My Lords, first, I am sure the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the family and friends of Warrant Officer Class 2 Ian Fisher of 3rd Battalion The Mercian Regiment, who was killed on operations in Afghanistan recently. My thoughts are also with the wounded and I pay tribute to the courage and fortitude with which they face their rehabilitation.
Independent figures published last week show that 4,880 personnel left and 3,250 joined the Army Reserves in the 12 months to 30 September. These pre-date the recruitment campaign that started in September to grow the Army Reserve from a trained strength of 19,000 to 30,000 by 2018, with improved training and equipment. There are IT teething problems, which we are addressing as well as undertaking aggressive action continuously to improve the recruiting process.
My Lords, I endorse the opening words of my noble friend and add my support to them. With regard to the Question, given the future importance of Reserve Forces in the British line of battle, will he ensure that all vigour is applied to the recruiting campaign and that, in particular, the new terms of service for Reserve Forces are not so onerous as to put people off?
My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend for his support. We are making the offer more attractive to both reservists and employers and encouraging ex-regular personnel to join. This is supported by significant additional investment—£1.8 billion over 10 years across training, equipment, paid leave, pensions, and welfare and occupational health support. The Army has already run one Army Reserve recruiting campaign, which resulted in a great many expressions of interest, and is currently running another with up to 900 soldiers conducting outreach activity at local and regional level.
My Lords, I rise first to associate these Benches with the condolences expressed by the Minister and, particularly, to share his thoughts about the wounded. The Minister has refused on three successive occasions over the past few months to give an undertaking that the decline in the size of the Regular Army will not proceed until the increase in the trained Army Reserve is secured. Now we have figures—incomplete figures—about how this is going, but it does not seem to be going well. The data should be available and open. This should not be a clandestine experiment. Will the Minister commit to publishing all the figures? Does he share my concern that the Government are not meeting their targets and that the untrained strength of the reserves has gone down year on year? This does not bode well for his 2018 target or the future of the British Army.
My Lords, I do not share the views of the noble Lord. The recruit partnering programme is not failing. We are getting the most capability for the taxpayer from the resources available. At the same time as growing and transforming the reserves, we are changing the way that we recruit for both regulars and reserves, along with our commercial partner Capita. These are two large-scale change programmes, which are yet to reach full maturity. We are working with the relevant contractors, namely Capita and ATLAS, and all MoD stakeholders to identify any problems, iron them out, mature the programmes, and deliver as committed.
My Lords, would the Minister like to say what signs there are of the preparedness of business, particularly SMEs, to release people to be reserves since this policy has been in force, given that many of those small businesses in particular have become very lean over the past three or four years?
My Lords, the Ministry of Defence has made redundancies on the basis of increased numbers in the Reserve Forces. If the reservists are not there, the public is bound to ask who is doing the job of defending Britain and Britain’s interests. What is my noble friend the Minister’s comment on that?
My Lords, our Regular Forces will continue to furnish the highest readiness front-line defence and reaction forces, although these may be supplanted from time to time by individual reservists, but there are many areas in which the reserves can and do provide vital capability, such as medical and intelligence. They will continue their contribution in these fields, but we also expect to see them playing an increasing role in the provision of combat forces. Army Reserve units will be paired with regular units, which provide the same capability, and that will happen across the whole range of capabilities.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that young men from Grenada have been recruited into the Army, have been accepted and have come over here at their own expense to be trained in the Army? Within weeks of them being here, the Army said that the policy had changed and that those young men had to go back to Grenada, with no recompense. It is a very poor island, and sending recruits back who have spent money coming here, have started their training and have been dismissed in this way is giving a very unkind message to the islands, which supported this country during the two world wars. I hope at least that the Government will see their way to reimbursing those young men.
My Lords, I reassure the noble Baroness that we welcome Commonwealth reservists. As announced on 11 July, to fulfil their reserves commitments they are required to have indefinite leave to remain in the UK prior to joining. However, I will look into the point that the noble Baroness raised.
My Lords, does the Minister agree with me that the Chief of the General Staff is doing a very good job in trying to manage the process of reducing the Regular Army by 20% while building up the strength of the reserves against a very difficult financial background? We are only three or four months into a five-year programme. On the question asked by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, on small and medium-sized enterprises, has consideration been given to waiving national insurance charges for those enterprises as an incentive to employers to take on members of the reserves?
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that the Chief of the General Staff is doing a very good job. I have considerable briefing on the question that the noble and gallant Lord and the noble Lord raised on SMEs and national insurance. It will take me some time to find it—but I will write to the noble Lord. We have always expected there to be a dip in the level of the reserves before they increase as we are changing the fitness requirements and deployability of the force. To reassure the noble Lord, a target of 30,000 trained Army reservists is well within historical norms. We had 72,000 trained reservists as recently as 1990.
My Lords, is not the real problem that we are spending far too little on defence? At this moment, we have HMS “Daring” doing a grand job in the Philippines, but it is one of only 19 destroyers and frigates.
Is it possible to put more money into the cadet forces? They do a wonderful job by taking youngsters off the streets, looking after them, encouraging them and growing them; and 30% of them end up as NCOs in our forces.