Question for Short Debate
My Lords, recently General Sir Nick Houghton, the Chief of the Defence Staff, spoke of the huge challenges faced by our Armed Forces. Those challenges are being compounded by the Government’s policy of Armed Forces redundancies. The recent unjust treatment of soldiers made compulsorily redundant shortly before their full pension date is a reprehensible scandal. I raised this issue in the House on 22 July. In reply, the Minister declared:
“When selecting personnel of the Armed Forces for compulsory redundancy, no consideration was given to the proximity of the immediate pension point”.—[Official Report, 22/7/13; col. 1041.]
The Government’s lack of consideration has seen servicemen made redundant just short of qualifying for their full pension and consequently losing out on around £100,000 to £200,000 in income. Representations made by Pension Justice for Troops have revealed the shocking impact of this mean-spirited action on soldiers who are often called the “warrior generation”. One example is Major Braithwaite, who served in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan and was made redundant just 87 days short of reaching his full pension. Another is Sergeant Anderson, who enlisted at the age of 16 and was made compulsorily redundant just three days short of reaching his full pension entitlement. They had completed 98% of their service contract, yet are now to receive just 40% of the value of their pensions. This is a gross injustice, which has fundamentally altered the futures of these men. Indeed, Sergeant Anderson’s wife, Jolene, has spoken about how they feel, and said that, “financial security has now been cruelly snatched away”.
The couple had planned to use the pension to secure a mortgage on leaving Army accommodation. The pension exists to help our brave soldiers move with dignity to civilian life and it is unfair when just a few extra days’ service would have resulted in a pension 50% higher. The shameful treatment is a dereliction of the military covenant. I have in my possession a Ministry of Defence memo, in which a number of questions about the compulsory selection process are asked and answered. Two questions jump off this piece of paper. The first is: “At what point in the redundancy selection process were the outcomes for service personnel and their families considered against the values and standards of the Army?”. The answer: “At no point”. Another question is: “At what point in the redundancy selection process were the outcomes for service personnel and their families considered against the letter and the spirit of the Armed Forces covenant?”. Again the answer is: “At no point”.
I understand that the standards and values of the Army and of the Armed Forces covenant must be taken into account in these circumstances. Indeed, Queen’s Regulations say that they should, yet the Government have ignored that. This piece of paper reveals a lack of consideration that effectively renders the covenant a toothless document, with no real value to servicemen when it comes to their terms and conditions of service.
Last December the external covenant reference group, consisting of highly respected veterans’ agencies commenting on the Government’s own first annual covenant report on soldiers made redundant days before they qualified for their full pension declared that it was a betrayal of the spirit of the covenant. It is even more appalling that out of 11,000 Armed Forces redundancies, only around 130 soldiers have been victims of this sleight of hand. Robbing these men of their full pension saves the Ministry of Defence an inconsequential sum of money, but the impact on the lives of those affected and those who serve or are considering serving in the Armed Forces, is dramatic. Not since the notorious crook, Robert Maxwell, plundered his employees’ pensions have we seen an employer—in this case Her Majesty’s Government—so contrive a redundancy package to deny a small group of people, who have put their lives on the line for Britain, their rightful pension.
Under the previous Government full pensions were protected. That was done by reducing the length of service required to gain a full pension by four years. I am sure that the whole House will join me in asking the Government to think again and to look again at what they have done to this small group of loyal men and pay them their full pension. I ask them not to shame our country any more by neglecting their duty to our soldiers. This treatment of long-serving soldiers is having an indisputably negative impact on the morale of the Armed Forces. According to the Armed Forces Continuous Attitude survey published in July, one in three—30%—said that morale was low. This figure is twice what it was when the Government came to power. The current policy of redundancies is having a highly damaging impact on the morale of those who so dutifully and selflessly devote their lives to the service of our country. Last December, General Sir Peter Wall, Chief of the General Staff, told the Defence Select Committee that the issue of redundancies close to qualification for full pension was having a “disproportionate impact” on morale. These recent redundancies have not simply had an adverse affect on today’s soldiers but have damaged recruitment.
A leaked Ministry of Defence report, dated 6 August this year, highlighted the serious difficulties being experienced in recruitment. It shows that the Army is on course to recruit only half the reservists in 2013-14 necessary to fulfil the Government’s target. The report declares that there currently exists a “hostile recruiting environment”. One of the chief reasons for this environment is, in the words of the report, “redundancy downsizing”. It is no wonder that people are unwilling to enter the Armed Forces if at the end of a long and dutiful service the Government abandon their commitment to care for them.
