First, I am sure the House will wish to join me in paying tribute to the aircrew from 15 Reserve Squadron, based at RAF Lossiemouth, who were involved in the Tornado GR4 aircraft incident on Tuesday—Flight Lieutenant Hywel Poole, who was killed, and Squadron Leader Samuel Bailey and Flight Lieutenant Adam Sanders, who are still missing and must be presumed dead. My thoughts, and I am sure those of the entire House, are with their loved ones at this difficult time and with the fourth member of the squadron involved in the incident, who is currently in a serious but stable condition in hospital.
In addition, I am sure the whole House will also wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the families and friends of guardsman Apete Tuisovurua and guardsman Craig Roderick of the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, and Warrant Officer Class 2 of the Royal Corps of Signals, who were killed on operations in Afghanistan recently. My thoughts are also with the wounded, and I pay tribute to the courage and fortitude with which they face their rehabilitation.
The Statement is as follows.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a Statement about the future structure of the British Army.
I know that I speak for the whole House in expressing our gratitude for the superbly professional job our Armed Forces are doing in Afghanistan and around the world and in paying tribute to their courage, commitment and self-sacrifice in doing it. We have seen again this week, in all too stark contrast, the risks they take on our behalf, both in Afghanistan and at home, and the price that all too many of them pay.
The operation in Afghanistan remains the MoD’s top priority, but our combat role in Afghanistan is coming to an end, and with it, the predictability of the Army’s main effort. Looking beyond 2014, we need to restructure to face an increasingly uncertain world, ready to intervene wherever and whenever to protect our national interest and with an ability to project force and prevent conflict through “agile and adaptable” Armed Forces, as set out in the 2010 strategic defence and security review.
We also need to address the reality of the fiscal situation and ensure our Armed Forces are sustainable and affordable. My predecessor, my right honourable friend the Member for North Somerset, announced to the House last July that, as part of the measures to bring the defence budget back into balance and to eliminate the £38 billion black hole we inherited from the last Government, the future strength of the Army would be around 120,000, including an integrated trained reserve of 30,000—a total trained strength not dissimilar to the pre-SDSR level.
So this Statement is not about the size of the Army; that decision has already been announced. It is about how we structure the future Army and how we support it to deliver the greatest possible military effect with the manpower available.
The Chief of the General Staff could have taken the attitude that a given reduction in regular manpower must inevitably lead to a similar reduction in military capability, but he did not. He has grasped the opportunity presented by the end of the Afghan campaign to fundamentally review the structure of the Army and its relationships with the reserves and its commercial contractors.
A team led by Lieutenant General Nick Carter has produced Army 2020, a detailed plan for a future Army with two distinct elements: reaction forces and adaptable forces. The reaction forces will generate high-readiness contingent capability, trained and equipped to undertake the full spectrum of intervention tasks, including provision of forces for the first phases of any future brigade-scale enduring operation. The reaction forces will be based around 16 Air Assault Brigade and three armoured infantry brigades, and equipped with new or upgraded armoured fighting vehicles.
Given the high readiness of this force, it will be made up predominantly of regular troops. The reaction forces will form a powerful UK contribution to a coalition effort and act as the initial land component of a joint war-fighting operation, alongside air and maritime components. At best effort, it will deliver a division into the field. The remaining infantry and armoured units will form the adaptable forces, a pool of regular and reserve units, commanded by seven infantry brigade headquarters, capable of generating forces for tasks, including overseas capacity building, homeland resilience, the Army’s standing commitments, such as Cyprus, Brunei, the Falklands and ceremonial duties, and, when required, generating the further brigades to sustain any future enduring operation.
Over a full career, soldiers and officers in infantry and armoured units will expect to serve in both reaction and adaptable forces. Both the reaction forces and the adaptable forces will include force troops, the artillery, engineers, signals, REME, logistics, intelligence, medical and other specialist units upon which the Army in the field depends and without which it could not function. To achieve this design while reducing the size of the Regular Army demands a much higher level of integration of the regular and reserve components. In the past, the reserve may have come to be seen by some as an add-on to the Army; in future, the reserve will be a vital integrated component of the Army.
