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Armed Forces: Reserve Forces

Volume 740: debated on Thursday 1 November 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have for the future role of Her Majesty’s Reserve Forces.

My Lords, on behalf of many noble Lords, I am pleased to raise the issue of plans by Her Majesty’s Government for the Reserve Forces of all four of Her Majesty’s forces, which is an extremely important issue. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, for his unfailing interest in the Reserve Forces, for his courtesy in briefing colleagues on plans, and for his presence this afternoon. I am also very grateful to him for replying to this debate, which is most important for many of those who have served in what used to be called the Territorial Army but also the Reserve Forces of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force.

I think that my colleagues on all Benches look forward to hearing from my noble friend an indication of the publication of the Green Paper, which was talked about some months ago, on the future of the Reserve Forces. Of course, that would lead inevitably to the proposal for legislative changes—certainly a White Paper—in due course. In the past few weeks and months, we have been somewhat delayed. I am all in favour of careful consideration of the issues that have been raised by colleagues both on these Benches and on other Benches about what has been discussed over the past few months concerning the future of the Reserve Forces.

My qualification is fairly modest for leading on this Question and I notice three noble and gallant Lords, and others, who know far more than I about the role of the Reserve Forces. I know that some, if not all, will be contributing to the debate. However, I served as the Minister responsible for the Reserve Forces under the late George Younger, who, in my judgment, was one of the most distinguished Secretaries of State for Defence. At his request, for the past 10 years, I have served as president of the Reserve Forces’ & Cadets Associations, which seems to have gone in a flash. I worked very closely with His Grace the Duke of Westminster and I pay particular tribute to the contribution that he has made, although he has now stepped down to help in other charitable causes. However, in my brief contribution, I speak for myself alone.

If your Lordships will forgive me, I shall concentrate on the Army. However, I pay particular credit to the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force for the work that they have done in the contribution being made by the Reserve Forces, which may be small in comparison to the total numbers that we used to have in the Territorial Army if you go back 10 or 20 years. Nevertheless, the changes that have been made are creditable, sensible and useful.

I welcome the planned increase in Army reserves to 30,000 trained reserves over the next few years to augment the reduced number in the regular Army, once more than 20,000 of the latter come back from bases in Germany. Therefore, we need an increase in recruitment to the Army reserves, as the Government have indicated. We need particularly to recruit younger reserves; that is, those leaving school or coming up to university. That for me is extremely important.

In the time available to me, I want to comment briefly on six key issues which I believe are essential for successful expansion and the doubling of trained Army reserves by 2016, which is just round the corner. We should concentrate especially on younger recruits. First, as regards employer support, I defer to my noble friend Lord Glenarthur and shall listen to his comments. I pay tribute to the helpful work that he has done in the area of employer support. It is important that we begin to focus on larger companies and universities to help in the career development of younger recruits coming into the Reserve Forces.

Secondly, over the coming years we need to focus more specifically on recruiting those with special skills, such as people with a background in, or interest in qualifying in, areas such as the health service, logistics, cybersecurity, communications and engineering. This is where the Army reserves can make a real contribution not just to one part of the Army but to its overall effectiveness.

Thirdly, as regards countrywide cover, in recent years, the regular Army has for obvious reasons been concentrated in fewer major barracks and centres. One can understand that for reasons of not only expense but training and facilities. The footprint of the Reserve Forces around the country is extremely important. I am now talking specifically about the Army. I know that His Grace the Duke of Westminster feels particularly strongly about that. We do not want unused drill halls but, as far as I am concerned, the bigger the footprint of the Reserve Forces around the United Kingdom, the better.

Fourthly, I believe in training the regular Army with the reserves. This means having to use facilities at the weekends, because if you are in the reserves and have a full-time job Monday to Friday, it is easier to participate with your colleagues in regular Army units at the weekend. At the moment, some of our training facilities are not open at the weekends.

Fifthly, I think that what I am about to mention is already happening and I pay tribute to what the Army command has achieved in this respect. It is very important that reserve units in the Army are posted as a unit which includes the senior NCOs and the junior officers. In the past five years, for obvious reasons, partly because of the size of the regular Army, we have had what I believe the Navy calls trickle posting. I would like to see reserve units which are being trained together brigaded with and working with regular Army units. When there is an emergency, either civil and abroad, they should move as a unit.

Finally, will the Minister say when the Ministry of Defence will indicate what the ORBAT—order of battle—might be in the future; that is, how individual Territorial or reserve Army units might be brigaded with regular Army units to deal with an emergency not only in this country but abroad? I look forward to listening to the debate.

My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Freeman for securing this debate and for all the work he has done with the Reserve Forces over the years.

To achieve the challenging reserves target, we need to do two principal things—first, to raise the profile and esteem of the reserves and, secondly, to bring employers on board in a positive way. We need to think somewhat outside the box. Regarding raising the profile and esteem, the name, the TA, is somewhat dated and old hat. I suggest something more exciting—perhaps something along the lines of “Royal Volunteer Reserve”. It would be marvellous if a specific member of the Royal Family could act as champion for our new reserves, with perhaps an annual event at Buckingham Palace to thank those who have given outstanding support.

Locally, the high sheriffs could play a role across the country. I was a high sheriff and, in my year, I could easily have devoted a substantial amount of my time to the promotion of the reserves in my county of Greater Manchester. After all, they had a historic role in raising forces in the old days. We should consider extending the Armed Forces covenant. I am not too hopeful, but the Treasury should adopt a certain generosity of approach to the expenses of reserves, particularly things such as travel expenses for those who come from a rural community. I would like the Tickets for Troops scheme to be extended. Perhaps the reserves should have some form of national discount card. There should be a unit in the Ministry of Defence focused on the reserves in terms of media and PR, liaising and in partnership with regional and local media.

