 71 Victoria Crosses in the process would never have happened.
The system continued for nearly a century. Indeed, in 2003-04, by far the largest deployment of reservists in post-second world war history took place. At one point, one fifth of all our forces in Iraq and, just afterwards, one eighth of all our forces in Afghanistan were from the reserves. It is no accident that two years ago the RFCA council elected as its chairman General Sir Robin Brims. The RFCAs elect people to such positions and have a structure that would be recognisable to those in all parts of the House. It is almost like a party structure, although RFCAs are not party political. General Brims commanded the remarkable capture of Basra. Getting into the centre of the city was an almost bloodless exercise and almost the only thing that went seriously right in the British engagement in Iraq. His deputy is Major General Simon Lalor, who is known to a number of people in the House and who headed the reserves very effectively during the last two years of the Labour Government.
I am glad to see the right hon. Gentleman nodding.
More recently in Afghanistan, General John Lorimer—he is our current commander there, but at that stage he was a brigade commander—made the following comment on a Territorial Army company that was put under his command:
“Somme Company was an outstanding body of men: well trained, highly motivated and exceptionally well led.”
Sadly, however, for a number of years the Territorials have lost their voice and position. Crucially, in 2006, their control of recruiting was taken away from them and given to the Regular Army.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way at this early stage in the debate. I hope it might be helpful if I indicate to the House at this stage that we are minded to accept the principle of his new clause 1. Indeed—[Laughter.] The hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) laughs. We have already made arrangements to receive independent reports from the RFCAs on an annual basis; my hon. Friend is suggesting placing that requirement in statute. On reflection, we consider that to be a sensible idea that will strengthen the programme for the growth and reinvigoration of our reserves. I hope that making that clear to my hon. Friend at the beginning will help to set the tone for today’s debate.
May I express my thanks to my right hon. Friend? I am delighted by that, and I know that the knowledge that the reserve units out there will once again have a powerful independent voice will make a difference. When I talk about some of the current problems, people will understand just how much that voice matters every bit as much as it did in 1914.
I do not think the gathering of individual statistics should be a statutory matter, but the fact is that the Government have made a perfectly clear pledge that they are going to publish them. The crucial thing from the point of view of the ordinary reservist is that this body, which is elected by former reservists and respected by them as a body that effectively looked after their interests for nearly a century, is back with a really crucial position, able to make this report. When it visits the Army Recruiting Group, it will be heard with considerably more authority when it is known that it will be put on a permanent statutory basis and will be able to tell us what is really going on. I would like to say, however, that the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) has taken a close interest in this matter, which I respect.
The plain fact is that when the Regular Army took over recruiting in 2006, the numbers collapsed. The collecting of statistics collapsed, too, and the structure made no serious effort to address the challenges it was taking on. It simply raided the budget and used it for Regulars. To provide just one example, from 2006 to this day—it is now seven years on—Army recruiting offices are open only from 9 to 5.30 Monday to Friday, so they are not even available for people with civilian jobs.
A number of other things happened at the same time. There was a steady reduction in the flow of equipment to the reserves. There was a huge cut in the training budget. In 2009, we almost lost the whole training budget for the Reserves for six months, and I pay tribute to a small number of colleagues on both sides of the House who supported us in that battle. Worst of all, from 2009, all deployments of formed bodies to Afghanistan stopped—echoing the argument that had taken place at the outset of the first world war—and units were effectively told, “You are just here to act as part-time personnel agencies for the Regular Army”. That really destroyed much of the Territorial Army’s officer corps.
I strongly support what the Government are trying to do with the reserves. The House will know how much I am in favour of a rebalancing. I also commend many things that have taken place: the equipment is improving; there has been a huge increase in the funds available for training, particularly for collective training; and there have been some interesting initiatives at Sandhurst, under the charismatic leadership of the recently appointed Commandant, General Tim Evans. He started a number of improvements in officer training, one of which was the personal brain child of the Chief of the General Staff—taking people through the training in a single eight-week package, timed to coincide with the summer vacation in universities. The pairing of units is another initiative.
The Army Recruiting Group, however, has not got its act together; it is every bit as disorganised as it has always been. I hope the House will forgive me if I give just one example in detail to show just how hopeless it is. When the RFCAs lost their recruiting brief, the requirement for medicals, which had been very efficiently organised, disappeared. Suddenly last year, as part of common selection, it was announced that the Territorials were to do medicals, too. A system was set up, using the NHS as the old one had done, but in a fashion that had not even been cleared by the lawyers in relation to the Data Protection Act 1998. It was completely unworkable. People were told to take a form to their GP and get him to sign it off and send it in. So inefficient was this system that GPs did not know what to do. If units rang up to see what was going on, they were breaching the Data Protection Act. The system was so hopeless that a unit I know well—for obvious reasons, I will not say which—that had had an average of 48 successful enlistees per quarter in the months up to that change, saw a rising trend in applicants turn into just eight enlistees per quarter in the subsequent quarters.
I could go on and on. The software is unworkable; Ministers have already acknowledged that. Unfortunately, that compounds the problems at the recruiting centres. Because it is de facto impossible for somebody to do the form online on their own—if they make one mistake, their application is lost in cyberspace—it has to be done either at recruiting centres or in the units. The recruiting centres, of course, are not available.
I forget many things, Mr Speaker.
Having sat in Committee week in, week out, with my hon. Friend, it is fascinating to note that it has taken this Bill, proposing this reform to bring all the discrepancies of the past out into the open, and indeed to bring things together with a new form of Territorial Army and a new form of reservists. I give great credit to my hon. Friend for his perseverance throughout the Committee stage; he attended as much as he possibly could and provided helpful background to our understanding of the Bill. My question to him is this: does he find it as interesting as I do that it has taken this Bill to show what a mess all the previous discrepancies were?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her kind words. My essential point is that Parliament recognised, when the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act 1907 was put through, that reservist recruitment would never work if it were simply run by the Regular Army. It does not work. There is no reserve army anywhere in the world that is effectively run by its regular counterpart. We need a strong independent body. This new clause, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has generously said he will accept, will put the body that used to do this job very effectively into a powerful position as inspectors.
A whole string of changes affecting the recruiting group are already taking place, and I am sure that the Secretary of State will address some of them. The key point—I am really grateful for the hon. Lady’s support in signing my new clause and in raising questions in the Select Committee and so forth—is that we would not have lost 18 months if people had listened to the RFCAs, to which all this was painfully obvious 18 months ago, instead of having some regular officers arrogantly cracking on without talking to the units or the RFCAs.
I would be happy to give way to my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames), but that would be out of order. I declare an interest as a member of the reserves and a former member of the regulars. I am able to relate to what is being said by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier). Does he recall in his time that the recruitment officers were manned by “the sick, lame and lazy”, as they were called? These were the people in the regular battalions who were sent to the recruitment offices because they could not keep up with the rest of the battalion. Would he like to see the commander taking a greater interest in who is signed up as a yardstick for promotion, so that numbers are kept up to par?
First of all, the country and the Territorial Army owe my hon. Friend an enormous debt for everything he has done over the years, often under difficult circumstances, to promote their interests and to try to get things right. It is the case—and has remained the case for a distressingly long time—that there has been a very unsatisfactory attitude between the Regulars and the reservists. This has got to end. It has to end in a proper way, with the new proposed structure. Does my hon. Friend agree that all the points he raises about recruiting are correct? Things got off to a bad start; it has not been a success. However, I am told that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State went to Upavon the other day and read the riot act. I am quite clear—I know from my own experience as honorary colonel of a TA squadron—that the situation is already beginning to improve and will continue to do so.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way again. I cannot resist following up the intervention of our hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood). When I went to Upavon a couple of weeks ago, I found that a number of limbless ex-Afghanistan veterans had been integrated into the call centre and were managing the online process. I noted that they were able to use their own military experience to encourage and support the young recruits whom they were mentoring online.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to make that point. Not only is it good for the veterans to be integrated into the call centre while remaining in a military environment, but, crucially, the fact that the job is being done by people with military experience makes a huge difference. That is a message which, in a different context, I have tried to get across to our police force in Kent from time to time.
I do not want to speak for too long, because a great many other Members wish to contribute to the debate, but I should like to look abroad for a moment. It is no accident that the Haldane reforms came just after similar reforms in America which established the National Guard Bureau, just three years before the power was given to the forerunners of the RFCAs by the House of Commons. I have been privileged to visit National Guard units on operations in Afghanistan, and to see them doing various kinds of work. One airborne cavalry unit was mentoring the police, and an infantry unit from Virginia—whose origins, incidentally, date back to before American independence—was deploying its platoons along the Pakistani border, protecting aid posts there. Those units were able to bring to those jobs something that regular soldiers could not have brought to them.
“Losing Small Wars” is a book by Frank Ledwidge, who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. It refers to a catalogue of things that went wrong with the British presence in Iraq and, in the early years, in Afghanistan. One of the saddest aspects of the book is that it paints a picture of the Army not as it used to be, when it was quintessentially good at dealing with civilian populations all over the world. The fact that our Army was entirely unable to relate to the population in Iraq—in particular, it failed to recognise the murderous nature of the Iraqi police—was fundamental to our problems there. By contrast, National Guard units, which contain, for instance, police officers, business men and farmers, related very well to their local areas.
I must challenge my hon. Friend at this point. In fact, the experience in Iraq was often that the British Territorial Army units had considerably more expertise than the National Guard units. In al-Amarah, for example, they had water engineers serving as majors and development specialists serving as corporals. I think that we should take much more pride in what the TA was able to do in Iraq, often outperforming the National Guard units on the ground.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend has intervened and put me right. I was not drawing a parallel between the National Guard and the British TA. By the stage when things were starting to unravel, the TA deployment, which had been large at the beginning, was very small. It is true that the TA punched above its weight. I have heard General Abraham, who currently leads the transition process, pay tribute to a military police TA sub-unit which was briefly under his command, while also making the point that it was only briefly: the presence was all-regular most of the time. However, because at one stage just over half the American deployment consisted of reservists, and because, typically, the regulars would capture the ground—and provided the surge—but the National Guard would hold ground, it was possible to introduce a range of different skills across a much larger number of people. Given my hon. Friend’s constituency, I could refer to agriculture and the role that the farmers in the National Guard played, most of them in infantry combat units rather than specialist units.
Let me now say a little about new clause 2, which, I hasten to add, I shall not be pressing, as it could not possibly become law. It is merely an attempt to initiate a short debate about property.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. I had hoped to speak in the debate, but those of us who are serving on a Committee will not be able to do so.
Before my hon. Friend moves on to new clause 2, may I make a point about new clause 1? The principle behind the change in the proportion of reserves to regulars was exactly right: it brought us into line with many more contemporary countries. The proviso, in practice, was that the reduction in the number of regulars would not take place until we saw the necessary improvements in training, equipping and numbers in the Reserves. The problem for the House of Commons was that we had very little information to go on when it came to assessing the decision. I therefore congratulate my hon. Friend on tabling new clause 1, which will provide the transparency that will enable the House to make that assessment. I also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on his wisdom in accepting a new clause that will give the House a good deal more pertinent information than it would have had otherwise.
I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for his tribute. I understand how strongly he and a number of other Members feel about the timing of the decision. However, although he and I—and, I am sure, the Secretary of State in his private heart of hearts—would like more money to be spent on defence, it is a question of the cash envelope within which any Government are likely to operate. If we wound up the whole Territorial Army tomorrow, it would be possible to pay for only 6,000 or 7,000 regulars rather than 20,000, and that would mean losing most of our medical capability as well as a number of other benefits.
I accept what my hon. Friend has said about the MOD’s cash envelope, but surely this comes down to national priorities. The plan was not to wind down the regulars to such a degree without first ensuring that the reservists could take their place, but the plan has changed. None of the new clauses and amendments is asking for extra money from the MOD. It is, as I have said, a question of national priorities: it is a question of whether more money should be committed to defence, which is the first priority of Government.
I will respond to my hon. Friend’s intervention, but I hope he will forgive me if I leave it for a couple of minutes. I shall deal briefly with new clause 2, and then I shall come to his new clause.
Ever since Haldane, the reserve properties of the Army, but not all those of the other two services, have been managed largely by the RFCA. The fact is that the Defence Infrastructure Organisation—or the Defence Estates, as it used to be called—has a poor track record. There are so many quotations available that I am spoilt for choice, but according to the latest report from the National Audit Office,
“Defence Estates is not well placed to weigh up and challenge Budget Holders assessments of estate requirements.”
While I am certain that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his team will sort out the problems, two quite different jobs are involved. We do not want an organisation whose job is to look after super-garrisons to be worrying about repairing the roof of a cadet hut. The vast number of locations—2,500—across which reserves and cadets are spread need to be looked after by a local organisation with local feel, which can call on local expertise, often free of charge, and which, above all, has a low overhead. As I have said, new clause 2 could not become law, but I wanted to put those points on the record.