The requirement for greater integration was a principal conclusion of the independent commission set up to review the UK’s Reserve Forces, led by the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nicholas Houghton. I am most grateful to the members of the commission, including my honourable friend the Member for Canterbury, for their work in producing this invaluable report.
I can tell the House today that we accept the thrust of the commission’s recommendations. In the interest of keeping this Statement to a reasonable length, I have this morning laid a Written Ministerial Statement setting out how we intend to proceed with our plans for enhanced reserves. But I can tell the House that the process of reshaping the reserves for their future role has already begun, and that I have set up an independent scrutiny team to assess its progress, led by Lieutenant General (Retired) Robin Brims, chairman of the council of the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association, who will make his first report in the summer of 2013.
Let me now return to the future structure of the Army. In reducing the size of the regular Army in line with the announcement made last July, there must, inevitably, be a reduction in the number of units. In headline terms, there will be 17 fewer major units as a result of this announcement. These reductions will fall across the various arms and services of the Army.
The importance of the regimental system to the British Army and its contribution to the fighting spirit which delivers a battle-winning edge is very clear. I understand the dismay felt particularly by former members at the withdrawal of units that may have illustrious histories and indeed, antecedents. I understand, too, the attachments of the regions and nations of the union to specific units within the British Army, and their pride in those units.
In designing the new structure, the Army has sought to be sensitive to these issues, but I am also very clear that the Army that emerges from this process must be a forward-looking, modern fighting machine, remaining best of its class, respecting the past and honouring its proud history, but looking resolutely to the future, with its principal focus the brave men and women currently serving, and the units in which they serve.
The Army has approached this task methodically, carefully redesigning the way it delivers force support; building up a whole force concept that not only gives effect to the integration of the reserves, but also the greater use of contractors—sometimes using sponsored reserves—to support operations, maximising the combat effect of the regular manpower available.
I should emphasise to the House that the withdrawal or merger of units is completely separate from the redundancy process. An individual in a unit which is withdrawn or merged is no more or less likely than any other individual with similar skills and service record to be selected for redundancy. When units are withdrawn, their personnel are reassigned to other units, where possible within the same regiment. Nor does anything I shall announce today prejudice the basing review which is looking at the optimum future basing pattern for our Armed Forces units around the United Kingdom. I will list the changes to individual units, starting with the Force troops, where 3-9 Regiment Royal Artillery, 2-4 Commando Engineer Regiment, 2-8 Engineer Regiment and 6-7 Works Group will be withdrawn. In the Army Air Corps, 1 Regiment and 9 Regiment will merge in preparation for equipping with Wildcat. In the Royal Logistics Corps, 1 and 2 Logistics Support Regiments will be withdrawn and 23 Pioneer Regiment disbanded, with its functions assumed by other units. 1-0-1 Force Support Battalion REME, and 5 Regiment Royal Military Police will also be withdrawn.
Army 2020 calls for a greater focus on mobility and the ability to mount expeditionary warfare, based around the air-assault and armoured infantry brigades of the reaction forces. This evolution of our posture still further away from the Cold War lay-down inevitably means a reduction in the size of the Armoured Corps, from 11 units to nine.
After careful consideration of all the factors, including regional distribution and the requirement for a balance of capability, the Army has decided that this will be achieved by an amalgamation of the Queen’s Royal Lancers with the 9th/12th Royal Lancers and a merger between the 1st and 2nd Royal Tank Regiments.
Turning to the infantry, I can confirm that no current regimental names or cap badges will be lost as a consequence of the changes I am announcing today. Five infantry battalions will be withdrawn from the Army’s Order of Battle, all of them from multi-battalion regiments.