We need to endeavour to demonstrate to employers the benefits that reserves will bring to their businesses in terms of skills and leadership. Perhaps the state might consider paying employers’ national insurance contributions. I suggest some form of kitemark, or something similar, for good practice. As part of a company’s CSR, corporate social responsibility, it should indicate in its annual report—particularly larger companies such as plcs—its attitude to the Reserve Forces and the number whom they employ. Similarly, large professional firms could adopt this approach. We should encourage professional bodies, government departments and local authorities to publicise that information. I accept that it is much more difficult for smaller firms to release key personnel, and I therefore hope that we adopt a policy of more generous—particularly more flexible—compensation along the lines of the very successful Australian approach. On the legislative front, we will probably need to make it an offence to discriminate against reservists in recruitment.

I should like to ask my noble friend a number of questions, to which he may well wish to reply in writing. Does he agree with the Duke of Westminster, who stated that from his experience, overseas employers—he mentioned the French, Japanese and Americans—have a more encouraging attitude to reservists than UK employers generally have? Does he further agree that decisions on the future of individual TA centres should be made in consultation with the Reserve Forces and cadets associations, not just by Defence Estates? Will my noble friend comment on the progress of the review of the National Employer Advisory Board, which we were told should be completed later this year? When will we be informed of the outcome? Will he also update the House following the Prime Minister’s announcement, as part of Armed Forces Day, on the progress of the plan to open 100 new cadet units in state-funded secondary schools by 2015? Clearly, cadet units are an obvious and natural pathway for young people towards our Reserve Forces.

Finally, is the Minister aware—this is my understanding—that although we have a significant flow of inquiries to join the reserves, there is actually relatively little enlistment because of a number of bureaucratic blockages?

My Lords, reservists have a long and distinguished history in this country and have been key to securing the security of these islands and the interests of this country’s peoples over many years, but nothing stays the same. The means of protecting our security and interests necessarily evolve over time, which means that reservists, along with their regular counterparts, need to evolve too. They have done so. It would be wrong to think that the reservists of today are the same as those of the Cold War. Far from it—the idea that they are somehow weekend warriors is completely out of date. Over the past several years reservists have served and sometimes, alas, died and been wounded alongside their regular comrades. I for one deprecate the suggestion that “Dad’s Army” is still alive and well and I salute the courage and fortitude of those reservists who have served their country so well in recent times.

That is not to say, however, that all is as it should be in the Reserve Forces or that there is no scope for further change and improvement. Much needs to be done, and the recent review of reserves is an important step in that direction. I have been fortunate enough to have reserve units under my command. I was privileged to be the honorary colonel of a TA Royal Engineer regiment for several years, and during my time as Chief of the Defence Staff I saw at first hand what a magnificent contribution our reservists made to operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a result of these experiences I also became acutely aware of the scale of the challenge that our reservists face and the difficulties that we must tackle if we are to improve the situation. Recruiting has always been an issue, but poor retention has exacerbated the problem. All too often new recruits have fallen by the wayside because their initial enthusiasm was not matched by the effort that went into their training. They spent long periods, sometimes stretching into years, waiting for places on the relevant courses. Meanwhile, they could not be used for the purposes and in the roles that attracted them to the reserves in the first place, and as a consequence many of them left.

If we are to do better with our Reserve Forces, we will need to be prepared to put in the necessary resources—not just to deliver the appropriate training to everyone but to deliver it in a timely manner. This is not just about man training days; it is also about the right number of instructors and other training resources, none of which comes cheap. Even if we have the right numbers with the right training we have to be able to employ them effectively. I welcome the review of reserves’ focus on the “whole force concept” and its emphasis on the better use of scarce skills in key areas, but this means reservists who are used on a regular and continuing basis. Meanwhile, most of those people have civilian jobs, through which they provide for themselves and their families, build for the future and provide for their retirement. No amount of enthusiasm for their military roles can make them forget that, so the future model for the use of reserves must take account of these needs. It is not just about being able to go back to their civilian roles; it is about sustaining their wider career aspirations while serving in the reserves.

The review of reserves goes some way to recognising that by highlighting the need for legislative changes, better employer protection and greater recognition of employers. Having grappled with this thorny issue over a number of years in partnership with some other noble Lords who are in their places this afternoon, I do not believe that the review goes far enough. In my view what is required is nothing less than a cultural shift in this country. We need a mindset where having reservists in the workforce is not just something to be tolerated but something to brag about. We need a situation where a civilian employer who does not have reservists in the workforce feels rather uncomfortable, or at least rather regrets the fact. That reserve service must be seen as a badge of honour for the employer as well as for the employee. I do not think that a kite mark by itself, useful though it may be, will take the trick.

Cultural shifts are possible, but they are notoriously difficult to achieve. They require sustained leadership over an extended period. By “sustained” I mean over the course of many years, not just a few months—and they need that leadership at the highest level. They also require the necessary investment of resources over that period. Even with these, success is not guaranteed—but without them, failure is certain.

The review of reserves sets out an imaginative road map for our Reserve Forces, and a bold plan for sustaining and improving their effectiveness in the complex world of the early 21st century. It provides a sound theoretical underpinning for the proposals in Army 2020. My concern is about whether the plan will be delivered in practice. Will successive Governments have the political determination and staying power to deliver the necessary cultural change to make the proposals work? Will they sustain the necessary levels of investment to deliver a trained capability of the right size? Or will our Reserve Forces be left, as they were so often in the past, to make do and mend as best they can when the initial enthusiasm for the current initiative has faded? I hope that the Minister will reassure us on that score. I know that he feels—as I do—that our reserves deserve much better.

My Lords, the loss of two more soldiers in the past two or three weeks—to whom I pay particular tribute—reminds me of the price that the people of Yorkshire in particular have paid in terms of losses in Afghanistan. Scenes of grieving families outside our cathedral in Wakefield before and after military funerals have become all too frequent. In the light of this, I am particularly proud that two priests in the diocese of Wakefield are reservists. I hope that the noble Lords, Lord Freeman and Lord Lee, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, will consider the Church of England to be a model employer in these circumstances. Each priest has served a three-month tour in Afghanistan, and one is likely to serve there again in the not-too-distant future. I have kept up with issues of morale and resources through one of the priests; he briefs me regularly. He is involved in training reservists at York, Catterick and elsewhere.