I now come to the new clause tabled by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron), who has fought a very good-tempered campaign, and one that I respect although I disagree with him. It is no secret that I stepped down as a Cabinet Parliamentary Private Secretary 20 years ago because I was unhappy about “Options for Change”. I would dearly love to see more money spent on defence, and I know that my hon. Friend would as well, but the reality is that the money is not there. Despite all the Secretary of State’s battles, the fact remains that no Treasury team that is likely to take charge will give us more money. The effect of my hon. Friend’s new clause would be not to guarantee a larger Regular Army, but to devastate our attempts to rebuild the reserve forces by putting them all on hold.
My hon. Friend must be familiar with his own wording. Are we to push to one side the plans for better training and better equipment? Are reservists, many of whom have served on operations and have struggled through a difficult period with no kit and no training, suddenly to be told. “This has all been put on hold, because the House of Commons wants it all to be looked at again”? The people to look at it are the RFCAs, and the Secretary of State has generously said that he will arrange for that to happen.
My hon. Friend is being very generous in giving way, and I appreciate the tone in which he is setting out his case, but may I address his central point by reminding him that the delay or postponement—the pause—need not be long at all because the report could be laid before Parliament the day after the Bill becomes an Act, and then it is up to the Government to decide how promptly we can scrutinise that report? The pause may not be long at all, and as for all the other comments about wrecking amendments and that this would turn the plans upside down, they are wide of the mark—they are Aunt Sallies—that do not do the Government’s cause any good.
I wish I could show my hon. Friend some of the e-mails and texts I received before the debate. I know this is not his intention, but if Parliament passes his amendment, that will strike a hammer-blow to morale in the TA. Many Members on both sides of the House are concerned about the future of the reserve forces. Many Labour Members fought very hard when we were having the battles towards the end of the last Labour Government, and I am delighted that the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth), is present, as he took a very close personal interest in this, and I note that the problems that arose at the end were not of his making. I urge Members on both sides of the House to think very seriously before they send that message to the reserve forces.
I thoroughly agree with my hon. and gallant Friend.
I want to bring my remarks to an end as many other Members wish to speak. A number of noteworthy people have come through the Territorials and the other reserves—I have said nothing yet about the RAF and naval reserves. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State’s Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), was recently commissioned into the Royal Naval Reserve and the Air Force Reserves heritage goes back to two of the three highest scoring fighter squadrons in the battle of Britain. The reserves have produced a number of distinguished individuals, including the grandfather of my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex, Sir Winston Churchill, and our greatest general in the last war, Bill Slim. People fondly imagine he was a regular officer who went to Sandhurst. He was not; he was a Territorial who sneaked in through the back door of the Birmingham officer training corps because his brother was a student there and nobody realised he was not a student too. There is also David Stirling, who founded the SAS. Again, people think of him as a Scots Guards officer. Yes, he was; he was a Scots Guards reservist. He had done his officer training at Ampleforth combined cadet force and then, through mountaineering, he had developed the qualities of character and team leadership that were so vital for setting up the SAS.
There are three reasons why we need reservists. First, because we can keep far more capability if we keep some of it at much lower cost—about a fifth of the cost—at lower readiness. Secondly, because they bring the energies, extra skills and imaginations of the wider civilian community into the armed forces. Thirdly, because that keeps the link with the local communities, which just after Remembrance Sunday we should all remember.
New clause 1 will give a strong independent voice back to the reserves. I am very grateful to the Government for accepting it and I must ask the House once more not to be persuaded by my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay on new clause 3, because that will send a devastating message to the Reserve forces.
I am a signatory to new clause 1, and I want to make a simple statement about its power. It will provide an independent element to the scrutiny of the whole process that comes back to Parliament. The debates that we will now have about new clause 3 and other things must be based on the truth on the ground; they must be based on the reality and an understanding so as to inform the decision making properly. This amendment is about doing that and also about cementing consent from the public and involvement of the public in building the consensus that we require to develop the quality of reserve recruitment into the Army, RAF and Navy and to make a whole force that is properly integrated. If we do not have that consent, we will not achieve that. If the amendment helps to provide that, it will be valuable and important. I am glad some Damascene conversion has taken place and the Government have now recognised the sense in accepting the amendment.
New clause 3 and consequential amendments tabled in my name and those of other hon. Members will, if successful, postpone the implementation of the Government’s reservist plans until their viability and cost-effectiveness have been scrutinised and accepted by Parliament. I should clarify what these amendments are not about, because a number of Aunt Sallys have been proposed by various interested parties. Contrary to some claims and implications, these are not wrecking amendments; they are not designed to scupper, reverse or tear up the Army reserve plans, and they are certainly not an attempt to recreate, or go back to, Victorian-style and size armies. These arguments are Aunt Sallys that do not do the Government’s cause any good.
I also want to make it clear that if these amendments are passed the delay to the Army reserve plans could be kept to an absolute minimum if the Government allowed prompt scrutiny of the report. There is no intention to drag this out or turn it into a campaign that goes on for months and months. The report could be produced the day after the Bill becomes an Act and we could have a debate in this place within weeks. I have to say that the stories that this is scuppering the Army reserve plans or reversing them are very wide of the mark.
As the House may imagine, my hon. Friend and I have discussed these issues at some length. I think he will acknowledge that while a debate could be held in short order the requirement is for the Government to carry the House at the end of that debate. Will my hon. Friend acknowledge that the Government would have to get that vote through before we could progress with the reserves agenda, and setting out that hurdle today would send a negative signal to the reserves community, which has heard a message of reinvigoration and growth for the future?
I will very directly answer both those questions. I completely agree that the report the Government would submit would be subject to the scrutiny of this House and a vote, but the fact that the Secretary of State seems concerned about that points to a bigger story about the reforms. If the Government are concerned that they might not carry the House as to the logic of their report, I suggest that that shows a weak point. I therefore suggest that the Secretary of State should, perhaps, not pursue that argument for too long, because for the Government not to accept this amendment because they are concerned they might not be able to carry the House tells a bigger story.
I am very concerned about that point because if the Government are saying they think they have real problems with this and they might not carry Parliament, the Executive are trying to implement something that Parliament does not approve of, and that is totally unacceptable.
I agree with my hon. Friend. The restructuring of other areas of government, such as the NHS, has been subject to the scrutiny of this place, yet here we are undertaking a major restructuring—the Secretary of State cannot disagree with that—of the Army and we are not prepared to subject it to that scrutiny, apparently for fear that we might not carry the House. It is not a very good reason.
I very much agree. I sometimes think in this place, where there is no shortage of former serving soldiers, that Front Benchers can be a little too sensitive about how stoical troops are. Their job is to get on with it, particularly if they are professional soldiers. They know these debates are taking place, but they get on with the job in hand, because that is what they are paid to do.
Would my hon. Friend not accept, though, that there is no attempt to avoid scrutiny here? By indicating that I will accept the intention of our hon. Friends’ new clause 1 and legislate to require an annual independent report—not for a limited period, but as a permanent arrangement—we are in effect creating a mechanism whereby annually the House will receive a progress report on the state of the reserves, and I would expect the House to debate that progress report. That will provide the level of scrutiny that he seeks. What we cannot accept is the destabilisation of the programme that introducing an artificial hurdle—
Order. Interventions need to be brief. The Secretary of State is an experienced Member of the House, and he knows that. Also, it would be good if he addressed the whole House, particularly the Chair, not just the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron).
What the Secretary of State cannot get away from, however, is that this is not that sort of report. It would be the equivalent of a speech to the House followed by questions; it would not be subject to proper parliamentary scrutiny and a vote. We are talking about proper scrutiny of the plans. We know that things are not going well. Reservist recruitment targets are being badly missed, TA numbers are falling, there is a widening capability gap as a result and we have deviated from the original plan, as was just clearly confirmed by the former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox); the original plan was to maintain the regulars until the reservists could take their place, but that has now been scrapped, and as we keep missing the reservist recruitment targets, the capability gap gets ever wider. These are legitimate questions that we in Parliament should be asking, and we need proper scrutiny of the answers the Government are giving. At the end of the day, that is all we are asking for.
As I have said, the report on its own is not enough, because we need proper scrutiny and a vote in the House, and if it does not bear scrutiny, perhaps that tells a wider story. A number of us, on both sides of the House, have tabled these amendments because we have deep-seated concerns that we believe have not been adequately addressed by the Government. I take no pleasure from saying this, but that includes the response to a well-attended general debate in the Chamber only a few weeks ago, when the Government could not muster one single vote in support of their position. One reason was that we put forward a series of questions, but very few, if any, answers came back.
The hon. Gentleman’s points about scrutiny might be well-intentioned, but new clause 3 talks about further implementation of the plans being halted. What would be the implication for the process already under way of giving reservists access to the armed forces pension scheme? What signal would it send to our reservists if we practically halted the implementation of a widely supported measure to give them better pension provision?
My hon. Friend will just have to accept that we are suggesting a brief pause. Why should Parliament not be able to ask for a brief pause in a process that is clearly not going to plan, with recruitment targets being missed, an ever-widening capability gap and rising costs? If we all accept that defence is the first duty of Government, which I know we do, it is incumbent on Parliament to ask these questions.
My hon. Friend is making some perfectly sensible points, many of which I agree with, and I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier) that his campaign has been conducted in an extremely measured way. My difficulty with his new clause is that I think it addresses a point he is not that interested in. I think he wants to reduce or stop the running down of the regulars, yet, so far as I can see, his new clause would stop the beneficial changes to the reserves that all of us—including him, I suspect—want to see.
If I could just answer the question. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot) for his kind words, but let us be clear: there have been three major tranches of redundancies in the regulars already. I think a fourth one is due shortly, although I do not know the Secretary of State’s exact intention on that. The plan to replace 20,000 regulars with 30,000 reservists essentially hinges on our ability to recruit those reservists, but the plan is clearly in trouble, and if we do not stop now, if only briefly, to re-examine the logic and ensure it stands up and properly scrutinise the viability and cost-effectiveness of the plan and the widening capability gap, we risk heading towards false economies and unacceptable capability gaps, which people will not thank us for. It is not unwise, therefore, to say, “Pause briefly and let Parliament properly scrutinise these plans.”
I have just received another text from a Royal Air Force reservist that reads, “A pause will cause widespread concern”. The problems with recruitment are not about footfall, as I set out in my speech. What message does my hon. Friend have for the officers in a reserve unit who have seen the regular recruitment apparatus block up and wreck their ability to enlist people and who are now being told to stop once more, just as things are starting to move again?
To save my hon. Friend mentioning texts and e-mails a third time, I can assure him that I have no shortage of texts and e-mails from reservists and members of the TA saying, “Yes, you’re absolutely right. These plans are not working and it would be right to pause and examine them again.” I will happily swap those with him after the debate.
On the effect of my new clause on the morale of the TA, let us consider the present situation. The latest figures, which came out last Thursday, show TA numbers falling, not rising, despite all the expensive recruitment programmes. Then we have the figures—and they are not full figures either; some of them were actually missing—for reserve recruitment going forward. I can tell my hon. Friend that it has got to such a state that the Army Reserve and TA courses scheduled for next January and February have had to be cancelled owing to a lack of recruits. The Secretary of State may be willing to check that, because I heard it very recently in one—in fact, more than one—of the texts and e-mails that my hon. Friend keeps mentioning. That shows the current state of recruitment. I therefore suggest to my hon. Friend that there are fundamental problems with this plan and it is only right that Parliament should scrutinise it more carefully.
I am a practical individual. In my lifetime, I have lost hundreds of full-time jobs within the armed forces in my constituency, with the latest losses due to air traffic control at Prestwick moving down to Swanwick. That means that there is not a single full-time job within our armed forces in my constituency, whereas before there were hundreds, yet there is still a recruitment centre. What chance is there of recruiting full-time members of the armed forces in my constituency when we have closed down the whole position as regards full-time jobs?
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but I am focusing my remarks on the reservists—that is what the Bill is about—rather than full-time regulars. I suggest that we could very easily reverse the cuts to the regulars because, as things stand, more people are willing to become regular soldiers than reservists.
My hon. Friend is of course right that anecdotally one can prove anything. Nevertheless, I will tell him a story from half an hour ago. The last reservist I dealt with before coming to the debate—he is one of the cleverest members of the TA and the kind of person who should be its future—has a brother trying to join the TA who, for 13 months, has had his paperwork lost in the hopeless regulars system. While the TA is trying to struggle with that, it is grossly unfair to tell it that we are putting all this on hold too.
I completely disagree; it is not grossly unfair at all. In fact, my hon. Friend highlights the fact that we have fundamental problems with the way the system works. If people are having to wait 13 months for computer systems to talk to each other, then that, if anything, reinforces the case that we should be saying, “Let us pause for a moment and properly scrutinise these plans.” That is all we are asking for.
I have acknowledged in this House recently and shall do so again later that we have challenges in the recruitment pipeline and problems with the IT systems. We cannot wait until next May to deal with them—we are dealing with them now on a daily, weekly basis. The senior management at the Department and the senior leadership of the Army are all over these problems; they cannot wait until next year for my hon. Friend’s pause.