In selecting battalions for withdrawal, the Army has focused on the major recruiting challenges it faces in the infantry. It has looked carefully at recruiting performance, not just at a point in time, but over the last decade; at recruiting catchment areas and at demographic projections for the age cohort from which infantry recruits are drawn. It has also considered regional and national affiliations, the merger and disbandment history of individual battalions and existing commitments of battalions to future operations. The overriding objective has been to arrive at a solution which those currently serving in the Army will see as fair and equitable.
The conclusion of this process has been that 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers; 2nd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment; 3rd Battalion the Mercian Regiment; and 2nd Battalion the Royal Welsh will be withdrawn from the Order of Battle.
In addition, the Royal Regiment of Scotland will see one battalion reduced to a single company. Ministers have agreed with the CGS that, in order to raise the profile of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, and of the Army, in Scotland, a public duties company will be created, returning sentries to Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse on a permanent basis for the first time in years. Accordingly, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 5th Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Scotland, will be re-roled as a public duties company.
These withdrawals and mergers, unwelcome as they will be in the units affected, are fair and balanced and have been carefully structured to minimise the impact of the regular manpower reduction and maximise the military effectiveness of the Army. The reduction in regular forces will be offset by the enhanced role of the reserves and the whole force concept, which optimises the use of contractors both in peacetime and on operations.
The Chief of the General Staff and his team assess that this configuration will mean that Army 2020 can deliver the level of capability agreed in the SDSR. That is an excellent outcome given the appalling state of our inheritance at MoD, and I am extremely grateful to the CGS and the senior leadership of the Army for the constructive and intelligent way in which they managed this process. What I have announced today, while difficult and challenging for those directly affected, represents a vision for the future of a balanced, capable and adaptable British Army that will remain best in class.
The British Army has seen several transformations since the end of World War II: from wartime structure to Cold War; from conscription to professional force; and the downsizing at the end of the Cold War in Options for Change and Frontline First. Now it is embarking on another. The values of the Army have endured through previous transformations. They have sustained it through a decade of continuous campaigns. Those same values—courage, discipline, respect, integrity, loyalty and selflessness—will sustain it through this transformation and, no doubt, through many further iterations in the decades and centuries ahead, as this most enduring of British institutions looks confidently to a future in which it continues to adapt to an ever-changing world. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I associate this side of the House with the tributes paid by the Minister to the three air crew who were involved in the Tornado GR4 aircraft incident on Tuesday and who were killed or are missing, presumed dead; and with the tributes paid to the three members of our Armed Forces who were killed recently on operations in Afghanistan. We, too, extend our sincere condolences to their families and friends at this difficult time. Our thoughts are also with the fourth member of the Tornado squadron, who remains in hospital.
I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in the other place by the Secretary of State. We endorse the comments about the commitment and professionalism of our Armed Forces. The Secretary of State’s Statement—true to form—contained two references to the financial situation, one near the beginning and one near the end. Claims about a £38-billion black hole continue to be made. However, this figure has not been supported by the National Audit Office; it appears to assume no increase in financial resources over a 10-year period, when even the Government’s SDSR stated that the defence budget would rise in cash terms; and, despite requests from the Commons Defence Select Committee, the Government failed to produce a breakdown of their figure to show how it had been calculated. One can only draw the obvious conclusion that the figure has no substance.
I will raise a number of points in view of the fact that the announcement today was primarily financially driven. As the Minister said, the withdrawals and mergers will hardly be welcomed in the units affected. The Statement said that it was about how we should structure the future Army and support it to deliver the greatest possible military effect with the manpower available. Later on the Statement says that,
“no current Regimental names or cap badges will be lost as a consequence of the changes”.
Can the Minister say which came first in determining the Government’s plans for the future structure of the Army? Was it the need to ensure that the future Army looked at as a whole would have the greatest possible military effect with the manpower available, or was it the need to ensure that no regimental names or cap badges would be lost?