The strategic defence and security review, with which I engaged previously in this Chamber, has already had an impact in these areas. There is an understandable pressure on reservists to play an ever more important role in the UK Armed Forces by providing a greater and more integrated proportion of total manpower. This means that there ought to be an urgent strategic review of the welfare, healthcare and support needs of both serving military personnel and their families. Not long ago, I attended an excellent briefing by the Ministry of Defence on our military reservists and on the strategy for the future. I give particular thanks to the Minister for arranging that and a number of other excellent briefings over the past two years.

Clearly, the Future Reserves 2020 report is central to the plans of Her Majesty’s Government for increased reliance on reservists. It makes crucial reference to increasing welfare support to these people and their families while they are engaged in operations. However, it provides virtually no plan or strategy for precisely what is required or how it should be achieved. This stands in contrast to the conclusions of the 2009 Ministry of Defence report on the strategic role of reserves, where again the argument about the need for improved support was made.

It is perfectly clear that we will need to rely more and more on people giving freely of their time in the naval, Air Force and Army reserves. Our resources are stretched severely because of the fragility of the international situation in any number of different theatres. I hope that as a result of this important debate—for the securing of which I thank the noble Lord, Lord Freeman—Her Majesty’s Government will assure us of a proper level of support such as that for which I have argued, and also of proper resources and back-up for the operations in which they are to be engaged.

We owe all of our military an enormous debt at this time, as ever. Furthermore, our reservists, of course, give of their time entirely through their own generosity. Theology has had a bad name among politicians going even back to the time of Harold Wilson’s premiership, so I have avoided theology thus far. However, I must describe this extraordinary and courageous generosity as an outpouring of grace. I wish to give thanks unreservedly—excuse the pun—for the graciousness of these people and their continuing demonstration of that through their service.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, for the important Question that he has tabled. I was introduced into this House in 1999. Some might think that I have allowed an inordinate length of time elapse before making my maiden speech, but there has been a reason for this. I was introduced as a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary and as a fervent believer in the separation of powers. Rightly or wrongly, I considered that it was not compatible with my judicial duties to take part in the legislative business of the House. Parliament agreed with that view when, by the Constitutional Reform Act, it disqualified the justices of the new Supreme Court from sitting or voting in the House.

On 1 October I was released from this purdah. I sought a topic on which to break my lengthy abstinence and on which I might be qualified to contribute. The noble Lord has provided this. I am one of the diminishing number in this place, and certainly of those making a maiden speech, who were required to do national service. This I did in the Royal Navy. To do so I had to join the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve as an ordinary seaman, and it was as an ordinary seaman that I began my national service in 1956. After my basic training I applied, with some confidence, to train as an upper yardman, which would have led to a commission. The selection board rejected me and I was sent off as an ordinary seaman to join HMS “Maidstone”, a submarine depot ship. Conditions on the lower deck, I found, had not changed much since Nelson’s day. You still slept in a hammock, so close to the next man that when he turned over he woke you up and began a chain reaction right the way down the line.

National servicemen were a rarity in the Navy and I would endorse the emphasis that the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, placed on training reservists with regulars. Most of my shipmates were regular sailors who had nautical skills, and other skills, that I could not match. They tolerated my incompetence with a gentle benevolence. My experience during the year I spent on the lower deck was, I think, more valuable to my development than my subsequent year as a midshipman and the most junior officer in a minesweeper. The officers in these little ships shared a number of duties. I was correspondence officer, assistant minesweeping officer and atomic warfare officer. The latter two posts were of somewhat academic significance as we spent our time patrolling Cyprus, boarding and searching vessels in an attempt to prevent gun-running to the EOKA terrorists. So far as I am aware, no arms were ever intercepted.

I doubt whether my service was of great value to the nation, but it was certainly of great value to me. I went in as a callow youth and came out with a maturity and a knowledge of navigation and seamanship that provided a firm foundation for a career that started at the Admiralty Bar and led eventually to this place. That perhaps is not a reason for commending Her Majesty’s Reserve Forces. This place can be quite crowded enough, although not on this occasion.

The point I wish to make is that service in the reserves is not merely of direct benefit to this country. It is of benefit to those who serve in them and thus also of considerable indirect benefit to the country. The Ministry of Defence website accurately states that being a reservist is as rewarding as it is challenging. It is gratifying that the review promises an increase in that challenge and that reward.

This contribution has been somewhat shorter than it might have been had I not been informed yesterday by the Whips’ Office that I would have to restrict my remarks to three minutes, but brevity is, I suspect, on this occasion a virtue.

My Lords, it is my great privilege and pleasure to congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, on his maiden speech. He has entertained us well and, I think, rather modestly left out some other judicial appointments in his magnificent career. He was of course Master of the Rolls and Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales in between the times he served here, first as a Law Lord and then as the Senior Law Lord, before moving on to the Supreme Court. He obviously learnt from his time in the Royal Navy. Whether it was all good or all bad, I think we can judge that he enjoyed it, and I am certain that we are going to enjoy his contributions to this House. We welcome him and thank him for speaking today.

I congratulate, too, the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, on his choice of topic. He is right to focus our thoughts on the future of the reserves. Much thought has been given and effort put into this as part of the major restructuring of the Armed Forces following the strategic defence and security review. I am myself a firm supporter of the value of Armed Forces reserves that have real operational worth and are not seen by those outside or within the reserves as weekend chancers playing at being soldiers or, indeed, sailors and airmen. Happily, thanks to the important changes that were introduced for the reserves over the past decade, and the large number of reservists who have been on active operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is far greater public understanding of the key value of reservists, some of whom have made the ultimate sacrifice.

To concentrate on the future, I hope that the Minister will give the House a better understanding of the Government’s expectations of reaching the numbers and mix of reserves that they are now pursuing, and the risks if they are not achieved. As it is well understood, a variety of factors will influence this outcome. First, of course, there are the individuals who have to be attracted, motivated and committed to volunteering and remaining within the reserves structure so as to become worthy and effective members of their units. If trained from scratch, it is essential that the individual is prepared to serve for a number of years in order to “amortise”, as it were, his or her training costs.