The entire policy of restructuring the Army was predicated on the reserves being able to complement the Regular Forces. It is becoming clear that the Government’s policy of redundancies is undermining this very ability to expand the Reserve Forces, and is jeopardising the Government’s entire approach towards the Armed Forces. This policy increasingly seems based on pleasing the Treasury. The extent of this capitulation has been revealed in recent reports in the Daily Telegraph in which senior officers and Ministry of Defence officials have revealed that the Ministry failed to spend £2 billion of its budget. The detail shows that £200 million, earmarked for wages, has gone unspent due to more servicemen than expected choosing to quit. This cash pile, amassed by the MoD could maintain six infantry battalions—3,900 soldiers—for an entire decade. In Opposition the Prime Minister told BBC Scotland that he wanted to see the British Army increase in size. It now appears that his policy is entirely contrary, based solely on the consideration of costs.
An ill conceived approach has resulted in the shameful treatment of soldiers, an abject failure to uphold the military covenant and serious damage to morale within the Armed Forces. The policy of redundancies appears crafted entirely by financial considerations and a desire to please the Treasury, not military strategy. The Government need seriously to look again at the implementation of redundancies, especially ahead of further redundancies expected in the new year, and before our Armed Forces are damaged even more.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, for putting this important topical item down for debate. This is a subject that he and I have been raising for some time, and I will try not to repeat his words.
The Government’s defence review has been in place now for some three years, having been announced in October 2010. They are three years in which significant redundancies have taken place. Most have been voluntary redundancies. In fact the proportion of voluntary redundancies has been increasing over time. So as we look to the end of 2013, we will have seen more than 10,000 serving forces personnel ending their service careers. We debated back in June of this year the impact on those selected for redundancy who were close to pensionable age. Now the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, broadens and repeats questions that we raised at the time. He asks about the overall impact of the redundancies and in particular, what the Chief of Defence Staff considers the impact to be.
I will thus also return to a question that I have asked on earlier occasions in your Lordships’ House, which is whether the fact that redundancies are in many cases voluntary means a lowering of morale in our Armed Forces? I am also concerned as to whether those leaving the Army, navy and air force are the ones whom we want to leave. Are we losing the skills that are essential for any enterprise? Has the MoD assessed what trades and skills are going by voluntary and compulsory redundancies?
I welcome the words of the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Houghton, when he wrote about his vision for our Armed Forces as recently as August this year. His determination to lead our forces through these times of austerity demonstrates his clear commitment to professional, effective and more efficient forces. His realistic recognition of the challenge he faces in delivering the changes set out in the 2010 defence review should command respect across this House. He was again pressed more recently on the question of withdrawal from Afghanistan, redundancies and reservist recruitment. He seemed resolute in his mission when he said as recently as 21 October:
“In terms of morale, it’s not about individual happiness. It is about the ability to endure in times of real austerity, endure through times of hostility, in times of pressure ... And I think if anything has demonstrated the resilience of the morale of the British armed forces, it is the last couple of years—and the fact they still continue to perform, and are one of our nation’s unique selling points”.
I look forward to hearing from the Minister how he interprets the Chief of the Defence Staff’s words. Does it mean that our forces will have the resilience of their morale being severely tested?
There are additional points on which I hope the Minister might offer your Lordships’ House clarification. So far, there have been three tranches of redundancies and yet the total number of redundancies is only a little over half of that set out in the defence review. There is, I fear, uncertainty as to how the redundancy programme will proceed. What proportion will come from voluntary redundancy? What spread of skills and experience will be lost? Are those taking voluntary redundancy the people we want to lose? These are important questions, not least to enable the Government to demonstrate that our Armed Forces retain the necessary skills, experience and morale, but to clarify the question of recruitment to the Regular and Reserve Forces.
Turning to the Reserve Forces, those who have heard my thoughts on the defence review before will know that I have a real interest in ensuring that our Reserve Forces, newly expanded and updated, will be effective and able to fulfil the role the defence review set out for them. The increase from 19,000 to 30,000 reservists is a vital component of the review and essential in ensuring the overall capacity of the remaining 82,000 Army, RAF and Royal Navy Regular Forces that are planned.
There are continuing questions about this increase in the size of our reserves. How will we recruit the right people? Will there be sufficient numbers with the right skills and experience? How do we ensure that they see deployment that engages their talents and commands their loyalty? We must also give real thought to working with employers so that they both understand the importance of employees giving such service and are able to plan for sometimes lengthy absences of perhaps integral staff.