The Statement indicates, as indeed did the strategic defence and security review, that reservists will play a bigger role in future operations, since the number of reservists is rising while the number of regular troops is being reduced to 82,000, which is well below the figure indicated in the 2010 SDSR. Bearing that in mind, the question of how long a future operation could be sustained is highly relevant, not least in the light of the defence planning assumptions referred to in the SDSR. Reservists may be able to be away from their regular employment for a few months, but there may be greater difficulties over their availability if they are required to be away for longer periods or for regular and sustained periods of a few months. It is not just a case of how long an employer might be prepared to accept the absence of an employee, but from the employee’s point of view it is also about the impact that regular and extended absences might have on career development, including progression within the organisation or company where they are employed.
For how long and how frequently do the Government envisage that reservists will be deployed in support of an extended or enduring operation? The Secretary of State’s Written Ministerial Statement today refers to reservists accepting a liability for up to six months’ deployed service plus pre-deployment training in a five-year period. Is that the maximum commitment that will be expected of reservists under the Army 2020 proposals, even if we are involved in the maximum number of operations and interventions at any one time laid down in the 2010 SDSR? If the role of reservists is to be enhanced, what discussions have there been with employers’ organisations on the implications for them? I understand that the answer may well be, effectively, none.
The Statement the Minister has repeated said that it was not about the size of the Army, but it is when compared with what was envisaged at the time of the strategic defence and security review, which announced cuts of 7,000. Since then the Government have announced an additional 13,000 Army redundancies. The SDSR was based on an assumption that we could undertake one major and two lesser operations at any one time. It said that the Armed Forces in the future would be sized and shaped to conduct an “enduring stabilisation operation” at around brigade level involving up to 6,500 personnel with maritime and air support as required, while conducting one non-enduring complex intervention involving up to 2,000 personnel and one non-enduring simple intervention involving up to 1,000 personnel, or, for a limited time and with sufficient warning, committing all our effort to a one-off intervention of up to three brigades with maritime and air support involving around 30,000 personnel. Does this Armed Forces capability set out in the 2010 SDSR still hold in the light of the Statement today about the future shape and structure of the Army and the further reductions in Regular Army personnel announced since the SDSR, and is it still the situation in the light of the higher percentage of our future Army personnel who will be reservists?
What is the maximum length of time for which we could conduct the “enduring stabilisation operation” referred to in the SDSR in the light of the Statement today and statements made since the SDSR about the size and structure of the Army, and is it a shorter period of time than that envisaged at the time of the SDSR? How long is “for a limited time” for the one-off intervention referred to in the SDSR in the light of the Statement today and statements made since the SDSR, and is that now a shorter period than that envisaged at the time of the SDSR?
The Statement lays out the future structure for the Army, but just how resilient is that structure? There is nothing in the Statement to suggest there has been any risk analysis undertaken in the light of developments in the last couple of years since the 2010 SDSR, despite those two years hardly being ones of stability in the world around us. Neither does there appear to have been a risk analysis of the consequences of our Army relying to a greater degree than before on reservists as opposed to regular troops. The Statement gives every impression of simply driving on from the 2010 SDSR without any obvious regard to the impact of changes and developments that have taken place since the SDSR.
The Statement is about the future shape and structure of the Army. What happens if the 2015 SDSR indicates a need for operations to be undertaken by the Army which are radically different from those indicated in the 2010 SDSR and this Statement? Is this new structure for the Army capable of embracing radically different operations? For example, will the split between reaction forces and adaptable forces still be relevant? Would the split between regulars and reservists still be appropriate, or is this a shape and structure that might not survive the 2015 SDSR? It may be that this Statement is, in reality, the beginnings of the 2015 SDSR. Will the 2015 SDSR be based on an assessment of the threats we face to our security and to our interests, with the numbers of Armed Forces personnel and the shape and structure of the Army being determined by the requirements and capabilities needed to meet those threats? Or will it be the case that today’s Statement on shape and structure sets out the kind of operations, in size and areas of capability, that the Army is geared to meet and that the rest of the 2015 SDSR will have to fit round it?