Then, as has already been mentioned, there are the employers. While the country is involved in operations overseas, the profile of the Armed Forces is much enhanced in the public mind. Employers react to this by wishing to be as accommodating as possible in releasing employees for reserve activity and retaining them on the payroll after service. But as we move, we hope, beyond the past decade or two of wars of choice—that is, choice by the Government of the day to commit forces into sustained expeditionary operations—will the reduced prominence of the Armed Forces still be a good recruiting sergeant for the reserves, and will they be as readily accepted by employers as they are today? I am not clear what proposals or suggestions the Government will pursue to encourage and, indeed, to reward employers who agree to have and release reservists when they are required for training or for operations. More will need to be done in this regard.

I am also concerned that the Government’s expectations in terms of achieving their recruitment and retention targets are overambitious. Even for the Royal Air Force, which has a good blend of reserve units and is standing up further elements in other geographic areas, such as Liverpool and Northern Ireland, to expand areas for recruitment and provide or sustain an RAF regional footprint, forecasts have not lived up to expectations. I recall mentioning in 2008 in a debate on the reserves the serious dip in recruitment that had been experienced by the RAF Auxiliaries earlier that decade and that it was estimated that full strength could not be reached before 2013-14. A quick look at the figures shows that the trained strength is now forecast not to be reached before 2016. In other words, expectations have not been fulfilled.

Why are the Government so confident that this time around, with far greater ambitions for reserve numbers, the targets can be reached? What evidence do they adduce from past figures? What will have changed so dramatically in the next five to six years that trained strength targets will be reached and sustained? I hope that the Minister can reassure the House on this critical point. Or will he be frank and say that while their aspirations are to get to 100%, 75%, say, may be more realistic?

My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Freeman forecast, I will confine my remarks principally to the matters of employers and employer support. As I think some of your Lordships know, I spent seven years as chairman of the National Employer Advisory Board. Indeed, I worked a lot over that period with three of the noble and gallant Lords who are sitting opposite.

I wholly support the notion that reserves should be usable. It is far better to have 30,000 fully trained, fit and deployable members of the TA than a higher number of whom only a proportion are fit and qualified enough to be deployed. The same goes for both the naval and the Air Force reserves, albeit in their smaller numbers. From what I have read about what is proposed to appear in the Green Paper shortly, I must ask whether the Government have really thought through how these reservists are going to be used in the future. Have the Government taken serious advice so far from employers and employers’ organisations and understood what their reaction is likely to be? Have they consulted the CBI, the EEF, the chambers of commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses? I sincerely hope so.

At a time of considerable economic strain, employers face considerable difficulties. Whatever the fine words—and I have used them myself in the past—about wanting to establish a new relationship between employers and employees, individuals, families and reservists, I urge the Government not to imagine that their aspirations for greater utility of the reserves should appear to be at the expense, in some form or other, of civilian employers of reservists. I find it hard to be enthusiastic about the diminution of our Regular Forces and some of the capabilities that we are losing. If the Government want—as they should—adequately trained, experienced, properly equipped and resolute servicemen, whether regular or reservist, who can be deployed with confidence, somehow the funds have got to be found to pay for it. The employer should not be the person who faces an undue burden.

Having said that, employers have been remarkably resilient for many years with both Iraq and Afghanistan. As I discovered during my time as chairman of NEAB, intelligent mobilisation worked extraordinarily well but we should not allow this success to lull us into a false sense of security. Mobilisation for manifestly operational tasks is one thing; and mobilisation of reservists, even to release Regular Forces from a more mundane role so that those regulars can be deployed operationally, may be acceptable, as was shown when reservists played a role in Cyprus. However, if it is a gleam in the eye of the Government to use reservists for some more regular standing commitments, either by individuals, groups of individuals or formed reserve units, they should be cautious. Employers might not so readily understand or accept mobilisation of employees for extended overseas deployments and other activities that fall short of operations, however those ideas are dressed up. Whatever the nature of the understanding of the benefits to the deployed individual, and the benefits they can bring back to the employer, as my noble friend Lord Lee said, what otherwise is in it for employers? At the moment it seems that there is precious little in it for them.

What new measures are going to be brought forward to help support employers, on whom increased demand is going to be placed? What thought has gone into a package of measures to make it worth while for employers, especially SMEs, to derive some practical benefit or advantage? In my time at NEAB, I long argued that SI859, the relevant statutory instrument, has to be substantially changed so as to provide a strong tangible incentive to employers; otherwise, there is the risk that this would be perceived, rightly or wrongly, as defence on the cheap. Some will argue that the country cannot afford a fully fledged regular defence effort so it has to rely on the good will of employers who are often struggling to keep their businesses afloat.

As well as the tangible efforts that SI859 might produce, what about, for example, accreditation of skills from one element to another, from the reservist to the employer? I would have quite some difficulty and some tough questions as an employer if an employee aspired to spend large amounts of time away on military training and deployments—and I am a supporter of the whole concept. Even if I knew that he or she would bring back excellent soft skills from that experience, which could be put to good use in the workplace, I would want to know why as an employer I should have to bear all the expense and inconvenience, however loyal I felt.

The Government should be very wary indeed of contemplating anti-discrimination legislation that would make it illegal for companies to deny employment to those who rightly declare that they are reservists. We should not add to the red tape burden that employers already face. In any case, employers will find a way of getting round it and it would be seen as hugely negative by smaller companies in the private sector, as SaBRE research shows. We have an enshrined military covenant for regular reserves. What about an enshrined covenant for the employers of reservists?

I hope that my noble friend will ensure that the work of SaBRE and those other organisations that have worked so well to date is not changed in a way that confuses the employer and the employee. It has worked well. Let us develop it but let us not change it massively.

My Lords, this is one of those debates when I get the impression that everybody is singing from a very similar hymn sheet.

The first document I got from the Library was Future Reserves 2020, the opening paragraphs of which are headed: “Our Reserve Forces are in Decline”, “We have failed to modernise Reservist Roles”, “We are not exploiting the potential of our Reserves” and “We are not using the Reserves efficiently”. I do not think anybody in this debate has disagreed with any of those sentiments and I have not heard anything anywhere that contradicts them. So effectively we are saying it is broke and we have to fix it.