The issue on which I would press the Minister today is that of the success of recruitment to the reserves, a point touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Touhig. This key issue was put to the Chief of the Defence Staff. He seemed enthusiastic at the prospect of increased numbers of reserves when he said:
“We have produced a good offer. We’ve got to get out the message that people who join now are joining something that is exciting, will give them all sorts of rewards and has a very, very strong future”.
However, the question for me is whether this recruitment is working. We read that reserve recruitment is falling significantly below target—and that is before we begin to ask what vital skills and experiences are missing. If the overall targets are undershot, are we correct to close local TA centres? Is our new outsourced recruitment—again touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Touhig—the best way to fulfil our duty to defend the UK?
I shall not repeat the comments made by the noble Lord about people nearly reaching pensionable age and being made redundant but I have had correspondence with the Minister on the subject. As to the 1.2%, or approximately 130 soldiers, how much would it cost to play the decent Government by that number of people? The answer I got was, “Where do you draw the line?”. That is a problem. However, we know where the line has been drawn, and it affects 100 to 130 soldiers.
In conclusion, I welcome and commend the Chief of the Defence Staff for his determined and judicious language in assessing the progress of the defence review. I have no doubt that our reduced forces will cope in times of peace, but could they cope with another Afghanistan? Could they cope if there were two such conflicts at the same time?
My Lords, I join others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, for obtaining this important debate. I am sure that those thanks will be reflected by members of the Armed Forces because, like him, I deplore the stories I am hearing about people being discharged and made redundant before they achieve their pensionable age, sometimes by ridiculously small amounts of time.
I was the Adjutant-General, the director of personnel in the Army, at the time of the Options for Change exercise after the Cold War, when we were required to reduce the size and shape of the Army by a third over three years. Therefore, what I am about to say is inevitably coloured by that experience because that kind of reduction could not have been achieved without the redundancies that accompanied the number of people who left voluntarily.
At the time I was extremely fortunate that in the Treasury I was faced with a deputy secretary who was extremely tough but very fair—Mrs Jack Straw. I was always grateful to her, not only for her toughness and thoroughness, which meant that we had to do our sums in presenting cases, but for the humanity she showed when we suggested to her that among the casualties of this reduction were the children of people being declared redundant who were at school on boarding school allowance. She allowed boarding school allowance to be continued through until the next stage of a child’s schooling so that they could complete the examination on which they were currently embarked. The reason I mention that is because that good sense and humanity is in stark contrast to the way in which this current exercise is being conducted.
Inevitably, when you are looking at reductions in size—particularly of personnel—in the services, one word always dominates your thinking, and that is “sustainability”. Whatever you are going to do, you are bound to have to do it over a period of time and therefore the size and shape of the Armed Force—it does not matter whether it is Army, Navy or Air Force—must allow you to maintain whatever you have been required to do operationally for a period of time.
At the time we were conducting Options for Change, the aim was to make certain that people did not go on unaccompanied operational tours at an interval of less than once every two years so that they would have a chance to remain with their families and be trained to develop their service careers. At the time, because of the pressures, we were faced with the problem that some specialists had only 11 months between tours, which was ravaging their family lives, quite apart from their other development.
What worries me about what has been going on in the strategic defence review, followed by other reviews, followed by Army 2020, is that overall it is said that the proposals in the strategic defence review would be realisable only if the money was available in 2015. We know from looking at the books that the extra money to provide that will not be available in 2015, so there is more to come. The fact that there is more to come is obviously worrying to those who have done their sums to produce what they think is the sustainable Armed Force the country requires, but particularly worrying for the people in it.
It is here that I come to the word “trust”. The mutual trust between the top and the bottom of an organisation is absolutely crucial. The regiment that I joined, the Rifle Brigade, had the motto given to it by my ancestor, Sir John Moore, which was based on a mutual bond of trust and affection which the officers had to earn. I thought that they were wise words because there is no doubt that the trust of the Armed Forces in their political and military masters has to be earned; it is not automatic. What worries me about the impact was clearly put by the Chief of the General Staff last December and repeated by General Sir Nick Houghton: the trust has been damaged by the way this has been handled.
It is not only about the damage that has been done to the internal workings of the Armed Forces and their members, but to the families and on down to potential recruits. Armed Forces are living organisations, so that even while you are reducing in size you have to recruit to be certain that you will have that sustainability tomorrow. In 1990, I remember having great difficulty persuading civil servants that it was not like shutting a garage door. You could not just chop something off because you had to think about the future. Looking back on those years, I was hugely impressed by the care that was taken over every single redundancy. Each one was planned with care and pension issues were taken into account. That is why some people were put into tranches 2 and 3 as opposed to tranche 1. If it was possible then with the much larger numbers involved, I fail to see why it is not possible today.