I sense a real risk in the smaller, reshaped and reconfigured Army that this Statement reveals. It appears to be based on an assumption that, with our withdrawal from Afghanistan, our commitments will reduce and remain at a lower level despite the current uncertainty and instability in the world. It also seems that, while a much heavier reliance will be placed on reservists in future, little has been done to consider and address the likely practical problems that will arise and whether, in reality, we will be able to meet effectively the capabilities that this Statement requires of the Army, including the commitments on the number and types of operation that could be conducted at any one time, as laid down in the 2010 SDSR. There is a strong sense that key parts of this Statement are expressions of hope rather than conclusions based on hard and robust evidence. I hope the Government’s gamble pays off, because if it does not it is our country and our people who will be exposed to the potentially very serious consequences.
My Lords, the noble Lord started by talking about the £38-billion black hole. I do not want to score political points at the Dispatch Box but neither will I take any lectures from Labour on the £38-billion black hole. Defence must take its share in helping to reduce the deficit and our debt. Without a strong economy and stable public finances, it is impossible to build and sustain the military required to project power and maintain defence.
We have had to take difficult decisions. I should rephrase that: the Army and the Chief of the General Staff have had to take some very tough decisions. Despite the cuts that have been announced, Army 2020 will deliver approximately 90% of its current combat effect. The Army has produced an excellent paper, Transforming the British Army, which I commend to all noble Lords. In the light of the interest in the changes today, I have asked for copies of it to be put in all Whips’ offices. We are very clear that tradition and history must be respected, but it is also important to look to the future and ensure that the changes are seen as fair by those brave men and women currently serving and risking their lives.
I wrote as fast as I could, but I may not be able to answer all of the noble Lord’s questions. If not, I will certainly write to him. His first question asked what criteria were used to decide which units would be affected. A number of criteria have been taken into account before making final decisions, all of which presuppose the retention of a regimental system largely based on regional connections that continues to serve the British Army so well. These include maintaining balance across the broader armoured corps and infantry regimental structure and the capability roles within it, enabling efficient management of personnel, ensuring parity of opportunity and development for soldiers and officers, balancing regionally based regimental recruiting demand, looking back at the past 10 years’ recruiting performance, looking at the next 10 years’ demographics of regional recruitment pools to retain an effective regimental system, taking account of previous decisions on mergers and deletions, and limiting the number of cap badges affected, thereby ensuring a solution that those serving in the Army will see as fair and sustainable under the circumstances.
The noble Lord asked what underpinned these changes. The 2010 strategic defence and security review set out how the Armed Forces would be restructured to meet current threats, including managing risks before they materialise, and maintain a broad spectrum of defence capabilities. The SDSR also directed that the Army should return from Germany by 2020. Subsequently, further work to balance the books in defence, together with the report of the independent commission on the Reserve Forces, was led by the then Defence Secretary who announced in 2011 a requirement for an Army of 120,000—82,000 regulars, 30,000 trained reserves and 8,000 reserves in training.
The noble Lord asked about the availability of reserves and our discussions with employers. I can assure him that considerable discussions are taking place and have taken place with employers. If this is going to work, we have to integrate the reserves. We realise how important that is. Also, the Government must get off the mark and be part of the solution. He asked whether Army 2020 reversed the SDSR decisions. The answer is no. Army 2020 redesigns the Army to be able to undertake the task specified by the SDSR, but with fewer regulars and an increased number of better integrated reserves.
The noble Lord asked whether the Army is able to adapt. The answer to that is yes, of course. I have spoken to a number of officers and soldiers, and they are all very excited at the changes and are up for the challenge. I have also spoken to a number of reserves who are also excited about the changes and very much look forward to the future challenges. He asked about planning assumptions. Army 2020 still delivers the requirements of existing defence planning assumptions, and we cannot of course predict the findings of the 2015 SDSR. He asked what came first when decisions to make these changes were made. The reductions were driven by the requirements in the new Army 2020 structure, then by consideration of which units were the most sustainable, while avoiding the loss of cap badges.
The noble Lord asked about the five-year period, and I can assure him that there will be no change to the existing reserve mobilisation rules. Finally, he asked: how long is a long intervention? Army 2020 is capable of a long-term enduring operation.