The Government have come up with an approach that seems to have potential. As has been pointed out by many people in this debate, the will to follow through and support this very interesting cross-section of people involved—employers, employees, the military and all those bits of government and outside government that are brought into that interlocking experience—is going to be vital.

As I was going through the briefing pack and listening to this debate, I came up with one central theme for all those involved: “What is in it for me?”. If the military can get units that are deployable, highly trained and ready to go into action at a moment’s notice, particularly if they are locally based and may well be able to take on emergency response activity, that is very important for the military structure. But when it comes to individual reservists and their employers, my noble friend is quite right to draw attention to the fact that we have got to address this and see how the Government can help, in both hard and soft ways.

My noble friend Lord Lee started with the point of how you recognise and reward people. Oddly, the Olympics probably displayed this. If you give somebody recognition and a sense of purpose, people will take that on board. That is a great deal of what seems to inspire the Reserve Forces. They do it because they want to. They feel that it gives them a sense of duty, a sense of purpose and a sense of support. That should be enhanced and polished by the implements of the state: the forces themselves. There is a real duty upon the command structure to make sure that these groups, who are volunteering and assisting, not because it is their profession but because they choose to give of their spare time and potentially risk their lives, should receive full recognition. It has also been suggested in this debate—I was going to make this point anyway—that the military covenant should take account of what a reservist does.

What is in it for the employer? Sticks and carrots and other clichés come to mind, but the danger is that you end up hitting people with a carrot and trying to bribe them with a stick. What are we going to do? You can get at a big employer quite easily. You can say, “Your corporate responsibility duties are taken into account. Here, you can have access, bigger government contracts. Are you helping us?”. All of this can be done in certain ways, hard and soft.

With the smaller employer, you are going to have to be more proactive and give support in various ways to encourage them to come forward. If you want specialist skills, many small companies are involved in the field of anti-cyberterrorism and anti-cyberattack; I am chairman of one. We may have in my own company people who would be ideal for these military roles. How are you going to help support and fill those gaps when they are required? It is a real question which has not yet been fully answered.

It would be unreasonable to expect the Minister to do it now, but we must take away an idea of the consideration and work that is going on here. Let us face it, the traditional TA was a very good target for the odd joke; Billy Connolly’s sketch about his own experiences made me laugh. But if you do something out of duty and respect, because you should and believe that it is your role, and if people put you through that without building you up and saying, “Yes, you are important” and making sure that you can maintain a job, it does not matter what scheme you put down on paper, it simply is not going to work.

My Lords, I am conscious that I am echoing the comments of other noble Lords who have spoken in this debate before me when I acknowledge and pay tribute to the dedication and commitment of our Reserve Forces, without whom the Armed Forces could not have done what they have done over the past 10 years—principally, but not exclusively, in Iraq and Afghanistan. As is widely known, typically, 10% of every brigade group deployed, previously to Iraq and now in Afghanistan, have been mobilised reservists. In defence medical units, this percentage has often been much higher. So there is no doubt about the critical role that our Reserve Forces play, especially as part of our land forces, in which I include the Army, the Royal Marines and parts of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force.

However, it is the future role of our Reserve Forces that your Lordships are debating today, but the role of the Reserve Forces can be debated properly only in the context of today’s strategic and financial environment and the policy choices and decisions that Her Majesty’s Government have made in the past two years. The consequences of some of those decisions have undoubtedly produced risk: risk to the defence of the realm; risk to the safety of our citizens; and risk to the well-being of the Armed Forces. Reducing the size of the regular Army from 102,000 to 82,000 is a significant risk. There is no other way to describe that. But risk itself is not a problem provided that it is identified, acknowledged and then well managed. Mitigating the risk of a too small full-time Army by significantly increasing the number of part-time soldiers is a perfectly reasonable risk management strategy, but one with its own inherent risks. We have heard about many of them already this evening. Will the Reserve Forces be able to attract a sufficient number of volunteers to fill the ranks? Will enough resource be made available to train those volunteers to a sufficiently high standard? Will the roles and training opportunities being made available to the volunteers be sufficiently challenging and satisfying to motivate and sustain them—here, I think especially of officers and senior non-commissioned officers? Will sufficient civilian employers be willing to let the volunteers—their employees—take significant periods of absence to be able to join units on major training or operational deployments?

These, and more, are all legitimate questions that are being asked and must be asked. For this initiative to succeed, the answer must be yes to all of them. There must also be an absolute determination to substantiate a positive answer; otherwise the risk identified will translate from being just a risk to our security to being an actual danger to our security.

Notwithstanding our withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014 and apparent lack of appetite for further foreign interventions, a glance at the insecurity of the world in the past decade and the insecurity of the world today fills me with no great optimism that the decade to come will be any less demanding for our Armed Forces than the decade just past. We may think that we are better at predicting the future than past generations, but strategic shocks happen, as the Falklands and 9/11 testify.

Yet it would seem that the judgment has been made either that the world will be a more secure place in the next decade or that we wish to play a lesser role within the world in the next decade, because, unless these plans for the greater utilisation of our Reserve Forces come fully to fruition, there is no doubt that we will have less military capability than in the past and no option other than to play a lesser role in the world, which would constitute a policy change forced by circumstance and not decided by debate.

Do my comments constitute a precursor to an attack on the Government’s defence policy and priorities? The answer to my own question is no, or at least not now. Despite the significant risks about which I am concerned, I take some comfort from the stated government intention to hold a major defence and security review once in every Parliament. Clearly, this Government cannot guarantee what any future Government might do after the next general election but, frankly, no right-thinking person would wish to see a repeat of the 13-year gap between the formal defence reviews of 1997 and 2010.

I look forward to the next defence review, set properly against the strategic circumstances of two or three years’ time and, of course, mindful of financial issues, but only mindful of, not driven by, financial issues. If an open, honest and thorough analysis of our strategic circumstances is made, set against a similar debate about our national ambition, we will reach proper judgments about the military capabilities that we require and their quantum. Should my fears about the capabilities and quantum of our land forces as currently envisaged be substantiated, then the mechanism for remedy exists, even if that would mean a modest reprioritisation of spending across government and not just within defence.