If I was a member of the Government, I would be seriously worried about the damage that is being done to trust in the system which is responsible for committing our Armed Forces to war. I know that this may go beyond the immediate issue of redundancy, but redundancy is the cause of the distrust. The way in which a redundancy round is conducted is hugely important and I hope that more attention will be paid to the effects of not getting it right, as well as to the experience of doing it differently in the past.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Touhig for tabling this debate. He has followed and pressed this issue assiduously and he is to be congratulated on that. It is not a closed book as far as he, and indeed a number of us, are concerned. I listened with shock to the two quotations he repeated from the memo from the Ministry of Defence, which I have not seen. However, equally shocking was a response given by the Minister on 22 July, a response that I would not normally associate with him, given his commitment to our Armed Forces. He said that no consideration was given to the proximity of the immediate pension point, as referred to by my noble friend Lord Touhig.
I worked in industrial relations for many years, and apart from Robert Maxwell, who I regarded as a crook—I certainly would not put the MoD in the same tent, I would hope—I never came across a situation of compulsory redundancy, as opposed to voluntary redundancy, where there was a complete disregard for the impact on the individual. That has not been taken into account and pragmatically applied. What makes it worse is that we are not talking about an individual employee in a company who can stay in their own home and who have not been prepared to give their life for their country. Armed Forces personnel generally do not own their homes and commit their lives to military service. What has been done by the MoD to a small number of people in this case has not been done in my name as a citizen of this country. It is not something that I can condone in any way.
It has been criticised by members of the coalition in both Houses and by the commission that reviewed the military covenant—a covenant that this House put into law not too long ago. Last December the commission, in looking at how the covenant was being applied, asked the Government to review their approach to compulsory redundancies and how they were treating the personnel who were affected. The words “a feeling of betrayal” were used by members of the Armed Forces, who also asked for a review. However, the Government chose to ignore that request.
Who speaks for Armed Forces personnel? They cannot join a trade union or federation that has any authority to negotiate for them. Although we have the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, it is not its position to deal with situations like this. It therefore has to come down to the Ministry of Defence and the Government. The Government have a responsibility in this. I want to ask the Minister: are the Government prepared to review their position? We have heard that more redundancies may be declared in January of next year. Will the Government’s position be the same as it was on this redundancy round? We are told that the new reserves need to be up to number by 2018 because it is a five-year policy, yet the redundancies will be completed by 2015. I accept that people have to be recruited into the Armed Forces even at a time when redundancies are being made because you want to be sure that you have people in place for the officer cadre at the appropriate time. In my view, you would not go about making a big change such as this in any business in Britain. First, you would not get away with it and, more importantly, you would want to make sure that you could deliver on your operational requirements, whether for a company making products or for the Armed Forces. This has not been staged in a way that you would expect: “We will make so many redundancies, then let’s get up to the requirement we need, and then take it to the next stage”.
The whole exercise will leave a very bad taste among members of the Armed Forces. It will affect recruitment and it will certainly affect morale. Last year, for the first time that I can remember, the Armed Forces Pay Review Body referred to the issue of low morale as a result of the questions that had been put to its members when it went out to meet personnel. I have the utmost respect for the Minister, but I ask him this: will the Government please review their position? It is not something that any of us who are concerned about this issue either feel contented about or are prepared to leave where it is.
My Lords, I join in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, for introducing this debate. He has long been a doughty champion of the Armed Forces. All three services have experienced redundancies in recent months. The numbers within the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force are considerably smaller than for the Army, but we should bear in mind that for each of the individuals involved, there will have been the stress and disturbance, and hopefully the excitement, of a fundamental change of lifestyle.
The Army redundancies are still ongoing, so this debate has focused on the Army, with its planned reduction of some 20,000 troops. The more limited the redundancy programme, the more feasible it is to tailor transition facilities for each individual to find new opportunities. But the impact of any redundancies has an unsettling effect far wider than for those directly affected. Uncertainty spreads among colleagues, families and friends. In any walk of life, the prospect of losing jobs is challenging. For the Armed Forces there are additional elements seldom present in civilian employment. Military service is not just a job, it is a way of life, as the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, has just indicated. Many of those facing redundancy will be living in service accommodation, which they will have to leave. At a difficult time in the market, they will face having to buy or rent scarce and expensive housing. In addition, it is a lifestyle where friends and social life often centre on military people and activities. Some of those who have signed up to put their life on the line in the service of their country may now be facing the loss of job, home and community.