I hope that I have answered most of the noble Lord’s questions, but I will certainly write to him on any others.
My Lords, a year ago next Tuesday, the Prime Minister stood up to address the National Assembly for Wales in Cardiff and said he wanted to record his gratitude to the brave Welsh regiments. He went on to say:
“From the trenches of Northern France to the mountains of South Korea they have fought and died in defence of our nation and our values”.
He concluded by saying,
“I will always be an advocate for this country and everything it has to offer”.
Wales can offer no greater sacrifice than the lives of her young men in defence of our country as we have seen in Afghanistan. With the Prime Minister’s words fresh in my mind—and perhaps more in despair than in hope of an answer—what more could we have done in Wales to protect the Welsh regiments from these government cuts, short of threatening a referendum on independence?
My Lords, I share the noble Lord’s respect for the Welsh regiments. The CGS, supported by his command team, has made very hard choices in deciding where reductions are made to bring the Army size down to 82,000, and the Army has rigorously applied a set of criteria to make these difficult decisions. They were based on capability, recruiting demography both now and in the future, appropriate national representation and solutions that do not undermine regimental principles, established in the last round of changes in 2004. Previous mergers and deletions were also taken into account, to ensure that decisions were seen as fair by as many people as possible.
My Lords, from these Benches I join the earlier tribute to the Tornado crews lost in Scotland and to those soldiers killed in Afghanistan. Perhaps I may say that just having a few minutes to question this important Statement is extremely unsatisfactory and almost an insult to our Armed Forces. I hope that before too long we will have a proper debate on our Armed Forces and that my noble friend will discuss this with the Leader of the House. It is somewhat ironic, I would suggest, that in the Statement reference is made to “an increasingly uncertain world”, yet today we are talking about reducing significantly the size of our Regular Forces.
On the question of the reserves, I have three specific questions. First, how many members of the Regular Forces does he expect will be involved in training 30,000 new reservists? Secondly, does he believe that in future we will probably need a specific covenant to protect our Reserve Forces from things such as totally unhelpful and unprincipled employers? Thirdly, where will all this new training be done, given that we seem to have a significant problem with our bases? If I interpret correctly the article today in The Times about bringing back our forces from Germany, this seems to be on the backburner, with a question mark over it.
My Lords, my noble friend mentioned the possibility of a debate and I would certainly welcome that. I will have a word with our Chief Whip and see if it would be possible later in the year. My noble friend mentioned the reserves and employers. The Ministry of Defence is committed to working with employers to understand their views on its use of reservists, the impact of legislation and a better understanding of what an employer can realistically sustain in future. We will publish a consultation paper in autumn setting out our proposals. Following that, we will be able to make informed decisions early next year on the terms and conditions of service, employer engagement, the Government’s commitments as an employer and any legislation necessary.
My noble friend asked how many people would be involved in training. I cannot come up with a specific figure, but this is a good example of where integration of the reserves with the regular Army will be so important and we will use a number of the reserves to help with the training. As for where they would train, we have not yet decided what will happen in Germany, but there are very good training areas there which we might continue to use after 2020. The SDR talks about bringing all our troops back from Germany by 2020. As my noble friend knows, there are some brilliant training areas in this country. He and I have been to Salisbury Plain, Otterburn and lots of different training areas. In Wales, I spent a lot of my time in the Army at Sennybridge with its beautiful countryside. So there are a lot of training areas and I hope that answers all my noble friend’s questions.
I, too, thank the Minister for his reply and declare two lateral interests with regard to the Statement. First, as Adjutant General to the Army, I had to implement the Options for Change instruction to reduce the Army by a third over three years. Let us remember what that meant in terms of all the people who were in the Army. Secondly, Lieutenant General Nick Carter was at one time my ADC and later MA. He, his father and I served together in the same regiment, the Rifle Brigade, whose tie I am proud to be wearing today.