For now, I support the plans to increase our Reserve Forces, and, with others, will do whatever I can to help those plans succeed, but should those plans not come to fruition, I take comfort in the context of the next defence review and the formal chance that it will provide to think again.

My Lords, at the outset, I thank my noble friend Lord Freeman, for securing this debate and for his excellent speech. As we begin the period leading to Remembrance Sunday, the contribution of all members of our Armed Forces, past and present, is very much in our minds. Reserve Forces have fought in every recent operational theatre, alongside regular personnel. As we remember the sacrifices of the past, we need to look to the future in a spirit of sober reflection.

When we look at the future role of the Reserve Forces, we cannot do so without considering the wider defence context. The Strategic Defence and Security Review provides the backdrop for these important decisions. I welcome the fact that these reviews will now be held every five years. Before 2010, the last Strategic Defence Review was held in 1998; and the previous one in 1992. As we look towards the end of our military commitments in Afghanistan, now is an opportune time to think about the future shape of our Armed Forces. What is clear is that we will need greater flexibility in both Regular and Reserve Forces. I welcomed the Secretary of State’s announcement, on 5 July, that the Government accepted the broad thrust of the review of our Reserve Forces.

To increase operational flexibility, reservists can expect an increased role, with greater integration alongside Regular Forces. That will require an increase as well as a change in the nature of the role of reservists, and it sits well alongside wider defence reforms. We need to recruit reservists with specialist skills and expertise. By redefining reservists’ role, there will need to be more predictable scales of commitment, particularly for enduring operations. This raises some potential issues. The Government, as an employer, have set a good example by demonstrating how they will encourage civil servants’ participation in future; civil servants can look forward to 10 days’ paid leave to conduct Reserve Forces training. However, as was explained to me recently, when reservists are deployed in theatre, the tour may last six months, but the time away could be more than that. With my background in business, I know that this could have serious consequences, particularly for small businesses. A balance is difficult to strike; employers can ask at an interview whether someone is a member of the Reserve Forces. I hope that the Minister will be able to update your Lordships’ House on what support is being made available to businesses as well as potential recruits.

I congratulate the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Territorial Army for its work on this. I welcome the Partnering for Talent initiative between the Ministry of Defence, the Department for Work and Pensions and private enterprise. This pilot started recently, identifying business benefits for employers supporting reservists. These are early days, but I would welcome the Minister’s observations on progress.

Reserve Forces have sometimes been at a disadvantage when returning from theatre. Their period in decompression can be less than for Regular Forces, and the level of support available can be harder for them to access. The Armed Forces Act 2011 enshrined the military covenant in law; this agenda has been picked up enthusiastically all across the country and captured the public imagination. I welcome the Government’s commitment to the military covenant, including for reservists.

I now press the importance of the contribution of people of all ethnic groups to our Armed Forces. In this regard, I raise two points. First, there is a shortfall of about 20% in the recruitment numbers from ethnic minority communities; secondly, there is the issue of retention. On the latter, it is important that the skills of the ethnic-minority personnel are fully recognised and that promotions are based on merit. I am reliably told that there is some disquiet among serving personnel and we need to look at why there is dissatisfaction. I would appreciate the Minister’s views on the two points I have raised.

I add that I encourage ethnic minorities to join the Armed Forces and have spoken on this subject many times at meetings and events. Our Armed Forces have always been strongest when drawn from the widest possible pool of manpower and talent. To conclude, this debate has rightly celebrated our Reserve Forces and their increased contribution to our continued security.

My Lords, after many years of involvement with and command of the TA, I have always held our reserves in singularly high regard, but that regard is dosed with a good dollop of realism and an understanding of the art of the possible for Army volunteer units. I stress Army because I do not know the Royal Naval and Royal Air Force Reserves as well.

Against that background, I have a number of concerns about the proposals in the report, Future Reserves 2020. Of course, there is not time to discuss them all today, so I will confine myself to just two: recruiting and roles. These are self-evidently linked because if we do not recruit sufficient volunteers there will be gaps in the Army’s order of battle and if the roles are not exacting, exciting or attractive enough then volunteers will not bother to join.

Recruiters for the Regular Army judge that about 20% of recruits are so-called “army barmy”. In other words, these are people who have passionately wanted all their young lives to join the Army and have done so. Clearly, a number of territorial reserves feel the same. These are not the people I am talking about because they will probably join whatever the Government of the day do to reform the service. The fact is that there will never be enough in this category alone to fill the ranks of either the regular or the TA elements of the Army.

To my knowledge, since the 1980s the Territorial Army has never been recruited above 80% of its full established strength. Indeed, its current unreformed strength is well below that at around 50%. There is as yet little evidence to indicate that this phenomenon will be different whatever the size of the force. Indeed, the smaller the critical mass, the less likely it will be able to keep its strength up. Nor should we underestimate the extent of the disincentive from the rationalisation—in other words, the significant reduction—of the TA estate. I would compare the impact of that on recruiting to what would happen if coffee drinkers found that Starbucks reduced its number of coffee outlets. If a Starbucks is to hand, people will go and buy their coffee there. If they have to travel some 10 miles to get to the nearest Starbucks, they will go somewhere else. That is also the case for those who might join the TA but take proximity to one of its centres into account. It is particularly the case for those who live in rural areas and may have to travel 20, 30, 40 or more miles to attend an evening or weekend session.

There is then the paradox of why people join the TA. Some who join are used in their professional specialisation. Doctors, dentists and chaplains are classic examples and there are many others. But many join to have a complete change from their professional skill. Lawyers, teachers and bankers love being riflemen, gunners and engineers, for example. They genuinely do not want to be used in their professional capacity and would probably not join if they were forced to do so.

However, my experience has been that we have gained the most effective use of the territorials by employing them in uniform to use their specialist professional skills. In Bosnia, I had a TA infantry officer who was, in civilian life, a High Court judge. He was an absolute wizard at translating the small print of the Dayton agreement into practical instructions for the warring factions. In that capacity, he made a far greater contribution to the overall operation than he would have done in his capacity as an infantryman. In Iraq, several teachers and bankers were diverted from their primary roles to help develop schools and banking systems. Indeed, our experience on recent operations is that we need people who understand the media, construction, politics, law, economics and all manner of areas for which the Army is never the first port of call. Balancing this with those who aspire to be straightforward soldiers and the needs of the total force is a delicate task: get it wrong and the volunteers will vote with their feet, even more so than the regulars because for them it is by and large a secondary job.

