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Armed Forces: Reserve Forces

Volume 746: debated on Wednesday 19 June 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have for the future of the Army Reserve Forces and in particular for the Royal Mercian and Lancastrian Yeomanry and its component squadrons.

My Lords, in asking the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, I declare an interest as a former honorary colonel of A Squadron RMLY.

My Lords, the 2011 independent commission on the Reserve Forces reported that they needed to be brought up to date to meet the needs of the new security environment. The Government published a Green Paper followed by a consultation, which generated around 3,000 responses from reservists, their families, regulars, employers, employer organisations and other interested parties. These have helped to shape the way forward, which we shall set out in a White Paper, with a ministerial announcement shortly.

I am grateful to my noble friend for his Answer. However, is he aware that the Royal Mercian and Lancastrian Yeomanry, which is based in Telford in Shropshire, has a fine recruitment record and currently enjoys a local regimental laydown with its component squadrons? This would be completely lost should the regimental headquarters be moved out of the area. Is he further aware that, bearing in mind the Prime Minister’s recent commitment to expand the role and establishment of the Reserve Forces, there is a simple low-cost solution to this problem? That is, simply do not change the current structure of the yeomanry.

My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend for the very important work he does as an honorary colonel. To meet the likely scale of the security challenges the nation is likely to face, we are configuring our Armed Forces into a new structure under Future Force 2020. Reserve Forces will be central to this and will in future form a great proportion of the whole force delivering a range of capabilities and skills, some of which will be held only in the reserves. This will involve changes to some units but it is too early to say what those will be.

Would the Minister not agree with me that in increasing the number of reserves, one of the most important things is the employer and employer relations? We still have not managed to provide the right recipe for them in every case to support members of their businesses in becoming reserves. I declare an interest in that I was on the National Employers’ Advisory Board and in the Army.

My Lords, the noble Viscount makes a very important point and we realise that this is a key area that we must get right. We are grateful to those employers who play a very important role. We recognise that the needs of employers must be understood and respected. That is why we are moving to relationships with employers based on partnering, giving greater predictability and certainty to when reserves will be required for training or, indeed, deployment.

My Lords, in the House of Commons on Monday, the Minister for the Armed Forces said:

“I am relatively confident that enough people will come forward to join the reserves and that we can look forward to having a vibrant reserve Army”.—[Official Report, 17/06/13; col. 609.]

Does the Minister share the doubts of his ministerial colleague, betrayed in that answer, that the target figure of 30,000 for our Reserve Forces may not be achieved? Can the Minister give an undertaking that the size of our Regular Army will not be reduced to the intended figure of 82,000 unless and until our Reserve Forces have been increased to 30,000 and have been appropriately trained?

My Lords, we are confident that the reinvigorated reserves will deliver the quality and the number of reservists we require in future, both in training and in operations. Over the next 10 years, we are investing £1.8 billion to revitalise the reserves. We have also appointed a three-star general whose job will be to deliver this transformation, including the engagement that will be required with employers. Unfortunately, I cannot give the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, the undertaking that he asked me to give on the numbers.

My Lords, the policy on this particular regiment highlights the many questions arising about our Reserve Forces as they grow to meet the demands of the Army 2020. Can the Minister say what thought has been given to the proposals to involve those Gurkhas now quite rightly in Britain in our Reserve Forces?

My Lords, as my noble friend knows, the Government place great value on the contribution of Gurkhas, both past and present. Gurkhas already serve in the TA and ex-Gurkhas living in the UK can apply to join the reserves. The recent launch of the TA Live campaign encourages ex-regulars, including Gurkhas, to join. While we are not minded to have an exclusive ex-Gurkha reserve unit, the Brigade of Gurkhas is working with recruiters proactively to recruit ex-Gurkhas into the reserves.

My Lords, in addition to ensuring that our Reserve Forces are sufficiently numerous, is it not also important that they are properly equipped and do not just have to make do with hand-me-downs from the Regular Forces? Can the Minister give that assurance?

My Lords, yes, I can. This is central to achieving a fully integrated force. Reserves will train and develop a competence on the weapon and vehicle platforms common to their roles. Some of the most modern equipment currently in use—for example, the amphibious bridging—will only be used by the reserves.

My Lords, can the Minister advise the House what percentage of our doctors serving with our forces in Afghanistan are reservists? Is it envisaged that certain specific roles within the medical services will be designated entirely for reservists?

My Lords, this is one of the areas that we are looking at very carefully at the moment. Meetings take place frequently in the Ministry of Defence and I hope to come back with an announcement on this important issue before the Summer Recess.