I have two things to say. First, I think like many of us, I deplore the leaking of this Statement during the past few days, because I wonder whether those responsible for it realise the damage that it has done to the morale and well-being of the Armed Forces whom they claim to support. I hope that the Minister will take every possible step to discover who is responsible for this and take appropriate action. It must not be allowed to happen.
The noble Lord, Lord Lee, asked for a debate on defence. I welcome that, because the other thing that I wanted to say was about striking the balance between the Armed Forces. I wonder whether the Army has gone a step further than the other two forces. If there is any restructuring or rebalancing to be done, will the Army be reconsidered in the light of what happens?
My question relates to the last page of the Statement, which says that the vision is that the Army will remain “best in class”. Who else is in that class?
My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned General Nick Carter and the Rifles. The Rifles are a very good example of a change that has really worked. All the people I meet who serve in the Rifles are hugely proud of that regiment and of the successful change that it has made.
The noble Lord mentioned the leaks, which did not come from the Ministry of Defence. I was told about these changes only yesterday. A very small group of people in the Ministry of Defence knew of them, so I do not know where the leak has come from. I will certainly go back to the department and see whether we cannot do more to stop such leaks.
We could debate “best in class” all afternoon, but I have met quite a number of officers and reservists in the past 24 hours who are hugely excited about the challenges of the future and really feel that they are up to it.
I fully understand why this is being done and I fear that £38 billion is probably an underestimate. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, referred to leaks. There is one other feature of this Statement which I regret: it disguises the historic names which are disappearing. My noble friend referred to “current regimental names” and the Statement named the 2nd and 3rd Battalions. However, the 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Wales, carries the title “1st Battalion Royal Regiment of Wales (Royal Welch Fusiliers)”. I do not know, now that the 2nd Battalion is to disappear, whether that historic name can be retained or what other historic names can be retained. Luckily, we have retained, I believe, in the Royal Regiment of Wales the historic flash, the hackle and other regimental insignia. I hope that in future Statements an explanation is given of exactly which historic regiments are going and how their traditions are to be maintained as far as possible, because they are of great importance when it comes to pride and to recruiting in the areas concerned.
My noble friend makes a very good point. This is not a matter for politicians; it is a matter for the Army. It must decide how these regiments will go forward and whether antecedents will be included. I go back to the point I made about The Rifles and how successful the term “The Rifles” has been and how proud soldiers serving in The Rifles are of that.
I can come up with a better answer for the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, about the best in class. Clearly, we are not able to compete with the United States but the British Army is the partner of choice within NATO for its strength and capability.
My Lords, the Statement quite rightly draws favourable attention to the work of the Chief of the General Staff. I certainly echo that. He and his staff have made a very good fist out of the problem that was passed to them. But does the Minister accept that there are elements of risk that are beyond the capability of the Chief of the General Staff to manage himself within current Army resources? We all know that in the past two years of the current Government major decisions have been made on defence—in shorthand terms, prioritising a number of equipment programmes over manpower. That has brought us today to the announcement of a reduction in the size of the Army by 20%—a very sobering day for the Army, whichever way you look at it. Will the Minister assure the House that he will keep these elements of risk under review?
The risks I point to in particular are whether the noble intention to furnish the size of the Army up by a further 30,000 from the reserve will come about successfully. One hopes it will but there is an element of risk in it. Secondly, the Army’s equipment also carries a fair degree of risk. It lacks a protected manoeuvre capability for those armoured infantry brigades. Protected mobility has come out of Afghanistan with the armoured vehicles that have been provided for that operation but battlefield manoeuvre is woefully lacking and unlikely to be fielded until 2022. So will the Minister assure the House that these areas of risk will be kept under review, particularly in the context of the strategic defence review of 2015?
My Lords, I cannot commit any future Government to what comes out of the SDSR in 2015 but I can assure him that we, and I think any sensible Government, will keep all these issues under review. On the noble Lord’s point about risk, I discussed this at some length with the Chief of the General Staff and he is very confident that he is on top of this issue and that we can handle any risk in future.