My right hon. Friend is ascribing a victory to me before it has taken place. The bottom line is that the new clause, like the Bill, would not take effect until the Act receives Royal Assent in the spring of next year. If he is as confident as he says that this is all going to work out, then he has until the spring of next year, before the Bill becomes an Act, to work on these problems. So I do not buy that one either, I am afraid—it is a not a particularly strong card to play when the new clause, like the Bill, would not take effect until the Act receives Royal Assent.
My hon. Friend talks a great deal about pausing, scrutinising and thinking, but would it not be more accurate to say that he has already reached his conclusion and that he wishes to increase the size of the Regular Army? If so, will he confirm that and explain how he intends to pay for it?
I disagree with my hon. Friend. The intention behind the new clause is very straightforward; it does what it says on the can. These plans are not working and a series of things are going wrong, and it merely says, “Let’s pause for a moment to make sure that the plans stand up to scrutiny in terms of viability and cost-effectiveness so that rising costs do not lead to false economies and we are not opening up ever-widening capability gaps.” I am afraid that my hon. Friend is not quite fair in ascribing such a motive to me.
One of the first questions I would like the Secretary of State to answer is why the plan has changed. As we heard from the former Secretary of State in his own words—it came from his mouth, not mine—the original plan was that the regulars would be held at their current level until the reservists were able to take their place. That plan has changed. To return to a point that several Members have already made, by the end of last year a good number of the regulars had already gone—the final tranche may be next year; we are not sure—and by the end of next year most of the regular units and battalions will have been disbanded. Meanwhile, the reservists are not due to reach adequate strength to take their place until 2018, if present plans are met, but there is every indication that, because we are struggling, we will not even achieve that. That was not the original plan, as the former Secretary of State said. It would be good if, for once, we could get an adequate answer to this question, because we have asked it many times in this House and have not got one.
Let me talk about the recruitment problems. Last Thursday, figures confirmed yet again that TA numbers are in decline—not rising, but in decline. We also know that the Army Reserve recruitment targets are being badly missed, as confirmed in a spate of reports, some derived from leaked MOD documents. Figures due last Thursday regarding Army Reserve recruitment were not released in full. It is clear that the required recruits are not coming forward and that computer problems have added to the problems, as confirmed by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier). As everybody can imagine, there has been no shortage of texts and e-mails about this debate, and I have learned in such messages from the north-east that raw recruits to the Reserve have been told that it could take up to 15 months for them to get into uniform once they sign up. These are the sorts of delays we are talking about and which Parliament has every right properly to scrutinise. As even the Secretary of State may not be aware, the Army Reserve courses for January and February have had to be cancelled in their entirety because of lack of recruits. The fact that the Government are offering significant payments to businesses underlines the reluctance of many businesses, particularly smaller businesses, to let valued and key employees go on more frequent and extended deployments. All that is part of the cycle which in itself is adding to costs.
Our concerns are not just about reserve targets not being met; we also have deep-seated concerns about the resulting capability and manpower gaps, which are getting worse as we miss the reserve recruitment targets. Let us take as an example the mobilisation rate. At present, the MOD confirms that the TA mobilisation rate is 40%. In other words, for every 100 reservists there are on paper, the MOD deems that 40 are deployable. That can be to do with fitness, kit, sickness or all sorts of reasons. In order to make the Army Reserve plans work, the mobilisation rate has to double from 40% to 80%. I see nothing in the plans about how that massive increase in the mobilisation rate can be justified or whether it has been costed. It is a massive ask to go from 40% to 80% mobilisation. These questions need to be answered.
There are also concerns about the plan risking capability gaps. The nature of conflict is changing. Many countries that are not necessarily friendly to the west are increasing their military spending, and war is becoming more asymmetrical. Gone are the days of binary conflicts involving good guys versus bad guys—terrorism has ensured that things are much more complex nowadays—and we need professional, mobile, high-readiness, agile forces that are ready to respond to the threats that we face.
The encroachment of the Human Rights Act 1998 also puts pressure on the plans, because we will now have to ensure that the same standard of training and equipment is available to reservists on deployment as is available to regulars. It is not clear whether the extra cost of that has been accommodated, given recent developments—this is a relatively recent ruling. It is no wonder that ex-military chiefs are worried, with many suggesting that strategic thought has been abandoned. These are questions to which we need answers.
Our concern must also focus on the real possibility that rising costs and flawed assumptions could easily lead to false economies. I suggest that the Government have yet to produce a fully costed plan, and that is what lies at the heart of new clause 3. It is clear that costs are rising: the extra resources being poured into boosting Reservist recruitment are an example. In addition to that, and to the extra payments to small and medium-sized enterprises, other rising costs include the £5,000 bonus, the reservist award, pensions and mental health costs. To the best of my knowledge, none of this has been properly costed. The charity Combat Stress has said that reservists are twice as likely as regulars to suffer from some kind of mental disorder, but I am not sure that that kind of extra cost has been fully accounted for in the plans.
We should also question the underlying assumptions in the Army Reserve’s plans. I think the Secretary of State is willing to admit that it costs more to deploy reservists than to deploy regulars. I do not think that there is any disagreement on that. It is therefore crucial, in costing the plans, to identify the central case regarding projected usage rates. The lower the rates, the lower the cost will appear, because, as I have said, it costs more to deploy reservists than regulars.
Let us look at the figures in the impact assessment. The case for deploying reservists centres on the figure of 3,000 annual deployments. That sounds somewhat low, given that the original purpose of the plan was to replace 20,000 regulars with 30,000 reservists, and that we would be using those reservists more frequently. Here, however, we have a projected usage rate of 3,000 annual deployments. Of course it will bring the projected cost down if we artificially bring usage rates down.
My hon. Friend is making an interesting argument. At its core is whether those on the Front Bench made a promise to increase the size of the TA before the regulars were downsized. Did he ever hear the Secretary of State say that he would guarantee that that number of reservists would be recruited before the regulars were downsized by the proposed number?
I am pleased that my hon. Friend has asked that question. It completely misses the point, and illustrates the weakness of the Front-Bench position. I am not saying for one moment that the present Secretary of State has said anything other than what he has said. My point is that the plan under the previous Secretary of State was very different only two years ago. I do not want to labour this point, but we heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset no more than half an hour ago that the original plan was not to wind down the regulars until the reservists were able to take their place. We heard that from his own lips. I do not want to enter into a war of words between the present and former Secretary of State, but we know that the plan has changed over the past couple of years, and that is another reason for scrutinising it.
Going back to the cost of deploying reservists, the Government have said that they want to increase the percentage who are deployable at any given time from 40% to 80%. “Deployable” does not necessarily mean that they would be ready to be deployed in theatre, however. In many cases, it will mean that they are ready to begin training. I had five months of additional training before I was deployed in theatre. That kind of training involves additional costs, as does the reservist award, so this is not quite as clear-cut as the Secretary of State suggests.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. To double the mobilisation is a big enough challenge. The plan represents a fundamental change in another respect, which provides a further reason to scrutinise it in some detail. I am proud to have served alongside TA soldiers, but the bottom line is that they were in large part in-filling. We helped each other along.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I will not, if my hon. Friend does not mind; I am responding to another intervention.
Those TA soldiers were in-filling, but let us not forget that part of the present plan is to deploy reservists as units. That is very different from what has happened before; it represents yet another whole-scale change to the plan. It is therefore only right that we should scrutinise it in detail.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. I apologise for being late; I have been upstairs in the Northern Ireland Select Committee. What impact would my hon. Friend’s amendment have on the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines, both of which play a significant role in my constituency? They have already been the subject of significant cuts, and the Army appears to be being protected as a special case.
I have made it clear that I shall be taking no more interventions. I think that hon. Members would agree that I have been quite generous in that regard, and I shall now move on because I know that others want to speak. We also need to address another important group of amendments.
The Government’s Army Reserve plans raise many questions on recruitment problems, assumed mobilisation rates and rising costs which could lead to false economies, but one of my greatest concerns is the ever-widening capability gaps that could result from the proposals. If passed, new clause 3 would confirm that the time had come for Parliament properly to scrutinise the Government’s plans. There comes a stage in any struggling project when the evidence and common sense suggest, and perhaps demand, a rethink. We have reached that stage with these plans.
If the Government are confident about their plans—that is what Ministers claim, and I have no problem with that—they should not be afraid of the new clause. Let them present their plans to Parliament, and if their case is as strong as they think it is, Parliament will allow the plans to be passed and the reforms will carry on as intended. However, I urge all Members to support new clause 3 and consequential amendments 3 and 4. I shall seek to press new clause 3 to a vote.
I offer profound congratulations to the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier), not just for the concession he has achieved today but for the formidable way he has pursued this issue over the years. He harassed me when I was in office—I perhaps remember that with a fondness I never felt at the time—and has continued to harass his own Government and the defence establishment on the issue of the reserves and the role they can play in the country’s defence. No matter who wants to claim credit for some of the changes now being brought about, he can feel real satisfaction at something very few Back Benchers can say they have been able to do: profoundly to change a significant area of Government policy. He has most certainly done that through his work on the reserves over the years.
I totally support the hon. Gentleman’s new clause 1 and am enormously pleased that the Secretary of State has accepted it. I also support new clause 3, and I have to say that I believe the Secretary of State is being a little heavy-handed in suggesting that to support it is somehow to sabotage the direction of the Army or to play politics with the defence of the realm. I say that as a former Secretary of State who had to put up with allegations by the then loyal Opposition that I had deliberately delayed life-saving vehicles getting to our troops in Afghanistan. It is enormously important—particularly in the field of defence, where there is such a degree of cross-party support—that the Government’s own defence of their policies is somewhat measured, but I am not at all sure it has been in this regard. We can all read: we can see what new clause 3 says and does not say. As I say, my respect for the hon. Member for Canterbury is about as high as an Opposition Member’s can be for a Government Member, and I have not heard from him, or from anybody else here today, anything to suggest that the new clause does all the terrible things it is said to bring about.
New clause 3 calls for a report within a particular time frame after the Bill has been enacted, and a pause if Parliament does not accept it. It does no more than that. The hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) may have an agenda that is not mine—I do not know—because I support the general direction of policy in this area wholeheartedly. This development could bring about huge improvements in capability. I see nothing to justify the counter-argument that is being made.
I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his generous treatment of me, as leader of the all-party group for the reserve forces and cadets, which made the campaigning possible. The effect of this would be to send a message to those regular officers, many of them serving, who have rubbished this proposal for the past year and a half to the press off the record—they are a minority within the Regular Army but a significant one, some of whom the right hon. Gentleman will know—that if this can be kept down for just a little bit longer, they may get some regular manpower back instead.
The effect can and should be that this House is enormously interested in the development of the Reserves and wants to see their capability properly developed and scrutinised—and no more than that. That should be the message, and I do not think there is anybody in the House who is responsible for another message that I know of, other than the defence being offered by Government Front Benchers in the overreaction, as I see it, to new clause 3.
I am very grateful to the former Minister for giving way—[Hon. Members: “Secretary of State.”] Former Secretary of State; I beg the right hon. Gentleman’s pardon. He obviously has great knowledge of these issues, but on one he is quite wrong. He says that new clause 3 calls only for a report, but it does not. It is quite explicit: it calls for “Further implementation of the plans” to be “halted”. Why does the Labour party appear to be supporting the interruption of access to better pension provision and explicitly interrupting access to paid leave for training? Surely, that is not what he intends.
Let us be clear: we are not talking about any conflict or preference for reserves or regulars; we are talking about numbers, competency and capability for the defence of the realm. What we need to be assured of—but which this House, largely, is not confident we have—is that the Government’s plans will provide us with the necessary numbers, competency and capability. That is what the pause is about. It is not a throwing away of the plan: it is a pause.
The growth of the reserve element in all the services has huge potential benefits, such as a connection with the population at large that the small regular armed forces that we inevitably have today and will have tomorrow can never achieve on its own. Equally, as other Members have said, it brings skills into the armed forces that cannot be kept up to date within the regulars themselves. So there are those potential improvements.
Government Members have talked about a potential gap of three years, but it is not just a question of that: I am worried about the potential ongoing downgrading of capability if we do not get this right. In order to get into the reserves the calibre of people that will be absolutely necessary for the kind of operations we have unfortunately had to carry out in recent years, and will undoubtedly have to carry out in future, the skills required by every rank must not only remain at their current level, but must improve. That is for the obvious and simple reason, which everybody knows, that the huge reputational damage to such operations, to our armed forces and to our nation, of errors in such operations can be profound. We must therefore ensure, given the cuts that are inevitably taking place, that we maintain within the regulars the quality of not only the original recruits but of the training given to them, in order to lift capability. We are blessed with armed forces with a capability level that, in some ways, is higher than that in any other nation on earth, in my opinion, but it will need to be higher still.