I shall focus my remarks on the impact as it affects the welfare aspects of troop reductions and consider the measures being taken to help with those three elements: jobs, housing and community. Despite the reservations expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, the military covenant is a welcome development in raising the profile of the Government’s duty of care towards the Armed Forces. I start with employment. We have come a long way in recent years in enabling service people to be accredited with civilian qualifications that reflect their experience and competence. This was certainly not always the case. Indeed, sometimes it was positively the reverse as commanders did not wish their troops to be particularly well qualified lest they seek employment elsewhere. Luckily, our thoughts on that have now changed. Military personnel are now positively encouraged to work towards academic and vocational qualifications that will be recognised by civilian employers in their job applications.
We welcome the work of the Career Transition Partnership, the CTP, which offers training courses, careers advice and transition workshops as well as help with writing CVs—an art in itself—and with looking for suitable employment. Can the Minister update the House on how well that is working and what the CTP’s success rate is? The latest round of redundancies was oversubscribed, as my noble friend Lord Palmer indicated. Does that show that personnel are finding that the job market is offering attractive options outside the military?
What about housing? The nomadic military life does not lend itself to families identifying a part of the country as home or one where they would be considered to have a local entitlement to social housing. For those who already have a foot in the housing market, the problem will be less urgent than for those whose service lives have been spent entirely in service accommodation. Will the Minister indicate what sort of assistance is being offered to help with rehousing those who have to leave service accommodation on redundancy?
Finally, there is the impact of moving away from the camaraderie and social side of military life, with its own inbuilt systems of mutual support. A recent study by the Forces in Mind Trust has shown how difficulties in the transition to civilian life take their toll in alcohol abuse, mental illness and family breakdown. The study gives much food for thought. It estimates a cost to taxpayers and charities of £114 million in 2012 and an estimated rise to £122 million this year with the increase in those leaving under the Armed Forces redundancy programme. That makes sorry reading. I note that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, has a debate next week which will explore this report in more detail.
Inspiring and essential work is undertaken by military charities, welfare organisations and benevolent funds. At this time of year, we think particularly of the Royal British Legion. Combat Stress specialises in the treatment and support of British Armed Forces veterans who have mental health problems and has great expertise in the affliction of post-traumatic stress disorder. There are so many others. What preventive steps can be taken earlier in the process to ensure that those serving and those leaving service are made aware of all the organisations which can assist with welfare issues before they become problems?
There are many positive stories to be told of those who channel the skills and knowledge acquired in military service into much needed areas of civilian life. Teaching, training and working with young people—whether through the cadets, sporting activities, music or drama—can all give a new purpose and provide a new circle of friends. Membership of a church or other faith group, or the pursuit of a sporting interest or hobby, are also ways to become an integrated part of a community and to make civilian life more meaningful. We trust that the transition package will carry ideas and information to signpost those leaving the service to the various options that might suit them.
I hope that the Minister will be able to give assurances that the Government recognise that the impact of redundancies calls for enhanced measures to ease the transition into civilian life. Those with military experience have much to offer to society. We shall all benefit if the resources and support are in place to ensure that they are welcomed into new work, new homes and new communities.
My Lords, I had not expected to speak today but, having heard some very good speeches and feeling as strongly about this issue as I do, I had to say something. Our men and women in the forces are amazingly resilient and strong, and put up with all sort of things being thrown at them. Morale in the front line is amazingly high when one bears in mind all the vicissitudes they suffer. There is a crucial element, which the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, touched on: trust. I am sure that the Minister—for whom I have great respect—knows this and I am sure that when he was a subaltern, he would not have dreamt of not looking after his people first. It is imbued in all of us in the military that you look after your people first. That responsibility goes right to the top of the MoD or wherever.
I am afraid that this treatment—particularly of this small group but also more generally with some of these redundancies—is shabby and not what one expects of the MoD and our military. It will have an impact on people, which is extremely worrying. We cannot afford to have that impact put on our people when they are under so many other pressures. We have heard how good some people think the military covenant is, but it makes a nonsense of that covenant if we are willing to do something like this. I hope that the Minister will be able to come up with some form of words and say that something can be done to look at this. I am well aware of where you draw the line and all those difficulties. I have been involved in similar situations. We have done these things in the past and it really is too important just to brush under the carpet.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Touhig on securing this debate on an issue that appears to be causing as much concern within our Armed Forces as it is in your Lordships’ House and elsewhere. Speaking for the Government, the Minister said in this Chamber on 22 July that there was,
“no evidence that morale in the Armed Forces has been adversely affected by the redundancy programme”.—[Official Report, 22/7/13; col. 1042.]