We also need to look at the terms of service for these folk. The EU part-time workers directive makes it clear that a part-time worker must be treated no less favourably than a comparable full-timer. That means that unless employers can objectively justify exclusion, part-time employees have to be provided with access to pension schemes on a basis no less favourable than for their full-time counterparts. I have no doubt that the clever clogs in the MoD will find some objective justification to gain derogation from this and there is no mention of it in the report. But if it is to be an integrated Army, and on moral grounds, surely we should make volunteer service to the Armed Forces of our nation pensionable. Of course the smaller the Army, the more often its component parts are likely to be used. Employers, as we have heard, are generally good people and their track record in supporting the deployment of their workforces to operations is commendable, but we must ask ourselves whether, if such deployments become routine rather than in the event of national crisis, this willingness to be supportive will continue.

Finally, my purpose in identifying these issues is not to kick dust in the face of the reforms, for I very much hope that all comes good, but it would be wrong of me to say that I agree with the outcome of the latest defence review. I regard it as a dangerous dismantlement of our Armed Forces for short-term gain in the face of years of historical evidence and at a time when global instability is rife and there is a plethora of asymmetric risks to our national security. The report Future Reserves 2020 recognises that there is risk in the proposals it contains for our part-time force. My own experience tells me, sadly, that that risk is highly likely to materialise.

My Lords, it is clear from this debate that there is unanimity on the importance of the Reserve Forces to our regular Armed Forces, to our national security and to the communities in which they are based. Reservists act as something of a bridge between the military community and the country as a whole. They balance their family and civilian commitments with their military duties, which often involve courageous acts. Thousands of members of the Reserve Forces in total have been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, in the Balkans and in Sierra Leone. They also participated in operations in Libya. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, made clear in his thoughtful and interesting maiden speech, our Reserve Forces make an invaluable contribution and are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice. A number have done so in the service of our country. We all owe them our deep admiration and an enormous debt.

The Government are going down the road of a significant increase in both the number and the role of our Reserve Forces. That is in large measure to meet the requirements of Army 2020, relating to the future structure of the British Army. The volunteer Army reserve will be expanded to a trained strength of some 30,000 with more predictable scales of commitment. The Government have said that they are now recruiting reserves for all three services. The Reserve Forces will be expected to commit to specific amounts of training and, for the Army mainly, to accept a liability of up to six months’ deployed service plus pre-deployment training in a five-year period, dependent on operational demand.

We support the expansion of the role of the Reserve Forces. It is important that we ensure that those with special skills—whether, for example, in engineering, in IT or in the medical field—are able to use them in the context in which they are deployed militarily so that the effectiveness of their contribution can be maximised. However, the reality is that some 15,000 additional highly competent part-time reservists cannot fill the gap created by the loss of 20,000 full-time regulars. Defence planning assumptions have stated that our Armed Forces could undertake one major and two lesser operations at the same time. Does that capability commitment apply to the regular Army of 82,000, that now being its intended strength?

Under the envisaged role of our enhanced Reserve Forces alongside a Regular Army of 82,000, will there potentially, or actually, be greater involvement in front-line operations, with the distinction between members of the Reserve Forces and the regular Army narrowing considerably? Will members of our Reserve Forces face significantly increased risks as a result of the enhanced role that they will be playing in future?

Will the Minister give a guarantee that the Reserve Forces (Safeguard of Employment) Act 1985, which protects reservists’ employment rights, will not be scrapped? The direction in which the Government appear to want to go in employment generally is to weaken the legal rights and protection for people at work. Is that also going to apply to the increasing numbers of members of our Reserve Forces in both their regular civilian employment situation and their role as members of our Reserve Forces?

The Government’s intention is that members of the Reserve Forces will be undertaking their military role for longer periods of time than at present, with a much firmer commitment than now to being available, ready and prepared to carry out that role when called on to do so. How, however, do the Government intend to ensure that the trained reservist manpower will be available when it is really needed, as the scale of the change being embarked upon will need the support of many, particularly employers? For those in civilian employment, there will be pressures likely to affect their willingness to take on the enhanced commitment that will be required from reservists in future, as that extended commitment, with more time away, could well affect their main wage-earning or salary-earning career and their prospects of promotion and progression. Yet the ability to physically recruit and train sufficient numbers for our future Reserve Forces, and then retain them, will be critical, and it is far from clear how that will be achieved.

Equally critical to the delivery of the Government’s plans for the future of our Reserve Forces will be the availability of quality, full-time Reserve Forces support personnel at a time when some reserve unit permanent staff posts important for reservist recruitment, training and administration appear to have been withdrawn under cost-saving initiatives. Can the Minister say any more about the Government’s intentions and objectives in respect of bringing forward legislative proposals to protect the regular employment position of reservists called up for duty under the proposed new enhanced level of commitment that they will be required to give to ensure that they are not disadvantaged or discriminated against in their regular employment, either before undertaking a period of mobilisation as a reservist in the service of our country or indeed on their return? What action do the Government intend to take to ensure that employers are encouraged and incentivised to have and keep more reservists on their staff who are likely to be away from that civilian employment for more time than at present?

I am aware that the Government have said that they intend to publish a consultation paper—this autumn, I think—setting out their detailed proposals. Nevertheless, I hope that the Minister can say something about their thinking on how they intend to achieve their objective for the future role and numerical trained strength of our Reserve Forces. Statements of objectives are relatively easy; it is the delivery of those objectives that can be difficult, and sometimes very difficult indeed.

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Freeman for securing this debate. Like others who have spoken, I pay tribute to him for all that he has done for the Reserve Forces.

I very much welcome the excellent and witty maiden speech by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips. I also join my noble friend Lord Freeman in paying tribute to the Duke of Westminster, who, after 42 years of service within the Territorial Army, has recently retired.