I have a lot of respect for the right hon. Gentleman and the experience he gained as Secretary of State, but I genuinely worry that he is fighting the last war. The conduct of warfare has changed. I hope he would agree that we will not be doing “boots on the ground” in the manner in which we have done so badly in Afghanistan and Iraq. The size of armed forces concertinas—it has done so over the past 400 years. I hope he would agree that withdrawal from Afghanistan will have a huge impact on the size of the standing Army, both Regular and Territorial, and batting for the old numbers that we had five years ago is out of touch.
I totally accept that. I like to study history and I know that after conflicts, the services—generally the Army more than the other services, but those, too—have generally been decimated in times of peace, only to have to be regenerated in times of danger thereafter. So I am not trying to fight the last war. I am saying that as we struggle with these enormous economic challenges and the cuts that are almost inevitable, we have to do everything we can to maintain the quality of our personnel. That applies to the regular forces as it applies to the reserves. Even at a time of downsizing, we can surely do that—we have to try to do it because of the reputational damage that inevitably flows from our failure to do so. There is nothing “yesterday” or “last war” about that approach; this is about the kind of operations we could be involved in tomorrow, of whatever scale, and the need for quality personnel.
New clause 3 calls for a level of scrutiny that is wholly justified by the importance of the decisions, and the changes of direction and structure, that we are implementing and that the hon. Member for Canterbury has fought for so valiantly and successfully for so long. That is why I support it, even if he does not.
As I have said before, my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) has made some sensible points that need to be taken seriously. I recall my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) telling the House that the regulars would not be reduced until the reserves had been built up to take their place. He said:
“of course, the rate at which we are able to build up the reserves will determine the rate at which we are able to change the ratio with the regulars.”—[Official Report, 10 October 2011; Vol. 533, c. 9.]
That was a good thing for him to say.
From memory, I believe it came after that decision, but I cannot be certain. It was a good thing for the then Secretary of State to say. Quite apart from that, it is a good thing for Governments to keep their promises. However, I thought I should briefly tell the House why I shall be voting with the Government tonight. First, as my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier) said, although new clause 3 highlights the problem, it does not provide the answer. I think that what my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay really wants to achieve is not the halting of changes to the reserves, but the halting of changes to the regulars, which his proposal does not mention.
My proposal does not mention the regulars because the Bill is about the reservists. A couple of hon. Members have suggested motives for these proposals which I cannot agree with. The bottom line is that most of those regulars—this is my understanding and I am willing to stand corrected—have been disbanded in any case. Let me be clear about what my proposal says, because motives that I do not take kindly to are being attributed to it. The proposal is about saying that these plans are not working and we should take time, if only a brief amount of it, to scrutinise them properly to check for their viability and cost-effectiveness. That is the right thing to do—
As I am coming on to discuss the reserves and why I think they are so important, I should perhaps declare an interest, in that my daughter is a second lieutenant in the Territorial Army. I think it is essential that we should change the reserves, boosting them, their numbers, their training and the equipment available to them. As a Defence Minister in the previous Conservative Government, I thought that that Government went too far in reducing the reserves, and I think that the previous Labour Government made the situation worse. It is high time that we begin again to build up and properly resource the reserves. I wish to pay particular tribute to two people, the first of whom is my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames). When he was Minister of State for the Armed Forces, he valiantly championed the Territorials and found himself fighting rather a losing battle.
Even more, I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury, who, as a Back Bencher—the right hon. Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth) made the point—has achieved more in supporting and championing the reserves than I or my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex did, when we were Ministers. My hon. Friend’s contribution to the reserves debate deserves an immediate dukedom. [Interruption.] Yes, a dukedom.
The reserves bring incredible value to this country. They bring vital specialist skills which are made contemporary by their civilian lives and they bring those skills to a changing world where they are essential. Crucially, as my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury said, the reserves also tie the civilian world into the military world in a way that is becoming increasingly needed day by day. May I aim a shaft at my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State by saying that his clampdown on informal discussion between the military and politicians rather flies in the face of that need?
My second reason for supporting the Government is that wars are changing. We are increasingly less likely to see tank battles in Germany and increasingly more likely to be facing the emerging threats of cyber-attack, piracy and the covert destruction of our critical national infrastructure—the sort of things to which extra battalions of any particular regiment would not be the answer.
My right hon. Friend is making an important point about cyber-security capability. Is not one of the strong arguments for reserve forces that a lot of skills reside in the private sector, in things such as cyber-security and dealing with cyber-attack, which need to be brought into the armed forces? That is a strong argument for continuing to develop reserve forces.
My hon. Friend is right about that. The new cyber-command that has recently been brought on stream will achieve precisely what he describes. It will not be possible to achieve that expertise within a purely military environment; we have to rely on those who have civilian expertise, too. Because of all this, we will need new investment, in satellites and in software—in the sort of things that will not be visible to the man in the street—all at the same time as we are trying to sell to the public increased spending on defence. That will be difficult to achieve while we are reducing in Afghanistan.
Does my right hon. Friend also agree that reservists who come from a commercial background will bring different working practices. That will be incredibly important as we begin to get ourselves ready for this expansion.
Indeed. My hon. Friend’s constituency experience is very important in this.
The money for the investment to deal with emerging threats and emerging skills has to come from somewhere. I make no secret of the fact that I would like to see increased spending on defence. However, it is wholly unrealistic to expect that when every extra pound going on defence has to be added to an already increasing national debt. The Government are bringing down not the national debt but the rate at which it is going up. We cannot expect to have increased spending on defence, so money has to come from within the defence budget. That means reducing both waste and people. I hate saying that, but it is real life. I do not want any pause in the boosting of reserves. I want the building up of both them and their proper resources.
My right hon. Friend is very kind. I have heard a lot about the Army and reservists, but little about small and medium-sized enterprises. We need to look at that particular aspect. I know little about defence, but a lot about SMEs, and I know about the damage that can be caused if we take one man out of a five-man team in an SME. I do not believe that the Minister has thought enough about that particular impact. One reason for a pause is so that the Secretary of State, through you, Madam Speaker, can relook at his whole connection with small and medium-sized businesses. He should look at the incentives that are given, because they are simply nowhere near enough.
I must apologise to my hon. Friend for having entirely failed to cover in my few remarks about why I am supporting the Government the issue of SMEs, which are of less relevance to this reservist issue than larger companies. None the less, my hon. Friend makes a perfectly sensible point, and I hope that he will be able to make it again later during the course of the debate.
I hesitate to follow the peroration of the right hon. Gentleman, the Chair of the Defence Committee, but as always, we were informed by his remarks. I know that whatever his view on the amendments before us, his suggestion of a national debate and conversation about how to change the culture with respect to the reserves and to drive it forward in a national effort is one well made, and I think the whole House agrees with him.
I also thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth), the former Secretary of State for Defence, for his contribution. He had all of us listening. Bringing his knowledge to the debate was worth while. He managed to lay to rest some of the Aunt Sallies that are being held up with respect to new clause 3.
I have heard people talk about the involvement of the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier) with the reserves. He has achieved something that very few of us have managed to do, even with our own Governments—he has brought forward and had accepted an amendment to a Government Bill, and I congratulate him on that. He will disagree with my remarks on new clause 3, but we all recognise that new clause 1 will be an improvement. [Interruption.] He has heard what my hon. Friends on the Front Bench have said about his previous voting record, but his conversion on this matter is welcome. The fact that the Government have accepted his new clause is a good thing and will improve the Bill.
Let me explain to the House why we will support new clause 3 and the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron), why we have tabled some similar amendments, such as new clause 4, and why we have supported similar motions before. As the Secretary of State will realise from the tone of the debate, this House, including Her Majesty’s Opposition, will always put Britain’s security and national interest first. One of the first things I said when I was appointed shadow Defence Secretary was that when I thought the Government were doing the right thing on defence, I would work with them in a constructive and reasonable manner, and that is what the shadow Front-Bench team and I have done throughout the passage of this Bill. To be fair, the tone of the debate, notwithstanding the disagreements that exist between Members on both sides of the House, is one of reasonableness and constructiveness. We have been debating the best way forward with respect to these reforms and the proper defence of our country.
I am sorry to have to say to the Secretary of State that he should not try to turn the debate into a party political row. It is disappointing and unnecessary. Contrary to what he said, we have raised this issue in parliamentary questions, in Committee and, as recently as last month, on the Floor of the House, when we passed a vote to approve a motion almost identical to the new clause. Importantly, the Secretary of State knows that we are not calling for the reforms to be reversed. He knows that we are not saying the reforms should be shelved. Like Members on both sides of the House, we want to see an enlarged reserve force with an enhanced and more heavily integrated role alongside regular forces.
Let me once again praise and pledge my support, and that of the House, for our armed forces and the work they do. What we need is evidence that the reforms are progressing as planned and promised, and we are trying to get the Defence Secretary to take more responsibility for that. There is clearly an issue about viability. All signs coming from the MOD suggest that the plan has, to some extent, fallen off course. Members of the armed forces and of this House have justifiably and sincerely held concerns, and the Secretary of State has exacerbated those by his response to some of the concerns.
I recognise some of the hon. Gentleman’s concerns, but does he not see that this is a long-term project? By accepting the substance of new clause 1, what we have put in place is a mechanism by which an annual independent report will be laid before Parliament and, we fully expect, give rise to a debate. That will allow the progress of this programme to be tracked over many years. New clause 3 would create a one-off hurdle, that sends a negative signal now. That is not an equivalent provision.
I do not accept that. New clause 3, which the right hon. Gentleman will have read, seeks to examine the viability and cost-effectiveness of the reforms that are being put before of the House. We want the House then to assess them. He should have a bit of confidence in them, because if they are working, Parliament will be keen to accept them.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new role, as this is the first opportunity I have had to do so. May I reinforce the point that he has just made? Surely if the Secretary of State were confident that his plans were on track and that they were going to work in the time scale he has proposed, he should have accepted not only new clause 1—and it is a good thing that he has—but new clause 3 too. Everybody on both sides of the House would then be in total agreement.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The Secretary of State should have the confidence to put his reforms before Parliament. Is it not reasonable, when the Secretary of State and the Minister say at the Dispatch Box that they will publish recruitment figures for the reserves, that they should do so?
On 16 July, the Secretary of State told the House:
“I will be transparent about recruitment and trained-strength targets.”—[Official Report, 16 July 2013; Vol. 566, c. 958.]
Last month, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne), told the Committee:
“We intend to publish the figure for the quarter to 1 October next month.”––[Official Report, Defence Reform Public Bill Committee, 22 October 2013; c. 434.]
That was due last week. As we have since found out, that has not happened and will not happen until next year. Why? The UK Statistics Authority states that the Government’s figures are not robust enough so there must be some delay in their production.
We do know that the overall trained strength of the armed forces reserve has fallen by 160 since last year and that time is slipping away, with the Secretary of State’s own 2018 target less than five years away. The last figures that were published showed that the Government were failing even to reach a quarter of the number of reservists they said they needed to recruit to meet their own targets.
Let me clarify. The statistics that were published last week were on trained strength and on recruitment into the reserves. Those are the statistics for which the national statistician is responsible. She has indicated on her website that she intends to publish further data series once she is confident of their robustness. Separately, I have undertaken to publish for the House the targets to which we are working and I will do so before the end of the year.
The whole House will be pleased to hear what the Defence Secretary has said. He said in his answer—I think I am quoting him, and Hansard will show whether I am correct or not—that the Statistics Authority had some doubt about the robustness of the Ministry of Defence’s figures and that once that robustness is sorted out, those figures will be published. That is my point.
It all needs clarification, which is my point. It is interesting that when we have a debate such as this, when the Secretary of State is feeling under pressure, we see amendments being accepted and more information being brought before the House. It is good that he is saying how he will publish this and how he will respond to that, but we now know that some robustness is lacking from the Government’s figures. That situation will no doubt be corrected much more quickly than it would have been before.
I thank the shadow Secretary of State for his generous words earlier, but I must pick him up on that last point. The new clause I have drafted is based on what the Government have already announced. It seeks to make that permanent and put it on the statute book, but it is working with the grain of what the Government are already doing.
We think that the hon. Gentleman’s amendment, although it is welcome, does not go far enough. That is why we support new clause 3.
When the Defence Secretary responds to the debate, I think the House would like to know a little more about what negotiations are going on with Capita, which is running the recruitment programme for the Defence Secretary. What are the problems? Will the IT issues be resolved soon? Are there any other issues? He will know that various rumours are circulating about the problems with regard to Capita and I think it would help the whole House to know where we are with those negotiations, what the Secretary of State intends to do about them and whether there are any penalty clauses for Capita should it continue not to perform as the Secretary of State and the House would expect.
New clause 3 does not call for a reversal of the cuts to the regular forces, despite some of the accusations from those on the Government Front Bench. We support it precisely because we want the Government to prove that their plans are both cost-effective and viable. For that reason, we deem it reasonable that both Houses of Parliament should scrutinise and approve a report that assesses the viability and cost-effectiveness of the reforms.