The Government’s view appears to be that despite the fact that the last round of redundancies was 84% voluntary and, unlike previous rounds, heavily oversubscribed, that was not an indicator of the state of morale because the Army had deliberately set out to maximise applications. I have to say that that assertion sounds just about as convincing as the claim once made by one of our major train operating companies that an increase in the number of complaints received did not indicate a rise in levels of dissatisfaction, because it had been encouraging its customers to make complaints.
I do not wish to suggest that the views of one or two individuals, however senior, are conclusive, but they rather call into question the Government’s assertion on 22 July that there was no evidence of morale being adversely affected by the redundancy programme. General Sir Nick Houghton, the Chief of the Defence Staff, was described by the Daily Telegraph in August as having told a Ministry of Defence in-house magazine that,
“one of his main concerns is that the ‘transformation’ of the Armed Forces has been poorly communicated to personnel, leaving many feeling left out and let down”.
The newspaper directly quoted him as having said:
“I think we’ve risked people becoming cynical and detached from what defence is trying to do”.
The Daily Telegraph article went on to say:
“Figures released last month showed the proportion of personnel rating overall morale as ‘low’ has risen from 24 per cent in 2010 to 55 per cent this year. The number of soldiers saying they are satisfied with service life has fallen from 62 per cent in 2010 to 48 per cent this year. The fall is steeper in the Army than in the Navy or RAF”.
Maybe the article is wrong; in which case, I am sure that is what the Minister will say when he responds. However, if it is at least broadly accurate, it certainly does not square with the Government’s assertion on 22 July about there being “no evidence”; nor does the Government’s assertion on 22 July square with a statement by a Ministry of Defence spokesman quoted in the Daily Telegraph four days later, who said:
“With any period of change there is bound to be uncertainty surrounding the future of personnel and their families which will inevitably have an impact on morale”.
My noble friend Lord Touhig referred to the Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Survey and quoted different figures on morale from those in the newspaper articles to which I have referred. But these survey figures again show a doubling since 2010 in the number of service personnel describing their morale as low, with the number of personnel stating their morale was high falling for a third successive year. What is of concern is that the Government do not appear willing to recognise that the way in which they have handled the redundancy situation and the changes in the structure of our Armed Forces has had an adverse impact on morale. After all, you cannot address a problem if you are in a state of denial that it even exists. The 2010 strategic defence and security review was rushed and a cost-cutting exercise, but morale was not helped when the reductions in personnel were subsequently substantially increased beyond those set out in the SDSR.
My noble friend Lord Touhig has been assiduous in raising the treatment of soldiers made compulsorily redundant shortly before reaching their immediate pension point. He has mentioned it again today, citing specific examples of where it has led to significant pension entitlement loss. He last raised it before today in this Chamber on 22 July. On that occasion the Government’s response was not well received and the Minister implied in his final response that he would ask his department to reflect on the unhappy reaction there had been. What further consideration have the Government given to this issue since 22 July, and has their position changed? Surely the Government recognise that this issue and the manner in which a relatively small number of people have been treated in a compulsory redundancy situation is hardly in line with the military covenant, does nothing to enhance morale and has an impact that extends way beyond the “only”—to use the Minister’s word—1.2% of those made redundant who are affected.
It appears that serious difficulties are being encountered in recruiting the significantly increased number of reservists, with a Ministry of Defence report referring to a “hostile recruiting environment” resulting from,
“redundancy downsizing, drawdown in Afghanistan and a reported (if unproven) increase in mental health issues”.
I hardly think that what is happening now over the recruitment or non-recruitment of reservists is exactly assisting morale. The morale of our Armed Forces can hardly be enhanced when the Government are in effect saying that while the policy—which we support—is for an expanded, more heavily integrated role for the reserves alongside regulars, the number of regulars will be reduced irrespective of whether we have recruited the many thousands of additional reservists who are needed to play a vital part in delivering our intended future defence capabilities.
Earlier this month the previous Defence Secretary, Dr Liam Fox, was quoted as saying:
“When I was secretary of state, I said we would only decrease the numbers of regulars when we had guarantees that we would be able to get the numbers—training and equipping up of the reserves—to match”.
That no longer appears to be the policy. When was the policy changed, by whom and for what reason? I hope the Minister will be able to give us answers because we still have not had a satisfactory answer from the Government as to why the rate of cuts in the Regular Army manpower is not dependent on the required projected rate of increase in the number of reservists being achieved. I again invite the Minister to give such a commitment. Apart from putting at risk our ability to deliver our future intended defence capabilities, failure to give such a commitment devalues the importance of the role that the reservists will play in future, which will have an impact on recruitment and in the way in which the role of reservists is regarded both by members of the Regular Armed Forces and the community at large.