The Reserve Forces have made a major contribution over recent years. Like the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, I salute all those who serve and have served in the reserves. As the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, said, the Regular Forces could not have done their job without them. Almost 25,000 reservists have served in a variety of roles in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003. In doing so, sadly, 29 have lost their lives. Reserves have and currently are serving in Africa, the Middle East and Cyprus as part of our worldwide defence presence. In this country, they provided assistance in Gloucestershire and Cumbria in the wake of the flooding in 2009 and, more recently, in support of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. This provided an opportunity to interact with the wider public as part of the combined military effort, but reaching out and working within the community has always been an integral part of the Reserve Forces ideals. The links between the military and local communities are often strongest where there are reserve units providing a vital connection between those in the military and the general public.

For all their success, there have been concerns in recent times regarding the health of the Reserve Forces. The independent commission report of July 2011 identified a number of concerns saying they were too small; there were not enough opportunities for high quality training; equipment must be modernised; and that the talents and skills that reservists had gained in civilian employment should be more actively used. In response, in his Statement this summer, the Secretary of State gave his full commitment to addressing those concerns. We are investing an additional £1.8 billion over the next 10 years in our Reserve Forces. This is already having an effect. Reservists are receiving the up-to-date equipment they need to train with, such as Bowman radios and opportunities to use the Husky, Mastiff and Buffalo vehicles. There are now increased opportunities for overseas training and for joint regular and reserve exercises.

Additionally, the structure of the reserve is also being reviewed. Army 2020 set out the road map for further integration and co-operation between regular and reserve units. This is part of the overall commitment for reserves to be an integral and integrated element of the whole force on deployments at home and overseas offering a range of skills and capabilities that complement each other in providing a formidable military force. This is known as the whole force concept. To ensure that this can be delivered effectively, a Green Paper will be published early this month which will start a public consultation exercise. It will seek the views of employers, reservists, the public and private sectors and all those who have an interest in supporting the Reserve Forces. What will be at its heart are proposals to strengthen the relationships between defence and the civilian employer and between defence and the reservist.

Through the consultation process, we will ensure that the views expressed are heard. Any subsequent changes will recognise these positions, and we will ensure that the reserve is fit for purpose. The increase in the size of the Reserve Forces is an essential component of this. The trained strength will increase. The maritime reserve will increase to 3,100, the Army reserve will increase to 30,000 and the Air Force reserve will increase to 1,800. This will allow reservists, who often offer key skills that are not held and cannot be easily maintained within the regular force, to strengthen the military effort. For example, reservists who in their day jobs are doctors, nurses and specialists within the NHS can provide the care that troops on operations may require. Likewise, as we face the challenges and threats that come from cybercrime and terrorism, we must recognise that to respond to a new threat requires new skills. It is the current and future IT graduates and industry specialists who are most equipped in this area, and through membership of the Reserve Forces they can provide the expertise needed for future operations. In this area, it is easy for both defence and the employer to see the value of the reservist as part of an integrated force.

None the less, the impact that a reservist’s service can have on their employer is recognised. Measures are already in place to address this. Notably, an employer can raise an appeal, requesting that the reservist’s service is deferred or delayed to a more convenient time to minimise the impact of their absence. When the reservist is serving on operations, an employer can claim up to £110 per day to cover additional wages for a replacement employee and to meet expenses, such as agency fees and advertising costs.

Crucially, we must not focus only on the impact for the employer. There can also be significant benefits. Reservists receive extensive leadership and communications training which independent research values at £8,000 per person. They will have proven ability to deal with high pressure situations, rapid changes and dealing with difficult parties. Additionally, individuals may well be using and further developing their specialist civilian skills while in uniform. Having an integrated force of reserves and regulars provides the most effective means to deliver a military force equipped for the range of diverse challenges ahead.

In the short time that I have, I will try to give as many initial, possibly somewhat basic, answers as I can. I have been asked some very valid questions and I undertake to write to all noble Lords with much more detailed answers. I will copy in all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. My noble friend Lord Freeman asked about ORBAT. We expect to be able to make detailed announcements on organisations in the spring of next year.

My noble friend Lord Lee asked about the progress of the cadet unit. We are working closely with the Department for Education and everything is on track. My noble friend also asked if overseas employers adopt a more encouraging attitude to reserves than we do. Reserve Forces have been ably supported by a number of organisations, both UK-based and those from overseas. Our goal is to improve relationships with all employers.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, asked for confirmation that we will continue the sustained delivery and investment in the reserves. As I said earlier, the whole force concept is at the heart of our vision and delivery of Future Reserves 2020. We are fully committed to making that work.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield mentioned the welfare provision for reservists. When on operations, reserves receive the same standard and access to care as regulars. The Armed Forces covenant applies to the reserves and we aim to meet that need. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, and the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, asked whether we are confident that we can reach the reserve numbers. We are investing an additional £1.8 billion over 10 years to make that work and we are confident.

My noble friend Lord Glenarthur asked a number of questions and I will write to him with detailed answers. He specifically asked about how reservists will be used, whether we have taken advice from employer groups and what new measures we are planning. I will cover all those in my letter. But the desire is to establish positive, mutually beneficial relationships between employers and defence wherever possible. Increasingly, we will look to take account of the needs of specific employers of reservists, particularly those that are micro-small or medium-sized enterprises.

My noble friend Lord Sheikh asked some very important questions about minorities. I will look into this in some detail and write to him with a detailed response. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker, asked about the TA strength. The greatest threat to numbers is the lack of investment and support, and a lack of a meaningful role. The decline in the past reflects that. We are investing in and focusing on the reserves and giving them essential roles that are integral to the whole force. The noble and gallant Lord also asked about changes to pensions and reservists’ eligibility for Armed Forces pensions. The new Armed Forces pension scheme creates one scheme for all, including reservists. There are currently several different Armed Forces pension schemes. Reservists on operations or undertaking full or part-time commitments will all be included within the new pension scheme, should they choose to be so.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked some detailed questions about employers and reservists. I undertake to write to him with detailed answers to his questions as I am running out of time.

House adjourned at 6.06 pm.