It used to be the policy of this Government that regular forces would only be reduced contingent on the required increase in reserve recruitment—
The right hon. Gentleman is flying another kite. I am not making that commitment at all. We support the thrust of the reforms to the Regular Army and the uplift in reserves, but new clause 3 seeks to obtain a proper understanding of whether the reform is working, whether it is saving money, whether it is offering value for money and what is happening with the recruitment targets. We need much more clarity and openness about all those things. The Defence Secretary can say that these are spending pledges or things we do not know. He can attack the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay for not properly understanding the reform. However, he needs to address what is being said rather than what he thinks we are saying, and that is the whole point.
We talk about allowing adequate uplift in the reserves to meet the shortfall, and we heard from the right hon. Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox). He remarked only last month:
“When I was secretary of state, I said we would only decrease the numbers of regulars when we had guarantees that we would be able to get the numbers—training and equipping up of the reserves—to match.”
Members of the armed forces and of this House deserve to know from the Defence Secretary when that policy changed and why.
We support new clause 3 because we want the Defence Secretary to take more responsibility for these reforms. We consider it better to pause until the MOD has managed to get recruitment back on track as a plan accepted by Parliament than to be forced to ditch the entire reform a few years down the line when it is clear that it is not working. A pause before progressing the reforms would give him time to fix the problems, to provide us with the figures, to prove his plan is cost-effective and to show that he can meet the time frame he has set.
I, too, welcome the hon. Gentleman to his position. Will he place on the record his thoughts on the fact that our commitments in Camp Bastion and in Afghanistan are to be downsized, with 9,000 troops coming home? In that situation, would a Labour Government keep the armed forces, particularly the Army, at the same size, bearing in mind that downsize, or return it—[Hon. Members: “This is about reservists.”] I am asking about regulars for the moment. Would he retain the regular forces at their current levels bearing in mind that we are reducing a major commitment in Afghanistan in the middle of next year?
As I have said on numerous occasions in this debate, in other debates and in the media, and as my right hon. and hon. Friends have said, we support the thrust of the reforms. We know about the withdrawal from Germany and that the Army will end operations in Afghanistan in 2014, but that does not alter the fact that we must understand that the downsizing of the Army and the Government’s stated policy mean that as the regular numbers downsize and reduce an uplift in reserve numbers should go alongside that. The central thrust of the whole debate is that we do not have confidence that the uplift in reserves will be sufficient to conform to the policy on the reduction in the number of regular forces. That is the central point.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way; he is generous. He talks about this uplift replacing the duties on the regular forces. That is why I posed my question. I am asking him what the commitments will be. What does he see as the commitments that will keep reservists busy, in the sense that our overall commitments have been reduced?
I have given the hon. Gentleman the answer to his question, which he asked again. If he does not like or accept the answer, that is fine, but I will not keep repeating it. He was the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the previous Secretary of State for Defence when he made the commitment about uplift and about the relevant number of reserves having to be reached before the number of regulars was reduced. I wonder what comment he made to the then Secretary of State about that at the time.
I think the hon. Gentleman is trying to make quite a conciliatory speech. I have put my name to new clause 3. Does he believe that it would provide a focus and an impetus for ensuring that the measures are put in place more quickly, rather than slowly, and that it does not jeopardise the direction of travel that I think that we are all trying to agree on?
I thank the hon. Lady for her valuable and important point. The hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay made the point that new clause 3 is not about trying to wreck the reforms, although that is one of the things that has been said about it. It is not about trying to stop the reform; it is about asking whether it is sensible for the House to demand of the Defence Secretary, “Are these reforms working? Are they delivering what they are supposed to deliver?” When the Defence Secretary comes forward again with viable plans, is it not the purpose and responsibility of this House to judge whether those plans are accurate and make sense?
Does my hon. Friend agree that the central question under discussion is about what the military call integration, not only of reserves and regulars, but of contractors, people outside in society, and the businesses that are prepared to participate? We have a new commitment to an annual report, but that report would be 15 months from now. All that we are saying is: let us have that annual report debate now, in advance of things being done badly, so that we do those things well.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way; he is being very generous in accepting so many interventions. This House, quite properly, has had many occasions on which to scrutinise these proposals, and will have many more. I have joined in debates, and have raised issues about what I feel is a mistake for the Territorial Army centre in Truro, and the Government are acting on those concerns. Is it not better that they carry on speedily resolving the issues than that they put a halt to sorting out the problems and cause further delay?
I am sure the hon. Lady represents her constituency really well. She says that she has raised particular issues regarding the TA centre there, and she has worked hard to represent those to the Defence team in the Government, but this is about the strategic reshaping of our whole armed forces, and it is a reform that we need to scrutinise. We need to understand whether it is working. It is incumbent on the Defence Secretary to have a review and to bring the results before us, and there is a need for a pause. It is up to the House to agree on whether the Defence Secretary has got it right.
If we do not get this right now, we are taking risks with our country’s defence and security, and that is not an option for Britain or our armed forces. I know that we all want to support the Government in getting this right; I, too, want to give the Defence Secretary the opportunity to get it right. That is why my right hon. and hon. Friends and I will support new clause 3— it is in the best interests of our armed forces, and in the national interest.
I agree with everybody who has said that reservists have performed a singularly valuable task in recent operations—about 25,000 have been deployed—whether by augmenting existing units or by contributing specialist skills that would not have been available to the regular armed forces. I remember very well visiting Basra with the Select Committee on Defence just a couple of months after the war ended, and finding that the entire Iraqi economy was being put right by an Army officer who, in civilian life, was a banker. He was responsible for putting Iraq’s finances in order. Clearly, he had more success than the previous Prime Minister had in this country.
That brings me to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot), the Chairman of the Select Committee, about the budget deficit. It is important that we all understand why we are here today and why we are debating these matters. We would not be here if Labour had not left this country with a catastrophic budget deficit of £156 billion. That is why we had to make tough decisions—
I remind the hon. Gentleman that when he was in the shadow defence team in opposition, he was calling for a larger Army and a larger Navy. Did not the present Prime Minister and his team, when in opposition, agree with all our spending commitments, including those on defence, right up to 2008?
The hon. Gentleman had better wait to hear what I have to say. What I am about to say now is what I said when I was a Minister in the Ministry of Defence, which I would say more privately than I have been saying more recently. It is important that people recognise that in the Ministry of Defence we were faced, like every other Department bar those whose budgets were ring-fenced, with a requirement to produce savings immediately, because unless the Chancellor of the Exchequer was able to deliver a comprehensive spending review that reassured the capital markets that Britain was intent upon putting its public finances back in order, we would have been in an even worse position than we inherited in May 2010.
I have much sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) and I can see where he is coming from: he wants a larger standing Army, and so do I. I am a Conservative. I believe that defence of the realm is the first duty of Government. I found it deeply distressing to be a Minister in a Ministry of Defence that was having to cut its budget, but we were in coalition. I see my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Sir Nick Harvey), who was an extremely collegiate colleague in the Ministry of Defence. I make no criticism of him; my criticism is of his leader. We had to make some pretty tough decisions, and ultimately it was not we in the Ministry of Defence who decided what our budget was. That was decided at No. 10 and in the National Security Council. That is what happened.
We are here today because we had to make some tough decisions. In other circumstances we would not have wished to have a standing Army reduced by 20,000 and a requirement to supplement it with another 30,000 reservists. The White Paper which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State produced earlier this year is littered with remarks about the financial constraints in which we have to operate, so it seems to me that we are making the best of a difficult situation. I hope, though, that the strategic defence review of 2015 will give us, particularly in the Conservative party, an opportunity to tell the nation that we intend to reorder the public spending priorities of the next Conservative Government.
I believe that in this uncertain and volatile world an increase in defence expenditure is a must. We are not there yet, and I hope to make the case over the next couple of years that that is what we have to do. We must restore some of the capability gaps from which we are suffering, and we must seek to repair some of the damage that has inevitably been done by the cuts that my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) had to make. He and my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for Defence should be hugely congratulated on having sorted out the Ministry of Defence’s appalling finances, which they inherited from the previous Administration.
The budget of the Ministry of Defence is now back on track, which is good news, but the strategic defence and security review of 2015 must give us an opportunity to enhance our niche capabilities, such as cyber, where my right hon. Friend has done an excellent job. I hope we can increase our investment in defence diplomacy.
I also believe that we need a larger standing Army. I must say to my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) that I am not sure that he can predict what kind of world we will find ourselves in when we draw down from Afghanistan. The past four years have taught me that predicting the future is pretty difficult. None of us could have foreseen the Arab spring, the conflict in Syria or what is going on in the South China sea as we speak. This is an unstable world. Ultimately, the niche capabilities are important, but being able to take and hold territory requires having boots on the ground.
In support of what my hon. Friend has just said, which is the single most important observation anyone can ever make about defence planning, namely the unpredictability of future crises, may I remind him—that is not to say that he needs reminding—that only a few years ago the constant predictions were that it would be all about boots on the ground for the next 30 or 40 years? Let us therefore not make the mistake of doing something too rigid when we need maximum flexibility.
My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) has just made almost exactly the same point I was going to make. If we can keep a broader spectrum and a larger total mass, some of it at lower cost, by keeping reserve forces going, which brings in a wider range of skills and enables a multiplier effect, surely that is a better buttress against the unexpected.
My hon. Friend was absolutely right to mention my concern. I think that we have similar views on the desirable size of the armed forces, but I remind him that we had a vote on military intervention in Syria not long ago and this House decided fundamentally not to participate in that. I wonder how the House would vote on all the scenarios my hon. Friends have just mentioned. That will have a huge impact, and I worry about how this House is involved in that, but that is a concern on the size of the armed forces that we actually need.
If my hon. Friend thinks that Syria is a reliable or predictable template for the future, I urge him to be very cautious indeed, because it has special circumstances. I see no resiling by the Conservative part of this Administration from the Foreign Secretary’s statement to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in 2009 that a Conservative Government would seek to help shape the world in which we found ourselves and not simply to be shaped by it, and I entirely support that. I think that we need to have the means to back it up.
I will conclude by making this point: we are where we are. I have sought to set out why I believe we are where we are and what I believe we need to do for the future. I must say to my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay that the Chair of the Defence Committee, our right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire, made a good point when he observed that the new clause would require the Government to put on hold the process of enacting the provisions for enhancing the reserves, and I know that he feels strongly about maintaining the number of regulars. The numbers of regulars are reducing, in accordance with the timetable set out two or three years ago. Therefore, the imperative is not to put the reserve generation on hold, but to ramp it up as fast as we can.
On the basis of “we are where we are”, did my hon. Friend hear the head of the Army, General Sir Peter Wall, say:
“We are well on our way to implementing this plan. To reverse course at this stage would be destabilising and damaging.”
Is not it the case that we have to do what we have to do, so let us get on with it?
I think that General Sir Peter Wall is right. I thought that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, when interviewed this morning on the “Today” programme, put the case eloquently. I do not dispute the fundamental position of my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay, but I think that to put the reserve generation on hold would present a serious risk to the whole process and the destabilisation that my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier) mentioned.
I do not think it is for me to say that. I am not advocating a pause. It is my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay who is doing so and he has told us that he thinks it all could be done in a matter of months. We have to understand what the Chief of the General Staff has said. There is a process under way.
I have talked to my commanders in Aldershot, about whom I am very proprietorial: the Secretary of State may think they are his commanders, but actually they are mine. The Army has taken this on the chin and said, “Right, this is the political remit we’ve been given. We salute, turn right, march off and do the bidding of the politicians.” Whether they think it is right or not, they do it and they are doing it now. Putting this spanner in the works will not hold back the run-down of the regular Army; it will create a run-down in the whole Army structure. As everyone knows, I am a light blue, but we are talking essentially about the Army.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. Those who say that we are trying to reverse the Army Reserve plans are completely wide of the mark. I recommend that one or two Members actually look at the wording of the new clause. It is very simple. It basically proposes a pause while we examine whether rising costs will lead to false economies and whether we are opening up unacceptable capability gaps. The pause could be very short if the Government allow prompt scrutiny of the report. It need only take a few weeks: the report could be produced immediately after the Bill gains Royal Assent and we could have a debate and vote in this House within weeks.
I appreciate my hon. Friend’s position, but I am afraid to say that we will just have to disagree. I think it would have a destabilising, adverse effect. My hon. Friend has not made the situation clear. What would happen if we initiated his proposed process, scrutinised the plan and the House then rejected it? Where would we be then? Would the House go back to square one and trade alternative views—perhaps even within our own parties—while in the meantime the whole thing implodes and melts down?
In direct answer to that question, if the plans do not bear scrutiny in this place, that tells us that we should not be doing it in the first place and suggests a much bigger story that the plans are not working. The argument that this place cannot scrutinise something because we are afraid it will not pass the test of scrutiny is a particularly weak one, and I would suggest that we do not promote it for those who genuinely want to defeat the new clause.