This debate has drawn attention to how the Government’s approach to implementing policy, not least over the rundown in the size of our Regular Armed Forces and the associated redundancies, is contributing significantly to the downturn in morale registered in the Ministry of Defence’s own reports and surveys. What makes the situation even more difficult is the apparent government view that there is not even a problem. Our Armed Forces continue to put their lives on the line in defence of our country’s interests and on behalf of us all. The fact that they do so, and will continue to do so, with professionalism, courage and commitment should not obscure the issues over morale and trust that should now be properly addressed by the Government as a priority.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, on securing this short debate. I know that this is an emotive issue, about which the noble Lord is particularly well informed, having served as the Minister for Veterans in the previous Government. I agree with my noble friend Lady Garden that the noble Lord is a doughty fighter on behalf of the Armed Forces. It is clear that the whole House recognises the importance that we as a nation rightly continue to place on supporting and valuing the extraordinary service offered by our Armed Forces.
The redundancy programme is a consequence of the size of the Armed Forces being delivered under Future Force 2020 and, as such, there are no implications for the UK’s defence capabilities. However, we do not underestimate the task at hand, and the Chief of the Defence Staff was right to reiterate the scale and complexity of what we are asking of our Armed Forces. I do not need to remind this House that the MoD is engaged in the challenging task of reducing our Armed Forces by some 33,000, or 19%, by 2020 across the whole rank structure and, in tandem, reducing the civilian workforce by some 32,000, or 38%. Every single redundancy is regrettable.
I firmly believe we were right to step up to the plate to commission the long-overdue 2010 strategic defence and security review and to set about reconfiguring our Armed Forces to make them better able to meet the threats of the future. I am confident that our efforts to transform defence through the Future Force 2020 programme will deliver, within budget, the battle-winning forces that we need to reach across the world, operating across the full spectrum of defence activity.
There is no plan B. The redundancies are regrettable, but they are necessary. We have been clear all along that, to maintain balanced force structures for the future, an element of these reductions would need to be made through a redundancy programme. For some, they represent an opportunity. Selection principles through all three tranches of the redundancy programme have, therefore, sought to maximise the number of voluntary applications from all personnel who meet the published criteria. For others, I am fully aware that redundancy has been unwelcome news. In both cases, we have done, and will continue to do, all we can to manage the human element of these changes in the best possible way.
In the first instance, those selected for redundancy are encouraged to apply for a transfer to other areas of the Armed Forces, if they meet the selection criteria and a manning shortfall is forecast in the future. Of course, this is not always possible. All those who are ultimately selected for redundancy receive financial compensation and a comprehensive resettlement package to help them to find a job and transition to life outside the Armed Forces. This is the same resettlement package that they would have received had they completed the whole of their service commitment. In most cases, this will comprise a training grant; travel and subsistence; 35 days of paid resettlement training; career transition workshops; a job-finding service; curriculum vitae writing; interview skills; and access to training courses. Additionally, all redundees will have access to housing and financial management briefings and personal career consultancy for up to two years after leaving. Those who have enrolled for enhanced learning credits will have access to academic courses up to 10 years after leaving.
My noble friend Lady Garden asked me to provide an update on the work of the Career Transition Partnership, or CTP. The CTP is a partnering arrangement between the Ministry of Defence and Right Management Ltd, a leading outplacement company. It delivers the suite of training and employment support that I mentioned a moment ago, which is no small undertaking. In total, the number of Armed Forces personnel who have left service and taken part in the CTP programme over the last 24 months to the end of the first quarter of 2012-13 is some 20,800. Over this 24-month period, some 85% of former participants in the Career Transition Programme found employment within six months of leaving service. This is particularly notable when compared to an employment rate of 70% in the general UK population. I am clear that these measures to ensure a smooth transition to civilian life are working. Evidence provided by service leavers indicates that our resettlement provision is consistently to a high standard and that the services that they provide do assist with a successful transition to civilian life.
My noble friend also raised the matter of housing for those who leave service on redundancy terms. The Government are committed to ensuring that service personnel and their families have access to appropriate accommodation when they leave the Armed Forces. Protections have already been put in place through secondary legislation, which means that members of the Regular Armed Forces, their bereaved spouses and civil partners, and seriously injured reservists, must not be subject to disqualification through a requirement for a local connection. Additionally, following parliamentary approval, local authorities are required to frame their allocation schemes to give additional preference to service leavers who have urgent housing needs. When looking for civilian housing, personnel can take advice from the Joint Service Housing Advice Office, a dedicated team that provides advice on civilian housing options. This service also operates a referral scheme to place personnel in available housing association properties. Service leavers are entitled to remain in MoD accommodation initially for 93 days after the termination of their service, extended by a further 93 days when compassionate grounds require it. Where surplus accommodation is available, recently retired or redundant service personnel can also be offered accommodation for six months on payment of the market rate.