My Lords, following on from the point made by the noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham and Lord Crickhowell, would it be fair to say that the MoD is the only vessel which leaks from the top? Referring to the reserves and the points made, clearly the success or otherwise of the new proposals depend on the enhanced role envisaged for the Territorial Army, and that in turn depends on the co-operation of employees both in the private and the public sector. Is it not a fact that more and more companies are not headed by people with military experience but are foreign-owned and therefore less likely to understand the national needs here? What is the position in respect of those companies, particularly if there are longer periods abroad? As for the public sector, what estimate has been made of the availability of staff to cover shortage areas, such as anaesthetists, at a time when there are increasing pressures on our hospital services? Also, many reservists and particularly their families do not envisage these longer periods of service.
My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very good point. Out in Afghanistan at the moment we rely on a lot of reserve medics. I was out in Camp Bastion in March and I met a number of anaesthetists, surgeons and people playing vital medical roles, many of whom are reserves who help the regulars.
The noble Lord talked about leaks. This leak did not come from the Ministry of Defence. I can assure the noble Lord of that.
The noble Lord talked about the enhanced roles of the reservists. In the Statement there was mention of the independent scrutiny team to assess the progress that we are making with the reserves. This is led by General Robin Brims, who is chairman of the Council of Reserve Forces’ and Cadets’ Associations. He will make his first report in the summer of 2013. This is an issue which we are taking very seriously and it is not going to work unless the reserves are fully integrated into the regular Army.
My Lords, I was concerned to hear that 24 Commando Regiment Royal Engineers is to be withdrawn. Can my noble friend tell me which formation will fulfil the engineer functions in support of the 3rd Commando Brigade Royal Marines?
The Statement refers to redundancies which are happening and which will follow. As my noble friend said, the British Army has shown the highest standards of professionalism, courage and devotion to duty, particularly over the past 15 years of continuous and hazardous war-fighting. If it is decided that a member of the Armed Forces is to be made compulsorily redundant after 15 years of service, and is offered a financial package actuarially calculated to be worth, say, £100,000, whereas if he or she had served for 16 years it would have been worth £110,000 or, more likely, more, the very least our Government should do is to compensate that person on a pro rata accrual basis.
I know that my noble friend will share my concerns and agree that generosity, fairness and integrity should be the underlying principles in these matters. Will he look into this matter as one of urgency to ensure that the Government’s deeds match their words?
I understand that 24 Commando Engineers is an Army regiment that supports the Royal Marines. Although we are withdrawing the regiment, we will leave behind a squadron, which has only 20 fewer people than a regiment, so it will not be a serious change.
On my noble friend’s second question, I will look into the matter, but it is inevitable that some of those selected for redundancy may leave without completing sufficient service to qualify for an immediate pension or equivalent. The Armed Forces pension scheme recognises that, by paying significantly larger tax-free redundancy compensation lump sums to those who narrowly miss out on immediate incomes than to those who qualify.
Any pensions rights that have been earned will also be preserved, meaning that an index-linked pension and further tax-free lump sum become payable at the age of 60 or 65, depending on the pension scheme. Whereas the majority of other ranks normally have to serve 22 years before receiving immediate income, the Armed Forces redundancy scheme has reduced that requirement to 18 years, a concession of four years which will enable many redundantees to receive an immediate income for which they would otherwise not have qualified.
My Lords, if the plans for Army 2020 are to have any chance of success, we shall need a fundamental change in this country of culture, not organisational process, with regard to the status of reservists in society and the workplace. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defence has just announced a triennial review of the National Employer Advisory Board, a crucial body contributing to the development of reserve policy. Rather than a routine triennial review at this stage, would it not make sense to seize the opportunity to bring together employers, reservists and regulars to work out a plan to achieve the culture change without which Army 2020 simply will not work?
My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord makes a very good point about employers. A lot of discussion is taking place with employers. As I have said twice, we attach much importance to our relationship with employers. This will not work unless we bring them on side. A lot is happening, but I would be very interested to hear any suggestions from the noble and gallant Lord.