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Armed Forces: Reserve Forces

Volume 744: debated on Monday 11 March 2013


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress is being made towards achieving the projected increase in the size of the United Kingdom’s reserve forces.

My Lords, the first year of the Future Reserves 2020 programme has been about stabilisation and understanding. The number of inquiries about reserve service has increased, and early indications are that strength is stabilising. We recently conducted a public consultation to ensure that the right relationships were established between reservists and their families, their employers and the Armed Forces. We intend to publish a White Paper in the spring that will set the conditions to deliver the reserve force strength we require.

My Lords, the future strength and capability of our Armed Forces is dependent on increasing our Reserve Forces to 30,000 by 2018, yet the Territorial Army has declined by 1,000 over each of the last three years. In the year up to this March, it looks as though the number of recruits will be well below target. A Federation of Small Businesses survey showed that even among members who are open to employing reservists, two out of every five believe that the Government’s future requirement that reservists serve and are away from their civilian jobs for one year out of every five would negatively impact their business. What action do the Government intend to take to accelerate recruitment to our reserves; what incentives will be given to employers to hire reservists; and what protection will be given to reservists to prevent them being discriminated against in respect of both hiring and promotion?

My Lords, we acknowledge that this is the start of a challenging programme to reshape our Armed Forces. We inherited Reserve Forces that were in decline and not being used in the most cost-effective way. What we are setting out to do is sensible and achievable, and the planned strengths are well within historic levels. However, we are not complacent, and we are already running a major recruiting campaign for the TA. This has already resulted in over 6,650 inquiries since it started on 17 January. The Government are fully committed to delivering Reserve Forces that are integral to and integrated with the Regular Forces, and we are investing an additional £1.8 billion over the next 10 years.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware, in his reference to the historic situation with Reserve Forces, that I stood at that Dispatch Box and announced the increase in the Territorial Army, not to 31,000 but to 83,000, and that I announced the formation of 607 City of York Squadron, Royal Auxiliary Air Force, to be deployed in support of 2nd Infantry Division, then commanded by Major-General Peter Inge, now of course the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge? Is he also aware that I stood at that Dispatch Box and announced the purchase of 11 River class minesweepers, exclusively for the Royal Naval Reserve, assisted on that occasion by the then Commander Alan West, now of course Admiral Lord West, the noble Lord, Lord West?

My Lords, I remember well when my noble friend was a very distinguished Minister standing at this Dispatch Box, and I believe I lobbed the odd question at him. My noble friend mentioned the figure of 83,000. That is why we are very optimistic that we can get up to a figure of 30,000 by 2018.

My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, was announcing the things he has just referred to, I was a mere Lieutenant Colonel working as a military assistant to the Minister of State for the Armed Forces. Therefore, we are all aware of the aspirations for our Reserve Forces and the way it has worked out. We are all committed to making this policy work in the interests of the security of the realm, the safety of our citizens, and the well-being of the Armed Forces. However, as this Government think about the next defence review, are they also thinking of an alternative if we are not able to recruit Reserve Forces of the size that we currently need? Might we think about increasing the size of our regular Army in particular?

My Lords, we are thinking optimistically. I quote General Monro, who is head of the Territorial Army, and who is very focused on its success. He said:

“There is a mission, and we have to achieve the mission. I am confident that we will get there.”

We intend to maintain appropriate force level to meet our planning assumptions. If necessary, mitigation strategies are in place to ensure that we can take early action to maintain an appropriate force level.

My Lords, is it not the truth that the Government are currently below their projected targets? Is not the Government’s failure to estimate the number of SMEs, because employers and employees within SMEs are more reluctant to join and co-operate with the Government’s targets, part of the problem? Will the projected and likely decrease in recruitment centres have an adverse effect on recruitment?

My Lords, we have always recognised that reversing the long-term decline in the Reserve Forces and increasing their strength would be challenging, which is why an additional £1.8 billion is being invested in them and why we have recently conducted a public consultation to ensure that the right relationships are established in future between the reserves and their families, their employers and the Armed Forces. As I said earlier, the number of inquiries has increased and early indications are that the strength of the reserves is stabilising.

The noble Lord mentioned SMEs. We aim to tailor our approach, adjusting our working practice to reflect the different opportunities and impacts of reserve service for different employers—public and private, large, medium and small—as well as by sector.

My Lords, can the Minister tell us how, in the rush to increase our Reserve Forces, we will ensure that the relevant skills are available from the new reserves so recruited?

My Lords, all three Armed Forces are recruiting reservists against defined military trade requirements. Some reservists seek to use their civilian skills in their military role, and we encourage them to do this, but many do not, and training will be provided in the required military trades. In future, we seek to achieve greater accreditation of training and increased mutual recognition of civilian and military qualifications between the Armed Forces and civilian employers.