My noble friend Lord Palmer and the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, raised the very important issue of morale. It would be wrong of me to suggest that headcount reductions and pay restraint have not impacted adversely on morale. In quantitative terms, the principal means of monitoring changes in morale within the services is the Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Survey, AFCAS, which noble Lords mentioned. The findings of AFCAS are used extensively in shaping policy for terms and conditions of service. Although the 2013 survey shows that over 70% of military personnel described their morale as either “high” at 39% or “neutral” at 32%, the fact remains that 29% describe it as low. We are aware that we have work to do on that. The key point here is one made recently by the Chief of the Defence Staff: the Armed Forces have demonstrated extraordinary resilience and continued professionalism despite the understandable fall in morale in some quarters. That ability to set aside individual happiness and demonstrate true courage and endurance in times of real austerity is something that each and every person in this nation should be rightly thankful for.
The Government understand that there is concern about the reduction in numbers of regulars before we have recruited and trained the increased number of reserves we require—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. However, I urge patience. The Future Reserve 2020 programme has created what we believe is a good offer, and, to paraphrase General Houghton, we have to get the message out that people who join the reserves now are joining something exciting and with a strong future. At the same time as growing and transforming the reserve, we are changing the way that we recruit for both regulars and reserve, which includes partners in commerce. These are two large-scale change programmes which are yet to reach full maturity. I assure the House that, at the highest level, the MoD is now working with the relevant contractors—Capita and ATLAS—and all MoD stakeholders to identify the growing pains, iron them out, mature the programmes and deliver as committed.
I must stress that we are now only four months into a five-year plan to grow the reserves and the recruitment campaigns only began in the autumn. The key target is an Army Reserve at a trained strength of 30,000 by the end of 2018. We must not lose sight of the fact that we already have around 19,000 trained, which means we are already two-thirds of the way there. We do not dispute that it is a challenging target, but the Government agree with the assessment of our senior military leaders: it is a plan that can work.
I understand that there is also concern that Armed Forces redundancies will result in a diminution of our ability to conduct operations. I can assure the House that the redundancy programme has not, and will not, impact adversely on current operations in Afghanistan. Throughout the process, we have been at pains to ensure that we preserve the capabilities that our Armed Forces require to meet the challenges of the future. Our commitments were re-evaluated during the strategic defence and security review and we have ensured that, as we build to our new force structure in 2020, we will retain the flexibility to meet them.
The noble Lords, Lord Touhig and Lord Ramsbotham, the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, and my noble friend Lord Palmer all raised the issue of personnel being made redundant before qualifying for the pension point. I want to assure the noble Lords and the House that we take this issue very seriously in the Ministry of Defence. I quote from the website of the Forces Pension Society:
“The view of the Ministry of Defence is that this is most unfortunate, but that any cut-off dates before IPP or EDPP would invariably leave some Service men and women just outside the bracket. This is unavoidable and adjusting the rules, after their agreement and promulgation would only cause further hardship. Any adjustment of the rules once the redundancies had started would have been very unfair to others who had gone before. After much discussion with the most senior Service authorities the Forces Pension Society reluctantly accepts that that is correct”.
To exempt individuals from redundancy solely to enable them to reach their immediate pension point, subsequently selecting other individuals in their stead, would undermine that principle and is not considered fair. The Ministry of Defence also worked hard to ensure that many more individuals received immediate income for which they would otherwise not have qualified. For other ranks on Armed Forces Pension Scheme 75, the normal requirement to serve for 22 years before receiving immediate income is reduced to 18 years on redundancy. That is a concession of four years. Other ranks made redundant just before the 18-year point are not considered to be pensionable, as they are in fact more than four years away from their original immediate pension point.
Officers on Armed Forces Pension Scheme 75 will still qualify for an immediate income after 16 years. Personnel on Armed Forces Pension Scheme 05 will continue to receive early departure payments after serving for 18 years, provided that they have reached the age of 40. The Armed Forces’ redundancy schemes recognise those who miss out immediate incomes by paying them specifically enhanced tax relief. Under redundancy compensation schemes, where people leave before the qualification point, any pension rights earned will also give them preserved pensions and future further tax-free lump sums, which they will receive at age 60 or 65, depending on the pension scheme they are on.
Finally, the noble Lord mentioned a memo from the Ministry of Defence. If he will let me have sight of it, I undertake to look into the matter.