My hon. Friend is a gallant and, indeed, very honourable friend, but party politics do come into this from time to time. I cast no aspersions on the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), but it is a fact that, sometimes, if the Opposition see an opportunity to defeat the Government, they will use it. That is the way in which our system works, notwithstanding what the shadow Secretary of State has said about the general cross-party agreement on defence. Such agreement never existed when I first came to the House in 1983, so it is refreshing to debate matters in a much more intelligent way than in the mid-1980s.
I will conclude, because others wish to speak. We are not where I particularly would like to be, but the Army is to be commended for its professional approach. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury is also to be commended for the lead he has given. Our duty now is to crack on and make this work and, in the meantime, to address some of the longer-term structural issues as we approach the 2015 strategic defence review. I put my right hon. Friends on notice that I want the Conservative party to commit to giving more money to defence and it has to come out of the aid budget or any other budget—frankly, I do not care which. I think that the world is a dangerous place and we need our armed forces. The world has seen how professional they are. They are the finest armed forces in the world and they really can deliver what the Prime Minister wants, which is for this country to help shape the world in which we find ourselves.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth), even if I do not agree with everything he says. I wish to speak in favour of new clause 6—in my name and those of the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), and others—and about our broader debate this afternoon.
It is worth reminding the Secretary of State and other right hon. and hon. Members that the British Army is of course Parliament’s Army; it is not the Crown’s Army. That dates back to the so-called Glorious Revolution, which is why we have to have an Armed Forces Act in every Parliament.
I am sorry to be a little outraged, but surely the hon. Gentleman would be the first to admit that it is not Parliament’s Army, but Her Majesty’s forces. It has nothing whatever to do with Parliament, although Parliament may deploy the forces on behalf of Her Majesty.
No, I will not. We hear quite enough from the hon. Gentleman at other times.
It is not the Royal Army: we have a Royal Navy and a Royal Air Force, but a British Army. I make that point not to take up valuable time, but because the Secretary of State seems to think that it is the job of Ministers of the Crown, not of Parliament, to make decisions about the Army.
In an earlier exchange about the Back-Bench debate, the Secretary of State said from a sedentary position that it was a Back-Bench vote. The problem with his approach, and the one advocated by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier), is that if there is an annual report that Members of Parliament want not only to debate but to vote on, it is clear that the Secretary of State’s intention would be to ignore any such decision.
This is our last chance to tell the Government that although the House supports the broad thrust of the Army reforms, they are clearly not going according to plan. The Secretary of State has already demonstrated that he has the courage to change tack, as he did on the aircraft carriers, when something is clearly going wrong. I am genuinely surprised that he is not prepared to say, “This is not going as well as we want. We need to slow the rate of progress, so that we do not end up in a disastrous position.”
For a moment, I thought that the hon. Gentleman was suggesting that we ought to slow the rate of progress on the reserves agenda, but if anything we need to speed it up. I would just tell the hon. Gentleman—seeing the Chairman of the Defence Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot) in his place—that if he believes Ministers will not be regularly scrutinised from morning till night by the Select Committee and at Defence questions in this House throughout the implementation of the programme, I do not know what planet he is living on. Of course we expect to be scrutinised.
If the Secretary of State had been paying a bit more attention, he would have heard me say that it is quite clear that he does not intend to respect any such vote in Parliament. I am sorry, but this Parliament, not Ministers of the Crown, should be sovereign. If he is not confident of carrying his plans for the Army in Parliament, something is fundamentally wrong.
In the time that it will take the Bill to travel through the other place, could we have a report similar to the annual report, so that when the Bill comes back to this House for final approval we would have an idea of the real situation? We could thereby avoid this problem completely and, frankly, it might get the approval of my good friend the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron).
I am grateful for that intervention. I hope that it would not be a career-damaging move if I called the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) my hon. Friend, because I have had the pleasure of serving with him on the Defence Committee for the past three years. That is a perfectly reasonable suggestion and I am sorry that the Secretary of State has not offered that option.
There is genuine good will on both sides of the House. The armed forces and the defence of the realm are not issues that should be party political. This has been a good debate so far because we have managed, on the whole, to keep party politics out of it.
I agree with the Chairman of the Defence Committee about the growing value of cyber-warfare. When the Defence Committee visited the United States earlier this year, we went to cyber command and saw at first hand the key role that is being played by reservists. I think that Members on both sides of the House would agree that we need more such reservists coming through.
The problem is that the bald facts show that we are not recruiting sufficient reservists. When the generals appeared before the Defence Committee earlier this year, they said that we needed to recruit 6,000 reservists annually. I am sure that the Secretary of State has the most up-to-date figures, but I doubt whether a huge number of reservists have been recruited in the past few days. We are clearly falling short and we have been falling short for years. This is not just a teething problem; it is an ongoing problem.
As the Chief of the General Staff has said, there is no plan B on this project. It is therefore crucial that we get it right. At the moment—I say this in a genuinely bipartisan manner—the Government are not on track to meet these important targets. It is entirely sensible for the House to ask for a pause so that the Government can get back on track. The excellent observation was made earlier that that would help to focus minds. Having robust targets and the threat of a pause hanging over the Ministry of Defence might get it to pull the finger out.
The point on which I disagree gently with the hon. Member for Canterbury is that the problem until now has been that the regular generals have been siphoning off the money. They have not made enough progress.
The Secretary of State shakes his head, but the £180 million that was allocated to the reserves in the first year was spent on upgrading the regulars. The generals told the Defence Committee that that was what they did. The threat of a pause if they do not get things sorted might compel the generals to make greater progress.
Does my hon. Friend agree that a pause, rather than creating confusion or demoralising reservists, businesses and others, might have the opposite effect of showing people that there is a proper re-examination of a plan that they do not yet have the confidence fully to join? It might give them that confidence, rather than destroy it.
The hon. Members for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty) and for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr Havard) are both good friends and colleagues on the Defence Committee. However, may I suggest to the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife that what he is saying just is not right? What the reserves want is a strong voice of their own in a regular-dominated process. That is exactly what new clause 1 would give them and the Government have agreed to that. What they do not want is what is in new clause 3. Proposed subsection (2) states:
“Further implementation of the plans shall be halted 40 days after the laying of the report”
unless there is a resolution of both Houses. That would put yet another level of uncertainty into their thinking.
I have huge respect for the hon. Gentleman, but I gently disagree with him. The reserves already have many strong voices in the British Army. He would agree that Major-General Munro is one of those strong voices. I think that the hon. Gentleman means that the reserves need stronger voices in the British Army.
I am sorry to disagree with the hon. Gentleman but, like many colleagues on both sides of the House, I think it is clear from present morale—I am not sure how it could be much lower—that our reserves are not being given adequate support. New clause 3, which is supported by respected figures on both sides of the House, would send a clear signal that we will not simply go along with the plans, come hell or high water, but that we want to see genuine progress.
We talk as if the members of our armed forces are delicate little flowers, whose sensitivities are such that debates in this House have them crying into their cocoa at bedtime. The reserves and the regulars, for whom we all have huge respect, want to ensure that the service in which they proudly serve is organised and run efficiently and effectively. They, and this House, do not have that trust at the moment, and that is what we are looking for.
On new clause 6, we have all heard, in the Defence Committee and elsewhere, that the biggest disincentive to joining the reserves, of whichever service, is getting time off work. These are the words of the Secretary of State’s Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt):
“a lot of reservists find it difficult to get time off for deployment or training courses”.—[Official Report, 23 April 2013; Vol. 561, c. 273WH.]
I am sorry that she is not in her place today. Perhaps she is training. [Interruption.] She is away on a course and we wish her all the best. Even the Secretary of State’s PPS has acknowledged that this is a huge challenge.
The White Paper sets out an ambitious goal of increasing the annual training requirement to 40 days, and I think Members on all sides of the House recognise the importance of that. I hope the Secretary of State will support new clause 6—his Liberal Democrat colleagues will, for reasons I will explain in a moment—because it seeks to provide a simple way to address that goal: reservists would receive an additional two weeks unpaid leave from their employer, provided that their firms had more than 50 employees. The hon. Member for Northampton South (Mr Binley) made the point that we have to careful about the impact on small and medium-sized enterprises, and it is right that we provide protection to smaller companies. The proposal is sensible and measured, because reservists will receive their military pay at no cost to their employer. In the rare cases of resistance from an employer, we propose that complaints are referred to an employment tribunal for arbitration.
I must confess that I am confident that the Liberal Democrats will vote for new clause 6 because the idea was originally developed by them and was passed at their party conference only seven weeks ago. I suspect that the former Minister for the Armed Forces, the hon. Member for North Devon (Sir Nick Harvey), has had a large hand in writing their defence policy, and that, in the regrettable and unforeseen event of there being a Division, he will vote for the new clause.
I admire the hon. Gentleman’s enthusiasm for the proceedings of the Liberal Democrat conference—I only wish I shared it. I confirm my party’s support for the idea of two weeks’ military training and, although I do not purport to speak for them, I am sure many Conservative Members take the same view. The difficulty with legislating for that now in the manner the hon. Gentleman is suggesting is that there is a serious cost implication: he is proposing that military pay will be provided for that period of time. I dearly hope that this Government or a future Government will at some point be able to find the resources, but a gargantuan effort has been made to balance the Ministry of Defence’s books and the resources are not there. I know the Labour party has a bit of form on making unfunded commitments, but it would be irresponsible to legislate on this when we do not have the funds to pay for it.
I am genuinely baffled. I do not know where the hon. Gentleman was before he came into the Chamber, but reservists already receive pay when they are on training. This proposal is not about additional training time; it is about meeting requirements for the training they have to undertake. If his only concern is about the funding element, I can reassure him that there is no additional spending cost. It actually—[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman stops chuntering for one second, I will finish. There will be no cost to the business and no additional cost to the Ministry of Defence, because it is already providing pay for that training period. Having given him that reassurance, I look forward to his confirming that Liberal Democrats will support us in the Lobby, in the unfortunate event that we cannot just adopt the proposal as a whole and someone calls a vote.
I am conscious that many others wish to speak; I will therefore finish with this thought. This Parliament is sovereign. It is up to us to send a clear signal that we want to support our armed forces, whether they be regular or reserves, on land, on sea or in the air. It is crucial that we provide a robust target for the MOD to do what it should be doing and ensuring that we have an adequate number of regulars and reserves to meet the aspirations that we all have for them.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty). Many of his remarks I agree with; some I disagree with. However, I particularly admire my close and hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier)—who sadly has gone for a cup of tea—and my other close and hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron). They have opposing views, but they both have the good of the nation and the armed forces at their heart. I have no doubt about that.
I think I am right in saying that of all the ex-regulars and ex-Territorials in the House, I am the only one who has been a professional recruiter. My last job in the Army was as a colonel in the Army training and recruiting agency. I use the word “agency” with a curl of the lip: it was not a command or a military formation of any sort, which was one of the reasons I resigned from the Army—because of its disgraceful conduct, particularly over recruiting. I will return to that in a moment. I also had the privilege to belong to and to command a battalion that, at the height of the Territorial Army, had to find permanent staff instructors, adjutants and the like for up to four Territorial battalions—our third and fourth battalions, and what were then called the 1st and 2nd Battalions the Mercian Regiment.
That is where I first heard about STABs, which stands for stupid TA—and then a word that means “illegitimate people”—and about arrogant Regular Army “illegitimate people”. That is an example of the desperate confusion and rivalry between regulars and Territorials, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury made such clear reference, from the first and second world wars, and so on. I am a little out of date now, but in my experience that was a deeply divisive and extremely unhelpful view. In the Regular Army, we had to provide a lot of those individuals, which absolutely was a nuisance. None the less, anybody who looked at the colours of my regiment—or, indeed, of the fusiliers or any of the infantry or cavalry regiments in the British Army—would have seen that the majority of the battle honours on those colours were won by battalions and regiments from the Territorial Force or the Territorial Army. It is a fact; we cannot get away from it. Any Regular Army individual who ignores the importance, the potential or the sheer enthusiasm of the reserves—the TF, the TA or whatever we want to call them—is simply daft.
However, there are reservations I would like to express about the future of warfare and the type of forces we need to fight those wars. Turning to new clause 1, my experience as a commanding officer is that I was told in the late ’90s that my battalion was about 40 men under strength and that we could not recruit more than that, which, in a recruiting famine, would be quite impossible. I talked closely to what was then called the recruiting group of the Army training and recruiting agency, listened to its advice and did precisely the opposite.
I was deeply offended by that remark. If I may, I would gently suggest that it sounds like a comment from someone who left the Army as a junior officer, without having to provide the sort of individuals that we provided for our recruiting offices, who were the very finest, Brecon-trained senior and junior non-commissioned officers inside the battalion.
I entirely agree, in which case, in my 25-year experience, that is completely wrong.
Moving swiftly on. The Army and training recruiting agency, as it was at the time, could not and would not recruit. We were 40 men under strength when I took command; inside a year, we were 120 men over strength—in a recruiting famine when the economy was apparently buoyant and there were difficulties in finding manpower. What was going wrong with recruiting in the late ’90s is going wrong with recruiting today. I dread to hear people talking about recruiting offices not being open at the weekends; I dread to hear that people are not being recruited especially for the Territorial and the Reserve forces.
In my experience the only way to produce a battalion with an extra company was by fully understanding where to recruit and how to recruit, and by using our own resources. When we realised that recruitment was not particularly for the TA, we took TA recruiters with us, ensured that the particular conditions of the Reserve forces and the Territorial Army were understood and sent those recruits straight to the TA rather than try to confuse them with the Regular Army. I make no pretence of fully understanding the impact of social media, on which Capita and other firms base the core of their recruiting effort—that was different in my day—but I do know that unless we get out with capable and experienced people, seek recruits in the places where they are most plentiful, and physically present the Army, the Navy, the Air Force and the reserve forces, we will not recruit people. We simply will not, and I would be happy to debate that with anyone who thinks it is incorrect.
My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay tells me that TA numbers are falling, while the Secretary of State for Defence seems to disagree. I am not quite sure, but there seems to be a serious divergence between the two. I would respectfully say that the Secretary of State has mentioned in the past that applications for the reserve forces were going up. On the basis of my experience, however, I would say that applications are very different from enlistments and that the problem is even worse in the reserve forces than it is inside the Regular Army.
I would like to put it on the record in Hansard that recruitment to the TA in Northern Ireland is at a high level, and it has been so over a number of years. From his experience, the hon. Gentleman will know that recruitment to all the services—the Royal Navy, the Air Force and the infantry—has met levels higher than in the rest of the United Kingdom. There are parts of the United Kingdom, then, for which levels of recruitment are high, and Northern Ireland is one of those areas.
As a supplementary to the intervention made by my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron), what he says is absolutely true. The fall was 130 over the course of 12 months—0.6% of the trained strength. That is unwelcome, but statistically not a relevant number.
There we are: we see the opposing views of the two sides. All I ask is for the Secretary of State for Defence to be clear about it, and to continue to be clear about it. I find new clause 1 to be sensible; it has my complete support. New clause 3 posits some extremely interesting questions, and we have had a good debate about it this evening. However, I think that the point about the changing face of warfare is terribly important.
We have heard a lot of talk about cyber-warfare and other specialist forms of warfare. If we open our history books, we see that in the late 1920s there was a school of thought which held that the fighting of savage tribes could be done entirely from the air. That was tried by an emergent Royal Air Force in Wazirista, and it completely failed, because there were not the boots on the ground to support the Royal Air Force in the excellent work that it did.
Of course there are specialisations within the reserve forces and the Territorial Army which are desperately important, but what our regular forces depend on is a very high level of fitness, a very high level of training, and an ability to deploy instantly. One of my hon. Friends, who is no longer in the Chamber, observed that there was always a period of time before any reservist—any Territorial—was up to snuff. That is no criticism, but, as Members who have served in infantry battalions know, preparing an individual for combat is akin to training a professional athlete. The level of fitness is extraordinarily important. I challenge any civilian holding down a full-time civilian job—and I do not say this with any form of disrespect—to be at such a level of fitness for instant deployment.
What we want for the future is the ability to nip problems in the bud—to avoid confrontation and conflict—and we therefore require deployment that is instantaneous, or as near to that as we can make it. I must say, with the greatest respect, that no reservist can achieve that. It is not in the nature of reserve forces. The clue is in the phrase “reserve, not regular”. I say that with profound respect for all Territorials and all reservists, and for their naval and air force equivalents.
I broadly accept what my hon. Friend has said about fitness, but does he not accept that a significant number of Territorial Army regiments are absolutely ready for deployment in the way that he has described? I am thinking particularly of my own regiment, the Honourable Artillery Company, but I am also thinking of the TA special forces regiments, which are as good as their regular counterparts.
I accept that a very small number of Territorials are ready for instant deployment, but I have to say that the Territorial Army units that I have seen—none of which have been so-called special forces, and which I shall not name—have been a very, very long way from being ready for instant deployment. That is just my experience, but I fear that the Territorials who came to support me on operations were never up to snuff until we had given them concerted and extensive periods of training, including fitness training.
I think that if we wish to avoid trouble, it is quite wrong for us to reduce the size of our regular forces until our Territorial or reserve forces are fully in place, fully equipped, and fully trained to deploy. I understand that the standards are different, and I respect the fact that reservists need a period of training before they can deploy, but I think it irresponsible to allow our regular forces, with their instant deployment capability, to be run down before we have an adequate replacement.
It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer), and, indeed, rather daunting to follow so many right hon. and hon. Friends—some of them gallant—who have so much personal and very relevant experience and knowledge of this subject. My special interest is the relationship between the armed forces and employers, and I believe that the Bill presents an opportunity in that context.
With a more integrated role for reserves will come a more open and supportive relationship between armed forces and employers. A number of the new clauses refer to business, implicitly or explicitly, and would have an impact on it. That is why I was so keen to speak at this point. As a small business owner and as someone who has been in business for more than 20 years and has employed reservists, I understand that, for many of them, successful service in the military depends hugely on the support of their employers. That will become even more important given the increased role of reservists in the future armed forces, and it is right for us to recognise the valuable contributions that employers make to our national security by hiring them.
Equally, however, it is important that trained-up reservists are provided with accredited qualifications that the armed forces can provide, and these will give a real service to employers. We must recognise the skills employees will gain from reserve service and how that will benefit employers and society as a whole. Ultimately business needs one thing more than anything else: certainty. It just wants to know what is expected of it with sufficient notice and what it can expect in return. I am delighted that this Bill commits to providing employers with full information about what hiring a reservist entails.
Too many businesses currently have no experience of hiring a reservist and the establishment of a national relationship management scheme will strengthen the partnership between the armed forces and employer organisations, leading to a much more open and predictable relationship in which all parties are fully aware of what is required of them.
One of my concerns with new clause 3 is that it will provoke confusion. It will delay or prevent payments being made to small enterprises when their employees are mobilised. This extra finance for small and medium-sized enterprises, who find it most difficult to plug the gap when their employees are away, is vital. These firms do us a great service by employing reservists and it is only right that they should be fully compensated.
My other concern with new clause 3 is about the delay in the delivery of the transferable skills. This Bill does not just compensate firms; it provides them with real benefits for deciding to hire a member of the new Army Reserve. Time with the reserves can greatly enhance an employee’s effectiveness through high-quality training, leading opportunities and the chance to gain specific civilian-recognised qualifications while on duty. By accrediting reservists with recognised qualifications, we not only help them progress their careers, but provide real incentives for employers to take them on in the first place. Businesses will know that while their employees are away on duty they will not be engaged in unnecessary training exercises, but will be gaining tangible and valuable skills. This will also encourage more people to consider serving with the reserves. The fact that they will be able to make a genuine contribution to our national security while increasing their employability in their chosen career path will be a real pull, attracting high-quality individuals into the Army Reserve.
This will help more than just those who are currently employed, however. Reserve service can help provide people who are currently out of work with boosts to both their skills and their self-confidence, helping them on to the job ladder. Joint industry-led apprenticeships will provide unemployed young people with a trade and accredited qualifications, but, more than that, reservists will learn how to work as part of a team, how to solve problems and how to present themselves with maturity. These skills are harder to define than others, but are no less valuable
Time with the Army reserves is a great preparation for life in the workplace, enhancing employability skills and boosting self-confidence. It is excellent news that this Government will be placing clear emphasis on the development of reservists, and on building and maintaining an open and productive relationship between employers and the armed forces. We owe a great debt both to the individuals who protect our national security and to the businesses that employ our reserve troops. I am delighted that this Bill will make sure that we are repaying both those employers and the reservists themselves by providing them with the training and skills to flourish both in the field and in the workplace.
It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage) both because I very much agree with her point about small and medium-sized enterprises and the Territorial Army and because it gives me an opportunity to thank her publicly for the superb work she has done as chairman of the royal naval section of the all-party group on the armed forces for the last three years. She has graced the position—both physically and intellectually, if I may say so—over that time and I am most grateful to her for it.
I did not intend to contribute to the debate, but I rise to speak briefly because I find myself in a difficult position. That difficulty has been highlighted by much of what has been said in the debate and in the media over the last 36 hours or so, and it is that, contrary as this may sound to our experience personally, most people observing, and taking part in, the debate are of the same, or at least a very similar, view. We all deeply regret the reduction in the Army from 102,000 to 82,000 soldiers. It is appalling; personally, I think it is disgraceful. I am extraordinarily concerned about the future of the globe if we have an Army of 82,000 soldiers and about the reductions in the RAF and Royal Navy. One or two of my colleagues have expressed that concern very well. This is a very uncertain world, and facing it with this reduced defence spending is extremely worrying. As a Back Bencher, I have no personal responsibility for these matters, but I accept that the financial position in which the Government found themselves when they came to power three years ago necessitated these cuts in defence spending, in the same way as they necessitated all kinds of unpleasant cuts in other Departments. None the less, I deeply regret them and am extraordinarily worried about them.
I also have great reservations about the Army 2020 plan for the Territorial Army. I am a passionate supporter of the TA and reserve forces. I served in the TA for seven years, and I think the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier) in forcing forward this agenda has been superb. Contrary to what my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) said, I think that in the future the reserve forces will make a magnificent contribution to whatever we ask our armed services to do, as they have done in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
I commend my hon. Friend for all his good work on behalf of the regular armed forces in this place, but with the greatest of respect his point that the MOD budget has to be cut because of the financial constraints does not quite ring true because other Departments have escaped the cuts. It is a question of national priorities. Does he agree?
I always feel instinctively uneasy when anyone says, “With the greatest of respect,” because it almost certainly means, “With no respect at all.” Of course, I agree with my hon. Friend: of course, we would all love the budgets to be as they were; of course, many of us would like the aid or other budgets cut, possibly in favour of defence; of course, those of us who believe passionately in defence would like to see the defence of the realm maintained as it has been for the past many years; of course, we would like us to achieve the NATO target of spending 2% of GDP—or even the NATO target of spending 2.5%—of GDP on defence, but this is realpolitik and those things are not going to happen.
I will leave that to one side for a moment. We all start from the position of regretting the cuts but realising the reasons for them. On the reserve forces, we all hope the plans in place work. We are all committed to making them work and believe that the reserve forces have done a superb job. In recent years, and as long ago as the first world war, they have made a gigantic contribution to the defence of the realm, and we strongly support that. Everyone in the Chamber is deeply concerned about whether the 20,000 regular soldiers will be replaced by the increase in the TA that is posited. Of course, we are concerned about that, about the recruitment figures and about whether the Secretary of State’s plans will work out. Those are common positions. I suspect that not one person in the Chamber would disagree.
The disagreement arises when we consider what to do about it. The Regular Army is already at about 86,000 or 87,000. By early February, it will be at about 82,760. The redundancy notices have gone out. People are already on their leaving training and getting ready to leave the regular forces. We cannot reverse that. No matter what we do in the Chamber today, there is no magic wand that will reverse it. By the middle of January, the Army will be at 82,760 soldiers. Regret it as we may, we cannot reverse that. The second thing for certain is that, whether or not we have confidence it will work, we will have to set about increasing the size of the reserve forces, their training and their equipment so that they can replace the lost regulars. Those two things are certainties, and regret them as we may, they are going to occur.
The question, therefore, is: what do we do about it? That is the nature of this debate, and it seems to me that there are two possibilities. The first thing we could do, as my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) seeks to do—I have to admit that I signed his new clause 3—is to write our aims and concerns into legislation. In recent years we have done that in this House on a number of occasions—for example, with regard to the green carbon targets and reducing child poverty. In such cases, there is a law that says, “The Government will do this or do that,” and if it does not achieve those aims there will be some penalty to pay. It is therefore perfectly possible that we could do what my hon. Friend seeks to do by writing into legislation—the law of the land—something that says that the Government will improve our reserve forces in the way described. The alternative approach would be to do what we do with regard to every single thing in this place—to scrutinise what the Government are doing in questions and debates in this Chamber, in Westminster Hall and in Select Committees. We can do that in a variety of ways.
I am very encouraged by the fact that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State tells me that because of my hon. Friend’s new clause and this debate, he, the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Defence as a whole have been entirely focused on this matter for a number of days. That means we have achieved one of the things we wanted to achieve. We have said to the nation as a whole—it has been wall to wall in the media—that we are deeply concerned about these cuts in defence spending, about the fact that we have an Army of 82,000 that may not be able to do its job, and about whether the re-growing of the Territorial Army will actually occur. However, should we take the further step of writing those concerns into legislation?
Having talked briefly to my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier), I suggest that one way of helping to get everyone onside would be to have a report on the state of the Reserves produced quickly, before the Bill comes back to this House. My hon. Friend thinks, unless he shakes his head to indicate the contrary, that the people to do it would be members of the reserve forces and cadets associations. That could take the sting out of the tail very quickly.
My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. There is an absolute requirement on the Government to come before this House and report on what they are doing about this, and I have every confidence that they will, whether through the all-party group on the reserve forces and cadets, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury, the Defence Committee, Opposition days that the Opposition will no doubt call, Back-Bench business days or regular oral questions. I am confident that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be at the Dispatch Box day in, day out for the next two or three years answering difficult questions about recruiting in the Territorial Army. I pledge to him now that I will be his most difficult inquisitor. If he thinks that he is somehow going to get off the hook and that I am going to become a nice fellow and be gentle with him, he is completely wrong. I spent an hour in his study yesterday afternoon explaining these matters to him.
The question is whether it is right that our concerns about cuts in the Regular Army and our aspirations about improvements in the Territorial Army should be written into legislation. Having listened to the debate, I am sorry to have to advise my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay—if he were listening he would no doubt shake his head in disappointment—that I am increasingly convinced that it is not right to seek to write these things into legislation because they are political rather than legislative matters.
Two things greatly concern me about new clause 3, despite the fact that my name appears on it. First, it would have no effect whatsoever on the reductions in the regular forces that we are mainly concerned about. Secondly, if we had a pause to examine the matter and produce a report, one of two things would happen at the end of that pause. The report would be satisfactory to the House of Commons and the House of Lords, we would vote for it, and the plans would plough ahead as they were before, or the report would not be satisfactory to us and we would turn it down. If the latter were to occur, who knows what would happen? Presumably we would have to start again. The one thing that would not happen, even then, would be that somehow we magically grew the regular forces to fill the gap that had by then appeared. If I am right in thinking that the House would approve the report, what on earth is the point of a huge gap between now and then in producing it? We would end up with precisely the same plans that we have for the growth and retraining of the Territorial Army. I am not convinced that the pause that the new clause would write into legislation would necessarily help the situation.
We are all deeply concerned about what is happening, and I very much hope that we will not be back in the Chamber in five or 10 years expressing our regret about it, although I have a horrible feeling that we might be. However, I am by no means convinced that the new clause is the solution to our concerns. I pledge to give my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench as hard a time as I possibly can—probably even a harder time than I gave the Government when we were in opposition—in the Select Committee and in this Chamber, but I am not convinced that writing these concerns into legislation is the right thing to do. I therefore have to disappoint my hon. Friend and tell him that, despite having put my name to his new clause, I shall be unable to support him in the Lobby.
It is a pleasure to be able to say that, unlike the traveller who fell among thieves, I feel like one who has fallen among friends. On these issues, I have friends on both sides of the House, including, first and foremost, my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier), who has been a wonderful advocate for the reserve forces for many years. I say to him and to those on the Front Bench that if this matter had simply been put forward in isolation, I would not have contemplated voting for the new clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron). I am thinking of doing that for two reasons but, before I go into detail, I shall mention a couple more of my friends.
It is a pleasure to welcome to the Opposition Front Bench another friend, the new shadow Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker). My experience of his activities and positions on security issues has been wholly positive, and he has lived up to that by making his first trip as shadow Secretary of State a visit to the Barrow shipyards. I am sure that we can rely on him to maintain the firm position in support of the successor generation of submarines for the nuclear deterrent that both Front Benches adhere to, and which only one small party has sought to obstruct.
Another friend to whom I would like to refer—he has just slipped out of the Chamber for a moment—is the Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr Hammond). Most people would agree that he was a very fine Treasury Minister indeed. I cannot think of anyone who was better at tackling complex financial problems and explaining them in terms so crystal clear that, from time to time, I even thought that I understood them myself. In reality, I could not think of any person, when presented with a limited budget—whether for defence or any other portfolio—who would make a better fist than my right hon. Friend of adjusting the workings of the Department concerned to fit a budget that he had perhaps rather arbitrarily been allocated.
That has a direct bearing on the two reasons for my putting my name down in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay’s new clause and amendments. The first relates to the size of the defence budget; the second is the question of whether the scheme for the reserves is or was linked to the proposed reduction in the size of the Army. Those are the two things that worry me. Even if my hon. Friend’s new clause and amendments are not ideally drafted—I am not saying that they are not—they present me, and other hon. Members whose main purpose of being in Parliament, apart from representing our constituents, is to maximise the defence of this country against threats, with one of the few opportunities that we have to register our concerns when we think that defence has fallen too far down the list of priorities.
I listened carefully to my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray) saying that the defence budget was a given. I am afraid that I do not accept that. I do not accept that more money could not have been found from within the defence budget and outside it. There could have been more money. We did not need to spend £1.4 billion extending the life of four Vanguard-class submarines just to satisfy the Liberal Democrats, so they could put off the decision to sign the main-gate contracts for the successor submarines until the next Parliament. We did not need to spend a whole shedload of money reversing the plan for two aircraft carriers and to adopt a preposterous plan for one functional and one non-functional aircraft carrier, and then spend another shedload of money reverting to the original position. Nor do we need to spend £40 billion or £50 billion on a high-speed train service to the north of England—[Interruption.] It has a great deal to do with it.
If the hon. Gentleman had not been absent, he would have heard the great deal of discussion that took place about the priority of defence in the nation’s schedule of priorities. If he had made that bogus, so-called point of order having been here, I would have had some time for him, but given that he did not even have the courtesy to listen to the debate before making it, it was unworthy.
The reality is that a nation gets the defence forces it is prepared to pay for and it can decide what level of services it will fund—whether that involves cuts in the Army, the Royal Navy or the Royal Air Force that could be avoided.
The next question is whether this scheme for the reserves was linked to the proposed cut in the size of the Army. As I said, if this scheme had been put forward on its own, I could have wholeheartedly supported it, but it was not. It was specifically put forward as a compensating factor for the Army’s regular strength being reduced by 20,000. We were told that that reduction would be compensated for by the 30,000 increase in reserves. Now we are told that that linkage no longer exists. My hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire asked what we will do if we find that in fact the reserve scheme is not working. If I understood him correctly—I think I did—he said that, by the time we discovered that we were not going to get the 30,000 reservists, it would be too late to regenerate any of the loss in the 20,000 regulars. [Interruption.] He seems to be indicating that I have understood him correctly. If that is the case, I take great exception to the fact that this linkage was ever made in the first place.
If we are to be told that we have to accept cuts in this country’s defence capability, we should be told that honestly. We should not constantly be confronted with shifting goalposts. If the recruitment of 30,000 reservists may or may not be achieved, and if the 20,000 cut in regulars will happen nevertheless and is irreversible, we should have been told that at the outset. [Interruption.] Somebody says, “We were.” Who said that?
Allow me to be the person who says that we were indeed told that. I very much regret that that has occurred. None the less, my point is not that I endorse this, but that it has happened: by 10 January, the British Army will be 82,767. That is the case and cannot be reversed.
Yes, but if so, that was always going to be the case, and we should not have been sold the package of a cut in regular numbers of 20,000 on the basis that at least we could look forward to 30,000 reservists being added. That is no way to treat a mature Parliament or to show respect for the judgment of parliamentarians who are doing their best to supply the best level of defence that we can within the budget available.
A very simple principle is at stake here. Let us suppose that someone comes to a sovereign Parliament and says, “We are going to make a significant cut in the size of the Army, but don’t worry about it because we are going to compensate for it by building up the reserves to the tune of 30,000 people.” If there are any significant or reasonable doubts at all about whether the 30,000 target will be achieved, it is reasonable to say, “Hang on a minute, what happens if the 30,000 is not achieved?” If the answer is that the 20,000 cuts will take place in any case, it is absolutely unacceptable to have promised the 30,000 in the first place, especially as it was explicitly stated to the House that the cuts in the regulars would not be fully or irreversibly implemented until we knew that the reserves were going to be forthcoming. I do not want us to have this debate again in a few months’ time or in a few years’ time over the fact that we have neither the number of regulars we need nor the number of extra reserves that were promised. That is why, whatever the intricacies of the wording of new clause 3, I intend to support it.
I wish to speak briefly, because I am aware that many others wish to contribute, in strong defence of new clause 1 and against new clause 3. Both relate to the central issue, which has been raised by almost everyone in this debate: recruitment into the Territorial Army. New clause 1 will encourage recruitment, because it will show that we are taking the reserves seriously, whereas new clause 3 will discourage recruitment by introducing an unnecessary delay. The most important thing, which lies behind this entire debate, is defining what the reserves are for—what the function of the military is about. The best way to guarantee that we have a well-supported, well-recruited reserve is if we in this House can agree what the future shape of the Army is supposed to be and what we are supposed to be doing with it.
The central issue, which perhaps has not been touched on enough today and which I would like to touch on briefly, is whether we have or have not learned the lessons of the past 10 years. Do we have the shape of reserves or of the Regular Army required to meet the threats of the future? In essence, events of the past 10 years have completely exploded, or should have done in this Chamber, the entire consensus on nation building and counter-insurgency. For 10 years, the entire shape of our military has been arranged around those two principles, both of which I suggest, modestly, have been discredited. The experience of Iraq and Afghanistan should have taught us by now that we have designed the wrong kind of Army for the wrong kind of campaign. Those two central slogans, “nation building” and “counter-insurgency”, have not worked. We do not have time to talk through why they have not worked—if we had a long debate, we could do so—but we have to design reserve forces that meet that problem and that challenge.
Why has nation building not worked? In essence, it was because it was an over-ambitious fantasy. The jargon of “the rule of law”, “governance” and “civil society” turned out to be impossible to deliver. We never had the tour lengths, the linguistic knowledge or the deep area expertise to deliver things that require an understanding of culture and history. Counter-insurgency did not work for even deeper reasons, which the military predicted—in the United States and the United Kingdom—before we deployed. We never had the requisite number of troops, nor were we ever likely to. We never had the tour lengths we required. We never had a credible, effective, legitimate Government in Baghdad or Kabul to back us. We never had full control of the borders. In the absence of such structures, those missions turned out to be impossible.
Unless the reserves and the Regular Army take on those lessons, we will have the wrong kind of forces in the future. That does not mean that our military does not have a deep function in intervention, but that deep function needs to look at the model of Bosnia, and not that of Iraq or Afghanistan. We need to remember that in Bosnia our military proved exactly what an intervention can do. It went into a country with 110,000 people under arms. It went into a country when a million refugees had been displaced and when there were internal borders dividing it up in 25 different ways. By the time we had finished that intervention, the internal borders had gone, the militia had been reduced to 5,000 and the crime rate in Bosnia had dropped; it is now lower than that of Sweden. That is the kind of success for which we should be preparing our military.
The final thing—this really goes to the heart of what my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier) has raised—is the question of how the knowledge, the imagination and the skills and the local links of the reserves should be adjusted to a new world. There are small ingredients that we should insert, and I plead with the Secretary of State to look very hard at reintroducing the short-service limited commission, or the gap-year commission. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury, I and a number of other Members of Parliament are proud to claim that we have been in the military. Our standing there was very brief, but it was an incredibly deep and important experience for us and for many other people. It is a relatively cheap programme, and it is one that can develop the links between the military and the local population.
On imagination and skills, the biggest prize for which we should be aiming is to fill in the gap that the Foreign Office, the Department for International Development and the current military are unable to fill in. I am talking about deep area expertise and deep linguistic expertise, which the right kind of reserve forces should be able to produce. We need to recruit, promote and incentivise the right kind of people. We want people with other lives, other jobs and other experiences, who should be able to develop what we have been sadly lacking for 20 years, which is a sensitivity to other cultures and an understanding of other environments, other local business and other political structures. If we can get those things right, we have exactly what we need for new clause 1, which is a template, a model or a bar to which to hold the Government accountable on how the reserve forces should function. We will also have a reason not to proceed with new clause 3, which delays the most important part of rebuilding the reserves.
I agree with what my hon. Friend said about nation building. He had his opportunity to adjudicate on the Government’s nation building when we had the Afghanistan vote in 2010. Does he not accept that what we are arguing for here is a very brief pause—it does not have to be a long pause—and the longevity of that pause is in the Government’s gift?
I do not wish to quote my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot), but my peroration was somewhat interrupted by that intervention.
Above all, it seems important that our relationship with the reserves is characterised by one word, which is “seriousness”. We need a plan, a direction and a confidence of Government, and that will turn around recruitment. People do not join the reserves for exactly how many days they serve, for how much money they receive or for the pension terms they get. They join because they feel that it matters: Government are serious about them, Parliament is serious about them and we know where we are going. The reason I will not vote for new clause 3 is that it passes exactly the wrong model at exactly the time when we should be moving forward with the wonderful work of my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury and producing the excitement and the vision that we require. Another muddle and another conversation would be catastrophic.
A lot of sorrow and anger has been expressed on both sides of the House this afternoon about the fact that it has been sadly necessary to make reductions in the Regular Army. We all understand that, but we all also understand that it was a necessary reaction to the £160 billion deficit with which this Government were confronted on taking office and the £38 billion black hole in the defence budget that there was at the same time.
We have heard a lot of praise for the reserves and for the Territorial Army throughout the debate, and that is right and proper.